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Any Way You Plan It
 

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Any Way You Plan It


  Any Way You Plan It

  UPPER CRUST 4

  by Monique McDonell

  Any Way You Plan It

  Copyright Monique McDonell

  Published by Redfish Publishing

  All rights reserved. This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This eBook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return it and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems—except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews—without permission in writing from the author. Please contact the author at [email protected] This book is a work of fiction. The characters, events, and places portrayed in this book are products of the author’s imagination and are either fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.

  For more information on the author and her works, please see

  http://moniquemcdonellauthor.com/

  Chapter 1

  Marissa slid into the booth at the Two Scoops ice-cream parlor opposite her friend Lucy. She let her head fall theatrically to the table with a thud, her curls bouncing off the Formica tabletop.

  “My life is a mess.”

  Lucy just laughed at her. “Dramatic much? Your life is fine. You just need ice cream.”

  “It’s cold out. Too cold for ice cream,” she moaned.

  “Okay, a hot fudge sundae?”

  Lucy’s niece, Katie, who worked part time at the parlor, took their order.

  “One hot fudge with two spoons, Katykins.”

  “Lucy, don’t call me that here,” she whispered.

  “Okay, sorry. And we need two spoons because I have to fit into my wedding dress.”

  “And I, the desperate and dateless bridesmaid, need to fit into my dress, too.” Katie rolled her eyes at their theatrics and walked away.

  “First of all, you are not desperate. Second, you don’t have to be dateless either.” Lucy gave her friend’s hand a squeeze.

  “Do you have a hot groomsman for me?” Marissa asked hopefully.

  Lucy shook her head. “No. Though, we can find you a date, I’m sure. What about Mike?”

  “Lucy,” she sighed. “My life is a mess. I came back to this town after college and have spent my best years of it looking after my aging parents, and now, bam, they advise me they’re moving down to be with my sister in North Carolina. Just like that. So now, after all this time, I have my freedom. I can now go dancing on Friday nights and rock-climbing on Saturdays, and you are suggesting the first time I go anywhere fun and new I go with a man who has had every chance to date me for five years and has taken none?”

  “Do you really want to go rock-climbing?” Her pretty nose was crinkled at the thought.

  “I think you, my friend, are missing the point of my story.”

  Katie placed the sundae in front of them. It was an architectural impossibility that it remained upright. It was a structure glued together by molten chocolate and whipped cream, and yet it remained upright.

  Marissa lifted her spoon and dug in.

  “Marissa, I know your life feels like it is out of control, and I realize your parents’ sudden departure seems, well, unfair, but in a way, it’s a blessing. Now you are free to live your life however you want to.” She waved her spoon at her friend before licking some chocolate off it. “You have your dream job as the town librarian, and now you can make some of your other dreams come true. You’ll be free to find Mr. Right, or even Mr. Right Now.”

  Marissa knew she was being overdramatic. She wasn’t usually the sort of girl who threw pity parties, but ever since her high school reunion months earlier, Marissa had been acutely aware that everyone else was moving forward with their lives and she was treading water. Yes, she had a job she loved, but her days had revolved around her aging parents’ needs and she’d missed most of her twenties taking care of them. She knew her parents actually would be better off down south with better climate, but the way they’d gone about the move had left a sour taste in her mouth.

  She felt like they’d chosen her sister over her and she had been merely a stopgap until a better offer came along. It made her feel foolish for all the time and effort she had spent, and she hated that.

  Now she had freedom and she didn’t know what to do with it. She didn’t know how to restart her life.

  “Look, Marissa, if you’d said to me a year ago I would be marrying a guy like Chase, or any guy for that matter, I would not have believed you. Things change, people change, life changes. And sometimes for the better.” Her friend squeezed her hand.

  “Well, that’s great for you, Lucy, but I don’t see things changing here, at least not for the better.”

  “They will.”

  “So, do you think you can find me a hot date for the wedding?”

  “You’re really not going to ask Mike?”

  She shook her head. “If things are going to change, then I need to help them along, and taking Mr. Reliable to every event with me, as my friend even though I want more from him and he has sworn off relationships, well, that almost guarantees I’m never going to meet anyone.”

  “If you’re sure?”

  “Totally.”

  Mike sat in the office of the newspaper, where he was the editor, with his silent partner Chase. Chase had invested in the paper after visiting the town with his fiancée, Lucy, and it was a good thing, too, because without his help, Mike hadn’t been sure he could keep it afloat.

  The paper had run for a hundred and fifty years, and Mike truly believed it was part of what kept the town vibrant. Yes, he knew that information these days was global and people got their information from the Internet, but local news and community news still mattered and that’s what a local paper did.

  He was lucky that Chase had fallen in love with the small New England town and had enough money to support the cause. The truth was it was harder than ever for local papers to stay afloat. They could all use a wealthy and savvy investor like Chase. Chase was a writer who did freelance stories for national publications. He was a journalist, too, which was an added bonus for Mike; he had someone to talk shop with.

  “So, advertising revenue seems to be holding steady this quarter. That’s good,” Chase commented. Chase was sprawled out on the ugly brown vinyl sofa that had been there as long as anyone could remember. Mike was sitting, feet up on his desk, hands behind his head. They weren’t exactly Woodward and Bernstein, but they were newsmen.

  “I think that’s pretty good. Winter is our biggest quarter with all the holidays.”

  “Excellent.” Chase grinned. “I probably won’t be back till after the wedding. Not that you need me.”

  “True, but I do like having you about. Makes it more fun,” Mike admitted. The truth was he’d found a friend in Chase and he hadn’t made a new friend in quite some time. “Wedding coming along okay?”

  “You know, it feels like I’m the ringmaster of a circus, except I’m not in charge. I’m just announcing ‘next come the dresses, and later the discussion about flowers and desserts.’ Lucy and my mother are doing it all. I just have to turn up in a suit and smile.”

  “I think there’s a little more to it than that.”

  “Maybe, but not much, though.” Chase grinned. “You bringing a date?”

  “Don’t know.” He assumed he would go with Marissa, or Marissa an
d Todd and he would go together, like normal.

  “You’re not much of a dater, huh?”

  Mike was also not much of a sharer. “Not lately.”

  “Fair enough. There’ll be some pretty girls there.”

  “I thought a man in your situation wasn’t supposed to notice.”

  “I believe I’m allowed to observe, as a journalist, but not touch, as a man. Anyway, I’m not looking for myself.”

  Mike shook his head. “Thanks, but if I want to find a woman, I’ll find my own.”

  “Then steer clear of Cherie, my friend Aaron’s cousin, she fancies herself as a matchmaker. She set Lucy and me up.”

  “She did?”

  “That is a story for a few beers.” Chase looked at his watch. “And I now have to go meet Lucy at my mother-in-law’s place.”

  “Is she doing okay with the kids? It’s great she turned her life around, but it must be hard for Lucy to watch those kids have the happy childhood she never did.” Mike had grown up with Lucy and seen how tough it had been for her with an alcoholic mother. Her mother had turned her life around and was now raising Lucy’s two nieces and nephews while their own mother ran off the rails. History repeating and all that stuff.

  “I think it is. Lucy is glad they have someone, but she wishes her sister would get it together. She’s out in Reno. Not a great town for a woman with a deadbeat boyfriend and an addictive personality.”

  “How do you know where she is?”

  “I have my ways,” Chase said, wiggling his eyebrows. A guy with his resources probably did.

  “Okay. Well, I’ll be at The Pit if you need a beer later.” The Pit was an appropriately named local bar.

  “We’ll be there.”

  Chapter 2

  Marissa sat at the kitchen table, slicing carrots for dinner while her mother spoke on the phone to her sister, Bella. It was painful to watch how animated her mother was about leaving. Surely life with Marissa catering to her every whim for the past few years hadn’t been so bad.

  She became aware of her father watching her from over his newspaper.

  “Don’t cut your finger, honey,” he said softly. She would miss him. He was a sweet man. She suspected at eighty-five he was a lot less keen on the move than he was letting on. He’d lived in this town since he came to work at the timber mill at age eighteen. She had a feeling her mother and sister had gone and visited the state-of-the-art retirement community five minutes from Bella’s house, and somehow it had been decided that they’d move down there. It was the way things usually happened. Her mother made her mind up and her daddy fell in line.

  Marissa was the youngest and definitely an afterthought. A mistake, her sister Bella had said throughout her childhood. Now Bella’s own children were teens, and the truth was she wasn’t needed anymore. She was lonely and having her mother around would fill that void. When Marissa had been at college and her mother had taken a fall and her father had his first heart attack, neither Bella nor her two brothers had rallied to do much. It had fallen on Marissa. She loved her parents and had been happy to help, but when they returned from a recent trip and announced they were moving in a matter of weeks, she had been hurt. She hadn’t been consulted, of course, but she would be left to tidy up the aftermath.

  Her mother hung up. “Bella says hello.”

  “Great,” Marissa replied, moving to the stove to put the carrots on. She checked the meatloaf. A few more minutes.

  “She says when you sell the house you can send her grandmother’s armoire directly.” Of course it was assumed Marissa would sell the house and pack the contents.

  “Does she indeed?” Bella knew that was the only thing in the whole house Marissa would like. Her mother, as always, was oblivious.

  “Claire, that was my mother’s armoire, and I would like it to stay with Marissa,” her father said from behind his paper.

  “What?”

  “You heard me. Marissa gets the armoire.”

  “But Bella . . .” her mother interrupted.

  “Can have whatever else she wants.” Her father was a man of few words. Half the time Marissa didn’t know what he noticed, but when he spoke in that tone, no argument would be brokered. “That meatloaf smells wonderful, honey.”

  “Thanks, Dad. Almost ready.”

  “It is after six,” her mother sniffed. As if fifteen minutes mattered.

  “Sorry, but you know I do have to work and then get home before I can cook.”

  “Well, you’ll be free of us soon.”

  Quite. Time for this conversation to take a more constructive turn.

  “You might want to go around with sticky notes or a list and mark what we need to ship, Mom. I’d hate you to leave something behind you love.”

  “The thing is that the villa is so new, I was thinking we would just get all new furniture.” Marissa knew who had put that idea in her head. Bella. The woman did love to shop, and it was even more fun with someone else’s money.

  “I want my recliner, my desk, my old desk chair,” her father announced. Marissa grabbed a pen and paper from the counter and started a list. One of many she suspected she’d be making.

  “That rickety old desk chair will probably fall apart in transit,” her mother huffed.

  “That’s what I want. And all the photos on the stairwell.” Just as with many families, their stairwell was lined with photos of her childhood; of course he would want them.

  “Well, we can get new sofas and a dining table. And a new bed.”

  No one could argue that was a good idea. The mattress in their room was as old as Marissa.

  “Where will you be moving to, honey?” her father asked.

  “Not sure yet, Daddy.” The truth was she’d only known about the move a few days. She needed to do some serious thinking about that. “Somewhere in town. Close to the library.”

  “You and that library. It’s not the center of the universe, you know?”

  “Thanks, Mother, I’m well aware of that, but as that is where I work, it makes sense to be nearby, don’t you think?”

  “Maybe. Bella says . . .” Marissa took that moment to get out knives and forks to set the table, being sure to make an unholy racket as she did so. She was not in the mood to hear any more of what Bella said.

  An hour later, she was sitting at the bar at The Pit and was on her third beer. She was tired and emotional and probably—no definitely—should have curled up in bed with a book that promised her a happily ever after.

  “Hey there.” Todd Kowalski slid onto the barstool next to her. Todd was Mike’s identical twin brother and one of her oldest friends. The twins looked the same to the untrained eye, but Marissa’s eye was very well trained indeed.

  “Hey, Todd. How’s it hanging?”

  Marissa knew Todd had a faint scar in his right eyebrow where Mike had hit him with a Frisbee as kids. She knew that when Mike smiled the left side his mouth rose first and the reverse was true for Todd. She knew that her heart beat a bit faster near Mike and inexplicably never had near Todd.

  “How’s it hanging?” He raised his eyebrows at her.

  “I’m working on some new material,” she replied.

  “Keep working.” He raised the beer that had been placed in front of him to her. “Cheers.”

  “Good day?”

  “Just work.”

  The town thought Todd was a graphic designer, which he was. What they didn’t know was that he had also invented the online gaming app, Jungle Jam, and was currently worth an absolute bucket-load of money. She knew and Mike knew, and well, that was about it.

  “Anything new?”

  He nodded. “Yep, nearly done. I’m kind of excited.”

  “Good for you,” she said, but her voice sounded flat even to her.

  “You don’t seem happy tonight. Anything I can do to cheer you up?”

  “I’m just in a funk. My folks are moving, I’ve wasted my twenties, and I’m a lonely librarian . . .”

  “Ah, so n
othing major.” He gave her a gentle shove with his elbow.

  “Exactly.” She took a swig of her beer.

  “What number is that, honey?” He pointed to her drink.

  “Three.”

  “I’ll drive you home.”

  “Thanks, Todd. You really should find a nice girl to lavish your kindness on.”

  “Yeah, thanks, but no thanks. I’m very happy being single and hanging out with you.”

  “Who’s happy being single?” She’d know that voice anywhere. Not that she didn’t hear it practically every day. She looked over her shoulder and took him in. Dark hair, NYU sweatshirt, and jeans. Nothing that should make a girl’s heart flip, and yet hers did an elegant somersault.

  “Your brother, of course.”

  Mike slid onto the barstool on her other side. It was pretty standard. She was the rose between two thorns. “I see.”

  They sat there in amicable silence. Or so it seemed. To the whole town, they were just three friends who hung out. It wasn’t like that, not really. Marissa had been in love with Mike for as long as she could remember, and Todd knew that as well. Meanwhile Mike, the object of her infatuation, acted, or was, oblivious. It was the routine they’d fallen into when they all drifted back to town. Not that Marissa usually drank at The Pit; that alone was out of the ordinary. She was only here because Lucy and Chase were in town. For years, she’d spent her weekends being bossed around by her mother or Patty, an old high school frenemy who bossed half the town around. Lately, she’d withdrawn even more and either went and played video games with Todd or was home with her folks.

  Lucy and Chase came in with a whoosh of cool air, and they all moved over to a table.

  “How is it at your mom’s?” she asked Lucy.

  “It’s nice. That makes it weird in itself. I’m not used to nice.” She eyed Marissa. “Do you usually drink beer?”

  “I’m trying new things.” She shrugged.

  “How’s that working for you?”

  “I’m on my third.” Lucy looked shocked. Even when they’d been at college together, she’d never been a beer drinker or much of a drinker at all. “Todd’s dropping me home. Don’t worry. I’m notoriously sensible.”

 
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