Today Wednesday Writers welcomes Denise Gwen with an excerpt from her sweet romance Molly’s Folly.
By Denise Gwen
A high-powered Washington insider, Molly Brandenburg has been sent back to Bellefleur, a sleepy river-town on the banks of the Ohio, to set up a headquarters for her senator boss. But when she runs back into the guy who took her to the senior prom, Michael Carson, her one true love, she begins to wonder if perhaps she didn’t make a mistake when she kicked the dust of Bellefleur off her heels sixteen years earlier?
Because, on the fateful night when Mike told her he loved her, something happened be-tween them that would change their lives forever after.
As Molly eased off Highway 32, the James A. Rhodes Appalachian Highway, and headed north onto Highway 7, her heart flooded over with a thousand sensations. After seventeen years away, she was coming back home, and she didn’t quite know how she felt.
Meredith, snuggled down in the front passenger seat, stirred and looked out the window. “Wow,” Meredith murmured, “what’s that?”
No wonder the enormous power plant attracted Meredith’s attention. This particular power plant, with its high-spiraling towers emitting steam and fire at all times of the day and night, and with its strange assortment of tall silos and dangerous-looking pipes and windowless concrete bunkers, possessed a strange and terrifying power in Molly’s mind. At night, when the lights on all the towers shone, the power plant took on an eerie, mystical transcendence, looking like a modern-day castle.
“The power plant.”
“It sure is. When I was little, and my mother drove me back home to Bellefleur after the holidays in Cincinnati, I used to keep an eye out for it.”
“Because,” Molly said, blinking back tears, “whenever I saw the power plant, it meant we’d made it back home.”
Meredith scoffed. “A power plant, taking up valuable land on a river, and with enormous cooling towers billowing out noxious smoke? You thought of that as home, Mom?”
Molly smiled through her tears. “I know. Lame, right?”
“So lame.” Meredith settled back down, but remained awake. She gazed out at the open road with wide-awake eyes. “That’s an interesting story, Mom.”
Molly chuckled inwardly. How typical of her little girl to not see it through Molly’s eyes. And it struck her as funny, the disdainful manner in which her daughter spoke to her. Never, ever, had Molly spoken to her mother in the same tone of voice Meredith reserved for her. Was it a generational thing? Or had her mother, Vera Brandenberg, simply not tolerated the withering condescension of her then-teenage daughter? Still smiling to herself, she drove past the massive power plant and tried to recall what, exactly, it was about the place that used to send such shudders of fear and awe through her heart. The terrifying structure, with its eerie stacks and white steam and bright lights on every turret, resembled a gothic city-state, with secrets tucked away inside every chimney.
On every trip back from Cincinnati, she had looked for it. “When I was little,” she said softly, “I called it the castle.”
Meredith turned to look and nodded. “Yeah, I can see that.”
“Whenever I saw the castle, with its ghostly lights and steam billowing out, I knew I’d arrived home.”
“Uh, huh,” Meredith noted politely, then fell silent.
A lump formed in Molly’s throat. Home? Who was she kidding, referring to Bellefleur as home? And thoughts of her mother, wow. It marked the first time she’d thought of her mother in how many years? Then again, back when she was Meredith’s age, her mother had already been struggling with cancer. In her first year of the horrible disease, her mother wasn’t in the least condition to be teased or kidded, let alone censoriously looked down upon with the withering condescension of a teenage girl.
“I was poor growing up,” Molly said.
“I know, Mommy,” Meredith said kindly. “You told me.”
“And yet, I never felt at a disadvantage, at least not when it came to my mother.”
Meredith said nothing, but gravely turned her gaze to Molly.
“At least not in that way,” Molly continued. “No, I simply accepted it as a given. My mother and I formed a family, our own insular unit.”
“We weren’t wealthy, but Mommy was so good, so clever, at scouring the thrift stores and the day-old bread stores for provisions. Mommy knew how to stretch a dollar to the breaking point. Despite our poverty, I always wore clean, fresh, new-looking clothing, and the fridge was always full.”
Meredith remained still.
Molly couldn’t help it. She simply could not stop talking. She’d loosened the flood gates when she passed the electric plant, and she simply had to share her history, even if it might be a bit dark and bleak to share with a teenager. Molly simply could not help it. “Of course, growing up in a working-class town like Bellefleur, it was actually kind of easy to be poor, because everybody else was poor, too. It was easy, quite frankly, to fit in. On a fraction of the budget, I still managed to look like the rich, fashionable, girls at school.”
“We wear uniforms,” Meredith noted, “so we don’t have that problem, but then everybody’s rich.”
“That’s true,” Molly agreed. “The rich girls always showed up at school the first day after the summer break, wearing their brand new outfits from the fancy stores. But I didn’t pay those girls any mind. And, up until my fifteenth birthday, I never really wanted for anything.”
“What happened when you turned fifteen?”
“My mother got cancer.”
“Oh,” Meredith said in a small voice.
As Molly glanced through the rearview mirror and saw the enormous city of lights and vapor she recalled another memory. It was always dark, for some reason, whenever she and her mother drove back into Bellefleur. And in the dark, whenever she saw the plant, Molly felt safe and warm and protected. The hard, cold city loomed outside her window, but inside, seated beside her mother, with her mother’s competent hands securely on the steering wheel, guiding her home, Molly felt secure in the protective bubble of her mother’s presence. She wanted to tell Meredith all these things, to share all these thoughts and emotions and sensations, but she resisted the impulse. She’d already shared enough. Sometimes it was too hard, and too painful, to bring up every memory from the past.
About the Author:
One night, when Denise was thirteen years old, her mother kept her up half the night, in order to edify her and make her aware of the many charms and talents of Jane Austen.
Her mother then proceeded to act out key scenes from a copy of Emma, which her mother then presented to her as a gift. Denise read Emma and didn’t really ‘get’ Jane Austen. Not right away, in any event. It wasn’t until she read Pride and Prejudice, that Denise finally ‘got’ Jane Austen, and instantly became a convert and worshipful admirer of all things Austen.
Denise hopes that one day her writing will reach the same sublime level as a Jane Austen novel; all she can do in the meantime, however, is continue to work at her craft.
Denise lives in Cincinnati with her husband and two cats, one of whom is an excellent mouser, the other one, not so much. The cat, you know.
Check out Denise’s other posts on this site here.