Tessa's Temptation(3)

By: Ella Jade

“Forgive him, Chase,” she said. “He shouldn’t have asked you to come here. The medicine makes him a little crazy. You’re welcome to visit with him but he doesn’t know what he’s saying.”

“Chase, I know perfectly well what I’m saying. We can’t pay our rent. Tessa has managed to keep us going the last two months, probably borrowing from street thugs. I don’t think she’s eaten a full meal in weeks.”

“Stop it!” She didn’t need this stranger knowing all of their problems. The pity she found in his eyes was bad enough even before he knew their full story.

“I will not,” her father said. “She’s supposed to start school next month. I can’t give her money for books or transportation. She hasn’t had new clothes in almost a year. I couldn’t even get her a birthday present.” He moved as best as he could in the bed, but his grimace expressed his pain coupled with his agitation. “Do you know how much I’ve failed her?”

“Pat, you were in an accident. I’m sure Tessa understands the circumstances.” Chase shifted in his seat, clearly uncomfortable with her dad’s confession. He probably couldn’t wait to bolt.

“I failed her long before this accident and I want to make it right,” he said. “I may never gain full use of my legs. I’ll never be able to work the way I did before this. Next month we’ll be homeless. At least I have a bed and three meals a day. My daughter doesn’t.”

She took a deep breath, trying to hold back her emotions. Never one to show her feelings, especially in front of strangers, she held back the tears. She hated hearing her father sound so defeated. It wasn’t necessary. She didn’t blame him for their circumstances. Life was a bitch sometimes. She’d learned to roll with the punches early on.

“I’ll get a full-time job. School can wait.” She stood from the bed. “I’m sorry about this. We’re not your problem. It was nice meeting you, but this is pointless.”

“Tessa, I won’t let this go,” her dad said. “Chase can help you. The way I helped him.”

“Dad, you have to stop this rambling. You sound like a lunatic.”

“No,” Chase said. “He’s right. I can help you. And I will.”

“I knew you would,” her dad said as he settled back on his pillow. “I knew you would.”

“This is ridiculous.” Tess put her fist on her hip. “You don’t even know us. Just because my dad let you hang out at his fishing cabin seventeen years ago makes you think you owe us something?”

“Tessa, your dad was there for me for three years when I really needed a father figure. My father had passed away and I was giving my mother more problems than she needed. I’d gotten in with the wrong crowd. Your dad offered to take me that first summer. If he hadn’t, things would have gone very differently for me, I’m sure.”

“I’m glad you worked it out. You look like you’ve done well for yourself but I’m no charity case.”

“When was the last time you ate?” Chase asked.

She could feel the heat coming up in her cheeks. “Why does that matter?”

She’d found some change in a kitchen drawer that morning. Enough to get a soda and a granola bar out of the vending machine down the hall, and the deli would have her last paycheck ready tomorrow. She could eat then. Her father usually sweet talked the nurse into something for her – extra crackers and an apple juice, half of his salad. She’d make do.

“I could take you down to the cafeteria and get you dinner,” he offered. “We could talk.”

“No thank you.”

“Tessa, why not?” her dad asked. “It would be good for you to get to know Chase.”

“Listen to yourself,” she said. “This isn’t the eighteenth century. You can’t give me to some stranger.”

“That’s not what he’s doing,” Chase said. “I see where he’s coming from. He’s worried about you.”

“This really is none of your business. I appreciate that you want to return some favor to my dad, but I’m just fine without you.”

“It doesn’t look that way from where I’m standing,” Chase said. “Perhaps I could talk to your landlord. I could cover your expenses for the next few months until you figure out what you’d like to do.”

“No,” her dad said. “I don’t want her there alone any longer.”

“Oh my God!” Tess couldn’t take any more of this nonsense.