Chapter 72 – After

Chapter 72 – After

Hardin slams his bedroom door as I reach the top of the stairs. I turn the knob, half-expecting it to be locked, but it opens.

“Hardin, are you okay?” I ask, unsure what else to say.

He answers me by grabbing the lamp off the nightstand and slamming it against the wall. The glass base shatters from the impact. I jump back and a small shriek comes out against my will. He paces over to the desk, grabs the small keyboard, and rips it out of the desktop computer, tossing it behind him.

“Hardin, please stop!” I yell.

He doesn’t look at me, but knocks the monitor to the ground and starts yelling, “Why? Why, Tessa? It’s not like he can’t afford to buy a new fucking computer!”

“You’re right,” I say and step on top of the keyboard, crushing it further. “What? What are you doing?” he asks as I pick it up and drop it back on the

ground. I’m not really sure what I am doing but the keyboard’s already broken, and this seems like the best idea at the moment.

“I’m helping you,” I tell him, and confusion flashes in his angry eyes before humor takes over. I pick up the monitor and throw it against the floor. He walks over with a small smile on his lips as I pick it up again, but his hands stop mine and he takes the monitor out of my hands and sits it on the desk.

“You’re not mad at me for yelling at my dad like that?” he asks, and cups my cheeks, his thumbs gently caressing them as his green eyes bore into mine.

“No, you have every right to express yourself. I would never be mad about

that.” He just had a fight with his dad but he is worried about me being mad at him? “Unless of course you’re being mean for no reason, which in this case you weren’t.”

“Wow . . .” he says.

But the small gap between our lips is too tempting. I lean forward and press mine against his, and he immediately opens his mouth, deepening the kiss. My fingers twist into his hair and he groans as I put more force into it. His anger rolls off him like a tidal wave. I push him back a little and he turns me around so the bottom of my back hits the desk. His hands attach to my hips and he lifts me onto the desk. I am his distraction. The thought of me being what Hardin needs makes me feel needed in a way I wasn’t aware of. I feel more solid now, more necessary in his life, and my head tilts back as he continues to push his tongue against mine, standing between my legs.

“Closer,” he moans into my mouth. His hands grip the back of my knees and he pulls me to the edge. My hands tug at his jeans and he pulls his mouth away from mine.

“What . . .?” He raises an eyebrow at me. He must think I am insane, coming in here and helping him break things, and now trying to undress him. And maybe I am. I don’t care at the moment. All I care about is the way the curve of Hardin’s collarbones are shadowed by the moonlight coming through the bay window, the way one of his hands is holding my face like I am fragile, despite him trying to break everything in the room minutes ago.

I answer him wordlessly by wrapping my legs around him and pulling him closer.

“I really thought you were going to storm in here and tell me off.” He smiles and presses his forehead against mine.

“You were wrong,” I remind him with a smug smile.

“Very. I don’t want to go back down there tonight,” he says, eyes searching mine.

“That’s fine. You don’t have to.”

He relaxes and moves his head to the crook of my neck. I’m surprised by how easy this is between us. I had expected him to snap at me, maybe even try to make me leave when I came in here, but here he is leaning on me. I can tell he is really trying to navigate this relationship the best he can, despite the fact that he is one giant mood swing.

“I love you,” I tell him, and feel his lip ring move against my neck as he smiles.

“I love you,” he replies.

“Do you want to talk about it?” I ask, but he shakes his head, still buried in

my neck. “Okay, do you want to watch a movie? Something funny, maybe?” I suggest.

After a long pause, he looks back toward the bed. “Did you bring your laptop?” When I nod he continues. “Let’s watch The Vow again.”

I laugh. “You mean the movie that you supposedly despise?”

“Yes . . . well, despise is a little harsh. I just think it’s a sappy, mediocre love story,” he corrects.

“Then why do you want to watch it?”

“Because I want to watch you watch it,” he answers thoughtfully.

Remembering the way he watched me the entire time we watched it in my room, that night seems so long ago. I had no clue what was coming up between us. I would have never imagined we would come to this.

My smile is all the answer he needs as he grabs my waist and carries me to the bed.

Within minutes, he is snuggled up next to me studying my face as I watch the movie. Halfway through I feel my eyes getting heavy.

“I’m getting sleepy,” I say with a yawn. “They both die; you’re not missing much.”

I nudge him with my elbow. “You have issues.”

“And you’re adorable when you’re sleepy.” He closes my laptop and pulls me up to the top of the bed with him.

“And you’re uncharacteristically nice when I’m sleepy,” I say.

“No, I’m nice because I love you,” he whispers and I swoon. “Sleep, beautiful.”

He gives me a small peck on my forehead, and I am too tired to try for more.

THE NEXT MORNING, the light is bright, too bright. When I roll over to bury my head in Hardin’s shoulder, he sighs in his sleep and pulls me closer. When I wake up again, he is awake and staring at the ceiling. His eyes are hooded and his expression unreadable.

“You okay?” I ask, nuzzling farther into him.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” he answers, but I can tell he is lying. “Hardin, if there is something wrong . . .” I begin.

“There isn’t, I’m fine.” I decide to let it go. We have gotten along all weekend; it’s a record for us. I don’t want to ruin it. I lift my head up and place a single kiss on his jaw and his arms wrap tighter around me.

“I have a few things to do today, so whenever you’re ready, can you drop me off at my house?” he asks. My stomach drops, hearing the distance in his voice.

“Sure,” I mumble and move out of his embrace. He tries to grab my wrist but I move too quickly. Grabbing my bag, I head to the bathroom to change and brush my teeth. We have been in our own little bubble all weekend, and I fear that without the protection of these walls, he won’t be the same.

I’m relieved when I don’t run into Landon or Dakota in the hallway, and even more relieved that Hardin is fully dressed when I return. I want to get this over with. He has cleaned the glass off the floor and the keyboard is in the trash can, the lamp and monitor neatly piled nearby.

Downstairs, I say goodbye to Ken and Karen, though Hardin walks outside without saying a word to either of them. I assure them that Hardin will still be at the wedding, despite the drama last night. I tell them about the computer and lamp, but they don’t seem to pay it much mind.

“Are you mad or something?” Hardin asks after ten minutes of silence.

“No.” It’s not that I’m mad, I am just . . . nervous, I suppose. I can feel the shift between us and I wasn’t expecting anything to change from how we were all weekend.

“It seems like it.” “Well, I’m not.”

“You need to tell me if you are.”

“You’re just being distant and now you’re having me drop you off at your house, and I thought everything was fine between us,” I say.

“You’re upset because I have things to do today?” When he says it like that, I realize how ridiculous and obsessive I sound. Is that why I am upset? Because he isn’t hanging out with me today?

“Maybe.” I laugh at my stupidity. “I just don’t want you to be distant from me.”

“I’m not . . . not on purpose, at least. I am sorry if I made you feel that way.” He reaches over and puts his hand on my thigh. “Nothing is going to change, Tessa.”

His words calm me, but there is still a sliver of uncertainty behind my smile. “Do you want to come with me?” he finally asks.

“No, I’m okay. I have some studying to do anyway.”

“Okay. Tess, you have to remember this is new to me. I’m not used to having to consider other people when I make plans.”

“I know.”

“I can come to your room when I’m finished, or we can go to dinner or something.”

I put my hand on his cheek, then run it through his messy hair. “It’s fine, really, Hardin. Just let me know when you’re finished and we can decide then.”

When we pull up to his house, he leans over and gives me a swift kiss before climbing out of the car.

“I’ll text you,” he says, and bounds up the steps to that damned house.

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