After (The After Series) by Anna Todd


  This must be why people drink all the time. I vaguely remember having sworn off alcohol at some point tonight, but it’s not so bad.

  FIFTEEN MINUTES LATER, Zed and Logan have me laughing so hard that my stomach hurts. They are much better company than Hardin. “You know Hardin is a real ass,” I tell them, which elicits wide grins from them both.

  “Yeah, he can be sometimes,” Zed says and snakes his arm around me. I want to move it but I don’t want to make it awkward because I know he doesn’t mean anything by it. Soon the crowd starts to die down and I start to feel tired. It dawns on me that I have no way to get back to the dorms.

  “Do the buses run all night?” I slur. Zed shrugs, and just then Hardin’s mop of curls appears in front of me.

  “You and Zed then?” His voice is thick with an emotion that I can’t quite register.

  I get up and push past him, but he grabs my arm. He has no boundaries. “Let go of me, Hardin.” Looking for another cup to toss in his face, I say, “I’m just trying to find out about the bus.”

  “Chill out . . . it’s three a.m. There is no bus. Your newfound alcoholic lifestyle has you stuck here again.” The glee in his eyes when he says this is so mocking that it makes me want to smack him. “Unless you want to go home with Zed . . .”

  When he lets go of my arm, I do go back to the couch with Zed and Logan, because I know it will irritate him. After standing there and nodding for a moment, he turns in a huff. Hoping that that same room from last weekend is empty, I tell Zed to take me upstairs so we can find it.

  chapter eighteen

  We find the room. Unfortunately one of the beds is occupied by a snoring, passed-out guy.

  “At least that bed is empty!” Zed says and laughs. “I’m going to walk back to my place, if you want to come. I have a couch you could sleep on,” he says.

  Cutting through the haze to try to think clearly for a second, I conclude that Zed, like Hardin, hooks up with a lot of different girls. If I agree to this it could mean I am offering to kiss him . . . well. I have a feeling with those good looks it’s easy for Zed to get girls to do more than kiss.

  “I think I will just stay here in case Steph comes back,” I say.

  His face falls a little but he gives me an understanding smile. He tells me to be careful and gives me a hug goodbye. The door closes as he leaves and I can’t help but lock it. Who knows who will come in? I look over at the comatose snorer and feel secure that he isn’t waking up anytime soon. The tiredness I felt downstairs has somehow faded, my mind going back to Hardin and his comment about how Noah hasn’t slept with me yet. It may seem strange to Hardin, who’s with a different girl every weekend, but Noah is a gentleman. We don’t need to have sex; we have fun together doing other things like . . . well . . . we go to the movies and go for walks.

  With that in mind, I lie down, but quickly find myself staring at the ceiling, counting the tiles in an attempt to go to sleep. Occasionally the drunk guy rustles around on the other bed, but eventually my eyes close and I begin to drift off.

  “I haven’t seen you . . . around here before,” a deep voice suddenly slurs in my ear. I jump up and his head bumps my chin, causing me to bite my tongue. His hand is on the bed, inches away from my thighs. His breathing is ragged and smells like vomit and liquor. “What’s your name, cutie?” he breathes, and I gag. I lift one thin arm up to push him away from me, but it doesn’t work, and he just laughs.

  “I’m not going to hurt you—we’re just going to have some fun,” he says and licks his lips, leaving a string of saliva down his chin.

  My stomach turns and the only thing I can think to do is to knee him, hard. Hard and right there. He grabs his crotch and stumbles back, giving me my chance to bolt. Once my shaky fingers finally open the lock, I rush out into the hallway, where several people give me odd stares.

  “Come on, come back here!” I hear the disgusting voice say, not too far behind me. Strangely, nobody seems fazed by a girl being chased down the hall. He is only a few feet away, but fortunately is so drunk he keeps stumbling into the wall. My feet act of their own accord, taking me down the hall to the only place I know in this damned fraternity house.

  “Hardin! Hardin, please open the door!” I yell, one hand banging on the door and one trying to twist the locked doorknob.

  “Hardin!” I scream again and the door flies open. I don’t know what made me come to his room of all places, but I would take Hardin’s judgmentalism over the drunk guy trying to have his way with me any day.

  “Tess?” Hardin asks, seeming confused. He wipes his eyes with his hand. He is wearing only black boxer briefs, and his hair is jutting out all over his head. Weirdly, I am more surprised by how good he looks than by the fact he called me “Tess” for once instead of “Theresa.”

  “Hardin, please can I come in? This guy . . .” I say and look behind me. Hardin pushes past me and looks down the hall. His eyes meet my stalker, and the creep changes from scary to frightened. He looks at me one more time before turning around and walking back down the hall.

  “Do you know him?” My voice is shaky and small.

  “Yeah, get inside,” he says and pulls me by my arm into his room. I can’t help but note the way his muscles move under his inked skin as he walks to his bed. His back has no tattoos on it, which is a little strange since his chest, arms, and stomach are covered. He rubs his eyes again. “Are you okay?” His voice is raspier than ever from just being woken up.

  “Yeah . . . yes. I’m sorry for coming here and waking you up. I just didn’t know what—”

  “Don’t worry about it.” Hardin’s hand runs through his messy hair and he sighs. “Did he touch you?” he asks, without any trace of sarcasm or humor.

  “No, he tried, though. I was stupid enough to lock myself in a room with a drunk stranger, so I suppose it’s my fault.” The idea of that creep touching me makes me want to cry, again.

  “It’s not your fault that he did that. You aren’t used to this type of . . . situation.” His voice is kind and totally the opposite of his usual tone. I walk across the room toward his bed, silently asking him for permission. He pats the bed, and I sit down with my hands in my lap.

  “I have no plans on getting used to it. This really is the last time I’m coming here, or to any parties, for that matter. I don’t know why I even tried. And that guy . . . he was just so . . .”

  “Don’t cry, Tess,” Hardin whispers.

  And the funny thing is, I hadn’t realized I was. Hardin brings his hand up, and I almost flinch away, but not before the pad of his thumb captures the tear from my cheek. My lips part in surprise from his gentle touch. Who is this guy and where is the snarky, rude Hardin? I look up to meet his green eyes and his pupils dilate.

  “I hadn’t noticed how gray your eyes are,” he says, so low that I lean closer to hear him. His hand is still on my face, and my mind is racing. Pulling half of his bottom lip in his mouth, he takes his lip ring between his teeth. Our eyes meet, and I look down, unsure of what’s going on. But when he removes his hand, I look at his lips once more, and I can feel my conscience and my hormones battling.

  But my conscience loses, and I crash my lips against his, catching him totally off guard.

  chapter nineteen

  I have no idea what I’m doing, but I can’t stop. As my lips touch Hardin’s I feel his sharp intake of breath. Hardin’s mouth tastes just like I had imagined. I can taste the faint hint of mint on his tongue as he opens his mouth and kisses me. Really kisses me. His warm tongue runs along mine and I can feel the cold metal of his lip ring on the corner of my mouth. My entire body feels like it’s been ignited; I have never felt like this before. He brings his hand to my face, cupping my flushed cheeks, before both of his hands go to my hips. He pulls back a little and plants a small kiss on my lips.

  “Tess,” he breathes out, then quickly brings his mouth back to mine, his tongue sliding in once more. My mind is no longer in charge; the sensation has taken over
every inch of me. Hardin pulls me by my hips closer to him as he lies back on the bed, never breaking our kiss. Unsure of what to do with my hands, I put them against his chest, and then climb onto his torso. His skin is hot and his chest is moving up and down with his rapid breaths. He pulls his mouth away from mine and I whimper at the loss of contact, but before I can complain he’s at my neck. I feel every swipe and lick his tongue makes. His breath moves across me. He grabs hold of my hair to keep my head just above his as he continues to kiss my neck. His teeth graze my collarbone and I moan, the feeling shooting down my whole body when he begins gently sucking on my skin. I would be embarrassed if I wasn’t so intoxicated, by Hardin and the alcohol. I have never kissed anyone like this, not even Noah.

  Noah!

  I say, “Hardin . . . stop,” but I don’t recognize my voice. It’s low and husky, and my mouth is dehydrated.

  He doesn’t stop.

  “Hardin!” I say again, my voice clear and sharp, and he lets go of my hair. When I look into his eyes, they are darker, yet softer, and his lips are a deeper pink and swollen from kissing me. “We can’t,” I say. Even though I really want to keep kissing him, I know I can’t.

  The softness in his eyes disappears and he pulls himself up, knocking me onto the other side of the bed. What just happened?

  “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” I say, and they are the only words I can think of. My heart feels like it will explode any second.

  “Sorry for what?” he says and walks over to his dresser. He pulls out a black T-shirt and pulls it over his head. My eyes go down to his boxers again and they are noticeably tighter in the front.

  I flush and look away. “For kissing you . . .” I say, though something in me really doesn’t want to apologize for that. “I don’t know why I did it.”

  “It was just a kiss; people kiss all the time,” I hear him say.

  His words hurt my feelings for some reason. Not that I care if he didn’t feel what I did . . . What did I feel? I know I don’t actually like him. I am just drunk and he is attractive. It has been a long night and the alcohol made me kiss him. Somewhere in the back of my mind I fight down the thoughts of how much I wanted it to happen again. He was just being so nice, that’s why.

  “Can we not make a big deal of it, then?” I ask. I would be humiliated if he told anyone. This isn’t me. I don’t get drunk, and I don’t cheat on my boyfriend at parties.

  “Trust me, I don’t want anyone to know about this, either. Now, stop talking about it,” he snaps.

  And there’s his arrogance again. “So now you’re back to your old self, I see?”

  “I never was anyone else—don’t think because you kissed me, basically against my will, we have some sort of bond now.”

  Ouch. Against his will? I can still feel the way his hand gripped my hair, the way he pulled me on top of him, and the way his lips mouthed “Tess” before kissing me again.

  I shoot up off the bed. “You could have stopped me.”

  “Hardly,” he scoffs and I feel like crying again. He makes me too emotional. It’s too humiliating, too painful how he’s basically saying I forced him to kiss me. I bury my head in my hands for a moment and head for the door.

  “You can stay in here tonight since you have nowhere else to go,” he says quietly, but I shake my head. I don’t want to be anywhere near him. This is all part of his little game. He will offer to let me stay in his room so I’ll think he is a decent person, then he will probably draw some vulgar design on my forehead.

  “No, thanks,” I say and walk out. When I reach the stairs, I think I hear him call my name but I keep going. Outside, the cool breeze feels wonderful against my skin, I sit on the familiar stone wall and turn my phone back on. It’s almost 4 a.m. I should be waking up in an hour to get an early shower and start studying. Instead I’m sitting on this broken stone wall, alone and in the dark.

  With a few stragglers milling about, and unsure what to do, I pull out my phone and scroll through the text messages from Noah and my mother. Of course he told her. It’s what he would do . . .

  But I can’t even be upset with him. I just cheated on him. What would give me the right?

  chapter twenty

  A block away from the frat house, the streets are dark and quiet. The other frat houses aren’t as big as Hardin’s. After an hour and a half of walking and GPS-obsessing, I finally reach the campus. Fully sober and figuring that I might as well stay awake, I stop at the 7-Eleven and grab a cup.

  As the caffeine hits me, I realize that there are so many things I don’t understand about Hardin. Like: why is he in a fraternity with a bunch of preppy rich kids if he is punk, and why does he go from hot to cold so quickly? It’s all academic musing, though, since I don’t know why I even bother to waste my time thinking about him, and after tonight I am beyond done trying to be friendly with him. I can’t believe I kissed him. That was the biggest possible mistake I could have made, and the second I let my guard down he attacked, worse than ever. I’m not stupid enough to trust that he won’t tell anyone, but I hope his embarrassment over kissing “the virgin” will keep him quiet. I will deny it until the grave if anyone asks.

  I need to come up with a good explanation for my mother and Noah for my behavior tonight. Not the kissing—they will never know about that—but that I was at a party. Again. But I also really need to have a talk with Noah about telling my mother things; if I’m an adult now, she doesn’t need to know what I am doing all the time.

  By the time I reach my dorm, my legs and feet hurt and I actually sigh in relief as I turn the knob.

  But then I nearly have a heart attack at the sight of Hardin sitting on my bed.

  “You’ve got to be kidding me!” I half scream when I finally regain my composure.

  “Where were you?” he asks calmly. “I drove around trying to find you for almost two hours.”

  What? “What? Why?” As in, if he was going to do that, why didn’t he just offer to take me home earlier? More importantly, why didn’t I ask him to as soon as I found out he hadn’t been drinking?

  “I just don’t think it’s a good idea for you to be walking around at night, alone.”

  And because I can no longer read his expressions, and because Steph is who-knows-where and I’m alone here with him, the person who seems to be the real danger to me, all I can do is laugh. It’s a wild laugh, ragged and not really me. And it’s definitely not because I find this funny, but because I’m too drained to do anything else.

  Hardin furrows his brows, frowning at me, which only makes me laugh harder.

  “Get out, Hardin—just get out!”

  Hardin looks at me and runs his hands through his hair. Which is at least something; in the little time that I have known this frustrating man that is Hardin Scott, I have learned that he does that when he is either stressed or uncomfortable. Right now I hope it’s both.

  “Theresa, I’m—” he begins, but his words are cut off by a terrible pounding on the door, and screaming: “Theresa! Theresa Young, you open this door!”

  My mother. It’s my mother. At 6 a.m., when a boy is in my room.

  Immediately I spring into action, as I always do when faced with her anger. “Oh my God, Hardin, get in the closet,” I whisper-hiss and grab his arm, yanking him up off the bed and surprising us both with my strength.

  He looks down at me, amused. “I am not hiding in the closet. You’re eighteen.”

  He says it—and I know he’s right—but he doesn’t know my mother. I groan in frustration and she pounds again. The defiance with which his arms are crossed over his chest tells me I’m not moving him, so I check the mirror, wiping at the bags under my eyes, and grab my toothpaste, smearing a little on my tongue to conceal the smell of vodka even beyond my coffee breath. Maybe all three scents will confuse her nose or something.

  I’m all ready with a pleasant face and greeting on my lips when I open the door, but it’s then that I see my mother hasn’t come alone. Noah is standin
g at her side—of course he is. She looks furious. And he looks . . . concerned? Hurt?

  “Hey. What are you guys doing here?” I say to them, but my mother pushes by me and goes straight for Hardin. Noah slips silently into the room, letting her take the lead.

  “So this is why you haven’t been answering your phone? Because you have this . . . this . . .” She waves her arms around in his direction. “Tattooed troublemaker in your room at six a.m.!”

  My blood boils. I am usually timid and sort of afraid when it comes to her. She has never hit me or anything but she isn’t shy when it comes to pointing out my mistakes:

  You aren’t wearing that, are you, Tessa?

  You should have brushed your hair again, Tessa.

  I think you could have done better than that on your tests, Tessa.

  She always puts so much pressure on me to be perfect all the time, it’s exhausting.

  For his part, Noah just stands there glaring at Hardin, and I want to scream at both of them—actually at all three of them. My mother for treating me like a child. Noah for telling on me. And Hardin for just being Hardin.

  “Is this what you do in college, young lady? You stay up all night and bring boys back to your room? Poor Noah was worried sick about you, and we drive all this way to find you running around with these strangers,” she says, and Noah and I both gasp.

  “Actually, I just got here. And she wasn’t doing anything wrong,” Hardin says, and I am shocked. He has no idea what he is up against. Still: he’s an immovable object, she’s an unstoppable force. Maybe this would be a good fight. My subconscious temps me to grab a bag of popcorn and sit down in the front row to watch.

  My mother’s face gets mean. “Excuse me? I certainly was not speaking to you. I don’t even know what someone like you is doing hanging around my daughter anyway.”

 
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