After (The After Series) by Anna Todd

  “Come on, Tessa, it’s Friday. Just come with us and we’ll drop you back off before we go to Har . . . I mean the party,” she begs, but I shake my head. I don’t feel like doing anything. I need to study and call my mother. I’ve been dodging her calls all week, and I need to call Noah and find out if he’s made a decision. I’ve been giving him his space all week, only sending him a few friendly texts in hopes that he will come around. I really want him to come to the bonfire next Friday.

  “I think I will pass . . . I’m looking at cars tomorrow, so I need my rest,” I half lie. I really am going to look at cars tomorrow but I know I won’t be getting rest sitting here alone with my thoughts about Noah’s uncertainty, about how Hardin was obviously serious about staying away from me—which I’m really glad he’s done. I just can’t shake him from my thoughts. I just need more time, I keep telling myself.

  But the way he acted like he wanted something from me the last time I saw him, that got under my skin.

  My thoughts drift off to a place where Hardin was pleasant and funny and we got along. A place where we could date, really date, and he would take me out to the movies or to dinner. He would put his arm around me and be proud that I was his; he would drape his jacket over my shoulders if I was cold and kiss me good night, promising me that he would see me tomorrow.

  “Tessa?” Steph says and my thoughts disappear like a puff of smoke. They weren’t reality and the boy in my daydream would never be Hardin.

  “Oh come on, you’ve been wearing those fuzzy cloud pants all week,” Tristan teases and I laugh. These pants are my favorite to wear to bed, especially when I am sick, or going through a breakup, or two. I’m still confused about how Hardin and I ended something that was nothing to begin with.

  “Okay. Okay, but you need to drop me off right after dinner because I have to get up early,” I warn.

  Steph claps and jumps up and down. “Yay! Just please let me do you a favor?” she asks with an innocent smile while she bats her lashes.

  “What?” I whine, knowing she is up to no good.

  “Let me give you a little makeover? Pleeeaassee!” She draws out the word for dramatic purposes.

  “No. Way.” I can picture myself with pink hair and pounds of eyeliner, wearing only a bra for a shirt.

  “Nothing too dramatic, I just want to make you look . . . like you haven’t been hibernating in pajamas all week.” She smiles and Tristan tries to stifle his laugh.

  And when I give in and say, “Fine,” she begins clapping again.

  chapter thirty-nine

  After Steph has plucked my eyebrows—a procedure that hurt worse than I ever imagined—she turns me around and refuses to let me see myself until she’s done putting on my makeup. I fight the nervous feeling in my stomach as she dusts powder onto my face. I remind her over and over not to put too much makeup on me, and she promises over and over that she won’t. She brushes my hair and curls it before coating my hair and half of the room with hair spray.

  “Makeup and hair: done! Let’s get you changed, and then you can see yourself. I have a few things that will fit you.” She is obviously proud of her work. I just hope that I don’t look like a clown. Following her to the closet, I try to sneak a peek in her small mirror but she yanks me away.

  “Here, put this on,” she says, pulling a black dress off a hanger. “Out, you!” she shouts at Tristan, and he laughs but graciously leaves the room.

  The dress is strapless and looks incredibly short. “I can’t wear this!”

  “Fine . . . how about this one?” She pulls another black dress out. She must have at least ten. This one looks longer than the last and has two thick straps. The neckline worries me because it’s in the shape of a heart and my bust isn’t small like hers.

  When I take too long looking it over, she sighs. “Just try it, please?”

  I oblige and take my comfortable pajamas off and fold them into a neat pile. She rolls her eyes at me playfully and I smile while stepping into the dress. I pull it up my body and it feels a little snug before it’s even zipped. Steph and I aren’t that much different in size but she is taller and I’m curvier. The material has a slight shine to it and feels silky. The bottom of the dress reaches halfway down my thigh. It isn’t as short as I thought it would be, but it is shorter than anything I would ever wear. I feel almost naked with my legs this exposed. My fingers tug at the material to try to pull it down a little.

  “You want some tights?” she asks.

  “Yeah, I just feel so . . . naked.” I laugh. She digs into her drawer and pulls out two different pairs of tights. “These are plain black, and these have a lace print.”

  Lace tights are just too much for me, especially given the fact that I probably have ten pounds of makeup on. I grab the plain ones and slide them on my legs while Steph digs through her closet for shoes.

  “I can’t wear heels!” I remind her. I literally can’t; I waddle like an injured penguin in them. “Well, I have low heels or wedges. Tessa, I’m sorry but your Toms just won’t work with this dress.”

  I scowl at her jokingly. I am perfectly fine wearing Toms every day. She pulls out a pair of black heels with silver beading on the front, and I have to admit they catch my eye. I could never wear them, but for once I wish I could.

  “You like these?”

  I nod. “Yeah, but I can’t pull them off,” I tell her and she frowns.

  “Yes, you can, they strap around your ankle to prevent you from falling.”

  “Is that what the strap is actually for?” I ask.

  She laughs. “No, but it helps with that.” She laughs again. “Just try them.”

  I sit on the bed and stretch my legs out, gesturing for her to put them on me.

  She helps me stand up and I take a few steps. The straps really do help with my balance.

  “I can’t wait any longer! Look at yourself,” she says and opens the other closet door. I look in the full-body mirror and gasp.

  Who the heck is that? My reflection looks just like me, but a lot better. I was afraid she would go overboard on my makeup, but she didn’t. My gray eyes look lighter against the chestnut eye shadow, and the pink blush on my cheeks makes my cheekbones more prominent. My hair looks shiny and is curled into big waves, not the small, stringy curls I was expecting.

  “I am impressed.” I smile and look closer. I poke my cheek to make sure what I’m seeing is real.

  “See, you are still you. Just a more sexy, well-kept you.” She giggles and calls for Tristan to join us.

  He opens the door and his lips part. “Where is Tessa?” he asks and looks around the room playfully. He picks up a pillow and looks under it.

  “What do you think?” I ask and tug the dress down again.

  “You look great, really great.” He smiles and wraps his arm around Steph’s waist. She leans in and I look away.

  “Oh, one more thing,” she says and reaches over to the dresser, pulling out a tube of lip gloss and puckering her lips. I close my eyes and do the same while she rubs the sticky gloss across my lips.

  “Ready?” Tristan asks and she nods.

  As we head out, I grab my purse and throw a pair of Toms inside, just in case.

  DURING THE DRIVE I sit in the back and stare out the window, letting my mind wander. When we arrive at the restaurant, I cringe at the number of motorcycles outside. I had assumed we would be going somewhere like T.G.I. Friday’s or Applebee’s, not a biker bar and grill. When we walk inside I feel like everyone is staring at me, even though they probably aren’t.

  Steph grabs a hold of my hand and pulls me along as they walk to a booth in the back. “Nate is coming. That’s okay, right?” she asks as we take our seats.

  “Yeah, of course,” I tell her. As long as it’s not Hardin, I don’t mind. Besides, some company would be nice, because right now I feel like the third wheel.

  A woman with even more tattoos than Steph and Tristan strides over to the table and takes our drink order. Steph and Tris
tan both order beers. This must be why they like to come here, because they don’t card. The woman raises an eyebrow when I order a Coke, but I don’t want to drink. I have studying to do when I get back to my room. Minutes later she brings our drinks and I’m taking a big swig when I hear a wolf whistle as Nate and Zed walk toward our table. As they get closer, Molly’s pink hair comes into view . . . followed by Hardin.

  I spit the Coke back into my cup.

  Steph’s eyes widen as she lays eyes on Hardin and she looks at me. “I swear I didn’t know he was coming. We can leave now if you want,” she whispers as Zed slides into the booth next to me. I have to force myself not to look toward Hardin.

  “Whoa, Tessa, you look superhot!” Zed proclaims, and I blush. “Really, like wow! I’ve never seen you like this.”

  I thank him by way of a small smile. Nate, Molly, and Hardin sit in the booth behind us. I want to ask Steph to trade seats with me so my back will be to Hardin, but I can’t bring myself to. I will just avoid eye contact with him the entire time. I can do it.

  “You do look smokin’, Tessa,” Nate says over the divider, and I smile because I’m not used to all this attention. Hardin hasn’t commented on my new look, but I didn’t expect him to. I’m just glad he isn’t insulting me.

  Hardin and Molly are sitting right in my line of sight. I can see Hardin’s entire face through the space between Steph and Tristan’s shoulders.

  If I just look once, it couldn’t hurt . . . Stealing a peek before I can stop myself, I instantly regret it. Hardin’s arm is hooked around Molly’s shoulders.

  Jealousy tears through me—my punishment for looking at him when I shouldn’t be. Of course they are probably messing around again. Or still. They probably never stopped. I remember how comfortable she was straddling him at the party, and I swallow down the bile rising in my throat. Hardin is free to do whatever or whoever he pleases.

  “She does look great, doesn’t she?” Steph encourages them and they all nod.

  I can feel Hardin’s eyes on me but I can’t look over at him again. He is wearing a white T-shirt that I’m sure lets his tattoos show through, and his hair is perfectly messed up, but I don’t care. I don’t care how good he looks or how skanky Molly is dressed.

  She’s so irritating, with her stupid pink hair and her skanky clothes. She is a slut. I’m surprised by my thoughts and my anger toward her, but it’s true. And I really don’t like her. I don’t think I’ve actually ever called anyone a slut, even in my head.

  So of course she picks right now to compliment me. “You do look good, girl, better than ever before!” she says and then leans into Hardin’s chest.

  I make eye contact with her and fake a smile.

  “Mind if I have a sip?” Zed asks, but grabs my cup before I really answer.

  I let him drink out of my glass, which I’m usually against, but I am so uncomfortable right now that I can’t think straight. He gulps down half my Coke and I nudge him.

  “Sorry, babe, I’ll order you another,” he says smoothly. He really is very attractive and looks more like a model than a college student. If he didn’t have so many tattoos, he probably would be a model.

  A noise comes from the other booth, and my eyes dart to Hardin. He clears his throat loudly, staring at me with blazing eyes. I want to look away, but I can’t. I’m caught in his gaze as Zed lifts his arm up and rests it on the back of the booth, directly behind me.

  Hardin’s eyes narrow and I decide to have a little fun.

  Remembering that he was pretty adamant about me not hanging out with Zed before, I lean into Zed ever so slightly. Hardin’s eyes go wide, but he quickly recovers. I know how immature and ridiculous this whole thing is, but I don’t care. If I have to be around him, I want him to be as uncomfortable as I am.

  The biker woman returns and takes everyone’s food order. I go with a burger and fries, minus the ketchup, and everyone else orders hot wings. She brings Hardin a Coke and the rest of them another round of beers. I am still waiting on my Coke but I don’t want to be rude by pointing that out to the woman.

  “They have the best wings here,” Zed informs me and I smile at him.

  “So are you going to the bonfire next weekend?” I ask him.

  “I don’t know, it’s not really my scene.” He takes a drink of his beer and brings his arm down from the booth to rest fully over my shoulder. “Are you going?”

  I don’t look his way, but I imagine Hardin’s irritation at this. Truth is, I do feel guilty flirting with him this way, and I’ve never really tried to flirt with anyone before, so I’m sure I am terrible at it. “Yeah, with Landon.”

  Everyone bursts into laughter. “Landon Gibson?” Zed asks, still laughing.

  “Yeah, he’s my friend,” I snap. I don’t like the way they are all laughing at him.

  “He would go to the bonfire! He is such a lame,” Molly says, and I glare at her.

  “No, he isn’t, actually. He is really cool,” I say in his defense. I understand that my definition of cool is not the same as theirs, but mine is better.

  “Landon Gibson and cool do not belong in the same sentence,” Molly says and brushes Hardin’s hair back off his forehead.

  I hate her.

  “Well, sorry if he isn’t cool enough to hang out with you guys, but he is . . .” I start to shout and sit up straighter in the booth, knocking Zed’s arm off my shoulders.

  “Whoa, Tessa, calm down. We are just teasing,” Nate says and Molly smirks at me. I get the feeling she doesn’t care for me much, either.

  “Well, I don’t like when people tease my friends, especially when he isn’t here to defend himself.” I need to calm down . . . My emotions are running wild from being around Hardin and the way he’s hanging all over Molly in front of me.

  “Okay, okay, I’m sorry. Besides, I do gotta give him some credit for that black eye he gave Hardin,” Zed says and wraps his arm back around me. Everyone excerpt Hardin laughs, even me.

  “Yeah, good thing that professor broke the fight up, or Hardin would have gotten beat even worse by the loser—” Nate says and then looks at me. “Sorry, it slipped,” he says and gives me an apologetic smile.

  A professor? Their fight wasn’t broken up by a professor—it was broken up by Hardin’s dad. Either Landon lied, or . . . wait, I wonder if these guys even know Hardin and Landon are soon to be stepbrothers. I look at Hardin, who now looks worried. He lied to them. I should call him out on it right now in front of everyone.

  But I can’t. I’m not like him. I find it harder to hurt people than he does.

  Except Noah, my subconscious reminds me, and I push her back.

  “Well, I think the bonfire will be fun,” I say.

  Zed looks at me with interest. “Maybe I will make an appearance after all.”

  “I’m going,” Hardin adds randomly from the other booth.

  Everyone turns to look at him, and Molly laughs. “Yeah, sure you are.” She rolls her eyes and laughs again.

  “No, really, it won’t be so bad,” Hardin softly insists, earning another eye-rolling from Molly.

  Hardin going because Zed said he was? Maybe I’m a better flirt than I thought.

  The server brings out our food and hands me my burger. It looks great, except for the ketchup dripping off the side. My nose scrunches up and I try to wipe some of it off with a napkin. I hate sending food back, and I’m already having a hard enough time tonight. The last thing I need is to draw even more attention to myself.

  Talk of the party tonight circles the booths while everyone digs into their wings and I pick at my fries. Eventually the server stops back and asks if we need anything else.

  “No, I think we’re good,” Tristan starts to say, and she begins to walk away.

  “Wait. She ordered her burger with no ketchup,” Hardin says loudly, and I drop a fry onto the plate.

  The waitress looks at me with concern. “I’m sorry about that. Do you want me to take it back?”

??m so embarrassed, all I can do is shake my head.

  “Yeah. She does,” Hardin answers for me.

  What the hell is he doing? And how did he even know it had ketchup? He is just trying to make me uncomfortable.

  “Here, honey, give me your plate.” She smiles and holds her hand out. “I’ll bring you a new one.” I hand it to her and look down while I thank her.

  “What was that?” I hear Molly ask Hardin. She should really work on her whispering voice.

  “Nothing, she doesn’t like ketchup,” he simply says and she huffs before taking a drink of her beer.

  “So?” Molly says and Hardin glares at her.

  “So, nothing. Just drop it.”

  At least I know I am not the only one he is rude to.

  My new food sans ketchup arrives, and I eat most of it despite my lack of appetite. Zed ends up paying for my meal, which is both nice and awkward at the same time. Hardin’s annoyance seems to grow as Zed puts his arm around me yet again on the walk outside.

  “Logan says the party is already packed!” Nate says, reading a text.

  “You should ride with me there,” Zed offers, then frowns when I shake my head.

  “Oh, I am not going to the party. Tristan is going to take me back.”

  “I can take her back to her room since I drove,” Hardin says.

  I almost trip over my feet at this, but fortunately Steph grabs hold of me and smiles at Hardin. “No, Tristan and I will take her. Zed can ride with us, too.”

  If looks could kill, Steph would be collapsing on the floor right now.

  Hardin turns to Tristan. “You don’t want to drive drunk on campus; the police are going to be looking for people to give tickets to because it’s Friday.”

  Steph looks at me, waiting for me to speak up, but I don’t know what to say. I don’t want to be in the car with Hardin alone, but I don’t want to drive with Tristan when he has been drinking. I shrug and lean into Zed while they settle this among themselves.

  “Great, let’s drop her off and then go have some fun,” Molly tells Hardin, but he shakes his head.

  “No, you ride with Tristan and Steph,” he says forcefully and Molly shrinks.

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