Chapter 27 – After

Chapter 27 – After

My tears dry, and I am showered and somewhat mentally stable by the time Steph returns from the movies.

“So, how was your . . . hangout with Hardin?” she asks and grabs her pajamas out of her dresser.

“It was okay, he was his normal . . . charming self,” I tell her and manage a laugh. I want to tell her about what we did, but I’m too ashamed. I know she wouldn’t judge me, and despite wanting to be able to tell someone, I also really don’t want anyone to know.

Steph looks at me with concern evident in her eyes, and I have to look away. “Just be careful, okay; you’re too nice for someone like Hardin.”

I want to hug her and cry into her shoulder but instead ask, “How was the movie?” to change the subject. She tells me how Tristan kept feeding her popcorn and that she is really starting to like him. I want to gag, but I know I am just jealous because Tristan actually likes her in a way Hardin doesn’t like me. But I remind myself that I do have someone who loves me and that I need to start treating him better and stay away from Hardin—for real this time.

THE NEXT MORNING I’m drained. I have no energy and feel like I could cry at any moment. My eyes are red and puffy from crying last night, so I walk over to Steph’s dresser and grab her makeup bag. I pull out brown eyeliner and draw a thin line under my eyes and on my eyelid. It makes my eyes look much better. I put a little powder under my eyes to give my skin a little color. A few swipes of

mascara and I look like a new person. Pleased with the way I look, I put on my tight jeans and a tank top. Still feeling naked, I grab a white cardigan out of my closet. This is the most effort I have made in my appearance for a regular school day since picture day my senior year of high school.

Landon texts me that we’ll have to meet in class, so when I stop by the coffeehouse I grab him a drink, too. I’m still pretty early to class, so I walk slower than usual.

“Hey, Tessa, right?” I hear a guy’s voice say. I look over and see a preppy boy coming my way.

“Yeah, Logan, right?” I ask him, and he nods.

“You coming over again this weekend?” he asks. He must be part of the frat; of course he is, he’s preppy and gorgeous.

“Oh, no, not this weekend.” I laugh and he joins in.

“Bummer, you were fun. Well, if you change your mind, you know where it is. I gotta go, but I’ll see you around.” Giving me a fake little tip of the hat, he walks away.

In class, Landon is already seated and thanks me repeatedly for bringing him coffee. “You look different today,” he says as I sit down.

“I put makeup on,” I joke and he smiles. He doesn’t ask about my night with Hardin and I am grateful. I’m not sure what I would say to him.

Just as the day gets pleasant, and I begin to stop thinking about Hardin, it’s time for Literature.

HARDIN SITS IN HIS NORMAL SEAT in the front. He’s wearing a white T- shirt for once and it’s thin enough that his tattoos are visible underneath it. It amazes me how attractive I find his tattoos and piercings when I’ve never cared for either before. I look away quickly, sit down in my usual seat next to him, and pull out my notes. I’m not giving up my great seat because of one rude boy. Still, I hope Landon arrives soon so I won’t feel so alone with Hardin.

“Tess?” Hardin whispers as the class begins to fill up. No. Don’t answer him. Ignore him, I repeat to myself. “Tess?” he says again, this time louder.

“Do not speak to me, Hardin,” I say through my teeth. I avoid looking at him.

I will not fall back into his trap.

“Oh come on,” he says, and I can tell he thinks this is all funny.

My tone is harsh but I don’t care: “I mean it, Hardin, leave me alone.” “Fine, have it your way,” he says equally harshly, and I sigh.

Landon walks in and I am so grateful. Seeing the tension between Hardin and

me, he asks in his kind tone, “You okay?” “Yeah, I’m fine,” I lie, and class begins.

HARDIN AND I continue ignoring each other all week, and each day that passes without talking to him makes it a little easier to not think about him so much. Steph and Tristan have been hanging out all week, so I’ve had our room mostly to myself, which has been both good and bad. Good because I get a lot of studying done, but bad because I am left alone with my thoughts about Hardin. All week I have been wearing a little bit more makeup, but still my baggy and conservative clothes. By Friday morning, I feel like I am really over this whole mess with Hardin. That is, until everyone keeps talking about partying at the frat house. Seriously, there is a party there every Friday—and usually Saturday, too

—so why they feel the need to get excited about it every weekend blows my mind.

After being asked by at least ten people if I will be at the party, I decide to do the only thing that I know will keep me from going. I call Noah.

“Hey, Tessa!” he chirps into the phone. It has been a few days since we’ve actually talked, and I’ve missed his voice.

“Hey, do you think you could come visit me?” I ask. “Sure, yeah. Maybe I can come next weekend?”

I groan. “No, I mean like today. Like now, could you leave right now?” I know he likes to plan things just like I do, but I need him to come now.

“Tessa, I have practice after school. I am still at school now, just at lunch,” he explains.

“Please, Noah, I really miss you. Can’t you just leave now and come here for the weekend? Please?” I know I’m begging, but I don’t care.

“Um . . . yeah, sure, Tessa. I’ll come now. Is everything okay?”

Happiness floods me—I’m really surprised that squeaky-clean Noah is agreeing to this, but I am so glad he is. “Yeah, I just really miss you. I haven’t seen you in almost two weeks,” I remind him.

He laughs. “I miss you, too. I am going to get a slip and leave in a few minutes, so I will see you in about three hours. I love you, Tessa.”

“I love you, too,” I say and hang up. Well, that settles that. Any chance that I might have ended up at that party is now gone.

A NEWFOUND SENSE OF RELIEF fills me as I walk to Literature, and into the gorgeous old brick building the class is in. That sense of relief vanishes when

I walk into the classroom and see Hardin hovering over Landon’s desk.

What the hell?

I rush over just as Hardin slams his hand on the desk and growls, “Don’t ever say some shit like that again, you prick.”

Landon moves to stand up, but he would be insane to try to fight Hardin. Landon is muscular and all, but he’s so kind I can’t imagine him hitting anyone.

I grab hold of Hardin’s arm and pull him back away from Landon. His other hand rises into the air and I flinch, but once he realizes it’s me, he drops his hand and curses under his breath.

“Leave him alone, Hardin!” I yell and turn to Landon. He looks just as mad as Hardin does but he sits down.

“You need to mind your own business, Theresa,” Hardin snidely says and moves to his seat. He really should sit in the back somewhere.

Sitting between them, I lean over and whisper to Landon, “Are you okay?

What was that about?”

He looks toward Hardin and sighs. “He is just an asshole. That pretty much sums it up,” he says loudly and puts on a chipper grin.

I giggle a little and straighten up. I can hear Hardin’s ragged breathing next to me and I get an idea. A childish idea, but I do it anyway.

“I have some good news!” I tell Landon in my best mock-cheery voice. “Really? What’s that?”

“Noah’s coming to visit today, and he’ll be here all weekend!” I say and smile while clapping my hands together. I know I am overdoing it, but I feel Hardin’s eyes on me and I know he heard me.

“Really? That is great news!” Landon says earnestly.

Class begins and ends without Hardin saying a word to me. This is how it will be from now on and it’s fine with me. I wish Landon a nice weekend and walk back to my room to touch up my makeup and grab something to eat before Noah gets here. I laugh at myself a little while doing my makeup. Since when am I the type of girl who has to “touch up her makeup” before her boyfriend comes? I sense that it’s since that day at the stream with Hardin, an experience that changed me, though the way he hurt me after changed me even more. The makeup is only a slight change, but I know it is there.

I eat and straighten my room up a little, folding Steph’s clothes and putting them away; I hope she won’t mind. Noah finally texts that he’s here, and I jump off the bed where I was resting and rush outside to greet him. He looks better than ever in navy blue pants, a cream cardigan, and a white shirt underneath. He really does wear a lot of cardigans, but I love them. His welcoming smile warms my heart and he wraps his arms around me and tells me how nice it is to see me.

As we walk back to my room, he looks at me for a moment and asks, “Are you wearing makeup?”

“Yeah, a little. It’s just something I have been experimenting with,” I explain. He smiles. “It looks nice,” he says, and kisses my forehead.

IN MY ROOM, we end up browsing through the romantic comedies section on Netflix to pick a movie. Steph texts me and says she is with Tristan and won’t be back tonight, so I turn the lights off and we sit back against my headboard, Noah’s arm around my shoulder and my head on his chest.

This is me, I think, not some wild girl swimming in a punk boy’s T-shirt.

We start up a movie that I’ve never heard of before, and not five minutes into it the door bursts opens. I immediately figure that maybe Steph has forgotten something she needs.

But of course it’s Hardin. His eyes go straight to where Noah and I are cuddled on the bed, illuminated by the TV light. I flush; he has come here to tell Noah, I know it. Panic takes over my body, and I scoot away from my boyfriend, making it seem like I just made a surprised little jump.

“What are you doing here?” I snap. “You can’t just barge in here!”

Hardin smiles. “I’m meeting Steph,” he answers and sits down. “Hey, Noah, nice to see you again.” He smirks and Noah looks uncomfortable. He is probably wondering why Hardin has a key to the room and doesn’t bother to knock.

“She’s with Tristan, probably already at your house,” I tell him slowly, silently pleading for him to leave. If he tells Noah now, I have no idea how I could recover.

“Oh?” he says. I can tell by his smirk that he came here just to torment me. He will probably stay until I come clean to Noah myself. “Are you two coming to the party?”

“No . . . we aren’t. We’re trying to watch a movie,” I tell him, and Noah reaches over and takes my hand. Even in the dark, I can see Hardin’s eyes focus on where Noah’s hand touches mine.

“That’s too bad. I better go . . .” He turns toward the door, and I feel some relief. But then he twists back. “Oh, and, Noah,” he begins, making my heart drop. “That’s a nice cardigan you’re wearing.”

I let out a breath I didn’t know I was holding.

“Thanks. It’s from the Gap,” Noah says. He is clueless and unaware that Hardin is making fun of him.

“I can see that. You two have fun,” Hardin says and leaves the room.

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