A pang of guilt hits me at the mention of Noah’s name. I still haven’t called him since I learned of his grandmother’s passing. I know I should have, and I need to. I’ll do it after church ends—if I can find my phone, that is.
“How did I get here last night?” I ask, trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together. I remember Zed storming into Hardin’s old room and breaking the camera.
“The young man who brought you was named Zed, I believe.” She looks back down at her magazine and quietly clears her throat.
I hate this. I hate not knowing. I like to be in control of everything, and last night I wasn’t in control of my thoughts or of my body.
My mother puts down the magazine with what sounds like a slap. She looks at me blankly, says, “Call me if you need anything,” and walks toward the front door.
“Okay . . .”
Turning, my mother gives one last disapproving glance toward my tight pajamas and leaves the house. “Oh, and go through my closet and find yourself something to wear.”
The moment the screen door closes, a flash of Hardin’s voice pops into my mind.
This is all my fault, he said. It couldn’t have been Hardin—my mind is playing tricks on me. I need to call Zed and thank him for everything. I owe him so much for coming to my aid, for saving me. I’m so grateful to him, and I’ll never be able to thank him enough for helping me and driving me all the way here. I can’t imagine what would have happened in front of that camera had he not shown up.
Salty tears mix with black coffee for the next half hour. Finally, I force myself from the table and into the bathroom to wash last night’s disgusting events from my body. By the time I’m searching in my mother’s closet for something without a built-in underwire bra, I feel a good deal better.
“Do you not own any normal clothing?” I groan, pushing through hanger after hanger holding cocktail dresses. I’m at the point where I would rather sit naked before I finally find a cream-colored sweater and dark jeans. The jeans fit perfectly, and the sweater is tight on my chest, but I’m grateful to have found anything casual at all, so I’m not going to complain.
Searching the house for my phone and purse, I realize that I don’t have a single memory that could point me toward their hiding place. Why can’t my mind just clear through the jumbled night and make sense of everything? I’m assuming my car is still parked outside of Steph’s dorm; hopefully she hasn’t slashed my tires.
I go back into my old bedroom and pull open the desk drawer. My phone sits inside, on top of my small purse. I press the power button and wait for the home screen to appear. I nearly turn it back off when the alert vibrations go on endlessly. Text message after text message, voicemail after voicemail, pop onto the small screen.
Hardin . . . Hardin . . . Zed . . . Hardin . . . unknown . . . Hardin . . . Hardin . . .
My stomach flutters in the most uncomfortable way as I read his name on the screen. He knows; he has to. Someone told him what happened, and that’s why he called and text-messaged me so many times. I should call him and at least let him know that I’m okay before he worries himself crazy. Regardless of the state of our relationship, he’s probably upset after hearing about what happened . . . “upset” being an understatement, for sure.
I hang up the phone after six rings, just as his voicemail picks up, and head back into my mother’s bedroom to attempt to style my hair. The last thing I care about is my appearance right now, but I also don’t care for the idea of listening to my mother’s insults if I don’t make myself look at least decent. Dealing with my appearance also helps to distract me from my anxiety over the scattershot memories of last night that flash into my mind occasionally. I cover the deep circles under my eyes and apply a few swipes of mascara and brush my hair. It’s nearly dry now, working in my favor as I rake my fingers through the natural waves. It doesn’t look nearly as good as I would like, but I don’t have the energy to mess with the frizzy mess any longer than I already have.
The faint sound of someone knocking at the front door draws me out of my daze. Who could be coming here at this time? And suddenly my stomach turns at the thought of Hardin being on the other side of the door.
“Tessa?” a familiar voice calls as I hear the door open.
Noah lets himself in, and I see him in the living room. Relief and guilt hit me as I take in his familiar but shaky smile.
“Hey . . .” He nods, shifting from one foot to the other.
Without thinking, I practically throw myself at him, wrapping my arms around his neck. I bury my face in his chest and begin to cry.
His strong arms wrap around me and hold me, keeping both of us from toppling over. “Are you okay?”
“Yes, I’m just . . . No, I’m not.” I lift my head from his chest, not wanting to smear my mascara on his tan cardigan.
“Your mom said you were in town.” He continues to hold me while I continue to relish the familiarity of him. “So I kind of ducked out before the service ended so I could say hey without everyone around. So what happened?”
“So much, too much to even explain. I’m being so dramatic,” I groan and step away from him.
“College still isn’t treating you the way you hoped?” he asks with a sympathetic little smile.
I shake my head and gesture for him to follow me into the kitchen, where I make another pot of coffee. “No, not at all. I’m moving to Seattle.”
“Your mom told me,” he says and sits at the table.