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Chapter 3

I just got off the phone with Cindy and she was doing much better. She admitted she went home and cried and then she asked me how I was doing and I told her about Joe and what he did for me. Her only response was “I need to move into your building, you have all the luck.”

Did I? I mean it was great what Joe did last night, but did I have luck? I still had the issue with Richard that needed to be taken care of. I was thirty-one years old with a good job but no steady relationship, not that I wanted one right now. Maybe I was lucky. I wasn’t sure.

All I knew for sure was that I needed to have some fun today. I got in some of my comfy clothes and grabbed my purse and was heading to the mall. Retail therapy was calling my name, and who was I to refuse a summons like that.

I got down to the first floor and looked to the left before heading out and I saw Joe’s back to me opening his mailbox. I bet in all the confusion last night he never got his mail. I should have kept going. I should have gone right out the door, right to my car, and right to Destiny to spend the day shopping, but I didn’t.

“Hey Joe,” I said hearing my voice quiver.

He turned at the sound of my voice and I smile lit his face. I wasn’t sure why. I must have ruined his night last night with the mood I was in, but he walked over to me anyway with a smile still hugging his cheeks.

“What’s up, looks like you’re on your way out?” He asked innocently.

“Yup I decided I needed some retail therapy. So I am going shopping.” I said proud of myself.

“Grocery shopping?”

OK the proud of myself feeling just deteriorated. He must have seen it on my face because he started apologizing.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to presume. I just love grocery shopping so much I just assume everyone does. I didn’t mean to pry.” He stammered out.

I smiled. I didn’t know why, I just did. “I should, but to be honest, I just don’t enjoy cooking.”

The look on his face was priceless. He just couldn’t believe there were people in the world that didn’t enjoy cooking. “I do enjoy eating, but I will leave the cooking to the experts or the great cooks like you.”

“Anytime,” he said. “I mean anytime you would like to have dinner let me know. Well I hope you enjoy shopping today.”

“What are you up to today.” I asked before I could stop myself.

“I was going to clean my apartment. To be honest I was a little shocked that you didn’t get grossed out and want to leave the other night when you saw it.” He explained.

I remembered back to last night and thought about his apartment. It was clean and picked up. I didn’t know what he was talking about. “Joe, your apartment was fine.”

My assurance must have softened him a bit because he seemed to relax. Why couldn’t I be attracted to guys like this. Why was it the handsome famous guys or the ones like construction guy that looked good without their shirt on? Joe was only an inch or two taller than me with dark hair and chubby cheeks. His eyes were a deep blue and his lips were a little puffy but with the short mustache you didn’t notice that too much. He did have a little belly on the front of him but not too bad. In other words, he was just a normal guy.

“I was heading to Destiny for the day, want to join me?” I asked. Holy crap what did I just do?

“The mall?” He asked.

“Syracuse’s finest. If I’m doing retail therapy I want the best.” I said.

“Sure, I haven’t been in the WIlliams Sonoma store in a while. Let me run this mail up to my apartment and grab my wallet and I’ll be right back.” He said heading for the stairs.

It was funny watching him head for the stairs most the residents took the elevator. In fact, the only one besides me I had ever seen on the stairs were the people on the first floor or Joe. Why did I invite him? I hope I didn’t give him the wrong idea.

He was back in a flash and we headed out the door. I began looking for a cab and Joe watched me.

“Cassie, you want me to drive?” He asked.

“That would be awesome. I was going to have the cab take me to where I left my car last night and then go from there, but if you don’t mind?” I asked.

He laughed. “No problem and when were done I’ll take you to your car so you can bring it home.”

“That would be so great. You are a life saver.” I said following him to the parking lot on the side of our building. I had no idea what kind of car someone like Joe would have but when he walked up to a light blue ford escape it just seemed to click.

Now I’m not a clean freak or anything but a car is where I draw the line. His car was empty for the most part but the back seats were folded down and the headrests were just lying there and the floor mats were dirty. I could tell this was one area where I excelled in. I thought about picking on him, but I didn’t know him well enough for that yet.

We pulled out and headed to the mall. I noticed little things like he didn’t have his radio on. When I get in my vehicle my radio greats me from the moment I enter my key and it was weird having the silence here.

“Not a music guy are you?” I asked.

“Oh, sorry. Not really. You can turn on the radio if you want. I don’t have any cd’s or mp3’s or such.” He explained.

“No it’s alright, it was just something I noticed.” I said.

He turned and smiled and then he said “guess I just like being able to hear myself think. Sometimes when I listen to music it makes me think I can sing, and believe me when I tell you, that is definitely not the case.”

I laughed at the expression his face made and we talked about the weather and different stores in the mall and the next thing I knew we were pulling in to the back parking lot, the one where you took the enclosed walkway that was above the main streets.

We continued talking and headed in. We walked in and Dick’s sporting goods was on the left and other retail stores on the right. “I’m not into sports too much, I mean I watch them from time to time, but I don’t play any. Did you want to go into Dick’s?”

“I play a little golf, but other than that I get enough of sports at my job. Days like this I like to pretend I know nothing about sports and just look at different stuff.” He said smiling.

So we headed to the right and began my day of retail therapy. To say he was awesome would be an understatement. He never complained about any of the stores we went in and even held my purse for me when I tried stuff on and gave me a real answer when I asked him how something looked.

He even told me which colors looked good on me and which others only looked ok. He never once said any of them looked bad, he just kept telling me which ones were his favorites, and I agreed more times than not.

I wasn’t sure how I did it, but I even got him to carry my bags for me. I mean I carried a couple, but he stood up to the plate and carried all my clothing store bags, and refused when I tried to. I was so happy I asked him to come along.

Then we reached the Williams Sonoma store and you would have thought I brought him to a toy store. His face lit up as we walked around and looked at things and explained to me what they were and how you would use them. He bought a few spices but that was it but he seemed so excited about the other things I asked him why he didn’t get anything else.

His face took on a guilty look and he told me “I already have it all. I’m kind of bad when it comes to kitchen equipment. I already own all of that.”

I started laughing at the man who looked like a little kid who got caught opening his presents early. It was priceless and adorable. He laughed along with me and we continued are shopping trip. He bought me a cookie form Mrs.’s Fields cookies and we grabbed a pretzel and shared it. It got to be about four before we got back to his escape.

We loaded all the bags into the back and we jumped in and he started up the vehicle. Before he could pull out I stopped him and looked at him.

“I appreciate you spending the whole day helping me shop. How about I buy us dinner?” I asked.

He looked confused. I had no idea why. Finally, he smiled and said “where would you like to go?”

“I don’t know. Do you have any favorites?” I asked.

“I do. Do you trust me?” He asked looking at me with a lot of hope or something in his eyes.

I nodded unable to speak.

“Then get ready for the best meal you have ever had.” He said smiling. He pulled out and we headed down town. The first thing I noticed was that the buildings were getting a little more run down and unkempt and that people began were beginning to hang on the streets.

I did trust him but this was getting a little nerve racking. Finally, he pulled into this lot of cars that were full and a kid about fourteen or fifteen ran up to us.

“Joe, you are back. Mom will be so happy.” He said excited.

“I know Antwan, it’s been too long. Me and my friend have been shopping all day, we left our bags in the car.” He said looking at the kid who brightened right up.

“No worries Joe. Me and little T have parking lot duty tonight.”

Joe laughed and then he said. “Little T is a parking lot.” He said shaking the kids hand and he slipped him something I had to assume was some money.

Joe led the way into a rundown building that made me nervous but as soon as we got inside there were people standing waiting to get inside to eat. They were all dressed normal and were laughing and joking with someone I couldn’t see.

The atmosphere of the room was clear hardwood with decorations adorning all the walls. It had a nice feel to it. For some reason I began feeling warm inside and I had no idea why. We made our way to the front and a woman of about fifty waited for us. Until she saw Joe then she came running around and threw herself into a big hug.

“Joe where have you been. I love when you come here. Why has it been so long.” She asked.

Joe laughed. “I hate coming by myself, you know that. Mamma Jade, this is my friend Cassie. We live in the same apartment building. She is buying me dinner tonight.”

Mamma Jade looked at me like she was inspecting a car. For some reason it didn’t bother me and I smiled as I held out my hand.

My hand was pushed aside and she wrapped me in a big hug. I started laughing and looked at Joe who was just about rolling on the floor. She finally let go of me and I looked at her. She was that Amber color of skin and she was a bit overweight, but her eyes caught me and held me. This was a woman who had seen and done a lot and wasn’t afraid of anything. In that instant I envied her.

“You Cassie are welcome anytime. Now let’s get you a seat at Joe’s table.” She said.

“Mamma Jade, it’s not my table, I told you anyone can sit there.” Joe exclaimed.

She rounded on him and pointed a finger at him. “No, it’s your table. Only you and family ever sit there. It will be that way forever.”

She turned and Joe just smiled at me and slumped his shoulders. He knew better than to argue with Mamma Jade. She led us through the restaurant which was full tonight and a few people saw me and Joe and actually pointed us out to other people. That was weird but I kept following along. Mamma Jade stopped in a small alcove that was just off the kitchen entrance where there was a table for four waiting.

Joe held the chair out for me and I took a seat. He then took the seat across from me and when Mamma Jade was satisfied she smiled. “Rhapsody is serving family tonight, be easy on her.” She said with a sparkle and then she walked away.

The alcove was the same woodwork but the thing that caught me off guard were the pictures. Instead of just normal decorations these were framed pictures of Mamma Jade and who I had to assume were all her family members.

I was about to say something to Joe when I looked above his head on the wall and he was in a picture smiling back at me. He was in the same seat he was now with a young black man sitting next to him with a legal document of some sort on the table in front of them. They were both smiling and I looked at Joe and he was blushing.

I didn’t know what to say so I opened with “Well you promised me the best dinner but so far the floor show has been hard to beat.”

He looked upset for a moment. “I hope you will forgive me. I hate coming by myself because it feels like I’m taking up space when more people could be sitting here. At least with you here it feels more normal than me eating by myself. The food is really good, I promise.”

“The picture above you?”

“It’s their son Malcolm. He was part of the junior hockey development program in Syracuse and I was his sponsor. I knew he had talent from the moment I met him. The best part of all was his attitude. He was a working fool that would never give up, he got that from his parents. Needless to say it worked out and he made it to the NHL and plays for Montreal.”

“So mamma Jade?”

“Malcolm’s mom and I am sure you will meet his father Charles later. The kid in the parking lot, Antwan, his youngest brother. Along with two or three more siblings that you may see tonight. Mamma Jade thinks I am the one responsible for her son’s success instead of the hard working son that she has. They kind of spoil me when it comes to dinner. I wanted to share that with you and thank you for letting me pick the place.” Joe said and he seemed so sincere.

All of a sudden a young beautiful black girl was standing in front of us. She was probably sixteen if that. To say she was nervous was an understatement and her eyes kept fluttering down whenever she looked at Joe. Joe was looking uncomfortable and all of a sudden I was enjoying myself.

“Hi Rhapsody, how are you this evening?” Joe asked.

“I’m good Joe. What would you like to drink?” She asked taking out a small notebook of some sort.

“I would like a Pepsi with lots of ice.” Joe said smiling at her.

She turned to me but her smile wasn’t there. “And you?”

“Rhapsody, this is Cassidy, she lives in my building and she is a friend of mine.” Joe said.

“Oh,” she brightened at those words. “I’m sorry miss Cassie, what would you like this evening?” She said a little more enthusiastically.

“What do you have?” I asked not wanting this moment to end.

“All the Pepsi products, flavored teas and lemonades, and a few bottled beers, but I don’t remember which ones, but I can find out. We also have coffee, hot tea, hot chocolate, and cold milk.” She explained.

“I think I would like a flavored lemonade; do you have raspberry?” I asked.

“Oh yes, Mamma makes the best.” She said excited.

“I think I would like to try that.” I said.

“Ok, I will be back with those.” She said just about sprinting away.

“So, what’s that story?” I asked.

He just shook his head and began smiling. “The long version or the short version?”

“Whatever makes you the most uncomfortable.” I said teasingly.

“How about this. She was about ten when I came and had that picture taken. She was a cute little girl and I kept telling her so. She seems to have developed a small crush on me over the years. Sooner or later she will grow out of it, but until then we just all go with it.” Joe explained.

“Let’s see, ten then, and what now, sixteen?”

“Fifteen,” Joe explained looking a little embarrassed.

“Oh the poor girl, if she hasn’t yet, she might not. Then what Romeo?” I said to keep picking on him.

“Then I will have to let her down easy, or easy as I can be. Sorry about the way she treated you at first. She really is a sweet girl.” Joe said.

“Sweet and Beautiful. She will be a heartbreaker.” I said meaning every word.

“Wait till you meet Little T, then you will understand that broken hearts aren’t the only problem.” Joe said laughing.

We chatted and looked over the menu that Rhapsody had left. Joe didn’t need one he knew what he wanted, but I wasn’t sure so I looked over everything. There were no prices anywhere. I knew the old saying “that if you had to ask, you couldn’t afford it” but it made me nervous.

“Joe, there are no prices.” I said feeling silly.

“Yeah I know. There will not be a bill either. They still feel like they owe me something. What I usually do is tip really well. Rhapsody wouldn’t take money from me, but from you she will, so, you get to buy dinner.” Joe explained.

“No wonder you limit how much you come. You don’t want to take advantage of their generosity, but you don’t want to be rude either. Nice call on dinner.” I said laughing.

He smiled back. “I’m glad you understand. It’s nice having someone that understands the situation and play along.”

“Alright big shot, what are you getting?” I asked torn between a couple different things.

“They already know. Charles has a smoker in the back. He makes the best brisket and cheese sub in the city and maybe the state. With a little arugula and balsamic aioli and some fresh tomatoes, oh its heaven. Then they always give me homemade potato chips. It’s awesome.”

“I love homemade chips.” I said excited.

“They do it right here, trust me.” He said smiling at my pleasure.

“I do trust you. I think you already know that.” I said smiling.

He smiled in return and then Rhapsody was back with our drinks. “Did you decide miss Cassie?”

“Yes I did. I would like some fried cauliflower poppers and the sandwich that Joe keeps going on and on about. Oh, and the homemade chips.” I said smiling.

She beamed back at me. “Mamma is going to love you. I’ll be back when it’s ready.”

“That was a funny response,” I said to Joe who looked like he was going to explode with laughter.

“Mamma Jade doesn’t appreciate women who order salad’s and water because they worry about their weight. She likes real women, who aren’t afraid to be themselves.” Joe said explaining.

I never thought about it. I always had a good appetite but I always worked it off so while I wasn’t skinny, I wasn’t real heavy either. I was more muscled than anything and I didn’t care who thought what about me.

“Well I am glad. I get the feeling if Mamma Jade is happy, everyone is happy.”

“No truer words have ever been spoken.” He said holding out his Pepsi in a toast that I returned.

Dinner was phenomenal. Joe wasn’t lying about the steak and cheese sub. I really liked the homemade chips too. It was the best meal I had in a year if not longer. I complimented Rhapsody over and over and even Mamma Jade when she came back a few times. They brought me a carry out because after the poppers and chips I couldn’t finish the whole sandwich but no one seemed surprised.

I slipped Rhapsody a fifty inside a five and told her to keep that between friends and she smiled and looked at Joe and he nodded and then she gave me a big hug. I wasn’t expecting that but what I was suspecting less was when Mamma Jade came back with two very large black men.

One of them hugged Joe and I heard Joe laughing and then yelling at him to put him down. “Tiny cut it out you’re going to break me.”

He set Joe down and the older man shook Joe’s hand until it looked like it might fall off. “Joe, you haven’t been here in so long, we thought you were mad at us.”

“Charles, you know how busy I get, besides I wanted to make sure the next time I came I could share my meal with a friend. As much as you feed me, I needed help.” Joe said slapping him on the back.

“Mr. Charles, the food was as good as Joe said it was. I asked him where the best place to eat was and his face lit up and said wait and see. He was right. I will never forget this place.” I said.

He looked me over and then he looked at Joe. Then he looked back at me. “Was Rhapsody nice to you?”

“Oh, she was a sweetheart.” I said startled by the question.

He turned back to Joe. “We have to tell her sometime.”

“I know, but she is so cute. I don’t want to hurt her.” Joe said looking uncomfortable.

“Joe, either you have to tell her or I do. Who do you think she is going to take it the best from?” Charles asked in a fatherly kind of way.

“I get it.” He said. “I’ll come in sometime in the next couple weeks and I will talk to her.”

“It’s for the best Joe. It was nice to meet you miss. Joe is one in a million.” Charles said and before I could tell him we were just friends he was heading back to the kitchen.

Mamma Jade led us out the long way so more and more of her diners could see us and when we finally got outside I began to speak but he cut me off. “just a second.” He said and looked around the car.

“Come out Antwan.” He said and the kid from before came out smiling.

“Can’t fool you Joe.” He said smiling.

“Thanks for keeping an eye on my car. Let your parents know that dinner was wonderful and that we both appreciated it.

“You got it Joe,” he said heading back inside the restaurant.

Joe smiled at me and we got into the escape and then I turned to him. “First, thank you for an extremely fulfilling evening. Second, I’m sorry about what you have to do the next time you come.”

“You’re welcome. Thank you for buying dinner. They’ve all been told they can’t take money from me, so this was perfect. As far as next time comes, I will figure something out.” He said pulling out.

“I saw you slip Antwan some money.” I said.

“Me and Antwan have a deal. When I come to dinner he performs security. I have told them that my boss entrusts me with important papers and that he pays me to keep them safe. So Antwan thinks my boss is actually paying him, or so he lets me believe. I’m sure he doesn’t tell his parents, and that’s ok with me.” Joe said laughing.

I laughed with him.

“So, where is your car?”

“Oh that’s right, I almost forgot. Hannagan’s bar in carrier circle. Do you know where it is?” I asked.

“Yes maim. Will be there in no time.” He said and I was almost a little sad to think our time was almost up.

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