Chapter 89 – After

Chapter 89 – After

When I wake up, it takes me a few moments to realize I am still on the couch. “Hardin?” I call out, untangling myself from the blanket. I walk to the

bedroom in the hopes he will be in there. But the room is empty. Where the hell is he?

I go back to the living room and snatch my phone off the back of the couch. Still no messages from him—and it’s seven in the morning. I call, but get his voicemail and hang up. I storm around the kitchen and turn on the coffeepot before heading to the bathroom to take a shower. I’m lucky I woke up on time, because I didn’t actually set my alarm. I never forget to set an alarm.

“Where are you?” I say aloud and step into the shower.

As I blow-dry my hair, I go over the possible explanations for his absence. Last night I thought he just got caught up with his work, since he has a lot to make up for or maybe he ran into someone he knew and the time slipped away from him. But at the library? Those things close fairly early, and even bars close eventually. The most likely explanation is that he went to a party. I somehow know this is what happened. A small part of me still worries that maybe he was in an accident; the thought alone hurts too bad to even entertain. But no matter what excuse or story I conjure up in my mind, I know he is doing something he isn’t supposed to. Everything was good between us last night and then he goes and stays out all night?

In no mood to wear a dress, I put on one of my old black pencil skirts and a soft pink button-up shirt. Clouds cover the sky my entire drive, and by the time I

get to Vance my mood has darkened to match them and I’m infuriated. Who the hell does he think he is to stay out all night without even telling me?

Kimberly raises a brow at me when I walk past the donut table without grabbing one, but I give her my best fake smile and walk to my office. My morning passes in a daze. I read and reread the same pages over and over without comprehending any of the words.

There is a knock on my door, and my heart stops. I desperately hope it’s Hardin, regardless of how pissed I am at him. Instead it’s Kimberly.

“Do you want to go get lunch with me?” she asks sweetly.

I almost decline her offer, but sitting here obsessing over my boyfriend’s whereabouts is not helping me one bit.

I smile. “Sure.”

We walk around the corner to a small cantina-style Mexican restaurant. By the time we get inside we’re both shivering, and she asks to be seated close to a heater. The small table we are given is directly underneath a heater, and we both raise our hands in the air to warm up.

“This weather is unforgiving,” she says and prattles on about being cold and already missing summer.

“I almost forgot how cold the winter is,” I tell her plainly. The seasons have blended together, and I barely noticed fall slipping away.

“So . . . how are things with Mr. Bad Ass?” she asks with a laugh.

The server brings us chips and salsa, and my stomach growls. I am not skipping my morning donut anymore.

“Well . . .” I debate whether to share my personal life with her. I don’t have many friends. None, really, excluding Steph, whom I never see anymore. Kimberly is at least ten years older than me and maybe she has some good insight into the minds of men, something I certainly lack in. I stare at the ceiling covered in strings of beer-bottle-shaped lights and take a deep breath.

“Well, I am actually not sure how things are at the moment. Yesterday things were fine but then he stayed out last night. All night. It was our second night in the apartment and he just never came home,” I explain.

“Wait . . . wait . . . back up. Okay, so you two live together?” She gapes. “Yeah . . . as of Tuesday.” I try to smile.

“Okay, so then he just didn’t come home last night?”

“Nope. He said he had to do some work and go by the library, but then he didn’t come home.”

“And you don’t think he’s hurt or anything, right?”

“No, I really don’t.” I feel as if I would somehow know if he wasn’t okay, like we are tied together in some way that would immediately let me know if he was


“He hasn’t called?”

“Nope. Or texted.” I frown.

“I would have his balls if I were you. This is unacceptable,” she proclaims.

The server stops by to say, “Your food will be out shortly,” and fills up my water. I’m a little thankful for the small interruption, to give me a chance to catch my breath after Kimberly’s harsh words.

And then she goes on, and when I realize she’s not judging me but sticking up for me, I feel better. “I mean it—you have to make it clear that he can’t behave this way; otherwise he will keep doing it. The problem with men is that they are creatures of habit, and if you let this be his habit, you’ll never be able to break it. He needs to know from the start that you won’t put up with this shit. He is lucky to have you and he needs to get his shit together.”

Something about her pep talk gives me more confidence in my anger. I should be pissed. I should “have his balls,” as Kimberly so subtly put it.

“How do I do that?” I ask and she laughs.

“Let him have it. Unless he has a damned good excuse, which I am sure he is plotting right now, you let him have it the second he walks through that door. You deserve to be respected, and if he isn’t respecting you, then you need to either make him or kick him to the curb.”

“You make it sound so easy.” I laugh.

“Oh, it’s far from easy.” She laughs, then grows serious. “But it has to be done.”

The rest of our lunch is filled with stories of her college life and how she has had her fair share of terrible relationships. Her blond bob sways back and forth as she shakes her head during almost every story. I find myself laughing so hard I have to dab the corners of my eyes. The food is delicious and I am glad I came out to lunch with her instead of sulking alone in my office.

On the way back to my office, Trevor spots me from near the restrooms and comes over, smiling. “Hello, Tessa.”

“Hey, how are you?” I ask politely.

“I’m okay. It’s awfully cold out there,” he says and I nod. “You look lovely today,” he adds and looks away. I get the feeling he didn’t mean to say that aloud. I smile and thank him before he heads into the bathroom, obviously embarrassed.

By the time I leave, I have gotten literally no work done so I take the manuscript home with me in hopes of making up for my lack of motivation today.

When I arrive back at the apartment, Hardin’s car still isn’t in the lot. My

anger returns, and I call him and cuss him out on his voicemail, which surprisingly makes me feel a little better. I make myself a quick dinner and get my things ready for tomorrow.

I can’t believe it’s only two days until the wedding. What if he doesn’t come back before then? He will. Won’t he? I look around the apartment. As charming as it is, it seems to have lost some of its glow in Hardin’s absence.

Somehow I manage to get a good amount of work done and am just putting everything away when the door opens. Hardin stumbles through the living room and into the bedroom without saying a word. I hear him toss his boots onto the floor and curse at himself, most likely for falling over. I go over what Kimberly said at lunch today and gather all my thoughts, pushing my anger to its head.

“Where the hell were you?” I yell as I enter the room. Hardin has his shirt off and is removing his pants.

“Good to see you, too,” he slurs. “Are you drunk?” I gape.

“Maybe,” he answers, and tosses his pants onto the floor.

I huff and pick them up, throwing them at him. “We have a hamper for a reason.” I glare and he laughs.

He is laughing. Laughing at me.

“You have some nerve, Hardin! You stay out all night and most of the day today without even calling me, and then you stumble in here drunk and make fun of me?” I scream.

“Stop yelling. I have a killer headache,” he groans and lies on the bed.

“Do you think this is funny? Is this some sort of game to you? If you aren’t going to take our relationship seriously, then why did you ask me to move in with you?”

“I don’t want to talk about this right now. You’re overreacting; now, come over here and let me make you happy.” His eyes are bloodshot from the amount of alcohol he consumed. He holds his arms out for me with a stupid drunken grin on his perfect face.

“No, Hardin,” I say sternly. “I’m serious. You can’t just stay out all night and not even offer me an explanation.”

“Jesus. Would you chill the fuck out? You’re not my mother. Stop fighting with me and come here,” he repeats.

“Get out,” I snap.

“Excuse me?” He sits up. Now I have his attention.

“You heard me, get out. I will not be that girl who sits at home all night waiting on her boyfriend to come home. I expected you to at least come up with a good excuse—but you haven’t even tried! I’m not going to give in this time,

Hardin. I always forgive you way too easily. Not this time. So either explain yourself or get the hell out.” I cross my arms, proud of myself for not giving in to him.

“In case you forgot, I am the one paying the bills here, so if anyone is going to leave, it will be you,” he says with a blank stare.

I glance down at his hands on his knees; his knuckles are yet again busted and covered in dried blood.

My mind is still trying to come up with a response when I ask, “Did you get in a fight again?”

“Does it matter?”

“Yes, Hardin! It does matter. Is that what you were doing all night? Fighting people? You didn’t even have to work, did you? Or is that your job, beating up people?”

“What? No, that’s not my job. You know what my job is. I did work, then I got distracted,” he says and swipes his hand over his face.


“Nothing. Jesus,” he groans. “You are always on my case.”

“I’m always on your case? What did you expect to happen when you stumbled in here after being gone all night and day! I need answers, Hardin—I am sick of you not giving me them.” He ignores me and pulls a shirt over his head. “I was worried all day; you could have at least called me. I was a mess today while you were out drinking and doing God knows what. You are messing with my internship, and that is not okay.”

“Your internship? You mean the one that my father got you?” he says with his foul mouth.

“You’re unbelievable.” “Just saying.” He shrugs.

How is this the same person who just two nights go was whispering how much he loves me into my ear while he thought I was asleep?

“I’m not even going to respond to that, because I know that’s what you want. You want a fight and I won’t give you one.” I grab one of my T-shirts and stalk out of the room. Before I exit, I turn back to him. “But let me make this clear: if you don’t get your shit together—like now—I’m gone.”

I head to the couch and lie down, grateful for another space to be where he isn’t. I allow a few tears to fall before wiping my face and picking up Hardin’s old copy of Wuthering Heights. No matter how bad I want to go back in there and make him explain everything to me—where he was, who he was with, why he got into a fight, and with whom—I force myself to stay on the couch because that will bother him much more.

Though probably not half as much as the level of control he has over parts of my life is bothering me.

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