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The Way I Hate Him: Chapter 25


Maggie: Are you excited to see me? I bought some fresh donuts this morning.

Hattie: I am excited to see you, but I told you, I’m feeling better.

Maggie: Doesn’t matter, I still want to see you, and I picked some things up from your apartment for you—mail and those sleep masks you’ve been begging for. I’m a good friend like that.

Hattie: I appreciate it. And you. But . . . where are you sleeping?

Maggie: We’re investing in a blowup mattress, and I’ll sleep next to you and hold your hand while you sleep. Why? Because no man will ever take the spirit from my girl.

Hattie: I told you, I’m doing better. Still sad, but better.

Maggie: I’d appreciate it if you could at least conjure up a little bit more sadness so I have an excuse to eat three donuts in a row with you.

Hattie: Oh right . . . I’m sobbing right now. The only thing that will fix it is donuts.

Maggie: Much better. (Yells in a Mrs. Doubtfire voice) HELP IS ON THE WAY, DEAR!

MAGGIE’S CAR pulls up in the driveway, and she puts it in park. I walk out on the porch, wearing a holey shirt and a pair of cotton shorts, while my hair is pulled into a high ponytail that feels more like a side pony than anything.

And of course Maggie looks like perfection in a matching set of leggings and crop top from Lululemon. Her hair is in elegant waves, while her mascara makes her beautiful eyes stand out.

“You look like you’ve been sleeping in a dumpster,” she says as she pulls me into a hug. “Ahh, but you smell good, so I guess that’s all that matters.” She grips my shoulders and puts a foot of distance between us. “How are you?”

“Doing okay.”

“Do we still hate him?”

“I want to be mature and say no, but yeah, we hate him.”

She nods. “Do we still love him?”


“Okay, just trying to gauge where we’re at. This is good information. Still upset, which gives us all the right to eat all the donuts, but doing well enough to walk off said donuts later. Am I correct?”

I chuckle, loving her so much. “Yes, you are correct.”

“Good.” She pulls me into a hug again and says, “I love you. You are perfect, and he’s an absolute moron for letting you out of his sight.”

“Thank you.” I hug her back.

“Now, help me with my things. I got one of those blowup mattresses that’s a double. I won’t be on that floor anytime soon with the height I’ll get with this baby.”

She leads me toward her car and opens her trunk, then pulls out her suitcase and a laundry basket of mail and personal items from the apartment. “This is for you,” she says. She places a box of donuts on top of my personal things. “These are for us. The maple frosted is mine, so don’t even think about it. I’ve been smelling that son of a bitch for this entire drive.” She grabs the handle of the air mattress and says, “And this is my new lover, Winston. We might make a lot of noise together, but just know, he’s keeping me comfortable.”

“You have issues.”

She shuts her trunk and picks up her suitcase as well. “I was not risking some small bed to share with you or a couch cushion on the floor as a bed. You know I demand the finest of things.”

“Believe me, I know.”

We make our way up the porch and into the house, the squeaky screen door slamming behind us. I carry the laundry basket to the table while she sets down her suitcase and . . . new lover. She then grabs the box of donuts, takes a seat at the kitchen table, picks up her maple frosted, and takes a huge bite.

With a full mouth, she says, “Sorry, not going to wait for you. My taste buds have been salivating for over two hours. It’s time I reward them.”

I glance at the box. “Dibs on the Boston cream.”

“Why do you think I got it?” She wiggles her eyebrows as I grab some of the mail, only to find a box at the bottom.

“What’s this?” I pull it out and turn it around to look at the return address, which is my apartment address in San Francisco.

Maggie shrugs. “Not sure.”

Confused, I grab a box cutter from the kitchen junk drawer and split open the tape on the box. When I open it, I’m met with bubble wrap and tissue paper.

Maggie stretches to see what’s inside. “What is it?”

“I don’t know,” I answer while I pull back the bubble wrap and tissue paper. “I didn’t order—”

My words immediately fall flat the moment I see a card on the top, written in Cassidy’s handwriting.

“Oh my God,” I say, tears immediately forming in my eyes. “Oh my God.”

“What?” Maggie stands now, setting her donut down, and when she sees the card too, I hear the lightest of gasps. “Is that from . . . Cassidy?”

I nod, my hand clutched over my mouth as I pick up the card. Underneath are individually wrapped items in pink birthday wrapping paper.

“She . . . she sent me a birthday gift.” I shakily open the letter, gulping back the sob forming in my throat. She didn’t forget me. She didn’t forget me. I pull out the card, which is a picture of The Almond Store with a taped, cut-out picture of me and her when we were younger. She placed us right next to the door.

Swiping at my tears, I open the card, and I read it to myself.

My dearest, sweetest, favoritest Hattie,

God, it’s taken me so long to even try to start this card because how the hell am I supposed to say goodbye to you? The one person who helped make my dreams come true. The one person who made me feel like a mom before I truly was one. And the one person who was my backbone.

Which means I’m not going to say goodbye to you. I can’t, but what I can do is tell you this . . .

First of all, happy birthday, Hattie Hoo. I’m so sorry I couldn’t be there, holding your hand while I sang happy birthday, tackling you to the ground with hugs, and giving you these presents in person. But knowing I won’t be there, I decided to give you one last special birthday from me.

Second, I want to tell you how proud I am of you. I’m not sure I said that enough, but I am. We grew up in a home where love was scarce, drama was high, and self-preservation was the name of the game, but you . . . you’re the one who made me realize if we don’t come together as siblings to help one another, we’d never make it out of that house.

I know you’ll believe I’m the reason you’re full of love, of understanding, of resilience, but in reality, I’m the one who fed off you. When you were young, you filled me with love. When I was struggling to find peace and not be bitter from the cards that were drawn for me, you were the one who helped me find understanding. And resilience. Hattie, without you, I would have none.

You are my rock.

You are my person.

You are the sole reason I was convinced I could be a mom when my husband was constantly away . . . and when I lost him.

And when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, you were there for me every step of the way. I know this isn’t what we’d hoped, but you know what? Hattie Hoo, I’d do this life all over again if it meant you were at my side, cheering for me, guiding me, and filling me with joy.

I know this is hard, and I know losing me won’t be easy on you, but I have all the confidence in the world that if anyone is going to keep my spirit alive and show my daughter the kind of mother I’d have been for her, it will be you.

As you know, Ryland has custody of Mac, but I need you to teach her our ways. She needs to know how to make the almond cherry cookies the right way. She needs to know how to pick out the perfect tablecloth. She needs to know where to find the best sea glass, and how to look up at the stars. I need you to teach her everything, everything I taught you . . . including Jake Ryan. I will haunt you if you tell her Patrick is better.

And finally, I want you to live your life to its fullest. Spread your joy. Impart your smile on the grumpiest of people. Drive Aubree nuts with your constant chattering. Scare Ryland whenever you get the chance just to remind him he’s alive. Fall in love. Fall out of love. And fall in love again.

Make mistakes.

Laugh about the tribulations.

Celebrate the triumphs.

And above all else, know that you are the most genuine, loving, intelligent human I know. You will do great things in this life, Hattie. And I promise to watch over you every step of the way.

I love you.

Your sis,


I set the card down and then bury my head in my hands as I sob uncontrollably. Maggie is immediately at my side, her hand on my back, rubbing soothing circles.

And I’m not sure how long we stay like that, but it takes me a while to pull myself together.

“Are you okay?” Maggie finally asks as I lift my head. She hands me a napkin from the table, and I dab at my eyes.

“I . . . I wasn’t expecting that.” I shake my head. “I thought she forgot about me.”

“Cassidy would never,” Maggie says.

“But . . . everyone got a card, everyone but me, I just assumed.” I let out another sob. “God, I can’t believe I thought that about her. That she would forget me. Instead, she tried to make my birthday special.”

Maggie turns me to face her and meets my eyes with hers. “You listen to me, and you listen to me good. This package is not to make you feel bad or to second-guess everything that you thought or said. This package should bring you the closure you’ve been looking for. Do you understand me?”

I nod because she’s right. I have been looking for this. Searching for it, actually. When everyone else got letters from Cassidy, I was the one who was waiting, begging for something from her, and it’s finally here. I’m not going to dampen that gift by questioning my actions.

I sit taller and nod. “Yes, I understand you.”

“Good.” She picks up one of the presents and hands it to me. “Then let’s enjoy what she picked out for you.”

On a deep breath, and with Maggie sitting next to me, I open the first present. Just by feeling it, I know what it is.

A jar of our favorite pickles.

There’s a pink note attached to it, so I read it out loud. “‘I made Dee Dee Coleman swear to me that she’ll always have these in stock. She gave me her word. Chow down.’”

Maggie hands me the next gift, and I open it. A shirt that says I Love Jake Ryan. A snort pops out of me before I can stop myself. I read the attached note. “‘I require you to wear this at least once a month, and you better wear it with pride because you know I’m right.’”

“She’s right.” Maggie nudges my arm.

“I beg to differ.”

Maggie hands me another package. I open it and find a vintage tablecloth with a giant coffee stain front and center. I laugh and wipe my nose with the back of my hand. “‘Found this at Days Gone By and held it for your birthday. The brown spot made me think of the brown spots you used to leave in your diaper when I changed you.’” I laugh even harder. “Oh my God, what is wrong with her?”

“That’s my favorite gift so far.” Maggie reaches into the box. “Two left.”

I open up the next one, and it’s an autographed Hayes Farrow album.

“Oh Jesus, if she only knew,” Maggie whispers as I read the letter.

“‘Don’t act like you never liked his music. I’m calling you out on it. Just don’t let Ryland catch you with this. And yes . . . I got it signed for you. You’re welcome.’”

I stare down at the picture of Hayes on the front, his leather necklace strung around his neck and gliding down his thick pecs. The scruff on his jaw that I’ve felt between my thighs, and those gray eyes that still haunt my dreams.

“Okay, enough of that,” Maggie says, taking the album. “We might still be a little raw from this situation. Actually, I think I might just keep this for myself. As a best friend, I think that’s my duty.”

I take the album from her, laughing. “Nice try. I might hate love him, but this is from Cassidy, so I’ll be keeping it.”

“Okay, but you know, I’d take on that burden if you want me to.”

“Sure.” I roll my eyes.

“Okay, last one.” Maggie hands me a flat box and rests her head on my shoulder as I unwrap it.

I pop the lid off the box, push back the tissue paper, and find a folded-up piece of paper.

“What is it?” Maggie asks.

“I don’t know,” I answer as I unfold it. It’s a document, and it takes me a few seconds to read it, but when I do, I gasp out loud.

“What is it?” Maggie asks, sitting tall and holding half of the document to get a better look at it.

“It’s . . .” My throat is clogged with emotions as I whisper, “It’s the ownership of The Almond Store. She gave it to me.”

“What?” Maggie asks, her voice rising as she takes it from me. That’s when I see the letter at the bottom of the box. While Maggie looks over the document, I read the note.

I’m sure you questioned every one of my choices, but I truly wanted to give you a moment to breathe after my death. I wanted to make sure you could focus on yourself before you focus on preserving me, and I know that’s what you would have done if I gave this to you right away. Hopefully, you’ve had some time to figure things out, to at least gather your feelings together, because Hattie Hoo, your journey is about to start.

This shop is yours.

It might have been my idea, but it was your execution that made it come to life.

I don’t want anyone else in charge of it besides you. Aubree has been holding it together, but she belongs on the farm, and you belong in this safe space we created. I know you’ll carry on my legacy within these walls. All I ask is that when Mac is old enough, you give her the chance to work here, you teach her the things I taught you, and when the time comes, you pass it on to her.

I love you.

Do great things, Hattie Hoo.

Love hard.

Live freely.

And for me . . . laugh often.

I tilt my head back, closing my eyes as I take deep breaths, silently thanking Cassidy.

I promise I’ll make sure Mac knows and loves you deeply, Cassidy.

That she knows all of our ways.

I promise she’ll love The Almond Store. That if she wishes, it will be her legacy as well.

I promise I’ll make you proud, Cassidy.

I promise.

“WOW,” Ryland says, shaking his head and looking over the letters Cassidy left, his eyes misty. “I wish she’d have told us. It would have saved a lot of heartache.” He passes the letters back to me.

Maggie is sitting with Mac in the living room, playing with Chewy Charles on the air mattress that Mac has claimed to be hers while I sit at the table with Aubree and Ryland, showing them everything Cassidy left me.

“I’m just relieved I no longer have to worry about the shop. I love that store for what it is, but running it . . . no, thank you.”

“I wonder if this is why her lawyer called me the other day,” Ryland says. “We’ve been playing phone tag, but I’m assuming it has to do with this.”

“He reached out to you?” I ask.

Ryland nods and strokes his jaw. “Yeah, I’ll be honest, it took me a second to call him back because I was worried he had another piece of information that was going to rock us, and I wasn’t sure I was ready for it, but this . . . this could not have come at a better time.”

“Do you think it’s okay that I didn’t finish school?”

“She gave you the deed,” Aubree says. “I don’t think it matters. It might have been a technicality in the will to make sure you tried to finish, but . . . it says effective June 1, you’re the owner. Which means . . . we’re going to have to work hand in hand to make sure the shop’s needs are met.”

I smile at her. “I don’t mind that . . . do you?”

She shakes her head. “As long as you don’t chatter my ear off and make me have awkward dinners.”

“That dinner was awkward because of you, not me.”

Mac comes running into the kitchen, holding her stomach. “I’m hungry. What are we havin’ for dinner?”

“I’m going to go pick up some sandwiches,” Ryland says as he lifts from the table.

“Maggie and I will go get them,” I say, standing as well. “I need some fresh air anyway.”

“That works. I’ll get Mac into a bath, and then we can have dinner together.”

“And then have a jumping party,” Mac says, raising her arms to the sky.

“Or . . . we can watch some SuperKitties while the adults process the heavy day we had,” Ryland says.

“Yay!” Mac sprints away and up the stairs.

“I’ll text you my order,” Ryland says as he jogs after Mac.

“I’ll text you too,” Aubree says as she leans back in her chair, relief set in her shoulders. I can’t imagine what she must be feeling right now.

So I walk over to her and tug on her hand, forcing her to stand. When she does, I wrap my arms around her.

“I love you, Aubree.”

She’s stiff for a moment, but then she relaxes into my embrace and squeezes me hard.

She doesn’t say anything but doesn’t need to. I know. Her heavy breaths and the feel of her arms around me show me that her bottled-up stress has been alleviated.

When I pull away, I look her in her glassy eyes and hold out my hand to her. “Business partner?”

A watery smile passes over her lips as she shakes my hand. “Business partner.”

I offer her a smile. “I still expect you to help in the shop, especially with Ethel.”

She shakes her head. “In your dreams.”


“SO YOU’RE NOT GOING to talk?” Abel asks as he sits across from me.

“What did you expect me to do?” I ask. “Gab about how shitty my life is?”


I push back in my chair and twist my beer on the table in front of me. “Not happening.”

“Okay, then why did you agree to meet me for dinner?”

“It was either that or you were coming to my house. Since kicking you out of my house is a lot harder than just standing and leaving a restaurant, I chose meeting you.”

“Sound logic.” He takes a bite of the pickle on his plate. “But I did buy you dinner. Therefore, it’s a requirement for you to talk to me. Out of courtesy.”

“What the hell do you want me to say?” I ask, tossing my hand up. “Hattie and I are no longer together. My mom extorted me for money. And I’m pretty sure I’m out of a label contract that could have distracted me from the rest of the bullshit in my life.”

“Yeah, I hear you. But don’t you think it’s good you can’t rely on the kind of distraction you used to?” he asks.

“What does that mean?”

He dabs his mouth with a napkin. “Anytime anything has triggered you, you’ve resorted to past behaviors. Getting lost in sex, alcohol, or drugs.”

“I don’t do drugs anymore.”

“Which I’m happy to hear,” he says. “What about sex . . .”

“What’s the point?” I ask, tipping back my beer. “No one will compare to Hattie.”

And that’s the fucking truth. She . . . I got so lost in everything about that woman, and then I went and blew it. I said the shittiest things to her during a low point in my life, and I fucked up. Does she deserve better? Of course. Should she be as far away from me as possible? Fuck yes, she should. Doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt, though. Doesn’t mean I don’t miss her.

Doesn’t mean I don’t think about her every second of every goddamn day.

“From the sag in your shoulders and your avoidance of eye contact, I’m going to presume you believe you messed up when you pushed Hattie away.”

I shake my head. “No, I did the right thing.”

“For who exactly?” Abel asks. “Because from what I know, Hattie is hurting, you’re hurting, and nothing good has come from this breakup.”

“Hattie’s hurting?” I ask, sitting a little taller.

“Last I spoke to Ryland, he had to force her to move in with him because she was just crying in her bed in her apartment day in and day out. No one knew you broke up with her until her best friend asked Aubree to check on her because she hadn’t heard from her.”

“Shit,” I mutter.

“Yeah, exactly. So remind me how this is helping anyone?”

“It’s not that easy,” I say. “I know I messed up, Abel, but I also . . . I’m broken, man. I’m not in a position to be able to be there for someone. To be there for Hattie, who needs someone strong in her life right now.” And the real crux of the problem? As much as I do love her . . . she’s human. “Not to mention, how do I know she won’t turn her back on me one day?”

“Oh, like you turned your back on her? Pretty sure she’s learning from experience right now.” I turn away, and because he’s Abel, he won’t let me sit here and stew, so he adds, “How’s everything going with the extortion?”

I brush my hand across the top of my thigh, pushing off an imaginary piece of lint. “Ruben located the security camera, and it was Matt. So my lawyers are drawing up the paperwork to scare the shit out of him, and my mother for that matter. Ruben is also drawing up a restraining order for my mother so I won’t be bothered by her anymore.”

“Wow, okay, so that’s pretty much taken care of.”

“Yeah,” I mutter.

“So then why are you sitting across from me like you’re still waiting for the worst to happen?”

“The worst has happened,” I say as I stand from the table.

“Let me guess, I’ve annoyed you to the point that now you’re going to leave.”

“Yup,” I say while I push my chair in. I pick up my bottle, drain the rest of it, and then start toward the door as Abel stops me by grabbing my wrist.

When I look down at him, he says, “You’re better than this, Hayes. You’ve grown. You’ve evolved. Just because it’s scary doesn’t mean you need to avoid it. Hattie belongs with you. We all see it. You just need to see it.”

He lets go of my wrist, and instead of responding—because frankly, I have nothing to say—I make my way toward the door. I only had one beer, but just to be sure, I feel like a walk around the beach will help me clear my mind and make sure that I’m good to drive my bike.

I nod toward the cashier and then push open the door to The Hot Pickle, turn the corner toward the beach, and run smack into Hattie on the sidewalk.


She tumbles into my chest, Maggie right next to her, and a slew of apologies come out of her mouth as I right her by the shoulders and put about a foot of distance between us. When she finally looks up at me, another apology about to fall from her lips, her eyes widen.

“H-Hayes,” she says, looking just as stunned as I feel.

I take another step back and stick my hands in my pockets, preventing myself from feeling her again. “Sorry, didn’t see you there.”

“I . . . I didn’t see you either.”

That much is evident. Nor were either of us expecting to run into each other.

Awkwardly, I shift as I say, “I’ll, uh, I’ll get out of your way.”

But I don’t move.

Not even a fucking inch because seeing her has stunned as me, renders me useless in this moment as my heart thumps against my ribcage, begging to reach out to her.

Hold her.

Take her into my arms and never let her go. Instead, I stare at her.

I notice the faintest darkness under her eyes, indicating countless nights of lost sleep. Mine rival hers with depths of regret and hatred for myself. Her hair is pulled back into a high ponytail but is slightly askew, making her look so fucking adorable that it’s painful to have her here in front of me.

Yet I still don’t move.

I can’t.

Not when . . . not when I never stopped loving her.

Not when—

“You’re an asshole.” Startled by the harsh words, I glance over Hattie’s shoulder to a fuming Maggie. A fuming, protective, ready to pounce Maggie. “Did you hear me?” she repeats. “I said you’re an asshole.”

“Maggie,” Hattie whispers, looking embarrassed. “I think everyone on Almond Ave heard you.”

“I hope they did.” Maggie props her hands on her hips defensively. “I can’t believe I touched your face and said you were handsome. I mean . . . sure you’re still handsome, and this added scruff to your jaw doesn’t help our case over here of hating you, but how could you be so cruel to my friend Hattie?”

“Maggie, it’s fine.”

“It’s not fine,” Maggie says, her eyes on me. “You hurt her and for no reason. She’s a good person, a trustworthy person, and you’re lucky you even had a chance with her.”


“She’s right,” I say, head tilted down, barely looking up at Hattie. “Maggie is right. I was lucky.”

Hattie’s eyes lift to mine in surprise. Those beautiful, soulful eyes I’ve spent many nights staring into, they split me in half, crushing my heart between my ribs.

Fuck, I am such a moron for pushing her away.

“See, at least he’s intelligent enough to know that he was lucky.” Maggie loops her arm through Hattie’s. “Let’s get out of here, we have sandwiches to purchase, enough time has been wasted letting him stare at you and feel his regrets.”

Maggie tugs Hattie away and immediately I feel my heart leap out of my chest, begging me to stop them, trying to knock some sense into my head.

Blame it on my desperation, but before I can stop myself, my fingers reach out and drag over the back of her hand and over her knuckles as she walks by.

A gasp escapes her lips just in time for her to look up and match my gaze with hers.

In that moment, with her looking up at me, I feel time slow down and the memories of us flash through my mind. Fond memories that pumped life into my lungs, jump-started my heart again . . .

Memories like when she first showed up on my porch with her box of stolen possessions, revenge on her mind.

Her in the middle of my living room, listening to the Mamas and the Papas with letters scattered around her.

Her sitting on my counter, showing me how to make cookies.

Sitting under the stars with her, staring up at the sky that grounded us throughout our lives.

Our first kiss . . .

It strikes me like a tornado, spiraling through my body, hitting me left and right with what should have been . . . what could be.

“Hattie . . .” my voice croaks in near silence, my throat tight, my apology on the tip of my tongue.

But I don’t get a chance to say anything else as Maggie tugs her toward the sandwich shop, Hattie turning away, offering me her very cold, very distant shoulder.


My heart sinks.

What could have been . . .

Probably for the better. I pushed her away for a reason, but that knowledge doesn’t refrain me from squeezing my hands into fists with the feel of her skin on my fingertips as frustration trips through me.

I fucked up and I’m paying for it now.


“WHY WOULD HE DO THAT?” I ask as I shove another donut in my mouth.

After dinner, we set Maggie up with pillows, blankets, and sheets for her air mattress. This of course was done after Mac was put to bed for the night because if she was still around, the blankets and sheets would have been used for a fort, and we never would’ve gotten her up to her room.

Maggie dabs at her mouth with a napkin and says, “Explain it to me again?”

I roll my eyes. “How many times do we have to go over this?”

“At least one more. I’m sorry, I’m still reeling over the fact that I told Hayes Farrow he’s an asshole. Positively shaking over here, so excuse me for my lack of comprehension.”

“Yeah, I’m still a little shook from your brazenness as well,” I reply. Maggie is loyal to her core, would defend me to the moon and back, but never in my wildest imagination would I have pictured Maggie telling Hayes off in front of a sandwich shop. I was equally stunned and proud . . . and grateful.

“Don’t treat my friend like shit and I won’t call you an asshole, simple as that.” She shrugs, trying to play it cool, but I know damn well, she was shaking just as much as me in that moment.

“You called Hayes an asshole?” Ryland asks, walking into the living room with a beer in hand. He takes a seat on the couch, shoving my blanket toward me and letting himself get comfortable.

“I did,” Maggie says, puffing her chest with pride. “I said it right to his face.”

“Ah, to his face. So not to his elbow?” Ryland jokes.

Maggie smirks. “I thought about his elbow, but I didn’t think it would be as effective or as menacing. Conversations to the elbow although a novelty of enjoyment, not the impact I wanted. Face was the way to go.”

“Smart choice.” Ryland nods. “Although, elbow might have confused him, which would have been entertaining.”

“We weren’t looking for entertaining, Ryland,” Maggie says, making a fist. She slams it on the air mattress, before saying, “We were looking for intimidation. We wanted to make him weak in the knees and not in a good way. We wanted to set the tone that we weren’t falling for his handsome, scruffy face defense and now when he sees us walking the mean streets of Almond Bay, he’ll have pure, nut-shriveling fear race up his spine.”

“Nut-shriveling fear, huh? How come I can feel that all the way to my scrotum?”

“Because that’s the kind of power us ladies have.” She raises her fist to the air. “We are the Nutcrackers of Almond Bay.” She nudges me with her foot as an idea passes over her eyes. “We need to make T-shirts with that saying on them. Possible merch for The Almond Store, something to consider.”

“Can I buy one?” Ryland smirks.

“Women only.”

“Hey, I’ll crack any nuts that bring harm to the women in my life.”

“Is that so?” Maggie folds her arms over her chest. “Then please regale me with the reason as to why Hayes still had full intact nuts in his pants.”

“Did you look inside his pants?” Ryland raises a brow at her. “Or have do you have X-ray vision I don’t know about?”

“I don’t need to feel around between a man’s legs to know if his nuts are attached or not. It’s all in the walk, and he was walking around like his scrotum was still hanging pretty. And I only say pretty because even though I hate him, there is no way in hell that man doesn’t have a pretty package.”

“Um,” I clear my throat. “Can we please bring it back to what I was talking about? The moment?”

“Oh, right.” Maggie waves at me to continue. “You were saying . . .”

“Well, we started with the fact that he agreed with you.”

“Right,” Maggie says.

“What did he agree with?” Ryland asks.

“Maggie said he was lucky I even gave him a chance and then . . .” In a low whisper, I say, “He agreed with her.”

“Oh wow, it’s almost as if he scandalously showed off his ankle.” Ryland sips his beer, finding far too much joy in this which is different for him. I love my brother, but it’s not very often that he relaxes and right now, in this moment, he’s relaxed.

Wait, is that his fourth beer? Is he a little . . . drunk?

Maybe he is loosening up.

“Are you drunk?” I ask him.

“What?” He shakes his head. “No. Are you?”

“No, I haven’t had anything to drink, but you have. You’re drunk. When was the last time you were drunk?”

He shrugs. “I don’t know, but Aubree is home, you’re here, and Maggie is here, which means I have three people who can take care of Mac if I get a little tipsy.” He brings his bottle to his lips and takes a long pull before sinking further into the couch, a small smile playing on his lips.

Huh, never thought about that aspect of his life. Ryland has always enjoyed having a few beers, nothing crazy, but he probably doesn’t drink much now because he’s in charge of Mac, and if anything were to happen, he’d want to be cognizant to take care of her. Just another thing I never considered about how Ryland’s life has been turned upside down.

“Not sure many men use the word tipsy,” Maggie teases him.

“Not sure many men use the word potty either,” Ryland counters. “But Jesus Christ, the other day while hanging out with Abel, I told him—as a grown ass man with a few grey hairs near his temple—I had to go potty. The fucker hasn’t let me live it down.” He drags his hand over his face. “Hell, I’ve spent so much time with Mac that I’m surprised I didn’t announce I had to go potty, grip my crotch, and then waddle off to the bathroom, putting fear into Abel’s heart if I was going to make it in time or not.” Ryland sighs as Maggie and I both chuckle, the image so vivid in my mind. “So,” he brings the bottle to his lips again, “he showed off his ankle, then what happened?”

“He didn’t really show off his ankle,” I say. “But he said that he was lucky that he was with me. And then, Maggie wasn’t having any of it.”

“Because he’s an asshole who broke our girl’s heart.”

“Cheers to that.” Ryland holds up his beer and takes a sip.

“Are you cheering to Hayes being an asshole, or are you cheering to Hattie’s heart being broken?” Maggie asks.

“The asshole thing, obviously,” he says.

“Good.” Maggie fluffs up her pillow.

“Anyway . . .” I carry on in an annoyed tone, because these two . . . “When I was walking away with Maggie . . .” I pause and lean forward for dramatic effect. “His finger grazed my hand.” When Maggie and Ryland don’t say anything, I nod, confirming what they heard. “Yup, he grazed my hand.”

“And there it is.” Maggie lays down on her bed with a plop. “The love.”

“You think that’s what it is?” I ask.

“What else could it be?”

“Maybe he twitched, and his hand accidentally brushed yours,” Ryland says, not being helpful.

“That is the worst explanation you could have offered. Way to be a dud,” Maggie says.

“How is that being a dud? Do you even want him brushing his hand against yours?” Ryland looks over at me, his inquisition making me feel unsure. So, I offer him a I shrug.

He eyes me with that big brother gaze he’s given me many, many times.

“No, I guess I don’t want him brushing against me.” I feel my shoulders sag. “He hurt me, and it’s the kind of hurt that I don’t think is easily erasable. Not to mention, he pushed me away for a reason, because he didn’t want me—”

“Bullshit, we’ve been over this.” Ryland sets his bottle on the empty coffee table. “He pushed you away on purpose. Was it smart? No. But trust me, when Hayes is hurt and spiraling, he does nothing better than self-sabotaging . . . also known to him as self-preservation. He broke up with you because, in his mind, it was easier to push you away than suffer the blow if you ever pushed him away.” Ryland rests his head on his propped-up arm. “You can blame his parents for that and probably me. I’m sure me abandoning him was the cherry on top of his abandonment issues.”

“But he said he couldn’t trust me,” I say.

“Yeah, he can’t trust you not to leave him. Think about it, Hattie. If you were in his position, where your parents left you on purpose because, in your eyes, you weren’t good enough for them to stick around, you’d have a very hard time dealing with that as well. Add on top of that your best friend believing you’re the scum of the earth and deleting you from their life as well as everyone in the world wanting something from you because of your fame and not because of you as a person, you’d be jaded too.”

“So . . . are you on his side?” Maggie asks.

“No, I’m on Hattie’s side. I think what he did to her was shit. The only difference is, I understand why he did what he did. Not saying it’s right, just saying I understand why. And to bring this full circle, the hand brushing . . . it probably was because he misses you.”

“Oh no, you don’t.” Maggie sits up, waggling her finger at Ryland. “Don’t you dare put those thoughts in her head. We don’t need her thinking this man who broke her heart is out there pining for her.”

“Yeah, I don’t think I could handle that,” I say, my voice softer. “Between losing Hayes and receiving Cassidy’s package, I honestly don’t think I can take much more.”

“Well, let me ask you this. If he came and apologized, if he asked for you back . . .” Ryland pauses. “Would you take him back?”

“Would you?” Maggie asks, whipping her head around to look at me.

My heart immediately screams yes because I love him. I miss him. I want to hold him and help him through his pain.

But my head . . . that’s a different story. My head is protecting my heart, telling me I shouldn’t give him a second chance because he hurt me so bad the first time.

“I don’t know,” I say, biting on the corner of my lip. “I really don’t know.”


RUBEN: It’s been taken care of.

Hayes: Everything?

Ruben: Everything. Including the restraining order.

I stare up at the ceiling where I’ve been looking for what feels like the past hour.

Everything is done.

I don’t need to worry about my mom coming back, about Matt extorting me . . . yet I feel nothing.

I don’t feel relief.

I don’t feel satisfaction.

I just feel . . . empty.

But that’s what happens, right? Pushing the one good thing out of your life tends to make you feel absolutely nothing. You just turn numb.

That’s where I’m at.


Not a fucking thought, emotion, or pinch of life passing through me.

I set my phone down on the coffee table and consider reaching for my guitar, but there’s no use. I know I’ll just strum the same chords over and over again, the chords that remind me of Hattie, of the song I wrote about her.

And it’s not like I’m on a deadline anymore.

Not like I need to come up with something new to appease others.

I can really do what’s best for me . . .

So how come I’m not doing that?

How come I’m not figuring out a way to make me feel again?

Because the one thing, the one person that made me feel, I broke her.

She doesn’t want me back. I know that to be the truth.

The sound of a car pulling into the driveway attracts my attention. I lift on the couch just in time to see Ryland walk up to the house, his head bent down, a purposeful stride to his every step.

What the hell is he doing here?

A strong knock echoes through the more than empty home, and I make my way from the couch to the front door.

When I open it, he doesn’t bother saying hi. He just welcomes himself in and heads right to the couch where he takes a seat.


I shut the door behind him and follow him into the living room, where I say, “Uh . . . want a drink or something?”

“No.” He presses his hands to his legs, looking jittery. “Take a seat.”

Confused, I sit, and when his eyes level with mine, he says, “I’m sorry.”

Okay, was not expecting that.

Could I see him gearing up to punch my face in? Yup.

Maybe lecture me on how I’m such a dick for hurting his sister? Absolutely.

But an apology? No, not even for a second would I have believed that coming out of his mouth.

“For what?” I ask.

“For treating you the way your parents treated you.”

Oh . . . fuck . . .

“Ryland, that’s not—”

“Don’t give me any excuses,” he says, looking more serious than ever. “I owe you this.” He takes a deep breath and says, “You deserved so much more than my accusations. You deserved more than my betrayal. I abandoned you. You deserved my trust, my friendship, and yet, I turned my back on you. That was shitty of me, and the more I think about it, the more I know . . . you wouldn’t have done that to me. You would never have betrayed me because your loyalty is one of your best qualities. It’s why we became friends in the first place . . . when you defended me on the playground from Lyonel Redbach. You stuck by my side ever since, and the minute I thought you wronged me, I pushed you to the side.” He shakes his head. “It’s inexcusable, and I’m sorry.”

“You were in a shit headspace,” I say.

“Don’t excuse me.”

“But it’s true.” I don’t let up. “I should have followed up with you, I should have talked to you when you cooled down, but I acted like a stubborn ass—”

“You acted like someone who’d already lost his trust in the people supposed to love you and be there for you. There’s no excuse, Hayes. I fucked up and I’m sorry.”

Uncomfortable, I smooth down my jeans with my palms and say, “Well, water under the bridge.”

“No, it’s not.”

“What do you mean?” I ask.

“It means that we need to fix this.”

“What more is there to fix?” I pull on my hat. “You want to be texting friends now?”

He chuckles and shakes his head. “I mean with Hattie.”


Should have known he was here for that.


“No, you listen,” Ryland says, his voice turning darker. “I told you not to fucking hurt her, didn’t I?” I nod. “And you did.”


“I’m not finished,” he says. “The only reason you’re not tasting my fist right now is because I know you actually didn’t want to push Hattie away, but you did it as a defense mechanism.”

“She could do so much better,” I say, dropping my shoulders.

“That’s where you’re wrong.” His eyes ring sincere as he says, “I’ve seen her at her happiest and I’ve seen her at her worst, and when I say she was extremely happy with you, I mean it. There was pure joy in her eyes during a dark time. This past week, watching that darkness creep back in, it’s killed me, because I know this could be avoided. This heartbreak, Hayes, it could be avoided.”

I shake my head. “I’m . . . I’m not the kind of man who’s strong enough for her.” I grip the back of my neck and whisper, “I’m scared.”

“I know you are. Your actions wreak of being scared. But pushing the people away who matter most to you, that will only bring you loneliness and fuck, Hayes, don’t you want to be happy? Don’t you want to get over this fucking hill you’ve been climbing for how many goddamn years? Isn’t it time to stop running from the hurt of the past, accept that it happened, and move on? You’re better than this, you deserve better than this, and you should really give yourself the chance to actually be happy.”

I sigh, leaning back on the couch. “She hates me.”

“She doesn’t,” he replies. “She might be hurt, but trust me when I say, she doesn’t hate you. She actually loves you.”

“She does?” I ask. “After everything I said?”

Ryland nods. “She does. And I’m going to tell you right now, if you don’t go after her and make this right, you’re going to have to deal with me. I might have let you slide the first time, not the second.”

I glance to the side. The thought of going up to Hattie and telling her how much I love her, how fucking sorry I am is very overwhelming.

“I’m . . . I’m not in the right headspace.”

“Because you won’t allow yourself to be in the right headspace.” Ryland leans closer, and he knocks my knee with his hand. “You’re worth it, dude. And I’m not just saying that because I don’t want to see my sister hurting. If I thought you’d fuck her over in the long run, I wouldn’t be here right now. I’d be helping her move on. But seeing you two together, it’s special. And look at me.” He pauses for our eyes to meet. “Don’t you want to be happy? After all of the shit you’ve been through, don’t you want to sit in this life surrounded by joy? Tell me the last time you felt that before Hattie?”

I give it some deep thought because I wasn’t happy even at the highest points of my career. I had no one to share it with besides Gran and Abel, but even at that, I didn’t share that much. I didn’t come home, knowing Ryland was here. I didn’t talk with my mom, knowing what she’d ask of me. So I isolated myself, even on the biggest days of my life . . . I isolated. So the last time I was truly happy . . .

“When it was you, me, and Abel hanging out,” I say. “A band of brothers. Those were my best days. Those were the days that mattered to me.”

Ryland slowly nods. “Then let’s make it happen.”

“What do you mean?”

Ryland pulls out his phone and hands it to me. “Add yourself. I think we’re texting friends now.”

A large laugh pops out of me as I shake my head. “Don’t be a douche.”

He laughs too. “I’m serious, man. I want things the way they were too. I miss talking to you. I miss our friendship. I have for a long time, but I was just too fucking stubborn to admit it.”

“And you’re admitting it now because you’ve been listening to those records I left you, haven’t you?”

He smirks. “The Reason, man, that song . . . fuck, it’s catchy.”

I smile. “So I’ve been told.” I sigh and push my hand through my hair. “She really loves me?”

“She does.”

“After everything I did?”

“Yup.” He must see me waver because he adds, “And honestly, dude, fuck your dad, fuck your mom, fuck the Ryland who didn’t trust you. That shit is in the past. Let it stay there, and let yourself be happy.”

I want to be happy.

Fuck do I want that more than anything, and the happiest I’ve ever been was with Hattie in my life. Am I scared? More than ever.

I’ve been fucked over far too many times to ever really trust someone again, but is that how I want to live my life? No. I realized that quickly the moment I pushed Hattie away. I lost stability in my life. I lost love. I lost the ability to just feel something, anything. Returning to a numb state isn’t how I want to live this life I’ve been granted. I want to feel something deep in my bones. I’ve been living in this immobilized state for so long that the moment Hattie entered, I actually felt like she kickstarted my heart again. I felt warm, like my blood was pumping for the first time in years.

And I want that.

Don’t you want to get over this fucking hill you’ve been climbing for how many goddamn years? Isn’t it time to stop running from the hurt of the past, accept that it happened, and move on?

I want that. I want all of that.


“I want to be happy,” I say.

“Good.” He stands. “Then let’s go make you happy.” I lift a brow at him, and he rolls his eyes. “I mean, let’s go get Hattie.”

“Right now?”

He tugs on my arm, making me stand. “Right now.” He pushes me toward the door. “I might have had patience with you about hurting my sister, but I’m not going to let you make her wait any longer. Let’s go.”


“WE SHOULDN’T HAVE EATEN three donuts yesterday,” Maggie says as we rock on the farmhouse’s porch. “Because then we could have at least had some today.”

“You should have gotten two dozen, knowing that we’d each have three, Mac would have one, and Ryland and Aubree would have demolished the rest.”

“It was really just poor judgment on my end.”

“It was.”

She tilts her head to the side. “Are you feeling better?”

“Sort of,” I answer. “I mean, I’m not crying into a pillow, so that’s progress.”

“But you still ache for him?”


“What if you went over to his place and maybe tried to talk to him?” Maggie asks.

“And risk getting hurt again?” I shake my head. “He doesn’t want me.”

“The finger graze tells me differently.”

I pull my legs into my chest. “I thought you were thinking he was an asshole, and we weren’t supposed to like him at all.”

In all seriousness, she looks at me and says, “I want you happy. I could go either way. I can love him because you love him, or I can hate him because he hurt you. I’m here for you, so you take the lead, and I’ll follow.”

I rest my chin on my arms and say, “You’re a really good friend, Maggie. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

“Remember that when I’m knee-deep in Speedos on my vacation.”

“For your sake, I hope that you are.”

From a distance, Ryland’s truck heads down the driveway earlier than usual. Although I know that Mac is with Aubree at the store today for her after-preschool activity, something we all agreed would be good for her since she spent so much time there with Cassidy. Technically, I tried to go to the store today, but Aubree told me I needed to get my head on straight first, which I understood. I don’t need to take over the store and fill my emptiness with work. It’s not healthy. She’s learned from experience.

And I’ve learned a lot too over the last few days. I’ve thought about Cassidy’s words, read over her letters many times.

Fall in love. Fall out of love. And fall in love again.

Make mistakes.

Laugh about the tribulations.

Celebrate the triumphs.

And above all else, know that you are the most genuine, loving, intelligent human I know. You will do great things in this life, Hattie.

I have to believe her, because she knew me like no one else in this world. So I’m going to trust in those words. I was her rock. Her person.

And I’m going to do great things in this life.

Ryland’s truck pulls in front of the house, and the minute I notice he’s not alone, I feel all the hairs on the back of my neck stand to attention.

“What the hell is he doing?” I whisper just as Hayes steps out of the car.

“Oh dear God,” Maggie says. “It’s so hard to hate him when he looks like that.”

“Maggie,” I whisper yell at her.

“What?” she shrugs as if she didn’t say the wrong thing. “It’s true.”

“Hey, Hattie,” Hayes says, stepping up on the porch, his hands classically stuffed in his pockets. It’s his signature position. “Think we could talk?”

I glance over at Ryland, who gently nods his head. What did my brother do?

“Uh . . . sure,” I say.

Hayes nods toward the potato fields. “Come take a walk with me.”

I stand from my chair and then look down at my feet. “I need shoes.”

“I can wait.”

“Okay, yeah,” I say while robotically turning and heading toward the house. Thankfully, Maggie follows me inside.

We huddle toward the side where my shoes are located, and I whisper, “What the hell is he doing here?”

Whispering back, she says, “I think he’s here to confess his undying love for you.”

“You don’t know that,” I say as I pick up a shoe, but Maggie swipes it from my hand and gets down on her knees to put it on for me. “I can put my shoe on.”

She shakes her head. “Not in this sort of distress. And why else would he be here?”

“I don’t know,” I say as I slip my foot in, and she ties it. “To fire me . . . we never really finalized job things. And I haven’t reported to work in a while, so it could be a firing.”

Maggie pauses and raises her brow at me in disagreement. “Please, would your brother bring Hayes here so he could fire you?”

“Maybe . . .”

She swats at my leg. “Stop it. You know he wants to tell you sorry and that he loves you.”

“What if he does? What if he says he wants me back? What do I say?”

She slips on my other shoe. “You have two choices. You can either kick him in the crotch and leave him in the potato fields, seeking vengeance for the way he hurt you. Or you could listen, understand, and give him another try.” She stands after tying my shoe. “Kicking him in the crotch is a gut reaction to seek temporary satisfaction, but I think that forgiving him is a way to guarantee an amazing life. If he’s your person, and he’s come to make sure you end up together, take it. If you trust him, leap.”

When I glance to the side, unsure, she grips my shoulders and forces me to look at her.

“You want him. Be happy. You have everything lining up. You have the shop, you have the closure, now get the guy.”

I nibble on the corner of my lip as I wince. “I really love him.”

“Then let him grovel to get you back.” She kisses my cheek and then slaps me on the ass. “Go get him.”

God, I love her.

I push through the screen door and walk up to Hayes.

“Ready?” he asks.

“Yeah,” I answer, glancing at Ryland quickly who offers me a smile.

Together, Hayes and I walk out toward the potato fields, a weird place to have a conversation, but probably better than sending Ryland and Maggie away somewhere so I can have some privacy with Hayes.

We walk along the dirt, getting far enough away from the house so we have a lot of privacy. After a few seconds of silence, Hayes says, “I fucked up, Hattie.”

Hope springs in my chest because there’s a distinct possibility he’s about to apologize. I truly hope that’s where he’s going with this.

“What do you mean?” I ask.

“With you,” he says, turning toward me. I turn as well, and I’m immediately captivated by his light, pleading eyes. “I pushed you away when I should have clung to you for support. I said horrible things to you when I should have been saying the opposite. And I displaced my horrible past on you when you deserved nothing but a happy future with me.”

He reaches out and takes my hand. I let him link our fingers together. “Your birthday was perfect. Everything about it and then . . . my past came knocking on my door. It’s not an excuse, but I want to be honest. My mom and Matt were trying to blackmail me, and it brought back all of these ugly feelings. It made me fall into a dark headspace, and instead of talking to you, I pushed you away so you didn’t end up hurting me as well.”

“I would never, Hayes.”

“I know that. Fuck do I know that, Hattie. And I’m so sorry. I’m so fucking sorry that I said those things to you. That I pushed you away, that I made you feel any less than what you are. Because you’re so fucking special. You breathed oxygen back into my lungs and made me feel when my entire body was living in a numb state. Because of you, I learned to love; I learned to fucking feel. My soul was woken up and nurtured . . . by you.” Tears well up in my eyes, and he takes a step closer. “I love you, Hattie. You’re the very reason I wake up in the morning with a smile on my face. You’re the reason I’m able to strum a guitar with an outpouring of love flowing through me. You’re the reason the colors around us are so vivid. You’re the reason that when I look up at the stars, I feel more than grounded, I feel at peace. And you’re the reason I’ll spend the rest of my life making sure I make you just as happy as you make me.”

“Hayes,” I say softly, one single tear falling.

“I love you, baby. And I’m sorry. I’m so fucking sorry, and if you can’t forgive me now, then I’ll let you take as much time as you need, but I won’t stop loving you. I never have, and I never will.”

I swipe at my tear and grip his hand tighter. “I never stopped loving you. It’s impossible. You have my heart, Hayes.”

He wets his lips, taking another step forward. “Tell me you want to be with me. Please tell me you forgive me.”

My hand lands on his chest, and I say, “I forgive you, Hayes, and I want to be with you.”

Relief washes over his face, and he bends forward to kiss me, but I stop him with my hand to his mouth, confusing him.

When he pulls away, I point at him. “But if you ever, and I mean ever, treat me like that again, we’re done. Got it?”

“It will never happen again. I swear. You’re my life, Hattie.” He presses his forehead to mine. “You’re my everything. I need you more than I need air. I’m sorry, baby. I’m so fucking sorry.”

I bring my hands up his chest to his shoulders as he grips me at the waist. “Thank you,” I whisper just as I stand on my toes and press my lips to his. It’s soft at first, our lips just brushing together, but then he grips me tighter, and the urgency to be closer takes over. His hand floats up to the back of my head, keeping me in place as his mouth rotates one way and then another.

“Fuck,” he mutters between kisses. “I’ve missed you.”

I wrap my arms around his neck, bringing him in tighter. “I’ve missed you.”

Heart racing, I let my body feel his. I fall into his kiss, into his touch, into his desperation, and I soak up every second of it because this is what I want. This is what I need as well.



I need him in my life. And despite the loss of Cassidy, failing out of my semester, needing a job and finding it in the darkest of places, I truly believe there was a reason I hated this man, because deep down . . . I was supposed to love him.


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