Pulling my tank top up to my nose, I take a whiff and cringe.

“Okay, so maybe I do need a shower, but still. I’m not an idiot, and just because I didn’t call Chicago home means nothing.”

Emma Jo and Bettie both share a look and then they laugh.

“Didn’t anyone ever tell you it’s not polite to laugh at someone? Were you raised by a pack of wolves?” I grumble in annoyance.

“We’ll stop laughing at you when you stop saying stupid shit that makes us laugh,” Bettie informs me. “Sorry, babe, but survey says – Chicago is no longer home. This is your home. It’s always been your home. I didn’t believe it until I got here and saw it with my own two gorgeous eyes, but you belong here, Payton. These crazy people are your people. Sure, they’re always all up your ass and in your business, but it’s not that annoying when they’re doing it to protect you.”

She’s right. In my head, I know the words she’s saying are true, but I can’t get my head and my heart on the same page right now.

“Sure, they like me now, but what happens when they turn on me again and think I’m out to corrupt all the innocent people who live here?” I question.

“Then you’d have a hulking, beast of a man who fucks like a God and loves your crazy ass for some strange reason, to stick up for you and protect you and tell everyone to mind their own business,” Bettie fires back.

“I screwed it up. He’ll never forgive me,” I whisper.

“You don’t know that unless you try. You taught me how to be a fighter, and now it’s my turn to return the favor. Get your ass out of bed and fight for what you want, Payton,” Emma Jo says.

“But…what about Liquid Crack? I mean, I can’t just stay here and forget about my shop and leave it to someone else to run,” I argue.

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing by franchising it?” Bettie asks in annoyance. “Other people are going to be running Liquid Cracks all over the U.S. You can’t be in a hundred places at once, and hello? Give me a little credit here. I’d run that place much better than you anyway,” Bettie smirks.

Suddenly, my sad and broken heart starts to heal a little bit at a time as I think about what Bettie is saying. She’s right. There are going to be Liquid Cracks all over the place and it’s not like I ever planned on being at all of them. I put my faith in the investors and the lawyers to help me choose the right people to open up and run my babies in whatever state they want, and I need to trust those people to run them how I would. I need to trust this town I grew up in to take care of me when I need it and do the same for them. I need to let go of the idea that I can’t grow here and I can’t be who I want to be here. And I need to let go of my fear of falling in love. I already fell, I was just too stupid to admit it to the one person who needed to know it.

I hear a knock at the door downstairs and a huge smile spreads across Emma Jo’s face when she jumps up from the bed.

“The cavalry is here!” she announces.

“Finally,” Bettie sighs. “Any more of this After School Special bullshit and I was going to slit my wrists.”

She gets up from the bed and stands next to Emma Jo, the two of them looking down at me expectantly.

“What’s going on? Who’s here?” I ask when we hear another, louder knock at the front door.

“Just a few neighbors and friends I invited over. They’ve heard some rumors about how you have this amazing coffee machine that makes delicious coffee and they’re pretty excited about trying it. Some of them have even started up a petition that you should open up a Liquid Crack, right here in Bald Knob, can you believe that?” Emma Jo asks slyly.

I can’t believe it. Not at all. Which is why I’m still sitting in bed, staring up at her like she has two heads.

“Now would probably be a good time to get out of bed and get cleaned up. No one will want your coffee if they’re too busy being disgusted by your atrocious appearance,” Bettie states, yanking the covers off of me, grabbing my hand and pulling me out of bed.

“I’ll go get the door and get everyone comfortable while you get ready. While you’re busy making coffee for the good people of Bald Knob, we’ll come up with a plan for how you can grovel at Leo’s feet, profess your undying love to him, and show him that you aren’t really a crazy person, you just play one on TV,” Emma Jo informs me as she hurries around the bed and leaves the room to answer the door.

“And while she’s doing that, I’ll call the spa. Leo will never want you back if he has to bring out the hedge trimmers and chop shit down between your legs. That’s too much work for any man,” Bettie states, pulling her phone out of her pocket and tapping on the screen as she too leaves the room.

“YOU’RE AN ASSHOLE, YOU KNOW THAT?!” I shout after her.



I’m sorry for what I said before I had my coffee.

—Coffee Mug

“You guys didn’t have to come with me.”

Emma Jo takes one hand off the wheel and reaches over to the passenger seat to pat my arm that’s currently wrapped around baby Cecil resting in my lap.

“Of course we did. We’re here to support you. Right, Bettie?” she asks, glancing up to the rearview mirror.

“You’re the moral support chick. I’m just here to watch her walk into the danger zone and crash and burn.”

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