Chapter 73 – After

Chapter 73 – After

The emptiness that I feel after dropping Hardin off is strange, and makes me feel a bit pathetic. After the short drive back to my room, it already feels as if I dropped him off hours ago. Steph isn’t in the room when I get there, but I’m glad. I really do need to study and prepare for my first day at Vance tomorrow: I have to decide what to wear, what to bring, what I am going to say.

Taking out my planner, I plan my week by the hour, then move on to my clothes. Day one at Vance will be my new black skirt and a red top and black heels, not too high but higher than I would have considered wearing two months ago. The outfit is very professional but still feminine. I wonder idly if Hardin will like it.

To keep my mind off him, I complete all of my assignments that are due this week and then some. By the time I finish, the sun has disappeared from the sky and I’m starving, but the cafeteria is already closed. Hardin still hasn’t texted me, so I assume he isn’t planning on coming over tonight.

Grabbing my purse, I head out to find something to eat. I remember seeing a Chinese restaurant near the little library, but by the time I find the place it’s closed. I look up the closest restaurant to me and find a place called the Ice House. When I drive there, the Ice House is small and looks like it’s made out of aluminum, but I’m hungry and the idea of finding another place to eat makes my stomach rumble even more. Going inside, I realize it’s more of a bar that serves food, and that it’s actually quite packed, although to my surprise I manage to find a small table in the back to sit at.

I ignore the glances of the people inside, who must be wondering why I’m here alone, but I always eat alone. I am not one of those people who need someone to go with them everywhere. I go shopping alone, eat out alone, and I have even been to the movies alone a few times when Noah wasn’t able to come. I never really have minded being alone . . . until now, if I’m honest with myself. I miss Hardin more than I should, and it troubles me that he hasn’t even bothered to text me.

I order, and while I’m waiting on my food, the waitress brings me over a pink drink with a yellow umbrella sticking out of the top.

“Oh, I didn’t order this,” I tell her but she sits it down in front of me anyway. “He did.” She smiles and tilts her head toward the bar area. I immediately

hope that it’s Hardin somehow and crane my neck to look. But it’s not. Zed gives me a small wave and a dazzling smile from across the room. Nate walks up and takes the empty bar stool next to him and shoots me a smile as well.

“Oh. Thanks,” I tell her. It seems that every place around this campus allows underage drinking, or maybe these guys only go to the places that do. She assures me that my food will be ready any minute and wanders off.

A few moments later, Zed and Nate come over, pull the chairs out from my table, and take a seat. I hope Zed isn’t angry with me for what happened on Friday.

“You’re the last person that I expected to see in here, especially on a Sunday,” Nate says.

“Yeah, it was an accident. I was going for Chinese but it was closed,” I tell them.

“Have you seen Hardin?” Zed asks with a smile before looking at Nate, who shares a mysterious look with him before turning back to me.

“No, not for a while. You?” I ask them. My nerves are clear in my voice. “No, not for a few hours but he should be here soon,” Nate answers.

“Here?” I squeak. My food arrives, but I’m no longer hungry. What if Molly is with him? I won’t be able to take it, not after the weekend we just had together.

“Yeah, we come here a lot. I can call him and see when he’ll be here?” Zed suggests but I shake my head.

“No, it’s fine. I’m going to go, actually.” I look around for my waitress to ask for my check.

“You didn’t like the drink?” Zed asks.

“No, well, I didn’t try it. Thanks for getting it for me, but I should go.” “Are you guys fighting again?” he asks.

Nate begins to say something but Zed shoots him a glare from across the

table. What is going on? He takes a sip of his beer and looks at Nate again. “He said what?” I ask.

“Nothing, he just said you guys were on better terms now.” Zed answers for him. The small bar feels even smaller now, and I am desperate to leave.

“Oh, there they are!” Nate says.

My eyes dart to the door to see Hardin, Logan, Tristan, Steph, and Molly—I knew it. I know they are friends, and I don’t want to come off as controlling or crazy, but I can’t stand Hardin being around that girl.

When Hardin’s eyes meet mine he looks surprised and almost afraid. Not this again. The waitress walks by while they make their way to our table.

“Could I just get my food to go, and get the check, please?” I ask her. She looks surprised, and then looks around at everybody who just showed up and nods, then goes back to the kitchen.

“Why are you going?” Steph asks. The five of them sit at the table next to us. I refuse to allow myself to look over at Hardin. I hate the way he is so different around his friends—why can’t he just be the same Hardin that I had all weekend?

“I . . . well, I have to study,” I lie.

She smiles hopefully. “You should stay—you study too much!”

Any hope that Hardin would scoop me into his arms and tell me he has missed me is gone. The waitress shows up with my food, and I hand her a twenty, then stand up to leave.

“Well, you guys have a good night,” I tell them. I look at Hardin and then back at the floor.

“Wait,” Hardin says. I turn around and look at him. Please don’t let him make a rude remark or kiss Molly again.

“Aren’t you going to give me a good-night kiss?” He smiles.

I look around at his friends and they all look a little surprised but mostly confused. “W-what?” I stammer. I straighten my shoulders and look at him again.

“You’re not going to kiss me before you go?” He stands up and walks toward me. I wanted this, but now I am uncomfortable with everyone’s eyes on us.

“Um . . .” I don’t know what to say.

“Why would she?” Molly laughs. God, I can’t stand her. “They are like together, obviously,” Steph tells her. “What?” Molly says.

“Keep your mouth shut, Molly,” Zed says and I want to thank him, but there is something behind his voice that makes me wonder about his choice of words. This is beyond uncomfortable.

“Bye, guys,” I say again and walk toward the door.

Hardin follows me and grabs my wrist to stop me. “Why are you leaving?

And why are you even in this place to begin with?”

“Well, I was hungry and came here to eat. And now I’m leaving because you were ignoring me and I—”

“I wasn’t ignoring you, I just didn’t know what to say or do. I wasn’t expecting to see you here. It caught me off guard,” he explains.

“Yeah, I am sure it did. You haven’t texted me all day and now you’re here with Molly?” My voice comes out much whinier than I wanted.

“And Logan, Tristan, and Steph. Not just Molly,” he points out.

“I know . . . but you guys have a history and that bothers me.” I surely broke the record for the quickest jealous fit.

“It’s just that, babe: history. It wasn’t like this . . . not like us,” he says. I sigh. “I know, I just can’t help it.”

“I know. How do you think I felt when I walked in there and saw you sitting with Zed?”

“That’s not the same thing. You and Molly have slept together.” Just saying it stings.

“Tess . . .”

“I know, it’s crazy, but I can’t help it.” I look away.

“It’s not crazy. I understand. I just don’t know what to do about it. Molly is in our group and she probably always will be.”

I don’t know what I expected him to say but the equivalent of “too bad” isn’t what I wanted to hear. “Okay.” I should be happy that he basically told everyone we are dating now, but the whole thing felt so off.

“I’m going to go,” I tell him. “Then I’m coming with you.”

“You sure you want to leave your friends?” I snap.

He rolls his eyes and follows me to my car. I try to hide my smile as we get in the car. At least I know he would rather be with me than Molly.

“So how long were you there before I arrived?” Hardin asks as I pull out of the parking lot.

“About twenty minutes.”

“Oh. You didn’t meet Zed there, did you?”

“No. It was the last place open to eat I could find. I had no idea he was there

—or that you would show up. You know, because you never texted me.”

“Oh,” he says and pauses for a beat. But then he looks over at me again. “So what did you guys talk about?”

“Nothing; he was only at the table for a few minutes before you got there.


“I’m just wondering.” His fingers drum on his knee. “I missed you today.”

“I missed you, too,” I say as we pull onto campus. “I got a lot of homework done and I prepared everything for my first day at Vance.”

“Do you want me to drive you tomorrow?”

“No, that’s why I got my own car, remember?” I laugh.

“Still, I could drive you,” he offers as we get to my dorm and head inside. “No, it’s fine. I will drive myself. Thank you, though.”

Just as I am about to ask him what he did all day—why he hadn’t texted me if he missed me so much—my breath gets locked in my throat and panic takes over.

My mother is standing in front of my door with her arms crossed and a deep scowl on her face.

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