"This Poison Heart" by Kalynn Bayron, Chapters 1–4

September 23, 2022
Following her aunt's death, Bri must learn to control her unique and deadly magical gift to conquer dark forces and protect her family.

Here are links to our lists for the novel: Chapters 1–4, Chapters 5–8, Chapters 9–15, Chapters 16–22, Chapters 23–31
White roses. Genus Rosa. Family Rosaceae. Common name “Evening Star.”
He gripped the lapels of his freshly pressed navy blazer, his bottom lip quivering as he ran his hand over his mouth and sighed.
My hands trembled as I knelt and stripped the rose of its velvety petals, down to the pistil, the seedy heart of the flower.
Right before their petals unfurled, I pulled my hands back, clutching them against my chest.
She tucked the roses inside a layer of ivory tissue and brown paper, then pulled a length of white jute from the big spool on the counter and tied a knot in three turns.
I clipped a few sprigs of baby’s breath and stuck them alongside bundles of fuchsia crape myrtles, St. John’s wort, and blush-colored roses in a tall vase.
“Try relaxing a little. School’s out for the summer, baby. I know this year was tough.”
I raised my eyebrows in mock surprise.
Mom narrowed her eyes at me. “Okay. ‘Tough’ is the understatement of the century.”
I had to speculate loudly about the cause. It could’ve been chemicals seeping into the ground from toxic runoff. Maybe all the hormones the government put in our food were leaking out of the lunchroom trash and into the ground, making the trees grow in strange and unusual ways.
Orders were coming in and walk-ins happened all the time, but even though business was steady, gentrification rent was erasing our gains.
She did some weird move with her arm, then grabbed her shoulder, wincing in pain. “I can do it, but the way my ligaments are set up—”
Air conditioning was on an as-needed basis, and Mom had a sticky note taped to the switch that said, “You got A/C money?” I didn’t, so it stayed a balmy seventy-nine degrees.
Everything was perpetually damp.
The ivy I’d grown by the window snaked toward me, slithering across the floor and up the bedpost, sprouting new leaves and curled tendrils as it reached for me.
But in the confines of my cramped bedroom, I could let go, and the relief that came with that was something I looked forward to more than anything else.
The sun slanted through my window, shining a large, sallow rectangle onto the wooden floor.
It piqued my curiosity and stirred something deep in the pit of my stomach—a mixture of fear and excitement.
The fear in her voice was too subtle for anyone but me to recognize.
The grass was laid out like a wide green carpet, dotted with softball fields and outcroppings of trees.
The trees flanking the path shook themselves like they’d been roused from a sound sleep.
Keeping my eyes down, I took a sharp left off the marked trail through a thick patch of bracken that nobody other than me would have bothered to walk through.
At the base of the nondescript elm, far enough from the main path, through enough underbrush that even the most curious wanderer wouldn’t have come close, I knelt and parted the tall grass, revealing a small bush dotted with white umbrellalike flowers.
Damp, sandy loam worked better than rocky dry soil, and when I dug my fingers into the earth near its roots, the bush would grow fuller, taller.
The exhaustion and dizziness that came after was so much more intense. That should’ve been enough to make me abandon the treacherous work, but I couldn’t.
I’d debated cultivating the hemlock for months before I actually worked up the nerve to do it.
This was the substance that would bring on nausea, vomiting, seizures, and ultimately, death.
My blood should’ve been unable to clot, running like water and spilling from every orifice.
I lay back on my pillow, watching the baby’s breath in the corner of the room expand and contract.
“I’ll check in at the college. I know they’ve got some adjunct positions opening in the fall.”
Those were big decisions. Maybe this wasn’t just a bump in the road. Mom and Mo looked at each other solemnly.
Work was nonstop till about one in the afternoon, when there was a lull.
A look of utter confusion gave way to recognition.
She left you something sizable enough for an estate lawyer to be involved.
I Googled what it meant when somebody left you an estate and had gotten all kinds of answers, from sprawling mansions and car collections to piles of useless junk.
“Sorry,” said the woman, looking flustered. “I’m already getting sidetracked.”
Legacies are a complicated thing,” Mrs. Redmond said. “Especially when something of value is involved.”
“Everything was arranged before Miss Colchis passed away. We’re able to skip probate altogether if you have a legal guardian who can sign the paperwork for you. And when you turn eighteen, everything will be put in your name.”
I would ask that you keep an open mind when you go to see the place. Miss Colchis was an eccentric person.
“I once had a woman leave an entire house and several million dollars to three tabby cats and a basset hound. Her actual children tried to contest the will, but it was ironclad and I made sure those animals got everything they were owed.”
There are a few stipulations that I have to go over with you.
So many old places end up getting razed for new housing or retailers.

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