Sometime in the middle of that mental conversation, Dotty had brought in the cake and ice cream. “We’ll pass it around, and everyone can get however big of a piece they want.”

Lucy twisted the cap off the beer and took a long gulp. “That’ll clean my palate for the cake.”

Tucker shooed all four of the ladies into the living room with the rest of the wine after dinner was finished. “You brought the food. Jolene and I will do the cleanup. Go pretend like you are guests of the Magnolia Inn. No, don’t pretend. You are our very first guests, even if you didn’t stay the night here.”

“I knew I liked that boy from the first time I met him.” Lucy headed that way with a wineglass in one hand and a half-empty bottle of beer in the other.

There’s no one who’s all good or who’s all bad. What comes out and makes them look either way are the choices they make. Jolene remembered Aunt Sugar telling her that when she complained about Reuben.

Did that apply to her drug-addicted mother? For years Jolene’d not been able to find a good thing about her mom, and then Elaine had died in that miserable, cheap hotel room. Maybe if Jolene would get over not having been there with her and not being able to stop the downward spiral, then she could hang on to a few of the good moments they’d shared.

Tucker followed Jolene to the kitchen with a stack of plates in his hands. “Now explain to me what just happened in there. That didn’t look like an intervention to me, and why are they even having one?”

“It’s complicated. From what I understand, Lucy feels guilty because she sleeps with men, and then they either die or break up with her. I think it might be her upbringing. Back in her day, sex before marriage was this big no-no.” Jolene rinsed dishes and put them into the dishwasher.

Tucker frowned. “So this is to get her out of religion? Most of the time folks try to push a person into it, not pull them out of it.”

“Evidently they know what they’re doin’,” Jolene said. “Their method worked with Dotty.”

“Guess you can’t argue with something that’s already been proven.” Tucker nodded in agreement. “Think Lucy can make it upstairs to see what we’ve accomplished?”

“If that ‘sweet boy’”—Jolene put air quotes around the words—“will offer her his arm and go slow, I bet she’ll make it just fine.”

“Been a helluva long time since I was called a boy.” Tucker chuckled.

“Oh, yeah! How long?”

“Well, honey, I was born in 1981. You do the math,” he answered.


“On my birthday in April. And you?”

“Never was called a boy,” she told him. “I’ll be thirty-two in April. What day is your birthday?”

He scraped the leftover rice into the trash can. “The thirtieth.”

“Mine is the twenty-ninth,” she said.

How did a mother turn her back on a responsible kid like Jolene? Tucker wondered. How could a mother ever become addicted when she had a daughter? If he and Melanie had had children, he’d have still hurt when she was killed, but he would have had something to live for.

You’ve got something to live for now, so why are you still hitting the bottle? That niggling voice in his head sounded like Melanie.

He blinked away the question he didn’t want to answer and said, “Guess us partners ain’t never gonna forget the other one’s special day, are we?”

“Guess not.” She smiled. “And now we’d better get in there before our children get into more trouble than a simple hangover remedy can get them out of.”

“So we’ve adopted them?” Tucker asked.

“Aunt Sugar told me to watch after them, so I guess we have. But you don’t have to be the father figure unless you want. Might be good, because you aren’t the best role model, now are you?” She raised an eyebrow.

“Come on now. I only drink on weekends,” he said.

“When the kids are home.” Jolene walked past him out of the kitchen.

She’s right again. Listen to her. Let me go, darlin’. You’ve got a life to live.

Tucker set his jaw and followed Jolene. They could hear the singing before they reached the living room. Lucy’s voice, slurring the words, was the loudest.

“Eighty-eight sips of wine in the jug, eighty-eight sips of wine. You take one now and pass it around. Eighty-seven sips of wine in the jug.” Dotty waved from the floor, where they were sitting in a circle. Lucy took a sip of wine and went on with the song, while the other two women only put the bottle to their lips and pretended to drink.

“They’re here!” Lucy squealed. “We can go see what they’ve done upstairs.”

Tucker extended his hand to Lucy. “Shall we lead the way, Miz Lucy?”

When she was standing, he tucked her arm into his and headed for the stairs. She was weaving a little, but he’d seen worse—he’d been worse the night before. If he’d been a praying man, he would have asked God not to let Lucy tumble backward, because the other three women were right behind them. One false move and all five of them would go down, ass over big hair. Dotty and Flossie would probably end up with broken hips.

He didn’t realize he was holding his breath until they were all in the hallway and well away from the stairs. “Watch yourselves. Furniture is piled up everywhere.”

Lucy giggled when they entered the first bedroom. “I thought you was the best carpenter in East Texas, boy. Look at that bathtub in the bedroom. Are you crazy? Everyone knows you don’t put a bathtub in the bedroom.”

Dotty slipped an arm around Lucy’s waist. “Lucy, you put in the bathtub and then build the wall around it. It would be a devil of a job to try to get it through the door after the walls were built.”

Tucker eased away from Lucy, leaving her in Dotty’s care. “We’ll build a wall right here where the tape is on the floor. And we’re using the washstand out there in the hallway for the vanity. The tub and shower enclosure will be kind of modern. But we’re going to try to keep the old-world flavor.”

“That sounds wonderful, Tucker, but we really should be going. Don’t you have an appointment to meet up with the church Prayer Angels?” Dotty asked Lucy.

“Yes, I do,” Lucy huffed. “And for your information, I just sell antiques. I don’t build houses.” She turned her attention to Jolene. “But it looks good. Let’s go back down to the living room and sing some more. I liked that better than lookin’ at bathtubs in bedrooms.”

“I’m sure you did.” Flossie winked at Tucker. “You are doing an amazing job. Sugar would be so proud. You sending lots of pictures to her, Jolene?”

“Every day,” Jolene answered. “I take before, after, and in-progress pictures. I’ve been sending them daily and talking to her at least every other day.”

“I do sing well, and I will pray for you.” Lucy poked Tucker in the chest. “I will ask God to take away your desire to drink.”

Tucker didn’t even argue. He could use all the help he could get, but if God had been standing watch, he thought, then his Melanie wouldn’t be dead.

“You do that, Miz Lucy.” He put her arm back in his and dreaded going down the stairs even more than he had climbing up them. But at least if she pitched forward, she would only take him with her.

They made it to the ground, where Dotty took control and chattered the whole time she helped Lucy into her coat. “Thank you for a wonderful visit. I can’t wait for the construction part to be done and the pretty stuff to start. You can bring our dishes home next Sunday. Dinner will be at Flossie’s house. One o’clock sharp. Don’t be late. We’ve always taken turns hosting Sunday dinner.” She paused for a breath.

“Yes, ma’am.” Tucker jerked on his boots and followed them out to the car to open doors for them. “And you call me if you have a headache later on tonight, Miz Lucy.”

“Honey, I never felt better in my life. I just wish we’d got to the end of the ninety-nine sips of wine song. I was havin’ fun,” she said.

Dotty winked at him. “Thanks for everything. Sugar would be proud of you and Jolene. And now that she’s three sheets to the wind, we’re hoping that Lucy’ll get off this crazy merry-go-round she’s been on.” Dotty lowered her voice. “Sometimes it takes a good hangover to realize that you’ve been goin’ down the wrong path.”

Most of the time, a person has to want to take a step into the future, rather than living in the past. What do you want, Tucker? This time his grandfather’s voice was in his head.

Chapter Ten

Jolene could hardly believe that it was already Friday again, but the calendar on her phone didn’t lie. She and Tucker had gotten more done the past five days than she’d thought possible. The bathroom walls were up, and the dining room now had a hole big enough for a door where he’d knocked out the wall to put in new water lines. That morning he was under the house working on getting the last bits of plumbing done. After that he said they’d be ready for drywall.

She rolled her neck a few times to get the soreness out. This construction business was harder on the body than standing on her feet eight hours behind a bar for sure. But she was beginning to get a picture of what he’d visualized all along. Maybe as Aunt Sugar and Uncle Jasper came back across the United States on their way to California, they’d stop by and see all the improvements. Jolene was almost giddy as she thought about showing off the new bathrooms and all the remodeling.

Tucker’s hand stuck out of the crawl hole. “Hey, I need a crescent wrench.”

She put a tool in his hand, but in five seconds it came back out. “A crescent wrench, not pliers.”

“Sorry about that,” she said. “Don’t fire me. I’m still learning.”

“No way.” He chuckled. “At least you didn’t give me a pry bar, like my last assistant did,” he said.