Page 17 of Before (After 5)


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I walk out into the hallway and convince some frat newbie to move Steph’s body to an empty room down the hall. I watch a moment to make sure he doesn’t stay in there with her, and when he pops out of the room, I head back toward my own.

Passing the bathroom, I hear a frantic voice through the door. It’s that Tessa girl—I know her voice immediately.

“Yeah . . . no . . . I went to a stupid party with my roommate, and now I’m stuck at a frat house with nowhere to sleep and no way to get back to my room.”

She’s full-on crying now. I should just walk away from the door. I don’t have the energy or remote interest in dealing with a crying, overly sensitive girl.

“But she . . .”

I can’t make out her words between her sobs. I press my ear to the door.

“That isn’t the point, Noah,” I hear her say.

I try to open the door. I’m not even sure why I do, so it’s probably fortunate that it’s locked.

“Just a minute,” she says loudly, losing patience.

I knock again.

“I said just a minute!”

She yanks the door open, and her eyes grow wide when she sees me. I look away as she storms past me. I reach for her arm, gently stopping her.

“Don’t touch me!” she yells, and jerks away.

“Have you been crying?” I ask, even though I already know the answer.

“Just leave me alone, Hardin,” she says, no conviction in her tone. She sounds so exhausted. Who was she talking to on the phone? Her boyfriend?

I open my mouth to tease her, but she holds a finger up. “Hardin, please. I’m begging you, if you have one decent bone in your body, you will leave me be. Just save whatever mean comment you’re going to say for tomorrow. Please.” Her blue-gray eyes are shining with tears, and the rude remark I had planned suddenly lost its spark.

“There’s a room down the hall you can sleep in. It’s where I put Steph,” I tell her. She stares at me like I’ve grown three heads.

“Okay,” she simply says after a moment.

“It’s the third door on the left.” I walk toward my room. I feel an overwhelming urge to get away from this girl, and fast.

“Good night, Theresa,” I say, and step into my room. I close the door and lean against the back of it.

I feel dizzy. I don’t feel right. Logan better not have tricked me and slipped some shit in my water.

I walk to the bookshelf and grab Wuthering Heights, opening to the middle of the novel. Catherine is the most infuriating female character I’ve ever read, and I cannot for the life of me understand why Heathcliff puts up with her shit.

He’s an asshole, too, but she’s the worst.

IT TAKES ME A WHILE to fall asleep, but when I do, I find myself dreaming about Catherine, or rather a young blond version of her, stumbling into college. But the sound of my mother’s screams wakes me, and I bolt upright, sweat soaking through my shirt, and turn on the light.

When will this shit end? It’s been years and it won’t go away.

After a few more fitful hours of staring at the ceiling and walls and trying to convince myself I must’ve slept in all that time, I take a shower and walk down to the kitchen. Grabbing a trash bag, I decide to help clean up, for once. Maybe if I do some nice shit for people, I’ll get a full night’s sleep sometime.

In the kitchen, I find Tessa, still here, laughing and leaning against the counter.

“What’s so funny?” I ask, sweeping a bunch of empty cups off the counter and into my bag.

“Nothing . . . does Nate live here, too?” she asks me.

I ignore her.

Her soft voice gains some volume: “Does he? The sooner you tell me if Nate lives here, the sooner I can leave.”

“Now you have my attention.” I take a step toward her to clean a pile of soaking paper towels off the counter. I smile at the annoyed girl. “But no, he doesn’t live here. Does he seem like a frat boy to you?”

“No, but neither do you,” she scoffs.

I don’t respond. Damn it, this house is a fucking disaster.

“Is there a bus that runs close to here?” She taps her foot against the floor like a child, and I roll my eyes.

“Yep, about a block away.”

“Could you tell me where it is?”

“Sure. It’s about a block away.”

Something about her quick annoyance makes me smile.

She turns on her flat shoes and walks away in a hurry. I laugh to myself and ignore the way Logan is smirking at me from across the kitchen. I walk toward him but change my direction as I watch Tessa approach Steph.

“We aren’t taking the bus. One of those assholes will take us back to our room. He was probably just giving you a hard time,” I hear Steph say. She enters the kitchen, looking like Hurricane Katrina. Her dark makeup is smeared around her eyes. I glance at Tessa, who is barely wearing any, and note the difference. “Hardin, you ready to take us back now? My head is pounding.”

“Yeah, sure, just give me a minute.” I drop the bag of trash onto the floor and laugh to myself when I hear Tessa scoff. It’s so easy to get under this girl’s skin.

Tessa and Steph meet me by my car, and I can’t help but choose one of my favorite metal songs, “War Pigs,” during the drive back to campus. I roll all the windows down and enjoy the breeze.

“Can you roll those up?” Tessa asks from the backseat.

I glance in the rearview mirror and pull my lip ring between my teeth to keep from laughing at the way her blond hair is whipping around her face. I pretend not to hear her and turn the volume up on the stereo.

When the joyride is done and they’re climbing out of the car, I say, “I’ll come by later, Steph.” I can see her panties through her outfit, but I’m pretty sure that’s the point of her wearing fishnet stockings.

“Bye, Theresa.” I smile, and she rolls her eyes. I find myself laughing as I drive away.



five

He woke up one night, months after he’d met her. He rolled over to find her cradled against him, her legs wrapped around his. He had never felt anything like this before, his pain felt so diminished but his heart and mind so electric at the same time—and he had no experience of anything of this sort. He wanted to wake her, he wanted to confess his sins to his angel that night, but she woke at the exact moment he was going to ask for forgiveness . . . and he didn’t have the strength.

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