“Bettie, seriously, turn off the damn music!” I complain again, opening my eyes and immediately regretting that decision when bright sunlight hits them and it feels like a million knives are stabbing into my skull. I roll over on the couch in the back room of Liquid Crack with a groan, quickly sitting up when I realize I’m not on the couch at Liquid Crack, I’m on a floor.

With my hand over my eyes to shield them from the sunlight streaming into the room, I glance around and it all comes back to me. Well, some things come back to me, but most of it is a blur because of the wine hangover sloshing around in my brain and curdling in my stomach. Shoving an empty wine bottle away, I roll over on my hands and knees on the living room floor of Emma Jo’s house, reaching under the coffee table for my phone, A.K.A., the source of the music I had been sleepily arguing with Bettie to turn off.

I grab it and flop over onto my butt, leaning my back against the couch as I finally cut off the ringtone – “Coffee Song” by Frank Sinatra. Normally, this is one of my favorite songs, hence the reason for it being my ringtone, but right now, every noise hurts and makes me want to puke.

“ ’Yep,” I speak into the phone, unable to form any other words at the moment.

“I can’t believe you’ve been in town for more than a day and I have to hear it from Starla Godfrey! You are the worst daughter in the entire world. I bet you wouldn’t care if I died. I could have been lying here in my own bed, dead from a broken heart, and you wouldn’t care,” my mother complains in my ear.

“Mama, can you do me a favor and not talk too loudly?”

“DON’T YOU SASS ME, YOUNG LADY!” she shouts, jamming more knives into my aching head.

“I’m not sassing you, I had a rough night, and I just woke up. I was going to call you today, I swear.”

She huffs loudly. “I heard you did plenty of swearing last night. It’s all over town that you threatened Jed Jackson right on his own front porch. Honestly, Payton, what has gotten into you? Have you been hanging out with hoodlums in Chicago doing drugs? Is that why you never come home to visit? Thirty hours of labor with you, and you’re still making me suffer.”

I’ve tried to explain to my mother over the years why I never come back home to visit, and instead buy plane tickets for my parents to come out and see me whenever they can, but she doesn’t listen. She doesn’t understand that I love Chicago and outgrew Bald Knob and everyone being in your business a long time ago. Clearly nothing has changed since I’ve barely been here for twenty-four hours and I’m already the main source of gossip in this town.

“Jed Jackson isn’t the nice guy everyone thinks he is, Mama. I’ve been telling you that for years, and now I finally have proof,” I inform her.

“Payton Lambert, I still have to apologize to Justine Pickerson every time I see her in church for that time you robbed her bar and urinated in her yard. Whatever you did, you better fix it before they kick me out of the knitting club.”

I sigh, closing my eyes and letting my head drop back to the couch cushions.

“Mama, I’ll come out to the house to see you and Daddy later on today, and I’ll explain everything, okay? Right now, I need to find some coffee before I go on a murderous rampage,” I tell her.

With a quick “I love you,” I end the call before she can yell at me some more and sit perfectly still while I try to will my stomach to calm down before I have to get up, run to the bathroom and throw up ten gallons of wine.

“What is happening to me right now? Why does everything hurt? Even my hair hurts.”

Cracking open one eye, I watch Emma Jo shuffle into the room, holding her hand against her forehead and looking as miserable as I feel.

“It’s called a hangover. Welcome to Hell.”

She slowly ambles over to me and gently lowers her body onto the couch, moaning in pain until she gets seated and rests her elbows on her knees and her head in her hands.

“Did we make pie last night? Why do I remember making pie?” Emma Jo asks.

Leaning forward, I glance into the kitchen and see a mess of flour all over the counter, dirty dishes piled in the sink, and a broken egg splattered on the tile.

“I vaguely remember baking something. And it was pink. Wait, no, blue. It was blue. What the hell did we make that was blue?”

Emma Jo laughs softly, cutting herself off when my cell phone rings in my hand. Glancing down and seeing that it’s my mother again, I quickly hit the button on the side to silence the call, waving Emma Jo off when she gives me a questioning look.

“I remember now,” Emma Jo says brightly. “After Leo left with Jed, we drank the rest of the wine, and I told you that I was supposed to make Jed a blueberry pie for when he got home from his business trip.”

I scrunch up my face in concentration until some more memories from last night come fluttering back. I remember stomping back into the house all pissed off about what Leo said and did, hoping Emma Jo was still busy looking for DVDs and had no idea what happened on her front porch so she wouldn’t get upset. Keeping my lips sealed about it would have worked, if I hadn’t forgotten all about the angry red marks on my neck from where Jed tried to choke the life out of me. She came down the hall from the back of the house a few minutes later, her arms full of chick flicks and her face bright with a smile until she stopped in her tracks and dropped all of them to the floor when she saw my neck. I had no choice but to tell her what had happened and instead of breaking down in a puddle of tears, Emma Jo lifted her head high, walked into the kitchen, and grabbed every bottle of wine that was left. We drank, we bitched about Jed, argued about Leo’s decision to go to the bar with him, and then we came up with a brilliant idea when we polished off the last of the wine.

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