“We’ll be glad to help y’all any way we can,” Tucker said. “And you’ll have to climb those stairs at least one more time to see what we’ve got done so far.”
“After I see the girls,” Sugar said. “I’m really anxious to surprise them.”
Jolene wiped at her eyes. “I might cry, I’m so happy.”
Sugar stopped long enough for another quick hug and whispered, “So I see that he’s not wearing a wedding ring. When did he take it off?”
“Yesterday,” Jolene said.
“Been sober how long?”
“More than a week.”
“That’s wonderful news. Now make that call,” Sugar said.
Dotty’s sixth sense kicked in that morning when she first woke up. It had to do with that damned calendar, she was sure of it. Whatever it was had happened yesterday, and she was just about to find out about it now. She started to make her cup of strong black coffee, but the phone rang.
“This is it,” she muttered. “Don’t let it be bad news. Hello, Jolene, is everything okay?”
“Of course. Just wanted to invite you, Flossie, and Lucy to breakfast this morning. I’ve got some exciting news,” Jolene said.
“Does it involve Tucker? Are y’all dating or whatever you young folks call it these days?” Dotty asked.
“Can’t say right now. Want to tell you all three at the same time.”
Dotty could hear the excitement in Jolene’s voice. “Okay, then, I’ll call Flossie and you get hold of Lucy. Tell them I’ll drive and get them in twenty minutes.”
“You got it. See you in half an hour.”
The call ended, and Dotty called Flossie. She put the phone on speaker and laid it on the vanity as she touched up her hair, applied fresh hair spray, and put on the fastest makeup job she’d done in years.
“What do you think the news is? Is it about the Magnolia Inn or about her and Tucker?” Flossie asked.
“Don’t know. She wouldn’t say,” Dotty said.
“I’m hanging up now. So see you in twenty. Just honk and I’ll come right on out,” Flossie said.
Dotty finished in the bathroom. She jerked on a velour pants set with lots of bling on the front of the shirt, shoved her feet into a pair of boots, and grabbed her coat and purse. She broke every speed limit posted to find Lucy waiting on the porch.
“So what do you think she’s going to tell us?” Lucy was getting inside the vehicle before it came to a full stop.
“It’s got something to do with yesterday. I was antsy all day,” Dotty said. “No one died in town last night, did they?”
Lucy frowned. “Not that I’ve heard of. I talked to Sugar last night and everything was fine. And you went to the Magnolia yesterday.”
“I bet you that Jolene and Tucker have been hiding something from us and they’re engaged,” Dotty said.
“No!” Lucy shook her head dramatically. “We’d have seen that coming. We’re not so old that we’re losin’ it.”
Flossie was waiting and hurried out to the SUV, crawled into the back seat, and said, “Y’all know anything more?”
Dotty shook her head. “Nope, but it’s got to be big news. I could hear it in Jolene’s voice.”
“Well, drive faster,” Flossie said. “If you get a speeding ticket, I’ll pay it.”
Dotty jacked it up another ten miles and slung a little loose gravel when she braked to turn down the lane to the inn. She parked close to the front porch, and they all tumbled out of the vehicle like little girls rather than grown women.
Dotty swung open the front door. “We’re here. Something smells delicious.”
Lucy hung up her coat. “What’s the news?”
Flossie didn’t take off her jacket but pushed past both the others and met Jolene in the dining room. “Tell me right now that this is good news. My blood pressure is risin’ by the minute.”
“Surprise!” Sugar made an entrance into the dining room.
“Oh. My. Gosh. Am I seeing things?” Lucy squealed.
“I knew something was going on.” Dotty raced across the floor to hug Sugar.
Then suddenly they were all four hugging, hopping up and down as much as ladies their age could do on bum knees and hips.
“Are you here for a visit?” Flossie asked.
Each of them still had a hand on Sugar’s shoulders, as if they were afraid she’d disappear if they weren’t touching.
“So how long are you stayin’? Will you be here for the weekend so you can go to church with us? Where is your RV?” Dotty fired questions one after another.
“Let’s get some food and sit down,” Sugar said.
“Hey, ladies.” Jasper came in from the kitchen with a coffeepot. “Y’all go on and get your plates ready, and I’ll pour the coffee.”
“Are you headed for the West Coast now? I heard it was snowing out east of here.” Flossie led Sugar to the front of the line. “You go first. I don’t know if I can even swallow food right now.”
Lucy followed Sugar. “I want to know why you didn’t tell us you were coming through here.”
“Because we aren’t coming through here. I got homesick, so we changed our plan. We stayed in Marshall last night,” Sugar said. “We’re thinking of buying the little house next to Flossie. Our RV is out back right now, but we’re hoping to park it at the new house tonight and start to move in as soon as possible.”
Jolene stood to the side and watched them. Everything was right in their world now. Sugar had come home. Tucker slipped an arm around her waist, and her joy doubled.
“How does this make you feel?” he whispered, so close that his warm breath caressed her neck.
“Like everything is falling into place,” she said with a slight shiver. “How about you?”
“They kind of remind me of my grandparents. Mine would be older, but they still make me think of them,” he said. “Are you cold?”
“No, your touch just affects me that way.” If they were going to have a relationship, then Jolene figured she should be totally honest with him.
“And yours does the same to me,” he said. “Damn, it feels good for things to be right again.”
“Yep, it sure does.” She tiptoed and kissed him on the cheek, not caring if anyone saw but relieved that they didn’t. This was Sugar’s thunder, and she didn’t want to steal a single bit of it.
“When did you figure this out?” Lucy asked Sugar.
“Sunday, but I wanted to surprise y’all,” she answered. “You can’t know how hard it was not to tell you every time we talked.”
“We would have had a big party if you’d told us,” Flossie said and then turned her attention toward Jolene. “Did you know?”
“Not until this morning,” Jolene said.
They all took places at the table with Jolene sitting right next to Sugar. She could barely believe a whole hour had passed when Jasper said, “Okay, ladies, we’ve got to be at the house at ten. I’m sure y’all have to open up your stores, too.”
“We can open late,” Flossie said.
“Why do you have to be there at that time?” Jolene asked.
“Belinda is coming to show us the place, but we already know we’re going to buy it. And Sugar spent two days on her phone with a furniture store in Marshall. They’ll be delivering a bedroom outfit at ten thirty so we can sleep in it tonight,” Jasper said.
“But I have a store full of furniture that you can choose from,” Lucy said.
“And so do I,” Flossie said. “Come get whatever you want, and I won’t even charge you for it.”
“I don’t want antiques. I’ve never got to pick out what I want instead of taking what was left to me. Not that I’m complaining. The inn was very good to us.” Sugar talked as much with her hands as her words. “I appreciate y’all’s offer, but Jasper and I want soft, comfortable furniture.”
“She says she wants stuff that’s comfortable and doesn’t require much dusting,” Jasper chuckled. “So, Jolene, will you forgive us for leaving you with a mess? We really should be going. It takes a while to get that big RV backed up among all these tall pine trees.”
“You’re forgiven,” Jolene said and then asked, “How did you ever get it pulled down the driveway and out back without me hearing?” Then she remembered how she and Tucker had been making out at the time they’d driven by the house.
Sugar giggled. “Remember when you were a little girl and said that the inn was your magic castle? Well, honey, it hasn’t changed just because you grew up.”
Tucker and Jolene stood on the porch and waved at Dotty’s SUV until it was out of sight. Then they did the same when the RV came around from the back and disappeared. Jolene shivered as a gust of north wind blew across the porch, and Tucker slipped his arms around her waist from the back to hold her close to his chest.
Touching her like that felt, oh, so right.
She covered his hands with hers, and that wasn’t awkward or strange, either. He felt as if he was truly ready to take a big step forward, and he wanted to do it with Jolene. But he still had some ground to cover to get her to trust him.
“I didn’t realize how much I missed Aunt Sugar. How about you? How is this going to affect you?” she asked.
Sugar moving back made Jolene happy, and he liked that. She didn’t want to move back into the inn, and he liked that.
“Honest or sugarcoated?” he finally asked.
“Honest. Always, always honest,” she told him.
“I’m glad that they’re buying a house of their own. They would have been welcome here, but I kind of like us having the place to ourselves,” he said.
She shivered again. “Me, too.”
He wanted to stand right there and hold her forever, but it was too cold. “We better get inside before you freeze. Let’s share the cleanup and the work. I’ll take care of loading the dishwasher if you’ll put away the leftovers.”