After (The After Series) by Anna Todd

  A voice from the back of the room answers, “I think they were terrible for one another; they fought constantly and Catherine refused to admit her love for Heathcliff. She married Edgar, even though she knew she was in love with Heathcliff the entire time. If they would have just been together in the beginning, everyone would have been a lot less miserable.”

  Hardin looks at me, and I feel my cheeks heat up. “I think Catherine was a selfish, pompous bitch,” he lets out. Gasps fill the room and the professor glowers at Hardin, but he continues. “Sorry, but she thought she was too good for Heathcliff—and maybe she was, but she knew Edgar could never compare to Heathcliff and yet she married him anyway. Catherine and Heathcliff were just so similar that it was hard for them to get along, but if Catherine wasn’t so stubborn they could have lived a long and happy life together.”

  I feel foolish as I, too, begin to compare Hardin and myself to the characters in the novel. The difference is that Heathcliff loved Catherine tremendously, so much so that he sat by idly as she married another man before he finally married someone else. Hardin does not love me that way—or at all—so he has no right to compare himself to Heathcliff.

  The entire class seems to be looking at me, waiting for my reply. They are probably hoping for an argument like last time, but I stay quiet. I know Hardin is trying to bait me, and I will not fall for it.

  chapter sixty-four

  After class I say goodbye to Landon and walk straight to the professor to explain my absences. He congratulates me on my internship and explains that he rearranged the syllabus a little. I keep our conversation going until Hardin exits the room.

  I make my way back to my room, where I lay out all my notes and textbooks on my bed. I try to study but feel on edge waiting for Steph, Hardin, or one of the many other people who are always in and out of my room, to show up. I pack my study materials into my bag and head to my car. I will find a place to study off campus, maybe a coffee shop.

  Driving toward town, I spy a small library on the corner of a busy street. Only a few cars are in the lot, so I pull in. I walk all the way to the back of the library and sit next to the window, pulling all of my books and notes out so I can get to work. For the first time, I can study in peace, no distractions. This will be my new sanctuary, the perfect place to study.

  “MISS, WE ARE CLOSING in five minutes,” an elderly librarian comes over to inform me.

  Closing? Looking out the window, I see that it is dark out. I didn’t even notice the sun going down. I was so engrossed in my books, hours passed and I didn’t even notice. I will definitely have to come here more often.

  “Oh, okay, thank you,” I reply and pack up my things. Checking my phone, I see a new text from Zed.

  I just wanted to tell you goodnight, I can’t wait for Friday.

  He really is very nice, so I reply, That is very sweet, thank you. I am looking forward to it too.

  Back in the room, Steph is still gone, so I change into my pajamas and grab Wuthering Heights. I fall asleep quickly, dreaming of Heathcliff and the moors.

  WHEN I WAKE UP ON FRIDAY, I have a text message from Landon telling me that he won’t be on campus at all today because Dakota is arriving earlier than he thought. Skipping Literature crosses my mind momentarily, but I decide against it. I can’t let Hardin ruin anything else I like.

  I take a little more time to get ready today and braid the front of my hair back before curling it. It’s supposed to be warm, so I wear a purple sleeveless fleece jacket and jeans. When I go to the coffeehouse before class, Logan ends up in front of me in line. Before I can walk away unnoticed, he turns around.

  “Hey, Tessa,” he says.

  “Hey, Logan. How are you?” I ask politely.

  “I’m good, you coming tonight?”

  “To the bonfire?”

  “No, the party. The bonfire is going to be lame, it always is.”

  “Oh well, I’m going to the bonfire.” I laugh lightly and he chuckles.

  “Well, if you get bored, you can always stop by,” he says and grabs his coffee.

  I thank him as he walks away, relieved that Hardin’s group seems uninterested in the bonfire, which means I won’t have to deal with any of them tonight.

  When it’s time for Literature, I walk right to my seat without a single glance in Hardin’s direction. The discussion continues on Wuthering Heights, but Hardin stays silent. As soon as we are dismissed, I gather my things and practically bolt to the door.

  “Tessa!” I hear Hardin call behind me, but I just walk faster. Without Landon here I feel more vulnerable. When I reach the sidewalk, I feel a light touch on my arm. I know it’s him from the way my skin tingles.

  “What!” I shout.

  He takes a step back and holds out a notebook. “You dropped this.”

  Relief and disappointment battle inside me. I wish this ache in my chest would go away. Instead of shrinking, it seems to get larger every moment of every day. I shouldn’t have admitted to myself that I love him—if I would have kept ignoring the truth, maybe it would hurt less.

  “Oh, thanks,” I mumble and grab the notebook from him. His eyes catch mine and we just stare at one another until after a few seconds I remember that we are standing on a crowded sidewalk and I look around at everyone passing by us. Hardin shakes his hair out and pushes it back before he turns and walks away.

  I HEAD TO MY CAR and drive straight to Landon’s. I wasn’t going to go until five; it’s only three, but I can’t sit alone in my room. I really have gone mental since Hardin came into my life.

  When I arrive, Karen answers the door with a huge smile and invites me in.

  “It’s only me here right now. Dakota and Landon are at the store fetching a few things for me,” she says as she brings me into the kitchen.

  “That’s okay, sorry for coming so early.”

  “Oh, don’t be sorry. You can help me cook!” She hands me a cutting board and a few onions and potatoes to chop and we talk about the weather and the upcoming winter.

  “Tessa, did you still want to help me get the greenhouse going? It’s climate controlled, so we don’t have to worry about the winter.”

  “Yes, of course! I would love to.”

  “Great, maybe tomorrow? Next weekend I will be a little busy,” she jokes.

  Her wedding. I’d almost forgotten. I try to smile back at her. “Yeah, I’d say so.” I wish I could’ve gotten Hardin to agree to go, but it was impossible then and it’s even more impossible now.

  Karen puts the chicken in the oven and gathers plates and silverware so we can set the table. “Is Hardin coming to dinner tonight?” she asks as we start laying things out. She’s clearly trying to sound nonchalant, but I can see she’s a little nervous about the question.

  “No, he won’t be coming,” I tell her and look down.

  She stops what she’s doing. “Are you guys okay? I don’t mean to be nosy.”

  “That’s all right.” I might as well tell her. “I don’t think we’re okay.”

  “Oh, honey, I’m sorry to hear that. You two really had something, I thought. But I know it’s really hard to be with someone who is afraid to show their feelings.”

  This line of conversation makes me feel a little weird. I can’t even talk to my own mother about stuff like this, but something about Karen’s openness makes me more able to discuss this sort of thing. “What do you mean?”

  “Well, I don’t know Hardin as well as I wish I did, but I know he is very closed off emotionally. Ken used to stay awake nights worrying about him. He has always been an unhappy child.” Her eyes go glossy. “He wouldn’t even tell his mom he loved her.”

  “What?” I say again.

  “He just won’t say it. I am not sure why. Ken can’t recall a single time when Hardin said he loved either of them. It’s truly sad, not only for Ken, but for Hardin as well.” She blots her eyes.

  For someone who refuses to tell anyone, even his own parents, that he loves them, he sure was
quick to use the words against me in a hateful way. “He is . . . He’s very difficult to understand,” is all I can think to say.

  “Yes, yes, he is. But, Tessa, I hope you’ll still come around even if you two don’t work things out.”

  “Of course,” I tell her.

  PERHAPS SENSING MY MOOD, Karen switches to talk of the greenhouse while we wait for the food to finish cooking and then put everything out on the table. Midway through a sentence, Karen stops and puts on a wide smile. I turn to find Landon walking into the kitchen followed by a beautiful girl with curly hair. I knew she would be gorgeous, but she is even more so than I could have imagined.

  “Hi, you must be Tessa,” she says even as Landon opens his mouth to introduce us. She immediately comes over and hugs me, and I immediately like her.

  “Dakota, I have heard so much about you—it’s nice to finally meet you!” I say, and she smiles. Landon’s eyes follow her as she walks past and hugs Karen, then takes a seat at the counter.

  “We passed Ken on our way here. He was getting gas, so he should be here any minute,” Landon tells his mom.

  “Great, Tessa and I have already set the table.”

  Landon goes over to where Dakota sits, puts his arm around her waist, and leads her to the table. I take my seat across from them and glance over at the empty place setting next to me, which Karen had set up for “purposes of symmetry,” but it just makes me a little sad. In another life Hardin would be sitting next to me, holding my hand the way Landon is Dakota’s, and I could lean into him without fear of being rejected. I’m beginning to wish I had invited Zed even though it would have been extremely awkward; having dinner with two deeply in-love couples may prove worse.

  Ken enters, saving me from my thoughts. He walks over and kisses Karen on her cheek before sitting down.

  “Dinner looks great, honey,” he says and playfully places a napkin on his lap. “Dakota, you get more beautiful each time I see you.” He smiles at her, then turns to me. “And Tessa, congratulations on your internship at Vance. Christian called me and told me. You made a wonderful first impression on him.”

  “Thank you again for calling him; it’s such an amazing opportunity.” I smile and the table’s silent for a moment while we all try Karen’s chicken, which is delicious.

  “Sorry I’m late,” I hear from behind me and my fork falls out of my hand onto my plate.

  “Hardin! I didn’t know you were coming!” Karen says nicely, then looks at me. I look away. My pulse is already quickening.

  “Yeah, remember we discussed it last week, Tessa?” He smiles his menacing smile and takes the seat next to me.

  What is wrong with him? Why can’t he just leave me alone? I know it is partly my fault for letting him get to me, but he really enjoys playing cat-and-mouse. Everyone’s eyes are on me, so I nod and pick up my fork. Dakota looks confused and Landon looks worried.

  “You must be Delilah?” Hardin says to her.

  “Oh, Dakota, actually,” she corrects him sweetly.

  “Yeah, Dakota. Same thing,” he mutters and I kick him under the table.

  Landon glares at him, but Hardin doesn’t seem to notice. Ken and Karen go into conversation between themselves, as do Dakota and Landon. I stay focused on my food and think of an exit strategy.

  “So, how’s your evening so far?” Hardin asks in a casual tone. He knows that I won’t cause a scene, so he is trying to annoy me.

  “Fine,” I answer quietly.

  “You’re not going to ask me how mine is?” He smirks.

  “Nope,” I mumble and take another bite.

  “Tessa, was that your car outside?” Ken asks and I nod.

  “Oh yeah, I finally got my own car!” I say, with a little extra excitement in the hopes that everyone else will join in so I’m not stuck talking to just Hardin.

  Hardin raises his eyebrow at me. “When?”

  “The other day,” I answer. You know, the day that you told me that it’s all about the chase?

  “Oh. Where did you get it?”

  “A used-car lot,” I answer and watch Dakota and Karen both try to hide their smiles. Sensing an opportunity to direct the attention off me, I say, “So, Dakota, Landon told me you were thinking of going to New York for a ballet school?” She tells us all about her plans to move to New York, and Landon looks genuinely happy for her despite the distance that will stay between them.

  When she finishes, Landon looks at his phone and says, “Well, we should get going soon. That bonfire waits for no man.”

  “What?” Karen says. “Okay, but at least take some of the dessert with you!”

  Landon nods and helps her put some into a Tupperware container.

  “Are you going to ride with me?” Hardin says. I look around like I’m confused about whom he’s addressing.

  “I’m talking to you,” he states.

  “What? No, you’re not going,” I tell him.

  “Yes, I am. And you can’t stop me from going, so you might as well ride with me.” He smiles and tries to put his hand on my thigh.

  “What the hell is wrong with you?” I say under my breath.

  “Can we talk outside?” he asks and looks toward his father.

  “No,” I say quietly—every time Hardin and I “talk,” I end up crying.

  But Hardin stands up quickly and grabs my hand, pulling me to my feet. “We’ll be outside,” he announces, and pulls me through the living room and out the front door.

  Once we’re outside, I yank my arm away and warn him, “Stop touching me!”

  He shrugs. “Sorry, but you weren’t going to come with me.”

  “Because I didn’t want to.”

  “I am sorry. For everything, okay?” His fingers play with his lip ring and I avoid focusing on his mouth. I stare at the way his eyes search my face.

  “You’re sorry? You’re not sorry, Hardin—you just want to mess with me. Just stop. I am exhausted and drained from fighting with you all the time. I can’t do it anymore. Isn’t there anyone else that you can mess with? Heck, I’ll even help you find someone, some poor innocent girl for you to torture as long as it isn’t me.”

  “That’s not what I am doing. I know I am back and forth a lot with you, and I don’t know why I do it. But if you give me one chance, one more chance, I will stop. I tried to stay away from you but I can’t. I need you . . .” He looks down at the deck, rubbing the tips of his boots together.

  The audacity of what he’s saying helps me keep my tears in check this time; his ego has seen quite enough of them. “Stop! Just stop. Aren’t you tired of this? If you needed me you wouldn’t treat me the way you do. You told me yourself it was all about the chase, remember? You can’t just show up here after everything and act like nothing happened.”

  “I didn’t mean that. You know I didn’t.”

  “So you admit you just said it to hurt me?” I glare at him, trying to keep my guard up.

  “Yeah . . .” He looks down.

  I’m so confused by him; he says he wants more, then he kisses Molly, then he tells me he loves me and takes it back, and now he is apologizing again? “Why should I forgive you—you just admitted that you did something solely to hurt me.”

  “One more chance? Please, Tess. I’ll tell you everything,” he pleads. I almost believe the pain in his eyes as he looks down at me.

  “I can’t, I have to go.”

  “Why can’t I come with you?” he asks.

  “Because . . . because I am meeting Zed there.”

  I watch as his expression changes and seems to crumple before me. It takes everything in me not to comfort him. But Hardin did this to himself. Even if he actually does care, it’s too late.

  “Zed? So are you guys, what . . . dating now?” His tone is full of disgust.

  “No, we haven’t even talked about it. We are just . . . I don’t know, spending time together, I guess.”

  “You haven’t talked about it? So if he asked you, you would?”

  “I don’t know . . .” And I honestly don’t know. “He is nice and polite and he treats me well.” Why am I even explaining myself to this boy?

  “Tessa, you don’t even know him, you don’t know—”

  The front door shoots open and an exuberant Landon asks, “Ready?”

  His eyes dart to Hardin, who for once looks unguarded and even . . . heartbroken.

  I force my feet toward my car and follow Landon as he pulls out of the driveway. I can’t help but look back at Hardin, who is still on the porch, still staring back at me as I drive away.

  chapter sixty-five

  Pulling into the spot next to Landon, I text Zed to tell him that I have arrived. He writes back immediately with a note to meet him at the far left corner of the field.

  I tell Landon where he’ll be as he and Dakota walk up.

  “Sounds good,” he says, but he seems less than thrilled.

  “Who’s Zed?” Dakota asks.

  “He’s my . . . friend.” He is just my friend.

  “Hardin’s your boyfriend, right?” she asks.

  I look over at her. She doesn’t seem to be implying anything, she just seems confused. Welcome to the club.

  “No, babe.” Landon laughs. “Neither of them are.”

  I laugh, too. “It’s not as bad as it sounds.”

  Right as we get to where everyone is, the school band begins to play and the field becomes more and more crowded. I’m relieved when I spot Zed leaning against the fence. I point him out, and we head over there.

  “Oh,” Dakota squeals as we get close. I can’t tell if she’s surprised by his tattoos and piercings, or his good looks. Maybe both.

  “Hey, beautiful,” Zed says, beaming, and hugs me. I smile at him, returning the hug.

  “Hi, I’m Zed. It’s nice to meet you both.” He nods toward Landon and Dakota. I know he’s met Landon before, so maybe he’s just trying to be polite.

  “Have you been here long?” I ask.

  “Only about ten minutes. A lot more people here than I expected.”

  Landon leads the way to a less crowded area near the enormous mound of wood, and we all sit on the grass. Dakota sits between Landon’s legs and leans back against his chest. The sun is going down and the breeze is picking up. I should have worn long sleeves.

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