Chapter 36 – After

Chapter 36 – After

What are you doing here?” I ask Hardin, even though I do not want to hear the answer, especially not in front of Noah.

“What do you think? You snuck out on me while I was asleep—what the hell was that?!” he booms. I hold my breath as his voice echoes off the wall. Noah’s face flashes with anger and I know that he’s beginning to put the puzzle pieces together.

And I’m torn between trying to explain to Noah what is going on and trying to explain to Hardin why I left.

“Answer me!” Hardin yells and stands in front of my face. I’m surprised when Noah steps between us.

“Don’t yell at her,” he warns Hardin.

I’m frozen in place while Hardin’s face twists in anger. Why is he so mad that I left? He was mocking my inexperience last night, and would have kicked me out this morning probably anyway. I need to say something before this all blows up in my face.

“Hardin . . . please don’t do this right now,” I beg. If he leaves now, I can try to explain to Noah what is going on.

“Do what, Theresa?” Hardin asks and walks around Noah. I hope Noah keeps his distance. I don’t think Hardin will hesitate to take him down. Noah is pretty buff from soccer, especially compared to Hardin’s lean body, but I have no doubt that Hardin can hold his own, and most likely win.

What the hell is happening in my life that I have to worry about Noah and

Hardin fighting?

“Hardin, please just go and we will talk about this later,” I say, trying to defuse things.

But Noah just shakes his head. “Talk about what? What the hell is going on, Tessa?”

Oh God.

“Tell him; go on and tell him,” Hardin says.

I can’t believe he is doing this. I know how cruel he can be, but this takes it to a whole other level.

“Tell me what, Tessa?” Noah asks, and I can see his stance is an aggressive one, because of Hardin, but it’s softening as he wonders about me.

“Nothing, just what you know, that I stayed at Hardin and Landon’s last night,” I lie. I try to match my gray eyes to Hardin’s in hopes that he will stop this now, but he looks away immediately.

“Tell him, Tessa, or I will,” Hardin growls.

I know it’s all lost. I know there’s no hiding anything anymore, and I begin to cry. But I want Noah to hear it from me, not the smirking asshole who’s brought us to this point. I’m humiliated—not for myself, but for Noah. He doesn’t deserve any of this, and I’m ashamed of the way I’ve treated him and the confessions I’m going to be forced to make in front of Hardin. “Noah . . . I . . . me and Hardin have been . . .” I start.

“Oh my God,” Noah stutters, and his eyes begin to water.

How could I do this to him? What the hell was I thinking? Noah is so kind, and Hardin’s cruel enough to break Noah’s heart in front of him.

Noah’s hands go to his forehead and he shakes his head. “How could you, Tessa? After everything we have been through? When did this start?” Tears stream down his face from his bright blue eyes. I have never felt this terrible—I caused those tears. I look over at Hardin and my hatred for him consumes me so that I shove him instead of answering Noah. Hardin is caught off guard and stumbles backward, but he steadies himself before he falls.

“Noah, I am so sorry. I don’t know what I was thinking.” I rush over to my boyfriend and try to hug him, but he refuses to let me touch him. And he’s probably right to. If I’m being honest, I’ve not been good to Noah for a while. I don’t know what the hell I was thinking. I suppose something crazy like Hardin becoming decent and me breaking up with Noah so I could date him—how stupid can I be? Or that I could just stay away from Hardin and Noah would never know about what happened between us? The problem is that I can’t stay away from Hardin. I am a moth to his flame, and he never hesitates to burn me. Both were stupid and naïve ideas, but I haven’t made one good choice since I’ve

met Hardin.

“I don’t know what you were thinking, either,” Noah says, with a look of regret and hurt in his eyes. “I don’t even know you anymore.”

And with that, he walks out the door. Out of my life.

“Noah, please! Wait!” I rush after him, but Hardin grabs my arm and tries to pull me back.

“Don’t touch me! I can’t believe you! This is low, Hardin, even for you.” I scream and jerk my arm out of his grasp. I push him again, hard. I have never pushed anyone in my life before today, and I hate him so much.

“If you go after him, I’m done,” he says, and my mouth falls open.

“Done? Done with what? Fucking with my emotions? I hate you!” But not wanting him to feed off my rage, I slow down and speak more calmly. “You can’t end something that never began.”

His hands fall to his sides and his mouth opens but no words come out. “Noah!” I call and rush out the door. I run down the hall and out across the

great lawn, finally catching up to him in the parking lot. He starts walking faster. “Noah, please listen. I am sorry, so sorry. I was drinking. I know that isn’t an

excuse, but I . . .” I wipe my eyes and his face softens.

“I can’t listen to you anymore . . .” he says. His eyes are red. I reach for his hand, but he pulls away.

“Noah, please, I am so sorry. Please forgive me. Please.” I can’t lose him. I just can’t.

Reaching his car, he runs a hand over his perfectly gelled hair, then turns to face me. “I just need some time, Tessa. I don’t know what to think right now.”

I sigh in defeat, not knowing what to say to that. He just needs time to get over this and we can go back to normal. He just needs time, I tell myself.

“I love you, Tessa,” Noah says, then catches me by surprise when he kisses my forehead before climbing into his car and driving away.

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