After (The After Series) by Anna Todd


  “Well, if you weren’t so tight, I would have lasted longer,” he says into my ear.

  “Good night!” I groan in embarrassment.

  He laughs and kisses the back of my neck before turning the light off.

  chapter eighty-six

  The next morning, bright and early, I scramble around Hardin’s room, gathering my things to take a shower.

  “I’m coming with you,” he groans, but I laugh.

  “No, you’re not. You know it’s only six a.m., right? What happened to your seven-thirty rule?” I tease and grab my bag.

  “I am going to walk you there.” I love his raspy morning voice.

  “Walk me where? To the bathroom?” I scoff as he rolls out of bed. “I’m a big girl. I can walk myself down the hall.”

  “You’re doing an amazing job at listening to me so far.” He rolls his eyes, but I see the amusement in them.

  “Fine, Daddy, walk me to the bathroom,” I whine playfully. I have no intention of listening to him, but I decide to humor him for the moment.

  Hardin raises his eyebrow and smirks. “Don’t call me that again, or I’ll have to take you back to bed.” He winks and I hurry out of the room before I am too tempted to stay.

  He follows behind me and sits on the toilet while I shower. “You’re going to have to take my car,” he says, which utterly surprises me. “I’ll get a ride to campus to grab yours so I can go over to the apartment.”

  I didn’t think about any of this last night, which further shocks me, since I usually plan everything out so well. “You’re going to let me drive your car?” I gape.

  “Yeah. However, if you wreck it don’t bother coming back,” he says.

  Part of me knows he is somewhat serious. But I laugh and say, “I should be worried about you wrecking mine!”

  He tries to open the curtain, but I pull it closed again and hear him chuckle. “Just think, babe, after today you will be in your own shower every morning.” His voice carries over the water as I rinse the shampoo from my hair.

  “I don’t think it will really hit me until we are actually there.”

  “Wait until you see it; you will love it,” he says.

  “Does anyone know that you are getting an apartment?” I ask. I already know the answer.

  “No, why would they need to know?”

  “They don’t, I was just wondering.”

  The faucet creaks as I shut the water off. Hardin holds a towel open for me as I step out and wraps it around my soaked body.

  “I know you well enough to know that you think I am hiding the fact that we are moving in together from my friends,” he says.

  He’s not wrong. “Well, it does seem a little odd that you’re moving out of here but no one knows.”

  “That isn’t because of you—it’s because I don’t want to hear their shit about dropping out of the fraternity. I will tell them all—even Molly—after we move in.” He smiles and wraps his arms around my shoulders.

  “I want to be the one to tell Molly.” I laugh and hug him back.

  “Deal.”

  After multiple attempts to keep Hardin’s hands off me as I get ready, he hands me the keys to his car and I leave. The moment I get in the car my phone vibrates.

  Be careful. I love you, the text reads.

  I will. You be careful in my car :) I love you. xo

  I can’t wait to see you again. Meet me at five. Your crap car will be fine.

  You should watch what you say or I may accidently hit a parking median in yours. I smile to myself as I send my reply.

  Stop pestering me and go to work before I come down there and peel that dress off you.

  As appealing as that sounds, I put my phone back onto the passenger seat and start the car. The engine gently purrs to life, unlike the loud roar of mine. For a classic car it drives much smoother than mine; he really takes care of it. When I turn onto the freeway my phone rings.

  “Jesus, you can’t go twenty minutes without me?” I laugh into the phone.

  “Tessa?” a male voice says. Noah.

  I pull my phone away from my ear and look at my screen to confirm my horror.

  “Um . . . sorry, I thought . . .” I stammer.

  “You thought it was him . . . I know,” he says. His voice is sad and not at all hateful.

  “I’m sorry.” I don’t deny it.

  “S’okay,” he says.

  “So . . .” I am not sure what to say.

  “I saw your mom yesterday.”

  “Oh.” The pain from Noah’s sorrow-filled voice and the reminder of my mother’s hatred for me causes my chest to ache.

  “Yeah . . . she is pretty pissed at you.”

  “I know . . . she threatened to stop helping me with college.”

  “She will get over this, I know she will. She’s just hurt,” he says.

  “She is hurt? You’re kidding me, right?” I scoff. He cannot be defending her.

  “No, no—I know she is going about it the wrong way, but she’s just angry that you are . . . you know with . . . him.” The disgust in his voice is evident.

  “Well, it isn’t her place to tell me who to be with. Is that why you called me? To tell me that I shouldn’t be with him?”

  “No, no—Tessa, it’s not. I just wanted to make sure you are okay. This is the longest we have gone without talking since we were ten years old,” he says. I can picture the frown on his face.

  “Oh . . . I’m sorry for snapping at you. I just have a lot going on right now and I thought you were calling to—”

  “Just because we aren’t together anymore doesn’t mean I wouldn’t be there for you,” he says, and my heart aches. I do miss him; not my relationship with him, but he’s been such a huge part of my life since I was a child, it’s hard to let that go entirely. He was there for me through everything, and I hurt him, without even calling to explain or apologize. I feel terrible about how I left things with him, and tears well up in my eyes.

  “I’m sorry for everything, Noah,” I say softly and sigh.

  “It’ll be okay,” he says back, equally softly. But then, as if needing to change the topic, he says, “So I heard you got an internship,” and our conversation continues until I arrive at Vance.

  When we get off the phone he promises to talk to my mother about her behavior toward me, and I feel like a huge weight has been lifted from me. Of anyone, Noah could always manage to get her to calm down when she was at her worst.

  The rest of my day goes smoothly. I spend the entire day finishing my first manuscript and making notes for Mr. Vance. Hardin and I text on and off to nail down the details on where to meet, and before I know it the day is over.

  When I arrive at the address Hardin sent me, I’m surprised to find that it’s about halfway between campus and Vance Publishing. My drive would only be twenty minutes if I lived here, when I live here. It still seems like such an abstract idea, Hardin and I living together.

  I don’t see my car when I pull into the parking lot, and when I try to call Hardin’s phone I get his voicemail. What if he changed his mind? He would tell me, wouldn’t he?

  Just as I start to panic, Hardin pulls my car into the lot and parks next to me. At least, it looks like my car, but it also looks different. The silver paint is no longer chipped, and overall it looks shiny and new.

  “What did you do to my car?” I say when he climbs out.

  “It’s nice to see you, too.” He smiles and kisses my cheek.

  “Seriously, what did you do?” I cross my arms.

  “I got a paint job. Jesus. You could thank me.” He rolls his eyes.

  I bite my tongue only because of where we are and what we are about to do. Besides, the paint job does look really good. I just don’t like the idea of Hardin spending money on me, and paint jobs are not cheap.

  “Thank you.” I smile and lace my fingers through his.

  “You’re welcome. Now let’s go inside.” He leads me through the parking lot. “You look g
ood driving my car, especially in that dress. I couldn’t stop thinking about it all day. I wish you would have obliged my request that you send me naked pictures of yourself,” he says, and I elbow him. “Just saying. Would have made class much more interesting.”

  “Oh, so you went to class,” I say, laughing.

  He shrugs and opens the front door of the building for me. “Here we are.”

  I smile at his uncharacteristic gesture and walk inside. The lobby of the building isn’t what I expected at all. It is all white: white floors, clean white walls, white chairs, white couches, white rugs, white lamps on clear tables. It looks elegant, but very intimidating. A short, balding man in a suit greets us and shakes Hardin’s hand. He seems nervous around us, or maybe just around Hardin.

  “You must be Theresa.” He smiles. His teeth are as white as the bright walls.

  “Tessa,” I smile and correct him while Hardin bites back a smile of his own.

  “It’s nice to meet you. Shall we get to signing?”

  “No, she wants to see it first. Why would we sign if she hasn’t even seen it?” Hardin says in a flat tone.

  The poor man gulps and nods. “Of course, let’s go up.” He gestures down the hallway.

  “Be nice,” I whisper to Hardin as the three of us walk to the elevator.

  “Nope.” He smirks at me and squeezes my behind gently.

  I glare at him, but his dimpled smile only grows. The man tells me about how great the view is and that this is one of the best and most diverse apartment buildings in the area. I nod along politely, and Hardin stays quiet as we step off the elevator. I am taken aback by the contrast between the lobby and the hallway. It feels like we have stepped into a completely different building . . . even a different time period.

  “Here it is,” the man says and opens the first door we come to. “There are only five apartments on this floor, so you will have a lot of privacy.” He gestures for us to enter, but looks away from Hardin’s gaze. He is definitely afraid of Hardin. I can’t say I blame him, but it is a little entertaining to watch.

  I hear my own gasp as I take in the sight before me. The main room’s floors are old, stained concrete, except for one large square of hardwood in the space that I assume would be the living room. The walls are brick and beautiful. Damaged but perfect. The windows are large, and the furniture is old-fashioned but clean. If I could design the perfect space, this would be it. It’s somehow a throwback to another era, but completely modern.

  Hardin watches me intently as I look around, going into the other rooms and letting Hardin and the man trail behind. The kitchen is small and has multicolored tiles above the sink and countertop, adding an indie, fun look. I absolutely love everything about this small apartment. The lobby downstairs had scared me, so I was expecting to hate the place. I thought it would be an overpriced, stuffy apartment, and I’m thrilled that it isn’t. The bathroom is small but big enough for us, and the bedroom is just as perfect as the rest of the place. Three walls are old red brick and the fourth is covered with a floor-to-ceiling bookshelf. It has a ladder attached, and I can’t help but laugh because I always pictured myself having this exact apartment after I graduated from college. I just didn’t think it would come so soon.

  “We could fill the shelves. I have a lot of books,” Hardin mumbles nervously.

  “I . . . just . . .” I begin.

  “You don’t like it, do you. I thought you would; it seemed perfect for you. Damn it!” He frowns and runs his fingers over his hair.

  “No . . . I—”

  “Let’s go, then, show us another one,” Hardin snaps at the man.

  “Hardin! If you would let me finish, I was going to say that I love it,” I tell him.

  The man looks just as relieved as Hardin, whose frown turns into a massive smile. “Really?”

  “Yes, I was afraid it was going to be some fancy, cold apartment, but this is just perfect,” I tell him and mean it.

  “I knew it! Well, I was getting nervous a second ago, but as soon as I checked this place out I thought of you. I pictured you there . . .” He points to the bench in the window. “Just sitting and reading a book. That’s when I knew I wanted you to live here with me.”

  I smile and my stomach flutters at his saying that in front of someone else, even if it’s a random leasing agent.

  “So we’re all ready to sign, then?” The man shifts uncomfortably.

  Hardin looks at me and I nod. I can’t believe we are really doing this. I ignore the small voice reminding me that this is too soon, that I am too young, and I follow Hardin back into the kitchen.

  chapter eighty-seven

  Hardin signs his name on the bottom of what seems like an endless page before sliding the whole thing over to me. I grab the pen and sign before I can start overthinking it again. I am ready for this; we are ready for this. Yes, we are young and we haven’t known each other very long, but I know that I love him more than anything and he loves me. As long as that much is certain, the rest will fall into place.

  “All right, here are your keys.” Robert, whose name I finally learned from all those pages, hands Hardin and me each a set of keys, bids us farewell, and is on his way.

  “Well . . . welcome home?” Hardin says once we’re alone.

  I laugh and step closer to him so he can wrap his arms around me.

  “I can’t believe we live here now. It still doesn’t seem real.” My eyes scan the living room.

  “If someone had told me I would be living with you—let alone dating you—two months ago, I would have either laughed in their face or punched them . . . either one.” He smiles and takes my face between his hands.

  “Well, aren’t you sweet?” I tease and put my hands on his sides. “It’s a relief, though, to have our own space. No more parties, no more roommates and community showers,” I say.

  “Our own bed,” he adds with a wiggle of his eyes. “We will need to get a few things, dishes and such.”

  I touch the back of my hand to his forehead. “Are you feeling okay?” I smile. “You’re being awfully cooperative today.”

  He brushes my hand aside, then gives the back of it a little kiss. “I just want to make sure you are pleased with everything here. I want you to feel at home . . . with me.”

  “And what about you? Do you feel at home here?” I ask him.

  “Surprisingly enough, yes,” he answers, nodding, and looks around the room.

  “We should go get my stuff. I don’t have much but a few books and my clothes,” I say.

  He waves his arms in the air as if he has performed some sort of magic trick. “Already done.”

  “What?” I ask.

  “I brought all of your belongings from your room; they are in your trunk,” he explains.

  “How did you know I would sign? What if I hated the apartment?” I smile. I do wish I had had the chance to say goodbye to Steph and the room that I called home for three months, but I’ll see her again soon.

  “Because if you wouldn’t have liked this one, I would have found one that you did,” he answers confidently.

  “Okay . . . Well, what about your stuff?”

  “We can get it tomorrow. I have clothes in my trunk.”

  “What is with that, anyway?” He always has so many clothes in his car.

  “I don’t know, really. I guess you just never know when you will need clothes.” He shrugs. “Let’s go to the store and get all the shit we need for the kitchen and some food,” Hardin says.

  “Okay.” My stomach has been full of butterflies since I stepped into the apartment. “Can I drive your car again?” I ask when we get down to the lobby.

  “I don’t know . . .” He smiles.

  “You painted my car without my permission. I think I have earned the privilege.” I hold out my hands and he rolls his eyes before dropping the keys into them.

  “So you like my car, then? It drives nicely, doesn’t it?”

  I give him a coy look. “It’s o
kay.”

  I lie; I love the way it drives.

  Our building could not be located in a better place; we’re close to multiple stores, coffee shops, and even a park. We end up going to Target, and soon the cart is full of dishes, pots and pans, cups, and other things I didn’t know we would need but seem useful. We save the groceries for another trip since we already have so much stuff. I volunteer to go grocery shopping after my internship tomorrow if Hardin makes me a list of things he likes to eat. The best thing so far about living together is all the small details about Hardin that I would have otherwise never known. He’s so stingy with information, it’s nice to get some of out him without a fight. Even though we spend almost every night together, by just buying things for our place, I’m finding out things that I would have never known. Like: he likes cereal with no milk; even the idea of mismatching cups drives him insane; he uses two different types of toothpaste, one in the morning and one at night, and he doesn’t know why, he just does; and he would rather mop the floor a hundred times before having to load a dishwasher. We agree that I will always do the dishes as long as he mops the floor.

  We bicker back and forth in front of the cashier when it comes time to pay. I know he had to put a deposit down for the apartment, so I want to cover our Target haul. But he refuses to let me pay for anything except cable and groceries. At first, he offered to let me pay for the electricity, which he declined to tell me was already included in the rent until I found the proof on the lease. The lease. I have a lease, with a man that I’m moving in with my freshman year of college. That’s not crazy, right?

  Hardin glares at the woman when she takes my debit card and I give her props because she swipes my card without even acknowledging his attitude. I want to laugh in victory, but he is already irritated and I don’t want the night to be ruined.

  Hardin sulks until we get back to the apartment, and I stay quiet because I find it amusing. “We might have to make two trips down here to get all the stuff,” I tell him.

  “That’s another thing: I would rather carry one hundred bags than make two trips,” he says and finally smiles.

  We still end up having to take two trips because the dishes are just too heavy. Hardin’s irritation grows, but so does my humor.

 
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