Page 18 of Before (After 5)

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He was a coward and a liar and he knew it. He could only hope that she would have mercy on him. Her eyes fluttered and searched for him, and he felt a crushing weight on him. He couldn’t ruin who she thought he was, but he was terrified of their future, for he learned as a child that every lie made in the dark becomes an evil truth in the light.

The sounds of laughing and a dog barking wake me from my three-hour sleep. I never get much sleep anyway, but I would appreciate a little peace in the hallways, considering it’s a Monday morning and I have class in . . . I reach for my phone and check the time.



I have less than thirty minutes to get to my Literature class—and why the hell is there a dog in the house, anyway?

Grabbing last night’s black jeans from the floor, I pull them on, stumbling slightly and cursing at the tight fabric. My legs are just too damn long to wear baggy jeans without looking like fucking Gumby. I tossed my keys onto the floor last night, so I’m subjected to the ordeal of rummaging through the clutter of shit to find them. Black T-shirts, dirty black jeans, and filthy socks crowd the floor.

I make my way through the house, ignoring the telltale signs of last night’s party. Logan waves to me, bags under his eyes and an energy drink in his hand.

“I feel like shit, man,” he groans, trying to smile. He’s always smiling, and I catch myself wondering what that would feel like. To be happy all the time like he is. Even this hungover. I never managed it.

“You’ve got the right idea, not drinking.” He walks over to the fridge. He pulls out a half gallon of milk and drinks it straight from the container.

“Nice.” I shake my head at him, and he smiles, then drinks some more. The kitchen starts to fill up with other members of the fraternity, and since I’m not in their clique, I grab a piece of pizza from the detritus of last night’s drunken decision to order ten pizzas at 4 a.m.

As I’m leaving the room, I hear Neil asking everyone if they want to go to some restaurant tonight before the party. I didn’t expect them to invite me . . . they never do. It’s not that I would ever be caught dead hanging out with a bunch of dumb-ass frat boys with too much gel in their hair outside of a party or two.

My mum’s always giving me a hard time about “making friends,” but she doesn’t get it. It’s not that fucking easy, or remotely entertaining. Why would I put myself out there to get the approval of people I can’t stand, just to feel slightly more important in life? I don’t need friends. I have a small group of people I can slightly tolerate, and that’s more than enough for me.

By the time I get to campus, the parking lot is almost full and I have to cut off some douchebag in a Beamer to take his spot.

The professor is already blabbing when I enter the lecture room. Looking around the space, I search for an empty seat and notice the girl in the front row. Her long blond hair is mildly recognizable; it’s the long skirt touching the floor that confirms it. Tessa, Steph’s prudish roommate.

Sitting next to Landon Gibson. Of course she is. This should be fun: Tessa trapped in a classroom with me, an empty seat next to her. This has quickly become the highlight of my day.

As I get closer, she looks back at me and her eyes go wide. She turns around quickly, and I move quickly to sit next to her. Just like I knew she would, she ignores me. She’s wearing a blue button-up shirt that has to be at least two sizes too big, and her hair is pinned back away from her face.

Just as I approach them, my phone vibrates in my pocket.

A text from my sperm donor: Karen’s making a nice dinner, you should come by.

Has he lost his damn mind? I look over at Landon, who happens to be Karen’s perfect son, all fresh in his polo shirt.

Hell no, I’m not going. Like I would ever, ever go to his shiny new house for dinner with his girlfriend and Landon. Perfect little Landon, who loves sports and kisses everyone’s ass to be the nicest, most respectful boy in the land.


I wait for dear “brother” Landon to say something to me, but he doesn’t. So much for my dad’s promise of “blending our family.” Fucker.

“I think this will be my favorite class,” Tessa says to him once the professor has dismissed us.

Weirdly, it may be my favorite, too, even though I’m sitting in the class for fun, really. I got away with classifying it as an elective even though I’ve taken it before.

She turns to me when she realizes that I’m following them. “What do you want, Hardin?”

It’s already working.

I smile at her, an innocent smile, as if I’m not trying to get under her skin. “Nothing. Nothing. I’m just so glad we have a class together.” My tone is mocking, and she rewards my sarcasm with an eye roll. I continue to stare her way the entire duration of the class, getting a rush each time she huffs or fidgets uncomfortably. She’s so easy to rile up—I love it. The hour is over before I would like it to be, and Tessa starts packing her bag up before the professor dismisses us. Not so fast.

I jump to my feet, ready to follow her and Landon out of the building. I’m not ready for my fun to end just yet. When we reach the hallway, Landon turns to Tessa. She looks nervous having both of us standing in front of her.

“I’ll see you later, Tessa,” Landon says without a word to me.

“You would find the lamest kid in class to befriend,” I tease her as he disappears into the crowd of freshmen trying to find their way around campus.

I picture Landon’s mum and my dad holding hands in a cheery, “look at how much we love each other” way. His mum’s hand holding that of my father, Ken Scott, aka Father of the Fucking Year, makes me cringe. I can’t remember a single time when he held my mum’s hand like that.

“Don’t say that about him; he’s a sweet guy. Unlike you,” she snaps.

I turn to her, surprised by her vehement loyalty to him. Does she know him already? Does he know her? Does she like him?

Why the fuck would I care?

Pushing the questions far from my mind, I have an electric urge to push her buttons more. “You’re becoming more feisty with each chat we have, Theresa.”

She begins to walk faster to get away from me, so I speed up to match her pace.

“If you call me Theresa one more time . . .” Her full lips purse together, and she attempts a glare at me. But her eyes warm mid-glare, shifting from gray into a pale blue and the tension slips from my shoulders. I feel it, something creeping up my spine as my body starts to relax.