Before by Anna Todd

  I can practically hear her mocking tone through the screen as I push my feet back into my black boots. The insides are so worn out that I’m waiting to bust through to the street when I walk around in them, but I’ve had them for years and can’t seem to find anything else as comfortable.

  I know that I’ve gotten everything I’m going to get out of Molly, so before I pull onto the street, I text Steph, Is Tessa with Zed?

  Her reply is instantaneous. *Nope not here *

  I immediately know she’s lying, and press my foot harder on the gas.


  When I open the door, Tessa is on Steph’s bed with Zed, with her own bed empty. A small bed, with Zed. And with Steph and Tristan, too, and Tessa’s only sitting, nothing more, but still. She’s with Zed. On a bed. On a bed with Zed.

  It sounds like the worst Dr. Seuss rhyme ever.

  And it has me seeing red.

  “Jeez, man, you could at least knock for once,” Steph says, trying to play stupid. She knew damn well I would come straight here. She wanted me to—that’s why she told Molly, I’m sure of it. I’m just surprised Molly told me, though. Steph meets my eyes and laughs. “I could have been naked or something!”

  Could’ve been? Has been, her wild eyes tell me. Yeah, I’ve seen her completely naked, and so I know that her boobs aren’t half as big as those padded bras she wears make them seem. Still, she does have one of the nicest asses I’ve ever touched . . .

  I walk farther into the room, and remark, “Nothing I haven’t seen before.”

  Tessa and Tristan both look like someone took a morning piss in their Cheerios.

  “Oh, shut up.” Steph laughs, loving getting the attention she’s always craving.

  “What are you guys up to?” I ask, sitting down opposite them all on Tessa’s bed. At least Zed didn’t make it to her bed. I suppose that’s some consolation . . . somehow.

  Zed smiles from across the tiny room. Why the fuck is he smiling?

  “We were actually going to go to the movies,” he says. “Tessa, you should come.”

  Tessa looks at me, then at him. She seems nervous. She’s going to say yes!

  “Actually,” I interject before they can finalize anything, “Tessa and I have plans.”

  I look directly at Zed, giving him a warning. He blinks slowly, challenging me. Tristan is silent when I look at him, not wanting anything to do with our drama. He’s actually not too bad, except he’s dating such a witch.

  “What?” Zed and Steph both say.

  “Yeah, I was just coming to get her.”

  But Tessa is sitting still, making no move to leave with me.

  “You ready or what?” I say nonchalantly.

  She looks so conflicted, like she’s fighting against herself. Just as I’m ready to make a move to convince her, she nods and gets up from the bed.

  “Well, see you all later!” My voice is too loud, and I push Tessa out the door so quickly it’s like I’m on speed or something.

  Outside, Tessa follows me, taking quick strides to catch up. Her legs are pretty long. Her thighs are a little thick. I can’t stop thinking about holding on to them as I take her while she bends over the hood of my car. I try not to think about her when she’s so close. I can feel my cock aching, begging me to think about how soft she would be, how much I’d just like to squeeze her . . .

  I break out of my thoughts when I realize we’ve reached my car and I’ve pulled the passenger door open for Tessa on automatic. However, looking at her, I see she’s not moving to get in, for some reason. Rather, her arms are crossed in front of her chest, pushing her tits up.

  I’m sure she’s trying to convey anger, but right now this is just hot.

  “Well, I’ll remember not to ever open a door for you again . . .” I say, giving her a sarcastic eye.

  She shakes her head at me, and I know she’s about to spit fire. “What the hell was that? I know full well you didn’t come here to get me—you just got done telling me that you didn’t want to hang out with me!”

  She’s yelling now. I look around the parking lot, and it’s not empty. She doesn’t seem to notice the people close by. Tessa doesn’t strike me as the public-argument type, even though we’ve fought twice together in public.

  She drives me so fucking crazy.

  “Yes, I did come to get you. Now, get in the car.” I gesture for her to climb inside. I cleaned it and everything—she better get inside.

  “No! If you don’t admit that you didn’t come here to see me, I’ll go back in there and go to the movies with Zed,” she says defiantly.

  What’s her problem? She says I’m rude, and look how she speaks to me? Judgmental hypocrite, she is.

  What the fuck do I say to that?

  Should I tell her that Molly told me? Hell, no—Pinkie will never tell me shit again. And why would Tessa threaten me with hanging out with Zed? Does she somehow know about the Bet? Is she in on it with Steph?

  I barely know anything about her, and I can see something in her is a little off. I bet Steph told her.

  “Admit it, Hardin, or I am gone,” she says.

  I can’t tell if she’s taunting me or not. She looks genuinely annoyed, and her nostrils keep flaring—it’s quite comical. I’ll take this ego hit.

  “Okay, fine. I admit it. Now, get in the damned car. I won’t ask again.” I want to win the Bet, but she’s becoming a messy project, and I’m not putting much more effort into this before I hand the trophy over to another classmate. I walk to the driver’s side of my car, leaving the passenger door open for her if she wants to get in.

  And no surprise, she does.

  I’m annoyed as fuck as I pull out of the parking lot. I’d opted out of this hangout—I got out of it—and now I’m here with her anyway. My head hurts, and my mind seems to be fighting against itself. Part of me wants to scream and roll all the windows down so I can choke on my own breath, but the other half feels a calm creeping through, slowly, but a calm filled with stillness. I turn the music up to shut my head off; that usually does the trick: a few screaming men singing about death and their own depression over repeating bridges—with thunderous drum solos adding to the rage.

  Tessa doesn’t seem to agree with Slipknot and reaches for my radio dial. Which takes a lot of fucking nerve.

  “Don’t touch my radio.”

  “If you’re going to be a jerk the whole time, I don’t want to hang out with you,” Tessa threatens. She pushes her back against the leather seat to make a dramatic point.

  “I’m not. Just don’t touch my radio.”

  I can barely breathe, and the noise is drowning out my panic. When I look over at her, she’s staring at the radio with an intense look of rage on her face. That breaks my mood and makes me want to laugh, though it’s probably not the best time for that.

  “Why do you care if I go to the movies with Zed, anyway? Steph and Tristan were going, too,” Tessa says, sticking her chin out to underscore her point.

  Oh, like a double date? Hello . . .

  “I just don’t think Zed has the best intentions.” I don’t know what else to say, so I stare at the road.

  After a thick moment of silence, Tessa begins to laugh. What the hell is wrong with her?

  “Oh, and you do? At least Zed is nice to me.”

  She’s still laughing. Zed is nice to her? Nice?

  He’s betting against your virginity, sweetheart is something I can’t say, though.

  Because I guess I am, too.

  I stay quiet, and Tessa keeps her guard up. “Can you please turn it down?” she yells over the music.

  I nod. I may as well get her in a little better of a mood.

  “That music is terrible,” she complains. I knew she wouldn’t like it; I can tell by looking at her that she listens to a certain type of music. Opposite of mine.

  I tap my fingers on the steering wheel and watch as Tessa absentmindedly does the same to her thighs.

  “No, it’s not. Though I wo
uld love to know your opinion on what is good music.”

  I smile at the thought of her CD player as a teen: ’N Sync, Jessica Simpson, and doubtless some of the horrendous girl groups Mother England spits out on the regular fills the entire thing.

  “Well, I like Bon Iver, and the Fray,” she says after contemplating the matter for a few seconds.

  “Of course you do.” One Christian-based band and one über-hipster band. Not remotely surprising.

  Okay, sure, both make decent music—they just aren’t my thing. Not enough pain for me.

  “What’s wrong with them? They’re insanely talented, and their music is wonderful.” She’s passionate with her answer. When my eyes meet hers, she turns away and stares out the window.

  “Yeah . . . they are talented. Talented at putting people to sleep.”

  Tessa reaches her hand out and playfully smacks my arm. It’s a strange thing I see couples doing all the time, but no one has ever done it to me.

  “Well, I love them.” She smiles proudly. She seems to be having a decent time. “Where are we going?”

  “To one of my favorite places.” I don’t give her an exact answer. She’s too nosy for her own good.

  “Which is where?” She continues to push, like I knew she would. She’s too anal not to.

  “You really have to know everything that’s going on in advance, don’t you?” I say, turning the tables on her.

  “Yeah . . . I like to—” She begins to explain herself.

  “Control everything?”

  She’s silent.

  I decide to let it go for now. I don’t want to push her too far. “Well, I’m not telling you until we get there . . . which will be only about five minutes from now.”

  As we continue, Tessa looks around, confused. I can see her struggling to not ask me again. She’s trying to relax, and that makes this easier for me. After a couple of minutes, I notice she’s staring at the backseat.

  “See something that you like back there?” I tease, and she shakes her head. A lock of her long hair falls down her shoulder, and she pushes it back. Her hair looks so soft. I wonder if she’s a natural blonde, and remembering what her mum looks like, I’d say she definitely is.

  “What kind of car is this?” she asks, staring down at her cloth shoe.

  “Ford Capri—a classic,” I tell her. I love my car more than my own self, and I’m proud as fuck to have it. Tessa engages lightly in the conversation as I tell her about the restored engine and newly quieted exhaust. She smiles and nods along, and even though I can tell she’s lost, it’s oddly nice to talk to an actual human. After a few minutes, I glance down at her again, and she’s staring straight into me. I feel a pressure building on the back of my neck, creeping down my spine.

  Too close. She’s getting too close. It’s a game, Hardin. Treat her as a piece of it.

  “I don’t like to be stared at.” I try to keep a straight face.

  She’s so curious, and I’m realizing I’m liking it more than I should.


  I drive down one last narrow road and park toward the end of the small gravel patch nestled between a group of massive trees. I love it out here; no one ever comes here, and that’s perfect for me. Especially on a nice, rare day like today when it’s not raining in the Olympic Peninsula. The dead sky is one thing I’ve been used to since growing up in Hampstead; the sun is a rare sighting most fall days.

  Tessa glances around the area, then her eyebrows draw together.

  “Don’t worry, I didn’t bring you out here to kill you,” I say, attempting to evoke a laugh from her as we get out of the car.

  She stares toward the field of yellow wildflowers, and her shoulders slightly relax. What is she thinking?

  “What are we going to do here?” she asks me.

  “Well, first, a bit of walking.”

  Tessa sighs and follows me down the dirt that used to be a grass path. She looks miserable already. What was I thinking? “Not too much walking.”

  She doesn’t trust me, and she seems to be in a bad mood today. Go figure. When is she not? I focus my attention on the cloud of dust that my boots make when they hit the dry, dusty trail. Tessa’s steps are nearly silent, and she’s incredibly slow.

  “Well, if we hurry, we may make it before sundown,” I tease her when we reach a tree with an old, abandoned bicycle tied to it. It’s the halfway marker, and the walk is about a mile. Not too bad. Tessa slows down, but her face when we reach the water is worth every wasted moment. She gasps a little, as if this simple stream in the middle of the woods is magical. Her lips lift and her eyes go wide.

  Does she even like swimming? I probably should have asked her.

  I stay quiet and let her take in her surroundings before asking her anything. Now that we’re alone together, I can’t think of shit to talk about. Maybe I should just get into the water? Tessa’s standing in the same spot she was the last time I looked at her. She’s pushing the dirt around with her shoe to avoid looking at me.

  Fuck this awkward shit. I’m getting into the water.

  I pull my T-shirt over my head and listen for the inevitable whimpering sound to come from Tessa. She doesn’t say much, but she’s very animated when it comes to matching a sound track to her expressions. With a smile usually comes a sigh, with annoyance comes huffing, and with arousal comes her panting.

  “Wait, why are you undressing?” she inquires. I don’t think she’s aware of just how hard she’s staring at my bare chest. She clears her throat and asks, “You’re going to swim? In that?”

  She points to the water with a look of disgust. Of course Little Miss Priss doesn’t want to get her clothes and hair wet.

  “Yeah, and you are, too. I do it all the time.” I pop open the button on my jeans, and Tessa continues to complain.

  Still, she watches me undress while doing so.

  “I am not swimming in that.”

  This water is clearer than most lakes I’ve ever seen, actually. Which is exactly why I can’t stand stuck-up, snobby girls who are afraid to get dirt under their manicured nails.

  “And why is that? It’s clean enough that you can see the bottom.” I point toward the sparkling water. I thought she would be more impressed than she is. The idea that I never know what she’s thinking unnerves me.

  “So . . . there are probably fish and God knows what in there!” she shrieks.

  Fish? Really? That’s what this strange girl is worried about?

  “Besides, you didn’t tell me we were going swimming, so I have nothing to swim in.”

  “You’re telling me you’re the kind of girl who doesn’t wear underwear?” I smile at her, desperate to see her in such attire. “Yeah, so go in your bra and panties.” There’s no way in hell she’s going for that. I can see the anger building behind those gray eyes, and I can’t wait to hear her reply.

  “I am not swimming in my underwear, you creep.” Tessa sits down on the grass a few feet above the bank. “I’ll just watch.”

  She smiles and crosses her legs.

  She’s staring at my body again. This time she’s looking at the outline of my cock in my boxers. Her cheeks are flushed, and she’s trying hard to look away, pretending to be focused on the bundle of grass blades in her hand.

  “You’re no fun. And you’re missing out,” I call to her as I jump into the cold water.

  Fuucckk, this water is colder than I thought. I swim out toward the opposite bank, where the sun hits the water all day and the temperature changes drastically.

  “The water is warm, Tess!” I call to her.

  She looks up from the pile of grass blades she’s building to distract herself. She’s bored out of her fucking mind, and I don’t have the first idea how to change that. She won’t even get into the water with me—what am I supposed to do?

  “This is one beyond-boring friendship so far . . .”

  Tessa rolls her eyes and lifts her head back to the sun.

  “At least take your sho
es off and put your feet in. It feels amazing, and pretty soon it will be too cold to swim in.”

  Tessa agrees and pulls off her shoes, placing them neatly beside her. Those shoes she wears are odd—they look like scraps of cloth taped to a piece of floppy cardboard. They can’t possibly be comfortable. She rolls her jeans up her legs and pulls her bottom lip between her teeth as she pushes her feet into the water.

  I wait for her to complain, but a wide smile fills her face. “It’s nice, isn’t it?” I ask her.

  She looks away, tilting her head farther into the sun.

  “So just come in.” I dip my head back into the water and soak my hair, trying to convince her.

  When I lift back up, Tessa is shaking her head. She still won’t get into the water. Christ, this woman is difficult. I splash water at her, and she shrieks, scooting back up the grass. I’ve never been at this place with someone else; it’s a little weird having company out here.

  How can I get her to come in? The entire day will be a huge waste of time if she doesn’t get into the water. I need to negotiate with her. But what would she want in return?

  She doesn’t seem like the compromising type . . .

  “If you come into the water, I’ll answer one of your always-intrusive questions. Any question that you want, but only one.” I say my idea out loud the moment it comes into my mind. She’s so nosy, this will thrill her.

  “This offer expires in one minute.” I have to give her a time limit or she’ll surely take all damn day. I dip under the water and hold my breath as I swim about twenty feet. Tessa is probably scowling above the surface. The thought makes me laugh, and I nearly choke on the water.

  “Tessa”—I wish she would just stop thinking so damn much—“stop overthinking everything, and just jump in.”

  She looks down at her outfit. “I don’t have anything to wear. If I jump in in my clothes, I’ll have to walk back to the car and ride back soaked.”

  “Wear my shirt.” With my offer, she frowns and looks at the piece of clothing in question lying close by on the grass. “Go on, just wear my shirt. It will be long enough for you to wear in the water and you can keep your bra and panties on . . . if you wish,” I add. I would very much enjoy it if she didn’t wear her bra or panties, but it’s up to her, of course.

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