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But that’s not why Summer lied. She lied because she couldn’t afford to make friends. Friends turned on you when you needed them the most. Only Summer didn’t remember Jemma Leigh turning on her. Then again, Summer had never given her the chance.

“Oh.” Jemma Leigh’s face fell. “Well, I remember you, Summer Holland. We went to school together. You always drew the best pictures in art class, and I was green with envy.”

That’s what Jemma Leigh remembered? Not the rumors, or the whispers, or the name-calling, but how well she’d drawn? Color her confused. “Thank you.”

Jemma Leigh shifted her weight from side to side, and then handed over the stack of papers. “I took the opportunity to get the mail this evening, since you wouldn’t know to get it. But since you’re staying, you can get it from now on. While you’re here, you’ll have to have coffee with me so we can catch up. There’s a new café in town with muffins that will widen your hips just from looking at them. Not as good as Daisy’s place, but she’s off with her earl, living it up in England or China… Some place like that. Anyway, you just have to go with me.”

Summer stared at her blankly, taking the mail.

“You are staying, aren’t you?” Jemma Leigh’s brows drew together. “I could have sworn Rose said you were.”

Summer crossed her arms, not the easiest of feats considering her hands were full. “I’m thinking about staying.” There was no need for the entire town to know she was here, until she was good and ready. She turned and walked to the house, leaving Jemma Leigh standing in the middle of the front yard.

“Nice chatting with you, Summer. I’ll see you around,” Jemma Leigh called out, but Summer barely paid her any attention. All her focus was on the house, and what she’d find behind the door.

The old-fashioned key seemed to weigh about a thousand pounds in her hand. Her palms became sweaty and her knees wobbly, but she put the key in the lock and turned it. The door swung open.

A cat rushed out, winding around her legs. She bent down, dumping the mail on the porch to scoop him up. “Blackbeard,” she whispered again his soft, black fur. “I’ve missed you.”

Blackbeard purred in response.

She looked into his blue eyes and made a face. “It hasn’t been that long.”

The cat kept staring, and his tail twitched.

“All right, it has been a long time, but I plan on staying a long time.” She stroked his back. “Does my time frame meet with your approval?”

Blackbeard wriggled out of her arms, and she let him go. Rising to her feet, she left the porch and the mail behind her as she entered the house.

A white envelope propped up on a table in the foyer caught her eye. Her name was boldly written on it. Blackbeard jumped on the table, rubbing against the mirror.

“You’re so vain now. Is Rose’s husband the reason for it?” she asked the cat. Picking up the note, she examined it and then let out a puff of air when she couldn’t discern what was inside without opening it.

“Fine,” she muttered, lifting the back flap and pulling out the letter.

Dear Summer,

Sasha, Ivy, and I are traveling in Zimbabwe at the moment. We are opening a new school there, and then another one in Brazil.

“A globetrotting Holland. Who would have thunk it?” she said, absently petting Blackbeard.

Normally, I keep Carolina Dreams closed during our trips, but there are several couples that will need our help. I hope that you can find a way to reopen the store while I’m gone. After all, you and Skye helped start it. Please pay yourself whatever you think is fair. Harrison can help you, if you have any questions.

“Fat chance of Harrison helping me,” Summer muttered.

Please make yourself at home. You’ll find your old bedroom ready for you. I’m sure Blackbeard can show you the way, if you’ve forgotten.

All My Love,

Rose

P.S. Tell Blackbeard to stay out of my closet. He has a nasty habit of drooling on my cashmere sweaters.

P.P.S. That was Sasha, not me. Blackbeard has a crush on him.

P.P.P.S. Why wouldn’t he? I’m very pleasing to the eye, as are you.

P.P.P.P.S. Beauty fades, but I’ll keep you anyway.

Summer swallowed a giggle, and then crumpled up the letter. Her sister was truly in love, and the man she married was truly in love with her. The thought of it warmed the coldness that lived inside of her, but only a little. A little was all she would allow.

She looked in the mirror, not at herself, but at the room behind her. Everything inside the house had changed. It was elegant and touchable. The large chairs flanking either side of the fireplace practically begged to be sat in, but she wouldn’t succumb.

Instead, she scooped up Blackbeard and dropped the letter on the table. She wandered around for what seemed like hours, taking in the newness as memories washed over her.

Running through the house with her sisters, laughing as Blackbeard chased after them. Their mother teaching her how to illustrate botanical recipes long after everyone had gone to bed, not even Rose suspected Summer had been the one to do that.

Trying the new recipes Rose invented. Putting up with all the friends Skye would make and try to bring home with her. Meeting Gabriel for the first time, in the backyard, when he’d gotten lost in the woods.

But along with the good, came the bad.

Growing up to look exactly like Azalea. Dealing with the rumors while, struggling not to become what she was accused of being. Azalea kicking her out. Living with Patrick—

Summer paused in the middle of the upstairs hallway and closed her eyes.

She wouldn’t think of him, of what he demanded after letting her stay the night when she had nowhere else to go. Summer had thought Patrick was her friend, because he was Gabriel’s friend. And Gabriel would have never been friends with—

Her eyes popped open, and she marched to her old room.

It didn’t matter what Gabriel used to be, was right now, or would be in the future. Coming home to Holland Springs had nothing to do with him.

She threw open the door and stepped inside. The room was tastefully done in soft greens and rich creams, two of her favorite colors. Little splashes of pink and yellow made the room extra homey.

But the picture of her holding a newborn Ivy seemed to mock her from the mantle over the fireplace. Her lips twisted, and her jaw clenched.

It’s the right thing, Summer.

But it hurts.

I know it does, but I’ll help you, every step of the way, if you want.

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