Page 19 of Before (After 5)


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I shake it off, this weird feeling. She’s still staring. I changed my mind; I thought I liked how she stared at me before, trying to decipher me, but now I can feel her judgment crawling over my skin. Now she’s looking at my inked arms the way my gran does. I don’t need her questioning me and my fucking choices.

“Stop staring at me!” I demand, and walk away. I turn the corner and feel breathless. It reminds me of those nights when I’d smoke just way too many cigarettes. I don’t smoke anymore, I don’t do that anymore, I have to remind myself, and lean against the brick wall and catch my breath.

She’s odd, that blond girl with too much attitude.

THE ENTIRE WEEK was shit. Party after party, noise after noise. All the sounds of misery.

At most I’ve slept a total of twenty hours in the past week, and I’m exhausted today. I can barely see straight through my throbbing headache, and I can’t find my keys this morning. I’m irritated as fuck and in a fighting mood.

While I’m turning my room upside down, there’s a knock at the door. I consider ignoring it, but the knock comes again, this time louder.

When I answer, a girl in a WCU jersey is standing in my doorway, her eyes red and her cheeks flushed.

“Can I come in?” she asks, her hands shaking.

“No. Sorry.” I close the door in her face. Seconds later another knock. Damn it. I don’t know who the chick is, but she needs to find another door to knock on. She continues tapping away at my door, and I yank it open.

Neil, one of the biggest of the douchebags in the fraternity, is standing there. His blond hair is ruffled, messy, and he smells like beer and pussy.

“What the fuck do you want?” I ask him, and walk back into the room, tossing a pair of jeans at him.

“Have you s-seen Cady?” His tone is off, his words slurred.

“Who?”

“The girl I was with last night? Have you seen her?”

I think back to the red eyes of the girl in the jersey, the way she was wandering the halls, and I shake my head. I thought she was high at first, and maybe she was, but it never does well to assume.

“She left and she’s not coming back. Leave her alone.” I grab a book from my shelf and throw it at him.

Groaning, he calls me a dick and leaves.

I’m still pissed as I drive back to campus, and I continue my newly found pattern of annoying Steph’s roommate.

“I’m excited for this class. I’ve heard really good things about it,” Landon tells her as I walk up behind them. They must be closer friends than I thought. Her voice is quiet when she responds to him, and he smiles at her. Her smile is warm, so warm that I look away for a moment.

Do they like each other? She has a mannequin boyfriend. He has a girlfriend, as far as I know. They must have broken up, by the way he’s looking at Tessa.

Halfway through class, Landon leaves and Tessa literally moves her chair farther away from me.

“Monday we begin our weeklong discussion of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice,” Professor Something-or-other announces to the class. I glance over at Tessa, and she’s smiling. Not just smiling—she’s grinning from ear to ear.

Of course she is. Chicks love Pride and Prejudice. They can’t get enough of Darcy and his pride-turned-charm bullshit.

I watch Tessa gather her things: a massive planner and every textbook this campus carries. I’m trying to pretend to stall, but really, even doing that is difficult, considering just how long it takes her to pick everything back up and put it neatly into her bag.

Following her outside, I say, “Let me guess: you are just madly in love with Mr. Darcy.”

I have to tease her over this. Have to.

“Every woman who has read the novel is,” she responds, her tongue sticking out a little at the end and her eyes focused anywhere other than my face. I follow her still and watch her look both ways before she crosses the street at the intersection.

“Of course you do.” I laugh, pausing a moment before I realize she’s gotten most of the way across the street without me. Damn, she walks fast.

“I’m sure you aren’t able to comprehend Mr. Darcy’s appeal.” Tessa tries to insult me as I catch up, but I just laugh again.

“A man who is rude and intolerable being made into a romantic hero? It’s ridiculous. If Elizabeth had any sense, she would have told him to fuck off from the beginning.”

Miss Priss turns to face me, and to my surprise I hear the soft sound of a giggle. As in, the innocent and unintentional giggles that have seemingly disappeared from the world today. She covers her mouth the moment the sound hits the air, but I heard it. I heard it, as if it had pierced through me.

“So you do agree that Elizabeth is an idiot?” I press.

“No, she is one of the strongest, most complex characters ever written.”

She defends Elizabeth Bennet in a way that most eighteen-year-olds would never be able to, with a Tom Hanks movie thrown in there to boot. I find myself laughing, genuinely laughing, and she joins in. Her laugh is soft, like cotton.

What the fuck did I just . . .

I immediately stop laughing and I look away from her. This is too damn weird.

She’s weird. And obnoxious.

“I’ll see you around, Theresa.” I dismiss her and walk the other way.

Soft like cotton? Her giggle pierced through me? What the fuck was that?

I push that bullshit to the back of my mind and walk to my car. Tonight there’s another party, as always, and I’ll get my mind away from this shit by burying myself in a tight, wet—

My phone vibrating in my pocket distracts me from my perverted thoughts. Pulling it out, I see Jace’s name pop up on the screen, and I quickly answer.

He’s been gone for a while, and I’ll be glad to have him back. Everyone has that one person they hang out with who makes them feel better about themselves. For me, that’s Jace. He’s an asshole—grade-A fucking dickhead, ask anyone—but he’s entertaining and he always makes for a good time.



six

The closer he got to her, the more of her he needed to explore. When he found himself wondering what she thought of when she woke up in the morning, or how long she takes to get ready, he knew she was becoming something more than a passerby in his life. Suddenly, she was more than the game he was playing with her. In his own sick way, he was glad that he could use the game as an excuse to spend more time with her. He had leverage and a reason to find out everything there was to know about her without his friends getting suspicious. He had validation for wanting to spend as many hours with her as he could.

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