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Chapter 2

A last minute business call from the home office put me way behind and as such I didn’t get out of work till late. I hoped I remembered putting the record on the DVR because tonight was the last night of Friday night food showdown and the food channel and I wanted to see if Claudia would beat George.

She should, hell, she seemed to have it all together, but every once in a while he would pull a desert or something out of his ass and the judges would melt. The championship tonight was all about skill verse luck, and I was hoping for the skill girl to close it out.

I hurried running my fab over the door entrance and got inside and was ready to run up the stairs when I saw her. She was standing in front of the mailboxes shaking like a leaf. It hadn’t rained and it wasn’t cold so I didn’t know why. All I knew for sure it was her, and because it was here I was glued to this spot.

Oh I had seen her many times and tried to get her to talk to me, but nothing past pleasantries ever transpired. She was that rare form of beautiful that didn’t think she was but everyone else knew it. Her blond hair fell in ringlets down her face and when she smiled she had these incredible dimples. She had the innocent look that made all guys everywhere want to stop and take care of her. Of course being a guy I fell into that group.

Then she hit the palm of her hand against the wall and shook like the she was either pissed or scared. I had no idea what made my feet move but the next thing I knew I was behind her and my mouth was opening. Stop, don’t do this I thought to myself but it was too late the words spilled out before I could stop them.

“Let me help you, looks like you’ve had a rough day.” I said holding out my hand.

She spun around like she was startled by a big angry dog. Then she saw me and relaxed a little. I didn’t know if that was good because she recognized me, or bad, because I looked so harmless that I was a joke.

She continued to look at me and you could tell she was scared. I don’t know what happened to her but she had been through enough I could tell that.

“Look, I live here to. We have seen each other and talked a few times. I can see that something really upset you. Tell you what, let me open your box and get your mail. I will walk you to your door and make sure you make it inside and then I will go to my apartment. It just looks like right now you need a friend.” I concluded.

“A friend?” she stammered.

“Yeah, a friend, I’m Joe Miles. I live on the fourth floor. We pass each other and say hi every once in a while. Please,” I said holding out my hand still. “Let me get your mail out and walk you home.”

She didn’t say anything she just handed me her key and stepped back. I hoped it didn’t seem like I was a stalker, knowing exactly which box was hers, but I entered the key and turned it opening her box. I reached in and grabbed the three envelopes that were hers and turned the key and locked it again.

I turned back to her and she seemed smaller than before like she was wilting away before my eyes. I walked over and handed her the key and the mail. Then I guided her to the stairs and walked her up to the second floor and right to her door. I knew it seemed stalkerish now, but I didn’t care she seemed so frail.

I had learned over the time that we shared the building that she always took the stairs, and once I did, I started doing it just on the off chance we would run into each other once in a while. It had paid off but she never seemed to actually notice me, and it wasn’t like tonight was any different. We got to her door but she just stood there and waited.

“Um Cassie, do you want to go in? Do you want me to open it for you?” I asked and she just kept staring at me. Maybe I had something on my face. I knew I didn’t but I wiped my face in a big flourish and looked at her. “I thought maybe I had something on my face that you saw.”

She gave a hint of a smile. I was in heaven. She was beautiful with those green eyes looking right at me. “Do you want me to get the door for you.”

“Door,” she asked.

OK the girl had lost it. Whatever upset her must have been enough to really freak her out. “Cassie, if you want I can open the door for you and make sure everything is alright.”

She finally seemed to snap out of it. She looked at me different and then she looked at her door. She blushed.

“Um, you said you were Jim?” She asked me. Talk about a blow to the ego.

“Joe, Joe Miles.” I said.

“Thank you. I’m sorry, I had a rough night. I should be fine now.” She said dismissing me.

At least that was how it felt. I should have known better. Girls that looked like this didn’t look at guys that looked like me.

“OK, I just want to make sure you were fine. If you need anything I am in apartment 403.” I said writing the number on one of my business cards and handed it to her. She took it but didn’t look at it. I knew what that meant but I was still a gentleman enough to smile at her and walk away with some dignity. I did hope she had a better night.

Cassie

The card said Joe Miles, assistant director of player relations, for the Syracuse Tailwinds. It was the local Hockey team. My bank did some work for them. I waited till he was gone and opened my door and went inside and locked the door behind me.

I was sure he was fine but I had enough of men for one evening. I dropped the mail on my end table and went in search of some food. Cindy and I were going to grab dinner but after everything that happened we both wanted to just go home.

This wasn’t going well as I opened cupboard after cupboard and found nothing at all appetizing. Served me right for never shopping. See I liked food, but I liked it more when someone else made it. I would never cook if I didn’t have to.

I flopped on the couch and looked at my mail. Garbage, all of it garbage and then the card fell into my lap. I knew I must have acted like a psychotic person earlier. He must thing I’m the crazy woman of the building.

Of course the way I acted from the moment he saw me would only confirm that. I was so nervous of the Richard event that I was just not in my right head. I sat there a few more minutes just reliving the night over and over and then I finally decided enough was enough.

I grabbed the phone and dialed the number. It rang twice and then a voice finally answered “hello?”

“Um, this is Cassie, you know from downstairs. It just occurred to me that I never said thank you.” I said.

“You’re welcome. It sounds like you are doing better now, I’m glad.” Joe said on the other end.

Was I doing better? I wasn’t sure. I just knew that I needed to not think about what happened. “Yeah I am doing better, except in all the excitement, I never got anything for dinner tonight. I was thinking about ordering take out, and thought maybe I could get you some as a thank you.”

“That would have been great except I have already started making dinner.” He said and I was actually disappointed. “Do you like pan fried pork chops mashed potatoes and green beans.”

“Um yeah, I haven’t made anything like that before, well not the pork shops, the veggies I have. Why?” I asked.

“Because It just so happens I have enough for two and wondered if you would like some.” Joe said.

“I mean, I appreciate everything you did for me, but I really don’t want to start dating or anything, and after tonight I don’t want to date any man. I mean nothing against you or anything but I just don’t want to give you the wrong idea and I don’t want you to be mad at me because you were a big help earlier, and I don’t want to seem like I’m not grateful, but”

“Cassie, stop, you’re rambling. No strings. Just friends ok? Tell you what. I’ll finish dinner and you can come up or I can bring it down. We can just share a meal like friends with nothing on the line and we can talk or eat in silence, your call.” Joe said.

It sounded good, but would he keep it that way. I mean I have had guys try the whole friends thing before until they began pushing, and things went south in a hurry. I didn’t want him here though and see how empty my kitchen was and feel sorry for me. “I’ll come up, but just dinner. No games.”

“Cassie, no games, just dinner. I’ve got about ten minutes left on the pork chops, does that work for you?” He asked.

Did it? I didn’t know. I just wanted some company right now. I felt like I was using him but he said friends, and didn’t friends use each other once in a while? “That’s fine I will be up in ten, um, I don’t have any anything to bring.”

He laughed. I mean he really laughed at that. When he caught himself he said “Don’t worry, I’ve got everything you can think of here. Come on up when you get a chance.” He said chuckling as he hung up the phone.

I guess it was kind of funny what I said. I mean I knew it was proper to take wine or something but I just didn’t have anything. I looked around my kitchen and what he suggested sounded a lot better than the packet of pop tarts I thought I would be eating.

Even though it wasn’t a date I wasn’t going to show up looking like I’d been crying tonight so I hurried and cleaned up and changed into some comfy clothes and headed up the stairs. I got on the fourth floor and stood in front of his door. Did I really want to do this? Then all of a sudden I caught a whiff of the meal he fixed and my stomach answered my question for me. It rumbled, and I knocked.

Joe

She was beautiful was all I thought as I answered the door. I had just pulled the pork chops off the frying pan and dabbed each with a slab of butter and was letting them rest a second when she knocked.

I knew she had been through a lot today and it would be nice to not eat alone so I was excited to have company. I could tell from the look on her face that she was still a little nervous about being here so I took the lead.

“Hey Cassie, come on in.” I said as I opened the door and left it open for her to close when she was ready. I didn’t want to seem too pushy and especially not seem to forward. “Usually I eat and watch television at night but I do have a kitchen table, which do you prefer?”

It took her forever to answer and right before she did I heard the door shut but I told myself to not look around and see if she was still there.

“Um, either way is fine with me.” She said and I smiled. I was glad she stayed.

“Well I’ll be honest, I’m kind of a food nut and tonight I had taped the fall baking challenge on the food channel. Is that too weird to watch?” I asked.

I heard a little snort, how cute was that?

“No that’s fine. Um, do you eat on the coffee table?” She asked.

“Nah, this is fine dining here at chez Miles. I have TV trays in the coat closet.” I answered and finished putting the final touches on dinner. I heard some noise and refused to look. I wanted her to feel at home and I wasn’t about to ruin that.

I just finished when I heard her come into the kitchen and I looked to see her looking at me. She was smiling and it made my face light up in response. I couldn’t tell what she was thinking but I was glad to see a smile.

“Napkins and silverware,” she asked.

“Already on the counter there along with two glasses. I wasn’t sure what you would like to drink so rummage through the fridge while I take the plates over and see what you would like.” I said smiling and walking by her with two plates full of food.

I came back and grabbed the silverware and head everything laid out on the trays when I heard her say “What are you having?”

“Pepsi please, it’s my one vice in this world. I drink two a day, and I can’t seem to stop myself.” I said walking back toward the kitchen and grabbing the butter dish.

I noticed she had grabbed an ultra but had put it back and grabbed a bottle of country time lemonade. I wasn’t sure if it felt wrong to her if I wasn’t drinking but I didn’t say anything. I just wanted her to relax and forget about her day.

“Um, which side of the couch do you usually eat on?” She asked.

“Hmm, good question, I guess I never thought about it before. Are you right or left handed?”

“Left,” she answered.

“I’m right, so why don’t you take the side by the door and I’ll take the one by the window so we aren’t banging arms every time we take a bite.”

“Makes sense,” she said and I could already see her loosening up. I was relieved. She was such a beautiful girl. It was nice to see her smile.

Cassie

“Make sense,” I said taking the side nearest the door and watched as he came around and began fiddling with the remote to the television. This was the weirdest dinner I had ever had.

Thinking back through my life I have never had a man ask me to dinner and not try to purposely talk to me. The whole let me know about you so I can tell you how wonderful I am thing. This was like something totally, I don’t know, normal.

“Now here is how this works,” Joe said pausing the remote before the show starts. “They started with eight bakers and after every show they eliminate the worst one until there is only one left to win. Oh, maybe you have seen this before?”

“Nope, I can honestly say I have never watched this show in my life.” I said trying to hold back a laugh.

“I know pretty strange right, but I’m just a guy who likes food, so what can I say. Well anyways it has come down to the pastry chef Claudia and home cook George. My money is on the trained pastry chef, but George has these whimsical ideas that seem to blow the judges away.” Joe said starting the show.

I just smiled. I didn’t really care about the show on the television, not when there was this wonderful food staring at me. I took a bite of the green beans and then I just began devouring the food.

Every once in a while Joe would make a comment about the show and I would answer accordingly but the meal was perfect, granted I was starving, but it was really good. It was nice just having a good meal with no expectations, I hoped it stayed that way. Of course the way he had acted so far I didn’t think it wouldn’t, but it could have been a ploy. I tensed a little at the thought and then he giggled at George dropping his frosting bag on the floor and my tension eased. This wasn’t the type of guy to have a ploy like that.

Joe

I couldn’t believe George dropped his frosting bag. I mean who does that? Me, but I wasn’t telling anyone, that’s why I giggled. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Cassie take a breath and relax. I could tell she was still a little nerved up so I just kept a running dialog going hoping to ease her worries, at least for tonight.

Usually I am a fast eater, but Cassie was done in record time, and I smiled knowing it must have been good. She ate the whole plate and left nothing but the bone from the pork chop. I finished mine and pushed pause on the recording. It was about two thirds the way through.

I saw her stiffen but I didn’t react. “How about some desert? I have Pepperidge Farm Cake and or ice cream.”

She relaxed again. Wow what ever happened must have really made her skittish around guys. At that thought all I wanted to do was find out who did it and punch them. Now that would be comical. The guy was probably huge and my five seven frame and my one hundred and ninety pounds wasn’t going to scare anyone.

“What kind of cake and ice cream do you have?” She asked.

“The only kind, chocolate cake and chocolate ice cream.” I responded.

She laughed really hard and then gave a little snort. Oh my god how cute is that? “What are you having?”

“Both, I put a piece of cake in the bowl and top it off with a scoop of ice-cream. I like Pepperidge Farm cake but sometimes the frosting is too much for me so I dilute it with ice cream, yeah I know, I’m like that.” I said.

She giggled a little. “How about just a piece of cake for me, and I’ll help you with the plates.”

“Great, the garbage is under the sink for the bones and you can just put the plates in the sink till later.” I said jumping up and going to the kitchen and grabbing two bowls. I cut the cake and then dolloped mine with ice cream. I headed back to the couch where she was waiting.

I handed her hers and began the show again. George had done it. He had made this cornucopia that had deserts spilling out of it. It looked amazing. I was beginning to think he was a ringer. Claudia had done a leaf pile with different desserts shaped like leaves. It was good but I didn’t know if it would be enough.

“I think your girl is going to lose.” Cassie said looking over at me.

I didn’t even know she was paying attention, to be honest. “Yeah, that’s what I mean. This George guy seems to come up with something like that every episode. He must have one hell of an imagination.”

She was looking at me like I had two heads. Oh well, I am who I am, and I wasn’t about to change myself or pretend to be someone I wasn’t. Must be I passed some sort of silent inspection because she smiled and went back to the television where they were announcing the winner.

“And the winner of the fall baking challenge and the twenty-five-thousand-dollar prize is …George.” the announcer said.

“Crap, I knew it.” I said hitting the off button. I stood up and grabbed our bowls that we had finished. She was smiling as I took hers, and I wasn’t sure why, but it didn’t matter, she was smiling. I took them out and threw them in the sink. She had come in behind me and handed me the glasses. I stacked everything in the dishwasher and turned to her.

“Would you like anything else or another drink or anything?”

“I don’t think so. I think I’ll just head back to my apartment. Thanks for dinner and company.” She said.

I smiled and bowed “my pleasure, what are friends for?”

I walked her to the door. I opened it and she could clearly see the hallway. A look of doubt passed over her face. She turned back to me. “I hope you don’t take this wrong, but I am glad it was a laid back evening, and you didn’t like try to be more than friends.”

My face must have looked like a felt. Like she couldn’t trust me. All of a sudden she gasped and started talking again.

“Shit, that didn’t come out right. I’m sorry. Just after what happened earlier tonight I needed a friend, and you were. I appreciate that so much.” She said putting her hand on my arm.

The moment she laid her arm there I was relieved. Sometimes I said things the wrong way to so I could understand. “It’s ok. I understand. If you ever want to talk or eat dinner or anything let me know. You know where to find me and you have my number.”

She smiled. Relief on her face that she hadn’t insulted me as bad as she thought she had. “Thanks Joe, I appreciated tonight.”

Then she turned and headed for the stairs, not the elevator, and began heading down to her floor. I watched her leave. I knew I would probably never have a woman as beautiful as her in my apartment again, but I had tonight, so that was something.

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