Chapter 66 – After

Chapter 66 – After

I take a second to think about what I am doing. I left Zed to go find Hardin, but I really need to think about what will happen next. Hardin will either say terrible things to me, curse at me, and make me leave, or he will admit that he has feelings for me and that all these games he has been playing are just his way of not being able to deal with and express his feelings in a normal way. If the first scenario happens, and I mostly expect it to, I will be in no worse a state than I am in now. But, if it’s the second, am I ready to forgive him for all the terrible things he has said and done to me? If we both admit the way we feel about each other, will everything change? Will he change? Is he capable of caring for me the way I need him to, and, if so, am I capable of putting up with his mood swings?

The problem is, I can’t answer any of these questions on my own, not a single one. I hate the way he clouds my thoughts and makes me feel unsure about myself. I hate not knowing what he will do or say.

I pull up to the damned fraternity house that I have spent way too much time in. I hate this house. I hate a lot of things right now, and my anger toward Hardin is almost to its boiling point. I park at the curb and rush up the steps and into the crowded house. I head straight for the old couch Hardin is usually perched on, but, not spotting his mop of hair, I duck behind a heavyset guy before Steph or anyone else can spot me.

Rushing up the stairs to his room, I bang my fist against the door, annoyed that once again he has it locked.

“Hardin! It’s me, open the door!” I yell desperately and continue to pound, but

there’s no answer. Where the hell is he? I don’t want to call him to find out, even though that is obviously easier, but I’m angry and I feel like I need to stay angry so I can say what I mean—what I need to say—and not feel bad about it.

I call Landon to see if Hardin is at his father’s, but he isn’t. The only other place that I know to look is the bonfire, but I doubt he would still be there. Still, I don’t have any other options right now.

So I drive back to the stadium and park my car, repeating the angry words I have saved for Hardin over and over to make sure I don’t forget anything in case he actually is here. Approaching the field, I can see that almost everyone has left already and the fire is almost out. I walk around and squint in the dying light and stare at couples to see if they are Hardin and Emma, without luck.

Just as I decide to stop looking, I finally do see Hardin leaning against the fence by the goalpost. He is alone, and doesn’t seem to notice me walking toward him as he takes a seat on the grass, wiping his mouth. When he removes his hand, it looks red. Is he bleeding?

Suddenly Hardin’s head snaps up as if he can sense my presence, and, yes, the corner of his mouth is bleeding and the shadow of a bruise is already forming on his cheek.

“What the hell—” I say and kneel down in front of him. “What happened to you?” I ask.

He looks up at me and his eyes are so haunted, my anger dissolves like sugar on my tongue.

“Why do you care? Where’s your date?” he growls.

I click my tongue gently and move his hand away from his mouth, examining his busted lip. He jerks away from me but I bite my tongue. “Tell me what happened,” I demand.

He sighs and runs his hand over his hair. His knuckles are busted and bloody.

The cut on his index finger looks deep and very painful. “Did you get in a fight?”

“What gave you that idea?” he snaps. “With who? Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I am fine, now leave me alone.”

“I came here to find you,” I tell him and stand up, wiping the dead grass off my jeans.

“Okay. And you found me, so go.”

“You don’t have to be such an asshole,” I say. “I think you should go home and get cleaned up. You might need stitches on that knuckle.”

Hardin doesn’t respond but stands up and walks past me. I came here to yell at him for being such an idiot and tell him how I feel, and he’s making it very hard

—I knew he would.

“Where are you going?” I ask, following him like a lost puppy.

“Home. Well, I’m going to call Emma and see if she will come back and pick me up.”

“She left you here?” I don’t like her at all. “No. Well, technically, but I told her to.”

“Let me take you,” I say and grab his jacket. He shrugs me off, and I want to slap him. My anger is returning and I am more pissed-off than before. The tables have turned; our . . . whatever this is has shifted. I am usually the one running from him.

“Stop walking away from me!” I yell and he turns around, eyes blazing. “I said let me take you home!” I scream.

He almost smiles but frowns instead and sighs. “Fine. Where’s your car?”

HARDIN’S SCENT IMMEDIATELY fills the car, only now there is a hint of metal mixed in; it’s still my favorite smell in the entire world. I turn the heat on and rub my arms to warm up.

“Why did you come here?” he asks as I pull out of the parking lot.

“To find you.” I try to remember everything I had planned to say, but my mind is blank and all I can think about is kissing his busted mouth.

“For what reason?” he asks quietly.

“To talk to you, we have so much to talk about.” I feel like crying and laughing at the same time and I have no idea why.

“I thought you said we didn’t have anything to talk about,” he says and turns to look out the window with a coolness I suddenly find beyond irritating.

“Do you love me?” The words come out rushed and strangled. I had not planned on saying them.

His head snaps to the side to look at me. “What?” His tone is one of shock. “Do you?” I repeat, worrying that my heart might pop right out of my chest.

He focuses forward. “You are not seriously asking me this while we are driving down the street.”

“What does it matter where or when I am asking, just tell me,” I practically beg.

“I . . . I don’t know . . . No, I don’t.” He looks around, almost like he needs to escape. “And you can’t just ask someone if they love you when they are trapped in a car with you—what the hell is wrong with you?” he says loudly.

Ouch. “Okay,” is all I can manage to say. “Why do you even want to know?”

“It doesn’t matter.” I’m confused now, so confused, and my plan to talk out our problems has crashed and burned in front of me, along with any dignity I still held.

“Tell me why you asked me that, now,” he demands. “Don’t tell me what to do!” I shout back.

I pull up to his house and he looks out at the crowded lawn. “Take me to my dad’s,” he says.

“What? I am not a damn taxi.”

“Just take me there, I will get my car in the morning.”

If his car is here, why doesn’t he just drive himself? I don’t want our conversation to end yet, though, so I roll my eyes, and head off toward his father’s house.

“I thought you hated it there,” I say.

“I do. But I don’t feel like being around a lot of people right now,” he says quietly. Then, louder, he goes on: “Are you going to tell me why you asked that? Does this have something to do with Zed? Did he say something to you?”

He seems really nervous. Why does he always ask if Zed said something to me?

“No . . . It has nothing to do with Zed. I just wanted to know.” It doesn’t really have to do with Zed; it has to do with the fact that I love him and thought for a second, he might love me, too. The longer I am around him, the more ridiculous that possibility seems.

“Where did you and Zed go when you left the bonfire?” he asks as I pull into his father’s driveway.

“Back to his apartment,” I say.

Hardin’s body tenses and his bloody fists clench, tearing the skin on his knuckles further. “Did you sleep with him?” he asks and my mouth falls open.

“What? Why the hell would you assume that? You should know me better than that by now! And who do you think you are to even ask such a personal question? You made it clear that you don’t care about me so, what if I did?” I shout.

“So you didn’t?” he asks again, his eyes like stone.

“God, Hardin! No! He kissed me, but I wouldn’t have sex with someone I barely know!”

He leans over and turns my car off, clenching his bloody hand over the keys and pulling them out of the ignition.

“You kissed him back?” His eyes are hooded as he seems to look straight past me.

“Yeah . . . well, I don’t know, I think I did.” I don’t remember anything except

Hardin’s face in my mind.

“How do you not know? Have you been drinking?” His voice is louder now. “No, I just . . .”

“You what!” he shouts and turns his body to face me. I can’t read the energy between us, and for a moment I sit there, trying to get a handle on it.

“I-I just kept thinking of you!” I finally admit.

His stone features soften tremendously and he brings his eyes to mine. “Let’s go inside,” he says and opens the passenger door.

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