Chapter 95 – After

Chapter 95 – After

I love coming home!” I proclaim with a squeal as we walk into the apartment, only to then realize it’s freezing. “Except when you turn the heat off.” I shiver and he chuckles.

“I still haven’t figured that thing out yet; it’s too high-tech.”

As Hardin tries to figure out the thermostat, I grab a blanket off the bed and two from the closet and drop them in a heap on the couch, then go back to the bedroom. “Hardin!” I call.


“Can you unzip me?” I ask as he comes in, looking frustrated from his handyman moment.

I flinch from the coolness of his fingertips against my bare skin. He apologizes, then hastily unzips the material, and it drops to the floor. I take my shoes off and find that the concrete floor is freezing as well. Hurrying to the dresser, I grab the warmest pajamas I can find.

“Here, let me give you something,” he says and walks to the closet, pulling out a gray hooded sweatshirt.

“Thanks.” I smile. I don’t know what it is about being in Hardin’s clothes that I love so much; it’s almost as if wearing them brings us closer. I never did this with Noah, except once when I borrowed a sweatshirt while camping with his family.

Hardin seems to like when I wear his clothes, too. He watches me slip the sweatshirt over my head with lustful eyes. I notice him struggling to get the tie

off and I pad over to help him. He watches me silently as I pull the thin fabric from around his neck and set it aside before grabbing a pair of thick, fuzzy, purple socks that my mother got me for Christmas last year.

It dawns on me that Christmas is only three weeks away, and I start to wonder if my mother will still want me to come home. I haven’t been home since I left for college.

“What are those?” Hardin chuckles and flicks the balls of fur at the top of my ankle.

“Socks. Warm socks, to be exact.” I stick my tongue out. “Nice,” he teases, then changes into sweatpants and a sweatshirt.

By the time we get back to the living room, the apartment has warmed up somewhat. Hardin turns the television on and lies on the couch, pulling me onto his chest and encasing us in the mound of blankets.

“I was wondering what you were doing for Christmas,” I say nervously. I don’t know why I feel shy asking him about this when we already live together.

“Oh well, I was going to wait until next week to bring it up, with everything being so chaotic over the last week, but since you did . . .” He smiles, his face holding the same nervousness that I feel. “I’m going to go home for the holiday, and I would like it if you would come with me.”

“Home?” I squeak.

“To England . . . to my mother’s house.” He looks a little sheepish as he hedges, “I get it if you don’t want to. I know it’s a lot to ask, and you’ve already moved in with me.”

“It’s not that I don’t want to, it’s just . . . I don’t know . . .” The idea of going to another country with Hardin is thrilling, but terrifying. I have never even left Washington.

“You don’t have to answer me tonight, but let me know soon, okay? I will be leaving on the twentieth,” he explains.

“That’s the day after my birthday,” I tell him.

He moves suddenly and lifts my head up. “Your birthday? Why didn’t you tell me it was so soon?”

I shrug a little. “I don’t know. I haven’t really thought about it, I guess. Birthdays aren’t really a big deal to me. My mother used to go all-out on my birthdays, making each one special, but not in the last few years.”

“Well, what would you like to do for your birthday?”

“Nothing. Maybe we can go to dinner?” I don’t want to make a big deal out of


“Dinner . . . I don’t know,” he teases. “A bit extravagant, isn’t it?”

I giggle and he kisses my forehead. I force him to watch the new episode of

Pretty Little Liars and we end up falling asleep on the couch pretty quickly.

I wake up sweating in the middle of the night. Lifting myself off Hardin, I peel off the sweatshirt and go over to turn the heat down when a small blue light blinking on Hardin’s phone piques my curiosity. I pick the phone up off the counter and swipe my finger across. Three new messages.

Put the phone down, Tessa.

I have no reason to go through his phone; that’s insane. I set it down and walk back toward the couch, only to be stopped by the vibration of another text message arriving.

Just one. I will only glance at one. That’s not so crazy, right? I know it’s insane to be looking through Hardin’s messages, but I can’t seem to stop myself.

Call me back dick, the message reads. Jace’s name covers the top of the small screen.

Yup, reading that was a terrible idea. It didn’t get me anywhere at all, and now I feel guilty for going through Hardin’s phone like a crazy person . . . but why is Jace texting Hardin, anyway?

“Tessa?” Hardin’s voice croaks, causing me to jump, and the phone slips out of my grasp. It falls to the floor with a crack.

“What was that? What are you doing?” he asks through the dark room, the only light being cast from the television.

“Your phone went off . . . and I grabbed it,” I half-lie and scramble on the floor to pick up the phone. The screen now has a small crack along the side. “And I cracked the screen,” I add.

He groans wearily. “Just come back to bed.”

I set the phone down and lie back on the couch with him. But I don’t fall asleep for a long while.

THE NEXT MORNING, I wake up to Hardin trying to move out from under me. I shift against the back of the couch to let him get up, and he grabs his phone off the counter before going to the bathroom. I hope he isn’t too pissed about me breaking his screen. If I wouldn’t have been so nosy, this wouldn’t have happened in the first place. I pull myself off the couch and make a pot of coffee.

Hardin’s proposal of going to England with him keeps running through my mind. We have already progressed so quickly in our relationship by moving in together at such a young age. Still, I would love to meet his mother and see England with Hardin.

“Deep in thought?” Hardin’s voice interrupts me as he comes into the kitchen. “No . . . well, sort of.” I laugh.

“About?” “Christmas.”

“What about it? You can’t figure out what to get me?”

“I think I’m going to call my mother and see if she would have even invited me for Christmas. I feel bad not at least seeing first, you know. She will be alone.”

He doesn’t look thrilled, but he stays calm. “I understand.” “I’m sorry about your phone.”

“It’s fine,” he says and sits at the kitchen table.

But then I blurt out, “I read a text message from Jace.” I don’t want to hide things from him, no matter how embarrassing the confessions are.

“You what?”

“It vibrated and I looked at it. Why was he texting so late, anyway?” “What did you read?” he asks, ignoring my question.

“A text from Jace,” I repeat.

His jaw clenches. “What did it say?”

“Just to call him back . . .” Why is he getting so worked up? I knew he wouldn’t exactly be happy that I looked at his text message, but this is an overreaction.

“That’s it?” he snaps, which starts to get me annoyed. “Yes, Hardin—what else would it have said?”

“Nothing . . .” He takes a slow sip of coffee, like it’s all suddenly no big deal. “I just don’t like you going through my stuff.”

“Okay, well, I won’t do it again.”

“Good. I have a few things to do today, so can you keep yourself busy for a while?”

“What do you have to do?” I ask and instantly regret it.

Jesus, Tessa,” he says loudly. “Why are you always on my case!”

“I’m not always on your case. I just wanted to know what you were doing. We are in a relationship, Hardin—a pretty serious one, at that—so why wouldn’t I ask where you’re going?”

He pushes his mug away and stands up. “You just don’t know when to let shit go, is your problem. I don’t have to tell you everything, whether we are living together or not! If I would have known you were going to start shit with me today, I would have left before you even woke up.”

“Wow” is all I can say before I storm off to the bedroom. But he’s hot on my heels. “Wow what?”

“I should have known that yesterday was too good to be true.” “Excuse me?” he scoffs.

“We had such a great time; you weren’t an asshole, for once, but you wake up today and bam! You’re back to being a jerk!” I scramble around the room picking up Hardin’s dirty clothes.

“You forgot the part where you went through my phone.”

“Okay, and I am sorry for doing that, but it’s honestly not that big of a deal. If there is something on there that you don’t want me to see, then there is a bigger problem here!” I yell and shove everything into the hamper.

He points an angry finger at me. “No, Tessa, you’re the problem. You’re always making something out of nothing!”

“Why did you fight Zed?” I counter.

“We aren’t doing this right now,” he says in a cool tone.

“Then when, Hardin? Why won’t you tell me? How am I supposed to trust you if you are keeping things from me? Does this have to do with Jace?” I ask and his nostrils flare.

He runs his hands over his face and then up through his hair, leaving it sticking straight up. “I don’t know why you can never just mind your own damn business,” he grumbles and walks off.

Seconds later I hear the front door slam and I wipe the angry tears from my cheeks. Hardin’s reaction to me asking about Jace is gnawing at my stomach the entire time I clean the apartment. He overreacted; there is something he isn’t telling me, and I don’t understand why. I am fairly certain it has nothing to do with me, but it just doesn’t make sense why Hardin got so worked up. I have known since the moment I met Jace that he was trouble. If Hardin isn’t going to give me answers, I will have to go another route. I look out the window and watch as Hardin’s car pulls out of the parking lot before grabbing my phone. My new source answers on the first ring.

“Zed? It’s Tessa,” I say. “Yeah . . . I know.”

“Okay . . . well, I was wondering if I could ask you something?” My voice comes out smaller than I intended it to.

“Um . . . where is Hardin?” he asks, and, given his tone, I suspect he holds a small grudge against me for blowing him off after he was so kind to me.

“He isn’t here.”

“I don’t think this is a good idea—”

“Why did Hardin fight you?” I ask before he finishes. “I’m sorry, Tessa, I gotta go,” he says and the call ends.

What the hell? I hadn’t been one hundred percent sure he would tell me, but that wasn’t the reaction I was expecting, either. My curiosity is now piqued more than before and my annoyance is as high as ever.

I try to call Hardin again, but of course he doesn’t answer. Why would Zed act that way? Like he was almost . . . afraid to tell me? Maybe I was wrong and this does have to do with me? I don’t know what’s going on, but none of this makes sense. I take a step back and reevaluate the situation. Am I overreacting? Hardin’s frantic expression when I asked about Jace replays in my head, and I’m sure I’m not misreading this.

I take a shower to try to calm my nerves and settle my mind, but it doesn’t work; this feeling in the pit of my stomach pushes me to come up with another option. When I get out of the shower, I blow-dry my hair and get myself dressed while I decide what to do next.

I feel a little like Miss Havisham in Great Expectations, plotting and scheming. I had never cared for her character, but suddenly I find myself relating to her. I can now see how love can make you do things that you normally wouldn’t, like become obsessive and even a little crazy. Though, in reality, my plan really isn’t all that crazy or nearly as dramatic as it seems in my head. All I’m going to do is find Steph and ask her if she knows why Hardin and Zed got into a fight, then see what she knows about Jace. The only thing that makes this plan crazy is that Hardin will lose it when he finds out that I called Zed and went to Steph.

Now that I think about it, Hardin hasn’t taken me around any of his friends since we moved in together—making it likely none of them actually know about our new living arrangement.

BY THE TIME I leave the apartment, my thoughts are jumbled and I end up leaving my phone on the counter. It begins to snow as soon as I pull onto the freeway, so it takes me over thirty minutes to get to the dorms. They look the same as I remember—of course they do. It has been only a week since I left them, even though it seems so much longer.

Marching up the hallway, I ignore the rude stare from the bleach blonde who yelled at Hardin for spilling vodka outside her door. That first night that Hardin stayed in my dorm with me seems so distant; time hasn’t made sense since I met him. When I knock on my old door, there’s no answer. Of course she isn’t here; she’s never here. She spends the majority of her time at Tristan and Nate’s apartment, and I have no idea where that is. Even if I did, would I go there?

I get into my car and try to formulate a new plan while I drive around. This might have been easier if I hadn’t forgotten my phone, but just as I’m about to give up on my radical decision to practically stalk my old roommate, I pass Blind Bob’s, the biker bar I went to with Steph. Recognizing Nate’s car in the

lot, I pull in. I take a deep breath before getting out, and when I finally do, the cold air burns my nostrils. The woman at the front smiles at me when I enter, and I’m relieved when I spot Steph’s red hair from across the room.

If only I had known what was to come.

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