“Just try to put the phone to her ear. Listen to me and just do it,” I tell Landon and start the car up, silently pleading with whoever is listening up there that I don’t get pulled over on the way to the airport.

“I’m just worried that hearing your voice may make it worse,” his voice sounds through the speakerphone. I turn the volume all the way up and set the phone on the center console.

“Goddammit, Landon!” I hit my cast against the steering wheel. It’s hard enough to drive with a fucking cast as it is. “Put the phone to her ear, now, please.” I try to keep my voice calm, despite the cyclone ripping me apart from the inside out.

“Fine, but don’t say anything to upset her. She’s already been through enough.”

“Don’t talk to me like you know her better than I do!” My anger toward my know-it-all stepbrother has reached a new high, and I nearly run into the median, yelling at him.

“I may not, but you know what I do know? I know that you’re a freaking idiot for whatever you did to her this time, and you know what else I know? That if you weren’t so damn selfish, you would have been here with her and she wouldn’t be in the state she’s in now,” he spews. “Oh, and one more thing—”

“Enough!” I hit my cast against the steering wheel again. “Just put the phone to her ear—you being an asshole isn’t going to help anything. Now give her the fucking phone.”

Silence is followed by Landon’s gentle voice: “Tessa? Can you hear me? Of course you can.” He half laughs. I can hear the pain in his voice as he tries to coax her to speak. “Hardin is on the phone, and he . . .”

Soft chanting comes through the speaker, and I lean toward the phone in an attempt to hear the noise. What is that? For the next few seconds, it continues, low and haunting, and it takes me too long to realize it’s Tessa’s voice repeating the same word over and over and over. “No, no, no,” she says, not stopping, not slowing, “no, no, no, no, no . . .”

What was left of my heart snaps into too many pieces to count.

“No, please, no!” she cries on the end of the line.

Oh God.

“Okay, it’s okay. You don’t have to talk to him—”

The line goes dead, and I call back, knowing that no one is going to pick up.

Chapter twenty-three

TESSA

I’m going to pick you up now,” the familiar voice I haven’t heard in too long says, trying to comfort me as strong arms lift me from the floor and cradle me like a child.

I bury my head into Noah’s solid chest and close my eyes.

My mother’s voice is here, too. I don’t see her, but I can hear her: “What’s wrong with her? Why isn’t she talking?”

“She’s just in shock,” Ken starts to say. “She’ll come around soon—”

“Well, what am I supposed to do with her if she won’t even speak?” my mother bites back.

Noah, able to deal with my callous mother in a way that no one else can, softly says, “Carol, she just found her dad’s body a few days ago. Be easy on her.”

I’ve never been so relieved to be near Noah in my entire life. As much as I love Landon, and as thankful as I am for his family right now, I need to be taken away from this house. I need someone like my oldest friend now. Someone who knew me before.

I’m going crazy; I know I am. My mind hasn’t been functioning properly since my foot hit the very solid, and very still, body of my father. I haven’t been able to process a single rational thought since I cried his name and shook him so hard that his jaw fell open and the needle popped out of his arm, landing with a clinking noise that still echoes inside my broken mind. Such a simple sound. Such a horrific sound.

I felt something inside me snap when my father’s hand jerked in mine, an involuntary muscle spasm that I still can’t decide about, whether it actually happened or if it was my mind creating a false sense of hope. That hope quickly vanished when I checked his pulse again, only to feel nothing, only to leave me staring into his dead eyes.

Noah’s stride gently rocks me as we move through the house.

“I’ll call her phone later to check on her. Please answer so I can see how she’s doing,” Landon softly requests. I want to know how Landon is; I hope he didn’t see what I saw, I just can’t remember.

I know I was holding my father’s head in my hands, and I think I was screaming or crying, or both, when I heard Landon enter the apartment. I remember him trying to fight with me to let go of the man who I was only beginning to know, but after that my mind jumps straight to when the ambulance arrived and blanks out again until I was sitting on the floor at the Scotts’ home.

“I will,” Noah assures him, and I hear the screen door opening. Cool drops of rain land on my face, washing away days’ worth of tears and filth.

“It’s okay. We’re going home now; it’s all going to be okay,” Noah whispers to me, his hand pushing my rain-soaked hair off my forehead. I keep my eyes closed and rest my cheek against his chest; its heavy beat only reminds me of when I pressed my ear against my father’s chest, only to find no heartbeat, no breathing.

“It’s okay,” Noah says again. This is just like old times, his coming to my rescue after my father’s addictions wreak havoc.

But there are no greenhouses to hide in, not this time. This time there is only darkness and no escape in sight.

“We’re going home now,” Noah repeats as he places me into a car.

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