Britches Get Stitches
A Music City Rollers Novel

Chapter 1

TOP  | Part 2

The whole house smelled like eggs.

Not the best way to start off girls’ night. I pushed open the window letting the cold Nashville night air rush into the house. Sure, the gas heat was going right out into the neighborhood, but did I care? Nope. No longer my bill. No longer my problem. I threw open the sliding-glass door too.

Heavy paws thudded down the hallway as the sliding wheels of the patio door announced canine freedom throughout the house. Bodhi bounded past me, water dripping from his golden snout. He’d probably been drinking from the half-bath toilet again, his preferred water bowl over the expensive filtered fountain I’d had installed in the laundry room.

As I drank the last drop of the 2013 Chateau St. Jean Cinq Cépages we’d been saving for a special occasion, I watched Bodhi romp unbridled through our backyard. Well, Clay’s backyard. Err… Make that Clay and Ginny’s backyard.

Dr. Virginia “Ginny” Allen, MD—or as my friends and I had taken to calling her, “Dr. Vagina”—was the cardiologist, quite obviously, now occupying my bed. Lab coats and mall-bought dresses hung in my closet, and a PhDiva mug sat by the coffeemaker.

Bitch. I hoped she was a diva.

In hindsight, I should’ve seen the affair coming. But to my embarrassment, I’d sexistly assumed “Dr. Allen” was a man for the first few months my husband rattled on about her.

“Grace, you would love Dr. Allen in the new TennStar office.”

“Dr. Allen told me the funniest story about a patient today.”

And, oh let’s not forget: “Grace, you and Dr. Allen would really hit it off. You’ve got so much in common.”

Yes. The same shitty taste in men, apparently.

I tried to drink from the glass again, but alas, empty. I leaned on the doorway for support. Emotional and vertical.

Bodhi lifted his leg on the corner of Clay’s toolshed. I appreciated the canine solidarity.

The backyard had always been my favorite part of the house. With the vintage lights strung between the ancient oak trees and the vine-draped pergola built by my father’s own hands, it could have been a fairy’s paradise. Ripped straight from the pages of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Our first year in the house, Clay and I had spent the warm summer evenings snuggling on the wicker chaise lounge under the pergola. Me sprawled against his side, my head on his chest as he read to me.

The Martyr’s Wife by C. E. Frost had been our favorite. That wine-soaked memory now so acute I could almost feel the warmth of his breath against my blonde hair as he’d read aloud. “This moment in time is ours, completely ours. Even if for but a moment, I will hold you as though the light of the sun may not burn tomorrow.

We’d made love right there without bothering to go inside.

Only happy meant-for-each-other couples do that sort of thing, right?

I wonder if I can strap the pergola to the roof of my car?

Except for the victorious holes it would leave in the sod, Clay wouldn’t mind, even if the pergola hadn’t been listed among my assets in the divorce. The happy couple would probably need the room for a swing set or a sandbox anyway. For the baby.

Their baby.

I could steal bungee cords out of the garage.

I needed more wine.

Pushing back from the door casing, I stumbled a half step. Maybe more wine wasn’t the best idea. I had practice the next day, and the team had a strict policy about sobriety on the track. Which, in all honesty, was probably the only thing that saved me from going full-blown Amy Winehouse during my divorce.

Thank God for roller derby.

I also couldn’t afford to be sloppy. Not this night. My very last night in the house I’d worked so hard to make a home. The house where I was now a guest, only allowed in to gather the last of my things.

Seven years, gone.

“Bodhi!” I whistled, and the dog froze on the grass, letting the tennis ball he’d found drop from his mouth. His big head flopped to the side as he stared at me. “Come on. Let’s go inside!”

He picked up the ball again, slung it sideways across the yard, then fetched it.

“Come on, boy!” I slapped the side of my leg, and he ignored me.

The doorbell rang.

Bodhi jerked to attention, then charged, nearly knocking me out of the doorway like a bowling pin. He barked all the way to the door. I followed, depositing my empty glass on the marble countertop with a scraping clink as I passed. The bell rang again.

“I’m coming!” I grabbed Bodhi’s collar with one hand and pulled open the heavy wood-and-iron door with the other. It was a vintage piece we’d found in Franklin during the house’s remodel.

A party horn sounded in my face, followed by the flash of a Polaroid camera. Then my friends began to sing off-key. “Ding! Dong! The jerk is gone! Ding! Dong! The jerk is gone!”

“Oh my god!” I was laughing as they carried in fuchsia and black balloons, champagne, and a cake. I released Bodhi, letting him sniff and tail-whip my friends who were all in matching black T-shirts with different sayings scrawled in pink.

Monica’s shirt: I NEVER LIKED HIM ANYWAY.

Zoey’s shirt: SHE’S FREE AT LAST.

Lucy’s shirt: GOODBYE, MR. WRONG!

Olivia’s shirt: SHE GOT THE RING. HE GOT THE FINGER.

Tears spilled down my cheeks. “You guys!”

“Wait, we have one for you too!” Monica thrust a bright fuchsia shirt toward me.

I held it out as everyone read it aloud. “We now pronounce you single and fun!” I pulled it to my chest. “I love you guys.”

They all gathered around me for a group hug, Bodhi tangling himself in the middle of our legs. “We love you too,” they echoed back.

After a second, Olivia sniffed over my shoulder. “Grace, why does it smell like eggs in this house?”

I wiped my eyes as we all stepped back. “It’s a long story.”

“And I’m sure it’s a great one.” Monica held up a bottle. “But first, champagne!”

Lucy grabbed my arm. “No, first, Grace has to put on her shirt.”

“Yeah, we all changed in the driveway,” Olivia agreed.

“OK, OK.” I unzipped the Music City Rollers hoodie I was wearing and slipped the T-shirt over my camisole.

Monica twisted off the cork’s metal cage and handed me the champagne. “Grace, you do the honors.”

“Smile for the camera!” Lucy said, holding up the Polaroid again.

I smiled, and she snapped the picture, then grabbed it when the camera spat it out. Gripping the bottle by its neck, I put both thumbs on the cork and pushed.

Pow!

The cork zoomed across the living room, catching a lampshade and knocking the three-hundred-dollar mouth-blown glass lamp off the end table. It shattered on the floor.

The girls gasped. Bodhi barked and ran a lap around the kitchen island.

Laughing, I handed the bottle back to Monica and grabbed Bodhi’s collar as he passed so he wouldn’t run through the shards. “Clay got that in the divorce. Oops.” They all cackled behind me. “Who’s thirsty?”

I let Bodhi back outside, and Olivia helped me sweep up the glass while Monica poured the champagne. When we were finished, Monica held her flute high into the air. “A toast, shall we?”

I smiled and raised my glass with the others.

Monica, my best friend, smiled gently. “To Grace, may this be the beginning of the very best years of your life. I love you.”

I mouthed the words “I love you” back to her as everyone shouted, “Cheers!”

Without pause, I drained the champagne, then punctuated the moment with a tiny burp. The girls laughed.

The best years of my life…who knew I’d be in my thirties before those would roll around?

“Where’s your mom? I thought she’d be here.” Monica was looking around like she might spot my mother hiding in a corner.

“She offered to come. So did Garrett, but I told them I would be in good hands with you guys.”

Lucy sat down at the island in the kitchen with her camera. “Who’s Garrett?”

“My brother,” I answered.

“He owns a badass brewery out near Nolensville,” Monica added.

“Which one?” Olivia asked as she nosed around my kitchen.

“Battle Road,” I answered. “What are you looking for?”

“I serve Battle Road at the restaurant. They have a beer called Hops on Pops.” Olivia lifted the lid of the pot on the stove, and her eyes widened as if to say, “Ah-ha!” She looked over at me. “Grace, are we dyeing Easter eggs?”

Not a bad guess, actually.

“Sort of.” I joined her at the stove and moved the pot off the burner. “I’ve decided to have a little fun with that hateful, cheating ex of mine.”

Olivia cocked an eyebrow as she sipped her champagne.

“I’m going to write a message on them and hide them all over the house.”

Champagne dribbled down Olivia’s chin when she laughed. “That’s epic. I want to help.”

Zoey gasped and covered her mouth. “You’re not really, are you, Grace?”

Lucy’s head tilted toward our friend. “I don’t think she’s making egg salad, Zo.”

I picked up my sewing kit off the floor and plopped it down on the counter. “I’m not just hiding them around the house either. I’ll sew them up inside the furniture. That way, when he finds them a few months from now, they’ll be nice and ripe with mold and maggots.”

Olivia laughed.

Lucy made a vomiting noise.

“Aren’t you afraid you’ll get into trouble?” Zoey asked.

I patted her head, which was soft with the regrowth of her post-chemo curls. “You gotta live a little, my tiny friend.”

Olivia pointed to the mocha-colored sofa. “You could put them in the couch pillows.”

Monica walked over and lifted one of the cushions. “No, you need to put them inside the frame so they won’t break.”

Olivia had an evil grin. “Ooo, that’s good.”

“The only room that’s off limits is the nursery.” I refilled my champagne one more time. “It’s not the kid’s fault her parents are assholes.”

“Her?” Monica asked.

“Judging from all the Pottery Barn pink in what used to be my home office, it’s either a girl or they’re really bucking the gender norms.”

Monica visibly deflated. Her shoulders sagged, and she lowered her glass down by her thigh. “Grace…”

I aimed the rim of my glass at her, slowly shaking my head with a warning. “Don’t. I refuse to be sad.”

Monica blinked and forced a fake smile. “I was just going to ask if we can close the windows. It’s freezing in here.”

God bless her.

In the six months since Clay had dropped the bombshell on our breakfast table in the form of a positive pregnancy test sealed in a sandwich baggie, I’d cycled through a lot of emotions. Hatred. Betrayal. Devastation. How could he have done this to us? To me? Seven years, and he threw us away. Threw me away.

But resentment was the reigning feeling as of late, especially since I was practically toeing the poverty line. The divorce settlement barely covered the cost of renovating my new home—the tiny apartment above my couture children’s boutique, Sparkled Pink. And I’d blown my entire life savings on one failed round of IVF. Now Dr. Vagina had the baby and my house. Where was the justice in any of that?

“Who wants cake?” Zoey’s question snapped me back to the present, and I realized despite Monica’s attempt to change the subject, angry tears had pooled in my eyes. I quickly blinked them away before they spilled.

Lucy raised her camera. “Let me get a picture before you cut into it.”

“Why? What does it say?” I asked.

Lucy snapped a photo, then turned the cake around for me to see. I read the bright pink icing out loud, “Better to have loved and lost…than to be stuck with an asshole.” I laughed, just what I needed. “Amen to that. You guys are the best.”

Zoey picked up a knife. “Who wants a slice?”

“Me!” Lucy said.

“Me too,” Olivia echoed.

“Me three.” I put my glass down on the counter. “I need something to soak up all the booze.”

Monica went to where she knew I kept the plates in the cabinet.

Lucy fanned her face with the photo to help the picture develop. “Aside from the Easter egg hunt from hell, what’s on the agenda this evening?”

Monica handed the plates to Zoey and retrieved a knife from the drawer in the island. “Yeah. Did you say you need to move some more stuff? What’s left of yours? You haven’t lived here in months.”

I sat down beside Lucy. “A box of old college basketball trophies I forgot in the attic and the rest of the stuff I got in the divorce. The record player and the vinyl collection. The KitchenAid mixer and the velvet Elvis. They’re really the only material objects in this den of sin worth fighting for.”

“Not the velvet Elvis,” Monica said with a laugh.

“Always the velvet Elvis.” I smiled and put my hand on Lucy’s. “I really just wanted you guys here for moral support.”

Lucy smiled. “You’ve certainly got that.”

“Thanks. I know I do.” I pointed toward the back door. “I also really want to move the pergola. Think I could strap it to the roof of my car?”

“Jesus, Grace, do you want to go to jail?” Monica asked.

I rolled my eyes. “You’re so dramatic. They don’t send people to jail for moving pergolas.”

“They will when it breaks loose on I-440 and kills a pedestrian!”

“West says we can borrow his truck if you need to move anything big.” Lucy’s cheeks flushed at the mention of her new boyfriend’s name.

“That’s really sweet. Thanks, Lucy,” I said.

Monica leaned over the bar toward me. “You need to leave the pergola here. I know you love it, but you don’t have a yard at your apartment, remember?”

I sighed. “You’re right.”

“Grace, have you moved into your new place yet?” Olivia asked.

“Last week, actually. It’s small, but I like it.”

“She really likes not living with her parents anymore,” Monica added.

“Definitely. I appreciate them letting me stay for a while, but it’s nice to be back in a home that’s mine. And it’s even nicer to only have to walk downstairs to go to work.”

“I bet,” Olivia said. “I keep thinking about doing the same thing at the restaurant, but I’d have to buy the building first.”

Olivia owned one of our favorite restaurants in East Nashville, a trendy farm-to-table place called Lettuce Eat. The names of her menu items were as creative as the food. My go-to dish lately was the smoked salmon with honey-glazed butternut squash. Or as she called it, Sofishticated.

“Check the zoning laws before you build above the restaurant,” I warned. “We had to get a special permit.”

“Good to know. So you own your building, then?” Olivia asked.

“Sort of.” I looked up as Zoey put a piece of chocolate cake down in front of me. “Thanks, Zo.”

“You’re welcome, Grace.”

I picked up a fork. “My parents own that section of the building. Mom ran a bridal salon out of it before she retired. I’ll inherit it someday, but for now, they rent it to me for far less than it’s worth.”

And I could hardly pay that.

Olivia looked impressed as she picked up a slice of cake. “That’s nice.”

“It is. Trust me, I know how fortunate I am.”

“I need to stop by and see your shop,” Lucy said.

Olivia narrowed her eyes. “Why? You’re not thinking about babies already, are you?”

“Noooo,” Lucy said, dramatically drawing out the word. “Grace is my friend, and I want to be supportive.”

Olivia looked at me. “She’s thinking about babies.”

I groaned and reached for the champagne bottle again. “Ugh.”

“No.” Monica snatched the bottle out of my reach. “You’ve got to drive home sooner or later, and we have practice tomorrow.”

I frowned, but I knew she was right.

“Your first practice without me and The Prodigy,” Zoey said, smiling at Olivia.

“You can really stop calling me that. The Prodigy wouldn’t have been my derby name even if I was playing.” Olivia took the champagne and refilled her glass. “And Zoey, you’ll make the team on your next go round. We all know you will.”

“That’s true,” I agreed.

Zoey smiled. “I know I’ll make it eventually. I won’t quit.”

I glared at Olivia. “Like some people.

She shrugged. “I was there to help Lucy. She made the team, so mission accomplished.”

“We’ll really miss skating with you,” Monica said.

Lucy wilted in her seat. “Seriously miss you.”

“It’s not like I won’t be involved with the team. You guys will see me at the awards thing next month,” Olivia said.

My head tilted. “The what?”

“Oh! I forgot to tell you.” Monica slapped her own forehead. “The Slammy Awards has been scheduled for the first weekend of December. Shamrocker told me to tell you we are invited.”

“What are the Slammy Awards?” I asked.

“It’s the team’s annual awards-night celebration,” Zoey said.

Monica nodded. “There was a post about it on the app, and I asked Shamrocker if it was open to us newbies too.”

“We have an app?” This was all news to me, but to be fair, I’d been so consumed with the finalization of my divorce that I was lucky to have passed my basic-skills test.

“I just found out about the awards this week too,” Lucy added.

“Are you and West going?”

“Yeah. They do some sort of appreciation thing for all the team sponsors.” Lucy’s new boyfriend, West Adler, was one of the biggest donors for our team. To say it had caused some drama when they started dating was an understatement.

I wrinkled my nose. “It’s a couples’ thing?”

Monica put her hand on my arm. “If you go, I’ll tell Derek to stay at home.”

“Aww, Monica.” I formed my fingers into the shape of a heart. “Thank you, but Derek should be there. He’s sacrificed a lot of time with you for the sake of the sport. It’s only right to let him have some fun with it too.”

“Are you sure?”

“Positive.” I cut another bite of cake with the side of my fork. “Besides, who knows? Maybe I’ll ditch my therapist’s advice and find myself a date.”

Monica smiled. “That’s my girl.”

“I’ll be there too,” Zoey added with a bright smile. “I’m volunteering as an NSO, non-skating official, until the next round of Fresh Meat. And they invited all the volunteers.”

Lucy clapped her hands. “Yay! The whole group together at derby again.”

“Here, here,” Olivia said, holding up her glass.

“So you and Styx are good?” I pointed my fork at Olivia. “Things looked a little tense with you two at the Monster’s Brawl.”

She shrugged. “We’re OK now, I think. I got a little too excited that night about seeing an old friend of mine—Hale Damage, your coach for the B-team, the Rising Rollers.”

“You know Hale Damage?” Zoey asked, surprised.

“We went to college together, but we lost touch. I heard she played a while ago, but I didn’t know she was still there.”

“It didn’t come up with you and Styx?” Monica asked. “You’ve been seeing her for weeks.”

Lucy grinned over a bite of cake. “She and Styx haven’t done a lot of talking since they’ve been together.”

Olivia pointed at her. “You’re one to talk, Ms. Screwing-Around-with-a-Team-Sponsor.”

Lucy’s cheeks flushed again. “Yeah.”

“And yes, we did talk about Styx’s friend Hale Damage”—Olivia said with extra emphasis—“but I didn’t know what Haley’s derby name was. And she wasn’t at any of the practices when I was there.”

“She travels a lot with her job,” Zoey said.

“I know that now.” Olivia turned back to me. “Anyway, Haley and I have some history, and it didn’t go over very well with Styx. We’re working through it though.”

“Look at you. Not even on the team and still causing shit.” I playfully shoved Olivia’s arm, but it threw me off-balance on my chair instead. I caught the edge of the countertop and laughed. “Whoa. Yeah, no more booze for me.”

Bodhi scratched the back door, and I moved carefully off my stool and across the room to let him back inside. “Good boy,” I said, scratching his ear as he trotted through the door.

“Weren’t you guys fighting over the dog in the divorce?” Lucy asked. “Who won?”

I scowled and sat cross-legged on the floor with Bodhi. “Clay did.” I patted the hardwood and Bodhi flopped down beside me. “Word of advice, if you ever want to have dual ownership of something, don’t give it as a gift for a birthday or a holiday. Bodhi was a birthday present.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, Grace,” Zoey said.

Monica nudged her with her elbow. “Yeah, but Grace’s anniversary diamond was also a gift. A two-carat gift.”

I raked my nails through Bodhi’s fluffy golden fur. “I’d rather have my dog, even if I did sell the ring to pay off my car.” I kissed the top of his head and tears threatened to spill again.

“Enough sadness already!” Olivia theatrically gripped the sides of her head. “Geez. I’m going to slit my own wrists over here!”

I cracked a smile and the tingling of my tear ducts faded.

“She’s right.” Monica walked over and stood in front of me. “No more tears tonight.” She reached down, grabbed both my arms, and hauled me up to my feet. “Come on. This is a party. Let’s celebrate by hiding these damn eggs all over the cheating bastard’s house and praying for maggots!”

Two hours later, there were twelve hard-boiled eggs stashed ingeniously around the house. Two were sewn inside the frame of the sofa. One was hidden in the pillow headrest of Clay’s recliner. Two were behind the drawers inside his desk. One was carefully placed inside each of the four hollow wooden legs of our farmhouse bed. One was in the mattress. And the remaining two were brilliantly hidden by Monica inside the hollow decorative balls that capped the ends of the curtain rod.

Olivia had marked each egg with a letter. And someday, if Clay ever found them all, he’d be able to spell out exactly what we all called him many times during our malevolent game of egg-hunt revenge. A twelve-letter name that rhymes with Mother Trucker.

The only time I cried was saying goodbye to Bodhi. As I crouched and hugged him at the door, I lost it when he laid his snout across my shoulder. “I’m so sorry. I don’t want to leave you here with that awful man.”

Monica reached down and gently took my arm. “It’s going to be all right, Grace. You’ve got to let him go.”

When I stood, I realized all the girls were teary-eyed as well. Zoey was flat-out crying for me. I dried my eyes on my sleeve and sniffed back painful sobs. We walked outside, and Bodhi whimpered as I closed the door behind us.

I froze and shook my head. “No. Screw this.”

Throwing the door open again, I marched back inside. Bodhi jumped up and down like I’d been gone a year.

“Grace?” Monica asked cautiously.

“Someone come help me grab his bowls!” I called out.

“Yes!” Olivia cheered. “I’m coming!” She and Lucy ran in after me as I grabbed Bodhi’s leash and a few toys from the laundry room.

“Come on, boy.” I snapped the leash to his collar, and he trotted outside beside me.

Zoey’s wet, red eyes were now wide and frightful as I led my dog to the car. “Is this a good idea?”

I laughed as I opened the door to the back seat and Bodhi jumped in beside the record player. “Are you kidding? This is the best idea I’ve ever had.”

She looked down the street like the cops might already be on their way to haul us all downtown.

Olivia handed me the dog’s bowls, and Lucy was behind her with both arms wrapped around a giant bag of all-natural, no-additives dog food. My choice, not Clay’s.

“Thank you,” I said, putting the bowls and food in the passenger’s seat up front.

“Are you sure about this?” Monica asked hesitantly as I straightened out of the car.

I took a deep breath and held it for a second. “You know, I’ve slept alone for the past six months. Completely not by my choice. That stops now. Even if only for tonight.”

“Clay’s going to be pissed.”

I smiled up at the star-speckled sky. “I hope he is.”

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