After (The After Series) by Anna Todd

  I follow him around the kitchen. “Could you tell me where it is?”

  “Sure. It’s about a block away.” The corners of his mouth lift, taunting me.

  I roll my eyes and walk out of the kitchen. Hardin’s momentary civility last night was obviously a onetime thing and today he’ll be coming at me full force. After the night I had, I can’t stand to be around him.

  I go wake up Steph, who wakes up surprisingly easily and smiles at me. I’m grateful that she’s just as ready to get out of this damned fraternity house.

  “Hardin said there is a bus stop around the block,” I tell her as we walk downstairs together.

  “We aren’t taking the damn bus. One of these assholes will take us back to our room. He was probably just giving you a hard time,” she says, her hand resting on my shoulder. As we enter the kitchen and find Hardin pulling some beer cans out of the oven, she’s all authority. “Hardin, you ready to take us back now? My head is pounding.”

  “Yeah, sure, just give me a minute,” he says like he’s been waiting for us all along.

  DURING THE DRIVE BACK to the dorms Steph sings along to whatever metal song is playing through the speakers and Hardin rolls all the windows down, despite my polite requests to roll them up. Silent the whole way, he mindlessly drums his long fingers on the steering wheel. Not that I was paying attention.

  “I’ll come by later, Steph,” he tells her as she climbs out of the passenger seat. She nods and waves as I open my door.

  “Bye, Theresa,” he says with a smirk. I roll my eyes and follow Steph into the dorm.

  chapter thirteen

  The rest of the weekend goes quickly and I manage to avoid seeing Hardin. When I head out early Sunday to go shopping, I leave before he can come to the room, and I return after he’s apparently left.

  The new clothes I get fill up my small dresser, but as I put them away Hardin’s obnoxious voice plays in my head: You know we are going to a party, not church.

  I suspect he’d say the same about these new outfits, but I’ve decided that I am no longer going to be going to parties with Steph, or anywhere that Hardin may be. He isn’t good company and bickering with him is exhausting.

  Finally it’s Monday morning, my first day of college classes, and I couldn’t be more prepared. I wake up extra early to make sure I can take a shower—without boys around—and not be rushed. My white button-up shirt and tan pleated skirt are perfectly ironed and ready to be put on. I get dressed, pin my hair, and put my bag over my shoulder. I’m about to leave—about fifteen minutes early, to ensure that I won’t be late—when Steph’s alarm goes off. She hits the snooze button, but I wonder if I should I wake her. Her classes may start later than mine, or maybe she isn’t planning on going. The idea of missing the first day of classes stresses me out, but she is a sophomore, so maybe she has it under control.

  With one last glance in the mirror, I head to my first class. Studying the campus map proves to have been a good idea, and I find my first building within twenty minutes. When I walk into my freshman history class the room is empty, save one person.

  Since this person obviously cares about being on time, too, I sit next to him. He could be my first new friend. “Where is everyone?” I ask, and he smiles. His smile alone puts me at ease.

  “Probably running across campus to barely make it here on time,” he jokes, and I instantly like him. That’s exactly what I was thinking.

  “I’m Tessa Young,” I say and give him a friendly smile.

  “Landon Gibson,” he says with an equally adorable smile as the first one. We spend the rest of the time before class talking. I find out that he’s an English major, like me, and he has a girlfriend named Dakota. Landon doesn’t mock me or miss a beat in our easy conversation when I tell him that Noah is a grade below me. I decide now that he is someone whom I would like to see more of. As the class begins to fill, Landon and I make a point to introduce ourselves to the professor.

  Afterward, as the day continues, I begin to regret taking five classes instead of four. I rush to my British Literature elective—thanking God it’s the last class of the day—and barely make it on time. I am relieved when I see Landon sitting in the front row, the seat next to him empty.

  “Hey again,” he says with a smile as I sit down.

  The professor begins the class, handing out the syllabus for the semester and giving a brief introduction about himself, what led to him to become a professor, and his excitement for the topic. I love that college is different from high school and the professors don’t make you stand in front of the class and introduce yourself or do any other embarrassing and unnecessary things.

  In the middle of the professor explaining our reading lists, the door creaks open and I hear myself groan as Hardin stumbles into the classroom.

  “Great,” I say under my breath sarcastically.

  “You know Hardin?” Landon asks. Hardin must have quite the reputation around the campus if someone as sweet as Landon knows of him.

  “Sort of. My roommate is friends with him. He’s not my favorite person,” I whisper.

  As I do so, Hardin’s green eyes lock on mine, and I worry that he’s heard me. What would he do if he had? But, honestly, I don’t care if he did—it’s not like he isn’t aware that we don’t care for each other.

  I find myself curious about what Landon knows about him, though, so I can’t help but ask, “Do you know him?”

  “Yeah . . . he’s . . .” He stops talking and turns slightly to look behind us. I look up and see Hardin sliding into the desk next to me. Landon stays quiet for the rest of the class, keeping his eyes focused on the professor the entire time.

  “THAT’S ALL FOR TODAY. I will see you all again on Wednesday,” Professor Hill says and dismisses us.

  “I think this will be my favorite class,” I tell Landon as we walk outside, and he agrees. But his face falls when we realize Hardin is walking next to us.

  “What do you want, Hardin?” I ask, giving him a taste of his own medicine. It doesn’t work, or I don’t have the right tone for it, because all he seems is amused.

  “Nothing. Nothing. I’m just so glad we have a class together,” he says mockingly and runs his hands through his hair, shaking it and pushing it up on his forehead. I notice an oddly shaped infinity symbol tattooed just above his wrist, and he lowers his hand as I try to study the surrounding ink.

  “I’ll see you later, Tessa,” Landon says, excusing himself.

  “You would find the lamest kid in class to befriend,” Hardin says as he watches him go.

  “Don’t say that about him; he’s a sweet guy. Unlike you.” I’m shocked at my harsh words. He really brings out the worst in me.

  Hardin turns back to me. “You’re becoming more feisty with each chat we have, Theresa.”

  “If you call me Theresa one more time . . .” I warn and he laughs. I try to picture what he would look like without his tattoos and piercings. Even with them, he’s very attractive, but his sour personality ruins him.

  We begin walking along back in the direction of my dorm and get about twenty steps when all of a sudden he shouts out, “Stop staring at me!” turns a corner, and disappears down a pathway before I can even think of a response.

  chapter fourteen

  After several exhausting—but exciting—days, it’s finally Friday, and my first week of college is almost over. Feeling pleased with the way the week has gone overall, I plan on just watching some movies, since Steph will most likely be at a party and it’ll be quiet. Having all my classes’ syllabi really makes things easier for me, and I can do a lot of the work ahead of time. I grab my bag and leave early, stopping by the café to grab a coffee to get an extra shot of energy for the beginning of the weekend.

  “Tessa, right?” a girl’s voice says behind me as I wait in line. I turn around to find the pink-haired girl from the party. Molly, I think Steph called her.

  “Yeah. That’s me,” I answer and turn to face the counter, att
empting to avoid further conversation.

  “Are you coming to the party tonight?” she asks. She has to be mocking me, so, sighing, I turn around again and am about to shake my head no when she says, “You should, it’s going to be awesome.” She runs her tiny fingers over a large fairy tattooed on her forearm.

  I pause for a moment, but do shake my head and say, “Sorry, I have plans.”

  “Too bad. I know Zed wanted to see you.” At that I can’t help but laugh, but she only smiles. “What? He was talking about you just yesterday.”

  “I doubt that . . . but even if he was, I have a boyfriend,” I tell her, causing her smile to grow.

  “Too bad, we could have double-dated,” she says ambiguously, and I inwardly thank God when the barista calls my order. In my haste, I grab the cup too roughly and a little bit of coffee laps over the edge and burns my hand. I curse, hoping that this isn’t setting the tone for my weekend. Molly waves goodbye to me and I smile politely before I exit the shop. Her comments replay in my mind; Double-date with who? Her and Hardin? Are they actually dating? As nice and attractive as Zed may be, Noah is my boyfriend and I would never do anything to hurt him. I know that we haven’t spoken much this week, but that’s only because we have both been so busy. I make a mental note to call him tonight and catch up, see how he’s been doing without me.

  After my coffee burn and awkward encounter with Miss Pink Hair, my day improves. Landon and I had made plans to start meeting at the coffee shop before the classes we have together, so he’s leaning against the brick wall, and as I walk up to him he greets me with a big smile.

  “I’m leaving about thirty minutes into class today. I forgot to tell you that I’m flying back to my hometown for the weekend,” he says. I’m happy for him to visit Dakota, but I hate the idea of sitting through British Literature without him, and with Hardin, if he shows. He was absent Wednesday, not that I was paying attention.

  I turn to him. “So soon? The semester just started.”

  “It’s her birthday and I promised her months back that I would be there.” He shrugs.

  IN CLASS, Hardin takes his seat next to me but doesn’t say a word, not even when, as promised, Landon leaves thirty minutes into class, which suddenly makes me even more aware of Hardin’s presence beside me.

  “Monday we begin our weeklong discussion of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice,” Professor Hill announces as class ends. I don’t hide my excitement, and I’m fairly sure that I just let out a squeal. I have read that novel at least ten times and it’s one of my favorites.

  Although he hadn’t really said anything to me all during class, Hardin walks up close beside me. I swear I could almost predict what he’s going to say with that deadpan look in his eyes.

  “Let me guess, you are just madly in love with Mr. Darcy.”

  “Every woman who has read the novel is,” I say without meeting his eyes. We reach the intersection and I look both ways before crossing the street.

  “Of course you do,” he laughs, continuing to follow me along the busy sidewalk.

  “I’m sure you aren’t able to comprehend Mr. Darcy’s appeal.” My mind goes to the massive collection of novels in Hardin’s room. They couldn’t possibly be his. Could they?

  “A man who is rude and intolerable being made into a romantic hero? It’s ridiculous. If Elizabeth had any sense, she would have told him to fuck off from the beginning.”

  I laugh at his choice of words but cover my mouth, stopping myself. I was actually enjoying our little banter, and his presence, but it would only be a matter of time—three minutes, if I’m so lucky—until he says something hurtful. Looking up, I meet his dimpled grin and can’t help but admire his good looks. Piercings and all.

  “So you do agree that Elizabeth is an idiot?” He raises his eyebrow.

  “No, she is one of the strongest, most complex characters ever written,” I say in her defense, using the words from one of my favorite movies.

  He laughs again and I join him. But after a few seconds, catching himself having a decent laugh with me, he stops suddenly and his laughter fades. Something flashes in his eyes. “I’ll see you around, Theresa,” he says and turns on his heel and disappears back where we’d come from.

  What is with him? Before I can begin to analyze his actions, my phone rings. Noah’s name flashes across my screen and I feel oddly guilty as I answer.

  “Hey, Tess, I was going to text you back, but I figured I might as well call.” Noah’s voice is clipped, a bit distant.

  “What are you doing? You sound busy.”

  “No, just on my way to meet some friends at the grill,” he explains.

  “Okay, well, I won’t keep you. I’m so glad it’s Friday. I am ready for the weekend!”

  “Are you going to another party? Your mom is still disappointed.”

  Wait—why did he mention it to my mother? I love that he has a close relationship with her, but sometimes dating him is like having an annoying little brother who tattles on me. I hate to compare him that way, but it’s true.

  Rather than getting into it with him, I just tell him, “No, I’m staying in this weekend. I miss you.”

  “I miss you too, Tess. So much. Call me later, okay?”

  I agree and we exchange “I love you’s” before hanging up.

  WHEN I GET BACK TO MY ROOM, Steph is getting ready for another party, which I assume is the one Molly mentioned at the café. I log into Netflix and browse the movies.

  “I really wish you would come. I swear we won’t stay overnight this time. Just come for a little bit. Watching movies alone in this small room will be hell!” Steph whines, and I laugh. She continues to beg me while she teases her hair and changes into three different outfits before deciding on a green dress that leaves very little to the imagination. The crisp color looks really good with her bright red hair, I have to admit. I envy her confidence. I’m confident to a certain extent, but I’m aware that my hips and breasts are larger than most women my age. I tend to wear clothes that hide my large bust, while she tries to draw as much attention as possible to hers.

  “I know . . .” I say, humoring her. But then my laptop screen turns black and I press the power button and wait . . . and wait. The black screen remains.

  “See! It’s a sign that you should come. My laptop’s at Nate’s apartment, so you can’t use mine.” She smirks and teases her hair again.

  Looking at her, I realize I really don’t want to sit in the dorm alone without anything to do or watch.

  “Fine,” I say, and she jumps up and down, clapping her hands. “But we’re leaving before midnight.”

  chapter fifteen

  I change out of my pajamas and put on a new pair of jeans that I haven’t worn yet. They are a little tighter than my usual pants, but I’m in desperate need of a trip to the laundry room, so I don’t have much of a choice. My shirt is a simple black button-up, sleeveless shirt with lace trim on the shoulders.

  “Wow, I actually like your outfit a lot,” Steph tells me. I smile and she tries to offer me eyeliner again.

  “Not this time,” I tell her, remembering how it smeared from my tears last time. Why did I agree to go back to that frat house again?

  “Okay. Molly is picking us up instead of Nate; she just texted that she’ll be here any minute.”

  “I don’t think she likes me,” I say as I check myself out in the mirror.

  Steph cocks her head to one side. “What? She does. She’s just bitchy and too honest sometimes. And I think she is intimidated by you.”

  “Intimidated? By me? Why on earth would she be intimidated by me?” I say and laugh. Steph clearly has this backward.

  “I think just because you’re so different from us,” she says and smiles. I know I’m different from them, but to me they are the “different” ones. “Don’t worry about her, though; she’ll be occupied tonight.”

  “By Hardin?” I ask before I can stop myself. I continue to look at the mirror, but I can’t help
but notice the way she is looking at me with one eyebrow raised.

  “No, by Zed probably. She changes guys every week.”

  That’s a harsh thing to say about a friend, but she just smiles and adjusts her top.

  “She isn’t dating Hardin?” The image of them making out on the bed comes to mind.

  “No way. Hardin doesn’t date. He fucks with a lot of girls, but he doesn’t date anyone. Ever.”

  “Oh,” is all I manage to say.

  THE PARTY TONIGHT is the same as last week. The lawn and house are crowded with drunk people everywhere. Why didn’t I just stay in and stare at my ceiling?

  Molly disappears as soon as we arrive, and I end up getting a spot on the couch and am sitting there for at least an hour when Hardin walks by.

  “You look . . . different,” he says after a short pause. His eyes rake down my body and back up to rest on my face. He doesn’t even try to be subtle about the way he’s assessing me. I stay silent until his eyes meet mine. “Your clothes actually fit you tonight.”

  I roll my eyes and adjust my shirt, suddenly wishing I was wearing my normal loose clothing.

  “It’s a surprise to see you here.”

  “I’m a bit surprised that I ended up here again,” I say and walk away from him. He doesn’t follow, but for some reason I find myself wishing he would have.

  A few hours later, Steph is drunk again. Well, as much as everyone else is.

  “Let’s play Truth or Dare,” Zed slurs and their small group of friends gather around the couch. Molly passes a bottle of clear alcohol to Nate and he takes a swig. Hardin’s hand is so large that it covers his entire red cup as he takes a sip. Another punk-looking girl joins the game, making it Hardin, Zed, Nate, Nate’s roommate Tristan, Molly, Steph, and the new girl.

  I’m just thinking that a drunken game of Truth or Dare can’t possibly end well when Molly says with a wicked smile, “You should play, too, Tessa.”

  “No, I’d rather not,” I tell her and focus my attention on a brown stain on the carpet.

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