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Chapter 13: First date

Cassie stood in her tiny closet, sorting through the hanging clothes in search of the perfect dress for her dinner with Jacob. Though she had stored her winter clothes, as well as all her formal wear, the racks were still jam-packed. She missed little about her Baton Rouge country club home except for her walk-in closet and looked forward to the walk-in Beau had drawn into the plans for her apartment in Tara. This closet depressed her.

Jacob had suggested she dress “cool and comfortable” for their evening out, saying he had made dinner reservations at The Cozy Grape Wine Bar & Bistro in Donaldsonville, a small city along River Road on the west bank of the Mississippi River. With Donaldsonville just over thirty miles northwest off Vacherie, Tara sat halfway between the two. Jacob added that his plans for the evening included dessert at a location much more casual than The Cozy Grape with much less air conditioning.

Rating the first dress selection dull, and the second one—a favorite—too dressy and cut way too low for the occasion, Cassie continued sorting through several more until finally coming across the perfect one—a red polka dot 50′s style sundress. With halter straps that tied in back and a sweetheart neckline, the dress was somewhat sexy, though nowhere near the one in her dream. She loved it but had only worn it once. Phillip hadn’t seemed impressed with it, asking her at the time if polka dots were back in style, adding that he hoped not.

Her choice of high-wedged red espadrille sandals, simple pearl earrings, and single-pearl necklace on a short, dainty chain that once belonged to Cassie’s now-deceased mother completed the outfit.

Cassie had stored all her jewelry given to her by Phillip over the years in a safe-deposit box, not knowing what else to do with it, and having no plans to wear it ever again. She had considered returning all of it to Phillip but feared he would give it to Melanie. Melanie already had Phillip, and plenty of jewelry he’d probably given her. Cassie damn well wasn’t giving her more. Perhaps Patricia would want it someday if she ever found it in her heart to forgive her dad. Cassie hoped she would, but that was between father and daughter; she had no desire to get in the middle of it.

Ready and waiting when Jacob arrived promptly at seven, she grabbed her small red clutch bag and headed out the front door. He met her halfway up her long sidewalk.

“Wow. You look nice,” Jacob said as he greeted her with a wide smile. “Very pretty.”

“Thank you. You look quite handsome as well.”

Having seen Jacob always dressed in faded, tattered jeans and light-colored tee-shirts, she found his clothing choice for the evening appealing. Phillip would have never considered dressing so casually for dinner, but Jacob’s dark denim jeans and navy polo shirt seemed perfect. The navy color brought out the blue in his eyes; the snug fit accentuated his firm, muscled physique. Jacob had never needed a health club or work-out gym full of weights and machines to keep his body firm, she was sure; he, as well as Mark, had achieved that through years of hard, physical labor. She found that, and pretty much everything else about Jacob including his dimpled, boyish good looks and his ingenuous country boy charm, incredibly sexy.

As soon as they entered the restaurant located in the Donaldsonville Historic District, well-known for its numerous antebellum buildings, a gentleman Cassie assumed to be the owner greeted them.

“Jacob Miller! How are you, my friend? I was so very pleased when I saw your reservation for this evening. It’s been too long since you’ve been in.”

“It has been a while; I’ve been busy, Antonio. I’d like you to meet Cassie Monroe.”

Taking her hand in his and kissing the back of it, Antonio said, “Ms. Monroe, it is my pleasure to meet you.” Looking back at Jacob with a twinkle in his eye, he said, “Jacob, is this beautiful woman what has kept you so busy that you could not visit us?”

Jacob blushed. “Well, she is keeping me busy. Ms. Monroe bought the old Savoy plantation on River Road between here and Vacherie. She’s hired me to renovate it. We just started a few weeks ago.”

“Savoy? Savoy?” Antonio repeated the name as if trying to place it. Then his eyes suddenly lit up. “Ah! Yes! I know the place. Oh, my! It is said to be haunted by ghosts!”

“Only one ghost,” Cassie said, smiling, Antonio still holding her hand.

“Oh, but my dear Ms. Monroe, even one ghost is too many! Have you seen this ghost?”

“Not yet,” Jacob replied. Cassie couldn’t help but notice his grin as he spoke, very much like a child up to something.

“Well, I know nothing of this ghost, Ms. Monroe, but I do know you hired the right man for your renovation. He is the best, as you can see.” Antonio made a hand motion as if presenting the entire restaurant to her. “But enough chat, you must sit. My best table for you, Jacob Miller, as always.”

“And as always, much appreciated,” Jacob replied.

Once she and Jacob were seated and left to themselves, Cassie said, “Well, I believe there’s a story here for you to tell.”

Jacob smiled, once again blushing. “This restaurant was one of my more challenging projects, one of my best, I believe. We renovated this building a few years ago. The two-story commercial building was built in 1920 and was in major disrepair. It took us way over a year to restore and preserve it to meet the standards for approval by the National Historic Preservation. Part of the history of the building supposedly involves Al Capone during the bootlegging years.”

“Really? How interesting!” Cassie said as she looked around, taking in the decor. “It’s wonderful!” The exposed red brick against green walls was Art Deco in style; beautiful mosaic tile covered the floor, exposed beams lined the ceiling, the lighting subdued, giving it the same feel as part of its name—Cozy.

“I’m proud of it. The brick, tile, beams, everything original to the building. Thought you might enjoy seeing it, with your interest in saving old historical places. It’s not the fanciest place for dinner, but the authentic Louisiana Creole and Cajun dishes are the best you’ll find anywhere around.”

“I would guess Antonio is much more Italian than Cajun,” Cassie remarked.

“He is. But his chef is as Cajun as they come. Even more so than Beau.”

Jacob handed Cassie a small menu already on the table. “The wine list is extensive. I’ll let you select if you’d like. Not my specialty.”

Over the course of the evening, they chatted throughout the meal, mostly about Tara, but also a bit about their personal lives. Cassie mentioned nothing about Phillip, or their marriage, or divorce. Jacob knew she was recently divorced, and that was all he needed to know. She did tell him all about Patricia and Paul and their summer adventures. She admitted she missed them and was looking forward to their short visit at the end of the summer before they both headed to school in North Carolina.

Jacob gave little details of his marriage, except that it just hadn’t worked out, had been divorced for five years, and no family, having waited for the “right time” until it was too late. She could tell he was disappointed and was disappointed for him, believing he would make an incredible father. He talked about his siblings and the fact that he was the youngest of five.

“Do you see your family often?” Cassie asked.

“Not as much as I’d like,” he replied. “They all married and moved away. I’m the only one who stayed in the area.”

“So, what was it like to be the youngest of five and the only male? Were you close to your sisters?” she asked, herself an only child.

“Miserable! They picked on me unmercifully. And they were all bigger than me and beat me up all the time,” he said, smiling.

“Aww, poor Jacob!” she teased.

“That’s okay. I got revenge by destroying their dolls!”

“Jacob! I can’t believe you did that.”

He laughed, again blushing. “I didn’t. I built them dollhouses to try to get on their good side.”

“Did it work?”

“Rarely. My youngest sister and I were close, though. She took up for me a lot of the time."

“Are the two of you still close?”

“Pretty much. She and her family live in Oregon. But, we keep in touch as often as possible. She stays busy herself with five grandkids!”

“Oh, my! I can’t even imagine.”

“Me, either,” Jacob said as he glanced at his watch. Cassie had noticed him checking it several times toward the end of the meal as if he had a schedule of some sort.

“You mentioned dessert elsewhere, Jacob, which surprises me. The dinner was excellent, and I noticed quite an elaborate dessert menu here. Do we have a reservation somewhere? Is that why you seem to be watching the time?”

“Sort of,” he replied. “And I believe if we leave now, our timing should be about right. If you’re ready, that is. I don’t want to rush you.”

“You’re not.” Cassie took the last sip of her wine, not wanting to waste such a nice one. “I’m ready anytime.”

Jacob motioned for the waitress to bring their check. Once it was taken care of, and they were walking out to Jacob’s truck, Cassie asked, “So, I’m curious. Where are we going for dessert?”

“You’ll see,” he replied as he opened the passenger door and helped her step inside. His grin was the same as she had noticed during the discussion of ghosts with Antonio.

A/N — The Cozy Grape Wine Bar & Bistro is fictional, though the description and history are based on the real Grapevine Cafe and Gallery in Donaldsonville, Louisiana.

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