The Way I Hate Him: Chapter 3

HATTIE

What the hell am I actually doing, and how did returning a box of items to someone turn into a job with the devil?

Oh, I’ll tell you how.

Hayes Farrow.

That’s how he works. There’s always an angle with him, and this angle seems to have taken me down within a matter of seconds. Do I truly believe he’d report me to the police so I’d get into a shit ton of trouble? Yes, absolutely. The feud between him and Ryland runs deep, so for Hayes to consider throwing another Rowley under the bus to spite Ryland, yup, I one hundred percent believe that could happen.

“I asked you if it was a deal,” he says, still holding his hand out.

His large, calloused hand.

I glance up into his light-gray eyes. There’s barely a drop of color in his irises, yet they’re rimmed in black, a unique color that only adds to the obsession people have with him. Little do they know the devil that rests behind them.

And that devil has me by the uterus.

What option do I really have?

Create more trouble in my family that doesn’t need it right now? It’s not like I have something to offer, even showing up at their doorstep. He’s right. I failed out of this semester. I have no job, no money—no place to crash while I try to figure out what to do—meaning, I’m out of luck, and shaking hands with the devil himself might be my only option.

I also don’t want to admit it, but fifteen hundred a week is more than I could get somewhere else, and I could desperately use the money.

I must reek of desperation because as I stare into his cold, dead eyes, I know he knows this. I know he can see my moment of despair.

Because of that, I take a deep breath and hold my hand out to him, connecting our palms with a shake.

“Deal,” I say, a shiver passing through me.

That shiver . . . that’s the telltale sign of hell burning up through me.

A slow, maniacal smile creeps over his mouth from my concession, and I know I just made a deal with Satan himself.

When he releases my hand, he brings his mug up to his lips, eyes set on me, and he sips. I hate to admit it, because I can genuinely say I despise this man, but he’s ungodly attractive. His tanned skin makes his eyes seem endlessly light, framed by long dark lashes. His morning scruff is dark, deliciously coating his strong jaw, and his backward hat covers up his nearly black hair that women have a conniption over when he styles it—which is rare. And then there’s his body. He’s easily six foot three or taller, with long limbs and a toned torso, which only seems attainable for those who spend forty hours in the gym—yet here he is, standing in front of me with a six-pack that I could lose my finger in. His pecs are the main feature of his body, lined with sinew that connects in the middle of his chest. It’s probably the most famous part of his body besides his eyes because he shows it off during his concerts. The many collages I’ve seen of just that part of his chest is frankly disturbing—yet I’ve watched every one of them. Even though I think he’s a horrible human, I can’t deny the fact that he’s the hottest man I’ve ever laid eyes on.

“Do you need a place to stay?” he asks, pulling me out of my thoughts.

“What?”

“Weren’t you going to stay with Matt?”

“Oh, yeah,” I say.

“So do you need a place to stay? It’ll knock a few hundred off your payment, but I have a few guest rooms to choose from.”

“Ew, you think I’d stay here? No, thank you.”

“Why ew?” He glances around his house. “It’s pretty nice here.”

“Yes, your house is nice. You, on the other hand, just popped out of Satan’s asshole, and I’d rather not share a living space with a fiery anus. Thank you very much.”

“That’s a lot of ass talk.” He smirks. “Have a fixation with that? Because I can show you a good time if you do.”

The fucking audacity of this man.

“In your dreams, Hayes,” I say even though I bet he could show me a good time. A time to remember. I grab my puzzles and shirts and hold them close to my chest. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go scream into a pillow while I come to terms with the deal I just shook on.”

He smirks, the corner of his mouth pulling to the side, and it’s both hideously annoying . . . and seductively attractive. “Happy screaming. See you bright and early tomorrow morning.”

“Fuck off,” I mumble as I push through the door to his house and out to my car.

I toss my items on the passenger side and grip my steering wheel. Looking up toward his house, I see him standing on his porch, mug of coffee in hand, watching over me.

Ugh, he’s infuriating.

I start my car and drive away. I’m not going to give him the satisfaction of seeing me distressed over my current predicament, no way—he’ll just take pleasure in it, the sadist.

When I’m driving down the road, I reach for my phone and call Maggie. When the Bluetooth connects to my car, her voice sounds through the speakers.

“Why are you calling me? Shouldn’t you be with Matt? Oh my God, did he cheat on you? Did you go there and find him with someone else?”

“Why would you assume that?” I ask, leaning my head back against the headrest while still keeping my eyes trained on the road.

“Because, I told you, he gives me the ick.”

“Well, he didn’t cheat on me, but he did break up with me for being boring.”

“What?” she yells.

I give her the entire rundown from what he said to telling me to grab my things, and then how I found the Grammy and decided to be a good freaking Samaritan and drop it off at Hayes’s house.

“So you went to his house to give him his Grammy back? You’re a saint.”

“Thank you, that’s what I thought until he decided to pin me for the crime and threaten to call the cops on me.”

“Nooooo,” Maggie growls. “He did not do that.”

“Oh yes, he did. Which then led to me going inside his house to save my ass, and guess what, Mags?”

“Tell me.”

“I’m now working for him.”

There’s a pause. “Wait . . . what?”

Yeah, I’m still trying to process it all too.

“Apparently, the man has no sense of organization because his office and garage are trashed. Matt was supposed to clean it up, but because he fired him for stealing—shocking—he now needs the help and told me I could take the job or he would call the police.”

“That’s blackmail.” Her outrage is just what I need at this moment. Find yourself a friend like Maggie. She’s the absolute best.

“Are you surprised? The guy has no moral compass.”

“I can’t believe that,” she says as I make my way toward The Almond Store. “Is he going to at least pay you?”

“Yes, thank God, and I hate to admit it, but given my circumstances, I could really use the money.”

“True, but it’s Hayes Farrow . . . your brother hates him.”

“That’s why Ryland is not going to find out.”

“And how do you plan on keeping your new employment a secret? What are you even going to tell them about being in town?” Maggie asks.

“I thought about that, and since I’m returning midsemester, I’m going to tell them I spoke with my professors, and we all agreed that I need to take some time off because of Cassidy’s death. They don’t need to know that time off is because I failed every one of my midterms. I came back here to gather myself and found an internship to help tide me over.”

“Internship. That’s believable.”

“I’ll say one of my professors hooked me up with it. And thankfully, since Hayes lives outside of town and far away from any family members or townspeople, it won’t be a problem.”

“Okay, and what about the whole he’s the sexiest man ever to walk the planet thing?”

“What about it?” I ask.

“Uh, are you going to be able to control yourself?”

“Maggie,” I say on a huff as I drive down Almond Ave. “Unlike Hayes, I have standards, convictions. He might be hot, but there’s no way I’d touch that man with a ten-foot pole. Also, he’s twelve years older than I am. He’s the same age as Ryland.”

“That’s hot.”

“Wait, so Matt gives you the ick, but a twelve-year age difference doesn’t?”

“Age gap is in.”

“Something is seriously wrong with you.”

“Come on, the thought of being with an experienced man doesn’t make your body tingle with anticipation?”

“No,” I say even though that’s slightly a lie. Sex with Matt was . . . okay. I did fake it a lot, but there were some good times . . . maybe like a few. Not many actually. Either way, who’s to say Hayes would even be good at sex? He probably has a gaggle of women lined up and ready to fake it as well.

“I don’t believe you.”

I sigh. “Can we just agree that I’m in hell?”

“If hell is being able to smell and stare at Hayes Farrow daily, tell me where to sign up.”

“You need help.”

“I know.” We both laugh.

“Hey, I’m at The Almond Store, and I need to present myself to my sister, see if I can find a place to stay.”

“Good luck. Let me know how it goes.”

“I will.”

I hang up the phone and turn off my car, but don’t exit right away.

I need to take a second.

The last time I was in The Almond Store, Cassidy’s pride and joy besides her daughter, I was picking up some almond butter to take back to school. Cassidy teased me about taking advantage of the family discount—free—and then gave me one of her signature hugs.

Warm and full of love.

Cassidy was my best friend growing up. Nine years older than me, she took me under her wing and kept me close. She played with me, even when she was too old to be playing with dolls. She colored with me. She spent countless hours making up dances to our favorite songs with me. I idolized her and when Mom passed, she was so . . . present. In some ways, she became my mom.

When she was diagnosed with breast cancer, just like our mom, it felt like I was living in some sort of dream, like it wasn’t happening in real life but in some sick nightmare.

And when I got the call that she died, I broke down. For days, Maggie held me as I cried. She never said anything, just sat there with me like the best friend that she is.

I came back for the funeral, and we released her ashes in the bay.

And when her will was read to us, I felt . . . let down.

Ryland was assigned the challenging task of taking custody of MacKenzie, an assignment I can understand. He has a solid job, he has no plans of leaving Almond Bay, he’s situated in his life, and can offer stability to a four-year-old after losing her mother.

But The Almond Store? Our dream? It went to Aubree. The store and the farm.

And sure, Aubree helped out at the store, she knows how to run things, but it doesn’t negate the hurt. The Almond Store is my baby with Cassidy. I helped her design and come up with the concept. Aubree could have taken the farm, but the store . . . Cassidy should have left that to me to carry on the legacy we created.

I’ve never expressed my feelings about it because I didn’t want to sound jealous or bring up bad feelings in a moment when we should be coming together to support each other and MacKenzie, but fuck does it make me sick to my stomach.

And I know walking in there will bring up all of those feelings.

The feeling of loss, not seeing Cassidy behind the counter, not feeling her sunny hug, not seeing her joyful smile.

I take a deep breath, willing back the tears. Don’t cry.

Crying will do nothing.

You’re in a predicament, and crying will not help the situation, especially with Aubree. She’s not one who deals with crying very well. Or emotions in general.

I lock my car, then move around to the front of the store. One of the reasons we loved this building so much in town—it used to be a salon—is because it’s in the shape of a triangle, and the entrance is at the tip, giving it a unique and cute storefront.

We whitewashed the outside that used to be a deep red brick, added a pale blue and white-striped awning, tore out the old linoleum floors, and replaced them with white oak. It was a hell of a job, but I helped her one summer, and nothing felt more satisfying when it was all done. We kept the theme of open white shelving held up by iron brackets, with white oak islands in the middle of the store in the shape of triangles to go with the flow of the floor plan, and filled the empty spots with black-and-white photos of the farm as well as eucalyptus branches. It’s my favorite place to be not just because of the memories but the smell as well.

The door rings as I walk through, and Aubree, who is hunched over the counter, looking through her iPad with a serious expression pulling on her brow, glances up. When she recognizes me, she stands taller.

“Hattie, what are you doing here?”

“That’s how you’re going to greet me?” I ask as I walk up to her.

Aubree, not much of a hugger, offers me her one arm and taps me on the back, almost as if we’re sharing a bro hug. “Good to see you. Now what are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be in school?”

Can you tell education is important in my family? It’s why I don’t want to tell them what happened.

“I’m actually going to be home for a little bit.”

“What do you mean?” she asks.

“Well, I spoke to my professors, and we all agreed that after losing Cassidy, it would be best to take a semester off.” Aubree’s eyes narrow. “But they hooked me up with an internship.” I swallow back the nausea that’s boiling in my stomach from the lie. “It’s just up the coast, so I can gain some experience while I take time off.”

“What’s the internship?” she asks, hand on her hip.

“With a media mogul,” I say, sort of telling the truth. Yeah, I’m stretching it a lot, but at least it’s something.

“Is that what you want to do when you graduate? Work in media?” she asks.

“Not really, but any experience is a good experience. At least that’s what my professor said. Plus, it’s close to home so I can help you guys out when I don’t have to work.”

“I love you, Hattie, but we don’t need your help. We need you to focus on school.” She moves around me and goes to the front of the store, where she bangs on the window, drawing someone’s attention.

When I see who it is, I inwardly groan.

Ethel O’Donnell-Kerr.

“What on earth are you banging on the window for?” Ethel asks when she walks in. She glances around, spots me, and clasps her hands together. “Well, Hattie dear, the town wasn’t expecting you to be here.”

The town.

As if she collectively took a poll about my presence.

“Took some time off from school,” I say.

She frowns. “Oh dear, too hard for you?”

“No,” Aubree snaps. “Hattie is the smartest out of all of us. Nothing about school is hard for her. She got an internship and will be working on that for the rest of the semester.”

“What kind of internship?” Ethel asks.

“Nothing the town needs to know about,” Aubree says, putting a bee in Ethel’s bonnet.

“Well, I don’t seem to care for the tone you’re using with me, Miss Aubree.”

Aubree’s shoulders tense, and I can tell something is bothering her, but lord knows she won’t say anything. She never talks about her feelings . . . ever.

“I’m sorry,” Aubree says. “But I was wondering about that shipment of bottles. You said your bottle guy would get them to me by Monday. It’s Tuesday, and there are no bottles. I need them, Ethel, and I went with your guy because you recommended him.”

“Ah, I see.” Ethel pats Aubree on the shoulder. “You’re stressed. Well, let me call the man, and we can see where they are. You just had to ask, dear. You don’t need to take that tone with me.”

Aubree’s shoulders relax, and she says in a calmer voice, “I’m sorry.”

“Quite all right. I understand you’re going through a lot. I’ll update you once I hear from him. Would you like me to bring the Peach Society over later to help stock the store?”

What? Aubree has the Peach Society helping out?

“That’s okay. I have it handled. But thank you.”

“Of course, anything you need. You’re doing a beautiful job, dear. Your sister would be proud.” Ethel glances up at me. “And we’re so happy to have you back, Hattie. Interesting that we have two out-of-towners come back in the same week.”

“Who is the other one?” Aubree asks.

“Well, Hayes Farrow, of course,” Ethel says with disdain. “Did you not see the red carpet rolled out for him?”

Can you tell how much Ethel loves Hayes? Pretty sure the only people who like Hayes in this town are his grandma, Abel, and Rodney, who owns the Model Railroad Museum up the street, and I think that’s only because he’s always had a thing for Hayes’s grandma.

“Hayes is back?” Aubree says.

“Apparently, his tour is over, and his grandma took a nasty fall, so he’s here to care for her.”

“Well, that should be fun,” Aubree says sarcastically.

Ethel leans in. “Word on the street is he fired Matt.” Ethel glances up at me. “Did you know this?”

Aubree whips around to look at me. “Did you?”

“Uh . . . yes,” I answer. “He was the first one I saw. He told me.”

“That’s right, Yahnoosh said he heard you two fighting in his apartment,” Ethel says.

Of course he did. Because nothing is ever freaking sacred in this town.

“That’s because he broke up with me,” I say because I might as well just put it out there.

“He did?” Aubree asks. “Why?”

“Said I was too boring,” I answer, wanting to throw him under the bus because, why not? “Said I was moping.”

Ethel clutches her heart in shock. “Your sister just passed. Of course you would be mopey.”

“That’s what I told him.” I shrug, glad he broke up with me because who says that to someone? Maggie was right. He is the ick.

“Well, that just won’t do. I shall have a conversation with his mother.”

“Uh, that’s all right, Ethel. I’m sure he heard enough from me.”

“Still, you poor dear.” Ethel walks up to me in all of her redheaded glory and pulls me into the type of hug where her bosom greets me first and then her arms. Her signature scent of Chanel No5 fills up my nostrils. “I’m so sorry you’re experiencing so much pain lately. And now, with dropping out of school.”

“Uh, hold up, she’s not dropping out of school,” Aubree corrects quickly. “She’s doing an internship. Please, Ethel, please don’t get the two mixed up.”

Ethel lets go of me but holds me close as she looks me in the eyes. “My apologies.”

And I swear on my right boob, the look she gives me, it’s almost as if she knows the real reason I left school. But how? Does she have someone keeping tabs on me in San Francisco? Some secret teleportation where she can be in multiple places in minutes? Has she tapped my phone?

I wouldn’t be surprised if she did. This is Ethel O’Donnell-Kerr, after all.

“Well, I best be on my way,” she sing-songs. “The lunch hour is coming up, and you know my guests love a good reprise while they eat.” She clears her throat and starts singing octaves on her way out. With a twiddle of her fingers, she’s gone.

Aubree returns to the counter and starts looking at her iPad again.

“So,” I say awkwardly as silence falls between us. “Do you need some help around here?”

“No,” Aubree says without looking up. “I just had one stressful night, and the Peach Society caught me. Everything is fine.”

“Okay, because if you need my help, I know this store in and out. I’d be more than happy—”

“I need you to focus on school and graduating,” Aubree snaps. “That’s what I need you to do. So if this internship will do that, then focus on that.”

Caught off guard by her irritated tone, I take a step forward. “Aubree, if you want to talk . . .”

“I don’t,” she says and then takes a deep breath. When her eyes connect with mine, she says, “I don’t need to talk, okay? I’m fine. Everything is fine.”

“Okay,” I reply, not believing her for a second.

“Now, I have to get back to work, but first, where are you staying while you’re here?”

“Oh, right. Well, Ryland sold his house, right?” I ask.

Aubree nods. “Yes.”

Dammit.

“Is there room with him and MacKenzie?”

Aubree shakes her head. “Ryland sleeps on the couch because he won’t consider sleeping in Cassidy’s room.” Oh God, he’s been sleeping on the couch this whole time? For two months? How is he doing it? “I’m taking up the guest house on the farm.” Damn, that was my second option, and the guest house is one room with a bed and a bathroom. That’s it.

“Shit,” I say as my mind flashes to Hayes’s offer. No, don’t even think about it because it won’t happen. It’s one thing to work for the man for a short period, but it’s another thing to live with him. If I combined those two, Ryland would for sure disown me. I run my hand over my forehead. “I wonder if Ethel will give me a room at the inn for cheap?”

“She says it’s a community here, and we help each other out, but never in her life has she discounted one of her rooms. Don’t even bother. But if you want, you can take the room upstairs here in the store.”

“The storage room?” I ask in disbelief.

Aubree nods. “Cassidy turned it into a small studio about six months ago for whenever she stayed at the store too late and didn’t want to make the drive back to the farm with Mac. It has a double bed, a full bathroom, and a mini fridge.” Aubree shrugs. “It should work for what you need.”

“Oh, I didn’t know she did that.”

“It’s not glamorous, but Cassidy always treated it as a wilderness-type thing with Mac. They would make shadow puppets on the wall under a tent of blankets. Mac loved it.”

Yeah, that’s something Cassidy would do because she was the best mom ever.

“Okay, yeah, I’ll go up there. You don’t mind?”

Aubree shrugs. “You’re not going to bother me being up there. As long as you’re not stomping around during shop hours, I don’t care.”

“Well, thanks. I appreciate it.”

An awkward silence falls between us. We’ve never been super close, at least not like me and Cassidy. She was the glue that held us all together, and now that she’s gone, it almost feels like we don’t know how to interact.

It also doesn’t help that Aubree is holding something back.

“I guess I should take my stuff upstairs then.”

“Have at it.” Aubree waves me off as her attention turns back to her iPad.

“Thanks.” I move toward the door to grab my suitcase but then think better of it. I might as well check out the space first. “Is it right up the back stairs?”

“Yup.”

I move around the counter and head toward the back of the shop when I pause at the doorframe. Glancing over my shoulder, I ask again, “Aubree, are you okay?”

“Fine,” she answers, but I know she’s not telling the truth. Not with how tense her shoulders are, her voice is terse, and the demand for bottles earlier with Ethel, but I’m not one to push her. She doesn’t like it, so the last thing I want to do is start a fight with her.

“Okay, well, you know where to find me.”

She doesn’t respond, so I retreat to the back, past all the boxes of product, and straight to the stairs covered up by a blue and white-gingham curtain. I move through it and take the wooden stairs up to a closed door. I test the handle, and finding it unlocked, I open it to reveal a tiny room, no bigger than my dorm room in San Francisco. Angled ceilings close the sides of the room and come to a point in the middle. A full bed is pressed up against the left of the room, the angled ceiling not offering that much headspace, but it’s perfect for shadow puppets. Dressed in whites and light blues, the room is airy with one window that overlooks the parking lot but offers enough natural light not to cast a shadow of darkness in the room. To the right is a dresser, mini fridge, and the door to the full bathroom. Cassidy would have hated the dead flower in a pot on the dresser. She cared so much about every living thing, even her plants.

A beige area rug is spread across the floor, probably so Mac can play on the hardwood comfortably. And even though the space is sparse, it still feels homey because that was the type of person Cassidy was. She made the light shine in any room she was in.

Sighing, I lean against the doorframe and take a deep breath.

God . . . I miss her so much.

Why did she have to leave this earth so early? Too early. The world needs more people like her, and now . . . now it feels like everything is out of sorts.


I FINISH UNPACKING my clothes and setting my puzzles on the dresser—because those are important—just as my phone dings with a message. I check the screen to see my brother’s name.

He’s been informed of my presence.

Ryland: Not going to tell me you’re in town? I have to hear it through the grapevine?

I sit on the bed and text him back.

Hattie: I was going to make my way over there. Had to find a place to live first.

Ryland: Live? Why aren’t you in school?

Hattie: Surprised that wasn’t relayed to you. Professors thought taking a break after Cassidy’s death would be good. Working an internship up here. Aubree said I could stay in the bedroom above the shop.

Ryland: You’re taking a break? Is the internship at least for credits?

God, I hate this, having to answer to my brother, who stood up for us when we were little, who took Dad’s spot when Dad wouldn’t bother parenting. The one who I’ve looked up to my whole life. And my answer is going to be a lie. But how could I possibly tell him that I failed this semester? He would be so disappointed in me, and right now, a lie outweighs the disappointment I know I’d face if I told him the truth.

I’m just hoping this job with Hayes will get me through the rest of the semester, and then I can figure out what to do during the summer. Maybe I could take a job with Ethel, making beds and cleaning rooms. Or I can help Dee Dee Coleman stock the shelves at her grocery store.

Or perhaps . . . Aubree will let me help her.

Hattie: Yes, this internship is for credit.

Ryland: At least there’s that. Wish you were still in school, though.

Hattie: I know, but this is a great opportunity.

Yeah, a great opportunity with your enemy, sorting through boxes and organizing said enemy. Maybe I can stick it on my résumé as something fancy like . . . executive business associate. Some crap like that. I should have worked a title into the deal with him.

Ryland: Well, Mac knows you’re here. She wants to see you.

Hattie: Let’s plan for tomorrow. I’m exhausted.

Ryland: Okay.

I stare at my phone, the worry of my siblings floating through my mind. I feel so out of touch with them, like an outsider trying to weasel my way back in.

Hattie: Hey, is everything okay with Aubree? She seemed short with me.

Ryland: She’s fine. Nothing you need to worry about.

His answer frustrates me. I’m not blind. I can see she’s not in a good headspace, and she’s stressed. Why isn’t she saying anything to me? Why are they both passing it off as if everything is just fine?

Hattie: Let me guess, I just need to worry about school.

Ryland: Exactly. See you tomorrow, kid.

I shake my head and toss my phone to the side before leaning back on the bed. School, that’s all they care about. I had a short time back home after Cassidy passed before they rushed me back to school, telling me it would be best to get back into my routine.

But the last thing I wanted was to get back into a routine. I wanted to be with them. I wanted to be with Mac. I wanted to feel Cassidy surround me.

I didn’t get that. Instead, I was greeted with a cold apartment with no family to help me through the pain. They pushed me away then, just like they’re pushing me away now, and I have no idea why.

What am I supposed to do, Cassidy?

Why did you leave us?

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