Chapter 18: French Quarter
The constant chatter of a mixture of tourists and locals filled the large, high-ceilinged dining room. The clatter of dishes as the numerous waiters and waitresses cleared the tables as they became available, usually not having an opportunity to get them wiped clean before the next customers in line took a seat the instant the table became available, added to the noise.
As expected, the French Quarter coffee stand on the corner of Decatur and St. Ann on the edge of Jackson Square known as Cafe Du Monde was buzzing with people wanting a morning treat of the world-famous French-style beignets. The chicory-blended coffee served either black or au lait (half hot coffee, half hot milk) was also a favorite. The wait-line was long, but both having visited numerous times in the past, Cassie and Jacob knew it would move quickly.
They had discussed sitting on the covered outdoor patio but agreed that, even with the massive ceiling fans, the morning heat and humidity were already on the verge of miserable, headed toward insufferable by late afternoon. Once seated, they each ordered a plate of three beignets and an iced coffee and were served within minutes.
Cassie took her first bite of the fried donut-like pastry blanketed in powdered sugar, and then immediately wiped her mouth with her paper napkin.
“I love these,” she said, “but they are the messiest things in the world to eat!”
“That they are,” Jacob said as he prepared to take his first bite.
The couple chatted while they ate. Jacob explained that his morning meeting was with a small group of individual contractors like himself who gathered once a month at one of the local hotels.
“Kind of a support group, but mostly a bunch of guys wanting to get together to BS. Good guys, though, I always enjoy the meetings. They usually last a couple of hours, so I should be out around noon.”
“No, problem. I’m sure I can manage to occupy the time with shopping. If not, I’ll find a cool spot to sit and read.” Cassie reached into her over-sized handbag hanging on the back of her chair and pulled out a paperback book.
“You came prepared! So, who are you reading? Anne Rice?”
“Goodness, no. I’m not really into vampires, though I did read a couple of her early ones and saw the movie with Tom Cruise. I prefer John Grisham, Pat Conroy, Sandra Brown. This author I recently came across. Cassandra Carrington.”
“Grisham’s good. Never heard of this one,” Jacob said, referring to the paperback. “Mystery?”
“Romance,” Cassie replied as she returned the novel to her bag.
After taking the last bite of her second beignet, she pushed the small plate away.
“I always think I can eat all three, but it never happens.” She reached for another napkin, wiped her hands and then her mouth. “Did I get it all?”
Jacob, who had sat next to her rather than across the table from her, picked up a napkin from the small stack in the middle of the table.
“You missed a spot,” he said, as he dabbed one corner of her mouth with it, and then as if on impulse, leaned in and kissed her.
“This is getting to be a habit.”
“You cleaning my face.”
Jacob blushed. “Yeah, I guess it is. Sorry.”
“I wasn’t complaining, Jacob, just commenting. But you can kiss me without cleaning my face first.”
“That’s good to know,” he said, smiling sheepishly.
Noticing the clock on the wall, Cassie said, “You’re going to be late for your meeting.”
Jacob quickly paid the bill and then led her outside, where they walked along the crowded sidewalk four blocks, passing by Jackson Square and some street performers along the way before reaching the Bienville House Hotel. Standing just outside the front entrance to the historic French manor-style hotel, Jason informed Cassie before they parted company that he would text her when his meeting ended.
“Are you sure you’re okay by yourself?” he asked.
“Yes, Jacob, I’m quite fine alone in the French Quarter. I know my way around, and I know to stay off the wickedBourbon Street and out of perilous alleys,” she teased.
“Good.” He quickly kissed her and then opened the door to head inside. “Do be careful, though, Cassie. And text me if you need me.”
“I will. I promise. Enjoy your meeting.”
Cassie smiled to herself as he disappeared inside, pleased that he was concerned for her safety. Her husband of over twenty years hadn’t seemed to give her a second thought after he walked out on her, other than to have her sign necessary papers that allowed him to move on with his life without her. Jacob was so different from Phillip—sweet, thoughtful, gentle. He had such a shy, insecure innocence about him at times, yet the few times his mouth had devoured hers, he seemed anything but innocent. She had never met anyone quite like Jacob Miller. She’d been nervous around him at first, had resisted any closeness with him, hadn’t wanted any personal involvement with him. But that had changed as they became more acquainted with other. She liked the way she felt safe and comfortable when she was with him, the way he made her feel special, the way her heart fluttered each time his lips touched hers.
Ready to begin her shopping, she turned and headed toward Royal Street two blocks over, well known for its large number of antique shops, art galleries, and a variety of other unique shops.
Two hours later, having made all the shops of interest on that street, having spent much more money than she had planned and in need of a cool place to sit and rest, she walked back to the hotel to wait for Jacob’s text.
Seated in one of two plush Queen Anne style chairs in the lobby of the hotel, Cassie took note of the French parlor-like charm and the Old-World furnishings. The warm, cozy atmosphere was very much what she wanted to achieve in the main room of Tara, a place where guests could relax and visit, or just read a book or the morning newspaper.
She glanced up at the clock on the wall, anxious to see Jacob and share with him all the purchases she made. To help pass the time, she pulled the paperback novel out of her bag and began reading.
Engrossed in the latest steamy love scene, one of many throughout the story between the beautiful heroine and the dark, handsome, brooding hero, Cassie jumped when she heard someone call her name.
“I was about to text you. Didn’t expect to see you sitting there. Sorry, didn’t mean to startle you.”
“That’s okay,” she replied, quickly stuffing the novel back into her bag, embarrassed by what Jacob had caught her reading, hoping it didn’t show on her face.
“Looks like you got a bit sunburned on your face,” he commented.
“I did? Guess I should have worn a hat today. So, how was your meeting?” she asked, wanting to divert the topic of conversation.
“Too long. Just my luck, the one time I have a beautiful woman waiting for me, we have a winded speaker in attendance. It was good, though. How about you? Have you been here reading all this time?”
“No. I’ve only been here a few minutes. I had a very successful morning of shopping.”
“Great! You can fill me in over lunch,” Jacob replied. “Ready?”
“Yes. I’m somewhat hungry, though I don’t need much.”
Also preferring a light lunch, Jacob suggested the Crescent City Brewhouse on Decatur, two blocks back toward Jackson Square.
Once seated in the Brewhouse, Cassie said, “This is very much like The Cozy Grape, with the exposed red brick and all. Very similar decor. Is that what you like about it?”
“Well, I do like that, but I mostly like the beer selections. I’m sorry, though, I wasn’t even thinking. I don’t think that they have wine.”
“That’s fine. A good cold beer sounds refreshing.”
“I didn’t think you drank beer?”
“I don’t. I’m making an exception today. Which do you recommend?” Cassie asked as she studied the menu.
Jacob smiled as if pleased she was willing to try something he enjoyed.
“I suggest the Alligator Sausage Poboy and the Red Stallion brew.”
Cassie quickly read the descriptions of both on the menu. “Um—yeah. I think I’ll pass on both.” The medium-bodied beer sounded a bit too much for her, and she did not eat alligator. She chose instead to order the Southern Catfish Tacos—minus the rice and beans—and the lighter, classic Old-World Pilsner beer.
While they sipped their cold beers, Jacob asked about the successful shopping she had mentioned.
“I got a little carried away. You had better finish my apartment in Tara, ’cause I pretty much furnished it this morning!”
“Well, not completely. But I did buy several antique pieces I couldn’t resist. And a large painting for the fireplace in the main room. And several smaller ones as well.”
“Think it will all fit in the trunk of your car?” Jacob teased.
“Not with the top down, that’s for sure!”
They both laughed, and then she explained that the store would deliver it at a later date.
“Of course, I have no idea where I’ll put it once they do. Guess I’ll have to rent a storage unit for it all. But it’s exciting to get at least started on the furnishings. I had planned to hire a decorator to do it all, but now I think I want to do a lot of it myself. I certainly have the time. And I know Margo would love to help if I can drag her away from your foreman long enough.” She paused, then said, “And I shouldn’t sit here and bore you with decorating nonsense.”
“Cassie, you could never bore me, whatever the conversation. Besides, I love seeing you excited about things, especially Tara. I love the way your eyes sparkle when you’re excited.”
“I am excited about it, more and more every day. So hurry up and get finished with it!”
Jacob laughed. “We’re doing the best we can. We still have a long way to go, though.”
“I know. So, tell me about this new project, the one that came up this weekend,” Cassie said, taking advantage of the opportunity to work it into the conversation.
Jacob told her all about the Jeff and Amy MacFarland and their plans to renovate their large Baton Rouge Garden District home and his dinner with them at their club.
“Sounds like a great project,” she said, pleased to know who had occupied Jacob’s Saturday afternoon, and evening, preventing him from calling her.
Once they finished their lunch, they moved on to Jackson Square, where they joined a small crowd surrounding a trio of musicians. They hung around for several minutes enjoying the light jazz sounds, as well as the closeness of each other, as Jacob wrapped his arm around her waist and pulled her close. When the trio broke for a “quick smoke” Jacob dropped a few bills in the open instrument case on the ground, and then he and Cassie moved on to the next street vendor—an artist painting portraits.
Jacob insisted Cassie sit for the artist, telling her she could hang the portrait somewhere in Tara.
Cassie declined as she wiped moisture from her brow, insisting the last thing she needed was a self-portrait with sweat dripping down her face.
“Good point,” Jacob said, tugging at his shirt now dotted with large dark spots of perspiration.
“I suggest some indoor shopping. How about Jax Brewery? Perhaps I can find a hat in one of the little shops there?”
“Works for me,” Jacob replied.
Once inside the air-conditioned four-story landmark building that had once been the brewing and bottling house of Jax Beer from the late 1800s until the mid-’70s, the two held hands as they checked out the various shops on each floor, mostly window-shopping before finally stopping at one called Victoria’s Creations. There Cassie tried on some different style hats, modeling each one for Jacob for his approval until finally settling on one they both liked.
They finished their day on the patio of Jax Brewery, enjoying a bowl of frozen yogurt while admiring the fantastic view of the Mississippi River.
“I’m sure glad I got up the nerve to invite you to join me today,” Jacob said, as he attempted to kiss her, finding the broad brim of her new hat in the way.
“I’m glad I accepted.” Cassie laughed as she moved the hat further back on her head, allowing for a successful, lengthy kiss. “It’s been a fun day.”
The drive back to Vacherie, with the top up and the air conditioner running full blast, was quiet, with Jacob concentrating on the heavy late afternoon traffic of the Interstate while Cassie relaxed, enjoying the soft, mellow sounds of her favorite iTunes playlist artists through the Bluetooth audio.