Chapter 69 – After

Chapter 69 – After

I wake up to Hardin snoring lightly, his lips pressed to my ear. My back is tight against his chest and his legs are hooked around mine. Memories from last night bring a smile to my lips, before the euphoric feeling is replaced by panic.

Will he feel the same in the light of day? Or will he torture and taunt me for offering myself to him? I roll over slowly to face him, to examine his perfect features while his permanent frown is smoothed by sleep. I reach out and run my index finger over his eyebrow ring, then down to the bruise on his cheek. His lip looks better, as do his knuckles, since he finally agreed to let me help him wash them off last night.

His eyes snap open as my finger greedily traces his lips. “What are you doing?” he asks. I can’t decipher his tone, which makes me uneasy.

“Sorry . . . I was just . . .” I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what type of mood he will be in after we fall asleep in each other’s arms.

“Don’t stop,” he whispers and closes his eyes again. Half of the weight on my chest disappears and I smile before tracing over the shape of his plump lips again, careful to avoid his injury.

“What are your plans for today?” he asks a few minutes later, reopening his eyes.

“I actually have plans with Karen to work on her greenhouse out back,” I tell him and he sits up.

“Really?” He must be mad. I know he doesn’t like Karen, even though she is one of the sweetest people I have ever met.

“Yeah,” I mumble.

“Well, I guess I don’t have to worry about my family liking you. I think they probably like you better than they do me.” He chuckles and runs the pad of his thumb across my cheek, sending a shiver down my spine. “The problem with that is, if I keep hanging out here my dad may start to believe I actually like him,” he says, his tone light but his eyes dark.

“Maybe you and your dad could hang out or something while Karen and I are outside?” I suggest.

“No, definitely not,” he growls. “I’ll go back to my house, my real house, and wait for you to be done.”

“I wanted you to stay here, though; it may take a while. Her greenhouse is in pretty bad shape,” I say.

He seems to be at a loss for words, which makes my heart warm at the thought that he doesn’t want to be away from me for very long. “I . . . I don’t know, Tessa. My father probably doesn’t want to hang out with me anyway,” he mumbles.

“Of course he does. When is the last time you two were even in the same room alone together?”

He shrugs. “I don’t know . . . years. I don’t know if this is a good idea,” he says, running his hands over his head.

“If you get uncomfortable, you can always join Karen and me outside,” I assure him. Frankly, I’m astonished that he is considering spending time with his father.

“Fine . . . but I am only doing this because the thought of leaving you, even for a little while . . .” He stops. I know he isn’t good at expressing how he feels, so I stay quiet, giving him time to collect himself. “Well, let’s just say it’s worse than hanging out with my prick of a father.”

I smile, despite the harsh words against his dad. The father that Hardin knows from his childhood is not the same man that is downstairs, and I hope Hardin can come around to see that. After I climb out of bed, I remember that I have no clothes with me, no toothbrush, nothing.

“I need to go by my room and grab some things,” I tell him and he tenses. “Why?”

“Because I don’t have any clothes, and I need to brush my teeth,” I say. When I look at him he has a small smile on his face but it doesn’t reach his eyes. “What’s wrong?” I ask, afraid of the answer.

“Nothing . . . How long will you be gone?”

“Well, I was assuming you would come with me?” As the words leave my mouth, he visibly relaxes. What is with him?


“Are you going to tell me why you are being weird?” I ask with my hands on my hips.

“I’m not . . . I just thought you were trying to leave. Leave me.” His voice is so small and unlike him that I get the urge to walk over and cradle him. Instead, I gesture for him to come to me and he nods before getting up and standing in front of me.

“I’m not going anywhere. I just need some clothes,” I tell him again.

“I know . . . it’s just going to take a little getting used to. I’m used to you running away from me, not leaving and coming back.”

“Well, I’m used to you pushing me away from you, so we both just have some adjusting to do.” I smile and lay my head on his chest. I feel oddly comforted by his worry. I had been terrified that he would change his mind this morning and it feels good to know he was just as afraid.

“Yeah, I guess we do. I love you,” he says, and it hits me just as hard as it did the first time, and the twentieth, last night.

“And I love you, too,” I tell him and he frowns. “Don’t say too,” he says.

“What? Why?” My doubt is on call, waiting for him to deny me, yet hoping that he won’t.

“I don’t know . . . it just makes me feel like you are just agreeing with me.” He looks down. I remember the promise I made to myself last night that I would do whatever I can to help him conquer his self doubt.

“I love you,” I say and he looks up at me. His eyes soften and he gently presses his lips against mine.

“Thank you,” he says when he pulls away.

I roll my eyes at how flawless he looks in a plain white T-shirt and black jeans. He never wears anything except plain white or black T-shirts and black jeans every single day, but he looks perfect, every single day. He doesn’t need to follow whatever trend is hot; his simple style suits him so well. I put on my clothes from last night and he grabs my purse for me before we head downstairs.

We find Karen and Ken in the living room. “I made some breakfast,” Karen says cheerfully.

I feel slightly uncomfortable with Karen and Ken knowing I stayed with Hardin, again. I know they seem to be perfectly fine with it, and we are adults, but that doesn’t stop my cheeks from blushing.

“Thank you.” I smile and she gives me a curious look; I know I will get some questions when we are in the greenhouse. I walk into the kitchen and Hardin follows. We both fill our plates with food and sit at the table.

“Are Landon and Dakota here?” I ask Karen when she comes in. Dakota will probably be confused seeing me with Hardin again after being with Zed last night, but I shake off the negative thoughts.

“No, they went to Seattle for the day to do some sightseeing. Were you still wanting to work on the greenhouse today?”

“Yes, of course. I just have to run to my room and change my clothes,” I tell her.

“Excellent! I’ll have Ken bring the bags of soil out from the shed while you’re gone.”

“If you wait until we get back, Hardin can help him?” I half-ask, half-offer, looking to Hardin.

“Oh, you will be around today as well?” she asks, her smile growing. How can he not see that people care about him?

“Uh . . . yeah. I was going to just hang out here today . . . I guess. If that’s cool with y-you?” he stutters.

“Of course! Ken! Did you hear that, Hardin is going to be here all day!” Her excitement makes me smile and Hardin roll his eyes.

“Be nice,” I whisper in his ear as he plasters the fakest smile I have ever seen across his face. Then I giggle and kick his foot with mine.

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