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"You want me to do what?" Megan Malone tilted her head as she pressed her ear against the cell phone. She needed to hear every word.
"Take my place on the show."
Her sister Molly wasn't asking. It was more of a demand. But that was how Molly operated.
"You're kidding, right? I'm not what they're looking for." Megan paced circles around her couch. She loved her sister and there wasn't much she wouldn't do for her, but go on a reality TV show in her place? Not happening.
Megan could imagine her sister biting her lip. People often thought they were twins. Fraternal twins, of course, since they looked nothing alike. Their hair was the same shade of sandy blonde, but Molly's hair was sleek and straight while Megan's was "wavy" — the hairdresser's nice way of saying "frizzy mess." Megan sported wire-rimmed glasses, which partially hid her blue-gray eyes, especially because her head was usually tilted down. Megan didn't like making eye contact with people. Molly had perfect vision and ocean blue eyes that sparkled even in dim light. Occasional sparks of envy flared when Megan compared her own short stature with Molly's tall, toned one, but Megan wasn't one to hold grudges. Her sister was the most important person in her world.
"Why can't you do it, anyway?" Megan frowned. Being on the local Nebraska version of Survivor was nearly all her sister had talked about for the last month.
Molly sighed. "I wanted to tell you in person ..."
"Come on, Molly, what gives? You've wanted to go on this show since KETO announced they were doing it. Why would you back out now?" Molly had a minor obsession with Survivor, so much so that she had auditioned for the actual show three months ago. Megan remembered how devastated she was after getting cut in the final round of auditions. Luckily, two weeks later the local TV station had announced they were doing a version of Survivor that would feature contestants from their city. Molly had been gushing about it ever since.
"I know, I know, you're right," Molly admitted. "When I auditioned at KETO, all I wanted was a chance to prove I could compete — you know, show those Survivor people what they missed."
"And you got onto the local show. So what's the problem?" Molly was stalling and Megan was ready to get to the bottom of the issue.
"It's not about wanting it or not wanting it. The medic that works for the show ... found something."
Megan stopped pacing and clutched the phone. As much as she complained about her sister, she loved her more than life. Their mother had Megan when Molly was just thirteen months old. They hadn't gotten along in their early years, but when they were twelve and thirteen years old, their mother left their father for a younger man and they were forced to shuttle back and forth between two houses. The sisters began to rely on each other as constants. Megan sometimes felt like she was living in the shadow of her outgoing, beautiful, genuine sister, but she had accepted long ago that being jealous was exhausting. Megan was who she was and while she wasn't always okay with that, the fact that Molly loved her anyway made her sister all that much more special.
"What did he find?"
"Molly, come on. You have to tell me." Megan sat on the arm of the couch. The news had to be huge. She needed to prepare for the worst. There was no way Molly would back out of the show without a grim diagnosis of some sort.
Megan tried to imagine Molly, full of life and energy, reduced to a sickbed, gaunt and hairless like their grandmother had been in the final stages of breast cancer. She shook the thought away.
"Molly, tell me this —"
"I'm pregnant." Molly whimpered.
"Pr–pregnant?" Megan stood, her voice almost squeaking at the end of the word. Her heart pounded in her chest, but relief flooded through her. Pregnancy wasn't the end of the world. In fact, it was the beginning of another life. "How can that be? You and Derek have been married for less than a year!"
"It doesn't take a year to make a baby."
Megan giggled. "Of course not, but weren't you, you know, on anything?"
"Geez, Megan, lay it all out there why don't you."
"Sorry." Megan laced her fingers into her knotted hair, where they stuck in a tangle.
Molly sighed. "It's okay. Yes, I was on the pill. But apparently it's not foolproof."
Megan's mind was buzzing. "Are you okay? How do you feel? How far along are you? Is it a boy or a girl? What will you name him ... or her? What if you have twins?"
"Simmer down, Meg. I just found out myself. I'm still trying to take it in."
Megan's feet moved automatically beneath her as she paced around the couch. The path was already worn and she wasn't doing it any justice. "What can I do to help? Do you need some crackers? Saltines are best for nausea, right?"
"You see? This is why I wanted to tell you in person."
Megan frowned. "What do you mean?"
"I knew you'd freak out and I really wanted to see it. You're circling the couch, aren't you?"
Megan stopped in her tracks. "No. I'm standing perfectly still, thank you very much." She squinted through the window across from the couch to make sure Molly wasn't sitting out front in her car. The street was empty. She resumed pacing.
"I know you, Megan Malone, and I know you'll be the best aunt in the world — just like you are the best sister. I'm sure I'll be calling for a lot of favors during this pregnancy, but for now I only have one thing to ask."
"What is it? Anything at all."
"Right ... the show." Megan had almost forgotten the original topic of their phone call. The big baby news had eclipsed their earlier conversation.
"So? Will you do it?"
The hope in Molly's voice was palpable. Megan sighed and flopped over onto the couch, nearly rolling to the floor on the other side. She was nothing if not graceful.
"Tell me the details." She owed it to her sister to at least hear her out.
"You remember Accept this Dandelion?"
Megan rolled her eyes. "Of course. We watched it together every week!" Watching each episode of the reality show with Molly had been the highlight of her week. In the first season, a local party boy had chosen from twelve women, like on The Bachelor. In the second season, the station switched to The Bachelorette and starred Eva, the woman who came in third on the first season. She was presented with twelve local suitors to date and consider.
Seeing the dates in places she recognized made love seem more attainable to Megan. Attainable and yet oh-so-unlikely. Finding the right man would mean actually leaving her house from time to time.
"Our girl nights were so much fun." Molly giggled. "Anyway, you know the show is like Survivor. KETO picks local people to compete and vote each other out until there is only one person left."
"So there are challenges involved?" Megan winced. She liked The Bachelor because watching people fall in love was easy. Survivor was different. Megan knew plenty about the show since her sister, its number one fan, often spoke of it. But she'd managed to avoid watching it herself. It seemed like the contestants did things she could never even dream of doing.
"You got it. But they won't be as big or hard as the national show. I'm not sure what the exact format will be, but it'll be a blast."
Megan groaned internally. There was a distinct lack of facts in Molly's information. "Maybe it would have been for you. Are you sure you can't go on? You'd be better than me in any challenge, even with an extra person on board."
Molly giggled. "I'm positive. Once the medic got my blood work back and realized I was pregnant, I was out. I don't know what they have planned, but it is too big of a risk for someone with a bun in the oven."
"I still can't believe you're going to be a mom." Megan's excitement for her sister overshadowed her nervousness about the show.
"It hasn't sunk in for me either. I always thought I'd be married for five years or more before a baby came along."
"But you're happy, right?" All Megan really wanted was for Molly to be happy.
"I'm happy," Molly reassured her. "Derek and I are more in love now than we were the day we got married. I guess our love created a whole new person."
"Gag me." Megan rolled her eyes. Megan didn't want all the details. She sometimes found herself wishing for the fairytale her sister had, but she knew it was a pointless desire. The most interaction she had with the opposite sex was when the pizza boy — pimple faced and barely legal to drive — delivered food to her house. Guys had never paid attention to her in school, and now that she worked from home with her voice-over business, there was no obligation to endure social embarrassment.
"One day you'll have to get over your aversion to the birds and the bees, Megan." Megan could almost hear her sister's wink through the phone. "Anyway, back to the show. Listen up. I'm about to give you the rundown."
Megan nodded and pressed the phone against her ear.
"There will be twelve contestants, including you, and they're taping the show over a week and a half. Each day, you'll have some kind of competition and each night there will be an elimination. So to get to the end, you'll have to last nine days. That's all!"
She made it sound so short, but a week and a half was an eternity to Megan.
"There will be individual or group competitions every day. Whoever wins is protected from being voted out that night. There's also a twist."
Megan's head was already spinning. The deluge of information was giving her a headache. Who came up with this game?
"For this local version, there's going to be a special item hidden somewhere around the shooting location. It's called the Protection Piece. Whoever finds it will get a place in the final four, no matter what. Say you find it the second night but get voted out on night three — you will come back when there are three people left. Understand?"
"I guess so." Megan wondered if Molly understood just how slim her chances were, with or without the Protection Piece.
"After I talked with the medic, the producer came in and said he was sorry to see me go and they would choose another contestant from the auditions. I know it's not my job, but I offered to find my own replacement since it's such short notice."
"And why did you do that exactly?" Megan shifted onto her side and felt the couch groan beneath her. This whole situation could have disappeared if Molly hadn't felt some insane urge to be helpful.
"I can't explain it, but when the producer told me they'd choose someone else, I got an image of you standing alone on a podium, your arms raised above your head. You were victorious, Megan. You looked like a champion."
Megan closed her eyes and tried to imagine standing on a winner's podium, but the base was too small and when she raised her hands above her head, she went tumbling backward. Yep, that's about right. "You know I'd get kicked out in the first round, right?"
"But what if you didn't?"
"Then I'd probably drown in the first water-related competition."
Molly chuckled. "Maybe they'd let you use water wings."
"And a nose plug." Megan joined her in a fit of giggles.
When Molly caught her breath, she said, "Do you think you'd be able to get away from work?" Megan answered without thinking. "I could put in a few extra hours before the show starts and clear the deck. I just wrapped a big audio book deal so I'm okay to take a break." She suddenly realized what she'd done and slapped her palm against her forehead. There goes that excuse. Megan knew Molly was circling. It was decision time.
"So ... what do you say?" Molly's melodic voice was wheedling.
For once, Megan was glad her sister wasn't sitting across from her — seeing her pleading eyes would only make matters worse. It had been hard when Molly got married and moved across town. Only a twenty-minute drive separated them, but sometimes that was enough to make phone calls necessary instead of visits.
"I only have until the end of the day to find a contestant to replace me before they go back to the audition pool and pull someone else."
"Why me, Molly? There's really no one else?" Megan asked. Someone more like you? Megan had her own talents, but they didn't involve grace and athleticism and ... being easy on the eyes. If the competitions were anything like gym class in grade school, she was done for. Plus, Molly could talk to a total stranger for five minutes and end up with a new best friend. Megan avoided people she didn't know.
"You know you're my go-to girl. And why not you? You're always putting yourself down, Megan, and I don't like it. I think the show would be good for you. You might surprise yourself. Plus, it's an adventure. If I can't have it, I want the person closest to me to enjoy it."
Megan took a deep breath. Her sister was pregnant. She was going to be an aunt. Auntly duties didn't usually require local TV appearances on Survivor-style shows. But she wasn't going to be just any aunt. Maybe the show could be a small way of showing her sister how much she cared about her new niece or nephew.
Molly had done so much for her over the years. When their mother seemed to care more about her young boyfriend than either of them, Molly had packed Megan's school lunches and made mac and cheese for dinner. When Megan was miserable working at a local radio station, Molly was the only one to encourage her to follow her passion and talents to start a freelance voice-over business. Molly believed in her no matter what Megan thought of herself.
This silly show meant the world to Molly. The last thing Megan wanted to do was let her down.
"Okay," Megan muttered.
"What?" Molly asked. "Did you say what I think you said?"
"You know I did. I can't say no to you, much less your child."
Molly squealed. "Oh, Meg, you aren't going to regret this!"
"Calm down, you'll hurt my niece ... or nephew. And I'm fairly certain I will be regretting this. Daily. On TV." She groaned.
"It'll be great. I'll text you the studio address. Go see the medic and get all the necessary tests to get clearance for the show. He's available this afternoon. You'll be surprised when you meet him. Don't ask for details because I'm not saying any more. Meet me at our spot for dinner. I'll help you prepare," Molly rambled.
"When do the tapings begin?" Megan's nerves appeared as the idea became real. She had been caught up in her sister's excitement at first, but now that Molly was talking about actual details, her pulse raced and her hands shook.
Megan gasped involuntarily. "That soon?"
"I know. We have a lot to do, but you're up for it, I promise. I wouldn't put you in this situation if I didn't think you were capable."
Megan smiled. "You've always believed in me. Thanks for that." Maybe other parts of her life could be different if she listened to Molly more often. The show could be the start of a whole new world. Or a completely embarrassing disaster.
Megan leaned her head back against the couch and closed her eyes as Molly said, "And I always will. I'm so excited — almost as much as when I was the one going on the show."
"Yeah, but now you get to sit back on the couch, eat pickles and ice cream, and watch me make a fool out of myself."
"Hey, you're supposed to be supportive. Look what I'm doing for you." Megan stood from the couch and resumed pacing.
Molly laughed. "Gotcha. You'll be great. We both know it."
"Um, I can't say that we do."
"Well, I know and that's enough for now. Go get ready and I'll see you tonight."
"Okay, okay." Megan drew the phone from her ear to hang up, then brought it back up. "Wait," she called before Molly could hang up. "What's the surprise you mentioned before?"
Molly laughed. "I told you, you'll find out when you get to the studio."
"Fine, have it your way." Megan rolled her eyes. "One last thing. What are they calling the show?"
"Are you ready for this?" Molly asked. "The Leftover."
Cane Trevino surveyed the items in the back corner sales office. It was a makeshift exam room, but as a paramedic, he was used to doing exams on the fly. In fact, the medium-sized office was better than most in the field. He still wasn't sure what possessed him to take the side job when KETO called him.
Maybe this will help me forget about —
Mike, the show's producer, stuck his head in the door. "She's on her way up."
"I'm ready whenever." Cane raised a hand and smiled as he caught a glimpse of Mike's ever-present clipboard through the closing door.
Excerpted from "The Leftover"
Copyright © 2017 Brooke Williams.
Excerpted by permission of Boutique of Quality Books Publishing, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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