Have you ever been told that you should hate someone? You didn’t know why, but as long as you can remember, you were told to hate them?
I never questioned it. Not until I was already eighteen and had spent my entire life hating him.
I remembered my first day of kindergarten clear as day. I’d just turned five. That was the problem with having a summer birthday. I was either going to be the oldest or the youngest in the class.
Snake, my dad’s best friend’s son, was three months younger, and my parents wanted us in the same class, so they started me in kindergarten as one of the oldest students.
I’d always be the oldest student except for Will. Will was three days older than I was.
When I got on the bus to school, I sat with Snake and Sassy, the three of us crowded into the large seat. We weren’t nervous. The three of us had spent every day of our lives together.
Sassy’s house was at the other end of the trailer park, and Snake’s was right next to mine. Snake and I were royalty in the trailer park.
My dad was the leader of the Southside Gang. Even at five, I’d known that. Snake’s dad was his number two.
We’d driven through the poor side of town, the one with the trailer park, the run-down houses, and the overgrown parks.
As soon as we crossed the railroad tracks, it was like we’d literally driven into a separate town.
The houses were big and modern. The parks were luxurious with soft tiles, having been updated to prevent the rich kids from getting hurt.
At the time, I didn’t think anything about the differences; I hadn’t realized that things were kept that way intentionally.
I was sitting between Sassy and Snake. There wasn’t room for anybody else, but I’d noticed Will as soon as he’d gotten on the bus.
He was loud, even as a kid. He’d drawn attention to himself immediately.
When we’d gotten to school, Sassy and I had been separated from Snake. He’d been placed in the other kindergarten class. Will had been in ours. I hadn’t known his name then, but I learned it soon.
When our teacher, Ms. Stillwater, had called our names, we’d exchanged a small smile before walking up to the class together.
“Hi,” he’d said loudly to me. “I’m Will.”
“I’m Haley,” I’d told him.
Even then, his smile had been bright, and I’d thought he was cute. At the time, I hadn’t known that those thoughts would be forced to change.
“Haley and Will have summer birthdays. Will’s is August eighteenth, and Haley’s is August twenty-first,” our teacher had told the class.
“So I’m giving them their card and special birthday treat today. The rest of you will get yours on your birthday.”
The rest of the class had protested, also wanting their special treat, which consisted of a bite-size piece of candy we got to choose. Will cheered loudly, running around and showing it off to everyone.
When I was five, I thought it was cute. And even as we grew older, I was still somehow attracted to his obnoxiousness. But over the years, I’d learn to push those feelings away because I had to hate him.
It was a family requirement.
But I hadn’t known that on my first day of kindergarten. Ms. Stillwater, who we called Ms. S, had sat us together, right in the front row. When it was lunchtime, he’d saved me a seat next to him.
“My mom packed me carrots. I don’t like them.” His nose had scrunched up, and he’d offered them to me.
“I’ll trade you them for my tomatoes,” I told him.
Will and I shared lunch that first day, switching whatever we didn’t like for the other person’s.
When it was time for dessert, we’d split his cookie in half and shared one spoon for my chocolate pudding.
“Did your mom make this?” I’d asked when I’d taken a bite of the delicious cookie.
“She always bakes cookies,” he’d said.
“It’s delicious. My mom never bakes,” I’d told him. “She always buys them from the store, but they’re never this good.”
“She says it’s cuz she bakes them with love.”
Love? I’d known the word even though nobody had ever said it to me.
“Maybe you can come bake them with us sometime,” he offered. “She always lets me lick the batter off the egg beater. But we can’t tell Dad that. Dad says it’s bad for me. But it’s the best part.”
“Moms and dads are weird.”
He’d laughed while bobbing his big head up and down in agreement.
Sassy had sat on the other side of me, but she’d spent all of lunch talking to Snake. That was before Snake and Sassy realized we were supposed to hate Will too.
When we went back to class, we had to line up two by two and hold hands with our partners. Before Sassy had been able to claim me as her partner, Will had grabbed my hand.
Friends held hands all the time; I held hands with Sassy and Snake all the time, but I liked holding Will’s hand the best.
Ms. S constantly had to tell Will and me to stop talking during class. By the time class was over that first day, I felt like Will was my best friend, just like Sassy and Snake.
On the bus ride home, I sat next to Will, just the two of us in the seat. Sassy and Snake sat in the seat across the aisle from us.
Sassy always said Snake had cooties, but even then, she smiled at him all the time.
As the years would go on, she’d smile at him less and less, and I would end up embarrassed at how long it had taken me to realize why that was.
Will had gotten been off first. “See you tomorrow, Haley,” he said while he waved goodbye to me.
“I’ll save you a seat,” I told him.
I smiled happily all the way home, knowing I’d made my first friend that I hadn’t known my entire life and didn’t live in the trailer park with me.
My mom was waiting for us when we got off the bus that first day.
“How was school?” she asked.
She hadn’t hugged me. Neither of my parents had ever been very affectionate, even when I was younger, and that hadn’t changed with the years.
My little sister, Chloe, was on her hip. She’d been almost three at the time.
“I made a friend!” I shouted excitedly.
“You have friends,” she’d said, somewhat annoyed.
“I made a new friend,” I told her seriously. “His name is Will.”
“Will what?” she snapped angrily.
I was confused about why my making a friend would make her mad.
“You cannot be friends with him!”
The tone of her voice and the volume of her shout terrified me. It wasn’t until I was much older that she didn’t scare me anymore, even when she used that tone of voice.
“Why?” I asked. I didn’t mean the question to annoy her more. It had been a serious one. Why couldn’t I be friends with a nice boy?
“He’s Sheriff Robert’s son,” she said. “His daddy is the reason your daddy spent the weekend in jail.”
That was the last time my dad had spent any time in jail. When I was older, I’d finally figure out why.
She huffed heavily before turning and walking away from the three of us. I’d followed behind her, my little legs chasing after her.
I’d wanted her to be happy with me. Things were always better when she was happy with me.
“It’s okay,” Sassy said. “We’re still your friends.” She rubbed her hand along my back soothingly while I felt sad for the loss of a friend.
“We’ll be best friends forever,” Snake had affirmed.
The next day, even though I’d promised to save Will a seat on the bus, I sat squished in with Sassy and Snake again.
When Will had gotten on the bus, with the rest of the kids from the rich side of town, he smiled brightly at me. “Hi, Haley. Wanna sit with me?”
I hadn’t even given him an answer.
I was so young that I didn’t really understand Mom’s reasoning. All I knew was I didn’t want to make her mad. So, I ignored him.
As the years went on, we ignored each other less and less and started tormenting each other. He was the town’s golden boy, the sheriff’s son, destined to be the next sheriff.
The teachers kissed his ass because they wanted to stay on the sheriff’s good side. He was mediocre at best at sports and school, but he was praised and worshipped like a god.
Was I judging him too harshly based on the way I had to hate him? Maybe.
But the feeling was mutual.
Mutual hatred had both of us sent to the principal’s office more than once throughout elementary, middle, and high school.
He’d make snarky comments about my dad being the leader of the Southside Gang, which encompassed basically the entire south side.
I’d make comments about him being a goody-goody whose future was only set because of who his daddy was.
But every year, I remembered his birthday. Three days before mine made it hard to forget.
And he didn’t know it, nobody knew, especially not my parents and certainly not my friends, but every year on his birthday, I sent him a birthday card.
When we were younger, in first grade through about sixth, I’d brought a card with me to the first day of school and slipped it into his backpack or his cubby and eventually his locker.
When I was old enough to afford it, I stopped making them and started buying them.
I never signed my name, and I had no idea if he knew who they were from, but I always felt lonely on my birthday since it was in the summer.
I thought it might make him feel nice to have a card on his special day.
Senior year of high school, though, something changed. We stopped playing enemies. I hadn’t realized that we’d still been playing pretend for the last thirteen years.
But the boy I liked so much that first-ever day of school was still buried in there somewhere, underneath the cocky exterior that I pretended to hate.
I’d always thought that people who claimed that there was a thin line between love and hate were spouting cliché bullshit. I stopped thinking that when I realized that, even if it was a cliché, it was true.
I was more shocked than anyone when he fell for me. It didn’t make any sense. Not after thirteen years of built-up hatred.
It wasn’t supposed to be love.
It was supposed to be a one-time thing, something to never be repeated. It was supposed to be a momentary lapse in judgment that led to a stupid decision.
That same stupid decision wasn’t supposed to happen again and again and again. It was a decision I wasn’t supposed to want to happen again, one he wasn’t supposed to want and encourage.
We weren’t supposed to tell anyone. It would ruin us.
I had plans, secret plans. And nothing would stand in the way of them, not even a tall, blond-haired, blue-eyed man-boy that I hated.
But there was no such thing as a kept secret unless you were the only one who knew said secret.
Would sex lead to love? Would hate change to love?
But still. The answer to the biggest question would change both our lives and possibly be the end of one of them.
Would I be the love of his life, or would I be the cause of his worst heartbreak?
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