After (The After Series) by Anna Todd

  “What are you doing?” he groans.

  I jolt a few feet away from my bed. “Your phone is going off and it woke me up,” I whisper, despite the fact that we are the only people in the room.

  I watch silently as he digs into his pocket, his large hand struggling to pull out his phone. “What?” He snaps into the mouthpiece when he does get it out, only to swipe his hand over his forehead at whatever response he received.

  “I am not coming back there tonight. I am at a friend’s house.”

  Are we friends? Of course not, I’m just a convenient excuse for why he isn’t returning to the party. I stand awkwardly and shift my weight from one leg to the other.

  “No, you can’t go into my room. You know this. I’m going back to sleep now, so don’t wake me up again. And my door is locked, so don’t waste your time trying.” He hangs up, and I instinctively back away. His bad mood is palpable, and I don’t want to be on the receiving end of his venom. I crawl onto Steph’s bed and pull the blanket to me.

  “Sorry that my phone woke you,” he says quietly. “It was Molly.”

  “Oh.” I sigh and lie down on my side, facing my bed across the room. Hardin gives me a small smile, as if he knows what I’m thinking about Molly. I can’t ignore the small bubble of excitement that comes from him being here instead of with Molly, even though his actions make no sense to me.

  “You don’t like her, do you?” He rolls fully onto his side, his hair messy and everywhere on my pillow.

  I shake my head. “Not really, but please don’t tell her. I don’t want any drama,” I beg. I know I can’t trust him, but hopefully he will forget to stir up controversy with this information.

  “I won’t. I don’t care for her, either,” he murmurs.

  “Yeah, you really seem to dislike her,” I say just as sarcastically as I can manage.

  “I don’t. I mean, she is fun and all, but she is quite annoying,” he admits, making that bubble grow a little more.

  “Well, maybe you should stop messing around with her,” I suggest and roll onto my back so he can’t see my face.

  “Is there a reason I shouldn’t mess around with her?”

  “No. I mean, if you think she is annoying, then why keep doing it?” I know I don’t want the answer to this, but can’t help it.

  “To keep me occupied, I guess.”

  I close my eyes and take a deep breath. Talking about Hardin messing around with Molly hurts me worse than it should.

  His smooth voice interrupts my jealous thoughts. “Come lie with me.”


  “Come on, just lie with me. I sleep better when you’re near me,” he says like it’s a confession.

  I sit up and look at him. “What?” I can’t hide my surprise at his words. Whether he means them or not, they make my insides melt.

  “I sleep better when you’re with me.” He breaks eye contact and looks down. “Last weekend I slept better than I have in a while.”

  “It was probably the scotch, not me.” I try to make light of his confession. I don’t know what else to do or say.

  “No, it was you.”

  “Good night, Hardin.” I turn over. If he keeps saying these things and I keep listening, I will be putty in his hands yet again.

  “Why don’t you believe me?” he almost whispers.

  “Because you always do this: you say a few nice things and then you flip the switch and I end up crying.”

  “I make you cry?”

  How doesn’t he know that? He has seen me cry more than anyone else I know.

  “Yeah, often,” I say, gripping Steph’s blanket tight.

  I hear his bed squeak lightly and I close my eyes, out of fear, out of something else, too. Hardin’s fingers graze my arm as he sits on the edge of Steph’s bed, and I tell myself it’s too late—well, early—for this at 4 a.m.

  “I don’t mean to make you cry.”

  I open my eyes and look up at him. “Yes. Yes, you do. That’s your exact intention every time you say hurtful things to me. And when you forced me to tell Noah about us. And when you humiliated me in your bed last week because I couldn’t say exactly what you wanted me to. Tonight you tell me you sleep better when I am around, but if I was to lie with you, the second we woke up you would just tell me I am ugly, or that you can’t stand me. After we went to the stream, I thought that . . . never mind. There are only so many times I can have this talk with you.” I take in a couple of deep breaths, panicked at my unloading on him.

  “I’m listening this time.” His eyes are unreadable, but they make me want to continue.

  “I just don’t know why you love this cat-and-mouse game you play with me so much. You’re nice, then mean. You tell Steph you’ll ‘ruin’ me if I come around you, then you want to drive me home. You are just all over the place.”

  “I didn’t mean that. That I would ruin you, I just . . . I don’t know. I just say things sometimes,” he says, running his hands through his hair.

  “Why did you drop Literature?” I finally ask.

  “Because you want me to stay away from you, and I need to stay away from you.”

  “So why don’t you, then?” I am slightly aware of the shift in energy around us. Somehow we have moved closer, our bodies only inches apart.

  “I don’t know,” he huffs. He rubs his hands together, then rests them on his knees.

  I want to say something—anything—but I can’t without telling Hardin that I don’t want him to stay away, that I think about him every second of every day.

  Finally, he breaks the silence. “Can I ask you something and you will be completely honest?”

  I nod.

  “Did you . . . did you miss me this week?”

  That was the last thing I expected him to ask me. I blink a few times to clear my frantic mind. I told him I would answer truthfully, but I’m afraid to.


  “Yeah,” I mumble and hide my face in my hands, only to have him pull them away, his touch on my wrists setting fire to my skin.

  “Yeah, what?” His voice is strained, like he is desperate for my answer.

  “I missed you,” I gulp, expecting the worst.

  What I did not expect is his sigh of relief, and the smile that stretches across his beautiful face. I want to ask him if he missed me, but he begins to speak before I get the chance.

  “Really?” he asks, almost like he doesn’t believe me.

  I nod in reply and he gives me a shy smile. Hardin shy? More likely he’s pleased by my admittance because it tells him he has me wrapped around his finger.

  “Now can I go back to sleep?” I whine. I know he isn’t going to reciprocate my confession with one of his own, and it is really late.

  “Only if you sleep with me. As in, in the same bed, of course.” He smiles.

  I sigh and mumble, “Oh, Hardin, can we just go to sleep?” as I roll over, careful not to touch him. But a sudden yank on my legs makes me yelp in surprise, and I quickly find Hardin lifting me off the bed and throwing me over his shoulder. He ignores my kicking and pleas to put me down until he reaches my bed, rests one knee on it, and lays me down gently on the side against the wall before lying down next to me. I glare at him silently, afraid that if I fight him too hard he’ll leave, which I know I don’t want.

  He reaches down and picks up the pillow that I tossed at him earlier and places it between us as a barrier with a smirk on his face. “There, now you can sleep, safe and secure.”

  I smile back at him. I can’t help it. “Good night,” I half-giggle.

  “Night, Tessa.” He laughs back and I roll over on my side.

  But suddenly I’m not anywhere near tired, so I just stare at the wall, hoping this electricity will dissipate and I can sleep. Well, half-hoping.

  A few minutes later I feel the pillow move and then Hardin’s arm wraps around my waist and he pulls me to his chest. I don’t move it or call attention to his actions. I am enjoying the feeling too much.

  “I missed you, too,” he whispers against my hair. I smile knowing that he can’t see me. I feel the light pressure of his lips against the back of my head and my stomach flips. As much as I love it, I am left more confused than ever as I drift off to sleep.

  chapter forty-three

  My alarm goes off too early and I roll over. I lift my hand, smacking at it to stop the hideous beeping assaulting my ears. My hand smacks against a soft, warm surface, and I blink my eyes open to find Hardin staring down at me. I reach for my pillow to cover my embarrassment but Hardin yanks it away.

  “Good morning to you, too,” he says with a smile, rubbing at his arm.

  I stare back, working an apology in my mind. How long has be been watching me?

  “You’re cute when you’re asleep,” he teases and I sit up as quick as I can, sure I look fairly hideous, like usual in the morning.

  He hands me my phone. “What’s the alarm for?”

  I switch it off and climb off the bed. “I’m going to look for a car today, so you can leave whenever,” I tell him and he frowns.

  “You’re obviously not a morning person.”

  I pull my hair back into a tail, in an effort to keep it from looking like a bird’s nest. “I am . . . I just don’t want to keep you.” I feel a little guilty for being rude, but I had expected him to be rude himself, to be honest.

  “You’re not. Can I come with you?”

  I search around my room, wondering if I heard him correctly. Finally I turn to him with suspicion in my eyes. “To look at a car? Why would you want to do that?”

  “Why do I have to have a reason? You act like I’m plotting to kill you or something.” He laughs and stands up, ruffling his hair.

  “Well, I’m just a little taken aback by your cheerful mood this morning . . . and you wanting to go somewhere with me . . . and you not insulting me,” I admit.

  I turn away from him and gather my clothes and bathroom kit. I need to take a shower before I go anywhere.

  Unfazed by my honesty, Hardin presses some more. “It’ll be fun, I promise. Just let me show you that we could . . . that I could be nice. It’s just one day.”

  His smile is beautiful and convincing. But Noah will surely break up with me and never speak to me again if he knows that Hardin stayed the night with me, in my bed, holding me as we slept. I don’t know what it is that keeps me constantly afraid of losing Noah; maybe it’s my fear of my mother’s reaction if we broke up, or maybe that my old self is so tied to Noah. He has always been there for me, and I feel like I owe it to myself and him to continue our relationship. But I think the biggest reason is that I know Hardin can’t and won’t give me the type of relationship I need and honestly want from him.

  While I am lost in my thoughts it finally seems okay for me to admit that listening to Hardin’s steady breathing in my ear while he slept was worth never speaking to Noah again.

  “Earth to Tessa!” Hardin calls from across the room and I snap to. I have been frozen standing here debating with myself and completely forgot Hardin was even in my room.

  “Is something wrong?” he asks and steps toward me.

  Oh, nothing, just that I am finally admitting to myself that I have feelings for you and want more from you, yet know you will never care about anyone, especially me.

  “Just trying to figure out what to wear,” I lie.

  His eyes move down to the clothes in my hands, and he tilts his head but only says, “So, can I come? It will be easier for you, anyway—so you don’t have to take the bus.”

  Well, it might be fun. And it would be easier. “Yeah, okay,” I say. “Just let me get ready.” I walk toward the door and he follows me.

  “What are you doing?” I ask him.

  “Coming with you.”

  “Um, I’m going to take a shower.” I dangle my toiletry bag in front of him and he snatches it from me.

  “What a coincidence—me, too!”

  Damn coed bathrooms. He walks past me and opens the door without looking back. I rush to catch up with him and grab hold of his shirt.

  “Nice of you to join me,” he jokes and I roll my eyes.

  “We haven’t even begun the day and you’re already annoying me,” I tease back.

  A group of girls walks by us and into the bathrooms; they don’t even try to be subtle about staring at Hardin.

  “Ladies,” Hardin greets them, and they giggle like schoolgirls. Well, technically they are schoolgirls, but they are also adults, so they should act like it.

  chapter forty-four

  After a stop to use the toilet, I come out and don’t see or hear Hardin in the showers, so my mind of course starts worrying that he went off somewhere with those girls. He didn’t even bring any clothes with him, so if he does shower, he would just be putting on dirty clothes. Hardin could wear clothes matted with mud and still look better than any guy I have ever seen. Except Noah, I remind myself.

  After a quick shower, I dry off and pull my clothes on and make my way back to my room, where I’m relieved to find Hardin sitting on my bed. Take that, schoolgirls, part of me yells. He is shirtless and the water has made his dark hair blacker yet. I close my mouth to make sure my tongue isn’t hanging out.

  “Took you long enough,” he says and leans back. His muscles constrict as he lifts his arms behind his head to brace him against the wall.

  “You’re supposed to be nice to me, remember,” I say and walk over to Steph’s closet and open the door to use the mirror. Grabbing Steph’s makeup bag, I sit myself down and cross my legs in front of it.

  “This is me being nice.”

  I stay quiet as I try to apply a little makeup. After three attempts of making a straight line on my top eyelid, I chuck the eyeliner at the mirror and Hardin laughs.

  “You don’t need that, anyway,” he tells me.

  “I like it,” I say, and he rolls his eyes.

  “Fine, we can just sit here all day while you try to color on your face,” he says. So much for nice Hardin.

  He catches himself and gives me a quick, “Sorry, sorry,” while I wipe my eyes off. But I give up the makeup routine. It’s a little hard to do with someone like Hardin watching me.

  “I’m ready,” I tell him and he jumps up. “Are you going to put a shirt on?” I ask him.

  “Yeah, I have one in my trunk.”

  I was right: he must have an endless supply in there. I don’t want to think about the reasons behind that.

  TRUE TO HIS WORD, Hardin pulls a plain black T-shirt out of his trunk and finishes getting dressed in the parking lot.

  “Stop staring and get in the car,” he teases me. I stutter a denial and oblige.

  “I like you in the white shirts,” I say when we’re both inside, the words just popping out before I can process them.

  Cocking his head sideways, he gives me a smug grin. “Is that so?” He raises his eyebrow. “Well, I like you in those jeans. They show off your ass wonderfully,” he says and my mouth drops. Hardin and his dirty words.

  I swat at him playfully and he laughs, but I mentally pat myself on the back for wearing these pants. I want Hardin to look at me even though I would never admit it, and I am flattered by his strange way of complimenting me.

  “So where to?” he asks, and I pull out my phone. I read him the list of used-car dealers within a five-mile radius and tell him about a few of the reviews on each.

  “You plan things way too much. We aren’t going to any of those places.”

  “Yes, we are. I already have this planned; there is a Prius that I want to see at Bob’s Super Cars,” I tell him and cringe at the cheesy name.

  “A Prius?” he says in disgust.

  “Yeah? They have the best gas mileage and they are safe and—”

  “Boring. I knew somehow you would want a Prius. You just scream, ‘Lady with a planner in her Prius!’ ” he says in a fake woman’s voice and then cackles.

  “Tease me all you want but I will save hundreds on gas
every year,” I remind him, laughing, when he leans over and pokes my cheek. I look over at him, shocked by his doing such a small but adorable thing; he looks as surprised at what he did as I do.

  “You’re cute sometimes,” he tells me.

  I look forward again. “Gee, thanks.”

  “I mean that in a nice way, like sometimes you do cute things,” he mutters. The words seem uncomfortable on his tongue and I know he isn’t used to saying things like this.

  “Okay . . .” I say and look out the side window.

  Every second I spend with Hardin increases my feelings for him, and I know it’s dangerous for me to allow these small, seemingly meaningless moments to occur, but I don’t have control of myself when Hardin is involved. I become merely a passerby in this storm.

  HARDIN ENDS UP DRIVING TO BOB’S, and I thank him. Bob ends up being a short, sweaty, and overgelled man who smells like nicotine and leather and whose smile is punctuated with a gold tooth. While he talks to me, Hardin stands nearby, making faces when he isn’t looking. The little man seems to be intimidated by Hardin’s harsh appearance, but I don’t blame him. I take one look at the condition of the used Prius and decide against it. I have a feeling the moment I drove off the lot it would have broken down, and Bob has a strict no-return policy.

  We visit a few more lots and they are all equally as trashy. After a morning of countless balding men, I decide to suspend my search for a car. I will have to go farther away from campus for a decent car and I just don’t feel like it today. We decide to get some lunch at a drive-through, and while we eat in the car Hardin surprisingly tells me a story about when Zed got arrested for puking all over the floor of a Wendy’s last year. The day is going better than I could have imagined, and for once I feel like we could both make it through this semester without killing each other.

  On our way back to campus, we pass a cute little frozen yogurt bar and I beg Hardin to stop. He groans and acts like he doesn’t want to, but I see the hint of a smile hiding behind his sour features. Hardin tells me to find a spot and he goes and gets our yogurt for us, piling on every candy and cookie imaginable. It looks disgusting, but he convinces me it’s the only way to get your money’s worth. As gross as it looks, it’s delicious. I can’t even finish half of mine, but Hardin happily clears his cup and the remainder of mine.

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