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After (The After Series), Page 2

Anna Todd

  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 t
hick. 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 b
y 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.