Previously: We’re pretty sure Hardin kidnapped Tessa.
Marines: Okay, Hardin has Tessa in his car 90% against her will and we don’t know where he is taking her. Everyone, we are on HIGH ALERT.
Captain Kirk is worried.
Mari: As he should be!
First up: Hardin takes Tessa down a gravel road and turns off the music so that she can hear all the little stones crunching beneath the tires. Tessa realizes that they are very, very alone, away from people and building and cars and also police. I added the last thing. HIGH ALERT remains; this seems awful murder-y.
Next up: Hardin jokes that he didn’t bring Tessa out here to kill her. UH, I don’t know about you, but that sounds exactly like something a murderer would “joke” about before murdering someone. KEEP YOUR EYES PEELED.
Samantha: This feels like the opening teaser of a crime show where I’d be saying “Welp, she’s a goner.”
“Don’t worry, I didn’t bring you out here to kill you,” he jokes and I gulp. I doubt he realizes that I’m more afraid of what I might do when alone with him than if he was actually trying to kill me.”
GIRL, WHAT? Please tell me you didn’t just say you are more afraid of kissing him than MURDER? Get some self-preservation quick.
Samantha: So many links. Too many.
Mari: This doesn’t bode well for Tessa’s chances of survival, because those two leading men were almost certainly killers.
After they park, Hardin says they have to walk even further into isolation (so no one will hear her screams). Hardin snips at Tessa that she’s walking too slow, but she’s very calmly taking in her surroundings. It’s so peaceful and pretty, she thinks she could stay there forever. I feel like being dead meets that criteria. Oh, wait, she clarifies that she would have to have a book with her. If it’s this book, she would probably end up killing herself.
Hardin leaves the trail and goes into a wooded area. Tessa tells us that her “natural suspiciousness” kicks in. HER NATURAL SUSPICIOUSNESS? Is this like when we were reading Sweet Valley High and they mentioned Todd’s brother one time and he never showed up again so we made a “GhostBrotha!” tag and blamed random crap on this missing brother? Is this like the time when Bella was supposedly sickened by the sight of blood and also clumsy for a couple chapters? Please remember this “natural suspiciousness” because I’m very invested in seeing IF IT EVER TURNS UP AGAIN.
Samantha: Hermione and I are naturally suspicious of this bullshit.
Mari: Anyway, it turns out that Hardin has led her to a stream-or-maybe-a-river. I’m not ruling out murder yet, though, because drowning is a thing. Hardin starts stripping down, and Tessa stares at him for a bit, before realizing he means to swim in the stream-or-maybe-a-river. Tessa says she’s definitely not swimming in some unidentified body of water because there might be fish in there and also she has no bathing suit. Hardin tells her so swim in her underwear and she gets all huffy. (S: ‘Cause it’s grossly manipulative.)
“Wait, so he thought I would come out here and take all my clothes off and swim with him? My insides stir and I get warm thinking about being naked in the water with Hardin.”
1- Yes, that’s exactly what he thought.
2- You got in the car to Murder Lake Forrest with him, girl. He probably thought anything was possible.
3- Your protest loses some of its protest when your next thought is actual warm fuzzies.
4- A few pages ago, you were like “meh, murder” so I’m not sure how to take your SWIMMING IN MY UNDERWEAR? freakout. I’m not sure.
Tessa says she’s not underwear swimming. Hardin says she’s no fun and jumps in without her. Tessa watches him and wishes she were brave and loose like Steph. Alas.
Hardin convinces Tessa to at least put her feet in because the water is warm. She does and it really does feel good. Hardin asks her again to just get in the water and stop overthinking things. He even offers up his shirt so Tessa can wear it in and says he’ll answer any question she wants. She takes him up on this offer, making him turn around while she changes. He laughs at her request but (we can all save our rage for now) he turns.
Tessa changes quickly.
“I can’t help but admire the way his shirt smells, like faint cologne mixed with a smell I can only describe as Hardin.”
1- I have had A LIFETIME OF ENOUGH of a writer describing someone smelling like themselves. A LIFETIME OF ENOUGH.
2- THAT IS NOT A DESCRIPTION. THAT IS NOT A MF DESCRIPTION.
Samantha: I wonder if its another lazy manifestation of the whole “blank slate so you can completely imagine yourself in it” trope. Like, Hardin and You Know Who smell like themselves so that the people who love these books can decide what that is. For me, Hardin smells like locker room and burnt toast.
Mari: Sounds about right to me, probably not what Anna Todd was going for.
Okay, so, Tessa finishes undressing. Hardin turns around and he likey what he sees.
“His eyes widen and I watch them rake down my body. He takes his lip ring between his teeth and I notice his cheeks flush. He must be cold, because I know it couldn’t possibly be me he is reacting to.”
Must we really make our protagonist have low self-esteem to the point of stupidity? Does anyone out there react to being cold like this:
Hardin uses his raspy “I’m cold” voice to tell Tessa to hurry up and get in the water. She tries to jump in, but gets too scared last minute. Hardin offers to help her in, but only after laughing at her. (S: Swoon.)
Once she’s in the water, they start splashing around. Hardin laughs at her some more because she has to plug her nose before she goes underwater. In case you are keeping track, this “date” has mostly been a lot of manipulation and laughing AT Tessa.
Tessa reminds him that she gets an answer to a question. She pauses to think about it, but also before can, her mouth is already forming the words to a question? IDK. Go with it. The question is “who do you love the most in the world.”
Wow, girl. Thirsty.
He answers that he loves himself the most and ducks underwater. For some reason, Tessa doesn’t believe this, even though we’ve received lots of evidence to support it. Tessa pushes and asks about his parents. Hardin snaps that she is never to mention his parents again. (S: That’s an order, dammit!) Tessa apologizes a lot until Hardin unsnaps and starts throwing her around in the water again. She figures it’s better to apologize so Hardin won’t leave her out in the Murder Lake Forrest. That’s not really what I meant by self-preservation, but I suppose it’s a start.
At one point, Tessa unthinkingly wraps her legs around Hardin’s body and he gasps and there is electricity that is only metaphorical because how I wish that it was actual electricity in that water right now. Because AND THEN THEY DIE. (S: In my version there are suddenly electric eels, extra possible since we don’t know what kind of body of water this is.)
Hardin asks Tessa what she’s doing to him and she’s all, “I don’t know,” which is hilarious to me for some reason. My brain might just be numb right now. Hardin starts petting Tessa’s lip and asks her if she wants him to stop. She doesn’t. He says that they can’t just be friends. I’m glad they tried that for one whole chapter, less than one whole hour, and with semi-naked stream-or-maybe-a-river swimming.
Hardin starts kissing her neck, causing Tessa to moan his name. Hardin wants to make her do that some more and Tessa consents. Hardin carries and helps her out of the water. He asks if she wants to sexy times out here in Murder Lake Forrest or back in his room. Tessa opts for Murder Lake Forrest because his room is too far away. Hardin takes Tessa’s shirt off, and she tells us her “hormones are out of control.” Ana did this (meaning Todd probably plagiarized this) and it always weirded me out when she mentioned hormones during the lead up to sex. I’m not sure why? It’s almost too clinical to be truly sexy. I also can’t imagine some 18/22 year old girl thinking, “oh my! My hormones!” while mostly naked and wet and about to get laid.
Using his shirt as a makeshift blanket, they lie down. Hardin stares at Tessa and she starts thinking about how ew she is and how many other girls he’s been with. She starts to cover up, and Hardin stops her. In another super familiar bit,
Christian Hardin tells Tessa not to cover up in front of him. Tessa explains that he’s been with so many girls but he tells her there have been none like her.
Samantha: “She’s not liiiiike the otthheeerrrr giiiirrllllsss” oh wow there seems to be a ghost of shitty tropes in here.
Tessa asks Hardin if he has a condom, and Hardin laughs at her again. I want to kick him in the dick. He says he’s not going to have sex with her and Tessa gets all awkward and panicky, thinking Hardin is leading her on to humiliate her. The fact that Tessa believes Hardin is capable of that probably means she shouldn’t have sex with him anyway BUT OKAY.
Mari: Seeing that Tessa is dying a little bit, Hardin clarifies that he isn’t going to have sex with her today because there is other stuff they can do before they get there. He positions himself over here and says, “I can’t believe no one has fucked you before.”
THAT IS NOT A COMPLIMENT? The way it’s phrased is so divorced from consent, as if she’s a piece of meat no one has consumed yet and not a person with AGENCY and FREE WILL who HASN’T LET HERSELF BE FUCKED.
Samantha: I legit got so nauseous. This would make me clench up and face punch so hard.
Mari: Hardin gets back down next to Tessa so I don’t know why he lifted himself up on top of her to just be like “y no one fuck u?” and get back down. He trails his fingers down her body and into her underwear. Tessa is freaking out a little bit internally, but as he starts rubbing her, all thoughts are gone. Hardin sexy-talks and asks if it feels better when he does it than when she does it herself. And dear our virginal Tessa just looks up in confusion because she has never, ever, ever, ever touched herself ever. She doesn’t even know what’s in her underwear, I’m sure. She probably thinks it’s a bunch of pixels or a black CENSORED sign down there. (S: Barbie vagina.)
Of course, Tessa’s unrubbed fields make Hardin even hornier. Thankfully for me, your devoted recapper, this all lasts like two sentences before Tessa comes and her vision goes white and she can’t form words for a while.
Mari: When Tessa comes down, she sees that Hardin is already dressed. She’s kind of confused because she figured Hardin might want something in return, but he says he’s fine for now. She gets dressed and Hardin doesn’t say anything at all to her during the whole walk to the car LIKE A JERK.
In the car, Hardin’s like, “what?” Tessa’s like, “IDK, weirdo, You haven’t talked to me since… YOU KNOW.” Hardin replies, “since I gave you your first orgasm?” and Tessa dies an embarrassment death. She powers through, though, and says that his cold demeanor makes it seem like he’s using her. He says of course he isn’t because to use someone you have to be getting something out of it. It’s so brusque that Tessa starts crying. (S: This is just. Really awful and shitty.)
Hardin apologizes because he “didn’t mean it that way.” He assures her that he wasn’t just going to drop her off at her room. He suggests dinner and admits that he doesn’t know what to with girls post-messing around because he’s an emotional virgin, remember. Tessa is going to be the first girl to give him a feelings orgasm, I’m sure.
We end the chapter with Tessa saying that Hardin makes her really emotional.
“He makes me laugh and cry, yell and scream, but most of all he makes me feel alive.”
Wow, that’s funny because he makes me feel dead.
Also, if you guessed one chapter before they started kissing again, you were right. I’m so proud of you! You are awesome and you probably smell like yourself.
Next time on After: They didn’t really fight this chapter so they’ll probably fight in Chapter 26.