Chapter 29 – After

Chapter 29 – After

Landon’s text reads 2875 Cornell Rd, which I copy and paste into my maps program, which says the drive is fifteen minutes. What could be going on there that Landon could possibly need me?

I’m just as confused when I arrive at the address as I was when I left my room. Noah has called twice, both of which I’ve ignored; I need the navigation to stay on the screen and, honestly, the confused look on his face when I left him there is haunting me.

The houses on the street are all large and look like mansions. This house in particular is at least three times larger than my mother’s. It’s an old-fashioned brick house with a sloped yard that makes it appear to be sitting on a hill. Even under the streetlights, it’s beautiful. I’m guessing this must be Hardin’s father’s house, since this doesn’t belong to a college kid and it’s the only reason why Landon would be here as well. I take a deep breath, get out, and walk up the steps from the sidewalk. I knock hard on the dark mahogany door, and it opens within seconds.

“Tessa, thank you for coming. I’m sorry, I know you have company. Is Noah with you?” Landon asks and looks out to the car while gesturing me inside.

“No, he’s back at the dorms. What’s going on? Where’s Hardin?” “The backyard. He is out of control.” He sighs.

“And I am here because . . .?” I ask as nicely as I can. What does Hardin being out of control have to do with me?

“I don’t know, I know you hate him, but you do talk to him. He’s really drunk,

completely belligerent. He showed up here and opened a bottle of his father’s scotch. He drank over half the bottle! And then he started breaking things: all my mother’s dishes, a glass cabinet, basically everything he could get his hands on.”

“What? Why?” Hardin told me he doesn’t drink—was that a lie, too? “His dad just told him that he and my mother are getting married . . .”

“Okay?” I’m still confused. “So Hardin doesn’t want them to get married?” I ask as Landon leads me through the large kitchen, where I gasp as I take in the huge mess Hardin has made. Broken dishes are scattered across the floor, and a large wooden cabinet has been knocked over, its glass panels shattered.

“No, but it’s a long story. Right after his dad called and told him, they left town for the weekend to celebrate. I think that’s why Hardin came here, to confront his dad. He never comes here,” he explains and opens the back door.

I see a shadow sitting at a small table on the patio. Hardin. “I don’t know what you think I can do, but I’ll try.”

Landon nods. He leans down and puts his hand on my shoulder. “He was calling out for you,” he tells me quietly, and my heart stops.

I walk toward Hardin and he looks up at me. His eyes are bloodshot, and his hair is hidden under a gray beanie. His eyes go wide, then darken, and I want to step back. He looks almost scary under the dim patio light.

“How did you get here—” Hardin says loudly and stands up. “Landon . . . he . . .” I answer, then wish I hadn’t.

“You fucking called her?” he yells toward Landon, who for his part walks back inside.

“You leave him alone, Hardin—he is worried about you,” I scold.

He sits back down, gesturing for me to take a seat, too. I sit across from him and watch as he grabs the mostly empty bottle of dark liquor and puts it to his mouth. I watch his Adam’s apple move as he gulps it down. When he’s finished, he slams the bottle down onto the glass of the patio table and it makes me jump, thinking either the bottle or the table or both might break.

“Aww, aren’t you two something. You both are so predictable. Poor Hardin is upset, so you gang up on me and try to make me feel bad for breaking some shitty china,” he drawls with a sick smirk.

“I thought you don’t drink?” I ask him and cross my arms.

“I don’t. Until now, I guess. Don’t try to patronize me; you’re no better than me.” He points a finger at me, then grabs the bottle for another swig.

And it’s scary, but I can’t deny that being near him, even in his drunken state, breathes life into me. I have missed the feeling Hardin gives me.

“I never said I was better than you. I just want to know what made you drink now?”

“What does it matter to you? Where’s your boyfriend?” His eyes blaze into mine and the emotion behind them is so strong that I am forced to look away. If only I knew what that emotion was; hatred, I suppose.

“He’s back in my room. I just want to help you, Hardin.” I lean a little over the table to reach for his hand, but he recoils from my touch.

“Help me?” he cackles. I want to ask him why he was calling out for me if he is going to continue to be hateful, but I don’t want to throw Landon under the bus again. “If you want to help me, then leave.”

“Why won’t you just tell me what’s going on?” I look down at my hands and pick at my fingernails.

He sighs and pulls his beanie off and runs his hand through his hair before pulling it back on. “My father decided to tell me just now that he is marrying Karen—and the wedding’s next month. He should have told me long ago, and not over the phone. I’m sure perfect little Landon’s known for a while.”

Oh. I hadn’t actually expected him to tell me, so I am not sure what to say. “I am sure he had his reasons not to tell you.”

“You don’t know him; he doesn’t give a shit about me. You know how many times I have talked to him in the last year? Maybe ten! All he cares about is his big house, his new soon-to-be wife, and his new, perfect son.” Hardin slurs and takes another drink. I stay quiet while he continues. “You should see the dump that my mum lives in in England. She says she likes it there, but I know she doesn’t. It’s smaller than my dad’s bedroom here! My mum practically forced me to come here for university, to be closer to him—and we see how that worked out!”

With this little bit of information he has given me I feel like I can understand him so much better. Hardin’s hurt; that’s why he is the way he is.

“How old were you when he left?” I ask him.

He eyes me warily but answers. “Ten. But even before he left, he was never around. He was at a different bar every night. Now he’s Mr. Perfect and he has all this shit,” Hardin says and waves his hand toward the house.

Hardin’s dad left when he was ten, just like mine, and they were both drunks. We have more in common than I thought. This wounded and drunk Hardin seems so much younger, so much more fragile than the powerful person I’ve known so far.

“I’m sorry that he left you guys, but—” “No, I don’t need your pity,” he interrupts. “It’s not pity. I’m just trying to—” “Trying to what?”

“Help you. Be here for you,” I say softly.

And he smiles. It’s a beautifully haunting smile, and makes me hopeful that I can help him through this, but I know what is really about to happen.

“You are so pathetic. Don’t you see that I don’t want you here? I don’t want you to be here for me. Just because I messed around with you doesn’t mean I want anything to do with you. Yet here you are, leaving your nice boyfriend— who can actually stand to be around you—to come here and try to ‘help’ me. That, Theresa, is the definition of pathetic,” he says, punctuating it with air quotes.

His voice is full of venom, just like I knew it would be, but I ignore the pain in my chest and look at him. “You don’t mean that.” I think back to a week ago when he was laughing and tossing me into the water. I can’t decide if he is a great actor, or a great liar.

“I do, though; go home,” he tells me and raises the bottle to take another drink. Reaching across the table, I snatch it from him and toss it into the yard.

“What the hell?” he yells, but I ignore him and walk toward the back door.

I hear him scramble and then he steps in front of me. “Where are you going?” His face is inches from mine.

“I am going to help Landon clean up the mess you made and then I am going home.” My voice comes out much calmer than I feel.

“Why would you help him?” The disgust in his voice is clear.

“Because he, unlike you, deserves for someone to help him,” I say and his face falls. I should be saying much more to Hardin. I should scream at him for the hurtful things he just said to me, but I know that is what he wants. This is what he does: he hurts everyone near him and he gets a kick out of the chaos that comes out of that.

Hardin quietly steps out of my way.

When I go inside, I find Landon crouched over, pulling the cabinet upright. “Where’s the broom?” I ask when he’s done. Landon looks at me with a

thankful smile.

“Right over there,” he says, motioning to the broom. “Thank you for everything.”

I nod and begin sweeping up the smashed dishes. There are just so many. I feel terrible that when Landon’s mom comes back she’ll find all of her dishes gone. I hope they didn’t have any sentimental value to her.

“Ouch!” I gasp when a small piece of glass digs into my finger. Droplets of blood fall onto the wooden floor, and I jump up to reach the sink.

“Are you okay?” Landon asks, worried.

“Yeah, it’s just a little piece, I don’t know why there is so much blood.” It really doesn’t hurt that bad. I close my eyes as the cold water runs over my

finger, and after a couple of minutes I hear the back door open. I snap my eyes open and turn to see Hardin standing in the doorway.

“Tessa, can I talk to you, please?” he asks.

I know I should say no, but something about the redness around his eyes makes me nod. His eyes look to my hand and then the blood on the floor.

He walks over to me quickly. “Are you okay? What happened?” “It’s nothing, just a little glass,” I tell him.

He reaches for my hand and pulls it out from under the water. And when he touches my arm, I feel the electricity. Looking at my finger, he frowns, then lets it go, walking over to Landon. He was just calling me pathetic, now he is acting all concerned about my health? He is going to make me crazy, literally crazy, as in locked in a padded room.

“Where are the Band-Aids?” he practically demands of Landon, and Landon tells him they’re in the bathroom. Within a minute Hardin is back and he grabs my hand again. First he squeezes some antibacterial gel onto my cut, then he wraps a Band-Aid around my finger gently. I stay quiet, as confused by Hardin’s actions as Landon looks.

“Can I talk to you, please?” he asks again, and thought I know I shouldn’t, since when do I do what I should when Hardin is involved?

I nod, and he wraps his fingers around my wrist and leads me outside.

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