Family and awkward go together like turkey and stuffing. If you’re not getting enough weird family vibes this Thanksgiving day, here’s an excerpt from Anna Todd’s After We Collided (on sale now from Gallery Books!) that reminds you just how uncomfortable it can get on these family-oriented holidays…
As his mother hugs me for the fourth time, Hardin finally mumbles, “Mum, let’s give her a little space. She’s a bit shy.”
“You’re right, and I’m sorry, Tessa. I’m just so happy to finally meet you. Hardin has told me so much about you,” she says warmly. I feel my cheeks flame as she steps back and nods in acknowledgment. I’m surprised she even knows that I exist—I would have figured he would have kept me a secret, as usual.
“It’s okay,” I manage to say through my horror.
Mrs. Daniels smiles brightly and looks over at her son, who says, “Mum, why don’t you grab a drink of water in the kitchen for a minute?” When she leaves, Hardin comes over to me with gentle movements. “Can . . . I, um . . . talk to you in the bedroom for a mo-moment?” he stammers.
I nod and glance toward the kitchen before following him into the bedroom that we once shared.
“What the hell?” I say quietly as I close the door.
Hardin winces and sits on the bed. “I know . . . I’m sorry. I couldn’t tell her what happened. I couldn’t tell her what I did.
“Are you here . . . you know, to stay?” His voice holds more hope than I can bear.
“No . . .”
I sigh and run my fingers through my hair, a habit I picked up from Hardin, I suspect. “Well, what am I supposed to do?” I ask him.
“I don’t know . . .” he says with a long sigh. “I don’t expect you to go along with it or anything . . . I just need a little time to tell her.”
“I didn’t know you would be here either, I thought you were going to London.”
“I changed my mind, I didn’t want to go without . . .” He trails off, and pain is evident
in his eyes.
“Is there a reason why you didn’t tell her that we aren’t together?” I don’t know if I want to hear his answer.
“She was just so happy that I found someone . . . I don’t want to ruin that for her.”
I recall Ken telling me that he never thought Hardin was capable of being in a relationship, and he was right. However, I do not want to ruin Hardin’s mother’s time here. I certainly don’t say what I say next for his sake: “Okay. You can tell her whenever you are ready. Just don’t tell her about the bet.” I look down, thinking that his mom knowing the details of how her son ruined his first and only love would surely hurt her.
“Really? You’re okay with her thinking we’re together?” He sounds more surprised than he should be. When I nod, he lets out a deep breath. “Thank you. I thought for sure you’d call me out right in front of her.”
“I wouldn’t do that,” I say and mean it. No matter how angry I have ever been at Hardin, I wouldn’t damage his relationship with his mother. “I’ll just finish my laundry, then go. I thought you weren’t going to be here, so I figured I’d stay here instead of that motel.” I shrug uncomfortably. We’ve been in the bedroom a little too long.
“You don’t have anywhere to go?”
“I could go to my mother’s. I just really don’t want to,” I admit. “The motel isn’t bad, just a little expensive.” This is the most civil conversation Hardin and I have had in the past week.
“I know you won’t agree to stay here, but I could give you some money?” I can tell he’s afraid of my reaction to his offer.
“I don’t need your money.”
“I know, I just thought I would offer.” He stares at floor.
“We better go back out there.” I sigh and open the door.
“I’ll be out in a second,” he says softly.
I don’t like the idea of going out there to face his mother alone, but I can’t stay in the small space of this bedroom with Hardin. I take a deep breath and leave the room.
When I enter the kitchen, she looks over at me from where she stands at the sink.
“He isn’t upset with me, is he? I didn’t mean to crowd you.” Her voice is so sweet. A total contrast to her son’s.
“Oh no, of course not. He was just . . . going over a few things about this week,” I lie. I have always been a terrible liar, so I usually avoid it at all costs.
“Okay, good. I know how moody he can be.” She smiles with such warmth that I can’t help but smile back.
I pour my own glass of water to calm my nerves, and she begins to speak as I take a sip. “I still can’t wrap my head around how beautiful you are. He told me you were the most beautiful girl he’s ever seen, but I thought he was exaggerating.”
Less gracefully than the most beautiful girl a boy’s ever seen would do, I spit my water back into my glass. Hardin said what? I want to ask her to verify that, but instead I just take another sip of water to mask my embarrassing reaction.
She laughs. “Honestly, I thought you would be covered in tattoos and have green hair or something.”
“No, no tattoos for me. Or green hair.” I laugh and feel my shoulders begin to relax.
“You’re an English major like Hardin, right?”
“Ma’am? Call me Trish.”
“I actually have an internship at Vance Publishing, so my class schedule is kind of weird. And right now we’re on break.”
“Vance? As in Christian Vance?” she asks. I nod. “Oh, I haven’t seen Christian in at least . . . ten years.” She looks down at the glass of water in my hands. “Hardin and I actually lived with him for a year after Ken . . . Well, never mind, Hardin doesn’t like when I spout off at the mouth.” She chuckles nervously.
I didn’t know that Hardin and his mother stayed with Mr. Vance, but I knew that he was very close with him, closer than he would be if Christian were only his father’s friend.
“I know about Ken,” I say to Trish in an attempt to ease her discomfort, but then I immediately worry that I’ve implied I know about what happened to her, and I worry I’ve upset her.
So when she replies, “You do?” I try to hedge a little and follow up with, “Yeah, Hardin has told me . . .”
But when Hardin appears in the kitchen I stop, and I have to admit I’m happy for the intrusion.
He raises a brow. “Hardin has told you what?”
My tension goes through the roof, but to my surprise, his mother covers, saying, “Nothing, son, just some girl talk,” and walking over to him and wrapping her arm around his waist. He pulls away slightly, as if out of instinct. She frowns, but I get the feeling this is a normal interaction between them.
The dryer beeps, and I take that as my cue to exit the room and finish up my laundry so I can get out of here, fast.
I pull my warm clothes from the dryer and sit on the floor in the small laundry room to fold them. Hardin’s mother is so sweet, and I find myself wishing that I could have met her under different circumstances. I don’t feel anger toward Hardin; I have been angry long enough. I feel sadness, and a longing for what we could have been.
After I’m done with my clothes, I go to the bedroom to repack my bags. I wish I hadn’t hung any clothes in the closet or put food in the kitchen.
“Do you need some help, dear?” Trish asks me.
“Um, I was just getting my things ready to go to my mother’s for the week,” I reply, figuring I might as well just go there since the motel is expensive.
“You’re leaving today? Right now?” She frowns.
“Yeah . . . I told her I would come for Christmas.” For once I want Hardin to come into the room to help me talk my way out of this.
“Oh, I was hoping you would stay at least a night. Who knows when I’ll be able to see you again—and I would love to get to know the young woman who my son has fallen in love with.”
And suddenly something in me wants to make this woman happy. I don’t know if it’s because of my mistake about saying I knew about Ken and her, or because of the way she covered for me in front of Hardin. But I do know I don’t want to overthink this, so I silence my inner voice and just nod, and say, “Okay.”
“Really? You’ll stay? Just one night, then you can go to your mum’s house. You don’t want to be driving through that snow anyway.” She wraps her arms around me and hugs me for the fifth time today.
At least she’ll be here to be a buffer between Hardin and me. We can’t fight if she’s here. Well, I won’t fight, at least. I know this is probably . . . certainly the worst idea, but Trish is hard to say no to. Just like her son.
“Well, I’m going to take a quick shower. I had a long flight!” She smiles broadly and heads out.
I sink down onto the bed and close my eyes. This is going to be the most awkward, painful twenty-four hours of my life. No matter what I do, I always seem to end up back where I started, with him.
After a few minutes I open my eyes to find Hardin standing in front of the closet with his back to me. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to bother you,” he says when he turns back around. I sit up. He is being so strange, apologizing every other word. “I see that you cleaned the apartment,” he says softly.
“Yeah . . . I couldn’t help it.” I smile, and so does he. “Hardin, I told your mom that I would stay tonight. Only tonight, but if that’s not okay, I’ll go. I just felt bad because she’s so nice, and I couldn’t say no, but if that makes you uncomfor—”
“Tessa, it’s fine,” he says quickly, but then his voice shakes when he adds, “I want you to stay.”
I don’t know what to say, and I don’t understand this strange turn of events. I want to thank him for the present, but there is just too much going on inside of my head.
“Did you have a nice birthday yesterday?” he asks.
“Oh, yeah. Landon came by.”
“Oh . . .” But then we hear his mother in the living room, and he moves to go. He stops before walking through the door and turns to me. “I don’t know how I’m supposed to act.”
I sigh. “Me either.”
At that, he nods, and we both get up to join his mother in the other room.