The Magnolia Inn Page 2

“Go to hell, Dotty,” Lucy growled.

“Only if you go with me,” Dotty giggled.

“Okay, no fussin’ and no more tears,” Sugar said. “Jolene, we’re ready for it.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Jolene pushed back her chair, went to the refrigerator, and brought out a container of rocky road ice cream. She set it in the middle of the table and then handed out spoons to everyone.

Sugar removed the top. “This has gotten us through good times and bad.”

“Yep, through funerals and farts,” Dotty laughed. “Flossie, remember when you ate chili at Bruce’s wake and . . .”

Sugar dipped her spoon into the ice cream first. “And I had to sit beside you.”

Jolene got so tickled that it was her turn for tears to run down her cheeks. She’d missed the banter during the past few years, but there hadn’t been time to make many trips all the way across the state of Texas.

Even though she hadn’t visited Aunt Sugar as often as she’d wanted, when she thought about home, her mind always went to the Magnolia Inn. The best memories of her childhood were of the times she’d spent there, and she’d always looked forward to summers in East Texas—except those years when she and Reuben were there at the same time.

Flossie dug into the ice cream. “Well, I was doin’ the whole lot of you a favor by letting go of all that gas. Nobody lingered in that church after the last amen was said.”

“Good thing no one lit a match. Poor old Bruce was terrified of fire. I used to tell him that he’d better be nice to me or I’d have him cremated and bury his ashes right beside my mother’s grave. They never did get along,” Dotty said as she got her first bite of ice cream.

“Speaking of fire—to PMS and hot flashes,” Sugar said.

“We’ve put on our wading boots and conquered it all, haven’t we?” Flossie nodded.

“And we went through it together. I couldn’t have survived any of it without you three to support me.” Lucy dropped ice cream on her sweatshirt. “Well, dammit!” She rolled her blue eyes toward the ceiling. “Forgive me, Lord, I’m still transitioning from a sinner to a saint.”

“That means her halo isn’t fully formed yet,” Dotty said.

“If we peeled back all that Dolly Parton hair of yours, we’d find horns hidin’ under it,” Lucy smarted off.

“With gold glitter on them,” Dotty shot right back.

“Y’all excuse me. I can’t laugh again or I’ll have to go find some dry underwear,” Jolene said. “Don’t talk about anything fun while I’m gone.”

“Oh, honey, at our age, we have to talk about it the minute it hits our minds or we’ll forget it,” Sugar giggled.

“You sure you and Jasper can find y’all’s way to forty-nine states in that RV?” Flossie asked.

Jolene could hear the bantering continue as she went from the kitchen to the bathroom at the end of the foyer. She looked at her reflection in the mirror and tried to smile, but it didn’t work. Tears streamed down her face. She’d always said that the walls in the Magnolia were magic, because that’s the way she felt when she was there. It didn’t matter what was going on her life—there was always fun at Aunt Sugar’s inn.

The inn was now half hers. The title had been transferred, but it wouldn’t feel real until tomorrow morning, when her aunt and uncle drove away in the big-ass RV sitting in the backyard. Uncle Jasper had left the other half to his nephew, Reuben, who’d always been referred to as her cousin, although he really wasn’t blood kin at all. It wasn’t the best of situations, but Jolene was determined to make it work.

She’d miss Aunt Sugar and Uncle Jasper, but Reuben could suck the life right out of the magic the inn had if he was as obnoxious as he’d been as a kid. Hopefully, he’d changed and he had some savings. Surely he did—after all, he’d been a college professor for years. He might have been a bully when they were kids, but he must have put back some money. If he was willing to invest it in the inn, they could do some remodeling and be ready to reopen by Easter weekend. She had the figures all worked out on paper, and he wouldn’t even have to live there or run the place. She’d be glad to split the profits with him, even more so if he stayed far, far away.

Tucker Malone pulled the painter’s tape from the edge of the crown molding, made sure everything was cleaned up, and locked up when he left. Job finished—year done. Tomorrow was New Year’s Day. He stopped by his favorite liquor store on his way home, but the parking lot was full. That meant people were standing in line, and Tucker was too tired for that after working fourteen hours to finish up the job. He drove to a smaller store on the other side of town and found only half a dozen cars in the parking lot.

“Happy New Year’s,” a bunch of kids yelled at him.

“Not until after midnight, and I bet you got whatever is in that brown bag with a fake ID,” Tucker grumbled.

An older man, wearing a well-worn cap with Army emblazoned on it, held the door for him as he started into the store. Tucker nodded. “Thank you, sir, and thank you for your service.”

“Been a long time since anyone called me sir,” the old guy said, hoisting his brown paper bag. “May the new year bring you happiness.”

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