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Chapter 8

Joe

I knew I was grinning like an ass, but even if it was for one night, I had the most beautiful girl on my arm walking into one of the fanciest restaurants in the city. We walked up to the maître D station and waited.

He looked at me and then looked at Cassie and then back at me. “Yes sir, do we have a reservation?”

I could tell he was surprised a guy like me had a girl like this on my arm and I wanted to laugh, but I held it together. “We are meeting another couple; the reservation would be under Mark King.”

I waited while he checked his ledger hoping the name Cassie gave me earlier was the correct one. She didn’t seem nervous about it so I didn’t either.

“Ah yes, Mister King and his date are already here, if you would follow Bruno here to the alcove please.” He said indicating a young waiter with deep black hair slicked back and away from his face.

“This way please,” he said indicating that we follow and we did.

“Wow, look at the chandelier.” Cassie said pointing with her eyes up above us.

It was beautiful, not anywhere even close to the woman who was on my arm, so I hazarded a compliment. “It’s the second most beautiful thing I’ve seen tonight.”

She looked startled and looked at me and she blushed and we continued following the guide to a quiet section in the back of the restaurant that seemed to have giant glass windows that overlooked the city sprawled below.

Mark and Cindy both stood as we approached. I shook hands with Mark as Cassie and Cindy hugged, and I helped Cassie into her seat. Then I took my seat. I looked at Cindy and she was glowing, she was a beautiful girl in her own light, not Cassie, but beautiful just the same.

“I take back a previous comment. The chandelier in the entryway of the dining room is the third most beautiful thing I have seen tonight. You look lovely Cindy.” I said.

She smiled and looked at Mark to see if my comment upset him at all.

“I told her how beautiful she was since I picked her up and she hasn’t believed me all night. I’m glad she was able to get a second opinion without being coerced.” Mark said nodding to me.

“Joe, what about Cassie makes her so beautiful tonight?” Cassie asked smiling deeply.

“She is glowing. It was the first thing I noticed, and with the glow it brings her eyes out so they sparkle. In respect for Mark, I won’t say how nice the dress looks on her, but I will say that whoever chose it, did a marvelous job accentuating everything about you. When I saw you as we approached I was blown away.”

Not sure why Cassie wanted me to give another woman compliments in front of her date, but I didn’t lie, and I thought I explained things as well as I could in a tactful way.

“Mark, took me shopping and picked it out.” Cindy said looking at Mark like he was the greatest thing since the invention of the wheel.

“Then he has great taste in clothing and women.” I said saluting him with my glass.

“Joe, I assume the other most beautiful thing you saw tonight was Cassie.” Mark enquired.

“Without a doubt. Her lovely dress accentuated her body perfectly and the way her hair falls down onto her shoulders leave no doubt that only has to smile to brighten any room here in the restaurant.” I said without thinking again.

“So whoever picked her dress out did a good job as well. Cassie who picked out your dress this evening?” Mark asked.

“I picked it right out of my closet.” She said smiling.

Cindy laughed. “That’s the dress you picked out when you and Joe went shopping you told me all about it. Let me tell the story. You see Cassie..”

“Another time maybe, I think we should look at our menus. I personally have never eaten here, so I’m not sure what I should order.” Cassie said ending anymore of the story Cindy was going to tell that I wanted to here.

“We are celebrating tonight.” Mark said. “Cindy has agreed to be my girlfriend.”

Cindy was the one blushing now. I didn’t know that was still a thing like it was in high school, but I was the last one that would ever spoil the mood on a happy announcement.

“Well congratulations. You took look perfect for each other.” I said.

Cassie just squeezed Cindy’s hand but didn’t say anything. I could tell she had other thoughts going through her mind but she did smile at her.

“Hopefully we look as good together as you two do. I could tell when you walked in together that you were made for one another.” Mark said and I choked on my water. While I was getting myself together Cassie spoke up.

“Actually we are just friends.”

Cassie

Ass, to say that without knowing first. Cindy should have chosen Joe. I still couldn’t believe she didn’t. Too late now, but I didn’t want him thinking Joe and I were a couple that they had to compare themselves against.

“Joe lives in my apartment building and we have become great friends over the last few weeks.” I said explaining the arrangement.

“I am sorry, it just seemed more than that, my apologies.” Mark and then a waitress stepped up to the table.

“Good evening mister King, are you and your guests ready to order?”

We all gave her our drink orders and got to work studying the menu before she returned with our drinks. I ordered an arugula salad and soup, claiming to want to save room for desert, and Cindy did the same.

Mark and Joe both ordered steaks and potatoes, or some fancy dish that was like potatoes. Joe ordered his with a béarnaise sauce, whatever that was, and Mark asked for a side of au jus sauce. What was it with men and meat?

We talked about our jobs, Mark congratulated me in my recent promotion, and I found out he was pharmacist at the hospital. I had never thought about that position before, but it made sense. Mark was fascinated by Joe’s job and they talked amongst themselves so I could concentrate on Cindy.

She was smiling watching Joe and Mark talk and I could see the glow Joe talked about. She was happy with Mark; I could see that. I knew then that her and Joe were never going to work and gave up on that idea.

Cindy turned to me and whispered “why didn’t you want me telling the story about the dress?”

“It just didn’t feel right.” I said and it didn’t. Joe and I had went shopping and when he handed me that dress to try on I was totally against it. He persisted, and when I saw him look at me when I came out with it on, even I was caught off guard. He looked at me like I was the most beautiful woman in the world, so I bought the damn dress.

Why was I mad? Why was I getting angry because a man looked at me like that? Was it a man, or was it because Joe looked at me like that.

“Cassie, earth to Cassie.” Cindy said bringing me back to the present.

Both the guys were looking at me and I felt my cheeks getting red. “I’m sorry I got lost in a thought for a moment. What were you saying?”

“Mark was saying he has a cabin in the Adirondacks that he would like us all to come and stay with him sometime?” Cindy explained.

“Oh, that sounds nice. DO you have enough room for all of us?” I asked.

Mark looked sheepish for a second but he regained himself well. “Yeah, the guys can stay in one of the bedrooms and the girls in the other. That way if we want to get up early to go fishing we wouldn’t bother the two of you.”

Now I understood why he looked sheepish. He forgot Joe and I were just friends, and would not be sharing a room. “Joe, do you even fish?” I asked in a light manner.

“It’s been a long time, but I am sure I can figure it out again.” Joe said sounding excited. “The only problem is the season starts next week and I will be glued to the stadium until the Calder cup playoffs are over. Any chance we can do it in the spring?” Joe asked.

“Of course. Cindy already agreed to spend Christmas with me there, so she can see if we need to add anything before the two of you join us.” Mark said happily.

“That reminds me boss. I may need a few days off around the holidays.” Cindy said looking at Cassie and we all started laughing.

Dinner was wonderful and the peanut butter silk pie for desert was the perfect ending. Mark picked up the tab, which I thought was nice, even though Joe was reaching for it like I knew he would. “My treat this time. It was wonderful for the two of you to join us. How about you pay for a round of drinks at the bar.”

“Sounds good, I thought I heard some music coming from there earlier.” Joe said offering me his arm as we followed Mark and Cindy to epitome of all bars that was located on the west side of the restaurant.

A light jazz band was playing and the hostess took our orders and we waited for her to return. “Cassie let Mark dance with you. He is an excellent dancer and I wanted to discuss something with Joe.”

“What do you want to talk to him about?” I asked nervous all of a sudden.

“You have a birthday coming up and I want his thoughts on a few things. So indulge me or it will be another surprise party like last year.” She threatened.

“No, not another one of those.” I said. Cindy and a bunch of girls from were kidnapped me and took me to s strip club. Not that I was complaining about the scenery, all the men were good looking, but the way the rest of the girls acted, I felt embarrassed, and she knew it.

“Mark, would you dance with me please. Cindy wants to talk about my surprise birthday party with Joe, and I can’t know about it.” I said sticking my tongue out at Cindy as I stood up.

“I would be delighted.” Mark said coming around the table and leading me to the small but elegant dance floor.

It was a slow song and he held me but not close enough to draw Cindy’s anger and I respected that about him. We went around a few turns and when I looked over at the table I could see that Joe was upset. What about a birthday party could upset someone like that? I better find out after the dance.

Joe

“Joe what are you doing?” Cindy asked as soon as they were far enough away that they couldn’t hear us.

“I was enjoying the evening?” I said looking at her now like she was ready to deliver the final hit with a hammer.

“She isn’t into you like you want and the longer this goes on the more it will hurt when she breaks your heart.” Cindy said trying not to hurt me but doing it anyway.

“I know, but it’s too late. I’m already in love with her. I realized it on the way here. Cindy, I love her.” I explained.

“Joe, she doesn’t love you. She likes you as a friend and take it from someone who knows, she will always like you that way, but there will never be anything more. She yelled at me for choosing Mark over you, so she cares about your happiness, just not your happiness with her. I like you, you are a great guy, but when you finally figure it out, it’s going to destroy you.”

“I know Cindy, I do, it’s just what am I supposed to do? I’m already in love with her. How can I stop something like that? How can I lie to myself and tell myself that I can walk away when I know I can’t?” I pleaded with her.

“Oh Joe, you poor guy. I’m sorry. I will do everything I can for you, but when it happens it’s going to hurt.” She said and I looked out at the dance floor with tears in my eyes.

Cassie

“Ok, so what happened? I looked over and saw your face, and it looked like someone stole your puppy.” I asked coming back to the table and Mark took Cindy out to the dance floor.

Joe huffed at my question or remark, and when his eyes didn’t meet mine, I realized it was bad.

“She didn’t want to take me to a male strip club again did she? I told her never again.” I asked.

“No, nothing like that. She was just pointing out a couple of things she thought I had overlooked. It’s all good. Cindy is a great person and a better friend and she is trying to make sure everything and everyone is ok.” Joe said still looking sad.

I would get all the info later from Cindy. Right now I just wanted to enjoy myself. “Come dance with me?”

He looked stricken. “I’m not a good dancer.”

“It’s fine all we do is turn in a circle. I am sure you can handle that.” I said pulling him from his chair.

He held me closer than Mark but still not close enough to be anything other than platonic, which I was grateful for. We danced a couple and then returned to our seats and Joe got us all another round. I was getting ready to drag him back on the dance floor when I heard the voice.

“May I have this dance.” I looked up to see a man about my age with blond hair and green eyes looking at me. He was rather good looking and was well built, and before I could think anymore I stepped up and took his hand as he led me to the dance floor.

“I’m Sam, and you are lovely” he said sliding me into his arms for the dance.

“I’m Cassandra, and thank you.” I said following his lead.

We danced the dance with him pulling me closer and closer. Even though he was very good looking and I was initially attracted to him, I started getting nervous about the way he pulling me closer and closer. Then the song ended and I went to leave but he held me tightly.

“the song is over, and my friends will be expecting me.” I said trying to leave.

“I don’t think so. I saw the guy you’re here with and that is why I saved you. You deserve to be with someone like me. We look good together, so just relax and let me enjoy you.” He said and then he cupped my ass.

Don’t freak out, I said to myself. I reached down and moved his hand back up to my back, and as soon as I let go he grabbed me again.

“Remove your hand this instant.” I said.

“Why baby, this is just the beginning. You and I are going to have a great time tonight. Relax and let’s have some fun.” He said and then he grabbed my ass with both hands.

I tried breaking free but he was holding on to tight. Then he tried to kiss me and I turned my head. I saw joe and he looked at me. “Help.” I said and he was on his feet and coming toward me with a fierceness in his eyes I had never seen before.

“Let the lady go.” Joe said and Sam looked over at him and smiled.

“The lady got upgraded. Go away shrimp.” Sam said.

“I don’t think so. The lady is through with your company now remove your hands from her or I will do it for you.” Joe said never breaking eye contact with Sam once.

Other dancers around us stopped and began watching the spectacle. Sam let go of me and stood up tall. He was easily six or eight inches taller than Joe and was wider in the chest. In other words, he could probably kill him, and I brought this on him.

Sam took a step toward Joe and my hand immediately went to my mouth. Joe never even flinched. He waited for Sam to make the first move. Cindy was beside me in an instant holding me tight. Mark walked over and stood by Joe, which I admired about him instantly.

“I hope you don’t think I am afraid of the both of you do you?” Sam asked.

“I’m sure you’re not smart enough to be afraid.” Joe said still waiting.

“You’re going to regret that.” Sam said taking a swing at Joe’s head. Joe shifted left toward Mark and Sam missed completely and was off balance.

Joe immediately grabbed Sam by the arm and snaked it back behind his back and held him there with little effort that I could see. Sam began sweating and cursing. A few waiters and the maître d came over and the maître d asked “is there a problem here?”

“I believe,” Joe started. “That when a woman says no, she means no. I also believe are friend here has had too much to drink and will need a cab ride home. Isn’t that right friend?”

Sam didn’t say anything, so Joe, not believing my eyes, Pulled his arm up farther on his back. Sam screamed out. “Yes, I need a cab.”

“If you would see to that. And see that he also makes it inside please.” Joe said to the maître d.

“Of course sir. If you would um release the gentleman, my waiters here will escort him to the cab.” He said sweating a little.

“Thank you,” Joe said letting Sam go. But he never took his eyes off of him.

The waiters escorted him out of the building. Joe walked over to the Maître D apologizing for the situation and offered to pay for any damages, even though there weren’t any. They shook hands and Joe joined the rest of us.

“I’m sorry for the commotion, but it has been suggested that we finish our drinks and retire for the evening.” Joe said.

“That’s not fair. It wasn’t your fault; why are we being kicked out.” I asked.

“I instigated the situation, and in an establishment like this, it is frowned upon. We are not being permanently kicked out, so we take our victories where we can. Now, it might be best to call it a night.” Joe explained and Mark nodded his head.

I had no idea why they were acting that way. It wasn’t our fault the guy acted that way. We shouldn’t have to leave. “I’m sorry, but it’s not right. I think I am going to have a word with the Maître D.”

“No Cassandra, we are going home.” Joe said and it froze me in my tracks. The tone in his voice made me turn around and look at him.

“He will kindly explain to you that you should never have accepted to dance with the man, and then he will suggest that you could have handled it better than you did. Then he will kindly suggest you never come back again. Mark, who eats here regularly, will be asked not to come back again, and there is no winning this argument. We are going home.” Joe said.

I was a little nervous with the way he was speaking to me. I wasn’t sure I wanted to ride home with him. Not with him acting like this. I looked at Cindy and Mark. “Would you mind giving me a ride home.”

“Of course not,” Mark said.

Cindy grabbed my hand and dragged me toward the door. I didn’t fight now. I wanted to leave. I wanted to be away from Joe.

Joe

I watched her walk away with Cindy and my heart broke. Cindy was right, it was hurting, and I knew it would but I did all I could. I couldn’t let the man hurt her and then I couldn’t let Cassie hurt Mark and Cindy because she was upset about the situation. I took it all in.

“Joe, I’m sorry.” Mark said.

“I’m the one who should apologize. Maybe I could have handled it better, but I didn’t. Explain to Cindy that I didn’t mean to ruin the night for you two.”

“Cindy understands. She sees a lot and understands a lot. Cassie is just upset; she will get over it.” Mark said.

“She might, but will I?”

We shook goodnight and I let them leave first so Cassie wouldn’t have to see me and that she would not have to worry about me running into her at the apartment. I needed to vent some steam so I waited and once I was sure they were gone I went to leave. I knew where I had to go and what I needed to do.

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