After (The After Series) by Anna Todd


  “For God’s sake can we just get in the cars and go!” Nate whines and pulls his keys out.

  “Yeah, let’s go, Tessa,” Hardin says and I look up at Zed and then at Steph.

  “Tessa!” Hardin barks again as he unlocks his car door. He looks back at me and I get the feeling that if I don’t follow he will drag me to the car. But why would he even want to be around me if he told Steph that I had better not come around? He disappears inside the car and starts the engine.

  “It’ll be okay, just text me as soon as you get back to the room,” Steph says, and I nod and walk to Hardin’s car. My curiosity gets the best of me, and I have to know what his intentions are. I just have to.

  chapter forty

  No matter how hard I tried to avoid seeing him all week, I somehow end up in his car with him. He doesn’t look at me as I get in or while I buckle my seat belt. I tug at the dress again, trying to pull it over my thighs. We sit in silence for a moment and then he pulls out of the parking lot. One saving grace is his not allowing Molly to ride with us—I would have rather walked home than watch her fawn all over him.

  “What’s with the new look?” he finally asks once we’re on the freeway.

  “Um . . . well, Steph wanted to try something new with me, I guess.” I keep my eyes fixed on the buildings passing by outside the window. His usual aggressive music is playing quietly through the car.

  “It’s a little over-the-top, don’t you think?” he asks and I ball my fists on my lap. So this is his plan today, to insult me the whole way back to my room.

  “You didn’t have to drive me home, you know.” I lean my head against the window, trying to create as much space between us as possible.

  “Don’t get so defensive; all I am saying is your little makeover is a little extreme.”

  “Well, good thing I don’t care what you think, but considering your distaste for my usual appearance, I’m surprised you don’t think I look better like this,” I snap and close my eyes. I am already exhausted from being around him and he is sucking the little bit of energy that remained from me.

  I hear him chuckle quietly and he turns the radio off completely. “I never said there was anything wrong with your appearance. Your clothes, yes, but I’d much rather see the hideous long skirts than these clothes.”

  He’s trying to explain but his answer doesn’t really make sense. He seems to like when Molly dresses this way, only much skankier, so why not me?

  “Did you hear me, Tessa?” he asks when I don’t respond, and I feel his hand touch my thigh. I jerk away from his touch and open my eyes.

  “Yes, I did. I just don’t have anything to say about it. If you don’t like the way I’m dressed, then don’t look at me.” One good thing that comes from talking to Hardin is that for once in my life I can say exactly what comes to my mind without worrying about hurting his feelings, seeing as how he has none.

  “That is precisely the problem here, isn’t it? That I can’t stop looking at you.” The words leave his mouth and I consider opening the car door and hurling myself onto the freeway.

  “Oh! Please!” I laugh. I know he will say just enough nice, yet cryptic, things to make it more painful when he takes them back and throws more insults at me later.

  “What? It’s true. I approve of the new clothes, but you don’t need all this makeup. Regular girls wear tons of makeup to look as good as you do without it.”

  What? He must have forgotten that we aren’t speaking, that he tried to ruin my life less than a week ago, and that we despise each other.

  “You don’t expect me to thank you, do you?” I half-laugh. He is so confusing; he is brooding and angry one minute and telling me he can’t stop looking at me the next.

  “Why didn’t you tell them the truth about Landon and me?” he asks, changing the subject.

  “Because you obviously didn’t want them to know.”

  “Still, why would you keep my secrets?”

  “Because they are not mine to tell.”

  He looks over to me with hooded eyes and a slight smile. “I wouldn’t have blamed you if you did, considering what I did with Noah.”

  “Yeah, well, I am not you.”

  “No, no you’re not,” he says, his voice much quieter. And after that he remains silent for the rest of the drive, as do I. I have nothing to say to him.

  We finally pull onto campus and he parks in the farthest possible spot from my room. Of course.

  I reach for the door handle and Hardin’s hand touches my thigh again. “You’re not going to thank me?” He smiles and I shake my head.

  “Thanks for the ride,” I say sarcastically. “Hurry back—Molly’s waiting,” I add as I climb out. I hope he didn’t hear me; I am not sure why I even said that.

  “Yeah . . . I better. She sure is fun when she’s drunk,” he says with a smirk.

  Trying to hide the fact that I feel like he just punched me in the stomach, I lean down to look at him through the passenger window and Hardin rolls it down. “Yeah, I am sure she is. Noah’s coming soon, anyway,” I lie and watch his eyes narrow.

  “He is?” Hardin picks at his fingernails, a nervous habit, I assume.

  “Yep, see you around.” I smile and walk off.

  I hear him get out of his car and shut the door. “Wait!” he says and I turn around. “I . . . never mind, I thought you, um, dropped something but you didn’t.” His cheeks flush. He’s clearly lying, and I want to know what he was going to say, but I need to walk away now, so I do just that.

  “Bye, Hardin.” The words mean more than I let on. I don’t look back to see if he is coming after me because I know he isn’t.

  I TAKE THE HEELS OFF before I even get to my room and walk barefoot the rest of the way through campus. The second I get into the room I put my fuzzy pajamas back on and call Noah. He answers on the second ring.

  “Hey,” I squeak. My voice sounds too high-pitched. It’s only Noah, why am I so nervous?

  “Hey, Tessa, how was your day today?” he asks softly. He doesn’t sound like the same distant Noah that I’ve gotten all week. I sigh in relief.

  “It was okay, actually, I am just hanging out in my room tonight. What are you doing?” I purposely leave out my dinner with Steph and everyone, including Hardin. That will not help my “please forgive me” campaign.

  “I just got out of practice. I’m thinking I’ll study tonight because I’m helping the new neighbors cut a tree down tomorrow.”

  He is always helping everyone. He is too good for me.

  “I’m just studying tonight, too.”

  “I wish we could study together,” he says, and I smile while picking at the tiny lint balls on my fuzzy socks.

  “You do?”

  “Yeah, of course, Tessa. I still love you and I miss you. But I have to know that nothing like this will ever happen again. I’m willing to try to put this past us, but you have to promise me you will stay away from him,” he says. He doesn’t have to say his name.

  “Of course I will, I swear—I love you!” Part of me knows that I am desperate to have Noah forgive me only because I don’t want to be completely alone and fawning over Hardin, but I ignore it.

  After exchanging more “I love you’s” with Noah, he agrees to accompany me to the bonfire next weekend and we get off the phone. I look online for the closest car dealerships to campus, and lucky for me there appears to be a good number of used-car lots ready to rip off college students. After noting the addresses of a few, I dig through Steph’s makeup bag and finally find the wipes to remove all my makeup. It takes forever, and this obnoxious process alone makes me never want to wear it again, regardless of how good it looked.

  chapter forty-one

  I take out my notes and textbooks and dive into my studies. I am working on next week’s assignments. I like to stay ahead one week at least so there is no chance I fall behind. But my thoughts drift to Hardin and his moodiness, so I’m not really paying attention to the essay I’m supposed to b
e writing. It has been only two hours since I got off the phone with Noah, but it seems like four.

  I decide to find a movie and lie in bed until I fall asleep, settling on The Vow despite the fact that I have seen it numerous times. Less than ten minutes into the movie I hear someone cursing outside in the hall. I turn the volume up on my laptop and ignore the cursing; it’s Friday, which means drunk people all over the dorms tonight. A few minutes later, I hear the cursing again—a male voice, then a female voice joins in. The guy shouts louder, and then I recognize the accent. It’s Hardin.

  I jump off my bed and swing open the door to find him sitting on the floor with his back against the wall outside my room. An angry girl with bleach-blond hair is standing over him, scowling with her hands on her hips.

  “Hardin?” I say, and he looks up.

  A huge grins slides over his face. “Theresa . . .” he says and begins to stand.

  “Can you please tell your boyfriend to get away from my door—he spilled vodka all over the floor!” the girl yells.

  I look at Hardin. “He’s not my . . .” I start to say, but Hardin grabs my hand and pulls me toward my door.

  “Sorry for the spill,” he says and rolls his eyes at the blonde. She huffs and storms into her room, slamming her door.

  “What are you doing here, Hardin?” I ask him. He tries to walk past me and into my room but I block the entrance.

  “Why can’t I come in, Tessa? I will be nice to your grandpa.” He laughs and I roll my eyes. I know he is making fun of Noah.

  “He isn’t here.”

  “Why not? Okay, so let me in then,” he says, slurring his words.

  “No, are you drunk?” My eyes scan his face. His eyes are red, and his smirk gives it all away. He takes his lip between his teeth and puts his hands into his pockets.

  “I thought you didn’t drink, but now you have been drinking a lot.”

  “It’s only been twice. Chill out,” he says, and pushes past me and flops down on my bed. “So why didn’t Noah come?”

  “I don’t know,” I lie.

  He nods several times, like he’s considering this seriously. “Sure. The Gap probably had a sale on cardigans, so he canceled on you.” He bursts out laughing, and the energy in the room is such that I can’t help but join him.

  “So where is Molly?” I ask. “At a Skanks ‘R’ Us sale?”

  Hardin stops for a second and then laughs harder. “That was a terrible attempt at a comeback, Theresa,” he jokes, and I kick my foot at where his shins dangle over the bed.

  “Either way, you can’t stay here. Noah and I are back together, officially.”

  I notice his smile fade and he rubs his hands against his knees. “Nice pajamas,” he says, and I look down.

  Why is he being so cavalier? We haven’t resolved anything, and the last time I checked we were both staying away from each other.

  “Hardin, you have to go.”

  “Let me guess: one of Noah’s conditions for reconciliation was that you have to stay away from me?” His tone is more serious now.

  “Yeah, and the last time I checked you and I weren’t friends or even speaking. Why did you drop Literature and why did you hit Landon?”

  “Why do you always ask so many questions?” he whines. “I don’t want to talk about any of that! What were you and your cool pajamas doing before I came in—and why is your light off?” Hardin is much more playful when he has been drinking but I am beginning to wonder why he’s begun drinking when he didn’t before.

  “I was watching a movie,” I tell him; maybe if I am nice to him he will answer some of my questions.

  “What movie?”

  “The Vow,” I answer and look at him. I expect him to laugh at me and after a few seconds he does.

  “You would like that sappy movie. That is so unrealistic.”

  “It’s based on a true story,” I correct him.

  “It still seems stupid.”

  “Have you even seen it?” I ask him, and he shakes his head.

  “I don’t have to see it to know it’s stupid. I can tell you how it ends right now: she gets her memory back and they live happily ever after,” he says in a high-pitched voice.

  “No, actually that isn’t how it ends,” I laugh. Hardin makes me insane most of the time, but it’s the rare occasions like this when he makes me forget how terrible he can be. I forget that I am supposed to hate him and instead find myself tossing one of Steph’s pillows at him. He lets it hit him, even though he could easily block it, and then yelps as if he is actually wounded, so we both laugh again.

  “Let me stay and watch it with you,” he half-asks, half-demands.

  “I don’t think that is a good idea,” I tell him and he shrugs.

  “The worst ideas are often the best ideas. Besides, you wouldn’t want me to drive back drunk, would you?” He smiles, and I can’t resist even though I know I should.

  “Fine, but you are sitting on the floor or Steph’s bed.”

  He pouts but I hold my ground. God knows what will happen if we are both on my small bed. I flush at the possibilities and then scold myself for thinking that way when I just promised Noah I would stay away from Hardin. It sounds like such a simple promise to make, but somehow I always find my way to Hardin. Or, like tonight, he finds his way to me.

  Hardin slides down to the floor and I take a moment to admire how hot he looks in a plain white T-shirt. The contrast of his black ink and white shirt is perfect and I love the way the ivy branches along the bottom of his neck peak out from under the collar and the black ink can be seen under the material.

  I press play and immediately he asks, “Got any popcorn?”

  “No, you should have brought your own,” I tease and turn the screen so he can see it better from the floor.

  “I could always go for another type of snack,” he says and I smack his head lightheartedly.

  “Watch the movie, and no more talking, or I’ll kick you out.”

  Hardin pretends to zip his lips and hand me a key, which makes me giggle as I pretend to toss it behind me. As Hardin lays his head back against the bed, I feel more calm and at peace than I have all week.

  Hardin watches me more than the movie, but I don’t care. I notice the way he smiles when I laugh at a funny line, the way he frowns when I sob over Paige losing her memory, and the way he too sighs with relief when Paige and Leo end up together again in the end.

  “So what did you think?” I ask him as I scroll through to find another movie.

  “Utter rubbish.” But he smiles, and I ruffle my hand through his hair before I realize what I’m doing. I sit myself up and he turns toward the wall.

  Way to make it awkward, Tessa.

  “Let me choose the next movie,” he says and reaches for my laptop.

  “Who said you could stay for another?” I ask and he rolls his eyes.

  “Can’t drive. Still drunk,” he says with a mischievous grin.

  I know he is lying. He’s mostly sobered up, but he’s right. He should stay. I will deal with whatever Hardin decides to do to me tomorrow, just to be able to spend time with him. I really am pathetic, just like he said. And at the moment, I don’t care.

  I want to ask him why he came here and why he isn’t at his own frat party, but I decide to wait until the movie is over because I know he will turn sour once I begin to question him. Hardin chooses some Batman film that I haven’t seen and swears it is the best movie of all time. I laugh at his enthusiasm as he tries to explain the previous movies in the trilogy, but I have no idea what he is talking about. Noah and I always watch movies together, but I have never enjoyed it as much as I do with Hardin. Noah stares at the screen in silence, whereas Hardin banters along, adding hilarious sarcastic entertainment.

  “My ass is numb from your hard floor,” Hardin complains as soon as the movie begins.

  “Steph’s bed is nice and soft,” I say, and he frowns.

  “I won’t be able to see the screen from over th
ere. Come on, Tessa, I will keep my hands to myself.”

  “Fine,” I groan and scoot over.

  He smiles and lies next to me on his stomach mimicking me, bending his knees and putting his feet in the air. Hardin lays his head on his folded hands, which takes away all his rough edges and leaves him looking adorable. The movie is much better than I expected, and I must’ve been more into it than Hardin, because when the credits roll and I look over at him, he’s fast asleep.

  He looks so perfect, so peaceful in his sleep. I love the way his eyelids flutter and the way his chest moves up and down and the lovely sigh that leaves his full lips. I want to reach over and touch his face, but I don’t. Despite the fact that I should wake him and make him leave, I cover him with my blanket and go lock the door before lying down on Steph’s bed. I glance over at him again and admire the way the dim light from the television illuminates his face. He looks younger and much happier in his sleep.

  As I drift to sleep, I realize that I’ve spent the night with Hardin a couple of times now, and never with Noah. My subconscious helpfully reminds me that I’ve done a lot of things with Hardin that I’ve never done with Noah.

  chapter forty-two

  The faint sound of buzzing floats through my dream in a steady pattern. Why won’t it stop? I roll over, not wanting to wake up, but the obnoxious sound insists that I do. I’m disoriented, and forget where I am. And then when I realize I’m in Steph’s bed, I still almost forget Hardin is in my room.

  How do we always end up together? And more important, where is that annoying noise coming from? In the dim light provided by streetlights just outside the window, I follow the noise and it leads to Hardin’s pocket. I feel as if the noise is calling to me in my dreamy state. I debate whether or not to reach into his pocket, my eyes focused on the imprint of the phone in the front pocket of his tight jeans. It stops as I reach my bed so I steal another opportunity to take in how peaceful Hardin looks in his sleep. There is no soft crinkle in his forehead from his constant frowning, and there is no purse to his pink lips. I sigh and turn around only to have the buzzing start again. I’m just going to grab it, he won’t wake up. I dip my hand down and struggle to reach into Hardin’s pocket. If his pants weren’t so tight, I would be able to pull the phone from his pocket . . . but I have no such luck.

 
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