Chapter Eighty-Seven

After We Fell

chapter eighty-seven




I nearly have a goddamned heart attack when Tessa stumbles and starts to fall, but she quickly collects herself and hurls herself into my arms.

    This is sure as hell not the reaction I had expected.

    I thought I would be granted with an uncomfortable “hello” and a smile that didn’t meet her eyes. But man, was I wrong. Very wrong. Tessa tightens her arms around my neck, and I bury my head in her hair. The sweet scent of her shampoo fills my senses, and I’m momentarily overwhelmed by her presence, warm and welcoming, in my arms.

    “Hi,” I finally say, and she glances up at me.

    “You’re freezing,” she remarks. Her hands move to my cheeks, instantly heating them.

    “It’s freezing rain out there, and it’s worse back home . . . my home, I mean,” I correct myself. Her eyes quickly dart to the floor before looking back up at me.

    “What are you doing here?” she practically whispers to me, trying her best to shield the question from our company.

    “I called Christian on the way up,” I inform Kimberly, who continues to faux-glare at me, a smirk playing on her painted lips.

    Couldn’t stay away, could you? she mouths to me behind Tessa’s back. That woman is the biggest ballbuster around; I’m not sure how Christian puts up with her, and willingly at that.

    “You can stay in the room across from Tessa’s, she can show you,” Kimberly announces and then disappears.

    I detach myself from Tessa and give her a little smile.

    “I—I’m sorry!” Tessa stutters, looking around the room and blushing. “I don’t know why I did that. I-it’s just nice to see a familiar face.”

    “It’s good to see you, too,” I tell her, trying to free her of her embarrassment. It’s not like I let go because I didn’t want to hold her. Her lack of confidence always has her interpret things in negative ways.

    “I slipped on the floor,” she blurts out, then flushes again as I bite down on the inside of my cheek, trying my best not to laugh at her.

    “Yeah, I saw it.” I can’t help the small chuckle that escapes from me, and she shakes her head, laughing at herself.

    “Are you really staying?” she asks.

    “Yes, if that’s okay with you?”

    Her eyes are bright and a lighter shade of blue-gray than usual. Her hair is down, slightly wavy and unstyled. Not a trace of makeup mars her complexion, and she looks absolutely fucking perfect. The number of hours that I’ve spent picturing her face in front of me did not adequately prepare me for the moment when I’m finally able to look at her again. My mind can’t possibly catch all of her, all the details . . . the freckle just below her neckline, the curve of her lips, the brilliance of her eyes—it’s fucking impossible.

    Her T-shirt hangs loose on her body, and those hideous fluffy cloud pants cover her legs. She keeps adjusting her shirt, tugging it down, playing with the collar; she’s the only girl I’ve ever seen who can manage to wear these ugly-ass clothes to bed but somehow still look so damn sexy. Through the white shirt, I can see her black bra . . . she’s wearing that black lace one that I love. I wonder if she’s aware that I can see right through her shirt . . .

    “What changed your mind? And where’s the rest of your stuff?” Tessa asks as she leads me down the hallway. “Everyone else’s rooms are upstairs,” she informs me, unaware of my perverted thoughts. Or maybe she’s not . . .

    “This is all I brought. It’s only for one night,” I tell her, and she stops in front of me.

    “You’re only staying one night?” she says, her eyes searching my face.

    “Yeah, what did you think? That I was moving here?” Of course she did. She always has too much faith in me.

    “No.” She looks away. “I don’t know, I thought a little longer than that, though.” And now this is where it gets awkward. I knew it would.

    “Here’s the room.” She opens the door for me, but I don’t step inside.

    “Your room is just across the hall?” My voice breaks, and I sound like a damned fool.

    “Yeah,” she mutters, looking down at her fingers.

    “Cool,” I remark dumbly. “You’re sure it’s okay that I’m here, right?”

    “Yes, of course. You know I missed you.”

    The excitement on her face seems to vanish as the memory of my previous actions—being an asshole in general, and refusing to come to Seattle specifically—looms unspoken over our heads. I’ll never forget the way she ran to me, literally, when she saw me at the door; there was such emotion on her face, so much longing, and I felt it, too, more than she did. I’ve been insane without her.

    “Yeah, but the last time that we saw one another in that apartment I was basically kicking you out.” I watch her face change as my words remind her of what took place. I can literally see the fucking wall rising up between us as she gives me a fake smile. “I don’t know why I brought that up,” I say and wipe my wrist across my forehead.

    Her eyes move to another room; her room. Then turning to the door we’re standing in front of, she says, “You can put your stuff in here.”

    Grabbing my bag from me, she heads inside and unzips it on the bed. I watch as she pulls the wadded-up T-shirts and boxers out of the bag and scrunches her nose.

    “Are these clean?” she asks.

    I shake my head. “The boxers are.”

    She holds the bag at arm’s length. “I don’t even want to know what the apartment looks like.”

    The corners of her mouth lift into a smug smile. “Good thing you won’t ever see it again, then,” I tease her. Her smile fades.

    What a shitty the fuck is wrong with me?

    “I didn’t mean it that way,” I say quickly, desperate to recover from my poor choice of words.

    “It’s fine. Relax, okay?” Her voice is gentle. “It’s only me, Hardin.”

    “I know.” I take a deep breath and continue, “It just feels like it’s been so fucking long, and we’re in that weird middle, half-relationship shit that we are really shitty at. And we haven’t seen each other, and I’ve just missed you, and I hope you missed me, too.” Wow, I really said that all way too fast.

    She smiles. “I did.”

    “You did what?” I press for the exact words.

    “I missed you. I told you that every day we’ve talked.”

    “I know.” I step closer to her. “I just wanted to hear it again.” I reach out and tuck her hair behind her ears, using both hands, and she leans into me.

    “When did you get here?” a small voice suddenly says, and Tessa jumps away from me.

    Great. Just fucking great.

    And there’s Smith, standing in the doorway of Tessa’s new bedroom.

    “Just now,” I reply, hoping that he’ll leave the room so I can continue what almost was started moments ago.

    “Why did you come?” he asks and enters the room.

    I point to Tessa, who is now more than five feet away from me, pulling my clothes out of my bag and gathering them in her arms. “I came to see her.”

    “Oh,” he quietly replies, staring down at his feet.

    “Do you not want me here?” I inquire.

    “I don’t mind,” he says with a shrug, and I smile at him.

    “Good, because I wouldn’t have left if you did.”

    “I know.” Smith smiles back and leaves Tessa and me alone. Thank fucking God.

    “He likes you,” Tessa says.

    “He’s okay.” I shrug, and she laughs.

    “You like him, too,” she accuses.

    “No, I don’t. I said simply: He’s

    She rolls her eyes. “Suuuuure.”

    She’s right, I do sort of like him. More than any other five-year-old that I’ve ever met, at least.

    “I’m watching him tonight while Kim and Christian go to a club opening,” she says.

    “Why aren’t you going along?”

    “I don’t know, I just didn’t want to.”

    “Hmm.” I pinch my lips between my fingers to hide my smile from her. I’m thrilled that she didn’t want to go out, and I find myself hoping that she’d planned on spending her evening talking to me on the phone.

    Tessa gives me a weird look. “You can go if you’d like; you don’t have to stay in with me.”

    I give her an indignant look. “What? I didn’t drive all this way to go out to some shitty club without you. You don’t want me to stay with you?”

    Her eyes meet mine, and she presses my clothes to her chest. “Yes, of course I want you to stay.”

    “Good, because I wouldn’t have left if you didn’t,” I joke.

    She doesn’t smile the way Smith did, but she does roll her eyes, which is just as cute.

    “Where are you going?” I ask when I notice her inching toward the door with my things.

    She gives me a look that’s both funny and sultry. “To do your laundry,” she says, and disappears into the hall.