After (The After Series) by Anna Todd


  And am frozen in place when I see Noah sitting on my bed.

  Oh God, not now. Hardin will be crashing through the door any second.

  Noah gets up and rushes toward me. “Tessa, what is wrong? Where have you been?” His hand tries to cup my cheek, but I turn my head. Pain flashes in his eyes as I turn away from his touch.

  “It’s . . . I am so sorry, Noah,” I cry as Hardin yanks the door open, the hinges squeaking and cracking from his might.

  Noah’s eyes widen and narrow as his gaze meets Hardin’s. He backs away from me with a horrified expression. Hardin tosses the high heel that I left behind and walks farther into the room without acknowledging Noah’s presence at all.

  “I didn’t mean that, what I just said,” he says.

  Noah looks at me, hatred laced through his voice as he exclaims, “That’s where you were? You were with him all night? Are those his clothes? I tried to call you and text you all night and all morning—I left you countless voicemails and you were with him?”

  “What? I—” I start, but then turn to Hardin. “You went through my phone, didn’t you? You deleted the messages!” I shout at him. My head tells me to answer Noah, but my heart is focused only on Hardin.

  “Yeah . . . I did,” he admits.

  “Why the hell would you do that? You can answer Molly’s calls, but you delete my messages from my boyfriend?!”

  He winces as I call Noah my boyfriend.

  “How dare you play these games with me, Hardin!” I scream, sobbing again.

  Noah grabs my wrist and turns me to face him, which only prompts Hardin to shove Noah back by his shoulders.

  “Do not touch her,” he growls.

  This is not happening. I watch as the daytime soap opera that has become my life unfolds in front of me.

  “You don’t tell me what to do with my girlfriend, you prick,” Noah says angrily, and shoves Hardin.

  Hardin advances toward Noah once more, but I grab his shirt and pull him back. Maybe I should let them fight each other. Hardin deserves a good punch in the jaw.

  “Stop it! Hardin, just go!” I wipe my tears.

  Hardin glares at Noah again and moves to stand in front of me. I reach over and gently place my palm against Hardin’s back, hoping it may help calm him.

  “No, I’m not leaving this time, Tessa. I have already done that too many times.” He sighs and runs his fingers through his hair.

  “Tessa, make him leave!” Noah begs, but I ignore him. I have to know what Hardin will say.

  “I didn’t mean what I said in the car, and I don’t know why I took Molly’s phone call. It’s a habit, I guess—please just give me another chance. I know you have already given me too many chances, but I just need one more. Please, Tess.” He lets out a big breath. He sounds exhausted.

  “Why should I, Hardin? I have continued to give you chances to be my friend over and over,” I tell him. “I don’t think I have it in me to try again.” I am faintly aware of Noah gaping at us, but at the moment I don’t care. I know this is wrong—I’m wrong—but I’ve never wanted anything so much in my life.

  “I don’t just want to be friends . . . I want more.” His words knock the wind right out of me.

  “No, you don’t.” Hardin doesn’t date, my subconscious warns.

  “Yes, I do. I do.”

  “You said you don’t date and that I wasn’t your type,” I remind him. My mind still can’t wrap itself around the fact that I am having this conversation with Hardin, in front of Noah, at that.

  “You aren’t my type, just the way that I am not yours. But that’s why we are good for each other—we are so different, yet we’re the same. You told me once that I bring out the worst in you. Well, you bring out the best in me. I know you feel it, too, Tessa. And yes, I didn’t date, until you. You make me want to date, you make me want to be better. I want you to think I am worthy of you; I want you to want me the way I do you. I want to fight with you, even scream at each other until one of us admits we are wrong. I want to make you laugh, and listen to you ramble about classic novels. I just . . . I need you. I know I am cruel at times . . . well, all the time, but that’s only because I don’t know how else to be.” His voice becomes a half whisper, his eyes wild. “This has been me for so long, I have never wanted to be any other way. Until now, until you.”

  I am dumbfounded. He’s said everything I wanted him to say but never imagined that he actually would. This is not the Hardin I know, but the way his words came out in a rushed string, and the heavy breathing that accompanied them, somehow make it all the more true and natural.

  I am not sure how I am still standing after his declaration.

  “What the hell? Tessa?” Noah says frantically.

  “You should go,” I whisper, not breaking eye contact with Hardin.

  Noah steps forward and crows with victory. “Thank you! I thought that was never going to end.”

  Hardin looks heartbroken, absolutely crushed.

  “Noah, I said you should go,” I repeat.

  Both men suck in a sharp breath. Relief washes over Hardin and I reach for his hands, threading my small fingers through his trembling ones.

  “What?” Noah shouts. “You can’t be serious, Tessa! We have known each other so long—this guy is just using you. He will toss you aside as soon as he is done with you, and I love you! Don’t make this mistake, Tessa,” he begs.

  I feel for him, and it hurts me to do this to him, but I know I can’t be with Noah. I want Hardin. More than anything I’ve ever wanted in my life.

  And Hardin wants me. More with me.

  My heart flutters again and I look at Noah, who opens his mouth to say something.

  “I would stop talking. Now,” Hardin warns him.

  “I am so sorry that it happened this way, I really am,” I say.

  He doesn’t say anything else. He looks broken as he picks up the backpack he brought and leaves my room.

  “Tessa . . . I . . . You really do feel the same way?” Hardin gasps and I nod.

  How could he not know this by now?

  “No nodding, please say it.” Desperation fuels his words.

  “Yeah, Hardin I do,” I say. I don’t have a beautiful or meaningful speech like he did, but those simple words seem to be enough for him.

  The smile I receive heals some of the pain I feel from breaking Noah’s heart.

  “So what do we do now?” he asks. “I’m new at this.” He flushes.

  “Kiss me,” I say and he pulls me to his chest, his hand fisting the loose fabric of his shirt on my back. His lips are cool and his tongue is warm as it slips into my mouth. Despite the chaos that just occurred in my small room, I feel calm. This feels like a dream. I somehow know it is the calm before the storm, but right now Hardin is my anchor. I just pray that he doesn’t pull me under.

  chapter fifty-two

  When Hardin finally breaks our kiss, he sits on my bed and I join him.

  We’re quiet for a few minutes, so I begin to feel nervous, like there is some way I should be behaving now that we are . . . more, but I have no clue what way that is.

  “What do you have planned for the rest of the day?” he asks.

  “Nothing, just studying,” I say.

  “Cool.” He clicks his tongue onto the roof of his mouth. He seems nervous, too, and I am glad it isn’t just me.

  “Come here.” Hardin beckons me and opens his arms.

  The moment I sit on his lap, the door opens and he groans. Steph, Tristan, and Nate all pour in and then stare at us as I climb off Hardin and sit on the other side of the bed.

  “So are you guys like fuck buddies now?” Nate says plainly.

  “No! We aren’t!” I squeak. I don’t know what I should tell them, so I just wait for Hardin to say something. He stays quiet as Tristan and Nate begin to talk to him about the party last night.

  “It seems I didn’t miss much,” Hardin says to them, and Nate shrugs.

  “Until Molly gave us a
strip show; she got completely naked, you should have been there,” Nate replies. I cringe and look toward Steph, who is staring at Tristan, probably hoping he isn’t going to comment on Molly being naked.

  Hardin smiles. “Nothing I haven’t seen before.”

  I gasp, then try to conceal it as a cough. He did not just say that.

  His face falls, seeming to understand what he just did.

  Maybe this was a terrible idea; it is already sort of awkward, and now that everyone is in the room it’s magnified. Why didn’t he tell them we were dating? Are we dating? I don’t really understand, myself. I thought after his confession that we were, but we never actually said it. Maybe we don’t need to? This uncertainty is already driving me crazy; the entire time I have been with Noah I have never had to worry about his feelings for me. I never had to deal with ex-friends with benefits—I am the only girl Noah has ever kissed in his life, and honestly I like it that way. I wish Hardin had never done anything with another girl, or at least had done things with fewer of them.

  “We’re going bowling after I change. Do you want to come?” Steph asks and I shake my head.

  “I have to catch up on my studying. I have barely gotten any done this weekend,” I tell her and look away as the memories of this weekend flood through my mind.

  “You should come, it will be fun,” Hardin says, but I shake my head. I really need to stay in, and I was sort of hoping he would stay with me. Steph steps into the closet and returns a few minutes later with different clothes on.

  “Ready, guys? You’re sure you don’t want to come?” she asks me.

  I nod. “I’m sure.”

  They all get up to leave, and Hardin gives me a wave and a small smile before exiting the room. I’m disappointed with Hardin’s goodbye, and hope that he’d made these plans before this weekend together and the drama today.

  But what did I expect? For him to rush over and kiss me, tell me he would miss me? I laugh at the thought. I don’t know if anything will even change between Hardin and me besides us actively trying to avoid one another. I am too used to how things are with Noah, so I have no idea how this is going to be, and I hate not having control over every situation.

  After an hour of studying and attempting to take a nap, I grab my phone to text Hardin. Wait, I don’t even have his number. I had never thought about it before; we have never talked on the phone or texted before. We never needed to; we couldn’t stand each other. This is going to be more complicated than I thought.

  I call my mother to catch up with her, and mostly to see if Noah has told her what happened yet. He would be arriving back home soon from the two-hour drive, and I am sure he won’t waste any time telling her everything. She answers with a simple hello, so I know she has no clue yet. I tell her about my failed attempt to get a car, and the possible internship with Vance. Of course, she reminds me that I have been at college over a month and I still haven’t found a car. I roll my eyes and let her continue to ramble on about what she has been doing the last week. My phone lights up while I am listening to her. I place her on speakerphone and read the text.

  You should have come with us, with me, the message reads. My heart swells; it’s Hardin.

  Pretending to listen to my mother, I mumble “Hmm . . . oh . . .” a few times while I text him back.

  You should have stayed, I send. I stare at the screen, waiting for him to reply.

  I am coming to pick you up, he replies after what seems like forever.

  What? No, I don’t want to go bowling, you’re already there. Just stay.

  I already left. Be ready. Boy, he’s demanding, even through text messages.

  My mother is still talking and I have no idea what about. I stopped listening once Hardin texted me. “Mom, I will call you back,” I interrupt.

  “Why?” she asks with surprise and disdain.

  “I . . . um . . . well, I spilled coffee on my notes. I gotta go.”

  I hang up and hastily go into the closet, pulling Hardin’s pajamas off and grabbing my new jeans and a plain purple top. I brush out my hair, which looks decent considering it hasn’t been washed. I check the time and go down to the bathroom to brush my teeth, and when I return Hardin is waiting on my bed.

  “Where were you?” he asks.

  “Brushing my teeth,” I tell him and put my toiletry bag away.

  “Ready?” He stands up and walks toward me. I half expect him to hug me, but he doesn’t. He just moves to the door.

  I nod and grab my purse and phone.

  When we get to his car, he keeps the radio down as he drives. I really don’t want to go to the bowling alley. I hate bowling, but I want to spend time with him. I don’t like how codependent I already feel.

  “How long do you think we will be there?” I ask after a few minutes of silence.

  “I don’t know . . . why?” He looks sideways at me.

  “I don’t know . . . I don’t really care for bowling.”

  “It won’t be too bad. Everyone’s there,” he assures me. I hope everyone doesn’t include part-time ho Molly.

  “I guess,” I mumble and look out the window.

  “You don’t want to go?” His voice is quiet.

  “Not really, that’s why I said no the first time.” I laugh a little nonlaugh.

  “Let’s go somewhere else, then?”

  “Where?” I am irritated with him, but I’m not sure why.

  “My house,” he suggests and I smile and nod. His smile grows, showing the dimples that I have grown so fond of. “My house it is, then.” He reaches over and puts his hand on my thigh. My skin warms, and I put my hand over his.

  Fifteen minutes later we are pulling up to the large fraternity house. I haven’t been here since Hardin and I fought and I walked back to the dorms. As he leads me up the stairs, none of the guys bothers to look twice at us; they must be used to seeing Hardin bring a girl home. My stomach pings at the thought. I need to stop thinking this way, because it’s going to drive me insane and there is nothing I can do to change it.

  “Here we are,” Hardin says and unlocks his door. I follow him inside and he turns the light on, kicking his boots off his feet and onto the floor. He moves over to his bed and pats the spot next to him.

  As I walk toward him, my curiosity gets the best of me. “Was Molly there? At the bowling alley?” I look out his window as I ask him.

  “Yeah, of course she was,” he answers casually. “Why?”

  I sit down on the soft bed and Hardin pulls me by my ankles closer to him. I laugh and slide closer, my back flat against the bed, putting my knees up and my feet on the other side of his legs.

  “I was just wondering . . .” I tell him and he grins.

  “She is always going to be around; she’s a part of our group.”

  I know it’s silly of me to be this jealous of her, but she just bothers me. She acts like she likes me, when I know she doesn’t, and I know she likes Hardin. Now that we are . . . whatever we are, I don’t want her near him.

  “You aren’t like worried that I will fuck her, are you?”

  I swat his arm at his use of words. I love the way dirty words sound coming off his lips, but not when she’s involved.

  “No, well, I . . . maybe. I just know you have before, and I don’t want you to again,” I say. I am sure he is going to mock my jealousy, so I turn my head sideways.

  His hand goes to my knee and he squeezes gently. “I wouldn’t do that . . . not now. Don’t worry about her, okay?” His words are gentle, and I believe him.

  “Why didn’t you tell anyone about us?” I know I should just shut my mouth, but it has been bothering me.

  “I don’t know . . . I wasn’t sure if you wanted me to. Besides, what we do is our business. Not theirs,” he explains. His answer is much better than what was going through my mind.

  “I guess you’re right. I thought maybe you were embarrassed or something?” I say and he laughs.

  “Why would I possibly be embarrassed b
y you? Look at you.” His eyes darken and he moves his hand to my stomach. His fingers tug up my shirt and he draws circles on my bare skin with his digits. Goose bumps raise my skin and he smiles.

  “I love the way your body responds to me,” he breathes. I know what is coming next, and I can’t wait.

  chapter fifty-three

  Hardin’s fingers trail farther up my shirt, causing my breath to quicken. A smile creeps onto his beautiful face as he becomes aware.

  “One touch and you’re already panting,” his raspy voice whispers. He leans over, moving my feet off his lap so that he can bring his mouth to my neck. His tongue makes a flat stripe down my neck and I quiver. My fingers thread into his curls and I tug as he nips at my skin. One of his hands slides down in between my legs but I grab his wrist to stop him.

  “What’s wrong?” he asks.

  “Nothing . . . I just thought that I would do something for you this time?”

  I look away, but his fingers cup my chin so I am forced to make eye contact with him. He tries to hide his smirk, but I catch him.

  “And what would you like to do for me?”

  “Well . . . I thought I could, you know, what you said the other day?” I don’t know why I am so shy with words when Hardin says anything and everything he is thinking, but the words “blow job” are not in my vocabulary.

  “You want to suck my cock?” he asks, clearly surprised.

  I am officially horrified. Yet somehow turned on. “Um . . . yeah. I mean if you want me to?” I hope as our relationship progresses I will be able to say these things to him. I would love to be comfortable enough with Hardin to be able to feel that sort of bravery, to tell him exactly what I want to do to him.

  “Of course I want you to. I’ve wanted your lips around me since I first saw you.” I’m oddly flattered by his crude remark, but then he asks, “Are you sure, though? Have you ever . . . even seen a dick before?”

 
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