Chapter 58 – After

Chapter 58 – After

During my walk back to my room I realize how foolish I have been, expecting Hardin to be different than before. I should have known better. I should have known that this was too good to be true. Hardin kissing me in front of Landon, Hardin being nice and wanting “more.” Hardin telling me about his childhood. I should have known that as soon as his friends came along he would go right back to the Hardin that up until two weeks ago I despised.

“Hey, girl! You coming tonight?” Steph asks as I walk into our room. Tristan is sitting on her bed staring at her in the adoring way I wish Hardin would stare at me.

“No, I’m going to study,” I say. It’s nice to know that everyone was invited, yet Hardin didn’t see fit to even mention the party to me. Probably so he could hang out with Molly without any distractions.

“Oh come on! It will be fun. Hardin will be there.” She smiles and I force one back to her.

“Really, it’s okay. I need to call my mother and catch up with her and plan my assignments for next week.”

“Laaaame!” Steph teases and grabs her purse. “Suit yourself. I’ll be out all night, so if you need anything let me know,” she says and hugs me goodbye.

I call my mother and tell her about my internship, and of course she is beyond pleased by my amazing opportunity. I leave Hardin out of the explanation, but I do mention Ken, though I say he is Landon’s soon-to-be stepfather, which is true. She asks about Noah and me, but I dodge her questions. I’m surprised and

grateful to find that Noah hasn’t told my mother everything. He doesn’t owe me anything, but I’m thankful for his omission. After listening to her talk for far too long about her new coworker, who she believes is having an affair with her boss, I finally tell her I really need to study and I get off the phone. Immediately, my mind goes back to Hardin, as always. My life was much more simple before I met Hardin, and now after . . . it is complicated and stressful, and I am either extremely happy or there is this burning in my chest when I think of him with Molly.

I will go insane if I just sit here, and it’s only six o’clock by the time I give up trying to study. Maybe I should go for a walk? I really need some more friends. I grab my phone and call Landon.

“Hey, Tessa!” His voice is friendly and soothes some of my anxiety. “Hey, Landon, are you busy?” I ask him.

“No, just watching the game. Why, is something wrong?”

“No, I was just wondering if maybe I could come over and hang out . . . or maybe if your mom doesn’t mind I could take her up on those baking lessons.” I let out a weak laugh.

“Yeah, of course. She would love that—I’ll let her know you’re coming.” “Okay, the next bus isn’t for thirty minutes, but I will be there as soon as I

can,” I tell him.

“Bus? Oh yeah, I forgot you haven’t found a car. I will come get you.” “No, really, it’s okay. I don’t mind, I don’t want you to go out of your way.” “Tessa, it’s less than ten miles. I’ll leave now,” he says and I finally agree.

I grab my purse and check my phone one last time. Of course Hardin hasn’t texted or called me. I hate the way I feel dependent on him, especially when I obviously can’t depend on him.

Determined to be independent, I turn my phone off. If I leave it on, I will go crazy checking it every few minutes. Figuring that I really should just leave it here, I put it in the top drawer of my dresser before I go out to wait for Landon to pick me up.

Minutes later he pulls up and honks lightly. I jump off the curb in surprise and we both laugh as I climb into the car.

“My mother is going insane in the kitchen right now, so be prepared for a very detailed baking lesson,” he says.

“Really? I love the details!”

“I know you do—we’re alike that way,” he says and turns on the radio.

I hear the familiar sound of one of my favorite songs. “Can I turn this up?” I ask and he nods.

“You like the Fray?” he asks in a surprised tone.

“Yes! They’re my favorite band—I love them. Do you like them?”

“Yes! Who doesn’t?” He laughs. I almost tell him Hardin doesn’t, but then decide against it.

When we arrive at the house, Ken greets us at the door with a friendly smile. I hope he wasn’t expecting Hardin to be with me, but seeing no disappointment on his face, I smile back.

“Karen is in the kitchen; enter at your own risk,” he says mischievously.

He wasn’t joking. Karen has the entire large island covered in pans, mixing bowls, and a lot of other things I don’t recognize.

“Tessa! I’m just getting everything ready!” She’s beaming as she makes a hand gesture to highlight all the strange equipment.

“Is there anything I can help you with?”

“No, not at the moment. I am almost finished    There, I’m done.”

“I hope it wasn’t too late notice for me to come by,” I say.

“Oh no, dear, you are always welcome here,” she assures me and I can tell she means it.

She hands me an apron to wear and I tie my hair up into a bun. Landon sits on the bench and talks to us for a few minutes while Karen shows me all the ingredients used to make cupcakes from scratch. I pour them into the mixer and turn it on low speed.

“I already feel like a professional baker.” I laugh and Landon leans across, wiping his hand across my cheek.

“Sorry, you have some flour on your face.” His cheeks flush and I smile.

I start pouring my cupcake batter into the baking pan. When we put them in the oven and start talking about school and home, Landon leaves the “girl talk” and goes to the other room to finish watching a football game he’s recorded.

We get lost in conversation while our creations bake and cool, and when she says it’s time to ice the cupcakes, I look at them and am really pleased with the way mine turned out. Karen shows me how to use the piping bag to make an L on the top of one of them, and I set it aside for Landon. Karen expertly pipes flowers and green blades of grass onto her cupcakes while I do the best I can with mine.

“I think it’s cookies next time.” She smiles and places the cupcakes in a serving case.

“Sounds good to me,” I tell her and take a bite of one of my cupcakes.

As Karen adjusts the case of sweets, she asks, “And where’s Hardin tonight?”

I chew my cake slowly, trying to discern a motive behind her asking. “He’s at his house,” I answer simply. She frowns slightly but doesn’t push it.

Landon wanders back into the kitchen and Karen leaves the room to take a

few cupcakes to Ken.

“Is this cupcake for me?” Landon asks and holds up the cupcake with the squiggly L written in icing.

“Yeah, I have to work on my piping skills.”

He takes a big bite. “The important part is it tastes good,” he says with a full mouth. I giggle and he wipes his mouth.

I eat another cupcake and Landon talks about the game, which I don’t really care about, but he’s nice, so I pretend to listen. My mind travels to Hardin again and I stare out the window.

“Are you okay?” Landon pulls me out of my thoughts.

“Yeah, I’m sorry. I was paying attention . . . at first.” I smile apologetically. “It’s all right. Is it Hardin?”

“Yeah . . . how’d you know?” I ask. “Where is he?”

“The frat house. There’s some party tonight . . .” I start, and then decide to confide in him. “And he didn’t tell me about it. He had his friends meet him and he just said, ‘See you around, Tessa.’ I feel like an idiot even repeating this, I know how stupid I sound, but it’s driving me crazy. That girl Molly, he used to mess around with her all the time and she’s with him now, and he didn’t tell them we are . . . whatever we are.” I let out a heavy sigh.

“Aren’t you two supposed to be dating?” Landon asks. “Yeah . . . well, I thought so but I don’t know now.” “Why don’t you try to talk to him? Or go to the party?” I just look at him. “I can’t just go to the party.”

“Why not? You’ve been to their parties before, and you and Hardin are sort of dating, or whatever this is, and your roommate will be there. I would go if I was you.”

“Really? Steph did invite me . . . I don’t know.”

I want to go just to see if Hardin is with Molly but I feel stupid just showing up there.

“I think you should.”

“Will you come with me?” I ask.

“Oh no, no. Sorry, Tessa. We are friends but no-ho-ho.”

I knew he wouldn’t but it was worth asking. “I think I will go. At least to talk to him.”

“Good. Just wipe the flour off your face first.”

He laughs and I gently push his arm. I stay a little while longer to hang out with Landon; I don’t want him to think I was just using him for a roundabout ride to the party, even though I know he doesn’t think that.

“GOOD LUCK; CALL ME if you need me,” he says as I get out of the car in front of the frat house. After he drives away I think of the irony of my leaving my phone in my room to avoid worrying about Hardin, and yet here I am showing up at his house.

A group of scantily clad girls are standing in the yard, causing me to look down at my outfit: jeans and a cardigan. I barely have any makeup on and my hair is in a bun on top of my head. What the hell was I thinking coming here?

I swallow my anxiety and walk inside. I don’t see any familiar faces except Logan, who’s doing a body shot off a girl wearing only a bra and panties. I walk through the kitchen and someone hands me a red cup full of alcohol, which I put to my lips. If I am going to confront Hardin, I need alcohol. I push my way through the crowded living room to the couch that their group usually hangs out on. Between bodies and over shoulders, Molly’s pink hair comes into view . . .

And I feel sick as I notice she isn’t sitting on the couch, but on Hardin’s lap. His hand is on her thigh and she leans back against him, laughing among her friends like this is the most normal thing in the world.

How did I get myself in this situation with Hardin? I should have stayed away from him. I knew it then and I am slapped in the face with it now. I should just leave. I don’t belong here, and I don’t want to cry in front of these people again. I am sick of crying over Hardin, and I am done trying to make him something he isn’t. Every time I think I feel as low as I can, he does something else that makes me realize I previously had no idea of the real pain that unrequited feelings can cause. I watch as Molly puts her hand over Hardin’s; he moves his away, only to put it on her hip, giving her a playful squeeze and she giggles. I try to force myself to move, to back up, to run, to crawl, to do anything to get me out of here, but my eyes are locked on the boy I was falling for while his eyes are locked on her.

“Tessa!” someone calls. Hardin’s head snaps up and his green eyes meet mine. They are wide with shock, and Molly looks my way, then leans farther onto Hardin. His lips part as if he is going to say something, but he doesn’t.

Zed appears at my side and I finally force my eyes from Hardin’s. I try to muster a smile for him, but all of my energy is being used to prevent myself from bursting into tears.

“Do you want a drink?” Zed asks and I look down. I was holding a cup of beer, wasn’t I?

At my feet is my cup, the beer spilled across the carpet. I take a step away from it; I normally would clean it up and apologize, but right now I would rather just pretend it wasn’t mine. It’s so crowded in here, nobody will know.

I have two options: I can run out of here in tears and let Hardin know he got the best of me, or I can put on a brave face and act like I don’t care about him and the way he is still holding Molly on his lap.

I decide to go with option two.

“Yes, please. I’d love a drink,” I say, my voice strained.

Series Navigation<< Chapter 57 – AfterChapter 59 – After >>

Leave a Reply

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

error: Content is protected !!