Before by Anna Todd


  Nate ends up convincing me to let him drive my car. He only had one beer, and I don’t feel like driving really, so I agree to let him if he drives me to pick up Steph and her roommate.

  “She’s been blowing up my phone, says you won’t answer her,” Nate says as we pull out of the parking lot.

  I roll my eyes. “I told her an hour ago that I would give them a ride.” Steph can be really fucking annoying.

  “I just told her we’re on our way. I’m glad that Tessa girl is coming with her,” he says, and rolls down the driver’s-side window.

  “Why?”

  “Because she seems nice and should definitely get out more. Steph said she thinks her boyfriend is her only friend or something.”

  “Boyfriend? You mean Mother Theresa has a boyfriend?” I scoff. Wait, the blond guy in the dorm? They look like siblings, not boyfriend and girlfriend. Is that who she’s Skyping with? Definitely a fully clothed video, then—with an added blazer, probably, for protection.

  “Yeah, he was there with her, that preppy dude.”

  “Go figure.” I laugh and turn up the music. Tess and her stuck-up Gap-model boyfriend would hate this music. I turn it up even louder.

  When we pull into the parking lot of Steph’s dorm, my phone buzzes. It’s Molly’s name, so I hit ignore.

  “Ladies.” Nate greets the girls as they walk up to the car. Steph is dressed in a fishnet dress, and her tagalong is wearing what looks like a maroon sack. I don’t get it. I saw the outline of her body in that towel—why does she wear this hideous shit?

  “You do know that we’re going to a party, not a church—right, Theresa?” I say as she climbs into the car.

  “Please don’t call me Theresa. I prefer Tessa,” she says succinctly. Snobbily.

  I knew her name would be Theresa. I’ve read enough novels to put that together. I seem to have struck a chord with this one.

  “Sure thing, Theresa,” I taunt her. As we drive, I glance in the mirror a few times to look at her. She doesn’t appear annoyed when she doesn’t know my eyes are on her. The house is close; we only have to sit through a few minutes of awkward silence until we arrive. Nate parks in front of the house behind a line of cars.

  She huffs and rolls her eyes. “It’s so big—how many people will be here?” Theresa asks. Doesn’t the full lawn give that away?

  “A full house. Hurry up,” I tell her, shutting the car door. She just sits there, in shock, I think, and I walk up the yard.

  four

  He knew from early on, from their first encounter to the first time she used that smart mouth against him, that he felt something different when it came to her. He wasn’t sure . . . no, he had no fucking idea that the fire inside of her would weaken, then be extinguished by his habit of making mistake after mistake, but often he finds himself sitting alone, reliving the days when she was on fire. When her voice and her actions were filled with so much passion that the air between them would fill with smoke. He should have known that that much passion would lead to destruction, to the burning of her soul, and make every ounce of her spirit disintegrate, taking the girl he loved, the girl that he couldn’t and still can’t breathe without, and he would have to watch her drift away, with the last few clouds of gray smoke.

  I walk through the crowded party, pushing my way through a group of wasted assholes playing some sort of drinking game to occupy their time while trying desperately to fit in. Their bloodshot eyes and stupid grins make me nauseous as I pass them. One by one they give me the same “he’s an asshole” look, while tossing plastic balls into beer-filled cups and cheering as if they’ve won some sort of medal for being completely brainwashed into drinking the cheapest beer from shared cups.

  When I get to the crowded hallway, I spot Steph and her tagalong. The blond girl looks clueless, completely out of place in the swarm of moving bodies. A drink is pushed into her hand, and she smiles politely, despite the fact that she doesn’t want it. I can tell by the look in her eyes. She takes it, though, bringing the red cup to her mouth.

  Another follower. Surprise, surprise.

  “Helloooo, Earth to Hardin!” Molly’s voice cuts through the noise. I glance down at her, noting the annoyed expression on her face while she rests her hand on her hip. Her eyes are on Tessa and Steph.

  “What were you staring at?” she asks, voice tight.

  “Nothing. Mind your damn business.” I continue on, up the stairs and toward my room. Behind me I hear tacky and excessive jewelry clanging in the most annoying way. I turn back to Molly and her puppy-dog eyes. “Are you following me for a reason?”

  She flips her pink hair from her shoulder. “I’m bored,” she complains.

  “And . . . ?” I pull my phone from my back pocket and pretend to be doing anything but listening to her.

  Molly runs her hand down my arm. “Entertain me, asshole.”

  I look her up and down, enjoying the way her tiny dress shows off all the things I’ve already seen. Her nails push into my skin, and her smile grows.

  “Come on, Hardin, when was the last time you got off?”

  She has no shame. I like it.

  “Well, considering you blew me two days ago . . .”

  Her lips are on mine before I can get another word out. I pull back, she pushes forward.

  Ah, may as well. She’s not half bad, and there are worse things I could be doing with my time. Like Steph, hanging out with Goody Theresa all night. That would put anyone to sleep.

  Molly leads me to the farthest bedroom on the right; she already knows better than to try to go into my room. No one comes into my room. The door closes behind her, and she’s on me within seconds. Her mouth is hot, her lips painted with sticky gloss.

  The act of touching, be it with Molly or someone else, gives me an escape. Doesn’t make much sense to me, but when my mind is turned off for a while, it’s easier. It’s a rush, the only time I really feel much of anything.

  Molly leads me to the bed, an empty one without so much as a sheet on the damned thing. These small details don’t make a difference when you don’t feel any of it. Molly lays her small body on mine, grinding herself against my leg. I wrap her pink hair around my fist, pulling her mouth off of mine

  “No,” I warn her. She groans, whining like she usually does when I remind her not to kiss me.

  “You’re such an asshole,” she complains, but shifts to straddle my waist.

  The door clicks open, and she stops moving her hips. Turning around, she sits up, and I lean up on my elbows.

  “Can I help you?” Molly’s tone is harsh with impatience and need.

  And of course—of course—standing in the doorway is Tessa, Steph’s roommate, with a look on her face that tells me she’s more embarrassed than Molly and I put together.

  “Oh . . . no. Sorry,” she stammers. “No, sorry, I was looking for a bathroom; someone spilled a drink on me.” She frowns down at her soiled dress as if it was evidence. This girl spends a lot of time looking down, it seems.

  “Okay? So go find a bathroom,” Molly mocks with a flip of her hand. “Go find a bathroom.”

  Tessa leaves the room immediately and closes the door.

  Still, as Molly starts in on my neck, I can see the shadow of Tessa’s feet under the doorway. Is she listening to us? How fucking weird. A few seconds later she disappears and Molly reaches her hand down between my legs.

  “God, that girl irritates me,” she complains.

  For someone who isn’t very well liked herself, Molly sure has a lot of people who “irritate” her.

  “Should I have asked her to join us?” I shrug my shoulders, and Molly grimaces.

  “Ew. No way. Bianca or Steph, maybe, but that Tessa dud, no way. She’s not even hot, and she’s twice my size nearly.”

  “You’re a bitch, you know that?” I shake my head at her. Tessa, plain and all, has a nice body—the kind of body that men love, the kind of body that I would devour in a heartbeat if she could learn to tame that att
itude of hers.

  “Whatever. It’s just her tits that you like.” Molly’s mouth latches on to my neck.

  “I don’t like her,” I say, feeling the need to defend myself.

  “Well, obviously you don’t like her.” Molly draws back to look at my eyes. She smiles like we’re in on a secret together or something. “That doesn’t mean you wouldn’t fuck her.”

  Her mouth catches my jaw, nipping at the skin there. Her hands grip me, one over my cock, and she continues to move her small body over mine.

  “No more talking.” I reach down between her parted thighs and run my fingers over her. She groans against my neck, and I focus on the pleasure she’s providing me. Molly is more like me than she would ever admit. She, too, finds her days bleak and unexciting. She, too, uses sensation to escape her own head. I don’t know much about her really, and she’ll never share, but I can tell it was rough.

  Molly’s body shakes as I pump my fingers into her, knowing by now how to get her off quickly. Just as she moans, I catch the sound of “Lou,” but she quickly recovers and says my name.

  Lou? What the fuck? I try not to laugh at the thought of her talking about Logan, saying his nickname while I pleasure her. She knows better than to think he would give her the time of day. He’s nice enough to her—simply because he’s a nice guy—but the guy has standards.

  If I cared, I would call her out on it, but I simply don’t give a fuck. I use her and she uses me—we both know this. My mind wanders to the party downstairs. I wonder how many times Steph’s roommate has cried so far. She’s quite the emotional one, with her ranting and sassy attitude that belies a frailty.

  Molly’s hands tug at my jeans, unfastening the button, and I close my eyes as her warm lips wrap around my cock.

  Afterward, she doesn’t say a word, and neither do I, when she wipes her fingers across her swollen lips. Molly stands, pulling her dress down to cover her body as much as the scrap can, and she leaves the room.

  I lie there, on a bed that isn’t mine, and stare at the ceiling for a few minutes more before wandering out into the hallway. The party is still going; the floors are getting messier and messier by the minute. A group of three drunk girls holding hands walks by.

  “You guys are my best friends,” the shortest of the three says.

  One of them is wearing a blue sweater, her eyes bloodshot as she stumbles down the hall, nearly tripping over her feet. “I love you both!” she replies, her eyes filling with tears.

  Drunk girls are there, crying and being “best friends” with everyone . . .

  Logan appears at the end of the hall, a crooked smile on his face and a drink in each hand. He offers me one, but I shake my head.

  “Yours is water,” he says, holding the red cup between us.

  I grab it, bringing it to my nose to smell the liquid. “Erm, thanks.” I take a drink of the cold water and ignore the way Logan is silently judging me for drinking water.

  “The house is packed, man,” he says to me, clearing his throat with a grimace. “This cheap vodka burns like a bitch.”

  I don’t say anything, I just let my eyes roam around the hall as we walk toward the stairs.

  “Oh, hey, I saw that Tessa chick go into your room,” he says from behind me. I turn to face him.

  “What?”

  “She went in there, with Steph. Steph’s sick, puking in the bathroom.”

  “Why would they go into my room?” I raise my voice. I could have sworn I locked it. No one goes into my room. Sick or not. They especially don’t go in there to throw up on my things.

  He shrugs. “Don’t know. Just warning you.”

  Logan disappears into the crowd as I head toward my room. Steph knows better than to go into my room—why didn’t she warn her little tagalong?

  I enter in a huff, and sure enough, standing next to my bookshelf is Tessa. I immediately notice that her hand is on my oldest copy of Wuthering Heights. The worn pages show its use to me.

  “Why the hell are you in my room?” I say to her. She doesn’t even flinch. She gently closes the book in her hands.

  “I asked you what the hell you are doing in my room?” I repeat, just as harsh as the first time. I cross the room take the book from her and toss it back onto the shelf where it belongs. She still hasn’t answered me; she’s standing there, near my bed, with wide eyes and a closed mouth.

  “Nate told me to bring Steph in here . . .” she whispers. She waves her hand in the direction of my bed. Steph is passed out on the mattress, and I’m not happy about that one bit. “She drank too much, and Nate said—”

  I’ve heard enough.

  “I heard you the first time,” I calmly interrupt her.

  “You’re a part of this fraternity?” she asks, her voice curious and a tad bit judgmental. Not that I’m in any way surprised by this. I’m used to being judged, especially around rich kids with haughty attitudes. I don’t think this girl is rich, though. Her dress looks like it came from a consignment store instead of a department store, which surprises me, for some reason.

  “Yeah, so?” I step toward the nosy girl, and she backs away, hitting the bookcase in the process. “Does that surprise you, Theresa?”

  “Stop calling me Theresa,” she snaps at me.

  Feisty.

  “That’s your name, isn’t it?”

  Sighing, she turns away from me. I glance over at my bed as she attempts to leave the room.

  “She can’t stay in here,” I say to her. No way is Steph sleeping in my bed all night.

  “Why not? I thought you guys were friends?”

  How sweet . . . how naive.

  “We are, but no one stays in my room.” I cross my arms over my chest and get a good look at her. Her eyes are following the tattoos inked onto my arms. I like the way she’s looking at me, trying to figure me out. It’s exciting, even—to be examined in this way . . . she’s intrigued, and it’s obvious.

  She seems to snap out of her staring fit.

  “Ohh . . . I see.” She snorts. “So only girls who make out with you can come into your room?”

  I can’t help but smile at the little feisty freshman. Long blond hair and killer curves hidden underneath that hideous outfit . . . but something about this girl irritates me on a deeper level than Steph does, or even Molly. I can’t put my finger on it, but she’s getting under my skin pretty quickly and I need to put a stop to that.

  “That wasn’t my room. But if you’re trying to say you want to make out with me, sorry, you’re not my type.”

  I smile and watch her face twist into embarrassment and anger.

  “You are . . . you are . . .”

  I feel uncomfortable as she fights to find the insulting words.

  “Well . . . then you take her to another room, and I’ll find a way back to the dorms.”

  Me? She’s so sure of herself it’s pissing me off more and more by the second.

  She wouldn’t actually leave Steph in here. Would she? She opens the door and walks through it.

  Damn, she has more balls than I thought. I’m slightly impressed. Annoyed—but impressed.

  “Good night, Theresa!” I yell to her as she slams my bedroom door.

  I take a visual sweep of the room, seeing what else has might have been disturbed. The mirror on my wall catches my attention, mainly because the man standing in it is barely recognizable. I don’t know who I’ve become in the last few years.

  But more surprisingly, I don’t understand where the stupid smile now on my face has come from.

  I’m used to bickering with obnoxious people during these parties. Why did I enjoy this so much more than usual? Is it because of this new girl? She’s not my usual prey, but she’s fun to toy with.

  The noise from downstairs fills my room, and with Steph in my bed, I have nothing to do. I will have to get Nate to carry her out of here—and drop her in the hallway, if need be. Surely she’s slept in worse places. I find myself thinking about Tessa and her attitude. The
way she stubbornly placed her hand on her hip and wouldn’t back down from me.

  I walk out into the hallway and convince some frat newbie to move Steph’s body to an empty room down the hall. I watch a moment to make sure he doesn’t stay in there with her, and when he pops out of the room, I head back toward my own.

  Passing the bathroom, I hear a frantic voice through the door. It’s that Tessa girl—I know her voice immediately.

  “Yeah . . . no . . . I went to a stupid party with my roommate, and now I’m stuck at a frat house with nowhere to sleep and no way to get back to my room.”

  She’s full-on crying now. I should just walk away from the door. I don’t have the energy or remote interest in dealing with a crying, overly sensitive girl.

  “But she . . .”

  I can’t make out her words between her sobs. I press my ear to the door.

  “That isn’t the point, Noah,” I hear her say.

  I try to open the door. I’m not even sure why I do, so it’s probably fortunate that it’s locked.

  “Just a minute,” she says loudly, losing patience.

  I knock again.

  “I said just a minute!”

  She yanks the door open, and her eyes grow wide when she sees me. I look away as she storms past me. I reach for her arm, gently stopping her.

  “Don’t touch me!” she yells, and jerks away.

  “Have you been crying?” I ask, even though I already know the answer.

  “Just leave me alone, Hardin,” she says, no conviction in her tone. She sounds so exhausted. Who was she talking to on the phone? Her boyfriend?

  I open my mouth to tease her, but she holds a finger up. “Hardin, please. I’m begging you, if you have one decent bone in your body, you will leave me be. Just save whatever mean comment you’re going to say for tomorrow. Please.” Her blue-gray eyes are shining with tears, and the rude remark I had planned suddenly lost its spark.

  “There’s a room down the hall you can sleep in. It’s where I put Steph,” I tell her. She stares at me like I’ve grown three heads.

  “Okay,” she simply says after a moment.

 
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