Loathe to Love You by Ali Hazelwood

            “Shh.” I feel his lips at my temple, warm and reassuring. “Everything’s okay, Mara.”

            Something hot and liquid begins to coil at the bottom of my belly.


            Six months ago

            Frankly, “They get on like a house on fire” is the most misleading saying in the English language. Faulty wiring? Misuse of heating equipment? Suspected arson? Not evocative of two people getting along in the least. You know what a house on fire has me picturing? Bazookas. Flamethrowers. Sirens in the distance. Because nothing is more guaranteed to start a house fire than two enemies blowtorching each other’s most prized possession. Want to trigger an explosion? Being nice to your roommate is not going to do it. Lighting a match on top of their kerosene-soaked handmade quilt, on the other hand—”

            “Miss?” The Uber driver turns, looking guilty about interrupting my pre-apocalyptic spiel. “Just a heads-up—we’re about five minutes from your destination.”

            I smile an apologetic Thank you and glance back at my phone. My two best friends’ faces take up the entire screen. Then, on the upper corner there’s me: more frowny than usual (well justified), more pasty than usual (is that even possible?), more ginger than usual (must be the filter, right?).

            “That’s a totally fair take, Mara,” Sadie says with a puzzled expression, “and I encourage you to submit your, um, very valid complaints to Madame Merriam-Webster or whoever’s in charge of these matters, but . . . I literally only asked you how the funeral went.”

            “Yes, Mara—how’d—funeral—go—?” The quality on Hannah’s end of the call is pitiful, but that’s business as usual.

            This, I suppose, is what happens when you meet your best friends in grad school: One minute you’re happy as a clam, clutching your shiny brand-new engineering diploma, giggling your way through a fifth round of Midori sours. The next you’re in tears, because you’re all going separate ways. FaceTime becomes as necessary as oxygen. There are zero neon-green cocktails in sight. Your slightly deranged monologues don’t happen in the privacy of the apartment you share, but in the semipublic back seat of an Uber, while you’re on your way to have a very, very weird conversation.

            See, that’s the thing I hate the most about adulting: at some point, one has to start doing it. Sadie is designing fancy eco-sustainable buildings in New York City. Hannah is freezing her butt off at some Arctic research station NASA put up in Norway. And as for me . . .

            I’m here. Moving to D.C. to start my dream job—scientist at the Environmental Protection Agency. On paper, I should be over the moon. But paper burns so fast. As fast as houses on fire.

            “Helena’s funeral was . . . interesting.” I lean back against the seat. “I guess that’s the upside of knowing that you’re about to die. You get to bully people a bit. Tell them that if they don’t play ‘Karma Chameleon’ while lowering your casket your ghost will haunt their progeny for generations.”

            “I’m just glad you were able to be with her in the last few days,” Sadie says.

            I smile wistfully. “She was the worst till the very end. She cheated in our last chess game. As if she wouldn’t have beaten me anyway.” I miss her. An inordinate amount. Helena Harding, my Ph.D. advisor and mentor for the past eight years, was family in a way my cold, distant blood relatives never cared to be. But she was also elderly, in a lot of pain, and, as she liked to put it, eager to move on to bigger projects.

            “It was so lovely of her to leave you her D.C. house,” Hannah says. She must have moved to a better fjord, because I can actually make out her words. “Now you’ll have a place to be, no matter what.”

            It’s true. It’s all true, and I am immensely grateful. Helena’s gift was as generous as it was unexpected, easily the kindest thing anyone has ever done for me. But the reading of the will was a week ago, and there’s something I haven’t had a chance to tell my friends. Something closely related to houses on fire. “About that . . .”

            “Uh-oh.” Two sets of brows furrow. “What happened?”

            “It’s . . . complicated.”

            “I love complicated,” Sadie says. “Is it also dramatic? Let me go get tissues.”

            “Not sure yet.” I take a fortifying breath. “The house Helena left me, as it turns out, she didn’t really . . . own it.”