Page 31 of Before (After 5)

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Five minutes later, I walk into Molly’s apartment without knocking, and her roommate glares at me, smoke pouring from her mouth. The whites of her eyes flicker beneath heavy mascara, and she takes another hit of her cigarette. “She’s in her room.”

Molly’s lying in her bed, her head propped up on a mound of pillows and her bare legs spread wide open. Her room is small, the light blue walls covered in photos from fashion magazines. Mostly black-and-white pictures that she’s clipped and taped up. Her bed is positioned against the wall farthest from the door, and her room has no windows. I would hate to be trapped in a room with no windows. No wonder she’s never here.

She gestures for me to join her on the bed; her pink hair is wild, tied on top of her head in a nest. “Well, well, well, look who it is,” she taunts when I sit next to her. Lifting her skirt up farther, she exposes black panties. She runs her hands down her thighs, circling them around their lacy edges.

“You called me,” I remind her.

“And you came,” she chirps, reciting the line in a sarcastic and proud voice.

“Don’t get too excited. I was bored and you made yourself available.” Shrugging my shoulders, I look over at her. Her brows are furrowed, and she’s pretending to be offended.

“This is true.” She laughs, and I shake my head at her shameless behavior.

Molly’s hand is cold when she wraps it around my arm and pulls me closer to her. The scars on her wrist shine in the half-light from the lamp on her side table.

Molly’s lips press to my neck, and I try not to picture Tessa’s full lips. Molly climbs down my body, her hands reaching for the buttons on my jeans. She pops them open quickly and drags my pants and boxers down my legs. I lift up, helping her undress me while trying to convince myself that I want this. This is fun. This is what people like me do for fun. People like me and Molly, fucked-up people. I have my issues, and she has her own—ones she fortunately hasn’t ever tried to tell me about, ones I don’t give enough fucks about to even consider asking her about. I know she’s like me. That’s all I need to know.

Her tongue licks at the head of my cock, teasing me. I don’t do teasing, so I reach for a handful of her pink hair, guiding her mouth to take all of me. She gags slightly, and I release her. I know she likes it rough—in fact, rougher than I’m willing to go with her, ever.

Tessa’s hair thick in my fist, I pull tighter. Her mouth is so wet, so warm. Her tongue moves over me with more aggression than I would have imagined. Her hands glide down my thighs; her nails are longer than I remember.

“Hardin,” she moans, and takes another lick, drawing me between her lips. Her voice is high-pitched and feels off.

“Fuck, Tessa.”

The moment the words come out, Tessa’s full lips deflate.

Molly immediately tenses and pulls away from me. “Really?”

I clear my throat. “What?”

She rolls her eyes. “I heard you.”

“You didn’t hear anything, and even if you did, don’t act like you haven’t called me Log—”

“Shut up.” She holds up a hand and waves it dramatically. “Do you want me to finish?” And just like that, her tone’s changed back to playful, and I realize she’s looking at me with this weird sympathetic expression, like she needs to feel sorry for me or some shit.

The idea infuriates me. She’s just as lonely and fucked up as I am . . . Who is she to feel bad for me?

“No.” I pull my pants back up, and when I stand up and push my phone into my pocket, she still has that look. My anger means nothing to her.

“I’m not walking you out,” she says with a laugh, back to her normal nihilism for a moment. But then she adds, “Be careful with this shit. Girls like her don’t ever end up with fuckups like you.”

Her eyes grow even sadder for me, and I feel like puking all over her black rug. I know she’s not even trying to insult me—she’s being real and honest, but I don’t need her advice.

I don’t want to “end up with” Tessa. I want to fuck her and win. That’s all.

Without another word, I walk out and drive back to my house.


The pounding at the door won’t stop. The man behind the door calls my name, and I try to be as quiet as I can when I open the closet door and hide inside. I close the door and wait, covering my ears as the pounding gets louder.

“Get out here now!” his voice booms.

My father is drunk again; he’s drunk every night now.

With one final hit, his fist snaps the wood on the door, and the cracking of the wood sends a shiver down my spine. I hate that I’m afraid of him—I shouldn’t be. I’m twelve and I’m pretty tall for my age. I should be able to defend myself.

Why am I afraid? Because I’m so pathetic.

His voice mixes with the other men’s voices . . . are they here again? I’m not sure. They shouldn’t be because he is, but maybe he wouldn’t protect us anyway.

The closet door opens, and I scoot back against the wall until I have nowhere left to hide.

I wake with a shout, screaming into the empty, lonely space. I’ve stayed in this room for nearly three days straight now, and not one person has called, not one person has knocked on my door. I’ve gotten a lot of work done, though. I don’t want to run into her. I don’t want to see Zed or the rest of them. They haven’t called on me either.

That’s what happens when you’re invisible: no one gives a fuck about you, and you have no one to give a fuck about.

I reach for the dirty black shirt on the floor next to my bed and wipe it across my sweat-soaked face. My hair is damp and my vision is blurry, mixing the past and the present, keeping my lack of a future out of this mess for now.

I suppose I wouldn’t say “lack of.” I’ll be one of those men who work too much, fuck too much, and come home to an empty house every night. I’ll be successful financially and I’ll buy a house even bigger than Ken’s and never invite him over, just like Don Draper. Just to prove a point.

I’m not sure what that point will be, but I have one somewhere in there. Somewhere.

I’m getting the fuck out of this bed today.

WHEN I GET TO CAMPUS, I seek out Tessa immediately. It’s been a little while since I’ve seen her. I wonder if Zed has seen her . . . Has he won a few points while I’ve been in solitude? It’s midmorning, so she’d be getting out of Literature. Unless she’s cut class . . .