Chapter Eighty

After We Fell


chapter eighty

 

HARDIN

 

I hear Tessa gasp, and I know she’s followed my instructions. I can picture it perfectly, her lying on the bed, legs spread open. Holy fuck.

    “God, I wish I was there right now, to watch you,” I groan, trying to ignore the blood rushing straight to my dick.

    “You like that, don’t you—to watch me?” she gasps through the line.

    “Yeah, fuck yeah, I do. And you like to be watched, I can tell.”

    “I do, just like the way you like it when I pull your hair.”

    Reflexively, my hand goes between my legs. Images of her writhing underneath my tongue, her fingers tugging my hair as she moans my name, fill my mind, and I press my palm against myself. Only Tessa can make me this hard this quickly.

    Her moans are quiet, too quiet. She needs more encouragement.

    “Faster, Tess, move your fingers in a circle, faster. Imagine I’m there, it’s me, and my fingers are circling you, making you feel so fucking good, making you come,” I say, keeping my voice down in case my annoying houseguest happens to be in the hall.

    “Oh my,” she pants and moans again.

    “My tongue, too, baby, swirling against your skin, my sinful lips pressed against you, sucking, biting, teasing.” I slide my gym shorts down and begin to stroke myself gently. I close my eyes and focus on her soft pants, pleas, and moans.

    “Do what I’m doing—touch yourself,” she whispers, and I’m gifted with the image of her back arching off the mattress as she pleasures herself.

    “Already am,” I mutter, and she whimpers. Fuck, I want to see her.

    “Talk to me, again,” Tessa begs. I fucking love the way her innocence disappears in these moments . . . she always loves to hear such filthy things.

    “I want to fuck you. No—I want to lay you back on the bed, and make love to you, hard and fast, so powerfully that you’re screaming my name as I thrust deeper and deeper—”

    “I’m . . .” she moans low in her throat. And her breath catches.

    “Come on, baby, let go. I want to hear you.” I stop speaking when I hear her come, soft whimpers and whines as she bites into the pillow, or the mattress. I have no fucking clue, but the image sends me over the edge, and I spill into my boxers with a strangled groan of her name.

    Our matched breathing is the only sound on the line for seconds or minutes, I can’t keep track.

    “That was . . .” she begins, panting and out of breath.

    I open my eyes and rest my elbows on the desk in front of me. My chest moves up and down as I try to catch my own breath. “Yeah.”

    “I need a moment.” She giggles. A slow smile tugs at the corners of my mouth, and then she adds, “And here I thought we had done close to everything.”

    “Oh, there are plenty of other things I want to do to you. However, alas, we have to be in the same city to do them.”

    “Come here, then,” she says quickly.

    I put the phone on speaker and examine my hand, front and back. “You said you didn’t want me there. We need space, remember?”

    “I know,” she says a little sadly. “We do need space . . . and this seems to be working for us. Don’t you think?”

    “No,” I lie. But I know she’s right: I’ve been trying to be better for her, and I’m afraid that if she’s quick to forgive me again, I’ll slip and lose the motivation. If we . . . when we find our way back to each other, I want it to be different, for her. I want it to be permanent so I can show her that the pattern—the “endless cycle,” as she calls it—will end.

    “I do miss you, so much,” she says. I know she loves me, but each time I’m given a sliver of reassurance, it’s like a weight’s been lifted from my chest.

    “I miss you, too.” More than anything.

    “Don’t say ‘too.’ It sounds like you’re just agreeing with me,” she says sarcastically, and my small smile grows, overtaking my entire being.

    “You can’t use my ideas; way to be original,” I playfully scold her and she laughs.

    “Can, too,” she childishly fires back. If she were here, I’d be greeted with her tongue sticking out at me in mock defiance.

    “God, you’re feisty tonight.” I roll off the bed; I need a shower.

    “That I am.”

    “And incredibly daring. Who knew I could convince you to get yourself off over the phone?” I chuckle and walk into the hallway.

    “Hardin!” she squeals in horror, like I knew she would. “And by the way, you should know by now that you can get me to do just about anything.”

    “If only that were true . . .” I murmur. If it was, she would be here now.

    In the hallway, the floor is cold on my bare feet, and I wince. But when I hear a voice start to speak, I drop my phone to the ground.

    “Sorry, man,” Richard says close to me. “It was getting a little warm in here earlier, so I—”

    He stops when he sees me scramble to pick up my phone, but it’s too late.

    “Who was that?” I hear Tessa exclaim through the speaker on my phone. The drowsy, relaxed girl she’d been so recently is gone, and she’s on high alert. “Hardin, who was she asks more forcefully.

    Fuck. I mouth a quick “way to fucking go” to her father and grab the phone, removing it from speaker and hurrying to the bathroom. “It’s—” I begin.

    “Was that my father?”

    I want to lie to her, but that would be fucking stupid, and I’m trying not to be so damn stupid anymore. “Yeah, it was,” I say, and wait for her to scream into the receiver.

    “Why is he there?” she questions.

    “I . . . well . . .”

    “Are you letting him stay with you?” She releases me from the panic of having to find the right words to say in order to explain this fucked-up situation.

    “Something like that.”

    “I’m confused.”

    “So am I,” I admit.

    “For how long? And why didn’t you tell me?”

    “I’m sorry . . . it’s only been like two days.”

    The next thing I hear is the sound of water running in a tub, so she must be feeling okay to start that up. But still she asks, “Why did he come there in the first place?”

    I can’t bring myself to tell her the whole truth, not right now. “He doesn’t have anywhere else to go, I guess.” I start the shower myself as she sighs.

    “Okay . . .”

    “Are you mad?” I ask.

    “No, I’m not mad. I’m confused . . .” she says, her voice full of wonder. “I can’t believe you’re actually allowing him to stay at your apartment.”

    “Neither can I.”

    The small bathroom fills with a thick cloud of steam, and I wipe the mirror with my palm. I look like a fucking ghost, a shell, really. Under my eyes, dark rings have already appeared from my lack of sleep. The only thing that gives me life is Tess’s voice coming through the line.

    “It means a lot to me, Hardin,” she finally says.

    “It does?” This is going much, much better than I expected.

    “Yes, of course it does.”

    I feel giddy all of the sudden, like a puppy that’s been rewarded with a treat from its owner . . . and surprisingly, I’m perfectly fucking okay with that.

    “Good.” I don’t know what else to say to her. I feel slightly guilty for not telling her about her father’s . . . habits, but this isn’t the time, and over the phone isn’t the way.

    “Wait . . . so my father was there when you were . . . you she whispers, and a small roar sounds on the other line. She must have turned on the fan in the bathroom to drown out her voice.

    “Well, he wasn’t in the room; I’m not into that type of thing,” I tease, to lighten the mood, and she responds with a giggle.

    “You probably are,” she jokes.

    “Nope, that’s one of the very few things I’m not into, believe it or not,” I say with a smile. “I will never share you, baby. Not even with your father.”

    I can’t help but laugh as she makes a sound of disgust.

    “You’re sick!”

    “Sure am,” I fire back, and she giggles. The wine has made her adventurous and heightened her sense of humor. Me? Well, I have no damn excuse for this ridiculous grin on my face.

    “I need to take a shower; I’m standing here with come all over me.” I step out of my boxers.

    “Me, too,” she says. “Not the part about being covered with . . . you know, but I’m pretty messy and in need of a shower, too.”

    “Okay . . . so I guess we should get off . . .”

    “We did already.” She laughs, proud of her terrible attempt at a joke.

    “Ha ha,” I tease. But then I rush out my “Have a good night, Tessa.”

    “You, too,” she says, lingering on the line, and I end the call before she can.

    Hot water cascades down my body. I still haven’t fully recovered from her touching herself while we were on the phone. It’s not only a huge fucking turn-on; it’s . . . more than that. It shows that she still trusts me, she still trusts me enough to expose herself to me. Lost in my thoughts, I push the hard bar of soap across my tattooed skin. It’s hard to imagine that only two weeks ago, we stood in this shower together . . .

    “I think this one is my favorite.” She touched a tattoo and peered up at me through wet lashes.

    “Why is that? I hate that one.” I glanced down at her small fingers trailing over the large flower etched near my elbow.

    “I don’t know; it’s sort of beautiful the way you have a flower surrounded by all of this darkness.” Her finger moved over the haunting design of a withered skull just below.

    “I never thought of it that way.” I pressed my thumb under her chin to bring her eyes to mine. “You always see the light in me . . . How is that possible when there isn’t any?”

    “There’s plenty. And you’ll see it, too. Someday.” She smiled and stood on her toes to press her lips against the corner of my mouth. Water rushed between our lips, and she smiled again before pulling away.

    “I hope you’re right,” I whispered into the stream of water, so quietly that she didn’t hear me.

    The memory haunts me, replaying as I try to wash it away. It’s not that I don’t want to remember her, because I do. Tessa is my every thought—she always is. It’s only the memories and times when she gave me too much praise, when she tried to convince me that I’m better than I really am, that drive me mad.

    I wish I could see myself the way she sees me. I wish I could believe her when she says that I’m good for her. But how can that be true when I’m so fucked up?

    It means a lot to me, she said only minutes ago.

    Maybe if I keep doing what I’m doing now and stay away from shit that could get me in trouble, I can continue to do things that mean a lot to her. I can make her happy instead of miserable, and maybe, just maybe, I could see some of the light in myself that she claims to see.

    Maybe there is hope for us after all.