I find my e-reader and the bracelet resting on top of my religion journal, but the letter is nowhere to be found. After placing the bracelet on the desk, I move to the closet and search through the empty shoe box that Hardin uses to store his work files during the week. I lift the lid to find it empty except one single piece of paper, which, I’m sad to see, is not the letter. What is this, though? Hardin’s handwriting is scribbled across it from top to bottom, and if I wasn’t so worried about my letter, I would stop to check it out. It’s really weird that this paper is randomly here. I make a mental note to come back and read the scribbles on that page and put the lid back onto the box and store it back where I found it.
Worrying that I may have overlooked the letter in the drawer, I march back to the dresser. What if Hardin threw it away?
No, he wouldn’t; he knows how much that letter means to me. He’d never do that. I pull my old journal out once more, turn it upside down, and shake it, hoping the letter will fall out. I’m beginning to panic, until a flicker of white catches my attention. It’s a shred of paper, twirling through the air between my journal and the floor. I reach down and pick it up just as it lands on the floor.
I recognize the words immediately—they’re practically etched into my mind. It’s only half a sentence, almost too small to read, but the ink-smeared words are clearly written in Hardin’s handwriting. My stomach drops. I stare at the fragment of paper, and the realization hits me. I just know that he did, in fact, destroy it. I begin to weep and let the shred slip from my shaking fingers and fall back to the floor. My heart is instantly broken, and I begin to wonder just how much one heart can bear.
Chapter one hundred and twenty-one
You’re free to go.” I release Landon from his babysitting duties.
“I’m not going, she just got here,” he replies, challenging me. I guess he’s one of the biggest reasons, if not the only reason, that she wanted to come to this damned place at all.
“Fine,” I huff and lower my voice. “How was he while I was gone?” I quietly ask.
“He was good; he’s less shaky, and he hasn’t thrown up since yesterday morning.”
“Fucking junkie.” I run my hands over my hair. “Fuck.”
“Calm down, it’s all going to work out,” my stepbrother assures me.
I ignore his words of wisdom and leave him in the kitchen to find Tessa. When I reach the bedroom door, I hear a strangled sob coming from inside. I take a quick step forward to find her with both hands cupped over her mouth, her blue eyes bloodshot and full of tears as they stare down at the floor. One more step is all it takes for me to spot what it is that she’s looking at. Fuck.
“Tess?” I had planned on coming up with a plan to fix the problem that I created by ripping up that damned letter, but I just haven’t had the chance yet. I was going to find the pieces that were left and try to tape them back together . . . or at least tell Tessa what I did before she found out on her own. Too late now.
“Tess, I’m sorry!” The apology tumbles out as tears roll down her tearstained cheeks.
“Why did you—” she sobs, unable to finish the sentence. My heart constricts in my chest. For a brief moment, I’m convinced that I’m hurting worse than she is.
“I was so mad after you left me,” I begin to explain, walking over to her, but she backs away. I don’t blame her. “I wasn’t thinking properly, and it was there, on the bed, where you left it.”
She doesn’t speak or look away from me.
“I am so sorry, I swear it!” I frantically proclaim.
“I . . .” She chokes, furiously wiping at her cheeks. “I . . . just need a minute, okay?” Her eyes close, and a few more tears escape from under her fluttering eyelids.
I want to give her a minute like she asked, but I’m selfishly afraid that she’ll grow more and more hurt as time passes and decide she doesn’t want to see me.
“I’m not going to leave the room,” I say. She has both her hands pressed over her mouth, but even so, I hear her let out a muffled cry. The sound cuts straight through me.
“Please,” she begs through her pain. I knew she’d be hurt when she found out about me destroying that letter, but what I didn’t expect was for it to hurt me so much.
“No, I won’t.” I refuse to leave her in here alone to cry over my mistakes, again. How many times has that happened in this apartment?
She looks away from me and sits down at the foot of the bed, her shaky hands clasped on her lap, her eyes half closed, and her lips quivering as she tries to calm herself down. I ignore the push of her hand against my chest when I drop to my knees in front of her and wrap my arms around her body.
After a few exhausted efforts to push me away, she finally gives in and allows me to comfort her.
“I’m so sorry, baby,” I repeat; I don’t know if I’ve ever meant those words so sincerely before.
“I loved that letter,” she says, crying into my shoulder. “It meant so much to me.”
“I know it did. I’m so sorry.” I don’t even try to defend myself, because I’m a fucking idiot, and I knew how much that thing meant to her. I gently push her back by her shoulders and take her tearstained cheeks between my hands and lower my voice. “I don’t know what to say except I’m sorry.”
Finally she opens her mouth to speak. “I won’t say it’s okay, because it’s not . . .” Her eyes are red-rimmed and already swollen from her sobbing.