After (The After Series) by Anna Todd

  I miss you. College isn’t very fun so far. I hit send and sit on the stone wall waiting for his reply. A group of drunk girls walk by giggling and stumbling over their own feet.

  He responds quickly: Why not? I miss you too, Tessa. I wish I was there with you and I smile at his words.

  “Shit, sorry!” a male voice says and a second later I feel cold liquid soak the front of my dress. The guy stumbles and pulls himself up to lean against the low wall. “My bad, really,” he mumbles and sits down.

  This party could not get any worse. First that girl called me prissy, and now my dress is soaked with God knows what type of alcohol—and it really smells. Sighing, I pick up my phone and walk inside to find a bathroom. I push my way through the crowded hall and try to open every door on the way, none of them budging. I try not to think about what people are doing in the rooms.

  I make my way upstairs and continue my hunt for a bathroom. Finally, one of the doors does open. Unfortunately, it’s not a bathroom. It’s a bedroom, and, even more unfortunate for me, it’s one in which Hardin is lying across the bed while the pink-haired girl straddles his lap, her mouth covering his.

  chapter eight

  The girl turns around and looks at me as I try to move my feet, but they just won’t budge. “Can I help you?” she snarks.

  Hardin sits up with her still on his torso. His face is flat—not amused or embarrassed at all. He must do this type of thing all the time. He must be used to being caught in frat houses practically having sex with strange girls.

  “Oh . . . no. Sorry, I . . . I’m looking for a bathroom, someone spilled a drink on me,” I quickly explain. This is so uncomfortable. The girl presses her mouth against Hardin’s neck and I look away. These two seem to be a good match. Both tattooed, and both rude.

  “Okay? So go find a bathroom.” She rolls her eyes and I nod, leaving the room. After the door closes I lean my back against it. So far college isn’t fun at all. I just can’t wrap my head around how a party like this could be considered fun. Instead of trying to find a bathroom, I decide to find the kitchen and clean myself off there. The last thing I want to do is open another door and find drunken hormonal college students on top of one another. Again.

  The kitchen isn’t too hard to find, but it’s crowded since most of the alcohol supply is in ice buckets on the counter and stacks of pizza boxes fill the countertops. I have to reach around a brunette puking in the sink to grab a paper towel and wet it. As I wipe it over my dress, small white flakes of the cheap paper towel cover the wet spot, making it worse. Frustrated, I groan and lean against the counter.

  “Having fun?” Nate asks as he approaches me. I’m relieved to see a familiar face. He smiles sweetly and takes a sip of his drink.

  “Not exactly . . . how long do these parties usually last?”

  “All night . . . and half the day tomorrow.” He laughs and my mouth drops. When would Steph want to leave? Hopefully soon.

  “Wait.” I begin to panic. “Who’s going to drive us back to the dorm?” I ask him, well aware of his bloodshot eyes.

  “I don’t know . . . you can drive my car if you want,” he says.

  “That’s really nice, but I can’t drive your car. If I wreck or get pulled over with underage drinkers in the car I would get in so much trouble.” I can just imagine my mother’s face as she bails me out of jail.

  “No, no, it’s not a far drive—you should just take my car. You haven’t even been drinking. If not, you’ll have to stay here, or I could ask around to see if someone—”

  “No, it’s fine. I’ll figure it out,” I manage before the music gets turned way up and most everything is drowned out by bass and lyrics that are practically screamed.

  My decision to come to this party is proving to be worse and worse as the night goes on.

  chapter nine

  Finally, after pointing around and yelling “Steph!” like ten times at Nate, the music drops into a quieter song and he nods and starts to laugh. His hand moves up into the air and he points into the next room. He is really a sweet guy—why does he hang out with Hardin?

  As I turn to where he indicated, all I hear is my own gasp as I spot her. She, along with two other girls, are dancing on a table in the living room. A drunk guy climbs up and joins them, his hands gripping her hips. I expect her to swat his hands off but she just smiles and pushes her bottom against him. Okay.

  “They’re just dancing, Tessa,” Nate says and gives a quick chuckle at my uneasy expression.

  But they aren’t just dancing; they’re groping and grinding against each other.

  “Yeah . . . I know.” I shrug, even though it isn’t as casual to me. I’ve never danced that way, not even with Noah, and we have been dating two years. Noah! I reach into my purse and check my messages from him.

  You there Tess?

  Hello? You okay?

  Tessa? Should I call your mom? I’m getting worried.

  I dial him as fast as my fingers will allow, praying that he hasn’t called my mother yet. He doesn’t pick up, but I text him assuring him that I’m okay and there is no need for him to call my mother. She will lose it if she thinks something happened to me on my first weekend of college.

  “Heyyyy . . . Tessa!” Steph slurs and leans her head on my shoulder. “You having fun yet, roomie?” She giggles, obviously heavily intoxicated. “I think . . . I need . . . the room is starting to spend, Tess . . . I mean spin,” she says, laughing, and her body lurches forward.

  “She is going to get sick,” I tell Nate. He nods and lifts her into his arms, draping her body over his shoulder.

  “Follow me,” he instructs and heads upstairs. He opens a door halfway down the hall, finding a bathroom quickly, of course. Right as he places her on the floor by the toilet, she begins to vomit. I look away but grab her red hair and gently hold it back away from her face.

  Finally, after more vomit than I can handle seeing, she stops and Nate hands me a towel. “Let’s get her to the room across the hall and lay her on the bed. She is going to need to sleep it off,” he says. I nod, but what I’m really thinking is that I can’t leave her here alone, passed out. “You can stay in there, too,” he says, seeming to read my mind.

  Together we get her up off the floor and help her walk across the hall and into a dark bedroom. We gently lay a groaning Steph onto the bed and Nate quickly takes off, telling me he’ll check in on us later. I sit down on the bed next to Steph and make sure her head is comfortable.

  Sober, with a drunk girl beside me and a party raging all around, I feel like I’ve hit a new low. I turn on a lamp and look around the room, my eyes immediately going to the bookshelves that cover one of the walls. Since this perks my mood up, I go over to it and scan through the titles. Whoever owns this collection is impressive; there are many classics, a whole range of different types of books, including all of my favorites. Spying Wuthering Heights, I pull it off the shelf. It’s in bad shape, the binding giving away how many times it’s been opened.

  I’m so lost in Emily Brontë’s words that I don’t even notice the change in light when the door opens, or the presence of a third person in the space.

  “Why the hell are you in my room?” an angry voice booms from behind me.

  I know that accent by now.


  “I asked you what the hell you’re doing in my room,” he repeats, just as harshly as the first time. I turn to see his long legs pulling him toward me and he snatches the book from my hand and tosses it back onto the shelf.

  My mind is whirling. I thought the party couldn’t get any worse, but here I am, caught in Hardin’s personal place. He rudely clears his throat and waves his hand in front of my face.

  “Nate told me to bring Steph in here . . .” My voice is soft, barely audible. He takes a step closer and lets out a deep breath. I gesture to his bed, causing his eyes to follow my hand. “She drank too much and Nate said—”

  “I heard you the first time.” He runs his han
d through his messy hair, clearly upset. Why does he care so much if we are in his room? Wait . . .

  “You are a part of this fraternity?” I ask him. It’s impossible to hide the shock in my voice. Hardin is far from what I imagined a frat boy to be like.

  “Yeah, so?” he answers and takes yet another step closer. The space between us is less than two feet, and when I try to inch away from him my back hits the bookcase. “Does that surprise you, Theresa?”

  “Stop calling me Theresa.” He has me cornered.

  “That’s your name, isn’t it?” He smirks, his mood slightly lightening.

  I sigh and turn away from him, basically facing into the wall of books. I have no idea where I’m going, but I need to get away from Hardin before I slap him. Or cry. It has been a long day, so I will most likely cry before slapping him. And what a sight that would be.

  I turn and push past him.

  “She can’t stay in here,” he says as I pass. When I turn around he has the small ring in his lip between his teeth. What made him decide to put a hole in his lip and eyebrow? That had to be painful . . . though the one piece does accent just how full and round his lips are.

  “Why not? I thought you guys were friends?”

  “We are,” he says, “but no one stays in my room.” His arms cross over his chest, and for the first time since I met him, I can make out the shape of one of his tattoos. It’s a flower, printed in the middle of his covered forearm. Hardin, with a flower tattoo? The black and gray design resembles a rose from this distance, but there is something surrounding the flower that takes the beauty from it, adding darkness to the delicate form.

  Feeling brave and annoyed, I let out a laugh. “Oh . . . I see. So only girls who make out with you can come into your room?” As the words leave my mouth his smile grows.

  “That wasn’t my room. But if you’re trying to say you want to make out with me, sorry, you’re not my type,” he says. I’m not sure why but his words hurt my feelings. Hardin is far from my type, but I would never actually say that to him.

  “You are . . . you are . . .” I can’t find the words to express my annoyance toward him. The music through the wall is like an itching sensation. I’m embarrassed, annoyed, and exhausted from the party. Arguing with him isn’t worth it. “Well . . . then you take her to another room, and I’ll find a way back to the dorms,” I say and head for the door.

  As I go through it and slam it shut behind me, even through the noise of the party, I hear Hardin’s mocking “Good night, Theresa.”

  chapter ten

  I can’t help the tears that fall down my cheeks as I reach the top of the stairs. I hate college so far—and my classes haven’t even started. Why couldn’t I just get a roommate who was more like me? I should be asleep now, preparing for Monday. I don’t belong at parties like this, and I certainly don’t belong hanging out with these type of people. I do like Steph, but I just don’t have it in me to deal with a scene like this and people like Hardin. He’s such a mystery to me; why must he always be such a jerk? But then the next thing I think of is that wall of books of his—why does he have all of them? There is no way a rude, disrespectful, tattooed jerk like Hardin could possibly enjoy those amazing works. The only thing I can picture him reading is the back of a beer bottle.

  Dabbing at my wet cheeks, I realize I have no idea where this house is located, or how to get back to the dorms. The more I think about my decisions tonight, the more frustrated and stressed I become.

  I really should have thought this through; this is exactly why I plan everything, so things like this don’t happen. The house is still packed and the music is too loud. Nate is nowhere to be found; neither is Zed. Maybe I should just find a random bedroom upstairs and sleep on the floor? There are at least fifteen rooms up there, and maybe I will get lucky and find an empty one? Despite my efforts to conceal my emotions, I can’t, and I don’t want to go down and have everyone see me like this. I turn back, find the bathroom I was in with Steph, and sit on the floor with my head between my knees.

  I call Noah again, and this time he answers on the second ring.

  “Tess? It’s late, are you okay?” he says, his voice groggy.

  “Yes. No. I went to a stupid party with my roommate and now I am stuck at a frat house with nowhere to sleep and no way to get back to my room,” I sob through the line. I know my problem isn’t life or death, but I’m beyond frustrated at myself for getting into this overwhelming situation.

  “A party? With that redhead girl?” He sounds surprised.

  “Yeah, with Steph. But she’s passed out upstairs.”

  “Whoa, why are you even hanging out with her? She’s so . . . just not someone you would ever hang around with,” he says, and the scorn in his voice irritates me. I wanted him to tell me it will be okay, that tomorrow is a new day, something positive and encouraging. Something not so judgmental and harsh.

  “That isn’t the point, Noah . . .” I said with a sigh, but right then the door handle jingles and I sit up. “Just a minute!” I call to the person outside and wipe at my eyes with some toilet paper, but that only smears the eyeliner even more. This is exactly why I don’t wear this stuff.

  “I will call you back; someone needs the bathroom,” I say to Noah and hang up before he can protest.

  Whoever’s on the other side of the door begins pounding on it and I groan as I hurry to open it, wiping my eyes again. “I said just a min—”

  But I stop as glaring green eyes pour into mine.

  chapter eleven

  As I look into those amazing green eyes, I suddenly realize that I hadn’t previously noticed their color before. And then I realize that it’s because Hardin hasn’t really made eye contact with me until just now. Amazing, deep, surprised green eyes. Hardin looks away quickly when I push past him. He grabs my arm and pulls me back.

  “Don’t touch me!” I yell, jerking my arm away.

  “Have you been crying?” he asks, his tone curious. If this wasn’t Hardin, I might actually think he was concerned for me.

  “Just leave me alone, Hardin.”

  He moves in front of me, his tall frame blocking my movements. I can’t take more of his games, not tonight.

  “Hardin, please. I am begging you, if you have one decent bone in your body you will leave me be. Just save whatever mean comment you are going to say for tomorrow. Please.” I don’t care if he hears the embarrassment and desperation in my voice. I just need to be left alone by him.

  A flash of confusion shows in his eyes before he opens his mouth. He watches me for a moment before any words come out. “There’s a room down the hall you can sleep in. It’s where I put Steph,” he flatly states. I wait a second for him to say something else, but he doesn’t. He just stares at me.

  “Okay,” I quietly say and he moves out of my way.

  “It’s the third door on the left,” he instructs and heads down the hall and disappears into his bedroom.

  What the hell was that? Hardin without any rude comments? I know I’m in for it if I see him tomorrow. He’s probably got a planner for all his snide comments like I do for my classwork, and I’m sure I’ll be on his agenda tomorrow.

  The third room on the left is a plain room, much smaller than Hardin’s and with two twin beds. It looks more like a dorm room than the larger space that Hardin has. Maybe he’s the leader or something? The more likely explanation is that everyone is afraid of him and he bullied his way into the largest room. Steph is lying across the bed closest to the window, so I kick off my shoes and cover her with the blanket before locking the door and lying down on the other.

  My thoughts are all over the place as I fall asleep, and images of clouded roses and angry green eyes flow through my dreams.

  chapter twelve

  When I wake, it takes my mind a moment to remember the events of last night that led me to this strange bedroom. Steph is still asleep, snoring unattractively with her mouth wide open. I decide to wait until I know how we are g
etting back to the dorms before waking her. I quickly put my shoes on, grab my purse, and step out. Should I knock on Hardin’s door or try to find Nate? Is Nate even part of the frat? I would have never guessed that Hardin would be a part of an organized social group, so maybe Nate is, too.

  Stepping over sleeping bodies in the hallway, I make my way downstairs.

  “Nate?” I call, hoping to hear a reply. There are at least twenty-five people sleeping in the living room alone. The floor is littered with red cups and trash, which makes it hard to navigate through the mess, but also makes me realize how clean the upstairs hallway actually was, despite the people there. When I reach the kitchen, I have to force myself not to start cleaning it up. This will take the whole house all day to clean up. I would love to see Hardin cleaning up all this trash, and as the thought goes through my head I giggle a little.

  “What’s so funny?”

  I turn around and find Hardin entering the kitchen, a trash bag in his hand. He sweeps his arm over the countertop, making the cups fall into the trash bag.

  “Nothing,” I lie. “Does Nate live here, too?”

  He ignores me and continues to clean.

  “Does he?” I ask again, more impatient this time. “The sooner you tell me if Nate lives here, the sooner I can leave.”

  “Okay, now you have my attention. But, no, he doesn’t live here. Does he seem like a frat boy to you?” He smirks.

  “No, but neither do you,” I snap and his jaw tenses.

  He moves around me and opens the cabinet next to my hip, pulling out a roll of paper towels.

  “Is there a bus that runs close to here?” I ask, not expecting an answer.

  “Yep, about a block away.”

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