Chapter 46 – After

Chapter 46 – After

The drive to Hardin’s father’s house is nice. The low music in the background of his car feels like a distraction, and I notice the way his hands are gripping the steering wheel a little too hard. He seems on edge during the drive, but I know if he wants to talk about something, he would have no problem calling it out.

I climb out of the car and walk up the steps from the sidewalk. With the sun still in the sky, I can see some old vines creeping up the sides of the house and the small white flowers that join them. Unexpectedly, I hear Hardin’s door open and close, and then his boots on the sidewalk. I turn around to see him a few steps behind me.

“What are you doing?” I ask him.

“Coming with you, obviously.” He rolls his eyes and takes one long stride to join me at the top of the steps.

“Really? It seemed like you weren’t—”

“Yeah. Now let’s go inside and have the worst night of our lives.”

His face twists into the fakest smile I have ever seen. I elbow him and ring the doorbell. “I don’t ring doorbells,” he tells me and turns the knob. I suppose it’s okay because it’s his father’s house, but I still feel a little uncomfortable.

We walk inside and through the foyer before his father appears. The surprise is evident on his face, but he smiles his charming smile and goes to hug his son. Hardin, however, dodges his gesture and walks right past him. The embarrassment flashes on Mr. Scott’s handsome features, but I look away before he realizes that I saw his subtle gesture.

“Thank you so much for having us, Mr. Scott,” I say as we pass through the doorway.

“Thank you so much for coming, Tessa. Landon has told me some about you. He seems very fond of you. And please, call me Ken.” He smiles and I follow him into the living room.

Landon is sitting on the couch with his Literature book on his lap as I enter. His face lights up and he closes the book as I walk over and sit down next to him. I’m not sure where Hardin went to, but he’ll appear sooner or later.

“So you and Hardin are giving your friendship another try?” Landon asks with a slight frown. I want to explain what is going on between Hardin and me, but I honestly have no idea myself.

“It’s complicated.” I try to smile but I feel it falter.

“You’re still with Noah, right? Because Ken seems to think you and Hardin are dating.” He laughs. I hope my laugh doesn’t sound as fake as it feels. “I didn’t have the heart to tell him otherwise, but I am sure Hardin will,” he says.

I shift uncomfortably, unsure what to say. “Yeah, I’m still with Noah, it’s just


“You must be Tessa!” A woman’s voice rings through the room. Landon’s mom walks toward me and I stand up to shake her hand. Her eyes are bright and her smile is lovely. She is wearing a turquoise dress, similar to my maroon dress, with an apron printed with small strawberries and bananas over the top of it.

“It’s so nice to meet you; thank you for having me. Your home is beautiful,” I tell her. Her smile covers her face and she squeezes my hand.

“You are so welcome, dear, it’s my pleasure,” she says, beaming. A timer goes off from the kitchen and she jumps a little. “Well, I’m going to finish up in the kitchen, but I’ll see you all in the dining room in a few minutes.”

“What are you working on?” I ask Landon and he pulls out a folder. “Next week’s assignments. That essay on Tolstoy is going to kill me.”

I laugh and nod; that essay took me hours to write. “Yeah, it was a killer. I just finished it a few days ago.”

“Well, if you two nerds are done comparing notes, I would love to eat dinner sometime in the next year,” Hardin says. I glare at him, but Landon just laughs and puts his book down before walking to the dining room. It seems their fight was good for them after all.

I follow them both to the large dining room. There, a long table is decorated beautifully with full place settings and multiple platters of food in the center. Karen really went all out for this; Hardin had better behave or I will kill him.

“Tessa, you and Hardin will sit on this side,” Karen instructs us and gestures to the left of the table. Landon sits across from Hardin. Ken and Karen take their

seats on the other side of Landon.

I thank her and sit down next to Hardin, who is quiet and seems uncomfortable. I watch as Karen makes Ken’s plate for him and he thanks her with a brief kiss on her cheek. It is such a sweet gesture, I have to look away. I fill my plate with roast beef, potatoes, and squash, then pile a roll on top of it. Hardin chuckles quietly at the mound of food.

“What? I’m hungry,” I whisper.

“Nothing. Hungry girls are the best.” He laughs again and piles his plate even higher than mine.

“So, Tessa, how are you liking Washington Central so far?” Ken asks.

I chew my food quickly so I can answer. “I really enjoy it. It’s only my first semester, though, so ask me again in a few months,” I joke and everyone laughs, except Hardin.

“Well, that’s great. Are you in any clubs on campus?” Karen asks and wipes her mouth with her napkin.

“Not yet, I plan on joining the Literary Club next semester.”

“Really? Hardin used to be a member,” Ken adds and I look at Hardin. His eyes are narrowed and he looks annoyed.

“So how do you like living near WCU?” I ask to divert attention from Hardin.

His eyes soften and I imagine that’s his way of thanking me.

“We enjoy it. When Ken first became chancellor, we lived in a much smaller place until we found this house and we fell in love with it immediately.”

My fork drops against the glass plate. “Chancellor? Of WCU?” I gasp. “Yes. Hardin never mentioned it?” Ken asks, looking over at his son. “No . . . I didn’t.”

Karen and Landon follow Ken’s eyes to Hardin and he shifts nervously.

For his part, Hardin looks back at his father with a glaring hatred. He launches to his feet, shouting, “No! Okay, no, I didn’t tell her—I don’t know why it fucking matters. I don’t need to use your name or position!” As he storms away from the table, Karen looks like she might cry, and Ken’s face is red.

“I am so sorry, I didn’t know he . . .” I start.

“No, don’t apologize for his poor behavior,” Ken tells me. I hear the back door slam. “Excuse me,” I say, and stand up from the table to go find Hardin.

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