Chapter 37 – After

Chapter 37 – After

Being the disgusting person that he is, Hardin is sitting on my bed when I return. Visions of me grabbing the lamp and bashing him in the head flash through my mind, but I don’t have the energy to fight with him.

“I’m not going to apologize,” Hardin tells me as I walk past him toward Steph’s bed. I will not sit on my bed while he’s on it.

“I know you aren’t,” I say and lie back.

I won’t let him bait me into this fight, and I don’t expect him to apologize. I know him better by now. Well, recent history would say that I don’t know him at all. Last night I thought he was just an angry boy whose father left him, and that he held on to that hurt, using the only emotion he could to keep people out. This morning, I see that he is just a terrible, hateful person. There is nothing good about Hardin. At any moment I believed there was, it was only because that is what he tricked me into believing.

“He needed to know,” he says.

I bite down on my lip to prevent the tears from returning. I stay quiet until I hear Hardin get up and move toward me. “Just go, Hardin,” I say, but when I look up he is standing over me. When he sits down on the bed, I jump up.

“He needed to know,” he repeats, and anger boils inside me. I know he just wants to get a rise out of me.

Why, Hardin? Why did he need to know? How could hurting him possibly be a good thing? You weren’t affected one bit by him not knowing—you could have gone on with your day without telling him. You had no right to do that to him, or

me.” I feel the tears coming again but this time I can’t stop them.

“I would want to know if I was him,” he says, his voice steady and cold.

“You aren’t him, though, and you never will be. I was stupid to think you could possibly be anything even close to him. And since when do you care about what is right?”

“Don’t you dare compare me to him,” he snaps. I hate the way he chooses only one of my statements to respond to, and that he usually warps what I’m saying to better provoke himself. He stands up and moves toward me, but I back away to the other side of the bed.

“There is no comparison. Don’t you get that by now? You are a cruel and disgusting jerk who doesn’t give a shit about anyone but yourself. And he—he loves me. He is willing to try to forgive me for my mistakes.” I stare into his eyes. “My terrible mistakes,” I add.

Hardin takes a step back as if I’d pushed him. “Forgive you?”

“Yeah, he will forgive me for this. I know he will. Because he loves me, so your pathetic plan to get him to break up with me so you can sit back and laugh didn’t work. Now get out of my room.”

“That wasn’t . . . I—” he starts to say, but I cut him off. I’ve wasted enough time on him already.

“Get out! I know you’re probably already plotting your next move against me, but guess what, Hardin? It isn’t going to work anymore. Now get the fuck out of my room!” I am surprised at my harsh words, but I don’t feel bad for using them against Hardin.

“That isn’t what I’m doing, Tess. I thought after last night . . . I don’t know, I thought you and I . . .” He seems to be at a loss for words, which is a first. Part of me, a huge part of me, is dying to know what he is going to say, but this is how I got so tangled in his web in the first place. He uses my curiosity against me, like it’s all a game to him. I furiously wipe my eyes, thankful I didn’t wear makeup yesterday.

“You aren’t really expecting me to buy that, are you? That you feel something about me?”

I need to stop and he needs to leave before his claws sink deeper into me. “Of course I do, Tessa. You make me feel so—”

“No! I don’t want to hear it, Hardin. I know you’re lying, and this is your sick way of getting off. To make me believe that you could possibly feel the same way about me as I do about you, and then will flip the switch. I know how this goes by now, and I won’t keep it going.”

“Feel the same way you do? Are you saying that you . . . you have feelings for me?” His eyes flash with what appears to be hope. He is a much better actor than

I thought.

He knows I do, he has to know that. What other reason could there be for me to keep this unhealthy cycle between us going? With a fear I’ve never felt before, I realize that though I had barely admitted my feelings for Hardin to myself, I now have put them out there in front of him, giving him easy access to smash them. Worse than he already has.

I feel my walls slowly being torn down by the way Hardin is looking at me and I can’t let it happen. “Leave, Hardin. I won’t ask again. If you don’t leave I will call campus security.”

“Tess, please answer me,” he begs.

“Don’t call me Tess; that name is reserved for family, friends, for people who actually care about me—now leave!” I yell, much louder than I had planned. I need him to get out and get away from me. I hate when he calls me Theresa, but I hate when he calls me Tess even more. Something about the way his lips move when he says it makes it sound so intimate, so lovely. Damn it, Tessa. Just stop.

“Please, I need to know if you—”

“What a long weekend, boys and girls—I am exhausted!” Steph says as she bursts into the room, playful exhaustion coloring her words. But when she notices my tearstained cheeks, she stops and her eyes narrow at Hardin.

“What is going on? What did you do?!” she yells at him. “Where is Noah?” she asks and looks at me.

“He left, just like Hardin is about to,” I tell her. “Tessa . . .” Hardin begins.

“Steph, please make him leave,” I beg and she nods. Hardin’s mouth falls open with annoyance at my use of Steph against him. He thought he had me trapped again.

“Let’s go, Boy Wonder,” she says and grabs his arm, dragging him toward the door.

I stare at the wall until I hear the door shut but immediately hear their voices in the hall.

“What the hell, Hardin? I told you to stay away from her; she is my roommate and she’s not like the other girls you mess with. She’s nice, innocent, and, honestly, too good for you.”

I am pleased and surprised by the way she is sticking up for me. But it still doesn’t soothe the pain in my chest. My heart literally hurts. I thought I had experienced heartbreak after my day with Hardin at the stream, but that was nothing compared to how I feel right now. I hate to admit it to myself, but I know that spending the night with Hardin last night made my feelings for him so much stronger than they already were. Hearing him laugh while he tickled me,

the way he gently kissed my lips, his tattooed arms wrapping around me, the way his eyes fluttered and closed when I traced my fingers over his bare skin— all of it made me fall deeper for him. Those intimate moments between us that made me care for him more also make this hurt so much more. On top of that, I have hurt Noah in a way that I can only pray he forgives me for.

“It’s not like that.” In his anger his accent has become thick and his words clipped.

“Bullshit, Hardin, I know you. Find someone else to mess around with; there are plenty of other girls. She isn’t the type of girl you need to be doing this with; she has a boyfriend and she can’t handle this shit.”

I don’t like hearing her say that I’m too sensitive, like I’m weak or something, but I guess she is right. I have done nothing but cry since I met Hardin, and now he has tried to ruin my relationship with Noah. I don’t have what it takes to be something like friends with benefits, regardless of how he makes me feel. I have more respect for myself than that and I’m too emotional.

“Fine. I will stay away from her. But don’t bring her to any more parties at my house,” he snaps, and I hear him stomping off. As he goes down the hall, his voice recedes, too, as he yells, “I mean it, I don’t want to see her again! And if I do, I will ruin her!”

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