“That’s because I’m not an assistant. I’m a partner, and I work real cheap.”

When he finished, he inched out from under the house on his back, face-first. She was sitting cross-legged on the cold ground, all the tools laid out before her like surgical instruments. “Man, you are organized,” he said.

She raised a hand and grinned. “My name is Jolene Broussard, and I’m afflicted with a slight case of OCD.”

He pulled himself on out and sat down beside her. “My name is Tucker Malone and I have a confession. I’m a weekend drunk, but my deceased wife keeps tellin’ me to stop living in the past and get on with the future. I never have wanted to do it before, but now I kind of do.”

“Maybe we should both listen to her.” Jolene hopped up. “I didn’t know that you did plumbing as well as construction.”

“It’s not my favorite part of remodeling. Electricity is even farther down on the list. But I got my license in both when I started flipping houses as a hobby.”

“Why didn’t you just do that rather than police work on top of it?” she asked.

“My grandpa was a cop. I adored him and wanted to be like him. But I always loved working with my hands, too.” He rolled up onto his feet. “That should do it for the plumbing. Let’s go up and turn on the water, and then I’ll test for leaks before we cover up the crawl space.”

She sighed. “Will this be the process every time we put in bathrooms?”

“Kind of, but not really. I can tie into the pipes in the dining room wall, but that hole won’t be covered up until we get finished.” He put his wrenches into his toolbox and carried it inside the house.

“I’m just glad you’re the one crawling under the house. I’m claustrophobic,” she admitted. “And I’m afraid of heights. Or maybe not so much afraid of high places as falling off them. Do you put roofs on houses, too?”

“Yep. I’m not afraid of being up high or in tight spots, as long as there’s no spiders in either place. Here.” He tossed an aerosol can toward her.

She caught it midair. “What is this?”

“Bug spray. I never go under a house without it.” He grinned.

Dotty met her at the back door of the Gator that night with a worried look on her face. “It’s only five minutes until we open. I was gettin’ a little worried.”

“Time got away from me.” Jolene put her coat and purse under the counter and grabbed an apron. “Tucker and I were putting up drywall. How did it go with Lucy? I’ve been meanin’ to call all week, but we were so busy.”

“I think we finally got her to see the light. She admitted, while she was drunk, that she felt like God was always punishing her for sleeping with men when she wasn’t married to them, and that He was killin’ them off or else making them break up with her. We got her to understand that wasn’t the case. It’ll take a little reinforcing along the way, but I believe she’s going to do better. She can have boyfriends. She can sleep with them. That’s not why they die. We’ll just have to keep her reminded. She’s pretty mouthy, but she’s kept all this shit bottled up. Me and Flossie and Sugar knew why she was doin’ it, but she had to finally admit it to herself. You know, it’s kind of like smokin’. Until the one with the cigarette in his hands realizes he’s got a problem, no amount of bitchin’ from his family or friends will help him stop.”

“You got that right.” Jolene thought of her mother, who never one time had admitted she had a problem. “Anything I can do to help?”

“No, but we did have to get Sugar on the phone. We put it on speaker, and she really helped us out. I got to tell you, Jolene, Sugar was kind of the glue that held us all together. I’m damn glad we can call her and talk about all this,” Dotty said. “Now tell me about Tucker. He must’ve had a hangover to have mentioned a hangover cure.”

“I told him it was a onetime deal. I didn’t want him to have a hangover when y’all were there, so I gave him the cure I always used on my mother,” Jolene answered.

“Why is it a one-timer?” Dotty asked.

“I felt responsible for Mama. I don’t for him. He’s a grown man.” Jolene waved at Mickey as he came out of the men’s room and took his place at the door.

She picked up a bar rag and gave the counter one more cleaning and thought about her statement. Tucker was a grown man, but he was also a troubled soul. Neither was any of her business, but these past days she’d felt an attraction for him.

No! I will not get involved with someone who is still in love with his dead wife and who drinks. Lord knows I’ve already been through enough in that department—maybe not with the wife issue, but with the other.

“Time to open.” Dotty signaled to Mickey to unlock the doors.

In minutes there was a group of young folks on the floor line dancing to “Cotton Eye Joe.” The stools quickly filled, and people were lined up three deep waiting on drinks.

“Goin’ to be another busy one,” Dotty said as she pulled two pitchers of beer. “I should’ve hired a hot young bartender years ago.”

“Oh, hush.” Jolene hip bumped her.

“And, honey, don’t judge Tucker too hard. I’ve been where he is. It ain’t an easy place to be. He’s got to work through the fog before he can see the light,” Dotty said.

“I’m not judging.” Jolene reached for a bottle of Patrón tequila. “But I’m not his keeper.”

“You might be more than his keeper. You and the Magnolia might be his salvation,” Dotty said.

“Don’t know about that, but when we close up, I’ll show you the pictures of what we got done this week on my phone,” Jolene said. “Aunt Sugar loves it, but I hear a little reservation in her voice about Tucker. Did she say anything to you?”

“It’ll slow down in a little bit, and you can show me then. And Sugar is worried about him. She wants to help him get through his problems. You know how she is. Your aunt sees good in everyone, even Reuben. Anyway, she thinks Tucker was led to the Magnolia so he can realize he has a problem. But she and Jasper are mad at Reuben, and a little aggravated at Tucker for buying him out so fast. If Reuben hadn’t had such an easy out, then maybe he would have partnered with you, and then you could have helped him.”

“I don’t think there’s help for Reuben. But I do know that Tucker needs to move on.”

Dotty shrugged. “You both need to do just that.”

Jolene started to say something but stopped when she saw Lucy and a distinguished-looking elderly man coming straight toward the bar.

Lucy threw up a hand and made a beeline for an empty barstool. “Hi, sweetie. I want you to meet Everett. We’re here to dance more than drink, but if you’d make us one of those daiquiris that you made me and Flossie the other night, we’d love it. And”—she leaned across the bar—“do not let me drink more than one. Kick me out if I even order a second one.”

“Hello.” Everett stuck a hand over Lucy’s shoulder. “I’d rather have a rum and Coke.”

“I’m Jolene,” she said. “Two drinks comin’ right up.”

“I see an empty table. I’ll grab it and wait for you there.” Everett handed Jolene a bill. “Keep the change.”

“Did I really sing ‘Ninety-Nine Sips of Wine’?” Lucy asked.

Jolene nodded. “And you decided that Tucker was a good boy and not the devil.”

“They goaded me into proving I could drink and I can’t, but I forgive them because it was for a good reason. Flossie and Dotty got it started, but it was Sugar who really lined me out. I feel like a rock has been lifted from my soul.” Lucy picked up the two drinks. “And that’s not the preacher. He’s the man who came into my shop last week and asked me out. I wouldn’t make a good preacher’s wife, you know.”

Jolene smiled. “I’m glad you feel better, and you didn’t even call me for the hangover cure.”

Lucy leaned over the bar and whispered, “I was too ashamed to call, honey, but if I ever make that mistake again, I sure will.”

Everett was tall, like Lucy—lanky, like Lucy. And he had a cute little gray mustache and mischievous blue eyes. Lucy had better be careful, Jolene thought, or she might be doing more than dancing with that handsome old guy.

She caught a glimpse of them every little bit, and they looked like they were having a great time. They were both very good at two-stepping and swing dancing, but they sat out the line dances. Neither of them came back to order another drink, so it looked like Lucy really had learned her lesson, for a little while at least. Now that she and Dotty had both been in the intervention spotlight, Jolene couldn’t help but wonder when it would be Flossie’s turn—or if Sugar had ever had it shined on her.

Jolene stumbled into the kitchen the next morning looking, Tucker noticed, like the last rose of summer a big old hound dog had hiked his leg on. Tucker smiled at his grandpa’s old adage.

“Mornin’,” she grumbled.

He pointed at the coffeepot. “Just made a fresh pot. I drank what I made earlier while I was figuring out what we need to get ready for work on Monday.”

She poured a cup and sat down at the table with a groan. “And what do we need?”

“We should go to the paint store in Marshall. You could pick out the paint for this first bedroom so that we’ll have it on hand when we’re ready for it. I’m thinking that instead of peeling off all that old wallpaper, plaster, and lathing, we just put up drywall over it. If you want to feminize it, you could put a border around the ceiling, but wallpaper is a real bitch to hang and to maintain.”

“Sounds good to me,” she said.

“We could get a burger or maybe hit a pizza buffet for lunch. My treat,” he said.