Chapter Eighty-Six

After We Fell


chapter eighty-six

 

TESSA

 

As I’m plodding from my room to the couch with a copy of Wuthering Heights in hand, Kimberly says with a beautiful wide smile, “You’re in a funk, Tessa, and as your friend and mentor, it’s my responsibility to get you out of it.” Her blond hair is straight and glossy, and her makeup is too perfect. She’s one of those women that other women love to hate.

    Really?” I giggle, and she rolls her heavily shadowed eyes.

    “Okay, maybe not so much of a mentor. But a friend,” she corrects herself.

    “I’m not in a funk. I just have a lot of course work to do, and I just don’t feel like going anywhere tonight,” I say.

    “You are nineteen, girl—act like it! When I was nineteen, I was out all the time. I barely showed up for any of my classes. I dated boys . . . many, many, boys.” Her heel taps on the concrete floor.

    “Did you, now?” Christian cuts in as he enters the room. He’s unwrapping some sort of tape from around his hands.

    “None as wonderful as you, of course.” Kim winks at him, and he laughs.

    He grins. “That’s what I get for dating such a young woman. I have to compete with still-fresh memories of college-age men.” His green eyes shine with humor.

    “Hey, I’m not that much younger than you,” she says with a smack to his chest.

    “Twelve years,” he points out.

    Kimberly rolls her eyes. “Yes, but you’re a young soul. Unlike Tessa here, who behaves as if she’s forty.”

    “Sure, honey.” He tosses the used tape into a wastepaper basket. “Now, go on and enlighten the girl about how not to behave during college.” He gives her one last smile, smacks her on her ass, and disappears, leaving her grinning from ear to ear.

    “I love that man so much,” she tells me, and I nod along, because I know it’s true. “I really wanted you to come along with us tonight. Christian and his partners just opened a new jazz club downtown. It’s beautiful, and I’m sure you’d have an amazing time.”

    “Christian owns a jazz club?” I ask.

    “He invested in it, so he didn’t actually do any work,” she whispers with a sly smile. “They have guest musicians on Saturdays, sort of an open-mic-type thing.”

    I shrug. “Maybe next weekend?” The last thing I want to do right now is get dressed and go out to any type of club.

    “Fine, next weekend: I’m holding you to that. Smith doesn’t want to come either. I’ve tried to convince him, but you know how he is. He lectured me on how jazz is nothing, compared to classical music.” She laughs. “So his sitter will be here in a few hours.”

    “I can watch him,” I offer. “I’ll be here, anyway.”

    “No, honey, you don’t have to.”

    “I know, but I want to.”

    “Well, it would be kinda great, and so much easier. He doesn’t like the sitter, for some reason.”

    “He doesn’t like me either.” I laugh.

    “True, but he talks to you more than he does to most people.” She looks down at the engagement ring on her finger and then up to Smith’s school portrait hanging over the mantel. “He’s such a sweet boy . . . just very guarded,” she says quietly, almost as an afterthought.

    A doorbell sounds, breaking the moment.

    Kimberly looks at me quizzically. “Now, who the heck would be coming here in the middle of the afternoon?” she asks, as if I could possibly know the answer.

    I stand there, looking at a really cute picture of Smith on the wall. He’s such a serious little kid. Like a little engineer or mathematician, almost.

    “Well . . . well . . . well . . . Look who it is!” Kimberly calls from the door. When I turn to see what she’s talking about, my mouth falls open.

    “Hardin!” His name falls from my lips without a single thought, and an immediate surge of adrenaline at the sight of him propels me across the room. My socks make me slide on the hardwood floor, nearly causing me to fall on my face. Once I’m steady enough to continue, I latch myself on to him, hugging him tighter than maybe I ever have before.