After (The After Series) by Anna Todd

  Relieved not to be talking about Hardin, I relax and say, “No, we broke up.”

  “Oh, that’s too bad. He was a lucky guy,” he says with a sweet smile.

  Zed is so charming. I find myself staring into his caramel eyes; his eyelashes are fuller than mine. “Thanks.”

  “Maybe I could take you out sometime? On a proper date? Like, not into a bedroom at a frat party,” he says, then chuckles nervously.

  “Um . . .” I don’t know what to say.

  “How about I ask again tomorrow when you’re sober?” He is much nicer than I thought he would be. Usually guys as attractive as him are jerks . . . like Hardin.


  He takes my hand again. “All right then! Let’s go back down.”

  When we walk back downstairs, Hardin and Molly are still on the couch, but Hardin now has a drink and Molly has moved so her legs are draped over him from the side. When Hardin’s eyes dart down to where my hand is intertwined with Zed’s, I jerk away without thinking, but then grab it again quickly. Hardin clenches his jaw and I look away into the crowd of partiers.

  “How was it?” Molly smirks.

  “Fun,” I answer and Zed stays quiet. I will thank him later for not correcting me.

  “It’s Molly’s turn,” Nate announces as we sit back on the floor.

  “Truth or dare?” Hardin asks her.

  “Dare, of course.”

  And Hardin looks right into my eyes and says, “I dare you to kiss me.”

  My heart stops, literally. It stops beating; he is a bigger asshole than I ever imagined. My ears are swimming and my heart is pounding as Molly shoots a boastful glance my way before she latches herself to Hardin. All the anger I feel toward Hardin is washed away and replaced by hurt, all-consuming hurt and the feel of hot tears on my face. I can’t watch anymore, I just can’t.

  Within seconds, I’m on my feet and pushing through the drunk crowd. I hear Zed and Steph both call after me, but the room feels like it’s spinning and when I close my eyes all I can see is Molly and Hardin. Knocking into people and not looking back, I finally reach the door and the fresh air outside fills my lungs and brings me back to reality.

  How could he be so cruel? I run down the stairs on the sidewalk. I have to get away from here. I wish I had never met him, I wish I had had a different roommate. I even wish I had never come to WCU.

  “Tessa!” I hear and I turn around, convinced I am imagining it until I see Hardin running after me.

  chapter sixty

  I have never been very athletic, but my adrenaline is in full effect and I push my legs to go faster. I reach the end of the street, but begin to tire. Where the hell am I going to go? I don’t remember the path that I walked back to my dorm last time, and I stupidly left my phone in my room. To prove a point. About my independence from Hardin. Hardin, who’s chasing me and yelling, “Tessa, stop!”

  And I do stop. I stop dead in my tracks. Why am I even running from him? He needs to explain why he keeps playing games with me.

  “What did Zed say to you?”

  What? When I turn around to face him, he is only a few feet away and has a shocked expression; he didn’t actually expect I would stop.

  “What, Hardin! What could you possibly want from me?” I scream. My heart is pounding from running, and from his breaking it.

  “I . . .” He seems to be at a loss for words for once. “Did Zed say something to you?”

  “No . . . why would he?” I take another step forward so I am face-to-face with him, my anger rolling off me in waves.

  “I’m sorry, okay?” he says quietly. He looks into my eyes and reaches his hand out to take mine, but I swat it away. He ignores my question about Zed but I am too mad to care.

  “You’re sorry? You’re sorry?” I repeat, my voice coming out in a laugh.

  “Yeah, I am.”

  “Go to hell, Hardin.” I begin to walk away, but he grabs my arm again. My anger boils over and my hand flies up and smacks him, hard. I am as surprised by my own violence as he is, and I almost want to apologize for hitting him, but the pain he has caused me is so much more than a cuff on the cheek.

  His hand moves to his face, slowly rubbing over the red skin of his cheek. He looks at me, anger and confusion stirring behind his eyes.

  “What the hell is your problem? You were the one kissing Zed!” he yells. A car passes and the driver stares but I ignore him. I don’t care about causing a scene right now.

  “You’re not seriously trying to blame me! You lied to me and played me like a fool, Hardin! Just when I thought I could trust you, you humiliate me! If you wanted to be with Molly, why not just tell me to leave you alone? No, instead, you feed me that bullshit about wanting more and beg me to stay the night with you just so you can use me! What was the point—what did you get out of it—oh, besides a blow job?” I scream. The word tastes odd coming out of my mouth.

  “What? You think that’s what I am doing? You think I’m using you?” he shouts.

  “No, that’s not what I think, Hardin—that’s what I know. But guess what? I’m done, I am so beyond done. I will change dorms if I have to so I don’t have to see you again!” I say, and mean it. I don’t need any of these people making my life worse.

  “You’re overreacting,” he says flatly, and it takes everything in me not to slap him again.

  “I’m overreacting? You didn’t tell your friends about us—you didn’t tell me about this party, and then you left me standing in the parking lot like a dumbass while you left with Molly, of all people! Then I show up here to find Molly on your lap, and then you kiss her. Right in front of me, Hardin. I’d say my reaction is quite justified,” I say, my voice drawing to a whisper at the end, exhausted. I wipe fresh tears from my face and blink up at the night sky.

  “You kissed Zed right in front of me! And I didn’t tell you about the party because I don’t have to! You wouldn’t have wanted to come anyway—you would have been too busy studying or watching the damn paint dry,” he barks.

  I look at his blurry form through my watery eyes and ask him simply, “So why even waste your time with me? Why even follow me out here, Hardin?” When he doesn’t say anything, I have my answer. “That’s what I thought. You thought you could come out here and say sorry and I would accept and stay a secret, your boring little hidden girlfriend. You’re wrong; you took my kindness for weakness and you were sadly mistaken.”

  “Girlfriend? You thought you were my girlfriend?” he howls.

  The pain in my chest is magnified by a thousand and I can barely stand. “No . . . I,” I start to say. I don’t know what to say.

  “You did, didn’t you?” he says, laughing.

  “You know . . . I did,” I admit. I am already humiliated, so I have nothing to lose. “You fed me that bullshit about wanting more, and I believed you. I believed all the shit you said to me, all the things you claimed to never tell anyone, but I’m sure that was all bullshit, too. I’m sure none of that even happened.” I shrug, giving up completely. “But you know what? I’m not even mad at you; I’m mad at myself for believing it. I knew how you were before I started to fall for you. I knew you would hurt me. What were your words, You’ll destroy me? No, ruin, you’ll ruin me. Well, congratulations, Hardin, you won,” I sob.

  Pain flashes in his eyes . . . well, what looks like pain. It is probably humor.

  I no longer care about winning or losing or playing these exhausting games. I turn away from him again and begin to walk back toward the house, figuring I’ll find someone’s phone to use to call Landon or somehow get a ride back to the dorms.

  “Where are you going?” he asks. It hurts that he doesn’t have anything to say, that he has offered me no explanation. He has only confirmed what I already knew, that he is heartless.

  I walk faster, ignoring him. He trails behind me, calling my name a couple more times, but I refuse to let myself be charmed by his voice again.

  When I get back to the house’s front
steps, of course I spot Molly’s pink hair outside. “Aww, look, she is waiting for you. You two really are perfect for each other,” I call over my shoulder to Hardin.

  “It’s not like that and you know it,” he grumbles.

  “I don’t know anything, obviously,” I snap and climb two steps at a time.

  Zed appears in the doorway, and I rush to his side. “Can I use your phone? Please?” I beg and he nods.

  “Are you okay? I tried to go after you, but you were long gone,” he says and I nod.

  Hardin stands in front of Zed and me while I call Landon and ask him to pick me up. Zed and Hardin stare at each other for a second when they hear me say Landon’s name, then Zed looks away and back down at me. “Is he coming?” he asks, his voice full of concern.

  “Yeah, he will be here in a few minutes. Thank you for letting me use your phone,” I tell him, ignoring Hardin.

  “No problem. Do you want me to wait with you?” he asks.

  “No, I will wait with her,” Hardin injects, his voice full of venom.

  “I would love it if you could wait with me, Zed,” I say and walk back down the steps with him. Hardin, being the asshole that he is, follows us and stands behind us awkwardly. Steph, Tristan, and Molly trickle down, too.

  “Are you okay?” Steph asks.

  “Yeah,” I say, nodding. “I’m leaving, though. I shouldn’t have even come here.”

  When Steph hugs me, Molly mutters under her breath, “You got that right.”

  My head snaps around at the sound of her voice. I hate confrontation usually, but I hate Molly even more. “You’re right! I shouldn’t be here. I’m not as adept as you at getting drunk and hanging all over every guy in the place.”

  “Excuse me?” she says.

  “You heard me.”

  “What’s your problem? Mad that I kissed Hardin? Because, guess what, sweetie, I kiss Hardin all the time,” she brags.

  I feel the blood draining from my face. I look at Hardin, who doesn’t say anything. So he’s been messing with Molly the entire time? This doesn’t surprise me as much as it should. I don’t even have a comeback for her. I try to think of something to say back, anything really, but I can’t. I’m sure as soon as I walk away I will think of ten replies, but right now I have nothing.

  “Let’s go inside . . .” Tristan suggests and grabs Molly and Steph by their arms. I try to give him a thankful smile as they start to go.

  “You too, Hardin. Get away from me,” I say and stare at the street.

  “I haven’t kissed her, I mean lately. Except for tonight. I swear,” he says.

  Why is he saying this in front of them?

  Molly turns around.

  “I don’t really give a shit who you kiss. Now get away from me,” I repeat.

  A huge wave of relief washes over me as I see Landon’s car pull up. “Thanks again,” I tell Zed.

  “No problem, don’t forget what we talked about,” he says hopefully, reminding me of our supposed “date.”

  “Tessa . . .” Hardin calls as I step toward the car. When I ignore him, he calls louder. “Tessa!”

  “I have said everything I have to say to you, Hardin. I am done listening to you and your bullshit—now leave me the fuck alone!” I scream, turning around to face him. I am aware everyone’s eyes are on us, but I have had enough.

  “I . . . Tessa, I . . .”

  “You what? You what, Hardin?” I scream even louder.

  “I . . . I love you!” he yells.

  And all the air disappears from my lungs.

  And Molly sounds like she is choking.

  And Steph looks like she has seen a ghost.

  And for a few moments everyone just stands there, like something alien has passed by us and left us frozen. When at last I can speak, I say quietly, “You’re sick, Hardin, you’re really fucking sick.”

  Despite the fact that I know this is part of his game, it still awakens something inside me to hear those words come off his lips. I grab for the door handle on Landon’s car but I am yanked away by Hardin.

  “It’s true, I do. I know you won’t believe me, but I do. I love you.” His eyes brim with tears. His lips press in a hard line and he covers his face with his hands. He takes a step back, then another forward, and when he takes his hands away, his green eyes appear sincere, full of panic.

  Hardin . . . he’s a better actor than I thought. I can’t believe he is doing this in front of everyone.

  I shove him backward and open the car door, locking it before Hardin regains his balance. As Landon drives off, Hardin bangs his hands against the window, and I put my hands over my face so he doesn’t see me cry.

  chapter sixty-one

  After I finally stop sobbing, Landon quietly asks, “Did I hear him say that he loves you?”

  “Yeah . . . I don’t know . . . He was just trying to cause a scene or something,” I say, and almost start crying again.

  “Do you think . . . don’t get mad at me . . . but do you think that maybe he does? You know, love you?”

  “What? Of course not. I am not even sure if he even likes me. I mean, when we’re alone he is so different, and I think maybe he does care about me. But I know he doesn’t love me. He isn’t capable of loving anyone other than himself,” I explain.

  “I’m on your side, Tessa, I am,” Landon replies. “But the look on his face as we drove away, he looked heartbroken. And you can’t be heartbroken if you aren’t in love.”

  That can’t be true. I felt my heart shatter when he kissed Molly, but I don’t love him.

  “Do you love him?” he asks simply.

  My voice comes out strained and my words too quick. “No. I don’t love him . . . he is . . . well . . . he’s a jerk. I have known him less than two months, and half of that . . . actually all of that time we have spent fighting. You can’t love someone you only met two months ago. Besides, he’s a jerk.”

  “You already said that,” Landon says and I notice the hint of a smile on his lips as he tries to keep his expression neutral.

  I don’t like the pressure that I feel in my chest as we talk about me loving Hardin. It makes me feel nauseous and the space in the car feels much smaller. I roll down the window a crack and lean my head against it, feeling the little stream of air slip across me.

  “Do you want to come back to our house, or go to your dorm?” he asks.

  I want to go to my dorm and curl into a ball on my bed, but I am afraid that Steph or Hardin will show up. The chance of Hardin coming to his father’s house is so slim, that seems to me the better option.

  “Your house, but can we go by my room so I can grab some clothes? I’m sorry for asking you to drive me all over.”

  “Tessa, the drive is short and you’re my friend; stop thanking and apologizing to me,” he says sternly, but his sweet smile makes me laugh.

  He is the best person I have met here and I am so lucky to have him.

  “Well, let me thank you one last time for being such a great friend to me,” I say, and he frowns playfully.

  “You’re welcome. Now let’s move on.”

  I RUSH AROUND MY ROOM gathering my clothes and books. I feel like I never stay in my room anymore. This will be the first night in days that I will be sleeping without Hardin. I was beginning to get used to it, how foolish of me. I grab my phone out of my drawer and walk back to Landon’s car.

  When we get to his house it’s after eleven. I’m exhausted, and thankful that Ken and Karen are asleep when we arrive. Landon puts a pizza in the oven for us and I eat another one of my cupcakes from earlier. Baking with Karen seems like weeks ago, not hours. I have had such a long day, and it started so well with my morning with Hardin and the internship, and then he ruined it, just like he always does. After we eat the pizza, Landon and I walk upstairs and he shows me to the guest room that I stayed in last time. Well, I didn’t quite stay in there, since I was woken up by a screaming Hardin. Time hasn’t made sense since I met him; everything has happene
d so quickly, and it makes me dizzy to think about the better times we’ve had and how they’re spaced out between a lot of arguing. I thank Landon again and he rolls his eyes at me before leaving me and going into his room. I turn on my phone to find many texts from Hardin, Steph, and my mother. I delete all but my mother’s message without reading them. I already know what they will say and I have had enough of it today. I turn my ringtone and text notifications off, put my pajamas on, and climb into the bed.

  It’s one in the morning, and I have to wake up in a few hours. Tomorrow is going to be a long day. If I hadn’t missed my morning classes today, I would just stay home, well, here. Or go back to my dorm. Why did I convince Hardin to come back to Literature? After tossing and turning, I roll over to check the time: almost three. Despite the fact that today has been one of the best, and then worst, days of my life, I am too exhausted to even sleep.

  Before I realize what I’m doing, I’m standing in front of Hardin’s bedroom door. And then I enter it. With no one around but myself to judge me, I open the second drawer and grab a white T-shirt. I can tell that it has never been worn but I don’t care. I pull my own shirt off and replace it. I lie down on the bed and bury my head in the pillow. Hardin’s minty scent fills my nostrils and I finally fall asleep.

  chapter sixty-two

  When I wake up, it takes me a moment to remember that I am not in bed with Hardin. The sun is peacefully shining through the bay window and as I look over, I catch sight of a figure and sit up quickly, orienting myself. As my eyes adjust I am convinced that I am going mad.

  “Hardin?” I say quietly and wipe my eyes.

  “Hey,” he says from where he sits in a wingback chair, his elbows on his knees.

  “What the hell are you doing here?” I snap. My heart aches already.

  “Tessa, we need to talk,” he says, the bags under his eyes prominent.

  “Have you just been watching me sleep?” I ask.

  “No, of course not. I came in here a few minutes ago,” he says. I wonder if he had nightmares without me in bed with him. If I hadn’t witnessed them myself, I would think those were part of his games as well, but I remember holding his sweaty face between my hands and seeing the real fear in his green eyes.

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