After We Fell(3)

By: Anna Todd


Oh no, you don’t.

She frowns at my expression and saunters out of the room, leaving us alone in the kitchen.

“So, Hardin, where did you meet my Tessa?” he asks. I hear her close the door and wait a couple of beats to make sure she’s not in earshot. “Hardin?” he repeats.

“Let’s get something straight,” I snarl and lean across the table, startling him. “She isn’t your Tessa—she’s mine. And I know what the fuck you’re up to, so don’t think for a goddamn second you’re fooling me.”

He raises his hands meekly. “I’m not up to anything, I—”

“What do you want, money?”

“What? No, of course I don’t want money. I want a relationship with my daughter.”

“You’ve had nine years to build one, and yet you’re only here because you ran into her in a damn parking lot. It’s not like you came looking for her,” I bark, having visions of my hands around his neck.

“I know.” He shakes his head, looking down. “I know that I made a lot of mistakes, and I’m going to make up for them.”

“You’re drunk—right now, sitting in my kitchen, you’re fucking drunk. I know a drunk when I see one. I have no sympathy for a man who leaves his family and doesn’t even have his shit together nine years later.”

“I know your intentions are good, and it makes me happy to see you try to defend my daughter, but I’m not going to mess this up. I only want to get to know her . . . and you.”

I stay silent, trying to calm my irate thoughts.

“You’re much nicer when she’s around,” he observes quietly.

“You’re worse of an actor when she’s not around,” I retaliate.

“You have every right not to trust me, but for her sake, give me a chance.”

“If you hurt her in any way, you are dead.” Maybe I should feel a little remorse about threatening Tessa’s father like this, but I only feel anger and distrust toward the pathetic drunk. My instincts tell me to protect her, not to sympathize with a drunk stranger.

“I won’t hurt her,” he promises.

I roll my eyes and take a drink from my glass of water.

Thinking his statement somehow settles it, he tries to joke, “This talk—our roles should be reversed, you know?”

But I ignore him and walk into the bedroom. I have to, before Tessa comes out to find me strangling her father.





chapter three



TESSA


I have a pillow, a blanket, and a towel in my hands when Hardin storms into the bedroom

“Okay, what happened?” I ask, waiting for him to explode, waiting for him to complain that I invited my father to stay without really consulting him first.

Hardin goes to the bed and lies down on it, then looks over at me. “Nothing. We bonded. Then I felt like I’d had enough quality time with our guest, and decided to come in here.”

“Please tell me you weren’t horrible to him.” I barely know my father. The last thing I want is more tension.

“I kept my hands to myself,” he says and closes his eyes.

“Guess I’ll take him a blanket and apologize for your behavior, as always,” I say with annoyance.

In the living room, I find my father sitting on the floor, picking at the holes in his jeans. He looks up when he hears me. “You can sit on the couch,” I tell him and place my bundle on the arm of the couch.

“I . . . well, I didn’t want to get anything on your couch.” Embarrassment colors his expression, and my heart aches.

“Don’t worry about that . . . you can take a shower here, and I’m sure Hardin has some clothes you can wear for the night.”

He doesn’t look at me, but lightly protests, “I don’t want to take advantage.”

“It’s okay, really. I’ll bring out some clothes; go ahead and take a shower. Here’s a towel for you to use.”

He gives me a wan smile. “Thank you. I’m so glad to see you again. I’ve missed you so much . . . and here you are.”

“I’m sorry if Hardin was rude to you. He’s . . .”

“Protective?” he finishes for me.

“Yeah, I guess he is. He comes off very rude sometimes.”

“It’s okay. I’m a man; I can take it. He’s just looking out for you, and I don’t blame him. He doesn’t know me. Hell, neither do you. He reminds me of someone I used to know . . .” My father stops and smiles.

“Who?”

“Me . . . I was just like him. I didn’t have respect for anyone who didn’t earn it, and I ran over anyone who got in my way. I had the same chip on my shoulder that he has; the only difference is he has a lot more tattoos than me.” He chuckles, and the sound breathes life into memories I had long forgotten.

I enjoy the feeling and smile along with him until he stands up and grabs the towel. “I’m going to take you up on that shower now.”

I tell him that I’ll bring him a change of clothes and place them outside the bathroom door.

Back in our room, Hardin is still on the bed, eyes closed and knees bent in front of him.

“He’s taking a shower. I told him he could wear some of your clothes.”

He sits up. “Why would you do that?”

“Because he doesn’t have any clothes.” I walk toward the bed, arms extended to calm him.

“Sure, Tessa, go ahead and give him my clothes,” he says harshly. “Should I offer him my side of the bed, too?”

“You need to stop, now. He’s my father, and I’d like to see where this is going to go. Just because you can’t forgive your father doesn’t mean you have to sabotage my attempts to have some kind of relationship with mine,” I reply, equally harshly.

Hardin stares at me. His green eyes narrow, no doubt from the effort not to say out loud the hateful words he’s spewing at me in his head.

“That’s not what this is; you’re too naive. How many times do I have to tell you this? Not everyone deserves your kindness, Tessa.”

I snap, “Only you, right? You’re the only one I should forgive and give the benefit of the doubt to? That’s bullshit, and really pretty selfish of you.” I dig through his bottom drawer to grab a pair of sweats. “And you know what? I’d rather be naive and capable of seeing the good in people than be a jerk to everyone and assume that everyone is out to get me.”

I gather up a shirt and some socks and storm out. As I’m placing the pile of clothes by the bathroom door, I hear my father’s voice singing softly over the sound of the water. I press my ear to the door and can’t help but smile at the wonderful noise. I remember my mother talking about my father’s singing and how obnoxious it always was, but I find it lovely.

I turn the television back on in the living room and set the remote on the table to encourage him to watch what he wants. Does he watch television?

I straighten up the kitchen, leaving some leftovers out on the counter in case he’s still hungry. When was the last time he had a real meal? I wonder again.

The water is still running in the bathroom; he must be enjoying his hot shower, which tells me that he probably hasn’t had a bath in a while.

Hardin has his new leather binder that I got him on his lap when I finally go back to the bedroom. I walk by him without making eye contact, but then feel his fingers wrap around my arm to stop me.

“Can we talk?” he asks, pulling me to stand between his legs. His hands quickly move his binder out of the way.

“Go ahead, talk.”

“I’m sorry for being a dick, okay? I just don’t know what to think of all this.”

“All of what? Nothing has changed.”

“Yes, it has. This man who neither of us really knows is in my house, and he wants to become close with you after all these years. It doesn’t add up, and my first instinct is to be defensive. You know that.”

“I hear what you’re saying, but you can’t be hateful and say those things to me—like calling him a beggar. That really hurt my feelings.”

He spreads my hands open with his, lacing his fingers through mine while pulling me even closer to him. “I’m sorry, baby, I really am.” He brings our hands to his mouth, slowly kissing each of my knuckles, and my anger dissolves at the touch of his soft lips.

I quirk one eyebrow. “Are you going to stop with the cruel comments?”

“Yes.” He turns my hand over in his, tracing the lines etched into my palm.

“Thank you.” I watch as his long finger travels up my wrist and back down to my fingertips.

“Just be careful, okay? Because I won’t hesitate to—”

“He seems okay, though, doesn’t he? I mean he’s nice,” I say quietly, interrupting his sure-to-be-violent promise.

Hardin’s fingers stop their movements. “I don’t know; he’s nice enough, I guess.”

“He wasn’t nice when I was younger.”

Hardin looks at me with serious fire in his eyes, though his words have a gentle tone to them. “Don’t talk about that while he’s this close to me, please. I’m trying my best here, so let’s not push it.”

I climb onto his lap, and he lies down with my body against his.

“Tomorrow’s the big day.” He sighs.