Chapter 30 – After

Chapter 30 – After

Back at the patio table, Hardin lets go of my wrist and pulls out the chair for me. Feeling like my skin is literally burning from his touch, I rub my fingers over it as he grabs the other chair and drags it across the concrete to sit directly in front of me. When he sits, he’s so close that his knees are almost touching mine.

“What could you possibly want to talk about, Hardin?” I ask him in the harshest tone I can muster.

He takes a deep breath and pulls his beanie off again and places it on the table. I watch as his long fingers run through his thick hair and he looks into my eyes.

“I am sorry,” he says with an intensity that makes me look away and focus on the large tree in the backyard. He leans in close. “Did you hear me?” he asks.

“Yeah, I heard you,” I snap and stare back at him. He is crazier than I thought if he thinks he can just say sorry and I will forget the horrible things he continues to do to me on an almost daily basis.

“You’re so damned difficult to deal with,” he says and sits back on his chair. The bottle I tossed into the yard is now in his hand, and he takes another drink from it. How is he not passed out yet?

I am difficult? You have to be kidding me! What do you expect me to do, Hardin? You are cruel to me—so cruel,” I say and pull my bottom lip between my teeth. I will not cry in front of him again. Noah has never made me cry; we have been in a few fights over the years, but I have never been upset enough to cry.

His voice is low and almost feels like it’s part of the night air “I don’t mean to


Yes, you do, and you know it. You do it purposefully. I have never been treated this poorly by anyone in my entire life.” I bite my lip harder. I can feel the knot in my throat. If I cry, he wins. That’s what he wants.

“Then why do you keep coming around? Why not just give up?”

“If I . . . I don’t know. But I can assure you that after tonight I am not going to. I am going to drop Literature and just take it next semester.” I hadn’t planned on doing that until now, but it is exactly what I should do.

“Don’t, please don’t do that.”

“Why would you care? You don’t want to be forced to be around someone as pathetic as me, right?” My blood is boiling. If I knew what to say to hurt him as bad as he always hurts me, I would.

“I didn’t mean that . . . I’m the pathetic one.”

I look straight at him. “Well, I won’t argue with that.”

He takes another drink, and when I reach for the bottle, he pulls it away.

“So you’re the only one who can get drunk?” I ask, and a wry smile appears on his face. The patio light shines off his eyebrow ring as he hands me the bottle.

“I thought you were going to toss it again.”

I should, but instead I put the bottle to my lips. The liquor is warm and tastes like burnt licorice dipped in rubbing alcohol. I gag and Hardin chuckles.

“How often do you drink? You implied before it was never,” I say. I need to get back to being angry with him after he answers.

“Before tonight it has been about six months.” His eyes fall to the floor like he is ashamed.

“Well, you shouldn’t drink at all. It makes you an even worse person than usual.”

Still staring at the ground, his face is serious. “You think I am a bad person?” What, is he that drunk that he would ever consider himself good?


“I’m not. Well, maybe I am. I want you to . . .” he starts, but then stops, straightens up, and leans back on the chair.

“You want me to what?” I have to know what he was going to say. I hand him back the bottle, but he sets it on the table. I don’t want to drink; the one was bad enough, given the terrible judgment I have around Hardin as it is.

“Nothing,” he says, lying.

Why am I even here? Noah is back in my room waiting for me, and here I am wasting even more time on Hardin. “I should go.” I stand up and head for the back door.

“Don’t go,” his voice says softly. And my feet stop in their tracks at the

pleading tone. I turn around to find Hardin less than a foot from me.

“Why not? Do you have more insults to throw in my face?” I shout and turn away. His hand wraps around my arm and jerks me back.

“Don’t turn your back on me!” he shouts even louder than I did.

“I should have turned my back on you a long time ago!” I scream and push against his chest. “I don’t know why I am even here! I came all the way here the second Landon called me! I left my boyfriend—who, like you said, is the only one who can stand to be around me—to come here for you! You know what? You’re right, Hardin, I am pathetic. I am pathetic for coming here, I am pathetic for even trying—”

But I’m cut off by his lips against mine. I push at his chest to stop him, but he doesn’t budge. Every part of me wants to kiss him back, but I stop myself. I feel his tongue trying to pry its way in between my lips and his strong arms wrap around me, pulling me closer to him despite my attempts to push away. It’s no use; he is stronger than me.

“Kiss me, Tessa,” he says against my lips.

I shake my head and he grunts in frustration. “Please, just kiss me. I need you” His words unravel me. This indecent, drunken, terrible man just said he needs me, and somehow it sounds like poetry to my ears. Hardin is like a drug; each time I take the tiniest bit of him, I crave more and more. He consumes my

thoughts and invades my dreams.

The second my lips part, his mouth is on mine again, but this time I don’t resist. I can’t. I know this isn’t the answer to my problems and that I’m just digging myself deeper, but that doesn’t matter right now. All that matters is his words, and how he said them: I need you.

Could Hardin possibly need me the way I desperately need him? I doubt it, but for right now I want to pretend that he does. He brings one of his hands to cup my cheek and he runs his tongue along my bottom lip. I shudder and he smiles, his lip ring tickling the corner of my mouth. I hear a rustling noise and pull away. He lets me stop the kiss, but he keeps his arms wrapped tightly around me, his body pressed against mine. I look toward the back door and pray that Landon didn’t witness my terrible lapse of judgment. I don’t see him, thank God.

“Hardin, I really have to go. We can’t keep doing this; it’s not good for either of us,” I tell him and look down.

“Yes, we can,” he says and lifts my chin up, forcing me to look into his green eyes.

“No, we can’t. You hate me, and I don’t want to be your punching bag anymore. You confuse me. One minute you’re telling me how much you can’t

stand me or humiliating me after my most intimate experience.” He opens his mouth to interrupt me and I put my finger against his pink lips and continue. “Then the next minute you’re kissing me and telling me you need me. I don’t like who I am when I’m with you, and I hate the way I feel after you say terrible things to me.”

“Who are you when you are with me?” His green eyes study my face, waiting for my reply.

“Someone I don’t want to be, someone who cheats on their boyfriend and cries constantly,” I explain.

“You know who I think you are when you’re with me?” He runs his thumb along my jawline, and I try to stay focused.


“Yourself. I think this is the real you and that you’re just too busy caring what everyone else thinks about you to realize it.”

I don’t know what I think about this, but he sounds so honest, so sure of his answer that I take a second to really think about his words. “And I know what I did to you after I fingered you.” He notices my scowl and continues. “Sorry . . . after our experience, I know it was wrong. I felt terrible after you got out of my car.”

“I doubt that,” I snap, remembering how much I cried that night.

“It’s true, I swear it. I know you think I’m a bad person . . . but you make me

—” He draws up short. “Never mind.”

Why does he always stop?

“Finish that sentence, Hardin, or I am leaving right now,” I tell him. And mean it.

The way his eyes seem to burn when he looks at me, the way his lips part slowly, as if every word will hold something, a lie or a truth, it makes me wait for his response. “You . . . you make me want to be good, for you . . . I want to be good for you, Tess.”

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