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Unwritten
Author: Alex Rosa

Chapter One

 

 

Home sweet home… yeah, right.

I press my lips into a hard line and twirl my keys around my index finger as I examine the pristine condition of my childhood home, keeping a safe distance out on the dirt driveway. I didn’t know it was possible to feel this much guilt. As I stare at the two-story cabin, I can sense the brick wall that I’ve built around myself over the years slowly start to falter.

I’d told myself I’d be strong settling my mother’s estate, but staring at the lines of craftsmanship on the wooden details of the house hand-carved by my dad and remembering the days painting the teal-colored shutters that frame every large window with my mom makes me wilt. Every memory makes the hollowness inside me grow, until I don’t feel like a person anymore. Just a floating form of guilt, ready to blow away in the mountain fog.

When my father died seven years ago, I at least got to say goodbye. Terminal cancer gave us months to prepare—which at the time I had thought cruel—but my mother died without warning. A heart attack.

The only thing that brings the slightest relief is the soothing scent of the pine forest surrounding the house—they don’t call my hometown PineCrest, Colorado for nothing. That smell has healed me more times in my life than I can count.

I pull in a deep breath and let the mountain breeze roil over my cheeks.

But no amount of pines could cover the fact that my mother isn’t going to greet me on the veranda. I wonder if she held it against me that I never came home even once after I bailed on this town for Los Angeles. My eyes drop to the ground.

What kind of daughter am I? Maybe I didn’t deserve to see my mother one last time.

I peek up at the house, knowing that my heart never left—here, or this damned town. I’d never admit it out loud, but I couldn’t deny it either. Not even to myself.

The corner of my mouth twitches; writing about this place was easy. A storybook cabin tucked away in the woods. I couldn’t have picked a better setting for my first novel. Who needs an imagination when this place exists?

I tug my phone out of my pocket as a new worry shoves its way to the forefront of my brain. I check to see if Janet, my literary agent—and also my best friend in LA—has tried to get in touch with me. She’s always supportive, but just like any job, she has deadlines to keep—my deadlines.

How am I supposed to come here and mourn my mother, take care of what once was her entire life, and write another book all at the same time? As if writing the follow-up to an international bestselling debut novel wasn’t enough pressure. I gulp, realizing that writing book two here in PineCrest is either brilliant or the worst idea I’ve ever had.

One thing at a time, Hailey.

I shake my dirty blonde hair out of my face and stuff my phone back in my pocket. Right now, I have to focus on the issue in front of me. Entering the house.

Gravel crunches under my feet as I take my first steps toward the sweeping porch.

I squint through the bright rays of midday sunshine, trying to find a glitch in the home, but find none. How did my mother keep up with the constant, diligent care that the house always seemed to need?

Suddenly, I’m blinking back tears, knowing that I didn’t have a hand in any of it.

Deep breaths.

Now that my mom is gone, I’ll never get to ask all my unanswered questions, or have the chance to talk about my broken heart, or why I left and never looked back. I’ll never get to admit it was all because of fear.

Her death also means I can’t run away from my problems anymore. So here I am. And at twenty-three, it’s time I make a change. I need closure.

My heart thumps in protest. “It’s gonna be okay,” I whisper, “Just stay strong and don’t fail me.” Her flailing beats are known to tangle themselves around lots of things, but especially stupid boys with electric green eyes. I worry that having to write about them was enough stress, but seeing them again might damn near send her into a panic attack.

Remember, one problem at a time… focus.

The wooden porch boards creak as I walk over them. I tighten my grip on my keys and repeat the motion I had made hundreds of times as I approach the door.

Meow.

Spooked and confused by the unfamiliar cry, I spin around looking for a furry four-legged creature, but find none. We used to have a dog. However, Sidney, our Belgian Shepherd, died of old age many years ago before I left. But a cat? We never had a cat.

Cautiously, I walk around the corner of the porch. My stomach knots seeing the worn wicker furniture lining the wall, along with my mother’s easel, dusty and cobwebbed, leaning against the side door. No cat. Although, I smell something peculiar melding with the pine.

I wrinkle my nose as my eyes fall upon a food dish sitting on the white wooden railing of the porch. Huh.

The cat food is still wet, as if it’s only been here a couple hours. How odd. Who put this here? I never considered my mom the cat-lady type, but maybe it got lonely in this large house. The nearest neighbor is almost a mile away. Actually, it’s exactly .7 miles. I’d known the exact distance by age twelve, because my best friend lived there.

My chest tightens. Nope. I will not think of him right now. I thought enough about him on the flight.

I make my way to the front door. My hand jiggles the key to the right twice in the lock, knowing this old door has a trick to it—I can’t help a small, gloating smirk when it works. The monstrosity of a house swells with the summer humidity; the door wedges open with a squeak, and I’m overwhelmed by the nostalgic scent, much more intense than the familiar pines outside. I bask in the fact that the wallpaper has absorbed the smell of fresh apple pie and my mother’s floral perfume.

A tremor shivers through my heart as it hits me that my mother will not be exiting the kitchen to hug me, to tease me, to tell me I need to eat more. She won’t poke my bum and apologize for not gifting me with her shapely figure. I picture her wide smile and the dainty shoulders that contradicted her large hips. She had a smile I envied ever since I was a little girl. When she smiled, you felt it.

I stare down the hall as the ghosts of memories float away and I’m left with nothing but silence.

My eyes slip shut. I knew this was going to be hard. Hell, I’ve been making mental lists of what to be prepared for since packing for my flight from LA to Denver. I went over them continuously during the three-hour rental car drive from Denver to PineCrest.

Home. Or at least it used to be.

I drag my fingers over the edge of the couch in the living room, my fingertips loving the feeling of the ivory crocheted throw over the back of it. I glance at the picture frames on the shelf depicting years of family vacations, the vase with fake orchids on the mantel, the overly detailed wrought-iron screen covering the fireplace in the corner, even the untouched piano against the window. Everything is so achingly familiar.

I try not to panic.

How long would I have to stay until I sorted things out? I hadn’t been able to write in LA; the guilt had rendered me useless. But how will I get anything done here if I can barely breathe with all these claustrophobic memories?

The sound of wheels scraping against gravel makes my heart leap into my throat. Who the hell is that?

I jump next to the curtain, but then don’t dare to peek outside. Am I actually hiding? I listen: a loud, rumbling engine cuts off. A car door moans open. “Oh, Baby Biiirrrddd… is that your fancy Land Rover in the driveway?” echoes from the front yard.

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