After (The After Series) by Anna Todd

  “To actually play, she would have to stop being a prude for five minutes,” Hardin tells them and they all laugh except Steph. His words anger me. I am not a prude. Yeah, I will admit I’m not by any means wild, but I’m not some cloistered nun. I glare at Hardin and sit down cross-legged in their little circle, between Nate and another girl. Hardin laughs and whispers something to Zed before they start.

  The first few truths and dares include Zed being dared to chug an entire can of beer, Molly being dared to flash her bare chest to the group, which she does, and Steph revealing the truth that her nipples are pierced.

  “Truth or dare, Theresa?” Hardin asks and I gulp.

  “Truth?” I squeak.

  He laughs and mutters, “Of course,” but I ignore him as Nate rubs his hands together.

  “Okay. Are you . . . a virgin?” Zed asks, and I choke. No one seems fazed by the intrusive question besides me. I feel the heat in my cheeks and the humor in everyone’s faces.

  “Well?” Hardin presses. Despite how much I want to run away and hide, I just nod. Of course I’m a virgin; the furthest Noah and I have gone is making out and some slight groping, over our clothes, of course.

  Still, no one seems outright surprised by my answer, just intrigued.

  “So you have been dating Noah for two years and you haven’t had sex?” Steph asks, and I shift uncomfortably.

  I just shake my head. “Hardin’s turn,” I say quickly, hoping to take the attention off myself.

  chapter sixteen

  Dare,” Hardin answers before I even ask him. His green eyes bore through me with an intensity that says I’m the one on the spot, that I’m the one dared to do something.

  And I falter, not having really thought this out, or expecting to be met with such a reaction. What should I dare him to do? I know he will do whatever it is, just because he won’t want to back down from me.

  “I . . . hmm. I dare you to . . .”

  “To what?” he says impatiently. I almost dare him to say something nice about each person in the group but I decide against it, however amusing it would have been.

  “Take your shirt off and keep it off the entire game!” Molly yells out, and I’m glad. Not because Hardin will be taking his shirt off, of course, but because I couldn’t think of anything and it eases the pressure of my having to give him orders.

  “How juvenile,” he complains, but he lifts his shirt over his head. Without meaning to, my eyes go directly to his long torso and the way the black tattoo ink stretches across his surprisingly tan skin. Under the birds on his chest, he has a large tree inked onto the skin of his stomach. The branches are bare and haunting. His upper arms have many more tattoos than I expected; small, seemingly random images and icons are scattered along his shoulders and hips. Steph nudges me, and I tear my eyes away from him, praying that no one saw me staring.

  The game continues. Molly kisses Tristan and Zed both. Steph tells us about her first time having sex. Nate kisses the other girl.

  How did I find myself in the middle of this group of hormonal college rock-and-roll misfits?

  “Tessa, truth or dare?” Tristan asks.

  “Why even ask? We know she will say truth—” Hardin starts.

  “Dare,” I say, surprising them and myself.

  “Hmm . . . Tessa, I dare you to . . . take a shot of vodka,” Tristan says, smiling.

  “I don’t drink.”

  “That’s the point of the dare.”

  “Look, if you don’t want to do it . . .” Nate starts to say and I look over at Hardin and Molly sharing a laugh at my expense.

  “Fine, one shot,” I say. I think Hardin will probably have yet another contemptuous expression at this, but when his eyes meet mine, I find he’s giving me a strange look instead.

  Someone hands me the clear bottle of vodka. I mistakenly put my nose against the top, smelling the foul liquid, which burns my nostrils. I scrunch my nose, trying to ignore the chuckles behind me. I try not to think of all the mouths that have been on the bottle before me, and I just tilt it back and take a drink. The vodka feels hot and burns all the way down to my stomach, but I manage to swallow it. It tastes horrible. The group claps and laughs a little—everyone except Hardin. If I didn’t know him any better, I would think he was mad or disappointed. He is so strange.

  After a short time, I can feel the heat in my cheeks and then, later, the small amount of alcohol in my veins that grows with each round that I am dared to take another shot. I oblige, and I have to admit I feel pretty relaxed for once. I feel good. With this feeling, everything seems a little easier. The people around me all seem a little more fun than before.

  “Same dare,” Zed says with a laugh and takes a swig from the bottle before handing it to me for the fifth time. I don’t even remember the dares and truths that have been happening around me for the last few rounds. This time I take two big drinks of the vodka before it’s ripped from my grasp.

  “I think you’ve had enough,” Hardin says and hands the bottle to Nate, who takes a drink.

  Who the hell is Hardin Scott to tell me when I have had enough? Everyone else is still drinking, so I can, too. I grab the bottle back from Nate and take a drink again, making sure to give Hardin a smirk as the bottle touches my lips.

  “I can’t believe you have never been drunk before, Tessa. It’s fun, right?” Zed asks and I giggle. Thoughts of my mother’s lectures on irresponsibility flood my mind, but I push them back. It’s only one night.

  “Hardin, truth or dare?” Molly asks. He answers “dare,” of course.

  “I dare you to kiss Tessa,” she says and gives him a fake smile.

  Hardin’s eyes go wide, and though the alcohol is making everything more exciting, I really just want to run away from him.

  “No, I have a boyfriend,” I say, making everyone laugh at me for the hundredth time tonight. Why am I even hanging around these people who keep laughing at me?

  “So? It’s just a dare. Just do it,” Molly says, pressuring me.

  “No, I’m not kissing anyone,” I snap and stand up. Without looking at me, Hardin just takes a drink from his cup. I hope he’s offended. Actually, I don’t care if he is. I’m through interacting with him like this. He hates me and is just too rude.

  As I get to my feet, the full effect of the alcohol hits me. I stumble but manage to pull myself together and walk away from the group. Somehow I find the front door through the crowd. As soon as I’m outside, the fall breeze hits me. I close my eyes and breathe in the fresh air before going to sit on the familiar stone wall. Before I realize what I am doing, my phone is in my hands, dialing Noah.

  “Hello?” he says. The familiarity of his voice and the vodka in my system make me miss him more.

  “Hey . . . babe,” I say and bring my knees to my chest.

  A beat of silence passes. “Tessa, are you drunk?” His voice is full of judgment. I shouldn’t have called him.

  “No . . . of course not,” I lie and hang up the phone. I press my finger down on the power button. I don’t want him to call back. He’s ruining the good feeling from the vodka, worse than even Hardin did.

  I stumble back inside, ignoring whistles and crude comments from drunk frat guys. I grab a bottle of brown liquor off the counter in the kitchen and take a drink, too big of a drink. It tastes worse than the vodka and my throat feels like it’s on fire. My hands fumble for a cup of anything to get the taste out of my mouth. I end up opening the cabinet and using a real glass to pour some water from the sink. It helps the burn a little, but not much. Through a break in the crowd, I see that the group of my “friends” are still sitting in a circle playing their stupid game.

  Are they my friends? I don’t think they are. They only want me around so they can laugh at my inexperience. How dare Molly tell Hardin to kiss me—she knows that I have a boyfriend. Unlike her, I don’t go around making out with everyone. I’ve kissed only two boys in my life, Noah and Johnny, a freckle-faced kid in third grade who kicked
me in the shin afterward. Would Hardin have gone along with the dare? I doubt it. His lips are so pink and full, and my head plays an image of Hardin leaning over to kiss me and my pulse begins to race.

  What the hell? Why am I thinking about him like that? I am never drinking again.

  Minutes later, the room begins to spin and I feel dizzy. My feet lead me upstairs to the bathroom and I sit in front of the toilet, expecting to throw up. Nothing happens. I groan and pull myself up. I am ready to go back to the dorms, but I know Steph won’t be ready for hours. I shouldn’t have come here. Again.

  Before I can stop myself, my hand is turning the knob on the only room I’m somewhat familiar with in this oversize house. Hardin’s bedroom door opens without a problem. He claims to always lock his door, but he’s proving otherwise. It looks the same as before, only this time the room is moving around beneath my unsteady feet. Wuthering Heights is missing from where it was on the shelf, but I find it on the bedside table, next to Pride and Prejudice. Hardin’s comments about the novel replay in my mind. He has obviously read it before—and understood it—which is rare for our age group, and for a boy especially. Maybe he had to read it for class before, that’s why. But why is this copy of Wuthering Heights out? I grab it and sit on the bed, opening the book halfway through. My eyes scan the pages and the room stops spinning.

  I’m so lost in the world of Catherine and Heathcliff that when the door opens, I don’t hear it.

  “What part of ‘No One Comes Into My Room’ did you not understand?” Hardin booms. His angry expression scares me, but somehow humors me at the same time.

  “S-sorry. I . . .”

  “Get out,” he spits, and I glare at him. The vodka is still fresh in my system, too fresh to let Hardin yell at me.

  “You don’t have to be such a jerk!” My voice comes out much louder than I had intended.

  “You’re in my room, again, after I told you not to be. So get out!” he yells, stepping closer to me.

  And with Hardin looming in front of me, mad, seething with scorn and making it seem like I’m the worst person on earth to him, something inside me snaps. Any composure I had snaps in half, and I ask the question that’s been at the front of my brain without my wanting to acknowledge it.

  “Why don’t you like me?” I demand, staring up at him.

  It’s a fair question, but, to be honest, I don’t really think my already wounded ego can take the answer.

  chapter seventeen

  Hardin glares at me. It’s aggressive. But unsure. “Why are you asking me this?”

  “I don’t know . . . because I have been nothing but nice to you, and you’ve been nothing but rude to me.” And then I add, “And here I actually thought at one point we could be friends,” which sounds so stupid that I pinch the bridge of my nose with my fingers while I wait for his answer.

  “Us? Friends?” He laughs and throws up his hands. “Isn’t it obvious why we can’t be friends?”

  “Not to me.”

  “Well, for starters you’re too uptight—you probably grew up in some perfect little model home that looks like every other house on the block. Your parents probably bought you everything you ever asked for, and you never had to want for anything. With your stupid pleated skirts, I mean, honestly, who dresses like that at eighteen?”

  My mouth falls open. “You know nothing about me, you condescending jerk! My life is nothing like that! My alcoholic dad left us when I was ten, and my mother worked her ass off to make sure I could go to college. I got my own job as soon I turned sixteen to help with bills, and I happen to like my clothes—sorry if I don’t dress like a slut like all the girls around you! For someone who tries too hard to stand out and be different, you sure are judgmental about people who are different from you!” I scream and feel the tears well up in my eyes.

  I turn around so he won’t get to remember me like this, and I notice that he’s balling his fists. Like he gets to be angry about this.

  “You know what, I don’t want to be friends with you anyway, Hardin,” I tell him and reach for the door handle. The vodka, which had made me brave, is also making me feel the sadness of this situation, of our yelling.

  “Where are you going?” he asks. So unpredictable. So moody.

  “To the bus stop so I can go back to my room and never, ever come back here again. I am done trying to be friends with any of you.”

  “It’s too late to take the bus alone.”

  I spin around to face him. “You are not seriously trying to act like you care if something happened to me.” I laugh. I can’t keep up with his changes in tone.

  “I’m not saying I do . . . I’m just warning you. It’s a bad idea.”

  “Well, Hardin, I don’t have any other options. Everyone is drunk—including myself.”

  And then the tears come. I am beyond humiliated that Hardin, of all people, is seeing me cry. Again.

  “Do you always cry at parties?” he asks and ducks his head a little, but with a small smile.

  “Apparently, whenever you’re at them. And since these are the only ones I’ve ever been to . . .” I reach the door again and open it.

  “Theresa,” he says so soft that I almost don’t hear him. His face is unreadable. The room starts to spin again and I grab on to the dresser next to his door. “You okay?” he asks. I nod even though I feel nauseous. “Why don’t you just sit down for a few minutes, then you can go to the bus station.”

  “I thought no one was allowed in your room,” I state, then sit on the floor.

  I hiccup and he immediately warns, “If you throw up in my room . . .”

  “I think I just need some water,” I say and move to stand up.

  “Here,” he says, putting a hand on my shoulder to keep me down and handing me his red cup.

  I roll my eyes and push it away. “I said water, not beer.”

  “It is water. I don’t drink,” he says.

  A noise somewhere between a gasp and a laugh escapes me. There is no way Hardin doesn’t drink. “Hilarious. You’re not going to sit here and babysit, are you?” I really just want to be alone in my pathetic state, and my buzz is wearing off, so I’m starting to feel guilty for yelling at Hardin. “You bring out the worst in me,” I murmur aloud, not quite meaning to.

  “That’s harsh,” he says, his tone serious. “And yes, I am going to sit here and babysit you. You are drunk for the first time in your life, and you have a habit of touching my things when I’m not around.” He goes and takes a seat on his bed, kicking his legs up. I get up and grab the cup of water. Taking a big drink, I can taste a hint of mint on the rim and can’t help but think about how Hardin’s mouth would taste. But then the water hits the alcohol in my stomach and I don’t feel so hot.

  God, I am never drinking again, I remind myself as I sit back down on the floor.

  After a few minutes of silence Hardin finally speaks up. “Can I ask you a question?”

  The look on his face tells me I should say no but the room’s still not feeling entirely solid, and I think maybe talking will help me focus, so I say, “Sure.”

  “What do you want to do after college?”

  I look up at him with new eyes. That is literally the last thing I thought he would ask. I assumed he would ask why I’m a virgin, or why I don’t drink.

  “Well, I want to be an author or a publisher, whichever comes first.” I probably shouldn’t be honest with him; he will just make fun of me. But when he doesn’t say anything back, I start feeling brave and ask him the same question, earning an eye roll from him but no answer.

  Finally I ask, “Are those your books?” even though it’s probably futile.

  “They are,” he mumbles.

  “Which is your favorite?”

  “I don’t play favorites.”

  I sigh and pick at a small fray on my jeans.

  “Does Mr. Rogers know you’re at a party again?”

  “Mr. Rogers?” I look back up at him. I don’t get it.

bsp; “Your boyfriend. He is the biggest tool I have ever seen.”

  “Don’t talk about him like that, he is . . . he is . . . nice,” I stutter. When Hardin laughs, I stand up. He doesn’t know Noah at all. “You could only dream of being as nice as he is,” I say sharply.

  “Nice? That’s the first word that comes to your mind when talking about your boyfriend? Nice is your ‘nice’ way of calling him boring.”

  “You don’t know him.”

  “Well, I know that he’s boring. I could tell by his cardigan and loafers.” Hardin’s head rolls back in laughter and I can’t ignore his dimples.

  “He doesn’t wear loafers,” I say, but have to cover my mouth so I don’t laugh with him at my boyfriend’s expense. I grab the water and take another drink.

  “Well, he has been dating you for two years and hasn’t fucked you yet, so I would say he is a square.”

  I spit the water back into the cup. “What the hell did you just say?” Just when I think we can get along he says something like that.

  “You heard me, Theresa.” His smile is cruel.

  “You’re an asshole, Hardin,” I growl and throw the half-empty cup at him. His reaction is exactly what I hoped for: complete shock. While he wipes water off his face, I stagger to my feet using the bookshelf for leverage. A couple of books fall to the ground, but I ignore all that and storm out of the room. I stumble downstairs and push my way through the crowd into the kitchen. The anger I feel has overcome my nausea, and all I want is to get Hardin’s evil smirk out of my head. I spot Zed’s black hair through the crowd in the other room and go to where he’s sitting with a cute preppy boy.

  “Hey, Tessa, this is my friend Logan,” Zed says, introducing us.

  Logan smiles at me and offers the bottle he’s holding. “Want some?” he asks and passes it to me. The familiar burn feels good; it ignites my body again and I momentarily forget about Hardin.

  “Have you seen Steph?” I ask, but Zed shakes his head. “I think she and Tristan may have left.”

  She left? What the hell? I should care more but the vodka skews my judgment and I find myself thinking she and Tristan would make a cute couple. A couple of drinks later, I feel amazing.

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