Main After (After series Book 1)
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The book was good quite pleasurable to read and it was hard to put it down, unfortunately, it didn't make me want to continue with the book series as it did lack uniqueness in my opinion. But it honestly did give me butterflies and make me want to fall in love with a handsome bad boy but hey girls we all have been there.
02 May 2020 (03:12)
what amazing romantic shit...…..
05 May 2020 (02:09)
Great read ,dealing with realistic problems of life.Funny,romantic and a little bit tragic.But the series do end satisfyingly .
10 May 2020 (14:58)
I can't seem to load the book, please help...
31 May 2020 (17:24)
I honestly loved the series. They are my favourite. I think it is a type of series that you will either hate or love but at the same time it is personal preference. I really enjoyed the series and I read parts of the series literally everyday for like over a year. Kind of makes it hard to try new books since this series is so addicting. :)
12 June 2020 (14:53)
@Pcy I had that problem too. I find using chrome the best app to use this website, safari and google just don’t work for me. Try downloading a book onto play books and if that doesn’t work try downloading it onto books. I find for some reason some books don’t download on one app but do on another. Hope this helps you :)
12 June 2020 (14:55)
Excusez moi mais quelqu'un sautait me dire comment le télécharger en français plutot qu'en anglais????svp
28 July 2020 (01:27)
I love that I can access my favorite reads so easily
14 August 2020 (11:21)
Como hago para q salga en español
28 August 2020 (05:15)
This book was just so IT for me. I loved every part of it and I got so addicted that I had to read every one that came AFTER, to AFTER WE COLLIDED, AFTER WE FELL and the last AFTER EVER HAPPY. I fell in Love with HESSA and the book taught me that love conquers all.
05 October 2020 (17:59)
I can't get the book HELP
09 October 2020 (02:44)
Wow, blatant emotional abuse is very romantic.
Obviously, that was sarcastic. Personally, not my cup of tea. Everyone in the book kind of sucks as a person. But especially the two main characters. It's awfully repetitive and could've been resolved in maybe 200 pages. The ending makes the back-and-forth worth nothing.
Just not it for me.
Obviously, that was sarcastic. Personally, not my cup of tea. Everyone in the book kind of sucks as a person. But especially the two main characters. It's awfully repetitive and could've been resolved in maybe 200 pages. The ending makes the back-and-forth worth nothing.
Just not it for me.
13 October 2020 (16:51)
This book changed my life after finishing the serie in two weeks last year i realised i can live on my own bcz i gave my heart to hadin i needed no more of stupid breakups just happily ever after and now im here to feel that love again????
17 October 2020 (15:10)
I really enjoyed this book, it gave a whole new face to relationships
03 November 2020 (03:51)
This series will have you crying, laughing, squealing and praying all at once. You become so invested in their relationship. Ugh????I can’t even. Hessa all the way.
12 November 2020 (18:53)
Broken silence is one to be read????❤️❤️
14 November 2020 (19:14)
Broken silence is one to be read????❤️❤️
14 November 2020 (19:14)
29 November 2020 (12:26)
29 November 2020 (12:27)
I had just finished the entire series.
I really love how the author really shows the readers that love isn't always perfect, there has to be complications and up & downs in a relationship.
I really love how the author really shows the readers that love isn't always perfect, there has to be complications and up & downs in a relationship.
14 December 2020 (09:59)
Cool website, looking forward to read more books. ?
09 January 2021 (01:28)
I love this book ready to read the next one. I’ve gotten so many books off this website and have loved every single one.
02 February 2021 (01:53)
Was I the only one annoyed by Tessa riiiiight throughout the book??
02 February 2021 (06:15)
I love this book ready to read the next one. I’ve gotten so many books off this website and have loved every single one.
02 February 2021 (18:29)
D book is amazing....
02 February 2021 (19:45)
Damn I read it all☺️ After to After we collected then After we fell to After ever happy? it is really one of a kind and one of the best I have ever read.
06 February 2021 (02:34)
Why do d books have no ending
11 February 2021 (02:58)
I can't download the book pls help
13 March 2021 (22:43)
I really enjoyed every word in this book and other series. It fun, emotional, romantic and educative.
16 March 2021 (18:20)
Can't download pls help
30 March 2021 (13:28)
It is basically any normal teenage drama. Wish they had not had used the one d bois, they deserved better tbh.
01 April 2021 (14:11)
I love ur book even if I have not read it bcos pple tell me about it
03 April 2021 (01:54)
I like your books
They are quite factual
They are quite factual
08 April 2021 (02:03)
Factual emotional romantic
19 April 2021 (14:28)
Factual emotional romantic
19 April 2021 (14:28)
01 May 2021 (20:21)
does anyone know that this was a harry styles fanfic that gained popularity and is now a movie... he was very uncomfortable with it and he (i think) sued the writer
20 May 2021 (20:28)
Tem como baixar ele em português?
26 May 2021 (05:12)
Pk je n'ai les livres que en anglais ?
30 May 2021 (23:14)
Ive read the wattpad version of this so many times before the names got changed because of copyright issues. I miss seeing 'Harry' instead of 'Hardin' but I love it anyhow. Cant wait to read the published version and buy the paperbacks (thats how much I like-no love this series :D ) I will never get tired of rereading these.
18 June 2021 (04:55)
Bonjour quelqu’un pourrait expliquer comment faire pour lire tout les livres en français car je n’y arrive pas. Merci
22 June 2021 (17:19)
Amazing and mind blowing book. A must read even after watching the series. Literally i n tears after completing.
23 June 2021 (15:23)
Júlia Alexandre Rezende
cade em português?????
07 July 2021 (03:20)
i cant figure out how to read the book when i download it, it says cant open file. what do i do?
17 July 2021 (19:08)
Mannn i am left speechless
31 July 2021 (18:40)
extremely toxic?? romanticizes unhealthy relationships
05 October 2021 (09:31)
I have read after in on wattpad. I hope this one would have something different. Excited<3
25 October 2021 (09:34)
i rate this book 0 pad thais out of 10. i haven't even read it before
11 November 2021 (02:43)
This story is amazing! I love it! • Intense • Adorable & perfect • Hessa • I’m addicted • So romantic • I’m crying an ocean • I will always ship Hessa • You don’t have to be a Directioner to read this • Nerve-racking • So cute I’m giggling • Anna is a genius • They fight and piss each other off, but that’s what makes it so realistic • LOL—love this! • I’m more up to date on this story than I am on my actual life Wattpad readers agree—the After series is a wild, addicting rollercoaster of a romance. #Hessa forever! He’s moody—but that’s exactly what made me fall for him • I love this way too much! • I just spit my water • This story is going to be the death of me! • OMG *facepalm* • I’m crying and I have goosebumps • I love them so much XOXO • My heart just melted! • Romantic bastard • I’m grinning like an idiot • Fangirling SO HARD! • Just buy her a ring already! • So dark and mysterious • Wow, that was hot. • I want more. Thank you for downloading this Gallery Books eBook. * * * Join our mailing list and get updates on new releases, deals, bonus content and other great books from Gallery Books and Simon & Schuster. CLICK HERE TO SIGN UP or visit us online to sign up at eBookNews.SimonandSchuster.com To my readers from the start, with so, so much love and gratitude. You mean the entire world to me. prologue College had always seemed so crucial, such an essential part of what measures a person’s worth and determines their future. We live in a time where people ask which school you went to before asking your last name. From an early age I was taught, trained really, to prepare for my education. It had become this necessity that required an overwhelming amount of preparation and borderline obsession. Every class I chose, every assignment I completed since my first day of high school revolved around getting into college. And not just any college—my mother had it set in her mind that I attend Washington Central University, the same school that she attended, but never com; pleted. I had no idea that there would be so much more to college than academics. I had no idea that choosing which electives to take during my first semester would seem, just a few months later, like trivial affairs. I was naïve then, and in some ways I still am. But I couldn’t have possibly known what lay ahead of me. Meeting my dorm-mate was intense and awkward from the start, and meeting her wild group of friends even more so. They were so different from anyone I had ever known and I was intimidated by their appearance, confused by their pure inattention to structure. I quickly became a part of their madness, indulging in it . . . And that’s when he crept into my heart. From our first encounter, Hardin changed my life in ways that no amount of college prep courses or youth group lectures could have. Those movies I watched as a teen quickly became my life, and those ridiculous plotlines became my reality. Would I have done anything differently if I had known what was to come? I’m not sure. I would love to give a straight answer to that, but I can’t. At times I am grateful, so utterly lost in the moment of passion that my judgment is clouded and all I can see is him. Other times, I think of the pain he caused me, the deep sting of loss for who I had been, the chaos of those moments when I felt as if my world had been turned upside down, and the answer isn’t as clear as it once was. All that I’m certain of is that my life and my heart will never be the same, not after Hardin crashed into them. chapter one My alarm is set to go off any minute. I’ve been awake for half the night, shifting back and forth, counting the lines between the ceiling tiles and repeating the course schedule in my head. Others may count sheep; I plan. My mind doesn’t allow a break from planning, and today, the most important day in my entire eighteen years of life, is no exception. “Tessa!” I hear my mother’s voice call from downstairs. Groaning to myself, I roll out of my tiny bed. I take my time tucking the corners of my bedsheet against the headboard, because this is the last morning that this will be a part of my regular routine. After today, this bedroom is no longer my home. “Tessa!” she calls again. “I’m up!” I yell back. The noise of the cabinets opening and slamming closed downstairs makes it known that she is feeling just as panicked as I am. My stomach is tied in a tight knot, and as I start my shower I pray that the anxiety I feel will lessen as the day goes on. All of my life has been a series of tasks in preparation for this day, my first day of college. I spent the last few years nervously anticipating this. I spent my weekends studying and preparing for this as my peers were hanging out, drinking, and doing whatever else it is teenagers do to get themselves in trouble. That wasn’t me. I was the girl who spent her nights studying cross-legged on the living room floor with my mother while she gossiped and watched hours of QVC to find new ways to improve her appearance. The day my acceptance letter to Washington Central University came I couldn’t have been more thrilled—and my mother cried for what felt like hours. I can’t deny that I was proud that all my hard work had finally paid off. I got into the only college I applied for and, because of our low income, I have enough grants to keep my student loans to a minimum. I had once, for just a moment, considered leaving Washington for college. But seeing all the color drain from my mother’s face at the suggestion, and the way she paced around the living room for nearly an hour, I told her I really hadn’t been serious about that. The moment I step into the spray of shower water some of the tension leaves my strained muscles. I’m standing here, under the hot water, trying to calm my mind, but really doing the opposite, and I get so distracted that by the time I finally wash my hair and body, I barely have enough hot water to run a razor over my legs from the knees down. As I wrap the towel around my wet body, my mother calls my name yet again. Knowing that it’s her nerves getting the best of her, I give her some leeway but take the time to blow-dry my hair. I know that she’s anxious for my arrival day at college, but I have had this day planned down to the hour for months. Only one of us can be a nervous wreck, and I need to do what I can to make sure it’s not me by following my plan. My hands shake as I fumble with the zipper on my dress. I don’t care for the thing, but my mother insisted that I wear it. I finally win the battle with the zipper, and pull my favorite sweater from the back of my closet door. As soon as I’m dressed, I feel slightly less nervous, until I notice a small tear on the sleeve of my sweater. I toss it back onto my bed and slip my shoes onto my feet, knowing that my mother is growing more impatient with every second that passes. My boyfriend, Noah, will be here soon to ride up with us. He’s a year younger than me but will turn eighteen soon. He’s brilliant and has straight A’s just like I did, and—I’m so excited—he’s planning on joining me at WCU next year. I really wish he was coming now, especially considering that I won’t know a single person at college, but I’m thankful that he’s promised to visit as often as possible. I just need a decent roommate; that’s the only thing I’m asking for and the only thing I can’t control with my planning. “Ther-e-saaaa!” “Mother, I am coming down now. Please do not scream my name again!” I yell as I walk down the stairs. Noah is sitting at the table across from my mother, staring down at the watch on his wrist. The blue of his polo shirt matches the light blue of his eyes, and his blond hair is combed and lightly gelled to perfection. “Hey, college girl.” He smiles a bright, perfectly lined smile as he stands. He pulls me into a tight hug and I close my mouth when I catch his excessive cologne. Yeah, sometimes he overdoes it a bit with that. “Hey.” I give him an equally bright smile, trying to hide my nerves, and pull my dirty blond hair into a ponytail. “Honey, we can wait a couple minutes while you fix your hair,” my mother says quietly. I make my way to the mirror and nod; she’s right. My hair needs to be presentable for today, and of course she didn’t hesitate to remind me. I should have curled it the way she likes anyhow, as a little goodbye gift. “I’ll put your bags in the car,” Noah offers, opening his palm for my mother to drop the keys into. With a quick kiss on my cheek he disappears from the room, bags in hand, and my mother follows him. Round two of styling my hair ends with a better result than the first, and I brush a lint roller over my gray dress one last time. As I go outside and walk to the car packed up with my things, the butterflies in my stomach dance around, making me slightly relieved that I have a two-hour drive to make them disappear. I have no idea what college will be like, and, unexpectedly, the question that keeps dominating my thoughts is: Will I make any friends? chapter two I wish I could say that the familiar scenery of my home state calmed me as we drove, or that a sense of adventure took hold of me with each sign that indicated we were getting closer and closer to Washington Central. But really I was mostly in a daze of planning and obsessing. I’m not even sure what Noah was really talking about, but I know he was trying to be reassuring and excited for me. “Here we are!” my mother squeals when we drive through a stone gate and onto campus. It looks just as great in person as it did in the brochures and online, and I’m immediately impressed by the elegant stone buildings. Hundreds of people, parents hugging and kissing their children goodbye, clusters of freshmen dressed head to toe in WCU gear, and a few stragglers, lost and confused, fill the area. The size of the campus is intimidating, but hopefully after a few weeks I will feel at home. My mother insists that she and Noah accompany me to freshman orientation. My mother manages to hold a smile on her face the entire three hours and Noah listens intently, the same way that I do. “I would like to see your dorm room before we head out. I need to make sure everything’s up to par,” my mother says once orientation is over. Her eyes scan the old building, full of disapproval. She has a way of finding the worst in things. Noah smiles, lightening the mood, and my mother perks up. “I just can’t believe you’re in college! My only daughter, a college student, living on her own. I just can’t believe it,” she whines, dabbing under her eyes, though careful not to mess up her makeup. Noah follows behind us, carrying my bags as we navigate through the corridors. “It’s B22 . . . we are in C hall,” I tell them. Luckily, I see a large B painted on the wall. “Down here,” I instruct when my mother begins to turn the opposite way. I’m thankful that I only brought a few clothes, a blanket, and some of my favorite books along so Noah doesn’t have too much to carry and I won’t have too much to unpack. “B22,” my mother huffs. Her heels are outrageously high for the amount of walking we endure. At the end of a long hallway, I slide the key into the old wooden door, and when it creaks open my mother lets out a loud gasp. The room is small, with two single beds and two desks. After a moment, my eyes travel to the reason behind my mother’s surprise: one side of the room is covered in music posters of bands that I’ve never heard of, the faces on them covered in piercings and their bodies with tattoos. And then there’s the girl lying across one bed, and her bright red hair, eyes lined with what looks like inches of black liner, and arms covered in colorful tattoos. “Hey,” she says, offering a smile, a smile that I find quite intriguing, much to my surprise. “I’m Steph.” She sits up on her elbows, causing her cleavage to push tight against her laced-up top, and I gently kick at Noah’s shoe when his eyes focus on her chest. “H-hey. I’m Tessa,” I choke, all of my manners flying out the door. “Hey, Tessa, nice to meet you. Welcome to WCU, where the dorms are tiny and the parties are huge.” The crimson-haired girl grins wider. Her head falls back into a fit of laughter as she takes in the three horrified expressions in front of her. My mother’s jaw is wide open, practically on the carpet, and Noah shifts uncomfortably. Steph walks over, closing the gap between us, and wraps her thin arms around my body. I’m frozen for a moment, surprised by her affection, but I return her kind gesture. A knock sounds at the door just as Noah drops my bags onto the floor, and I can’t help but hope that this is all some sort of joke. “Come in!” my new roommate yells. The door opens and two boys walk inside before she finishes her greeting. Boys inside the female dorms on the first day? Maybe Washington Central was a bad decision. Or perhaps I could have found a way to screen my roommate first? I assume by the pained expression covering my mother’s face that her thoughts have taken the same course. The poor woman looks like she might pass out any moment. “Hey, you Steph’s roomie?” one of the boys asks. His blond hair is styled straight up and there are sections of brown peeking through. His arms are scattered with tattoos and the earrings in his ear are the size of a nickel. “Um . . . yes. My name is Tessa,” I manage to say. “I’m Nate. Don’t look so nervous,” he says with a smile, reaching out to touch my shoulder. “You’ll love it here.” His expression is warm and inviting despite his harsh appearance. “I’m ready, guys,” Steph says, grabbing a heavy black bag from her bed. My eyes shift to the tall brown-haired boy leaning against the wall. His hair is a mop of thick waves on his head, pushed back off his forehead, and he has metal in his eyebrow and lip. My focus moves down his black T-shirt to his arms, which are also covered in tattoos; not an inch of untouched skin is seen. Unlike Steph’s and Nate’s, his appear to be all black, gray, and white. He’s tall, lean, and I know that I’m staring at him in the most impolite way, but I can’t seem to look away. I expect him to introduce himself the way that his friend did, but he stays quiet, rolling his eyes in annoyance and pulling a cell phone from the pocket of his tight black jeans. He definitely isn’t as friendly as Steph or Nate. He’s more appealing, though; something about him makes it hard to tear my eyes from his face. I’m vaguely aware of Noah’s eyes on me as I finally look away and pretend I was staring out of shock. Because that’s what it is, right? “See you around, Tessa,” Nate says and the three of them exit the room. I let out a long breath. Calling the last few minutes uncomfortable would be an understatement. “You’re getting a new dorm!” my mother roars as soon as the door clicks shut. “No, I can’t.” I sigh. “It’s fine, Mother.” I do my best to hide my nerves. I don’t know how well this will work out, either, but the last thing I want is my overbearing mother causing a scene on my first day of college. “I’m sure she won’t be around much at all anyway,” I try to convince her, along with myself. “Absolutely not. We are going to switch now.” Her clean appearance clashes with the anger in her face; her long blond hair is flipped to one shoulder, yet every curl is still perfectly intact. “You will not room with someone who allows men in like that—those punks, at that!” I look into her gray eyes, then to Noah. “Mother, please, let’s just see how it goes. Please,” I beg. I can’t begin to imagine the mess it would create trying to get a last-minute dorm change. And how humiliating it would feel. My mother looks around to the room again, taking in the décor covering Steph’s side, and huffs dramatically at the dark theme. “Fine,” she spits out, much to my surprise. “But we’re going to have a little talk before I go.” chapter three An hour later, after listening to my mother warn me against the dangers of parties and college men—and using some language that’s rather uncomfortable for Noah and me to hear from her—she finally makes her move to leave. In her usual style, a quick hug and kiss, she exits the dorm room, informing Noah that she will wait for him in the car. “I’ll miss having you around every day,” he says softly and pulls me into his arms. I inhale his cologne, the one I bought him two Christmases in a row, and sigh. Some of the overpowering scent has worn off, and I realize that I’ll miss this smell and the comfort and familiarity that go along with it, no matter how many times I complained about it in the past. “I’ll miss you, too, but we can talk every day,” I promise and tighten my arms around his torso and nuzzle into his neck. “I wish you were here this year.” Noah is only a few inches taller than me, but I like that he doesn’t tower over me. My mother used to tease me growing up, claiming that a man grows an inch for every lie he tells. My father was a tall man, so I won’t argue with her logic there. Noah brushes his lips across mine . . . and just then I hear a horn honking in the parking lot. Noah laughs and breaks away from me. “Your mom. She’s persistent.” He kisses me on the cheek and hurries out the door, yelling, “Call you tonight!” as he goes. Left alone, I think about his hasty exit for just a moment and then begin to unpack my bags. Shortly, half my clothes are neatly folded and stored in one of the small dressers; the remainder are hung neatly in my closet. I cringe at the sheer amount of leather and animal print filling the other closet. Still, my curiosity does get the best of me and I find myself running my finger along a dress made of some sort of metal, and another that’s so thin it’s barely there at all. Feeling the beginnings of exhaustion from the day, I lie across the bed. An unfamiliar loneliness is creeping its way into me already, and it doesn’t help that my roommate is gone, no matter how uncomfortable her friends make me. I have a feeling she will be gone a lot, or, worse, she may have company over too often. Why couldn’t I get a roommate who loved to read and study? I suppose it could be a good thing, because I will have the small room to myself, but I don’t have a good feeling about any of this. So far college is neither what I had dreamed of nor expected. I remind myself that it’s only been a few hours. Tomorrow will be better. It has to be. I gather my planner and textbooks, taking the time to write down my classes for the semester and my potential meetings for the literary club I plan on joining; I’m still undecided on that, but I read a few student testimonials and want to check it out. I want to try to find a group of like-minded people I can talk to. I don’t expect to make a lot of friends, just enough that I can have someone to maybe eat a meal with every once in a while. I plan for a trip off campus tomorrow to get some more things for my dorm room. I don’t want to crowd my side of the room the way that Steph has, but I would like to add a few things of my own to make me feel more at home in the unfamiliar space. The fact that I don’t have a car yet will make it a little difficult. The sooner I get one, the better. I have enough money from graduation gifts and savings from my summer job at a bookstore, but I’m not sure if I want the stress of owning a car right now. The fact that I live on campus gives me full access to public transport, and I’ve already researched the bus lines. With thoughts of schedules, red-haired girls, and unfriendly men covered in tattoos, I drift to sleep with my planner still in hand. THE NEXT MORNING Steph is not in her bed. I would like to get to know her, but that might be difficult if she’s never around. Maybe one of the two boys that she was with was her boyfriend? For her sake, I hope it was the blond one. Grabbing my toiletry bag, I make my way to the shower room. I can already tell that one of my least favorite things about dorm life is going to be the shower situation—I wish each of the rooms had their own bathrooms. It’s awkward, but at least they won’t be coed. Or . . . I had assumed they wouldn’t be—wouldn’t everyone assume that? But when I reach the door, sure enough, there are two stick figures printed on the sign, one male and one female. Ugh. I can’t believe they let this kind of thing happen. I can’t believe I didn’t uncover it while I was researching WCU. Spotting an open shower stall, I skirt through the half-naked boys and girls quickly, pull the curtain closed tight, and undress, then hang my clothes on the rack outside by blindly poking one hand out of the curtain. The shower takes too long to get warm and the entire time I’m in there I’m paranoid that someone will pull back the thin curtain separating my naked body from the rest of the guys and girls out there. Everyone seems to be comfortable with half-naked bodies of both genders walking around; college life is strange so far, and it’s only the second day. The shower stall is tiny, lined with a small rack to hang my clothes on while I shower and barely enough room to stretch my arms in front of me. I find my mind drifting to Noah and my life back home. Distracted, I turn around and my elbow knocks into the rack, knocking my clothes to the wet floor. The shower pours onto them, completely soaking them. “You’ve got to be kidding me!” I groan to myself, hastily cutting the water off and wrapping my towel around myself. I grab my pile of heavy, soaked clothes and rush down the hall, desperately hoping no one sees me. I reach my room and shove the key in, instantly relaxing when I push the door closed behind me. Until I turn around to see the rude, tattooed, brown-haired boy sprawled across Steph’s bed. chapter four Um . . . Where is Steph?” I try to sound authoritative, but my voice comes out as more of a squeak. My hands are clenched around the soft fabric of my towel and my eyes keep darting down to make sure it’s actually covering my naked body. The boy looks at me, the corners of his mouth lifting slightly, but doesn’t say a word. “Did you hear me? I asked you where Steph is,” I repeat, trying to be slightly more polite this time. The expression on his face magnifies and he finally mumbles, “I don’t know,” and turns on the small flat screen on Steph’s dresser. What is he even doing in here? Doesn’t he have his own room? I bite my tongue, trying to keep my rude comments to myself. “Okay? Well, could you like . . . leave or something so I can get dressed?” He hasn’t even noticed I’m in a towel. Or maybe he has but it doesn’t impress him. “Don’t flatter yourself, it’s not like I’m going to look at you,” he scoffs and rolls over, his hands covering his face. He has a thick English accent that I didn’t notice at first. Probably because he was too rude to actually speak to me yesterday. Unsure how I should respond to his rude remark, I huff and walk to my dresser. Maybe he isn’t straight, maybe that’s what he meant by “it’s not like I’m going to look.” Either that or he finds me unattractive. I hastily put on a bra and panties, followed by a plain white shirt and khaki shorts. “Are you done yet?” he asks, snapping the last bit of patience I held. “Could you be any more disrespectful? I did nothing to you. What is your problem?!” I shout, much louder than I had wanted to, but by the surprised look on his face, my words had the intended effect. He silently stares at me for a moment. And while I await for his apology . . . he bursts into laughter. His laugh is deep and would be an almost lovely sound if he didn’t come off so unpleasant. Dimples indent both of his cheeks as he continues on, and I feel like a complete idiot, unsure what to do or say. I don’t usually like conflict and this boy seems like the last person I should start a fight with. The door opens and Steph bursts in. “Sorry I’m late. I have a hell of a hangover,” she says dramatically, and her eyes dart back and forth between the two of us. “Sorry, Tess, I forgot to tell you Hardin would be coming by.” She shrugs apologetically. I would like to think me and Steph could make our living arrangement work, maybe even build some sort of a friendship, but with her choice of friends and late nights, I’m just not sure anymore. “Your boyfriend is rude.” The words tumble out before I can stop them. Steph looks over at the boy. And then they both burst into laughter. What is it with people laughing at me? It’s getting really annoying. “Hardin Scott is not my boyfriend!” she spits out, nearly choking. Calming down, she turns and scowls at this Hardin. “What did you say to her?” Then, looking back at me: “Hardin has a . . . a unique way of conversing.” Lovely, so basically what she is saying is that Hardin is, simply, at his core, a rude person. The English boy shrugs and changes the channel with the remote in his hand. “There is a party tonight; you should come with us, Tessa,” she says. So now it’s my turn to laugh. “Parties aren’t really my thing. Plus I have to go to get some things for my desk and walls.” I look at Hardin, who, of course, is acting as if neither of us is in the room with him. “C’mon . . . it’s just one party! You’re in college now, just one party won’t hurt,” she begs. “Wait, how are you getting to the store? I thought you didn’t have a car?” “I was going to take the bus. And besides, I can’t go to a party—I don’t even know anyone,” I say, and Hardin laughs again—a subtle acknowledgment that he’ll pay just enough attention to mock me. “I was going to read and Skype with Noah.” “You don’t want to take the bus on a Saturday! They’re way too packed. Hardin can drop you on the way to his place . . . right, Hardin? And you’ll know me at the party. Just come . . . please?” She presses her hands together in a dramatic plea. I’ve only known her for a day; should I trust her? My mother’s warning about parties goes through my head. Steph seems quite sweet, from the small interaction that I’ve had with her. But a party? “I don’t know . . . and, no, I don’t want Hardin to drive me to the store,” I say. Hardin rolls over across Steph’s bed with an amused expression. “Oh no! I was really looking forward to hanging out with you,” he dryly replies, his voice so full of sarcasm that I want to throw a book at his curly head. “Come on, Steph, you know this girl isn’t going to show at the party,” he says, laughing; his accent is so thick. The curious side of me, which I admit is quite large, is desperate to ask him where he is from. The competitive side of me wants to prove that smug face of his wrong. “Actually, yeah, I’ll come,” I say with as sweet a smile as I can manage. “It sounds like it might be fun.” Hardin shakes his head in disbelief and Steph squeals before wrapping her arms around me in a tight hug. “Yay! We’ll have so much fun!” she shrieks. And a big part of me is practically praying that she’ll be right. chapter five I’m thankful when Hardin finally leaves so Steph and I can discuss the party. I need more details to ease my nerves, and having him around is no help at all. “Where is the party? Is it within walking distance?” I ask her, trying to sound calm as I align my books neatly on the shelf. “Technically, it’s a frat party, at one of the biggest frat houses here.” Her mouth is wide open as she layers more mascara onto her lashes. “It’s off campus, so we won’t be walking but Nate will pick us up.” I’m grateful it won’t be Hardin, even though I know he will be there. Somehow riding with him seems unbearable. Why is he so rude? If anything, he should be grateful that I’m not judging him for the way he has destroyed his body with holes and tattoos. Okay, maybe I am judging him a little, but not to his face. I’m at least polite about our differences. In my home, tattoos and piercings are not a normal thing. I always had to have my hair combed, my eyebrows plucked, and my clothes clean and ironed. It’s just the way it is. “Did you hear me?” Steph says and interrupts my thoughts. “I’m sorry . . . what?” I hadn’t realized my mind had wandered to the rude boy. “I said let’s get ready—you can help me pick my outfit,” she says. The dresses she picks out are so inappropriate that I keep looking around for a hidden camera and someone to jump out and tell me this is all a joke. I cringe at each one and she laughs, obviously finding my distaste humorous. The dress—no, piece of scrap material—she chooses is a black fishnet, which lets her red bra show through. The only thing keeping her from showing her entire body is a solid black slip. The dress barely reaches the tops of her thighs and she keeps tugging the material up to reveal more leg, then back down to reveal more cleavage. The heels of her shoes are at least four inches tall. Her flaming red hair is pulled into a wild bun with curls escaping down to her shoulders and her eyes are lined with blue and black liner, somehow even more eyeliner than she had on before. “Did your tattoos hurt?” I ask her as I pull out my favorite maroon dress. “The first one sort of did, but not as bad as you would think. It’s almost like a bee stinging you over and over,” she says with a shrug. “That sounds terrible,” I tell her and she laughs. It occurs to me that she probably finds me as strange as I find her. That we’re both unfamiliar with each other is oddly comforting. She gapes at my dress. “You’re not really wearing that, are you?” My hand slides over the fabric. This is my nicest dress, my favorite dress, and it’s not like I really have all that many. “What is wrong with my dress?” I ask, trying to hide how offended I am. The maroon material is soft but sturdy, the same material business suits are made of. The collar goes up to my neck and the sleeves are three-quarter length, hitting just under my elbows. “Nothing . . . it’s just so . . . long?” she says. “It’s barely below my knee.” I can’t tell if she can see I’m offended or not, but for some reason I don’t want her to know this about me. “It’s pretty. I just think it’s a little too formal for a party. You could borrow something of mine?” she says in all sincerity. I cringe at the idea of trying to squeeze into one of her tiny dresses. “Thanks, Steph. I’m fine wearing this, though,” I say and plug in my curling iron. chapter six Later, when my hair is perfectly curled and lying down my back, I push two bobby pins in, one on each side to keep it out of my face. “Do you want to use some of my makeup?” Steph asks, and I look in the mirror again. My eyes always look a little too large for my face, but I prefer to wear minimal makeup and usually just put on a little mascara and lip balm. “Maybe a little eyeliner?” I say, still unsure. With a smile, she hands me three pencils: one purple, one black, and one brown. I roll them around in my fingers, deciding between the black and brown. “The purple will look great with your eyes,” she says, and I smile but shake my head. “Your eyes are so unique—want to trade?” she jokes. But Steph has beautiful green eyes; why would she even joke about trading with me? I take the black pencil and draw the thinnest possible line around both eyes, earning a proud smile from Steph. Her phone buzzes and she grabs her purse. “Nate’s here,” she says. I grab my purse, smooth my dress, and slip on my flat, white Toms, which she eyes but doesn’t comment on. Nate is waiting out front of the building, heavy rock music blaring out of his car’s rolled-down windows. I can’t help but glance around to see everyone staring. I keep my head down and just as I look up, I see Hardin lean up in the front seat. He must have been bending down. Ugh. “Ladies,” Nate greets us. Hardin glares at me as I climb in behind Steph and end up getting stuck sitting directly behind him. “You do know that we are going to a party, not a church, right, Theresa?” he says, and I glance at the side mirror and find a smirk across his face. “Please don’t call me Theresa. I prefer Tessa,” I warn him. How does he even know that’s my name? Theresa reminds me of my father, and I would rather not hear it. “Sure thing, Theresa.” I lean back against my seat and roll my eyes. I choose not to banter back and forth with him; it’s not worth my time. I stare out the window, trying to drown out the loud music as we drive. Finally, Nate parks on the side of a busy street lined with large, seemingly identical houses. Painted in black letters is the name of the fraternity, but I can’t make out the words because of the overgrown vines sneaking up the side of the massive house in front of us. Messy strings of toilet paper sprawl up the white house, and the noise coming from inside adds to the stereotypical frat house theme. “It’s so big; how many people will be here?” I gulp. The lawn is full of people holding red cups, some of them dancing, right there on the lawn. I’m way out of my league here. “A full house, hurry up,” Hardin responds and gets out of the car, slamming the car door behind him. From the backseat, I watch as multiple people high-five and shake Nate’s hand, ignoring Hardin. What surprises me is that no one else that I see is covered in tattoos like he, Nate, and Steph are. Maybe I can make some friends here tonight after all. “Coming?” Steph says with a smile and pops open her door and hops out. I nod, mostly to myself, as I climb out of the car, making sure to smooth my dress again. chapter seven Hardin has already disappeared into the house, which is great because maybe I won’t see him again for the rest of the night. Considering the number of people crammed into this place, I probably won’t. I follow Steph and Nate into the crowded living room and am handed a red cup. I turn to decline with a polite “No, thank you,” but it’s too late and I don’t have a clue who gave it to me. I put the cup on the counter and continue to walk through the house with them. We stop walking when we reach a group of people crowded on and around a couch. I assume they are friends with Steph, given their appearance. They are all tattooed like her, and sitting in a row on the couch. Unfortunately, Hardin is on the right arm of the couch, but I avoid looking at him as Steph introduces me to the group. “This is Tessa, my roommate. She just got here yesterday so I figured I would show her a good time for her first weekend at WCU,” she explains. One by one they nod or smile at me. All of them seem so friendly, except Hardin, of course. A very attractive boy with olive-toned skin reaches out his hand and shakes mine. His hands are slightly cold from the drink he was holding, but his smile is warm. The light reflects off his mouth, and I think I spot a piece of metal on his tongue, but he closes his mouth too quickly for me to be sure. “I’m Zed. What’s your major?” he asks me. I notice his eyes travel down my bulky dress and he smiles a little but doesn’t say anything. “I’m an English major,” I say proudly, smiling. Hardin snorts but I ignore him. “Awesome,” he says. “I’m into flowers.” Zed laughs and I return one. Flowers? What does that even mean? “Want a drink?” he asks before I can inquire further about flowers. “Oh, no. I don’t drink,” I tell him and he tries to hide his smile. “Leave it to Steph to bring Little Miss Priss to a party,” a tiny girl with pink hair says under her breath. I pretend not to hear her so I can avoid any kind of confrontation. Miss Priss? I’m in no way “prissy,” but I have worked and studied hard to get where I am, and since my father left us my mother has worked her entire life to make sure I have a good future. “I’m going to get some air,” I say and turn to walk away. I need to avoid party drama at all costs. I don’t need to make any enemies when I don’t have any friends to begin with. “Do you want me to come with you?” Steph calls after me. I shake my head and make my way to the door. I knew I shouldn’t have come. I should be in my pajamas curled up with a novel right now. I could be Skyping with Noah, whom I miss terribly. Even sleeping would be better than sitting outside this dreadful party with a bunch of drunken strangers. I decide to text Noah. I walk to the edge of the yard, since it seems to be the least crowded space. I miss you. College isn’t very fun so far. I hit send and sit on the stone wall waiting for his reply. A group of drunk girls walk by giggling and stumbling over their own feet. He responds quickly: Why not? I miss you too, Tessa. I wish I was there with you and I smile at his words. “Shit, sorry!” a male voice says and a second later I feel cold liquid soak the front of my dress. The guy stumbles and pulls himself up to lean against the low wall. “My bad, really,” he mumbles and sits down. This party could not get any worse. First that girl called me prissy, and now my dress is soaked with God knows what type of alcohol—and it really smells. Sighing, I pick up my phone and walk inside to find a bathroom. I push my way through the crowded hall and try to open every door on the way, none of them budging. I try not to think about what people are doing in the rooms. I make my way upstairs and continue my hunt for a bathroom. Finally, one of the doors does open. Unfortunately, it’s not a bathroom. It’s a bedroom, and, even more unfortunate for me, it’s one in which Hardin is lying across the bed while the pink-haired girl straddles his lap, her mouth covering his. chapter eight The girl turns around and looks at me as I try to move my feet, but they just won’t budge. “Can I help you?” she snarks. Hardin sits up with her still on his torso. His face is flat—not amused or embarrassed at all. He must do this type of thing all the time. He must be used to being caught in frat houses practically having sex with strange girls. “Oh . . . no. Sorry, I . . . I’m looking for a bathroom, someone spilled a drink on me,” I quickly explain. This is so uncomfortable. The girl presses her mouth against Hardin’s neck and I look away. These two seem to be a good match. Both tattooed, and both rude. “Okay? So go find a bathroom.” She rolls her eyes and I nod, leaving the room. After the door closes I lean my back against it. So far college isn’t fun at all. I just can’t wrap my head around how a party like this could be considered fun. Instead of trying to find a bathroom, I decide to find the kitchen and clean myself off there. The last thing I want to do is open another door and find drunken hormonal college students on top of one another. Again. The kitchen isn’t too hard to find, but it’s crowded since most of the alcohol supply is in ice buckets on the counter and stacks of pizza boxes fill the countertops. I have to reach around a brunette puking in the sink to grab a paper towel and wet it. As I wipe it over my dress, small white flakes of the cheap paper towel cover the wet spot, making it worse. Frustrated, I groan and lean against the counter. “Having fun?” Nate asks as he approaches me. I’m relieved to see a familiar face. He smiles sweetly and takes a sip of his drink. “Not exactly . . . how long do these parties usually last?” “All night . . . and half the day tomorrow.” He laughs and my mouth drops. When would Steph want to leave? Hopefully soon. “Wait.” I begin to panic. “Who’s going to drive us back to the dorm?” I ask him, well aware of his bloodshot eyes. “I don’t know . . . you can drive my car if you want,” he says. “That’s really nice, but I can’t drive your car. If I wreck or get pulled over with underage drinkers in the car I would get in so much trouble.” I can just imagine my mother’s face as she bails me out of jail. “No, no, it’s not a far drive—you should just take my car. You haven’t even been drinking. If not, you’ll have to stay here, or I could ask around to see if someone—” “No, it’s fine. I’ll figure it out,” I manage before the music gets turned way up and most everything is drowned out by bass and lyrics that are practically screamed. My decision to come to this party is proving to be worse and worse as the night goes on. chapter nine Finally, after pointing around and yelling “Steph!” like ten times at Nate, the music drops into a quieter song and he nods and starts to laugh. His hand moves up into the air and he points into the next room. He is really a sweet guy—why does he hang out with Hardin? As I turn to where he indicated, all I hear is my own gasp as I spot her. She, along with two other girls, are dancing on a table in the living room. A drunk guy climbs up and joins them, his hands gripping her hips. I expect her to swat his hands off but she just smiles and pushes her bottom against him. Okay. “They’re just dancing, Tessa,” Nate says and gives a quick chuckle at my uneasy expression. But they aren’t just dancing; they’re groping and grinding against each other. “Yeah . . . I know.” I shrug, even though it isn’t as casual to me. I’ve never danced that way, not even with Noah, and we have been dating two years. Noah! I reach into my purse and check my messages from him. You there Tess? Hello? You okay? Tessa? Should I call your mom? I’m getting worried. I dial him as fast as my fingers will allow, praying that he hasn’t called my mother yet. He doesn’t pick up, but I text him assuring him that I’m okay and there is no need for him to call my mother. She will lose it if she thinks something happened to me on my first weekend of college. “Heyyyy . . . Tessa!” Steph slurs and leans her head on my shoulder. “You having fun yet, roomie?” She giggles, obviously heavily intoxicated. “I think . . . I need . . . the room is starting to spend, Tess . . . I mean spin,” she says, laughing, and her body lurches forward. “She is going to get sick,” I tell Nate. He nods and lifts her into his arms, draping her body over his shoulder. “Follow me,” he instructs and heads upstairs. He opens a door halfway down the hall, finding a bathroom quickly, of course. Right as he places her on the floor by the toilet, she begins to vomit. I look away but grab her red hair and gently hold it back away from her face. Finally, after more vomit than I can handle seeing, she stops and Nate hands me a towel. “Let’s get her to the room across the hall and lay her on the bed. She is going to need to sleep it off,” he says. I nod, but what I’m really thinking is that I can’t leave her here alone, passed out. “You can stay in there, too,” he says, seeming to read my mind. Together we get her up off the floor and help her walk across the hall and into a dark bedroom. We gently lay a groaning Steph onto the bed and Nate quickly takes off, telling me he’ll check in on us later. I sit down on the bed next to Steph and make sure her head is comfortable. Sober, with a drunk girl beside me and a party raging all around, I feel like I’ve hit a new low. I turn on a lamp and look around the room, my eyes immediately going to the bookshelves that cover one of the walls. Since this perks my mood up, I go over to it and scan through the titles. Whoever owns this collection is impressive; there are many classics, a whole range of different types of books, including all of my favorites. Spying Wuthering Heights, I pull it off the shelf. It’s in bad shape, the binding giving away how many times it’s been opened. I’m so lost in Emily Brontë’s words that I don’t even notice the change in light when the door opens, or the presence of a third person in the space. “Why the hell are you in my room?” an angry voice booms from behind me. I know that accent by now. Hardin. “I asked you what the hell you’re doing in my room,” he repeats, just as harshly as the first time. I turn to see his long legs pulling him toward me and he snatches the book from my hand and tosses it back onto the shelf. My mind is whirling. I thought the party couldn’t get any worse, but here I am, caught in Hardin’s personal place. He rudely clears his throat and waves his hand in front of my face. “Nate told me to bring Steph in here . . .” My voice is soft, barely audible. He takes a step closer and lets out a deep breath. I gesture to his bed, causing his eyes to follow my hand. “She drank too much and Nate said—” “I heard you the first time.” He runs his hand through his messy hair, clearly upset. Why does he care so much if we are in his room? Wait . . . “You are a part of this fraternity?” I ask him. It’s impossible to hide the shock in my voice. Hardin is far from what I imagined a frat boy to be like. “Yeah, so?” he answers and takes yet another step closer. The space between us is less than two feet, and when I try to inch away from him my back hits the bookcase. “Does that surprise you, Theresa?” “Stop calling me Theresa.” He has me cornered. “That’s your name, isn’t it?” He smirks, his mood slightly lightening. I sigh and turn away from him, basically facing into the wall of books. I have no idea where I’m going, but I need to get away from Hardin before I slap him. Or cry. It has been a long day, so I will most likely cry before slapping him. And what a sight that would be. I turn and push past him. “She can’t stay in here,” he says as I pass. When I turn around he has the small ring in his lip between his teeth. What made him decide to put a hole in his lip and eyebrow? That had to be painful . . . though the one piece does accent just how full and round his lips are. “Why not? I thought you guys were friends?” “We are,” he says, “but no one stays in my room.” His arms cross over his chest, and for the first time since I met him, I can make out the shape of one of his tattoos. It’s a flower, printed in the middle of his covered forearm. Hardin, with a flower tattoo? The black and gray design resembles a rose from this distance, but there is something surrounding the flower that takes the beauty from it, adding darkness to the delicate form. Feeling brave and annoyed, I let out a laugh. “Oh . . . I see. So only girls who make out with you can come into your room?” As the words leave my mouth his smile grows. “That wasn’t my room. But if you’re trying to say you want to make out with me, sorry, you’re not my type,” he says. I’m not sure why but his words hurt my feelings. Hardin is far from my type, but I would never actually say that to him. “You are . . . you are . . .” I can’t find the words to express my annoyance toward him. The music through the wall is like an itching sensation. I’m embarrassed, annoyed, and exhausted from the party. Arguing with him isn’t worth it. “Well . . . then you take her to another room, and I’ll find a way back to the dorms,” I say and head for the door. As I go through it and slam it shut behind me, even through the noise of the party, I hear Hardin’s mocking “Good night, Theresa.” chapter ten I can’t help the tears that fall down my cheeks as I reach the top of the stairs. I hate college so far—and my classes haven’t even started. Why couldn’t I just get a roommate who was more like me? I should be asleep now, preparing for Monday. I don’t belong at parties like this, and I certainly don’t belong hanging out with these type of people. I do like Steph, but I just don’t have it in me to deal with a scene like this and people like Hardin. He’s such a mystery to me; why must he always be such a jerk? But then the next thing I think of is that wall of books of his—why does he have all of them? There is no way a rude, disrespectful, tattooed jerk like Hardin could possibly enjoy those amazing works. The only thing I can picture him reading is the back of a beer bottle. Dabbing at my wet cheeks, I realize I have no idea where this house is located, or how to get back to the dorms. The more I think about my decisions tonight, the more frustrated and stressed I become. I really should have thought this through; this is exactly why I plan everything, so things like this don’t happen. The house is still packed and the music is too loud. Nate is nowhere to be found; neither is Zed. Maybe I should just find a random bedroom upstairs and sleep on the floor? There are at least fifteen rooms up there, and maybe I will get lucky and find an empty one? Despite my efforts to conceal my emotions, I can’t, and I don’t want to go down and have everyone see me like this. I turn back, find the bathroom I was in with Steph, and sit on the floor with my head between my knees. I call Noah again, and this time he answers on the second ring. “Tess? It’s late, are you okay?” he says, his voice groggy. “Yes. No. I went to a stupid party with my roommate and now I am stuck at a frat house with nowhere to sleep and no way to get back to my room,” I sob through the line. I know my problem isn’t life or death, but I’m beyond frustrated at myself for getting into this overwhelming situation. “A party? With that redhead girl?” He sounds surprised. “Yeah, with Steph. But she’s passed out upstairs.” “Whoa, why are you even hanging out with her? She’s so . . . just not someone you would ever hang around with,” he says, and the scorn in his voice irritates me. I wanted him to tell me it will be okay, that tomorrow is a new day, something positive and encouraging. Something not so judgmental and harsh. “That isn’t the point, Noah . . .” I said with a sigh, but right then the door handle jingles and I sit up. “Just a minute!” I call to the person outside and wipe at my eyes with some toilet paper, but that only smears the eyeliner even more. This is exactly why I don’t wear this stuff. “I will call you back; someone needs the bathroom,” I say to Noah and hang up before he can protest. Whoever’s on the other side of the door begins pounding on it and I groan as I hurry to open it, wiping my eyes again. “I said just a min—” But I stop as glaring green eyes pour into mine. chapter eleven As I look into those amazing green eyes, I suddenly realize that I hadn’t previously noticed their color before. And then I realize that it’s because Hardin hasn’t really made eye contact with me until just now. Amazing, deep, surprised green eyes. Hardin looks away quickly when I push past him. He grabs my arm and pulls me back. “Don’t touch me!” I yell, jerking my arm away. “Have you been crying?” he asks, his tone curious. If this wasn’t Hardin, I might actually think he was concerned for me. “Just leave me alone, Hardin.” He moves in front of me, his tall frame blocking my movements. I can’t take more of his games, not tonight. “Hardin, please. I am begging you, if you have one decent bone in your body you will leave me be. Just save whatever mean comment you are going to say for tomorrow. Please.” I don’t care if he hears the embarrassment and desperation in my voice. I just need to be left alone by him. A flash of confusion shows in his eyes before he opens his mouth. He watches me for a moment before any words come out. “There’s a room down the hall you can sleep in. It’s where I put Steph,” he flatly states. I wait a second for him to say something else, but he doesn’t. He just stares at me. “Okay,” I quietly say and he moves out of my way. “It’s the third door on the left,” he instructs and heads down the hall and disappears into his bedroom. What the hell was that? Hardin without any rude comments? I know I’m in for it if I see him tomorrow. He’s probably got a planner for all his snide comments like I do for my classwork, and I’m sure I’ll be on his agenda tomorrow. The third room on the left is a plain room, much smaller than Hardin’s and with two twin beds. It looks more like a dorm room than the larger space that Hardin has. Maybe he’s the leader or something? The more likely explanation is that everyone is afraid of him and he bullied his way into the largest room. Steph is lying across the bed closest to the window, so I kick off my shoes and cover her with the blanket before locking the door and lying down on the other. My thoughts are all over the place as I fall asleep, and images of clouded roses and angry green eyes flow through my dreams. chapter twelve When I wake, it takes my mind a moment to remember the events of last night that led me to this strange bedroom. Steph is still asleep, snoring unattractively with her mouth wide open. I decide to wait until I know how we are getting back to the dorms before waking her. I quickly put my shoes on, grab my purse, and step out. Should I knock on Hardin’s door or try to find Nate? Is Nate even part of the frat? I would have never guessed that Hardin would be a part of an organized social group, so maybe Nate is, too. Stepping over sleeping bodies in the hallway, I make my way downstairs. “Nate?” I call, hoping to hear a reply. There are at least twenty-five people sleeping in the living room alone. The floor is littered with red cups and trash, which makes it hard to navigate through the mess, but also makes me realize how clean the upstairs hallway actually was, despite the people there. When I reach the kitchen, I have to force myself not to start cleaning it up. This will take the whole house all day to clean up. I would love to see Hardin cleaning up all this trash, and as the thought goes through my head I giggle a little. “What’s so funny?” I turn around and find Hardin entering the kitchen, a trash bag in his hand. He sweeps his arm over the countertop, making the cups fall into the trash bag. “Nothing,” I lie. “Does Nate live here, too?” He ignores me and continues to clean. “Does he?” I ask again, more impatient this time. “The sooner you tell me if Nate lives here, the sooner I can leave.” “Okay, now you have my attention. But, no, he doesn’t live here. Does he seem like a frat boy to you?” He smirks. “No, but neither do you,” I snap and his jaw tenses. He moves around me and opens the cabinet next to my hip, pulling out a roll of paper towels. “Is there a bus that runs close to here?” I ask, not expecting an answer. “Yep, about a block away.” I follow him around the kitchen. “Could you tell me where it is?” “Sure. It’s about a block away.” The corners of his mouth lift, taunting me. I roll my eyes and walk out of the kitchen. Hardin’s momentary civility last night was obviously a onetime thing and today he’ll be coming at me full force. After the night I had, I can’t stand to be around him. I go wake up Steph, who wakes up surprisingly easily and smiles at me. I’m grateful that she’s just as ready to get out of this damned fraternity house. “Hardin said there is a bus stop around the block,” I tell her as we walk downstairs together. “We aren’t taking the damn bus. One of these assholes will take us back to our room. He was probably just giving you a hard time,” she says, her hand resting on my shoulder. As we enter the kitchen and find Hardin pulling some beer cans out of the oven, she’s all authority. “Hardin, you ready to take us back now? My head is pounding.” “Yeah, sure, just give me a minute,” he says like he’s been waiting for us all along. DURING THE DRIVE BACK to the dorms Steph sings along to whatever metal song is playing through the speakers and Hardin rolls all the windows down, despite my polite requests to roll them up. Silent the whole way, he mindlessly drums his long fingers on the steering wheel. Not that I was paying attention. “I’ll come by later, Steph,” he tells her as she climbs out of the passenger seat. She nods and waves as I open my door. “Bye, Theresa,” he says with a smirk. I roll my eyes and follow Steph into the dorm. chapter thirteen The rest of the weekend goes quickly and I manage to avoid seeing Hardin. When I head out early Sunday to go shopping, I leave before he can come to the room, and I return after he’s apparently left. The new clothes I get fill up my small dresser, but as I put them away Hardin’s obnoxious voice plays in my head: You know we are going to a party, not church. I suspect he’d say the same about these new outfits, but I’ve decided that I am no longer going to be going to parties with Steph, or anywhere that Hardin may be. He isn’t good company and bickering with him is exhausting. Finally it’s Monday morning, my first day of college classes, and I couldn’t be more prepared. I wake up extra early to make sure I can take a shower—without boys around—and not be rushed. My white button-up shirt and tan pleated skirt are perfectly ironed and ready to be put on. I get dressed, pin my hair, and put my bag over my shoulder. I’m about to leave—about fifteen minutes early, to ensure that I won’t be late—when Steph’s alarm goes off. She hits the snooze button, but I wonder if I should I wake her. Her classes may start later than mine, or maybe she isn’t planning on going. The idea of missing the first day of classes stresses me out, but she is a sophomore, so maybe she has it under control. With one last glance in the mirror, I head to my first class. Studying the campus map proves to have been a good idea, and I find my first building within twenty minutes. When I walk into my freshman history class the room is empty, save one person. Since this person obviously cares about being on time, too, I sit next to him. He could be my first new friend. “Where is everyone?” I ask, and he smiles. His smile alone puts me at ease. “Probably running across campus to barely make it here on time,” he jokes, and I instantly like him. That’s exactly what I was thinking. “I’m Tessa Young,” I say and give him a friendly smile. “Landon Gibson,” he says with an equally adorable smile as the first one. We spend the rest of the time before class talking. I find out that he’s an English major, like me, and he has a girlfriend named Dakota. Landon doesn’t mock me or miss a beat in our easy conversation when I tell him that Noah is a grade below me. I decide now that he is someone whom I would like to see more of. As the class begins to fill, Landon and I make a point to introduce ourselves to the professor. Afterward, as the day continues, I begin to regret taking five classes instead of four. I rush to my British Literature elective—thanking God it’s the last class of the day—and barely make it on time. I am relieved when I see Landon sitting in the front row, the seat next to him empty. “Hey again,” he says with a smile as I sit down. The professor begins the class, handing out the syllabus for the semester and giving a brief introduction about himself, what led to him to become a professor, and his excitement for the topic. I love that college is different from high school and the professors don’t make you stand in front of the class and introduce yourself or do any other embarrassing and unnecessary things. In the middle of the professor explaining our reading lists, the door creaks open and I hear myself groan as Hardin stumbles into the classroom. “Great,” I say under my breath sarcastically. “You know Hardin?” Landon asks. Hardin must have quite the reputation around the campus if someone as sweet as Landon knows of him. “Sort of. My roommate is friends with him. He’s not my favorite person,” I whisper. As I do so, Hardin’s green eyes lock on mine, and I worry that he’s heard me. What would he do if he had? But, honestly, I don’t care if he did—it’s not like he isn’t aware that we don’t care for each other. I find myself curious about what Landon knows about him, though, so I can’t help but ask, “Do you know him?” “Yeah . . . he’s . . .” He stops talking and turns slightly to look behind us. I look up and see Hardin sliding into the desk next to me. Landon stays quiet for the rest of the class, keeping his eyes focused on the professor the entire time. “THAT’S ALL FOR TODAY. I will see you all again on Wednesday,” Professor Hill says and dismisses us. “I think this will be my favorite class,” I tell Landon as we walk outside, and he agrees. But his face falls when we realize Hardin is walking next to us. “What do you want, Hardin?” I ask, giving him a taste of his own medicine. It doesn’t work, or I don’t have the right tone for it, because all he seems is amused. “Nothing. Nothing. I’m just so glad we have a class together,” he says mockingly and runs his hands through his hair, shaking it and pushing it up on his forehead. I notice an oddly shaped infinity symbol tattooed just above his wrist, and he lowers his hand as I try to study the surrounding ink. “I’ll see you later, Tessa,” Landon says, excusing himself. “You would find the lamest kid in class to befriend,” Hardin says as he watches him go. “Don’t say that about him; he’s a sweet guy. Unlike you.” I’m shocked at my harsh words. He really brings out the worst in me. Hardin turns back to me. “You’re becoming more feisty with each chat we have, Theresa.” “If you call me Theresa one more time . . .” I warn and he laughs. I try to picture what he would look like without his tattoos and piercings. Even with them, he’s very attractive, but his sour personality ruins him. We begin walking along back in the direction of my dorm and get about twenty steps when all of a sudden he shouts out, “Stop staring at me!” turns a corner, and disappears down a pathway before I can even think of a response. chapter fourteen After several exhausting—but exciting—days, it’s finally Friday, and my first week of college is almost over. Feeling pleased with the way the week has gone overall, I plan on just watching some movies, since Steph will most likely be at a party and it’ll be quiet. Having all my classes’ syllabi really makes things easier for me, and I can do a lot of the work ahead of time. I grab my bag and leave early, stopping by the café to grab a coffee to get an extra shot of energy for the beginning of the weekend. “Tessa, right?” a girl’s voice says behind me as I wait in line. I turn around to find the pink-haired girl from the party. Molly, I think Steph called her. “Yeah. That’s me,” I answer and turn to face the counter, attempting to avoid further conversation. “Are you coming to the party tonight?” she asks. She has to be mocking me, so, sighing, I turn around again and am about to shake my head no when she says, “You should, it’s going to be awesome.” She runs her tiny fingers over a large fairy tattooed on her forearm. I pause for a moment, but do shake my head and say, “Sorry, I have plans.” “Too bad. I know Zed wanted to see you.” At that I can’t help but laugh, but she only smiles. “What? He was talking about you just yesterday.” “I doubt that . . . but even if he was, I have a boyfriend,” I tell her, causing her smile to grow. “Too bad, we could have double-dated,” she says ambiguously, and I inwardly thank God when the barista calls my order. In my haste, I grab the cup too roughly and a little bit of coffee laps over the edge and burns my hand. I curse, hoping that this isn’t setting the tone for my weekend. Molly waves goodbye to me and I smile politely before I exit the shop. Her comments replay in my mind; Double-date with who? Her and Hardin? Are they actually dating? As nice and attractive as Zed may be, Noah is my boyfriend and I would never do anything to hurt him. I know that we haven’t spoken much this week, but that’s only because we have both been so busy. I make a mental note to call him tonight and catch up, see how he’s been doing without me. After my coffee burn and awkward encounter with Miss Pink Hair, my day improves. Landon and I had made plans to start meeting at the coffee shop before the classes we have together, so he’s leaning against the brick wall, and as I walk up to him he greets me with a big smile. “I’m leaving about thirty minutes into class today. I forgot to tell you that I’m flying back to my hometown for the weekend,” he says. I’m happy for him to visit Dakota, but I hate the idea of sitting through British Literature without him, and with Hardin, if he shows. He was absent Wednesday, not that I was paying attention. I turn to him. “So soon? The semester just started.” “It’s her birthday and I promised her months back that I would be there.” He shrugs. IN CLASS, Hardin takes his seat next to me but doesn’t say a word, not even when, as promised, Landon leaves thirty minutes into class, which suddenly makes me even more aware of Hardin’s presence beside me. “Monday we begin our weeklong discussion of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice,” Professor Hill announces as class ends. I don’t hide my excitement, and I’m fairly sure that I just let out a squeal. I have read that novel at least ten times and it’s one of my favorites. Although he hadn’t really said anything to me all during class, Hardin walks up close beside me. I swear I could almost predict what he’s going to say with that deadpan look in his eyes. “Let me guess, you are just madly in love with Mr. Darcy.” “Every woman who has read the novel is,” I say without meeting his eyes. We reach the intersection and I look both ways before crossing the street. “Of course you do,” he laughs, continuing to follow me along the busy sidewalk. “I’m sure you aren’t able to comprehend Mr. Darcy’s appeal.” My mind goes to the massive collection of novels in Hardin’s room. They couldn’t possibly be his. Could they? “A man who is rude and intolerable being made into a romantic hero? It’s ridiculous. If Elizabeth had any sense, she would have told him to fuck off from the beginning.” I laugh at his choice of words but cover my mouth, stopping myself. I was actually enjoying our little banter, and his presence, but it would only be a matter of time—three minutes, if I’m so lucky—until he says something hurtful. Looking up, I meet his dimpled grin and can’t help but admire his good looks. Piercings and all. “So you do agree that Elizabeth is an idiot?” He raises his eyebrow. “No, she is one of the strongest, most complex characters ever written,” I say in her defense, using the words from one of my favorite movies. He laughs again and I join him. But after a few seconds, catching himself having a decent laugh with me, he stops suddenly and his laughter fades. Something flashes in his eyes. “I’ll see you around, Theresa,” he says and turns on his heel and disappears back where we’d come from. What is with him? Before I can begin to analyze his actions, my phone rings. Noah’s name flashes across my screen and I feel oddly guilty as I answer. “Hey, Tess, I was going to text you back, but I figured I might as well call.” Noah’s voice is clipped, a bit distant. “What are you doing? You sound busy.” “No, just on my way to meet some friends at the grill,” he explains. “Okay, well, I won’t keep you. I’m so glad it’s Friday. I am ready for the weekend!” “Are you going to another party? Your mom is still disappointed.” Wait—why did he mention it to my mother? I love that he has a close relationship with her, but sometimes dating him is like having an annoying little brother who tattles on me. I hate to compare him that way, but it’s true. Rather than getting into it with him, I just tell him, “No, I’m staying in this weekend. I miss you.” “I miss you too, Tess. So much. Call me later, okay?” I agree and we exchange “I love you’s” before hanging up. WHEN I GET BACK TO MY ROOM, Steph is getting ready for another party, which I assume is the one Molly mentioned at the café. I log into Netflix and browse the movies. “I really wish you would come. I swear we won’t stay overnight this time. Just come for a little bit. Watching movies alone in this small room will be hell!” Steph whines, and I laugh. She continues to beg me while she teases her hair and changes into three different outfits before deciding on a green dress that leaves very little to the imagination. The crisp color looks really good with her bright red hair, I have to admit. I envy her confidence. I’m confident to a certain extent, but I’m aware that my hips and breasts are larger than most women my age. I tend to wear clothes that hide my large bust, while she tries to draw as much attention as possible to hers. “I know . . .” I say, humoring her. But then my laptop screen turns black and I press the power button and wait . . . and wait. The black screen remains. “See! It’s a sign that you should come. My laptop’s at Nate’s apartment, so you can’t use mine.” She smirks and teases her hair again. Looking at her, I realize I really don’t want to sit in the dorm alone without anything to do or watch. “Fine,” I say, and she jumps up and down, clapping her hands. “But we’re leaving before midnight.” chapter fifteen I change out of my pajamas and put on a new pair of jeans that I haven’t worn yet. They are a little tighter than my usual pants, but I’m in desperate need of a trip to the laundry room, so I don’t have much of a choice. My shirt is a simple black button-up, sleeveless shirt with lace trim on the shoulders. “Wow, I actually like your outfit a lot,” Steph tells me. I smile and she tries to offer me eyeliner again. “Not this time,” I tell her, remembering how it smeared from my tears last time. Why did I agree to go back to that frat house again? “Okay. Molly is picking us up instead of Nate; she just texted that she’ll be here any minute.” “I don’t think she likes me,” I say as I check myself out in the mirror. Steph cocks her head to one side. “What? She does. She’s just bitchy and too honest sometimes. And I think she is intimidated by you.” “Intimidated? By me? Why on earth would she be intimidated by me?” I say and laugh. Steph clearly has this backward. “I think just because you’re so different from us,” she says and smiles. I know I’m different from them, but to me they are the “different” ones. “Don’t worry about her, though; she’ll be occupied tonight.” “By Hardin?” I ask before I can stop myself. I continue to look at the mirror, but I can’t help but notice the way she is looking at me with one eyebrow raised. “No, by Zed probably. She changes guys every week.” That’s a harsh thing to say about a friend, but she just smiles and adjusts her top. “She isn’t dating Hardin?” The image of them making out on the bed comes to mind. “No way. Hardin doesn’t date. He fucks with a lot of girls, but he doesn’t date anyone. Ever.” “Oh,” is all I manage to say. THE PARTY TONIGHT is the same as last week. The lawn and house are crowded with drunk people everywhere. Why didn’t I just stay in and stare at my ceiling? Molly disappears as soon as we arrive, and I end up getting a spot on the couch and am sitting there for at least an hour when Hardin walks by. “You look . . . different,” he says after a short pause. His eyes rake down my body and back up to rest on my face. He doesn’t even try to be subtle about the way he’s assessing me. I stay silent until his eyes meet mine. “Your clothes actually fit you tonight.” I roll my eyes and adjust my shirt, suddenly wishing I was wearing my normal loose clothing. “It’s a surprise to see you here.” “I’m a bit surprised that I ended up here again,” I say and walk away from him. He doesn’t follow, but for some reason I find myself wishing he would have. A few hours later, Steph is drunk again. Well, as much as everyone else is. “Let’s play Truth or Dare,” Zed slurs and their small group of friends gather around the couch. Molly passes a bottle of clear alcohol to Nate and he takes a swig. Hardin’s hand is so large that it covers his entire red cup as he takes a sip. Another punk-looking girl joins the game, making it Hardin, Zed, Nate, Nate’s roommate Tristan, Molly, Steph, and the new girl. I’m just thinking that a drunken game of Truth or Dare can’t possibly end well when Molly says with a wicked smile, “You should play, too, Tessa.” “No, I’d rather not,” I tell her and focus my attention on a brown stain on the carpet. “To actually play, she would have to stop being a prude for five minutes,” Hardin tells them and they all laugh except Steph. His words anger me. I am not a prude. Yeah, I will admit I’m not by any means wild, but I’m not some cloistered nun. I glare at Hardin and sit down cross-legged in their little circle, between Nate and another girl. Hardin laughs and whispers something to Zed before they start. The first few truths and dares include Zed being dared to chug an entire can of beer, Molly being dared to flash her bare chest to the group, which she does, and Steph revealing the truth that her nipples are pierced. “Truth or dare, Theresa?” Hardin asks and I gulp. “Truth?” I squeak. He laughs and mutters, “Of course,” but I ignore him as Nate rubs his hands together. “Okay. Are you . . . a virgin?” Zed asks, and I choke. No one seems fazed by the intrusive question besides me. I feel the heat in my cheeks and the humor in everyone’s faces. “Well?” Hardin presses. Despite how much I want to run away and hide, I just nod. Of course I’m a virgin; the furthest Noah and I have gone is making out and some slight groping, over our clothes, of course. Still, no one seems outright surprised by my answer, just intrigued. “So you have been dating Noah for two years and you haven’t had sex?” Steph asks, and I shift uncomfortably. I just shake my head. “Hardin’s turn,” I say quickly, hoping to take the attention off myself. chapter sixteen Dare,” Hardin answers before I even ask him. His green eyes bore through me with an intensity that says I’m the one on the spot, that I’m the one dared to do something. And I falter, not having really thought this out, or expecting to be met with such a reaction. What should I dare him to do? I know he will do whatever it is, just because he won’t want to back down from me. “I . . . hmm. I dare you to . . .” “To what?” he says impatiently. I almost dare him to say something nice about each person in the group but I decide against it, however amusing it would have been. “Take your shirt off and keep it off the entire game!” Molly yells out, and I’m glad. Not because Hardin will be taking his shirt off, of course, but because I couldn’t think of anything and it eases the pressure of my having to give him orders. “How juvenile,” he complains, but he lifts his shirt over his head. Without meaning to, my eyes go directly to his long torso and the way the black tattoo ink stretches across his surprisingly tan skin. Under the birds on his chest, he has a large tree inked onto the skin of his stomach. The branches are bare and haunting. His upper arms have many more tattoos than I expected; small, seemingly random images and icons are scattered along his shoulders and hips. Steph nudges me, and I tear my eyes away from him, praying that no one saw me staring. The game continues. Molly kisses Tristan and Zed both. Steph tells us about her first time having sex. Nate kisses the other girl. How did I find myself in the middle of this group of hormonal college rock-and-roll misfits? “Tessa, truth or dare?” Tristan asks. “Why even ask? We know she will say truth—” Hardin starts. “Dare,” I say, surprising them and myself. “Hmm . . . Tessa, I dare you to . . . take a shot of vodka,” Tristan says, smiling. “I don’t drink.” “That’s the point of the dare.” “Look, if you don’t want to do it . . .” Nate starts to say and I look over at Hardin and Molly sharing a laugh at my expense. “Fine, one shot,” I say. I think Hardin will probably have yet another contemptuous expression at this, but when his eyes meet mine, I find he’s giving me a strange look instead. Someone hands me the clear bottle of vodka. I mistakenly put my nose against the top, smelling the foul liquid, which burns my nostrils. I scrunch my nose, trying to ignore the chuckles behind me. I try not to think of all the mouths that have been on the bottle before me, and I just tilt it back and take a drink. The vodka feels hot and burns all the way down to my stomach, but I manage to swallow it. It tastes horrible. The group claps and laughs a little—everyone except Hardin. If I didn’t know him any better, I would think he was mad or disappointed. He is so strange. After a short time, I can feel the heat in my cheeks and then, later, the small amount of alcohol in my veins that grows with each round that I am dared to take another shot. I oblige, and I have to admit I feel pretty relaxed for once. I feel good. With this feeling, everything seems a little easier. The people around me all seem a little more fun than before. “Same dare,” Zed says with a laugh and takes a swig from the bottle before handing it to me for the fifth time. I don’t even remember the dares and truths that have been happening around me for the last few rounds. This time I take two big drinks of the vodka before it’s ripped from my grasp. “I think you’ve had enough,” Hardin says and hands the bottle to Nate, who takes a drink. Who the hell is Hardin Scott to tell me when I have had enough? Everyone else is still drinking, so I can, too. I grab the bottle back from Nate and take a drink again, making sure to give Hardin a smirk as the bottle touches my lips. “I can’t believe you have never been drunk before, Tessa. It’s fun, right?” Zed asks and I giggle. Thoughts of my mother’s lectures on irresponsibility flood my mind, but I push them back. It’s only one night. “Hardin, truth or dare?” Molly asks. He answers “dare,” of course. “I dare you to kiss Tessa,” she says and gives him a fake smile. Hardin’s eyes go wide, and though the alcohol is making everything more exciting, I really just want to run away from him. “No, I have a boyfriend,” I say, making everyone laugh at me for the hundredth time tonight. Why am I even hanging around these people who keep laughing at me? “So? It’s just a dare. Just do it,” Molly says, pressuring me. “No, I’m not kissing anyone,” I snap and stand up. Without looking at me, Hardin just takes a drink from his cup. I hope he’s offended. Actually, I don’t care if he is. I’m through interacting with him like this. He hates me and is just too rude. As I get to my feet, the full effect of the alcohol hits me. I stumble but manage to pull myself together and walk away from the group. Somehow I find the front door through the crowd. As soon as I’m outside, the fall breeze hits me. I close my eyes and breathe in the fresh air before going to sit on the familiar stone wall. Before I realize what I am doing, my phone is in my hands, dialing Noah. “Hello?” he says. The familiarity of his voice and the vodka in my system make me miss him more. “Hey . . . babe,” I say and bring my knees to my chest. A beat of silence passes. “Tessa, are you drunk?” His voice is full of judgment. I shouldn’t have called him. “No . . . of course not,” I lie and hang up the phone. I press my finger down on the power button. I don’t want him to call back. He’s ruining the good feeling from the vodka, worse than even Hardin did. I stumble back inside, ignoring whistles and crude comments from drunk frat guys. I grab a bottle of brown liquor off the counter in the kitchen and take a drink, too big of a drink. It tastes worse than the vodka and my throat feels like it’s on fire. My hands fumble for a cup of anything to get the taste out of my mouth. I end up opening the cabinet and using a real glass to pour some water from the sink. It helps the burn a little, but not much. Through a break in the crowd, I see that the group of my “friends” are still sitting in a circle playing their stupid game. Are they my friends? I don’t think they are. They only want me around so they can laugh at my inexperience. How dare Molly tell Hardin to kiss me—she knows that I have a boyfriend. Unlike her, I don’t go around making out with everyone. I’ve kissed only two boys in my life, Noah and Johnny, a freckle-faced kid in third grade who kicked me in the shin afterward. Would Hardin have gone along with the dare? I doubt it. His lips are so pink and full, and my head plays an image of Hardin leaning over to kiss me and my pulse begins to race. What the hell? Why am I thinking about him like that? I am never drinking again. Minutes later, the room begins to spin and I feel dizzy. My feet lead me upstairs to the bathroom and I sit in front of the toilet, expecting to throw up. Nothing happens. I groan and pull myself up. I am ready to go back to the dorms, but I know Steph won’t be ready for hours. I shouldn’t have come here. Again. Before I can stop myself, my hand is turning the knob on the only room I’m somewhat familiar with in this oversize house. Hardin’s bedroom door opens without a problem. He claims to always lock his door, but he’s proving otherwise. It looks the same as before, only this time the room is moving around beneath my unsteady feet. Wuthering Heights is missing from where it was on the shelf, but I find it on the bedside table, next to Pride and Prejudice. Hardin’s comments about the novel replay in my mind. He has obviously read it before—and understood it—which is rare for our age group, and for a boy especially. Maybe he had to read it for class before, that’s why. But why is this copy of Wuthering Heights out? I grab it and sit on the bed, opening the book halfway through. My eyes scan the pages and the room stops spinning. I’m so lost in the world of Catherine and Heathcliff that when the door opens, I don’t hear it. “What part of ‘No One Comes Into My Room’ did you not understand?” Hardin booms. His angry expression scares me, but somehow humors me at the same time. “S-sorry. I . . .” “Get out,” he spits, and I glare at him. The vodka is still fresh in my system, too fresh to let Hardin yell at me. “You don’t have to be such a jerk!” My voice comes out much louder than I had intended. “You’re in my room, again, after I told you not to be. So get out!” he yells, stepping closer to me. And with Hardin looming in front of me, mad, seething with scorn and making it seem like I’m the worst person on earth to him, something inside me snaps. Any composure I had snaps in half, and I ask the question that’s been at the front of my brain without my wanting to acknowledge it. “Why don’t you like me?” I demand, staring up at him. It’s a fair question, but, to be honest, I don’t really think my already wounded ego can take the answer. chapter seventeen Hardin glares at me. It’s aggressive. But unsure. “Why are you asking me this?” “I don’t know . . . because I have been nothing but nice to you, and you’ve been nothing but rude to me.” And then I add, “And here I actually thought at one point we could be friends,” which sounds so stupid that I pinch the bridge of my nose with my fingers while I wait for his answer. “Us? Friends?” He laughs and throws up his hands. “Isn’t it obvious why we can’t be friends?” “Not to me.” “Well, for starters you’re too uptight—you probably grew up in some perfect little model home that looks like every other house on the block. Your parents probably bought you everything you ever asked for, and you never had to want for anything. With your stupid pleated skirts, I mean, honestly, who dresses like that at eighteen?” My mouth falls open. “You know nothing about me, you condescending jerk! My life is nothing like that! My alcoholic dad left us when I was ten, and my mother worked her ass off to make sure I could go to college. I got my own job as soon I turned sixteen to help with bills, and I happen to like my clothes—sorry if I don’t dress like a slut like all the girls around you! For someone who tries too hard to stand out and be different, you sure are judgmental about people who are different from you!” I scream and feel the tears well up in my eyes. I turn around so he won’t get to remember me like this, and I notice that he’s balling his fists. Like he gets to be angry about this. “You know what, I don’t want to be friends with you anyway, Hardin,” I tell him and reach for the door handle. The vodka, which had made me brave, is also making me feel the sadness of this situation, of our yelling. “Where are you going?” he asks. So unpredictable. So moody. “To the bus stop so I can go back to my room and never, ever come back here again. I am done trying to be friends with any of you.” “It’s too late to take the bus alone.” I spin around to face him. “You are not seriously trying to act like you care if something happened to me.” I laugh. I can’t keep up with his changes in tone. “I’m not saying I do . . . I’m just warning you. It’s a bad idea.” “Well, Hardin, I don’t have any other options. Everyone is drunk—including myself.” And then the tears come. I am beyond humiliated that Hardin, of all people, is seeing me cry. Again. “Do you always cry at parties?” he asks and ducks his head a little, but with a small smile. “Apparently, whenever you’re at them. And since these are the only ones I’ve ever been to . . .” I reach the door again and open it. “Theresa,” he says so soft that I almost don’t hear him. His face is unreadable. The room starts to spin again and I grab on to the dresser next to his door. “You okay?” he asks. I nod even though I feel nauseous. “Why don’t you just sit down for a few minutes, then you can go to the bus station.” “I thought no one was allowed in your room,” I state, then sit on the floor. I hiccup and he immediately warns, “If you throw up in my room . . .” “I think I just need some water,” I say and move to stand up. “Here,” he says, putting a hand on my shoulder to keep me down and handing me his red cup. I roll my eyes and push it away. “I said water, not beer.” “It is water. I don’t drink,” he says. A noise somewhere between a gasp and a laugh escapes me. There is no way Hardin doesn’t drink. “Hilarious. You’re not going to sit here and babysit, are you?” I really just want to be alone in my pathetic state, and my buzz is wearing off, so I’m starting to feel guilty for yelling at Hardin. “You bring out the worst in me,” I murmur aloud, not quite meaning to. “That’s harsh,” he says, his tone serious. “And yes, I am going to sit here and babysit you. You are drunk for the first time in your life, and you have a habit of touching my things when I’m not around.” He goes and takes a seat on his bed, kicking his legs up. I get up and grab the cup of water. Taking a big drink, I can taste a hint of mint on the rim and can’t help but think about how Hardin’s mouth would taste. But then the water hits the alcohol in my stomach and I don’t feel so hot. God, I am never drinking again, I remind myself as I sit back down on the floor. After a few minutes of silence Hardin finally speaks up. “Can I ask you a question?” The look on his face tells me I should say no but the room’s still not feeling entirely solid, and I think maybe talking will help me focus, so I say, “Sure.” “What do you want to do after college?” I look up at him with new eyes. That is literally the last thing I thought he would ask. I assumed he would ask why I’m a virgin, or why I don’t drink. “Well, I want to be an author or a publisher, whichever comes first.” I probably shouldn’t be honest with him; he will just make fun of me. But when he doesn’t say anything back, I start feeling brave and ask him the same question, earning an eye roll from him but no answer. Finally I ask, “Are those your books?” even though it’s probably futile. “They are,” he mumbles. “Which is your favorite?” “I don’t play favorites.” I sigh and pick at a small fray on my jeans. “Does Mr. Rogers know you’re at a party again?” “Mr. Rogers?” I look back up at him. I don’t get it. “Your boyfriend. He is the biggest tool I have ever seen.” “Don’t talk about him like that, he is . . . he is . . . nice,” I stutter. When Hardin laughs, I stand up. He doesn’t know Noah at all. “You could only dream of being as nice as he is,” I say sharply. “Nice? That’s the first word that comes to your mind when talking about your boyfriend? Nice is your ‘nice’ way of calling him boring.” “You don’t know him.” “Well, I know that he’s boring. I could tell by his cardigan and loafers.” Hardin’s head rolls back in laughter and I can’t ignore his dimples. “He doesn’t wear loafers,” I say, but have to cover my mouth so I don’t laugh with him at my boyfriend’s expense. I grab the water and take another drink. “Well, he has been dating you for two years and hasn’t fucked you yet, so I would say he is a square.” I spit the water back into the cup. “What the hell did you just say?” Just when I think we can get along he says something like that. “You heard me, Theresa.” His smile is cruel. “You’re an asshole, Hardin,” I growl and throw the half-empty cup at him. His reaction is exactly what I hoped for: complete shock. While he wipes water off his face, I stagger to my feet using the bookshelf for leverage. A couple of books fall to the ground, but I ignore all that and storm out of the room. I stumble downstairs and push my way through the crowd into the kitchen. The anger I feel has overcome my nausea, and all I want is to get Hardin’s evil smirk out of my head. I spot Zed’s black hair through the crowd in the other room and go to where he’s sitting with a cute preppy boy. “Hey, Tessa, this is my friend Logan,” Zed says, introducing us. Logan smiles at me and offers the bottle he’s holding. “Want some?” he asks and passes it to me. The familiar burn feels good; it ignites my body again and I momentarily forget about Hardin. “Have you seen Steph?” I ask, but Zed shakes his head. “I think she and Tristan may have left.” She left? What the hell? I should care more but the vodka skews my judgment and I find myself thinking she and Tristan would make a cute couple. A couple of drinks later, I feel amazing. This must be why people drink all the time. I vaguely remember having sworn off alcohol at some point tonight, but it’s not so bad. FIFTEEN MINUTES LATER, Zed and Logan have me laughing so hard that my stomach hurts. They are much better company than Hardin. “You know Hardin is a real ass,” I tell them, which elicits wide grins from them both. “Yeah, he can be sometimes,” Zed says and snakes his arm around me. I want to move it but I don’t want to make it awkward because I know he doesn’t mean anything by it. Soon the crowd starts to die down and I start to feel tired. It dawns on me that I have no way to get back to the dorms. “Do the buses run all night?” I slur. Zed shrugs, and just then Hardin’s mop of curls appears in front of me. “You and Zed then?” His voice is thick with an emotion that I can’t quite register. I get up and push past him, but he grabs my arm. He has no boundaries. “Let go of me, Hardin.” Looking for another cup to toss in his face, I say, “I’m just trying to find out about the bus.” “Chill out . . . it’s three a.m. There is no bus. Your newfound alcoholic lifestyle has you stuck here again.” The glee in his eyes when he says this is so mocking that it makes me want to smack him. “Unless you want to go home with Zed . . .” When he lets go of my arm, I do go back to the couch with Zed and Logan, because I know it will irritate him. After standing there and nodding for a moment, he turns in a huff. Hoping that that same room from last weekend is empty, I tell Zed to take me upstairs so we can find it. chapter eighteen We find the room. Unfortunately one of the beds is occupied by a snoring, passed-out guy. “At least that bed is empty!” Zed says and laughs. “I’m going to walk back to my place, if you want to come. I have a couch you could sleep on,” he says. Cutting through the haze to try to think clearly for a second, I conclude that Zed, like Hardin, hooks up with a lot of different girls. If I agree to this it could mean I am offering to kiss him . . . well. I have a feeling with those good looks it’s easy for Zed to get girls to do more than kiss. “I think I will just stay here in case Steph comes back,” I say. His face falls a little but he gives me an understanding smile. He tells me to be careful and gives me a hug goodbye. The door closes as he leaves and I can’t help but lock it. Who knows who will come in? I look over at the comatose snorer and feel secure that he isn’t waking up anytime soon. The tiredness I felt downstairs has somehow faded, my mind going back to Hardin and his comment about how Noah hasn’t slept with me yet. It may seem strange to Hardin, who’s with a different girl every weekend, but Noah is a gentleman. We don’t need to have sex; we have fun together doing other things like . . . well . . . we go to the movies and go for walks. With that in mind, I lie down, but quickly find myself staring at the ceiling, counting the tiles in an attempt to go to sleep. Occasionally the drunk guy rustles around on the other bed, but eventually my eyes close and I begin to drift off. “I haven’t seen you . . . around here before,” a deep voice suddenly slurs in my ear. I jump up and his head bumps my chin, causing me to bite my tongue. His hand is on the bed, inches away from my thighs. His breathing is ragged and smells like vomit and liquor. “What’s your name, cutie?” he breathes, and I gag. I lift one thin arm up to push him away from me, but it doesn’t work, and he just laughs. “I’m not going to hurt you—we’re just going to have some fun,” he says and licks his lips, leaving a string of saliva down his chin. My stomach turns and the only thing I can think to do is to knee him, hard. Hard and right there. He grabs his crotch and stumbles back, giving me my chance to bolt. Once my shaky fingers finally open the lock, I rush out into the hallway, where several people give me odd stares. “Come on, come back here!” I hear the disgusting voice say, not too far behind me. Strangely, nobody seems fazed by a girl being chased down the hall. He is only a few feet away, but fortunately is so drunk he keeps stumbling into the wall. My feet act of their own accord, taking me down the hall to the only place I know in this damned fraternity house. “Hardin! Hardin, please open the door!” I yell, one hand banging on the door and one trying to twist the locked doorknob. “Hardin!” I scream again and the door flies open. I don’t know what made me come to his room of all places, but I would take Hardin’s judgmentalism over the drunk guy trying to have his way with me any day. “Tess?” Hardin asks, seeming confused. He wipes his eyes with his hand. He is wearing only black boxer briefs, and his hair is jutting out all over his head. Weirdly, I am more surprised by how good he looks than by the fact he called me “Tess” for once instead of “Theresa.” “Hardin, please can I come in? This guy . . .” I say and look behind me. Hardin pushes past me and looks down the hall. His eyes meet my stalker, and the creep changes from scary to frightened. He looks at me one more time before turning around and walking back down the hall. “Do you know him?” My voice is shaky and small. “Yeah, get inside,” he says and pulls me by my arm into his room. I can’t help but note the way his muscles move under his inked skin as he walks to his bed. His back has no tattoos on it, which is a little strange since his chest, arms, and stomach are covered. He rubs his eyes again. “Are you okay?” His voice is raspier than ever from just being woken up. “Yeah . . . yes. I’m sorry for coming here and waking you up. I just didn’t know what—” “Don’t worry about it.” Hardin’s hand runs through his messy hair and he sighs. “Did he touch you?” he asks, without any trace of sarcasm or humor. “No, he tried, though. I was stupid enough to lock myself in a room with a drunk stranger, so I suppose it’s my fault.” The idea of that creep touching me makes me want to cry, again. “It’s not your fault that he did that. You aren’t used to this type of . . . situation.” His voice is kind and totally the opposite of his usual tone. I walk across the room toward his bed, silently asking him for permission. He pats the bed, and I sit down with my hands in my lap. “I have no plans on getting used to it. This really is the last time I’m coming here, or to any parties, for that matter. I don’t know why I even tried. And that guy . . . he was just so . . .” “Don’t cry, Tess,” Hardin whispers. And the funny thing is, I hadn’t realized I was. Hardin brings his hand up, and I almost flinch away, but not before the pad of his thumb captures the tear from my cheek. My lips part in surprise from his gentle touch. Who is this guy and where is the snarky, rude Hardin? I look up to meet his green eyes and his pupils dilate. “I hadn’t noticed how gray your eyes are,” he says, so low that I lean closer to hear him. His hand is still on my face, and my mind is racing. Pulling half of his bottom lip in his mouth, he takes his lip ring between his teeth. Our eyes meet, and I look down, unsure of what’s going on. But when he removes his hand, I look at his lips once more, and I can feel my conscience and my hormones battling. But my conscience loses, and I crash my lips against his, catching him totally off guard. chapter nineteen I have no idea what I’m doing, but I can’t stop. As my lips touch Hardin’s I feel his sharp intake of breath. Hardin’s mouth tastes just like I had imagined. I can taste the faint hint of mint on his tongue as he opens his mouth and kisses me. Really kisses me. His warm tongue runs along mine and I can feel the cold metal of his lip ring on the corner of my mouth. My entire body feels like it’s been ignited; I have never felt like this before. He brings his hand to my face, cupping my flushed cheeks, before both of his hands go to my hips. He pulls back a little and plants a small kiss on my lips. “Tess,” he breathes out, then quickly brings his mouth back to mine, his tongue sliding in once more. My mind is no longer in charge; the sensation has taken over every inch of me. Hardin pulls me by my hips closer to him as he lies back on the bed, never breaking our kiss. Unsure of what to do with my hands, I put them against his chest, and then climb onto his torso. His skin is hot and his chest is moving up and down with his rapid breaths. He pulls his mouth away from mine and I whimper at the loss of contact, but before I can complain he’s at my neck. I feel every swipe and lick his tongue makes. His breath moves across me. He grabs hold of my hair to keep my head just above his as he continues to kiss my neck. His teeth graze my collarbone and I moan, the feeling shooting down my whole body when he begins gently sucking on my skin. I would be embarrassed if I wasn’t so intoxicated, by Hardin and the alcohol. I have never kissed anyone like this, not even Noah. Noah! I say, “Hardin . . . stop,” but I don’t recognize my voice. It’s low and husky, and my mouth is dehydrated. He doesn’t stop. “Hardin!” I say again, my voice clear and sharp, and he lets go of my hair. When I look into his eyes, they are darker, yet softer, and his lips are a deeper pink and swollen from kissing me. “We can’t,” I say. Even though I really want to keep kissing him, I know I can’t. The softness in his eyes disappears and he pulls himself up, knocking me onto the other side of the bed. What just happened? “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” I say, and they are the only words I can think of. My heart feels like it will explode any second. “Sorry for what?” he says and walks over to his dresser. He pulls out a black T-shirt and pulls it over his head. My eyes go down to his boxers again and they are noticeably tighter in the front. I flush and look away. “For kissing you . . .” I say, though something in me really doesn’t want to apologize for that. “I don’t know why I did it.” “It was just a kiss; people kiss all the time,” I hear him say. His words hurt my feelings for some reason. Not that I care if he didn’t feel what I did . . . What did I feel? I know I don’t actually like him. I am just drunk and he is attractive. It has been a long night and the alcohol made me kiss him. Somewhere in the back of my mind I fight down the thoughts of how much I wanted it to happen again. He was just being so nice, that’s why. “Can we not make a big deal of it, then?” I ask. I would be humiliated if he told anyone. This isn’t me. I don’t get drunk, and I don’t cheat on my boyfriend at parties. “Trust me, I don’t want anyone to know about this, either. Now, stop talking about it,” he snaps. And there’s his arrogance again. “So now you’re back to your old self, I see?” “I never was anyone else—don’t think because you kissed me, basically against my will, we have some sort of bond now.” Ouch. Against his will? I can still feel the way his hand gripped my hair, the way he pulled me on top of him, and the way his lips mouthed “Tess” before kissing me again. I shoot up off the bed. “You could have stopped me.” “Hardly,” he scoffs and I feel like crying again. He makes me too emotional. It’s too humiliating, too painful how he’s basically saying I forced him to kiss me. I bury my head in my hands for a moment and head for the door. “You can stay in here tonight since you have nowhere else to go,” he says quietly, but I shake my head. I don’t want to be anywhere near him. This is all part of his little game. He will offer to let me stay in his room so I’ll think he is a decent person, then he will probably draw some vulgar design on my forehead. “No, thanks,” I say and walk out. When I reach the stairs, I think I hear him call my name but I keep going. Outside, the cool breeze feels wonderful against my skin, I sit on the familiar stone wall and turn my phone back on. It’s almost 4 a.m. I should be waking up in an hour to get an early shower and start studying. Instead I’m sitting on this broken stone wall, alone and in the dark. With a few stragglers milling about, and unsure what to do, I pull out my phone and scroll through the text messages from Noah and my mother. Of course he told her. It’s what he would do . . . But I can’t even be upset with him. I just cheated on him. What would give me the right? chapter twenty A block away from the frat house, the streets are dark and quiet. The other frat houses aren’t as big as Hardin’s. After an hour and a half of walking and GPS-obsessing, I finally reach the campus. Fully sober and figuring that I might as well stay awake, I stop at the 7-Eleven and grab a cup. As the caffeine hits me, I realize th