Nothing More by Anna Todd


  No matter how great the book was, or how many red ladles IKEA sells because of it, I would be perfectly fine if I never have to go there again. They have these small pencils so you can write the numbers down of the items you want, and after walking through the entire showroom, we wanted everything. So when we got home we had a million items that were hell to carry upstairs and even worse to put together. To top it off, we were missing a bundle of screws and I waited on hold with customer service for forty minutes before I hung up and decided to just go to the hardware store down the street. And all that was after having to hire and haggle with a guy with a van to take us to the store and haul our stuff back. All that created another place to avoid: Craigslist’s odd-jobs listings.

  Nora’s hum-singing grows louder and I grab my laptop from the desk and switch the light on. I need to keep myself occupied and distracted. I really shouldn’t go out there.

  But I’m beginning to feel all rebellious because the more I focus on why I shouldn’t go back into the kitchen, the more I want to. Being friends with Nora is fine and dandy. It’s not like Dakota’s going to burst back in here now.

  We can be friendly when Tessa is around, but there’s something about Nora that screams danger, and I’m already in a mess as it is. I know we would never date, or anything close to it, but if she kissed me again, or if I keep thinking about her kissing me, things will get awkward for Tessa . . .

  Ugh. It’s not even easy inside my own home.

  I press the power button on my laptop and try to remember my password. I keep having to change it because I can’t remember it, and the more times I change it, the more difficult Apple makes me make it. For example, the first password was LANDON123 and the last one I can remember was LaNdON123123!@#. I thought I saved it in my phone somewhere, but I don’t remember that either.

  Finally, after four tries, I get in. My research paper for U.S. History 201 is still on the screen, even though I finished it. I have three windows open, my iTunes, my paper, and Yelp. Since I moved to Brooklyn, I use Yelp nearly every day . . . except when I did zero research on the bar Nora was taking me to, I suddenly realize. That’s weird; I normally check everything out first. It feels so long ago now, even though it hasn’t been long at all.

  It’s hard to believe that Dakota left less than an hour ago. I feel like it’s been hours, days even. I’m going to wait until tomorrow to call her. I know that when she needs space, I should give it to her.

  The next song starts in the kitchen, and it’s Kevin Garrett again. He’s singing about being pushed away and feeling alone, and I’ve loved him since I heard his cover of “Skinny Love,” but I’ve never related as much to him as I do now. Come to think of it, nearly every song on his EP describes what I’m going through right now with Dakota.

  Nora’s voice is louder now as she sings along. Could it really be such a bad thing for me to go out there and just make casual conversation?

  It’s not like we’ve got something going on, and I’m still . . . whatever this is with Dakota, so it’s not like she’s going to kiss me or anything. Without thinking, I raise my fingers to my lips and I shove my laptop away.

  I’m a grown man, I can surely handle being friends with someone I’m attracted to. It happens all the time in movies.

  Except they usually end up together in the end . . .

  I really should stop comparing movies to reality and porn to actual real-life sex. Movies and porn are so far-fetched compared to life—especially to my life. This is the second time I’ve thought about porn today. I swear I’m not as obsessed with it as it seems. I’ve actually watched less of it than most guys my age, I’m sure.

  I really need to stop rambling inside my head and go out there and socialize.

  I should put a shirt on first, right?

  Definitely.

  I open my closet and grab the first sweatshirt I see. It’s blue and green and the logo for the Seahawks is in a big circle on the chest. The Seahawks remind me of when Hardin and I went to a game last year and he nearly got into a fight over some guy being a jerk to me. I don’t usually condone violence, but that guy was a douche.

  Now that I’m dressed, I go into the kitchen, and Nora’s still singing when I enter. Her back is to me and she’s standing over the stove, turning one of the burner knobs. She’s taken off her long-sleeved work shirt and is now wearing a black tank top. The straps of her white bra are visible and I can see that she has a tattoo on the top of her back, just above her bra line. A dandelion, with half of the seeds detached and scattered across her back, as if someone had made a wish and blown on it. I guess I’m not surprised that she has a tattoo; her body seems to be made for it somehow.

  I lean against the doorway and watch her, waiting for her to notice me. She grabs a bottle of olive oil and pours some into the sauté pan on the burner. Her hips move slowly and her voice is softer now, like both cooking and singing this song are second nature.

  I watch as she takes the chopped broccoli and slides it into the sizzling pan. She turns the heat down when it sizzles a little too much and grabs a spatula from the utensil holder on the counter and stirs.

  I feel creepy, like the guy in Tessa’s book, as I watch her. She hasn’t even caught on that I’m here watching her. Is she completely lost in her own thoughts? Or does she just zone out when she’s cooking? These are simple things I will never know about this mystery woman.

  The song changes again and now it’s The Weeknd. I don’t know if I can stand here and watch her dance to him . . . his songs are already sexual enough . . . her hips are so curvy and her pants are so tight.

  I should take my ass back to my room and go to bed.

  Yet thirty seconds later, I’m still watching. Nora stirs the broccoli, pouring some sort of sauce on it, and then turns around, spotting me.

  She doesn’t act surprised or embarrassed at all when she sees me lingering in the doorway. Her lips turn up into a smile and she waves the spatula for me to come closer. The oven beeps and she sings her way to it. I don’t say anything, I just walk over and sit down at the kitchen table. The kitchen is small; the table is in the corner, but still only a few feet away from the stove and fridge.

  Nora grabs a sunflower-printed potholder from the counter and opens the oven. She pulls out a cake and sets it on the empty side of the stove top. She’s definitely good at multitasking. I can barely bake a store-bought cake mix and breathe at the same time, let alone make a cake from scratch and cook something on the stove simultaneously.

  “Tessa just texted me. The twenty-top just got their food. She’s going to be a while,” Nora tells me.

  I glance at her and nod, trying desperately to ignore the way her breasts threaten to spill out of her tank top.

  Would it be rude to ask her to put her other shirt back on?

  Yes, I’m positive that it would be. And it would reveal that I’ve been watching a little closer than I’d like to let on.

  “That sucks.” I stop staring at her boobs. “How’s she liking it there? She tells me that she likes it, but you know she would never complain.”

  I keep the conversation neutral. Unrelated to any part of her body. No matter how sexy those parts may be.

  Nora grabs a fork and sticks it into one of the corners of the cake. She tosses it into the sink and turns to me. “She says she likes it. And now that that Mr. Blond Doctor Guy Robert is there, I’m sure she’ll like it even more.”

  I glance at her, then at the wall, then back at her. “Hmm.” I don’t know what to say.

  I don’t know how much Nora knows about Tessa and Hardin’s breakup, and I don’t want to overshare. It’s not my place.

  “He’s cute. Tessa says you met him before, too. He’s cute, right?”

  Is he attractive? I don’t even remember what he looks like.

  “Oh, come on. Please don’t tell me you’re one of those guys who’s too insecure about his own masculinity to say another man is attractive.” Nora rolls her eyes.

 
I laugh. “No, no, I’m not. I just don’t remember what he looks like.”

  She smiles. “Good. I didn’t peg you as the type. He’s hot, though, take my word for it.”

  He wasn’t that hot. All I remember is blond hair. I’m sure he’s not that hot. Maybe it’s that he’s in medical school that makes him more attractive to women? I don’t know.

  “Sure.” I shrug my shoulders.

  Nora lifts the pan and dishes the steaming broccoli onto a plate.

  “Look, I know Hardin is your brother and all,” she begins. “And I also know that Tessa is still madly in love with him, but I don’t think her being out in the dating world is such a bad thing. She isn’t ready now, but as her friend, and completely biased and loyal to her, I want her to be happy.”

  I didn’t expect the conversation to go this way.

  “I’ve tried to fix a guy before and . . .” She doesn’t finish her sentence. Her voice catches like she caught herself saying something she shouldn’t.

  “You’re entitled to your completely biased opinion.” I smile at her to ease the discomfort of whatever it is going on in her mind. “Even if it’s wrong.”

  She laughs at this and walks over to sit next to me at the table. “What’s he like, this Hardin guy?”

  “You’ve met him, haven’t you?” I have to think back to a few months ago. Yeah, he met her once or twice, maybe. To my knowledge they never spoke directly, but they definitely crossed paths. I think I remember him calling her the wrong name.

  “Yes. I’ve met him, but what’s he really like? Is this one of those situations where she’s better off without him, and as her friend, I should give her a push in the right direction, or do they actually have a shot at getting their shit together and being together?”

  Nora speaks quickly, like this is important to her. Like Tessa’s well-being is important to her. I like that.

  “It’s complicated.” I pick at the chipped paint on the table. IKEA fails, once again.

  “But as her best friend and his stepbrother, I try to stay as neutral as possible. I care about them both, and if I ever thought it was a waste of either of their time, I would tell them. But I honestly don’t. I truly believe they’ll be fine. Somehow. And if they’re not . . . well, my whole family is screwed because we all love both of them.”

  Nora stares at me, seeming to examine every inch of my face. “Do you always say exactly what you feel?”

  Her question surprises me, and she lifts both of her elbows onto the table and rests her chin in her hands.

  I shrug. “I try to.”

  Except that it’s not like I’m going to say I can’t stop thinking about how beautiful you are.

  “But sometimes, less is more.”

  “I thought that rule only applied to plastic surgery and douche capes,” Nora challenges.

  “What the heck is a douche cape?” I must know the answer to this.

  Nora grins, obviously happy to lay on me her knowledge of whatever a douche cape is.

  “You know those shirts that men wear that are covered in rhinestones and big crosses? The ones that are always too tight and the men wearing them are always too greasy and look like they just shot up steroids in the bathroom?”

  I don’t even try to stop my laughter.

  She tilts her head and lifts up her hand. Her index finger touches the tip of my nose and she giggles. What an odd but adorable gesture.

  “You know exactly what I’m talking about.”

  And I do. Thank God I’ve never worn one, but half of the guys at my high school did. Her description is spot on, and thinking about it again makes me laugh even harder.

  “I do,” I admit.

  She smiles again, and when she closes her mouth, her lips look like a heart, full and plump, and pink.

  “Do you want to help me decorate the cake? After what you said, I made one for your friend downstairs. Everyone should have a cake on their birthday,” Nora says, kindness dripping from her words like honey.

  I love that she would make a cake for Ellen, even though she spent her entire day at work baking and having a shitty day.

  “That’s so amazing of you!” I say with a smile. Then add, “When’s your birthday?” I don’t know why I just asked that.

  “Next week, actually. But if we are going to be friends, you have to promise me something.” Her voice is lower now, serious even.

  “Okay?”

  “You won’t ever, ever do anything for me for my birthday.”

  What a weird promise to make.

  “Um, okay?”

  She shifts in the chair and stands up. “I mean it. No cards, no cakes, no flowers. Deal?”

  Her eyes are dark and her lips are pulled tight.

  “Deal.”

  And with that, she nods, letting me know she’s happy with my agreement. Instantly the tension that had filled the room dissipates.

  I don’t know why she’s requesting this, or if she’s joking or not, but I don’t know her well enough to pry. If the day comes when we’re close enough for her to tell me, I’ll gladly listen, but I get the feeling that there are very few people that know anything about this woman.

  “So, what color do you think we should go with?” Nora goes to the farthest cabinet lining the wall.

  I’ve never even opened that cabinet before; maybe that’s why I didn’t know it was full of food.

  Nora pulls out a bag of powdered sugar and a little box with a rainbow on it. Food coloring maybe? My thoughts are confirmed when she opens the box and pulls out four little bottles with white caps. Red, yellow, green, and blue.

  “Can you grab a stick of butter and the milk from the fridge?” she asks.

  Her hands tear at the bag of powdered sugar and she opens the drawer in front of her. She pulls out measuring cups and I find it funny that I live here and didn’t even know half of this stuff was in here.

  “Yes, ma’am,” I tell her, and she turns around, her lips forming a devilish smile . . . and I’m too innocent for her to be looking at me like this.

  chapter

  Twenty-seven

  TURNS OUT I’M AN AWFUL baker. Awful as in I can’t even decorate a plain sheet cake without making a mess.

  “Just one or two drops this time,” Nora reminds me, as if I didn’t learn my lesson thirty seconds ago when she shrieked and shouted at me for dumping half the bottle of food coloring into the first bowl of icing.

  How was I supposed to know that this little bottle held enough power to turn Ellen’s mouth red for a week?

  “We need more sugar,” Nora says, and I grab the bag from the counter next to me.

  The powdered sugar moves to one side and I realize that she cut the end open. I try to grab it before it spills out, and fail. The sugar dumps out of one end and onto the counter and the floor. A cloud of white dust puffs up in my face and Nora waves her hand around as the sugar cloud covers her.

  “Oh my God!” she shrieks, humor evident in her voice.

  I sit the plastic bag on the counter and look at the mess I made. As if it’s mocking me, the bag falls to the floor and the last bit of sugar puffs out. My sweatshirt is so covered in white that the seahawk printed on the front is barely visible. When Nora smiles, her eyes crinkle at the corners and I sort of like it.

  “Sorry! I didn’t know it was open.” I wipe my hand across the counter, and while I like the way the soft sugar feels against my skin, I should never, ever, try to bake anything again. Noted.

  Nora’s black tank top is covered in blotches of powdered sugar. Along with her arms, her hands, her cheeks, and her dark hair.

  “It’s okay.” Her smile is contagious and I’m not even embarrassed at the mess I made. It feels weird that she’s not mad about it, and I don’t know why. She’s just smiling, looking from the mess to me, and shaking her head with her lips pressed into a smile.

  Nora moves the mixing bowl out of the way and grabs a roll of paper towels. She turns the water on in the sink and uses her hands to
push as much powder into the basin as possible.

  “During my first semester at culinary school, I forgot to put the guard on a forty-quart mixer. A ten-pound bag of confectioners’ sugar went everywhere. Needless to say, I had to stay an extra three hours to clean and redo my assignment, and my teacher was such a prick he wouldn’t let anyone help me.” Her hands are moving quickly to clean the mess I made and I should probably be helping her.

  “Did you pass the class? I mean, after you redid the entire thing?” I ask her.

  “Nope. Like I said, my instructor was a real prick.”

  I look at her and she lifts her sugary hand to scratch her face. She wipes at her cheek, smearing white on her tanned skin.

  I grab a paper towel and start to help her. “That’s why I want to be a teacher.”

  She tosses the empty sugar bag into the trash. “To be a prick?”

  I laugh and shake my head. “No. To be the opposite. I had this teacher in tenth grade, Mr. Haponek, who went above and beyond his job. He was everything a teacher was supposed to be, but the older I got, the less my teachers cared about their jobs, and when I looked around my school, I saw so many kids who needed that one good teacher. It makes a difference, you know?”

  “What was your high school like?” Nora asks.

  Terrible.

  A shithole.

  “It was okay,” I say.

  I don’t think she wants to hear about my actual experience.

  I don’t think I’d want to tell her.

 
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