Chapter 44 – After

Chapter 44 – After

After a stop to use the toilet, I come out and don’t see or hear Hardin in the showers, so my mind of course starts worrying that he went off somewhere with those girls. He didn’t even bring any clothes with him, so if he does shower, he would just be putting on dirty clothes. Hardin could wear clothes matted with mud and still look better than any guy I have ever seen. Except Noah, I remind myself.

After a quick shower, I dry off and pull my clothes on and make my way back to my room, where I’m relieved to find Hardin sitting on my bed. Take that, schoolgirls, part of me yells. He is shirtless and the water has made his dark hair blacker yet. I close my mouth to make sure my tongue isn’t hanging out.

“Took you long enough,” he says and leans back. His muscles constrict as he lifts his arms behind his head to brace him against the wall.

“You’re supposed to be nice to me, remember,” I say and walk over to Steph’s closet and open the door to use the mirror. Grabbing Steph’s makeup bag, I sit myself down and cross my legs in front of it.

“This is me being nice.”

I stay quiet as I try to apply a little makeup. After three attempts of making a straight line on my top eyelid, I chuck the eyeliner at the mirror and Hardin laughs.

“You don’t need that, anyway,” he tells me. “I like it,” I say, and he rolls his eyes.

“Fine, we can just sit here all day while you try to color on your face,” he

says. So much for nice Hardin.

He catches himself and gives me a quick, “Sorry, sorry,” while I wipe my eyes off. But I give up the makeup routine. It’s a little hard to do with someone like Hardin watching me.

“I’m ready,” I tell him and he jumps up. “Are you going to put a shirt on?” I ask him.

“Yeah, I have one in my trunk.”

I was right: he must have an endless supply in there. I don’t want to think about the reasons behind that.

TRUE TO HIS WORD, Hardin pulls a plain black T-shirt out of his trunk and finishes getting dressed in the parking lot.

“Stop staring and get in the car,” he teases me. I stutter a denial and oblige.

“I like you in the white shirts,” I say when we’re both inside, the words just popping out before I can process them.

Cocking his head sideways, he gives me a smug grin. “Is that so?” He raises his eyebrow. “Well, I like you in those jeans. They show off your ass wonderfully,” he says and my mouth drops. Hardin and his dirty words.

I swat at him playfully and he laughs, but I mentally pat myself on the back for wearing these pants. I want Hardin to look at me even though I would never admit it, and I am flattered by his strange way of complimenting me.

“So where to?” he asks, and I pull out my phone. I read him the list of used- car dealers within a five-mile radius and tell him about a few of the reviews on each.

“You plan things way too much. We aren’t going to any of those places.” “Yes, we are. I already have this planned; there is a Prius that I want to see at

Bob’s Super Cars,” I tell him and cringe at the cheesy name. “A Prius?” he says in disgust.

“Yeah? They have the best gas mileage and they are safe and—”

“Boring. I knew somehow you would want a Prius. You just scream, ‘Lady with a planner in her Prius!’ ” he says in a fake woman’s voice and then cackles.

“Tease me all you want but I will save hundreds on gas every year,” I remind him, laughing, when he leans over and pokes my cheek. I look over at him, shocked by his doing such a small but adorable thing; he looks as surprised at what he did as I do.

“You’re cute sometimes,” he tells me. I look forward again. “Gee, thanks.”

“I mean that in a nice way, like sometimes you do cute things,” he mutters.

The words seem uncomfortable on his tongue and I know he isn’t used to saying things like this.

“Okay . . .” I say and look out the side window.

Every second I spend with Hardin increases my feelings for him, and I know it’s dangerous for me to allow these small, seemingly meaningless moments to occur, but I don’t have control of myself when Hardin is involved. I become merely a passerby in this storm.

HARDIN ENDS UP DRIVING TO BOB’S, and I thank him. Bob ends up being a short, sweaty, and overgelled man who smells like nicotine and leather and whose smile is punctuated with a gold tooth. While he talks to me, Hardin stands nearby, making faces when he isn’t looking. The little man seems to be intimidated by Hardin’s harsh appearance, but I don’t blame him. I take one look at the condition of the used Prius and decide against it. I have a feeling the moment I drove off the lot it would have broken down, and Bob has a strict no- return policy.

We visit a few more lots and they are all equally as trashy. After a morning of countless balding men, I decide to suspend my search for a car. I will have to go farther away from campus for a decent car and I just don’t feel like it today. We decide to get some lunch at a drive-through, and while we eat in the car Hardin surprisingly tells me a story about when Zed got arrested for puking all over the floor of a Wendy’s last year. The day is going better than I could have imagined, and for once I feel like we could both make it through this semester without killing each other.

On our way back to campus, we pass a cute little frozen yogurt bar and I beg Hardin to stop. He groans and acts like he doesn’t want to, but I see the hint of a smile hiding behind his sour features. Hardin tells me to find a spot and he goes and gets our yogurt for us, piling on every candy and cookie imaginable. It looks disgusting, but he convinces me it’s the only way to get your money’s worth. As gross as it looks, it’s delicious. I can’t even finish half of mine, but Hardin happily clears his cup and the remainder of mine.

“Hardin?” a man’s voice says.

Hardin’s head snaps up and his eyes narrow. Was that an accent I heard? The stranger is holding a bag and a drink carrier full of yogurt cups.

“Um . . . hey,” Hardin says, and I know instinctively that this is his father. The man is tall and lean, like Hardin, and has the same-shaped eyes, only his are a deep brown instead of green. Other than that, they are polar opposites. His father is wearing gray dress pants and a sweater vest. His brown hair has some gray

scattered on its sides and his demeanor is coldly professional. Until he smiles, that is, and shows a warmth similar to Hardin’s, when he isn’t putting so much effort into being a jerk.

“Hi, I’m Tessa,” I politely say and reach my hand out. Hardin glares at me but I ignore him. It’s not like he was going to introduce me.

“Hello, Tessa. I am Ken, Hardin’s father,” he says and shakes my hand. “Hardin, you never told me you had a girlfriend—you two should come over

for dinner tonight. Karen will make a nice meal for everyone. She’s an excellent cook.”

I want to keep Hardin’s anger in check and tell his father that I’m not his girlfriend, but Hardin speaks first.

“We can’t tonight. I have a party to go to and she doesn’t want to come,” he snaps. A gasp escapes my lips at the way Hardin speaks to his father. Ken’s face drops and I feel terrible for him.

“Actually, I would love to. I’m also a friend of Landon; we have classes together,” I interject, and Ken’s friendly smile reappears.

“You are? Well, that is great. Landon is a nice kid. I would be happy to have you over tonight,” Ken says and I smile.

I feel Hardin’s eyes blazing at me as I ask, “What time should we be there?”

“ ‘We’?” his father asks and I nod. “Okay . . . let’s do seven. I need to give Karen a bit of a warning or she will have my head,” he jokes and I smile. Hardin stares angrily out the glass wall.

“Sounds great! We’ll see you tonight!”

He says goodbye to Hardin, who rudely ignores him despite me kicking his foot under the table. A minute after his dad leaves the store, Hardin stands abruptly and slams his chair into the table. It topples over and he kicks it partway across the room before rushing out the door and leaving me alone to deal with everyone’s stares. Not sure what to do, I leave my yogurt where it is, stammer an apology under my breath, and clumsily upright the chair before running out after him.

Series Navigation<< Chapter 43 – AfterChapter 45 – After >>

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

error: Content is protected !!