Page 49 of Before (After 5)


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“Yeah, I’m fine.” She nods and shifts so more of her back is facing me.

THE WEEK PASSES with sleepless nights and irresistible calls from dusty bottles under the sink. It’s becoming harder and harder to ignore their siren song. By Friday I’m fucking exhausted. I look and feel like shit. When I get to Literature, Landon is sitting at his desk, and his eyes meet mine immediately.

“I need to talk to you,” he insists. I glance around to see who else he could possibly be talking to. No way it’s me, but Tessa only now walks through the door, so maybe?

“Yes, you,” he says, looking more annoyed than before.

I sit down in my seat, ignoring him. I cross my legs under the desk and lean my back against the hard plastic chair.

“I wanted to extend an invite for dinner in a few days. Our parents have something to tell you.” He must pick up on his own stupidity, because he corrects himself: “My mom and your dad.”

Our parents? Is he fucking demented?

“Don’t ever say some shit like that again, you prick.”

In a move to stand up, Landon pushes his hands against the top of his desk. I fucking dare him.

“Leave him alone, Hardin!” Tessa yells, and grabs hold of my arms to keep me from hurling myself at Landon. She really doesn’t know how to mind her own damn business. I drop my arms. Fuck this. Why did she have to walk up and join us?

“You need to mind your own business, Theresa.”

Tessa leans into her bestie and whispers something to him. Bestie is such a stupid word, but I bet these two dweebs use it.

“He’s just an asshole. That pretty much sums it up,” Landon announces with his most charming grin.

Tessa’s giggling peeves me in the deepest way.

She turns to Landon. “I have some good news!” Ugh. She’s putting on a show for me, probably thinking I’m too oblivious to catch on to her juvenile antics.

“Really? What’s that?”

“Noah’s coming to visit today, and he’ll be here all weekend!”

The slow burn of jealousy is making its way through me, stopping to fray each edge of me on its way. With every clap of Tessa’s hands, I can feel my smoldering gaze heating her skin, and each watt of brightness that grows in her smile makes my hands twitch on my desk more and more vehemently.

“Really? That’s great news!” Landon sucks up to Tessa, and neither of them pays any attention to me when I pretend to gag.



eighteen

As he got to know the girl, his fears began to grow. He had never had much competition when it came to affections of women. His short-lived rendezvous were never challenged by other men.

That was, until the perfect boy with golden hair came waltzing in, with a book full of her secrets. He knew the boy had watched the girl grow up, been alongside her most of the way and probably knew her better than anyone else. He was easy to hate, but in the end he realized he wasn’t the competition after all.

While I walk down the hallway of Tessa’s dorm building, I try to shake the thoughts out of my head. I can’t help but picture Tessa naked, underneath her boy toy’s body. His cardigan tied around his shoulders as he fucks her.

If the thought didn’t make me nauseous, I would find this image hilarious.

I knock at Tessa’s door once before I turn the handle and walk in. It’s not locked, which makes it obvious that she and her boyfriend aren’t planning anything too wild. She and Noah are sitting on the bed in the dark, and Tessa jumps a little when she sees me, making a space between them.

“What are you doing here?” Tessa raises her voice the moment she realizes who it is that has just arrived. “You can’t just barge in here!”

I give the adorable couple a smile.

“I’m meeting Steph.” I sit down on the edge of Steph’s bed, knowing that I’m lying. Through my teeth. I turn to Noah, wanting to gauge his annoyance level. Is he easygoing, or uptight like Tessa? Tessa’s probably going to piss herself the moment I say his name. “Hey, Noah, nice to see you again.” I think about shaking his hand. I’m sure he’s used to it at the country club he’s a member of.

“She’s with Tristan, probably already at your house.” She really pushes those words as if she’s trying to tell me to leave.

Not yet, Blondie.

“Oh?” I play with Tessa’s nerves. “Are you two coming to the party?” That would make it much more fun. I can imagine the boy fitting in well at the frat house—bro-dudes with matching blond hair would have him doing a keg stand within minutes of his arrival. His pure soul would be tainted, and Theresa would have to find herself another blond Abercrombie model. Tough life.

“No . . . we aren’t. We’re trying to watch a movie,” Tessa answers me. Noah moves his hand in the dark, and I cringe as he rests it on Tessa’s. I can see her discomfort even in the darkness.

“That’s too bad. I better go . . .” I turn on my boot, and some of the pressure disappears from my chest. “Oh, and . . . Noah.” I put a pause between my words and watch Tessa squirm. “That’s a nice cardigan you’re wearing.”

Tessa looks relieved when she realizes that I’m not going to cause a scene.

“Thanks. It’s from the Gap,” he answers me, oblivious that I’m making fun of him.

“I can see that. You two have fun,” I say as I leave the room. My chest burns as I close the door. He’s a tool.



nineteen

Just as his life was beginning to make a little sense, it was shaken again. He thought he was in complete control of himself, of her, of everything. He was resisting the sweet temptation of the bitter liquor. He didn’t crave it the way he had until he found himself on the phone with his father, getting a play-by-play of the man’s new—and better—life.

When he hung up the phone, he had no other option.

He was completely alone with his only friend. The bottle of scotch was nearly empty; it mirored him in that way.

When I get to the Scott house, I park right in the middle of the driveway. I hate this fucking beautiful house. It sits high on a perfectly green lawn. Ken and Karen pay a pretty penny to have their yard groomed; no doubt they pay a pretty penny to have themselves groomed as well. Ken’s new soon-to-be wife loves living here, I’m sure. She probably loves spending his money on grooming herself, too.

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