Before by Anna Todd


  The stupid-ass fraternity does have its perks, I guess. A massive house with parties almost every night, a constant stream of endless pussy. And the best part of all: no one fucks with me.

  None of the pissant frat boys seem to mind the fact that I don’t do shit to actually represent the house. I don’t wear their stupid sweatshirts or plaster their stupid bumper stickers on my car. I don’t participate in any of the volunteer shit, and I sure as hell don’t go around yelling the name of the shit. They do some okay shit for the community, but they don’t actually give a fuck about the community, and none of that matters.

  When I glance around the room, I realize I’m alone. Molly must have left without me even noticing.

  I get up and open the window to air the place out before it gets used again tonight. All of these empty rooms in the house work in my favor since I can’t stand to have people in my own. It’s too personal or something, I don’t know, but I don’t like it, and everyone has learned one way or another not to come in here. Molly and whichever other girls come around know we’re bound for these empty rooms and not mine.

  As I approach my door, I see Logan stumbling down the hall, a short, curly-haired girl under his arm. She isn’t quiet about what she wants to do to him, and I’m not quiet about my disgust.

  “Get a damn room!” I shout to them.

  She giggles and he flips me off and I close and dead-bolt the door. That’s the pattern around here. Everyone sort of ignores me or simply tells me in one way or another to fuck off. I’m okay with that. I’d much rather sit here, in my room, alone, waiting for the next artificial high.

  My fingers trace over the dusty shelves of my bookcase. I can’t decide which novel I feel like living right now . . . Hemingway, maybe? He can give me a good dose of cynical. The middle Brontë sister? I could use a dysfunctional bullshit love story right now. I grab Wuthering Heights and kick my boots off before lying down in my bed.

  I don’t know what it is about this novel that brings me to read and reread it so many damn times, but I always find myself skimming the pages of the dark tale. It’s fucked up, really—two people coming together, then falling part. Destroying themselves and everyone around them because they were too selfish and stubborn to get their shit together.

  But to me that’s the best type of fucking story. I want to feel something while I’m reading, and sappy, roses-and-sunshine novels make me want to vomit on their pages and burn away the evidence afterward.

  “Fuck, yes!” I hear a female voice screech through the paper-thin walls.

  “Shut the fuck up!” I pound my fist against the old wood, grabbing my pillow and pushing it against my ears.

  One more fucking year. One more year of bullshit courses and easy exams. One more year of boring parties full of people who care way too much what everyone thinks about them. One more goddamn year of keeping to myself and I can get my ass back to London, where I belong.

  two

  To this day, he can still remember the way vanilla filled the small dorm room the first time he was alone with her. Her hair was soaked, she had a towel wrapped around her curvy body, and it was the first time he paid attention to the way her chest flushed when she was mad. He would see her mad again, so damn mad, more times than he could count, but he would never, ever, forget the way she tried to be polite to him at first. He took her politeness as pride. Another stubborn girl who pretends to be a woman, he thought. The strange girl kept on being as patient as she could. For no reason at all. She didn’t owe him anything, she still doesn’t, and he can only hope to see her mad at him again and again, for the rest of his life.

  He grasps for the memories of those days now, as he sits alone, trapped by his own mistakes. These memories of his anger, of her anger, are a few of the only things that kept him afloat after she left him.

  The first day of the fall semester is always the absolute best for people-watching. So many fucking idiots running around like chickens with their heads cut off, so many girls dressed in their favorite outfits in a desperate attempt to gain attention from men.

  It’s the same cycle every year at every college across the globe. Washington Central University just happens to be where I’m condemned to attend. I like it enough; it’s easy, and my professors cut me a lot of slack. Despite my lack of giving an actual fuck, I’m pretty decent academically. If I “applied myself more,” I could be even better, but I don’t have the time or the energy to waste obsessing over grades or plans or anything that could be obsessed over. I’m not as stupid as the professors always assume I’ll be. I can miss an entire week of class and still ace an exam. I’ve learned that as long as I can do that, they’ll leave me be.

  The front of the Student Union is the prime location for the show. Sitting here watching all the parents in tears has to be my favorite part. It’s amusing to me because my mum couldn’t seem to get rid of me quick enough, and some of the parents here act like their damn arms are getting cut off when their children—adult children, might I remind you—are off to college. They should be happy, not sobbing like annoying children, that their kids are actually doing something with their lives. If they took a walk around my old neighborhood, they would kiss the ground of Washington Central University for giving their child a chance in the world.

  A woman with huge fake tits and bleached hair hugs her puny, plaid-shirt-wearing son, and I’m full on grinning as he starts to cry into his mum’s shoulder. Fucking pussy. His dad is standing back, away from the pathetic sight, checking his expensive watch, waiting for his son and wife to stop their blubbering.

  I can’t imagine how that would feel, having my parents obsess over me. My mum cared enough, when she wasn’t working from sunup to sundown, leaving me to fend for myself as she made up for my shitbag father’s lack of common sense. She tried to make up for it the best she could, but one can only do so much when so much has already been lost. And I fought her help. Every step of the way. I wouldn’t accept it then and still won’t accept it now. Not from her, not from anyone.

  “Hey, man.” Nate sits down across from me at the picnic table and pulls a cigarette from his pocket. “What’s the plan for the night?” he asks as his fingers flick over the lighter.

  I shrug and pull my phone from my pocket to check the time. “I don’t know; we’re meeting Steph in her room.”

  As he smokes, Nate annoys me into agreeing to walk to Steph’s dorm from the Student Union. It’s not a far walk, fifteen minutes or so, but I’d much rather drive than push through the masses of eager pupils decked out in their college best.

  By the time we reach the dorms, Nate is going on about the party this weekend. It’s always the same every single weekend. What’s there to be excited about?

  Everything is always the same for me. Same group of friends, same amount of sex, same parties, same old shit, different day.

  I’m about to barge into the room when Nate reminds me, “We should knock. Remember how pissed she was last time?”

  I laugh to myself. Yeah, I do remember that day. It was last semester, and I walked into Steph’s dorm room without knocking. I found her on her knees in front of some asshole. I call him an asshole because . . . well, because he was wearing flip-flops. A man-child in flip-flops is automatically an asshole in my book. He was embarrassed, and Steph was pissed. As he snuck out, she threw just about every item she owned in the direction of my head.

  It made my entire week to see her so horrified. To this day, I give her shit about it.

  I finally stop laughing at the memory when I hear her yell for us to come inside.

  And when I do, I’m greeted by the sight of a blond guy in a cardigan standing in the middle of Steph’s room. Steph is standing between Nate and me, looking at the newcomers with amusement dancing in her eyes. It takes me a moment to notice a tense-looking woman and younger girl with them. The woman is hot . . . my eyes take her body in: tall frame, long blond hair, decent tits.

  “Hey, you Steph’s roomie?” Nate says, and
I finally get a good look at the girl.

  She’s decent enough: pouty lips, long blond hair. That’s about all I can tell, because the chick is wearing clothes that are three times her size. I notice the way her skirt literally touches the floor, and cringe inwardly. Just from a glance, I can tell college is not going to be fun for this girl.

  Case in point: she’s staring down at her feet, nervous as hell. What’s wrong with her?

  “Um . . . yes. My name is Tessa,” she mumbles. Her voice is quiet, obnoxiously so.

  I look over at Steph, who smiles a slick smile and sits down on her bed, never taking her eyes off the girl.

  Nate responds with a smile, always the friendlier of the two of us. “I’m Nate. Don’t look so nervous.”

  I don’t see the point in small talk, especially with this little mouse. She’s staring at Nate wide-eyed, and he reaches out to touch her shoulder.

  “You’ll love it here,” he adds.

  He’s full of shit.

  Steph’s roommate looks terrified as her eyes rake over the band posters hanging on the wall. This girl couldn’t have been a worse match for her. She’s quiet, timid, scared of the world, apparently. She’s lucky I’m feeling nice today; otherwise I would have made her even more uncomfortable.

  “I’m ready, guys,” Steph says, popping up from the bed. She pushes her purse thing up onto her shoulder and walks toward the door. The blond boy—likely her roommate’s brother—is staring at me, and I glare in his direction.

  “See you around, Tessa.” Nate waves goodbye to the girl, and I notice her staring at me. Her eyes move from my eyebrow ring to the loop in my lip and back and forth between both of my arms. Then I notice the woman and that dude are doing the same thing.

  What? You all’ve never seen tattoos before? I want to ask, but I get the feeling her mum isn’t as nice as the rack she sports, so I may as well behave. For now.

  The moment we step into the hallway, we hear the woman shriek, “You’re getting a new dorm!”

  Steph bursts into laughter, and Nate and I join in as we walk down the hall.

  three

  The next morning I don’t feel like going to my first class, so I head to Steph’s room instead. She’s probably still asleep, but I’m bored and her dorm is closer to my next class than anyone else’s in the crew. I text her and tell her I’m on way, but I don’t wait for her reply.

  The hallway of the old building is nearly empty, only a few frantic stragglers rushing by with their arms full of books. I knock, so as not to give Miss Prim a heart attack, and, hearing no reply, let myself in with the key Steph has given me.

  To keep myself from falling asleep on Steph’s shitty mattress, I flip through the basic cable channels. Just as some stuffy “doctor” is giving marriage advice to two idiots, the door opens and Steph’s roommate rushes in. She’s wrapped in a wet towel, and her long, soaked hair is stuck to her face in an almost comical way. As her eyes widen with surprise, I turn the TV off and stare at the specimen before me.

  “Um . . . Where is Steph?” she practically squeaks. She stares down at the floor, back to me, to the floor again.

  I smile at her embarrassment and stay silent.

  “Did you hear me? I asked you where Steph is.” Her voice is softer now, more polite.

  My smile grows. “I don’t know.”

  She’s squirming, and I suspect that with how hard she’s gripping the edges of her towel, she’ll shred the material. I turn the TV back on and sit up.

  “Okay? Well, could you like . . . leave or something, so I can get dressed?”

  Well, I’m not going to leave. Not when I just found the only comfortable position on this bed.

  I roll over and cover my face with my hands to humor her. “Don’t flatter yourself—it’s not like I am going to look at you.”

  She’s awfully full of herself to think that I would sit and stare at her.

  Well . . . okay, I probably would, especially given that the towel she’s wearing is hugging her body in a damn nice way.

  I hear her shuffling around, the sound of a bra fastening, and her breathing heavily. She’s nervous still, and I would love to see her face as she tries to put her clothes on as fast as she can. I would uncover my eyes just to annoy her, but I’m in a decent mood. Plus, I’m only going to see this girl a few times, so may as well keep it somewhat civil.

  “Are you done yet?” I roll my eyes under my hands.

  “Could you be any more disrespectful? I did nothing to you. What is your problem?” she yells.

  The fuck? I hadn’t expected such a smartass mouth on such an innocent-looking girl. She’s trying hard to be patient with me, and I’m trying hard to make her explode. I can’t help but laugh.

  As I stare at Steph’s pissed-off roommate, it feels odd laughing this way, this hard, but her expression is just fucking priceless. She’s so pissed.

  The door shoots open, and Steph enters, dressed in last night’s clothes. “Sorry I’m late. I have a hell of a hangover,” she whines.

  I roll my eyes again. Of course she has a hangover . . . when doesn’t she?

  “Sorry, Tess, I forgot to tell you Hardin would be coming by.” She shrugs her shoulders. Like she gives a fuck.

  “Your boyfriend is rude,” the blond girl snaps.

  That does it for me, and I laugh again. Steph looks at me, brow raised at how much I’m laughing.

  “Hardin Scott is not my boyfriend!” she exclaims—maybe a little too emphatically—and starts choking on laughter along with me.

  We’ve fucked around before, but never dated.

  I don’t date.

  “What did you say to her?” Steph turns to me and puts her hands on her hips in a failed attempt to scold me. Then she turns to the girl. “Hardin has a . . . a unique way of conversing.”

  Conversing? I’m not attempting to talk to either of them. I shrug my shoulders and go back to finding some mindless shit to watch.

  “There’s a party tonight—you should come with us, Tessa,” I hear Steph say. Yeah, right, like this chick is going to go to a party? I pull my lip ring between my teeth to stop from laughing again. I stare straight ahead at the TV.

  “Parties aren’t really my thing. Plus I have to go get some things for my desk and walls.”

  “C’mon . . . it’s just one party! You’re in college now—just one party won’t hurt,” Steph practically pleads, trying to convince her. “Wait, how are you getting to the store? I thought you didn’t have a car?”

  “I was going to take the bus. And besides, I can’t go to a party—I don’t even know anyone,” she responds. I laugh again. “I was going to read and Skype with Noah.”

  Because going to a store is so much fun. I bet she shops at fucking Target; she seems like the type. And her Skype date . . . I bet she’s going to show an ankle to her poor excuse of a boyfriend.

  “You don’t want to take the bus on a Saturday! They’re way too packed. Hardin can drop you on the way to his place . . . right, Hardin?” Steph glances at me.

  I won’t be dropping anyone off anywhere.

  “And you’ll know me at the party,” Steph continues. “Just come . . . please?”

  “I don’t know . . . and no, I don’t want Hardin to drive me to the store,” the obnoxious girl whines. I shift over and smile at the two of them; it’s all I can do, since they’re both annoying the shit out of me.

  “Oh no! I was really looking forward to hanging out with you,” I say. “Come on, Steph, you know this girl isn’t going to show at the party.” I take a moment to look at the way her white T-shirt is tight across her chest and hips. She should dress this way instead of that long-ass skirt she was wearing the other day. Her khaki shorts are still too long, but you can’t win ’em all.

  “Actually, yeah, I’ll come,” the girl says—Tessa was her name, I think. Yeah, it was. I hear shrieking and squealing, and it’s my cue to leave when the girls start hugging and shit.

  “Yay! We’ll have so
much fun!” Steph promises the girl as I leave the room.

  I DRIVE FARTHER on to campus and sit through the rest of my classes for the day. Afterward, I get a text from Nate to meet him and Tristan at Blind Bob’s and head that way. I turn the music up in my car and roll the window down. When I was a teen, I used to think people were fucking show-offs when they blasted music from their car windows, but now I get it. Sometimes I just want to drown out the world around me, and music and reading are the only things that do that for me. Everyone has their thing, and these are mine.

  When I need silence, the noise helps.

  Better than a fifth of Jack, I suppose. My mum, crying on the phone in the middle of the night, would say so.

  “What took so long?” Tristan takes a bite from a hamburger; half the toppings fall onto the plate in front of him.

  “Traffic was a bitch.” I slide into the booth next to Nate. Our usual server nods at me, and moments later she appears at the table with a glass of water.

  “Still sober, yeah?” Nate questions; his eyes carefully avoid my glass as he takes a drink of his beer.

  “Yep. Still sober.” I finish half the glass of water, trying not to think about the way an ice-cold beer would taste on my tongue.

  “Good for you, man. I know everyone gives you shit about it, but I think it’s pretty fucking awesome, the self-control you have.”

  At Nate’s praise, I shift awkwardly.

  Tristan laughs, wiping a napkin across his chin. “Self-control? I heard Molly screaming your name just last night.”

  “Well, sober with drinking. No, no, of course not chicks.” Nate laughs along, pushing his shoulder into mine, and I’m thankful for the change in tone. It was getting too personal for my liking.

 
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