Page 47 of Before (After 5)

Font Size:  

“So what type of food do you like?” I ask her. I don’t know where to take her. I’ve never gone out to eat alone with a woman before. Sad, I know, but most of my time with women takes place elsewhere.

Tessa wraps her tangled hair around her hand to pull it up. I think I may like her hair up . . . it’ll give me a better view of her face. “Well, I like anything, really, as long as I know what it is—and it doesn’t involve ketchup.”

“You don’t like ketchup? Aren’t all Americans supposed to be wild for the stuff?” What an odd girl she is.

“I have no idea, but it’s disgusting.”

She’s so sure and proud and unwavering in her hatred of ketchup. It’s comical.

She laughs with me. “Let’s just stick with a plain diner, then?”

When the car grows too silent, I ask, “So what do you plan on doing after college?”

Shit, I already asked her this. I’m fucking terrible at conversation.

“I’m going to move to Seattle immediately, and I hope to work at a publishing house or be a writer. I know it’s silly.” She looks down at her hands. It’s not silly; I have the same dream. “But you already asked me that before, remember?”

“No, it’s not silly. I know someone over at Vance Publishing; it’s a bit of a drive, but maybe you should apply there for an internship. I could talk to the boss.” Vance would kill to have someone as bright as Tessa around that place.

“What? You’d do that for me?” She’s astounded. I can hear it in her voice.

“Yeah, it’s not a big deal.” I shrug my shoulders. I hate the attention I’m getting right now. I can just feel Tessa gushing from the other seat. It’s not a big deal, getting someone an internship at Vance. I would help anyone. Really, I would.

“Wow, thank you. Really. I need to get a job or an internship soon anyway, and working at a publishing house would literally be a dream come true!” She claps her hands. Literally claps them together, like a child who’s just won a giant bear at the fair. It makes me want to smile.

AS I PARK, Tessa looks a little unsure about the diner, and I watch her eyes take in the outdated appearance.

“The food here is amazing,” I promise her, and climb out of the car. The diner is nearly empty when we sit down. A stubby older woman brings our menus, and I try to look anywhere but at Tessa.

She starts a conversation with me after we order our meals. She tries to pry into my childhood, but I don’t allow it.

“My dad drank a lot; he left when I was younger,” she blurts out suddenly.

I don’t say anything, I just frown at my plate and try not to picture her as a little girl, hiding from her version of my fucked-up dad.

I stay inside my head during the drive back, focusing my attention on using my fingers to draw small shapes on Tessa’s leg.

“Did you have a nice time?” Tessa asks when we get to campus. Her question is full of expectation.

A nice time was certainly had. I would like to have another nice time with her, making her moan my name as I finger-fuck her over and over.

But instead of all that I say, “Yeah, I did, actually . . . Listen, I would walk you to your room, but I don’t want to play twenty questions with Steph . . .”

I shift in my seat to look at her. She’s disappointed even though she’s trying really hard to keep that fake smile on her face.

“It’s fine. I’ll just see you tomorrow,” she says with regret.

I can tell she doesn’t want to go, and the thought pleases me. She stares at me, waiting for me to say something. I don’t speak, but I reach up and grab a loose strand of her hair and tuck it behind her ear. I don’t have much to say, but I want to feel her again. I want to feel this overwhelming calm she brings with her when she touches me. She turns her cheek so it’s resting in my palm, and she looks like a younger version of herself, open and waiting for me. I tug at her arms, asking her to come closer. I need her closer. She obliges and climbs over the center console and straddles my lap. My body is warm from the afternoon sun, and Tessa’s hands are greedily tracing the ink on my stomach over my thin shirt. Each touch of her fingertips sends another steady flicker through me.

I tease her tongue with mine, taking everything she’ll give me. I wrap my arms around her back, pulling her as close to me as possible. It’s still not enough. I need more of her. I can’t get enough of this girl. My hands travel up her warm stomach, and we’re interrupted by the most obnoxious ring tone.

“Another alarm?” I ask her as she digs into her purse. The screen on her ancient phone is small, but big enough for me to see a name flashing across the screen: NOAH.

Her precious little high school boyfriend is calling her while she’s in my car with her tongue down my throat. She presses ignore and smiles up at me. Really? Guess she’s not as innocent as I thought. A good orgasm seemed to pluck out her morals, one moan at a time.

It dawns on me that she’ll never tell him any of what happened today. Not a word. She’s going to kiss me, get out of my car, and go call her preppy little boyfriend the moment she gets into her room. She’s going to tell him she loves him. He’ll say it back, and she’ll smile the way she did when I kissed her.

She licks her lips and leans across the center console to kiss me again.

No, no.

“I think I better go.” I sigh and stare out the windshield.

“Hardin, I ignored the call,” she says, defensive. “I’m going to talk to him about all this. I just don’t know how or when—but it will be soon, though, I promise.”

Well, I was wrong about her morals disappearing, but this is worse than I thought. She spent one afternoon with me, and now she’s going to break up with her childhood lover boy in hopes that I’ll be his replacement?

No, no.


The air in the car is thickening, clogging my throat, as Tessa waits for my response.

“Talk to him about what?” I ask, knowing I shouldn’t feed this puppy more than I already have.

“All of this.” Her hand waves around the car, stirring up the thick air, and I’m convinced I’m going to fucking choke on it. What was I thinking doing this shit with her? I should’ve just fucked her, no cute little lunch debate over ketchup, no talks about our future plans. As women always do, she now wants to be a part of my life. She’s her own brand of crazy if she thinks this could actually happen. “Us,” she adds.