Chapter 55 – After

Chapter 55 – After

Landon stays quiet during most of my explanation of my breakup with Noah and my question about what to call my relationship with Hardin, since I think we’re dating but we haven’t exactly discussed it with technical terms.

“I know I have already warned you, so I won’t do it again. But please just be careful with him. Though I will admit he seems as infatuated with you as someone like him can be,” Landon says as we take our seats.

It means a lot to me that despite his dislike of Hardin he is doing his best to be understanding and supportive.

As I walk into my third class, my Sociology professor waves me over to his podium.

“I just got a call that you should report to the chancellor’s office,” he tells me.

What? Why? A million fears seize hold of my mind, and then I remember that Hardin’s father is the chancellor. I relax a little, only to have my nerves take over for different reasons. What could he possibly need? I know college doesn’t work the same way as high school, but I feel as if I am getting called down to the principal’s office, only the principal happens to be my . . . boyfriend’s? . . . dad.

I pull my bag onto my shoulder and make my way across campus to the administration building. It’s a long walk and takes me over a half hour. I give the secretary at the front desk my name and she quickly picks up the phone. I can’t hear anything except “Dr. Scott.”

“He is ready for you,” she says with a professional smile and points to the wooden door across the hall.

I go over, but before I can knock, the door creaks open and Ken greets me with a smile. “Tessa, thank you for coming,” he says, guiding me inside, then gestures for me to sit down. He takes a seat in the large swivel chair behind an oversize cherrywood desk. I feel much more intimidated by him in this office than I ever did at his home.

“Sorry for calling you out of class. I didn’t know how else to reach you and you know reaching Hardin can be . . . difficult.”

“It’s okay, really. Is something wrong?” I ask nervously.

“No, not at all. I have a few things to discuss with you. Let’s start with the internship.” He leans forward and puts his hands on the desk. “I’m happy to say that I talked to my friend at Vance, and he would love to meet with you, the sooner the better. If you’re free tomorrow, that would be best,” he says.

“Really!” I shriek, my excitement bringing me to my feet. Feeling awkward to be standing, I hastily sit back down. “That’s so great, thank you so much! You have no idea how much I appreciate it!” I tell him. This is such great news, I can’t believe he would do this for me.

“It really is my pleasure, Tessa.” He raises his eyebrows with interest. “So, shall I tell him you will come tomorrow?”

I really don’t want to miss any classes, but this is worth it and I am ahead anyway. “Yes, that will be great. Thank you again. Wow,” I say and he laughs.

“Now for the second thing, and if you say no, that is perfectly fine. It is more of a personal request, or favor, I suppose. Your internship at Vance will not be affected in any way if you decline,” he says and I grow nervous. I nod and he continues. “I am not sure if Hardin has told you that Karen and I are to be married next weekend.”

“I knew the wedding was coming up. Oh, and congratulations,” I tell him. I didn’t know it was that close. My thoughts travel to when Hardin crashed their home and drank almost an entire bottle of scotch.

He smiles kindly. “Thank you very much. What I was wondering was if there is any way . . . that you could possibly . . . convince Hardin to come.” His eyes leave mine and he stares at the wall. “I know this is overstepping my boundaries here, but I would hate for him not to be there. And honestly, I believe you are the only one who could convince him to show up. I have asked him a few times and he said no immediately.” He lets out a frustrated breath.

I have no idea what to say to him. I would love to get Hardin to his father’s wedding, but I doubt he will listen to me. Why does everyone seem to think he will? I remember when Ken told me he believes Hardin is in love with me—a thought that’s as absurd as it is untrue.

“I will certainly talk to him. I would love if he went,” I tell him in all honesty.

“Really? Thank you so much, Tessa. I hope you don’t feel pressured to say yes, though I look forward hopefully to seeing you both there.”

A wedding with Hardin? The idea sounds so lovely, but Hardin will be hard to convince.

“Karen is very fond of you, and she really enjoyed having you over this weekend. You’re welcome anytime.”

“I really enjoyed being there. Maybe I can get in touch with her about those baking lessons she offered.” I laugh and he chuckles, too. He looks so much like Hardin when he smiles that it makes my heart warm. Hardin’s father is so desperate to have a relationship with his angry, broken son that it makes my heart ache for him. If I can do anything to help Ken, I certainly will.

“She would love that! Come by anytime,” he booms, and I stand up.

“Thank you again for helping me with the internship. It means so much to me.”

“I have looked over your application and transcript, and they are very impressive. Hardin could learn a lot from you,” he says with hope in his green eyes.

I feel my cheeks heat up as I smile and say goodbye. By the time I get back across campus to the Literature building, I have only five minutes until class begins. Hardin occupies his old seat and I can’t help the smile on my face.

“You held up your end of the deal; so did I,” he says and smiles back. I greet Landon and take my seat between them.

“Why were you so late?” Hardin whispers as the professor begins class.

“I’ll tell you after class.” I know if I bring this up now, he will cause a scene in the middle of class.

“Tell me.”

“I said I’ll tell you after class. It’s no big deal,” I promise him. He sighs but lets it go.

When class ends, Hardin and Landon both stand up and I am not sure which one to talk to. I usually talk to Landon after class and we walk out together, but now that Hardin is back, I’m unsure.

“Are you still coming to the bonfire with Dakota and me on Friday? I was thinking you should come over for dinner first. I know my mom would love it,” Landon says before Hardin can speak.

“Yeah, of course I am still coming. Dinner sounds great; just let me know the details and I’ll be there.” I can’t wait to meet Dakota. She makes Landon happy and for that I already love her.

“I’ll text you,” he says and walks away.

“I’ll text you,” Hardin mocks and I roll my eyes.

“Don’t make fun of him,” I warn.

“Oh yeah, I forgot how angry you get. I recall you almost jumping over that booth at Molly when she did.” He laughs and I give his shoulder a shove.

“I mean it, Hardin, leave him alone,” I say, then add, “Please,” to soften the mood.

“He’s living with my dad. I have earned the right to make fun of him.” He smiles at me and I laugh. As we walk out of the building, I decide it’s now or never.

“Speaking of your dad . . .” I look over and find Hardin has already tensed up. His eyes are leery as they wait for what I’ll say next. “That’s where I was today. In his office. He set up an interview at Vance for me tomorrow. Isn’t that great?”

“He what?” he scoffs.

Here we go.

“He set up an interview for me. It’s a great opportunity, Hardin.” I plead for his understanding.

“Fine,” he sighs. “There’s more.”

“Of course there is . . .”

“He invited me to the wedding next weekend . . . well, us. He invited us to the wedding.” I barely manage to get it out for the glare he’s giving me.

“No, not going. End of discussion.” He turns to walk away from me. “Wait, just hear me out. Please?” I reach for his wrist but he jerks away.

“No. You really need to stay out of this, Tessa. I am not kidding. Mind your own damn business for once,” he snaps.

“Hardin . . .” I say once more, but he ignores me.

He walks off into the parking lot. My feet have become cement, keeping me from following after him. I watch as his white car peels out of the parking lot. He is overreacting, and I am not going to feed into it. He needs some time to cool off before we speak again. I knew he wouldn’t want to go, but I had hoped he would at least discuss it.

Who am I kidding? We only started this “more” thing two days ago. I don’t know why I keep expecting things to be so much different. They are, in some ways: Hardin is nicer to me mostly, and he kissed me in public, which was really surprising. However, Hardin is still essentially Hardin, and he is stubborn and has an attitude problem. Sighing, I hook my bag over my shoulder and walk back to my room.

Steph is sitting cross-legged on the floor staring up at her television when I enter the room. “Where were you last night? It’s not like you to stay out on a school night, young lady,” she teases and I roll my eyes playfully.

“I . . . was out,” I tell her. I don’t know if I should tell her that I stayed with Hardin.

“With Hardin,” she adds for me, and I look away. “I know you were; he asked me for your number, then he left the bowling alley and never came back.” Her smile is massive and full of glee for me.

“Don’t tell anyone. I don’t exactly know what is going on myself,” I say.

Steph promises to stay mute, and we spend the rest of the afternoon talking about her and Tristan before he arrives to pick her up to take her to dinner. He kisses her as soon as she opens the door, holds her hand while she gathers her things, and smiles at her the entire time. Why can’t Hardin be that way with me? I haven’t heard anything from Hardin in a few hours, but I don’t want to be the one to text him first. Petty, I know, but I don’t care. When Steph and Tristan leave, I finish up my studying and have gathered my things to go take a shower

when my phone buzzes. My heart leaps as soon as I see Hardin’s name.

Stay with me tonight? the text reads. He hasn’t spoken to me in hours but he wants me to stay with him? Again?

Why? So you can be a jerk to me? I respond. I want to see him, but I’m still annoyed.

I’m on my way, be ready. I roll my eyes at his bossy tone but can’t help but feel excited to see him.

I rush down and take a shower so I don’t have to take one at his frat house again. By the time I finish, I barely have enough time to gather my clothes for tomorrow. I dread taking the bus all the way to Vance, when it’s only a thirty- minute drive, so I renew my resolve to go car shopping again. I am folding my clothes neatly into my bag when Hardin opens the door—without knocking, of course.

“Ready?” he asks and grabs my purse off the dresser. I nod and put my bag over my shoulder and follow him out. We walk to his car in silence, and I find myself repeating a small prayer that the rest of the night doesn’t go this way.

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