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Check out the first chapter of book 5, “Death on the Menu,” to be released on November 1 for Kindle!!!

Chapter 1

The first time I saw a dead body, I tripped over it.

I tripped over it.

At least I didn’t fall on top of it. That was something, anyway.

My reflexes kicked in and I caught myself on the door jamb. I was walking into the dark storage closet when my left foot came up against something hard. It felt like a bag of sand, sort of that size and hardness. I didn’t analyze in depth, but in that split second of hitting it I thought of bagged sand. Wet bagged sand, because whatever it was had left something damp all over my ankle.

I quickly reached to turn on the light, just to the right of the door.

It was pretty clear that the guy was dead. Even with my lack of experience that much was clear. He’d been stabbed by something large, apparently. It was no longer there, but it had left a large bloody hole in his stomach.

Blood had definitely been coming out of the hole for a while. It was all over the floor of the closet, spreading up to the sill of the door. Some other stuff had come out, too. I wasn’t trying to look at it, but I couldn’t look away. I was really and truly frozen in shock. I just kept staring at the hole in this strange man’s stomach.

He was a big man, because he took up a lot of space on the linoleum. All the space that wasn’t covered in blood.

I heard a sound behind me, and then a high-pitched shriek followed by an even higher-pitched scream. I flinched against the doorway. Jennifer, another server, had come up and seen what I’d been staring at for however long. Five seconds, fifty? No idea. I gasped, finally shaken out of my shock by her noise. But the problem with that was that with the passing of the frozenness came a wave of nausea. Really intense nausea. Really, really intense nausea.

I barely made it to the cleaning room across the hall, retching over the industrial sink. I left bloody footprints behind me. I noticed them later, after I came out of the room.

Jennifer’s screams brought everybody into the passage to see what was going on. I leaned weakly against the plastic basin listening to more screams and exclamations and excited voices. It all seemed kind of far away. Through this rushing noise in my ears.

I finally turned on the tap and rinsed out the sink—there wasn’t much in it. I’d had a snack a couple of hours earlier, not to go into details, but mostly it was just water in my stomach. Then I rinsed out my mouth with the tap water, not using my hands, just sticking my chin under the big tap. Then I spit. Then I rinsed my hands.

Then I walked out into the hall, where about ten people were standing talking loudly. The whole kitchen crew from chefs to bussers, the two bartenders, two other servers, Jeff and Marcy. Jennifer had disappeared, maybe sitting down somewhere. I rested my shoulder against the cleaning room doorway, rested my head against the metal jamb, took deep breaths. From here I couldn’t see anything inside the store closet—not like I couldn’t remember what was there.

“Molly, are you all right?” someone asked.

I nodded weakly, not bothering to identify the voice. I mean I wasn’t okay, clearly, but I guess saying you are is a reflex reaction. Something interesting in the psychology of that.

The assistant manager came out of the office next to the store room, and I saw Jennifer inside with her head on the desk. Donna, the assistant manager, looked at me. She was pale and strained and clearly unhappy about the whole thing.

“I just called Keith” the manager “and the police,” she said to the group. “We need to leave everything just as we found it. Jose, Vince, will you guys make sure nobody comes in here?” Two of the kitchen staff nodded and took up positions in the hall. The rest of the staff started to amble reluctantly toward the dining room or kitchen. “Jennifer said you were standing there when she walked up?” Donna asked me. I hadn’t moved yet.

I nodded again.

“Went to get pepper,” I said briefly and croakily. My voice wasn’t quite working yet, after all the vomiting. Donna understood.

“You should sit down, too. Do you need anything?”

I liked her. She was a better manager than the actual manager, who did a lot of glad-handing and wasn’t popular with the staff. She led me down the hall, past the open store room (I really meant to avert my eyes, but somehow they got pulled inside giving me another graphic glimpse of the body) and into the dining room. I sat down at one of the booths near the bar, and then Donna left me to go deal with whatever she had to deal with. I wasn’t leaving bloody tracks anymore, at least.

“Here, drink this,” one of the bartenders said. Dan. He handed me a glass of clear sparkling liquid—soda water. I took a small sip, and it did help my stomach a little. I couldn’t seem to wake up, snap out of it. I was sort of processing everything going on, but sort of locked in this state of numb apathy. The processing part thought, hey, this will be great material if you write a scene where someone’s in shock after finding a body. I wonder who the guy is. I wonder who killed him. I wonder if it was one of us. I wonder how long he’s been in there.

The non-processing part kept my senses wrapped in this haze of cotton wool. I couldn’t seem to quite recognize voices or faces, or make out what they were saying. I just sat.

“Drink some more,” Dan said, passing me. I went ahead and sipped, and felt slightly better. Another sip and I was blinking, seeing the group of dining staff, minus me and Jennifer, collected by the corner of the bar, everybody leaning in and talking in low voices. Nobody seemed scared, just sort of keyed-up and not sure how to react to any of it. I assumed the kitchen staff were doing the same thing in their realm. They couldn’t be cooking.

Ugh. Cooking.

I took another big sip to stop the rising queasiness, just as Keith arrived and started barking questions. Everybody huddled or moved around confusedly, and then we all heard sirens.

* * *

I didn’t move to L.A. to be an actor, unlike just about everybody I know. I came to be in a screenwriting workshop. I am an actress, or I was—I doubt you’ve heard of me, though. I was on the soap “Hearts on Fire” for about a year and a half, as the troubled teenager Bethany Graystone. It was a pretty small role, just kept me fed and clothed, kept my agent interested in me. I got a few other auditions from it, but otherwise it was kind of a dead end. My character got pregnant and then shipped off to Europe to have her baby out of wedlock or something. The point was, I was off the show.

So, there I was, unemployed, faced with the question what do I do next? I’d figured out in college—theatre arts at Columbia—that I wanted to be a playwright, which during my time at “Hearts” turned into wanting to write for TV. I knew I could network in Manhattan and try to write soaps, but I think they require a different kind of imagination than I’ve got. And they move sooooo sloooowly. Day after day after day of the same drama-infused plotlines. I love Nora Ephron’s kind of dialogue, fast-paced, honest, hilarious. Or Joss Whedon and the writers of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”—go ahead and laugh, but all that quick, clever dialogue, that’s right up my alley. “Gilmore Girls” is another show like that. Just try to be as witty as Lorelei on her worst day and your best. You can’t do it.

My other heroes in the writing world are Tina Fey, Chelsea Handler, Anne Rapp. Funny, real, unapologetic. I’m not sure I’m funny, I’m almost definitely not when I’m trying to be. Anyway, I thought I’d give writing a shot.

I found the workshop in L.A., not the place I wanted to be but the place to be for budding screenwriters, begged my folks at home in Portland, Oregon to pay for the airfare and hopped on a plane. I was living with two other girls in a studio in New York, saving a little bit of money while I worked on the soap, but I knew I’d need it once I got to L.A. between finding an apartment and a job and a car. The workshop was free (I applied and got in), at least, but it didn’t provide housing or anything. It was a program through one of the major studios, helping young, ambitious and possibly talented wannabes learn about the business of writing for TV from veterans. There were two workshops or mentor sessions a week as well as optional (but really recommended) group meetings, three Saturday panel sessions and a few extra seminars on random days. We’d had one Saturday panel session so far.

That’s how I got here. I stayed with my best friend’s brother for my first week. Kind of awkward as I’d only met him a couple of times when I was in college and only met his live-in girlfriend at my friend’s wedding a couple of weeks before, but they were sweethearts and we all got along. I invited myself through Lainey—my best friend. I had her call and ask them, and of course they said “yes” because they adore her. We all adore Lainey. She’s perfect and gorgeous and adorable, and even better has no idea how amazing she is. So we all get to bask in her wonderfulness and never worry about her getting an ego about it.

I’m really not conceited, but I’ve definitely got an assertive ego. My ego and I made our peace with each other when I started doing drama in high school and my head swelled up and popped within a two-week period. I never take anything personally and I know I’m a great person. Not better than anyone else, and not worse, just great in my own peculiar way. It’s a philosophy that works well for me, keeps me centered no matter what craziness is going on in my life.

I was twenty-five, by the way. I seemed a lot younger—clearly to be playing a teen I would. To be accurate I’d just turned twenty-five a month before. I’m a Taurus, and the better you know me the more sense that makes.

Hilary and Paul, my friend’s brother and friend’s brother’s girlfriend, lived at that time in a cute little duplex in Westwood. They had an extra bedroom which was also their study, so I lived in it for eight days, slept on their lumpy futon, fell in love with their lumpier cat, Vishnu, while my workshop started and I looked madly around for a cheap place, cheap car and food service job. I’m a great waitress. I’m not sure you can even be a “working actor” unless you know how to wait tables—i.e., you didn’t get discovered when you were six or right out of high school. Most of us don’t, you know.

As I said, though, I really didn’t want to be an actor. Not long-term anyway. I mostly went to Columbia in theatre because I knew that I could act and wasn’t sure I could do anything else nearly as well. Not that I’m a phenomenal actress or anything. I’m all right. I played the heck out of pregnant teen Bethany, I’ll tell you that much.

The car came from Craigslist, a five hundred dollar Honda Civic, born in the mid-nineties and on its last legs. Or wheels. I found an average-crappy one-bedroom apartment in L.A., the general sprawl that is central L.A. east of Culver City and south of the 10. The area known as Cienega. My parents cosigned the lease, embarrassing but a reality of life after college, and a girl in my writing workshop hooked me up with the job. A friend of hers bartended at a swanky restaurant on South Santa Monica near the intersection with Wilshire, where the hours weren’t too long, the patrons occasionally celebrities and the pay all right. Worked for me. I got the job, being cute and confident and experienced up the wazoo. I’d only been there three weeks, in my apartment three and a half, when I stumbled on the dead guy in the store room.

Better than if it was my first day of work, I guess. I probably wouldn’t have gone back.

* * *

Of course they had to close the restaurant that night, which pissed off the management, but better that than lose customers later on because they find out someone was murdered there. Anyway they didn’t have a choice, the police closed the whole place off.

Once I was done being shocked and sick, nicely settled in my booth with my nice soda, I could pay more and more attention to the stuff going on around me. It was interesting. You never know when you might get an idea for a cop show, though real cops are nothing like TV cops. I learned that in New York. But they did have crime scene people come, a lot of various people in various outfits, and then the morgue ambulance, and the body was wheeled out in its bag the way they are on TV. Also I was questioned by a detective, but he wasn’t hot or gritty or anything in particular. Just a professional middle-aged man who asked me about finding the body. He’d already talked to the other girl, Jennifer, still sitting in the office, so he just checked up on our stories.

“Your name and home address,” said the detective. A uniformed cop checked my I.D. (which still had my New York information, of course) and took my answers down on an electronic notepad. Cool.

“Molly Faraday, fifty-seven fourteen Fourth Avenue, apartment seven, Los Angeles, nine-oh-oh-oh-eight,” said I.

“Phone number,” said he.

I gave my cell. Wondered if they’d ask for my email, which they didn’t.

“What time did you arrive at the restaurant this evening?” The questions began in earnest.

“Four thirty,” said I.

“What did you do when you got here?”

I gave a detailed answer, figuring it would save time in the long run.

“I put down my things in the employee room, and put on my shirt and apron. Then I went to go check my tables for the evening and started filling the salt and pepper. I ran out of peppercorns right after I started, so I went to the back closet to get more.”

“What time do you think that was?”

“I’d been here about fifteen minutes, so maybe four forty-five?”

“Did you recognize the deceased?”

Ooh, very coppy.

“No… I’ve never seen him before. I mean, I didn’t really look that hard, but I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen him before.” A little bump of queasiness while I tried to imagine his face, and couldn’t.

“The other waitress said she found you staring at him from the doorway. How long had you been there before she came up and screamed?”

“I have no idea. Maybe a few seconds? I was just so… it freaked me out. I couldn’t seem to stop staring at—at all the …” Blood.

“Did anything happen last night that was suspicious?”

“I didn’t work last night. It was my night off.”

“And today, did you come into the restaurant earlier?”

“No. We don’t open until five. I met with my group from twelve until two, part of the Young Television Writers’ Program. Other than that I was at home.”

“Thank you, Molly. We’ll let you know if we need anything else.”

“Okay.”

It’s always less exciting than you think it’s going to be. I got mugged in New York and the police were even less interested in me than this. When someone’s dead I think it ups the ante.

I continued to sit wanly in my corner while things happened. Other employees were questioned, Donna and Keith ran around calling people and talking to the cops. They said they were going to have a hazmat crew come and clean out the store room as soon as the police gave the all clear. For the past hour the hosts had been calling all the customers with reservations and trying to reschedule them. We were pretty booked all weekend, as usual, but I knew we’d be making exceptions and squeezing people in as much as possible. Someone printed up a sign that said “Closed for Unforeseen Repairs” in our usual Univers font and put it on the door, and I heard Keith and Donna discussing what our voice mail message should say, Donna agreeing to update our web site and put something on Facebook, Twitter and so on. It’s all about communications.

“Are you okay to drive home?” Dan asked me.

I hadn’t even noticed him come up to the table again. I was still a little out of it.

“I guess so. Maybe…?”

He sat, uninvited but not unwelcome, on the other side of the booth. I liked Dan. He wasn’t nearly as blatantly attractive as the other bartender, Pablo. Pablo and Dan were friends, though seeing them you immediately knew Dan was the wingman, not the pilot. The Goose to Pablo’s Maverick.

It wasn’t that Dan was unattractive (in fact lately I’d kind of been thinking he was the more interesting of the two… kinda sorta), he just didn’t have the obvious looks and sex appeal of the taller, buffer, white-toothed Pablo. Pablo got a lot of action. Pablo was a slut, to put it bluntly. The girl in my writing workshop had warned me about him. I still came far too close to hooking up with him my first night of work. He turned on the Pablo charm, which I saw through because it was really unoriginal and uncreative charm. But I was tempted, I admit it. Pablo’s pretty. Fate intervened when we ran into a girl Pablo had been seeing casually (read: screwing and lying to). She distracted him, and I drove myself home feeling like I’d probably had kind of a narrow escape.

“Are you holding up all right?” asked Dan. He really was nice. “That was a pretty gory thing to find.”

“Yeah. I’m all right. The blood got all over my shoes, though. Well, one shoe, mostly.”

“Disturbing.”

“Right? I don’t get sick at the sight of blood, or anything. But that was…”

“It was a lot of blood,” he agreed. “I’ve never seen so much. And then some of it had dried… I got a little nauseous myself.”

“Yeah. Um… I realize I brought it up, but maybe we should change the subject.”

“Sure thing. So, Molly, how do you like L.A.?”

“Nice. Classic, mundane, not too personal.”

“I try. It was either that or if you’d seen any good movies lately.” His eyes glimmered at me in a friendly way. Nice light, clear gray eyes.

I laughed, and it didn’t come out too shaky.

“Also a classic. Well, I’m not sure about L.A. It’s fine, I guess. The thing is I don’t know all that many people here yet.”

“You like people,” he commented.

“Yeah, sure. People make life interesting. Are you telling me you’re a misanthropic bartender?”

“No, not exactly.” He smiled. He has a good smile—not as shiny or big as Pablo’s, but more real. A little bit lopsided, which I always find appealing. “I don’t mind people, individually. Most people. I just wouldn’t make a blanket statement about liking people as a group.”

“Well, but you so rarely have to like them as a group, you know? You always meet them a couple at a time. How long have you lived in L.A.?”

“Two years.”

“Do you like it?”

“Yeah, I do. There’s always a lot going on.”

“What’s your favorite thing to do?”

“I go to the beaches a lot—Venice is my favorite.”

“Do you surf or anything?”

“Not really. I mostly just walk around, people watch. I—How did we end up talking about me?”

I shrugged, making a gesture with my hands palms-up.

“It’s a gift. I can always make people talk about themselves.” I slurped the end of my soda. My stomach finally felt more settled, but I was glad the body was gone, the storage closet shut up and the kitchen closed. Smelling food right now wouldn’t be a happy thing.

“Whether they want to or not?”

“Sure. It’s more interesting when they don’t want to. Why wouldn’t you want to talk about yourself? Must be hiding something, you know?”

Dan regarded me, his expression unreadable.

“You’re a little scary, Molly. Did anyone ever tell you that before?”

“Frequently.” I smiled, not at all offended. Scary could be good—at least it was way more interesting than “cute.” “But it’s all on the outside. I’m a softie at heart. Mush city.”

“Of course you are.”

“Dan, I’m taking off,” Pablo called from the end of the bar. “Hey, Molly. Want me to drive you home?”

Pablo hadn’t given up trying to get with me. I was so not tempted anymore, but it wouldn’t hurt to let him think I might possibly be, maybe, at some point. Sexual politics, and all that. He’d make my drink orders faster if he wanted to impress me.

“I’m all right, but thanks. I think I’ll get going, too.”

A bunch of us left together in a deflated exodus. No work tonight meant no tips, and we all needed those tips. At least it wasn’t a weekend, that was something.

“Are we going to be open tomorrow?” Jennifer asked the group generally. We parked in the parking structure behind our block of businesses.

“They said to come as usual unless they call,” Kevin, the sous chef, told her. I’d heard that already from the assistant manager. She must have missed Jennifer somehow, maybe when she was getting questioned. Or maybe Jennifer forgot. She looked as pale and freaked as I felt. Kevin was giving her a ride—they had a little thing going on.

“Bye, all,” I said, getting into my Honda. I saw Dan wave in my direction as he climbed into Pablo’s silver SUV a couple of cars down. I started the car, looked down at my left leg and shuddered uncontrollably. My shoe and ankle were still dark red with a stranger’s dried blood.

* * *

When I got home I showered immediately and at length. Scrubbing until my skin was almost raw. Almost raw—I wasn’t obsessive. But I washed the heck out of it. I rinsed it until the blood was gone, and then used my soaped-up washcloth a couple of times. I tossed it into a corner, just used soap and my hands to wash the rest of me.

I’d left my shoes and knee-length black Lycra skirt by the door. After I was blood-free and in cozy sweats I dropped the shoes and socks into the shower basin and ran the cold on full, letting it pour over them until the water ran clear. The socks didn’t really get much on them, most of it was on the shoes—the left shoe, but I washed them both.

The thing was, I couldn’t afford a new pair of cute, comfortable black work shoes, so they’d just have to get clean. I left them in there, sopping wet, figuring I’d make do with another pair tomorrow night if they weren’t dry.

It was still light out now, just after seven., not quite blurring into twilight yet. My apartment was depressing. I didn’t have much to nest with or money to buy new things. Hilary and Paul had given me an old rattan folding chair, and I bought a folding table, so with those I had sort of a desk if I wanted to sit upright when I used my laptop. I bought some big cushions at a garage sale for the floor, and what kitchen essentials I needed at a charity thrift shop (mugs, spoons, can opener, pot, frying pan, spatula, wooden spoon). I’d need to get a mattress eventually, for now I was using a twin-sized Aero-bed on loan from Hilary and Paul. That plus an empty box (my nightstand) and my suitcase were my bedroom furniture. Another box in the living room held my books. The kitchen counter held a lot of miscellaneous things, mail and pens and stuff. Mostly I sat on the floor.

It was an empty place, beige of wall and carpet and vertical blind. I did have one plant, bought on clearance at the grocery store. It lived alone in the kitchen underneath the window. It seemed to be doing pretty well, since I remembered to water it.

When I had more time and money I’d see about getting a few more pieces of used furniture, making the apartment cozier. For now I really just needed a safe, clean place to crash and store my stuff, and this worked well enough.

I took a mugful of cheap wine and my phone out onto my tiny cement balcony and called Lainey. It was after ten in D.C., but I knew she and her dreamy new husband would probably still be awake. It took me more than half an hour to get home in traffic, then another half hour to cleanse myself, or I would have called earlier. I didn’t want to bug her, I just needed to hear her voice.

“Moll!” she said. With the word came a sweet, reassuring sense of safety. Lainey always grounded me.

“Hey, stranger,” I said. I wanted to sound normal, but even acting my heart out I probably couldn’t have fooled my friend.

“What’s going on? Are you okay?”

“I’m fine. Except I tripped over a dead guy at work tonight.”

“What?”

“Some man was murdered and left in the storage closet at work. I found him.”

“Oh my God. That’s horrible! Who was he? Did you know him?”

“No, never met him.”

“Tell me what happened.”

Lainey always said I mothered her, but I could have said the same thing about her. She could be more of a caring mom than my own pretty damn caring mom, except without any of the guilt trips, suppressed expectations or shared biological dysfunctions.

“I got to work as usual this afternoon, went to get more pepper and tripped over something in the doorway. When I snapped on the light I saw that it was a dead guy, flat on his back, who’d bled all over the room. Somebody stabbed him, I guess.”

“A stabbed man was lying in your storage room?”

“Random, I know.”

I heard Aiden’s voice in the background, asking some question, and Lainey answered him.

“Yeah, tonight when she went to work,” she said. The voice made a comment, I couldn’t quite hear what. “Aiden said to tell you we’re here if you need anything. You already know that.”

“I do. I just needed to tell someone about it. At least you’re not on your honeymoon.”

“It wouldn’t matter if we were.”

“I’d still call, you mean,” I joked. I wouldn’t have, though. I’d just want to.

I was still kind of shaken inside, more so than I might have expected I’d be. The wine was helping. Lainey was helping.

I suddenly really didn’t want to be alone. Maybe I should have let Pablo drive me. He could have been company. Sordid, one-night-stand company, but company nonetheless.

“Did the police come and all that?” Lainey asked.

“Yeah. Crime scene investigators, medical people, detectives… They questioned all of us. It was… weird.”

“Not like TV.”

“Not at all. But then I figured that out in New York.” Lainey and I so vibed on that kind of thing. She adored cop shows, especially “Law and Order: Criminal Intent.” Detective shows, too. She was into mysteries. Me, not so much.

“It’s always kind of disappointing, but interesting. Did they close the restaurant?”

“Yeah, clearly. I really could’ve used those tips—but it isn’t the biggest deal. They said they think they’ll be able to reopen tomorrow. Everyone’s supposed to keep it hush-hush, they’re calling it ‘emergency repairs’ and getting a hazmat team in. At least it wasn’t in the kitchens. Just a room where we stored dry stuff like napkins and bulk foods. I think they still have to bring a health inspector in a-sap, but the owner is pretty influential.” I didn’t have to tell her not to blab it around.

“Did anyone identify the guy?”

“Nobody knew him. He was… big, I guess. Tall. Honestly I don’t even know if I’d recognize his face if I saw it again. I was staring at the hole in his stomach.”

“Ewww. Are you seriously okay?”

“I’m fine. Really. I don’t want to keep you up…”

Getting off the phone would suck. Lainey guessed as much.

“Stop it. I’m not in any rush to go. So, other than tonight, how are things? How’s the workshop going?”

“It’s pretty interesting. We’re all working in teams of four to come up with pilot ideas and then we have to pitch them to the mentors. My group is all right, three girls and a guy.”

“Cute guy?”

“Nah. I’m pretty celibate these days.”

“Jeez, that’s not good. You’re not getting out enough.”

“Okay, one-woman-man. Throwing stones, much?”

“Dork,” Lainey said affectionately. “You know I’ve got nothing on you when it comes to guys.”

“Whatever! Married to Aiden.”

“Yeah, my second boyfriend—and like the third guy I ever dated, period.”

It was true that I had a lot more experience than Lainey. Okay, a lot doesn’t even cover it. I was a Pablo-esque slut compared to her. But then she was just… different. She wasn’t some innocent, virginal creature or anything trite like that, she just fell in love early on and never quite fell out of it. I thought it was a really cool story. She and Aiden, this beautiful, beautiful Irishman, met when Lainey was only eighteen and Aiden was older, in his late twenties. They fell in love but couldn’t figure out a way to be together. I guess he was living in Europe at the time. Then our last year in college, she bumped into him in New York and it all flared up again. Next thing you knew, she was moving into his apartment in D.C., flying to Ireland to meet his mom, and they got engaged.

I’d had a little thing for Aiden since I met him. Purely for his face and body—not that he wasn’t an amazing guy. He’s just a little too… maybe quiet, for me. Sedate. Perfect for my sweet, earnest Lainey—he worships the ground she walks on. And vice versa. My attraction was completely unrelated to anything except how dang beautiful he is. I spent a little more time with him and it pretty much went away. Mostly.

I didn’t make a secret out of it. They both knew, and neither of them cared. Well, it might have embarrassed Aiden a little. He didn’t like to think of himself as all that. I find it kind of ironic to think how easily he’d get modeling and acting jobs if he ever wanted to, which apparently he really, really didn’t. So many young actors I know would kill for Aiden’s looks, but he was this cerebral dude, working in law enforcement and studying to be an English teacher.

Not remotely my type. Even if Lainey weren’t my best friend, I wouldn’t actually have gone for Aiden. I liked guys a little more rough around the edges, or something.

“So you knew what you wanted, nothing wrong with that. How’s married life, speaking of?”

“Awesome,” she said fatuously. I couldn’t blame her, though I had to make barfing sounds on the phone. I didn’t get too into it—my recent real-life barf episode wasn’t all that long ago, and my tummy was still kind of unsettled. I’d probably need to eat some crackers or something before bed.

“I have a feeling your brother’s headed in that direction,” I said. “Jumping on the marriage train. They seem really happy together.”

“I know. Hilary called me last week to ask me about how Aiden proposed. She’s so funny—she researches everything. They’re going to Santa Barbara this weekend, maybe he’ll finally pop the question at her parents’ place. Or she will.”

“I really dig her. I need to call her and see if she wants to go out for a girls’ night.”

“You should!” Lainey agreed. “You’d have so much fun together. Ohh, jealous! I don’t remember the last time you and I went out for drinks. I miss that.”

“I know. And our Sunday brunches.” Which we’d almost never skipped, even when Aiden was staying in New York at the end of our senior year. Only when she went to D.C. to see him and came home late on Sundays. I loved those brunches, stuffing our faces at the dining hall and catching up on each other’s news. Life after college had its down sides.

“Totally! You need to move back to the east coast. Though I guess there isn’t a lot of screenwriting going on in D.C.”

“Exactly. You need to move back out west.”

“Maybe we will—someday. I’d like that. Right now with us both in school, and Aiden’s job, we can’t really think about moving, but I’d love to live in San Francisco. Ever since we went there last fall I’ve been thinking about it.”

“Even with your dad so close by?” Lainey was from Belmont, somewhere south of San Francisco, where her estranged father still lived. They’d sort of made up last year, at least he offered to pay off all her gazillions of dollars in school loans, but I wouldn’t call them close. Not by any stretch of the imagination.

“Yeah, well, I wouldn’t start having Friday night dinner with him or anything.”

“But you’d really consider moving to the Bay Area?”

“Definitely. I mean, you, Paul and Hil and the Hofflins are all in So Cal, only six hours away, Lisa and Connie are there. I don’t know, we both like the idea.”

She yawned suddenly, and my conscience kicked in. Besides, I did feel better.

“Honey, go to bed. Really, I’ll be okay. I’ll call again if I’m freaking out.”

“I’ll keep the phone right next to me. Call me tomorrow?”

“Of course. Miss you.”

“Miss you, too.”

“Sleep well. Tell Aiden I said ‘sorry’ for keeping you up.”

“He’s been out for like ten minutes.”

“Old fogey.” He’s nine years older, not really that much. I still like to tease her about it.

“Biatch. Good night.”

“Night.”

Find out what happens next on November 1!

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© 2012 Emily Senecal

All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher.

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