“If he took off with any of our shit . . .” Hardin begins as we get to the door.
“Enough.” Hopefully my exhaustion is heard through my soft dismissal, so he won’t press it.
I push my key into the lock and twist, momentarily considering the possibility of what Hardin has mentioned. I don’t know the man, really.
Any paranoia I have disappears when we walk inside. My father’s body is slumped over the arm of the couch. His mouth is wide open, and deep snores escape from his parted lips.
Without another word, Hardin walks into the bedroom and I go to the kitchen for a glass of water and a minute to think about my next step. The last thing that I want to do is fight with Hardin, but I’m beyond sick of him only thinking of himself. I know he has changed so much, tried so hard, but I’ve given him chance after chance, resulting in an endless breakup-makeup cycle that would make even Catherine Earnshaw cringe. I don’t know how long I can keep my head above water when I’m fighting off the tidal wave that we call a relationship. Every time I feel like I’ve learned to tread its waters, I’m sucked back under by yet another conflict with Hardin.
After a few moments, I get up and look over at my father: still snoring in a way I would find amusing if I wasn’t so preoccupied. Deciding on a course of action, I head into the bedroom.
Hardin is lying on his back, his arms tucked under his head as he stares at the ceiling. I’m about to speak when he breaks the silence.
“I got expelled. Just in case you were wondering.”
I turn to him quickly, my heart racing. “What?”
“Yep. Sure did.” He shrugs his shoulders.
“I’m so sorry. I should have asked earlier.” I thought for sure Ken could get his son out of this mess. I’m devastated for him.
“It’s okay. You were otherwise occupied with Zed and plans for Seattle, remember?”
I sit on the edge of the bed, as far from him as possible, and try my best to bite my tongue. It’s a wasted effort. “I was trying to find out about the charges against you. He says he’s still—”
He interrupts me with his eyebrows raised in mockery. “I heard him. I was there, remember?”
“Hardin, I’ve had enough of your attitude. I know you’re upset, but you need to stop being so disrespectful.” I speak slowly, hoping the words sink in.
He’s dumbfounded for a moment, but he quickly recovers. “Excuse me?”
I try to keep the most neutral, if stern, expression I can manage. “You heard me: stop talking to me like that.”
“I’m sorry—I get kicked out of school, then find you with him, then learn you’re going to Seattle. I’d say I’m entitled to be a little angry.”
“Yes, you are, but you aren’t entitled to be a jerk. I was hoping we could actually talk about this and work it out like adults . . . for once.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” He sits up, but I keep my distance.
“It means that after six months of this back-and-forth, I thought we could possibly solve a problem without one of us leaving or breaking things.”
“Six months?” His jaw drops.
“Yes, six months.” Awkwardly, I avoid his eyes. “Well, since we met.”
“I hadn’t realized it’s been that long.”
“Well, it has.” It feels like a lifetime to me.
“It doesn’t feel like that long . . .”
“Is that a problem for you? We’ve been seeing each other too long?” I finally meet his green eyes.
“No, Tessa, it’s just odd to think about, I guess. I’ve never been in an actual relationship, so six months is a long time.”
“Well, we haven’t been dating the entire time. Most of it was spent fighting or avoiding one another,” I remind him.
“How long, exactly, were you with Noah?”
His question surprises me. We’ve had a few talks regarding my relationship with Noah, but they usually last less than five minutes, ending abruptly because of Hardin’s jealousy.
“We were best friends since I can remember, but only started dating halfway through high school. I think we’d basically been dating before then but we just didn’t realize it.” I watch Hardin with careful eyes, waiting for a reaction.
Talking about Noah makes me miss him—not in a romantic way, but in that way you miss your family after not seeing them for an extended period.
“Oh.” He rests his hands in his lap, making me want to reach across and hold them. “Did you fight?”
“Sometimes. Our fights were over things like what movie to watch, or him being late to pick me up.”
He doesn’t look up from his hands. “Not like we fight, then?”
“I don’t think anyone fights like we do.” I smile in an attempt to reassure him.
“What else did you do? With him, I mean,” he says, and I swear that sitting in Hardin’s place on the bed there is now a small child, green eyes bright, hands nearly shaking.
I give a gentle shrug. “We didn’t do much, really, outside of studying and watching hundreds of movies. We were more like best friends, I guess.”
“You loved him,” the child reminds me.
“Not the way that I love you,” I tell him, just like I have countless times before.
“Would you have given up Seattle for him?” He picks at the rough skin around his fingernails. When he looks at me, his insecurity shines through his eyes.
So this is why we’re talking about Noah: Hardin’s low self-esteem has once again taken his thoughts there, to that place where he compares himself to whatever or whomever he thinks that I need.