Chapter 42 – After

Chapter 42 – After

The faint sound of buzzing floats through my dream in a steady pattern. Why won’t it stop? I roll over, not wanting to wake up, but the obnoxious sound insists that I do. I’m disoriented, and forget where I am. And then when I realize I’m in Steph’s bed, I still almost forget Hardin is in my room.

How do we always end up together? And more important, where is that annoying noise coming from? In the dim light provided by streetlights just outside the window, I follow the noise and it leads to Hardin’s pocket. I feel as if the noise is calling to me in my dreamy state. I debate whether or not to reach into his pocket, my eyes focused on the imprint of the phone in the front pocket of his tight jeans. It stops as I reach my bed so I steal another opportunity to take in how peaceful Hardin looks in his sleep. There is no soft crinkle in his forehead from his constant frowning, and there is no purse to his pink lips. I sigh and turn around only to have the buzzing start again. I’m just going to grab it, he won’t wake up. I dip my hand down and struggle to reach into Hardin’s pocket. If his pants weren’t so tight, I would be able to pull the phone from his pocket . . . but I have no such luck.

“What are you doing?” he groans.

I jolt a few feet away from my bed. “Your phone is going off and it woke me up,” I whisper, despite the fact that we are the only people in the room.

I watch silently as he digs into his pocket, his large hand struggling to pull out his phone. “What?” He snaps into the mouthpiece when he does get it out, only to swipe his hand over his forehead at whatever response he received.

“I am not coming back there tonight. I am at a friend’s house.”

Are we friends? Of course not, I’m just a convenient excuse for why he isn’t returning to the party. I stand awkwardly and shift my weight from one leg to the other.

“No, you can’t go into my room. You know this. I’m going back to sleep now, so don’t wake me up again. And my door is locked, so don’t waste your time trying.” He hangs up, and I instinctively back away. His bad mood is palpable, and I don’t want to be on the receiving end of his venom. I crawl onto Steph’s bed and pull the blanket to me.

“Sorry that my phone woke you,” he says quietly. “It was Molly.”

“Oh.” I sigh and lie down on my side, facing my bed across the room. Hardin gives me a small smile, as if he knows what I’m thinking about Molly. I can’t ignore the small bubble of excitement that comes from him being here instead of with Molly, even though his actions make no sense to me.

“You don’t like her, do you?” He rolls fully onto his side, his hair messy and everywhere on my pillow.

I shake my head. “Not really, but please don’t tell her. I don’t want any drama,” I beg. I know I can’t trust him, but hopefully he will forget to stir up controversy with this information.

“I won’t. I don’t care for her, either,” he murmurs.

“Yeah, you really seem to dislike her,” I say just as sarcastically as I can manage.

“I don’t. I mean, she is fun and all, but she is quite annoying,” he admits, making that bubble grow a little more.

“Well, maybe you should stop messing around with her,” I suggest and roll onto my back so he can’t see my face.

“Is there a reason I shouldn’t mess around with her?”

“No. I mean, if you think she is annoying, then why keep doing it?” I know I don’t want the answer to this, but can’t help it.

“To keep me occupied, I guess.”

I close my eyes and take a deep breath. Talking about Hardin messing around with Molly hurts me worse than it should.

His smooth voice interrupts my jealous thoughts. “Come lie with me.” “No.”

“Come on, just lie with me. I sleep better when you’re near me,” he says like it’s a confession.

I sit up and look at him. “What?” I can’t hide my surprise at his words.

Whether he means them or not, they make my insides melt.

“I sleep better when you’re with me.” He breaks eye contact and looks down.

“Last weekend I slept better than I have in a while.”

“It was probably the scotch, not me.” I try to make light of his confession. I don’t know what else to do or say.

“No, it was you.”

“Good night, Hardin.” I turn over. If he keeps saying these things and I keep listening, I will be putty in his hands yet again.

“Why don’t you believe me?” he almost whispers.

“Because you always do this: you say a few nice things and then you flip the switch and I end up crying.”

“I make you cry?”

How doesn’t he know that? He has seen me cry more than anyone else I know. “Yeah, often,” I say, gripping Steph’s blanket tight.

I hear his bed squeak lightly and I close my eyes, out of fear, out of something else, too. Hardin’s fingers graze my arm as he sits on the edge of Steph’s bed, and I tell myself it’s too late—well, early—for this at 4 a.m.

“I don’t mean to make you cry.”

I open my eyes and look up at him. “Yes. Yes, you do. That’s your exact intention every time you say hurtful things to me. And when you forced me to tell Noah about us. And when you humiliated me in your bed last week because I couldn’t say exactly what you wanted me to. Tonight you tell me you sleep better when I am around, but if I was to lie with you, the second we woke up you would just tell me I am ugly, or that you can’t stand me. After we went to the stream, I thought that . . . never mind. There are only so many times I can have this talk with you.” I take in a couple of deep breaths, panicked at my unloading on him.

“I’m listening this time.” His eyes are unreadable, but they make me want to continue.

“I just don’t know why you love this cat-and-mouse game you play with me so much. You’re nice, then mean. You tell Steph you’ll ‘ruin’ me if I come around you, then you want to drive me home. You are just all over the place.”

“I didn’t mean that. That I would ruin you, I just . . . I don’t know. I just say things sometimes,” he says, running his hands through his hair.

“Why did you drop Literature?” I finally ask.

“Because you want me to stay away from you, and I need to stay away from you.”

“So why don’t you, then?” I am slightly aware of the shift in energy around us. Somehow we have moved closer, our bodies only inches apart.

“I don’t know,” he huffs. He rubs his hands together, then rests them on his knees.

I want to say something—anything—but I can’t without telling Hardin that I

don’t want him to stay away, that I think about him every second of every day.

Finally, he breaks the silence. “Can I ask you something and you will be completely honest?”

I nod.

“Did you . . . did you miss me this week?”

That was the last thing I expected him to ask me. I blink a few times to clear my frantic mind. I told him I would answer truthfully, but I’m afraid to.


“Yeah,” I mumble and hide my face in my hands, only to have him pull them away, his touch on my wrists setting fire to my skin.

“Yeah, what?” His voice is strained, like he is desperate for my answer. “I missed you,” I gulp, expecting the worst.

What I did not expect is his sigh of relief, and the smile that stretches across his beautiful face. I want to ask him if he missed me, but he begins to speak before I get the chance.

“Really?” he asks, almost like he doesn’t believe me.

I nod in reply and he gives me a shy smile. Hardin shy? More likely he’s pleased by my admittance because it tells him he has me wrapped around his finger.

“Now can I go back to sleep?” I whine. I know he isn’t going to reciprocate my confession with one of his own, and it is really late.

“Only if you sleep with me. As in, in the same bed, of course.” He smiles.

I sigh and mumble, “Oh, Hardin, can we just go to sleep?” as I roll over, careful not to touch him. But a sudden yank on my legs makes me yelp in surprise, and I quickly find Hardin lifting me off the bed and throwing me over his shoulder. He ignores my kicking and pleas to put me down until he reaches my bed, rests one knee on it, and lays me down gently on the side against the wall before lying down next to me. I glare at him silently, afraid that if I fight him too hard he’ll leave, which I know I don’t want.

He reaches down and picks up the pillow that I tossed at him earlier and places it between us as a barrier with a smirk on his face. “There, now you can sleep, safe and secure.”

I smile back at him. I can’t help it. “Good night,” I half-giggle. “Night, Tessa.” He laughs back and I roll over on my side.

But suddenly I’m not anywhere near tired, so I just stare at the wall, hoping this electricity will dissipate and I can sleep. Well, half-hoping.

A few minutes later I feel the pillow move and then Hardin’s arm wraps around my waist and he pulls me to his chest. I don’t move it or call attention to

his actions. I am enjoying the feeling too much.

“I missed you, too,” he whispers against my hair. I smile knowing that he can’t see me. I feel the light pressure of his lips against the back of my head and my stomach flips. As much as I love it, I am left more confused than ever as I drift off to sleep.

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