Nothing More by Anna Todd


  She stands up and walks to her room without a word.

  I whisper so she doesn’t hear me: “I don’t know if it’s a good—”

  “Why?” he interrupts. “What’s going on, where’s Tess?”

  “She just went into her room after shaking like someone was screaming at her the moment she overheard your voice.” It’s harsh to say it like that, I know, but it’s honest.

  Hardin makes a noise that pains me. “If she would just speak to me . . . I fucking hate this shit.”

  I sigh. I know he hates it. So does she. So do I. But he did this to himself, to her, and it’s not fair of me to push her toward him if she doesn’t want to go.

  “Try to give her the phone,” he demands.

  “You know I can’t do that.”

  “Fuck, man.”

  I can picture him running his fingers through his hair.

  He hangs up the phone, and I don’t call him back.

  I wait a few minutes and knock on Tessa’s door. She opens almost immediately and I take a step back into the hallway. I glance at the tabby cat picture and wonder again how I managed to never pay attention to these weird little pictures before.

  “You okay?” I ask my friend.

  She looks down at her feet, then back up at me. “Yeah.”

  “You’re a terrible liar,” I say.

  She steps back into her room and leaves the door open, gesturing for me to come inside. She sits on the edge of her bed and I look around her room. It’s spotless as usual, and she’s done a little more decorating since I’ve last been in it. Her TV is no longer on the dresser; in its place are stacks of books, organized by author’s last name. Three worn copies of Pride and Prejudice catch my eye.

  Tessa lies back on her bed and stares up at the ceiling. “I really am okay with him coming to visit. He’s your family and I won’t keep you from seeing him.”

  “You’re my family, too,” I remind her. I sit on the opposite edge of her bed, near the blue upholstered headboard. The color matches her curtains and I can’t see a single dust bunny in her windowsill.

  “I’m just waiting and waiting, and I don’t know how to stop . . .” Her voice is flat, detached.

  “Waiting for what?”

  “For him to stop being able to hurt me. Even hearing his voice . . .”

  I pause to let her catch her breath, then say, “It will take a while, I assume.”

  I wish I hated him, too, so I could tell her how terrible he is for her, that she’s better off without him, but I can’t. I can’t and won’t pretend that they both aren’t better when they’re together.

  “Can I ask you something?” Tessa’s voice is soft.

  “Of course.” I prop my feet up on her bed and hope she doesn’t notice how dirty my socks are on her white comforter.

  “How did you get over Dakota? It makes me feel like shit that you were feeling this way and I barely comforted you. I was so consumed by my own problems that I never thought about you feeling the way I feel now. I’m sorry I’m such a shitty friend.”

  I laugh softly. “You aren’t a shitty friend. My situation was a lot different than yours.”

  “That’s so Landon to say that. I knew you would tell me I’m not a shitty friend,” She smiles and I can’t remember the last time I saw her do this. “But really, how did you get over her? Does it still eat at you when you see her?”

  That’s a good question. How did I get over her?

  I don’t even know how to answer that question. I don’t want to admit it, but I don’t think I ever felt as low as Tessa does now. It hurt when Dakota broke up with me, especially the way she did it, but I didn’t drown in my own misery. I held my head up and tried to stay as supportive of her as I could and kept going on with my life.

  “It was so different for me. Dakota and I had barely seen each other in the last two years, so I wasn’t always around her the way you were with Hardin. We never lived together, and I think I was used to feeling alone anyway.”

  Tessa rolls over and rests her chin on her elbow. “You felt alone when you were dating?”

  I nod. “She lived across the country, remember?”

  Tessa nods. “Yes, but you still shouldn’t have felt alone.”

  I don’t know what to say. I did feel alone, even when Dakota and I talked every day. I don’t know what that says about me, or our relationship.

  “Do you feel alone now?” Tessa asks, her gray eyes focused on me.

  “Yeah,” I answer honestly.

  She rolls back over and looks up at the ceiling again. “Me, too.”

  chapter

  Nineteen

  MY CLASSES FELT SO LONG today. Well, they’ve felt like that all week. I couldn’t focus after everything that went down with Dakota. And then with Hardin calling to tell me that he’s coming just next weekend . . .

  Next weekend . . .

  That doesn’t give me much time to get Tessa used to the idea of him being here, in her space.

  When he called back that night, I didn’t answer. It was the first time Tessa and I had really connected in a while and we were too busy wallowing in our aloneness. It was sad, but nice, too, to be there with her.

  And miracle of miracles, instead of calling back several times in a row, Hardin actually left me a voicemail. Fairly amazing, really. But thinking back on it, I remembered that he claimed he had to come because he has an appointment in the city that he “can’t miss.”

  He has to be applying for jobs here—why else would he have an “unmovable” appointment here in New York? It has to be for a job . . .

  Or he’s tired of being away from Tessa. He can’t stay away from her long; he must need his fix.

  When I reach my building, a loud delivery truck is idling in the middle of the street. The deli below gets deliveries at all times of the night. Voices and the heavy sound of doors closing, opening, closing again drove me nuts at first because I was so used to the stillness and silence of the suburbs in Washington State, in the Scott “castle” on top of the hill. I still remember how big that house looked to me as we pulled up in my mom’s station wagon. We had chosen the cheap way to travel, driving cross-country, despite Ken’s many attempts to buy us airline tickets and have our stuff shipped. Looking back, I think my mom had too much pride to let him believe she was around for anything other than her love for him.

  I remember the first time I heard her laugh in front of him. It was a new laugh—the kind that changed her face and her voice. The corners of her eyes drew up, and the joy that emerged from her throat seemed to come from deep inside her and filled the room with light and fresh air. I felt like she was a different, happier version of the mom I knew and loved.

  Of course, when I talk to her now, she always mentions something about me that’s worrying her. Case in point: my sleeping habits since I moved to the city. She keeps asking when I’m going to find a doctor to look into it, but I’m not ready to do most of the practical parts of living in a new city. Seeing a doctor and getting a new driver’s license are things that can wait. Besides, I don’t want to drive in this city, and as far as I’m concerned, the real problem I have right now is those 3 a.m. garbage

  trucks.

  So instead of a doctor’s visit, I got my white noise machine. It helped me tremendously. Tessa likes the noise, but she said she grew up next to a railroad track and missed the sound of the trains during the night. Lately, we both seem to be reaching for anything that reminds us of home. My sense in New York is that your home is truly your castle, or if not a castle, at least the cubbyhole in the city you can control. Apparently, for both Tessa and me, controlling the sounds we hear helps us feel in control in general, just in different ways.

  Inside, the hallways of my building are empty and silent.

  When I step off the elevator and into the hallway on my floor, it smells like sugar and spice. Nora must be here, and she and Tessa must be making a sweet, floury mess in the kitchen.

  Music is playing; the
crooning voice of an edgy girl taking a stand for disregarded youth who are the New Americana fills the apartment when I open the door. I kick off my shoes and leave them by the door. When I walk into the kitchen, I put the gallon of milk I bought while I was out on the counter near Tessa, but it’s Nora who thanks me first.

  “It’s nothing,” I tell her, pulling my jacket off of my shoulders and down my arms.

  I really need to do something for Ellen for her birthday. She looked even less excited today when I asked her about her big day this week.

  “I was walking right by the store when Tessa texted me,” I add.

  Still, Nora smiles at me.

  God, she’s even more beautiful than I remember, and it’s only been a week since I’ve seen her.

  Nora grabs the milk and walks over to the fridge. “You missed the most epic baking fail. Tessa added whipped cream instead of whipping cream to the scone recipe.”

  “We said that was going to be a secret,” Tessa grumbles playfully. She looks at me. “The dough fell flat.”

  “Yeah. After the scones burned,” Nora says over her shoulder.

  I think I like how comfortable she seems to be feeling here. I like that she walks with ease through the kitchen, her back straight and her full mouth partly smiling, relaxed. She opens the fridge and places the milk inside. I look away when she bends over to grab a pitcher full of cold water from the bottom shelf. I try not to let my mind linger on the tightness of her white pants. They aren’t quite sweats, but they aren’t really yoga pants either. I don’t care what they are: her ass looks incredible with the fabric stretched over it, accentuating the melon shape.

  She’s wearing a long-sleeved baseball-style shirt, the arms of which are a different color from the body, and her deep-blue sleeves are pushed up to her elbows. Her thick, dark hair is pulled up into a high ponytail and her socks have little cartoon bacon and eggs printed on them. The skin of her stomach is showing, but I refuse to look, knowing I won’t be able to stop.

  Nora walks over to the oven and pulls out a tray of biscuits, or maybe they’re scones? Probably scones. I typically don’t care for them; Grind sells only incredibly healthy scones that taste like olive-oil-covered grains baked into wheatgrass bread. Not for me.

  My mom’s professional-level skills as a baker ruined me for anybody else’s cookies or cakes. Our house was always full of sweets, which is probably why I was a pudgy kid. I have to work a little harder than normal people to be able to eat the things I like without putting on weight. It took me a while to realize that, but I’m glad I did. I remember how it felt when the assholes at my high school stopped having a reason to make fun of my weight—not that they didn’t find another reason to treat me like shit—but I felt lighter, mentally and physically, and I started gaining a confidence I’d never felt before.

  Tessa and Nora have been in the kitchen every day this week, but I’ve been hiding in my room, trying to get my school assignments done and just plain crashing after work. Even in my dreams I hear the displeased customers’ voices as they stare at the menu board on the wall.

  “Um, do you have, like, Frappuccinos here? Like Starbucks?”

  “Why don’t you have cashew milk?”

  “What’s the difference between a cappuccino and a latte?”

  I only worked three hours tonight, but this week has exhausted me. As tired as I am, though, I don’t think I want to hide in my room tonight. I want to talk to Tessa, and even to Nora. I hate the way my chest tightens when she looks at me, the way her eyes always catch mine. I’m making a choice to be social tonight. It’s nice for me to engage with people, even if it’s just the two of them.

  Nora takes the scones off of the hot pan and places them on a cooling rack. They smell like blueberries. I sit down at the small three-person table and watch Nora move around the room. She picks up a plastic bag full of yellow goo and twists the end, creating a puffy triangle of creamy icing. She places a small metal tip on the pointy end and squeezes the icing on top of each scone.

  Nora says something about how icing makes scones taste better, but I’m too busy trying to make sure my eyes don’t linger on her ass for a beat too long to really pay attention.

  I’m also suddenly struck with the question of whether I should stay out here with them or not. I don’t want to be in the way.

  “How was work?” Tessa asks.

  She dips her finger into a bowl of thick batter, speckled with blue chunks. Blueberries, maybe? Her mouth opens and she pops her finger into her mouth.

  I look over at Nora, who’s pushing up her sleeves again. Which leads me to notice the material at the bottom of the shirt. It looks like it’s been cut with scissors to reveal the bottom four inches of her abdomen.

  I usually wouldn’t mind this. Not one bit. I can’t imagine that anyone would, unless they, too, were tortured by the temptation that is Nora while also knowing that nothing could come of it.

  Her skin is a few shades darker than mine and I can’t tell her ethnicity by simply looking at her. I do know, though, that she’s a mix of something beautiful and unique. I’m not sure what it is specifically, but the almond shape of her eyes is striking, and so are her dark brows and the thick lashes that shade her high cheekbones. That shirt she’s wearing looks perfect on her, just like every trendy outfit I’ve seen her in. Her hips are full, and the way her white cotton pants cling to her ass is hard to look away from.

  Did I already say that?

  I allow myself a few seconds to look at her, really look at her. It won’t hurt just to stare for a second or two . . . right?

  She’s so oblivious to my gaze, to my longing to run my fingers along the bare skin of her back. My thoughts take me there, to a world where Nora is lying next to me, my fingers moving their way across her tanned skin. I would love to see her fresh out of a shower. Her hair would be wet, wavy at the ends, and her skin would be dewy, her dark lashes even blacker against her skin when she blinks—

  “That bad, huh?” Nora asks.

  I shake my head. I was so lost in my own thoughts that I didn’t respond to Tessa’s question about my workday. I tell her it was the same as usual, crowded and fast-paced. The first few weeks of college are a busy time for coffee shops, even across the bridge in Brooklyn.

  I don’t bore them with the details of the nozzle on the sink breaking off, spraying water all over Aiden. I can’t say I didn’t laugh when he wasn’t looking—he was so pissed that his hair got messed up. It was all the funnier because it had been his idea to toy with the nozzle in the first place, claiming that he knew how to fix the leak.

  Draco . . . foiled again.

  Tessa tells me that she picked up extra shifts for the next two weekends, and I know that by mentioning her work schedule she’s also really itching to know when Hardin is coming so she can keep her distance. I should tell her that he’s coming next weekend, and I intend to, but I’m going to wait until Nora leaves so Tessa can have some time alone to get used to the idea and figure out how to prepare herself.

  I’ve watched the light in Tessa drain away with each day she’s in the city, alone, all the while that she’s hearing about how Hardin is thriving under the influence of his new group of friends and the advice of his therapist. I truly think he’s getting better and that this time away is necessary for him, even if he loathes it.

  If the two of them don’t end up married with a bunch of stubborn, shaggy-haired children, I will lose all my faith in love.

  I hate the word therapist. It adds such a stigma to someone who spends their life attempting to heal others.

  Somehow it’s been deemed inappropriate to talk about your therapist at the water coolers at your day job, yet spreading gossip about your co-workers’ lives is completely acceptable. Sometimes the world’s priorities are really messed up.

  “Have you heard from your mom?” Tessa asks me.

  Nora moves comfortably around the kitchen again. She washes the cooling racks and wets a sponge to wipe the count
ertops clean while I explain to Tessa that my little sister is using my mom’s belly for soccer training. “She swears that little Abby will be first pick in the MLS superdraft,” I tell them.

  My mom says her body aches and aches at night, making room for the baby growing inside. She isn’t complaining, though—she’s awed and fascinated by the changes her body is undergoing at her age and she’s eternally grateful to have had a healthy, uneventful pregnancy.

  “You lost me at MLD super-something,” Nora chirps, her lips quirking up to one side in amusement.

  Slight amusement. Her eyes always seem to have a touch of boredom, like her life prior to the current moment was much more exciting in some important way.

  “I was talking about soccer. You don’t watch any sports?” I ask. I know Tessa doesn’t.

  Nora shakes her head. “Nope. I’d rather cut my own eyes out and eat them with ketchup.”

  I laugh at her very detailed and fairly morbid reply.

  “Well, then.” I reach for a scone that she already covered in icing and she stops my hand just before I grab it.

  “You have to let the icing cool,” she explains, her hand still on mine.

  “Just like three minutes,” Tessa adds.

  Nora’s hand is so warm.

  Why isn’t she letting go?

  And why don’t I want her to?

  I was supposed to be forgetting about any sort of attraction I have to her. I was supposed to get used to my spot in the friend zone. It seems pointless to keep asking myself these stupid questions about why I feel this or feel that, but I’m trying to feel slightly more in control of myself, and asking questions seems like a way to do that.

  I need to constantly remind myself to stay in the friend zone. It’s hard to do this when she’s sitting here, looking at me like this, touching me like this, wearing that.

  I glance down at our hands, hers darker than mine, and when my eyes catch hers, she seems to remember that she shouldn’t be holding my hand like this; friends don’t hold hands.

 
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