Chapter 96 – After

Chapter 96 – After

Nervousness overtakes me as I walk through the smoky bar. Why did I think this was a good idea? Hardin is going to be furious with me, and Steph may just think I’m insane.

When she sees me, a big smile fills Steph’s face and she practically shouts, “Tessa, what the hell are you doing here?” before pulling me into a hug.

“I . . . well, I was looking for you,” I say.

“Is everything okay? Or did you just miss me?” She laughs. “I just missed you.” I decide to go with that for now.

“I haven’t seen you in ages, Tessa,” Nate teases and then hugs me. “Where has Hardin been hiding you?”

Tristan appears behind Steph and wraps his arms around her waist. By the way she leans back against him, I know they have worked through the fight over Molly.

She smiles. “Come sit with us—it’s just us for now.”

For now? I wonder if she means that Hardin will be here soon? I follow the three of them to a booth, dreading the answer to that question. A question I choose not to ask, and instead order a burger and fries. I haven’t eaten all day and it’s past three in the afternoon.

“And I’ll make sure there is no ketchup,” the waitress says with a knowing smile and walks back to the kitchen. Clearly she remembers the scene Hardin made the last time I was here.

I pick at my manicured fingers as I wait for the waitress to bring me my Coke.

“You missed one hell of a party last night, Tessa,” Nate says. He lifts his glass and gulps down the remainder of his beer.

“Yeah?” I smile. The most frustrating part of my relationship with Hardin is that I never know what I’m allowed to tell people. If I were in a normal relationship, I would respond with “Oh yeah, we had a great time last night at his father’s wedding.” But since my relationship is far from normal, I stay quiet.

“Yeah, it was wild. We went out to the docks instead of the frat house.” He laughs. “We get away with more at the docks and we don’t have to clean up after.”

“Oh. Does Jace live at the docks?” I try to keep my tone neutral.

“What? No, the docks are boat docks. He works there during the day, though.

He lives close by them.”

“Oh . . .” I chew on my straw.

“It was freezing, and Tristan here was plastered and jumped into the cold-ass water.” Steph snorts, and Tristan flips her off playfully.

“It wasn’t too bad; my body was numb the second I hit the water,” he jokes.

My food arrives along with Tristan’s wings and a round of beers for the three of them.

“You sure you don’t want a beer? She won’t card you,” Nate tells me. “Oh, no, I have to drive. Thanks, though.”

“So how’s your new dorm?” Steph asks and steals a fry from my plate. “My what?”

“Your new dorm?” she repeats slowly.

“I don’t have a new dorm.” Did Hardin tell her I moved into another dorm? “Uh, yeah, you do, because you don’t live in mine anymore. All of your stuff

was gone and Hardin said you changed dorms, that your mom flipped out on you or something.” She takes a big swig from her beer.

I decide that I don’t care how pissed Hardin gets at me—I’m not going to lie. I’m infuriated and embarrassed that he is still hiding our relationship. “Hardin and I moved into an apartment,” I tell them.

What?” Steph, Nate, and Tristan say at the same time.

“Yes, last week. We moved in together about twenty minutes from campus,” I explain. All three of them are looking at me as if I have grown a second head.

“What?” I ask harshly.

“Nothing. It’s just . . . wow . . . I don’t know. That’s just a really huge surprise,” Steph says.

“Why?” I snap. I know it isn’t fair to direct my anger toward her when it’s meant for Hardin, but I can’t help it.

She frowns and looks like she’s pondering something. “I don’t know; I just

can’t picture Hardin living with someone, that’s all. I didn’t know you two were that serious. I wish you would have told me.”

As I am about to ask her what she means by that, Nate’s and Tristan’s eyes dart to the door, then back to me. When I turn around, I see Molly, Hardin, and Jace standing in the doorway. Hardin shakes some snow from his hair and wipes his boots on the straw mat. I turn around quickly, my heart beating out of my chest. There are too many things going on at once: Molly is with Hardin, which pisses me off beyond words. Jace is with Hardin, which confuses the hell out of me. And I just told everyone that we moved in together, which they seem unsettled by.

“Tessa.” Hardin’s voice is angry from behind me.

I look up at him, and his face is twisted in anger. He is trying to control it, I can tell, but it’s about to boil over. “I need to talk to you,” he says through clenched teeth.

“Right now?” I say, trying to sound casual but hard-edged.

“Yes. Now,” he answers and reaches out to grab my arm. I quickly climb out of the booth and follow him to the corner of the small bar. “What the hell are you doing here?” he says quietly, his face inches from mine.

“I came to hang out with Steph.” Not exactly a lie, but not the truth, either.

He calls me out. “Bullshit.” He is struggling to keep his voice down, but we’ve already drawn the attention of more than a few patrons. “You need to go,” he tells me.

“Excuse me?” I retort, stealing one of his famous lines. “You need to go home.”

“Home where? Back to my new dorm?” I challenge. The color drains from his face. “Yup, I told them. I told them that we live together—how could you not? Do you know how stupid that makes me look? I thought we were past you trying to keep me a secret.”

“I wasn’t . . .” he lies.

“I am sick of the secrets and deception, Hardin. Every time I think we are doing so great—”

“I’m sorry. I wasn’t trying to keep it a secret. I was just waiting.” Hardin’s thoughts seem jumbled. I can almost see the internal battle being waged behind his green eyes. His eyes frantically scan the room, and his panic worries me.

“I can’t keep doing this—you know that, don’t you?” I tell him.

“Yeah, I know.” He sighs and pulls his lip ring between his teeth and runs his hand through his damp hair. “Can we go home and talk about this?” he asks and I nod.

I follow him back to the booths where everyone is seated. “We are going to

go,” Hardin announces.

Jace gives a sinister grin. “So soon?” Hardin’s shoulders tense. “Yeah,” he answers.

“Back to your apartment?” Steph asks, and I shoot a glare at her. Not now, I silently scream at her.

“Your what?” Molly cackles. I could have gone the rest of my life without seeing her again, really.

“Their apartment; they live together,” Steph says in a singsong voice. I know she is only trying to shove it down Molly’s throat, and usually I would applaud her for it, but I’m too angry at Hardin to focus on Molly.

“Well, well, well.” Molly taps her long crimson nails on the table. “That’s very interesting,” she says, staring at Hardin.

“Molly . . .” he warns. I swear I see panic flash across his face.

She raises an eyebrow. “You’re really taking this whole thing a little far, aren’t you?”

“Molly, I swear to God, if you don’t shut the fuck up—” “What thing? What is he taking too far?” I can’t help but ask. “Tessa, go outside,” he commands, but I ignore him.

“No, what is he taking too far? Tell me!” I yell.

“Wait. You’re in on it, aren’t you?” She laughs and continues, “I knew it! I told Jace you knew, but he wouldn’t believe me. Hardin, you owe Zed some big bucks for this.” She throws her head back and stands up.

Hardin’s face is completely pale; all the blood seems to be drained from his entire body. My head is swimming and I’m so confused. I briefly glance at Nate, Tristan, and Steph, but they are all focused on Hardin.

“Knew what?” My voice is shaky. Hardin grabs my arm and tries to pull me away, but I jerk out of his grip and move over to stand in front of Molly.

“Don’t play stupid with me, I know you know. What did he do? Split the money with you?” she asks.

Hardin reaches for my hand, and his fingers are ice cold. “Tessa . . .” I jerk away and stare at him, my eyes wide.

“Tell me! What is she talking about!” I yell to him. Tears threaten my eyes, and I struggle to keep down all the emotions storming through me.

Hardin astounds me by opening his mouth and then closing it again.

“Oh my God, you really don’t know? Oh, this is amazing. Everyone pull up a seat!” she mocks.

“Molly, don’t,” Steph says.

“You sure you wanna know, princess?” Molly continues, giving me a triumphant smile.

I can literally hear the blood pounding behind my ears, and for a second I wonder if everyone else can, too. “Tell me,” I demand.

She tilts her head slightly . . . but then pauses. “No, I think Hardin should tell her.” And she starts giggling, sliding her tongue ring between her teeth, making the most horrendous rattling, worse than nails on a chalkboard.

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