Chapter 83 – After

Chapter 83 – After

Hardin notices Jace the same time that I do and turns to look at me, then back at Jace, tensing immediately. For a second it seems like Hardin might turn us around, but then Jace definitely spots us, and I know Hardin won’t risk antagonizing him by backing away now. All around us, the party rages, but all I can focus on is Jace’s mischievous smile, which flat-out gives me the creeps.

As we reach the top of the stairs, Jace gives an exaggerated look of surprise and says, “Didn’t think I’d see you two here, you know, since you couldn’t make it to the docks and all.”

“Yeah, we were just coming here—” Hardin begins.

“Oh, I get why you were coming here.” Jace smiles and pats Hardin on his shoulder. I cringe as his brown eyes move to me. “It’s definitely a pleasure to see you again, Tessa,” he says coolly.

I glance at Hardin, but he is too focused on Jace to notice. “Yeah, you, too,” I manage.

“Well, good thing you didn’t come to the docks anyway. Cops came and broke up our party, so we moved it here.”

Meaning that Jace’s slimy friends are here somewhere—more people Hardin doesn’t like. I wish we had just stayed at my dorm. By the look in Hardin’s eyes I can tell he wishes the same.

“That sucks, man,” Hardin says and then tries to continue on down the hall.

Jace grabs Hardin’s arm and says, “You two should come down and have a drink with us.”

“She  doesn’t  drink,”  Hardin  huffs,  annoyance  clear  in  his  voice.

Unfortunately, that annoyance seems to encourage Jace even more. “Oh well. You should still come have some fun. I insist,” he says.

Hardin looks at me, and my eyes widen as I try to silently say, No! But then he nods at Jace. What the hell?

“I’ll come down in a minute; let me get her . . . settled in,” Hardin mumbles, then pulls me by my wrist to his room before Jace can say anything. Unlocking the door to his room, he hurries me inside and quickly closes the door.

“I don’t want to go down there,” I tell him as he sets my bag down. “You’re not.”

“And you are?” I ask him.

“Yeah, just for a minute. I won’t be long.” He rubs the back of his neck with his hand.

“Why didn’t you just tell him no?” I ask. For someone who claims he isn’t afraid of him, Hardin seems to be very intimidated by Jace.

“I already told you, he is hard to say no to,” he says. “Does he have something over you or something?”

“What?” Hardin’s face flushes. “No . . . he’s just a dick. And I don’t want any trouble. Especially not around you,” he says and steps forward to me. “I won’t be down there long, but I know him, and if I don’t go have a drink with him he will come back up here—and I don’t want him anywhere near you,” he says and kisses me on the cheek.

“Okay,” I sigh.

“I need you to stay in here, though. I know it’s not ideal, with the music bumping downstairs, but I can’t really think of a way out at this point.”

“Okay,” I repeat. I don’t want to go down there anyway. I hate these parties, and I definitely don’t want to see Molly if she is here.

“I mean it. Okay?” he demands in a soft voice.

“I said okay. Just don’t leave me up here alone for long,” I plead.

“I won’t. We should go sign that paperwork tomorrow for the apartment. Right after you get done at Vance. I don’t want to worry about this kind of shit again.”

I don’t want to have to deal with these parties and my small dorm anymore. I want to eat my meals in a kitchen instead of a dining hall, and I want the freedom of being an adult. Spending time on campus and living there only reminds me how young we actually are.

“All right, I will be back soon. Lock the door when I go out and don’t open it again—I have a key.” He swiftly kisses my lips and turns for the door.

“Geez, you act like someone is going to murder me,” I joke, to break the

tension, not that he returns the laugh before walking out of the room. I roll my eyes but lock the door anyway; the last thing I want to deal with is drunk people wandering in here looking for a place to fool around.

I turn on his television, hoping to drown out some of the noise from downstairs, but my mind keeps wandering to what’s going on down there. Why is Hardin so intimidated by Jace, and why is Jace such a creep? Are they playing their usual immature game of Truth or Dare again? What if Hardin is dared to kiss Molly? What if she is sitting on his lap like before? I hate the jealousy that I feel toward her—it drives me insane. I know Hardin has slept with and fooled around with many different girls, Steph included, but Molly just gets under my skin. Maybe it’s because I know she doesn’t like me and she tries to shove her fling with Hardin down my throat.

And you caught her straddling him with her tongue down his throat the first time you met her, my subconscious reminds me.

And eventually all these thoughts get to me; I know I should stay put and keep the door locked, but my feet have other plans and before I know it, I am taking the steps two at a time to find Hardin.

When I reach the bottom of the stairs I spot Molly’s hideous pink hair and barely there outfit. Much to my relief, Hardin isn’t anywhere to be found.

“Well, well, well,” a voice from behind me says. I turn to see Jace standing less than a foot away.

“Hardin said you weren’t feeling well. He’s always lying, that one.” He smiles and pulls a lighter out of his pocket. He flicks the top with his thumb, igniting the flame, and brings it to the hem of his jean vest to burn off some of the fringe.

I decide to keep Hardin’s lie going. “I wasn’t, but I’m feeling a bit better now.”

“So quickly?” He laughs, obviously amused.

The room feels much smaller now and the party crowd seems larger. I nod and survey the room, desperate to find Hardin.

“Come, I want you to meet some of my friends,” Jace says. His voice never fails to send a shiver down my spine.

“Um . . . I think I sh-should find Hardin,” I stutter.

“Aww, come on. Hardin is over there with them anyway,” he says and moves to put his arm over my shoulder.

I take a step aside to pretend that I didn’t notice his gesture. I consider going back upstairs so Hardin doesn’t know I came down in the first place, but I get the feeling Jace will follow me or tell Hardin. Most likely both.

“Okay,” I say, giving in. I follow Jace through the crowd, and he leads me outside to the backyard. It’s dark but for a few porch lights. I start to feel nervous

about following Jace out into the dark yard until my eyes meet Hardin’s. His widen with surprise, then anger, and he moves to stand up but then sits back down.

“Look who I found wandering around all by herself,” Jace says and gestures to me.

“I see that,” Hardin mumbles. He is pissed.

I stand in front of the small circle of unrecognizable faces sitting around what looks like a fire pit made from large rocks, not that there’s any fire going. There are some girls there, but mostly it’s pretty tough-looking guys.

“Come here,” Hardin says and scoots over so there is room for me on the rock that he is sitting on.

I take a seat and Hardin gives me a look that says if all these people weren’t around he would be absolutely screaming at me. Jace leans over and says something into the ear of a guy with a ripped-up white shirt and black hair.

“Why aren’t you in my room?” Hardin says quietly but forcefully.

“I . . . I don’t know. I thought maybe Molly . . .” I begin to say but realize how stupid it sounds.

“You’re not serious,” he says with a hint of exasperation and runs his hand over his hair. The attention is put back on us when the black-haired guy hands me a bottle of vodka. “She doesn’t drink,” Hardin says and grabs it out of my hands.

“Damn, Scott, she can speak for herself,” another guy says. He has a nice smile and doesn’t seem as creepy as Jace or the guy with the black hair.

Hardin laughs lightly, though I can tell it’s a fake laugh. “Mind your own business, Ronnie,” Hardin says in a light tone.

“So who’s up for a game?” Jace asks and I look at Hardin.

“Please tell me you guys don’t play Truth or Dare at parties too. Honestly, what is up with playing games, anyway?” I groan.

“Ooh, I like her. Nice and feisty,” Ronnie says and I laugh.

“Who says there is anything wrong with playing a few games now and then?” Jace slurs and Hardin tenses next to me.

“No, actually we were thinking of strip poker,” another guy says. “Oh, no way,” I tell them.

“What about suck and blow?” Jace says and I cringe and blush. I am not sure what that is, but it doesn’t sound like something I want to play with this group.

“Never heard of it. But no, thanks,” I say. I see Hardin smile out of the corner of my eye.

“It’s a fun game, more fun when you have had a drink or two,” a male voice says from somewhere.

I think about grabbing the bottle from Hardin and taking a drink, but I have to get up early and I don’t want to have a hangover.

“We don’t have enough girls to play suck and blow, anyway,” Ronnie says.

“I can get some,” Jace says and disappears into the house before anyone can protest.

“Go back upstairs, please,” Hardin says quietly so only I can hear. “If you come with me,” I respond.

“Okay, let’s go.”

But as we stand up, a groan goes up from the circle. “Where you going, Scott?” one of the guys asks.

“Upstairs,” he answers.

“Come on, we haven’t seen you in months. Hang out for a little while longer.” Hardin looks at me and I shrug. “All right, fine,” Hardin says and guides me back to the large stone. “I’ll be right back. Stay here this time. I mean it,” he tells me and I roll my eyes, finding it pretty ironic that he’s leaving me alone with

what is supposedly the worst group of people here.

“Where are you going?” I ask him before he walks away.

“To get a drink. You may need one, too.” He smiles and goes inside.

I stare at the sky and the fire pit alternately to avoid any awkward conversation. It doesn’t work.

“So how long have you and Hardin known each other?” Ronnie asks and takes a swig of liquor.

“A few months,” I answer politely. Something about Ronnie is comforting; my senses aren’t on high alert with him like they are with Jace.

“Oh, so not long, then?” he says.

“Um, yeah, I guess. Not long. How long have you known him?” I ask, realizing I might as well use this opportunity to get as much information about Hardin as possible.

“Since last year.”

“Where did you meet him?” I try to sound casual. “Party. Well, a lot of parties.” He laughs.

“Oh, you’re his friend, then?”

“Nosey little thing, aren’t you?” the guy with the black hair chimes in.

“Sure am,” I reply and he laughs. They aren’t so bad, not as bad as Hardin made them out to be. Where is he, anyway?

A few moments later Hardin appears with Jace and three girls behind them. What the hell? Jace and Hardin seem to be in conversation and Jace pats Hardin on the back and they both laugh.

Hardin’s hands are full with two red cups. I’m just relieved that Molly isn’t

among the group of girls trailing them. He sits back down on the rock with me and gives me a playful little look. At least he seems to be more relaxed than he was before he walked away.

“Here,” he says and hands me one of the cups.

I stare at it for a second before grabbing it from him. One drink won’t hurt. I recognize the taste instantly; the night that Zed and I kissed we had been drinking these. Hardin stares at me and I lick my lips to collect the taste of the drink.

“Now we have enough girls,” Jace says and gestures to the newcomers.

I look over to them and fight the instinct to judge. They are scantily clad in skirts, and their shirts are identical except the colors. The one in the pink shirt smiles at me, so I decide that I like her the best.

“You aren’t playing,” Hardin says in my ear. I want to tell him that I will do whatever the hell I please, but he leans into me and puts his arm around my waist. I look up at him, obviously surprised, but he just smiles.

“I love you,” he whispers. His lips are cold against my ear and I shiver. “Okay, so everyone knows how this works,” Jace says loudly. “We all need to

get in a smaller circle. But first, let’s really get the party going.” He smirks and pulls something out of his pocket. His lighter appears again and lights the small white object.

“It’s pot,” Hardin tells me quietly. I figured that it was, even if I haven’t actually seen marijuana before.

I nod and watch as Jace brings the joint to his lips and lets out a large puff of smoke before holding it out in front of Hardin. Hardin shakes his head and declines. Ronnie grabs it and inhales deeply, coughing loudly.

“Tessa?” Ronnie says and holds it out.

“No. No, thanks,” I say and lean farther into Hardin.

“All right, then, let’s play,” one of the girls says and pulls something from her purse as everyone moves from their rocks and forms a smaller circle on the grass.

“Come on, Hardin!” Jace groans, but Hardin shakes his head. “I’m good, man,” he says.

“We need one more girl then, unless you want to take the chance of having Dan’s tongue down your throat.” Ronnie laughs. Dan must be the guy with the black hair. A quiet redhead with a lot of facial hair takes a hit from the joint and passes it back to Jace. I finish the last sip of my drink and reach for Hardin’s. He lifts a brow at me but lets me take it.

“I’ll grab Molly. God knows she’ll be down,” the girl in the pink shirt says. When I hear her name, my hatred for Molly takes over my common sense and

I blurt out, “I’ll play.” “Really?” Jace questions.

“Is she allowed?” Dan asks with a smirk and looks at Hardin.

“I can do what I please, thank you,” I say and give him an innocent smile despite my bitchy tone.

I know better than to look at Hardin; he already told me not to play, but I just couldn’t keep my big mouth shut. I down the rest of his drink, then take a seat next to the girl in the pink shirt.

“You have to sit in between two guys,” the girl tells me. “Oh, okay,” I say and get up.

“I’m playing, too,” Hardin grumbles and sits down. I sit next to him instinctively, but still avoid eye contact. Jace sits on my other side.

“I think Hardin should sit over here to make things more interesting,” Dan says, and the redhead nods in agreement.

Hardin rolls his eyes and moves across from me. I don’t get the point of this seating arrangement—why does it matter who sits by whom? When Dan moves to sit next to me, I begin to feel nervous. Sitting between him and Jace is more than uncomfortable.

“Can we start?” the girl in green whines. She is sitting between Hardin and the redhead. Jace grabs what looks like a piece of paper from one of the girls and puts it to his mouth.


“Ready?” he asks me.

“I don’t know how to play,” I confess and hear one of the girls snicker.

“You put your mouth on the other side of the paper and suck in; the point is to not let the paper fall. If it falls, you kiss,” he explains.

Oh no. I look over at Hardin, but he is focused on Jace.

“Start this way so she can see,” the girl on the other side of Jace says.

I don’t like this game at all. I hope it somehow ends before it’s my turn. Or Hardin’s. Besides, they seem a little old to be playing these ridiculous games. What is it with college kids wanting to kiss random people every chance they get? I watch as the paper is passed between Jace’s and the girl’s mouth; it doesn’t drop. I hold my breath as Hardin retrieves the paper from the one girl, then passes it to the other. If he kisses one of them . . . I let out my breath when it doesn’t fall. The paper falls between the redhead and the girl in the yellow shirt and their lips meet. Her mouth opens and they kiss with tongue, making me look away and cringe. I want to get up and leave the circle, but my body stays still. I am next.

Oh God, I am next. I gulp as Dan turns to me with the paper on his lips. I’m still not entirely sure what I am supposed to do, so I just close my eyes and go to put my mouth on the other side and suck in. I feel hot air through the paper as Dan blows onto it, but I can tell it’s too hard and there’s no way the paper won’t fall. Right as I feel the paper hit my leg, I feel Dan’s hot breath as his mouth moves closer to mine. The second his lips brush mine he is pulled away.

I open my eyes, but by the time my mind can catch up to what is happening, Hardin is on top of Dan and has his hands latched around the guy’s neck.

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