The Magnolia Inn Page 1

Author: Carolyn Brown

Genres: Romance , Fiction

Chapter One

If only . . .

Jolene had played the game in her head too many times, but that evening she did it again. If only her dad hadn’t died when she was a teenager. If only her mother hadn’t spiraled down afterward into drugs and alcohol. If only Aunt Sugar and Uncle Jasper weren’t going off on a long, long vacation in their new motor home. If only they hadn’t signed over half the Magnolia Inn to that despicable Reuben, Uncle Jasper’s nephew, who had been such a bully when they were kids. If only Jolene had the money to buy his half of the inn.

Sugar held up her shot glass. “To a brand-new adventure for me and for my darlin’.”

“Sweet Uncle Jasper.” Jolene decided to count her blessings rather than dwell on what-ifs.

“Honey, he’s always loved you so much.” Sugar patted her shoulder with her free hand.

Three shot glasses clinked against Sugar’s—all but Jolene’s. She wouldn’t touch a drop of alcohol after living through her mother’s addiction, and especially after Johnny Ray, her last boyfriend, also turned out to have a drinking problem. She clinked with her glass of sweet tea. The four older women threw back the whiskey like they were bellied up to the bar in an old western saloon. Then they slammed the small glasses down on the wooden table, and Sugar began to refill them.

Sugar raised her gray eyebrow toward her niece. “You sure you don’t want one little shot, darlin’?”

“Positive. I’ll be the designated driver for these three.” She took in Lucy, Flossie, and Dotty with one wide sweep of her hand.

“Don’t you worry about that, darlin’,” Flossie said. “Jasper will drive us home if we get tipsy.” The old girls hadn’t aged much since Jolene had seen them last. Lucy still needed rocks in her pockets to hold her down when the wind picked up in East Texas. Her dyed red hair was still cut in a chin-length pageboy, and she still used way too much blush on her thin cheeks. That night she wore gray sweats that hung on her scrawny butt like a gunnysack on a broom handle.

“To a new year full of surprises.” Flossie held up her glass, and when they’d tossed them back again, she refilled them.

“After this one, that’s enough for me.” Bright-blue eyes twinkled in a bed of wrinkles on Lucy’s face. She was partial to red pantsuits, and Jolene would bet dollars to alligators that she slept in her high-heeled shoes. The ladies threw back the whiskey again. Jolene was glad Jasper would drive them home if they drank too much. She’d been coming to the Magnolia Inn since she was a little girl, but during all that time, they’d always just visited at the inn, so she had no idea where they lived.

Dotty raised her glass in another toast. “Neither time, nor miles, nor big-ass RVs can sever our heartstrings.”

Miz Dotty was five feet tall if she tiptoed a little bit, but with that big blonde Texas hairdo, she reached Jolene’s five feet two inches. She’d barely come up to her late husband Bruce’s shoulder. And she’d never gotten rid of the deep Cajun accent she’d brought to Texas from south Louisiana sixty years ago.

“Travelin’ around the country has been mine and Jasper’s dream for forty years.” Sugar grabbed a paper napkin and wiped away a tear. “I’ll miss y’all, but I’m so excited about our new life on the road. Y’all’ve got to keep up the Friday-night gossip sessions here at the inn. Promise me.”

Jolene glanced at the mirror hanging on the wall—in roughly forty years, she would look exactly like her aunt. Sugar, born Sharlene Mae nearly seventy years ago, was short, slightly curvy, blonde, and brown eyed and held an attitude that mixed sass with independence—Jolene would be damn proud to grow up just like her.

But all the spit and sass that Aunt Sugar had bequeathed her by DNA did not pay the bills. Strange as it was since she was a teetotaler, Jolene was a bartender. She’d probably have to get a job to keep things running at the inn, and that would mean working on Friday nights. But maybe they could move their little support meetings to another night if that happened.

Jolene remembered a few Friday-night support meetings of a very different kind, where kids of addicted parents met to try to understand what was going on in their families. She didn’t go to very many of the gatherings. When her boss offered her the opportunity to pull a double shift at the all-night truck stop—well, the money meant more.

Lucy laid a hand on Sugar’s shoulder. Dotty and Flossie, sitting across the table, each reached out to hold a hand. Black mascara tears rolled down all their cheeks, settling in wrinkles on their way to their chins.

“Damn it, Sugar. Never mind that.” Flossie wiped away her tears. “It’s your dream, and we’re all tickled that you get to have it. You two just get out there and enjoy seeing the whole United States. Promise to send us pictures and call us.”

“Of course I will,” Sugar said. “And y’all will keep an eye on Jolene and Reuben here at the inn, right?”

“You got it.” Lucy’s voice cracked. “I’d rather see you going off in that RV out there with Jasper than having to look at you in a coffin like I did poor old Ezra.”

“Ezra?” Jolene asked.

Dotty moved her hand away from Sugar’s and patted Jolene’s. “Her last boyfriend. The only reason she’s drinking tonight is because she’s in mourning and because Sugar’s leaving us in the morning. She’ll wear calluses on her knees tonight prayin’ for forgiveness over these shots.”

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