After (The After Series) by Anna Todd

  “Fuck,” he breathes into my mouth, and I experience a sensation I have never felt before as I feel him harden against me.

  How far will I let this go? I ask myself, but I don’t have an answer.

  His hands find the hem of my shirt, and he tugs at it, pulling it up. I can’t believe I’m letting him, but I don’t want to stop. He pulls away from our heated kiss to get the shirt over my head. His eyes meet mine, then go down to my chest as he takes his lip between his teeth.

  “You’re so sexy, Tess.”

  The idea of dirty talk never appealed to me, but somehow Hardin saying those words becomes the most sensual thing I have ever heard. I never buy any fancy underwear because no one, literally no one, ever sees them, but right now I wish I had something besides this plain black bra. He’s probably seen every type of bra there is, the annoying voice in my head reminds me. To try to get such thoughts out of my head, I rock harder against his lap, and he wraps his arms around my back and pulls my body to his, our chests touching . . .

  The door handle jingles. I push myself off Hardin’s lap and throw my shirt on, the trance I was in immediately broken.

  Steph steps through the door and stops short when she sees me and Hardin. As she takes in the scene before her, her mouth forms an O.

  I know my cheeks are bright red not only from the embarrassment but from the way Hardin has made me feel.

  “What the hell did I miss?” she gasps, staring at us both with a huge grin. I swear her eyes are practically clapping with glee.

  “Nothing much,” Hardin says and stands. He walks to the door and doesn’t look back as he walks out of the room, where I’m left panting and Steph laughing.

  “What the actual hell was that!?” she asks me and then covers her face in mock horror. But she’s too excited by the gossip and pops back quickly. “You and Hardin . . . You and Hardin are like messing around?”

  I turn and pretend to look through the stuff on my desk. “No! No way! We aren’t messing around,” I tell her. Are we? No, we just happened to kiss, twice. And he took my shirt off, and I was basically humping him—but we aren’t messing around, like regularly. “I have a boyfriend, remember?”

  She comes over to face me. “So . . . that doesn’t mean you can’t mess around with Hardin—I just can’t believe it! I thought you guys hated each other. Well, Hardin hates everyone. But I thought he hated you even more than his normal hatred for people,” she says, then laughs. “When did this even . . . how did this happen?”

  I sit on her bed and run my fingers through my hair. “I don’t know. Well, Saturday when you left the party I ended up in his room because this creep tried to hit on me, and then I kissed Hardin. We promised to never speak of it again—but then he came by today and he started messing with me, not in that way.” I point at the bed, which only makes her smirk grow. “Like he was throwing my stuff around and I pushed him and then somehow we ended up on the bed.”

  It sounds so bad as I repeat it. I really am acting so out of character, just like my mother said. I put my hands over my face. How could I do this to Noah—again?

  “Whoa, that sounds hot,” Steph says, and I roll my eyes.

  “It’s not—it’s terrible and wrong. I love Noah, and Hardin is a jerk. I don’t want to be another conquest of his.”

  “You could learn a lot from Hardin . . . you know sexually.”

  My mouth falls open. Is she serious? Is that something she would do . . . wait, has she? Her and Hardin?

  “No way, I don’t want to learn anything from Hardin. Or anyone besides Noah,” I tell her. I can’t imagine Noah and I making out like that. My mind replays Hardin’s words: You’re so sexy, Tess. Noah would never say something like that—no one has ever called me sexy before. I feel my cheeks heat up as I think about it. “Have you?” I ask a little sheepishly.

  “With Hardin? No.” And something inside me feels better when she says that. But then she continues. “Well . . . I haven’t had sex with him, but we had a little fling when we first met, as embarrassing as that is to admit. But nothing came from it; we were sort of friends with benefits for about a week.” She says it like it’s no big deal, but I can’t help the jealousy that stirs inside me.

  “Oh . . . benefits?” I ask. My mouth is completely dry and I find myself suddenly annoyed by Steph.

  “Yeah, nothing too big. Just like a few heavy makeout sessions, a grope here and there. Nothing serious,” she says and my chest hurts. I’m not surprised really, but I wish I wouldn’t have asked.

  “Does Hardin have a lot of friends with benefits?” I don’t want to hear the answer, but I can’t help asking.

  She snorts and sits down on her bed across from me. “Yeah, he does. I mean, not like hundreds, but he’s a pretty . . . active guy.”

  I can tell she’s seen how I reacted and is trying to sugarcoat it for my sake. I make the mental decision for what feels like the hundredth time to stay away from him. I will not be anyone’s friends with benefits. Ever.

  “He doesn’t do it to be mean or use girls; they pretty much throw themselves at him, and he lets them know from the start that he doesn’t date,” she says. I remember her telling me that before. But it’s not like he said that to me when we . . .

  “Why doesn’t he date?” Why can’t I stop asking these questions?

  “I don’t know, really . . . Listen,” she says, her voice full of concern, “I think you could have a lot of fun with Hardin, but I also think this could be dangerous for you. Unless you know you will never develop any sort of feelings for him, I would stay away. I have seen a lot of girls fall for him and it’s not pretty.”

  “Oh, trust me, I do not have feelings for him. I don’t know what I was thinking.” I laugh, and hope that it at least sounds genuine.

  Steph nods. “Good. So, how much trouble did you get into with your mom and Noah?”

  I tell her all about my mother’s lecture, minus the part about me promising not to be friends with her anymore. We spend the rest of the night talking about classes, Tristan, and anything I can think of besides Hardin.

  chapter twenty-three

  The next day Landon and I meet at the coffeehouse before class to compare notes for Sociology. It took me an hour to get all my notes in order after Hardin’s annoying stunt yesterday. I want to tell Landon about it but I don’t want him to think badly of me, especially now that I know about his mom and Hardin’s dad. Landon must know a ton about Hardin, and I have to keep reminding myself not to ask questions about him. Besides, I don’t care what Hardin does.

  The day flies by and finally it’s time for Literature. Per usual, Hardin is in the seat next to mine, but today he doesn’t seem inclined to look my way at all.

  “Today will be our last day on Pride and Prejudice,” the professor informs us. “I hope you all have enjoyed it, and since you’ve all read the ending, it feels fitting to base today’s discussion on Austen’s use of foreshadowing. Let me ask: as a reader, did you expect her and Darcy to become a couple in the end?”

  Several people murmur or randomly flip through their books like it’ll provide an immediate answer for them, but only Landon and I raise our hands, as always.

  “Miss Young,” the professor calls on me.

  “Well, the first time I read the novel, I was on the edge of my seat about whether or not they would end up together. Even now—and I have read it at least ten times—I still feel anxious during the beginning of their relationship. Mr. Darcy is so cruel and says such hateful things about Elizabeth and her family that I never know if she can forgive him, let alone love him.” Landon nods at my answer, and I smile.

  “That’s a load,” a voice cuts through the stillness. Hardin’s voice.

  “Mr. Scott? Would you like to add something?” the professor asks, clearly surprised at Hardin’s participation.

  “Sure. I said that’s a load. Women want what they can’t have. Mr. Darcy’s rude attitude is what drew Elizabeth to him, so it was obvious they would
end up together,” Hardin says, then picks at his fingernails as if he isn’t the slightest bit interested in the discussion.

  “That isn’t true, about women wanting what they can’t have. Mr. Darcy was only mean to her because he was too proud to admit he loved her. Once he stopped his hateful act, she saw that he really loved her,” I say, much louder than I intended.

  Much louder. I look around the room and find everyone is staring at me and Hardin.

  Hardin exhales. “I don’t know what kind of guys you normally go for, but I think that if he loved her, he wouldn’t have been mean to her. The only reason he even ended up asking for her hand in marriage was because she wouldn’t stop throwing herself at him,” he says with emphasis, and my heart drops. But finally we’re getting at what he’s really thinking.

  “She did not throw herself at him! He manipulated her into thinking he was kind and took advantage of her weakness!” I scream, and then the room really, truly goes silent. Hardin’s face is flushed with anger, and I can’t imagine mine looks much different.

  “He ‘manipulated’ her? Try again, she is . . . I mean, she was so bored with her boring life that she had to find excitement somewhere—so she certainly was throwing herself at him!” he yells back, his hand gripping the desk.

  “Well, maybe if he wasn’t such a manwhore, he could have stopped it after the first time instead of showing up to her room!” After the words leave my mouth, I know that we’ve been exposed, and snickers and gasps are heard throughout the room.

  “Okay, lively discussion. I think that’s probably enough on that topic for today . . .” the professor begins, but I grab my bag and run out of the room.

  From somewhere behind me in the halls, I hear Hardin’s angry voice yell, “You don’t get to run this time, Theresa!”

  I get outside and am crossing the green lawn, about to reach the corner of the block, when he grabs my arm and I jerk away.

  “Why do you always touch me like that? Grab my arm again and I will slap you!” I scream. I surprise myself at my harsh words, but I’ve had enough of his crap.

  He grabs my arm again, but I can’t manage to follow through on my promise. “What do you want, Hardin? To tell me how desperate I am? To laugh at me for letting you get to me again? I am so sick of this game with you—I won’t play it any longer. I have a boyfriend who loves me, and you are a terrible person. You really should see a doctor and get some medication for your mood swings! I can’t keep up with you. One second you’re nice, then you’re hateful. I want nothing to do with you, so do yourself a favor and find another girl to play your games, because I’m done!”

  “I really do bring out the worst in you, don’t I?” he asks.

  I turn away and attempt to shift my focus to the busy sidewalk next to us. A few confused students’ eyes linger on Hardin and me for a beat too long. When I face him again, he’s running his fingers across a small hole at the bottom of his worn black T-shirt.

  I expect him to be smiling or laughing, but he’s not. If I didn’t know any better I would think he was . . . hurt? But I do know better and I know he couldn’t care less. “I’m not trying to play games with you,” he says and runs his hand over his head.

  “Then what are you doing—because your mood swings give me a headache,” I snap. A small crowd has gathered around us, and I want to curl into a ball and disappear. But I have to know what he will say next.

  Why can’t I stay away from him? I know he’s dangerous and toxic. I have never been as mean to someone as I am to him. He deserves it, I know, but I don’t really like being mean to anyone.

  Hardin grabs my arm yet again and pulls me into a small alleyway between two buildings, away from the crowd. “Tess, I . . . I don’t know what I am doing. You kissed me first, remember?” he reminds me.

  “Yeah . . . I was drunk, remember? And you kissed me first yesterday.”

  “Yeah . . . You didn’t stop me.” He pauses. “It must be exhausting,” he says.

  What? “What must be exhausting?”

  “Acting like you don’t want me, when we both know you do,” he says, and steps closer.

  “What? I do not want you. I have a boyfriend.” The words tumble out too fast and reveal their absurdity, making him smile.

  “A boyfriend that you’re bored with. Admit it, Tess. Not to me, but to yourself. You’re bored with him.” His voice lowers, and slows to a sensual pace. “Has he ever made you feel the way I do?”

  “W-What? Of course he has,” I lie.

  “No . . . he hasn’t. I can tell that you’ve never been touched . . . really touched.”

  His words send a now-familiar burn through my body. “That’s none of your business,” I say and back away, making him take three steps toward me.

  “You have no idea how good I can make you feel,” he says, and I gasp. How does he go from yelling at me to this? And why do I like it so much? I have no words. Hardin’s tone and dirty words make me weak, vulnerable, and confused. I have become a rabbit in a fox’s trap.

  “Really, you don’t have to admit it. I can tell,” he says, his voice thick with arrogance.

  But all I can do is shake my head. His smile grows and I instinctively back against the wall. He takes a step toward me, and I take a deep, hopeful breath. Not again.

  “Your pulse has quickened, hasn’t it? Your mouth is dry. You’re thinking about me and have that feeling . . . down there. Don’t you, Theresa?”

  Everything he is saying is true and the more he talks to me like this, the more I want him. It’s strange to crave and hate someone at the same time. The attraction I feel is purely physical, which is surprising considering how opposite he is from Noah. I don’t remember ever being attracted to anyone except Noah.

  I know that if I don’t say something now, he will win. I don’t want him to have this power over me and win, too.

  “You’re wrong,” I mutter.

  But he smiles. And even that sends electricity through me.

  “I’m never wrong,” he says. “Not about this.”

  I step to the side before he fully traps me against the wall. “Why do you keep saying I throw myself at you if you’re the one cornering me now?” I ask, my anger pushing past my lust for this maddening tattooed boy.

  “Because you made the first move on me. Don’t get me wrong, I was as surprised as you were.”

  “I was drunk and had a long night—as you already know. I was confused because you were being nice to me; well, your version of being nice.” I scoot past him and sit down on the curb so I can get out of his space. Talking to him is so exhausting.

  “I’m not that mean to you,” he says, looming over me, but it sounds more like a question than a statement.

  “Yeah, you are. You go out of your way to be mean to me. Not just me, but everyone. But it still seems like you are extra hard on me.” I can’t believe I am being this honest with him. I know it’s a matter of minutes before he turns on me.

  “That’s just not true. I’m no meaner to you than I am to the rest of the general population.”

  I shoot up. I knew I couldn’t have a normal discussion with him. “I don’t know why I keep wasting my time!” I yell. I start walking back toward the main pathway and lawn.

  “Hey, I’m sorry. Just come back over here.”

  I groan, but my feet react before my brain can catch up, and I end up standing a few feet away from him.

  He sits on the curb where I was previously sitting. “Sit,” he demands.

  And I do.

  “You’re sitting awfully far away,” he says, and I roll my eyes. “You don’t trust me?”

  “No, of course I don’t. Why would I?”

  His face falls slightly as my words hit him, but he recovers quickly. Why would he care if I trusted him?

  “Can we just agree to either stay away from each other, or be friends? I don’t have it in me to keep fighting with you.” I sigh, and he moves a little closer.

  He takes a deep breath before
he speaks. “I don’t want to stay away from you.”

  What? My heart beats out of my chest.

  “I mean . . . I don’t think we can stay away from each other, with one of my best friends being your roommate and all. So I suppose we should try to be friends.”

  Disappointment bubbles up from nowhere, but this is what I want, right? I can’t keep kissing Hardin and cheating on Noah.

  “Okay, so friends?” I say, pushing down this feeling.

  “Friends,” he agrees and reaches out his hand for me to shake.

  “Not friends with benefits,” I remind him as I shake, only to feel the blood rush to my cheeks.

  He chuckles and moves his hand to play with his eyebrow ring. “What makes you say that?”

  “Like you don’t know. Steph already told me.”

  “What, about me and her?”

  “You and her, and you and every other girl.” I try to fake a laugh but it comes out as a cough, so I cough a little more to try to cover.

  He raises his eyebrow at me but I ignore him. “Well, me and Steph . . . that was fun.” He smiles as if remembering something and I swallow the bile rising in the back of my throat.

  “And yeah, I have girls that I fuck. But why would that concern you, friend?”

  He’s so nonchalant about the whole thing, but I’m in shock. Hearing him admit to sleeping with other girls shouldn’t bother me but it does. He isn’t mine: Noah is. Noah is. Noah is, I remind myself.

  “It doesn’t. I just don’t want you to think that I will be one of those girls.”

  “Aww . . . are you jealous, Theresa?” he mocks me, and I shove him. There is no way in hell I will ever admit that.

  “No, absolutely not. I feel sorry for the girls.”

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