Chapter 31 – After

Chapter 31 – After

I try to take a step back from him, but his grip is too strong. I must have heard him wrong. My emotions are getting the best of me, so I turn and look out into the darkness of the backyard, trying to make sense of the meaning behind his words. Hardin wants to be better for me? In what way? He couldn’t mean it . . . Could he?

I look back at him, my eyes hazy. “What?”

He looks unaffected . . . truthful? Hopeful? What? “You heard me.” “No. I’m sure I misunderstood.”

“No, you didn’t. You make me feel . . . something unfamiliar. I don’t know how to handle these types of feelings, Tessa, so I do the only thing I know how to do.” He pauses and blows out a small breath. “Which is be an asshole.”

Once again I find myself in a trance.

“This could never work, Hardin, we are so different. First off, you don’t date, remember?”

“We aren’t that different—we like the same things; we both love books for example,” he says, traces of liquor in his breath.

Even standing here, I can’t wrap my mind around the idea of Hardin trying to convince me that we could be good together. “You don’t date,” I remind him again.

“I know, but we could . . . be friends?”

There it is. We are back to square one. “I thought you said we couldn’t be friends? And I won’t be friends with you—I know what you mean by that. You

want all the benefits of being a boyfriend without actually having to commit.”

His body sways and he leans on the table and loosens his grip on me. “Why is that so bad? Why do you need the label?” I’m thankful for the space between us and the fresh, scotch-free air.

“Because, Hardin, even though I’ve not really had a lot of restraint lately, I do have self-respect. I will not be your plaything, especially when it involves being treated like dirt.” I raise my hands into the air. “And besides, I’m already taken, Hardin.”

Hardin’s evil dimples come out with his smirk. “And yet, look where you are right now.”

Reflexively, I blurt out, “I love him and he loves me,” and then watch Hardin’s expression change. He lets go of me and stumbles over the chair.

“Don’t say that to me.” He slurs his words, which are coming out faster than before. I almost forgot how drunk he was.

“You’re only saying this because you’re drunk; tomorrow you will go back to hating me.”

“I don’t hate you.” He goes into the lawn a bit.

I wish he didn’t have this effect on me. I wish I could just walk away. But instead I stick around and hear him say, “If you can look me in the eyes and tell me that you want me to leave you alone and never speak to you again, I will listen. I swear, from this point on I will never come near you again. Just say the words.”

I open my mouth to tell him just that. To tell him to stay far away from me, to tell him I never want to lay eyes on him again.

He turns and comes closer. “Tell me, Tessa, tell me that you never want to see me again.” Then he’s touching me. He runs his hands along my arms and goose bumps immediately raise on my skin. “Tell me you never want to feel my touch again,” he whispers, bringing his hand to my neck. His index finger traces along my collarbone and back up and down my neck. I hear my breathing quicken as he brings his lips less than an inch from mine. “That you never want me to kiss you again,” he says, and I can smell the scotch and feel the heat off his breath.

“Tell me, Theresa,” he coos and I whimper. “Hardin,” I whisper.

“You can’t resist me, Tessa, just as I can’t resist you.” His lips are close to mine; they are almost touching.

“Stay with me tonight?” he asks, and makes me want to do whatever he says. A movement by the door catches my eye and I jerk away from Hardin.

Looking up, I see Landon’s face twisted with confusion before he turns away and disappears from the doorway.

I am snapped back into reality.

“I have to go,” I say and Hardin curses under his breath.

“Please, please stay. Just stay with me tonight, and if you decide in the morning to tell me you don’t want to see me anymore . . . just please stay. I am begging you and I don’t beg, Theresa.”

I find myself nodding before I can stop myself. “And what will I tell Noah? He is waiting for me and I have his car.” I can’t believe I am actually considering doing this.

“Just tell him that you have to stay because . . . I don’t know. Don’t tell him anything. What’s the worst thing he can do?”

I shudder. He will tell my mother. Without a doubt. Irritation toward Noah fills me; I should not have to worry about my boyfriend telling my mother on me, even if I do something wrong.

“He is probably asleep anyway,” Hardin says. “No, he has no way to get back to his hotel.” “Hotel? Wait—he doesn’t stay with you?” “No, he has a hotel room close by.”

“And you stay there with him?”

“No, he stays there,” I say sheepishly, “and I stay in my room.”

“Is he straight?” Hardin asks, his bloodshot eyes dancing in amusement. My eyes go wide. “Of course he is!”

“Sorry, but something is not right there. If you were mine, I wouldn’t be able to stay away from you. I would fuck you every chance I had.”

My mouth falls open. Hardin’s dirty words have the strangest effect on me. I flush and look away.

“Let’s go inside,” I hear him say. “The trees are swaying back and forth. I think that is my cue I’ve had way too much to drink.”

“You’re staying here?” I had assumed he would go back to his frat house. “Yeah, and so are you. Let’s go.” He grabs my hand and we walk toward the

back door.

I will have to find Landon and try to explain what he saw through the door. I don’t know what’s happening myself, so I’m not sure how I will explain it, but I have to make him understand somehow. As we walk through the kitchen, I notice the mess is almost completely cleaned up.

“You need to clean the rest of this tomorrow,” I tell him and he nods. “I will,” he promises. Yet another promise I hope he keeps.

My hand in his, he leads me up the grand staircase. I pray that we don’t run into Landon in the hallway and I am relieved when we don’t.

Hardin opens the door to a pitch-black room and gently pulls me inside.

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