After (The After Series) by Anna Todd

  “Zed? It’s Tessa,” I say.

  “Yeah . . . I know.”

  “Okay . . . well, I was wondering if I could ask you something?” My voice comes out smaller than I intended it to.

  “Um . . . where is Hardin?” he asks, and, given his tone, I suspect he holds a small grudge against me for blowing him off after he was so kind to me.

  “He isn’t here.”

  “I don’t think this is a good idea—”

  “Why did Hardin fight you?” I ask before he finishes.

  “I’m sorry, Tessa, I gotta go,” he says and the call ends.

  What the hell? I hadn’t been one hundred percent sure he would tell me, but that wasn’t the reaction I was expecting, either. My curiosity is now piqued more than before and my annoyance is as high as ever.

  I try to call Hardin again, but of course he doesn’t answer. Why would Zed act that way? Like he was almost . . . afraid to tell me? Maybe I was wrong and this does have to do with me? I don’t know what’s going on, but none of this makes sense. I take a step back and reevaluate the situation. Am I overreacting? Hardin’s frantic expression when I asked about Jace replays in my head, and I’m sure I’m not misreading this.

  I take a shower to try to calm my nerves and settle my mind, but it doesn’t work; this feeling in the pit of my stomach pushes me to come up with another option. When I get out of the shower, I blow-dry my hair and get myself dressed while I decide what to do next.

  I feel a little like Miss Havisham in Great Expectations, plotting and scheming. I had never cared for her character, but suddenly I find myself relating to her. I can now see how love can make you do things that you normally wouldn’t, like become obsessive and even a little crazy. Though, in reality, my plan really isn’t all that crazy or nearly as dramatic as it seems in my head. All I’m going to do is find Steph and ask her if she knows why Hardin and Zed got into a fight, then see what she knows about Jace. The only thing that makes this plan crazy is that Hardin will lose it when he finds out that I called Zed and went to Steph.

  Now that I think about it, Hardin hasn’t taken me around any of his friends since we moved in together—making it likely none of them actually know about our new living arrangement.

  BY THE TIME I leave the apartment, my thoughts are jumbled and I end up leaving my phone on the counter. It begins to snow as soon as I pull onto the freeway, so it takes me over thirty minutes to get to the dorms. They look the same as I remember—of course they do. It has been only a week since I left them, even though it seems so much longer.

  Marching up the hallway, I ignore the rude stare from the bleach blonde who yelled at Hardin for spilling vodka outside her door. That first night that Hardin stayed in my dorm with me seems so distant; time hasn’t made sense since I met him. When I knock on my old door, there’s no answer. Of course she isn’t here; she’s never here. She spends the majority of her time at Tristan and Nate’s apartment, and I have no idea where that is. Even if I did, would I go there?

  I get into my car and try to formulate a new plan while I drive around. This might have been easier if I hadn’t forgotten my phone, but just as I’m about to give up on my radical decision to practically stalk my old roommate, I pass Blind Bob’s, the biker bar I went to with Steph. Recognizing Nate’s car in the lot, I pull in. I take a deep breath before getting out, and when I finally do, the cold air burns my nostrils. The woman at the front smiles at me when I enter, and I’m relieved when I spot Steph’s red hair from across the room.

  If only I had known what was to come.

  chapter ninety-six

  Nervousness overtakes me as I walk through the smoky bar. Why did I think this was a good idea? Hardin is going to be furious with me, and Steph may just think I’m insane.

  When she sees me, a big smile fills Steph’s face and she practically shouts, “Tessa, what the hell are you doing here?” before pulling me into a hug.

  “I . . . well, I was looking for you,” I say.

  “Is everything okay? Or did you just miss me?” She laughs.

  “I just missed you.” I decide to go with that for now.

  “I haven’t seen you in ages, Tessa,” Nate teases and then hugs me. “Where has Hardin been hiding you?”

  Tristan appears behind Steph and wraps his arms around her waist. By the way she leans back against him, I know they have worked through the fight over Molly.

  She smiles. “Come sit with us—it’s just us for now.”

  For now? I wonder if she means that Hardin will be here soon? I follow the three of them to a booth, dreading the answer to that question. A question I choose not to ask, and instead order a burger and fries. I haven’t eaten all day and it’s past three in the afternoon.

  “And I’ll make sure there is no ketchup,” the waitress says with a knowing smile and walks back to the kitchen. Clearly she remembers the scene Hardin made the last time I was here.

  I pick at my manicured fingers as I wait for the waitress to bring me my Coke.

  “You missed one hell of a party last night, Tessa,” Nate says. He lifts his glass and gulps down the remainder of his beer.

  “Yeah?” I smile. The most frustrating part of my relationship with Hardin is that I never know what I’m allowed to tell people. If I were in a normal relationship, I would respond with “Oh yeah, we had a great time last night at his father’s wedding.” But since my relationship is far from normal, I stay quiet.

  “Yeah, it was wild. We went out to the docks instead of the frat house.” He laughs. “We get away with more at the docks and we don’t have to clean up after.”

  “Oh. Does Jace live at the docks?” I try to keep my tone neutral.

  “What? No, the docks are boat docks. He works there during the day, though. He lives close by them.”

  “Oh . . .” I chew on my straw.

  “It was freezing, and Tristan here was plastered and jumped into the cold-ass water.” Steph snorts, and Tristan flips her off playfully.

  “It wasn’t too bad; my body was numb the second I hit the water,” he jokes.

  My food arrives along with Tristan’s wings and a round of beers for the three of them.

  “You sure you don’t want a beer? She won’t card you,” Nate tells me.

  “Oh, no, I have to drive. Thanks, though.”

  “So how’s your new dorm?” Steph asks and steals a fry from my plate.

  “My what?”

  “Your new dorm?” she repeats slowly.

  “I don’t have a new dorm.” Did Hardin tell her I moved into another dorm?

  “Uh, yeah, you do, because you don’t live in mine anymore. All of your stuff was gone and Hardin said you changed dorms, that your mom flipped out on you or something.” She takes a big swig from her beer.

  I decide that I don’t care how pissed Hardin gets at me—I’m not going to lie. I’m infuriated and embarrassed that he is still hiding our relationship. “Hardin and I moved into an apartment,” I tell them.

  “What?” Steph, Nate, and Tristan say at the same time.

  “Yes, last week. We moved in together about twenty minutes from campus,” I explain. All three of them are looking at me as if I have grown a second head.

  “What?” I ask harshly.

  “Nothing. It’s just . . . wow . . . I don’t know. That’s just a really huge surprise,” Steph says.

  “Why?” I snap. I know it isn’t fair to direct my anger toward her when it’s meant for Hardin, but I can’t help it.

  She frowns and looks like she’s pondering something. “I don’t know; I just can’t picture Hardin living with someone, that’s all. I didn’t know you two were that serious. I wish you would have told me.”

  As I am about to ask her what she means by that, Nate’s and Tristan’s eyes dart to the door, then back to me. When I turn around, I see Molly, Hardin, and Jace standing in the doorway. Hardin shakes some snow from his hair and wipes his boots on the straw mat. I turn around quickly, my heart beating ou
t of my chest. There are too many things going on at once: Molly is with Hardin, which pisses me off beyond words. Jace is with Hardin, which confuses the hell out of me. And I just told everyone that we moved in together, which they seem unsettled by.

  “Tessa.” Hardin’s voice is angry from behind me.

  I look up at him, and his face is twisted in anger. He is trying to control it, I can tell, but it’s about to boil over. “I need to talk to you,” he says through clenched teeth.

  “Right now?” I say, trying to sound casual but hard-edged.

  “Yes. Now,” he answers and reaches out to grab my arm. I quickly climb out of the booth and follow him to the corner of the small bar. “What the hell are you doing here?” he says quietly, his face inches from mine.

  “I came to hang out with Steph.” Not exactly a lie, but not the truth, either.

  He calls me out. “Bullshit.” He is struggling to keep his voice down, but we’ve already drawn the attention of more than a few patrons. “You need to go,” he tells me.

  “Excuse me?” I retort, stealing one of his famous lines.

  “You need to go home.”

  “Home where? Back to my new dorm?” I challenge. The color drains from his face. “Yup, I told them. I told them that we live together—how could you not? Do you know how stupid that makes me look? I thought we were past you trying to keep me a secret.”

  “I wasn’t . . .” he lies.

  “I am sick of the secrets and deception, Hardin. Every time I think we are doing so great—”

  “I’m sorry. I wasn’t trying to keep it a secret. I was just waiting.” Hardin’s thoughts seem jumbled. I can almost see the internal battle being waged behind his green eyes. His eyes frantically scan the room, and his panic worries me.

  “I can’t keep doing this—you know that, don’t you?” I tell him.

  “Yeah, I know.” He sighs and pulls his lip ring between his teeth and runs his hand through his damp hair. “Can we go home and talk about this?” he asks and I nod.

  I follow him back to the booths where everyone is seated. “We are going to go,” Hardin announces.

  Jace gives a sinister grin. “So soon?”

  Hardin’s shoulders tense. “Yeah,” he answers.

  “Back to your apartment?” Steph asks, and I shoot a glare at her. Not now, I silently scream at her.

  “Your what?” Molly cackles. I could have gone the rest of my life without seeing her again, really.

  “Their apartment; they live together,” Steph says in a singsong voice. I know she is only trying to shove it down Molly’s throat, and usually I would applaud her for it, but I’m too angry at Hardin to focus on Molly.

  “Well, well, well.” Molly taps her long crimson nails on the table. “That’s very interesting,” she says, staring at Hardin.

  “Molly . . .” he warns. I swear I see panic flash across his face.

  She raises an eyebrow. “You’re really taking this whole thing a little far, aren’t you?”

  “Molly, I swear to God, if you don’t shut the fuck up—”

  “What thing? What is he taking too far?” I can’t help but ask.

  “Tessa, go outside,” he commands, but I ignore him.

  “No, what is he taking too far? Tell me!” I yell.

  “Wait. You’re in on it, aren’t you?” She laughs and continues, “I knew it! I told Jace you knew, but he wouldn’t believe me. Hardin, you owe Zed some big bucks for this.” She throws her head back and stands up.

  Hardin’s face is completely pale; all the blood seems to be drained from his entire body. My head is swimming and I’m so confused. I briefly glance at Nate, Tristan, and Steph, but they are all focused on Hardin.

  “Knew what?” My voice is shaky. Hardin grabs my arm and tries to pull me away, but I jerk out of his grip and move over to stand in front of Molly.

  “Don’t play stupid with me, I know you know. What did he do? Split the money with you?” she asks.

  Hardin reaches for my hand, and his fingers are ice cold. “Tessa . . .” I jerk away and stare at him, my eyes wide.

  “Tell me! What is she talking about!” I yell to him. Tears threaten my eyes, and I struggle to keep down all the emotions storming through me.

  Hardin astounds me by opening his mouth and then closing it again.

  “Oh my God, you really don’t know? Oh, this is amazing. Everyone pull up a seat!” she mocks.

  “Molly, don’t,” Steph says.

  “You sure you wanna know, princess?” Molly continues, giving me a triumphant smile.

  I can literally hear the blood pounding behind my ears, and for a second I wonder if everyone else can, too. “Tell me,” I demand.

  She tilts her head slightly . . . but then pauses. “No, I think Hardin should tell her.” And she starts giggling, sliding her tongue ring between her teeth, making the most horrendous rattling, worse than nails on a chalkboard.

  chapter ninety-seven

  Everything is happening too fast for me to comprehend. I’m confused, and when I look around the room, I see that I’m surrounded by people who have taunted me no matter hard I tried to fit in with them, and I know that I can’t trust a single one of them.

  What’s going on? Why is Hardin just standing there? What’s happening?

  “I second that,” Jace chimes in and lifts his beer in salute. “Go on, Hardin, tell her.”

  “I . . . I will tell you outside,” Hardin says, his voice low.

  I look into his brilliant eyes, which seem wild with desperation and confusion. I don’t know what is going on, but I do know I don’t want to go anywhere with him.

  “No, you tell me here. In front of them so you can’t lie.” My heart is already aching and I know that I am not prepared for whatever he is getting ready to tell me.

  He pauses, fidgeting with his fingers before he speaks. “I’m sorry.” He holds his hands out in front of him. “Tessa, you have to remember that this was way before I even knew you.” His eyes are begging for mercy.

  I don’t trust my voice, and I barely open my mouth when I speak. “Tell me.”

  “That night . . . that second night . . . the second party you came to, when we played Truth or Dare . . . and Nate asked if you were a virgin . . .” He closes his eyes as if to gather his thoughts.

  Oh no. If it was possible for my heart to sink even lower, it would have. This isn’t happening. This can’t be happening. Not right now. Not to me.

  “Go on . . .” Jace says and leans forward like this is the best thing he’s ever seen. Hardin shoots him daggers, and I know that if Hardin weren’t in the middle of single-handedly destroying our relationship, he would kill that vile man on the spot.

  “You said you were . . . and that gave someone an idea—”

  “Gave who the idea?” Molly interrupts.

  “Me . . . gave me the idea,” he admits. His eyes never leave mine. Which doesn’t make this any easier. “That . . . it could be fun to make . . . to make a bet.” His head falls, and tears pour from my eyes.

  “No,” I choke and take a step backward.

  Confusion rams into my already-jumbled thoughts, disrupting any attempt to make sense of them, to make sense of what I’m hearing. Confusion is quickly replaced by a burning mixture of pain and anger. All of the memories flooding through me pile and piece together . . .

  “Stay away from him.” “Be careful.” “Sometimes you think you know people, but you don’t.” “But Tessa, I need to tell you something.”

  All of the small remarks that were made by Molly, Jace, and even Hardin himself play over and over. There was always something in the back of my mind, a feeling that I was missing something. All of the air seems to be sucked out of the small room, and I find myself almost gasping as the reality of all this sets in. There were so many clues; I just was too blinded by Hardin to see them.

  Why would he take it this far? To have me live with him?

  “You knew?” I turn to Steph. I can’t look
at Hardin any longer.

  “I . . . I was going to tell you so many times, Tess,” she says, her eyes brimming with guilty tears.

  “I didn’t believe it when he claimed he won, even with the condom,” Jace snickers, enjoying the show.

  “Right? Me, either! The sheets, though. I mean, how can you deny blood on the sheets!” Molly laughs.

  The sheets. That’s why they were still in his car . . .

  I know I should be saying something, anything, but I can’t find my voice. Everything is still moving around me; people in the bar are eating and drinking, not noticing the naïve girl ten feet away from them having her heart shattered. How is it possible that time still moves as I stand here watching Tristan bow his head, watching Steph cry, and, most of all, watching Hardin watch me.

  “Tessa, I am so sorry.” He takes a step toward me, but I can’t even move my feet to run away like I need to.

  Molly’s harpy voice breaks through the air. “You know, there is a sort of drama here that everyone has to appreciate. I mean, remember last time we were all here and Steph gave Tessa that ridiculous makeover, and Hardin and Zed were trying to battle over who took her back to her room?” She laughs, then continues: “Then Hardin showed up to your room, right? With that vodka! You thought he was drunk! Do you remember when I called him when he was there?” For a moment she looks at me like she actually expects I’ll answer her. “But really he was supposed to win the bet that night. He was pretty cocky about it, but Zed kept saying you wouldn’t give it up that quick. I guess Zed was right, but you still gave it up quicker than I thought you would, so I suppose it’s a good thing I didn’t bet any money . . .”

  Molly’s terrible sounds and Hardin’s eyes are the only thing in the bar.

  I have never felt this way before. This level of humiliation and loss is worse than I could ever have imagined. Hardin has been playing me this entire time; this was all a game to him. All the hugs, the kisses, the smiles, the laughs, the “I love you’s,” the sex, the plans—and fuck if this doesn’t burn like nothing else in the world. He had every move planned, every night, every single detail, and everyone knew except me. Even Steph, who I thought was becoming a friend. I glance at him, allowing myself a moment of weakness during the shock, and I wish I hadn’t. He’s just standing there—standing there like my entire world isn’t crashing around me and he hasn’t completely humiliated me in front of everyone.

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