Chapter 24 – After

Chapter 24 – After

I try to study when I get back to my room but can’t seem to focus. After staring at my notes for a couple of hours but not having really read anything, I decide a shower might help. When they’re crowded, the coed bathrooms still make me uncomfortable, but no one ever messes with me, so I’m getting used to them.

The hot water feels amazing and loosens up my tense muscles. I should be relieved and happy that Hardin and I have reached some sort of truce, but now anger and annoyance have been replaced by nervousness and confusion. I’ve agreed to spend time with Hardin tomorrow, doing something “fun,” and I am terrified. I just hope it goes well; I don’t expect to become best friends with him, but I need us to get to a place where we don’t scream at each other every time we talk.

The shower feels so good I stay in there for a while, and when I get back to my room, Steph’s already come and left. I find a note from her saying Tristan is taking her off campus for dinner. I like Tristan; he seems really nice despite his overuse of eyeliner. If Steph and Tristan continue to see each other then maybe when Noah comes to visit we could all go do something together. Who am I kidding? Noah wouldn’t want to hang out with people like them, but I’m aware enough to admit that up until three weeks ago I never would have, either.

I end up calling Noah before bed; we haven’t talked all day. He’s so polite, he asks about my day as soon as he picks up. I tell him it was good; I should tell him that Hardin and I are going to hang out tomorrow, but I don’t. He tells me that his soccer team beat Seattle High by a landslide, even though Seattle’s really

good. And I’m happy for him, because he seems really happy to have played so well.

THE NEXT DAY GOES BY way too fast. Landon and I walk into Literature class, and Hardin is already in his seat. “Are you ready for our date tonight?” he asks and my mouth falls open. Landon’s does, too. I don’t know what I feel more conflicted about: Hardin saying it like that, or how it will affect how Landon sees me. Day one of our quest to become friends is not going well so far.

“It’s not a date,” I say to him, then turn to Landon and roll my eyes and nonchalantly say, “We’re hanging out as friends,” while ignoring Hardin.

“Same thing,” Hardin replies.

I avoid him for the rest of the class . . . which is easy since he doesn’t really try to talk to me after that.

After class, as Landon starts putting his stuff into his backpack, he looks at Hardin, then quietly says to me, “Be careful tonight.”

“Oh, we’re just trying to get along since my roommate is his good friend,” I reply, hoping Hardin doesn’t hear me.

“I know, you’re really a great friend. I’m just not sure Hardin deserves your kindness,” he says, purposefully loud, and I look up at him.

“Don’t you have something else to do besides bad-mouth me? Get lost, man,” Hardin snaps from behind me.

Landon frowns and looks at me again. “Just remember what I said.” He walks away, and I worry about how much I’ve maybe upset him.

“Hey, you don’t have to be cruel to him—you guys are practically brothers,” I say.

Hardin’s eyes go wide. “What did you just say?” he growls.

“You know, your dad and his mom?” Was Landon lying? Or was I not supposed to mention this. Landon said not to bring up Hardin’s relationship with his dad, but I didn’t think he meant the whole thing.

“That is none of your business.” Hardin looks angrily at the door where Landon disappeared. “I don’t know why the asshole even told you that. I’m going to have to shut him up, it seems.”

“You leave him alone, Hardin. He didn’t even want to tell me, but I got it out of him.” The idea of Hardin hurting Landon makes me sick. I need to change the subject. “So where are we going today?” I ask, and he glares at me.

“We aren’t going anywhere; this was a bad idea,” he snaps, turns on his heels, and walks away. I stand there for a minute, waiting to see if Hardin changes his mind and will come back.

What the hell? He really is bipolar, I’m sure of it.

BACK IN MY DORM ROOM, I find Zed, Tristan, and Steph sitting on her bed. Tristan’s eyes are focused on Steph and Zed is flicking his thumb across the trigger of a metal lighter. I would usually be annoyed with this many unexpected guests, but I really like Zed and Tristan, and I need the distraction.

“Hey, Tessa! How were classes?” Steph asks and gives me a big smile. I can’t help but notice the way Tristan’s face lights up when he looks at her.

“They were okay. You?” I put my books on my dresser and she tells me about her professor spilling hot coffee on himself, making them get out early.

“You look nice today, Tessa,” Zed tells me, and I say thanks and crowd on Steph’s bed with the three of them. The bed really is too small for all of us, but it works. After we’ve been talking about various weird professors for a few minutes, the door opens and we all turn to see who it is.

It’s Hardin. Ugh.

“Geez, man, you could at least knock for once,” Steph scolds him and he shrugs. “I could have been naked or something.” She laughs, obviously not angry at his lack of manners.

“Nothing I haven’t seen before,” he jokes, and Tristan’s face falls while the other three chuckle. I can’t find the humor, either; I hate thinking about Steph and Hardin together.

“Oh, shut up,” she says, still laughing, and grabs hold of Tristan’s hand. His smile returns and he moves a little closer to her.

“What are you guys up to?” Hardin asks and sits opposite us, on my bed. I want to tell him to get off but I keep quiet. I thought for a second he had come here to apologize, but now I can see he just came to hang out with his friends, and I am not one of them.

Zed smiles. “We were actually going to go to the movies. Tessa, you should come.”

Before I can answer, Hardin speaks up quickly. “Actually, Tessa and I have plans.” There is a strange edge to his voice.

God, he’s so moody.

“What?” Zed and Steph say in unison.

“Yeah, I was just coming to get her.” Hardin stands up and puts his hands into his pockets, gesturing toward the door with his body. “You ready or what?”

My mind screams, No! but I nod and slip off Steph’s bed.

“Well, see you all later!” Hardin announces and practically pushes me out the door. Outside, he leads me to his car and, surprising me, opens the passenger

door for me. I stand still with my arms crossed, looking at him. “Well, I’ll remember not to ever open a door for you again . . .”

I shake my head. “What the hell was that? I know full well you didn’t come here to get me—you just got done telling me that you didn’t want to hang out with me!” I yell.

And we are back to yelling at each other. He makes me crazy, literally. “Yes, I did. Now get in the car.”

“No! If you don’t admit that you didn’t come here to see me, I will go back in there and go to the movies with Zed,” I say, which makes him clench his jaw.

I knew it. I don’t know how to feel about this revelation, but somehow I knew Hardin didn’t want me to go to the movies with Zed and that that’s the only reason he’s trying to hang out with me now.

“Admit it, Hardin, or I am gone.”

“Okay, fine. I admit it. Now get in the damned car. I won’t ask again,” he says and walks around to the driver’s side.

Against my better judgment, I get in, too.

Hardin still looks angry as he pulls out of the parking lot. He turns the screeching music up way too loud. I reach down and shut it off.

“Don’t touch my radio,” he scolds.

“If you’re going to be a jerk the whole time, I don’t want to hang out with you.” And I mean it. If he’s like this, I don’t care where we are, I’ll hitchhike back to the dorms or something.

“I’m not. Just don’t touch my radio.”

My thoughts go back to Hardin tossing my notes into the air, and in turn I want to yank his radio out and throw it out the window. If I knew I could tear it from the dash, I would.

“Why do you care if I go to the movies with Zed anyway? Steph and Tristan were going, too.”

“I just don’t think Zed has the best intentions,” he says quietly, his eyes glued to the road.

I begin to laugh and he frowns. “Oh, and you do? At least Zed is nice to me.” I can’t stop laughing. The idea of Hardin trying to protect me in some way is hilarious. Zed is a friend, nothing more. Just like Hardin.

Hardin rolls his eyes but doesn’t give me an answer. He turns the music back on and its guitars and bass literally hurt my ears.

“Can you please turn it down?” I beg.

To my surprise, he does, but leaves it on for background noise. “That music is terrible.”

He laughs and taps the steering wheel. “No, it’s not. Though I would love to

know your opinion on what is good music.” When he smiles like this, he looks so carefree, especially with his window down, the breeze blowing through his hair. He reaches one hand up and pushes his hair back. I love the way it looks when it’s back like that. I shake the thoughts from my head.

“Well, I like Bon Iver, and the Fray,” I finally answer. “Of course you do,” he says, and chuckles.

I defend my two favorite bands. “What is wrong with them? They are insanely talented, and their music is wonderful.”

“Yeah . . . they are talented. Talented at putting people to sleep.”

When I reach across and playfully swat his shoulder, he mock winces and laughs.

“Well, I love them,” I say with a smile. If we could just stay in this playful state, I might actually have a good time. I look out the window for the first time, but I don’t really know where we are. “Where are we going?”

“To one of my favorite places.” “Which is where?”

“You really have to know everything that is going on in advance, don’t you?” “Yeah . . . I like to—”

“Control everything?”

I stay quiet. I know he’s right, but that’s just the way I am.

“Well, I’m not telling you until we get there . . . which will be only about five minutes from now.”

I lean back against the leather seat of his car and turn my head to glance at the backseat. A messy stack of textbooks and loose papers rest on one side and a thick black sweatshirt rests on the other.

“See something that you like back there?” Hardin catches me by embarrassed surprise.

“What kind of car is this?” I ask. I need a distraction from both not knowing where we are going and him calling me out for being nosy.

“Ford Capri—a classic,” he boasts, obviously proud. He goes on to tell me all about it even though I have no idea what he is talking about. Still, I like to watch his lips as he talks, the way they move slowly as the words are even slower. After looking over at me a few times during the conversation, he pretty harshly says, “I don’t like to be stared at,” though he does smile a little after.

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