Chapter 91 – After

Chapter 91 – After

We haven’t moved from our spot in the chair for at least thirty minutes, when finally Hardin lifts his head from my chest and says, “Can I eat now?”

“Yes.” I give him a weak smile and start to climb off his lap, but he pulls me back.

“I didn’t say for you to move. Just slide my plate over.” He smiles.

I slide his plate over and reach for mine across the small table. I am still reeling from this new information and now I feel a little uneasy about going to the wedding in the morning.

Sensing Hardin doesn’t want to discuss his confession further, I take a bite off my plate and say, “You are a much better cook than I expected. Having shown your hand, I expect you’ll cook for me more often.”

“We will see,” he says with his mouth full and we eat the rest of the meal in a comfortable silence.

Later, when I’m loading the dishwasher, he walks up behind me and asks, “Are you still mad?”

“Not exactly,” I tell him. “I am still not happy about you being out all night, and I do want to know who you fought, and why.” He opens his mouth to speak, but I stop him. “But not tonight.” I don’t think either of us can handle any more tonight.

“Okay,” he says softly. Worry flashes in his eyes but I choose to let it go.

“Oh, and I didn’t appreciate you throwing my internship in my face, either. That really hurt my feelings.”

“I know. That’s why I said it,” he answers, a little too honestly. “I know. That’s exactly why I don’t like it.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t do it again, okay?” I tell him and he nods. “I’m exhausted,” I groan in a small attempt to change the subject.

“Me, too; let’s lie down for the rest of the evening. I got the cable turned on.” “I was supposed to be doing that.” I scowl at him.

He rolls his eyes and sits next to me on the bed. “You can just give me the money for it . . .”

I stare at the wall. “What time are we leaving here tomorrow for the wedding?”

“Whenever we feel like it.”

“It starts at three, so I think we should be there by two,” I say.

“An hour early?” he whines and I nod. “I don’t know why you insist—” he says but is cut off by my phone ringing.

The look on Hardin’s face as he leans over and grabs it tells me immediately who it is. “Why is he calling?” he huffs.

“I don’t know, Hardin, but I think I should answer.” I grab the phone from his hand.

“Noah?” My voice is soft and shaky as Hardin’s glower burns a hole through the apartment.

“Hey, Tessa, I’m sorry to call you on a Friday night but . . . well . . .” He sounds panicked.

“What?” I push, since he always takes longer than necessary to explain stressful situations.

When I look over to Hardin he mouths, “Speaker.”

I give him an are-you-kidding look, but end up putting Noah on speaker anyway so Hardin can eavesdrop.

“Your mom got a call from the dorm supervisor about your final bill being paid for the room, so she knows you moved out. I told her I have no idea where you live now, which is the truth, but she refused to believe me. And so she’s coming there.”

“Coming here? To campus?”

“Yeah, I guess. I don’t know, but she said she’s going to find you, and she’s being irrational and is really pissed-off. I just wanted to warn you, you know, that she’s coming.”

“I can’t believe her!” I shout into the phone, but then thank Noah before hanging up.

I lie back on the bed. “Great . . . What an excellent way to spend tonight.”

Hardin leans on one elbow next to me. “She won’t be able to find you. No one knows where we live,” he assures me and smooths my bangs off my forehead.

“She may not find me, but she sure will pester Steph and ask every single person she sees in the dorm and make a huge scene.” I cover my face with my hands. “I should just go over there.”

“Or you could call her and give her our address and let her come here. On your territory, so you have the upper hand,” he suggests.

“You’re okay with that?” My hands move from my face. “Of course. She’s your mother, Tessa.”

I look at him quizzically, given the rift between him and his dad. But when I see he’s serious, I’m reminded that he’s willing to work on things with his parents, so I should be that brave, too. “I’ll call her,” I say.

I look at the phone for a while before taking a deep breath and hitting her number. She’s terse on the phone, speaking very quickly. I can tell she’s saving all her hateful energy for when she sees me in person. I don’t give her any details about the apartment or tell her that I live here; I only tell her the address where I am and get off the phone as fast as I can.

Instinctively, I jump out of bed and begin to straighten up our place.

“The apartment is already clean. We have barely touched anything,” Hardin says.

“I know,” I say. “But it makes me feel better.”

After I fold and put away the few items of clothing that were on the floor, I light a candle in the living room and wait at the table with Hardin for my mother to show. I shouldn’t be as nervous as I am—I’m an adult and I make my own choices—but I know her and how badly she’s going to lose it. I am already overly emotional from the brief glimpse into Hardin’s past I was granted an hour ago, and I don’t know if I have it in me to go to battle with her tonight. I look over at the clock and see it’s already eight. Hopefully she won’t stay long, and Hardin and I can get to bed early and just hold each other while we each try to deal with our family legacies.

“Do you want me to stay out here with you or give you two some time to discuss everything?” Hardin asks after a bit.

“I think we should have a little time one-on-one,” I say. As much as I want him by my side, I know that his presence will antagonize her.

“Wait . . . I just remembered something Noah said. He said the final bill for my dorm was paid.” I look at him questioningly.

“Yeah . . . so?”

“You paid it, didn’t you!” I half-shout. Despite my energy, it’s not really out of anger, just surprise and annoyance.

“So . . .” He shrugs.

“Hardin! You have got to stop spending money on me; it makes me uncomfortable.”

“I don’t see what the big deal is. It wasn’t that much,” he argues. “What are you like secretly rich or something? Are you selling drugs?”

“No, I just saved up a lot of money and don’t really spend it. I lived entirely for free last year while I worked, so my paychecks just kept piling up. I never really had anything to spend money on . . . but now I do.” He smiles wide. “And I like spending it on you, so don’t fight me over it.”

“You’re lucky my mother is on her way and I only have it in me to go to war with one of you,” I tease and he lets out a long chuckle that fades until we’re just sitting, holding hands and waiting.

A few minutes later there is a knock . . . well, a pounding at the door.

Hardin stands. “I’ll be right in the other room. I love you.” He gives me a swift kiss before exiting.

I fill my lungs with the deepest breath I can manage and open the door. My mother looks eerily perfect, as always. Not a single smudge mars her heavily made-up eyes, her red lipstick is smooth and silky, her blond hair is neatly piled almost in a halo around her head.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing moving out of that dorm without telling me!” she shouts without introduction and pushes past me into the apartment.

“You didn’t give me much of a choice,” I counter, then focus on breathing in and out to stay as calm as I can.

She spins back to glare at me. “Excuse me? How did I not give you a choice?” “You threatened to not help me pay for my dorm,” I remind her and cross my


“So, I gave you a choice, but you made the wrong one,” she snaps. “No, you’re the one who’s wrong here.”

“Listen to you! Look at you. You aren’t the same Tessa that I dropped off at college three months ago.” She waves her arms to gesture up and down my body. “You are defying me, even yelling at me! You have some nerve! I have done everything for you, and here you are . . . throwing it all away.”

“I am not throwing anything away! I have an excellent internship that pays me very well; I have a car, and a four-point-oh grade point average. What more could you possibly want from me?” I shout back.

Her eyes light up from the challenge, and her voice is full of venom as she says, “Well, for starters, you could have at least changed your clothes before I came. Honestly, Tessa, you look like hell.” As I look down at my pajamas, she

switches to a new criticism. “And what is this . . . you wear makeup now? Who are you? You’re not my Theresa, that is for certain. My Theresa wouldn’t be hanging out in some devil worshipper’s apartment in her pajamas on a Friday night.”

“Do not speak about him that way,” I say through my teeth. “I have already warned you.”

My mother squints her eyes and cackles. Her head falls back in laughter, and I fight the urge to smack her across her perfectly painted-on face. I immediately cringe at my violent thoughts, but she’s pushing me too far.

“And another thing,” I say slowly, calmly, to make sure I deliver the pronouncement just so. “This isn’t just his apartment. It is our apartment.”

And just like that, I get her to stop laughing.

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