Before: Part 2: During – Chapter: 13


Today will be our last day on Pride and Prejudice,” the professor tells us. “I hope you’ve all enjoyed it, and since you’ve all read the ending, it feels fitting to base today’s discussion on Austen’s use of foreshadowing. Let me ask: As a reader, did you expect Elizabeth and Darcy to become a couple in the end?”

Tessa’s hand shoots up instantly, and I lean back in my seat. She never fails to be a know-it-all. Just like Landon… the perfect little American couple.

“Miss Young.” The professor calls on her, and I watch her face light up. She really gets off on making other people happy or pleased by her. I could use this to my advantage, for sure.

I shut off my inner monologue and patiently await her rant on good ol’ P&P. If she’s as bright as I think she is, this should be interesting.

“Well, the first time I read the novel, I was on the edge of my seat about whether they would end up together.”

Yeah, I would bet they would end up together, just like I’m betting that Tessa and perfect Landon will have the perfect relationship.

“Even now—and I have read it at least ten times—I still feel anxious during the beginning of their relationship. Mr. Darcy is so cruel and says hateful things about Elizabeth and her family that I never know if she’ll be able to forgive him, let alone love him.” The smile on Tessa’s face is bright when she finishes, and her hands neatly fold together on top of her book. She waits expectantly for the professor to pat her on the head and tell her what a wonderful little pupil she is. Landon looks at her, expecting her to glow like a rainbow and spray out colorful glitter from her fingertips.

I’m going to throw a wrench into that.

Speak, Hardin.

My voice nudges at the back of my throat. All it will take is a few words. My mum’s reminder: “Just breathe, Hardin. You can talk in front of others.” She would always tell me not to worry. “A lot of people have social anxiety, Hardin. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

But me, I don’t have social anxiety. I just don’t like people.

“That’s a load.” My voice is loud, filling up the silent room.

“Mr. Scott? Would you like to add something?” the professor asks, clearly surprised by my participation.

“Sure.” I lean forward in my seat. Tessa’s face is a blank mask; she’s shocked but hiding it well. “I said that’s a load. Women want what they can’t have. Mr. Darcy’s rude attitude is what drew Elizabeth to him, so it was obvious they would end up together.”

That said, I look down and start to pick at the torn, pink skin surrounding my fingernails.

“That isn’t true, about women wanting what they can’t have,” Tessa bursts out. I look over at her as smoothly as I’m able. “Mr. Darcy was only mean to Elizabeth because he was too proud to admit he was attracted to her. Once he stopped his hateful act, she saw that he really loved her.” And to punctuate her passionate words, she slaps one shaking hand against her desk, hard.

I glance around to the roomful of eyes blinking back at us. My friend Dan’s sister is sitting in the front row, smiling widely at me.

I can feel the eyes of my fellow students probing at my skin. I need to say something back. I need to speak. “I don’t know what kind of guys you normally go for, but I think that if Darcy loved her, he wouldn’t have been mean to her,” I say. Just like I’m sure your current boyfriend and your future boyfriend, Landon there, wouldn’t be. They wouldn’t challenge her. “The only reason he even ended up asking for her hand in marriage was because she wouldn’t stop throwing herself at him.”

Did Elizabeth throw herself at Darcy? No, the exact opposite.

Does Tessa throw herself at me? No, again, the exact opposite.

But I couldn’t let her win like that.

“She did not throw herself at him! He manipulated her into thinking he was kind and took advantage of her weakness!”

“He ‘manipulated’ her? Try again, she is…” I pause, my jumbled thoughts messing up my speech. “I mean, she was so bored with her boring life that she had to find excitement somewhere—so she certainly was throwing herself at him!”

I pause, kind of shocked that I shouted these words at her, that my bruised hands are gripping the corner of the old desk.

“Well, maybe if he wasn’t such a manwhore, he could have stopped it after the first time instead of showing up in her room!”

By the time she’s finished, the snickers, gapes, and laughter indicate that everyone in the room has definitely caught on to our little show. LIVE READING should have been written on a sign and hung in the hall outside the room.

Manwhore?

I may have slept my way across this campus, made more mistakes than she has, and forgotten half of them, but at least I’m not a prissy, judgmental snob. Imagine if I called her the female version of what she called me?

“Okay, lively discussion,” the professor says, looking panicked, likely worried that human emotion has spoiled his perfectly planned lesson. “I think that’s probably enough on that topic for today…”

Tessa grabs her bag, clutches it to her chest, and rushes toward the exit. Landon stays in his seat, always unsure what to do in any type of stressful situation. Maybe because his life has been so perfect. His mum probably made him freshly baked muffins sprinkled with love every morning before school.

I fed myself stale Cheerios and had to smell the inside of the carton to check if the milk was expired or not. There’s no syllabus or menu for what Tessa and I seem to be doing.

I bolt out of the room myself. Tessa doesn’t get to flee from every conflict she creates. I can tell she’s used to that, always having her way.

“You don’t get to run this time, Theresa!” I call to her.

Everyone in the hallway looks in my direction, but she keeps moving and I have to run to catch up to her. Just as she turns to go outside, I grab hold of her arm to stop her. She jerks away and my light grip relaxes.

“Why do you always touch me like that? Grab my arm again, and I will slap you!” Her tone is furious and her voice is so loud.

I reach for her arm again. She doesn’t flinch.

“What do you want, Hardin? To tell me how desperate I am? To laugh at me for letting you get to me again? I am so sick of this game with you—” She’s stomping her foot along with her words, and her hands are swirling in the air like always. It amuses me the way she talks with her hands.

She’s still going on and on. I honestly couldn’t tell you what she’s saying. She’s just so mad, so infuriated with me, that she’s lost her damn mind. When she’s around Landon, she’s all smiles and comfort. With me, she’s rage and electricity. Her eyes are shining—with anger or sadness, I’m not sure, but at least I know that I still elicit an emotional response from her.

“I really do bring out the worst in you, don’t I?” My fingers fidget with a small burn hole along the bottom hem of my black T-shirt. “I’m not trying to play games with you.”

Seeing the crowd gathering, I run my hands over my head. Why does everything always get so dramatic with her?

Tessa rubs her temples with her fingertips. “Then what are you doing? Because your mood swings give me a headache.”

I reach for her arms, grasping them gently to get her attention. She doesn’t resist, so I lead her into a small alleyway between two buildings, scowling at the people nearby to back off. I don’t want anyone to hear our conversation, anyone to pressure her to put on her “perfect girl” face.

I look down at her, admiring her stillness. She appears so calm, so neutral, even given the proximity of our bodies. I see a chink in her armor when her eyes meet mine, and she gulps, her lips shaking.

“Tess, I… I don’t know what I’m doing. You kissed me first, remember?” I say. It doesn’t matter if I’ve thought about the way her lips tasted on mine every day since. She made the first move, and that will always be a winning argument for me.

“Yeah… I was drunk, remember?” Her eyes stare down, ashamed. “And you kissed me first yesterday.” She’s never going to admit that she wanted me. There will always be an excuse for her. I’m growing more and more annoyed by her denial. I felt the way she blossomed underneath my kiss.

She may hate me, but her body doesn’t.

“Yeah… you didn’t stop me.” I pause for a beat, watching the curiosity build in her eyes. “It must be exhausting,”

“What must be exhausting?” she asks, her chin tilted up in the most defiant way.

“Acting like you don’t want me when I know you do.” I purposely step closer, making her back touch the wall behind her.

She’s so still, like her body’s come to the realization of what she wants already.

But then her mind overtakes her again and she blurts out, “What? I do not want you. I have a boyfriend.” She’s reaching far to pretend to speak with a calm voice.

I smile a little. “A boyfriend that you’re bored with. Admit it, Tess. Not to me, but to yourself. You’re bored with him.” I draw each word out as slowly as possible, my face moving closer and closer to hers. Her eyes are drawn to my mouth; of course they are. She’s weighing her options. She must be remembering the way I kiss her, because she touches her lips gently. She’s caught here, with me. Her desire and burning sexual curiosity for me won’t let her walk away, not this time.

“Has he ever made you feel the way I do?” I lay this last line on thick, genuinely curious if he has.

“W-what? Of course he has,” she tries to insist.

I’m not buying it. She sounded more sincere talking about a classic novel than about her lovely boyfriend’s ability to please her.

“No… He hasn’t. I can tell that you’ve never been touched… really touched.”

Her lips are parted now, I can practically hear her heart thumping out of her chest. I wonder how I look through her eyes. Can she see that her shaky breaths and plump lips are making me crazy? Is there something in my eyes that tells her I really want to wrap her hair around my fist, turn her head to me, and kiss her?

Her body knows, her body knows.

“That’s none of your business.”

She must not be able to tell. Once you wear a mask for as long as she has, it’s nearly impossible to take it off. Either that, or she’s the one who feels invisible.

“You have no idea how good I can make you feel.” I step closer. Let me convince you, let me show you, I want to beg her.

Her back touches the wall again, and she looks around for some way to gain distance from me. She’s breathing hard now, clearly affected by me. Finally.

“Really, you don’t have to admit it. I can tell.”

She gasps—a seemingly innocent sound, but I know better. I know she wants more; her mind and body yearn for it.

“Your pulse has quickened, hasn’t it? Your mouth is dry, you have that feeling… down there. Don’t you, Theresa?” I imagine her naked body sprawled out for me, my finger tracing over the wetness soaking from her pussy.

She sucks in a sharp breath and tries to look away from me, but fails miserably. “You’re wrong.” She knows I’m right.

“I’m never wrong.” I smile. She hesitates, tucking a stray lock of hair behind her ear. “Not about this.”

Tessa takes a breath, and I know I’m in for it. “Why do you keep saying I throw myself at you if you’re the one cornering me now?”

“Because you made the first move on me. Don’t get me wrong.” I laugh. “I was as surprised as you were.”

“I was drunk and had a long night—as you already know. I was confused because you were being nice to me… well, your version of being nice.” My version of being nice? I’m usually nice to her. Exceptionally nice now that I have a reason to be. The Bet plays at the corners of my mind, and I remember to tread a little lighter than I typically would.

Tessa moves past me and sits down on the concrete curb. I look around to see if anyone is watching us, but no one seems to notice us at all.

“I’m not that mean to you,” I say, though I’m starting to wonder if she really thinks this.

“Yeah, you are. You go out of your way to be mean to me. Not just me, but everyone. It just seems like you are extra hard on me, though.”

Mean? I’m no meaner to her than I am to a kitten. I’ve been easy on her.

“That’s just not true. I’m no meaner to you than I am to the rest of the general population,” I joke. She doesn’t find me funny in the least. If she could, she would send me flying with the flick of her wrist.

Tessa jumps to her feet. “I don’t know why I keep wasting my time!”

She’s going to leave. I don’t want her to leave, do I?

No. I don’t. I’m not the best with apologies, especially when I don’t feel they’re needed, but I have to stop being a bitch about this and just say sorry. She’s easily calmed by an apology, as I’ve quickly learned.

“Hey, I’m sorry. Just come back over here,” I say, using the persuasive tone I know girls like. She stands up, and I sit down on the curb close to where she was sitting.

“Sit.” I pat the ground next to me. She huffs a little and sits down. She crosses her legs and sighs. I’m surprised by the calm that I feel when I’m granted her forgiveness.

“You’re sitting awfully far away,” I tease her. She tosses me an eye roll. “You don’t trust me?” I know the answer to this.

Of course she doesn’t, but she wants to. I want her to trust me more than I care to admit.

“No, of course I don’t. Why would I?” Her words are fast, sharp.

I inch back. I don’t trust her either, but she doesn’t need to be so quick about her answers. She obviously has some type of draw to me; otherwise we wouldn’t be having this conversation. She has to feel some fraction of it to be here.

“Can we just agree to either stay away from each other or be friends? I don’t have it in me to keep fighting with you.” I don’t feel like we fight a lot; we just talk more than either of us expected. I fight with her less than I fight with Ken and talk to her more. That’s saying something.

We’ve both gotten used to it. It would be strange to think of not seeing Tessa again. I’ve gotten used to her sassy mouth and the way her eyes give away how angry she gets with me. Her fire is contagious. It’s becoming an addiction for me, as if I need another high calling my name.

“I don’t want to stay away from you,” I admit. I hate that I have to be on my best behavior with her: one small slipup, and she runs. I would like to think that we’ve grown a little closer today, that maybe she wouldn’t be so quick to leave. I’m expected to tell her how I feel, to be more open than I’m comfortable with, and I barely get anything in return. It’s like I’m married without the benefits of sex and dinner every night.

“I mean… I don’t think we can stay away from each other, with one of my best friends being your roommate and all. So I suppose we should try to be friends.” I have a game to win here, and she’s not being the easiest pawn.

“Okay, so friends?” she asks, her voice mimicking someone making a business deal. I could offer to split half of my winnings with her. A beautiful start to a blooming friendship that would make.

Friends? Friends who fuck, maybe? Fucking friends.

“Friends.” I push my hand between us for her to shake.

My smile is cunning, full-on charming. She catches on and shakes her head at me. She senses a little bit of my danger, but not enough to keep her away.

“Not friends with benefits,” she insists, but then is betrayed when she blushes. I didn’t realize how attractive her innocence could be, really.

I reach up to play with the metal ring above my eye. “What makes you say that?”

“Like you don’t know. Steph already told me.”

“What, about me and her?” She was okay, sort of interesting to be around. She has her issues like the rest of us, but she carries them on her back, hiding them from the world, unlike Molly and myself. I wonder what the redhead told Tessa about our time together. I feel like she probably exaggerated when she told the tale of our escapades. Steph always wanted more than I could give her, and she fed on competition, not knowing when to take no for an answer.

“You and her, and you and every other girl,” she chokes out.

“Well, me and Steph… that was fun.” I smile at Tessa and she looks away.

“And yeah, I have girls that I fuck. But why would that concern you, friend?”

Admittedly, I imagine Tessa as one of those girls, spread out beneath me, her mouth open in pleasure. She closes her eyes and takes a breath. I imagine stealing her breath as she comes from my fingers and my mouth at the same time. I’m sure she’s never had someone teasing her clit with their tongue while slowly sliding—

“It doesn’t,” Tessa says, interrupting my thoughts. “I just don’t want you to think that I will be one of those girls.” She shoves me, but that only manages to intensify the fantasy going on in my mind.

“Aww… Are you jealous, Theresa?”

She shoves me again. “No, absolutely not. I feel sorry for the girls.” Tessa shakes her head and I laugh. She wouldn’t feel sorry for anyone—she would only feel pleasure, intense amounts of pleasure that she can’t even imagine.

“Oh, you shouldn’t.” I can’t stop thinking about her naked body. I need to see what she’s hiding under those baggy clothes. She wouldn’t know what to do with herself if I got my hands on her. “They enjoy it, trust me.”

“Okay, okay. I get it. Can we please just change the subject?” Tessa closes her eyes again and tilts her head back. She groans before she says, “So, will you try to be nicer to me?”

“Sure. Will you try not to be so uptight and bitchy all the time?” I tease.

“I’m not bitchy; you’re just obnoxious.”

We both laugh as she finishes her statement. Her laugh is soft, floating around me. I feel fluffy, in a weird but nice way.

Fluffy? Really, Hardin?

I need to get my shit together and put this Friendship Train on the right track.

I lean a little closer to my new friend. “Look at us, two friends.”

Tessa shrinks back and stands up. Her hands wipe at her skirt, and I backtrack, thinking about taking that skirt off. “That skirt really is dreadful, Tess. If we’re going to be friends, you need to not wear it anymore.” It’s not that bad, but it’s certainly not good.

Tessa’s eyes flash with embarrassment, and I smile to ease it. I didn’t mean it as an insult. I was only teasing her. Really, if she wants to wear unflattering clothing, more power to her. I wear the same few pairs of black jeans and stained T-shirts.

Tessa’s phone begins to vibrate, and she pulls it out of her bag. “I need to get back and study,” she announces.

I glance at the ancient clunk of plastic in her hand. Is that a Nokia?

“You set an alarm to study?” I ask her, pondering the fact that she must have the last flip phone in existence. It’s like she’s trying to be outdated or something.

She shrugs. “I set an alarm for a lot of things; it’s just something I do.”

This behavior makes her shy, as if she should be embarrassed that she does such a thing. Why would she think that? Someone in her life must make her feel like she needs to justify her strange behavior. Her mum, I’m sure. Well, I’m sort of doing it now, too, but that woman seems anal as hell. Tessa’s mum probably had an alarm set for Tessa to piss, as controlling as the woman seems.

“Well, set an alarm for us to do something fun tomorrow after class,” I say.

I want to spend time with her. I need to.

She looks at me, her eyebrows pushing together in confusion. “I don’t think my idea of fun is the same as yours.”

She’s not wrong. My idea of fun is definitely different from hers. Her idea of fun would be to study together, piles of notes and heavy textbooks spread out on the bed between us. An academic cock blocking.

My idea of fun is much different. My idea of fun is sitting on the bed, my back against a headboard while Tessa wraps her mouth around my cock. I would love to add a cold glass of whiskey, one ice cube floating in the dark liquid, clicking against the glass as she draws me deeper into her mouth.

I’m not supposed to be drinking, though, so I suppose I’ll take the blow job sans the whiskey.

Instead of telling her all this, I say, “Well, we’ll only sacrifice a few cats, burn down a few buildings…”

Tessa giggles, and I can’t help but smile back at her. But I’m distracted a little when this couple walks by us, holding hands as they laugh at some lame joke the guy’s made. I didn’t exactly catch what they were saying, but I know it’s lame because they’re wearing matching striped socks. Subtly shoving their relationship into innocent passerbys’ faces. It’s bullshit, really. Tessa doesn’t even seem to notice them; she’s staring down at the concrete.

“Really, though, you could use some fun, and since we are new friends, we should do something fun.”

Before Tessa can refuse me, I turn my back to her and start off. “Good, I’m glad you’re aboard. See you tomorrow.”

When I cross the street, I look back to see her sitting on the curb. She didn’t try to refuse me, she agreed to see me tomorrow, and now I don’t know what the fuck I’m going to do, because I had planned on her denying me a few times before I had to actually plan a date thing with her.

When I get to my car, I try to think of what to do with Tessa. I don’t go out, ever, aside from parties at other people’s places. Other than that, I’m on campus or in my room, alone.

I start the car and keep trying to think of something to do. A movie? What type of movie does Tessa like? Something from a Nicholas Sparks novel, I’m sure. I could sneak my arm around her. I could buy her popcorn or overpriced chocolate to impress her. The problem with seeing a movie is that we can’t talk during it. Someone would complain, and I would end up getting into some trouble.

Dating rituals were so much less complicated in the past. If we lived in an Austen novel, I would court her and take her on chaperoned dates where we would walk through the woods, and if I felt brave, I would brush her gloved hand with mine. She would blush and put a finger to her full lips, looking to our chaperone with a warning in her gray eyes.

Modern dating is much different, and now, if I felt brave, I would reach down and tease her nipples through her top and she would move my hand to the warmth between her thighs. No chaperone, no rules.

I’m interrupted in my planning by my phone ringing.

Does Tessa have my number? Speaking of that, I need to get her number from Steph.

When it’s Ken’s name that flashes on my phone screen, I cringe but I answer this time. I suppose I should reward his persistence.

“Yeah?” I say, turning onto the highway. I tuck my phone between my cheek and shoulder. The only problem with my beautiful 1970 Ford Capri is that it doesn’t connect to Bluetooth.

“Um, Hardin, hey,” he stutters.

He’s confused by me answering. He calls me sometimes, and I’m convinced that he sees it as a good deed on his part. He calls to “check in on me” because he knows I won’t answer, and it makes him look good to make an effort with his insubordinate son. His new girlfriend probably praises him, hugging him tightly as she reassures him. “He’ll come around one day,” she probably promises him. “He’s just angry right now.”

She would be angry if she had him for an excuse of a dad, too.

“Hey.” I press the speaker button and rest my phone in the cup holder.

“How are you, son?” he asks, immediately pressing on my nerves.

“Fine.”

He clears his throat. “That’s good to hear. I wanted to invite you over to dinner tomorrow night. Karen’s making a chicken, and we would really love to have you over.”

He wants me to come over for dinner? Why on earth would he think I would come to his house to eat chicken with his new family and talk about how much we all just love each other’s company. No fucking thanks.

“I have plans tomorrow,” I tell him. I’m not lying this time.

“Oh. Well, you could come by after your plans. Karen’s making dessert, too.”

“My commitment is for all night,” I tell him. I wonder what the weather will be like tomorrow. The clouds are gray, as always in this shitty state. The sun must hate it so much here—that’s why it’s always raining and dreary.

“Is it supposed to rain tomorrow?” I ask Ken. It’s easier than looking up the weather forecast myself.

“No, it’s supposed to warm up overnight and the rain’s gone until next week,” he says.

If I had a normal relationship with the man who helped create me, I could ask him for suggestions about what to do on my date. I don’t, though. I can’t.

All I know to ask this man about are what forms the university needs filled out when. We have nothing in common and are as far as can be from a place where I would ever ask him for dating advice.

Maybe Vance has some ideas? I’d rather ask him than anyone else, I guess.

“I have to go,” I say into the phone, then hang up on Ken and look up Vance in my phone.

He answers after one ring. “Hardin, what’s up?”

“Do you have any recommendations on where to take someone?” I ask him. My voice sounds odd as I rush the words.

“As in a dead body?” He laughs into the phone. I smile. He’s a jackass.

“No, not this time.” I reach for a way to ask for his help without mentioning Tessa. “Like to hang out with someone.”

“A date, then?” he assumes.

“No, not exactly. But something like that.”

I don’t know what to call this meeting with Tessa. It’s not a date. We’re friends.

Friends until I fuck her, I remind myself.

She’s just so prudish. She wears ill-fitting clothing and barely curses. Where could I take her to get her to lighten up? I try to think of my favorite memory since I moved to Washington.

The stream off of Highway 75 is fun. If the weather’s nice, this could work. The water is pretty shallow, and you can see the rocks under the water. Would Tessa swim in semi-clean stream water? Probably not, but I can try.

“Well, I’ve always found nature walks a surefire bet,” Vance says.

And just like that, I’m reminded of the Bet for the first time in a few hours.


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