Chapter Five

After We Fell

chapter five




When I’d stepped outside, the wind whipped around me, carrying the one voice I didn’t expect to hear right now. I’d just had to endure hearing a lot of people say a lot of bad things about me, and I just had to remain quiet. And afterward, all I wanted to hear was the voice of my girl, my angel.

    And there was her voice. But there was also I turn the corner, and indeed, there he is. There they are. Tessa and Zed.

    My first thoughts were: Why the fuck is he here? Why the fuck is Tessa outside talking to him? What part of “stay the fuck away from him” does she not fucking get?

    When that motherfucker raised his voice at her, I started walking toward them: nobody yells at her like that. But when he mentioned Seattle . . . I was stopped in my tracks. Tessa is planning to go to Seattle?

    And Zed knew, but I didn’t?

    This isn’t happening, this can’t actually be happening. She would never plan to leave without telling me . . .

    Zed’s wild eyes and shit-eating grin mock me as I try to collect my fucked-up thoughts. When Tessa turns to me, her movements are painstakingly slow. Her blue-gray eyes are wide, pupils blown out in surprise when they meet mine.

    “Hardin . . .” I can see she’s saying the words, but her voice is small, lost in the wind.

    Unsure what to say, I stand still while my mouth drops open, closes, opens—back and forth in an endless pattern until the words finally fall from my lips. “So this was your plan, then?” I manage.

    She pushes her hair back from her face, her mouth turns to a frown immediately, and she rubs her hands up and down her arms, which are crossed in front of her chest.

    “No! It’s not like that, Hardin, I—”

    “You two are quite the fucking schemers, aren’t you? You . . .” I point to the bastard. “You fucking scheme and plot behind my back and try to make a move on my girl, over and fucking over. No matter what I do, no matter how many times I pound your goddamned face in, you still keep crawling back like a fucking cockroach.”

    Amazingly, he dares to speak. “She’s—”

    “And I point to the blond girl who has my world under the sharp heel of her black shoe. “You—you keep playing mind games with me, acting like you give a fuck, when really you’ve been planning to leave me this entire time! You know I won’t go to Seattle, yet you’re planning to run off—without telling me!”

    Her eyes glassy, she pleads with me. “That’s why I hadn’t told you yet, Hardin, because—”

    “Stop fucking talking,” I say, and her hand moves to her chest, like my words are causing her pain.

    Maybe they are. Maybe I want them to, so she can feel what I feel.

    How could she humiliate me this way—in front of Zed, of all people?

    “Why is he here?” I ask her.

    There is no evidence of his smug grin when she turns to look at him before looking back at me. “I asked him to meet me here.”

    I stagger back in mock surprise. Or maybe it’s real surprise—I can’t tell what these feelings really are, rushing through me so quickly. “Well, there we go! The two of you obviously have something special here.”

    “I only wanted to talk to him about the charges. I’m trying to help you, Hardin. Please, just listen to me.” She steps toward me, moving her hair from her face again.

    I shake my head. “Bullshit! I heard your entire conversation. If you don’t want him, tell him right now, in front of me.”

    Her watery eyes plead silently for me to give in and not make her humiliate him in front of me, but it doesn’t sway me.

    “Now, or I’m done with you.” My own words burn like acid on my tongue.

    “I don’t want you, Zed,” she says, facing me. Her words are rushed, panicked, and I know it’s hurting her to say them.

    “At all?” I ask, mimicking Zed’s grin from earlier.

    “At all.” She frowns, and he runs his hands through his hair.

    “You never want to see him again,” I instruct. “Turn and tell him that.”

    But it’s Zed who speaks up. “Hardin, just stop. Leave it alone. I got the message. You don’t have to play into his sick game, Tessa. I get it,” he says. He looks pathetic, like a sad child.

    “Tessa . . .” I start, but when she looks up at me, what I see behind her eyes nearly brings me to my knees. Disgust—she is full of disgust for me.

    She takes a step toward me. “No, Hardin, I won’t do it. Not because I want to be with him—because I don’t. I love you—only you—but you’re only doing this to prove a point, and it’s ugly, and it’s cruel, and I won’t help you.” She bites the inside of her cheek, trying not to cry.

    What the hell am I doing?

    With fiery intensity, she tells me, “I’m going home; when you want to talk about Seattle, that’s where I’ll be.” With that, she turns to walk away.

    “You don’t have a way to get home!” I call to her.

    Zed reaches out an arm in her direction. “I’ll take her,” he says.

    Which breaks something in me. “If I wasn’t already in a bunch of shit because of you, I would kill you right now. I don’t just mean break a bone, I mean I would literally crack your skull open against the concrete and watch you bleed out all over this—”

    “Stop it!” Tessa yells as she turns, covering her ears.

    “Tessa, if you—” Zed says softly.

    “Zed, I appreciate everything you’ve done, but you really need to stop.” She tries to sound stern but fails miserably.

    With a final sigh, he turns on his heel and walks away.

    I head to the car, and as soon as I’m near it, my father and Landon appear—of fucking course. I hear the click of Tessa’s heels behind me.

    “We’re going,” I tell them before they can get a word in.

    “I’ll call you in a little while,” she says to Landon.

    “You’re still going Wednesday, right?” he asks her.

    She smiles at him, a fake smile to mask the panic behind her eyes. “Yeah, of course.”

    Landon glares at me, obviously noticing the tension between us. Does he know about her plan? Probably—he probably helped her develop it.

    I climb into the car, not even trying to hide my lack of patience.

    “I’ll call you,” she says again to Landon and waves goodbye to my father before getting in. I immediately turn the music off as she buckles her seat belt.

    “Go ahead,” she says, no emotion in her voice.


    “Go ahead and scream at me. I know you’re going to.”

    I’m stunned into silence by her assumption. Granted, I had planned on yelling at her, but the way she just expects it throws me off guard.

    But of course she expects it—that’s what always happens. That’s what I do . . .

    “Well?” Her lips are pressed in a hard line.

    “I’m not going to yell at you.”

    She glances over at me momentarily before focusing at some point out beyond the window.

    “I don’t know what to do except scream at you . . . that’s the problem.” I sigh in defeat, my forehead resting against the steering wheel.

    “I wasn’t planning this behind your back, Hardin, not purposely.”

    “It sure as hell seems that way.”

    “I would never do that to you. I love you. You’ll understand when we go over it.”

    Her words bounce right off of me as anger takes over. “I understand you’re moving—soon. I don’t even know when—and we live Tessa. We share a fucking bed, and you’re going to just leave me? I always knew you would.”

    I hear the click of her seat belt and then feel her hand pushing me back by the shoulders. Within seconds she’s on my lap, bare thighs straddling me, cold arms wrapped around my neck, her tear-soaked face buried in my chest.

    “Get off of me,” I say, attempting to unwrap her arms from me.

    “Why do you always assume I’m going to leave you?” She tightens her grip.

    “Because you will.”

    “I’m not going to Seattle to leave you, I’m going for myself and my career. It’s always been my plan to go there, and this is an incredible opportunity. I asked Mr. Vance while we were figuring out what we were going to do, and I planned on telling you so many times, but you either cut me off or didn’t want to talk about anything serious.”

    All I can think of is her packing her bags and leaving me with nothing but some bullshit note on the counter. “Don’t you dare try to blame me.” My voice doesn’t hold as much conviction as I intended.

    “I’m not blaming you, but I knew you wouldn’t be supportive; you know how important this is to me.”

    “What are you going to do, then? If you go, I can’t be with you. I love you, Tessa, but I’m not going to Seattle.”

    “Why? You don’t even know if you’d like it or not. We could at least try it, and if you hate it, we could go to England . . . maybe,” she says with a sniffle.

    “You don’t know if you’ll like Seattle either.” I look at her with blank eyes. “I’m sorry, but you have to choose: me or Seattle.”

    She looks up at me for a moment, then moves back to the passenger seat without a word.

    “You don’t have to decide right now, but time is running out.” I put the car in drive and pull out of the small space.

    “I can’t believe you’re making me choose.” She doesn’t look at me.

    “You knew how I felt about Seattle. You’re lucky I kept my cool back there when you were with him.”

    “I’m ‘lucky’?” she scoffs.

    “This day is shit already; let’s not fight about it. I’m going to need an answer by Friday. Unless, of course, you’ll be gone by then.” The idea sends a chill through my body.

    I know she’ll choose me—she has to. We can go to England and get away from all this bullshit. She hasn’t said a word about missing classes today, which I’m glad for, since that’s another fight I don’t want to have.

    “You’re being so selfish,” she accuses.

    I don’t argue, because I know she’s right. But I do say, “Well, some might say selfish is also not telling someone when they plan on leaving them. Where are you going to live? Do you already have a place?”

    “No, I was going to look for one tomorrow. We leave Wednesday for the trip with your family.” It takes me a moment to realize who she’s referring to.


    “You said you’d go . . .”

    “I’m still trying to recover from this Seattle shit, Tessa.” I know I’m being an asshole, but this is so fucked up. “And let’s not forget you calling Zed,” I add, doubling down.

    Tessa stays silent as I drive. I have to look over at her multiple times to make sure she’s still awake.

    “Are you not speaking to me now?” I finally ask her as we approach the parking lot of our . . . my apartment.

    “I don’t know what to say.” Her voice is quiet, defeated.

    I park, and it hits me. Shit. “Your dad’s still here, isn’t he?”

    “I don’t know where else he would go . . .” she says without looking at me.

    We get out of the car, and I say, “Well, when we get upstairs, I’ll ask him where he needs to be dropped off at.”

    “No, I’ll take him,” she mumbles.

    Even though my girl’s walking next to me, she seems miles away.