After (The After Series) by Anna Todd

  “Who said I was leaving? So, what—you sleep with me and then kick me out?” His eyes dance with amusement. He grabs his jeans and boxers off the floor and puts them on. I grab his shirt and hold it out to him.

  I smack him on the butt. “Just go pee, and take the sheets out on your way, just in case.” I don’t know why I care so much, but the last thing I need is Steph drilling me for information about losing my virginity.

  “Sure. I won’t look like a creep or anything, carrying bloody sheets to my car at night.”

  I scowl at him and he balls the sheets up and walks to the door. “I love you,” he says before walking out.

  Now that he has left the room I have a little time to collect myself. I wonder if I look as good as I feel, which is warm and oddly at peace. The memory of Hardin hovering over me while he entered me makes my stomach clench. Now I know why people make such a big deal about sex. I really have been missing out, but I know that if my first time wouldn’t have been with Hardin, it wouldn’t have been so amazing. When I look in the mirror, my mouth falls open at my reflection. My cheeks are glowing, my lips are swollen. I squish my cheeks and move my hands around; somehow I look different. It’s the slightest of changes, and I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I like it. I take a second to admire the small red marks dotted across my breasts. I don’t even remember him making them. My mind takes me back to him making love to me, his mouth hot and wet against my flesh. I am snapped from my thoughts by the door opening, causing me to jump slightly.

  “Admiring yourself?” Hardin smirks and locks the door.

  “No . . . I . . .” I don’t know what to say, since I’m just standing in front of the mirror completely naked, fantasizing about his lips on my skin.

  “It’s cool, babe, if I had your body I would stare at myself in the mirror, too,” he says and I flush.

  “I think I’m going to take a shower,” I tell him while trying my best to cover myself with my hands. I don’t want to wash his scent off my body, but I need to wash everything else off.

  “I’ll take one, too,” he says. I raise an eyebrow at him and he holds up his hands mockingly. “Not together, I know. However . . . if we lived together we could.”

  Something has changed in him, too, I can see it. It’s the way his smile is a little deeper and his eyes brighter. I don’t reckon that anyone else would be able to spot it, but I know him better than anyone, despite the many secrets of his that I plan to uncover.

  “What?” He cocks his head to the side.

  “Nothing, I just love you,” I tell him and his cheeks redden slightly and his face splits into a grin, mirroring mine. We both seem to be giddy and high on each other. I love this. When I move to grab my robe, he steps in front of me.

  “Have you at least thought about living with me?” he asks.

  “You just asked me yesterday. I can only make one life-altering decision at a time.” I laugh.

  He rubs his temples. “I just want to sign the paperwork soon. I have got to get out of that damned frat house.”

  “You could just get it on your own?” I suggest again.

  “I want it to be ours.”


  “Because I want to spend as much time with you as I can. Why are you so hesitant? Is it the money? I would pay everything, of course.”

  “No you wouldn’t,” I scoff. “If I was to agree to this, I would contribute—I’m not looking for a free ride.” I can’t believe we are actually discussing this.

  “Then what is it?”

  “I don’t know . . . we haven’t known each other that long. I had always thought I wouldn’t live with anyone else until I was married . . .” I explain. That’s not the only reason; my mother is a huge reason, along with the fear of having to rely on someone else. Even Hardin. That’s what my mother did. She relied on my father’s income until he left, and after that she leaned on the slim possibility of his return. She always expected him to come back for us, but he never did.

  “Married? That’s an ancient idea you have there, Tessa.” He chuckles and sits down in the chair.

  “What’s wrong with marriage?” I ask. “Not between us. Just in general,” I add.

  He shrugs. “Nothing wrong with it, it’s just not for me.”

  This has taken too serious a turn. I don’t want to discuss marriage with Hardin, but it does bother me that he says marriage isn’t for him. I haven’t ever thought about actually marrying him, it’s way too early for that. Years too early. But I would like the option eventually, and want to be married by the time I’m twenty-five and then have at least two children. I have my whole future planned.

  Had, my subconscious reminds me. I had everything planned until I met Hardin and now my future is constantly changing and shifting.

  “That bothers you, doesn’t it?” he asks, breaking my thoughts.

  Hardin and I making love has tied an invisible string between us, uniting our bodies and minds. The changes in my plans are for the better . . . right?

  “No.” I try to hide the emotion in my voice, but it comes out heavy. “I just have never heard anyone say flat-out they don’t want to get married. I thought that’s what everyone wants—that’s the central point of life, right?”

  “Not exactly. I think people just want to be happy. Think of Catherine; look what marriage brought her and Heathcliff.”

  I love that we speak the same narrative language. There is no one else who would speak in this way to me, the way that I understand the best.

  “They didn’t marry each other—that was the problem,” I say with a laugh. I think back to the time when there had been so many parallels between my relationship with Hardin, and Catherine’s with Heathcliff.

  “Rochester and Jane?” he suggests. Hardin’s mention of Jane Eyre pleasantly surprises me.

  “You’re joking, right? He was cold and withholding. He also proposed to Jane without telling her that he was already married to that madwoman he had locked in the attic. You aren’t making very many valid points here,” I say.

  “I know. I just love hearing you ramble about literary heroes.” He brushes the hair off his forehead, and in a childish moment, I stick my tongue out at him.

  “So what you’re saying is that you want to marry me? I can promise you that I have no bat-crazy wife hidden in my house.” He takes a step toward me. There’s no wife, sure, but it’s the other things he hides that worries me.

  My heart is beating out of my chest as he closes the gap between us. “What? No, of course not. I was just speaking in terms of all marriage. Not us specifically.” I am naked and talking to Hardin about marriage. What the hell is happening in my life?

  “So you’re saying you wouldn’t?”

  “No, I wouldn’t. Well, I don’t know—why are we even discussing this?” I hide my face in his chest and feel him shake with amusement.

  “I was just wondering. But now that you’ve presented me with a valid argument, I may have to reconsider my no-marriage stance. You could make an honest man out of me.”

  He sounds serious, but there is no way he is. Right? Just as I begin to question his sanity, he laughs and kisses my temple.

  “Can we talk about something else?” I groan. Losing my virginity and talking about marriage is way too much for my mushy brain.

  “Sure. But I am not dropping the apartment thing; you have until tomorrow to give me an answer. I won’t wait forever,” he says.

  “How sweet.” I roll my eyes.

  “You know me, Mr. Romantic,” he says and kisses my forehead. “Now, let’s get a shower. You standing here naked makes me want to throw you on the bed and fuck you all over again.”

  I shake my head and pull out of his embrace before wrapping my robe around my body. “Are you coming or what?” I say and grab my toiletry bag.

  “I would love to come, but I guess a shower will have to do for now.” He winks and I swat his arm as we walk into the hall.

  chapter eighty

By the time we both take a shower and lie back in bed it’s almost four in the morning.

  “I have to be up in an hour,” I groan against his chest.

  “You could sleep until seven thirty and still make it on time,” he reminds me. Rushing my morning doesn’t sound very appealing, but I do need the sleep. Thankfully, I took that nap, so I hopefully won’t be dead on my feet during my first day of actually working at Vance.

  “Mmm . . .” I mumble against his skin.

  “I’ll fix your alarm,” he says and I drift off.

  MY EYES ARE BURNING from lack of sleep as I try to curl my unruly hair. I line my watery eyes with brown eyeliner and put on my new ruby dress. The neckline is square and just low enough to accentuate my bust without being immodest. The hem ends just above my knees and the small brown belt across my waist gives the illusion that I took longer to get ready than I actually did. I consider putting on a little blush, but thanks to my night with Hardin, my cheeks are still glowing. I slip into my new shoes and check myself out in the mirror. The dress is quite flattering, and I look better than I deserve. I glance over at Hardin wrapped in the blanket on my tiny bed, his feet dangling off the edge, and I smile. I wait until the very last minute to wake him. I consider not waking him at all, but I am selfish and want to kiss him goodbye.

  “I have to leave,” I say and gently shake his shoulder.

  “I love you,” he mumbles and puckers his lips without opening his eyes. “Are you going to class?” I ask after I kiss him.

  “Nope,” he says and rolls back over.

  I place another kiss on his shoulder and grab my jacket and purse. I want to crawl back in bed with him so badly. Maybe living with him wouldn’t be so bad; we spend almost every night together anyway. I shake the thought from my head. It’s a bad idea; it’s too soon. Too soon.

  Still, I spend the entire drive imagining getting an apartment with Hardin, picking out curtains and painting walls. By the time I hit the elevator at Vance, I’ve already picked out the shower curtain and bathmats, but when the elevator reaches the third floor a young man in a dark navy suit steps on and breaks my concentration.

  “Hello,” he says and reaches for the elevator buttons. Seeing that the button for the top floor has already been pushed, he leans back against the wall of the elevator.

  “Are you new here?” he asks. He smells like soap, and his eyes are a crispy blue, which is a strange contrast to his dark hair.

  “I’m just an intern,” I tell him.

  “Just an intern?” He laughs.

  “I mean, I am an intern, not an actual employee,” I correct myself nervously.

  “I started as an intern a few years ago and was hired on full-time. Do you go to WCU?”

  “Yeah, did you?”

  “Yep, just graduated last year. Glad that’s over with.” He chuckles. “You’ll like it here.”

  “Thanks, I already love it,” I say as we step off the elevator.

  As I go to turn the corner, he says, “I never caught your name.”

  “Tessa, Tessa Young.”

  He smiles and with a small goodbye wave says, “I’m Trevor. Nice to meet you, Tessa.”

  The same woman from yesterday is at the desk and this time introduces herself as Kimberly. She smiles, wishes me good luck, and gestures toward a table full of food and coffee. I smile and thank her, grabbing a sprinkled donut and a cup of coffee before I head back to my office. On my desk I find a thick pile of paper with a note from Mr. Vance telling me to begin my first manuscript and good luck. I love the freedom of this internship—I can’t believe my luck. Digging into my donut, I pluck the note off the paper and get to work.

  The manuscript is actually really good, and I can’t seem to put it down. I’m only a third of the way in when the phone on my desk rings.

  “Hello?” I say, then realize I have no clue how to answer my own office phone. Wanting to sound more grown-up, I add, “I mean, Tessa Young’s office.” I bite my lip and hear a small laugh on the other end.

  “Ms. Young, there is someone here to see you. Shall I send him in?” Kimberly asks.

  “Tessa. Call me Tessa, please,” I tell her. It seems disrespectful to have her call me Ms. Young; she is far more experienced and older than me.

  “Tessa,” she says, and I can picture her friendly smile. “Should I send him in?” she asks again.

  “Oh yeah. Wait . . . who is it?”

  “I’m not sure . . . young guy . . . um . . . he has tattoos, lots of tattoos,” she whispers and I laugh.

  “Yeah, I will come out to get him,” I tell her and hang up.

  That Hardin is here both thrills me and scares me. I hope everything is okay. When I walk out into the lobby he is standing with his hands in his pockets and Kimberly is on the phone. I get the feeling that she is only pretending to be on the phone, I can’t tell for sure. I hope that it doesn’t seem like I am taking advantage of the great opportunity Mr. Vance has given me by having visitors on my second day.

  “Hey, is everything okay?” I approach him.

  “Yeah, I just wanted to see how your first full day was going.” He smiles and rolls his eyebrow ring in his fingers.

  “Oh. It’s great I—” I begin, but stop when Mr. Vance strides toward us.

  “Well . . . well . . . well . . . Come to grovel for your job back?” He smiles wide at Hardin and pats him on the shoulder.

  “You wish, you old wanker,” Hardin says, laughing, and my jaw drops. Mr. Vance chuckles and raises his fist before playfully nudging Hardin in his ribs. They must be closer than I thought.

  “So what do I owe the honor? Or are you here to stalk my new intern?” He looks over at me.

  “The second. Stalking interns is my favorite pastime.” I look back and forth between them, unsure what to say. I love seeing this playful side to Hardin; it doesn’t come out much.

  “Do you have time to get some lunch, if you haven’t already?” Hardin asks me. My eyes dart to the clock on the wall; it’s already noon. The day has gone by quickly.

  I look at Mr. Vance and he shrugs. “You have an hour each day for lunch. A girl’s got to eat!” He smiles and says goodbye to Hardin before disappearing down the hall.

  “I texted you a few times to make sure you got here, but you didn’t answer,” Hardin tells me when we step onto the elevator.

  “I haven’t looked at my phone, I got sucked into a story,” I tell him and I reach for his hand.

  “You’re okay, right? We are okay?” he asks, his eyes locked into mine.

  “Yeah, why wouldn’t we be?”

  “I . . . I don’t know . . . I was just getting worried because you weren’t answering me. I had thought . . . maybe you were starting to regret last night.” He looks down.

  “What? Of course not. I honestly didn’t check my phone. I have no regrets from last night, not a single one.” I can’t hide my smile as the memories invade my thoughts.

  “Good. Well, that’s a damn relief.” He lets out a breath.

  “You drove all the way here because you thought I was having regrets?” I ask. It’s a little extreme, but flattering all the same.

  “Yeah . . . well, not completely. I also wanted to take you to lunch.” He smiles and lifts my hand to his lips.

  We step off the elevator and walk outside. I should have brought my jacket. I shiver and Hardin looks over to me.

  “I have a jacket in my car. We can grab it, then walk around the corner to Brio—it’s really good.” We walk to his car and he pulls a black leather jacket out of his trunk, which makes me laugh. He must have an entire wardrobe in there. Ever since I met him he’s been pulling clothes out of that trunk.

  The jacket is surprisingly warm and smells like Hardin. It engulfs me, of course, so I shake my arms to push the sleeves up.

  “Thank you.” I kiss him on his jaw.

  “It looks good on you—perfect fit.”

  He takes my hand as we walk down the sidewalk; we earn a few strange glances f
rom the businessmen and -women on the streets. Sometimes I forget how different we appear on the outside. We are polar opposites in almost every way, but somehow it works for us.

  Brio is a small but quaint Italian place. The floor is covered in beautiful multicolored tiles and the ceiling is a mural of heaven, with chubby smiling cherubs waiting outside white gates, and a pair of angels—one white and one black—locked in an embrace beyond them. The white angel seems to be trying to pull the other through the gates to the other side.

  “Tess?” Hardin says and pulls me by the sleeve.

  “Coming,” I mumble and we walk to the table, which is set in the back of the restaurant. Hardin sits in the chair right next to me instead of across, pulling his chair closer and resting his elbows on the table. He orders for both of us, but I don’t mind since he’s been here before.

  “So you and Mr. Vance are really close, then?” I ask.

  “I wouldn’t say that. But we know each other well enough.” He shrugs.

  “You seemed to really get along, I like seeing you that way.”

  The hint of a smile tugs at his lips and he puts his hand on my thigh. “Do you now?”

  “Yes, I like to see you happy.” I feel like there is more behind his and Mr. Vance’s relationship than he is telling me, but for now I am not going to push it.

  “I am happy. Happier than I thought I would be . . . ever,” he adds.

  “What has gotten into you? You’re getting soft on me,” I tease and he chuckles.

  “I can knock over a few tables, bloody a few noses to remind you,” he says and I push my shoulder into his.

  “No, thanks.” I giggle.

  Our food arrives and I thank the waitress. The food looks amazing, and I inhale the great aromas before taking a bite. Hardin ordered us some sort of ravioli, and it’s delicious.

  “Good, huh?” he brags and fills his mouth with food. I nod and do the same.

  After we’re finished, Hardin and I bicker about who is going to pay for lunch, but he ends up winning.

  “You can pay me back later.” He winks behind the waitress’s back.

  When we walk back to VP, Hardin follows me inside. “You’re coming up?” I ask him.

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