Before: Part 2: During – Chapter: 10


He was always stubborn from the beginning. She pushed buttons he didn’t know he had and made him think of the world in a different way. He never expected anything to come from this game of his and he never knew how each glance from her, each smile she awarded him with, was changing him. He grew protective of her from early on, and he didn’t recognize when his protection turned to control. He tried to fight it, but he wasn’t strong enough until it was too late.

It’s been twenty minutes since she stormed off, and I can’t find her anywhere. Why can’t she be like Molly or any of the other girls I’ve hooked up with, and come running back? How is it that she’s so strong-willed?

Knowing her—the little bit that I do know about this girl—leads me to believe she’s going to shatter every preconceived thought I had about girls in general.

Fucking yay. This will be fun.

“She left, dude.” Logan walks into the kitchen with a bottle of vodka in his hands.

Left? She wouldn’t actually leave. She doesn’t even know how to get back to campus, and her ancient phone won’t be any help if she’s lost.

“No way.” I shake my head and reach for an empty cup. When I turn the faucet on, Nate is looking at me with one brow raised and a stupid grin on his face.

“What, fucker?” I ask him, chugging the water.

“Nothing, man.” He laughs and shares a shitty look with Logan.

“Am I missing something here?” My hand waves between the two of them.

“Nope.” Logan puts his hand on my shoulder, and I move away. “Why are you looking for her, exactly?”

“Why do you think?” I say quickly, unsure whether I’m lying to them or snapping back into the Bet. Yes, I’m still into the game, but at this moment, I just want to know where the fuck she went.

“Right.” Nate nudges Logan like me and my mates used to nudge each other when we were in grade school. “Well, she’s gone, anyway. I saw her walk out the front door.”

“And you just let her?”

“Let her? Why would I care if she walked outside and left? You shouldn’t care either… I thought,” Nate says, his eyes meeting Logan’s.

“Where’s Zed?” I ask them. Hopefully the question will make them think I’m more worried about him getting a leg up on me than anything else.

They both shake their heads and shrug their shoulders, then go back to shooting the shit together like they’ve already lost interest in all of this.

As I walk away from them, my hands ball into fists. Maybe she called a friend to pick her up? Does the girl even have any friends? She seems like the judgmental type that no one would actually want to be friends with. Like me, in that way. Except she’s slightly more likable. Slightly.

I’m sure she isn’t stupid enough to try to walk three miles back to her dorm.

Stupid enough? No.

Stubborn enough? Hell fucking yes she is.

I walk through the halls upstairs one more time to be sure she actually left the house. My room is empty; I was hoping she would be annoying and break into my room again. I was kind of hoping I would catch her sitting on my bed with one of my books in her hands.

But no, of course she had to be ridiculously difficult and leave the house. Alone.

Alone.

Fucking hell, she’s walking the damn streets alone.

What kind of… Goddamnit, she pisses me off. Could we have chosen a more difficult girl for the Bet? Not bloody likely.

“Nate!” I shout his name over the music as I rush down the stairs.

“What? You in a hurry?” he says to me, a slow smirk rising to his face. I slow down as I reach the bottom.

“Nah, I just…” I push my hair back from my forehead. “I’m looking for that brunette—the one wearing a black tank top, huge tits.” I hold my hands out in front of my chest to mimic having this made-up woman’s body.

Nate’s eyes lower and he smiles. I can barely see the words inked into the inside of his bottom lip when he says, “Oh, I get it.”

He winks and Logan laughs.

“Well, I’m going to go find her…” I turn away from them quickly. I can hear their faint shit talking as I walk away. I leave the house without looking back and get into my car. The streets are empty. Completely fucking empty, and she’s nowhere to be found.

After a few more circles around the block, I decide to just head to her dorm. She has to be there by now. Has to be.

When I get to the dorm, I realize I’ve been out for about two hours already. At her room, the door opens without any hesitation and I find Steph and Tristan lying on her bed. Her shirt is off, her hands roaming his shirtless body. She removes her mouth from his and sits up.

“Can I help you?” Steph licks her lips, smearing the last bit of lipstick down across her mouth.

“Where’s Theresa?” I ask them. Tristan reaches for his shirt, and Steph grabs it from him, tossing it onto the floor. “Well?” I push.

“Not here. We passed her on the way.” Steph latches her mouth on to Tristan’s neck, and I gag.

“Passed her? You saw her walking and you didn’t pick her up?” I bend down and grab Tristan’s shirt, tossing it to him, covering both of their faces with it. Tristan moves from the bed, and I back away toward the door.

“Steph told me not to stop,” he says while getting dressed.

“What the fuck?” I turn to her.

She chuckles. “She’s fine. She could use some walking.”

“Hey.” Tristan nudges her, a disapproving look clear on his face.

Steph rolls her eyes.

“Get dressed, both of you, and leave. She should be here soon,” I say to them.

“This is my room. I’m not leaving,” Steph says.

“Come on.” I scramble for a reason for her to leave. “I need some alone time with her.”

She laughs. “For what? To fuck her?”

“To work toward that, yes.”

“Let’s just go to my place. Nate probably won’t be there,” Tristan says, and tucks Steph’s hair behind her ear. She smiles, nodding in agreement.

Once the room is empty, I sit down on Tessa’s bed. As I’m trying to decide whether or not to look through her stuff out of curiosity, the door opens. There she stands in the doorway, looking a few inches taller, her hands in tight fists. Her eyes are wide; she’s bursting at the seams with carefully held-back irritation. When I smile at her, she tears up.

“You’ve got to be kidding me!” Her voice is high and loud as she throws her hands into the air.

“Where were you?” I calmly ask her, my tone the opposite of the fire quickly growing inside of her. “I drove around trying to find you for almost two hours.”

“What? Why?” she asks me, her expression a mixture of exasperation and confusion. Her cheeks are pink from the cool fall air, and her hair is windblown, not the neatly curled mop I’m used to seeing on her.

I struggle to say something to explain it all, but only come up with “I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to be walking around at night, alone.”

She bursts into laughter. Laughter, of all things. What is wrong with her? Her laugh is wild, completely opposite to her controlled smiles and faked laughs. She looks half mad.

“Get out, Hardin—just get out!” she says as her laughter grows softer.

“Theresa, I’m—”

But a pounding at the door interrupts me.

“Theresa! Theresa Young, you open this door!” a woman’s voice shrieks through the air.

“Oh my God, Hardin, get in the closet,” Tessa whispers, grabbing my arm and yanking me from the bed.

“I’m not hiding in the closet. You’re eighteen,” I argue. Tessa rushes over to the mirror, closely inspecting her face and smoothing down her wild hair. She hurries to the other side of the room with a tube of toothpaste in her hand, squeezes a dollop from it, and rubs it onto her tongue. It’s like I’m watching a teenage girl get caught sneaking out of her mummy’s house. She’s frantic as she walks to the door. Her hand shakes when she turns the brass knob.

“Hey. What are you guys doing here?” Tessa asks her mum as she walks through the door. Her mother commands the room for the brief moment before another person joins us.

It’s the guy from before. Noah.

I can see that Tessa’s mum is coming straight toward me, but I’m too focused on the boy. Tessa’s boyfriend, the infamous Noah. His blond hair is a few shades lighter than Tessa’s, and his cardigan is smooth, resting over his neatly pressed khaki pants. It’s kind of amazing that at this early point in the morning he so resembles a freshly minted preppy action figure, still in the packaging.

But why is he here? Are they that serious?

Did he call her mum like some sort of morality police?

Her mother takes a deep breath and then lets it all out. “So this is why you haven’t been answering your phone? Because you have this…”—she waves her hands around in the same way her daughter does—“this… tattooed… troublemaker in your room at six a.m.!”

Tattooed troublemaker? What is with these women and their primary school insults?

Tessa squares her shoulders, and I watch as her back straightens, ready for a fight.

Well, now I know where Tessa gets her judgmental bullshit. Also where she got her frame, curves, and fire. She’s shooting daggers at her mum, but the woman doesn’t seem to notice the way her daughter’s fingers are digging crescents into her palm. Or the way the skin on her neck has turned slightly pink. She doesn’t seem to notice. Neither does Mr. Rogers.

This irritates me—that Tessa is being chastised for behaving like a normal college freshman. If anything, she’s much tamer than anyone else I know. Her mum should be proud of her.

“Is this what you do in college, young lady? You stay up all night and bring boys back to your room?” the woman fumes. “Poor Noah was worried sick about you, and we drive all this way to find you running around with these strangers.”

Strangers? The way Noah’s backing up slowly toward the door without noticing it as the woman’s voice grows louder… I get the feeling he’s even more brainwashed than Tessa-dearest.

I can’t help it; I speak up before Tessa gets a chance to reply. “Actually, I just got here. And she wasn’t doing anything wrong.”

Tessa gapes at me like I’m insane to go up against her mum. For her part, her mother can’t seem to believe it either. And their disbelief makes me laugh inside; these people have no idea what I’m capable of.

“Excuse me? I certainly was not speaking to you. I don’t know what someone like you is doing hanging around my daughter anyway.”

The douche in the corner stays silent, as he should.

“Mother…” Tessa says, attempting to be as threatening as possible. She looks at me briefly, her eyes are harder than usual. I can’t tell if it’s from embarrassment or anger that there’s such fire coming out.

Her mum isn’t fazed. “Theresa, you’re out of control.” She speaks through her teeth. “I can smell the liquor on you from here, and I can only assume that this is the influence of your lovely roommate and him,” she says, looking directly at me. Pointing at me.

If she knew me, she would put that finger right back down.

“I’m eighteen, Mother,” Tessa begins, but she already sounds defeated. “I’ve never drunk before, and I didn’t do anything wrong. I’m just doing what every other college student is doing. I’m sorry that my cell-phone battery died, and that you drove all the way here, but I’m fine.”

Tessa sits on the edge of her chair. I don’t like how uncomfortable they make her. She’s like a stranger to me as she sits, timidly waiting for the next blow from the bitch.

I don’t move. Even when the hurricane in this woman’s eyes focuses back on me.

“Young man, could you leave us for a minute?”

She’s not really asking. And her “young man” might sound polite, but really she’s just trying that bitchy thing where she talks down to me while seeming reasonable. I grew up around rich kids; I know that move.

I look over at Theresa, making sure she understands that I won’t leave unless she’s okay to face her mum and boyfriend alone. She nods, but I can see the confusion in her gray eyes.

I go, as requested, my chest burning.


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