“I need to go home,” I say, stowing the snowman inside my jacket. “I don’t want to be anywhere she doesn’t feel welcome.”

“She is welcome,” my mother murmurs, laying a hand on my arm. “Go get her. Bring her back here so I can apologize in person. Please?”

“She’s been maneuvered enough.” I’m already headed for the door. “I’ll let her decide when she’s ready to hear it.”

*

Addison

Make sure your umbrellas are in working order, Charleston. Or better yet, stay inside. This storm is roaring toward us like a freight train with the brakes cut…

I turn down the volume on the radio and press my foot down harder on the gas pedal. My Honda groans in response but does as she’s told, protesting the added weight in her trunk as we trundle over the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge. Beside me on the passenger seat sits the Mrs. Claus urn holding my grandmother’s ashes. One more thing to check off my list before I go. And based on the darkening sky and the weatherman’s prediction, I have about an hour before the heavens open up and rain down holy hell on this place I’ve called home for such a short while.

Ignoring the tug in my stomach insisting it’s still my home, I take the turnoff for Remley’s Point, unsurprised to find only one car in the parking lot. The rental hut still looks like it’s open, though. Thank God. This can’t wait until tomorrow. After what I’ve set into motion today, I can’t stay in Charleston. Elijah’s touch, voice, scent and the love he’s burdened me with will stay forever, but I can’t subject myself to torture.

There’s a box in my trunk full of thwarted plans for the decorating business. Vendors price lists, sketches, résumés from local artists who I’ve been corresponding with about the launch and joining forces. God, I was excited to venture out into the great unknown of starting a business, carrying a flag for my grandmother and all she gave me, but that box full of dreams might as well be fire kindling now. I can’t stay here and see it through. I can’t.

No sooner have I parked the car do I grab the urn, tuck it into the backpack containing my wallet and sprint for the rental place. When I see they’re sliding the window shut and turning off the lights, I run faster. “Wait,” I call, catching the familiar young man’s attention. “Wait, please. I need to rent a kayak.”

He gives a cracking laugh. “Sorry, ma’am, but…ain’t you seen the sky?”

“Yes. Yes, I know there’s a storm coming, but it’s not going to break until five.” I duck down to read the clock mounted on the wall behind him inside the hut. “It’s barely four. I can be across the river and back in half that time.”

“Last time it took you two hours.”

“I was lingering. I promise I won’t linger this time.”

There’s a small hesitation, but he shakes his head. “Can’t do it,” he says, reaching once again for the window. “Come back in the morning and I’ll give you a discount.”

“Wait.” I’m breathing like I just swam across the damn river. “Please. I’m leaving town today and I won’t get this chance again.” I hold up the backpack. “My grandmother is in this bag.”

He whistles low and long. “I didn’t see that coming.”

“Like, in an urn…she’s not, like, really small or something.” Oh my God, heartbreak has completely derailed my common sense. My brain has checked out and I’m running on emotion. Confusing, nonsensical emotion. “Look, she used to kayak this route and I’ve tried to scatter her ashes twice—yes, I know it’s illegal—but I couldn’t do it. It just wasn’t the right time. But I really need this closure, okay? I need it before I can leave. And I have to leave today or I might see them or—or he might try and find me and apologize for not loving me and I couldn’t stand it.”

His sigh is directed upward. “It’s always about the opposite sex, isn’t it?”

“Not for me. It was just this once and it’ll never happen again.”

“Never say never.”

“Fine, I won’t. Just let me rent a kayak. I’ll be back by a quarter to five. Please.”

The young man drags both hands down his face, then leaves the window. A few seconds later, I hear the back door of the rental hut open, followed by the now-familiar sound of a boat dragging along the dirt. Relief weakens my knees, but I lurch to the side and clear the hut, prepared to take the kayak from him. “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

He looks up at the sky. “Thank me by coming back in one piece.”

Remembering the procedure from earlier visits, I dig in my backpack for my wallet and hand him my ID. I notice him do a double take while studying my ID, but I’ve already grabbed the front of the kayak and started jogging toward the launch area.

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