After We FellBy: Anna Todd
Dad?” This man in front of me couldn’t possibly be my father, despite the familiar brown eyes staring back at me.
“Tessie?” His voice is thicker sounding than I recall from my distant memories.
Hardin turns to me, eyes blazing, and then back to my father.
My father. Here, in this bad neighborhood, with filthy clothes on his back.
“Tessie? Is that really you?” he asks.
I’m frozen. I have no words to say to this drunken man wearing my father’s face.
Hardin puts a hand on my shoulder in an attempt to elicit a reaction from me. “Tessa . . .”
I take a step toward the strange man, and he smiles. His brown beard is peppered with gray; his smile isn’t white and clean like I remember . . . how did he end up this way? All the hope I once held that my father would’ve changed his life around the way Ken did has vanished, and the realization that this man is actually my father hurts worse than it should.
“It’s me,” someone says, and after a moment I realize the words came from me.
He closes the space between us and wraps his arms around me. “I can’t believe it! Here you are! I’ve been trying to—”
He’s cut short by Hardin pulling him away from me. I step back, unsure how to behave.
The stranger—my father—looks between Hardin and me, alert and in disbelief. But shortly he eases back into a nonchalant posture and keeps his distance, for which I’m glad.
“I’ve been trying to find you for months,” he says, wiping his hand across his forehead, leaving a smudge of dirt on his skin.
Hardin stands in front of me, ready to pounce. “I’ve been here,” I say quietly, peering around his shoulder. I’m thankful for his protection, and it dawns on me that he must be completely confused.
My father turns to him, looks him up and down for a while. “Wow. Noah sure has changed a lot.”
“No, that’s Hardin,” I tell him.
My father shuffles around him a little and inches closer to me, and I can see that Hardin tenses when he moves. This close, I can smell him.
It’s either the liquor on his breath, or the by-product of abusing liquor, that has him confusing the two; Hardin and Noah are polar opposites, and could never be compared to each other. My father swings an arm around me, and Hardin gives me a look, but I shake my head slightly to keep him at bay.
“Who’s he?” My father keeps his arm around me for an uncomfortably long time while Hardin just stands there, looking like he’s going to explode—not necessarily out of anger, I realize; he just seems to have no clue what to say or do.
That makes two of us. “He’s my . . . Hardin’s my . . .”
“Boyfriend. I’m her boyfriend,” he finishes for me.
The man’s brown irises go wide as he finally takes in Hardin’s appearance.
“Nice to meet you, Hardin. I’m Richard.” He reaches his dirty hand out to shake Hardin’s.
“Ehm . . . yeah, nice to meet you.” Hardin is clearly very . . . unsettled.
“What are the two of you doing out around here?”
I take this opportunity to move away from my father and stand next to Hardin, who snaps back to himself and pulls me to his side.
“Hardin was getting a tattoo,” I answer robotically. My mind is unable to comprehend all that’s happening right now.
“Ah . . . Nice. I’ve used this place before myself.”
Images of my father having coffee before leaving the house every morning to go to work fill my mind. He looked nothing like this, he spoke nothing like this, and he sure as hell didn’t tattoo himself back when I knew him. When I was his little girl.
“Yeah, my friend Tom does them.” He pushes up the sleeve of his sweatshirt to reveal what resembles a skull on his forearm.
It doesn’t look like it belongs on him, but as I continue to examine him I begin to see that maybe it does. “Oh . . .” is all I can manage.
This is so awkward. This man is my father, the man who left my mother and me alone. And he’s here in front of me . . . drunk. And I don’t know what to think.
Part of me is excited—a small part that I don’t want to acknowledge at the moment. I had secretly been hoping to see him again since the day my mother mentioned he was back in the area. I know it’s silly—stupid, really—but in a way he seems better than before. He’s drunk and possibly homeless, but I have missed him more than I realized, and maybe he’s just had a rough time lately. Who am I to judge this man when I don’t know anything about him?
When I look at him, and at the street surrounding us, it’s bizarre to see that everything is moving along as it normally should. I could have sworn time stopped when my father stumbled in front of us.
“Where are you living?” I ask.
Hardin’s defensive gaze is set on my father, watching him like he’s a dangerous predator.
“I’m in between places right now.” He wipes his forehead with his sleeve.
“I was working down at Raymark, but I got laid off,” he tells me.
I vaguely recall hearing the name Raymark before. I think it’s some manufacturer. He’s been doing factory work?
“What have you been up to? It’s been, what . . . five years?”
I can feel Hardin stiffen next to me as I say, “No, it’s been nine.”
“Nine years? I’m sorry, Tessie.” His words are slightly slurred.
His nickname for me makes my heart sink; that name was used in the best of times. In the time when he would lift me up onto his shoulders and run through our small yard, the time before he left. I don’t know what to make of this. I want to cry because I haven’t seen him in so long, I want to laugh at the irony of seeing him here, and I want to yell at him for leaving me. It’s confusing to see him this way. I remember him as a drunk, but he was an angry drunk then, not a smiling, showing-off-tattoos-and-shaking-hands-with-my-boyfriend drunk. Maybe he’s changed into a nicer man . . .
“I think it’s time to go,” Hardin states, looking at my father.
“I really am sorry; it wasn’t all my fault. Your mother . . . you know how she is.” He defends himself, his hands waving in front of him. “Please, Theresa, give me a chance,” the man begs.
“Tessa . . .” Hardin warns beside me.
“Give us a second,” I say to my father. I grab Hardin by the arm and lead him a few feet away.
“What the hell are you doing? You aren’t actually going to—” he begins.
“He’s my dad, Hardin.”
“He’s a fucking homeless drunk,” he spits with annoyance.
Tears prick my eyes from Hardin’s truthful but harsh words. “I haven’t seen him in nine years.”
“Exactly—because he left you. It’s a waste of time, Tessa.” He glances behind me at my father.
“I don’t care. I want to hear him out.”
“I mean, I guess so. It’s not like you’re inviting him to the apartment or anything.” He shakes his head.
“If I want to, I will. And if he wants to come, he’s coming over. It’s my place, too,” I snap. I look over at my father. He’s standing there, wearing dirty clothes, staring down at the concrete in front of him. When was the last time he slept in a bed? Had a meal? The thought makes my heart ache.
“You aren’t seriously considering having him come home with us?” Hardin’s fingers slide through his hair in a familiar gesture of frustration.
“Not to live or anything—just for tonight. We could make dinner,” I offer. My father looks up and makes eye contact with me. I look away as he starts to smile.
“Dinner? Tessa, he’s a goddamn drunk who hasn’t seen you in almost ten years . . . and you’re talking about making dinner for him?”
Embarrassed at his outburst, I pull him by the collar closer to me and speak low. “He’s my father, Hardin, and I don’t have a relationship with my mother anymore.”
“That doesn’t mean you need to have one with this guy. This isn’t going to end well, Tess. You’re too damn nice to everyone when they don’t deserve it.”
“This is important to me,” I tell him, and his eyes soften before I can point out the irony of his objections.
He sighs and tugs at his messy hair in frustration.“Dammit, Tessa, this isn’t going to end well.”
“You don’t know how it will end, Hardin,” I whisper and look over at my father, who’s running his fingers over his beard. I know Hardin may be right, but I owe it to myself to attempt to get to know this man, or at least to hear what he has to say.
I go back over to my father, instinctive apprehension making my voice waver a little. “Do you want to come to our place for dinner?”
“Really?” he exclaims, hope threading through his face.
“Okay! Yeah, okay!” He smiles, and for a brief moment the man I remember flashes through—the man before the liquor, that is.
Hardin doesn’t say a word as we all walk to the car. I know he’s angry, and I understand why. But I also know that his father has changed for the better—he runs our college, for goodness’ sakes. Am I so foolish for hoping to witness a similar change in my father?