Chapter 35 – After

Chapter 35 – After

I am hot, too hot. I try to pull the covers off me, but they won’t budge. When my eyes open, the night before comes flooding into my mind: Hardin screaming at me in the yard, the scotch on his breath, the broken glass in the kitchen, Hardin kissing me, Hardin moaning as I touched him, his wet boxers. I try to lift myself, but he’s too heavy, his head lying across my chest and his arm wrapped around my waist, his body cloaking mine. I’m surprised we ended up like this; he must have moved this way in his sleep. I do admit, I don’t want to leave this bed, leave Hardin, but I have to. I have to get back to my room. Noah is there. Noah. Noah.

I gently push Hardin off by his shoulder, rolling him onto his back. Then he rolls onto his stomach and groans but doesn’t wake.

I hurry to my feet and grab my scattered clothes off the floor. Being the coward that I am, I want to be out of here by the time he wakes. Not that he’ll mind; at least he won’t have to invest his energy in hurting me on purpose if I leave on my own. This way is better for both of us. Regardless of how we laughed together last night, nothing is the same in the light of day. Hardin will remember how we got along pretty well last night and then will feel the need to be extra hateful to make up for it. It’s what he does, and I will not be around this time. For a second last night, the thought had crossed my mind that maybe our night together would change his mind, make him want to have more with me. But I know better, really.

I fold his T-shirt neatly on the dresser and zip my skirt up. My shirt is

wrinkled from lying on the floor last night, but that’s really the least of my worries at the moment. I slip my feet into my shoes and as I grab hold of the door handle, I think, One more look back won’t hurt.

I look back to the sleeping Hardin. His messy hair is sprawled onto the pillow, and his arm is now draped over the side of the bed. He looks so peaceful, so beautiful despite the pieces of metal in his face.

I turn back around and turn the door handle. “Tess?”

My heart drops. I slowly turn back around to Hardin, expecting to see his harsh green eyes glaring at me. But instead, they are closed; a frown is set on his face, but he is still asleep. I can’t decide if I’m relieved that he is asleep, or somber that he called out my name. Is that what he did, or am I hearing things now?

I jump out of the room and gently close the door behind me. I have no idea how to get out of this house. I walk straight down the hall and I am relieved to find the stairs easily. I pad down the stairs and nearly collide with Landon. My pulse quickens as I try to think of something to say. His eyes scan my face and he stays silent, waiting for an explanation, I assume.

“Landon . . . I . . .” I have no idea what to say. “Are you okay?” he asks with concern. “Yeah, I’m fine. I know you must think—”

“I don’t think anything. I really do appreciate you coming. I know you don’t like Hardin, and it means a lot to me that you would come here to help get him in control.”

Oh. He is so nice, too nice. I almost want him to tell me how disgusted he is that I stayed the night with Hardin, that I left my boyfriend alone in my room all night after I took his car and ran to Hardin’s rescue, just so I feel as bad as I should.

“So are you and Hardin friends again?” he asks, and I shrug.

“I have no idea what we are. I have no idea what I’m doing. He just . . . he . . .” I break into sobs. Landon wraps his arms around me in a warm and comforting hug.

“It’s okay. I know he can be so terrible,” Landon says softly. Wait . . . he must think that I’m crying because Hardin did something terrible to me. He would probably never assume that I’m crying because of my feelings for Hardin.

I need to get out of here before I ruin Landon’s good opinion of me and before Hardin wakes up. “I have to go. Noah is waiting,” I say, and Landon gives me a sympathetic smile before saying goodbye.

I get into Noah’s car and drive back to my dorm as fast as I can, crying most

of the way there. How will I explain this all to Noah? I know I have to—I can’t lie to him. I just can’t imagine how much this will hurt him.

I’m a terrible person for doing this to him. Why couldn’t I just stay away from Hardin?

I’ve calmed myself as much as I can before I pull into the student lot. I walk as slow as I can, unsure how I’m going to face Noah.

When I open the door to our room, I find Noah lying back on my small bed, staring at the ceiling. He jumps up when he sees me come in.

“Jesus, Tessa! Where have you been all night? I’ve been calling you nonstop!” he shouts. This is the first time Noah has ever actually raised his voice at me. We’ve bickered before, but this is a little scary to see.

“I am so, so sorry, Noah. I went to Landon’s house because Hardin was drunk and he was breaking things, and the time just got lost, I guess, so by the time we cleaned up, it was really late and my phone was dead,” I lie.

I can’t believe I’m lying straight to his face—all the times he has been there for me, and here I am lying to him. I know I should tell him but I can’t imagine hurting him.

“Why didn’t you use someone else’s phone?” he says forcefully, but then pauses. “Never mind—Hardin was breaking stuff? Are you okay? Why did you stay there if he was being violent?”

I feel like he is asking me a thousand questions at once, disorienting me.

“He wasn’t being violent; he was just drunk. He wouldn’t hurt me,” I say and cover my mouth, desperately wishing I could push those last words back in.

“What do you mean he wouldn’t hurt you? You don’t even know him, Tessa,” he snaps and takes a step toward me.

“I’m just saying that he wouldn’t hurt me like physically. I know him well enough to know that. I was just trying to help Landon, who was there, too,” I say back.

But Hardin would hurt me, emotionally—he already has, and I’m sure he will try again. And here I am defending him.

“I thought you were going to stop hanging around those type of people? Didn’t you promise me and your mom that you would? Tessa, they aren’t good for you. You’ve started drinking and staying out all night, and you left me here all night—I don’t know why you even had me come here if you were just going to leave.” He sits down on the bed and rests his head on his hands.

“They aren’t bad people; you don’t know them. When did you become so judgmental?” I ask him. I should be begging for him to forgive me for how badly I’ve treated him, but I can’t help but be irritated by the way he’s talking about my friends.

Mostly Hardin, my subconscious reminds me, and I want to slap her.

“I am not judgmental, but you would have never hung out with those Goth people before.”

“What? They aren’t Gothic, Noah, they’re just themselves,” I say. I am as surprised by the defiance in my words as Noah is.

“Well, I don’t like you hanging out with them—they’re changing you. You aren’t the same Tessa that I fell in love with.” I realize then that his tone hasn’t been malicious at all. It’s just sad.

“Well, Noah—” I begin, and the door flies open. My eyes follow Noah’s to an angry Hardin storming into the room.

I look at Hardin, then at Noah, and back to Hardin. There is no way this is going to go well.

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