Chapter 87 – After

Chapter 87 – After

Hardin signs his name on the bottom of what seems like an endless page before sliding the whole thing over to me. I grab the pen and sign before I can start overthinking it again. I am ready for this; we are ready for this. Yes, we are young and we haven’t known each other very long, but I know that I love him more than anything and he loves me. As long as that much is certain, the rest will fall into place.

“All right, here are your keys.” Robert, whose name I finally learned from all those pages, hands Hardin and me each a set of keys, bids us farewell, and is on his way.

“Well . . . welcome home?” Hardin says once we’re alone.

I laugh and step closer to him so he can wrap his arms around me.

“I can’t believe we live here now. It still doesn’t seem real.” My eyes scan the living room.

“If someone had told me I would be living with you—let alone dating you— two months ago, I would have either laughed in their face or punched them . . . either one.” He smiles and takes my face between his hands.

“Well, aren’t you sweet?” I tease and put my hands on his sides. “It’s a relief, though, to have our own space. No more parties, no more roommates and community showers,” I say.

“Our own bed,” he adds with a wiggle of his eyes. “We will need to get a few things, dishes and such.”

I touch the back of my hand to his forehead. “Are you feeling okay?” I smile.

“You’re being awfully cooperative today.”

He brushes my hand aside, then gives the back of it a little kiss. “I just want to make sure you are pleased with everything here. I want you to feel at home . . . with me.”

“And what about you? Do you feel at home here?” I ask him.

“Surprisingly enough, yes,” he answers, nodding, and looks around the room. “We should go get my stuff. I don’t have much but a few books and my

clothes,” I say.

He waves his arms in the air as if he has performed some sort of magic trick. “Already done.”

“What?” I ask.

“I brought all of your belongings from your room; they are in your trunk,” he explains.

“How did you know I would sign? What if I hated the apartment?” I smile. I do wish I had had the chance to say goodbye to Steph and the room that I called home for three months, but I’ll see her again soon.

“Because if you wouldn’t have liked this one, I would have found one that you did,” he answers confidently.

“Okay . . . Well, what about your stuff?”

“We can get it tomorrow. I have clothes in my trunk.”

“What is with that, anyway?” He always has so many clothes in his car.

“I don’t know, really. I guess you just never know when you will need clothes.” He shrugs. “Let’s go to the store and get all the shit we need for the kitchen and some food,” Hardin says.

“Okay.” My stomach has been full of butterflies since I stepped into the apartment. “Can I drive your car again?” I ask when we get down to the lobby.

“I don’t know . . .” He smiles.

“You painted my car without my permission. I think I have earned the privilege.” I hold out my hands and he rolls his eyes before dropping the keys into them.

“So you like my car, then? It drives nicely, doesn’t it?” I give him a coy look. “It’s okay.”

I lie; I love the way it drives.

Our building could not be located in a better place; we’re close to multiple stores, coffee shops, and even a park. We end up going to Target, and soon the cart is full of dishes, pots and pans, cups, and other things I didn’t know we would need but seem useful. We save the groceries for another trip since we already have so much stuff. I volunteer to go grocery shopping after my internship tomorrow if Hardin makes me a list of things he likes to eat. The best

thing so far about living together is all the small details about Hardin that I would have otherwise never known. He’s so stingy with information, it’s nice to get some of out him without a fight. Even though we spend almost every night together, by just buying things for our place, I’m finding out things that I would have never known. Like: he likes cereal with no milk; even the idea of mismatching cups drives him insane; he uses two different types of toothpaste, one in the morning and one at night, and he doesn’t know why, he just does; and he would rather mop the floor a hundred times before having to load a dishwasher. We agree that I will always do the dishes as long as he mops the floor.

We bicker back and forth in front of the cashier when it comes time to pay. I know he had to put a deposit down for the apartment, so I want to cover our Target haul. But he refuses to let me pay for anything except cable and groceries. At first, he offered to let me pay for the electricity, which he declined to tell me was already included in the rent until I found the proof on the lease. The lease. I have a lease, with a man that I’m moving in with my freshman year of college. That’s not crazy, right?

Hardin glares at the woman when she takes my debit card and I give her props because she swipes my card without even acknowledging his attitude. I want to laugh in victory, but he is already irritated and I don’t want the night to be ruined.

Hardin sulks until we get back to the apartment, and I stay quiet because I find it amusing. “We might have to make two trips down here to get all the stuff,” I tell him.

“That’s another thing: I would rather carry one hundred bags than make two trips,” he says and finally smiles.

We still end up having to take two trips because the dishes are just too heavy.

Hardin’s irritation grows, but so does my humor.

We put all the dishes away into the cabinets and Hardin orders a pizza. The polite person in me can’t help but offer to pay for it, which earns me a glare and a middle finger. I laugh and put all the trash into the box the dishes came in. They weren’t joking when they said the apartment came furnished—it has everything we could need, a trash can, even a shower curtain.

“The pizza will be here in thirty minutes. I am going to go down and get your stuff,” he says.

“I’ll come, too,” I say and follow him out.

He has put my things into two boxes and a trash bag, which makes me cringe but I stay quiet. Grabbing a handful of T-shirts and a pair of jeans out of his trunk, he shoves them into the trash bag with my clothes.

“Good thing we have an iron,” I finally say. When I look into his trunk, something catches my eye. “You never got rid of those sheets?” I ask.

“Oh . . . yeah. No, I was going to, but I forgot,” he says and looks away. “Okay . . .” I feel a little uneasy about his reaction.

We haul a load of stuff up the stairs, and right when we reach the top, the pizza guy rings our bell. Hardin goes back down to meet him, and when he comes back up the aroma coming from the box is heavenly. I didn’t realize how hungry I’d gotten.

We eat at the table, and it’s strange but nice to be eating dinner with Hardin in our place. We’re quiet as we devour the delicious pizza, but it’s the good kind of silence. The kind that tells me we’re home.

“I love you,” he says as I put our plates into the dishwasher.

I turn and respond, “I love you,” just as my phone vibrates loudly on the wood table. Hardin looks over and taps the screen. “Who is it?” I ask him.

“Noah?” he says as both a declaration and a question at the same time. “Oh.” I know this isn’t going to go well.

“He says it was ‘nice talking to you today’?” His jaw clenches.

I walk back over and grab the phone, practically wrestling it out of his grip. I could have sworn he was going to crush it in his hand.

“Yeah, he called me today,” I tell him with false confidence. I was going to mention it to him. I just haven’t found the right time.

“And . . .” He raises his eyebrow.

“He was just telling me that he saw my mother and he was just seeing how I am doing.”


“I don’t know . . . just to check on me, I guess.” I shrug and sit down in the chair next to him at the table.

“He doesn’t need to be checking on you,” he growls.

“It’s not that big a deal, Hardin. I’ve known him half my life.” His eyes grow colder. “I don’t give a shit.”

“You’re being ridiculous. We just moved in together and you’re worried about Noah calling me?” I scoff.

“You have no reason to be talking to him; he probably thinks you want him back since you answered the call.” He runs his hands through his hair.

“No, he doesn’t. He knows that I am with you.” I try my best to fight my temper.

He gestures wildly at my phone. “Then call him right now and tell him not to call you again.”

“What? No! I’m not doing that. Noah hasn’t done anything wrong, I have

already hurt him enough—we both have—so, no. I will not say that to him. There is no harm in me being friends with him.”

“Yes there is,” he says, his voice rising. “He thinks he is better than me, and he will try to take you from me! I’m not stupid, Tessa. Your mom wants you with him too—I won’t let him try to take what is mine!”

I step back and look at him with wide eyes. “Would you listen to yourself? You sound like a lunatic! I am not going to be hateful to him just because you feel like you have some insane claim on me!” I storm out of the kitchen.

“Don’t walk away from me!” he booms, following me into the living room. Leave it to Hardin to start a fight with me after the amazing day we have had.

But I’m holding my ground on this. “Then stop acting like you own me. I will try to compromise and make an effort to listen to you more than I do now, but not when it comes to Noah. I would immediately stop talking to him if he tried to make a move or say anything inappropriate, but he didn’t. Besides, you obviously need to just trust me.”

Hardin stares at me, and I wonder if his energy is dissipating when at last he simply says, “I don’t like him.”

“Okay, I get that, but you have to be reasonable. He is not plotting to take me away from you; he isn’t like that. This is the first time he has even tried to contact me since I ended things with him.”

“And the last!” Hardin snaps. I roll my eyes and head into the small bathroom. “What are you doing?” he asks.

“I’m going to take a shower, and when I get out I hope you’re done acting like a child,” I say. I’m proud of the way I am standing up to him, but I can’t help but feel bad for him. I know he is just afraid to lose me to Noah; he has this deep jealousy because of the way Noah and I “look” together. On paper Noah is better for me, and Hardin knows that, but I don’t love Noah, I love Hardin.

Hardin follows me into the bathroom, but when I start to undress he turns and leaves, slamming the bathroom door on his way out. I take a quick shower and when I get out Hardin is lying across the bed in just his boxers. I stay quiet as I open the drawers to find pajamas.

“You’re not going to wear my shirt?” His voice is low.

“I . . .” I notice that he folded it and put it on the table next to the bed. “Thanks.” I pull it over my head. The familiar minty scent almost makes me forget that I’m supposed to be mad at him. But when I look over at him and his dark mood, I remember all too well. “Well, this was a great night,” I huff and take my towel back to the bathroom.

“Come here,” he says when I return.

Hesitantly, I walk over to him and he sits up at the end of the bed, pulling me

to stand between his legs.

“I’m sorry.” He looks up at me. “For . . .?”

“Acting like a caveman,” he says, and I can’t help but laugh. “And for ruining our first night here together,” he adds.

“Thank you. We have to discuss these things instead of you blowing up at me.” I twirl the hair at the nape of his neck in between my fingers.

“I know.” He half-smiles. “Can we discuss you not talking to him anymore?” “Not tonight,” I say with a sigh. I will have to find a middle ground with him,

but I am not completely giving up my right to talk to someone I’ve known half my life.

“Look at us working our problems out.” He chuckles ruefully. “I hope our neighbors won’t miss their quiet evenings.”

“Oh, they wouldn’t have gotten any quiet anyway.” His smile shows his dimples to full fire-igniting effect, but I ignore his perverted remark.

“I really didn’t mean to ruin the night,” he says again. “I know. It’s not ruined. It’s only eight.” I smile.

“I wanted to be the one to take that dress off you,” he states, his eyes darkening.

“I could always put it back on,” I say in what is an attempt to be sexy. Without a word he stands up and lifts me over his shoulder. I squeal and try to kick my legs at him. “What are you doing!” I scream.

“Going to get that dress.” He laughs and carries me over to the laundry hamper.

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