The Way I Hate Him: Chapter 15

HAYES

I strum my guitar as I lie against the couch in my living room, surrounded by the piles Hattie made and a bottle of tequila next to my propped-up foot on the coffee table.

It’s been one of those days.

Yesterday was . . . well, it was something else.

Ryland has one hell of a fucking right hook, and today, I’m feeling the effects of it. Abel did a house call last night, checking in to make sure I didn’t need any stitches or anything like that. He just told me to ice my whole face and then went on his way.

We didn’t talk about what happened exactly.

We didn’t even talk that much at all, and I know it’s because he’s trying to stay out of it. I don’t blame him. If I was in his shoes, I’d be the same way.

I lost control yesterday. The minute I saw Hattie get pushed into the dresser, I saw red, and I unleashed. Ryland was my punching bag and we both took full advantage of the opportunity, all of that pent-up anger between us, all of the miscommunication, the years of not talking, it all was brought out at that moment. I’m not sure what would have happened if Abel hadn’t stepped in, but when I felt Hattie drape herself across me to get me to stop, I immediately regretted it all.

And the look on her face, the scared look, it’s been on replay in my head ever since.

I thought about texting her, about apologizing again, but I figured there was a reason she hadn’t reached out to communicate with me, and it was probably because she didn’t want to see me after seeing the monster I became. After the information I withheld from her.

Which has led me to drinking alone in my goddamn house while mindlessly strumming my guitar and writing down everything I like about her in my notepad.

Her freckles.

Her mesmerizing eyes.

Her strong will.

Her temper.

Her patience.

Her ability to see right through me, to my very soul.

Her fucking lips . . .

Jesus Christ, those lips.

I knew the moment she kissed me, I was supposed to pull away, but nothing would stop me from at least tasting her. She was tentative and nervous, but the moment I reciprocated the kiss, she gained confidence and rocked my goddamn world.

It was soft, tender, and irresistible. I didn’t want to part from her, but I didn’t want to take advantage. She was drunk, and I knew the kiss had to end because she wasn’t of sound mind.

And yesterday morning, when I woke up with her still in my arms, I had a moment of euphoria before it was all flipped upside down.

“You fucking idiot,” I mutter as I lean forward and grab my bottle of tequila. I take a large swig just as a car pulls up in the driveway. I try to get a read on who it is, but I can’t tell. A car door slams, and I pray it’s Hattie.

I want to see her.

I need to see her.

I need to make sure she’s okay.

That she doesn’t hate me even though I hate myself.

When there’s a knock on my door, my heart skips a beat and I set the tequila down. I straighten my shirt and adjust my hat to make sure it’s not askew or hanging off my head. Thinking I look somewhat presentable, I open the door to a resigned Ryland.

Fuck.

His eyes lift to mine, and he says, “Can we talk?”

“Do I need a bodyguard?”

He shakes his head so I let him in.

Hands in his pockets, he steps inside and looks around, taking in the piles of fan mail that Hattie has made.

“Fan mail,” I say as I move toward the couch and take a seat. I nod toward the chair that is clear of paper, and Ryland sits down as well. His eyes fall to the bottle, and I can feel his judgment, so I say, “Rough two days.”

He touches his jaw. “Same.”

Awkwardly, I sit there, wanting to reach for the bottle but unsure if I should. After another few seconds of silence, I ask, “Want some?”

“Was waiting for you to ask.”

I head to the kitchen, where I grab two tumblers and bring them to the living room. As I pour us a generous portion, I think about how much Ryland has changed since the last time we hung out. He’s taller, oddly, with at least thirty more pounds of muscle packed on, and he has a full beard, making him seem more mature and older. It’s as if we’ve time-hopped, and there’s no evidence of what happened in between.

I hand him his drink, and we both take a swig before settling into our seats.

Unable to take the silence, I say, “How’s Hattie?”

Yup, I’m desperate for any information, even if it’s from her brother who hates me.

“Okay,” he says. “She moved into the house.”

“Oh . . . cool,” I say even though I know the main reason she did was because the apartment is covered in our blood and abuse. “So you two talked? She’s not—”

“Dead to me? No, of course not, Farrow. I love my sister. What I said was wrong, and I’ve apologized.”

“Good.” At least there’s that. Hattie’s not completely alone.

Ryland rests his arms on his legs and looks up at me. “I came here because . . . well because of this.” He hands me the letter from Cassidy, the one I gave to Hattie. The flap to the back has been unsealed, and there’s a splatter of blood across the corner. “Read it,” he says.

My pulse races as I unfold the piece of paper.

My stomach drops from the first paragraph.

I know I’m probably the last person you expected to hear from, but as you might know—or might not know—I’m really sick, and I’m getting my affairs in order. Morbid, I know, but as I lie here in my bed, knowing my time is coming to an end, I realize I don’t want to leave this earth without at least trying to make my mark.

Fuck.

I couldn’t imagine being in that position, knowing I’m leaving so much behind and preparing for it. And what does she ask for? To make things right. To fix things. To look past myself, and find a way to help Ryland—help him with her baby girl—and be there for him. Guilt swarms me because she’s right. I should have offered to help the moment I found out about Cassidy. I should have tried to bury the hatchet then with Abel’s assistance, but my pride got in the way.

And then . . . the little nugget at the end of Cassidy throwing Hattie under the bus. I inwardly smile. Hattie, the secret fan, I fucking love it.

When I look up at him, he says, “I don’t know how to move on from here, how to patch things up between us, and I’m sure as hell not making any promises, but there’s one thing I know for damn sure. I’ll do anything for my sisters, just like they’ll do anything for me.”

“So . . . do you want to be friends or something?” I ask awkwardly.

He lifts his drink to his lips. “Not sure if we could ever get there again, but I can work on not wanting to punch your face in whenever I see you.”

“Fair,” I say and then take a sip of my drink as well. “For what it’s worth, I was telling the truth. I never made a move on Samantha . . . ever. I know I was going through a rough time when it all happened, but there’s one thing I can stand by, and that’s not fucking over my friends.”

He stares at his drink and says, “I think I can believe that. Abel said the same thing, but you know how it is. You believe something for so long, it’s going to take a second to process.”

“Yeah, I get it.”

He meets my eyes. “But I’m going to work on it.”

“I appreciate that.”

He stands from the chair and sets his drink on the coffee table. “Okay, I need to get out of here and pick up Mac before practice.”

I follow him to the door. “What you’re doing, taking care of MacKenzie, it’s really admirable, Ry.”

“I wouldn’t have it any other way.” He pulls my front door open, but before leaving, he turns back to me and says, “Not sure what’s going on with Hattie, but I’ll tell you this, you fuck her over, you hurt her, and I won’t have one single problem having a repeat of yesterday. Understood?”

I nod.

And with that, he takes off.

What do I make of that? Is he suggesting he’d be okay with me pursuing Hattie?

After the crap we’ve been through—after I’ve pushed her away several times—would she even want that? Me? I have my doubts. I’ve missed her, but I’m fairly certain I brought that on myself.


I PACE MY BEDROOM, staring at my phone.

It’s been a week since I’ve spoken or seen Hattie, and now I’m starting to lose my mind.

I wanted to give her space, some time to come to terms with how I acted, but now that it’s been a week, I’m in panic mode. At the very least, I want to have a chance to speak with her and explain myself. To convince her I’m not the barbarian she saw. That I didn’t hold out on telling her about the letter to keep her from connecting with her sister.

That’s why I’m staring at my phone, trying to figure out how to text her.

I quit my pacing and read over my text one more time.

Hayes: Hey, Hattie. I know it’s been a week since we last spoke, but I just wanted to reiterate how sorry I am. I’d love to see you or at least talk to you.

It reads a little desperate, but then again, that’s exactly how I feel, so why mask it?

Not fucking caring at this moment, I send the text, and then I wait.

I take a seat on my bed, watching, waiting, and when the text says it’s been read, I feel my chest expand with hope, but with every second that goes by, I find that hope slipping away.

And after what feels like an hour with still no response, I realize, maybe . . . maybe she just doesn’t want to talk to me, and that, fuck, that hurts.


“ARE you sure you don’t want to go out for a walk?” I ask my grandma, who’s sitting in her chair, staring out the window.

The moment I walked into her room, I realized how stuffy it was and opened the window for her. She was happy to see me, but also distracted. She can’t stop looking outside, and for the life of me, I can’t figure out why. I came here for a distraction, but she’s barely talking to me.

“I can’t walk, remember? I’m dying.”

This again . . . Jesus.

I spoke to Abel about it, and he said she might be dying because she’s losing her mind. But other than that, she’s recovered from her fall remarkably well, thanks to her nurse aide. So . . . my rush to come back to Almond Bay wasn’t really necessary. In hindsight, I’m glad I did even though the main reason I want to stay isn’t talking to me at the moment.

“You’re not dying,” I say, dragging my hand over my face. “Abel said you were fine.”

“What does he know?” she huffs.

“He’s a doctor. He knows a lot.”

“A small-town doctor, they aren’t as educated.”

“Abel graduated from Stanford.”

“Is that supposed to impress me?” she asks as she watches a couple walk along the street. Jesus Christ, she looks like a dog ready to pounce on anything that crosses her turf.

“Some people might find graduating from Stanford impressive,” I reply.

“I don’t. Anyone can get into Stanford these days.”

Also not true, but there’s no use in fighting her. She’s in a spiteful mood today, so arguing will get me nowhere.

“So is that a no to walking outside? I can push you around in a wheelchair.”

Slowly, she faces me and folds her hands on her lap. “Is there a reason you’re being incessant about going outside when I’m perfectly content looking out the window?”

“Uh, I just thought that you might want to experience outside firsthand rather than from a window. Fresh air might help prevent you from dying so soon.”

“I enjoy being outside like this. That way, I don’t have to bump into that tart of a woman, Ethel, who inserts herself in everyone’s business.”

“I can understand that,” I say, just recently being a victim of Ethel’s meddling.

“But if you aren’t content with just staring out the window with me, I suppose you can tell me what’s going on in your life.”

That’s one way to put it.

“Perhaps you can tell me why your face has scratches on it? Are you getting into trouble again? There was a ruckus that you were fighting. Is that what happened? You got in a fight?”

“I did,” I answer honestly. “With Ryland Rowley.”

“The Rowley boy?” she asks, sitting a touch forward now, her eyes now on me rather than the streets. I see how it is.

“Yes. The Rowley boy.”

“Why on earth would you get in a fight with him? Isn’t he taking care of a little girl now? You can’t be punching his face in.”

I chuckle. “I didn’t punch his face in, but we did get a few jabs on each other. And it’s a long story, but he thought I slept with his sister.”

Grandma’s eyes widen. “Hayes, you didn’t.”

“I didn’t,” I say. “But I was hanging out with her, and well, he didn’t like it. We got in a fight, and then we worked things out. It’s all good now.”

“I guess that’s how men solve their problems, with fists rather than words.”

“We used words . . . after the fists, but we used words.”

She gives me a not buying it look. “So what about the girl? Are you with her?”

“No,” I say on a sigh as I glance down at my hands. “I think I scared her. She’s not talking to me. Probably for the best, you know?”

“Why?” Gran asks, true concern in her voice.

“Well, she’s twelve years younger than me, and she’s been struggling with a few things, not to mention I’ve turned her down several times, so I think she’s given up. I just don’t think it was meant to be.”

“So why are you sad?”

“I’m not sad,” I say.

“Do not lie to me, boy,” she says, holding out her shaky finger. “I know when my grandson is sad, and you are sad.”

I tug on my hair, trying to put this into words. “I don’t know, Gran. I just . . . I liked her. She was different. There’s a lot more about her to know, but what I do know, I like.”

“So go for it then.”

“She’s not talking to me.”

Gran waves her hand in dismissal. “That means nothing. Sometimes I wouldn’t talk to your grandfather because he was an idiot, but that didn’t stop me from loving him. You just have to find a way to mend the bridge between you two. Unless . . . does the brother not approve?”

“No, I think he does. I mean, he told me not to hurt her.”

Gran nods her head. “Ah, then yes, he’s given you permission. Therefore, take it.”

“I don’t know.”

She lifts her cane from the side of her chair and pokes me with it.

“Ow,” I say, rubbing my leg, but she does it again. “Gran, what the hell.”

“I said go get her. Now don’t you dare disappoint me. Understood? Remember, I need great-grandbabies before I die.”

Right, it always comes down to that.

“Now leave, I don’t want to see you again until you’ve fixed things with her.”

“But—”

She points her cane toward the door. “I said . . . leave.”

Okay . . .


“HAYES, YOO-HOO,” Ethel says from the balcony of Five Six Seven Eight. “Are you coming to the talent show this Friday?”

After the conversation with Gran, I didn’t quite find the courage to approach Hattie, so instead, like the self-destructive person I am, I ignored life, drank, and described Hattie’s eyes in great detail in my notebook . . . over and over again. After the fourth round of talking about her freckles, I decided I was losing it and needed some fresh air. I met up with Abel at the Hot Pickle for a sandwich, and he told me about his day of removing a boil, a few warts, and giving Rodney a testicle exam. I told him to fuck off with his disgusting stories, which only made him laugh.

“I don’t think so, Ethel,” I call out as I glance toward The Almond Store, hoping Hattie’s in there. Yup, that’s what I’ve resorted to. Casually strolling the streets of Almond Bay, looking for her.

“Shy?” she asks with a cheeky grin.

“Yeah, that’s it.” I smile back.

“Well, we’d love to see you, and of course, if you happen to regale me with some gossip of what’s happening between you and the Rowleys, I wouldn’t mind that either.”

“I’m sure you wouldn’t,” I say as I step up to The Almond Store and pull on the door, the bell above ringing as I enter. Aubree is at the counter, hovering over an iPad as she looks up.

When she sees me, her expression remains neutral. “Can I help you?” she asks.

I stand there like an idiot, unsure of what to say because I came in here hoping to see Hattie, but now that I know she’s not in here, I feel stupid. “I don’t know why I’m in here.”

She folds her hands together. “Really? Because it seems like maybe you’re looking for my sister.”

Jesus, nothing gets past these siblings.

And I’m not going to stand here, bullshitting her when clearly that’s the reason I came into the store.

“Is she here?”

Aubree shakes her head. “Nope.”

Dammit.

“Okay . . . well, I don’t want to bother you.”

“The least you could do is buy something now that you’re in here.” She smirks, and I have a feeling she’s about to milk this moment.

But she’s right. I’m in here, so I might as well buy something. “What do you want me to buy?”

“From the looks of the dark circles under your eyes, I’d assume you’ve gone through a decent amount of alcohol over the past week or so. Maybe replenish with some almond vodka. And that shirt, it’s nice and all, but an Almond Store shirt might look better on you, especially the light blue one. Oh, and you can’t come into the store without purchasing a few bottles of almond extract, some cookies, and on an unrelated note, maybe hire someone to clean the apartment upstairs since you destroyed the little sanctuary that Cassidy and Mac used to sleep in.”

Shit. How could I have forgotten about the apartment upstairs? That’s the reason Hattie’s now living with Ryland, right? Because the place she used to stay in is destroyed.

I pull on the back of my neck and step forward. “You’re right. I’m sorry about the mess—”

“Oh, don’t worry, I know you’re not entirely at fault, but Ryland doesn’t have the time to clean it up given the fact that he’s raising a child, coaching the best baseball team in the state, and teaching, but you know, since you’re strolling the streets of Almond Bay at three in the afternoon, it seems like you might have a little more time on your hands.”

I haven’t spent that much time with Aubree, especially since she’s grown up, but Jesus, is she straightforward. Just like Hattie.

“Yeah, I can do that.”

“And purchase those other items, right? Because I do have a business to run, after all, and it’s all about the bottom line.”

“Put whatever you want into a bag, and I’ll buy it.”

“Risky, I might ring you up for five hundred dollars’ worth of items.”

“I really don’t care, Aubree.”

She tilts her head to the side, studying me. After a few seconds, she says, “You like her, don’t you?”

No use in hiding it. I nod. “Yeah, I do.”

“Interesting.” She moves away from the counter and walks around the store, grabbing vodka, almond extract, and a bag of almonds. After picking out a shirt, she pauses and says, “Are you a large?”

“Yeah.”

Then she goes back to shopping, even grabbing me a cookbook, something I know I probably won’t ever use. “This should do it.” She brings everything back to the counter and starts packing it up in a brown paper bag. “You know, if you like her, you should probably ask her out. I heard Ryland wouldn’t necessarily chop off your dick if you did.”

“She won’t answer me.”

Aubree glances up, a hint of surprise in her eyes. “Hmm, that’s interesting as well.” She taps away on her iPad and then turns the screen toward me. Two hundred fifty dollars.

Yup, Aubree is a sly one.

I pull out my wallet and stick my credit card into the card reader.

“She’s been a little lost lately,” Aubree says. “Stuck in Cassidy’s room. Not saying much. I think she needs to have some fun.”

The chip reader beeps at me, and I remove my card. “Receipt?” Aubree asks.

“No, I’m good.”

She hands me the bag. “I’d say clean up the apartment and see what happens from there. If she does approach you, show her some fun. She needs to find herself again, and even though it pains me to say this, you might be the person to help her.”

“Okay.” I turn to walk away, but she calls out to me.

“Where do you think you’re going?” she asks. “The apartment is that way.” She thumbs toward the back of the shop.

Right . . .

I head to the back and up the stairs to the apartment, where I open the door and take in the mess in front of me. The area rug is twisted up into a ball with dried blood splattered around the floor. One of the drawers on the dresser is crooked and broken, the chair in the corner is upturned, and pictures that once hung on the wall are broken on the floor.

Jesus. It’s a mess.

Kind of like me.

I’m a successful solo artist with a shitload of money to my name, but being back here has confirmed something I’ve partied and fucked to keep at bay. I’m a mess. Apart from Gran and Abel, I have no one else who gives a shit about me. And I’m not exactly surprised by that, either.

Maybe cleaning up this room reflects what’s needed in my life too.

Looks like I have my work cut out for me.

I’ve never shied away from hard work, though, and if Gran is right, repairing this room—repairing me—might be the bridge needed to also set things right with Hattie. Because I want that.

I want that with every piece of my heart.

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