Loathe to Love You by Ali Hazelwood

            “Maybe he won’t even mind! I’m actually very surprised he lives there. Don’t get me wrong, the house is nice, but . . .” I trail off, thinking about the pictures I’ve seen, the hours spent on Google Street View scrolling and rescrolling through the frames, trying to get a grip on the fact that Helena cared about me enough to leave me a house. It’s a beautiful property, certainly. But more of a family residence. Not what I’d expect from an ace lawyer who probably earns a European country’s annual GDP per billable hour. “Don’t high-powered attorneys live in luxury fifty-ninth-floor penthouses with golden bidets and brandy cellars and statues of themselves? For all I know he barely spends time in the house. So I’m just going to be honest with him. Explain my situation. I’m sure we can find some kind of solution that—”

            “Here we are,” the driver tells me with a smile. I return it, a tad weakly.

            “If you don’t text us within half an hour,” Hannah says in a dead-serious tone, “I’m going to assume that Big Oil Liam is holding you captive in his basement and call law enforcement.”

            “Oh, don’t worry about that. Remember that kickboxing class I took in our third year? And that time at the strawberry festival, when I kicked the butt of the guy who tried to steal your pie?”

            “He was an eight-year-old boy, Mara. And you did not kick his butt—you gave him your own pie and a kiss on the forehead. Text in thirty, or I’m calling the cops.”

            I glare at her. “Assuming a polar bear hasn’t mugged you in the meantime.”

            “Sadie’s in New York, and she has the D.C. police on speed dial.”

            “Yup.” Sadie nods. “Setting it up right now.”

            I start feeling nervous the moment I exit the car, and it gets worse the farther I drag my suitcase up the path—a heavy ball of anxiety slowly nestling behind my sternum. I stop about halfway to take a deep breath. I blame Hannah and Sadie, who worry way too much and are apparently contagious. I’ll be fine. This will be fine. Liam Harding and I will have a nice, calm chat and figure out the best possible solution that is satisfactory to . . .

            I take in the early-fall yard around me, and my trail of thought fades away.

            It’s a simple house. Large, but no topiary shit or rococo gazebos or those creepy gnomes. Just a well-kept lawn with the occasional landscaped corner, a handful of trees I don’t recognize, and a large wooden patio furnished with comfortable-looking pieces. In the late-afternoon sunlight, the red bricks give the house a cozy, homey appearance. And every square inch of the place seems dusted in the warm yellow of ginkgo leaves.

            I inhale the smell of grass, and bark, and sun, and when my lungs are full I let out a soft laugh. I could so easily fall in love with this place. Is it possible that I already am? My very first love at first sight?

            Maybe this is why Helena left the house to me, because she knew I’d form an immediate connection. Or maybe knowing that she wanted me here has me ready to open my heart to it. Either way, it doesn’t matter: this place feels like it could be home, and Helena is once again being her meddling self, this time from the afterlife. After all, she always went on and on about how she wanted me to really belong. “You know, Mara, I can tell you’re lonely,” she’d say whenever I stopped by her office to chat. “How do you even know?” “Because people who aren’t lonely don’t write fan fiction for The Bachelor franchise in their spare time.” “It’s not fan fiction. More of a metacommentary on the epistemological themes that arise in each episode and—my blog has plenty of readers!” “Listen, you’re a brilliant young woman. And everyone loves redheads. Why don’t you just date one of the nerds in your cohort? Ideally the one who doesn’t smell like compost.” “Because they’re all dicks who keep asking when I’ll drop out to go get a degree in home economics?” “Mmm. That is a good reason.”

            Maybe Helena finally realized that any hope of me settling down with someone was a lost cause, and decided to channel her efforts into me settling down somewhere. I can almost picture her, cackling like a satisfied hag, and it makes me miss her a million times harder.

            Feeling much better, I leave my suitcase just off the porch (no one is going to steal it, not covered as it is in geeky keep calm and recycle on, and good planets are hard to find, and trust me, i’m an environmental engineer stickers). I run a hand through my long curls, hoping they’re not too messy (they probably are). I remind myself that Liam Harding is unlikely to be a threat—just a rich, spoiled man-boy with the depth of a surfboard who cannot intimidate me—and lift my arm to ring the bell. Except that the door swings open before I can get to it, and I find myself standing in front of . . .