That Thing You Do-Excerpt

Book Two: A Crystal Lake Novel

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter one

            Molly Malone’s Saturday took a left turn somewhere between Fred Nagel’s dog eating half the carpet in the family room, and a flat tire on River Road. The flat tire she handled just fine. She changed it out with the spare, dropped her car off at Hank’s Garage for a new one, and headed to Malone’s Veterinarian Services, the clinic she and her brother Zach owned.

It was the carpet eating dog that really put a kink in her day.

            Fred had rushed in with Buddy around four in the afternoon, and with Zach already gone for the day Molly had her hands full. The good news was that the surgery had been successful and Buddy would live another day (most likely to destroy the other half of the carpet). The bad news? It was nearly nine o’clock and she had no time to shower or do anything about her appearance because she was already an hour late.

            “Don’t you have to be somewhere?”

            Molly looked up from her perch in front of Buddy’s kennel. Laney Daniels stood just inside the room, hand on her hip and a knowing expression on her face.  The hand on the hip was fine—it was the look on her face that made Molly squirm, because there were a whole bunch of reasons she didn’t want to go tonight. And one in particular had her stomach in knots.

The older woman shook her head and frowned. “I know what you’re doing.”

Alarm bells rang in Molly’s head.

Big. Fat. Loud. Bells. Did Laney know her secret?  Was she that obvious? Mouth dry she took a moment and got to her feet.

“What would that be exactly?”

“It’s Jess, isn’t it? Everyone knows you’re not fussy on your brother’s fiancé.”

A sweet rush of relief filled Molly and she shrugged, while inside she gave herself a high-five. This was about Jessica Baker.

She walked toward her office and scooped up her bag and phone, glancing down quickly to note at least four missed calls from her brother, several text messages from the guys and one from…her heart dropped to her toes and it took a couple of seconds before she could put it back in place.

One from Nate.

‘Hey, where the hell are u?’

She pocketed her cell and cleared her throat.  “Can you blame me? The girl has got air between her ears. She thinks Canadians ski in the summer which is crazy considering we border Canada.”

“Zach loves her.”

“And all she does is post pictures to Instagram.”

“Zach loves her.”

“I mean, come on. Influencer? She poses in a bikini and that’s a job?” When Lainey opened her mouth to speak, Molly held her hand up. “Yes. I know, Zach loves her. But geez, she drives a pink car.” Molly slammed her palm against her forehead. “Pepto-Bismol pink with matching fuzzy dice hanging from the mirror. Who does that?”

Laney’s eyes narrowed in a way that made Molly want to crawl inside herself and hide. The woman had worked for their father before she and Zach took over the practice, and Molly had known Laney most of her life. Right now, it felt as if she was standing in front of her mother being threatened with a timeout in the corner of the kitchen.

“I’m wearing pink scrubs. Do you have a problem with that?”

“Of course not.”

 “Then get over it, Molly, because your brother is marrying her in two weeks and he knows how you feel. Think about that.”

Properly chastised, Molly’s cheeks burned and she glanced away from Laney. “You’re right,” she replied softly. “She’s just…Jessica is just…she’s so…she’s so damn girlie.” There. She said it.

“Well she isa female.”

“I know but…”

“And women come in a variety of flavors.”

“You’re telling me. But Jess and I have nothing in common. Literally nothing. Last week she asked me who I preferred, J-Law or J-Lo. I had to go home and Google what the hell that was. I thought they were ice cream flavors or new take out joints. Did you know they’re actresses?”

“Everybody who pays attention to any kind of pop culture does.”

“Well that’s not me.”

“No, it isn’t. And that’s fine. Like I said we all come in different shades of human.” Lainey walked over and Molly had no choice but to look at her. “You might want to think about why Jessica makes you uncomfortable, not the reason.”

“That doesn’t make any sense.”

Lainey stepped back. “Doesn’t it?” When Molly didn’t answer, she sighed. “Look, you get going. I’ll lock up. And Molly?”

“Yes?”

Lainey’s expression softened. “Let your hair down tonight.”

“It’s a house party at Stu’s and he’s got a new baby in the house. Trust me there won’t be much hair to let down.”

“No. I mean, get rid of that messy bun and literally let your hair down tonight. Those waves are the envy of most women I know and you always tie it back.” She gave her a once over. “You might want to change out of your work clothes. Aside from the fact those jeans are about two sizes too big, there’s a big stain across your chest from where you dropped a slice of pizza.”

Molly glanced down and made a face. Sure enough, her left boob was covered in red sauce. At the age of twenty-nine she was in fact becoming her mother.

“Thanks for locking up.” Molly stepped toward reception before Lainey decided she needed another pep talk. “I’ve got a change of clothes in my car so I’m good. I’ll see you on Monday.”

Molly headed out into the hot August evening. With two weeks to go until Labor Day, it was already dark. The night sky was full of sparkling stars and a slight breeze brought with it the smell of citronella. Somewhere, someone was burning candles in the back yard in an attempt to ward off the mosquitos. On auto pilot, she walked to her parking spot, not realizing it was empty until she reached into her bag for her keys. And then she spent a good minute or so staring stupidly at the empty spot while her brain reversed and she realized her car was still at Hank’s Garage.

“Shit.” Because of carpet eating Buddy, she’d never picked it up.

She could ask Lainey for a ride, even considered it for all of two seconds, but the thought of dealing with her probing questions and uncalled for advice had Molly turning her butt around and heading toward the river. She’d walk. Heck, with all the pent-up energy bouncing around inside her, she could use the exercise.

By the time she reached Stu’s it was after ten. She was hot and sweaty and not in a particularly good mood.  She was nowhere near where she needed to be in order to survive a night of Jessica and her girlfriends.

And then there was Nate to deal with.

She kept to the shadows that blanketed the side of Stu’s house. He was back there along with the rest of her best friends, Stu, Brad, Mike, and her brother Zach. She hadn’t seen Nate in nearly two years, not since Stu’s bachelor party in Vegas, and that had been a disaster. At least for Molly.  For a girl who didn’t drink hard liquor she’d become best friends with JD and tied one on that last night. It was Nate who’d put her to bed. She groaned just thinking about it. She didn’t remember much from that night, in fact she told Nate she remembered nothing, but the little bits she did remember made her cringe. Thankfully he’d never brought it up.

She closed her eyes and tried to relax, exhaling slowly as she rolled her shoulders, before doing the same to her neck. Raucous laughter and music floated up from the backyard, and along with it her brother’s voice. This was a party to celebrate Zach and Jessica’s upcoming wedding, and Molly felt like a shit for the way she’d been behaving. Lainey was right. It was time for Molly to get over herself. It wasn’t Jessica’s fault that Molly felt uncomfortable around Jess and her friends.

At least Jess didn’t hang with Breanne Somers. That woman had been the bane of Molly’s existence for as long as she could remember. Nearly every crappy memory she had involved Breanne in some way. When she was five and sent off to sleepaway camp, Breanne had tricked her into closing her eyes and opening her mouth, and then she’d giggled and deposited three dead flies inside. The kids all laughed and Breanne had cemented herself as the Queen Bee of their age group. She took any and every opportunity to make Molly miserable, and was the first person to call her Bones Malone, on account of the fact that in her formative years she’d been tall and thin and athletic. The name stuck, Molly pretended she didn’t care what the kids called her, but truthfully that kind of pain never leaves.

Newly divorced, Breanne had moved back to Crystal Lake a few months ago—Molly heard she’d started up with Jason Brewer. Thankfully their paths hadn’t crossed.

This walk down memory lane was taking the same left turn her day had and with a curse Molly shrugged it off. There was no time for it. She reached up to untangle her hair from the loose knot and let it fall down her shoulders and back. She pulled some of it forward, hoping it would hide the sauce stain on her T-shirt, which was about the best she could do considering. The baggy jeans and old Birkenstocks wouldn’t win any fashion awards but she couldn’t let that bother her. She squared her shoulders and marched down the path that led into Stu’s yard.

About twenty or so people were gathered under a large pergola furnished with generous seating.  Strings of overhead lights cast a soft glow over big potted palms and hanging baskets overflowing with colorful flowers. An outdoor fireplace, extensive landscaping, and a large kidney shaped pool made Stu’s yard one of the nicest Molly had seen, and she smiled when she caught sight of him next to Becky. With a wife and a baby, her pal was not only living the dream but adulting in a big way.

Stu glanced over just then and hopped to his feet. “Finally,” he said with a huge grin, causing everyone to look her way.

“Sorry I’m late.” She headed over to them. “Had an emergency come in.”

“I heard.” Zach gave her a hug and offered a cold beer. “Nagel’s dog ate the carpet again.”

“He did.” She took a long pull from the bottle, her gaze moving over the familiar faces, touching briefly on Jess and her four friends, all dressed head to toe in pink. Brad and Mike were there with their girlfriends but…

“He should be back in a few minutes.” Zach clinked her beer with his glass. “Took a call and left.”

“Who Nate?” she asked, as if he wasn’t the only person she was looking for.

“No Sasquatch.” Zach replied dryly, before turning to Jess, who was yanking on his arm for something.

No sooner had her brother turned when Jess’s eyes widened and Molly glanced over her shoulder. Her world narrowed into one small beam of light that shone down on Nate Jacobs as if he was an angel… or a God…or something equally ridiculous and out of reach. They were in the thick of summer, yet he wore black boots, faded jeans that fit him the way a pair of jeans should, and a plain white T-shirt. His hair was as thick and dark as she remembered, and his strong jaw was shadowed with day old stubble. He looked as devastatingly handsome as ever.

And here she’d been hoping he’d put on a few pounds, or maybe lost some of his hair.

He caught sight of her and his smile widened as he strode forward, eyes on Molly and no one else. Her heart sang at the sight of him and her face broke wide open with happiness.

And then he was there. Inches from her. And so was that damn punch to the gut. The one that nearly knocked the wind out of her. Which was unfortunate, because in that moment, she knew she was in the kind of trouble she didn’t want. The kind of trouble she couldn’t win.It was a big, taller-than-Mount Everest, kind of trouble.

“You’re one of my best pals, Moll. Anything between us would be weird.”  He’d said that, the last night in Vegas before or after she’d drunkenly kissed him. It was one of two things she remembered. The other she wasn’t going to think about right now.

            “Molly.” His smile widened even more and she knew he was genuinely happy to see her. “Man, I’ve missed you.” He studied her for a few seconds and then did something she would think about later when she was alone. He enveloped her in the kind of hug that haunted her dreams. The kind that let her know he still smelled good and that he was warm and masculine, and one hundred percent responsible for the outbreak of butterflies in her stomach and the sick feeling that accompanied it.

            When he let her go she stepped back nervously, caught up in a moment she wished was only for the two of them.  Then time did a funny thing. It sorta stopped and enhanced everything about the moment. The way she felt. The way he looked. How his eyes softened and then darkened. It wrapped itself around the two of them as if there was nobody else there and the air electrified. Her heart raced. Her skin heated. Her breath caught.

At least for Molly. She might have wondered if he felt the same things she was feeling, but someone cleared their throat and Nate’s gaze left hers, effectively breaking the spell.

He stepped back revealing a beautiful woman wearing a fire engine red dress that did nothing to hide voluptuous curves or the generous amounts of smooth tanned skin it clung to. Long blond hair fell nearly to her waist, and it shone from the muted glow of lights behind them. As if that wasn’t enough, her mouth was plump and glossy, and her eyes enhanced by a lot of smoky makeup.

She was everything Molly was not, and the woman smiled in a slow, calculating way that immediately made the hair on the back of Molly’s neck stand on end. She’d seen that smile before and she’d felt the poison that dripped from the ends of it.

Her heart tumbled again and she gripped the beer bottle so tightly her knuckles were white. This could not be happening.

Nate slipped his arms around the woman. “Hey, you remember Breanne, don’t you?”

Molly’s gaze swung from Breanne to Nate, and it took everything inside her not to punch him on the nose and break it a second time.

“Wow. Bones Malone. It’s been what, ten years?” She paused and Molly could almost taste the coming insult. “You haven’t changed a bit.”

Molly winced inwardly at the nickname. Seventeen-year-old Molly would have died inside, though she’d have put on a brave front and acted like the nickname wasn’t the insult it was. But she was done with that. She needed to dig deep.

Molly looked her in the eyes and her words dripped acid. “Neither have you.” She glanced toward Nate and shook her head. “Nice company you’re keeping.”

He looked confused which pissed her off more than she already was. She turned around and walked as slowly as she could back to the group, aware that every single one of them had heard the exchange. The boys, Zach, Stu, Brad, and Mike, shuffled their feet nervously because they knew how she felt about Breanne.

Nathan knew as well. Or at least he used to.

With a lump the size of Venus stuck at the back of her throat she handed her empty bottle back to Zach, without saying a word. He more than anyone knew the pain she’d endured from Breanne’s endless bullying. He knew how many pillows had been soaked from her tears. How many meals had been eaten in silence because she’d been miserable. He knew how she’d despised the image she saw in the mirror because it was Bones Malone staring back.

Molly had thought she’d grown up and moved on but in the space of five minutes, ten years was erased in a heartbeat.

Someone threaded their arm through hers and she looked to the side, surprised to see Jess standing there.

“I didn’t know Nate was bringing her here. I’m sorry.”

Molly attempted a smile. Great. Zach must have filled her in on the sad history of Molly and Breanne. “It’s okay. Nathan can bring whoever the hell he wants.”

Jess’s eyes softened and she squeezed Molly’s arm. “I know. But I’m still sorry.”

 “Thanks,” she said slowly, grateful for the support and ashamed of her previous behaviour. Could this day not be over already?

Nate stood near the guys, Breanne stuck to him like glue, though his eyes were on Molly. His expression was shuttered, and damn but that ache where her heart was supposed to be was back.

She felt like everything was about to go sideways, as if things had changed and there was no going back to what it was.

“He can never know.” Molly whispered.

“What was that?” Jess asked.

Startled, she looked at brother’s fiancé and tried to smile. “Nothing.” Her eyes found their way back to Nate, only to find him still staring at her. His expression was unreadable and for the first time, fear joined the anxiety that had settled inside her.

I love him, was her first thought, something she’d never admitted before.

The second? I’m so screwed.

 

 

 

 


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