Chapter 20 – After

A block away from the frat house, the streets are dark and quiet. The other frat houses aren’t as big as Hardin’s. After an hour and a half of walking and GPS- obsessing, I finally reach the campus. Fully sober and figuring that I might as well stay awake, I stop at the 7-Eleven and grab a cup.

As the caffeine hits me, I realize that there are so many things I don’t understand about Hardin. Like: why is he in a fraternity with a bunch of preppy rich kids if he is punk, and why does he go from hot to cold so quickly? It’s all academic musing, though, since I don’t know why I even bother to waste my time thinking about him, and after tonight I am beyond done trying to be friendly with him. I can’t believe I kissed him. That was the biggest possible mistake I could have made, and the second I let my guard down he attacked, worse than ever. I’m not stupid enough to trust that he won’t tell anyone, but I hope his embarrassment over kissing “the virgin” will keep him quiet. I will deny it until the grave if anyone asks.

I need to come up with a good explanation for my mother and Noah for my behavior tonight. Not the kissing—they will never know about that—but that I was at a party. Again. But I also really need to have a talk with Noah about telling my mother things; if I’m an adult now, she doesn’t need to know what I am doing all the time.

By the time I reach my dorm, my legs and feet hurt and I actually sigh in relief as I turn the knob.

But then I nearly have a heart attack at the sight of Hardin sitting on my bed.

“You’ve got to be kidding me!” I half scream when I finally regain my composure.

“Where were you?” he asks calmly. “I drove around trying to find you for almost two hours.”

What? “What? Why?” As in, if he was going to do that, why didn’t he just offer to take me home earlier? More importantly, why didn’t I ask him to as soon as I found out he hadn’t been drinking?

“I just don’t think it’s a good idea for you to be walking around at night, alone.”

And because I can no longer read his expressions, and because Steph is who- knows-where and I’m alone here with him, the person who seems to be the real danger to me, all I can do is laugh. It’s a wild laugh, ragged and not really me. And it’s definitely not because I find this funny, but because I’m too drained to do anything else.

Hardin furrows his brows, frowning at me, which only makes me laugh harder.

“Get out, Hardin—just get out!”

Hardin looks at me and runs his hands through his hair. Which is at least something; in the little time that I have known this frustrating man that is Hardin Scott, I have learned that he does that when he is either stressed or uncomfortable. Right now I hope it’s both.

“Theresa, I’m—” he begins, but his words are cut off by a terrible pounding on the door, and screaming: “Theresa! Theresa Young, you open this door!”

My mother. It’s my mother. At 6 a.m., when a boy is in my room. Immediately I spring into action, as I always do when faced with her anger.

“Oh my God, Hardin, get in the closet,” I whisper-hiss and grab his arm, yanking him up off the bed and surprising us both with my strength.

He looks down at me, amused. “I am not hiding in the closet. You’re eighteen.”

He says it—and I know he’s right—but he doesn’t know my mother. I groan in frustration and she pounds again. The defiance with which his arms are crossed over his chest tells me I’m not moving him, so I check the mirror, wiping at the bags under my eyes, and grab my toothpaste, smearing a little on my tongue to conceal the smell of vodka even beyond my coffee breath. Maybe all three scents will confuse her nose or something.

I’m all ready with a pleasant face and greeting on my lips when I open the door, but it’s then that I see my mother hasn’t come alone. Noah is standing at her side—of course he is. She looks furious. And he looks . . . concerned? Hurt?

“Hey. What are you guys doing here?” I say to them, but my mother pushes by me and goes straight for Hardin. Noah slips silently into the room, letting her take the lead.

“So this is why you haven’t been answering your phone? Because you have this . . . this . . .” She waves her arms around in his direction. “Tattooed troublemaker in your room at six a.m.!”

My blood boils. I am usually timid and sort of afraid when it comes to her. She has never hit me or anything but she isn’t shy when it comes to pointing out my mistakes:

You aren’t wearing that, are you, Tessa?

You should have brushed your hair again, Tessa.

I think you could have done better than that on your tests, Tessa.

She always puts so much pressure on me to be perfect all the time, it’s exhausting.

For his part, Noah just stands there glaring at Hardin, and I want to scream at both of them—actually at all three of them. My mother for treating me like a child. Noah for telling on me. And Hardin for just being Hardin.

“Is this what you do in college, young lady? You stay up all night and bring boys back to your room? Poor Noah was worried sick about you, and we drive all this way to find you running around with these strangers,” she says, and Noah and I both gasp.

“Actually, I just got here. And she wasn’t doing anything wrong,” Hardin says, and I am shocked. He has no idea what he is up against. Still: he’s an immovable object, she’s an unstoppable force. Maybe this would be a good fight. My subconscious temps me to grab a bag of popcorn and sit down in the front row to watch.

My mother’s face gets mean. “Excuse me? I certainly was not speaking to you. I don’t even know what someone like you is doing hanging around my daughter anyway.”

Hardin absorbs the blow mutely and just remains standing and staring at her. “Mother,” I say through my teeth.

I’m not sure why I’m defending Hardin, but I am. Maybe part of it is that she sounds a bit too much like how I treated Hardin when I first met him myself. Noah looks at me, then at Hardin and back to me again. Can he tell that I just kissed Hardin? The memory is fresh in my mind and makes my skin tingle just thinking about it.

“Tessa, you are out of control. I can smell the liquor on you from here, and I can only assume that this is the influence of your lovely roommate and him,” she says, punctuating it with an accusing finger.

“I am eighteen, Mother. I have never drank before and I didn’t do anything

wrong. I am just doing what every other college student is doing. I’m sorry that my cell phone battery died, and that you drove all the way here, but I’m fine.” Suddenly exhausted from the last few hours, I sit down at my desk chair after my speech and she sighs.

Seeing my resignation gives my mother a calmer demeanor somehow; she’s not a monster, after all. Turning to Hardin, she says, “Young man, could you leave us for a minute?”

Hardin looks at me as if asking if I will be okay. I nod and he nods back and walks out of the room. Noah swiftly closes the door behind him, his eyes trailing Hardin all the while. It’s a strange sensation, Hardin and I together against my mother and my boyfriend. Somehow I know he’ll be waiting somewhere just outside the door until they leave.

For the next twenty minutes, my mother sits on my bed and explains that she is just worried about me ruining my chance at an amazing education and doesn’t want me to drink again. She also tells me that she doesn’t approve of my friendship with Steph, Hardin, or anyone else in their group. She makes me promise that I will stop hanging around with them, and I agree. After tonight, I don’t want to be around Hardin anyway, and I won’t be going to any more parties with Steph, so there’s no way my mother will know if I am friendly with her or not.

Finally, she stands up and claps her hands together. “Since we are already here, let’s go get some breakfast and maybe do some shopping.”

I nod in agreement, and Noah smiles from where he’s leaning on my door. It does sound like a good idea and I am starving. My thoughts are still a little stifled by alcohol and tiredness, but my walk home, the coffee, and my mother’s lecture have sobered me. I head for the door, but stop when my mother coughs.

“You’ll need to clean up a little and change, of course.” She smiles her condescending smile. I go get some clean clothes out of my dresser and change in the closet. I touch up last night’s makeup and am ready to go. Noah opens the door for us, and we all three look at where Hardin is sitting on the floor, leaning against the door across the hall. When he looks up, Noah grasps my hand, tightly, protectively.

Still, I find myself wanting to pull my hand away from him. What is wrong with me?

“We are going to go into town,” I tell Hardin.

In response, Hardin nods several times, like he’s answered some question deep within himself. And for the first time he looks vulnerable, and maybe a little hurt.

He humiliated you, my subconscious reminds me. Which is true, but I can’t help feeling guilty as Noah pulls me along past Hardin and my mother gives Hardin a victory smile, causing him to look away.

“I really don’t like that guy,” Noah says, and I nod. “Me, either,” I whisper.

But I know I’m lying.

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