Chapter Seventy

After We Fell


chapter seventy

 

HARDIN

 

How was the kickboxing yesterday?” Landon asks, his voice strained, his face contorted into a stupid-looking expression of physical effort as he lifts yet another bag of mulch. When he drops it into place, he puts his hands on his hips and says with a dramatic eye roll, “You could help, you know.”

    “I know,” I say from the chair I’m sitting on and prop my feet up on one of the wooden shelves inside Karen’s greenhouse. “Kickboxing was okay. The trainer was a woman, so that was fucking lame.”

    “Why? Because she kicked your butt?”

    “You mean my And no, she did not.”

    “What made you go, anyway? I told Tess not to buy you that pass to the gym, because you wouldn’t use it.”

    Annoyance flares in my chest at the way he called her “Tess.” I don’t like it one fucking bit. It’s only I remind myself. Of all the shit I have to worry about right now, Landon is the least of my concerns.

    “Because I was enraged, and I felt like I was going to break everything in that goddamned apartment. So when I noticed the voucher as I was pulling out all of the drawers in the dresser, I grabbed it, put my shoes on, and took off.”

    “You pulled out all the drawers? Tessa’s going to kill you . . .” He shakes his head and finally takes a seat on the stack of mulch bags. I don’t know why he agreed to help his mum move all this shit around, anyway.

    “She won’t see it . . . it’s not her place anymore,” I remind him, trying to keep the edge out of my voice.

    He looks at me guiltily. “Sorry.”

    “Yeah.” I sigh; I don’t even have a witty comeback.

    “It’s hard for me to feel bad for you when you could be there with her,” Landon says after a few beats of silence.

    “Fuck you.” I lean my head back against the wall, and I can feel him staring at me.

    “It doesn’t make sense,” he adds.

    “Not to you.”

    “Or her. Or anyone.”

    “I don’t have to explain myself to anyone,” I snap.

    “Then why are you even here?”

    Instead of answering him, I look around the greenhouse, unsure of what I’m doing in this place myself. “I don’t have anywhere else to go.”

    Does he think that I don’t miss her every fucking second? That I wouldn’t much rather be with her than standing here talking to him?

    He gives me a sideways look. “What about your friends?”

    “You mean the one who fucking drugged Tessa? Or the other one who set me up in order to tell her about the bet.” I start counting them on my fingers to add to the dramatic effect. “Or you could mean the one who is constantly trying to get into her pants. Shall I go on?”

    “Guess not. Though I could have told you that your friends sucked,” he says in an annoying tone. “So what are you going to do?”

    Deciding that keeping the peace is better than murdering him, I just shrug. “Exactly what I’m doing now.”

    “So you’re going to hang out with me and mope around?”

    “I’m not moping. I’m doing what you told me to do and bettering I mock, using air quotes. “Have you talked to her since she left?” I ask.

    “Yeah, she texted me this morning to tell me she arrived.”

    “She’s at Vance’s, isn’t she?”

    “Why don’t you find out for yourself?”

    Fuck, Landon is annoying. “I know she is. Where else would she be?”

    “With that Trevor guy,” Landon is quick to suggest. And his smirk makes me reconsider the stay of execution I had just granted him. If I tackled him, it wouldn’t hurt much; he’s only about three feet off the ground anyway. It probably wouldn’t even leave a bruise . . .

    “I forgot about fucking Trevor,” I groan, rubbing harshly at my temples. Trevor is almost as infuriating as Zed. Only, I believe that Trevor does actually have good intentions when it comes to Tessa, which only upsets me even more. It makes him more dangerous.

    “So what’s next in Project Self-Improvement?” Landon smiles, but it fades quickly and his expression turns serious. “I’m really proud of you for doing this, you know. It’s nice to see you actually trying for once, instead of making an effort for an hour, then going back to the way you were the moment she forgives you. It’ll mean a lot to her to see you really following through on these changes.”

    I drop my feet and rock in the chair slightly. Talking like this is stirring something up in me. “Don’t try to lecture me. I haven’t done shit yet; it’s only been a day.” A long, miserable, lonely day.

    Landon’s eyes go wide in sympathy. “No, I’m serious. You didn’t turn to alcohol and you haven’t gotten into a fight, you haven’t been arrested, and I know you came to talk to your dad.”

    My mouth drops open. “He told you?” That fucker.

    “No, he didn’t tell me. I live here, and I saw your car.”

    “Oh . . .”

    “I think you talking to him really would mean a lot to Tessa,” he continues.

    “Would you just stop?” I say, imploring him with a quick hunch of my shoulders. You’re not my shrink. Stop acting like you’re better than me and I’m some damaged fucking animal that you need to—”

    “Why can’t you just graciously accept a compliment?” Landon says over me. “I never said I was better than you. All I’m trying to do is be there for you as a friend. You don’t have anyone—you said it yourself, and now that you let Tessa move to Seattle, you don’t have a single person to give you moral support.” He stares at me but I look away. “You have to stop pushing people away, Hardin. I know you don’t like me—you hate me because you think I’m somewhat responsible for some of the issues you have with your dad, but I care deeply for Tessa and you, whether you want to hear that or not.”

    “I don’t want to hear it,” I fire back at him. Why does he always have to say shit like this? I came here to . . . I don’t know, talk to him. Not to talk to him . . . not to have him tell me how much he cares about me.

    And why would he care about me, anyway? I’ve been nothing but an asshole to him since the day I met him, but I don’t hate him. Does he really think that I do?

    “Well, that’s one of those things you need to work on.” He stands to his feet and walks out of the greenhouse, leaving me alone.

    “Fuck.” I kick my foot out in front of me, and it collides with the wooden shelving unit. A crack sounds through the room, and I jump to my feet. “No, no, no!”

    I try to catch the flower boxes, clay pots, and random shit before they crash to the floor. Within seconds, all of it—the pieces of all of it—is on the floor. This isn’t fucking happening. I didn’t even mean to break this shit, and here I am with a pile of dirt, flowers, and cracked pots at my feet.

    Maybe I can clean some of this shit up before Karen . . .

    “Oh my,” I hear her gasp, and I turn to the doorway to see her standing there, a little trowel in her hand.

    Fuuuck.

    “I didn’t mean to knock them down, I swear. I kicked my foot out and accidentally broke the shelf—and all this shit started falling down, and I tried to catch it!” I frantically explain as Karen rushes over to a pile of broken pottery.

    Her hands sift through the rubble, trying to piece together a blue flowerpot that has no chance of ever becoming one again. She doesn’t say anything, but I hear her sniffle, and she lifts her arm to wipe her cheeks with her dirt-covered hands.

    After a few seconds, she says, “I’ve had this pot since I was a little girl. It was the first pot I ever used for transplanting a cutting.”

    “I . . .” I don’t know what to say to her. Of all the shit I’ve broken, this time it truly was an accident. I feel like complete shit.

    “This and my china were the only things of my grandmother’s that I had left,” she cries.

    The china. The china that I smashed into a million pieces.

    “Karen, I’m sorry. I—”

    “It’s okay, Hardin.” She sighs, tossing the pieces of the flowerpot back into the pile of dirt.

    But it’s not okay, I can see it in her brown eyes. I can see how hurt she is, and I’m surprised by the heaviness of the guilt I feel pressing on my chest at the sight of the sadness in her eyes. She stares at the shattered pot for a few more seconds, and I watch her silently. I try to imagine Karen as a young girl, big brown eyes and a kind soul even at that point. I bet she was one of those girls who was nice to everyone, even the assholes like me. I think about her grandmother, probably nice like her, giving her something that Karen felt was important enough to keep safe all these years. I’ve never had anything in my life that wasn’t destroyed.

    “I’m going to finish dinner. It’ll be ready soon,” she says at last.

    Then, with a wipe of her eyes, she leaves the greenhouse the same way her son left only minutes ago.