Stay with Me Forever. Farrah Rochon

Stay with Me Forever - Farrah Rochon

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deed, but Paxton had never been one to kid herself. She knew it would take an act of Congress to convince the longtime residents in Landreaux—which was technically still part of Gauthier but was divided from the rest of the town by Landreaux Creek—to call this place anything but Harlon’s. If they were lucky, maybe she and her mother could eventually cajole them into calling it Belinda’s, but Paxton wasn’t holding her breath.

      “You’re going to get sick,” her mother called again. “Get in here!”

      “Give me just a minute,” Paxton called back to her.

      Scooping up the bags of cleaning supplies she’d just purchased from the Gauthier Pharmacy and Feed Store, she dashed from her Lincoln MKX to the bar’s newly installed wooden steps. As she made her way up to the small landing, Paxton slipped on the second to last step, nearly dumping the bags.

      “Watch it,” Belinda Jones said, reaching out for her.

      “I’ve got it.” Paxton righted herself. “But maybe you should add installing nonskid protectors to the list of things that need to be done before the bar’s grand reopening.”

      “You’re probably right,” Belinda said. She gestured for Paxton to go ahead of her as they walked through the gaping hole where the new door would be hung as soon as Rickey Price finished constructing it at his cabinetry shop. “I’ll call Nathan Robottom at the hardware store. I’m sure he’ll have something we can use.”

      “Good,” Paxton said. “Because after the blood, sweat and tears that you’ve put into this place, I won’t allow a slip-and-fall lawsuit to ruin it all.”

      “We’ll take care of the steps. I’m more concerned about you catching your death out here in this rain.”

      Just as Paxton opened her mouth to remind her mother for the seven thousandth time that being caught in the rain did not automatically give you a cold, she coughed.

      Perfect timing.

      The I-told-you-so lift to Belinda’s brow was a well-practiced, well-executed blast from Paxton’s childhood. Make that her adulthood, too. Because at thirty-seven years old, she found it as effective as it had been when she was seven. It made her want to cringe.

      “No need to break out the warm socks and hot tea,” Paxton said. “I was clearing my throat. I don’t have a cold.”

      “Not yet,” her mother said with a lift to her chin.

      Paxton released an overly exasperated sigh as she laughed at her mother’s haughty expression.

      “I’ll take some cough syrup before I go to sleep tonight,” she said. “Will that do, or do you have to take my temperature before you’re satisfied?”

      “So do they teach classes on how to sass your mama up there in Little Rock, or did you learn how to do that on your own?”

      She barked out another sharp laugh. “If anyone taught me how to sass, it’s the woman standing right in front of me.”

      Belinda winked. “You got that right.” She reached for the plastic bags, but Paxton twisted them out of her reach.

      “I’ve got this,” she said as she started emptying the supplies she’d picked up during her quick trip to downtown Gauthier—items that would have cost about half of what she’d paid if she’d driven over to the new Target in neighboring Maplesville. Paxton prided herself on being a strong, independent woman who made her own decisions, but even she wasn’t brave enough to walk into this bar carrying a red-and-white Target shopping bag. Her mother was firmly on the boycott-big-business bandwagon.

      Paxton had not been in town for more than an hour before she had been presented with a pledge sheet that was being circulated by the Gauthier Civic Association to boycott the big-box store, along with several other establishments. Tensions between Gauthier and Maplesville had been simmering back when Paxton relocated to Arkansas a year ago, and the opening of yet another large national chain store that could take business away from Gauthier’s mom-and-pop shops had only elevated the friction.

      Paxton had been happy to sign the pledge. She felt it her duty to support the local businesses in her small hometown. Even more so now that her mother owned one.

      Just thinking those words caused an excited tingle to rush through her. It was like a human-interest story worthy of one of those cheesy but sweet headlines.

      Belinda Jones: From Bartender to Bar Owner.

      Followed by Paxton Jones: Daughter of the Year.

      Pretentious? Possibly, but she knew her mother would agree with her, and not just because Paxton had taken a sledgehammer to her 401(k) in order to purchase this bar. Belinda had placed the Daughter of the Year crown on Pax’s head ever since she’d won third place in the fourth-grade spelling bee.

      “You can check the final building inspection off your list,” her mother, who had resumed her sweeping, said. “Josh Howard came over while you were out. He gave the place a clean bill.”

      “Without a front door?”

      Belinda waved that off. “I told him it would be installed later today. Rickey is his second cousin on his mama’s side—he knows he’s good for it.”

      Paxton shook her head. “Gotta love a small town,” she said as she stacked the sponges, all-purpose disinfecting spray and grout cleaner on one of the new pub tables that had been delivered that morning.

      A loud whistle drew her attention to the left side of the bar.

      “I knew I smelled trouble in the air.”

      Paxton grinned as Harlon Lewis, the bar’s previous owner, entered through the side door entrance. He shucked off his raincoat, leaving it just inside the door. He was accompanied by his grandson, Donovan, who carried two large fleur-de-lis wall decor pieces crafted out of dented sheet metal and spray painted a shimmering metallic gold.

      Paxton balled up the plastic shopping bags and tossed them in the blue recycle bin as she made her way over to Harlon. She wrapped her arms around his neck and gave him a loud kiss.

      “It’s so good to see you,” she said. She leaned back and smiled up at the man who had been the only father figure she’d ever known. “I’ve missed you, old man. You weren’t at the house when I dropped by yesterday.”

      “You gotta get there early to catch me, girlie. I’ve got places to be.”

      “Thanks for picking these up for me,” she said, gesturing to the fleur-de-lis. She’d commissioned Gauthier’s own metalworks artist and restoration specialist, Phylicia Phillips, to start making them as soon as the sale of the bar went through.

      “It was no problem,” Harlon said. “Phil’s new shop ain’t too far from the house.”

      “Still, you saved me a trip,” Paxton said, plopping another peck on his cheek.

      “Hey, where’s my kiss?” His grandson Donovan asked, leaning toward her.

      “Boy, get out of here with that mess.” Harlon swatted him with the dusty Vietnam War vet baseball cap he’d been wearing for the better part of the three decades Paxton had known him.

      Donovan frowned at his grandfather, then winked at Paxton.

      “You can put those over there,” Paxton pointed toward the bar, which had been freshly waxed earlier that day. “I have an X marked with electrical tape on the wall. You’ll find a nail right above it that you can hang them on.”

      “Fine, but it’ll cost you a kiss,” Donovan said with another wink.

      Paxton rolled her eyes and released a heavy sigh. This one would be a problem.

      When she’d driven over to Harlon’s house on the lake yesterday, she’d been informed by the twenty-two-year-old—whom she used to babysit for extra money back when she was in high school—that his grandfather was on a hunting trip. Donovan invited

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