Before by Anna Todd


  I wave my hand in the air. “May I?” I ask him, gesturing toward the room. I look inside his dark room and notice the size of the TV on his wall. It has to be at least sixty inches. Of course it is. There’s also a wall of signed jerseys hanging in shiny frames, probably handmade by some sweet lady at the craft store. She likely glued them together with her sweat, just for Landon. He seems to get whatever he wants. He stands only about two inches shorter than me and he’s got a lot of muscle on me. Where my body is tall and lean, his is shorter and more fit. He almost looks like a younger, nerdy version of David Beckham. He’s dressed in a WCU T-shirt and flannel trousers. There’s no hope for him.

  He looks me up and down and raises his eyebrow at my boxers.

  “Fuck off—your mum is the one who bought them,” I snap at him.

  He raises his hand to cover his mouth so he can pretend he’s not laughing. “I know, that’s why it’s funny.” He laughs to himself at my expense, and I’m reminded how annoying he is.

  “Never mind.” I push past him and head toward the bathroom. I should have known better than to try to talk to him.

  He raises his hands. “Wait, I’m sorry. I just thought it was funny because my mom still buys me those, even though I keep telling her they’re terrible.”

  I don’t laugh along with him, but the idea is a little funny. “I wanted to talk to you about Tessa.”

  He gets defensive. I watch as he stands a little taller and his lips press together. “What about her?”

  I push my hair back from my face. “I wanted to make sure you know she’s . . .”

  He raises his hands again, this time to shut me up. “Tessa knows what she’s doing; she doesn’t need me acting like she can’t take care of herself,” he says. His tone is stern, but there’s no malice in it.

  I have no idea what to say to that. I figured he would be the douchebag, protective friend who would tell her to run as far as she can from me.

  “Well . . .” I hesitate in the hallway. “I’m gonna go to bed now.” I look back at him as he’s closing his door and see a smile on his face. Well, that was awkward—but went better than I expected.

  After showering, I go back to my room and find Tessa in the bed, curled up like a kitten. Her eyes dart straight to the boxers I’m wearing. Ugly things.

  “I like them,” she lies.

  These things are fucking horrendous. You can’t even see how big my cock is. I shoot a dirty look at her before I tug on the lamp chain and grab the remote. I’m surprised the fancy Mr. Scott didn’t install a fucking holographic television in here. I turn it to a random channel for background noise and lower the volume close to silent. I climb into the bed and lie next to Tessa, facing her.

  “So, what were you going to tell me?” I ask her. She pulls her lip between her teeth. “Don’t be shy now—you’ve just made me come in my boxers.” I laugh at the irony of her embarrassment. I wrap my arms around her and pull her close to me.

  I wait for Tessa’s dramatic performance to end. I love how carefree she is sometimes. I seem to pull that from her, and I’m proud of it. When my dramatic friend returns to normalcy, her hair is a mess. Loose waves fall down around her face. Without thinking, I touch her hair and push it behind her ear. She has the tiniest little earrings on. They remind me of when I went through a phase of wanting to gauge my ears until my friend Mark’s got infected. They were disgusting, and the most horrid odor came from them.

  I need to think about something else.

  I kiss her softly on the lips, and she takes over my entire mind.

  “Are you still drunk?” Her question is yet another example of her being nosy and pushy.

  “No, I think our little screaming match in the yard sobered me up.”

  “Oh, well, at least something good came out of it.”

  I don’t know what to do with my arm. I should put it on her back? I’m not sure. I face her and touch it to her back. “Yeah, I guess so.” I rest my arm now, focusing on the way her head is lying on my chest. She moves with each of my breaths like she’s already gotten used to the position. I like that.

  She’s smiling, a bright smile, for me. “I think I actually like drunk Hardin better,” she says.

  Drunk Hardin . . .

  I can almost hear my mum’s voice shouting through our small house. “You’re nothing but a drunk, Ken!”

  I distract myself from the memories threatening to break through and ruin this time with her.

  She was probably teasing, anyway. I need to try to learn how to think before I speak. Being around Tessa is very good practice. “Is that so?”

  “Maybe.” She pouts. If she thinks this foolishness is going to make me forget that I want an answer from her, she’s dead wrong.

  Bringing the conversation back to the subject at hand, I say, “You’re terrible at distractions; now tell me.”

  “Well, I was just thinking of all the girls you’ve . . . you know, done things with . . .” The moment she finishes, she digs her head into my chest to hide.

  That’s what she’s thinking about right now? All I can think about is how I love the way her fluffy hair keeps tickling my nose and that she smells like she rolled in vanilla perfume before she came over. “Why were you thinking about that?”

  She sighs as if I should catch on to what she’s talking about. I have no idea. “I don’t know . . . because I have literally no experience and you have a lot. Steph included.” The bitterness in her voice is beyond evident. I imagine I would be the same if she were to fuck Zed. The thought is brief, but it comes with a sharpness that I didn’t expect.

  I throw that out of my mind for now. Zed has no place in this bed with her. I do wish he could see the way she’s looking up at me, though, eager for my attention.

  I can’t tell if she’s upset or jealous or curious. Sometimes I can read her like a book, and other times the book is shut.

  So, since I can’t figure it out, I decide to just ask her. “Are you jealous, Tess?”

  I hope like hell she is.

  “No, of course not.”

  She’s lying through her goddamn teeth.

  I’m going to play with her. She practically asked for it. Her body is so warm against mine. I’ve never lain like this in a bed before, cuddling with a girl after coming in my boxers. I’ve never done that before, and I’ve also never been that connected to someone during any type of sexual activity, and I sure as hell haven’t ever slept in bed with anyone before. “So you don’t mind if I tell you a few details, then?”

  She’s so quick to shriek, “No! Please don’t!” I tighten my arm around her and laugh a little. I like that the idea bothers her. I would rather drill holes into my eardrums than hear about her fucking someone else. I stare at the ceiling and try to remember if I ever even thought about what it would be like to spend my nights with someone else in my bed. Outside of a possible drunken thought or two, I haven’t. Tessa is quiet, too quiet. I think she may have fallen asleep. I reach for my phone on the table and check the time. It’s barely midnight.

  “You’re not going to sleep, are you? It’s still early,” I tease.

  “Is it?” Tessa’s voice is thick with sleep. She really was going to pass out on me. Honestly, I could use the sleep, but I want to spend more time with her. She yawns and I roll my eyes.

  I almost lie and tell her that it’s only ten. “Yeah, it’s only midnight.”

  I bet she sleeps the doctor-recommended eight hours every night. That’s why she’s always so smiley and happy and shit.

  “That isn’t early.” Her yawn is even cuter the second time.

  She’s usually easily persuaded, so I’ll see what I can do. “To me it is. Plus, I want to return the favor.”

  Tessa tenses in my arms. I can imagine the flush of her cheeks. Her mind is probably racing, imagining how a warm, wet tongue will feel sliding up and down her pussy or drawing small circles over her clit.

  “You want me to, don’t you?” I ask in my lowest voice.
She shivers next to me, and that’s my signal. She looks up at me, her lips turned up into a smile. I wrap my other arm around her and softly turn her body and mine so I’m on top of her. In my mind, her mouth is open in ecstasy. Her fingers are tugging at my hair, and her sweetness touches my tongue. In reality, Tessa wraps one leg around my back and pulls me closer. My fingers graze over her thigh and up to her knee.

  She feels so good under me. Her body is so tempting. I’m convinced that she was sent here just to torture me, to test every bit of my self-control. A small, soft voice in my head reminds me that maybe, just maybe, she was sent here for the opposite reason. Maybe I’m meant to be with her, to show her a new perspective on life? It’s probably complete rubbish, but maybe she’s not here to punish me—maybe she’s here to save me.

  “So soft . . .” I move my hand up and down her luscious legs again. The reminder of what’s at the end of those legs is thick in my mind and my boxers. She shivers again, her skin rising into small bumps. I love the consistent way her body reacts to me. Her lust never seems to falter; her body responds to my every touch. I wet my lips and press them to the inside of her knee. Her skin is so soft and tastes of vanilla. I could devour her entire body within seconds. Self-control . . . self-control . . .

  “I want to taste you, Tessa.” I watch her eyes, waiting for her to react. She has no idea of the level of pleasure I can bring her. My tongue will drive her crazy—she’ll never want me to stop.

  Tessa’s full lips part, and she leans into me, waiting for me to kiss her mouth. Her inexperience is both refreshing and frustrating.

  “No. Down here.” I tap her pussy over her panties, and she sucks in a harsh breath. Her chest moves up and down, and it seems like I can feel her hormones raging through her body. With gentle strokes, I tease her, and the wetness on her panties grows under my fingertips.

  She’s already soaked, and I tell her so. She’s so beautiful, and her beauty is even more radiant when she’s like this, swollen and wet for me. “Talk to me, Tessa. Tell me how badly you want it,” I urge her. It’s an obsession, to hear her beg for me.

  My fingers keep rubbing at her, focusing on her clit.

  “I didn’t want you to stop.” She’s whimpering. I love it.

  “You didn’t say anything,” I reply. “I didn’t know if you were enjoying it.”

  “Couldn’t you tell?”

  I pull my body up to sit on top of her thighs. I can’t keep my hands off her. My fingers trace the smooth skin on her thighs, making her body jerk under me.

  “Say it,” I push her. “No nodding—just tell me what you want, baby,” I encourage her. I love hearing her tell me how much she wants me.

  “I want you to . . .” She inches her body toward mine. I try to keep my hands to myself and let her come to me and tell me what she wants.

  I raise my brow. “Want me to what, Theresa?” I ask her.

  “You know . . . to kiss me.”

  I kiss her on her lips twice. She frowns.

  “Is that what you wanted?” I tease her. She playfully slaps my arm. I want to hear her beg for my tongue.

  “Kiss me . . . there.” Just as I move to obey her, Tessa covers her face and shakes her head. I can’t help but laugh as I reach for her hands, lowering them. Her scowl is deep. “You’re embarrassing me on purpose.” She’s actually upset. When did this happen?

  She rolls her eyes when I try to explain to her that I can’t help it, I just wanted to hear her say the words. “Never mind, Hardin.” She pulls the blanket over her body to hide from me. Damn it. She’s lying the other way now, staring at the wall.

  I hate that I made anything sexual a bad experience for her. In bed with me is supposed to be her haven, the place where she can shut off all thoughts and let everything go except for the pleasure I’m bringing her. I fucked up, and now this experience is going to piss her off every time she thinks about it. I shouldn’t have pushed her this hard. She’s so new to all of this and I’m a goddamn fool.

  “Hey, I’m sorry,” I say into her hair. I hate fighting with her. I was only teasing her; I just didn’t know when to stop. I’m an idiot sometimes, in case she hadn’t noticed.

  “Good night, Hardin.” Her voice is tough. She’s not in the mood to play games with me, so I use every bit of strength I have to let her be. The last thing I should do is push her even further.

  See, I’m learning, I want to say.

  “Fine, you stubborn ass,” I grumble back. I watch her breathing slow, then wrap my arm around her and try to fall asleep. She sighs a few times, mumbling incoherent thoughts. When she falls asleep, I sit up and watch her for a while, wondering how long she’s going to be mad at me and if I’m ever going to be able to figure out how to be a good boyfriend.

  twenty-one

  Everything was changing so quickly in his life, he barely had time to keep up. He was happy . . . he’d finally learned what the word meant. Every day was passing too quickly for him to realize what was happening. When she opened herself to him, he climbed right in, making a home inside of her. She willingly gave him the deepest part of her innocence and he took it knowing it wasn’t his to take, but he would be lying if he said he didn’t wish she would never find this out. He was loving her and using her, and he wasn’t sure how he could reconcile the two. He loved her, and he knew this wasn’t an excuse for all the mistakes he was making, one after another, but he hoped that he could enjoy the time he did have with her and possibly convince her that he was worth forgiveness.

  I’m pulling into Tessa’s dorm parking lot and wondering what the fuck my plan is. I had a clear idea when I left my place. I was going to come to her room, tell her everything, and beg for her forgiveness. It wasn’t a completely solid plan, but it’s all I had. The guilt is eating away at me, gnawing at my insides, begging for release. I’m terrified what will happen when I tell her, but she deserves to know. She has to know.

  I only had a little to drink. Just a few gulps to take the edge off.

  I can’t deceive her with my kiss or distract her with my touch for another hour. The parking spaces for Building B are never completely taken, and I park in the spot closest to the sidewalk. Her dorm reminds me of an old apartment building with a lot of windows, but the dark red brick gives it a creepy institution-like feel. It has the least amount of supervision by the staff of the university. I would know—I’ve been chased both from Buildings A and D.

  I type a quick text to Steph to tell her to stay the fuck away from the room if she’s out. She doesn’t respond within a minute, so I climb out of the car and hope she’ll be gone. There’s a text from Tessa below that, telling me good night. I should have responded. Why am I such a dick?

  The hallway is empty, and I nervously stand in front of room B20 instead of B22 without noticing for at least five minutes. I can’t decide if I should I knock on the door. She’s not exactly expecting me, but I’m sure she’s here. No, I shouldn’t knock. There’s no reason to. My hands are shaking when I turn the knob. As the wooden door creaks open, I walk straight in, hoping I’m not met with a shoe to the head or a dick in Steph’s mouth.

  My eyes adjust to the dark room just as the lamp clicks on.

  “What are you doing?” Tessa asks. She’s sitting upright, her eyes squinting in the harsh light.

  I pass Steph’s bed and stop a few feet away from Tessa’s. “I came here to see you,” I say, and now that I’m seeing her, something inside me shifts, calms. She turns to lie on her side and rests one hand on her hip. When she sits up, her bare feet hang over the edge of the mattress and her blond hair is wavy, covering most of her back. The cotton T-shirt she’s wearing looks so soft. I want to reach out and touch the soft fabric that clings to her skin. I crave being able to run my thumb along her forehead and brush the loose hair away from her face. I need to touch the pout on her lips.

  She frowns, her eyebrows push down her forehead, and she looks like an angry kitten. “Why?” Her voice is high and very whiny.


  Not knowing what to do with myself, I sit down in the chair at her tidy wooden desk. After a moment’s hesitation, I answer truthfully.

  “Because I missed you.”

  Disbelief and anger are crystal-clear as she rolls her eyes. Has she missed me?

  Do I comfort her in her sleep like she does for me, or do I haunt her dreams? I have no fucking clue.

  She sighs and her shoulders slump. “Then why did you leave?” Her words are soft. I take a moment to look around Tessa’s dorm. Her bed is unkempt for once; the duvet is bunched up at the end of the bed, and one of the pillows is hanging off the small mattress. Steph’s side of the room is messy, as usual, and I have to bite back a chuckle when I think about how much that must drive Tess crazy. I’m surprised she doesn’t clean her room while she’s alone in here. For all I know, she does.

  I shrug, and she crosses her arms in front of her chest. I have a lot to say, Tessa, please be quiet for once . . . “Because you were annoying me.”

  She huffs and kicks her feet like a primary-school student. “Okay, I’m going back to sleep; you’re drunk and you’re obviously going to be mean again.” She shakes her head, and her eyes fall closed. My chest burns from her anger, and my fists burn from mine.

  I try to convince her I’m not being mean, that I’m only a little drunk, and that I wanted to see her. I desperately try to stop myself from sitting on her bed with her. I want her to lie back on the bed and let me touch her. I keep up my sweet talk and try to make her smile.

  She’s not buying it. “You should just go,” she says. She lies down with her back toward me, turning to face the wall. Stubborn little child, she is. It’s half infuriating and half cute.

  If she wants to act like a child, I will treat her like one. “Aww, baby, don’t be mad at me.” Her shoulders tense, and I wish I could see her face. Though it was meant to annoy her, the word baby feels so nice when attached to her. “Do you really want me to go? You know what happens when I sleep without you.” I hope that my vulnerability will touch something in her.

 
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