After We Fell(2)

By: Anna Todd


When we approach the car, my father asks, “Whoa—this is yours? It’s a Capri, right? Late-seventies model?”

“Yep.” Hardin climbs into the driver’s seat.

My father doesn’t question Hardin’s terse response, and I’m glad for it. The radio is set low, and as soon as Hardin revs the engine, we both reach for the knob at the same time, in hopes that music will drown out the uncomfortable silence.

The whole drive to the apartment, I wonder how my mother would take this. The thought gives me chills, and I try thinking about my upcoming move to Seattle.

Nope, that’s almost worse; I don’t know how to talk about it with Hardin. I close my eyes and lean my head against the window. Hardin’s warm hand covers mine, and my nerves begin to calm.

“Whoa, this is where you live?” My father gapes from the backseat when we pull up to our apartment complex.

Hardin gives me a subtle here-it-comes look, and I respond, “Yeah, we moved in a few months ago.”

In the elevator, Hardin’s protective gaze heats my cheeks, and I give him a small smile, hoping to soften him. It seems to work, but being in our home area with this virtual stranger is just so awkward that I begin to regret inviting him over. It’s too late now, though.

Hardin unlocks our door and walks inside without turning around, immediately heading to the bedroom without a word.

“I’ll be right back,” I tell my father and turn to leave him standing alone in the foyer area.

“Do you mind if I use your bathroom?” he calls after me.

“Of course not. It’s just down the hall,” I say, pointing to the bathroom door without looking.

In the other room, Hardin’s on the bed, removing his boots. Looking over to the door, he gestures for me to close it.

“I know you’re upset with me,” I quietly remark as I walk over to him.

“I am.”

I take his face between my hands, my thumbs running over both his cheeks. “Don’t be.”

His eyes close in appreciation of my gentle touch, and I feel his arms wrap around my waist. “He’s going to hurt you. I’m only trying to prevent that from happening.”

“He can’t hurt me—what could he possibly do? I haven’t seen him in how long?”

“He’s probably out there shoving our shit in his bloody pockets now,” Hardin huffs, and I can’t help but giggle. “It’s not funny, Tessa.”

I sigh and tilt his chin up to make him look at me. “Can you please try to lighten up and be positive about this? It’s confusing enough without you sulking around and adding to the pressure.”

“I’m not sulking. I’m trying to protect you.”

“I don’t need you to—he’s my dad.”

“He’s not your dad . . .”

“Please?” I run my thumb along his lip, and his expression softens.

Sighing again, he finally answers, “Fine, let’s go have dinner with this guy, then. God knows he hasn’t eaten anything that didn’t come from a fucking Dumpster in a while.”

My smile fades and my lip quivers against my will. He notices.

“I’m sorry; don’t cry.” He sighs. He hasn’t stopped sighing since we ran into my father outside the tattoo shop. Seeing Hardin’s worry—even if, like everything else he does, it’s tinged with anger—only adds to the surrealness of the situation.

“I meant everything I said, but I’ll try not to be a dick about it.” He rises to his feet and presses his lips to the corner of my mouth. As we exit our bedroom, he mumbles, “Let’s go feed the beggar,” which doesn’t help my mood much.

The man in the living room looks so out of place, gazing around the space, noticing the books on our shelves.

“I’m going to make dinner. You can watch television?” I suggest.

“I can help?” he offers.

“Um, okay.” I half smile, and he follows me into the kitchen. Hardin stays in the living room, keeping his distance, as I suspected he would.

“I can’t believe you’re all grown up and living on your own,” my father says.

I reach into the refrigerator to grab a tomato while I try to collect my scattered thoughts. “I’m in college, at WCU. So is Hardin,” I reply, leaving out his looming expulsion for obvious reasons.

“Really? WCU? Wow.” He sits down at the table, and I notice that the dirt has been scrubbed from his hands. The spot on his forehead is gone, too, and a wet spot on the shoulder of his shirt makes me think he was trying to clean a stain from it. He’s nervous, too. Knowing that makes me feel a little better.

I almost tell him about Seattle and the exciting new direction my life is going in, but I have yet to tell Hardin. My father’s resurfacing has added another detour to my road map. I don’t know how many problems I can deal with before everything ends up collapsing at my feet.

“I wish I’d been around to see all this happen. I always knew you’d make something of yourself.”

“You weren’t around, though,” I say tersely. Guilt plagues me as soon as I say the words, but I don’t wish to take them back.

“I know, but I’m here now, and I’m hoping I can make up for that.”

Those simple words are actually a bit cruel, giving me hope that he might not be so bad after all, that maybe he just needs help to stop drinking.

“Are you . . . Are you still drinking?”

“I am.” He looks at his feet. “Not as much. I know it looks otherwise right now, but it’s been a hard few months . . . that’s all.”

Hardin appears in the doorway of the kitchen, and I know he’s battling with himself to stay quiet. I hope he can.

“I’ve seen your mom a few times.”

“You have?”

“Yeah. She wouldn’t tell me where you were. She looks really good,” he says.

This is so awkward, him commenting on my mother. Her voice plays in my head, reminding me that this man abandoned us. That this man was the reason she is the way she is today.

“What happened . . . with the two of you?” I place chicken breasts in a pan, the oil crackling and popping as I wait for an answer. I don’t want to turn and face him after asking such a direct and abrupt question, but I just couldn’t stop myself from inquiring.

“We just weren’t compatible; she always wanted more than I could give her, and you know how she can be.”

That I do know, but the way he’s casually talking about her in such a dismissive tone doesn’t sit well with me.

Shifting the blame from my mother back to him, I turn quickly and ask, “Why didn’t you call?”

“I did—I always called. I sent you gifts every birthday. She didn’t tell you that, did she?”

“No.”

“Well, it’s true—I did. I missed you so much all this time. I can’t believe you’re here, in front of me now.” His eyes are luminous and his voice shaky as he stands and walks toward me. I don’t know how to react; I don’t even know the man anymore, if I ever did.

Hardin steps into the kitchen to create a barrier between us, and once again I’m glad for his intrusion. I don’t know what to think of all of this; I need to keep physical space between this man and me.

“I know you can’t forgive me.” He nearly sobs, and my stomach drops.

“It’s not that. I just need time before I jump into having you in my life again. I don’t even know you,” I tell him, and he nods.

“I know, I know.” He sits back down at the table, leaving me to finish preparing dinner.





chapter two



HARDIN


Tessa’s piece-of-shit sperm donor scarfs down two plates of food before even stopping to take a breath. I’m sure he was starving, living on the streets and all. It’s not that I don’t feel bad for people who are down on their luck and have hit hard times—it’s that this specific man is a drunk and he abandoned his kid, so I don’t feel bad for him for a goddamn second.

After gulping down some water, he beams at my girl. “You’re quite the cook, Tessie.”

I think I’ll scream if he calls her that one more time.

“Thank you.” She smiles, like the nice person she is. I can tell his bullshit is seeping in, filling the emotional cracks he created by leaving her when she was a child.

“I mean it; maybe you could teach me this recipe sometime.”

For you to use where? In your nonexistent kitchen?

“Sure,” she says and stands to clear her plate, grabbing mine on the way.

“I can go now. I appreciate dinner,” Richard—Dick—says and stands.

“No, you can . . . you can stay tonight, if you want, and we can take you back . . . home in the morning,” she says slowly, unsure what words to use to describe his situation.

What I’m sure of is that I don’t like this shit at all.

“That would be great,” Dick says, rubbing his arms.

He’s probably itching for a drink right now, the fucking prick.

Tessa smiles. “Great. I’ll go get a pillow and some sheets from the bedroom.” Looking at her dad and me for a moment, she must notice how I’m feeling, because she asks, “You two’ll be okay for a minute, right?”

Her dad laughs. “Yeah, I want to get to know him anyway.”