Page 73 of Before (After 5)

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I should have left her alone after her psycho boyfriend hit me the first time. But no, his anger only spurred me to keep going and win. Why should he get to sleep with Samantha, then participate in the Bet, and then get to decide when everything’s okay and settled and the game’s over and I have to stop caring?

It was all so childish. I can see that now. I shouldn’t have tried to come on to her that night at her mom’s house, and I shouldn’t have said half the shit that I did. My stupidity has kept me single since then, and I haven’t heard from Tessa in over a year. The sad thing is that I miss talking with her.

I’ve been told she moved to New York City with her friend Landon, but I know it won’t be long until Hardin follows her there. As much as I hate to admit it, they have something special between them. As dysfunctional as they are, I’ve never seen two people fight for each other the way those two do. Hardin sure as hell doesn’t deserve her, but it’s not my place to interfere, not anymore.

I step outside and scan the yard for Therise, then spy her perched on top of the broken stone wall, bringing another memory to mind. She’s picking at the chipped stone, and when I approach her, she moves to jump down.

“Wait.” I hold up my hand and wave it in a gesture of peace. “I can help you find your friends or find someone to give you a ride home.”

“I don’t know.” She eyes me carefully, watching for hints of a serial killer, maybe.

“It’s only a ride home. My friends are loudmouths, but none of them will hurt you. I’ll come along if you wish. I’ve been drinking, so I can’t take you.”

I raise a brow to her; she shakes her head. “Wow, so the cute punk boy does have some common sense.” She smiles, mocking me in a sweet way.

“Sometimes,” I admit with a shrug. I reach out to shake her hand. “I’m Zed.”

She hesitates for a moment before reaching for my hand.

“It’s nice to meet you, Z-ed.” She says my name like she’s afraid to swallow it.

“Nice to meet you, too, Therise.”


He hated the perfect boy before he even met him. When his dad told him he was getting a new brother, it was like he was expected to be happy about it. He was supposed to suddenly care about things like family and dinners and baked goods so he could keep up with his father’s new son.

When he met this other child, his hatred only grew. He knew he didn’t have a reason beyond pure jealousy to hate him, but still he did. He couldn’t name athletes or keep up with sports like his father’s new son could, and he couldn’t charm the table at a dinner party. He knew he couldn’t compete with the boy, but as he changed his life, he realized he’d never really had to. He fought so hard—too hard—to keep his distance from the Golden Boy who in the end would become his closest friend.

The first three thoughts that go through my mind each day are:

It’s less crowded here than I thought.

I hope Tessa is off work today so we can hang out.

I miss my mom.

Yes, I’m a sophomore at New York University, but my mom is one of my best friends.

I miss home a lot. It helps to have Tessa around; she’s the closest thing to family I have out here.

I know college students do this all the time; they leave home and can’t wait to be away from their hometowns, but not me. I happened to like mine, even if it’s not where I grew up. I had a plan at the time I applied to NYU; it just didn’t work out the way it was supposed to. I was supposed to move here and start my future with Dakota, my long-term girlfriend from high school. I had no idea that she would decide she wanted to spend her first year at college single.

I was devastated. I still am, but I want her to be happy, even if it’s not with me.

The city’s chilly in September, but there’s barely any rain compared to Washington. So that’s something, at least.

As I walk to work, I check my phone, like I do about fifty times a day. My mom’s pregnant with my little sister, and I want to be sure that if anything happens I can get on a plane and be there for her quickly. So far the only messages from her have been pictures of the amazing things she whips up in the kitchen.

Not emergencies, but, man, I miss her cooking.

The streets are crowded as I make my way through them. I’m waiting at the crosswalk with a crowd of people, mostly tourists with heavy cameras around their necks. I laugh to myself when a teenage boy holds up a giant iPad to take a selfie.

I will never understand this impulse.

When the light turns yellow and the crosswalk sign starts flashing, I turn up the volume on my headphones.

Out here I pretty much wear headphones all day. The city is so much louder than I had anticipated, and I find it helpful to have something that blocks some of it out and at least colors those sounds that get in with something I like.

Today it’s Hozier.

I even wear the headphones while working—in one ear at least, so I can still hear the coffee orders shouted to me. I’m a little distracted today by two men, both dressed in pirate outfits and screaming at each other, and as I walk into the shop, I bump into Aiden, my least favorite coworker.

He’s tall, much taller than me, and he has this white-blond hair that makes him look like Draco Malfoy, so he kind of creeps me out. On top of his Draco resemblance, he happens to be a little rude sometimes. He’s nice to me, but I see the way he looks at the college girls who come into Grind. He acts like the coffee shop is named after a club rather than coffee grounds.

As he smiles down at them, flirting and making them squirm under his “handsome” gaze, I find it all pretty off-putting. He’s not that handsome, actually; maybe if he was nicer, I could see it.

“Watch it, man,” Aiden mumbles, slapping my shoulder like we’re crossing a football field together in matching jerseys.

He’s making record time in annoying me today . . .

But brushing it off, I head into the back and tie my yellow apron around my waist and check my phone. After I clock in, I find Posey, a girl who I’m supposed to be training for a couple of weeks. She’s nice. Quiet, but she’s a hard worker, and I like that she always takes the free cookie we offer her every training day as an incentive to be a little happier during the shift. Most trainees decline it, but she’s eaten one every single day this week, sampling the variety: chocolate, chocolate macadamia, sugar, and some mystery greenish flavor that I think is some gluten-free all-natural localvore thing.