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Famous Last Words: Epilogue


“It’s raining,” I state flatly as we walk toward the automatic doors that lead outside the airport. They glide open silently as we approach.

Harlow laughs. “Why do you sound surprised?”

“I’m not surprised,” I reply, studying the water dripping off the overhang built for precisely this purpose. “Just underwhelmed.”

“The weather isn’t supposed to be sunny every single day. It’s not natural.”

My water-loving girl. All of Harlow’s favorite places—Somerville, Ireland, the town near Vancouver where she grew up—have damp, wet climates. One of many reasons I thought me getting signed to Tampa Bay’s team would complicate our relationship. Harlow shocked me by making it a non-issue. She applied for a research position studying and rehabilitating manatees and started lining up apartments to tour.

I’ve adjusted to living in Florida more easily than Harlow has. Not just because I don’t have to slather myself with sunscreen every day. Because it’s me achieving the dream I’ve been chasing for as long as I can remember. Would Tampa have been my first choice of location? Probably not. But beggars can’t be choosers, and I was begging for a team to take a chance on me. Plus, I was used to wearing blue.

And Harlow chased my dream with me, setting all the other opportunities she could have pursued aside. I’m not sure if she understands how much that meant to me—her choosing me so thoroughly and resolutely. Rearranging her whole plan to accommodate me.

So I booked this trip back to Washington for Thanksgiving, so that Harlow could wear her yellow raincoat and see the Garrisons. Thankfully, I play for a professional sports league that allows its players to have the holiday off.

“There she is!” Harlow waves to my mom, who’s pulled up alongside the curb. She heads for the silver SUV, and I’m right behind her.

My mom’s wearing her usual scrubs. I wouldn’t be shocked if she came here straight from the hospital. She hugs Harlow first, then turns to me, beaming. “Hi, honey.”

“Hey, Mom.” I hug her tightly.

She came to Florida for my first pro game, but that’s the only time I’ve seen her since I moved. She smells the same as always, like the mint lotion she uses to moisturize her hands between frequent washings at the hospital.

I load our bags into the trunk while Harlow gets into the backseat.

“How was the flight?” my mom asks as we join the long queue of cars leaving the airport.

“Not bad,” Harlow replies. “Just long. Conor already misses the sun.”

“I didn’t say that,” I protest.

“Honey, it’s almost always raining here,” my mom says.

“Yep,” I say. “It’s so…peaceful.”

Harlow snorts in the backseat.

My mom parks outside the condo where I grew up fifty minutes later. It looks the same as when I was last here in May, right after graduation to pack up my stuff. This is the first time Harlow has ever been here.

I give her a quick tour of the downstairs: kitchen, living room, and the dining room that doubles as my mom’s office. Then I carry our luggage up to my old bedroom so we can both change out of our travel clothes. Try to talk Harlow into fooling around, which she more than considers until my mom starts banging pans around downstairs.

When we get back downstairs, my mom has warmed up some soup and bread. Christmas carols play in the background as we sit and catch up. Eventually, my mom asks what time we need to leave for the Garrisons’.

“Probably pretty soon,” Harlow says, glancing at me.

I know she’s nervous about how dinner will go. She talks to the Garrisons regularly, but my relationship with them hasn’t thawed much. Hugh followed through on attending all of my games, but those were, at most, followed by small talk. Aside from graduation, I haven’t seen him since I got the offer from Tampa at the end of March.

Just like I told him, I’m not sure I’ll ever get over it. I don’t know how to have a relationship with my father, a man who’s basically a stranger to me.

But, for Harlow, I’ll eat a meal with the guy. And my half-brother. And the woman he picked over my mom.

“You should take the flowers,” my mom suggests, nodding to the colorful centerpiece. “A neighbor brought them, and they’ll just go to waste sitting here. There’s a pie in the fridge for you to take, too.”

“You don’t need to do that, Mom.”

I feel guilty that I’m going over to the Garrisons’. Like I’m letting Hugh off the hook. I know my mom understands why. Know she gets it’s tied up with Harlow’s happiness now, that I’m doing this for her. But still, it’s strange.

“I know, Conor,” she replies, her tone a little sharp. “Moving forward is important. Logan said—”

My mom stops talking abruptly.

“Who the hell is Logan?”

Pink tinges my mother’s cheeks, and I’m pretty sure she’s blushing. “A friend from work. He made the pie.”

“A friend? Are you dating this guy?”

As far as I know, my mother hasn’t gone out with anyone since her relationship with my father ended. She focused on her job, and on me.

“We’ve…spent some time together outside of work.”

“How long have you known him?”

“Nine years.”

“Have you been spending time with him for nine years?”

I’ve never asked her about guys, because I assumed she would tell me if there was someone. Now, I’m wondering if that was a mistake.

My mom looks affronted. “You think I would be in a relationship with someone for that long and not tell you?”

And now, it’s a relationship.

“I don’t know, Mom! You’ve never mentioned him before. It didn’t even seem like you meant to just now. You stopped talking as soon as you said his name.”

“Well, I wasn’t sure how you’d react.” She sniffs, like my response has been subpar.

“What does he do?”

“I told you, he works at the hospital.”

“Yeah, but what specifically does he do at the hospital?” I ask.

“He’s a trauma surgeon.”

“Oh.” I can’t come up with any criticism of that career path.

And I’m not trying to interrogate my mom. I just worry about her, living alone in a town that knows her whole past. I like the sunshine, but I’d much prefer to be closer to my mom. If anything happened, I’m halfway across the country.

“He sounds wonderful, Anna,” Harlow says. “I hope we’ll get a chance to meet him soon.”

“I hope so, too,” my mom replies.

“How old is he?” I ask, reaching for my water glass.


I choke. “What?”

My mom laughs. “He’s a year younger than I am, Conor. Age appropriate.”

I exhale, relieved. “As long as he makes you happy, Mom.”

“He does. He’s a hockey fan too. I think you’ll like him.”

“You guys should come visit. I can get you both tickets to a game. And Harlow redecorated our whole place since you were last there. Rain paintings everywhere. You’ll feel right at home.”

“There’s one rain painting,” Harlow says.

I glance at the clock on the wall. “We should get going. It’s almost four.”

My mom nods. “Don’t forget the pie in the fridge. Or the flowers. I’ll see you two tonight.” She stands and starts clearing the dishes.

“Let me help with those,” Harlow says, standing too,

“No, no,” my mom replies, shooing her hands away. “You two get going. Really.”

“Okay,” Harlow answers, glancing at me.

We slip on our jackets and head for my mom’s car. Harlow climbs into the passenger side, holding the flowers and pie, while I readjust the seat so I can drive without my knees knocking my chin.

“My mom has a boyfriend. How weird is that?”

“It’s exciting for her, Conor. She seems happy.”

“Yeah, she does,” I admit. “He’s a surgeon. Do you think that means he’s a total tool, like the guys on the medical drama you like to watch?”

“The medical drama I like to watch that you’re just pretending to not know the name of and the same one that you got mad at me for watching without you one time?”


She laughs. “I think your mom is a good judge of character.”

“That’s debatable,” I reply pointedly.


“What? I’m getting it out of my system now.”

Harlow mutters something under her breath.

The drive from my mom’s condo to the Garrisons’ takes less than ten minutes. Claremont is filled with winding, quiet streets that are empty at the moment. Most people have reached their Thanksgiving destinations by now, multiple cars parked in many of the driveways we pass.

I stop in front of the Garrisons’, my stomach clenching uncomfortably as I turn off the car and glance toward it. For a place that houses a lot of negative memories, it’s beautiful. Against the backdrop of orange and red leaves, the brick home stands tall and proud.

Harlow passes me the pie, keeping the flowers herself. My mom tied a plastic bag around the bottom and then wrapped them in brown paper with a ribbon holding everything together. Way more effort than I would have put in, but I can admit they look nice.

Hand-in-hand, we approach the front porch. The doormat has changed from the last time I was here. Rather than sunflowers, there’s a scattering of multi-colored leaves illustrated on the stiff brown fibers. And no pumpkins.

“You ready?” Harlow asks.

“Sure,” I reply.

The door swings open before she can hit the doorbell.

“Oh. Hey.” Landon is standing in the doorway, still holding the door handle.

“Hi, Landon,” Harlow says cheerfully. She drops my hand to step forward and hug him, carefully keeping the flowers from getting crushed. He returns it, holding my gaze the whole time.

I’ve exchanged a few words with Hugh. Landon? We haven’t spoken for exactly three hundred and sixty-four days, since I almost punched him at Zeke Ledger’s party.

“Conor,” he acknowledges.


At least I have the satisfaction of knowing Landon knows he was wrong about me and Harlow.

“You’re heading out?” Harlow asks.

“Uh, yeah. Mom forgot to get cranberries earlier. Mel isn’t here yet, so I’m trying to be fast. You guys are early.”

“We had to leave for the airport at four a.m. It already feels like midnight to me.”

“Don’t fall asleep at the table. You’re referee tonight. I’ll grab you a whistle while I’m at the store.”

Landon,” Harlow hisses.

“What? I thought Mr. Athletic would appreciate the sports metaphor.”

My younger brother has a sense of humor. Who knew.

“Landon! Why haven’t you left yet—oh. Hi, Harlow.” Allison Garrison appears in the open doorway behind Landon.

“I’m leaving now, Mom,” he tells her, then continues past us and down the stairs.

“Hi, Allison,” Harlow says, leaning forward and giving her a hug as well.

I swallow, shoving my hands into the pockets of my slacks. My stepmother has never been anything but kind toward me. I don’t feel the same animosity toward her as I do toward Landon or Hugh. And I know Harlow thinks highly of her, especially because of Allison’s connection to her mom. But I’ve never felt comfortable around Allison. In my head, she’s the woman who ruined my parents’ relationship.

“These are from Anna.” Harlow hands Allison the flowers. “So’s the pie.”

“Oh. How lovely. Please thank her for me.”

“I will.”

“Hello, Conor.”

I nod at her. “Hi, Allison.”

“Come on in, please.”

She beckons us inside, and I walk into my father’s house for the first time in sixteen years. Allison takes our coats, then ushers us into the kitchen. Unlike the entryway, this room hasn’t changed from my memories. It sends a ripple of unease through me, recalling all the uncomfortable moments I spent in here. I set the pie down on the counter.

“Hugh is in the den, making a fire. Or setting the house on fire. One of the two.” Allison chuckles. “Can I get you guys anything to drink? Wine? Beer? Water?”

“I’m good with water,” I say.

Allison nods, then rushes to fill a glass.

“Have a drink, Conor,” Harlow whispers to me.


“I promise you, I’m a thousand percent comfortable with it. And I know you’re uncomfortable here, so it would make me feel better if you had a beer.”


Her sigh is exasperated. “You’re so fucking stubborn.”

“I told you I’d never have a drink before driving you, and I meant it. And I am ‘fucking stubborn,’ as you so sweetly put it, so you’re wasting your time trying to change my mind.”

“I love you,” Harlow mutters, sounding irritated about it.

I laugh, then plant a kiss on her cheek.

When I look up from our whispered conversation, Allison is staring at us and smiling. As soon as she notices me looking she turns away, busying herself with something inside one of the four pots on the counter.

“I know you had your doubts, Allison, but—” My father stops speaking when he realizes his wife is no longer the only person in the kitchen. “—the fire is going,” he finishes.

“Nice work, honey,” Allison replies. “Harlow and Conor are here.”

“I see that.” My father aims a nervous smile this way. “Welcome.”

“Thanks, Hugh,” Harlow replies.

She doesn’t hug him the way she did Landon and Allison, and I wonder if she usually does.

We’re inside my father’s house, but I’m the outsider. She’s the one with all the familiarity and insight, the one who’s celebrated Thanksgiving here before.

“How was—” The sound of the doorbell cuts off whatever else Hugh was going to say.

“Landon wouldn’t…” Harlow starts.

Allison’s eyes widen. “That must be Melanie!”

Harlow grins. “Landon’s going to be pissed we had the chance to embarrass him.”

“Yup,” Allison agrees. “Do you want to go, or should I?”

“I’ll go,” Harlow replies, then darts out into the hallway.

“Melanie and Landon just started dating at the start of the fall semester. We haven’t had the chance to meet her yet,” Hugh tells me.

“Uh, yeah. Harlow mentioned,” I reply.

“Ah, right.”

The sound of voices drift in from the hallway, and Harlow reappears in the kitchen a few seconds later. A petite girl with light brown hair is following her.

Harlow is talking about cranberries, so I assume she’s filling Melanie in on where Landon is. Hugh and Allison introduce themselves, and then I step forward.

“Hi, I’m Conor. Harlow’s boyfriend.”

There’s a pause where I debate if I should add anything else, deciding not to. I assume Landon mentioned to his girlfriend that I also happen to be his half-brother. And if he didn’t, I don’t really want to be the one to mention it.

“Nice to meet you.” Melanie smiles at me, and it’s much more genuine than I recall Kelly’s being.

Already a massive improvement from the last girlfriend of Landon’s that I met.

The front door’s slam echoes through house.

“I had to go to three different—Mel! You’re here!”

“Yeah. Traffic wasn’t bad,” Melanie replies, smiling at Landon as he walks into the kitchen holding a grocery bag. He sets it on the counter, and we all watch as they attempt an awkward hug. Harlow smirks at me and I wink back.

“Is everyone ready to eat?” Allison asks. “The food is all set, but I can keep it warm if we want to wait.”

“I’m hungry,” Harlow says. I nod my agreement, and so do Landon, Melanie, and Hugh.

Ten minutes later, we’re sitting around the large dining room table with full plates. There’s no attempt to go around and list all the things we’re grateful for, or anything like that, which I’m grateful for.

The food is all delicious, and I shovel it into my mouth as I listen to Allison and Hugh pepper Melanie with questions about her family, her interests, and her time at Brighton so far. She handles it better than I would have, which I suppose is the one upside of being Hugh’s estranged son. He’s too nervous around me to give me the third degree about dating Harlow.

“Landon mentioned you play professional hockey, Conor?” Melanie asks me when Hugh and Allison run out of questions to ask. Her attempt to shift the attention away from herself, I’m guessing.

“Yeah,” I reply. “I do.”

“That’s so cool!”

“Yeah, thanks.” I smile at her.

“Landon said you’re really good.”

“He did, huh?” I look at my half-brother. He doesn’t meet my gaze, which doesn’t surprise me. The fact that he complimented me about anything does.

Melanie seems oblivious to the fact she said anything out of the ordinary, which makes me think Landon didn’t tell her how dysfunctional this family dinner is. That she thinks I’m just her boyfriend’s best friend’s boyfriend, which is fine with me.

Dinner ends. Allison serves the apple pie we brought, along with a pumpkin one.

“This looks delicious,” she says as she drops crust and cinnamon coated apples on a plate. “Homemade?”

“Yes,” Harlow replies, then looks to me. She’s wondering how much she should share about the baker.

“My mom’s boyfriend made it,” I say.

“It looks delicious,” Allison says.

I don’t check Hugh’s reaction.

The apple pie is really good, I admit. It elevates my opinion of Logan the trauma surgeon.

We all help clear the dishes and then stand around the kitchen, unsure of what to do next. Despite a conflict-free meal, uncertainty and awkwardness still hover in the air.

Before I lose my nerve—or someone suggests playing a board game—I grab the basketball out of one of the cubbies by the back door that leads out onto the deck.

I spin it on my finger. “What do you say, old man?”

Harlow beams at me, and I roll my eyes. But her expression makes the offer worthwhile. I haven’t changed my opinion of my father or half-brother much. I don’t know if I ever will. I’ve harbored resentment toward them both for my entire life. It will take a lot more than the small number of hours we’ve spent around each other to chip away at any of my resolution. But we’re not quite the total strangers we once were.

All thanks to Harlow Hayes. Because she was nothing like I expected her to be and everything I didn’t know I needed. Because there isn’t much—anything—I wouldn’t do to put a smile on her face.

“Old man who ran a marathon a few months ago,” Hugh responds. He’s trying to hide them, but I can see both the excitement and eagerness in his hazel eyes.

That was the only downside of getting signed as an undrafted free agent—I couldn’t run in the marathon with Harlow like I’d planned to. But Landon, Allison, and Hugh were all there to support her, and a bonus of working for an employer that clears tens of millions of dollars in revenue a year is that you can make suggestions on where they donate fat checks.

“Landon?” I ask.

My brother—half-brother, rather—looks shocked.


“Why don’t we all head outside?” Allison asks with a gentle smile.

During the little time I’ve spent in her presence, I’ve learned that’s her preferred role: peacekeeper. It makes me wonder if maybe she was better suited to Hugh all along. There are a lot of ways I’d describe my mother. Headstrong and obstinate are two of the first adjectives that come to mind.

It makes me wonder things I’ve never considered before. Like whether things work out the way they should. Like whether my parents were always doomed to be a failed relationship, even before Allison entered the picture.

The six of us head outside. The November air is brisk, but nothing too terrible. I begin bouncing the basketball against the hard asphalt of the driveway.

“H-O-R-S-E?” I suggest.

Harlow snorts. “First to ten, Hart.”

“I’m not sure you know what you’re getting into, Hayes,” I tease.

“Please.” Harlow scoffs. “I’ve seen you play.”

“Yeah, exactly.”

“I wasn’t in top form last time.”

I smirk. “Oh, yeah? You’ve been practicing?”

She nods, but I know she’s full of shit. Since the marathon passed, the only form of exercise Harlow engages in is swimming. “Make it, take it.”

I nod. “So do you wanna go first or never touch the ball?”

Harlow reaches for the ball. I pivot so it’s out of her reach, wrapping an arm around her waist to keep her to the side and then shooting one-handed.

It goes in.

Harlow shoves me. “Illegal shot.”

“I was warming up.”

She pulls the elastic off her wrist and ties her hair back in a ponytail.

“Taking this pretty seriously, huh?”

“I want to see, when I beat you.” She nods toward my sweater. “Take that off.”

“What? Why?”

“Because it has to be hand-washed, and we both know you won’t be the one doing that.”

I roll my eyes before shrugging out of the sweater. “I did the load of laundry last night of all the stuff you said you weren’t going to pack but then decided to bring anyway. And I carted your overweight suitcase through two airports this morning.”

“Are you guys done arguing yet?” Landon asks.

I turn to see he and Hugh are hovering at the edge of the driveway. Allison and Melanie decided to stay on the deck.

Harlow snorts. “That was not us arguing.”

I nod in agreement.

“Landon, you play with Conor,” Harlow says.

Landon looks doubtful, but he does swap spots with Harlow so that I’m next to him and she’s next to Hugh. We start playing. Harlow is decent, and so is Hugh. I could beat them both single-handedly if I tried. Landon is terrible, but I keep passing to him anyway.

Hugh’s face is lit up like a Christmas tree. For once, I feel like a kid hanging out with his dad. Carefree. I’m not thinking about the past. Analyzing what I need to say or do to ensure the interaction with my father is as quick and awkward as possible.

It feels like a snapshot in time of a different life. Anyone driving by would think we’re a happy, normal family.

The game ends a few minutes later.

“Jeez,” Landon huffs. He winces as he stretches his arm. “I’m going to feel that tomorrow.”

“Imagine how you’d feel if you hadn’t gotten paired with the professional athlete on the court,” Hugh comments. The pride when he says “professional athlete” is unmistakable in his voice, and it affects me more than I expect it to. Strained, barely existent relationship or not, it feels really good to hear my father sound proud of me.

“No offense, Harlow,” Hugh adds quickly.

“None taken,” she replies. “I know my limits when it comes to sports.”

Hugh and Landon walk over toward where Allison and Melanie are sitting on the deck, watching.

Harlow and I stay in place on the court. She nudges my arm, nodding toward the garage. “That’s Hugh’s car,” she tells me.

The coupe in question has a new blue bumper sticker with a lightning bolt on it.

I nod, letting her know I saw it. Then I lean down and give her a quick kiss, before we start walking toward the back door. Everyone else has already headed inside.

“Thank you,” she tells me.

I know she’s not talking about the kiss.

“I told you we’d figure it out, Hayes.”

We walk toward the big, brick house, and I know the next time I’m here—however soon or far into the future it is—it won’t just be bad memories that come to mind.

All because of her.


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