Page 67 of Before (After 5)


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I can’t help but push her. I thrive on making her feel as shitty as I do. I look at Steph and put my biggest grin on my face. “Maybe you should worry about your own boyfriend and the way he always stares at Molly. I’ve seen them alone a few times . . .” I say some other things about them—I don’t even know what, really—and by the time I finish my lie, her eyes are watering, shining red in my triumph.

“You’re lying.” She’s trying to hold in her tears. Gotcha.

“Nope, too bad for you,” I tell her. I put Tessa’s laptop in the top drawer of her dresser. I need to get her out of this dorm, and soon.

Before Steph can get another word in, I leave the room. When I get into my car and common sense starts kicking in, I realize that I made another dumb fucking move. Steph isn’t like most girls. She won’t sit on her anger and wait for the right moment to strike. She’s irrational, and I can see her spilling every detail of the Bet to Tessa, exaggerations included. I should just tell her—I should tell Tessa every disgusting truth before she finds out. This is eating me alive.

I climb back out of the car and walk back to the dorm room to try another route with Steph.

But I hear Tessa’s voice as soon as I reach the door. Fuck.

I lean against it, listening to the girls’ conversation. “I don’t think Tristan would go for her; I see the way he looks at you. He really cares about you. I think you should call him and talk it out,” I hear Tessa say. I press my ear harder against the door and hope that no one walks by.

“What if he’s with her?” Steph asks.

She actually believed that shit?

“He’s not,” Tessa comforts her roommate.

“How do you know? Sometimes you think you know people, but you don’t,” Steph begins.

Fuck this. Steph’s going to tell her. She’s going to tell her right fucking now.

“H—”

I open the door.

“Hey . . .” I say when I step into the room. They seem to be bonding; an outsider would be fooled. “Um . . . should I come back?”

“No, I’m going to go find Tristan and try to apologize.” Steph stands up. “Thank you, Tessa.” She hugs Tessa and stares at me, letting me know that she’s not done here.

Distraction—I need a distraction. “You hungry?” I ask Tess as Steph gets ready to leave.

“Yeah, actually I am,” she says, rubbing her hand over her stomach. She’s distracted now and doesn’t seem to notice the awkward hate stare Steph is firing at me.



twenty-three

His paranoia took hold of him, dragging him further and further away from her. He tried to grasp on to the tiny sliver of hope that he could have the life he wanted to have with her. He tried to come up with plan after plan to save the only good thing that had ever happened to him. He begged his enemies, pleaded with his friends, for their silence. None of his plans would work, none of them could hide what he did to her, and he knew it was all going to blow up in his face.

I take Tessa to the mall, where my shitty luck continues as we sit in the food court before deciding which stores to go to. Paranoia seems to be haunting me, stalking me wherever I go. I can’t stop thinking about everything Steph could have told her. Does she know everything I’ve been hiding from her? Will she finally see me as I am, not worthy of her?

I pick at my meal, lost in my head, while Tessa eats slowly, watching me the entire time. What is she looking for? Signs of my lies coming to the surface?

“We can find your outfit first, I guess?” I say. I still can’t believe I agreed to go to the wedding. It’s going to be so fucking awkward for me, and my only plan at this point is to focus on Tessa and not remember a damn thing that happened earlier than three months ago.

“Well, you have the luxury of looking beautiful regardless of what you wear.”

Her cheeks light up at my flattery. “That’s not true; you’re the one who definitely pulls off that ‘I don’t give a crap how I look but I look flawless’ look.” She’s laughing, and my chest aches a little less at the sight.

“I do, don’t I?” I smile at her. But she carries that look off, too. Much more than I do, and she doesn’t even try.

Tessa’s phone vibrates on the table. She’s acting pretty normal for someone who knows they are being toyed with this way. Maybe she’s acting normal on purpose to distract me until she can play me and get her revenge.

Or maybe she really doesn’t know?

“It’s Landon,” she says as I read his name on the screen. My chest stops pounding out of control. She answers the phone and I watch her mouth as she speaks. She sucks on her lower lip for a few seconds and looks me up and down.

I have to come up with a way to prevent her from ever being alone with Steph. I need to keep her closer from now on. I’ve been too casual about this whole thing. I should have her by my side at all times.

“Okay, well, I’ll do my best to get him in a tie,” she says into the phone, and it’s obvious who she means by “him.”

She presses her hand to her cheek and rests her elbow on the table. She looks adorably pushy. But a tie? Good luck with that.

Tessa starts saying something else to Landon, but my attention goes to the middle of the food court, where Zed, Jace, and Logan are standing. They’re all dressed in different ways, each trying to make a statement about who they are by means of their wardrobe. Logan is the preppy, kind of punk kid with a baby face, and is less badass than the other two. Zed, the tall and dark one, looks like he’s modeling leather even though he’s in a middle-class mall. He looks out of place. Jace looks like the delinquent, the one all the teenage girls should stay away from.

“I’ll be right back.” I stand up from the table, leaving my food. Thank God she’s on the phone, so she won’t follow. Not immediately.

Logan’s rubbing a small tube of ChapStick over his lips when I reach them. Jace is looking awfully fucking smug, and Zed’s looking pretty stressed out. “Nice to see you, too,” Logan says, and taps his foot against the linoleum while Jace laughs a breathy, stoner-y laugh. The three of them have dilated pupils and thin red veins mapping their eyes. They smell of pot and stale cigarettes. If Zed and Tessa kissed, would she like the taste of tobacco on his tongue?

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