Home > The Morning After

The Morning After
Author: Raelee May Carpenter

 

Chapter one

 

Molly Cooper woke up in the morning knowing she’d made the biggest mistake of her life.

Before she even opened her eyes, the sea-air-and-sunscreen of his cologne and the tartness of his skin filled her nose. The combination was achingly familiar after three years of shared hugs. This morning, though, it made her dizzy-sick in a way it never had before. She’d never woken up with it before. It never had clung invisibly to her pillows and sheets like the last images of a bad dream.

A dream? She wished! Extensive evidence to the contrary lay beside her in the bed.

They were “spooning” actually. His warm breath tickled the back of her neck in slow, even bursts. Yards of heat and muscle and bare skin pressed against her back and the backs of her legs and…oh, dear God, have mercy. Her own breath turned to stone in Molly’s throat as her head went dizzy and her body broke out in sweat from forehead to heel.

Matt was still asleep. Part of her wanted to wake him and tell him to get dressed and get his backside out of her apartment NOW.

Who am I kidding?

Pushing him out the door would take more assertiveness than anything Molly had done in her life. And every bit of that had fled her like rabbits from wildfire last night.

Or had it? Molly’d had plenty of assertiveness for the one thing she’d claimed she never wanted.

After everything that happened last night, Molly was afraid of what might happen between them if he woke.

If only she’d been afraid last night about what might happen…

His arm draped over her waist, heavy and inflexible, like a prisoner’s chain of rusty iron. Molly scooted from under it as carefully as she could. Once free, she scrambled out of bed, wincing from the soreness between her legs. Despair formed itself into a solid thing, a Gordian knot in her chest and a lump of coal in the throat.

She took a deep breath and dashed to grab her robe off its hook, trying not to look at the crumpled garments scattered as far as her living room door.

Molly looked back at him instead.

At some point as she’d left the bed, he’d shifted about half onto his back without even half waking. From her three-quarters angle, his face was relaxed, no overtight knitting on the brow. Corded limbs lay loose. The hand which rested atop her sheet was open, not fisted or gripped hard on anything, as per usual.

The air flowed effortlessly in through his nose, filling space down to his abdomen, instead hitting the standard blockade of tension in the upper corners of his chest.

He looked more peaceful than she’d ever seen.

Of course… Molly’d never seen him asleep before.

Strange, maybe, but—though nearing thirty—she’d never seen any man like this before. Not here, not relaxed and dreaming in her bed.

She tore her eyes from the sleeping form, grabbed some clothes, and went to the bathroom. Molly started the water and let it run warm while she stood in front of the mirror and gazed at herself, hypnotized by her own reflected reproduction.

Molly felt different, both in body and in heart. She thought she should see something altered about her reflection now. She did see something…off, but Molly couldn’t pinpoint what it was. Her reflected eyes held her real ones until they were all she could see.

Only when the mirror fogged could Molly tear herself away.

She put one foot in the shower then turned back, rushed and shaky. What if he wakes and decides he should come in here with me?

An unwanted flash of powerful memory struck her consciousness and coursed through her body. She retraced her steps at triple speed.

Her feet skidded a bit across the water-misted, sheet-roll linoleum floor, making her feel a bit like The Three Stooges on ice skates. Molly might have laughed at herself if the nerves weren’t zinging up and down her spine. Stay asleep and stay OUT!

As if suddenly she could broadcast telepathic messages to him.

For the first time in her five years of living in this apartment, she locked the bathroom door.

Under the blasting showerhead at last, her elbows hit both sides of the plastic stall when she tried to stretch out the kinks of the night. “Son of a—” Molly bit it back, rubbed both “funny” bones with the opposite hands.

The water poured over her. Too hot, but she didn’t turn it down. Under the circumstances, the scalding felt good. It almost tricked Molly into thinking she could become clean after what she’d done.

Molly wasn’t sure how it’d happened. Or why.

She’d been surprised when Matt had rung her doorbell at nearly one in the morning. Molly knew was in town. He was headlining all week at the new comedy club in Lansing’s Old Town, and they’d planned for dinner and a movie a few days from now, on his only night off while he was here.

They didn’t have plans for last night.

Molly opened the door, her eyes widening as she looked him over. Matt’s deep blue eyes were red-rimmed and wide-open, and his dark hair sprung in every direction.

“Help me,” he said. “I barely talked myself out of speeding into the road barrier on 496.”

He was sober. Well, ish. Only two drinks down, Molly guessed. That didn’t mean he wasn’t wrecked, though. Matt kept looking over his shoulder, which fed her own paranoia enough that she yanked his well-built six-foot frame into her entryway.

When Molly turned to climb up to her apartment, Matt hooked a finger through the belt loop in the center back of her low-rise jeans. I shouldn’t let him do that. But she stayed silent and lent some of her own momentum to helping her tired and tipsy friend mount the stairs.

As they settled down on the gray Ikea futon in her living room, Matt made a list of everyone he hated—the estranged father he hadn’t seen in thirty years, his exes, his colleagues in L.A.

He always put himself at the top. The list of things Matthew Kelly hated about Matthew Kelly was endless. His life, his career, everything he had. Matt hated the fact he now lived across the world from his mother and how he’d never been able to find the courage to go back, even to visit. Matt said he “wasn’t ready to face the demons” he’d supposedly left there when he’d gotten on a plane to America to pursue his stand-up and acting career in Hollywood.

Molly never understood why Matt couldn’t see how he took his demons everywhere he went.

Last night, he kept saying, “I need to die. I need to not be alive anymore.”

She knew Matthew struggled with depression and anxiety. Molly’d witnessed chronic symptoms of that from the second they met. But she’d never seen him like that.

Molly didn’t understand what had set him off. Maybe some reminder of his deadbeat dad. So much of her friend’s brokenness seemed to go back to the heavy-handed, self-righteous Pete Kelly. Pete’s abandonment of his wife and son had stirred up hella insecurities in Matt. It was a weak spot in her friend’s soul, years scarred over but still a sore, festering stink.

Molly’s BFF hadn’t been enough to keep his dad around, so now, no matter how good he was at everything, at whatever he did, no matter how much success he chased down, Matt couldn’t think of himself as anything but worthless.

Molly’s own anxiety rose to fever pitch, like it often did when he was around and not well. A need to calm him down, to get control of the situation.

She got them each a drink, then another. In retrospect, that was a mistake. Matt probably had been drinking—though slowly— all night at the club.

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