After (The After Series) by Anna Todd


  I stay silent. I don’t want to fight with him. I just want him to go away. I hate that I don’t actually want him to go away but know that he has to.

  “We need to talk,” he repeats. When I shake my head no, he runs both hands through his hair and takes a deep breath.

  “I have to go to class,” I tell him.

  “Landon already left. I turned your alarm off. It’s eleven already.”

  “You what!”

  “You were up late and I thought you—” he begins.

  “How dare you even . . . Just go.” The pain from his actions yesterday is still fresh, and actually overshadows the anger I feel at missing my morning classes, but I can’t show any weakness or he will pounce on it. He always does.

  “You’re in my room,” he points out.

  I climb out of the bed, not caring if I am only in a T-shirt, his T-shirt. “You’re right. I’ll go,” I say, the lump in my throat growing and tears threatening to spill out.

  “No, I meant . . . I meant: you are in my room . . . Why?” His voice is bleak.

  “I don’t know . . . I just . . . I couldn’t sleep . . .” I admit. I need to stop talking. “It’s not really your room anyway. I’ve slept here just as many times as you have. Actually more now,” I point out.

  “Your own shirt didn’t fit?” he asks, his eyes focused on the white shirt. Of course he is making fun of me.

  “Go ahead, tease me,” I say, the tears pooling at the bottom of my eyes. He makes eye contact with me but I look away.

  “I wasn’t teasing you.” He stands up from the chair and takes a step toward me. I back away and raise my hands to block him and he stops. “Just hear me out, okay?”

  “What else could you possibly have to say, Hardin? We always do this. We have the same fight over and over, only worse each time. I can’t do it anymore. I can’t.”

  “I said I was sorry for kissing her,” he says.

  “That isn’t what this is about. Well, that’s part of it, but there is so much more. The fact that you don’t get that proves that we are wasting our time. You will never be who I need you to be, and I am not who you want me to be.” I wipe my eyes as he looks out the window.

  “But you are who I want you to be,” he says.

  I wish I could believe him. I wish he wasn’t so incapable of feelings.

  “You’re not,” is all I can say. I didn’t want to cry in front of him, but I can’t seem to stop myself. I have cried so many times since I met him, and if I get tangled back into his web, this is how it will always be.

  “I’m not what?”

  “Who I want you to be; you do nothing but hurt me.” I walk past him and cross the hall to the guest room. I hastily pull my pants up my legs and gather my things, Hardin’s eyes following my every move.

  “Didn’t you hear what I told you yesterday?” he finally says.

  I was hoping he wouldn’t bring this up.

  “Answer me,” he says.

  “Yeah . . . I heard you,” I tell him, avoiding looking in his direction.

  His voice becomes hostile. “And you have nothing to say about it?”

  “No,” I lie. He steps in front of me. “Move,” I beg.

  He is dangerously close to me and I know what he is going to do as he moves in to kiss me. I try to back away from him, but his strong hands pull me closer, holding me in place. His lips touch mine, and his tongue tries to push through my lips but I refuse.

  He eases his head back slightly. “Kiss me back, Tess,” he demands.

  “No.” I push at his chest.

  “Tell me you don’t feel the same, and I will go.” His face is inches from mine, his breath hot on my face.

  “I don’t.” It hurts to say the words but he has to go.

  “Yes, you do,” he says, his tone desperate. “I know you do.”

  “I don’t, Hardin, and neither do you. You can’t possibly think that I bought that?”

  He lets go of me. “You don’t believe that I love you?”

  “Of course not, how stupid do you think I am?”

  He stares at me for a second before he opens his mouth and closes it again. “You’re right,” he says.

  “What?”

  He shrugs. “You’re right, I don’t. I don’t love you, I was just adding to the drama of the whole thing.” He laughs lightly. I know he didn’t mean it, but that doesn’t make his honesty hurt any less. A part of me, a larger part than I want to accept, hopes that he actually did.

  He stands against the wall as I walk out of the room, my bag in hand.

  As I reach the stairs, Karen smiles up at me. “Tessa, sweetheart, I didn’t know you were here!” Her smile fades as she notices my distressed state. “Are you okay? Did something happen?”

  “No, I’m good. I was locked out of my room last night and I . . .”

  “Karen,” Hardin’s voice says from behind me.

  “Hardin!” Her smile slightly returns. “Would you two like something to eat, some breakfast? Well, lunch, it’s noon.”

  “No, thank you, I was just going back to the dorms,” I tell her as I descend.

  “I could eat,” Hardin says behind me.

  She seems surprised as she looks at me and then back at him. “Okay, great! I will be in the kitchen!”

  After she disappears, I head for the door.

  “Where are you going?” He grabs my wrist. I struggle for a second before he releases it.

  “The dorms, like I just said.”

  “You’re just going to walk?”

  “What is wrong with you? You act like nothing is happening, like we haven’t just been fighting, like you haven’t done anything. You are seriously insane, Hardin—I’m talking mental institution, medicated, padded-walls insane. You say horrible things to me and then try to offer me a ride?” I can’t keep up with him.

  “I didn’t say anything horrible, actually; all I said was that I don’t love you, which you claim you already knew. And secondly, I wasn’t offering you a ride. I was simply asking if you were going to walk back.”

  His smug expression makes me dizzy. Why would he even come here to find me if he doesn’t care about me? Doesn’t he have anything better to do than torture me?

  “What did I do?” I finally ask. I have been wanting to ask this for a while, but I’ve always been afraid of his answer.

  “What?”

  “What did I do to make you hate me?” I ask, trying to keep my voice down so Karen doesn’t hear me. “You can have practically any girl you want and you continue to waste your time—and mine—to find new ways to hurt me. What’s the point? Do you dislike me that much?”

  “No, it’s not that. I don’t dislike you, Tessa. You just made yourself an easy target—it’s all about the chase, right?” he says boastfully. Before he can say anything else, Karen calls his name and asks if he wants pickles on his sandwich.

  He walks to the kitchen and answers her; I walk out the door.

  On the way to the bus stop, I figure that I’ve already missed so many classes lately I might as well miss the rest of the day and get a car. Luckily, the bus pulls up minutes later and I find a seat in the very back.

  As I slump down in the seat, I think back to what Landon said about heartbreak, that if you don’t love the person, they can’t break your heart. Hardin repeatedly breaks my heart, even when I don’t think there are any more pieces to break.

  And I love him. I love Hardin.

  chapter sixty-three

  The salesman is a creep and smells like stale cigarettes, but I can’t be picky any longer. After an hour of negotiating, I write him a check for the down payment and he gives me the keys to a decent 2010 Corolla. The white paint is chipped in a few places, but I managed to talk him down low enough that I can let it slide. I call my mother before I drive out of the lot to tell her, and of course she says I should have gotten a bigger car and lists the reasons why. I end up pretending to lose service and shut my phone off.

  It feels amazi
ng to drive my own car. I no longer have to depend on public transportation and now I can drive myself to my internship. I hope my cutting ties with Hardin doesn’t affect it. I don’t think it can, but what if he is bored with just simply making me cry and does something to ruin it? Maybe I should talk to Ken and try to explain that Hardin and I are no longer . . . dating? He thinks we are dating, so I will have to come up with something besides “Your son is the cruelest person in the world and he is toxic to me so I can no longer be around him.”

  I turn the radio on and turn it up louder than I usually would, but it does what I need it to. It drowns out my thoughts and I focus on every lyric to every song. I ignore the fact that every song seems to remind me of Hardin.

  Before heading back to campus, I decide to go buy some more clothes. It’s getting colder, so I need some more jeans, and besides, I’m growing tired of wearing my long skirts all the time. I end up buying a few new outfits to wear to Vance, some plain shirts and cardigans, and a couple of pairs of jeans. They are tighter than usual but they look good on me.

  Steph isn’t in the room when I return, which is good. I really think I may need to look into changing rooms. I do like Steph, but we can’t continue to live together if Hardin is around. Depending on how much I will be making at my internship, I could get my own apartment and live off campus. My mother would lose it but it isn’t up to her.

  I fold my new clothes and put them away before grabbing my toiletry bag and heading to the showers. When I return, Steph and Zed are sitting on her bed, looking at her computer.

  Great.

  She looks up sleepily. “Hey, Tessa, did Hardin ever find you last night?” When I nod, she asks, “So did you work it out?”

  “No. Well, yeah, I guess. I am done with him,” I tell her. Her eyes go wide; she must have assumed he would sink his claws back into me.

  “Well, I for one am glad.” Zed smiles and Steph swats his arm. Her phone beeps and she looks down.

  “Tristan is here, we gotta go. Wanna come?” she asks.

  “No, thanks. I’m gonna stay here—but I did get a car today!” I tell her and she squeals.

  “Really! That’s awesome!” she says and I nod. “You’ll have to show me it when I get back,” she says and they head for the door. Steph walks out but Zed lingers in the doorway.

  “Tessa?” His voice is as smooth as velvet. I look up and he smiles at me. “Did you think about our date?” he asks, staring into my eyes.

  “I . . .” I am about to reject him, but why? He’s very attractive and seems sweet. He didn’t take advantage of me when he easily could have. I know he would be better company than Hardin; anyone would be, honestly. “Sure.” I smile.

  “Sure as in you will let me take you out?” His smile grows.

  “Yeah, why not?” I reply.

  “Tonight, then?”

  “Yeah, tonight is good.” I don’t think tonight is a good idea, seeing as I have studying to make up for, but I’m still ahead of the course despite having missed a few classes this week.

  “Awesome, I’ll be here at seven, yeah?”

  “Okay.”

  He brings his lower lip between his perfect teeth. “See you tonight, beautiful,” he says and I flush, waving goodbye as he leaves the room.

  It is four now, so I have three hours. I blow-dry my hair and curl the ends, and to my surprise it looks really good. I apply light makeup and put on one of my new outfits, a pair of dark jeans, a white tank top, and a long brown cardigan. My nerves are getting the best of me as I stare into the mirror. Maybe I should change? I switch to a blue tank top and a button-up shirt. I can’t believe I am going on a date with Zed. I’ve had one boyfriend in my entire life, and now I am going on a date with Zed after all this mess with Hardin. Maybe guys with tattoos and piercings are my new type?

  I pull out my old copy of Pride and Prejudice and begin to read to pass the time. But my mind wanders, and thoughts of Noah continue to preoccupy me. Should I call him? I reach for my phone and scroll through the names until I reach his. I stare at the screen; my guilt and my common sense fight it out until I toss my phone back onto my bed.

  WHAT SEEMS LIKE just minutes later, there is a knock at the door. I know it must be Zed because Hardin wouldn’t knock. He would rudely barge in and throw my stuff all over the place.

  When I open the door I can’t help but gape. Zed is dressed in tight black jeans, white sneakers, and a T-shirt with a cutoff jean jacket over it. He looks so hot.

  “You look beautiful, Tessa,” he says, and then hands me a flower.

  A flower? I’m both surprised and flattered by Zed’s thoughtful gift.

  “Thank you.” I smile and bring the white lily to my nose.

  “Are you ready?” he asks politely.

  “Yes, where are you taking me?” I ask him as we walk outside.

  “I figured we’d just go to dinner and a movie, something casual, no pressure.” He beams.

  I reach for the passenger door handle but he stops me. “Allow me,” he says with humor in his voice.

  “Oh. Thanks.”

  I’m still nervous, but Zed’s so nice it makes it easy to start to relax. When we get into the car he keeps the radio off and makes small talk, asking about my family and my plans after college. He tells me how he is going to WCU for environmental science, which surprises but intrigues me.

  We arrive at a casual café-style restaurant and sit out on the patio. After ordering our meals, we continue chatting until the food comes. Zed eats all of his food and begins to steal fries off my plate.

  I lift my fork menacingly. “If you take another fry, I’ll have to kill you,” I tease.

  He gives me a mock-innocent look and laughs with his tongue between his teeth. I find myself laughing for what seems like ages, and it feels great.

  “You have an adorable laugh,” he says, and I roll my eyes.

  We end up going to see a cheesy comedy that fails to entertain either of us. But that’s okay, because we entertain ourselves with small jokes to each other during the movie, and toward the end he puts his hand over mine. It’s not uncomfortable, like I had assumed that it would be, but it doesn’t feel the same as when Hardin does it. And right then it occurs to me that I made it hours without even thinking of Hardin, which is a refreshing change from him consuming my thoughts every day, all day.

  When Zed gets me back to campus, it’s almost eleven. I’m glad it’s Wednesday—only two more days until the weekend, when I can catch up on my sleep.

  He gets out of the car and walks over to me as I adjust my purse on my hip. “I had a really nice time; thank you for agreeing to come out with me,” he says.

  “I had a nice time, too.” I smile.

  “I was thinking . . . remember when you asked if I was going to the bonfire?” When I nod, he asks, “Do you mind if I come along?”

  “Sure, that would be fine. I’ll be going with Landon and his girlfriend, though.” I don’t recall Zed joining in on the group teasing Landon, but I just want to make sure he knows that it is not okay.

  “That’s fine, he seems nice,” he says and I smile.

  “Well, it’s settled, then. Meet you there?” I suggest. There is no way I am taking him to dinner at Landon’s house.

  “Sounds good. Thanks again for tonight.” He takes a step closer.

  Is he going to kiss me? I start to panic. But instead he wraps his hand over mine and brings it up to his mouth. Placing one single kiss on the top of my hand, his lips are soft against my hot skin and his gesture is very sweet.

  “Have a good night, Tessa,” he says and gets back into his car.

  I let out a deep breath, relieved that he didn’t try to really kiss me. He’s cute, and was a good kisser during Truth or Dare, but the timing just doesn’t feel right.

  THE NEXT MORNING Landon is waiting at the coffeehouse for me and I tell him about Zed.

  Annoyingly, the first thing he says is “Does Hardin know about this?”

  “N
o, and he doesn’t need to. It’s none of his business.” I realize my tone was a little too harsh, so I add, “I’m sorry, it’s just a touchy subject.”

  “Obviously. Just be careful,” he warns me sweetly and I promise him that I will.

  The rest of the day zooms by and Landon doesn’t bring up Hardin or Zed again. Finally it’s time for Literature, and I hold my breath as Landon and I walk into the room, where Hardin is sitting in his usual seat. My chest aches at the sight of him. He glances over at me but then turns back to the front of the room.

  “So you went out with Zed last night?” he asks as I sit down. I was praying that he wouldn’t talk to me.

  “That’s none of your concern,” I reply quietly.

  He turns in his seat and brings his face close to mine. “Word travels quickly in our group, Tessa, remember that.”

  Is he trying to threaten to tell his friends about all the things we did together? The thought makes my bile rise.

  I turn away from him and focus my attention to the professor, who clears his throat and says, “Okay, everyone, let’s start where we left off yesterday discussing Wuthering Heights.”

  My stomach drops. We aren’t supposed to be discussing Wuthering Heights until next week—this is what I get for missing class. I feel Hardin’s eyes on me. Perhaps, like me, he is thinking about the first time I was in his bedroom and he caught me reading his copy of the novel.

  Our teacher paces before us, his hands clasped behind his back. “So, as we know, Catherine and Heathcliff had a very passionate relationship, their passion being such a force in the novel that it ruined essentially every other character’s life in its wake. Some argue that they were terrible for each other, and some argue that they should have married one another instead of fighting their love from the beginning.” He pauses, looking out at all of us. “So, what do you think?” he asks.

  Usually, I would raise my hand immediately, proud to show off my expert knowledge on classic novels, but this one hits too close to home.

 
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