Later that night, Lettie went over to meet her little sister at Honky Tonk. Aubrey had left about a million messages on Lettie’s answering machine earlier in the day, raving and ranting about “that Bellerose girl” and how for heaven’s sake why weren’t she and Nana answering the phone. Nana had been outside working in the garden, and Aubrey knew that’s what Nana did in the afternoons, but on a day with a new Bellerose in town, it didn’t seem to matter to the youngest Crawford girl what anybody else normally did.
So Lettie had to meet Aubrey, who everyone still half the time called Little Aubrey, at the bar because she had to talk to Ryan and Lettie, and if Lettie could get Nana to come that would be good too. Except there was no way in hell Nana was going to, as she put it, “that dirty old place Ryan works, for land’s sakes, why won’t he quit,” so it was just Lettie heading over in the old truck.
Once inside she immediately spotted Little Aubrey, 20-years-old and pregnant as a full moon with her fourth baby, balanced precariously on a bar stool next to Sheriff Song. She looked so furious Lettie could almost see the steam coming out her ears. She was also clutching a bottle of Wild Turkey, her knuckles turned white.
Lettie went straight to her. “You better not be drinkin’ that, Little Aubrey,” she said.
Aubrey just stared in the direction of the booths. “Do you see this?” she raged. “Do you see how he just sullies our good family name?”
Lettie followed Aubrey’s brown eyed gaze and found Ryan leaning over a table with Marie Barrilleaux and—oh hell, that was the Bellerose girl. No wonder Aubrey was flipping.
Lettie glanced back at her little sister and tried not to smirk. Being pregnant with her fourth child since 16 and sitting at the bar with cheap whiskey probably sullied the good Crawford name more than anything Ryan was doing right at the moment, but Lettie didn’t say so. Instead she gently pried the Wild Turkey from Little Aubrey’s hand and asked, “Did you drink this?”
Aubrey shook her head, long hair swishing. She was still a pretty girl after three kids, prettier than Lettie had ever thought of herself being, with hair the color of mahogany and eyes to match. But she wasn’t the smartest either, and she was also as ornery as all hell. That, and she hated the Belleroses more than any Crawford in the past 40 years. Lettie knew she needed to keep an eye on her.
“Do you think I’m stupid?” Little Aubrey asked. Then she lowered her voice and leaned in to whisper in Lettie’s ear, “Besides, Sheriff Song is right there.”
Lettie shook her head. As if Sheriff Song cared about underage drinking or even pregnant drinking for that matter. The man, and the office, was a joke.
Lettie glanced back at Ryan and wanted to slap her palm to her forehead. The boy was grinning all get out, practically swooning over that girl. Jesus. What was she going to do? Little Aubrey was going to kill him, and the whole town expected her to too. She was a Crawford after all, and so was Ryan, and, well, Crawfords did not swoon over Belleroses. That, and no Crawford woman would put up with a Crawford man selling out to a Bellerose.
But then, by some miracle of God, the door to the bar slapped open again, and Jimmy Dean Carpett and Roy paraded in. Well, Jimmy Dean paraded in. Roy shuffled behind with an armful of leaves.
“Hi!” Jimmy Dean boomed at Lettie and Little Aubrey. Then his blue eyes found the Bellerose, and he made a beeline for her like a magnet to a fridge.
Immediately Ryan was overwhelmed as Jimmy Dean pumped his hand up and down, bumped him out of the way, and began makin’ eyes at the new Bellerose. They began talking as if they’d met before, which was a little weird, but then again, so was Jimmy Dean.
Ryan shook his head, suddenly pushed away from the table, and then looked over at the bar. When he caught sight of Little Aubrey, he grimaced and turned away, skirting around the bar and into the back while his youngest sister hollered after him to “git over here.”
Lettie knew she needed to yell too—people were looking at her like she should—but it wasn’t in her anymore. She’d seen the girl and her dog this afternoon. There wasn’t anything to hate. And she was pretty, as pretty as Little Aubrey if not more so, and Ryan had every right to be attracted to her, Bellerose or not.
But that wasn’t the way things went around here. She was supposed to hate, had been raised to hate. So she said, “I’ll go talk some sense into that damn fool,” in an angry tone, the same one she’d put on in the kitchen that afternoon, and stomped toward the back. Little Aubrey didn’t follow; she was too big to get off the stool.