Chapter 49 – After

Chapter 49 – After

Karen has made lots of sweets for us to eat. I eat a few while she and I discuss her love for baking. Landon doesn’t join us in the dining room but it doesn’t seem to cause any suspicion. I look over to where he just sits on the couch with his book on his lap and remind myself that I need to make sure I talk to him soon. I don’t want to lose his friendship.

“I love baking as well, I am just no good at it,” I tell Karen, and she laughs.

“I would love to teach you,” she says. Hope is evident in her brown eyes and I nod.

“That would be great.” I don’t have the heart to say no. I feel for her; she is really trying to make an effort to get to know me. She believes me to be Hardin’s girlfriend and I can’t tell her otherwise. Hardin has made no move to tell her or his father, either, which gives me a swell of hope. I wish this night was how my life could always be, enjoying spending time with Hardin, his eyes constantly meeting mine as I converse with his father and future stepmother. He is being nice, for the last hour at least, and his thumb rubs over my knuckles in a gentle gesture that gives me a constant string of butterflies. The rain continues to pour outside and the wind howls.

After we finish the desserts, Hardin gets up from the table. I look at him questionably and he leans down to whisper in my ear.

“Be right back, just going to the loo,” he says, and I watch him disappear down the hall.

“We both cannot thank you enough. It is so wonderful having Hardin here,

even if it’s only one dinner,” Karen says and Ken takes her hand above the table. “She’s right. It is wonderful, as his father, to see my only son in love. I had always worried he wouldn’t be capable . . . he was an . . . angry child,” Ken mutters and looks at me. He must notice how I shift uncomfortably in my seat, because he follows up with “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to make you uncomfortable,

we just love to see him happy.”

Happy? Love? I choke on my breath and break into a heap of coughs; the cool water in my glass slides down my throat, calming it, and I look back at them. They think Hardin is in love with me? It would be incredibly rude to laugh at them, but he obviously doesn’t know his son.

Before I can respond, Hardin returns and I thank the heavens that I didn’t have to respond to their sweet, but false, assumptions. Hardin doesn’t sit down, but rather stands behind me with his hands on the back of the chair.

“We really should get going. I have to take Tessa back to the dorms,” he says. “Oh, don’t be silly. You two should stay tonight. It’s storming outside and we

have plenty of room. Right, Ken?”

Hardin’s father nods. “Of course, you’re both welcome to stay.”

Hardin looks at me. I want to stay. To extend my time with Hardin in what feels like a world away from the world, especially when he is in such a good mood.

“I don’t mind,” I answer. But I don’t want to upset him by wanting to stay here any longer. His eyes are unreadable, but he doesn’t seem to be angry.

“Great! Then it’s settled. I’ll show Tessa to a room . . . unless you’ll be staying with Hardin in his?” she asks. There is no judgment behind her voice, only kindness.

“No, I’d like my own room, please. If that’s okay?” Hardin glares at me.

So he wanted me in his room with him? The thought excites me, but I don’t feel comfortable with them knowing Hardin and I are at that point yet. My snarky subconscious reminds me that we aren’t dating at all, or even close to it, so being at a “point” isn’t possible. That I have a boyfriend who is not Hardin. I ignore her as usual and follow Karen upstairs. I wonder why she’s sending us straight to bed, but I’m not comfortable enough to ask.

She shows me to a room directly across from Hardin’s. It isn’t quite as large, but it’s decorated just as beautifully. The bed is a little smaller and sits on a white frame against the wall. There are pictures of boats and anchors scattered through the room. I thank her multiple times and she hugs me again before leaving me to my room.

I walk around the room and find myself at the window. The backyard is much

bigger than I had thought; I had only seen the deck and the trees on the left side. On the right side there is a small building that looks like a greenhouse, but I can’t tell through the heavy rain.

As I stare at the rain, my thoughts begin to run wild. Today has been the best time I have ever had with Hardin, despite his multiple outbursts. He has held my hand, which he never does; he put his hand on my back as we walked, and he did his best to comfort me when I was worried about Landon. This is the furthest we have gone in our . . . friendship, or whatever this is. That’s the confusing part: I know we can’t and never will actually date, but maybe whatever we are doing now will be good enough? I have never imagined being someone’s friend with benefits, but I know I won’t be able to stay away from him. I have tried many times now, and it never works.

A light knock on the door brings me out of my thoughts. I expect to see Karen or Hardin, but instead I find Landon when I open the door. His hands are in his pockets, and his handsome face holds a small, awkward smile.

“Hey,” he says and I smile.

“Hey, do you want to come in?” I ask him, and he nods.

I walk over and sit on the bed; he pulls the chair out from the small table in the corner and takes a seat.

“I—” we both say at the same time and laugh. “You first,” he suggests.

“Okay, I am so sorry that you found out about Hardin and me that way. I didn’t go out there with that intention. I was just making sure he was okay; this whole dinner with his father was really getting to him and somehow we just ended up . . . kissing. I know how terrible it is of me, and I know I am horrible for cheating on Noah, but I am just so confused, and I tried to stay away from Hardin. I really did.”

“I’m not judging you, Tessa. I was just surprised to see you two making out on the deck. I thought when I walked out I would find you yelling at each other.” He laughs and continues. “I knew something was up with you two when you had that fight in the middle of Literature and then when you stayed last weekend, and then when he came back and started a fight with me. The signs were all there, but I thought you would tell me, though I do understand why you didn’t.”

I feel a huge weight lift off my shoulders. “You’re not mad at me? Or think any different of me?” I ask him and he shakes his head.

“No, of course not. I am worried about you and Hardin, though. I don’t want him to hurt you, and I believe he will. I am sorry for saying that, but as your friend I need you to know that he will.”

I want to get defensive and even angry, but part of me knows he is right. I just

hope somehow he isn’t.

“So what are you going to do about Noah?”

I groan. “I have no idea. I am afraid that if I break up with him I will regret it, but what I am doing to him isn’t fair. I just need a little time to decide what to do.”

He nods.

“Landon, I’m so relieved that you aren’t mad at me. I was being a jerk earlier.

I just didn’t know what to say. I am sorry.”

“Me, too, I completely understand.” We both stand up and he hugs me. A warm and comforting hug as the door opens.

“Um . . . am I interrupting something?” Hardin’s voice travels through the room.

“No, come in,” I tell him and he rolls his eyes. I hope he is still in a decent mood.

“I brought you some clothes to sleep in,” he tells me. He places a small pile on the bed and goes to walk out.

“Thank you, but you can stay.” I don’t want him to leave.

He looks at Landon and snaps, “No, I’m good,” before leaving the room. “He is so moody!” I whine and plop down on the bed.

Landon chuckles and sits back down. “Yeah, moody is one word for it.”

We both burst into laughter and then Landon begins to talk about Dakota and how he can’t wait for her to come visit next weekend. I almost forgot about the bonfire. Noah is coming. Maybe I should tell him not to. What if this change between Hardin and me is all in my head? I feel like something has changed between us today, and he did tell me he wants me more than he has ever wanted anyone. But he didn’t exactly say he has feelings for me, only that he wants me. After an hour of Landon and I talking about everything from Tolstoy to the Seattle skyline, he tells me good night and retreats to his room, leaving me alone to my thoughts and the sound of the rain.

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