Chapter 38 – After

Chapter 38 – After

Steph walks in and right away wraps her tiny arms around me. It’s odd that her frail arms can feel so comforting.

“Thank you for making him leave,” I say, sobbing, and she hugs me tighter.

My tears really are flowing now and I don’t see an end in sight.

“Hardin may be my friend, but so are you, and I don’t want him upsetting you. I’m sorry, this is all my fault. I knew I should have given my key to Nate, and I shouldn’t have let him come around you all the time. He can be a real dick.”

“No, it’s not your fault at all. I am sorry, I don’t want to come in between your friendship.”

“Oh please,” she says.

I pull out of her embrace and see the look of concern on her face. I appreciate her being here with me more than she will ever know. I feel completely alone: Noah’s taking time to decide whether to break up with me or not, Hardin is an asshole, my mother would lose it if I talked to her about this, and Landon would be disappointed in me if he knew the depth of my situation with Hardin. I literally have no one except this flame-haired, tattooed girl who I never expected would become my friend. But I’m really glad she did.

“Do you want to talk about it?”

I do, actually, I want to get it all off my chest. I tell her everything, from the first time I kissed Hardin, to our day at the stream, to the orgasm I gave him and how he called my name in his sleep, to the way he destroyed every ounce of respect I had for him when he made me tell Noah. Her face goes from concerned

to shocked to sad during my story. My shirt is soaked with tears by the time I finish and she is holding my hand.

“Wow, I had no idea that so much happened. You could have told me after the first time. I knew something was up when Hardin showed up here the night we were going to the movies. I had literally just got off the phone with him, then he shows up, so I’d suspected he came here to see you. Listen, Hardin is a good guy, sometimes. I mean, deep down he just doesn’t know how to really care for someone the way that you—well, most girls—need to be cared for. If I was you, I would try to make things work with Noah because Hardin isn’t capable of being anyone’s boyfriend,” she says and squeezes my hand.

I know everything she is saying is true and she is right. So why does it hurt so bad?

ON MONDAY MORNING, Landon is leaning against the brick outside the coffeehouse, waiting for me. I wave when I see him, but then I notice he has a blue-purple ring around his left eye. And when I look closer, I see another bruise on his cheek.

“What happened to your eye?!” I exclaim, running up to him.

Realization hits me like a truck. “Landon! Did Hardin do this?” My voice is shaky.

“Yeah . . .” he admits and I am horrified.

Why? What happened?” I want to kill Hardin for hurting Landon.

“He stormed out of the house after you left and then came back about an hour later. He was so pissed. He started looking around for more stuff to break, so I stopped him. Well, I fought with him. It wasn’t so bad, actually. I think both of us got a lot of our anger toward each other out. I got quite a few good hits on him, too,” he boasts.

I don’t know what to say. I’m surprised at Landon’s light tone while talking about fighting with Hardin.

“Are you sure you’re okay? Is there anything I can do?” I ask him. I feel like this is my fault. Hardin was mad because of me, but assaulting Landon?

“No, really, I’m okay.” He smiles.

While we walk to class he tells me how Hardin’s father broke up their fight, luckily arriving home before they killed each other, and how his mother cried when she realized Hardin had broken all her dishes. Though they didn’t have any sentimental value, she was hurt that Hardin would do that nonetheless.

“But in other news, much better news, Dakota is coming to visit next weekend. She is coming to the bonfire!” He smiles.


“Yeah, haven’t you seen the signs all over campus? It’s an annual thing, to start the new year. Everyone goes. I am not usually into stuff like that, but it’s actually a pretty good time. Noah should come up again. We can make a double date out of it.”

I smile and nod. Maybe inviting Noah would show him I do have some good friends, like Landon. I know Hardin and Landon—I mean, Noah and Landon would get along great, and I really want to meet Dakota.

Now that Landon has mentioned the bonfire, I notice signs littering almost every wall. I guess I was just too distracted all week to notice.

Before I know it, I’m in Literature and begin scanning the room for Hardin, despite my subconscious shouting at me not to. When I don’t see him his voice plays in my head: I will ruin her.

What could he possibly do that’s worse than outing me in front of Noah? I don’t know, but I start imagining things until Landon breaks me out of my zone.

“I don’t think he’s here. I heard him talking to that Zed guy about switching his classes around. Darn, I do wish you could see his black eye.” Landon smiles at me and my eyes snap to the front of the room.

I want to deny that I was looking for Hardin, but I know I can’t. Hardin has a black eye? I hope he is okay; no, I don’t, actually. I hope it hurts like hell.

“Oh, okay,” I mumble and pick at my skirt.

Landon doesn’t mention Hardin for the rest of the class.

THE REST OF THE WEEK is exactly the same way: I don’t talk about Hardin to anyone and no one mentions him to me. Tristan has been hanging out in our room all week, but I don’t mind. I actually really like him and he makes Steph laugh, and even me, too, sometimes, despite what seems to be the worst week of my life. I’ve just been wearing whatever is clean and handy and pulling my hair into a bun every day. My short-lived affair with eyeliner has ended and I am back to my normal routine.

Sleep, class, study, eat, sleep, class, study, eat.

By Friday, Steph’s clearly making an effort to get this spinster out and about. “Come on, Tessa, it’s Friday. Just come with us and we’ll drop you back off

before we go to Har . . . I mean the party,” she begs, but I shake my head. I don’t feel like doing anything. I need to study and call my mother. I’ve been dodging her calls all week, and I need to call Noah and find out if he’s made a decision. I’ve been giving him his space all week, only sending him a few friendly texts in hopes that he will come around. I really want him to come to the bonfire next


“I think I will pass . . . I’m looking at cars tomorrow, so I need my rest,” I half lie. I really am going to look at cars tomorrow but I know I won’t be getting rest sitting here alone with my thoughts about Noah’s uncertainty, about how Hardin was obviously serious about staying away from me—which I’m really glad he’s done. I just can’t shake him from my thoughts. I just need more time, I keep telling myself.

But the way he acted like he wanted something from me the last time I saw him, that got under my skin.

My thoughts drift off to a place where Hardin was pleasant and funny and we got along. A place where we could date, really date, and he would take me out to the movies or to dinner. He would put his arm around me and be proud that I was his; he would drape his jacket over my shoulders if I was cold and kiss me good night, promising me that he would see me tomorrow.

“Tessa?” Steph says and my thoughts disappear like a puff of smoke. They weren’t reality and the boy in my daydream would never be Hardin.

“Oh come on, you’ve been wearing those fuzzy cloud pants all week,” Tristan teases and I laugh. These pants are my favorite to wear to bed, especially when I am sick, or going through a breakup, or two. I’m still confused about how Hardin and I ended something that was nothing to begin with.

“Okay. Okay, but you need to drop me off right after dinner because I have to get up early,” I warn.

Steph claps and jumps up and down. “Yay! Just please let me do you a favor?” she asks with an innocent smile while she bats her lashes.

“What?” I whine, knowing she is up to no good.

“Let me give you a little makeover? Pleeeaassee!” She draws out the word for dramatic purposes.

“No. Way.” I can picture myself with pink hair and pounds of eyeliner, wearing only a bra for a shirt.

“Nothing too dramatic, I just want to make you look . . . like you haven’t been hibernating in pajamas all week.” She smiles and Tristan tries to stifle his laugh.

And when I give in and say, “Fine,” she begins clapping again.

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