Noah gives me a slight smile. “Yeah, me, too,” he quietly agrees.
“THERESA.” A hand grasps my shoulder and shakes me. “Theresa, wake up.”
“I’m up.” I groan and open my eyes. The living room. I’m in my mother’s living room. I kick a blanket off my legs . . . a blanket Noah covered me with when I lay down after we talked a bit more and then started to watch some TV together. Just like old times.
I wriggle out of my mother’s grip. “What time is it?”
“Nine p.m. I was going to wake you up earlier.” She purses her lips.
It must have been driving her insane to let me sleep the day away. Oddly, the thought amuses me.
“Sorry, I don’t even remember falling asleep.” I stretch my arms and stand to my feet. “Did Noah leave?” I peer into the kitchen, and I don’t see him.
“Yes. Mrs. Porter really wanted to see you, but I told her it wasn’t a good time,” she says and goes into the kitchen.
I follow her, smelling something cooking. “Thank you.” I do wish I’d said a proper goodbye to Noah, especially because I know I’ll see him again.
My mother goes to the stove and says over her shoulder, “Hardin brought your car, I see,” disapproval coloring her voice. A moment later, she turns from the stove and hands me a plate of lettuce and grilled tomatoes.
I haven’t missed her idea of a good meal. But I take the plate from her hand anyway.
“Why didn’t you tell me that Hardin came here that night? I remember it now.”
She shrugs. “He asked me not to.”
Taking a seat at the table, I poke at the “meal” tentatively. “Since when do you care what he wants?” I challenge, nervous about her reaction . . .
“I don’t,” she says and prepares her own plate. “I didn’t mention it because it’s in your best interest not to remember.”
My fork slips from my fingers and hits the plate with a sharp clink. “Keeping things from me isn’t in my best interest,” I say. I’m doing my best to keep my voice cool and calm, I really am. To emphasize this, I dab the corners of my mouth with a perfectly folded napkin.
“Theresa, do not take your frustrations out on me,” my mother says, joining me at the table. “Whatever that man has done to make you this way is your own fault. Not mine.”
The moment her red lips pull into a confident smirk, I stand from the table, throw my napkin onto the plate, and storm out of the room.
“Where are you going, young lady?” she calls.
“To bed. I have to get up at four in the morning, and I have a long drive ahead of me,” I yell down the hallway and close the door to my bedroom.
I take a seat on my childhood bed . . . and immediately the light gray walls seem to be closing in on me. I hate this house. I shouldn’t, but I do. I hate the way I feel inside it, like I can’t breathe without being scolded or corrected. I never realized how caged and controlled I had been my entire life until I had my first taste of freedom with Hardin. I love having pizza for dinner, spending the entire day naked in bed with him. No folded napkins. No curled hair. No hideous yellow curtains.
Before I can stop myself, I’m calling him, and he’s answering on the second ring.
“Tess?” he says, out of breath.
“Um, hey,” I whisper.
“What’s wrong?” he huffs.
“Nothing, are you all right?”
“Come on, Scott. Get back over here,” a female voice says in the background.
My heart starts hammering against my rib cage as the possibilities flood my mind. “Oh, you’re . . . I’ll let you go.”
“No, it’s fine. She can wait.” The background noise gets softer and softer by the second. He must be walking away from whoever she is.
“Really, it’s okay. I’ll just go, I don’t want to . . . interrupt you.” Looking at the gray wall nearest my bed, I swear it’s crept closer to me. Like it’s ready to pounce.
“Okay,” he breathes.
“Okay, bye,” I say quickly and hang up, holding my hand over my mouth to keep from vomiting on my mother’s carpet.
There has to be some sort of logical—
My phone buzzes next to my thigh, Hardin’s name clear on the small screen. I answer despite myself.
“I’m not doing what you think I’m doing . . . I didn’t even realize how it sounded,” he immediately states. I can hear a harsh wind blowing around him, muffling his voice.
“It’s okay, really.”
“No, Tess, it wouldn’t be,” he says, calling me out. “If I was with someone else right now, that wouldn’t be okay, so stop acting like it would be.”
I lie back on the bed, admitting to myself that he’s right. “I didn’t think you were doing anything,” I half lie. I somehow knew he wasn’t, but my imagination . . . it took me there still.
“Good, maybe you finally trust me.”
“Which would be much more relevant if you hadn’t left me.” His tone is sharp.
“Hardin . . .”
He sighs. “Why did you call? Is your mum being a bitch?”
“No, don’t call her that.” I roll my eyes. “Well . . . she kind of is being one, but it’s nothing big. I’m just . . . I don’t know why I called, really.”
“Well . . .” He pauses, and I hear a car door shut. “Do you want to talk or something?”
“Is that okay? Can we?” I ask him. Only hours ago I was telling him that I needed to be more independent, yet here I am, calling him the moment I’m upset.