Chapter 14 – After

Chapter 14

After several exhausting—but exciting—days, it’s finally Friday, and my first week of college is almost over. Feeling pleased with the way the week has gone overall, I plan on just watching some movies, since Steph will most likely be at a party and it’ll be quiet. Having all my classes’ syllabi really makes things easier for me, and I can do a lot of the work ahead of time. I grab my bag and leave early, stopping by the café to grab a coffee to get an extra shot of energy for the beginning of the weekend.

“Tessa, right?” a girl’s voice says behind me as I wait in line. I turn around to find the pink-haired girl from the party. Molly, I think Steph called her.

“Yeah. That’s me,” I answer and turn to face the counter, attempting to avoid further conversation.

“Are you coming to the party tonight?” she asks. She has to be mocking me, so, sighing, I turn around again and am about to shake my head no when she says, “You should, it’s going to be awesome.” She runs her tiny fingers over a large fairy tattooed on her forearm.

I pause for a moment, but do shake my head and say, “Sorry, I have plans.” “Too bad. I know Zed wanted to see you.” At that I can’t help but laugh, but she only smiles. “What? He was talking about you just yesterday.”

“I doubt that . . . but even if he was, I have a boyfriend,” I tell her, causing her smile to grow.

“Too bad, we could have double-dated,” she says ambiguously, and I inwardly thank God when the barista calls my order. In my haste, I grab the cup too roughly and a little bit of coffee laps over the edge and burns my hand. I curse, hoping that this isn’t setting the tone for my weekend. Molly waves goodbye to me and I smile politely before I exit the shop. Her comments replay in my mind; Double-date with who? Her and Hardin? Are they actually dating? As nice and attractive as Zed may be, Noah is my boyfriend and I would never do anything to hurt him. I know that we haven’t spoken much this week, but that’s only because we have both been so busy. I make a mental note to call him tonight and catch up, see how he’s been doing without me.

After my coffee burn and awkward encounter with Miss Pink Hair, my day improves. Landon and I had made plans to start meeting at the coffee shop before the classes we have together, so he’s leaning against the brick wall, and as I walk up to him he greets me with a big smile.

“I’m leaving about thirty minutes into class today. I forgot to tell you that I’m flying back to my hometown for the weekend,” he says. I’m happy for him to visit Dakota, but I hate the idea of sitting through British Literature without him, and with Hardin, if he shows. He was absent Wednesday, not that I was paying attention.

I turn to him. “So soon? The semester just started.”

“It’s her birthday and I promised her months back that I would be there.” He shrugs.

IN CLASS, Hardin takes his seat next to me but doesn’t say a word, not even when, as promised, Landon leaves thirty minutes into class, which suddenly makes me even more aware of Hardin’s presence beside me.

“Monday we begin our weeklong discussion of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice,” Professor Hill announces as class ends. I don’t hide my excitement, and I’m fairly sure that I just let out a squeal. I have read that novel at least ten times and it’s one of my favorites.

Although he hadn’t really said anything to me all during class, Hardin walks up close beside me. I swear I could almost predict what he’s going to say with that deadpan look in his eyes.

“Let me guess, you are just madly in love with Mr. Darcy.”

“Every woman who has read the novel is,” I say without meeting his eyes. We reach the intersection and I look both ways before crossing the street.

“Of course you do,” he laughs, continuing to follow me along the busy sidewalk.

“I’m sure you aren’t able to comprehend Mr. Darcy’s appeal.” My mind goes to the massive collection of novels in Hardin’s room. They couldn’t possibly be his. Could they?

“A man who is rude and intolerable being made into a romantic hero? It’s ridiculous. If Elizabeth had any sense, she would have told him to fuck off from the beginning.”

I laugh at his choice of words but cover my mouth, stopping myself. I was actually enjoying our little banter, and his presence, but it would only be a matter of time—three minutes, if I’m so lucky—until he says something hurtful. Looking up, I meet his dimpled grin and can’t help but admire his good looks. Piercings and all.

“So you do agree that Elizabeth is an idiot?” He raises his eyebrow.

“No, she is one of the strongest, most complex characters ever written,” I say in her defense, using the words from one of my favorite movies.

He laughs again and I join him. But after a few seconds, catching himself having a decent laugh with me, he stops suddenly and his laughter fades. Something flashes in his eyes. “I’ll see you around, Theresa,” he says and turns on his heel and disappears back where we’d come from.

What is with him? Before I can begin to analyze his actions, my phone rings.

Noah’s name flashes across my screen and I feel oddly guilty as I answer.

“Hey, Tess, I was going to text you back, but I figured I might as well call.” Noah’s voice is clipped, a bit distant.

“What are you doing? You sound busy.”

“No, just on my way to meet some friends at the grill,” he explains.

“Okay, well, I won’t keep you. I’m so glad it’s Friday. I am ready for the weekend!”

“Are you going to another party? Your mom is still disappointed.”

Wait—why did he mention it to my mother? I love that he has a close relationship with her, but sometimes dating him is like having an annoying little brother who tattles on me. I hate to compare him that way, but it’s true.

Rather than getting into it with him, I just tell him, “No, I’m staying in this weekend. I miss you.”

“I miss you too, Tess. So much. Call me later, okay?”

I agree and we exchange “I love you’s” before hanging up.

WHEN I GET BACK TO MY ROOM, Steph is getting ready for another party, which I assume is the one Molly mentioned at the café. I log into Netflix and browse the movies.

“I really wish you would come. I swear we won’t stay overnight this time. Just come for a little bit. Watching movies alone in this small room will be hell!”

Steph whines, and I laugh. She continues to beg me while she teases her hair and changes into three different outfits before deciding on a green dress that leaves very little to the imagination. The crisp color looks really good with her bright red hair, I have to admit. I envy her confidence. I’m confident to a certain extent, but I’m aware that my hips and breasts are larger than most women my age. I tend to wear clothes that hide my large bust, while she tries to draw as much attention as possible to hers.

“I know . . .” I say, humoring her. But then my laptop screen turns black and I press the power button and wait . . . and wait. The black screen remains.

“See! It’s a sign that you should come. My laptop’s at Nate’s apartment, so you can’t use mine.” She smirks and teases her hair again.

Looking at her, I realize I really don’t want to sit in the dorm alone without anything to do or watch.

“Fine,” I say, and she jumps up and down, clapping her hands. “But we’re leaving before midnight.”

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