“You think he’s above high fives? He’s not; he would sit here and have a beer with me. We would bond over how annoyingly stubborn the women in our lives are.”
“The two of you are lucky to have us, because the Lord knows no one else would put up with either of you.”
“Is that so?” he challenges with a dimpled smile.
“You’re right, I suppose. But I’d trade you for Elizabeth in a heartbeat.”
My mouth presses into a straight line, and I raise a brow, expecting an explanation.
“Only because she shares my views on marriage.”
“But she still got married,” I remind him.
In a very un-Hardin-like move, he takes my hips in his hands and pushes me back on the bed, so my head lands on the mountain of decorative pillows that he despises—a fact he never fails to remind me of. “That’s it! Darcy can have both of you!” His laughter fills the room, and mine is equally powerful.
These little dramas during which we bicker over fictional characters and he laughs like a child are the moments that make all the hell we’ve put each other through worth every second. Moments like these shield me from the harsh realities we’ve experienced throughout our relationship, and all the obstacles that still lie in front of us.
“I can hear he’s out of the bathroom,” Hardin says, his tone guarded.
“I’m going to say good night.” I wrestle out of Hardin’s grip, placing a swift kiss on his forehead.
In the living room, I find that Hardin’s clothes look odd on my father, but at least they fit better than I’d expected.
“Thanks again for the clothes. I’ll leave them here when I go in the morning,” he tells me.
“It’s okay, you can take them . . . if you need them.”
He sits on the couch and rests his hands on his lap.“You’ve already done enough for me, more than I deserve.”
“It’s okay, really.”
“You’re much more understanding than your mom.” He smiles.
“I’m not sure I understand anything right now, but I want to try to get to that point.”
“That’s all I’m asking for, just a little time to get to know my little . . . well, my adult daughter.”
I give him a tight smile. “I’d like that.”
I know he has a long way to go, and I’m not forgiving him overnight. But he’s my father, and I don’t have the energy to hate him. I want to believe that he can change; I’ve seen it happen before. Hardin’s father, for example, has completely turned his life around, even if Hardin can’t let go of their painful past. I’ve seen Hardin change, too. And since there aren’t many people more stubborn than him, I figure there’s hope for my father, no matter how bad he may have gotten.
“Hardin hates me. I’ve got my work cut out for me here.”
His sense of humor is contagious, and I chuckle. “Yes; yes, you do.” I look down the hall at my scowling boyfriend in his solid black clothes, watching us with suspicious eyes.
Turn it off,” Hardin groans as the alarm rings throughout the dark bedroom.
My fingers fumble for my phone, and finally, with a swipe of my thumb across the screen, the unwelcome sound stops. My shoulders feel heavy as I sit up in bed, the weight of today’s tensions threatening to pull me back down: the university’s decision whether to expel Hardin, the possibility of Zed pressing charges against him, and lastly, Hardin’s potential reactions to my telling him I’m planning to follow Vance Publishing to Seattle, and that I want him to come even though he’s professed to hate the city.
I can’t decide which of these terrifies me the most. By the time I turn the bathroom light on and splash cool water against my face, I realize that the assault charges are the worst. If Hardin is sent to jail, I honestly have no idea what I would do, or what he would do. The thought alone makes me nauseous. Zed’s request to meet with me this morning resurfaces, and my mind reels with all the possibilities of what he could want to talk about, especially since he said something about having fallen “in love” with me the last time I saw him.
I inhale and exhale into the soft towel hanging on the wall. Should I reply to Zed and at least see what he has to say? Maybe he can offer an explanation for why he told Tristan one thing and me another about pressing charges. I feel guilty for asking him not to, especially considering how badly Hardin hurt him, but I love Hardin, and Zed had the same intentions as Hardin did, to win a bet, in the beginning. Neither of them is purely innocent here.
Before I can overthink the possible repercussions, I text Zed. I’m only trying to help Hardin. I remind myself of that over and over after I hit send and obsess over my hair and makeup.
WHEN I SEE that the blanket is folded neatly on the arm of the couch, my heart sinks. He left? How will I get hold of him—
The soft sound of a cabinet opening in the kitchen picks my heart up from the floor. Going into the dark room, I switch the light on and see my father startle and drop a spoon onto the concrete floor with a clatter.
“Sorry, I was trying to be as quiet as possible,” my father says as he quickly bends to retrieve the utensil.
“It’s okay. I was up. You could have turned the light on.” I laugh quietly.
“I didn’t want to wake anyone. I was just trying to make some cereal; I hope that’s okay.”
“Of course it is.” I start the coffee pot and check the clock. I need to wake Hardin in fifteen minutes.