One year later…

“I heard they had to have it out here on the farm because she tasted the coffee they were going to serve at the Bald Knob VFW, chucked her cup at the president, and was kicked out.”

“Yeah? Well, I heard she was running late earlier because she spent the night in jail after Buddy caught her stealing booze from Pickerson’s again.”

“No, no, no. I heard they had to do this because she’s pregnant.”

I let out a little squeak of surprise and jerk away from the huge oak tree where I’ve been standing, when Leo comes up behind me and kisses the side of my neck.

“Are you hiding behind a tree listening to gossip, Mrs. Hudson?” he asks, coming around in front of me and pulling me into his arms.

“How else am I supposed to know what I’ve been up to lately?” I question with a smile, wrapping my arms with a bouquet of white roses in my hand around his neck.

Today, I became Mrs. Leo Hudson, in a small ceremony on the farm. We set up white tents in the front yard and said our vows in front of our family, friends, and the entire town, as the sun set behind the house in the distance.

I promised to never keep secrets from Leo again, make slop for him every Sunday, give him advanced warning if I’m going to do something crazy, and distract him with sex as much as possible, for the rest of our lives (I whispered that last part in his ear. No need to give the town anything else to gossip about.)

Leo promised to cherish Cecil and Baby Cecil, not die from an aneurism if I do something crazy, bring me back a coffee mug if he ever goes out of town without me, use his handcuffs on me for fun, and not to arrest me (he whispered that part in my ear) and to love my coffee forever and ever.

The last year has been insane, but I wouldn’t change anything about it. After I groveled at Leo’s feet and he forgave me, Bettie went back to Chicago to take over running the original Liquid Crack. I didn’t let myself get sad about her leaving, because a few days later, Leo took a week off of work and flew back there with me so we could pack up my things and ship them to Bald Knob. I thought I would be sad saying good-bye to Chicago, but I knew I’d be back to see Bettie and to check on Liquid Crack from time to time. And I knew there was nowhere else I’d rather be than at home in Bald Knob, with Leo.

In the last twelve months, Bettie has done an amazing job running the flagship Liquid Crack, just like she said she would. There are now twenty Liquid Cracks throughout the U.S., including the one right on the town square in Bald Knob, with more coming soon.

When Leo and I got back home from Chicago after packing up my things, I moved in with Emma Jo, much to his annoyance. When I explained to him that I couldn’t move in with him until we at least went on our first date, he stopped being annoyed and immediately booked a reservation for us to go into Louisville for dinner that night. Where he proposed, by having our server put the ring at the bottom of my after-dinner cup of coffee.

Sadly, poor Leo didn’t think this plan through too much, and he quickly realized the error of his ways when I took one sip of the coffee and spit out on the white table cloth, refusing to drink another sip. After ten minutes of arguing and trying to get me to finish the coffee, he finally grabbed the cup, stuck his fingers in the hot liquid, and pulled out the ring.

Like Bettie told me, the people of Bald Knob welcomed me back with open arms as soon as I stopped hating the place I grew up and the people who stuck their noses where they didn’t belong. They continue to meddle in my business, but at least they do it behind my back like normal human beings. And they continued their crusade of good will when Leo and I officially got engaged by throwing us an engagement party and striking the words “home wrecker” from their vocabulary.

“Everything hurts, nothing is good, and I’m so hot I think I lost one of my toes when it melted off,” Emma Jo complains, walking up next to us with one hand on her stomach and the other on her lower back.

“Honey, why aren’t you sitting down? Do you need some water? Are you hungry? I can fix you a plate of food if you’re hungry. Here, sit down,” Buddy tells Emma Jo, following behind her with a white folding chair, opening it up, and gently pushing her down into it next to the tree.

He gives her a quick kiss on the cheek and then he’s off, in search of food, water, and whatever else he can think of that Emma Jo might need.

“I can’t believe how much I love that man,” she says softly, staring after him as he moves through the crowds of people milling about the yard, drinking, talking, and listening to the music of Caden Jefferson’s band.

“I can. It’s been a year and you’re still staring at his ass all the time,” Bettie laughs, coming up to us with a bottle of beer in her hand.

As much as Emma Jo tried to deny it last year, she liked Buddy Lloyd. A lot. And the entire town knew how much Buddy liked her right back and did everything they could to pry into their business and push them together. Buddy understood the kind of life Emma Jo had lived for twelve years and he didn’t rush her. He taught her how to trust someone not to hurt you, he treated her like a princess, and he showered her with all the love and compassion that she’d never had with Jed. Even though they wanted to take things slow, the universe had other plans.

“How am I only seven months pregnant? I feel as big as a house,” Emma Jo complains, rubbing her hand in circles around her huge stomach.

“You should see your ass,” Bettie snorts, which earns her the middle finger from Emma Jo and a smack on the arm from me.

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