The Way I Hate Him: Chapter 7

HATTIE

“Do you need help closing up?” I ask Aubree as I step into the main part of the shop.

“Nope, I’m all set,” she says as she shuts down her laptop.

“Okay.” I stand awkwardly, unsure how to bridge this uncomfortable gap between me and my sister. Granted, we’ve never held super close, best friend status, but with the death of Cassidy, it feels like there’s a Grand Canyon worth of space between us. “What are you doing for dinner?”

“Probably eating whatever leftovers I have in the fridge,” she answers while packing her backpack.

“Well, I don’t have any plans if you want to get something.”

She glances up at me, a lift in her brow. “You want to grab dinner together?”

As if her sister asking her to dinner is the most insane thing she’s ever heard. See, Grand Canyon-sized space.

“I mean . . . it would be cool to catch up, spend some time with you.” When she looks away, I can tell she’s trying to come up with an excuse why she can’t do dinner, so instead of letting her, I say, “Come on, Aubree. It’s been a while.”

After a few seconds of contemplation, she says, “Yeah, sure. Okay.” She slings her backpack over her shoulder. “How about we grab pizza? I’ve been craving the pineapple pizza with hot honey dip.”

“Sounds perfect,” I say, letting out a pent-up breath. Sheesh, she’s my sister. I shouldn’t be so nervous about asking if she wants to grab something to eat. Then again, a lot has changed, and with change comes challenges.

For me, it seems like the challenges keep piling on.

“Want to walk?” she asks.

“Yeah, that would be great. I need to stretch my legs out. I swear they’ve been crossed for the whole day.”

“At your internship?” She looks me over. “Is that what you wore?”

“Uh, yeah,” I answer. “It’s a casual internship. Thankfully, I can wear what’s comfortable. Currently filing at the moment and sifting through papers.”

Her brow knits together. “That’s what you left school for? To file?”

Crap, probably should have left her alone instead of pushing her to go to dinner with me. I ramble too much, and that gets me in trouble.

“No,” I say. “I mean . . . yes, but it’s a great experience.”

“For someone earning their bachelor’s, that might be a good experience,” she says. “But not their master’s.”

“Trust me, it’s all good. I promise.”

“Okay,” she says, slightly skeptical but drops it as she heads out of the shop with me behind her. She flips the welcome sign to closed and then locks up before pocketing the key. She grips her backpack straps and crosses the road to the left side of town.

One of the things I love about Almond Bay is how clean it is. It has that unspoiled yet cute, small-town vibe. Every building is Victorian designed but freshly painted so they beam brightly along the boardwalk-style sidewalks. Iron light posts line the sidewalks as well as wooden planters, all the way through town with bustling bushes, and in the summer, they’re full of flowers. And every place of business has a cute sign outside their designated building, advertising what this town has to offer. From an antique store to restaurants to a book and puzzle store to an emporium of freshly made soaps, Almond Bay has it all.

Even a model railroad museum for those who enjoy a good train.

“Oh, hello, girls,” Ethel says as she pokes her head out of her inn. I swear she looks out the window, waiting for someone to pass who she can talk to. She pops up all over the place and at the right time.

“Hi, Ethel,” I say with a wave. Aubree waves as well.

“Thanks for the bottles,” she says. “They came in perfect condition.”

Ethel winks. “Told you I knew a guy. Glad they worked out for you.”

“Yeah, they were great. Filled them today. Was able to get the extract out on the shelves again.”

“Thank goodness,” Ethel says, hand to her heart. “Before the weekend, good work. I know my guests will be asking about it. Are you off to dinner?”

“We are,” Aubree says. “Pizza is calling us.”

“Enjoy, ladies,” she says with a smirk and then sits on one of the many rockers that line the inn’s porch.

Once we’re a good distance away, I say, “You know, I can help you if you need it, especially this weekend.”

Aubree shakes her head. “I’ve got it covered. Marlene and Fran are coming to take some shifts this weekend, so we’re good.”

“Okay,” I reply, trying not to be hurt by the rejection again.

In silence, we walk the rest of the way to By the Slice, and when we enter, I take in a big whiff of the gooey, crusty, delicious pizza smell. So good. Easily the best pizza I’ve ever had.

“What do you want?” Aubree asks.

“I can get it,” I say, but she shakes her head.

“Tell me what you want, and you go grab us a table outside.”

“Okay,” I say. “Uh, two slices of the pepperoni and pineapple with honey on the side. And a Sprite.”

“Sure. Meet you outside.”

I work my way through the restaurant, waving to a few people, and then reach the deck that overlooks the ocean. A table is open near the corner, so I head over there, only to stop in my tracks when I see Abel and Hayes talking at a table with empty plates in front of them.

Uh . . . yeah, we won’t be sitting outside.

I go to turn just as Abel spots me. “Hattie, hey.”

Dammit.

Why does Abel have to be so friendly?

“Oh, Abel, hey.” I glance at Hayes, and because I’m immensely awkward, I continue, “And, Hayes, wow, it’s you, the man my brother hates. Didn’t see you there for a second since your soul is so black, you fit in with the chairs.” A single brow of his raises. “Anyhoo, you’re back in town. That’s unfortunate for everyone.” His face falls flat. “You know, I knew I smelled something weird when I came into town. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but now that I know you’re here, it must have been your overpowering aftershave.”

His lips thin. “I don’t use aftershave. It must be your breath you’re smelling.” He leans back in his chair. “Might want to get that checked.”

Hands on my hips, I say, “I’ll have you know, I just went to the dentist, and I have the cleanest mouth he’s ever seen.”

“Then you’re not hanging out with the right people. Someone needs to dirty that mouth up for you.”

“Not all of us can be sluts like you.”

“Especially when your boyfriend can’t find your clit.”

“Hey,” I snap at him and point my finger. “Sometimes men don’t understand a woman’s anatomy.”

“Not that hard to google.”

“Something I’m sure you’ve done plenty of.” I pretend to type on a computer. “Dear Google, please tell me where the clit is so I can be a horny madman while singing my low-key, swill-like songs and pick up ladies with my stupid tongue ring.”

“Trust me, you wouldn’t think it’s stupid if you had a chance to sit on it.”

“Ew.” I shiver. “I’d rather stick a fork in my ear.”

Abel glances back and forth between us, his body language hesitant but his eyes interested. “Is this what it’s like working together?” I snap my head at Hayes, fury erupting through my veins, and he gives Abel a death stare.

I step in closer and whisper, “What the actual fuck, Hayes? I thought we weren’t telling anyone.”

“Abel’s my best friend who I trust. I didn’t think he was going to open his damn mouth.”

“It’s just us,” Abel says. “I wouldn’t have said anything if anyone else was here.”

“Well, you better not say anything to my brother. I can’t afford to be associated with Hayes. I don’t know how you do it.”

“Lots of Valium,” Hayes says while downing the rest of his water.

“Did you grab us a table?” Aubree asks, causing every hair on my body to stand to attention. “Oh, hey, Abel . . .” Her voice dies off, and I’m assuming that’s the moment she sees Hayes.

“Hey to you too, Aubree.” Hayes lifts his hand in greeting. “Good to see you.”

Aubree tugs on my hand. “Come on, we can sit inside.”

“Oh, don’t let us deter you from enjoying the evening outside,” Hayes says. “Why don’t you join us?” He gestures to the empty seats at their table.

“Fuck off, Hayes,” Aubree says, dragging me away and back into the restaurant, where we find a seat off to the right. “Why were you talking to them?” Aubree asks as we both sit down.

“I didn’t see them at first, and then Abel said hi. I thought it would be rude if I didn’t say hi back.”

Aubree shakes her head. “I don’t know how Abel does it, be friends with Hayes and Ryland. I wouldn’t be able to keep the two relationships separate. I can barely look at Abel.”

“That’s because you always had a crush on him,” I say, causing Aubree to shoot a death stare at me. Geez, they’re common tonight.

“Not with that shit, Hattie. You know that’s not true. There has never been anything between us.”

“I know, but it’s fun to tease you. Abel is like a brother.”

“Exactly.” She pauses. “Cassidy was the one with a crush on Abel.”

I pause while opening my straw. “Wait, what?”

Aubree nods. “I think they actually kissed once.”

“Are you serious?” My shoulders droop because I feel like Cassidy should have told me that. We told each other everything.

“Yeah, they liked each other, but Abel was too good of a friend to risk messing anything up with Ryland, so he never made a move. Cassidy was devastated.”

“How . . . how come she never told me?”

“Probably too young when it happened. She was really upset, though. There could have been something great between them, but they never explored it. I truly believe it’s one of the reasons Abel was so involved in her cancer diagnosis. Not just because he’s close to the family, but because a part of him wanted to try to save her.”

“Oh God,” I say, my throat growing tight from the thought of them never being able to explore a deeper connection. “Do you think that’s why he never goes out with anyone?”

Aubree shrugs. “Probably.”

“That’s so sad.”

Just then, the server delivers our pizza, but now, I don’t feel as hungry. My stomach churns from the thought of Cassidy being denied a bigger love than what she had with her husband. Don’t get me wrong, they loved each other, but Clarke got her pregnant, and that was why they got married. They made a life together, but he was gone a lot on Peace Corp missions down in Costa Rica while she was left to tend to her business and Mac. It wasn’t the kind of love affair you write stories about. It was average. And then, when he passed in a bus accident, Cassidy never looked for anyone else. Was it because she was saving herself for Abel, waiting for a time when he thought it would be okay to ask her out?

“Why aren’t you eating?” Aubree asks.

“Because I’m struggling with the thought of Cassidy missing out on love.”

“She had Clarke. She loved him,” Aubree says coldly.

“But there could have been so much more for her,” I say.

“You don’t know that. Sure, Abel is a good guy, but they could have just been friends. I don’t think you can look too much into it, there’s no use. You’re just going to drive yourself nuts.”

I know she’s right, but it will still bother me.

There’s so much about Cassidy that bothers me, so much that I’m still trying to work through.

“Do you miss her?” I ask.

Aubree takes a bite of her pizza, chews, and once she swallows, she quietly says, “Every damn day.” Her eyes meet mine. “Every day, I try to make her proud. I try to carry on her legacy. And every day it feels like an uphill climb with no rest in sight.”

“Why don’t you talk about it?” I ask.

“Because there’s nothing to talk about. It will come across as complaining, and I’m not going to complain about anything. Not when I have a niece without parents who needs to see strong adult figures in her life working to keep her mom’s memory alive.”

“Aubree,” I say softly and reach for her hand, but she moves out of the way.

“It’s fine.” She takes a deep breath. “You know, I might take my pizza to go. I have to go through the books and write some checks.”

“I didn’t mean to upset you. You don’t have to leave,” I say.

“I never should have agreed to this in the first place. I have too much going on.”

“But it’s me,” I say. “Your sister. Don’t you think it’s important to have dinner together?”

“You’re supposed to be in school, not having pizza dates with me,” she says harshly before rising from the table and walking over to the takeout part of the restaurant. What the hell? Why did you push, Hattie? Why?

My shoulders sag as I stare down at my pizza. Well, there goes my attempt to get closer to my sister.


NOT WANTING to go back to my small studio above The Almond Store, I decide to take the Almond Staircase to the beach. Located behind the drive-in theater, they’re quite steep and sometimes rickety. The Peach Society has discussed tearing them down and not letting anyone down to the beach, but so far, they haven’t implemented those plans. But a giant caution sign next to the stairs says to use at your own risk.

I have no problem risking it.

I sit on the last stair and pull off my shoes and socks. I put them on a rock next to the stairs, something I’ve done too many times to count, and with my phone in hand, I let my toes sink into the sand as I walk along the beach toward the water.

About five minutes into my walk, someone says, “Out here by yourself?”

Startled—again—I look to my right to find Hayes sitting on a rock, staring out at the ocean.

“What the hell are you doing there?” I ask.

“Waiting to scare you.”

“I wouldn’t put it past you.” His hair has been tugged on, almost as if he’s been sitting there, trying to come up with a solution. “Seriously, why are you here by yourself?”

“Probably the same reason you’re here by yourself,” he says.

“I don’t think we should be comparing ourselves. Our lives are completely different.” I don’t stick around but keep walking on my way. The last thing I need is some sarcastic ramble with Hayes Farrow.

“Don’t want to walk with me?” he asks, not letting me find my peace. I should have known.

“I’m surprised you’d even make the suggestion, given how my breath curls your toes.”

“Not what I said.” He hops off the rock and joins me, his strides falling in line with mine, his shoes and socks are off as well. Weird, I didn’t see them over by the stairs. “You were the one who implied I was rolling into town with a stench. I was following your lead.”

“Well, congratulations. Job well done.”

“Not in a good mood, I see.”

It’s so easy to gauge this man. He has two versions of himself—asshole and sarcastic asshole. The sarcastic asshole usually comes out when he’s trying to shield himself from any feelings. So he projects his assholery to others.

“And that mood is getting better with you here now,” I reply.

“It’s funny how much disdain you have for me when I’ve done absolutely nothing to you.”

“Blackmailing me to work for you . . . umm, I’d consider that something.”

“You were rude before that,” he says.

“Family loyalty rises above all,” I say.

“I can see that. It wouldn’t hurt you to chill for a second, though, because no one is around us. They won’t see that you’re being civil around me.”

I glance over at him. “Chill? What is that supposed to mean? You’re not trying to be my friend or something, are you?”

“I have enough friends,” he answers. “I don’t need another. But Jesus, you don’t have to have your guard up all the time.”

“Says the guy who has his guard up twenty-four seven.”

“You don’t know enough about me to make that assumption.”

“Don’t I? You’ve been an ass to me ever since I walked up to your house.”

He shakes his head as he turns toward me. “You have no idea the kind of man I am.”

“Then tell me something about you. If you’re not so guarded, tell me one thing that isn’t sarcastic or made up, or some stupid way to impress someone with everything you’ve accomplished.”

“You want something?” he asks. “Okay. Take a seat.” When I don’t join him on the sand, he tugs on my hand, forcing me to sink to the sand and pebbles with him. Facing the ocean with his legs pulled in, he says, “You want something? Well, here’s something. I can’t write a song to save my goddamn life right now. Everyone thinks I’m this amazing songwriter, brimming with ideas, but in reality, I’m a guy with a guitar and an empty notebook.”

“Is that supposed to make me feel bad for you?” I ask.

He looks over at me. “No, but it’s real.”

“Is it, though? The rich musician can’t think of a song to write?”

His eyes narrow. “Music is the one thing that helped me escape everything awful in my life. It helped me breathe air into my lungs. It allowed me to get out of the place I was in and never look back. And the fact that I can’t feel that same feeling, I can’t taste the melodies or tap out a rhyme, a thought, anything . . . eats away at me. You might not think it’s a big deal, but to me, it’s as if a small piece of me is dying.”

Oh, huh . . . that does seem like a big deal when he puts it like that.

I feel that. I understand what it’s like to have a piece of you die.

I know the guttural feeling of not being able to breathe, like you can’t get enough air into your body because of the outlying factors around you, controlling your life.

And I don’t like that.

I don’t like that I can relate to him. I don’t want to relate to him.

I don’t want him buying me pickles, sitting down with me on the sand after my sister pretty much abandoned me, and I definitely don’t want to be able to share the same sort of feeling as he does.

And why? Because he’s supposed to be awful. That’s what I’ve been told nearly my whole life. And if he’s not awful, then that opens the door for other things . . .

Things I shouldn’t even be thinking about.

Like how his deep, sultry voice captures my attention every time he speaks.

Or how he looks hot with a backward hat on, but how I love it when he wears no hat at all.

Or the automatic curl in his large hands when he walks around, almost like he’s walking around with the neck of an imaginary guitar in his palm at all times.

No, I can’t think about that at all.

“Yeah, that’s what I thought. You don’t understand.” He shakes his head.

“No, I do,” I say, breaking out of my thought. “Is that what you’ve been trying to do while I sort through your mail? You’re trying to write a song?”

“Yes,” he answers. “And before you ask, I’ve come up with nothing.”

“Maybe it’s because you’re forcing it,” I say. “You can’t force creativity.”

“You can when you have studio execs breathing down your neck.”

“Do you?” I ask.

He nods. “Yeah, they wanted something new months ago.”

“Seems like a them problem to me. Not that I’m coming to your defense, because that would pretty much make me burn up on the spot, but you just came off a big tour. Don’t they know you need some time to breathe, some time to recuperate? You have to recharge before you can jump headfirst into a mentally and physically demanding job.”

“Not defending me, huh?” he asks. “Sounded like you were defending me, and look at that . . . you didn’t burn up like you thought you would.”

“Must have been a lucky moment,” I answer.

And crap . . . the tension in his brow has eased, and the expression on his face is more favorable. I warmed him up and chilled like he asked, leading to . . . dare I say . . . a bonding moment?

“Tell me something real about you,” he replies.

See, Hattie, this is exactly why you don’t bond with people, because when they start to open up, they expect you to do the same.

And I know that’s a dangerous thing because ultimately, everyone I’ve ever loved has left me. Not that I’ll ever love this man. So I deflect.

“Are we really sharing?” I ask, trying to get back to maybe a more volatile state with him.

“Do you have something better to do?”

“No.” I’m just scared that maybe I’m opening up to someone I shouldn’t be opening up to. But if I think about it, other than Maggie, who do I really have? Aubree practically kicked me away today. At least Hayes is listening. Oh dear God, what is happening to my life that Hayes Farrow is the second-best person to talk to at the moment?

“Well . . .” he presses.

Looks like he’s not going to back down, so . . . “I think my family hates me.”

He turns to look me in the eyes, and the lightest smirk passes over his lips. “Would you look at that,” he says. “We do have something in common.”

“Come on.” I nudge his shoulder with mine.

“I’m serious. Commonality might make the workplace relationship better.”

“Yeah, I might have to join the dark side with you, especially after tonight.”

“It’s fun over here. I live in a land where I don’t give a shit. One where I enjoy watching those who hate me go into a tizzy whenever I’m around.”

“Sounds like fun.”

“It is,” he says in a deep tone. “So why do you think your family hates you?”

“They don’t tell me anything. Getting Aubree to go out to dinner with me was like pulling teeth, and she ended up leaving me at the restaurant to finish my pizza by myself. They’re preoccupied with their new responsibilities, which I understand, but they won’t talk to me about them. They won’t even let me help. All they’re concerned about is me going to school and making sure I graduate, and you and I both know how that’s going. There’s such a big disconnect between us that I don’t know how to bridge the gap.”

He pulls on the back of his neck. “Working for me won’t do it, that’s for damn sure.”

“Working for you is the only thing I’ve got at this point.” And that’s the scary truth. “God, what the hell am I doing with my life?” I turn toward him so I’m sitting cross-legged and facing him. “Cassidy never liked Matt. She told me several times how much she didn’t like him and thought I was too good for him, but I didn’t listen. I wasted my time with him only for him to tell me I was boring in the end.”

“You’re anything but boring,” Hayes replies.

“And now that I failed all my classes this semester . . . like what am I doing? All I had to do was pass these classes, and I was good to graduate. Am I self-sabotaging? I mean . . . I took a freaking job with Hayes Farrow, my brother’s least favorite human in the world. I’m asking for trouble. Is this a pre-midlife crisis?”

“Are you asking me?”

“I don’t know what I’m doing.” I lean back on my hands.

We’re both silent for a second, and then he says, “I don’t think you’re self-sabotaging. I think you’re lost. Not that I know much about your family life, but I do know that Cassidy was a bright light in your lives, and that light has dimmed. Of course you’re lost. You don’t have anyone guiding you like when she was around.”

That is . . . annoyingly insightful. “Cassidy was a bright light in your lives, and that light has dimmed. Of course you’re lost. You don’t have anyone guiding you like when she was around.” Why can’t my siblings see this? Why can’t my siblings talk about this? Why don’t they even want me around?

“You’re probably right,” I say quietly. “I honestly don’t know what I’m doing, and it doesn’t help that the only family I have left is occupied with their own issues.”

“So then, maybe you try to find yourself again.”

I glance over at him. “Don’t you think that’s something you should be doing?”

“Probably.” He shrugs and looks out toward the ocean.

After a few minutes, I say, “You know, you’re not as bad as you seem.”

“Should I take that as a compliment?”

“Probably. I don’t hand them out often.”

He stands and lends his hand out to me. “You should get back. The sun will set soon, and you shouldn’t be out here alone.”

“I’m not alone. You’re weirdly here.”

“Yeah, that’s not good either,” he says and then helps pull me to my feet.

We head back toward the Almond Staircase. “I don’t want you to think this changes anything,” I say. “I still hate you from the tips of my toes.”

“Good,” he replies. “Wouldn’t want it any other way.”


HATTIE: When do you think you can come visit?

I stare at the slanted ceiling in my studio apartment that feels more like a walk-in closet. It’s lost its luster. I don’t feel my sister in this space like when I first arrived, and I know it’s because of my strained relationship with my family. Therefore, the relationship I had with Cassidy is strained.

Talking to Hayes on the beach felt nice, like someone was listening to me. Someone cared to listen to me. And I know when I say that in my head, it sounds bratty because Jesus, Ryland and Aubree are going through a lot right now, but why block me out? It’s almost like being in school has isolated me from everything, and I don’t understand why.

So now I’m talking to Hayes Farrow, probably the last person on earth I ever would have considered someone I told my feelings to. And oddly, it felt sort of right. He’s easy to talk to, which freaks me out because I don’t want him to be easy to talk to. I don’t want him to be nice to me. I want him to be an asshole. I want him to insult me, blackmail me.

NOT buy me pickles and walk alongside me on the beach when I felt so utterly alone.

My phone dings with a text.

Maggie: Why do I have a feeling that you want me to come earlier?

Hattie: I need you, Mags.

Maggie: Say no more. I’m there for you. Want me to come this weekend?

Hattie: Can you?

Maggie: I can make it work. But I require an almond extravaganza, including my favorite almond cherry cookies that you make.

Hattie: Done and done.

Maggie: Care to tell me what’s going on so I can prepare myself?

Hattie: Things are rocky with my family, and I’m resorting to leaning on Hayes Farrow for emotional support. That can’t happen.

Maggie: So basically DEFCON 1.

Hattie: Precisely.

Maggie: Got it. Manning my bosom now.

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