Chapter Eighty-Five

After We Fell

chapter eighty-five




Landon shakes the moisture from his hat onto the floor and rests his closed umbrella against the wall in an exaggerated and theatrical way. He wants me to see what an “effort” he’s making to help me out.

    “Well, what was so urgent that I had to come here in the freezing rain?” he asks, half smug, half concerned. Looking at my bare chest, he adds, “You know, the thing that I actually put clothes on for and ran over to help out with. So what is it?”

    I wave toward Richard, who’s spread out on the couch, asleep. “Him.”

    Landon leans to one side to look around me. “Who is that?” he asks. Then, straightening, he looks at me with a gaping mouth. “Wait . . . Is that Tessa’s father?”

    I roll my eyes at his question. “No, it’s another random, homeless fuck that I let sleep on my couch. It’s what all the hipsters are doing nowadays.”

    He ignores my sarcasm. “Why is he here? Does Tessa know?”

    “Yes, she knows. However, she doesn’t know that he’s been going through withdrawal for the last five days and vomiting all over the damn place.”

    Richard groans in his sleep, and I grab Landon by the sleeve of his plaid shirt and pull him into the hallway.

    This is clearly a little out of my stepbrother’s league. “Withdrawal?” he asks. “From, like,

    “Yes. And alcohol.”

    He seems to ponder this for a second. “He hasn’t found your liquor yet?” he asks, then raises a brow at me. “Or has he already consumed it?”

    “I don’t have any liquor here anymore, dick.”

    He peers back around the corner to the sleeping man perched on my couch. “I still don’t see how I fit into this.”

    “You’re going to babysit him,” I inform him, and he immediately takes a step back.

    “No way!” He tries to whisper, but his voice comes out much more like a hushed scream.

    “Chill.” I pat his shoulder. “It’s only for one night.”

    “No way. I’m not staying here with him. I don’t even know him!”

    “Neither do I,” I counter.

    “You know him better than I do; he would be your father-in-law someday if you weren’t such an idiot.” Landon’s words hit me harder than they should. Father-in-law? The title sounds odd when I repeat it in my mind . . . while I’m staring at this gross lump of man on my couch.

    “I want to see her,” I plead.

    “Who . . . Tess?”

    “Yes, I correct him. “Who else?”

    Landon starts playing with his fingers like a nervous child. “Well, why can’t she come here? I don’t think it’s a good idea for me to stay with him.”

    “Don’t be such a pussy, he’s not dangerous or anything,” I say. “Just make sure he doesn’t leave the apartment. There’s plenty of food and water here.”

    “You sound like you’re talking about a dog . . .” Landon remarks.

    I rub my temples in annoyance. “Dude might as well be at this point. Are you going to help me or not?”

    He glares at me, and I add, “For Tessa?” It’s a low blow, but I know it will work.

    After a second he breaks, and nods. “One night only,” he agrees, and I turn away from him to hide my smile.

    I don’t know how Tessa will react to me ignoring our “space” agreement, but it’s only one night. One short night with her is what I need right now. I need Phone calls and text messages are sufficient enough during the week, but after that nightmare I had, I need to see her more than anything. I need to confirm the fact that her body holds no marks that were put on it by anyone other than myself.

    “Does she know you’re coming?” Landon asks me as he follows me into the bedroom, where I search the floor for a T-shirt to pull over my bare torso.

    “She will once I arrive, won’t she?”

    “She told me about you two on the phone.”

    She did? That’s really unlike her.

    “Why would she tell you about us getting off over the phone . . . ?” I wonder.

    Landon’s eyes go wide. “Whoa! What! What! I wasn’t . . . Oh God,” he groans. He tries to cover his ears, but it’s too late. His cheeks turn a deep red, and my laughter fills the bedroom.

    “You have to be more specific when you’re talking about Tessa and me, don’t you know that by now?” I grin, relishing the memory of her moans coming through the line.

    “Apparently I do.” He scowls and regroups. “I meant that you two have been talking a lot on the phone.”

    “And . . . ?”

    “Does she seem happy to you?”

    My smile disappears. “Why do you ask?”

    Worry spreads over his features. “I’m just wondering. I’m a little worried about her. She doesn’t seem as excited and happy about Seattle as I assumed she’d be.”

    “I don’t know.” I rub my hand over the back of my neck. “She doesn’t sound happy, it’s true, but I can’t tell if it’s because I’m an asshole or because she doesn’t like Seattle as much as she thought she would,” I answer truthfully.

    “I hope it’s the first. I want her to be happy there,” Landon says.

    “So do I, sort of,” I say.

    Landon kicks a dirty pair of black jeans out from under his foot.

    “Hey, I was going to wear those,” I snap and bend down to grab them.

    “Don’t you have any clean clothes?”

    “Not at the moment.”

    “Have you done any laundry at all since she left?”

    “Yes . . .” I lie.

    “Uh-huh.” He points to the stain on my black T-shirt. Mustard, maybe?

    “Shit.” I pull the shirt off and toss it back onto the floor. “I don’t have shit to wear.” I pull out the bottom drawer of the dresser and let out a relieved breath when I spot a stack of clean black T-shirts in the back.

    “What about these?” Landon points to a pair of dark blue jeans hanging in the closet.


    “Why not? You never wear anything other than black jeans.”

    “Exactly,” I retort.

    “Well, the only pair of pants you seem to have to wear is dirty, so—”

    “I have five pairs,” I correct him. “They just happen to be the same exact style.” With a huff, I reach past him into the closet and pull the blue jeans off of the hanger. I hate these fucking things. My mum bought them for me for Christmas, and I vowed to never wear them, yet here I am. For true love or something. She’d probably swoon.

    “They’re a little . . . Landon bites down on his bottom lip to keep from laughing.

    “Fuck off,” I say and raise my middle finger, then finish shoving shit into my bag.

    Twenty minutes later we’re back in the living room, Richard is still asleep, Landon is still making obnoxious remarks about my fucking tight jeans, and I’m ready to go see Tessa in Seattle.

    “What should I tell him when he wakes up?” he asks.

    “Whatever you want. It would be quite funny if you fucked with him for a little while. You could pretend you’re me or that you don’t know why he’s there.” I laugh. “He would be so confused.”

    Landon doesn’t see the humor in my idea, and he basically pushes me out the door. “Be careful driving, the roads are slick,” he warns.

    “Gotcha.” I hoist my bag over my shoulder and leave before he can make another mushy-ass remark.


DURING THE DRIVE, I can’t help but think about my nightmare. It was so clear, so fucking vivid. I could hear Tessa moaning that asshole’s name; I could even hear her nails running along his skin.

    I turn the radio up to drown out my thoughts, but it doesn’t work. I decide to think of her instead, of memories of us together, to stop the images from haunting me. Otherwise this will be the longest drive of my entire life.

    “Look how cute those babies are!” Tessa had squealed while pointing to a platoon of squirming little beings. Well, only two babies, actually. But still.

    “Yeah, yeah. So cute.” I rolled my eyes and dragged her along through the store.

    “They even have matching bows in their hair.” She was smiling so big, and her voice did that weird high-pitched thing that women do when they’re around small children and some hormone or other kicks in.

    “Yep,” I said and continued behind her down the narrow aisles at Conner’s. She’d been searching for some specific cheese she needed to make our dinner that night. But babies overtook her brain.

    “Admit that they were cute.” She beamed up at me, and I shook my head in defiance. “Come on, Hardin, you know they were cute. Just say it.”

    “They. Were. Cute . . .” I responded flatly, and she pressed her mouth into a hard line while she crossed her arms over her chest like a petulant child herself.

    “Maybe you’ll turn out to be one of those people who only thinks their own kids are cute,” she said, and I watched as a dawning recognition quickly stole her smile away. “That is, if you ever want kids.” she added somberly, making me want to kiss away the frown on her beautiful face.

    “Sure, maybe. Too bad I don’t want them, though,” I said, trying to drill the statement permanently into her head.

    “I know . . .” she said softly. Soon thereafter, she found the item she was so avidly searching for and dropped it into the basket with a dull thud.

    Her smile still hadn’t returned by the time we were waiting in the checkout line. I looked down and gently nudged with my elbow. “Hey.”

    When she looked up at me, her eyes were dim, and she was obviously waiting for me to speak.

    “I know we agreed not to talk about kids anymore . . .” I started as she focused her eyes on the floor. “Hey,” I repeated and set the basket on the floor next to my boot. “Look at me.” Both of my hands covered her cheeks, and I pressed my forehead against hers.

    “It’s okay. I wasn’t really thinking when I said that,” she admitted with a shrug.

    I watched as she glanced around the small market, taking in our surroundings, and I could practically see her wondering why I was touching her this way in public.

    “Well then, let’s agree again not to bring up children. It does nothing but cause problems between us,” I said and gave her a quick kiss to her lips, followed by another. My lips lingered on hers, and her small hands pushed into the pockets of my jacket.

    “I love you, Hardin,” she said when Grumpy Gloria, the cashier we’d laughed about many times, cleared her throat.

    “I love you, Tess. I will love you enough that you won’t even need children,” I promised her.

    She turned away from me—to hide her frown, I know. But right then I didn’t care, because I figured the question was settled, and I’d gotten what I wanted.

    As I continue to drive, I begin to wonder: Has there ever been a time in my life when I wasn’t a selfish prick?