After (The After Series) by Anna Todd

  A light knock on the door brings me out of my thoughts. I expect to see Karen or Hardin, but instead I find Landon when I open the door. His hands are in his pockets, and his handsome face holds a small, awkward smile.

  “Hey,” he says and I smile.

  “Hey, do you want to come in?” I ask him, and he nods.

  I walk over and sit on the bed; he pulls the chair out from the small table in the corner and takes a seat.

  “I—” we both say at the same time and laugh.

  “You first,” he suggests.

  “Okay, I am so sorry that you found out about Hardin and me that way. I didn’t go out there with that intention. I was just making sure he was okay; this whole dinner with his father was really getting to him and somehow we just ended up . . . kissing. I know how terrible it is of me, and I know I am horrible for cheating on Noah, but I am just so confused, and I tried to stay away from Hardin. I really did.”

  “I’m not judging you, Tessa. I was just surprised to see you two making out on the deck. I thought when I walked out I would find you yelling at each other.” He laughs and continues. “I knew something was up with you two when you had that fight in the middle of Literature and then when you stayed last weekend, and then when he came back and started a fight with me. The signs were all there, but I thought you would tell me, though I do understand why you didn’t.”

  I feel a huge weight lift off my shoulders. “You’re not mad at me? Or think any different of me?” I ask him and he shakes his head.

  “No, of course not. I am worried about you and Hardin, though. I don’t want him to hurt you, and I believe he will. I am sorry for saying that, but as your friend I need you to know that he will.”

  I want to get defensive and even angry, but part of me knows he is right. I just hope somehow he isn’t.

  “So what are you going to do about Noah?”

  I groan. “I have no idea. I am afraid that if I break up with him I will regret it, but what I am doing to him isn’t fair. I just need a little time to decide what to do.”

  He nods.

  “Landon, I’m so relieved that you aren’t mad at me. I was being a jerk earlier. I just didn’t know what to say. I am sorry.”

  “Me, too, I completely understand.” We both stand up and he hugs me. A warm and comforting hug as the door opens.

  “Um . . . am I interrupting something?” Hardin’s voice travels through the room.

  “No, come in,” I tell him and he rolls his eyes. I hope he is still in a decent mood.

  “I brought you some clothes to sleep in,” he tells me. He places a small pile on the bed and goes to walk out.

  “Thank you, but you can stay.” I don’t want him to leave.

  He looks at Landon and snaps, “No, I’m good,” before leaving the room.

  “He is so moody!” I whine and plop down on the bed.

  Landon chuckles and sits back down. “Yeah, moody is one word for it.”

  We both burst into laughter and then Landon begins to talk about Dakota and how he can’t wait for her to come visit next weekend. I almost forgot about the bonfire. Noah is coming. Maybe I should tell him not to. What if this change between Hardin and me is all in my head? I feel like something has changed between us today, and he did tell me he wants me more than he has ever wanted anyone. But he didn’t exactly say he has feelings for me, only that he wants me. After an hour of Landon and I talking about everything from Tolstoy to the Seattle skyline, he tells me good night and retreats to his room, leaving me alone to my thoughts and the sound of the rain.

  chapter fifty

  I pick up the clothes Hardin brought me to wear: one of his signature black T-shirts, a pair of red-and-gray plaid pants, and some large black socks. I laugh at the idea of Hardin actually wearing those, but then I realize these are likely from the dresser of unworn clothes. I lift the shirt up and it smells like him. He has worn this one, and recently. The smell is intoxicating, minty and indescribable, but it is my newly acquired favorite scent in the entire world. I change into the clothes, finding the pants much too big but very comfortable.

  I lie down on the bed and pull the blanket up to my chest, my eyes fixated on the ceiling as I relive the whole day in my mind. I feel myself drifting off to sleep, to dream of green eyes and black T-shirts.

  “NO!!” Hardin’s voice jolts me awake. Am I hearing things?

  “Please!” he yells again. I jump out of bed and run across the hall. My hands find the cold metal of the doorknob to Hardin’s room and, thank God, it opens.

  “NO! Please . . .” he yells again. I didn’t think this through; if someone is hurting him, I have no idea what I will do. I fumble around for the lamp and switch it on. Hardin is shirtless and tangled in the thick comforter, thrashing and tossing. Without thinking, I sit on the bed and reach for his shoulder. His skin is hot, too hot.

  “Hardin!” I say quietly, trying to wake him. His head snaps to the side, and he whimpers but doesn’t wake.

  “Hardin, wake up!” I cry and shake him harder while my body moves to sit astride his. Both of my hands go to his shoulders once more and I shake him again.

  His eyes fly open; terror fills them for a brief moment before confusion, then relief. Beads of sweat cover his forehead.

  “Tess,” he chokes. The way he says my name breaks my heart, then heals it. Within seconds he untangles his arms and brings them to my back, pushing me forward to lie on his chest. The wetness of his chest startles me, but I stay put. I can hear his heart beating, pumping rapidly against my cheek. Poor Hardin. I put both of my hands on his sides, hugging him. He strokes my hair as he repeats my name over and over, as if I am his talisman in the dark.

  “Hardin, are you okay?” My words are lower than a whisper.

  “No,” he confesses. His chest is rising and falling slower than it was, but his breathing is still shallow. I don’t want to push him to discuss what terror he has just dreamed.

  I don’t ask him if he wants me to stay; somehow I know he does. When I lift up to turn the lamp off his body stills.

  “I was going to switch the light off, or do you want it on?” I ask him. Once he realizes my intentions he relaxes, letting me reach farther to the lamp.

  “Off, please,” he begs. Once the room returns to darkness, I lay my head back on his chest. I would imagine lying this way, straddling his body would be difficult, but it is comforting to him and me both. Hearing his heart beat under the hard surface of his chest is calming, more calming than the patter of the rain on the roof. I would do anything, give anything, to be able to spend every night with Hardin, to lie this way with him, to have his arms wrapped around me and his breathing slow in my ear.

  I WAKE UP to Hardin shifting below me. I am still lying on top of him, my knees astride him. I lift my head from where it rests on his chest and encounter his dazzling green eyes. In the light of day I am not sure if I am wanted the way I was last night. I can’t read his expression, which leaves my nerves to take over. I move to climb off him, since my neck feels sore from sleeping on his hard chest, and I need to stretch my legs out anyway.

  “Good morning.” He gives me a dimpled smile, soothing my fear.

  “Good morning.”

  “Where are you going?” he asks.

  “My neck hurts,” I say, and he brings me to lie next to him, my back pressed against his front. He startles me by bringing his hand to my neck, causing me to jump. I recover quickly as his hand begins to rub my neck. My eyes close and I wince a little at his contact with the ache, but the pain slowly disappears as he massages.

  He speaks before me. “Thank you.”

  I turn my head to look at him. “For what?” Maybe he is telling me to thank him for the neck rub?

  “For . . . coming in here. For staying.” His cheeks flush and his eyes dart away from mine. He is embarrassed. Hardin embarrassed; he never ceases to amaze and confuse me.

  “You don’t have to thank me. Do you want to talk about it?” I hope h
e does. I want to know what he dreams about.

  “No,” he states plainly, and I nod. I want to push it further, but I know what will happen if I do.

  “I will talk about how incredibly sexy you look wearing my shirt, though,” he coos in my ear. He nudges my head with his and brings his lips to my skin. My eyes close in response to his plump lips wrapping around my earlobe, gently tugging. I can feel him hardening against me, making me feel drowsy in an incredible way. This type of mood swing is one that I can enjoy.

  “Hardin,” I chirp and he chuckles against my neck. His hands travel down my body; he brings his thumb along the waistband of the oversize plaid pajamas. My pulse begins to quicken and I gasp as his hand slides down the front of the pants. He always has the same effect on me; within seconds I feel myself pooling in my panties. His other hand cups my breast and he hisses as he flicks his thumb over my sensitive nipple, making me glad I decided not to sleep in my bra.

  “I can’t get enough of you, Tess.” His raspy voice is even deeper, filled with lust. His hand cups me over my panties and he pulls me as close to him as possible. His erection presses against me. I reach down and take his hand, removing it from my pants. When I turn to face him, a frown covers his face.

  “I . . . I want to do something for you,” I whisper slowly, embarrassed.

  A smile overtakes the frown and he takes my chin in between his fingers, forcing me to look at him.

  “What do you want to do?” he asks. I don’t know, exactly; I just know I want to make him feel as good as he does me. I want to see him lose control like I did in this same room.

  “I don’t know . . . what do you want me to do?” My lack of experience is evident in my tone.

  Hardin puts my hands in his and slides them down to the bulge in his pants. “I really want those plump lips wrapped around me.”

  I gasp at his words, and feel the pressure in between my thighs.

  “Is that something you want?” he asks, his hands moving circles over his crotch. His dark eyes regard me, gauging my reaction.

  I nod and gulp, earning a smile from him. He sits up and pulls me to join him. Nervousness and want both flood my body. The loud jingle of his ringtone echoes through the room and he groans before snatching his phone off the table. His eyes meet the screen and he sighs.

  “I’ll be right back,” he informs me and disappears out of the room. He returns a few minutes later and his mood has changed once more.

  “Karen is making breakfast. It’s almost finished.” He pulls open the dresser and grabs a T-shirt, tossing it over his head without looking in my direction.

  “Okay.” I stand up and go to the door, needing to put a bra on before I go see his family.

  “See you downstairs.” His tone is emotionless.

  I swallow the lump rising in my throat. Guarded Hardin is my least favorite Hardin, even less liked than angry Hardin. Who called him, and why did it make him so distant? Why can’t he just stay in a good mood?

  I nod and walk across the hall, smelling bacon that causes my stomach to grumble.

  I put my bra on, and pull the drawstring on the plaid pants as tight as it will go. I contemplate putting my dress back on, but I really don’t want to be uncomfortable this early in the morning. Checking the large mirror on the wall, I run my fingers through my unruly hair and wipe the sleep from my eyes.

  As I close the bedroom door, Hardin opens his. Instead of looking at him, I focus on the wallpaper and walk forward down the hall. I can hear his steps behind me, and when I reach the staircase his hand wraps around my elbow, pulling me gently.

  “What’s wrong?” he asks, worry clouding his features.

  “Nothing, Hardin,” I snap. I am overly emotional and I haven’t even had breakfast yet.

  “Tell me,” he demands, dipping his head so that his face is in full view.

  I give in. “Who called you?”

  “No one.”

  He lies. “Was it Molly?” I don’t want to know the answer.

  He doesn’t say anything, but his expression gives away that I’m right. He left the room as I was about to . . . do that to him . . . to answer a phone call from Molly? I should be more surprised than I am.

  “Tessa, it’s not . . .” he begins. I pull my arm from his grip and he clenches his jaw.

  “Hey, guys.” Landon appears in the hall, and I smile. His hair is sticking up slightly and he wears plaid pants similar to mine. He looks adorable and sleepy. I pass Hardin and move toward Landon. I refuse to let Hardin know how embarrassed and hurt I am by him answering Molly’s call while we were together like that.

  “How did you sleep last night?” Landon asks and I follow him down the stairs, leaving a frustrated Hardin to himself.

  Karen has gone all out on breakfast, like I could have predicted she would. Hardin joins us at the table a few minutes later, but I’ve already piled eggs, bacon, toast, a waffle, and a few grapes on my plate.

  “Thank you so much for making this breakfast for us,” I tell Karen on mine and Hardin’s behalf; I know he won’t be bothered with thanking her.

  “It’s my pleasure, dear—how did you sleep? I hope the storm didn’t keep you awake.” She smiles.

  Hardin tenses beside me, probably worried I will mention his nightmare. He should know by now I would never do that, so his lack of trust only bothers me more.

  “I slept great, actually. I sure didn’t miss my bed in my dorm!” I laugh and everyone joins me, everyone except Hardin, of course. He takes a drink of his orange juice and keeps his eyes focused on the wall. Mindless breakfast chatter fills the dining room as Ken and Landon banter about some football game.

  AFTER BREAKFAST, I help Karen clean up the kitchen once more. Hardin hovers in the doorway, not offering to help but just watching me.

  “If you don’t mind me asking, is that a greenhouse in the backyard?” I ask Karen.

  “Why yes, it is. I haven’t done much with it this year, but I absolutely love gardening. You should have seen it last summer,” she says. “Do you like to garden?”

  “Oh, yes, my mother has a greenhouse out back as well and it was where I spent most of my free time as a child.”

  “Really? Well, maybe if you two come around more often, we could make something out of mine,” she says. She is so kind, and loving. Everything I wish I had in a mother.

  I smile. “That would be lovely.”

  Hardin disappears momentarily, and when he returns he clears his throat loudly. We both turn to look at him.

  “We should get going soon,” he says and I frown. He has my clothes and purse in his hands, holding out my Toms. It’s a little weird he doesn’t give me a moment to change out of the pajamas, and a little discomforting that he went through my things, but I overlook it. We say our goodbyes and I hug Karen and Ken while Hardin waits impatiently by the door.

  I promise them that we will return soon, and hope that it will come true. I knew my time here would end, but it has been such a nice departure from my normal life, no lists, no alarms, no obligations. I am not ready for it to end.

  chapter fifty-one

  The car ride is awkward. I hold my clothes on my lap and stare out the window, waiting to see if Hardin is going to break the silence that hangs between us. He makes no move to speak so I pull my phone out of my purse. It’s off; it must have died last night. I try to turn it on anyway and the screen comes to life. I am relieved to find that I have no new voicemails or texts. The only noise in the car is the light rain and the slow screech of the windshield wipers.

  “Are you still mad?” he finally asks as he pulls onto campus.

  “No,” I lie. I am not exactly mad, just hurt.

  “It sure seems like you are. Don’t act like a child.”

  “Well, I am not. I couldn’t care less if you want to drop me off so you can go hook up with Molly.” The words tumble from my mouth before I can stop them. I hate the way I feel about him and Molly. It makes me sick to my stomach to think of them togethe
r. What is it about her, anyway? Her pink hair? Her tattoos?

  “That’s not what I am doing. Not that it’s your business,” he scoffs.

  “Yeah, well, you jumped to answer your phone when I was about to . . . well, you know,” I mutter. I should have just stayed quiet. I don’t want to fight with Hardin right now. Especially when I don’t know when I will see him again. I really wish he hadn’t dropped Literature. He just pushes my buttons, every single one.

  “It isn’t like that, Theresa,” he says.

  So we are back to Theresa?

  “Really, Hardin? It seems like it is to me. I don’t really give a crap anyway. I knew it wouldn’t last,” I finally admit to him and myself. The reason I didn’t want to leave his father’s house is that I knew once it was just Hardin and me, it would go back to this. It always does.

  “What wouldn’t last?”

  “This . . . us. You being decent to me.” I don’t dare to look at him; that’s how he gets me to turn to putty every time.

  “So what then? You’re going to avoid me for another week? We both know that by this weekend you’ll be back in my bed,” he snaps.

  He surely did not just say that.

  “Ex-cuse me?!” I shout. I am at a loss for words. No one has ever talked to me the way he has—no one has ever been so disrespectful. Tears brim over my eyes as the car slows to park.

  Before he can respond, I open the door, grab my things, and bolt toward my room. I cut across the soaking grass and curse at myself for not taking the sidewalk, but I just need to get as far away from Hardin as possible. When he said he wants me, he meant sexually. I knew this but it hurts to let it soak in.

  “Tessa!” I hear him call. One of Steph’s heels drops and falls to the ground but I keep running. I will get her a new pair.

  “Damn it, Tessa! Stop!” he yells again. I hadn’t expected him to follow me. I push myself to run faster, and finally I reach my building and run down the hall. By the time I reach my dorm room, I am full-on sobbing. I yank the door open, then slam it shut behind me. My tears mix with the rain and I turn to look for my bath towel to clean off with—

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