After (The After Series) by Anna Todd


  I lay my head onto the pillows and stare at the ceiling. I consider getting up and checking my phone but decide against it. The last thing I need right now is to read texts from Noah. He is probably panicking, but, honestly, as long as he doesn’t tell my mother, I don’t care as much as I should. If I’m completely honest with myself, I haven’t felt the same about Noah since I kissed Hardin for the first time.

  I know I love Noah; I have always loved Noah. But I’m beginning to question whether I really love him as a boyfriend and someone I could spend my life with, or if I love him because he has always been such a stable person in my life. He’s always been there for me—and on paper we’re perfect for each other—but I can’t ignore the way I feel when I’m with Hardin. I’ve never had these types of feelings before. Not just when we’re on top of each other, but the way he gives me butterflies just by looking at me, the way I find myself desperately wanting to see him even when I’m fuming mad at him, and, mostly, the way he always invades my thoughts even when I try to convince myself that I hate him.

  Hardin has gotten under my skin no matter how hard I try to deny it. I’m in his bed instead of with Noah. On cue, the door opens and I am snapped from my thoughts. I look up and see Hardin in the clean plaid boxers and giggle. They are a little too big, and much longer than his briefs, but they still look great.

  “I like them.” I smile and he glares at me before turning out the light and switching on the television. He climbs back onto the bed and lies down close to me.

  “So, what were you going to tell me?” he asks, and I cringe. I was hoping he wouldn’t bring it up again.

  “Don’t be shy now, you’ve just made me come in my boxers,” he jokes and then pulls me closer to him. I bury my head in the pillow, and he laughs.

  I pull my head up and Hardin tucks my hair behind my ear before giving me a soft kiss on my lips. It’s the first time he has kissed me that tenderly, and yet it feels more intimate than when we kiss with tongue. He lays his head back on the pillow and changes the channel. I want him to hold me until I fall asleep, but I get the feeling Hardin is not a cuddling type of guy.

  I want to be good for you, Tess. Hardin’s words from earlier tonight play in my head and I wonder if he meant them or if he was just really drunk.

  “Are you still drunk?” I ask and lay my head on his chest. His body stills but he doesn’t push me off.

  “No, I think our little screaming match in the yard sobered me up,” he says. One of his hands is holding the remote and the other is hanging in the air awkwardly as if he doesn’t know what to do with it.

  “Oh, well, at least something good came out of it.”

  He turns his head and looks down at me. “Yeah, I guess so,” he says, and finally puts his hand on my back. It’s an amazing feeling having him hold me. No matter what terrible thing he says to me tomorrow, he can’t take this moment away from me. This is my new favorite place to be, my head on his chest and his arm on my back.

  “I think I actually like drunk Hardin better.” I yawn.

  “Is that so?” he says and turns to look at me again.

  “Maybe,” I tease and close my eyes.

  “You’re terrible at distractions; now, tell me.”

  I might as well just tell him. I know he isn’t going to drop it.

  “Well, I was just thinking of all the girls you’ve . . . you know, done things with.” I try to hide my face in his chest, but he drops the remote on the bed and tilts my chin up to look at him.

  “Why were you thinking about that?”

  “I don’t know . . . because I have literally no experience and you have a lot. Steph included,” I answer. The image of the two of them together makes me nauseous.

  “Are you jealous, Tess?” His voice is full of humor.

  “No, of course not,” I lie.

  “So you don’t mind if I tell you a few details, then?”

  “No! Please don’t!” I beg, and he chuckles and wraps his arm a little tighter around me.

  He doesn’t say anything else about it, and I could not be more relieved. I couldn’t bear to hear the details of his flings. I feel my eyes getting heavier and try to focus on the television. I am so comfortable lying here in his arms.

  “You’re not going to sleep, are you? It’s still early,” he says, barely breaking through my haze.

  “Is it?” It feels like it has to be at least two in the morning. I arrived here around nine.

  “Yeah, it’s only midnight.”

  “That isn’t early.” I yawn again.

  “To me it is. Plus, I want to return the favor.”

  What?

  Oh.

  My skin is starting to tingle already.

  “You want me to, don’t you?” he purrs, and I gulp. Of course I do. I look up at him and try to hide my eager smile. He notices and with a swift, delicate motion flips us over so he is hovering above me. He supports his weight with one arm while his other hand reaches lower. I bring my leg up to his side, and when my knee bends he runs his hand from my ankle to the top of my thigh.

  “So soft,” he says and repeats the motion. He gives my thigh a light squeeze and my skin is covered in goose bumps within seconds. Hardin leans over and places a single kiss on the side of my knee, causing my leg to jerk. He grabs it and laughs, hooking his arm around it.

  What is he going to do? The anticipation is driving me crazy.

  “I want to taste you, Tessa,” he says, eyes locked on mine to gauge my reaction.

  My mouth is instantly parched. Why is he asking to kiss me, when he knows he can do that anytime? I part my lips and wait for him.

  “No. Down here,” he corrects me, bringing his hand in between my legs. My lack of experience must astound him, but he at least tries to fight his smile. I frown at him and his finger touches me over my panties, causing me to suck in a breath. His finger makes soft strokes over my sex as he continues to look into my eyes.

  “You’re already wet for me.” His voice is raspier than usual. His hot breath stings my ear and he runs his tongue along my earlobe.

  “Talk to me, Tessa. Tell me how badly you want it.” He smirks and I squirm as he applies more pressure to my sensitive area.

  I can’t find my voice because my body is on fire from his touch. After a few more seconds he pulls his hand away and I whimper.

  “I didn’t want you to stop,” I whine.

  “You didn’t say anything,” he snaps, and I recoil. I don’t want this Hardin. I want the laughing, playful Hardin.

  “Couldn’t you tell?” I ask him and move to sit up.

  He pulls himself up and sits on my thighs, holding his weight on his parted knees. He brushes his fingers across the tops of my thighs and my body instantly reacts, shifting my hips to meet his.

  “Say it,” Hardin instructs. I know that he is well aware that I do; he just wants to make me say it aloud. I nod and he waves his finger back and forth in front of me.

  “No nodding, just tell me what you want, baby,” he says, and climbs off of my knees. I mentally weigh the pros and cons of this situation. Is the humiliation of telling Hardin that I want him to . . . kiss me down there worth the feeling I will get from him doing it? If it feels anywhere near as good as what Hardin did to me with his fingers the other day, then I know it’s worth it. I reach out and grab his bare shoulder to stop him from moving any farther away from me. I’m overthinking this, I know I am, but my mind won’t stop racing.

  “I want you to.” I move closer to him.

  “Want me to what, Theresa?” He has to be kidding me; he knows exactly what he’s doing.

  “You know . . . to kiss me,” I say and his smile grows. He leans over and plants a kiss on my lips. I roll my eyes and he kisses my lips again.

  “Is that what you wanted?” he says with a smirk and I swat his arm. He is going to make me beg him.

  “Kiss me . . . there.” I blush and cover my face with my hands. He pulls them away, laughing, and I frown at him. “Y
ou’re embarrassing me on purpose.” I scowl. His hands are still on mine.

  “I’m not meaning to embarrass you. I just want to hear you say what you want from me.”

  “Never mind, Hardin,” I say and sigh loudly. Because I am embarrassed and maybe my hormones are going haywire and messing with my emotions but now the moment has passed and I’m annoyed with his ego and constant need to goad me. I roll over and lie on my side, facing away from him, and cover myself with the blanket.

  “Hey, I’m sorry,” he says, but I ignore him. I know part of me is just annoyed at myself that being around Hardin has turned me into a typical hormonal teenager.

  “Good night, Hardin,” I snap and hear him sigh. He mutters something under his breath that sounds like “fine,” but I don’t ask him to repeat it. I force my eyes closed and try to think of anything besides Hardin’s tongue or the way his arm just draped across my body as I fall asleep.

  chapter thirty-five

  I am hot, too hot. I try to pull the covers off me, but they won’t budge. When my eyes open, the night before comes flooding into my mind: Hardin screaming at me in the yard, the scotch on his breath, the broken glass in the kitchen, Hardin kissing me, Hardin moaning as I touched him, his wet boxers. I try to lift myself, but he’s too heavy, his head lying across my chest and his arm wrapped around my waist, his body cloaking mine. I’m surprised we ended up like this; he must have moved this way in his sleep. I do admit, I don’t want to leave this bed, leave Hardin, but I have to. I have to get back to my room. Noah is there. Noah. Noah.

  I gently push Hardin off by his shoulder, rolling him onto his back. Then he rolls onto his stomach and groans but doesn’t wake.

  I hurry to my feet and grab my scattered clothes off the floor. Being the coward that I am, I want to be out of here by the time he wakes. Not that he’ll mind; at least he won’t have to invest his energy in hurting me on purpose if I leave on my own. This way is better for both of us. Regardless of how we laughed together last night, nothing is the same in the light of day. Hardin will remember how we got along pretty well last night and then will feel the need to be extra hateful to make up for it. It’s what he does, and I will not be around this time. For a second last night, the thought had crossed my mind that maybe our night together would change his mind, make him want to have more with me. But I know better, really.

  I fold his T-shirt neatly on the dresser and zip my skirt up. My shirt is wrinkled from lying on the floor last night, but that’s really the least of my worries at the moment. I slip my feet into my shoes and as I grab hold of the door handle, I think, One more look back won’t hurt.

  I look back to the sleeping Hardin. His messy hair is sprawled onto the pillow, and his arm is now draped over the side of the bed. He looks so peaceful, so beautiful despite the pieces of metal in his face.

  I turn back around and turn the door handle.

  “Tess?”

  My heart drops. I slowly turn back around to Hardin, expecting to see his harsh green eyes glaring at me. But instead, they are closed; a frown is set on his face, but he is still asleep. I can’t decide if I’m relieved that he is asleep, or somber that he called out my name. Is that what he did, or am I hearing things now?

  I jump out of the room and gently close the door behind me. I have no idea how to get out of this house. I walk straight down the hall and I am relieved to find the stairs easily. I pad down the stairs and nearly collide with Landon. My pulse quickens as I try to think of something to say. His eyes scan my face and he stays silent, waiting for an explanation, I assume.

  “Landon . . . I . . .” I have no idea what to say.

  “Are you okay?” he asks with concern.

  “Yeah, I’m fine. I know you must think—”

  “I don’t think anything. I really do appreciate you coming. I know you don’t like Hardin, and it means a lot to me that you would come here to help get him in control.”

  Oh. He is so nice, too nice. I almost want him to tell me how disgusted he is that I stayed the night with Hardin, that I left my boyfriend alone in my room all night after I took his car and ran to Hardin’s rescue, just so I feel as bad as I should.

  “So are you and Hardin friends again?” he asks, and I shrug.

  “I have no idea what we are. I have no idea what I’m doing. He just . . . he . . .” I break into sobs. Landon wraps his arms around me in a warm and comforting hug.

  “It’s okay. I know he can be so terrible,” Landon says softly. Wait . . . he must think that I’m crying because Hardin did something terrible to me. He would probably never assume that I’m crying because of my feelings for Hardin.

  I need to get out of here before I ruin Landon’s good opinion of me and before Hardin wakes up. “I have to go. Noah is waiting,” I say, and Landon gives me a sympathetic smile before saying goodbye.

  I get into Noah’s car and drive back to my dorm as fast as I can, crying most of the way there. How will I explain this all to Noah? I know I have to—I can’t lie to him. I just can’t imagine how much this will hurt him.

  I’m a terrible person for doing this to him. Why couldn’t I just stay away from Hardin?

  I’ve calmed myself as much as I can before I pull into the student lot. I walk as slow as I can, unsure how I’m going to face Noah.

  When I open the door to our room, I find Noah lying back on my small bed, staring at the ceiling. He jumps up when he sees me come in.

  “Jesus, Tessa! Where have you been all night? I’ve been calling you nonstop!” he shouts. This is the first time Noah has ever actually raised his voice at me. We’ve bickered before, but this is a little scary to see.

  “I am so, so sorry, Noah. I went to Landon’s house because Hardin was drunk and he was breaking things, and the time just got lost, I guess, so by the time we cleaned up, it was really late and my phone was dead,” I lie.

  I can’t believe I’m lying straight to his face—all the times he has been there for me, and here I am lying to him. I know I should tell him but I can’t imagine hurting him.

  “Why didn’t you use someone else’s phone?” he says forcefully, but then pauses. “Never mind—Hardin was breaking stuff? Are you okay? Why did you stay there if he was being violent?”

  I feel like he is asking me a thousand questions at once, disorienting me.

  “He wasn’t being violent; he was just drunk. He wouldn’t hurt me,” I say and cover my mouth, desperately wishing I could push those last words back in.

  “What do you mean he wouldn’t hurt you? You don’t even know him, Tessa,” he snaps and takes a step toward me.

  “I’m just saying that he wouldn’t hurt me like physically. I know him well enough to know that. I was just trying to help Landon, who was there, too,” I say back.

  But Hardin would hurt me, emotionally—he already has, and I’m sure he will try again. And here I am defending him.

  “I thought you were going to stop hanging around those type of people? Didn’t you promise me and your mom that you would? Tessa, they aren’t good for you. You’ve started drinking and staying out all night, and you left me here all night—I don’t know why you even had me come here if you were just going to leave.” He sits down on the bed and rests his head on his hands.

  “They aren’t bad people; you don’t know them. When did you become so judgmental?” I ask him. I should be begging for him to forgive me for how badly I’ve treated him, but I can’t help but be irritated by the way he’s talking about my friends.

  Mostly Hardin, my subconscious reminds me, and I want to slap her.

  “I am not judgmental, but you would have never hung out with those Goth people before.”

  “What? They aren’t Gothic, Noah, they’re just themselves,” I say. I am as surprised by the defiance in my words as Noah is.

  “Well, I don’t like you hanging out with them—they’re changing you. You aren’t the same Tessa that I fell in love with.” I realize then that his tone hasn’t been malicious at all
. It’s just sad.

  “Well, Noah—” I begin, and the door flies open. My eyes follow Noah’s to an angry Hardin storming into the room.

  I look at Hardin, then at Noah, and back to Hardin. There is no way this is going to go well.

  chapter thirty-six

  What are you doing here?” I ask Hardin, even though I do not want to hear the answer, especially not in front of Noah.

  “What do you think? You snuck out on me while I was asleep—what the hell was that?!” he booms. I hold my breath as his voice echoes off the wall. Noah’s face flashes with anger and I know that he’s beginning to put the puzzle pieces together.

  And I’m torn between trying to explain to Noah what is going on and trying to explain to Hardin why I left.

  “Answer me!” Hardin yells and stands in front of my face. I’m surprised when Noah steps between us.

  “Don’t yell at her,” he warns Hardin.

  I’m frozen in place while Hardin’s face twists in anger. Why is he so mad that I left? He was mocking my inexperience last night, and would have kicked me out this morning probably anyway. I need to say something before this all blows up in my face.

  “Hardin . . . please don’t do this right now,” I beg. If he leaves now, I can try to explain to Noah what is going on.

  “Do what, Theresa?” Hardin asks and walks around Noah. I hope Noah keeps his distance. I don’t think Hardin will hesitate to take him down. Noah is pretty buff from soccer, especially compared to Hardin’s lean body, but I have no doubt that Hardin can hold his own, and most likely win.

  What the hell is happening in my life that I have to worry about Noah and Hardin fighting?

  “Hardin, please just go and we will talk about this later,” I say, trying to defuse things.

 
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