1 HAZEL

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I hate numbers.

I hate how uniform and indisputable they are.

I hate how they have taken over my once colorful life completely. How they've turned every neat stroke of baby blue into an ugly blob of infinite black. The black I've been waking up to for the past two years, one month, and twenty-six days.

Guilt and hunger twist my stomach as I struggle with the stubborn luggage that doesn't want to leave the trunk of my Prius—a farewell present from Owen, soon-to-be my ex-husband on paper, although he hasn't actually been one in over two years.

Once the heavy bag makes it to the ground, I smooth my burning palms over the fabric of my winter coat and give myself a few seconds to process the view in front of me—a small private lake house hiding behind the multicolored line of trees. Their tortured-by-the-wind tips are desperate for the attention of afternoon sun. The golds and the reds up above, so typical of fall in Tahoe, look lost amidst the heavy clouds racing across the November sky.

Agreeing to my friend's house-sitting arrangement didn't seem like a bad idea when Rayna offered. It does now. Besides, she and her husband never needed a house sitter in Tahoe before.

The blanket of dead leaves shielding the cold ground rustles beneath my boots as I shuffle my feet to the front door.

Painful memories of the happy moments spent here with Owen cause my chest to stiffen.

Life doesn't end at twenty-six, does it?

For some, like my son, River, who was diagnosed with congenital leukemia only two days after his birth, it ends at four.

Here we go, numbers again.

My fingers are numb, just like the rest of my body, as I thrust my hand into the pocket of my pea coat and fish for the key. As soon as I step inside, the faint smell of vanilla and pumpkin trap me into a bubble of more memories. The time of my life before River. When things were simple. When it was just Rayna, Clay, Owen, and me. And our wild Tahoe weekends.

The cabin looks exactly like it did years ago, unaffected by the storms in our lives. Its vintage rustic interior is warm and inviting. There are lots of carpets, artwork, crafts, and plenty of windows overlooking the lake; its glazed blue surface almost taking my breath away. But the lingering hint of a feeling lasts only a fraction of a second.

I drop the luggage and cross the living room, my eyes zeroing in on the glimmer of the appliances peeking out from the kitchen. I walk over to the fridge and pull the door open, only to find a package of turkey and a lonely can of tomato juice on the top shelf. My phone buzzes in my pocket when I'm searching for bread. And possibly wine or beer.

"Hey, hon." Rayna's voice hesitant and somewhat uneasy on the line. "How was the drive?"

"Long and boring." I walk back to the island with a stack of the paper plates I found in one of the cabinets. "How was your flight?"

"Clay almost went crazy. Eleven hours on a plane." Rayna forces a laugh. I wish she hadn't, though. Not for me. "Are you settling in okay?"

"Yep. About to make a sandwich."

"Oh God!" She gasps. "The turkey one? Don't eat that. It's been there since last Christmas. I told my cleaning lady to get some groceries for you. She usually comes Thursdays or Fridays. She has her own key. Her name is Ester."

"Okay." Looking around the dust-free kitchen, I realize today isactually Friday. And if Ester had been here earlier, she probably didn't get any groceries because I never told Rayna when exactly I was coming to the cabin until I got in my car today in the morning and took off. The thought of going out to a store on my own sends a cold shiver down my back. Part of me ached to escape L.A. because of the holiday crowds. People are overrated. Most people, anyway. "What's your first stop?"

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