After We Fell(4)

By: Anna Todd


“Yeah,” I whisper against his arm, nuzzling in his warmth. Hardin’s expulsion hearing for beating up Zed is scheduled for tomorrow; not our finest hour.

Suddenly a small feeling of panic shoots through me at the memory of the text Zed sent me. I’d almost forgotten about it altogether after seeing my father outside the shop. My phone had vibrated in my pocket as we waited for Steph and Tristan’s return, and Hardin had stared at me silently while I read it. Fortunately he didn’t ask me what was up.

I need to talk to you tomorrow morning, alone please? Zed had written.

I don’t know what to make of the message; I don’t know if I should talk to him about anything, considering he told Tristan he was going to press charges against Hardin. I hope he just said that to impress him, to keep his reputation. I don’t know what I’ll do if Hardin gets in trouble—real trouble. I should respond to the message, but I don’t think it’s the best idea to meet Zed or to talk to him alone. Hardin’s already in enough of a mess without me adding to it.

“Are you listening to me?” Hardin nudges me, and I look up from the comfort of his embrace.

“No, sorry.”

“What’s on your mind?”

“Everything: tomorrow, the charges, expulsion, England, Seattle, my father . . .” I sigh. “Everything.”

“You’ll come with me, though? To find out about the expulsion?” His voice is smooth, yet nervous.

“If you want me to,” I say.

“I need you to.”

“Then I’ll be there.” I have to change the subject, so I say, “I still can’t believe you got that tattoo. Let me see it again.”

He gently rolls me off of him so he can turn over. “Lift my shirt.”

I lift the bottom of his black T-shirt until his entire back is laid bare, and then I pull back the white bandage covering the newly engraved words.

“There’s a little blood on the bandage,” I tell him.

“That’s normal,” he says, humor at my ignorance coming through his words.

I outline the reddened area with my finger, taking in the perfect words. The tattoo he got for me is my new favorite. The perfect words—words that have so much meaning for me, and for him as well, apparently. But they’re tainted by the news I’ve chosen to withhold about moving to Seattle. I’ll tell him tomorrow, as soon as we find out about the expulsion. I promise myself one hundred times that I will; the longer I wait, the more angry he’ll be.

“Is that enough of a commitment for you, Tessie?”

I scowl at him. “Don’t call me that.”

“I hate that nickname,” he says, turning his head up to look at me while still lying on his stomach.

“Me, too, but I don’t want to tell him that. Anyway, the tattoo is enough for me.”

“You’re sure? Because I can go back and get your portrait underneath.” He laughs.

“No, please don’t!” I shake my head, and his laughter rises.

“You’re sure this’ll be enough?” He sits up and tugs his shirt back down to cover his body. “No marriage,” he adds.

“That’s what this was? You got a tattoo as an alternative to marriage?” I don’t know how I feel about this.

“No, not exactly. I got the tattoo because I wanted to, and because I haven’t gotten one in a while.”

“Thoughtful.”

“It’s for you, too, to show you that I want this.” He gestures between us, taking my hand in his. “Whatever this is that we have, I don’t ever want to lose it. I’ve lost it before, and even now I don’t completely have it back, but I can tell it’s getting there.”

His hand feels warm, and so right holding on to mine.

“So once again, I used the words of a far more romantic man than myself to get the point across.” He smiles a bright smile, but I see the terror beneath it.

“I think Darcy would be appalled by your use of his famous words,” I tease.

“I think he would high-five me,” he boasts.

My laughter comes out like a bark. “High-five? Fitzwilliam Darcy would never do such a thing.”

“You think he’s above high fives? He’s not; he would sit here and have a beer with me. We would bond over how annoyingly stubborn the women in our lives are.”

“The two of you are lucky to have us, because the Lord knows no one else would put up with either of you.”

“Is that so?” he challenges with a dimpled smile.

“Obviously,”

“You’re right, I suppose. But I’d trade you for Elizabeth in a heartbeat.”

My mouth presses into a straight line, and I raise a brow, expecting an explanation.

“Only because she shares my views on marriage.”

“But she still got married,” I remind him.

In a very un-Hardin-like move, he takes my hips in his hands and pushes me back on the bed, so my head lands on the mountain of decorative pillows that he despises—a fact he never fails to remind me of. “That’s it! Darcy can have both of you!” His laughter fills the room, and mine is equally powerful.

These little dramas during which we bicker over fictional characters and he laughs like a child are the moments that make all the hell we’ve put each other through worth every second. Moments like these shield me from the harsh realities we’ve experienced throughout our relationship, and all the obstacles that still lie in front of us.

“I can hear he’s out of the bathroom,” Hardin says, his tone guarded.

“I’m going to say good night.” I wrestle out of Hardin’s grip, placing a swift kiss on his forehead.

In the living room, I find that Hardin’s clothes look odd on my father, but at least they fit better than I’d expected.

“Thanks again for the clothes. I’ll leave them here when I go in the morning,” he tells me.

“It’s okay, you can take them . . . if you need them.”

He sits on the couch and rests his hands on his lap.“You’ve already done enough for me, more than I deserve.”

“It’s okay, really.”

“You’re much more understanding than your mom.” He smiles.

“I’m not sure I understand anything right now, but I want to try to get to that point.”

“That’s all I’m asking for, just a little time to get to know my little . . . well, my adult daughter.”

I give him a tight smile. “I’d like that.”

I know he has a long way to go, and I’m not forgiving him overnight. But he’s my father, and I don’t have the energy to hate him. I want to believe that he can change; I’ve seen it happen before. Hardin’s father, for example, has completely turned his life around, even if Hardin can’t let go of their painful past. I’ve seen Hardin change, too. And since there aren’t many people more stubborn than him, I figure there’s hope for my father, no matter how bad he may have gotten.

“Hardin hates me. I’ve got my work cut out for me here.”

His sense of humor is contagious, and I chuckle. “Yes; yes, you do.” I look down the hall at my scowling boyfriend in his solid black clothes, watching us with suspicious eyes.





chapter four



TESSA


Turn it off,” Hardin groans as the alarm rings throughout the dark bedroom.

My fingers fumble for my phone, and finally, with a swipe of my thumb across the screen, the unwelcome sound stops. My shoulders feel heavy as I sit up in bed, the weight of today’s tensions threatening to pull me back down: the university’s decision whether to expel Hardin, the possibility of Zed pressing charges against him, and lastly, Hardin’s potential reactions to my telling him I’m planning to follow Vance Publishing to Seattle, and that I want him to come even though he’s professed to hate the city.

I can’t decide which of these terrifies me the most. By the time I turn the bathroom light on and splash cool water against my face, I realize that the assault charges are the worst. If Hardin is sent to jail, I honestly have no idea what I would do, or what he would do. The thought alone makes me nauseous. Zed’s request to meet with me this morning resurfaces, and my mind reels with all the possibilities of what he could want to talk about, especially since he said something about having fallen “in love” with me the last time I saw him.

I inhale and exhale into the soft towel hanging on the wall. Should I reply to Zed and at least see what he has to say? Maybe he can offer an explanation for why he told Tristan one thing and me another about pressing charges. I feel guilty for asking him not to, especially considering how badly Hardin hurt him, but I love Hardin, and Zed had the same intentions as Hardin did, to win a bet, in the beginning. Neither of them is purely innocent here.

Before I can overthink the possible repercussions, I text Zed. I’m only trying to help Hardin. I remind myself of that over and over after I hit send and obsess over my hair and makeup.


WHEN I SEE that the blanket is folded neatly on the arm of the couch, my heart sinks. He left? How will I get hold of him—

The soft sound of a cabinet opening in the kitchen picks my heart up from the floor. Going into the dark room, I switch the light on and see my father startle and drop a spoon onto the concrete floor with a clatter.