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About the author:
Olivia currently lives in central Alabama with her husband, to whom she’s been wed since the age of twenty-two, and their cat, Buddy. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys watching quality television—The Office (US), Parks & Recreation, 30 Rock, and Friends are her favorites—and cooking without recipes. Along with working full-time at her alma mater and studying English at the graduate level, she is busy working on her next literary adventure.
What inspired you to write your book?
This may come as a surprise, but I’m not really a big fan of romance. I think—generally speaking, of course—romance novels tend to sugarcoat the truth, justify bad behavior, and encourage readers to foster unrealistic expectations. That being said, there’s still a part of me that longs to curl up with a good love story. My goal with both The Partition of Africa and The Marshall Plan was to craft stories with intriguing, well-rounded romance for people like me, who usually don’t care for the genre.
Here is a short sample from the book:
“You did what?”
I pushed myself off the couch and pressed the phone harder against my cheek, hoping I’d heard my sister wrong.
“I told Dad that you and Gavin are getting married,” Andi repeated. Her voice was flat and bored, as if she were describing the weather to me instead of delivering the worst news I could imagine.
I hadn’t spoken to my father since my nineteenth birthday. Well, to be fair, there was a good possibility he was the one not speaking to me. I hadn’t exactly been dodging phone calls or throwing away unopened birthday cards those six years.
It was hard to tell who had started it. Neither of us was waiting for the other to apologize for anything in particular, although a general “I’m sorry” from him was long overdue. No single circumstance pushed us over into this uncomfortable territory—which is surprising, given our more than tumultuous history. It just happened, and I didn’t do anything to stop it.
Every once in a while, I thought about breaking the silence, usually on Christmas Eve or Father’s Day after I’d knocked back a few too many glasses of wine. Unlike my father, whose temper seemed to run exclusively on booze, excessive amounts of alcohol made me introspective and nostalgic. On those special days where normal people
with normal families could be together in peace, my thoughts often turned to him.
I came close to picking up the phone a handful of times over the years, and did manage to dial his number twice. Part of me, the rational part, still hated him for everything he’d done to me, but sometimes I couldn’t help wondering if we’d made a huge mistake. We’d missed out on so much in each other’s lives, thanks to pure stubbornness. I was engaged now, and had managed to graduate from college not once, but twice. He had divorced (again) and remarried (again). We learned these things through the grapevine, pretending not to care—at least, I did. We were still involved in each other’s lives; we just weren’t willing participants. It all seemed so silly, so pointless.
In the end, though, my common sense would prevail and our silence remained intact. I didn’t regret it, really. God knows he put us all through more than enough to justify the distance I’d placed between us. He had no pity from me.
This is why I lost my temper with Andi when she told him about my wedding.
“Why would you do that?” I hissed.
Gavin looked up from the old Harley-Davidson parts catalog he’d been poring over since breakfast and lifted an eyebrow at me. “Everything okay?”
I shook my head and pointed at the phone. “I’ll tell you later,” I muttered before I walked into the kitchen.
Andi still didn’t answer me. Her breathing was loud and heavy in my ear, so I knew a poor connection wasn’t to blame. She did this whenever someone was upset with her. Instead of acknowledging the problem, she hunkered down and kept quiet, hoping the conflict would eventually dissolve around her, leaving everyone unscathed. I wasn’t having that.
“Andi, seriously. Why would you do that?” I leaned back against the kitchen counter. As I did so my head struck the corner of the cabinet overhead. I inhaled sharply and swore under my breath.
“Are you okay?” she asked, her voice small.
“Yeah,” I said through gritted teeth, pressing my hand against my head, trying to dampen the pain shooting through my skull. Gavin had only moved into this apartment about a month before, so I was still adjusting to the dimensions. The kitchen was obviously intended for giants, rather than women who were closer to five feet than six.
“Just hit my head. I’ll be fine. Are you going to answer me?”
“I don’t know why I told him, okay?” Her voice crackled, whether from nerves or bad cell service, I couldn’t tell. “I just did. When I went to see him last week he asked me about you, like he always does.” Andi’s voice rose in pitch and became slightly accusatory. “And this is a really big deal, Molly! I can’t believe you haven’t told him already.”
I closed my eyes and shook my head, willing myself to calm down. I would not explode at my baby sister, not again. Even if she’d deserved it—which she didn’t—Gavin hated when I raised my voice for any reason, and I didn’t feel like doing damage control after the phone call ended. So instead, I kept my voice even, pushing the words out through clenched teeth.
“He isn’t in my life anymore. He doesn’t get to know the big news; that’s kind of the point. You know that, right?”
She sighed long and loud, and there was a strange deflating noise in the background that took me a moment to place. I pictured her fighting back tears as she curled up on her bean bag chair, one of the few vestiges of childhood she’d carried over into adolescence.
“I know,” she finally said, her tone begrudging. “I know, okay? And I’m sorry, I really am. But I just don’t understand. Why can’t you two just get along?”
I exhaled loudly and passed a hand over my face, shaking my head. She didn’t see the big picture, and it wasn’t fair of me to expect otherwise. In her mind, our father was like a toothless bear: grumpy, course, and occasionally unpleasant, but harmless. Despite the warnings I and our older brother Pete had given her from the start, she had always been a major daddy’s girl. Ironically, she was the only one of us three kids who didn’t bear his last name, instead carrying on Mom’s family name, Jensen.
It wasn’t Andi’s fault. I had to constantly remind myself of that in moments like these, when her devotion to him unfurled like a battle flag. She was too young to see what he’d been like before.
Andi was born just a few weeks before I turned eight, the product of a last-ditch attempt to salvage my parents’ marriage. By the time she made her appearance our father was long gone, heading further south with a much younger woman whose name I never learned, so unlike the rest of us, Andi never had to adjust to him leaving. To her, Jack Marshall had always meant two weeks spent in the Florida panhandle every summer and an extra set of presents every Christmas. Who could have a problem with that?
“Molly? Are you still there?”
I sighed. “Yeah, I’m still here.”
I stared across the kitchen at the only colorful object in the room, a potted geranium sitting in the windowsill above the sink. I’d brought it in when Gavin had first moved here, hoping to provide a little cheer amidst the dark wooden cabinets and dull white walls. He hadn’t been taking care of it, though, I could tell; even after I’d taken the time to write down detailed instructions for him. The leaves had begun to shrivel and the petals were turning from red to brown. So much for that effort.
“I’m really, really sorry I told him,” Andi said. She was trying to sound stoic and unaffected by my silence, but I could tell by the hitch in her voice that she was on the verge of tears.
I leaned my head back against the cabinet with more caution this time and sighed. Arguing with her was exhausting, completely not worth it. “I know you are, sweetheart,” I said, my voice softer now that my anger had started to dissipate. “And I’m sorry I got mad at you, I shouldn’t have done that. I just get kind of crazy when it comes to Dad.”
“I know.” She paused. I thought she might cut the conversation short, considering how tense it had been so far. She spoke up again after only a few beats of awkward silence.
“So, how’s the job search coming these days? Any prospects?”
I exhaled shakily and closed my eyes again. “No, no prospects. Not really. But I’m still looking.”
“Oh man, I hate that. So you’re still working at that restaurant?”
“It isn’t a restaurant, Andi,” I said, rolling my eyes. “It’s a food truck. I told you that.”
“Well, what’s the difference?”
“Not much,” I admitted, swallowing another small piece of my pride. “But as far as finding something else goes, it’s just a lot harder than I thought it would be.” I paused to change hands, continuing once the phone was pressed against my other cheek. “There are only a few local papers, and they’re mostly run by just a handful of people. I could freelance for them— well, I do occasionally—but they’re not looking to hire anyone full-time.”
“Why don’t you look somewhere else? Columbia, or Charleston. Or even Atlanta, if you, you know, wanted to move a little closer to home,” she suggested. “There are some cool papers and magazines in those cities, I think.”
“Well yeah, but they’re mainly looking for graphic designers. The positions in writing and editing are usually only for people who have tons of experience. Recent graduates need not apply.” My bitterness leaked through despite all efforts to sweeten my tone.
“Plus, Gavin’s here, so until he decides to move on, I’m kind of stuck.”
“Bummer,” Andi whispered. “That really sucks.”
I felt horrible taking my stress out on my little sister. She would start applying to colleges herself in just a few short months, and I knew she was already nervous about starting that process. My cynical comments were not exactly encouraging.
“It’s not so bad for everyone, though,” I said, trying to backtrack. “It’s just the situation I’m in right now, you know? I’m sure it’ll change soon. And if not, I’m sure it will be different for you.”
“Sure,” she said, sounding unconvinced. “So, how’s the wedding planning going, by the way? What was the date you two chose? Mom wants to know if it’s going to be a weekday, because if so she’ll need to ask off from work.”
Geez. It seemed like Andi was determined to hit on all the touchy subjects in my life in the span of twenty minutes. “We haven’t agreed on a date yet,” I said, trying to keep my voice light.
“No? I could have sworn Gavin said something about setting a date when you guys were here for Memorial Day. December something, he said.”
I made a face at the phone. Of course Gavin had said something about December. Of course. “Oh. Well yeah, we’d thought about December thirteenth of this year–”
“Oh, right! The thirteenth. Now I remember.”
“Right, but now I just don’t know. I’m pretty sure we’re going to postpone it again.”
“Really?” She didn’t even bother to hide the disappointment in her voice. “But why?”
A blur of motion streaked across my peripheral vision. I jerked my head to the side to find Gavin standing in the doorway, resting his head against the rough wooden frame. He was already wearing his work uniform, carpenter blue jeans streaked with grease and a button-down shirt with cheesy embroidery spelling out his name over the right breast pocket. Outside its proper setting, the ensemble was more cartoonish than professional, making him look like an oversized action figure. He stared at me, his head tilted to the side, confusion permeating his features. I stared back, albeit for a different reason.
His handsomeness had always overwhelmed me. Even after being together for nearly four years, I still wasn’t accustomed to him being mine, all mine. I’d been told on multiple occasions that he and I seemed like an odd match. I’d always assumed that to mean he was too good-looking for me, which might have insulted me if I didn’t wholeheartedly agree.
I had never been too thrilled about my physical appearance. While not ugly, I definitely hadn’t hit the genetic jackpot. Whichever traits happened to be deemed desirable by pop culture, I had the opposite. Instead of being tall and thin, I was short and curvy. My skin was either the whitish-blue color of skim milk or as bright as Rudolph’s nose; no fashionably tanned middle ground for me. My hair was course and stubbornly dark, impervious to flowing hairstyles and highlights alike, and I often kept it cropped short in a pixie cut so I wouldn’t have to deal with it. The list was never-ending: my lips were too thin, my cheeks too round, my shoulders too square. I would never be mistaken for anyone special.
Gavin, on the other hand, could have been a Norse god, or at very least, played one on television. He stood a full foot taller than me, clocking in at six-foot four. His height made him stand out whenever he walked into a room, and the rest of his appearance only encouraged extra attention. Shaggy blond hair, matching beard, and brilliant emerald eyes; he was a knock-out. I’d long grown used to girls swooning over him, giggling and trying to give him their numbers and completely ignoring me in the process. Who could blame them? Not me. I didn’t even get jealous anymore. Much.
He crossed his arms now, causing his biceps to bulge. I swallowed and gave him a shaky smile. Speaking of swooning: I was still acclimating to this new, more muscular version of my fiancé. He’d been pretty lanky when we first met, since back then he poured every ounce of his energy and time into his studies, but he’d bulked up over the past year thanks to the manual aspects of his job. If you could even call it a job.
“Well, let me know when you decide for sure,” Andi said, her peppy voice bringing me back into the conversation. “I know I’m a few hundred miles away, but I’d love to help you with the planning if I can. I helped Sara’s sister with her wedding, and I’m actually kind of great at it! I’ve already set up, like, five Pinterest boards with ideas for yours. One
for the reception, one for the hairstyles–”
Gavin cleared his throat and nodded at me. “Hey, can we talk?” he asked, his voice low and gravelly.
I gulped. He never interrupted my phone calls lightly, especially not when I was talking to Andi. This couldn’t be good.
“–and one for decorations for the ceremony. Isn’t that great?”
“So great,” I said automatically, even though I hadn’t really been listening. “Hey, I’m really sorry, but I need to scoot. I have to leave for work soon, and . . . well, you know how it is.”
“Oh, okay,” she said, her voice even smaller now. “I’m about to go over to Marina’s anyway, so I guess it’s for the best.”
“You know, Marina,” she said, as if this was supposed to make everything clear. “Pete’s girlfriend. He told you about her over Labor Day, remember? They’ve been together since April.”
“Oh, right.” I frowned. That didn’t make any sense.
My brother, despite Mom’s pleas for him to “settle down” now that he was thirty, hadn’t changed his dating habits since high school. His job as a minor league baseball team manager kept him on the road a lot, and through his travels he came into contact with lots of women who were more than happy to keep him company. He always had a girlfriend, either at home or on the road, but they never lasted more than a week or two. But here Marina was two months in, still holding on strong. I didn’t know what to make of that.
“So, why are you hanging out with her?” I asked. “Isn’t that kind of his job?”
“I like her,” she said defensively. “And he’s in Boston right now with the team, and she has a pool at her apartment. We’re going to go swimming.”
I furrowed my brow, completely lost now. Not only was this Marina still around, she was bonding with Andi? Bizarre. I wanted to ask more, but I could feel Gavin looking at me, so I brushed it off. We could talk about this later.
“That sounds fun,” I said. “Well, tell Mom I said hi, okay?”
“I will. Love you.”
“I love you too,” I murmured, biting my lip. “Bye, Andi-bug.” I pressed END CALL and slipped my phone back into my pocket before finally turning to Gavin.