Jacob Scott stared at his desk. Not so much at it as through it. He couldn't believe she was gone. It had been a week and he still couldn't wrap his mind around it. Chelsea had left him.
"I'm sorry, Jacob," she had said, standing by the door with the last of her belongings in a small bag. He had come home to find she'd moved nearly all of her things out while he was at work. As he stood there, dumbfounded, she'd continued. "It just isn't working. I want different things than you do, and it's ridiculous to stay here and pretend otherwise." Then she had left.
Two years, he thought. It took her two years to decide it wasn't working? What the hell does that mean anyway? He had been taken completely by surprise. He had loved her, and thought she loved him. They had been living together in his place for several months. They had even started talking marriage a couple of months ago.
Now she was gone and his world was in shreds. What did I do wrong? he wondered. How could she just walk away? On top of that, someone had snuck into his apartment and taken out some of the treasures he had from his father. Military medals, an old pocket watch, and a few other things simply turned up missing, and he had no idea who could have done it. He'd reported the theft to both the police and the landlord, but nothing had turned up.
"Hey, you." Jake turned at the voice. A wad of paper flew at him and he wasn't quick enough to dodge it. It hit him dead center in the forehead and bounced onto his desk. "Come on, man, wake up."
"Leave me alone, Cam," said Jake. He threw the ball of paper into the trash can next to his desk.
"I've left you alone for a week," Cam told him from the doorway. Cameron Riverton was Jake's best friend. They'd gone into business together and somehow managed to keep the friendship, for which Jake was usually glad. In his current mood, he wasn't sure.
"Then you're getting good at it," said Jake. "Just keep practicing." He resumed staring moodily at his desk, as though if he stared at the papers on it long enough, they'd go away. Perhaps by bursting into flames.
"Look," said Cam, coming over to stand in front of Jake's desk, "I'm sorry, man. What she did, it sucks. But you have to snap out of it. I know it hurts, but life goes on."
"I don't feel like snapping out of it," Jake grumbled. It was true. In a strange way, it felt good to feel so sorry for himself.
Cameron rolled his eyes. "Of course you don't. No one ever does. Wallow, wallow, wallow. That's all we want to do when someone throws us a curve. So, I've given you a week to do it. Now knock it off."
"I loved her, Cam." There was a little heat in Jake's voice, a little anger.
"I know," said Cameron. "And again, I'm sorry. It didn't work. Sometimes it doesn't."
"It was—" Jake began, but Cam cut him off.
"I know, I know. It was two years of your life. You thought you'd marry her. How could she do this? Why didn't she say something sooner?" He shook his head and brown locks fell in his face. He brushed them back. "You've said something like that every day for the past five days, and the answers—or lack of them—haven't changed." He cocked his head at Jake, wondering if he was pushing too hard, but continuing anyway. "Frankly, man, it's getting tiresome."
"Tiresome?" Now Jake was angry, and his green eyes flashed. He got up and stalked out to their small lobby to get a drink of water from the cooler. "What the hell do you know anyway? It's easy for you. You get to go home to Madeleine every night, don't you? You don't worry about her leaving, do you?"
"No, I don't," said Cameron evenly. He followed Jake out. His back was starting to get up, too, but he kept his temper in check. Jake might want a fight, but it wouldn't help anything. "But I've been where you are, you know that. When I was with Beth, I thought she was the one. Then she dumped me. I hurt, but I got over it. Then, I admit, I got lucky and met Maddy."
"You can't expect me to act like two years of my life didn't happen," Jake said. He wanted to be angry at Cameron, if only because he was the closest person, but Cam's level tone made it difficult.
"I never said I did," Cameron pointed out. "But you can't sit here every day reviewing the past two years and trying to figure out what you did wrong. Because that's what you're doing, I know it is. You'll drive yourself crazy until you realize the answer: you didn't do anything wrong."
Jake was about to reply when a burst of color whooshed through the door. The burst resolved itself into a woman, probably his age give or take a couple of years. She had golden blonde hair, deep blue eyes, and a metallic silver jacket that nearly hurt his eyes because of the way it reflected the sunlight. She also talked rapidly, like she couldn't get the words out quickly enough.
"Hi. Sorry to bother you. I'm Molly, Molly Sugden. Haven't been here long and I'm just looking for the library. Do you know where it is? Have to check email and all that, you know? Gosh, this is a nice place. You must be really busy. I'm sorry to interrupt." The words tumbled out and Jake and Cam could only gape. Then Cam got a curious look in his eye.
"Wait, did you say your name was Molly?" he asked her.
"Yes, that's it, Molly Sugden," she said with a nod. "Well, actually it's Mallory but I never liked that or being called Mal, so Molly it is. Sorry, do I know you?"
"Don't tell me you've forgotten Sister Laura's U.S. History class already," Cameron said with a grin.
Molly's eyes brightened and a smile grew on her face. Jake thought it was the loveliest smile he'd ever seen. Then he tamped the thought down. I'm depressed, he reminded himself, my girlfriend of two years just broke up with me a week ago.
"Cameron? Oh, my gosh, Cameron Riverton?" Cam nodded. "Oh, wow!" said Molly. "I just got here and I can't believe I ran into someone from high school! How're your Mom and Dad? And your sister? Oh, she must be all grown up now and running her own business or something! And you, this is your place?"
"You bet." Cam came over and gave her a hug which she enthusiastically returned, bouncing all the while. Jake was unexpectedly jealous. "Molly, this is my friend, Jacob Scott. We're in this together."
"Hi, Jacob!" She held out a hand and he took it.
"Hi," he said. He wanted to say more but he'd never met anyone like her, and it was hard to keep up. She seemed to be in constant motion.
"Well, look, you must be really busy and I didn't want to interrupt so if you can just tell me where the library is I'll let you get back to everything." Jake almost laughed; it didn't seem she needed to take a breath.
"Just down the street and left at the light," Cameron told her. "Stop back when you're done, if you'd like. We can catch up. Maybe dinner?"
"Maybe," said Molly. "I'm not sure what I'm doing. I never am. You remember. Thanks, Cam. Bye, Jacob." As quickly as she had burst in through the door, she burst out.
"Wow," said Jake. "She's ... something." He half-expected to see papers floating through the air in her wake.
"She's always been like that," Cam told him. "Always with the nervous energy. She used to run, sometimes even before school, just to calm down." He paused, remembering. "She was on the track team. Distance runner."
"Before the days of Ritalin," Jake observed.
"No." Cam shook his head after some thought. "I don't think it was anything like that. She just had a lot of energy. Good student, it wasn't like she couldn't concentrate. I think her parents made her nervous, and that's how she dealt with it."
"I just used to go to my room and put on headphones," Jake said.
"So, come to dinner tonight," Cam said.
"What?" Jake was generally used to his friend's abrupt changes of subject, but occasionally they caught him off guard. "Dinner? Why?"
"Why not?" Cameron shrugged. "Beats going home and eating cold pizza and staring at ESPN, which I know is what you're going to do. It's what you always do when you're depressed. You've probably raised your cholesterol ten points in the last week. So come and be social for a while. It won't kill you."
"It would be hot pizza," Jake stalled, "I ate the last piece yesterday." Cam simply stared at him. "All right, all right." Jake gave in. Cam would only badger him for the rest of the day if he said no. "But no talking about Chelsea."
"Deal," said Cam with a nod, and went back to his office.
Jake suddenly realized he hadn't thought about Chelsea since Molly had come in.
Molly put her hands in her lap, willing herself to stop wringing them together. She was a having a lovely time, but she just couldn't sit still. Her mother had always complained about that. "For heaven's sake, Mallory Ann," she would say while her father looked on in his vaguely disapproving way, "it won't kill you to sit quietly like a lady for a few minutes." Maybe, thought Molly, I would have if she hadn't made me so nervous.
She had stopped by Cameron's office on her way back from the library, and he'd invited her to dinner. Since it had been such a nice surprise to find a friend from high school in a town where she knew no one else, she had taken him up on it. Cameron was as friendly as she remembered, and his wife, Madeleine, was wonderfully pleasant.
His friend Jake was there, too, and Molly wasn't sure what to make of him. He was cute, she wouldn't deny that. He was close to six feet, maybe slightly over, and had dark hair and green eyes. Those eyes, Molly noted, were not happy. She could imagine them lighting up when he smiled or made a joke, but for now, they seemed dark and a little sad. She wondered what had happened.
Jake was making an effort not to think about Chelsea or the breakup and hence could think of little else. Come on, he told himself, shake it off, just for a couple of hours. The one thing that did distract him, at least a little, was Molly.
He got the impression she was nervous, and figured it was only natural. She was among strangers, despite knowing Cameron from high school. He'd be nervous in that situation, too. He had seen her put her hands under the table and had to stifle a smile, sure that she was trying to hide her fidgeting. Jake tried to distract her by asking for stories of Cam in high school. Molly had a few, and Cam blushed more than once.
After they'd chatted for a while, Molly found she couldn't sit any more, and began to help clear the table. She hoped it wasn't gauche, but she had to do something. Her father's voice rattled in the back of her mind, reminding her that guests should always be helpful. He never cleared his own plate, she thought idly. Carefully, she carried the dishes into the kitchen and laid them on the counter by the sink. She didn't want to go so far as to wash the dishes; that, she was sure, would just seem weird.
Why can't I just be normal? she wondered despairingly, pressing her hands to her eyes. Why can't I just stay focused on one thing? Sit quietly while someone else talks? Surely other people in the world go to dinner with people they don't know well, and it all works out.
"Feeling okay?" Jake's voice nearly made her jump.
"What?" Her mind was blank.
"Sorry, didn't mean to startle you," he said, feeling slightly guilty. "You were just standing there with your hands and ... I just wondered if you felt all right." Way to go, he thought irritably. Try complete sentences next time.
"I'm fine, thanks," she said. "Just ... a little overwhelmed, I guess." Molly smiled a little and he felt better.
"That's a pretty necklace," he said. "I like how it catches the light." Molly's fingers went self-consciously to the chain around her neck. It was silver with small topaz and sapphire stones woven in.
"Thanks," she said. "I, ah ... I made it myself." She blushed.
"Really?" Jake asked, surprised. "It's great."
"It's a hobby," she said, willing herself not to babble. "A friend of mine got me into it and I like to do it when I'm off work. It relaxes me and I can even give the odd gift and I'm sorry, I'm babbling and I'll stop now." She smiled nervously and her eyes darted around the kitchen.
Jake laughed. "You weren't babbling, honestly. It sounds interesting. Do you have anything else with blue stones? They're my sister's favorite."
"I have a bracelet," Molly said. "I don't usually wear them and I was just trying to use up some chains and stones and that's what I had lying around and..." She stopped, took a deep breath, and mentally kicked herself. She was nervous, but she could at least try not to sound like a basket case.
"I'd like to see it sometime, if I could," Jake told her. He surprised himself by saying it and realized again that for the time he'd been talking to Molly, Chelsea had never once entered his thoughts. He wasn't sure he was ready to draw any conclusions from that.
"Oh." Molly was taken back. She told few people about her hobby, and showed the results to fewer still. But Jake seemed sincere, she thought. "Okay. Maybe I could bring it by your office one day."
"That'd be fine," he said. There was a short, slightly awkward silence for a moment and then Molly spoke.
"I, um, I'd better be going," she said. "I start my job in a couple of days and need to get organized. Which means I'll never get organized but I'll pretend I will." Molly turned but then stopped and put her hands over her face again. "Oh, no," she groaned.
"What?" asked Jake, concerned. "What's wrong?"
Molly sighed. "I have a necklace for Cam's wife and of course I forgot to give it to her. It's in my bag but now I feel ridiculous and ... I'm doing it again." She cursed herself for being an idiot and went to get her purse. Curious, Jake followed her.
Molly found her bag, brought it back into the kitchen and sat it on the table. Jake was wary of such a large purse and stood what he thought was a safe distance away. His brother had always said he wouldn't go into his wife's purse for fear of losing an arm, and Jake had similar fears watching Molly dig through hers. His fears dwindled and a smile played over his face as he watched her empty the bag, muttering all the while.
Out came a hair brush, a wallet, a cell phone and an MP3 player. So far, Jake considered, so normal. Then there were a few brochures, for the library and other buildings. All right, he thought. She's new in town and needs information. Hasn't had time to sort them out yet. His eyes widened as more items landed on the table. Chapstick, a small tube of something, a stuffed ... octopus? A small bottle that might have been makeup. He had to laugh out loud when she pulled a rather thick book out.
"A History of the Vikings?" he asked, still laughing. "Do you always carry that around?"
Molly turned, startled, and blinked. "Not always. Last month it was a book on Cleopatra." She went back to rifling through her purse. Jake stared and couldn't help laughing again. The earnest way she'd responded to him cracked him up.
"Ah, ha!" Molly said triumphantly. From the recesses of the purse, she held up a small, gaily colored bag. "I knew it was here."
"That's not a purse," Jake said, eyeing it carefully. "That's a TARDIS."
"My parents always said I must be from another planet," she said absently. "And the TARDIS was supposed to have a chameleon circuit. A purse would have been a great disguise." She took the little bag into the other room. Madeleine was delighted with the necklace, and Molly felt much better.
Jake was a bit nonplussed that Molly had understood the Dr. Who reference. Cam always rolled his eyes when Jake said such things. He said he could tell when Jake made a reference to the show because he had no idea what Jake was talking about. Chelsea wouldn't even watch with him. That hadn't been fair at all, he thought, after he had made himself sit through Desperate Housewives.
"Listen, I've had a great time, but I've got to be going," said Molly. "It was great to see you, Cam, and to meet you, Maddy."
"Come back anytime," Maddy said, standing and giving her a hug. "The necklace is lovely."
"Oh, you're welcome," Molly said as she blushed slightly. "I could show you how to make them some time, if you'd like." She hadn't meant to say it; it just popped out.
"That'd be great!" said Maddy. "I have other friends who'd love it, too. We'll make it a party."
"I'm busy that night," Cam said automatically. "Jake is, too."
"Oh, never mind," Maddy laughed. "You weren't invited anyway."
"Molly, do you need a ride home?" Cam asked her.
"No, thanks," she said. "It's not that far and it's a nice night, so I thought I'd walk."
"I'll walk with you, if that's all right," Jake said. Molly had moved into an apartment complex just about smack in the middle between his place and Cam's. He didn't like the idea of her walking alone at night.
Molly smiled, a little shyly. "That would be nice, thanks."
"So, what do you do?" Jake asked as they walked. It was a nice late summer night. The temperature had dropped slightly and the humidity was low. A slight breeze fanned through Molly's hair.
"Me?" Molly asked. "I'm, um, I'm a nurse." She managed not to say that it was a choice her family had not supported. It didn't seem fair to lay that on him when they'd only just met.
"No kidding?" Jake asked. "In a doctor's office or at the hospital?"
"The hospital," she said. "I'm scheduled to start in a couple of days. I've met everyone and they seem really nice but it's always weird when you start a new job and don't know many people and..." she sighed. "I'm sorry, I don't mean to go on like that."
"It's all right," he assured her. Barely realizing he was doing it, he rubbed her shoulder in reassurance. Molly hid a gasp at the touch. "I think that's great," he continued. "I don't think I could ever make it as a doctor or nurse. It takes a lot of dedication. You should be proud of yourself."
"Thanks." Molly felt warm inside and it was all she could do not to hug him. Those were the words she had wanted to hear from her parents and doubted she ever would.
They walked in silence for a little while. Jake pondered his own reaction to touching Molly. It had felt very natural, like a reflex when he touched her shoulder. He wanted to take her hand but wasn't sure if he should. It was confusing. He was on the rebound; he shouldn't be considering other women in any capacity other than friends, if only for their sakes.
Molly, though ... something about her was getting to him. Molly was colorful, he thought. That had been his very first impression when she had spun through the office door. It wasn't that her clothes clashed, or that she wore garish colors or patterns. At dinner she'd worn a pair of dark purple slacks—Maddy would have called them "plum," he was sure—a blouse with a small print, and that pretty necklace.
I could use some color, he thought ruefully. Chelsea, he recalled, had usually dressed in dark, neutral colors. She had even started redecorating his apartment a little, adding lots of what he considered "blah spots." Tan throw pillows. Beige throw rugs. Nothing terrible, but then again, nothing special. His apartment, he realized, had begun to look like an Ikea display; attractive but devoid of personality.
Molly, on the other hand, was like a walking rainbow. Since Chelsea had left, he had let everything else fade while he concentrated on his feelings of betrayal. Maybe Cam was right. Maybe he needed to let it go and let things get brighter again.
"If you don't mind me asking," Molly said, "is something bothering you?" Jake looked at her blankly, still wrapped up in his own thoughts.
"What? Me?" he asked. "Sorry?"
Molly couldn't help but laugh gently at the confusion on his face. "I didn't mean to be nosy. It just looked like something was on your mind while we were at Cameron's. Even though I talk pretty fast, I'm a decent listener, if you ever want to talk about it."
"Thanks," he said. Then, out of nowhere, he found himself telling her everything about the breakup. He told her how Chelsea had started pulling away not long after they moved in together, and he'd put it up to the stress of the change. She insisted on only the toniest restaurants and kept saying that he needed to "dress the part" if he wanted to succeed. How she called him Jacob all the time, instead of Jake, as though even his name was too informal. At first he hadn't minded, but after a while it had made him feel like the butler.
Then he'd come home to find her waiting on him only to tell him good-bye. "But it was so weird," he said. Molly listened to it all intently, saying nothing, waiting for him to get it all out. "In between all that, she would say she thought about getting married. Things would be different, she loved me, and all the problems would go away. Then all of a sudden, she decides it's not going to work. And she leaves. Just like that."
Jake took a deep breath, stunned that he'd poured everything out to Molly. God, she must think I'm a complete nut, he thought. He was almost out of breath from having said it all and it took a minute to get his bearings. When he dared look at Molly, he found her staring at him with a hint of sadness, but no pity, in her blue eyes. That was good, he didn't need pity. He'd managed to find an endless source within himself.
Cam was right. It was tiresome.
"I am so sorry," he said, running a hand through his hair. "I didn't mean ... I had no intention of saying all of that. You didn't need me to lay all that on you. I'm really sorry."
"It's all right," she said. "You needed to say it, and I didn't mind listening." He noticed that any nervousness seemed to have left her. She was calm and her words weren't tumbling out on top of each other.
"Okay, then," he said as they resumed walking. "Hopefully, the next time I see you, I'll make a better impression." He gave a short laugh. "Honestly, I don't usually regale pretty girls with a sob story like that."
Molly blushed when he called her pretty. "You made a fine impression," she assured him as he walked her to the door of her apartment building.
"I did?" He grinned. "Well, that's a load off my mind."
Molly laughed. "Glad to help." She bounced on her feet for a minute, then impulsively reached up and kissed his cheek. "Thanks for the walk, Jake. I appreciate it."
"You're very welcome," he said. Part of his brain was stuck, repeating Hey, she kissed me in a loop. He tried to work past it. "Stop in the office anytime. Cam and I are always looking for an excuse to procrastinate."
"Yep, that sounds like Cam," Molly agreed. Jake smiled and watched as she went inside.
Things seemed just a little bit brighter as he walked back to his place.
Molly found herself regularly stopping by Cam and Jake's office on her way to or from work, depending on the shift. If she had a morning start, she'd often bring them coffee. In the evenings, they'd return the favor.
Much to her relief, she stopped talking to them as though she was under deadline to use up a certain number of words. It bothered her, and she had tried many times to change it, but it was an uphill battle. Eventually she gave up. It would have been easier to stop talking all together, she had thought despairingly. She still had her moments, but less so in front of Cam and Jake as they got to know each other.
It had been a stroke of luck, running into Cam. She had taken the job at the hospital with no hesitation, but when the reality of moving to a town where she knew no one finally hit, she had been apprehensive. She and Cam had been good, but not close, friends in high school. They got along better now, she thought. She considered that at certain points in life, people just wouldn't mesh, or not mesh all the way. Give them some time and some seasoning, and that could change.
How much time would Jake need to get over his break up? That thought occurred to her with distressing frequency. Maybe I should talk about it with Maddy, she thought. They'd become fast friends, much to Molly's delight. Maddy was a petite, red-haired firecracker with dancing blue eyes and a ready sense of humor. Molly thought she matched up well with Cameron, who was taller and calmer, although he couldn't quite hide the mischief in his eyes.
What would she tell Maddy, though? She wondered with a sigh. Maddy, I've got a crush on Cam's best friend. Help me out, here. She smiled wryly to herself. That would certainly be direct, and it had the added advantage of being true.
Since that first dinner at Cam and Maddy's, she and Jake had become friends in their own right. They went out to dinner occasionally, if she had a shift ending around that time and stopped by the office. He had never made any moves or done anything Molly could interpret as wanting more than friendship, no matter how she tried to. You're just scared, she admonished herself. That was true, too.
You should just take the chance, she thought. You took a chance on your career, and that worked out. Well, yes, she answered herself, but that was different. If a faceless admissions board rejects you, it's not quite the same as having the guy you like turn you down.
Going in circles with those thoughts, she walked to work, sipping her coffee. Then she shook her head and tried to focus. She went over her day, trying to lay things out as best she could, given the uncertainty of her schedule. After her shift, she was going to Cam and Maddy's for the jewelry demonstration Maddy had suggested. That would be fun, she decided. She had picked up a lot of different colored beads and various chains to put them on. There should be plenty to play with, and she was looking forward to meeting Maddy's friends.
Focusing on work and the evening, she managed to push her feelings for Jake to the back of her mind. That, she noted grimly, was getting to be a habit.
"Cam, you free for a ball game on Saturday?" Jake asked. "A client had tickets he couldn't use and gave them to me. Cardinals and Phillies, should be fun."
"Sorry," said Cam with genuine regret. Cam loved baseball and went to games every chance he got. "We have to go visit Maddy's parents this weekend. I'll have to settle for watching it on TV."
"Okay," said Jake. "I can go myself and leave the extra ticket at the box office, I guess. Or find someone who needs one."
"No scalping," warned Cam. "We're lawyers, you know. It wouldn't look good if you got busted for illegal ticket sales."
Jake laughed. "No worries. I'm not even sure where the seats are. I wouldn't know what to charge." He looked up at the clock when the hourly chime sounded. "Four already?" He gave a low whistle. "Time flies when you're buried in motions."
"Sure does," Cam agreed. He stood and stretched. "I've been sitting in that damn chair all day trying to answer emails and contact people. I would have been better to go knocking on doors."
"Think Molly will stop by today?" Jake asked. If she had come by in the morning, he missed her, having gone to the court house to sort out some of the never-ending paper work.
"I don't know," said Cam. "She didn't stop this morning, must have started early." Then he narrowed his eyes at Jake. "Why?"
"I thought maybe she'd like to go to the game," Jake said warily. "That okay with you?"
Cam sat back down and tapped a pen on his desk. "Depends," he said. Jake raised an eyebrow inquiringly. "I think she really likes you, Jake. If you don't like her that way, you should let her know."
"Oh." Jake blinked. He didn't know quite what to say. He liked Molly a lot. He also knew he was making an effort to keep things light, to hold her a little bit away. It had been nearly a month since Chelsea had left, and although the hurt was fading, Jake still wasn't sure how he felt. He told himself that he was protecting Molly by taking things slow, keeping everything platonic. But now he wondered if he was protecting himself instead.
"I don't know," he admitted. It was Cam's turn to give him a questioning look. Jake sighed. "I do like her, I do. I just don't know if I should do anything about it. I'm not dumb enough to ignore the fact that I recently had a bad end to a long relationship. That probably has me messed up."
"You were always messed up," Cam said helpfully.
"Thanks," said Jake wryly. He became serious again. "I mean it, though, Cam. I'm sure my perspective is skewed. Molly is great, I know that. She's sweet and funny and I'd hate to hurt her."
Cam was silent for a moment. Then he said, "Hurt is always a risk. Maybe you should let her take it if she wants to."
Jake was about to reply when, just like the first time he'd seen her, Molly whirled in through the door. She was wearing her nursing scrubs, but they were just as colorful as anything else she wore. Her pants were plain blue but her top had stars and teddy bears on it. She was also carrying her TARDIS purse, as Jake now thought of it. He continued to be leery of it, sure that if he reached in he would come out lacking fingers.
"Hi, guys," Molly said with a smile.
"Hey, Molly," they both said. Jake saw that despite the smile, she was tired. She hid it well, but he noticed the slight dark circles under her eyes, and the way she didn't talk quite so much. Even her smile seemed a little dimmer, which tugged at him a bit.
"Long shift?" Jake asked, and she nodded, rubbing a hand over her eyes. She looks adorable, Jake thought. With her teddy bear top and her hair in a pony tail held by a silver scrunchie, she looked like she was ready to curl up with a blanket and drop off to sleep. How nice it would be, Jake mused, if she was curled up next to him. That thought brought him up short and he was grateful that Cam continued the conversation.
"Are you sure you're up for the jewelry thing?" Cam asked her. "I'm sure Maddy would understand. She and the others wouldn't mind at all."
"No, thanks," said Molly, dropping into one of their chairs. "It was hectic, but I'm better since getting out. Besides, it'll be nice to see some people. I feel like all I do is work, go home, eat frozen dinners, and go to work again."
"I know those days," Cam agreed.
"Absolutely," Jake said, able to focus once again. "I think you just described my entire last year of law school. Except we alternated between pizza and subs." Molly chuckled at that.
"It's a wonder you graduated at all, with a diet like that," she teased. Then she sighed and stood. "Well, I'd better go. I need to go get the beads and all for tonight. See you."
"Molly, wait," said Jake. He ignored the look Cam was giving him and walked over to the door. "I'll walk a little with you, okay?"
"Sure," she said, nodding. What is this? she wondered, and refused to let herself hope Jake was going to ask her out. You're pathetic, she thought. You could just ask him yourself. Women's lib and all that. They stepped outside and started towards Molly's building.
"Are you busy Saturday?" Jake asked.
Molly's heart tripped a little but she kept her voice steady. "No, the scheduling gods smiled and gave me Saturday and Sunday off. I'll have to pay for it with tons of double shifts, I'm sure, but I'll take it when I can."
"Do you like baseball?" he asked. Molly nodded. "I have tickets to the game on Saturday afternoon. Would you like to come with me?"
Molly wanted to say, "Would this be a date?" Instead she said, "That would be fun. I haven't been to a baseball game in ages."
"Great." Jake was more relieved than he expected to be. "The game's at one, maybe we could do lunch before or dinner after?"
"Sure," said Molly. Her heart had settled down, but now her stomach was fluttering. Stop it! she ordered herself. It's just a game, not a date. "It might have to be dinner," she said and felt the words building up to come rushing out. "I'm not sure how late I'll be on Friday because a lot of times I end up working extra hours with no notice so I may end up sleeping pretty late to make up for it and..." she sighed and dropped her head.
"Molly," Jake said gently, putting a hand on her arm. She looked up at him and he was lost, for just a moment, in her deep blue eyes. "I didn't mean to make you nervous. Dinner on Saturday would be fine. I know you work hard, and your hours change. Don't worry, we'll work around it."
"Thanks," Molly said softly. This time, she indulged her urge to hug him. He was so understanding of her work and schedule. Her family had never even tried. Her mother would go on for days when Molly had to beg off an event because of her shift. She had no concept of Molly's job or of the idea that there was a nursing shortage. Molly's hospital was luckier than most, but even so wasn't carrying a full complement of nurses.
Jake, she realized, had never been upset when she'd had to cancel dinner at the last minute because of an emergency. She hugged him tighter for it.
When Molly's arms went around him, Jake instinctively brought his own up and wrapped them around her. He wondered why it had taken him so long. Well, if I'd known how good she'd feel, I would have, he thought. He had a feeling things had taken a turn, and found he wasn't as worried as he thought he would be.
Molly had a great time with Maddy and her friends, Ginger and Sharon. She hadn't had a girls' night of any kind in forever, and they all got along famously. Not a lot of jewelry got made, but they had a blast anyway, and made tentative plans to do it again.
"Oh, that was fun," Molly said with a happy sigh as she helped Maddy clear away some wine glasses. "I haven't done anything like that in so long."
"Really?" said Maddy. "That's too bad." She picked up a tray with the decimated remains of a cheese selection. Cracker crumbs were left like rubble between the chunks of cheese. "It's the kind of thing I'd do with my sisters."
"My sister thinks it's a waste of time," Molly said as they walked into the kitchen. "She told me she doesn't know why I bother. Other people make it better, and with more expensive materials, and what was it she said? Oh, yes. There was no need to go around looking like I shop in a thrift store."
"No offense," said Maddy, "but I don't think I'd like your sister very much."
"None taken." Molly put the glasses down carefully. "I don't like her much, myself, a lot of the time. I think it's pretty mutual."
"I know someone who likes you," Maddy teased in a sing-song voice.
"Who?" Molly looked at her with genuine curiosity.
Maddy laughed. "Jake, silly."
"No," said Molly, disbelieving. Then, with a hopeful note, "You think so?"
Maddy laughed again, a clear, pleasant sound. "Absolutely."
Molly sighed and leaned against the counter. "I like him," she admitted. "But ... well, I think it's obvious he's not quite ready to jump back in the dating pool. That was a tough break up."
"He told you about Chelsea?" Maddy asked, surprised. Molly nodded.
"It was the first night you had me over for dinner," Molly said. "When he walked me back, I offered to listen if he ever wanted to talk about whatever was bothering him. Then all of a sudden, he told me everything. I don't know why, and we haven't talked about it since."
"I can't imagine why," Maddy said dryly. "Geez, what a conversation to have on the first date."
It was Molly's turn to laugh. "It was hardly a date, just a walk home."
"You have to start somewhere," Maddy said.
"Well, maybe Saturday," Molly said.
"Do tell," Maddy encouraged with a wide smile.
"Jake invited me to a ball game," Molly told her.
"Oh, no," Maddy groaned and closed her eyes. "Cam drags me to those. It's like watching paint dry only less exciting."
"I like baseball," Molly said hastily. "That's not the problem. I just don't know if it's a game or a date. I think it's just a game." She waited a moment, then confessed, "I wish it was a date."
Maddy came over and squeezed her hand. Molly was so ... open. She shouldn't ever play poker, Maddy thought. Out loud, she said, "Well, some people say dating is a game. Maybe you can make a date out of it."
"I'm not that clever," Molly admitted. She sighed and looked away. "I'll probably end up saying that to Jake, that I wish we were on a date. Then he'll go to get a drink during the seventh inning stretch and I won't realize until the ninth inning that he never came back and I'll feel like a complete idiot and probably sit in my seat until the ushers throw me out."
Maddy couldn't hide a smile as the words flew out of her friend's mouth. Molly had a gotten much more comfortable recently and wasn't usually nervous around Maddy or Cameron. But when the conversation turned to Jake, Molly's speech tended to approach Mach 1.
"I hardly think Jake will abandon you at a baseball game, no matter what you say," Maddy told her. "It's not his style."
"I guess you're right," said Molly, brushing her hair back. "I'm just such a flake and I know it. Jake seems so together. It hardly seems right that he'd be interested in me."
Maddy laughed loudly this time. "Jake could use a little flakiness in his life, not that you're a flake," she said. She patted Molly's hand. "Just go and enjoy it. And if anything slips out," she shrugged, "sometimes Jake needs a push."
Jake knocked on Molly's door, irritated that he was nervous. It's just a baseball game, he reminded himself. With a friend. A very cute, fun, female friend. He sighed.
"Hi," said Molly. Jake couldn't help but smile as he stepped inside.
"I think we may have a problem," he said, gesturing at her shirt.
"What? Why?" Molly looked down at her top, then back at Jake.
"It says 'Phillies, '" he observed. It looked cute on her, though, he had to admit. It was white with red lettering, and she wore it over a blue t-shirt sprinkled with silver stars. She'd left her hair down, and it caught him by surprise. It looked like a golden waterfall. He was so used to seeing it up in a pony tail—her usual style for work—that he'd forgotten what it looked like loose.
"Well, yes," she said, and could feel the words queuing up. "I'm from Philadelphia, so I'm a Phillies fan but if you think it would cause a problem I can go and change and..." To the surprise of both of them, Jake shushed her by placing a finger on her lips. Molly swallowed; it seemed more intimate than a kiss.