Home > At First Hate (Coastal Chronicles #2)

At First Hate (Coastal Chronicles #2)
Author: K.A. Linde

Part I












The long life of Meredith Christianson was over.

I just called her Gran.

And she was still gone.

No more phone calls. No more visits. No more Gran. She wouldn’t make fun of my driving or roll her eyes when I back-talked or be my forever cheerleader on my way to success. She wouldn’t be anything because she’d died.

I was still in black from the funeral. A knee-length lace dress that my best friend, Lila, had pulled out of her closet for me. She’d known before I did that I’d need the help today. She’d practically been raised by Gran too.

“Mars,” my twin, Maddox, said with a wash of sadness as we stood before Gran’s empty house.

I closed my eyes to fight back the tears. “I’m not ready.”

“I can wait.”

Maddox knew as well as anyone how hard this was. We’d been dropped off on this stoop at the age of two and never left. I didn’t remember anything before the old Victorian home with light-blue siding and a wraparound porch with peeling white paint. The Spanish moss–covered oak in the front that we’d climbed on as children. The smell of Gran’s cooking in the kitchen—her famous biscuits and gravy, fried chicken, and cornbread. I’d do anything for her biscuits right about now. To see her wrinkled face pinch with consternation at my insufferable mouth.

“You don’t have to,” I told him.

Maddox had been inside the house since Gran had passed. He still lived in Savannah. He’d been the first one to get the call from the caretaker we’d hired so that Gran didn’t have to leave the house she loved. The house she’d lived and died in. The house that now belonged to us, clean and clear. It was worth a fortune at this point since Gran and Gramps had owned it for generations. Not that we ever had any intention of getting rid of it. Other than my memories, the house was all I had left of Gran.

I squeezed my eyes against the pain. Gran was gone. She was gone. Okay. That was how it was. She’d been going for years anyway. But now that it was here, it felt more surreal than I’d ever imagined. Final.

Maddox wrapped an arm around my shoulders. He didn’t say anything. He didn’t have to. We had that twin thing where we knew what the other was thinking. It had always been like that.

He pressed a kiss to my temple. “Take your time. You can come inside whenever you’re ready. We don’t have to make any decisions today.”

I nodded and watched him head up the front stone path to the house. He was gone inside a minute later. I swallowed back tears. I’d cried enough of them to last a lifetime. My eyes were still red and puffy from the funeral.

It hadn’t helped that my mom and aunt had shown up. I’d expected Aunt Ruth, who lived in Savannah even if I hadn’t seen her in at least a decade. But my mom…

My teeth ground together. She shouldn’t have been there at all. She didn’t deserve to mourn the woman she’d all but sent to her grave. The last argument they’d had, the one I’d been there for, I’d wanted to strangle her. It wasn’t enough that she’d been a shit mom, abandoning me and Maddox at the age of two to be taken care of by Gran, but she had to continually make everyone’s life worse by her sheer existence.

I didn’t want to think about her. I never did. How Gran had afforded her sympathy and compassion year after year, day after day, was beyond my comprehension. At least I’d gotten the last laugh when I found out Gran had given us the house and not her own children.

My hand hovered on the gate. It was just a house. It wasn’t haunted or anything. Despite everything else in Savannah seemingly being haunted. Gran had lived a long, long life. She’d passed with peace in her heart, knowing she’d done the best she could with her circumstances. But it didn’t make it any easier to step over the threshold. I’d been avoiding it all weekend after driving in from Atlanta with Lila, where I worked as a professor at Emory. She’d graciously let me stay with her mom down the street. Deb always had warm hugs and an open heart. I was grateful for her this weekend, but now, I finally had to face the empty house.

With a deep breath, I stepped into the yard. I kept my focus forward as I mounted the small stoop, reaching the iconic bright yellow door. I twisted the worn silver knob in my hand. The hinges gave with a slight creak as I crossed over onto the original hardwood floor. Everything was precisely where it had always been. The floral couch against the far wall. A color-coordinated pink and brown set of chairs on either side of it. Gramps’ brown leather recliner tucked in the corner. The rug was a threadbare multicolored thing that Gran had always taken special care of since it had belonged to her mom. The TV was way past outdated and veering toward an antique. She’d never cared for new, fandangle things. Though she secretly watched soaps on the nicer TV in her bedroom. I’d crawl into bed with her to find out what Stefano was doing to Marlena.

Pictures littered the walls, as they always had, collecting dust as much as memories. Gran was the third oldest of eight with pictures of her immense family all over the room. A scant few pictures of her own two daughters. They’d almost all been replaced by photographs of me and Maddox throughout the years.

“The kids I never had,” was what she always said.

I’d laughed then. I just found it sad now.

I pressed my fingers to a graduation photo nearest the door. Maddox and I stood in baby-blue cap and gowns at the local high school. Gran and Gramps had their arms around each of us. Lila and our other best friend, Josie, beamed. I’d never seen Gran as happy as when I got that full scholarship to Duke.

“Off to bigger and better, chickadee.

It was too much. How was I supposed to survive a wake here? How could I fill Gran’s house with strangers? How had we gotten wrangled into this in the first place? I wanted to be left alone. I didn’t want any well-meaning cakes and dinners. I didn’t want people to tell me they were sorry for my loss. I didn’t want pity at all. I wanted Gran back. I wanted the impossible.

My heart constricted. That was the last thing I needed.

I could hear Maddox stomping around upstairs. Who even know what he was doing? I wanted to tell him to keep it down, but if stomping around helped him grieve, then who was I to tell him to keep it quiet?

Then the doorbell rang, saving me from making a decision.

I checked my reflection in a giant brass mirror that Gran had always called the Lipstick Mirror. My eyes were still puffy, but they weren’t lined with tears. My curly brown hair was actually manageable since Lila had gotten to it before the funeral. My cheeks rosy from the Savannah summer humidity. My lips a perfect neutral pink, just as Gran had always preferred. I’d even picked her favorite Estée Lauder color, Pinkberry.

“I got it,” I called out to Maddox and then swung the door open.

My heart stopped as I found Derek Ballentine standing before me in a three-piece navy-blue pinstripe suit. As impossibly tall as ever with his sideswept brown hair and those too-damn-keen hazel eyes. His lips were pouty with an exaggerated Cupid’s bow and always appeared as if he’d been kissing all afternoon. He looked like he’d walked off the set of Savannah’s quintessential film, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. He’d always been gorgeous. And he was the very last person I wanted to see.

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