Tucker returned and set a glass and a bottle of beer beside Lucy’s plate. “I take mine straight out of the bottle, but I got you a glass.”
“Bottle is just fine,” Lucy said.
He sat back down. “When we get done eating, we’ll give you a peek at what we’re doin’ upstairs.”
“Oh, really?” Dotty raised an eyebrow and winked at him.
Lucy downed her wine while the food was being passed. “If you’re going to think lewd thoughts, then I’ll need another glass of wine to get through this day gracefully. And I don’t like it that y’all are tryin’ to tell me how to live my life, what church I have to go to, and that I’m a repeat offender to God askin’ for forgiveness.”
Jolene wondered if her mother had ever asked for forgiveness or if she’d just barreled on ahead with her life, not giving a damn whose life she was ruining on the journey. Had she even realized or cared that she was breaking her daughter’s heart? Jolene could see her mother dancing through the trailer, music blaring on either the radio or the CD player. She’d be flying high on street drugs before she even hit the lowest-class bars in the area to add alcohol to the mix. Almost without fail she’d bring a different man home with her, the two of them leaning on each other and giggling as they stumbled back to her mother’s bedroom.
“Now, darlin’.” Flossie’s tone sounded like she was talking to a child. “You know that you don’t do well on two glasses of wine. Remember the last time you splurged?”
“That wasn’t the wine. It was the medicine I was takin’ for my blood pressure. I can drink both of you under the table,” Lucy declared. “Pour me another one, Jolene. I’ll prove to these two doubters that I can hold my liquor.”
Jolene picked up the bottle and handed it across the table. “Sorry, Miz Lucy, but it’s empty.”
Lucy glared at Dotty. “I saw two bottles in that oversize tote bag that you carry everywhere.”
“Now, chère—I mean, darlin’—one glass plus a beer is your limit. Jolene will have to take your keys if you have any more. Just think of all those angels in heaven who will be cryin’ if you fall off the wagon. You’ve only been ridin’ it a couple of weeks,” Dotty said.
Looking back, Jolene would’ve been glad if her mother had cared enough to put her problems aside and be a mother, or even a friend. Before her husband had died, Elaine had been so self-absorbed that she hadn’t had much time for her daughter. The only thing she really enjoyed doing with her daughter was shopping for clothes, so Jolene did have a few good memories from those years. After her dad was gone, most of the time Elaine just screamed at her for not paying the bills or for not having her favorite food in the trailer.
“You open that bottle right now,” Lucy demanded.
“Okay, but I thought you were going to church tonight to flirt with the preacher.” She pushed back her chair, disappeared into the foyer, and returned with a big bottle of red wine. “I’m giving you this because you are my friend, but you know very well you can’t drink.”
“Enough already. I’ve got on my big-girl panties, and I can decide things on my own. Now pass those meatballs,” Lucy said.
Dotty opened the bottle and set it on the table, close enough that Lucy could reach it. Then she returned to her seat and picked up the beans. “I’ve always loved green beans made this way, and no one makes rice as fluffy as Lucy. Not even my Louisiana grandmother, and she cooked it every day. I remember when she came to Texas the first time and we had potatoes twice a day. She told me the day she left that she could never live in a place where the people lived on potatoes.”
“Thank you.” Lucy’s tone was still a little strained. “My granny was from over the line, too. She taught me to make it, and it goes so well with Flossie’s meatballs.”
“Yes, it does,” Tucker agreed.
An intervention. A talkin’-to. Whatever it was called, Jolene felt guilty that she hadn’t coerced her mother into the vehicle and driven her to the Magnolia. Aunt Sugar would have taken things in hand, and maybe, just maybe, Elaine would have gotten dried out from all the drugs and alcohol.
“I just got my first bite of green beans. Is that Creole seasoning that I taste?” Jolene asked.
“Might be a little, but that’s not the whole secret.” Lucy refilled her glass and took a long sip. “This is better than the last. What is it?”
“Blackberry,” Dotty said. “I thought it would go well with dessert.”
“Not as well as beer. I like it. Reminds me of that time when the four of us were teenagers and we found that bottle of strawberry Boone’s Farm wine in the Big Cypress Bayou, back behind the Magnolia.” Lucy giggled.
“We drank it all and then washed the bottle out with a little water and drank that, too,” Flossie said.
“And you . . .” Dotty pointed at Lucy. “You were the only one of us who got drunk.”
“I did not. It was all psychological. I didn’t know how much it took to get drunk, and I just talked myself into thinkin’ I’d had too much,” Lucy argued.
“One more glass and she’ll get funny,” Flossie whispered to Jolene.
“Hopefully she’ll see that she’s not an evil person for sleeping with her boyfriends, and that they don’t die or break up with her because she’s not good enough in bed. And we won’t have to go to some church where we don’t know the people next week,” Flossie explained out of the side of her mouth.
“What are you whispering about?” Lucy asked.
“We’re trying to figure out what else is in these green beans,” Jolene said.
Lucy stuck her thin nose in the air. “I might tell the preacher tonight, but I’m not tellin’ y’all. You’ve been hateful today.”
“And here it is Sunday, when we’re supposed to love everyone,” Tucker piped up from the head of the table.
“That’s right, sweet boy. I knew you had a good heart hidin’ in that sexy chest of yours,” Lucy said as she finished off the second glass of wine and poured another one. “Did you know that we had to have an intervention for Dotty?”
“I did.” Tucker gave her his full attention.
“Let me tell you about it. She was drinkin’ too much, so we had to take matters in our own hands.” Lucy nodded with every word. “Know what we did?” She frowned as if she was trying to remember something.
“We had a long talk with her, but in those days, no one ever heard of an intervention,” Flossie said.
“I was tellin’ the story.” Lucy pouted. “After we talked to her, I thought we needed a preacher to pray over her, but it was Thursday night and there wasn’t a church service going on.”
Dotty shivered. “It was a tent revival over the border in the Louisiana boonies. I half expected the preacher to bring out a dead chicken. I told Sugar if he let one of them rattlesnakes loose that he had caged up, I’d swim across the bayou, and that broke me from drinkin’ more than one glass of wine at a time or havin’ more than one beer a night. I laid my hand on Lucy’s Bible and swore that I’d never get drunk again if they wouldn’t make me relive that experience.”
“And Sugar said that she’d be right behind you in swimmin’ across the bayou,” Flossie laughed. “I wanted to take Dotty to a strip club instead of a church. I figured what she needed was a young stud to go to bed with her. That revival thing was Lucy’s idea.”
Lucy leaned over and stage-whispered to Tucker, “I bet you could get a job in a strip club.”
His smile grew into a chuckle. “I was a cop in Dallas and then a detective. I don’t think the force would have approved of that kind of moonlightin’ job. Besides, my uniform didn’t have those breakaway snaps to let me get out of it real fast.”
“Too bad,” Flossie sighed. “I bet Dotty would have put all of her dollars in your cute little thong underbritches.”
“Damn straight I would.” Dotty threw a wink his way.
Tucker picked up the bowl of green beans. “Anyone want any more of these? If not, I’m goin’ to finish them off.”
“You go right ahead, honey. And don’t let these two sinners make you blush,” Lucy said. “Is it time for dessert yet? I’m lookin’ forward to this bottle of beer.”
“I’ll get the cake,” Dotty said. “Anyone want ice cream with it? I know Sugar always keeps half a supply in the freezer.”
“Yes.” Tucker raised his hand.
“Me, too,” Lucy said.
“Wine, beer, cake, and ice cream?” Dotty shook her head. “You’ll be sick for sure.”
Lucy inhaled deeply and let it out in a whoosh. “Stop bossin’ me.”
Jolene had heard those three words before—lots of times. She’d beg Elaine to stay home on Friday and Saturday nights, to save the money for food or bills. And she’d get the same response—stop bossin’ me. Only it would be usually be followed up by Elaine yelling that if Jolene were a better daughter, she’d love her unconditionally and stop trying to change her.
“Miz Lucy, if you have a little hangover, Jolene has a magic remedy. You just call me and I’ll tell you how to fix it,” Tucker said.
Lucy tilted her chin up. “I won’t need it.”
And just what’s the difference in what Tucker does and what I did? Jolene’s mother’s voice was so clear in her head that Jolene cut her eyes around the room to see if she was there.
For one thing, he doesn’t have a teenage daughter who deserved a life of her own and who shouldn’t have needed to worry about grown-up things long before her time, Jolene answered.
He got the hangover medicine this morning. What do you have to say about that? Elaine argued. Like she’d done so many times in real life, Jolene let her mother have the last word by forcing her voice out of her head.