Chapter 84 – After

Chapter 84 – After

I scramble backward with my hands as Hardin lifts Dan’s head, his hands still wrapped around his neck, and slams it down into the grass. For a second I wonder if Hardin would have done the same were we on the concrete porch or near the fire pit stones, and I feel like my answer comes in the form of Hardin raising one fist high and slamming it into Dan’s jaw.

“Hardin!” I scream and climb to my feet. Everyone else just stares, Jace seeming amused and even Ronnie entertained.

“Stop him!” I beg, but Jace shakes his head as Hardin’s fist connects again to Dan’s already bloody face.

“This has been coming for a while; let them hash it out.” He smirks at me. “Want a drink?”

“What? No, I don’t want a drink! What the hell is wrong with you!” I yell.

A crowd has now gathered around and people are cheering on the fight. I have yet to see Dan hit Hardin, for which I’m glad, but I definitely want Hardin to stop hurting Dan. I’m too afraid to try to stop him myself, so when Zed appears in the yard, I yell for him. His eyes find me immediately and he jogs over.

“Stop him, please!” I yell. Everyone seems excited about this except me. If Hardin keeps hitting him, he will kill him. I know it.

Zed gives me a quick nod and takes a few steps over to Hardin. He wraps his fist into Hardin’s shirt and pulls him backward. Hardin is caught off guard, so he’s easily separated from Dan’s prone body. Enraged, Hardin takes a swing at Zed, but Zed dodges his fist and puts both of his hands on Hardin’s shoulders.

He says something to Hardin that I can’t make out and then nods his head toward me. Hardin’s eyes are blazing, his knuckles bloody and his shirt ripped from Zed’s grip. His chest is pumping up and down rapidly, like he’s a wild animal after a kill. I don’t make a move to walk toward him; I know how angry he is at me. I can tell. I am not afraid of Hardin the way I probably should be. Even though I just witnessed him completely losing his temper in the worst way possible, I know that he would never physically hurt me.

With the excitement winding down, almost everyone begins to move back inside the house. Dan’s crumpled body lies on the ground and Jace leans down to help him up. He stumbles to his feet and lifts his shirt up to wipe his bloody face off, spitting out a mixture of blood and saliva that makes me look away.

Hardin’s head turns to look where Dan is and he tries to take a step toward him. Zed holds Hardin tight to stop him.

“Fuck you, Scott!” Dan yells. Jace steps between them. Oh, now he wants to do something. “Just wait until your little—” Dan shouts.

“Shut the fuck up,” Jace snaps and Dan’s mouth closes.

Dan looks at me and I take a step back. I wonder what Jace meant by “this has been coming for a while.” Hardin and Dan seemed fine together a few minutes ago.

“Go inside!” Hardin yells, and I immediately know that he is talking to me.

I decide to listen to him, for once, and turn around and run into the house. I know that everyone is staring at me but I don’t care. I push my way through the crowded house and rush up to Hardin’s room. I must have forgotten to lock it when I left, and, to add to my horror, there is a big red spot on the carpet. Someone must have stumbled in here and spilled a drink on the tan carpet. Great. I hurry to the bathroom and grab a towel and turn the sink on. I lock Hardin’s door once I step inside and furiously wipe the stain, but the water only spreads the spot and makes it much worse. The door clicks and I try to stand before he enters.

“What the hell are you doing?” His eyes move to the towel in my hand then to the spot on the floor.

“Someone . . . I forgot to lock the door when I went downstairs,” I say and look at him. His nostrils flare and he takes a deep breath. “I’m sorry,” I say.

The anger is radiating off him and I can’t even be angry with him because all of this is my fault. If I would have just listened to him and stayed in the room, none of this would have happened.

He runs his hands over his face in frustration and I take a step toward him. His fingers are busted and bloody, reminding me of his fight at the stadium. He surprises me by grabbing the towel from my hands and I reflexively jump back a

little. His eyes flash with confusion and he tilts his head slightly as he uses the nonstained portion of the towel to wipe his knuckles off.

I expected him to barge through the door and break things while screaming at me; instead I am granted with his silence, which turns out to be much worse.

“Could you please say something?” I beg.

His words come even slower than usual. “Trust me, Tessa, you don’t want me to speak right now.”

“Yes, I do,” I tell him. I can’t stand his angry silence. “No, you don’t,” he growls.

“Yes, I do! I need you to talk to me, tell me what the hell happened down there!” I wave my hands toward the window and he clenches his fists by his sides.

“Goddamn it, Tessa! You always have to push and push! I told you to stay in my fucking room—multiple times—and what the fuck did you do? You didn’t listen, as usual! Why is it so damn hard for you to listen to what I say?” he yells and slams his fist against the side of his dresser, cracking the wood.

“Because, Hardin, you don’t just get to tell me what to do all the time!” I yell back.

“That isn’t what I am doing. I was trying to keep you away from shit like what just happened. I already warned you that they aren’t a good group of people, yet you prance out there with Jace and then volunteer yourself to play that fucking game! What the fuck was that?” The deep veins in his neck are straining against his skin so tightly that I fear they may break through.

“I didn’t know what the game was!”

“You knew I didn’t want you to play, and the only reason you wanted to play was because Molly’s name was mentioned because of this crazy obsession you have with her!”

“Excuse me? Crazy obsession? Maybe I don’t like the fact that my boyfriend used to sleep with her!” My cheeks flame. My jealousy and dislike toward Molly are a little crazy but Hardin just choked a guy for almost kissing me.

“Well, sorry to break it to you, but if you’re going to have a problem with everyone that I slept with, you may want to transfer schools,” he exclaims and my mouth falls open. “You didn’t have a problem with the girls downstairs,” he adds and my heart goes frantic.

“What girls?” My breath catches. “Those three that were playing with us?” “Yeah, and just about every other girl in this place.” His voice holds no

emotion as he glares at me.

I try to come up with something to say but I am at a loss for words. The fact that Hardin has slept with all three of those girls and basically the entire female

population at WCU makes me nauseous—and the worst part is how he just threw it in my face. I must look like such a fool hanging around Hardin when everyone else figures I’m just one of the many girls he’s slept with. I knew he would be pissed-off, but this is too far, even for Hardin. I feel like we have gone back in time to when I first met him and he would purposely make me cry on an almost daily basis.

“What? Surprised? You shouldn’t be,” he says.

“No.” And I’m not surprised, not one bit. I’m hurt. Not about his past, just the way he treated me out of anger. He said it that way just to hurt me. I blink rapidly to stop the tears from coming, but when it doesn’t work I turn away and wipe my eyes.

“Just go,” he says and walks toward the door. “What?” I ask and turn to face him.

“Just go, Tessa.” “Go where?”

He doesn’t even look at me. “Back to your room . . . I don’t know . . . but you can’t stay here.”

This is not at all what I thought would happen. The pain in my chest grows with every second of silence that passes between us. Part of me wants to beg him to let me stay, and to argue with him until he tells me why he reacted the way he did downstairs, but a bigger part of me is embarrassed and hurt by his cool dismissal. I grab my bag off the bed and sling it over my shoulder. When I reach the door, I look back at Hardin and hope that he will apologize or change his mind, but he turns to the window and completely ignores me. I have no idea how I will get back to the dorms, since Hardin drove me here and I had every intention of staying the night with him. I don’t remember the last time I stayed alone in my room, and the thought unnerves me. The drive to this house seems like days ago, instead of hours.

When I reach the bottom of the stairs, someone tugs at the back of my sweatshirt, and I hold my breath as I turn around, silently praying that it isn’t Jace or Dan.

It’s Hardin. “Come back upstairs,” he says, his voice desperate and his eyes red.

“Why? I thought you wanted me to leave.” I stare at the wall behind him.

He sighs and grabs the bag from my shoulder and walks back up the stairs. I think about just letting him have the bag and leaving anyway, but my stubborn attitude is what got me in this situation in the first place.

I huff and follow him back to this room. When the door closes he turns around and backs me up against the door.

He looks into my eyes. “I’m sorry.” He pushes his hips against mine and puts one of his arms against the door close to my head so I can’t move.

“Me, too,” I whisper.

“I just . . . I lose my temper sometimes. I didn’t really sleep with those girls.

Well, not all three of them.”

I feel a little relieved but not completely.

“My first instinct when I get angry is to come back even harder, to hurt the other person as much as I can. But I don’t want you to leave, and I’m sorry for scaring you by beating the shit out of Dan. I am trying to change, change for you . . . to be what you deserve, but it’s hard for me. Especially when you do things to purposely piss me off,” he says. He brings his hand to my cheek and wipes the drying tears left there.

“I wasn’t scared of you,” I say.

“Why not? It seemed like you were when I grabbed the towel.”

“No . . . well, I was a little when you grabbed the towel, because of the stain on the floor. But really I was more afraid for you when you were fighting Dan.”

“Afraid for me?” He puffs his shoulders up a little and brags, “He didn’t get a hit on me.”

I roll my eyes. “I meant that you would end up killing him or something. You could get in a lot of trouble for assaulting him,” I explain.

Hardin chuckles. “Let me get this straight: you were worried about the legal repercussions of our fight?”

“Stop laughing. I’m still mad at you,” I tell him and cross my arms. I’m not exactly sure what I am upset about except him telling me to leave.

“I am still pissed at you, too, but you’re very amusing.” He presses his forehead against mine. “You drive me crazy,” he says.

“I know.”

“You never listen to me and you always fight me on everything. You are stubborn and borderline intolerable.”

“I know,” I repeat.

“You provoke me and cause me a shitload of unnecessary stress, not to mention you almost made out with Dan right in front of me.” His lips touch my neck and I shiver.

“You say the most annoying things and you act like a child when you’re mad.” Despite the insults he is throwing at me—complaints about things that, deep down, I think he really enjoys about me—my stomach is fluttering as he kisses my skin and continues his light verbal assault. He pushes his hips against mine again, more forcefully this time.

“But all that being said . . . I also happen to be vigorously in love with you,”

he says and sucks harshly on sensitive skin below my ear.

I push my hands through his hair, making him groan, and he puts both of his hands on my waist, pulling me to him. I know there are more things to be said, more problems to be solved, but right now all I want is to get lost in Hardin and forget about tonight.

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