Although the game between the Giants and Mets had turned into a real cliffhanger — bottom of the seventh, the Giants behind one nothing with bases loaded and two outs — Nick couldn’t concentrate on the action. He stood in the doorway of his parents’ family room, where his father and brother — the newlywed — and his nephew and two brothers-in-law sat. It might as well have tuned into a tiddlywinks tournament. No matter who came up to bat, all he could picture was Molly half naked with her hand down his pants.
He didn’t want to dwell on it, given the spontaneous reaction liable to burst forth behind his zipper. Was there a better way to ruin a Sunday lunch with the family? He had considered begging off, but the only excuse his mother would accept was he’d suffered a heart attack and taken up residency in a hospital. Maybe not even that would have worked since this Sunday lunch honored the recently returned honeymoon couple. Ever since his mother had steered three of her children to the altar, she’d rushed at him faster than an Amtrak Express.
Earlier, she’d spouted more than a few words on the subject of matrimony and all the advantages he was missing out on by not following his younger brother’s example. “Younger” being the key word, as if, at Nick’s age, he didn’t hurry, his interests could turn to housing cats instead of a wife. That had provided the perfect segue into when he planned to bring Molly around again. Why hadn’t he invited her to this shindig? He’d mumbled something along the lines of, “Give it up, Mom,” a declaration she’d chosen to ignore. No surprise there.
Although having spent a total of ten minutes with Molly, his mother had anointed her “the perfect companion” for him. Companion, like he had one foot in a retirement home. She’d continued on to suggest he should “find a way to become closer to her.” She would have had an apoplectic fit if she saw how close he’d gotten to her in his sorry excuse for a kitchen the day before.
“I don’t know why they pay a guy who hits two forty a few million dollars,” his father lamented. “The best he can do in a clutch is a pop-up. I can’t believe they won the World Series.”
Nick took a slug of beer and watched the Giants stream off the field. They’d tied the score but couldn’t bring home the extra run. Any other time, he would have been right in there close to the action and added his own expletive-deleted commentary. He loved baseball like some men loved their Harleys. Not today. Today he couldn’t keep his mind off Molly and how she’d felt and tasted. Her skin was so creamy soft it was like stroking butter. Every one of his senses still thrummed at the memory of her. Even now he couldn’t figure out what in hell had made him act like a mongrel in heat.
He couldn’t decide whether or not he’d dodged a bullet when Todd had showed up at his door the previous afternoon. He had halfway hit a home run with Molly, which wasn’t anything he’d consciously planned when he suggested they share the picnic at his Napa house. Sure, he needed her on his team, but he envisioned luring her there with subtlety. He used to be good at finessing a situation. Instead, he’d let his hands rule his head. At least he’d gotten across the message about being financially strapped, that it wasn’t fiction he concocted on the spur of the moment. She’d seemed to believe he’d made overtures to Todd about buying back the Napa property and would have sold it if possible, which was the truth. He gave himself credit for introducing his financial woes without hitting her over the head with a wine bottle. On second thought, the way he’d slipped it in smacked of the old Mancini finesse. So the day wasn’t a complete loss.
He’d never consciously planned to maneuver Molly into bed or jump her bones on a cold, stone floor. That said something for his motive. He hadn’t even had a sleeping bag on hand, no less a bed. Or a condom. Jeez, where was his mind? Having sex with her might have — no, forget might — would have doomed any chance he had to win her over. This morning, she would have concluded he’d used her and deserved to morph into a creature with a curly tail and a snout. She’d lead the tenants like a rioting mob and hang him in effigy from a light pole. Shit. He’d dodged a bullet, all right. He took a long slug from the beer bottle that had turned warm in his hand.
Long before he met Molly, he’d concluded there were only three reasons to make love to a woman. One: You’re horny and she’s willing and available, you know from the get-go you’ll never see her again and you don’t care. Two: You’re horny, she’s willing, and you sign on for the short term. Then there’s number three: The big enchilada. Horny becomes desire, her willingness turns to passion, and there are no more thoughts of the short term. You’re in a relationship and somewhere along the way, it becomes a lifelong commitment. That’s the kind of man Molly deserved, man number three. However, at his stage in life, he was still stuck at number two.
That was probably why he’d felt like a heel all day. Not just a heel. A shit heel. A rat, a flea-bitten cur. She wasn’t the kind of woman who slept around, who took sex as casually as she trolled the supermarket for organic vegetables. She ran a clinic. She knew better than anyone about the dangers of unprotected sex, just as he understood the possible consequences of leaving home without a condom. Was he willing to take such a risk with her? Yesterday, he’d wanted her more than he could remember ever wanting another woman. Would she have taken the risk with him? At least, thanks to Todd, the decision had become moot. However, there was one positive: She’d engaged in that little escapade with him in his kitchen. That put her halfway onto his team. Where he wanted her. Where he needed her. So why did it make him feel like such a snake?
“Hey, Nick, since when don’t you return phone calls?”
His sister’s voice blew at him. He looked up at Barbara bearing down on him with purpose written across her face.
“Well?” She parked herself beside him in the doorway. “I left you two messages yesterday. Don’t you check your voice mail?”
He dangled the beer bottle in his hands and tried to look contrite. “I’ve been busy. Sorry. I meant to get back to you, but I … ah … got busy.” A tableau of him and Molly groping each other swam before his eyes.
“Are you working on weekends again? You need to quit that and get a social life.”
Sometimes, when her motherly instinct kicked in, his sister had a tendency to treat him like a son instead of a brother. He gave an appeasing nod, which he hoped would kill the subject, and took another pull off the bottle.
His eyes wandered toward the TV screen, but all he could think about was what had happened with Molly. That, coupled with Barbara butting into his life, made him feel jumpy and irritated.
“I thought you’d bring Molly with you today.” Barbara’s elbow brushed against his forearm.
“What gave you that idea?” He drained his beer and thought this would be a good time to escape into the kitchen for another one.
“I heard it from Mom.”
“Scratch anything Mom says on the subject of Molly.”
“Really? She seems sane to me.”
“Tell her she’s wasting her time butting into my life.”
“You can tell her.”
“Why bother? She never listens.”
“She would if, for once, you told her something she wanted to hear.”
This conversation really needed to end. “Here’s something you can pass on to Mom. I have no plans to bring Molly around for lunch or dinner or anything else.” He executed a chopping motion with his hand to emphasize the fact. It was bad enough having one woman trying to run his life. He didn’t need two. While he was at it, he threw in Serena/Sabrina who’d stalked him all week. So that made three.
Should he move out of the doorway and go over to where the men were hunkered down in front of the set? He stared at the screen. What the hell was happening on the field? Who were the Giants even playing?
“I … we … Mom and I thought you might be dating her. Emily, who for once showed up on time, agrees. We brought her up to speed in the kitchen. Beth, too.”
Fortunately, the TV sound was turned up to accommodate his father’s diminished hearing. He didn’t need the male members of his family to rag on him if they overheard his and Barbara’s conversation. Usually they stayed out of his business, but lately everything in his life had turned upside down.
“You all thought wrong.”
“Then why did you practically get on your knees and beg me to let you take my place at Molly’s auction and promise to babysit Joey for a weekend so Sean and I could spend some private time together? We thought it was because of … ”
“ … leverage.” He rolled the empty bottle in his hands. He’d never needed another beer more in his life.
“Leverage? What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You majored in English. Figure it out.”
The loud crack of a bat brought his attention back to the TV. His brother was on his feet yelling and pumping his fist. The Giants must have gotten a hit, maybe even brought in a run while his sister conducted her inquisition. He took a few steps into the family room, feigning interest in a game he’d long since lost track of.
Barbara followed him. “Okay, I get the point. At least tell me if it worked.”
“Yeah, I think it did.”
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