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After (The After Series)

Anna Todd

  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.

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  To my readers from the start, with so, so much love and gratitude. You mean the entire world to me.


  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 completed.

  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.


  “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.