Before by Anna Todd


  “Can’t you call them?” I ask.

  “No, my phone is in my friend’s purse,” she says with a sigh. “I didn’t want to have to bring one. I knew I shouldn’t have come here. Parties aren’t my thing.” Her voice grows louder, and she begins to gesture with her hands. “And yet Macy begged and begged. It will be fun, she said—we’ll only stay for an hour, she said.”

  With a little huff her nose crinkles up, and I bite down on my bottom lip to keep from laughing.

  She flushes, embarrassed. “What?”

  “Nothing,” I lie. She’s pretty damn cute. “Do you want a drink or something?”

  “I don’t drink often,” she says softly.

  “Often or at all?”

  “Sometimes, but definitely not at crowded parties with a bunch of strangers.”

  “Well, I guess that makes sense.” I smile, letting her know that I find it kind of cool that she’s not feeling the need to get wasted like the rest of the girls here. Or the boys, for that matter.

  “It’s not like I can’t have fun without being trashed.”

  “Okay.” I nod, finding her more attractive by the second. “Well, I can get you some water or pop and you can hang out with me and my friends until you find yours?”

  “Um, I’m not sure.” She looks around the living-room-ful of strangers. “I don’t know anyone, and parties like this are usually pretty shady.” Her gaze moves to two drunk guys circling a group of freshman girls in small dresses.

  She’s got a point.

  Nate waves at me from across the room, and I look at this intriguing girl once more.

  “Well, if you decide you don’t want to stand here alone, you’re more than welcome to join us over there.” I point toward the group and watch her eyes widen as she takes in the hundred or so tattoos among the lot of us.

  “They’re nicer than they look,” I tease. When she smiles uncertainly, I add, “Well, some of them, anyway.”

  She surprises me by barking out a little laugh and then following me over to my group of friends. Tristan stands up, allowing her to sit on the couch, and she politely thanks him. I haven’t seen him too much lately, but I’m glad he’s back from Louisiana, single and officially done with Steph’s bullshit.

  “Here’s to the last year of this college bullshit.” He raises his cup and taps Logan’s. Molly joins in and adjusts herself on his lap.

  “Ugh, not for me—I still have two more,” Nate complains. The girl he’s been seeing—Briana, I think—rolls her eyes, mutters what I think is a playful “Drama queen,” and grabs his cup to take a drink.

  “I should have gone to a trade school.” He tilts his head back, and the girl watches him in amusement. “College fucking blows.”

  “I told you you should have taken that apprenticeship at the tattoo shop,” she scolds him. He rolls his eyes and tugs at the tiny strap holding her shirt on one of her shoulders; half of her deep brown skin is showing, but I sure as hell don’t mind.

  “I’m still thinking about it,” he tells her. Honestly, it sounds like a decent play, since he’s having such a hard time finishing college.

  “Anyway, enough of this boring career-planning shit. Who’s this?” Molly points to the girl I met in the hallway.

  “This is . . .” I look at her for help. I forgot to ask her damn name.

  “Therise,” she says, and I get a tiny hint of an accent I hadn’t noticed before.

  Damn.

  “You’ve gotta be shitting me.” Molly laughs, leaning against Logan.

  “Nice name.” Jace smirks, licking along the edges of the rolling paper in his hands.

  “Wanna play a game, Therise?” Molly says with a tone I know. “Truth or Dare?” She looks to me, and I shake my head.

  “No, no one wants to play that shit,” I say, glaring at Molly. Therise is clueless and looks anxious and slightly uncomfortable.

  “Oh, come on. I bet it would be fun,” Jace says.

  Molly nods along. “Yeah, from the looks of her, maybe you could win—”

  Logan reaches up and covers his girlfriend’s mouth. I still can’t believe these two are together.

  “Cut it out,” he says to her.

  She rolls her eyes but stays quiet once his hand moves from her big mouth.

  “I’m not having any part in a repeat of last year. That was too much drama.” Logan kisses Molly’s bare shoulder, and she smiles, for real this time, looking far less evil while doing so.

  Therise looks at me with a wrinkled brow, then at everyone else and their suddenly weird energy. “What was last year?” she asks.

  “Nothing,” I proclaim, and look at my friends, hoping they’ll keep their mouths closed. I just met this girl—it’s too early for her to be bombarded with this crap.

  “This guy named Hard—” Molly just can’t keep her mouth closed.

  “We aren’t going to talk about Hessa anymore!” Logan groans. “They’re like that reality-show couple that no one was supposed to mention.”

  “What the fuck is a Hessa?” Nate’s girl asks.

  Molly proudly raises her hand. “I came up with it!” she practically shouts. “I get full credit for that shit. I named those crazy fucks, and I expect an invite to their wedding.” She laughs. Her hair is a washed-out pink; it’s faded a lot, and she hasn’t dyed it in a while. It’s mostly blond now and in an elvin haircut.

  “They aren’t getting married,” I snap at her.

  I’m so tired of hearing about those two. I’m tired of seeing Tessa’s posts on Facebook. She’s so happy in New York; Hardin’s so happy; everyone is so damn happy.

  Yay for them.

  “Not right now, but I would bet money on that shit.” She smiles. “And I? I would win.” She’s drawn circles around her eyes with black pencil, and when she winks at me, she looks like a cat.

  Logan adds salt to my wound by nodding sagely to this. Like it’s so obvious to everyone.

  Molly waves her hand for silence among the group. “Anyway, before you all came, we were reliving the grand tale of Zed’s ex-girlfriend.”

  “Wasn’t my girlfriend,” I say through gritted teeth.

  “Damn,” someone says. Jace, maybe?

  “Well . . .” Therise stands to her feet and awkwardly cracks her knuckles. “This is when I leave.” She smiles hesitantly and walks away.

  I must have a pained or annoyed or angry expression—I felt all of those things—because Logan pipes up, “You may as well let her go; you’re only going to gain another enemy. She probably has a boyfriend who’ll slash the tires on your truck.”

  Apparently my friends have all decided they’ll give me shit all week about my history of expensive mistakes.

  This expectation that my dating life will always be one disaster after another deflates my anger a little bit. I don’t have the energy to be mad, really, when it’s always the same. “I didn’t know that chick was engaged, and I’m pretty sure it was her, not her fiancé, that did that shit,” I say, and cringe when I remember what Jonah Soto did to my car. That dude should not be able to hold a professor position here. Total nutcase.

  Nate shrugs, taking a swig of his drink. “Stop sleeping with random chicks, then.”

  “That was over a year ago, and how was I supposed to know that her fiancé was going to be a professor here?”

  That whole weekend was a disaster. If I’d known the chick was at the club for her own bachelorette party, I wouldn’t have gone home with her. I mean, there’s a reason tradition dictates they wear those tacky feather boas and fake tiaras and that sash that reads BACHELORETTE or something. It’s like a fair-warning label so that guys don’t do something stupid—or she doesn’t do something stupid. The sash is like the first thing you’d have to take off, so it being there is a big reminder to her that, oh yeah, she’s getting married. In this case—the very next day.

  It was just my luck that the only time in my life I had a one-night stand, this was the result. (I may have led my friends to belie
ve a generally exaggerated version of my sex life, but they don’t need to know that.) The guy was cool, cooler than I would have been, until he tried to get me removed from the science program and fought to keep Hardin from being expelled. No one seemed to question why a young professor would take the side of a troublemaker he doesn’t even know. That was bullshit, but at the end of the day, I’m glad Hardin wasn’t expelled.

  “Who are you all talking shit to, anyway”—I wave an arm at the group—“because Molly here has fucked half of you.”

  “Watch it,” Logan warns, and everyone tenses.

  But instead of arguing with him, I choose to follow after the new girl.

  I don’t know her, but she seems chill and she’s drop-dead gorgeous. Yes, she reminds me of Tessa, and yes, it’s taken a long time for me to get over that one, and maybe this is a bad idea—but aren’t most things?

  With all that swirling through my mind, I get up to find her.

  I didn’t mean for the situation with Tessa to become what it did. I cared about her, yes, but I got caught up in my stupid jealousy and petty need for some type of revenge against Hardin for his having sex with Samantha. I did like Tessa a lot, but my feelings for her were nothing close to the way Hardin felt about her.

  Samantha was amazing; she was fun and a few years older than me. That was a turn-on, but she was wild. Since this thing with Tessa ended, I’ve often thought her relationship with Hardin was equivalent to what I had with Samantha. But Samantha slept with Hardin, and didn’t see much of a problem with it. She acted like it was a normal thing to do, to sleep with my friend. He didn’t care either, of course.

  I cared. I was devastated and pissed, and I let it fester inside of me, waiting for the right time to strike back at him. Tessa trusted me, even after my involvement with the Bet in the beginning. I was the one who told her the details about it, and she always came to me when she needed me. That was the problem, though: she only came to me when he tossed her to the side, and I’m not about that kind of thing. I don’t want to always be second choice. And besides, it was too much drama, and after the initial win of getting under Hardin’s skin, it became exhausting to keep running to her rescue and keep up with their childish relationship.

  I should have left her alone after her psycho boyfriend hit me the first time. But no, his anger only spurred me to keep going and win. Why should he get to sleep with Samantha, then participate in the Bet, and then get to decide when everything’s okay and settled and the game’s over and I have to stop caring?

  It was all so childish. I can see that now. I shouldn’t have tried to come on to her that night at her mom’s house, and I shouldn’t have said half the shit that I did. My stupidity has kept me single since then, and I haven’t heard from Tessa in over a year. The sad thing is that I miss talking with her.

  I’ve been told she moved to New York City with her friend Landon, but I know it won’t be long until Hardin follows her there. As much as I hate to admit it, they have something special between them. As dysfunctional as they are, I’ve never seen two people fight for each other the way those two do. Hardin sure as hell doesn’t deserve her, but it’s not my place to interfere, not anymore.

  I step outside and scan the yard for Therise, then spy her perched on top of the broken stone wall, bringing another memory to mind. She’s picking at the chipped stone, and when I approach her, she moves to jump down.

  “Wait.” I hold up my hand and wave it in a gesture of peace. “I can help you find your friends or find someone to give you a ride home.”

  “I don’t know.” She eyes me carefully, watching for hints of a serial killer, maybe.

  “It’s only a ride home. My friends are loudmouths, but none of them will hurt you. I’ll come along if you wish. I’ve been drinking, so I can’t take you.”

  I raise a brow to her; she shakes her head. “Wow, so the cute punk boy does have some common sense.” She smiles, mocking me in a sweet way.

  “Sometimes,” I admit with a shrug. I reach out to shake her hand. “I’m Zed.”

  She hesitates for a moment before reaching for my hand.

  “It’s nice to meet you, Z-ed.” She says my name like she’s afraid to swallow it.

  “Nice to meet you, too, Therise.”

  Landon

  He hated the perfect boy before he even met him. When his dad told him he was getting a new brother, it was like he was expected to be happy about it. He was supposed to suddenly care about things like family and dinners and baked goods so he could keep up with his father’s new son.

  When he met this other child, his hatred only grew. He knew he didn’t have a reason beyond pure jealousy to hate him, but still he did. He couldn’t name athletes or keep up with sports like his father’s new son could, and he couldn’t charm the table at a dinner party. He knew he couldn’t compete with the boy, but as he changed his life, he realized he’d never really had to. He fought so hard—too hard—to keep his distance from the Golden Boy who in the end would become his closest friend.

  The first three thoughts that go through my mind each day are:

  It’s less crowded here than I thought.

  I hope Tessa is off work today so we can hang out.

  I miss my mom.

  Yes, I’m a sophomore at New York University, but my mom is one of my best friends.

  I miss home a lot. It helps to have Tessa around; she’s the closest thing to family I have out here.

  I know college students do this all the time; they leave home and can’t wait to be away from their hometowns, but not me. I happened to like mine, even if it’s not where I grew up. I had a plan at the time I applied to NYU; it just didn’t work out the way it was supposed to. I was supposed to move here and start my future with Dakota, my long-term girlfriend from high school. I had no idea that she would decide she wanted to spend her first year at college single.

  I was devastated. I still am, but I want her to be happy, even if it’s not with me.

  The city’s chilly in September, but there’s barely any rain compared to Washington. So that’s something, at least.

  As I walk to work, I check my phone, like I do about fifty times a day. My mom’s pregnant with my little sister, and I want to be sure that if anything happens I can get on a plane and be there for her quickly. So far the only messages from her have been pictures of the amazing things she whips up in the kitchen.

  Not emergencies, but, man, I miss her cooking.

  The streets are crowded as I make my way through them. I’m waiting at the crosswalk with a crowd of people, mostly tourists with heavy cameras around their necks. I laugh to myself when a teenage boy holds up a giant iPad to take a selfie.

  I will never understand this impulse.

  When the light turns yellow and the crosswalk sign starts flashing, I turn up the volume on my headphones.

  Out here I pretty much wear headphones all day. The city is so much louder than I had anticipated, and I find it helpful to have something that blocks some of it out and at least colors those sounds that get in with something I like.

  Today it’s Hozier.

  I even wear the headphones while working—in one ear at least, so I can still hear the coffee orders shouted to me. I’m a little distracted today by two men, both dressed in pirate outfits and screaming at each other, and as I walk into the shop, I bump into Aiden, my least favorite coworker.

  He’s tall, much taller than me, and he has this white-blond hair that makes him look like Draco Malfoy, so he kind of creeps me out. On top of his Draco resemblance, he happens to be a little rude sometimes. He’s nice to me, but I see the way he looks at the college girls who come into Grind. He acts like the coffee shop is named after a club rather than coffee grounds.

  As he smiles down at them, flirting and making them squirm under his “handsome” gaze, I find it all pretty off-putting. He’s not that handsome, actually; maybe if he was nicer, I could see it.

  “Watch it, man,” Aiden mumbles, slappin
g my shoulder like we’re crossing a football field together in matching jerseys.

  He’s making record time in annoying me today . . .

  But brushing it off, I head into the back and tie my yellow apron around my waist and check my phone. After I clock in, I find Posey, a girl who I’m supposed to be training for a couple of weeks. She’s nice. Quiet, but she’s a hard worker, and I like that she always takes the free cookie we offer her every training day as an incentive to be a little happier during the shift. Most trainees decline it, but she’s eaten one every single day this week, sampling the variety: chocolate, chocolate macadamia, sugar, and some mystery greenish flavor that I think is some gluten-free all-natural localvore thing.

  “Hey,” I say, smiling at her where she leans against the ice machine. Her hair is tucked behind her ears, and she’s reading the back of one of the bags of ground coffee. When she looks up at me, she smiles a quick greeting, then returns her eyes to the bag.

  “It still makes no sense that they charge fifteen dollars for a thing of coffee this small,” she says, tossing the bag to me.

  I barely catch it and then it nearly slips from my hands, but I grab it tightly.

  “We.” I correct her with a laugh, and sit the bag down on the break table where it came from. “We charge that.”

  “I haven’t worked here long enough to be included in the ‘we,’ ” she teases, and grabs a hair band off her wrist and lifts her curly reddish-brown hair into the air behind her. It’s a lot of hair, and she ties it up neatly, then nods her signal that she’s ready to work.

  Posey follows me out to the floor and waits by the cash register. She’s mastering taking customers’ orders this week, and will likely be making the drinks next. I like taking orders the most, because I would rather talk to people than burn my fingers on that espresso machine, like I do every shift.

  I’m putting everything in order at my station when the bell attached to the door sounds. I look over to Posey to see if she’s ready, and sure enough, she’s already perked up, all set to greet the morning’s caffeine addicts. Two girls approach the counter chatting loudly. One of the voices strikes me, and I look over at them to see Dakota there. She’s dressed in a sports bra, loose shorts, and bright sneakers. She must have just finished a run; if she were leaving for a dance class, she’d be dressed slightly differently. She’d be wearing a one-piece and tighter shorts. And she would look just as good. She always does.

 
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