“Sounds crazy but I had this vision of y’all as little girls when I walked up on the porch,” Jolene said when Lucy finished her short prayer.
“Oh, honey!” Lucy’s smile at the memory lit up the whole room. “All of our mothers were affiliated with the women’s church group, and they started a little book club here in town. So yes, we played together every week and always after church at one house or the other.”
“That’s because it gave our parents some personal time on Sunday afternoons. No kids. A bottle of wine. Some slow music. You get the picture,” Dotty said.
“Good grief!” Flossie’s hands went up to her cheeks. “I never realized that. How’d you know?”
“Because after Sunday dinner with all y’all was my and Bruce’s personal time. I asked Mama about it, too, before she died. She blushed and said that was her business, but why did I think God set aside Sunday for men and women both to have a day of rest?” Dotty giggled.
Jolene couldn’t remember a Sunday afternoon when her parents did anything like that. If her dad hadn’t been working at the kitchen table, then he’d been sleeping in his recliner with the television turned to a ball game. Her mother was usually out of the house shopping with friends.
“Well, no wonder my folks were in a good mood on Sunday nights.” Flossie started passing the food around the table.
Dotty giggled again. “Speakin’ of Sunday, next week is at my house, so let’s plan our menu. I thought Tucker could grill steaks for us, since I hate to cook. I’ll make a dessert and pop some potatoes in the oven to bake. Flossie, you can do the salad and bread again. And Lucy, you can bring your corn casserole.”
“What about us?” Tucker asked.
“The griller doesn’t have to provide any food. Just whatever special sauces he uses,” Dotty answered.
The conversation, as usual, turned to town gossip. Jolene knew that she should be listening because knowing the people mentioned would help when they opened the Magnolia Inn for business. As Aunt Sugar often said, “You can never have too much information. Gather it in and then sift it, and let the unimportant fall through the small holes.”
But she kept going back to what Dotty had said about personal time on Sundays. If she ever got into another relationship, it was going to be like that—not stale after a few weeks, but always lively. One where she’d look forward to Sunday afternoons. Yes, ma’am, that’s exactly what she wanted.
West Memphis, Arkansas
Sugar figured out that Sundays were the hardest of all for her. They found a place to go to church that morning, but as she sat there among strangers in a huge sanctuary, she pictured the little church at home. Dotty, Flossie, and Lucy would be on the third pew—if Lucy wasn’t on some kind of religious kick where she was trying out all the faiths. Granny Alberta would be right up there on the front pew because she couldn’t hear too well. And Mr. Thomas always sat on the back row because he wanted to be the first one out the doors when the last amen was said. He’d hurry to the Dairy Queen to save a seat for his old cronies for lunch.
And then afterward Sugar and her friends would go to one of the girls’ houses for dinner. Jasper would doze on the sofa while a ball game of some kind played on the television. And she and her friends would have a gossip session in the kitchen.
When the services were over that morning, Jasper held her hand as they made their way out to the parking lot. “What’s the matter, Sugar? You’ve been awful quiet today. Missin’ Jolene? I do, too. I’m still disappointed in Reuben, but I’m proud of the way she’s stepped up to take care of the Magnolia.”
Sugar managed to keep it together until she got inside the RV. Then the tears began to roll down her cheeks. “I love you and I love being with you, but I’m homesick.” She buried her face in his chest so she wouldn’t have to see the disappointment on his face.
He hugged her even tighter. “Well, praise the Lord! I like our RV. I like traveling with you, but I hate not having roots, too. I’ve got a confession to make, darlin’. I’ve been lookin’ at real estate in Jefferson and wishin’ we’d just bought a house instead of this big RV.”
Sugar brought his lips to hers for a long kiss. When it ended she asked, “Did you see that the one next to Flossie is for sale?”
“That’s the very one I’ve been lookin’ at.” Jasper grinned. “But let’s keep our RV for vacations. We won’t use it for a way of life but just for short vacations.”
“Do you think we should’ve kept the inn?”
He put a finger over her lips. “Not even for a second. It’s time we retired, and neither of us needs to be climbing stairs. We should be home in three days, and there’s RV parks in Marshall where we can live until we decide what we want to buy. I’ll even be home in time to go bowling Friday night. I been talkin’ to Herbert and they haven’t replaced me on the league.” His grin widened with every word.
“Why didn’t you tell me sooner that you weren’t happy?”
“Because this has been your dream for years. We’ve planned it for so long and I thought you were happy. But I’ll gladly turn in my wings for the roots I had. We only thought we wanted to be free birds.” Jasper chuckled.
“Maybe we can run away from Jefferson a couple of times a year in our new RV.” Sugar took a step back and settled into her seat. “But not on holidays. I need to be home at those times. Jolene might need me. We’re all the family she has.”
“And she’s all we’ve got left. Maybe Reuben will come around to thinkin’ responsibly like she does in a few years, but I’m not holding my breath. I’ll be glad to get back there and get some hugs from our girl,” Jasper said.
Later, he was driving through Arkansas when the sky turned dark and great sheets of rain began to sweep across the highway. He gripped the steering wheel so tightly that his knuckles were white. “Darlin’, find us the next RV park. We can’t keep going in this.”
Sugar hit a few icons on her phone. “There’s one three miles ahead of us. Not this next exit but the one after that. When we get to the bottom of the ramp, turn right and it’s a quarter mile down that road.”
Half an hour later they were parked. Sugar made a fresh pot of coffee. She filled two mugs and carried them to the table. “Is it too soon to call Belinda about that house next to Flossie’s? Should we wait until we get there and look at everything on the market?”
“I liked the looks of that place when I looked it up, so call her and say we’re interested,” Jasper said. “It’s what we need—easy to maintain and yet big enough for our Sunday dinners. And for the grandchildren when Jolene decides to have a family.”
Sugar laid a hand on his shoulder. “What about when Reuben has kids?”
“Deep down in my heart I don’t think he’ll ever be involved with us, not like Jolene will.” Jasper’s voice sounded so sad that Sugar moved closer and hugged him.
“You do know that Jolene’s kids won’t really be our grandchildren.” Sugar sighed.
“Yep, they will. They’re goin’ to call me Gramps, and you’re going to be Granny,” Jasper said. “And we’re goin’ to spoil them. So we need to think about them when we buy a house. Do we want them to have some runnin’ room between our place and Flossie’s, or do we want them to live closer to town?”
“You’ve got your heart set on grandchildren, don’t you?” Sugar said.
“Yes, I do,” Jasper said.
Sugar slid out of the booth-type table and refilled their cups. “I can’t believe that we’re makin’ this decision.”
“Does it make you happy?” Jasper asked.
She nodded as she carried the full mugs back to the table. “Yes. How about you?”
“Yes, it does. Now make that phone call. And ask her to leave the utilities turned on so we can hook up to electricity and water. We can live in our home on wheels until we’re ready to move into the new place,” Jasper said.
Sugar hit the button to make the call and whispered, “But let’s keep it a secret and surprise all of them.”
Jolene had barely gotten her coat off and hung on the back of a chair at the Gator when Lucy and Flossie came through the door. “I just thought I’d stop by a few minutes this morning. I had to come to town for milk and bread, and Tucker’s gone to Marshall to order some more supplies, so I had a free hour. But I wasn’t expecting to see all y’all here. Is it a bad time?”
“Definitely not. Lucy wanted to talk to us and you’re always welcome,” Dotty said.
Lucy slumped down in a chair and sighed. “Of course you’re welcome. We should’ve called you. I’ve got bad news.”
Jolene’s heart jumped up into her throat. She’d felt like something was amiss for a couple of days now and she couldn’t put her finger on why. Maybe it was just that things were going well and she was waiting for the other shoe to drop—like it always had.
“Me, too,” Flossie moaned.
Dotty threw up both hands. “I don’t have any news at all.”
Lucy’s hand went to her forehead in a dramatic gesture. “Everett and I broke up. I found out that sorry son of a bitch is married. He told me his wife was dead.”
“How in the hell did that happen? We’re supposed to keep up with the gossip better than this. And didn’t he say she’d died of cancer two years ago?” Dotty fumed.
Lucy pursed her lips and nodded. “He’s from south of the lake down where my folks took us to picnic in the summertime. Near Palestine. We can’t confirm the gossip from a place that far away.”
“Why was he even here in Jefferson?” Flossie asked.
Jolene wondered how many of the men her mother had brought home had a wife and kids at home. The thought had never crossed her mind before because all she’d wanted was for them to be gone or, better yet, to have never shown up in the first place.