“Call me. Or text me. Be safe on the road, cowboy.”

“Maybe one of these days I’ll convince you to come along with me.”

She smoothed a piece of hair from his damp forehead, then ran her finger along the brim of his hat. “Maybe one of these days, I’ll surprise you and say yes.”

“I’d like that. A whole helluva lot more than you know.”

A pan dropped in the kitchen and they broke apart.

She closed her eyes, waiting until his boot steps faded down the hall and the door slammed before she moved, because she couldn’t watch him leave.

Tierney looked forward to her appointment at Bernice’s Beauty Barn. The regulars welcomed her like she belonged in Muddy Gap.

Bernice grinned. “You know the drill. Fresh coffee is on. Help yourself.”

“Thanks.” She poured a cup, adding a generous dollop of cream because Bernice’s special brew was wicked strong.

Garnet patted the empty spot beside her. “Take a load off.”

Tierney checked out Garnet’s getup. A pink skirt resembling a tutu she’d pulled on over lime green leggings and topped off with a black leather shirt covered in chains. “Love the punk rock Tinkerbell look.” If Tinkerbell wore orthopedic shoes.

“That’s what I said,” Pearl exclaimed. “Girl, we think exactly alike.”

“Yes, Tierney, if you’re always wondering what you’ve done with your car keys, or if you knock back a handful of pills with every meal, and you are glued to Wheel of Fortune every night, I’d agree, you and Pearl could be twins,” Maybelle said dryly.

“Oh pooh, you’re just pissy because you lost the bet.”

Tierney said, “What bet?” the same time Garnet and Vivien said, “Don’t ask!”

Pearl confided, “Maybelle bet me ten bucks I didn’t have the guts to ask creepy Ralph at the C-Mart to rent a DVD of that  p**n o flick, Free My Willy.” She giggled. “I did. She’s sore because I got to watch it first last night.”

“I only wanted to check it out for research,” Maybelle clarified.

Vivien said, “So, Tierney, what’s new up at the Split Rock?”

Here’s your chance, don’t blow it. “We’re in a bit of a jam right now, to be honest.”

“Anything we can do to help?” Garnet asked.

Bingo. “Yes, actually there is.”

Even Bernice stopped snipping Tilda’s hair to listen.

Tierney explained the mix-up with Dodie’s vacation and needing expert cooks to fix the big Thanksgiving meal and a couple of smaller ones. The silence lingered after she finished speaking—nothing short of begging really—and she wondered if she’d made a judgment error. She didn’t know these women. But after the last time she’d fueled their curiosity with stories about the Split Rock, she hoped they’d want a chance to be in the thick of things, instead of on the fringe.

Garnet spoke first. “Sugar, I’ve probably baked as many pies in my lifetime as Mrs. Smith. I’d love to help out. I have a recipe for maple nut pumpkin pie that’ll knock your socks off.”

“And Garnet’s bourbon caramel bread pudding is heaven in a pan,” Tilda said.

“Bob is always carting bird carcasses home,” Bernice said. “I can cook six full-size turkeys at one time and not break a sweat. So count me in for the brining and roasting portion of the meal.”

“And Bernice’s sage, mushroom and bacon stuffing is legendary around here,” Tilda announced.

Vivien mused, “I’ve perfected six holiday side dishes that straddle the line between traditional and gourmet. Pearl onions in a balsamic honey glaze, sweet and sour green beans, a cold broccoli salad with sunflower seeds and dried cranberries, a rice pilaf with roasted vegetables, sweet potato soufflé and gingered carrots.”

“I tell ya, Vivien should’ve had her own restaurant, that’s how good she is.” Tilda added, “Make sure Dodie makes her cranberry, apple, orange and horseradish relish before she leaves. You’ve never had anything quite like it.”

“I’ll handle the mashed potatoes and gravy,” Maybelle said.

Everyone looked at Tilda.


“We’re just waiting for you to brag on Maybelle’s spuds,” Vivien said.

“The problem with Maybelle’s potatoes and gravy is there’s never any left over.”

Pearl said, “That covers the food. I’m so-so with cooking, but I’m good at cleaning up and I’m an excellent gopher. So that’ll be my contribution.”

Tierney was truly choked up at their show of generosity. She’d hoped, but she’d never expected total enthusiasm and grace. “You have no idea how much this means.”

Garnet rubbed Tierney’s back. “It’s our pleasure to help out. That’s what a community does. Pulls together when someone’s in need.”

“I—I don’t know what to say.”

“Never been part of a community before?” Vivien asked.

Tierney shook her head and discreetly dabbed her tears.

“It ain’t always sunshine and roses. There are real piles of shit around here, but by and large, we’re good folks.”

“I see that. Anything I can do, or the Split Rock can do for you all, just let me know.”

The pointed, amused and downright hopeful looks they sent one another caused a frisson of concern, but Tierney figured it wasn’t anything she couldn’t handle.


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