Chapter 17 – After

Hardin glares at me. It’s aggressive. But unsure. “Why are you asking me this?” “I don’t know . . . because I have been nothing but nice to you, and you’ve been nothing but rude to me.” And then I add, “And here I actually thought at one point we could be friends,” which sounds so stupid that I pinch the bridge of

my nose with my fingers while I wait for his answer.

“Us? Friends?” He laughs and throws up his hands. “Isn’t it obvious why we can’t be friends?”

“Not to me.”

“Well, for starters you’re too uptight—you probably grew up in some perfect little model home that looks like every other house on the block. Your parents probably bought you everything you ever asked for, and you never had to want for anything. With your stupid pleated skirts, I mean, honestly, who dresses like that at eighteen?”

My mouth falls open. “You know nothing about me, you condescending jerk! My life is nothing like that! My alcoholic dad left us when I was ten, and my mother worked her ass off to make sure I could go to college. I got my own job as soon I turned sixteen to help with bills, and I happen to like my clothes—sorry if I don’t dress like a slut like all the girls around you! For someone who tries too hard to stand out and be different, you sure are judgmental about people who are different from you!” I scream and feel the tears well up in my eyes.

I turn around so he won’t get to remember me like this, and I notice that he’s balling his fists. Like he gets to be angry about this.

“You know what, I don’t want to be friends with you anyway, Hardin,” I tell him and reach for the door handle. The vodka, which had made me brave, is also making me feel the sadness of this situation, of our yelling.

“Where are you going?” he asks. So unpredictable. So moody.

“To the bus stop so I can go back to my room and never, ever come back here again. I am done trying to be friends with any of you.”

“It’s too late to take the bus alone.”

I spin around to face him. “You are not seriously trying to act like you care if something happened to me.” I laugh. I can’t keep up with his changes in tone.

“I’m not saying I do . . . I’m just warning you. It’s a bad idea.”

“Well, Hardin, I don’t have any other options. Everyone is drunk—including myself.”

And then the tears come. I am beyond humiliated that Hardin, of all people, is seeing me cry. Again.

“Do you always cry at parties?” he asks and ducks his head a little, but with a small smile.

“Apparently, whenever you’re at them. And since these are the only ones I’ve ever been to . . .” I reach the door again and open it.

“Theresa,” he says so soft that I almost don’t hear him. His face is unreadable. The room starts to spin again and I grab on to the dresser next to his door. “You okay?” he asks. I nod even though I feel nauseous. “Why don’t you just sit down for a few minutes, then you can go to the bus station.”

“I thought no one was allowed in your room,” I state, then sit on the floor. I hiccup and he immediately warns, “If you throw up in my room . . .”

“I think I just need some water,” I say and move to stand up.

“Here,” he says, putting a hand on my shoulder to keep me down and handing me his red cup.

I roll my eyes and push it away. “I said water, not beer.” “It is water. I don’t drink,” he says.

A noise somewhere between a gasp and a laugh escapes me. There is no way Hardin doesn’t drink. “Hilarious. You’re not going to sit here and babysit, are you?” I really just want to be alone in my pathetic state, and my buzz is wearing off, so I’m starting to feel guilty for yelling at Hardin. “You bring out the worst in me,” I murmur aloud, not quite meaning to.

“That’s harsh,” he says, his tone serious. “And yes, I am going to sit here and babysit you. You are drunk for the first time in your life, and you have a habit of touching my things when I’m not around.” He goes and takes a seat on his bed, kicking his legs up. I get up and grab the cup of water. Taking a big drink, I can taste a hint of mint on the rim and can’t help but think about how Hardin’s mouth would taste. But then the water hits the alcohol in my stomach and I don’t feel so hot.

God, I am never drinking again, I remind myself as I sit back down on the floor.

After a few minutes of silence Hardin finally speaks up. “Can I ask you a question?”

The look on his face tells me I should say no but the room’s still not feeling entirely solid, and I think maybe talking will help me focus, so I say, “Sure.”

“What do you want to do after college?”

I look up at him with new eyes. That is literally the last thing I thought he would ask. I assumed he would ask why I’m a virgin, or why I don’t drink.

“Well, I want to be an author or a publisher, whichever comes first.” I probably shouldn’t be honest with him; he will just make fun of me. But when he doesn’t say anything back, I start feeling brave and ask him the same question, earning an eye roll from him but no answer.

Finally I ask, “Are those your books?” even though it’s probably futile. “They are,” he mumbles.

“Which is your favorite?” “I don’t play favorites.”

I sigh and pick at a small fray on my jeans. “Does Mr. Rogers know you’re at a party again?”

“Mr. Rogers?” I look back up at him. I don’t get it. “Your boyfriend. He is the biggest tool I have ever seen.”

“Don’t talk about him like that, he is . . . he is . . . nice,” I stutter. When Hardin laughs, I stand up. He doesn’t know Noah at all. “You could only dream of being as nice as he is,” I say sharply.

Nice? That’s the first word that comes to your mind when talking about your boyfriend? Nice is your ‘nice’ way of calling him boring.”

“You don’t know him.”

“Well, I know that he’s boring. I could tell by his cardigan and loafers.” Hardin’s head rolls back in laughter and I can’t ignore his dimples.

“He doesn’t wear loafers,” I say, but have to cover my mouth so I don’t laugh with him at my boyfriend’s expense. I grab the water and take another drink.

“Well, he has been dating you for two years and hasn’t fucked you yet, so I would say he is a square.”

I spit the water back into the cup. “What the hell did you just say?” Just when I think we can get along he says something like that.

“You heard me, Theresa.” His smile is cruel.

“You’re an asshole, Hardin,” I growl and throw the half-empty cup at him. His reaction is exactly what I hoped for: complete shock. While he wipes water off his face, I stagger to my feet using the bookshelf for leverage. A couple of books fall to the ground, but I ignore all that and storm out of the room. I stumble downstairs and push my way through the crowd into the kitchen. The anger I feel has overcome my nausea, and all I want is to get Hardin’s evil smirk out of my head. I spot Zed’s black hair through the crowd in the other room and go to where he’s sitting with a cute preppy boy.

“Hey, Tessa, this is my friend Logan,” Zed says, introducing us.

Logan smiles at me and offers the bottle he’s holding. “Want some?” he asks and passes it to me. The familiar burn feels good; it ignites my body again and I momentarily forget about Hardin.

“Have you seen Steph?” I ask, but Zed shakes his head. “I think she and Tristan may have left.”

She left? What the hell? I should care more but the vodka skews my judgment and I find myself thinking she and Tristan would make a cute couple. A couple of drinks later, I feel amazing.

This must be why people drink all the time. I vaguely remember having sworn off alcohol at some point tonight, but it’s not so bad.

FIFTEEN MINUTES LATER, Zed and Logan have me laughing so hard that my stomach hurts. They are much better company than Hardin. “You know Hardin is a real ass,” I tell them, which elicits wide grins from them both.

“Yeah, he can be sometimes,” Zed says and snakes his arm around me. I want to move it but I don’t want to make it awkward because I know he doesn’t mean anything by it. Soon the crowd starts to die down and I start to feel tired. It dawns on me that I have no way to get back to the dorms.

“Do the buses run all night?” I slur. Zed shrugs, and just then Hardin’s mop of curls appears in front of me.

“You and Zed then?” His voice is thick with an emotion that I can’t quite register.

I get up and push past him, but he grabs my arm. He has no boundaries. “Let go of me, Hardin.” Looking for another cup to toss in his face, I say, “I’m just trying to find out about the bus.”

“Chill out . . . it’s three a.m. There is no bus. Your newfound alcoholic lifestyle has you stuck here again.” The glee in his eyes when he says this is so mocking that it makes me want to smack him. “Unless you want to go home with Zed . . .”

When he lets go of my arm, I do go back to the couch with Zed and Logan, because I know it will irritate him. After standing there and nodding for a moment, he turns in a huff. Hoping that that same room from last weekend is empty, I tell Zed to take me upstairs so we can find it.

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