As much as this town loves gossip, no one batted an eye when Emma Jo’s stomach started expanding, nor did they put up a fuss when Emma Jo told everyone her and Buddy wouldn’t be getting married until after the baby came, because there was no way in hell she wanted to be pregnant and unable to drink wine at her own wedding. Everyone in town knew Emma Jo had lived through enough hard times, and they were just too happy for her to bother with gossip and rumors.
Not only did Emma Jo finally have someone who loved her the way she deserved and they had a baby on the way, she was no longer a housewife without any money of her own. As soon as I made the decision to open a Liquid Crack in Bald Knob when I returned from packing up my things in Chicago, I hired Emma Jo as my manager, and the first Liquid Crack to have a pastry chef. She runs the business when I’m not there or helping Leo on the farm, selling her pies alongside my coffee. The night I offered her the job, she broke down in tears, finally blurting out everything that happened the night of Jed’s murder. This obviously happened after several bottles of wine, and it wasn’t my intention when I started pouring the Moscato down her throat. I just wanted her to finally admit she was in love with Buddy, not come clean about killing her husband.
From what I could understand through her slurring and crying, Jed started blowing up her phone with calls and text messages after he’d been punched in the face by Leo in the parking lot of Pickerson’s Bar. Since I was passed out in her living room, Emma Jo decided to take matters into her own hands and tell Jed to come over so they could talk. She never had any intention of killing him, she just wanted to finally stand up to him and tell him it was over. She grabbed the award from the front table for protection and snuck out into the backyard to wait for him. Jed met her out there and immediately started threatening her. As he charged in her direction, she wasn’t fast enough to pull the award out from behind her back and hit him with it. He wrestled it from her hands and tossed it to the ground behind him. When he laughed at her attempt to overtake him, she kicked him in the balls and shoved him as hard as she could, which resulted in Jed tripping over his own feet and falling backward…right onto the award that pierced his skull. She panicked, yanking it out of his head, and ran deep into the woods, burying it where no one would ever find it. Since he was still breathing when she came back from her trek to the woods, Emma Jo really was just as shocked as me when we saw his dead body in the back yard the next morning. She honestly thought he’d wake up and crawl away after she locked herself back inside the house that night. Still in shock and not wanting to believe her shoving Jed to the ground was what killed him, she took hold of the poisoned pie theory and ran with it, until that idea was blown out of the water after the whole dead raccoon’s incident.
Her drunken ramblings then led to even more crying and her apologizing to me for hiding the truth and letting me take the blame, never thinking in a million years that all fingers would point to me. She was scared and she freaked out, and she lied to me and everyone so well that I couldn’t be mad at her. I could only be proud that she’d finally found her strength and used it for evil.
“I love you assholes,” I state from the comfort of Leo’s arms.
“I love you guys more,” Emma Jo replies softly.
“You’re both a bunch of idiots, but I guess I’m stuck with you,” Bettie complains, tipping her bottle of beer in our direction.
The three of us share a look, one filled with friendship, love, and the silent promise that we will keep each other secrets for the rest of our lives.
“This has been a good chat, but if you’ll excuse us, I’d like to dance with my husband,” I tell Emma Jo and Bettie, grabbing Leo’s hand and pulling him a few feet away.
When we’re away from the girls and away from the small group of people on the other side of the tree who are still standing around gossiping, I wrap my arms around Leo’s neck again. He holds me tightly against him and we sway gently to the soft music playing across the yard.
“So, you chucked a coffee cup at the VFW president’s head, did you?” Leo asks, repeating the gossip I’d been listening to from behind the tree a little bit ago.
“Oh, totally. Gave him a concussion and everything,” I smirk. “I was also a few minutes late for the ceremony because Buddy threw me in the clink for stealing booze again.”
Leo laughs, squeezing me in a hug and kissing the tip of my nose.
“Then I guess it really is true that we had to get married because I knocked you up,” he laughs again.
When I don’t answer him and just continue staring up at him, his laughter immediately stops and he stares down at me, his eyes wide and his mouth dropped open in shock.
“Seriously?” he whispers.
“I wasn’t late for the ceremony because I was in the clink. I was late because I was puking up my guts in our bathroom. Congratulations, Mr. Hudson. We’re going to have a little baby cup of coffee!” I exclaim with a nervous smile, not entirely sure how he’s going to take this news.
I should have known better than to be nervous. Leo immediately drops to his knees with one hand on my hip and the other pressed gently to my stomach. He looks back and forth from my still-flat belly up to me, and the wide-eyed shock disappears. His bright blue eyes fill with tears and a huge grin stretches across his face from ear-to-ear.
“Amazing,” Leo whispers. “The nerd knocked up the hottest girl in school.”
Wrapping my hands around his arms, I tug him back up onto his feet, sliding my arms around his waist. He brings his hands up to my face and cradles it as he stares down at me.