Page 5 of Making the Cut

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“Because she has a boyfriend.” I feel the heat creeping into my cheeks, and I look away, unable to make eye contact with Margo now. “And I saw him naked.”

Margo sits across from me at her kitchen table, staring at me with eyes as round as sand dollars. “Seriously?”

At my admission of seeing my mother’s boyfriend naked, Margo suggested that we head upstairs to the apartment over the shop where she and Tuck live. She hasn’t lived in the South long, but she’s already learned that a slice of pie makes every situation better.

I swallow a bite of key lime pie and nod grimly. “Yep. And let me tell you, it’s not a sight I’m likely to forget any time soon.”

Honey snores softly from the corner of the room. The moment I’d set her on the floor, she’d followed her nose straight to a pet bed that Margo keeps for a stray tabby cat that no one’s been able to fully domesticate. Houdini’s become the town’s unofficial mascot, wandering from home to home when he’s tired or hungry. Most of the residents of Friendly keep a bed and a food dish for him. Honey desperately wants to be his friend, but he’s not the least bit interested in her.

Margo erupts into a peal of giggles. “I can’t believe you saw Chief Coopernaked.”

“It’s not funny,” I grumble. I’ve known Coop my entire life. He’s worked side-by-side with my mother for decades, and he was my dad’s best friend. The man is practically an uncle to me.

Margo’s laughter quickly cuts off. “Wait… was he wearing a hat?”

“Of course not! He was in theshower, remember?”

She looks startled. “I’ve never seen Coop without a hat.”

Nor had I—until this morning.Coop wears the same “uniform” every day: khakis, muck boots, and a Hawaiian shirt. The only thing that changes is the hat he’s wearing. While on duty, he wears a baseball hat that says FRIENDLY PD in big, block letters. When not on duty, he wears a fishing hat adorned with gold hooks.

“Oh, there was a hat,” I say, shuddering at the memory. “He used it to, um, cover himself.”

Her eyes are so wide that she’s starting to resemble a cartoon character. “Which hat was it?”

I take a sip of tea and instantly regret it. Despite my efforts to teach her, my sister-in-law still can’t make a decent cup of sweet tea. Forcing myself to swallow, I make a face at her.

She sighs impatiently, shoving the sugar bowl in my direction. “Which hat?”

I raise an eyebrow. “The fishing hat.”

“No!” She chokes on a laugh. “That must’ve been risky, with all those fishhooks near his tender skin.” Her voice trails off as her blush deepens.

“Not so funny now, is it? But I haven’t even told you the half of it yet,” I say, scooping a heaping spoonful of sugar into my tea.

“There’s more?”

I take another sip of tea before answering. It’s now sweeter than a peach in August, just as tea ought to be. “Honey stole his pants and ripped a gigantic hole in the crotch before I could get them away from her. I had to loan him a pair of pajama pants while I stitched up his britches.”

Margo wipes tears of laughter from her eyes. “Poor Coop! If you were embarrassed, imagine how horrifiedhemust have been.”

“He seemed relieved. Apparently, he and Mama have been romantically involved for years and keeping it a secret, and it’s started to take a toll on him.” When Margo doesn’t react to this news, I repeat the word. “Years!”

“Well,” she says, tilting her head thoughtfully, “That’s hardly a surprise, is it?”

I stare at her incredulously. “Yes!”

“Really? But they spend so much time together...”

“As the mayor and chief of police, theyhaveto see each other.”

“Sure. But working that closely together for three decades? It’s bound to turn into something else.” She takes a sip of her own tea, and I wonder how she can stand the bitterness. “I assumed they were a couple until Tuck set me straight.” A grin spreads across her face. “I can’t wait to tell him that I was right. He’s going to die when he hears about Honey eating Coop’s pants.”

“You can’t tell him,” I yelp. “You don’t understand small towns, Margo. If you tell Tuck, you may as well tell the whole town!”

“I’m not going to tell the whole town,” she protests. “Just my husband.”

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