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Love at First Hate Chapter One

Read the first chapter of Love at First Hate, the first book of the new Bad Luck Club series coming in August! 

August 10-11: Apple, Nook, Kobo, Google Play
August 12: Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon AU, Amazon CA

Print and audiobook will be available at release! 

Chapter One

Molly

 

“This is about the sourdough starter piece, isn’t it?” I ask, sitting in the transparent plastic chair across from my boss’s desk. It’s a viciously uncomfortable curl of plastic, and my friend Beth says Constance chose it specifically because it makes people feel like they’re falling. She’s not wrong. I do.

“Among other things, yes,” Constance says, giving me this arch look that says I should know exactly what she’s talking about. “Our readers aren’t interested in reading a retrospective about why you decided to break up with your sourdough starter. They read Beyond the Sheets for the dating articles. For the pieces about men.”

“I named him Fred,” I counter. “Fred’s a man’s name. Besides, it does feel like a break up. Do you know how long it takes to get a sourdough starter rolling? Serious commitment. That’s not easy for someone like me.”

“Molly, dear,” she says in a way that makes it clear that A) I am not her dear and B) she seriously questions my parents’ choice of name, “you’re boring me just talking about it. Imagine how our readers felt reading it? I know you did this to get back at me for not greenlighting that investigative piece about the girlfriend experience.”

I bite my tongue to keep from launching into an explanation of how it would have been peripherally related to our whole dating schtick. And how I have an in because I actually know one of the women who works on the circuit. Because, yeah, she’s not wrong. I’ve been wanting to write about something different, something interesting, for a while now. But as she has not-so-gently reminded me, many times, that’s not our thing either.  

What is our thing?

A couple of years back, when I was our uncontested star, I was writing blogs and vlogs like “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” “Microdating for Microbrews,” and—a personal favorite—“Fakesgiving,” where I got to pose as the fake fiancé of a guy who’d posted a personal ad online. I felt like I was living in a romantic comedy, except the guy smelled like ham and had a tattoo of Elmer Fudd on his shoulder. I mean, go for one of the Looney Tunes, sure, but Elmer Fudd? I know this not because I took off his shirt—God, no—but because he was the kind of guy who couldn’t go five minutes without showing off his abs. I mean, there wasn’t snow on the ground, but it was Seattle in November. There wasn’t exactly any sunshine. 

And he was shocked he was still single…

I realize Constance is looking at me, waiting for me to grovel or something, but I’m in no mood to make apologies. “Did you forget what you told me after I wrote my last viral post about dating? You told me not to be so vicious. You asked me to write something softer and more feminine. What’s more feminine than writing about baking? People love that shit.”

“Hardly,” she says, rapping a pen against the side of her desk. Where she got it, I don’t know. I’ve never seen anyone in this office sign anything with a pen. It would be considered the height of uncool to do something by hand if it could instead be done electronically. This includes everything from signing documents to sending cards and gifts to loved ones. People will literally add five steps to any task in order to make it more “efficient,” i.e. virtual. “And let’s be real. We all love your wicked sense of humor, Molly, but the last person you want to publicly eviscerate on the internet is the grandson of the man who owns us.”

“I never used his name,” I say. “Not once. It could have been about anyone.” I cringe a little, then add, “It’s not my fault he stormed into the office with his grandfather. I mean, who does that? No one would have ever known it was him otherwise.”

“I should have let you go then,” Constance says, shaking her head sadly. “Matthias wanted me to, but I stood up for you. I said it was an honest mistake. I told him not even you would be stupid enough to purposefully write such a vicious piece about his grandson.”

The look she’s giving me says she certainly thinks I’m stupid enough, and to be fair, yeah, I knew exactly what I was doing. Because “Bigwig’s grandson,” as I called him in my blogpost, showed up at Beyond the Sheets’ Christmas party. I didn’t stay long enough to see him, but he cornered Beth, talking big about his grandfather, who’d just bought our little blog. Making it pretty clear he’d find a way to get her fired if she didn’t give him a blowjob in the coat closet. She managed to slip away, thank God, but she spilled the whole story to me over drinks a few days later.

Which was why I felt compelled to engineer a date with him. Not because I wanted to go out with him, obviously, but because I’ve gotten pretty good at getting people—men, especially—to tell me their secrets, reveal their weaknesses, and proudly hoist up their freak flags. Wasn’t my fault the guy was collecting used panties from all the women he’d slept with so he could make “art” with them under a “nom de plume”—his words…I’m fairly sure he didn’t realize that term only referred to writing. I wasn’t necessarily planning for everyone to figure out he was the guy I was writing about. He would know that he’d been publicly shamed and the hundreds of disgusted comments were about him, and so would Beth, and that was enough.

But then he stormed in, and someone got wind of it, and his name was totally linked to the article after all. 

Constance is giving me that look again, like she thinks I should be groveling. Like she wants a proper apology for the grandson fiasco. For me being me.

She’ll keep waiting.

This was my first job out of college. Then, we had a miniscule following. Now, the blog is one of the foremost dating publications in the country, and I damn well know I’m one of the people who made it that way. It’s on the edge of my tongue to say so, to remind her that she encourages all of us to stay on brand with Beyond the Sheets’ vicious sense of humor, whether we’re writing about the best type of bed sheets for your big O or a speed dating fiasco, but I realize something a bit stunning.

She might not have specifically brought me back here to fire me—maybe she wanted me to give her a reason not to—but hell, I want her to.   

I joined the blog because I thought it would be fun, and for a while it was. But I’m tired of what we do. I’m tired of passing up dates with men I might actually like so I can go out with people who are interesting enough for a viral article. Or a heavily edited video other people can watch while they eat their salads and sandwiches at lunch. I’m tired of the constant pressure to be funny, usually at another person’s expense. Most of them deserve it, and I consider it a public service to puncture overinflated male egos…but some of them don’t. 

I’m not sure what comes next, but I’m ready for something to come next.

“So are you going to write a piece called, ‘Breaking up with Your Writer?” I ask, arching my brow.

“You’re backing me into a corner, Molly,” Constance says, letting the prop pen drop. I notice there’s a single short strand of hair that’s broken free of her intricate nest of braids and is pointing skyward. She won’t like that one bit. “I don’t appreciate that. You were one of our best writers.”

“Were?” I press. “You’re going to have to do better than that, Constance. According to the guy I went out with last week, women are incapable of understanding subtlety. Help out my tiny brain here.”

She sighs. “You know you’re much too good to keep working here.”

Her honesty surprises me. A greedy little part of me wants to ask for more. Instead, I smile at her. “You know I need unemployment, Constance. You’re not going to sweet talk me into quitting. I might only have a studio apartment, but this is Seattle, after all, and I’m not made of money. Besides, all your talk about Fred has sweetened me on him. I just might keep him around after all, but that starter won’t feed himself. Only the organic, stone-ground best for my little yeast baby.”

“Always with the joking,” she says, shaking her head a little. But there’s an almost fond quality to it, like she’s remembered that if I’m a monster, she’s my Victor Frankenstein. “What will you do?”

I want to tell a story that hasn’t been told. To discover something. That’s what initially drew me to journalism. Beyond the Sheets was a blip, although one that lasted for years.

But I just shrug. “I guess we’ll see.”

 * * *

Two hours later, I’m sitting at home at my kitchen counter, next to a glass of wine, Fred, who lives in a mason jar, and an Amazon box containing all the worldly possessions I had at Beyond the Sheets. It is well before five, but drinking seems like the appropriate response to being suddenly unemployed.

There isn’t much in the box considering I’ve worked there for six years, but if pens are frowned upon in that office, so are printouts. I only had a few framed pictures in my cubicle. My two older sisters and my nephew. My parents, frozen forever in time.

Beth was distraught when I started packing up my desk, but I was quick to assure her that Constance took issue with the wild yeast, not my article about the grandson. A white lie, maybe, but Beth is one of the good ones. She deserved it.

She asked about my plans too, in a way that suggested that if I decided to open my own, rival dating blog, she would follow me.

“And I’m not the only one,” she said in an undertone, her gaze darting around the open floor office. There was something so cloak and dagger about the way she did it that I almost laughed.

It’s tempting, in a way. It would be comfortable and, dare I say, easy. But I’m sick as hell of being comfortable. Which is why I’ve spent the last hour emailing the editors at half a dozen publications I admire more than ours, places that don’t just publish puff pieces but are interested in real, investigative journalism.

None of them are currently hiring, but Constance’s motto—be bold—has its merits. 

My phone rings, and my sister’s face flashes on the screen. It’s a picture of Maisie with her mouth open, her head thrown back in laughter, and it makes me grin every time I see it. Not her, so much. She always nags me about changing it, saying she looks like a demented clown—perils of having red, curly hair—but there’s no way that’s happening.

Maisie’s almost pregnant enough to pop. Like, she’s at the stage where any man could confidently make the assumption that she has human life growing inside her bump, not the remains of a delicious burrito. She and her husband, Jack, are going to a little beach house in the Outer Banks this weekend for three weeks for a super long babymoon. They both deserve it. She runs a nonprofit dog shelter, and he works at his family brewery, and neither of them is the sort to take time off.

“Is it happening?” I tease when I pick up the call. “Did you have to cancel your trip because you’re on your way to the hospital?”

But a sob comes over the line, and my back goes rigid. Maisie is not a crier, not even in the thick of all of her pregnancy hormones. Old fears quicken inside of me, reminding me of another phone call. The one that changed everything. Again. “What’s wrong? Is it the baby? Mary?”

Her sob cuts short. “No, nothing bad happened. I mean, nothing that bad. It’s just that Ein bit the dog sitter who was supposed to stay with him and Chaco when she came over for her meet and greet. She has all this experience with old dogs, but he took an immediate dislike to her. And there’s no one else who can watch them. My only friends who don’t have kids have dogs or other pets for him to potentially terrorize, and I’ll be honest, I’m not feeling great about having him around the baby. Like, am I going to have to constantly keep them separated?”

Ein is her very old and very grumpy Corgi. He’s a bit a change-a-phobic, and now his whole life is being upended. He’s got plenty of sweet mixed in with his surly, but this scenario is not bringing out the best in him. Chaco is his much more pleasant and upbeat companion.

“I don’t think you need to worry about the baby,” I suggest. “Ein might be a grumpy old man, but he’s also incredibly short. How would he even get to the baby on those weenie little legs?”

He probably won’t be around by the time my niece is a toddler, in the grabbing and chasing phase of childhood, but that’s a depressing thought, and I know Maisie won’t want to hear it.

“I guess,” Maisie says, sounding down-to-her-bones tired. “But we’re going to have to cancel the trip. You know, I was really looking forward to this.”

“No! Absolutely no. You can’t do that. This is, like, your first vacation outside of visiting Mary and me in forever.” Mary being our older and less fun sister.

“I don’t know what else to do.”

She sounds so hopeless, so defeated, and it strikes me that I can be her hero. She was mine, once upon a time, and I’ve always wanted to return the favor.

Besides, I’m newly jobless. What else do I have to do? I can spend three weeks in Asheville and come back recharged and ready for whatever comes next. It’ll be like I’m on a mini vacation too.

“I’ll do it,” I blurt. “I’ll watch them.”

“Constance is going to give you three weeks off, just like that?” Maisie asks doubtfully. “It’s Tuesday, and we were supposed to leave on Saturday morning. I mean, I’m surprised she even let you take a personal call.”

Here’s the thing. She and Mary don’t know about the fallout of the grandson article. Or my new predilection for wild yeast. They don’t know that I’m in the thick of a somewhat late quarter-life crisis, and for the time being, I’d prefer to keep it that way. They’re both the worrying type, at least when it comes to me, their “baby” sis, and I’d rather tell them about my joblessness once I’ve landed a new gig. “I’ll write some pieces while I’m there. You know, like the ‘Microdates for Microbrews’ one. That one got thousands of comments.”

Some of them expressions of amusement or go get ’em, girl. Some of them of the slut/tease/bitch variety.

“Are you sure?” Maisie asks, and I can’t blame her for sounding dubious. After all, I usually avoid going home. It brings back memories that I prefer to keep firmly tucked in my backstory, like I’m some kind of Seattle Dating Superhero. For a second I question the soundness of this venture, then I find myself saying, “Yes. I’ll book a flight right now. Asheville, here I come. Watch out Beer Bros.”

“That’s not a thing,” she says, laughing. Except it kinda is. She lives in our hometown in North Carolina, where there are an unreasonable number of breweries per capita, and her husband and his family own one of them.

“Is so a thing,” I say.

“Thank you. Seriously, thank you. I love you.”

“I love you, too, Maisie. Say hi to Jack for me.”

We talk for another few minutes, because although we might be Irish American, we’re not great at Irish goodbyes, and then I’m left sitting at my kitchen counter, surveying my tiny box of a studio. I mean, I have a Murphy bed, like in one of those cartoons. Under this light, it doesn’t look like much. I really do have the kind of life that I can upend at a moment’s notice for a three-week-long trip.

Once that felt like a revelation. An escape. But I can’t decide whether I like it anymore.

There’s just one string tying me down, and I give him a fond tap on the top of his lid.

“It’s not you, it’s me, Fred. You had a good run. I did make bagels with you that one time.”

They turned out flat, but I don’t feel the need to add insult to injury. Fred’s life is about to be cut short. Let him pretend the bagels were good.

* * *

There’s no direct flight from Seattle to Asheville, and because it’s beyond last minute and it’s peak summer, when people enjoy taking trips to places with copious amounts of beer, I end up taking a Red Eye through Chicago, arriving at the crack of dawn on Saturday. Jack and Maisie pick me up at the airport, Maisie with a sign propped on her bump that says Congrats on leaving your cult. Welcome to ours.

We always greet each other at the airport with wackadoodle signs—an O’Shea sister tradition. Hers stirs something in the back of my mind. An old memory. Something I meant to write about before the next big dating craze took over my headspace. But it’s there and then gone before I can grasp the thread. Because I’m too busy shoving the sign at Jack, who’s a good sport, bless him, so I can hug my sister. She looks gorgeous, her curly red hair long and untamed, that baby glow at peak capacity.

I pull away and grin at her, “You look fantastic.” Then I pull Jack into a side hug, because I love him too. He’s made her super happy, and besides, he serves as evidence that not every guy has a weird collection of used women’s underwear or picks his teeth at the table with a metal toothpick he keeps in his wallet or prides himself on his ability to correctly guess a woman’s breast size.

“I feel like a beluga whale,” Maisie moans.

“Why a beluga whale? Why not a killer whale or an Orca or a Humpback?”

“Because we watched a documentary on them last week,” Jack says with a smile.

“Rookie mistake. No whale documentaries for pregnant ladies. Especially not animal-obsessed pregnant ladies. Because an animal always dies in one of those documentaries, and it’s usually, like, one of the babies.”

“Huh.” Jack rubs the back of his neck. “You’re right.”

“Of course she is,” Maisie says, actually reaching for my bag, which—no way. I’m not a light packer, and I’m staying for three weeks, after all.

Jack picks it up instead, and I let him. As Maisie is fond of pointing out to anyone and everyone, he has these amazing arms that can most certainly handle my very heavy suitcase.

On the way to their house, I pepper Maisie and Jack with questions about the brewery and the dog shelter, which will be overseen by Maisie’s coworkers while they’re out of town. It’ll be a trial run for when she’s out for three months with the baby.

I haven’t visited the old O’Shea house for a while. Maybe about a year. Okay, it was for Maisie’s wedding, and it’s been more like a year and a half. It had already started changing, then.

For a long time, Maisie lived here with everything as it was from our childhood. Our parents’ room sat untouched, like some kind of museum exhibit, and there were still marks on the wall from where Dad had measured our height. Coming home was so painful it baffled me that my sister could actually live there, constantly surrounded by reminders of everything we lost. Of the life that had seemed perfect until it didn’t.

But then she met Jack, and she finally started to put our parents’ things away. Give them to charity. Buy new furniture. Shift things around.

Which, thank goodness, it was time for her to move on. It’s nice that going home is no longer a sucker punch of memories. It feels like I’m visiting my sister, not the O’Shea Family Museum, which always felt so weird and wrong to me for reasons I couldn’t possibly share with Maisie. 

And yet…

Part of me feels a strange sensation of loss.

Before I know it, we’re walking up to the porch, where Maisie and Mom and Mary and I used to sit out on the rockers and drink lemonade while Dad strummed his guitar in the grass, and then Jack opens the door, and Ein and Chaco burst out, pouncing on my lower legs with their little paws, Chaco actually peeing with excitement. 

It’s good to feel this wanted, and something sparks inside of me as I shower my canine niece and nephew with love.

“I can tell you’re going to do just fine together,” Maisie says with a long sigh of relief. Or maybe her baby just kicked her a good one. “Thank God for you, Molly. You’re a lifesaver.”

“Lifesaver Molly. I can get used to this.”

They take me inside, go over their instructions for the dogs (they’re especially long for Ein, both because he has some behavior issues that have worsened in old age and because he’s on two medications), and before I know it, I’m waving to them as they drive off in their new Subaru Forester. Molly finally traded in Dad’s old Jeep, something that made me feel proud but pained.

I wander inside, suddenly wondering what I’m going to do here, besides watch the dogs, of course. Three weeks. That’s almost a month.

I give myself a tour of the house, even though Maisie and Jack already brought me around, lingering in the doorway of my old bedroom, which is now the baby’s room.

“Sorry, Molly,” Maisie had said when she showed it to me, almost like she worried I’d have a temper tantrum. “It has better light than Mary’s room.”

“Why are you sorry?” I answered. “I’m glad to pass on the torch of being the youngest O’Shea hellraiser.”

It feels strange to see a few of our old things woven into the tapestry of this new home Maisie and Jack have made for themselves, but at least my sister is no longer treating them like holy objects, meant to be worshipped. That’s never sat well with me. I hover in the doorway of the happy couple’s bedroom, which is pretty weird, I guess, but it’s also our parents’ old room (Maisie finally made the switch). My attention shifts from the painting on the wall, which is old, to the new carpet. But something catches my eye, and I notice a book on one of the night stands.

The cover is black, the title a bright blue and white, and something about it calls to me. That strange pop of color in the darkness, maybe.

I find myself stepping into the room, as if drawn by it, the dogs following at my heels.

The Bad Luck Club,” I whisper aloud, “by Augusta Glower.”

This is it. 

This is the gold nugget thought that slipped away from me in the airport. Years ago, Maisie’s friend, Blue, was in a club called the Bad Luck Club, which I’d joked—well, I sort of meant it—sounded like a cult. What was most intriguing about it was the complete lack of details. Blue refused to reveal any of the club’s secrets, and so did her now-husband, Lee, who was also wrapped up in it. I’d thought there was a story there, one I wanted to tell, but it was exactly the kind of thing Constance had no interest in publishing. No one wants to read about a cult unless it’s a weird sex thing, Molly. Now, it looks like someone else got there first.

I bring it out to the living room and immediately start reading. The first thing I see is the dedication: To Cal. You know why. Something about it sets my Spidey senses tingling, and I start reading. 

It’s a hell of a story. Augusta says she was part of a down-on-their-luck group of friends, all of them depressed for different reasons—one a single mom with a shitty job, another a conspiracy nut, a third a bad relationship magnet, another a jealous girlfriend, and finally a father and son duo who were living together because they’d tapped out of life. Their names, she is quick to say, were changed for their own protection, but it’s not a huge logical leap to assume the son she mentions—Karl—is the Cal from the dedication, especially since Bad Relationship Magnet was given the name Cerulean, an obvious and almost laughable take on Blue’s name. The description of her “bad luck” fits, given Blue was married twice before she got hitched to Maisie’s brother-in-law. 

Another possible identifying detail leaps out at me: she says Karl and his father, Wolf—seriously?—adopted a dog from a local no-kill shelter.

Dare I hope it was my sister’s shelter?

Augusta claims she woke up one night, inspired to help them, and wrote the fifteen rules of the Bad Luck Club in an hour. Given that they’re batshit crazy, and several of them have subcategories, one can only assume copious amounts of alcohol were involved. Anyway, she tells the story of how this club turned her friends’ lives around, then lays out how others can benefit from the same simple process.  

I have no reason to doubt Augusta’s story, other than that it seems pretty coincidental that all of her friends would have such bad luck at the same time—unless she was the luck-limiting factor. But I trust my gut, and it tells me something is seriously off. The supposed friends are just such an oddball assortment of people, and there’s no explanation for how they met.

A quick search on her book reveals it’s done surprisingly well. Bad Luck Clubs have sprung up across the country, using the rules she lays out in her book. But what catches my notice is a blog post published six months ago, right after the book was released. Apparently a woman contacted the publisher with a complaint, identifying herself only as Jealous Girlfriend, and said Augusta hadn’t created the club at all. Not even close. Only she refused to say who did.

None of the other news outlets picked up the post, probably because Jealous Girlfriend didn’t identify herself and no one else had stepped forward to take credit.

My mind pings to Cal, and that dedication doesn’t sound sickly sweet so much as vindictive. You know why. 

Huh. There’s a story there.

Cal knows why Augusta wrote that book, but I don’t, and none of the saps who have been suckered into telling their secrets to strangers in the various iterations of the Bad Luck Club know either.

The seed has been planted. I need to know.

Preorder Love at First Hate!

August 10-11: Apple, Nook, Kobo, Google Play
August 12: Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon AU, Amazon CA

Print and audiobook will be available at release! 

 

 

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