After (The After Series) by Anna Todd


  “What the hell?” he yells, but I ignore him and walk toward the back door.

  I hear him scramble and then he steps in front of me. “Where are you going?” His face is inches from mine.

  “I am going to help Landon clean up the mess you made and then I am going home.” My voice comes out much calmer than I feel.

  “Why would you help him?” The disgust in his voice is clear.

  “Because he, unlike you, deserves for someone to help him,” I say and his face falls. I should be saying much more to Hardin. I should scream at him for the hurtful things he just said to me, but I know that is what he wants. This is what he does: he hurts everyone near him and he gets a kick out of the chaos that comes out of that.

  Hardin quietly steps out of my way.

  When I go inside, I find Landon crouched over, pulling the cabinet upright.

  “Where’s the broom?” I ask when he’s done. Landon looks at me with a thankful smile.

  “Right over there,” he says, motioning to the broom. “Thank you for everything.”

  I nod and begin sweeping up the smashed dishes. There are just so many. I feel terrible that when Landon’s mom comes back she’ll find all of her dishes gone. I hope they didn’t have any sentimental value to her.

  “Ouch!” I gasp when a small piece of glass digs into my finger. Droplets of blood fall onto the wooden floor, and I jump up to reach the sink.

  “Are you okay?” Landon asks, worried.

  “Yeah, it’s just a little piece, I don’t know why there is so much blood.” It really doesn’t hurt that bad. I close my eyes as the cold water runs over my finger, and after a couple of minutes I hear the back door open. I snap my eyes open and turn to see Hardin standing in the doorway.

  “Tessa, can I talk to you, please?” he asks.

  I know I should say no, but something about the redness around his eyes makes me nod. His eyes look to my hand and then the blood on the floor.

  He walks over to me quickly. “Are you okay? What happened?”

  “It’s nothing, just a little glass,” I tell him.

  He reaches for my hand and pulls it out from under the water. And when he touches my arm, I feel the electricity. Looking at my finger, he frowns, then lets it go, walking over to Landon. He was just calling me pathetic, now he is acting all concerned about my health? He is going to make me crazy, literally crazy, as in locked in a padded room.

  “Where are the Band-Aids?” he practically demands of Landon, and Landon tells him they’re in the bathroom. Within a minute Hardin is back and he grabs my hand again. First he squeezes some antibacterial gel onto my cut, then he wraps a Band-Aid around my finger gently. I stay quiet, as confused by Hardin’s actions as Landon looks.

  “Can I talk to you, please?” he asks again, and thought I know I shouldn’t, since when do I do what I should when Hardin is involved?

  I nod, and he wraps his fingers around my wrist and leads me outside.

  chapter thirty

  Back at the patio table, Hardin lets go of my wrist and pulls out the chair for me. Feeling like my skin is literally burning from his touch, I rub my fingers over it as he grabs the other chair and drags it across the concrete to sit directly in front of me. When he sits, he’s so close that his knees are almost touching mine.

  “What could you possibly want to talk about, Hardin?” I ask him in the harshest tone I can muster.

  He takes a deep breath and pulls his beanie off again and places it on the table. I watch as his long fingers run through his thick hair and he looks into my eyes.

  “I am sorry,” he says with an intensity that makes me look away and focus on the large tree in the backyard. He leans in close. “Did you hear me?” he asks.

  “Yeah, I heard you,” I snap and stare back at him. He is crazier than I thought if he thinks he can just say sorry and I will forget the horrible things he continues to do to me on an almost daily basis.

  “You’re so damned difficult to deal with,” he says and sits back on his chair. The bottle I tossed into the yard is now in his hand, and he takes another drink from it. How is he not passed out yet?

  “I am difficult? You have to be kidding me! What do you expect me to do, Hardin? You are cruel to me—so cruel,” I say and pull my bottom lip between my teeth. I will not cry in front of him again. Noah has never made me cry; we have been in a few fights over the years, but I have never been upset enough to cry.

  His voice is low and almost feels like it’s part of the night air “I don’t mean to be.”

  “Yes, you do, and you know it. You do it purposefully. I have never been treated this poorly by anyone in my entire life.” I bite my lip harder. I can feel the knot in my throat. If I cry, he wins. That’s what he wants.

  “Then why do you keep coming around? Why not just give up?”

  “If I . . . I don’t know. But I can assure you that after tonight I am not going to. I am going to drop Literature and just take it next semester.” I hadn’t planned on doing that until now, but it is exactly what I should do.

  “Don’t, please don’t do that.”

  “Why would you care? You don’t want to be forced to be around someone as pathetic as me, right?” My blood is boiling. If I knew what to say to hurt him as bad as he always hurts me, I would.

  “I didn’t mean that . . . I’m the pathetic one.”

  I look straight at him. “Well, I won’t argue with that.”

  He takes another drink, and when I reach for the bottle, he pulls it away.

  “So you’re the only one who can get drunk?” I ask, and a wry smile appears on his face. The patio light shines off his eyebrow ring as he hands me the bottle.

  “I thought you were going to toss it again.”

  I should, but instead I put the bottle to my lips. The liquor is warm and tastes like burnt licorice dipped in rubbing alcohol. I gag and Hardin chuckles.

  “How often do you drink? You implied before it was never,” I say. I need to get back to being angry with him after he answers.

  “Before tonight it has been about six months.” His eyes fall to the floor like he is ashamed.

  “Well, you shouldn’t drink at all. It makes you an even worse person than usual.”

  Still staring at the ground, his face is serious. “You think I am a bad person?”

  What, is he that drunk that he would ever consider himself good?

  “Yes.”

  “I’m not. Well, maybe I am. I want you to . . .” he starts, but then stops, straightens up, and leans back on the chair.

  “You want me to what?” I have to know what he was going to say. I hand him back the bottle, but he sets it on the table. I don’t want to drink; the one was bad enough, given the terrible judgment I have around Hardin as it is.

  “Nothing,” he says, lying.

  Why am I even here? Noah is back in my room waiting for me, and here I am wasting even more time on Hardin. “I should go.” I stand up and head for the back door.

  “Don’t go,” his voice says softly. And my feet stop in their tracks at the pleading tone. I turn around to find Hardin less than a foot from me.

  “Why not? Do you have more insults to throw in my face?” I shout and turn away. His hand wraps around my arm and jerks me back.

  “Don’t turn your back on me!” he shouts even louder than I did.

  “I should have turned my back on you a long time ago!” I scream and push against his chest. “I don’t know why I am even here! I came all the way here the second Landon called me! I left my boyfriend—who, like you said, is the only one who can stand to be around me—to come here for you! You know what? You’re right, Hardin, I am pathetic. I am pathetic for coming here, I am pathetic for even trying—”

  But I’m cut off by his lips against mine. I push at his chest to stop him, but he doesn’t budge. Every part of me wants to kiss him back, but I stop myself. I feel his tongue trying to pry its way in between my lips and his strong arms wrap around me, pulling me
closer to him despite my attempts to push away. It’s no use; he is stronger than me.

  “Kiss me, Tessa,” he says against my lips.

  I shake my head and he grunts in frustration. “Please, just kiss me. I need you”

  His words unravel me. This indecent, drunken, terrible man just said he needs me, and somehow it sounds like poetry to my ears. Hardin is like a drug; each time I take the tiniest bit of him, I crave more and more. He consumes my thoughts and invades my dreams.

  The second my lips part, his mouth is on mine again, but this time I don’t resist. I can’t. I know this isn’t the answer to my problems and that I’m just digging myself deeper, but that doesn’t matter right now. All that matters is his words, and how he said them: I need you.

  Could Hardin possibly need me the way I desperately need him? I doubt it, but for right now I want to pretend that he does. He brings one of his hands to cup my cheek and he runs his tongue along my bottom lip. I shudder and he smiles, his lip ring tickling the corner of my mouth. I hear a rustling noise and pull away. He lets me stop the kiss, but he keeps his arms wrapped tightly around me, his body pressed against mine. I look toward the back door and pray that Landon didn’t witness my terrible lapse of judgment. I don’t see him, thank God.

  “Hardin, I really have to go. We can’t keep doing this; it’s not good for either of us,” I tell him and look down.

  “Yes, we can,” he says and lifts my chin up, forcing me to look into his green eyes.

  “No, we can’t. You hate me, and I don’t want to be your punching bag anymore. You confuse me. One minute you’re telling me how much you can’t stand me or humiliating me after my most intimate experience.” He opens his mouth to interrupt me and I put my finger against his pink lips and continue. “Then the next minute you’re kissing me and telling me you need me. I don’t like who I am when I’m with you, and I hate the way I feel after you say terrible things to me.”

  “Who are you when you are with me?” His green eyes study my face, waiting for my reply.

  “Someone I don’t want to be, someone who cheats on their boyfriend and cries constantly,” I explain.

  “You know who I think you are when you’re with me?” He runs his thumb along my jawline, and I try to stay focused.

  “Who?”

  “Yourself. I think this is the real you and that you’re just too busy caring what everyone else thinks about you to realize it.”

  I don’t know what I think about this, but he sounds so honest, so sure of his answer that I take a second to really think about his words. “And I know what I did to you after I fingered you.” He notices my scowl and continues. “Sorry . . . after our experience, I know it was wrong. I felt terrible after you got out of my car.”

  “I doubt that,” I snap, remembering how much I cried that night.

  “It’s true, I swear it. I know you think I’m a bad person . . . but you make me—” He draws up short. “Never mind.”

  Why does he always stop?

  “Finish that sentence, Hardin, or I am leaving right now,” I tell him. And mean it.

  The way his eyes seem to burn when he looks at me, the way his lips part slowly, as if every word will hold something, a lie or a truth, it makes me wait for his response. “You . . . you make me want to be good, for you . . . I want to be good for you, Tess.”

  chapter thirty-one

  I try to take a step back from him, but his grip is too strong. I must have heard him wrong. My emotions are getting the best of me, so I turn and look out into the darkness of the backyard, trying to make sense of the meaning behind his words. Hardin wants to be better for me? In what way? He couldn’t mean it . . . Could he?

  I look back at him, my eyes hazy. “What?”

  He looks unaffected . . . truthful? Hopeful? What? “You heard me.”

  “No. I’m sure I misunderstood.”

  “No, you didn’t. You make me feel . . . something unfamiliar. I don’t know how to handle these types of feelings, Tessa, so I do the only thing I know how to do.” He pauses and blows out a small breath. “Which is be an asshole.”

  Once again I find myself in a trance.

  “This could never work, Hardin, we are so different. First off, you don’t date, remember?”

  “We aren’t that different—we like the same things; we both love books for example,” he says, traces of liquor in his breath.

  Even standing here, I can’t wrap my mind around the idea of Hardin trying to convince me that we could be good together. “You don’t date,” I remind him again.

  “I know, but we could . . . be friends?”

  There it is. We are back to square one. “I thought you said we couldn’t be friends? And I won’t be friends with you—I know what you mean by that. You want all the benefits of being a boyfriend without actually having to commit.”

  His body sways and he leans on the table and loosens his grip on me. “Why is that so bad? Why do you need the label?” I’m thankful for the space between us and the fresh, scotch-free air.

  “Because, Hardin, even though I’ve not really had a lot of restraint lately, I do have self-respect. I will not be your plaything, especially when it involves being treated like dirt.” I raise my hands into the air. “And besides, I’m already taken, Hardin.”

  Hardin’s evil dimples come out with his smirk. “And yet, look where you are right now.”

  Reflexively, I blurt out, “I love him and he loves me,” and then watch Hardin’s expression change. He lets go of me and stumbles over the chair.

  “Don’t say that to me.” He slurs his words, which are coming out faster than before. I almost forgot how drunk he was.

  “You’re only saying this because you’re drunk; tomorrow you will go back to hating me.”

  “I don’t hate you.” He goes into the lawn a bit.

  I wish he didn’t have this effect on me. I wish I could just walk away. But instead I stick around and hear him say, “If you can look me in the eyes and tell me that you want me to leave you alone and never speak to you again, I will listen. I swear, from this point on I will never come near you again. Just say the words.”

  I open my mouth to tell him just that. To tell him to stay far away from me, to tell him I never want to lay eyes on him again.

  He turns and comes closer. “Tell me, Tessa, tell me that you never want to see me again.” Then he’s touching me. He runs his hands along my arms and goose bumps immediately raise on my skin. “Tell me you never want to feel my touch again,” he whispers, bringing his hand to my neck. His index finger traces along my collarbone and back up and down my neck. I hear my breathing quicken as he brings his lips less than an inch from mine. “That you never want me to kiss you again,” he says, and I can smell the scotch and feel the heat off his breath.

  “Tell me, Theresa,” he coos and I whimper.

  “Hardin,” I whisper.

  “You can’t resist me, Tessa, just as I can’t resist you.” His lips are close to mine; they are almost touching.

  “Stay with me tonight?” he asks, and makes me want to do whatever he says.

  A movement by the door catches my eye and I jerk away from Hardin. Looking up, I see Landon’s face twisted with confusion before he turns away and disappears from the doorway.

  I am snapped back into reality.

  “I have to go,” I say and Hardin curses under his breath.

  “Please, please stay. Just stay with me tonight, and if you decide in the morning to tell me you don’t want to see me anymore . . . just please stay. I am begging you and I don’t beg, Theresa.”

  I find myself nodding before I can stop myself. “And what will I tell Noah? He is waiting for me and I have his car.” I can’t believe I am actually considering doing this.

  “Just tell him that you have to stay because . . . I don’t know. Don’t tell him anything. What’s the worst thing he can do?”

  I shudder. He will tell my mother. Without a doubt. Irritation toward Noah f
ills me; I should not have to worry about my boyfriend telling my mother on me, even if I do something wrong.

  “He is probably asleep anyway,” Hardin says.

  “No, he has no way to get back to his hotel.”

  “Hotel? Wait—he doesn’t stay with you?”

  “No, he has a hotel room close by.”

  “And you stay there with him?”

  “No, he stays there,” I say sheepishly, “and I stay in my room.”

  “Is he straight?” Hardin asks, his bloodshot eyes dancing in amusement.

  My eyes go wide. “Of course he is!”

  “Sorry, but something is not right there. If you were mine, I wouldn’t be able to stay away from you. I would fuck you every chance I had.”

  My mouth falls open. Hardin’s dirty words have the strangest effect on me. I flush and look away.

  “Let’s go inside,” I hear him say. “The trees are swaying back and forth. I think that is my cue I’ve had way too much to drink.”

  “You’re staying here?” I had assumed he would go back to his frat house.

  “Yeah, and so are you. Let’s go.” He grabs my hand and we walk toward the back door.

  I will have to find Landon and try to explain what he saw through the door. I don’t know what’s happening myself, so I’m not sure how I will explain it, but I have to make him understand somehow. As we walk through the kitchen, I notice the mess is almost completely cleaned up.

  “You need to clean the rest of this tomorrow,” I tell him and he nods.

  “I will,” he promises. Yet another promise I hope he keeps.

  My hand in his, he leads me up the grand staircase. I pray that we don’t run into Landon in the hallway and I am relieved when we don’t.

  Hardin opens the door to a pitch-black room and gently pulls me inside.

  chapter thirty-two

  My eyes adjust to the darkness, but the only light is a small streak of moonlight coming through the bay window. “Hardin?” I whisper.

  I hear him curse as he trips over something and I try not to laugh.

 
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