After (The After Series) by Anna Todd

  “I’ll text you,” he says, and bounds up the steps to that damned house.

  chapter seventy-three

  The emptiness that I feel after dropping Hardin off is strange, and makes me feel a bit pathetic. After the short drive back to my room, it already feels as if I dropped him off hours ago. Steph isn’t in the room when I get there, but I’m glad. I really do need to study and prepare for my first day at Vance tomorrow: I have to decide what to wear, what to bring, what I am going to say.

  Taking out my planner, I plan my week by the hour, then move on to my clothes. Day one at Vance will be my new black skirt and a red top and black heels, not too high but higher than I would have considered wearing two months ago. The outfit is very professional but still feminine. I wonder idly if Hardin will like it.

  To keep my mind off him, I complete all of my assignments that are due this week and then some. By the time I finish, the sun has disappeared from the sky and I’m starving, but the cafeteria is already closed. Hardin still hasn’t texted me, so I assume he isn’t planning on coming over tonight.

  Grabbing my purse, I head out to find something to eat. I remember seeing a Chinese restaurant near the little library, but by the time I find the place it’s closed. I look up the closest restaurant to me and find a place called the Ice House. When I drive there, the Ice House is small and looks like it’s made out of aluminum, but I’m hungry and the idea of finding another place to eat makes my stomach rumble even more. Going inside, I realize it’s more of a bar that serves food, and that it’s actually quite packed, although to my surprise I manage to find a small table in the back to sit at.

  I ignore the glances of the people inside, who must be wondering why I’m here alone, but I always eat alone. I am not one of those people who need someone to go with them everywhere. I go shopping alone, eat out alone, and I have even been to the movies alone a few times when Noah wasn’t able to come. I never really have minded being alone . . . until now, if I’m honest with myself. I miss Hardin more than I should, and it troubles me that he hasn’t even bothered to text me.

  I order, and while I’m waiting on my food, the waitress brings me over a pink drink with a yellow umbrella sticking out of the top.

  “Oh, I didn’t order this,” I tell her but she sits it down in front of me anyway.

  “He did.” She smiles and tilts her head toward the bar area. I immediately hope that it’s Hardin somehow and crane my neck to look. But it’s not. Zed gives me a small wave and a dazzling smile from across the room. Nate walks up and takes the empty bar stool next to him and shoots me a smile as well.

  “Oh. Thanks,” I tell her. It seems that every place around this campus allows underage drinking, or maybe these guys only go to the places that do. She assures me that my food will be ready any minute and wanders off.

  A few moments later, Zed and Nate come over, pull the chairs out from my table, and take a seat. I hope Zed isn’t angry with me for what happened on Friday.

  “You’re the last person that I expected to see in here, especially on a Sunday,” Nate says.

  “Yeah, it was an accident. I was going for Chinese but it was closed,” I tell them.

  “Have you seen Hardin?” Zed asks with a smile before looking at Nate, who shares a mysterious look with him before turning back to me.

  “No, not for a while. You?” I ask them. My nerves are clear in my voice.

  “No, not for a few hours but he should be here soon,” Nate answers.

  “Here?” I squeak. My food arrives, but I’m no longer hungry. What if Molly is with him? I won’t be able to take it, not after the weekend we just had together.

  “Yeah, we come here a lot. I can call him and see when he’ll be here?” Zed suggests but I shake my head.

  “No, it’s fine. I’m going to go, actually.” I look around for my waitress to ask for my check.

  “You didn’t like the drink?” Zed asks.

  “No, well, I didn’t try it. Thanks for getting it for me, but I should go.”

  “Are you guys fighting again?” he asks.

  Nate begins to say something but Zed shoots him a glare from across the table. What is going on? He takes a sip of his beer and looks at Nate again.

  “He said what?” I ask.

  “Nothing, he just said you guys were on better terms now.” Zed answers for him. The small bar feels even smaller now, and I am desperate to leave.

  “Oh, there they are!” Nate says.

  My eyes dart to the door to see Hardin, Logan, Tristan, Steph, and Molly—I knew it. I know they are friends, and I don’t want to come off as controlling or crazy, but I can’t stand Hardin being around that girl.

  When Hardin’s eyes meet mine he looks surprised and almost afraid. Not this again. The waitress walks by while they make their way to our table.

  “Could I just get my food to go, and get the check, please?” I ask her. She looks surprised, and then looks around at everybody who just showed up and nods, then goes back to the kitchen.

  “Why are you going?” Steph asks. The five of them sit at the table next to us. I refuse to allow myself to look over at Hardin. I hate the way he is so different around his friends—why can’t he just be the same Hardin that I had all weekend?

  “I . . . well, I have to study,” I lie.

  She smiles hopefully. “You should stay—you study too much!”

  Any hope that Hardin would scoop me into his arms and tell me he has missed me is gone. The waitress shows up with my food, and I hand her a twenty, then stand up to leave.

  “Well, you guys have a good night,” I tell them. I look at Hardin and then back at the floor.

  “Wait,” Hardin says. I turn around and look at him. Please don’t let him make a rude remark or kiss Molly again.

  “Aren’t you going to give me a good-night kiss?” He smiles.

  I look around at his friends and they all look a little surprised but mostly confused. “W-what?” I stammer. I straighten my shoulders and look at him again.

  “You’re not going to kiss me before you go?” He stands up and walks toward me. I wanted this, but now I am uncomfortable with everyone’s eyes on us.

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

  “Why would she?” Molly laughs. God, I can’t stand her.

  “They are like together, obviously,” Steph tells her.

  “What?” Molly says.

  “Keep your mouth shut, Molly,” Zed says and I want to thank him, but there is something behind his voice that makes me wonder about his choice of words. This is beyond uncomfortable.

  “Bye, guys,” I say again and walk toward the door.

  Hardin follows me and grabs my wrist to stop me. “Why are you leaving? And why are you even in this place to begin with?”

  “Well, I was hungry and came here to eat. And now I’m leaving because you were ignoring me and I—”

  “I wasn’t ignoring you, I just didn’t know what to say or do. I wasn’t expecting to see you here. It caught me off guard,” he explains.

  “Yeah, I am sure it did. You haven’t texted me all day and now you’re here with Molly?” My voice comes out much whinier than I wanted.

  “And Logan, Tristan, and Steph. Not just Molly,” he points out.

  “I know . . . but you guys have a history and that bothers me.” I surely broke the record for the quickest jealous fit.

  “It’s just that, babe: history. It wasn’t like this . . . not like us,” he says.

  I sigh. “I know, I just can’t help it.”

  “I know. How do you think I felt when I walked in there and saw you sitting with Zed?”

  “That’s not the same thing. You and Molly have slept together.” Just saying it stings.

  “Tess . . .”

  “I know, it’s crazy, but I can’t help it.” I look away.

  “It’s not crazy. I understand. I just don’t know what to do about it. Molly is in our group and she probably always will be.”

nbsp; I don’t know what I expected him to say but the equivalent of “too bad” isn’t what I wanted to hear. “Okay.” I should be happy that he basically told everyone we are dating now, but the whole thing felt so off.

  “I’m going to go,” I tell him.

  “Then I’m coming with you.”

  “You sure you want to leave your friends?” I snap.

  He rolls his eyes and follows me to my car. I try to hide my smile as we get in the car. At least I know he would rather be with me than Molly.

  “So how long were you there before I arrived?” Hardin asks as I pull out of the parking lot.

  “About twenty minutes.”

  “Oh. You didn’t meet Zed there, did you?”

  “No. It was the last place open to eat I could find. I had no idea he was there—or that you would show up. You know, because you never texted me.”

  “Oh,” he says and pauses for a beat. But then he looks over at me again. “So what did you guys talk about?”

  “Nothing; he was only at the table for a few minutes before you got there. Why?”

  “I’m just wondering.” His fingers drum on his knee. “I missed you today.”

  “I missed you, too,” I say as we pull onto campus. “I got a lot of homework done and I prepared everything for my first day at Vance.”

  “Do you want me to drive you tomorrow?”

  “No, that’s why I got my own car, remember?” I laugh.

  “Still, I could drive you,” he offers as we get to my dorm and head inside.

  “No, it’s fine. I will drive myself. Thank you, though.”

  Just as I am about to ask him what he did all day—why he hadn’t texted me if he missed me so much—my breath gets locked in my throat and panic takes over.

  My mother is standing in front of my door with her arms crossed and a deep scowl on her face.

  chapter seventy-four

  Hardin’s eyes follow mine and widen as he sees her. He reaches for my hand, but I pull away and step out in front of him. “Hi, Moth—”

  “What the hell are you thinking!” she yells as we approach.

  I want to shrink and disappear.

  “I . . . what?” I don’t know what she knows yet, so I stay quiet. In her anger, her blond hair looks brighter, more angled toward her perfectly drawn-on face.

  “What are you thinking, Theresa! Noah has been avoiding me for the last two weeks, and I finally ran into Mrs. Porter at the grocery—and you know what she told me? That you two have broken up! Why wouldn’t you tell me? I had to find out in the most humiliating way!” she shouts.

  “It’s not that big a deal, Mother. We broke up,” I say and she gasps. Hardin stays behind me, but I feel his hand go to the small of my back.

  “Not that big a deal? How dare you—you and Noah have been together for years. He is good for you, Tessa. He has a future, and comes from a great family!” She pauses to catch her breath a moment, but I don’t interrupt, knowing there’s more to come. She straightens up and says as calmly as she can, “Luckily, I have just spoken to him and he has agreed to take you back, despite your promiscuous behavior.”

  Anger flares inside me. “How dare I? If I don’t want to date him, I don’t have to. What does it matter what type of family he comes from? If I wasn’t happy with him, that is what should matter. How dare you talk to him about this—I am an adult!”

  I push past her to open the door. Hardin follows close behind me and my mother storms in after.

  “You have no idea how ridiculous you sound! And then you show up here with . . . this . . . this . . . punk! Look at him, Tessa! Is this your way of rebelling against me? Have I done something to make you hate me?”

  Hardin is standing by my dresser with his jaw clenched and hands shoved deep in his pockets. If only she knew that Hardin’s father is the chancellor at WCU and has even more money than Noah’s family. But I won’t tell her that, because that has nothing to do with it.

  “This isn’t about you! Why do you have to make everything about you!” My tears are fighting to break free, but I refuse to let her get the best of me. I hate that when I am angry I cry; it makes me seem weak, but I can’t help it.

  “You’re right, it isn’t about me—it’s about your future! You have to think of the future, not just how you’re feeling now. I know he seems fun and dangerous, but there is no future here!” She gestures to Hardin. “Not with him . . . this freak!”

  Before I realize what I am doing, I am in my mother’s face and Hardin has stepped forward, grabbing me by the elbows to pull me away from her. “Do not talk about him like that!” I scream.

  My mother’s eyes are wide and red-rimmed. “Who are you? My daughter would never speak to me this way! She would never jeopardize her future or be so disrespectful!”

  I begin to feel guilty, but that’s exactly what she wants, and I have to fight through it to defend what I want. “I am not jeopardizing my future! My future isn’t even in question here, I’ll have a four-point-oh, and I have a great internship starting tomorrow! You are beyond selfish to come here and try to make me feel bad for being happy. He makes me happy, Mother, and if you can’t accept that, then you should go.”

  “Excuse me?” She huffs, but in truth I’m as surprised by what I just said as she is. “You will regret this, Theresa! I am disgusted to even look at you!”

  The room starts spinning. I was not prepared to go to war with my mother, not today at least. I knew it would be a matter of time before she found out, but she wasn’t even on my radar for today.

  “I knew something was going on from the first time I saw him in your room. I just didn’t think you would be so quick to open your legs for him!”

  Hardin steps between us. “You’re taking this too far,” he warns her with dark eyes. I think Hardin may be the only person who could actually give my mother a run for her money.

  “You stay out of this!” she snaps, crossing her arms once again. “If you continue to see him, I will no longer speak to you, and you surely can’t pay for college on your own. This dorm alone costs me thousands!” she shrieks.

  I’m astounded that my mother would go there. “You’re threatening my education because you don’t approve of who I am in love with?”

  “In love with?” she scoffs. “Oh Theresa, my naïve Theresa, you have no idea what love is.” She laughs, making a sound that is more like a sickening cackle. “And you think he loves you?”

  “I do love her,” Hardin interrupts.

  “Sure you do!” Her head falls back.


  “Theresa, I’m warning you: If you don’t stop seeing him, there will be consequences. I’m leaving now, but I expect a call after you clear your head.” She storms out of my room, and I go into the doorway to watch her as she stomps away, her heels clunking and echoing down the hall.

  “I am so sorry.” I turn to Hardin.

  “You have nothing to apologize for.” He takes my face in his hands. “I am proud of the way you stood up for yourself.” He kisses my nose. I look around the room and wonder just how everything came to this. I lean into Hardin’s chest and he reaches around me, rubbing the tense muscles on my neck.

  “I can’t believe her, I can’t believe she would act like that and threaten not to help pay for my college. She doesn’t pay for all of it—I have a partial scholarship and some student loans. She only pays twenty percent; the biggest thing is the dorms. But what if she really stops paying for them? I will have to find a job on top of the internship,” I sob. His hand moves to the back of my head and gently guides my head down to cry on his chest.

  “Shh . . . Shh . . . It’s okay, we will figure it out. You can move in with me,” he says. I laugh and wipe my eyes, but he goes on, “Really, you could. Or we could get an apartment off campus. I have enough money.”

  I look up at him. “You can’t be serious.”

  “I am.”

  “We can’t move in together.” I laugh and sniffle.

  “Why not?”

  “Because we have only known each other for a few months, and most of that time was spent fighting,” I remind him.

  “So, we have done a pretty good job getting along this weekend.” He smiles and we both burst into laughter.

  “You’re insane. I am not moving in with you,” I tell him and he hugs me again.

  “Just think about it—I want to move out of the frat house anyway. I don’t really fit in there, in case you didn’t notice,” he says and laughs. It’s true, his small group of friends are the only ones who don’t wear polo shirts and khakis every day. “I only joined to piss my father off, but it didn’t work as well as I had hoped.”

  “You could just get an apartment on your own if you dislike the house,” I say. There is no way I am moving in with him this soon.

  “Yeah, but that wouldn’t be as fun.” He grins and wiggles his brows at me.

  “We could still have fun,” I tease.

  His wicked smile grows and he brings both hands down to my bottom and squeezes.

  “Hardin!” I scold him playfully.

  The door opens and my breathing stops. Flashbacks of my mother’s anger fill my vision, and I’m afraid she’s come back for round two.

  So I’m relieved when it’s Steph and Tristan who walk into the room.

  “Guess I missed something grand. Your mom just flipped me off in the parking lot,” Steph says, and I can’t help but laugh.

  chapter seventy-five

  Hardin ends up staying the night in my room after Steph goes to Tristan’s apartment with him. The rest of the night we spend talking and kissing before Hardin finally falls asleep with his head on my lap. I dream of a time and place where we could actually live together. I would love to wake up every morning to find Hardin next to me, but it’s not realistic. I’m too young, and that’s moving too fast.

  Monday morning, my alarm goes off ten minutes late, throwing my whole morning off. After I shower and do my makeup quickly, I wake Hardin before plugging in my blow dryer.

  “What time is it?” he groans.

  “It’s six thirty. I have to blow-dry my hair.”

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