Home > After (After #1)

After (After #1)
Anna Todd

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 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.

“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.

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