Page 69 of Before (After 5)

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“Are you done throwing a fit?”

“A fit? You aren’t serious!” She’s gone to shrieking now.

“I don’t know why it’s such a big deal to you that I called you my friend; that’s not what I meant. I was just caught off-guard.” A half-truth.

“If you’re embarrassed about being seen with me, then I don’t want to see you anymore.” Her voice is shaky. She’s trying to stop herself from crying. I’m familiar enough with her ways by now to know that she’s digging her fingernails into her thighs and her gray eyes are filling with tears. More tears that I caused her to shed.

“Don’t say that to me.” I run my hand over my oily hair, wanting to yank it out piece by piece. “Tessa, why do you assume I’m embarrassed about you? That’s just fucking ridiculous.” I don’t have any reason to be embarrassed about her; if anything, it’s the other way around. To my friends, she’s now a joke; every fucking moment I’ve shared with this girl has now been diminished to nothing. I turned everything into nothing and she’s going to find out soon and there’s nothing I can do to stop this freight train from tearing into my life once again. I had just begun to build it up, and now I’ve gone and fucked everything up.

“Have fun at your party tonight,” she says with a pout from the passenger seat.

“Please, I’m not going to the docks with them. I just said that so Jace would lay off.” Which is true. I don’t want to go to a stupid party. I want to be buried between Tessa’s thighs all night.

“If you aren’t embarrassed of me, then take me to the party.”

I should have known she would throw in this one. Everything is always a game to her, everything.

I’m one to fucking talk.

“Absolutely fucking not,” I say.

OF COURSE WE WENT to that fucking party, because, once again, Theresa Young got her way.

As the days go by, I’m more comfortable in my own lie than I care to admit. I pretend that everything isn’t slowly crumbling, that tiny pieces of everything that holds us together aren’t chipping away with each minute that passes that I don’t tell her. I can’t tell her. I can’t open that can of worms and let them destroy us. The truth will drown us; there’s no way around that. It’s inevitable, the same way my love for Tessa is inevitable.

“Well . . . welcome home?” I call through the apartment when the real-estate agent leaves us alone, finally. I thought he would never fucking leave. Tessa laughs, covering her mouth with the back of her hand, and steps toward me. I wrap my arms around her, thanking whoever gave her to me for letting her stay a little while longer before she’s ripped from my life. I deserve a shred of happiness while it lasts, don’t I?

“I can’t believe we live here now. It still doesn’t seem real.” Her wild eyes are curious, excited and alive in a way they haven’t been since I met her. I’ve given her freedom in such a large gesture. I’ve given her a beautiful apartment where she can be herself, the version of her that no one can judge or demand things from. Her mum isn’t here to tell her to brush her hair, and Steph isn’t here to think of manipulative ways to hurt us.

“If someone had told me I would be dating you—let alone living with you—two months ago, I’d have either laughed in their face or punched them . . . either one.” I laugh and bring her face between my hands. She’s so warm, her cheeks alight with excitement.

“Well, aren’t you sweet?” She rests her hands on my hips and leans into me. Her head is heavy on my chest, my anchor. My life is perfect for the first time since I can remember. I’m completely ignoring the catastrophe that’s coming my way, but for now my life is perfect. “It’s a relief, though, to have our own space. No more parties, no more roommates and community showers,” Tessa adds. My chest pounds against her cheek, and I wonder if she can sense my growing paranoia.

“Our own bed.” I mask the feeling with humor. “We’ll need to get a few things—dishes and such.” The more things she has here, the harder it will be when it’s time to leave. Fuck, I’m trapped in this lie and tying the ropes around her as we speak. This beautiful girl will never forgive me, she won’t.

I’ll think about it later. I’ll figure something out.

She brings her hand to my forehead and lightly applies pressure. “Are you feeling okay?” She grins. “You’re being awfully cooperative today.” Her sarcastic humor makes me care for her even more.

I bring her hand to my lips, peppering the back of it with kisses. “I just want to make sure you’re pleased with everything here. I want you to feel at home . . . with me.” And I do. I’ve never felt like I had a home until Tessa signed along those dotted lines to move in with me. Waking up to her annoying alarm clock every day has grown into something I need, something I was missing and didn’t know it.

“And what about you? Do you feel at home here?” Her voice is full of hope. It’s tenuous hope, though . . . she’s waiting and expecting me to deliver a ruthless opinion about our living situation. I can see it in her eyes; she’s hopeful, but she expects the worst from me because that’s what she always gets.

“Surprisingly enough, yes.” I answer her honestly while trying to make my voice sound as convincing as possible. I really do love it here, with her.

“We should go get my stuff,” she suggests, then tells me about the books and clothing I’ve already taken care of.

“Already done.” I smile.

She tilts her head in confusion. “What?”

“I brought all of your belongings from your room; they’re in your trunk.” I just couldn’t wait. I wanted her to see the place and never leave. I need her to never leave here, so I needed to make her as comfortable as I could.

“How did you know I’d sign the lease? What if I hated the apartment?” She turns her cheeks up at me, curiosity and a challenge filling them.

“Because if you hadn’t liked this one, I’d have found one that you did like,” I tell her.

She nods, acknowledging that I’m completely serious. “Okay . . . Well, what about your stuff?” she asks me.

“We can get it tomorrow. I have clothes in my trunk.”