The Magnolia Inn

Chapter 16

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He removed his hand and took a guess. “Lucy with her new boyfriend, and they ordered some weird drink that you had to look up in the book to even know how to make?”

She refilled her milk glass. “Nope, Flossie, but she was there hoping that Lucy would show up. And you’ll never guess why.” She didn’t give him time to answer. “Because if Lucy arrived at the bar, that would mean she was through with her religious phase.”

“And then they wouldn’t have to go to church with her, right?” Tucker asked.

“Exactly.” Jolene yawned. “And now I’m going to bed. I can’t get to sleep if I stay up until dawn. See you about noon, and we’ll get in a few hours of work before I go back to the bar.”

“Oh, no.” Tucker shook his head. “I quit at noon on Saturday. Five and a half days a week is my limit. So sleep as long as you want. I plan on drawing up plans for the other bedrooms, and then Monday morning we’ll get back after it.”

“Whatever you say, partner.” She started for the door but turned before she got there. “Thanks for listening. The song is out of my head now.”

“You’re welcome,” he said. “I charge more for therapy. You’ll get the bill next week.”

“I’ll pay it by cookin’.”

“Sassy, ain’t you?”

She laughed out loud. “No, sir! That’s the cat.”

Chapter Eight

Jolene parked near the door of the bar on Saturday night and dug around in her purse until she found her phone. She’d programmed in Dotty’s number the night before so all she had to do was hit a button, and it started ringing.

“Please don’t tell me you’ve changed your mind or you’re not coming in tonight,” Dotty answered.

“Not at all,” Jolene said. “I’m parked right outside. Would you open the door for me?”

“I’m on my way,” she said.

Jolene slid out of the truck, tucked the phone into the hip pocket of her jeans, and slung her purse over her shoulder. Dotty was waving from the door before Jolene rounded the end of her vehicle.

“Get on in here before that wind blows you right over the bayou into Louisiana, and we know what that means.” Dotty laughed.

“It’d be tough to leave, right?”

“You got it, darlin’. My daddy loved his home state almost as much as my mama did.” Dotty followed her across the floor.

“Like my dad. He talked about Louisiana a lot,” Jolene said.

“Where’re they buried?” Dotty asked.

“Aunt Sugar, Uncle Jasper, and I scattered their ashes in the Gulf of Mexico near Panama City Beach. They’d honeymooned there, and I wanted to take them where they’d both been happy,” she answered. “Know what you do when life gives you lemons?”

“You add tequila.” Dotty snapped her fingers and did a three-second rendition of a salsa dance.

“Or throw them in the trash and make a chocolate cake,” Jolene giggled.

“Now you’re talkin’ my language. I love chocolate.” Dotty started across the floor. “From that full parking lot, it looks like we’re in for another busy night. Guess word got out that I’ve got a hot new bartender.”

“Oh, come on now.” Jolene smiled.

“It’s the truth, chère. They’re coming to try to see if you’ll go home with them.” Dotty opened the door, and the first rush began. Within five minutes all the barstools were full and the jukebox was going full blast. Jolene drew up pitchers of beer to Blake Shelton singing “Kiss My Country Ass.” Every time he sang the song title, everyone in the bar raised their glass and sang along.

“Got us a rowdy bunch tonight,” Dotty said.

“Looks like it. Where’s Bubba?” Jolene looked around the place for the bouncer from the night before.

“He called in this afternoon and quit. See that big old boy over there in the shadows by the door? That’s Mickey, and he’s promised me that he’ll stick around awhile,” Dotty answered.

Jolene glanced that way. Even though Mickey wasn’t a tall man, he threw off an aura that said he could take down one of those muscled-up television wrestlers.

“Not what you expected?” Dotty asked.

“He looks like he can do the job,” Jolene answered.

“Yep, he can.” She smiled.

“And you know this because?” Jolene wiped the bar.

“He’s got a reputation with several bars in this area for bein’ a good bouncer. Trouble is he don’t like to stay in one place very long. But I think he’s shacked up with a woman,” Dotty told her.

Jolene made a Jack and Coke for a customer. “That’s his business. Long as he keeps a little peace in here, that’s all you’re interested in, right?”

“Amen to that!” Dotty gave her a thumbs-up. “I was thinkin’ maybe Mickey might ask you out when I hired him.”

“Ha! He does kind of remind me of my first boyfriend, though. I was thirteen and he was fourteen. He gave me my first kiss. His grandma brought him with her to the inn that summer for a whole week.”

“Did Sugar know?” Dotty asked.

“Nope, I didn’t tell her,” Jolene answered.

“How old were you when you had a serious boyfriend?”

“Sixteen. Right after Daddy died, but we broke up after two months. He wanted me to drink, and even then I wouldn’t touch the stuff,” Jolene answered. “What about your first boyfriend?”

“That’s a story for later,” Dotty answered.

Another bunch of customers pushed into the bar, pausing in their conversation with the new noise. Jolene turned around to see Lucy and Flossie claiming two empty stools as soon as their occupants left and headed out the door. Lucy’s hair had been freshly done, and they both wore jeans, boots, and western shirts with pearl snaps.

“What can I get you ladies?” Jolene asked.

“Two of them things you made Flossie last night. She’s been talkin’ about them all day,” Lucy answered.

“I can’t believe you are here, Lucy,” Jolene said. “And drinking, too?”

“One drink won’t hurt me. Jesus drank wine Himself. And I need to know that Dotty is takin’ care of you proper,” Lucy said.

“Lucy admitted that she’s got a crush on the preacher who did the funeral for her last boyfriend,” Flossie tattled. “We ain’t never goin’ to shake the religion out of her this time if she sweet-talks him into her satin sheets.”

“Oh, hush,” Lucy said. “Y’all excuse me. I’ve got to make a run to the ladies’ room.”

“What happened to the man who was going to meet her at a bar?” Dotty asked when Lucy was out of hearing distance.

“She says that he was sent to tempt her like the devil tried to tempt Jesus,” Flossie said. “I’m afraid this ain’t a phase. We might have to talk some sense into her—we’ll have it right here in the bar some afternoon.”

“Why here?” Jolene asked.

“Because,” Flossie sighed. “We couldn’t have it at the Magnolia since . . . well,” she stammered.

“Is it Tucker?” Jolene asked.

“We’ll be draggin’ out a lot of wine and maybe some whiskey, and we don’t want . . .” Dotty hesitated. “We understand why Tucker drinks on weekends, what with Melanie’s death, but . . .”

“I thought tomorrow after Sunday dinner,” Flossie said. “The sooner the better. You got any ideas about how to get her out of the house and down here, Jolene?”

Jolene fought against rolling her eyes. Sure, it was sad that Melanie had died and that Tucker couldn’t seem to get over it, but he didn’t need to be mollycoddled. He was a grown man. And he’d probably hate that these old gals were feeling so sorry for him.

“You’ve had these talks before?” Jolene set a couple of daiquiris on the bar.

“Yep.” Dotty nodded. “They had one for me after my husband died. I was drownin’ my sorrows in the wine bottle. So I was speaking from experience when I said that I understood Tucker’s problem. He’s been in here real often, chère, like almost every Saturday night, and he drinks a lot. Don’t bother nobody, and he’s never drunk enough that I have to take his keys, but still he don’t need to be in on what we’re about to do with Lucy.” She leaned over and whispered, “I’ve been told that he drinks a lot at home after he leaves here.”

“Why don’t you drop that chère shit?” Flossie said. “You’re in Texas and have been for more than sixty years, so say darlin’ or honey like the rest of us, Dotty.”

“Don’t bitch at me over my endearments,” Dotty said.

“There’s a lot of difference in pouring out a bottle of wine and talkin’ a woman out of what she sees as the love of her life,” Jolene said. “And Tucker is a big boy. I don’t know why you couldn’t talk to her while we have dinner at the Magnolia.”

“Bottle, nothing.” Flossie almost snorted daiquiri out of her nose. “We poured out six of them cheap boxes of wine. There was enough for us to baptize Dotty in, as little as she is.” Flossie gasped and pointed. “Do you see who’s sittin’ at the end of the bar now?”

Jolene tiptoed to see over their collective heads. When she did, she locked eyes with Tucker.

“Sweet Jesus,” she muttered. “He’s here.”

“She’s prayin’ in a bar,” Flossie laughed. “We might need to have a long talk with her and Lucy both.”

“And he’s on my end of the bar, so don’t you worry about it.” Dotty hurried off to take care of her customer.

Tucker took a sip of his drink and blinked. He was seeing things. That couldn’t be Jolene. She was working at the Southern Comfort. She was way too classy to be tending bar in a honky-tonk like the Gator. He blinked again.


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