Page 62 of Before (After 5)


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See, I’m learning, I want to say.

“Fine, you stubborn ass,” I grumble back. I watch her breathing slow, then wrap my arm around her and try to fall asleep. She sighs a few times, mumbling incoherent thoughts. When she falls asleep, I sit up and watch her for a while, wondering how long she’s going to be mad at me and if I’m ever going to be able to figure out how to be a good boyfriend.



twenty-one

Everything was changing so quickly in his life, he barely had time to keep up. He was happy . . . he’d finally learned what the word meant. Every day was passing too quickly for him to realize what was happening. When she opened herself to him, he climbed right in, making a home inside of her. She willingly gave him the deepest part of her innocence and he took it knowing it wasn’t his to take, but he would be lying if he said he didn’t wish she would never find this out. He was loving her and using her, and he wasn’t sure how he could reconcile the two. He loved her, and he knew this wasn’t an excuse for all the mistakes he was making, one after another, but he hoped that he could enjoy the time he did have with her and possibly convince her that he was worth forgiveness.

I’m pulling into Tessa’s dorm parking lot and wondering what the fuck my plan is. I had a clear idea when I left my place. I was going to come to her room, tell her everything, and beg for her forgiveness. It wasn’t a completely solid plan, but it’s all I had. The guilt is eating away at me, gnawing at my insides, begging for release. I’m terrified what will happen when I tell her, but she deserves to know. She has to know.

I only had a little to drink. Just a few gulps to take the edge off.

I can’t deceive her with my kiss or distract her with my touch for another hour. The parking spaces for Building B are never completely taken, and I park in the spot closest to the sidewalk. Her dorm reminds me of an old apartment building with a lot of windows, but the dark red brick gives it a creepy institution-like feel. It has the least amount of supervision by the staff of the university. I would know—I’ve been chased both from Buildings A and D.

I type a quick text to Steph to tell her to stay the fuck away from the room if she’s out. She doesn’t respond within a minute, so I climb out of the car and hope she’ll be gone. There’s a text from Tessa below that, telling me good night. I should have responded. Why am I such a dick?

The hallway is empty, and I nervously stand in front of room B20 instead of B22 without noticing for at least five minutes. I can’t decide if I should I knock on the door. She’s not exactly expecting me, but I’m sure she’s here. No, I shouldn’t knock. There’s no reason to. My hands are shaking when I turn the knob. As the wooden door creaks open, I walk straight in, hoping I’m not met with a shoe to the head or a dick in Steph’s mouth.

My eyes adjust to the dark room just as the lamp clicks on.

“What are you doing?” Tessa asks. She’s sitting upright, her eyes squinting in the harsh light.

I pass Steph’s bed and stop a few feet away from Tessa’s. “I came here to see you,” I say, and now that I’m seeing her, something inside me shifts, calms. She turns to lie on her side and rests one hand on her hip. When she sits up, her bare feet hang over the edge of the mattress and her blond hair is wavy, covering most of her back. The cotton T-shirt she’s wearing looks so soft. I want to reach out and touch the soft fabric that clings to her skin. I crave being able to run my thumb along her forehead and brush the loose hair away from her face. I need to touch the pout on her lips.

She frowns, her eyebrows push down her forehead, and she looks like an angry kitten. “Why?” Her voice is high and very whiny.

Not knowing what to do with myself, I sit down in the chair at her tidy wooden desk. After a moment’s hesitation, I answer truthfully.

“Because I missed you.”

Disbelief and anger are crystal-clear as she rolls her eyes. Has she missed me?

Do I comfort her in her sleep like she does for me, or do I haunt her dreams? I have no fucking clue.

She sighs and her shoulders slump. “Then why did you leave?” Her words are soft. I take a moment to look around Tessa’s dorm. Her bed is unkempt for once; the duvet is bunched up at the end of the bed, and one of the pillows is hanging off the small mattress. Steph’s side of the room is messy, as usual, and I have to bite back a chuckle when I think about how much that must drive Tess crazy. I’m surprised she doesn’t clean her room while she’s alone in here. For all I know, she does.

I shrug, and she crosses her arms in front of her chest. I have a lot to say, Tessa, please be quiet for once . . . “Because you were annoying me.”

She huffs and kicks her feet like a primary-school student. “Okay, I’m going back to sleep; you’re drunk and you’re obviously going to be mean again.” She shakes her head, and her eyes fall closed. My chest burns from her anger, and my fists burn from mine.

I try to convince her I’m not being mean, that I’m only a little drunk, and that I wanted to see her. I desperately try to stop myself from sitting on her bed with her. I want her to lie back on the bed and let me touch her. I keep up my sweet talk and try to make her smile.

She’s not buying it. “You should just go,” she says. She lies down with her back toward me, turning to face the wall. Stubborn little child, she is. It’s half infuriating and half cute.

If she wants to act like a child, I will treat her like one. “Aww, baby, don’t be mad at me.” Her shoulders tense, and I wish I could see her face. Though it was meant to annoy her, the word baby feels so nice when attached to her. “Do you really want me to go? You know what happens when I sleep without you.” I hope that my vulnerability will touch something in her.

She sighs dramatically, and I hold my breath. I don’t want to leave. I don’t want her to want me to.

“Fine. You can stay, but I’m going back to sleep.” She doesn’t turn around. I wonder how hard she would slap me if I were to lie down behind her or grab her shoulder and turn her to face me.

I don’t mind her sleeping, but I would rather be able to enjoy her company. I had half of a plan when I showed up here, and now that’s completely out of the question. She’s already annoyed; she’ll be beyond talking to if I drop this shit on her right now. “Why? You don’t want to hang out with me?” I ask her.

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