Today I am so pleased to welcome MB Mulhall to Joyfully Jay. MB has come to share an exclusive excerpt from her latest release, Driven. Please join me in giving her a big welcome!
THE INTERIOR of the house was like a well-organized yard sale. Knickknacks lined shelves and windowsills. They were free of dust and many had small white tags hanging from them that blew in the breeze Oliver made as he headed toward the bathroom, which had been pointed out to him. He stopped to admire a porcelain seahorse. It was washed in pale colors, the edges gilded in shiny gold. It seemed incredibly detailed and delicate, as if it would crumble to pieces if touched.
“Pretty, isn’t it?” Pastel’s voice came from behind him. Oliver, who had been lost in his own world, spun and nearly knocked it off the shelf. Wrinkled hands reached up to rescue the article.
“S-sorry!” Oliver stuttered, his face flaming.
“No bother, dear, accidents happen. Would you like me to put your name on it? I’m sure Tude wouldn’t mind.”
Oliver’s brow furrowed. “I’m not sure what you mean,” he admitted.
The older woman pointed to a nearby figure of a pig in a bonnet carrying a basket of flowers. One of the small white tags was hanging from its empty hand. Upon closer inspection, Oliver saw the name Mary in a tiny neat scrawl on the tag.
“When people like something in our home, we mark it for them so when we move on, they can have it,” the woman explained.
“Move… on?” The angry butterflies came to life in Oliver’s stomach as he started to get the idea.
“Yes! When we move on from this world. We wouldn’t want to see anyone fight over our things so we label them now to keep that from happening.”
Oliver felt himself start to sway at the woman’s casual talk of her own death. He mumbled an apology and dashed into the bathroom, a hand hovering, ready to throw over his mouth. There was nothing in his stomach to come up, but he dry heaved for a few moments while his pulse raced. The topic of death was never an easy one for him, but it had gotten worse over the years. He hoped his actions didn’t insult the nice old lady.
Once his breathing was back to normal, he pushed a sweaty strand of dirty blond hair off his brow. Pumping some of the potent flower smelling soap into his hands, he scrubbed at his face with vigor, as if the strong scent could wash away more than just the dirt. After splashing cold water on his face, he looked up and recoiled at the sight of his stubble-covered but otherwise clean pink skin. It had been a while since he had seen himself dirt-free. His eyes still looked old, but without smudges and dirt settled into tired creases, he looked more his age of eighteen.
He finger-combed through his tangled locks and pulled the strands into a quick messy ponytail. Better than nothing. There wasn’t much he could do about the state of his clothes, but at least he looked somewhat presentable from the neck up. Taking one last look in the mirror, Oliver tucked a wayward piece of hair behind his ear before leaving the small room to find both women waiting for him.
“Everything all right, dear?” Pastel asked.
Oliver looked at them, eyes wide, surprised they were there. “Fine…?”
“Took you long enough. Let’s eat,” Tude said, turning away before Oliver could respond.
“Don’t mind her. She gets cranky when she’s hungry,” the twin said, tucking her hand under Oliver’s arm. They followed the other woman to a dining room where a long table was elaborately set.
A chandelier hung from the ceiling, its drops of glass spitting pinpoints of light throughout the room. The walls were covered in a combination of dark wood paneling and cabbage rose wallpaper. The table was far too big for just the three of them, but each place was set as if its occupants were royalty: silver utensils, fine china, and heavy crystal goblets.
Oliver felt as if he had stepped into a different dimension. Who were these crazy old ladies?
Large silver platters sat on the table, gleaming covers hiding their contents. A cut-glass pitcher filled with water and slices of lemons, limes, and oranges sat just beyond the food, sweat running down its side.
When Tude lifted the lid off one of the platters, Oliver nearly swooned as the smell of roast chicken drifted his way. His stomach growled loudly in response. He slapped his hands to his navel as if to stop the sound from traveling, but the surprised looks on the old biddies told him he wasn’t hiding anything. Oliver just hoped he wasn’t drooling like a teething babe.
“Sit already, would you?” Tude grumbled, laying the cover on the sideboard behind her.
Oliver pulled out the heavy chair and sank into it, unable to take his eyes from the veritable feast before him. He couldn’t remember the last time he had more than a cup of soup or half a sandwich. It had to have been before the accident….
He reached a hand out to touch the heavy silverware and noticed the women had their hands folded and their white heads bowed. Snatching his hand back, Oliver dropped his head, following suit if only not to upset the women. He wasn’t religious by any stretch of the imagination, but he could fake it if it meant getting to taste the food in front of him.
Their heads popped up in unison, and Pastel started to dish out heaps of steaming vegetables onto Oliver’s plate. Across from him, Tude began sawing through the chicken with a knife as long as his forearm. The women served their guest before themselves, and Oliver remembered his manners well enough to wait until everyone had food before he began.
Once he started, he found it an incredible struggle to eat like a human and not shovel the food in by the forkful. Feeling eyes on him, Oliver looked up and realized, by the twin stares, that he probably wasn’t as successful at acting “normal” as he thought.
“Sorry,” he mumbled after struggling to swallow a mouthful of food without choking.
“Quite all right, dear. Please, eat as much as you’d like. As you can see, there is plenty,” Pastel said, patting Oliver’s hand. Tude glared before putting down her fork.
“Don’t you have a name?” the grumpier of the two women asked.
Oliver flushed a bit when he realized he had never even introduced himself to the women who graciously invited him in for dinner.
“S-sorry!” he stuttered, unused to having these kinds of encounters anymore. “I’m Oliver. Oliver Sutton.”
“Lovely to meet you, Oliver,” Pastel said with a warm smile. “You know Tude, and you may call me Vera.”
“Vera? That’s a nice name,” Oliver replied, enjoying the old-fashioned names.
“Bah. Her name is Guinevere, but since I had a nickname, she wanted one too,” Tude said, rolling her eyes.
“Gertrude and Guinevere?”
“Westling,” Vera said. “Gertrude and Guinevere Westling.”
Oliver gave them a genuine smile. “Nice to meet you both. Thank you for dinner. It’s… it’s probably the best thing I’ve ever eaten.”
“Ever?” questioned Tude.
Oliver flashed back to a memory of a Christmas dinner years ago, remembering the juicy turkey and homemade cranberry sauce. It was one of the few good memories that hadn’t been wiped away.
“Well, maybe not ever, but it’s definitely made the top three.”
Both women beamed at him as if he’d handed them the Nobel Peace Prize.
Oliver patted his distended stomach and hoped all the food he ate would stay down. He shouldn’t have gorged himself, but not knowing when his next good meal would be, he couldn’t help it.
As the food settled in his stomach, a great exhaustion fell over him. Oliver blinked rapidly, trying to keep from falling into a carb-induced coma. He attempted to push up off the overstuffed couch the women had led him to and suddenly found his face full of soft fuzzy fabric.
Batting at it, he realized it was a velour blanket. Tude grinned at him while Vera held a pillow in her hands. Oliver cocked his head to the side, wondering what was going through their heads.
“I don’t need this,” Oliver said, his voice quiet as he started to fold the blanket.
“It gets cool in here at night,” Tude told him while nudging her sister to hand over the pillow.
“Yes, quite drafty. We wouldn’t want you catching your death,” Vera chimed in after placing the pillow at the end of the couch.
Oliver shook his head and held the blanket out to them. “I don’t need this because I’m not staying.” His voice was no nonsense, his spine suddenly pin straight. He was grateful for the meal, but he wouldn’t intrude any further, and he certainly couldn’t stay the night. If they knew who he really was, what he had done, they wouldn’t want him there either.
As an eighteen-year-old ex-con living on the streets, Oliver doesn’t have it easy. Don’t show weakness and survive to repent are the daily mottoes he lives by.
A chance encounter with a clumsy older lady leads him to temporary room and board in exchange for being the errand boy for spinster twins in a fairy-tale home—much to the dismay of their concerned neighbor Simon.
Inside, Oliver fights a battle between staying and going. The guilt of a horrible accident eats away at him, keeping him from getting too close to anyone, even when sparks start to ignite a heart he long thought broken.
Will Oliver get over the past and allow himself a chance at a happiness, love, and better life? Or will the blackness in his soul take over and demand he pay the ultimate price for his crimes?
MB Mulhall has been reading and writing since childhood; her love of stories so great it pushed her to earn a BA in Comparative Literature and Languages from Hofstra University. Wanting to share that love and inspire young writers, she also has an Elementary Education background from Georgia Court University.
Currently, her full-time job is working with developmentally disabled adults, and she gets her writing time in before or after hours.
She has dedicated much of her time not only to writing great stories but also to navigating social media and educating herself in the industry. She runs a successful blog sharing her writing challenges and advice with other authors.
Born and raised a Jersey girl, MB is often inspired by the beauty of her state and the people who visit its shores, snapping pictures and making up stories in her head to writing down at a later date. When not writing, she’s plowing through her cascading to-be-read piles, crafting, doing her nails, or watching Doctor Who.