Nothing More by Anna Todd

  I used to eat dinner with them nearly every night and talk about current events, school, sports, among other things. While I’m glad for the time I spent with my family before I moved, thinking about them only reminds me all the more that I’ve got to make some friends.



  AFTER FINDING NOT ONE, but three red Gatorades, I head back to my apartment.

  At my building, a loud delivery truck is idling in the middle of the street. The deli below the building has deliveries at all times of the night; the trash collectors come at around 3 a.m. nearly every night and the loud pounding of the bins being emptied into the metal truck used to wake me up all the time. I recently made the best purchase of my life and got one of those machines that play sounds of the sea, the rain forest, the night desert, and the only setting that I actually use: white noise.

  I wait patiently for the elevator to reach the first floor and step inside. It’s small, only suitable for two medium-sized people and one shopping bag. I usually don’t mind taking the stairs, but my knee’s started throbbing a little again.

  As it lifts me up to the third floor, the elevator creaks and groans and those sounds, along with my anxiety about tonight, make me wonder when one of the old elevators in this city is finally going to trap me for hours. If it happened tonight, I wouldn’t be able to go out with Nora—

  No, tonight will be fun.

  It will be so fun, I tell myself as I put the milk away and the Gatorade in the fridge.

  It’s a normal thing to go out with a woman and her roommates, even if I don’t know them, I think as I feel the soothing hot water of the shower. An uneventful shower, during which no curtains or egos are hurt, and one that I very much enjoy.

  Totally normal, and nothing to be nervous about.

  But the moment I convince myself of this, a tiny, curly-haired wrench is tossed into my plans. Lying back on my bed, my hair still wet from the shower, I check my text messages. I scroll through two texts, one from Tessa about taking an extra shift. She says she will meet us out if she can and that Nora is going to text me soon with the information about tonight.

  The other is from Dakota.

  Hey what are you up to? I read, then repeat it aloud, a little confused.

  Staring at the screen, I wait a few moments before responding. I don’t want to tell her that I have plans with someone else, especially not another woman. It’s not that I want to lie; I would rather do anything than that. I just don’t see anything good coming from telling her what I’m actually doing. I don’t know if there’s even a reason to tell her. We aren’t dating. Nora and I are only friends, no matter how much time I spend thinking about her.

  But I lie anyway.

  Studying. You?

  I close my eyes before I hit send and my memory guides my thumb to pull the trigger. I immediately feel guilty for lying, but know that it’s too late to backtrack now.

  I plug my phone into the charger and walk to my closet to begin getting ready for tonight. I grab a pair of dark blue jeans with rips in both knees from my closet. The jeans are tighter than I usually wear, but I like the way they look on me. Until two years ago, I would have never fit into these without looking like an overflowing cupcake. Not even a cupcake . . . a muffin. An ugly muffin.

  I stare and stare at my closet, trying to locate any bit of fashion knowledge I may have stored somewhere inside my brain. There’s nothing. I’ve got elves, wizards, hockey pucks, and plenty of warlocks inside my head, but no fashion tips. There’s nothing in my closet except button-down shirts, plaid everything, and too many WCU hoodies. I walk over to my small dresser and open the top drawer. I’ll wear gray briefs, one of the few pairs I have that don’t have holes in them. My room is a little muggy, so I lean over and pull my window open.

  The second drawer is filled with T-shirts, most of them with words printed on the front. Should I have gone shopping?

  Where is Tessa when I need her?

  Getting ready to go out for a night of partying is something I’m not even close to being familiar with. I usually wear plain T-shirts with jeans or slacks, and since I’ve moved to Brooklyn, I’ve added a few jackets to my wardrobe. I would say I’m right in the middle stages of being able to dress myself.

  I don’t know what type of place we’re going to, or what Nora will be wearing. I don’t know much about dates in general.

  I reach for a gray shirt and toss it over my head. The sleeves are weirdly long, so I roll them up and pull my briefs over my legs.

  My hair is getting long in the front; it curls down slightly on my forehead, but I can’t decide if I want to cut it. I put some of Tessa’s spray stuff in my hair and try to comb the unruly whiskers on my face. I like the scruffy look but really wish I didn’t have the patches of skin at the bottom of my cheeks that refuse to grow hair.

  By the time I’m dressed and my hair is somewhat tamed, I have a text from Nora.

  The only thing written is the address with a heart emoji.

  Which makes me excited . . . and a little more nervous.

  And which is also when I realize what time it is and that I need to hurry the hell up or I’ll be late. I push my feet into my brown boots while I put the address into Maps on my phone, relieved that I can walk there in around thirty minutes.

  I use the walk to quiet my mind and try to think of interesting talking points to keep Nora and her friends somewhat entertained. God, I hope they’re not into politics: discussions about that never end well.

  I’m so preoccupied that I don’t even notice that Dakota hasn’t texted me back.



  WHEN I GET TO THE club, it’s smaller than I expected a nightclub to be. I’ve been to a club once in downtown Detroit that was twice the size of the brick building we are waiting in front of now. The setup of this club isn’t like in the movies, where there’s always an overmuscled, bossy man controlling the door, a guy whose little clipboard and earpiece hold the power to make or break the self-esteem of women who would never otherwise give him the time of day. A simple nod from him while he unhooks the velvet rope validates the two hours they have spent getting ready. If you’re made to wait very long, you are nothing. That’s what he wants you to feel like anyway, and it’s pretty messed up.

  It’s all a charade, though; he still probably sleeps alone at night and he doesn’t feel any better about himself the next morning. His power trip has a twelve-hour expiration date. After that, he still hates himself and he’s still mad that he didn’t get that one big shot he deserved with the lady he pined for or the phone number of that one hot woman who he didn’t make an effort to treat with any sort of respect. It makes me a little sad to know that in 2016, people still care about getting into nightclubs based on their looks. I try my hardest not to buy into that stuff, but I know it’s what happens.

  That said, I’m extremely relieved that this place isn’t like all that. The small redbrick building is on the corner of the street, right next to a row of food trucks parked on a vacant lot. The street isn’t as busy as the sidewalk; only a few green cabs and a Tesla drive by.

  While I’m watching the Tesla’s black paint shine under the lights, a hand touches my arm. I look around to see Nora; her eyes are made up, smoky gray makeup shadows them. She’s wearing black pants that look as if someone painted them on her thick thighs. Her hips are hidden behind a black shirt with an Adidas symbol printed on it. It looks like she took scissors to the top of it, cutting a V neckline into the soft cotton. She’s wearing a black blazer over it and white tennis shoes. She looks casual and so put together and so out of my league.

  She’s way too pretty.

  Too hot.

  Too everything.

  After Nora lets go of my arm, she just stands silently in front of me, seeming to be waiting on me. I don’t know what to do, so I stare back at her. More than a few people join us on the sidewalk as we wait to go inside.

  Finally, she glances towar
d the door of the bar.

  “Shall we?” I nervously ask.

  Her shiny lips turn into a smile and she nods. I watch her eyes take in my outfit and I can’t help but feel a little self-conscious about my choice of clothing.

  Should I have worn looser pants? Are the rolled-up sleeves too much?

  Nora’s eyes finally leave my body and she looks over toward the plate-glass window of the bar. “Yep. We shall.” Then, pointing inside, she adds, “They already have a table.”

  I feel like I look out of place. I text Tessa while I follow Nora to tell her I’m here. I feel a little bad that I pestered her into coming out with us via text. I know she would rather be in her bed, reading the highlighted pages of her favorite book. She would much rather be buried under her blanket, crying over the mistakes and regrets of these characters, wishing her relationship had ended like one of her novels.

  But lying in bed being miserable isn’t good for her. Besides, I could use another familiar face in this unfamiliar territory.

  When the door of the club opens, smooth electric music tumbles out onto the sidewalk. The beat is nice, slow yet fast, soft but complicated. I speed up and take an extra step to get closer to Nora to try to make conversation.

  “So do you dance here much?” I ask as we enter.

  She turns and runs her index finger down the center of my lips.

  “No one dances here.” She smiles at me the way a mother smiles at her child when she has to explain the simplest logic to them.

  When I look around, I realize it’s not a club at all. Why the hell did I not just google the name of the joint? The place is a typical hip hangout, and it’s crowded. Small wooden tables, dark lighting, industrial theme. Groups of people congregating at the bar, laughing and downing handcrafted cocktails. A man with white hair shakes a tumbler of neon-colored liquid and everyone watches, cheering him on as he pours it over a bed of ice. It sizzles and a cloud of smoke rises from the cup. I’m impressed.

  As we walk up to the bar, I look at Nora and watch her expression change from curiosity to complete skepticism.

  “Barkeep—that’s the lamest trick in the book!” she yells, loud enough for the bartender to hear her over the music.

  I look from side to side, taking in all the faces turned to us now. Nora doesn’t turn away; she stares straight into the man’s eyes when he turns toward her.

  “Ugh. I should have known that was you.” His expression is pure annoyance, but it’s all pretend. The way he doesn’t stop looking at her, I know that he knows her quite well, enough to tease her.

  Briefly and irrationally, I wonder if they have dated . . . or are maybe dating now.

  She smiles and leans against the bar. “Hey, Mitch.”

  She’s using the bar top as a shelf for her chest. And he notices. He clearly likes it. I watch him stare, unashamed, at her open cleavage.

  Her shirt is just so low, the neck cut into a V shape is very distracting, and in combination with those damn jeans, I’ve never seen someone look so good in such a simple outfit.

  “Don’t scowl, it doesn’t suit you,” Tessa chimes in my ear.

  Am I that transparent? I straighten out my face and try to rationalize this. I’ve never been a jealous person. Dakota would have driven a jealous person totally insane with her flirty personality and the pull she seemed to have on every guy at our high school. She did a good job at never making me feel like I had to fight for her—she was always mine and I didn’t feel the need to be immaturely jealous or dramatic over it.

  “When did you get here?” I ask, distracting myself from staring at Nora.

  “Just now; work was weirdly dead.” She sighs, shrugging her shoulders like she would rather be anywhere but here. She’s in her work uniform, black pants and a button-down white shirt; her apron strings are hanging out of her purse. What a trouper and a friend.

  Horny bartender prances over, his smile wide and his hair perfectly coiffed. I’m sure he’s nice. He has the shoulders of a linebacker and the build of Adam Levine. He’s a tiny thing, yet muscular. It’s an odd combination, but I can see the appeal.

  Nora stretches over to hug him and he leans over into her arms. The bar is the only thing keeping the two of them from full body contact. I look away and pretend to scan the scene, but out of the corner of my eye, I can see that they are still hugging.

  I look around the place. All of the names of the drinks are written in chalk on a big blackboard behind the bar, and when I hear Nora order two of them, I look them up. “Letters to Your Lover” contains gin, raspberry, and something that I can’t read. The “Knot-So-Manhattan” is a blend of whiskey, vermouth, and bitters. A little hand-drawn knot is doodled next to the handwritten ingredient list.

  I continue to read through the quirky list of crafted cocktails, assuming that since Nora is about twenty-five and definitely knows the bartender, we won’t have any problem getting served alcohol. I don’t drink often—a six-pack would last me a month probably—but I would like a drink tonight. Tessa and I have gone out a few times, and when we were offered a cocktail menu, we often managed to get drinks without being carded. Yeah, we walk on the wild side every once in a while.

  Tessa looks out of place as she tugs on the bottom of her baggy white shirt. “I’m going to the bathroom,” she says, and I nod and stand awkwardly in place, waiting for Nora to remember that I’m here.

  I stare at Mitch and he keeps getting more and more attractive . . . and more and more obnoxious. Shouldn’t he be making drinks or something? Now it’s just me, Nora, and one of the most attractive men ever created.

  These types of men are brought into this world to make guys like me feel inadequate. His teeth are so straight, and whiter than a new pair of sneakers. I look at them again, tilting on the heels of my boots and trying not to stare. Maybe I should have taken a bathroom break with Tessa—you know, like girls do?

  Before I can walk away, Nora breaks off from Mr. Hot—who’s too hot to work at a small bar—and links her arm through mine. Her hands are cold when she touches my skin. I reach for them, take them in mine, and rub them together. They warm up almost immediately, along with my cheeks, which are burning at my forwardness. Thank God it’s dark in here.

  She looks up at me, her eyes curious. She looks down at our hands, at my gesture, and smiles. The lights suspended from the ceiling are moving, casting shadows and casting light on her body. The exposed skin of her neck and chest is glowing under their slow dance. She’s staring at me, and I’m staring at her, and I can’t stop.

  I look over at Mr. Hot and he’s not paying any attention to us. I sort of wish he would. I wish he could see this . . .

  What’s wrong with me? I’ve got to stop talking to Hardin so much. He’s turning me into an asshole.

  A neurotic asshole.

  Nora keeps eye contact with me. “Let’s go sit down?”

  It’s slightly unsettling, keeping eye contact with anyone, especially a beautiful girl who I’ve already sort of admitted that I’m attracted to. When she kissed me, my body responded in a way that had me convinced my body had always been waiting on her, on such a kiss.

  She turns back to the bar, thanks Mitch, and then hands me a drink with a strand of red licorice tied into a knot in it. There’s a little stick in the drink with an upside-down skyscraper on the end of it. It appears to be made from wood. I’m impressed. Nora’s drink has a little note clipped on its side. I’m going to assume that it’s a little letter. I’m doubly impressed.

  Nora continues to stare at me and I remember that she said we should sit down. I nod, wanting to move away from the crowded bar area. The row of tables looks pretty crowded, too, but at least we can sit down there. The music is nice, low and steady with a good beat. There’s no dance floor; it’s a cocktail bar that has a small snacks menu, not a nightclub. I still can’t believe I didn’t just look up the place instead of overthinking it.

  Nora wraps her fingers around my wrist and leads me toward the back of
the bar. The space gets darker and darker the farther we move away from the bar and finally we stop at a table full of women who look up and smile and nod at us. It still amazes me how close to one another people are willing to sit in this city. The small tables are all lined up next to each other and you can hear everything the people around you are saying, though the music is so loud that it may not be a problem. A few of the seats at the table are empty and Nora gestures for me to sit down at one. She sits across from me and raises her drink to mine. Clinking our glasses, I poke at the licorice and at the little wooden building and move them out of the way before I take a drink.

  Holy hell, this tastes like gasoline! I somehow knew that it would.

  I smile at her, but shake my head and wave my hands over the drink. “I’m going to sit this one out.”

  She laughs, covering her mouth and nodding. “I don’t blame you! He made them strong.” She pushes a tumbler full of water toward me with a smile. She grabs my drink and sniffs it, scrunching her nose at the harsh smell before pushing it away, toward the edge of the table, farther away from me.

  I like that Nora doesn’t mind if I choose not to drink. She takes another sip of her cocktail and licks at the pink sugary rim of her glass. She unclips the note and rips open the flap on the little envelope. I give her a moment to read the words, then I reach for the card. She huffs, rolling her eyes at the corny message. Her fingers play at the thin chain of her necklace as I read:

  Dear Lover, don’t open a new door if something is hiding behind the other.

  I laugh and hand the letter back to her. It’s clever marketing. While I wonder if they actually change the notes out and if so, how often, Nora looks slightly uncomfortable as she begins to introduce me to her friends.

  “Melody.” Nora points to a pretty Asian girl. Her eyeliner is thick, drawn in a perfectly straight line and out to a point.

  “Hi,” Melody says, looking from Nora to me.

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