“I don’t want to.” I look at Landon for backup, but he’s avoiding my gaze. So much for our bonding shit earlier; it’s clear that he’s back on Team Tessa. “Don’t push it right now, I’m not walking, and I won’t be changing my mind,” I say to her, loud enough that everyone will hear me so there won’t be any mistaking the finality of my decision.
“We’ll talk about it later,” she threatens with flushed cheeks.
Sure, Tess, sure.
Karen comes over with the ham on a serving platter, looking pretty proud of her creation. I suppose she should; admittedly it smells pretty good. I wonder if she found a way to use maple syrup on it, too.
“Your mum said you’ve decided to go to England,” my father says. He doesn’t seem uncomfortable speaking on the topic in front of Karen. I suppose they’ve been together long enough that him talking about my mum isn’t awkward.
“Yes.” I give him a one-word answer and take a bite of ham to signal that I’m done with the table chat.
“You’re going, too, right, Tessa?” he asks her.
“Yes, I have to finalize my passport, but I’m going.”
The smile on her face knocks my irritation down a notch.
“It will be an amazing experience for you; I know you told me how much you love England. I hate to ruin it for you, though, but modern London isn’t quite like the London in your novels.” He grins at her, and she laughs.
“Thank you for the warning, I’m aware that Dickens’s London fog was actually smog.”
Tessa fits in so well with my father and his new family, much better than I do. If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be speaking to any of them.
“Have Hardin take you down to Chawton, it’s less than two hours from Hampstead, where Trish lives,” my father suggests.
I had planned on taking her there anyway, thanks.
“That would be lovely.” Tessa turns to me; her hand moves under the table, and she squeezes my thigh. I know she wants me to be a good sport throughout this dinner, but my father is making it difficult. “I’ve heard a lot about Hampstead,” she adds.
“It’s changed a lot over the years. It’s not the small, quiet village it was when I lived there. Real estate prices have skyrocketed,” he tells her. Like she gives a fuck about the real estate in my hometown.
“There are plenty of places to see—how long will you be staying?” he asks.
“Three days.” Tessa answers for both of us. I don’t plan on taking her anywhere except Chawton. I thoroughly plan to keep her locked away so her weekend won’t be ruined by any of my ghosts.
“I was thinking . . .” My father presses a cloth napkin to his mouth. “I called around to a few places this morning and I found a really nice facility for your father.”
Tessa’s fork drops from her hand and clatters onto her plate. Landon, Karen, and my father are all staring at her, waiting for her to speak.
“What?” I break the silence so she doesn’t have to.
“I found a really nice treatment facility; they offer a three-month program for recovering . . .”
Tessa whimpers next to me. It’s such a low sound that no one else hears it, but it resonates throughout my entire body. How dare he bring this shit up to her in front of an audience at the dinner table!
“. . . the best in Washington, though we could look elsewhere, too, if you’d like.” His voice is soft, and I don’t hear a hint of judgment in it, but her cheeks are flushed in embarrassment, and I want to rip my father’s fucking head clear off.
“This isn’t the time to bring this shit up to her,” I warn him.
Tessa jerks slightly at my harsh tone. “It’s okay, Hardin.” Her eyes plead with mine. “I’m just a little caught off guard,” she politely says.
“No, Tessa, it’s not okay.” I turn to Ken. “How did you even know that her father is a junkie anyway?”
Tessa flinches again; I could break all the plates in this house for his bringing this up.
“Landon and I talked about it last night, and we both thought that discussing a rehabilitation plan with Tessa would be a good idea. It’s very hard for addicts to get clean on their own,” he says.
“You would know, wouldn’t you?” The words are out before I can think them through.
My words didn’t have the intended effect on my father, who just brushes the statement off with a smooth pause. When I look over to his wife, sadness is clear in her eyes. “Yes, as a recovering alcoholic, I would know,” he replies.
“How much does it cost?” I ask him. I make enough money to fully support myself, and Tessa, but rehab? That shit’s expensive.
“I would cover it,” my father calmly answers.
“Hell, no.” I try to stand from the table, but Tessa’s grip on my arm is strong. I sit back down. “You aren’t paying for it.”
“Hardin, I’m more than willing to.”
“Maybe the two of you should talk about this in the other room,” Landon suggests.
What he’s really saying is, Don’t talk about it in front of Tessa. Her grip on my arm lets up, and my father gets to his feet at the same time that I do. Tessa doesn’t look up from her plate as we go into the living room.
“I’m sorry,” I hear Landon say just before I pin my father against the wall. I’m getting mad, enraged—I can feel the anger taking over.
My father pushes me off with more force than I’d expect.