Chapter 6: Cheers
Jacob Miller drove along the dirt road that led to the abandoned plantation home, though not sure why. It wasn’t likely that she would be there. And if she was, how would he explain his appearance? That he just saw her black Audi sedan and figured he’d stop? He knew that wouldn’t fly. He wouldn’t see the car from the highway. He would have no excuse, yet he couldn’t help himself. He didn’t even know for sure if the Audi had been hers. It could have been her friend’s car. He knew nothing about Cassie Monroe, except that she lived in Baton Rouge and she was interested in buying this place and turning it into a Bed and Breakfast. He couldn’t get her out of his head. It had been ten days since their meeting, and he hadn’t heard back from her since.
Was there a Mr. Monroe? He’d noticed her bare ring finger but knew that meant nothing. She could have chosen not to wear it that day. She had come dressed in working clothes. It was possible she had decided to leave the big diamonds at home. And he knew from experience that potential clients often downplayed their finances.
There was something about this woman that attracted him, but he couldn’t pinpoint what exactly. Yeah, she was attractive, but her friend had been even more so, with the long blond hair, blue eyes, and perfect body. And the friend had indeed made it known she was interested in him. And available. But it had been Cassie Monroe who had piqued his interest. Cassie Monroe, with the short dark hair and deep blue eyes. Unlike her friend, she had shown no interest in him. If anything, she had been hostile toward him. So why did he find himself always thinking about her and checking his cell phone for a missed call from her?
He wanted the project. It was a good one that would take several months, keeping his crew busy for quite some time. And they needed the work; business had been slow the past few months. He’d had small projects, but nothing significant like this one. But he wouldn’t lie to himself. He wanted the project, but not just for the work, but to work with Ms. Monroe.
He sat in his truck, staring out the windshield at the mansion surrounded by overgrown brush. That would be the first project, to clear the site around the house, and then start cleaning out the inside, removing all the wild varmints that had made it their home over the years and the mess they had made of it.
He pulled his cell phone from his jean’s pocket and made the call. Disappointed when it went to voicemail after several rings, he left a message.
“Miss Monroe, this is Jacob Miller, the contractor you met with a couple of weeks ago. I just thought I’d check in with you, see if you had any questions, or if you had made any decision about purchasing that plantation home in Vacherie. Give me a call at your convenience.”
After disconnecting the call, he tossed the phone in the passenger seat and started the engine. He was nearly back to the highway when it beeped, signaling an incoming call.
“Sorry, Mr. Miller,” the caller said on the other end of the line when he answered. “I was upstairs and didn’t hear my phone ring.”
He recognized Cassie’s voice at once, and his heart began to race. “No problem, and please, do call me Jacob.”
“I meant to call you sooner, Mr. Miller. I just haven’t had the time. I started the paperwork for the purchase of the place. If all goes well, I should close on it in two weeks.”
“That’s great news. Glad to hear it. Have you decided about working with me?”
Jacob held his breath as he waited for Cassie’s reply, trying not to put too much into the fact that she continued to refer to him as Mr. Miller.
“I want you to clean it out for me, and then give me an estimate of the renovation. We’ll proceed from there. I’ll call you as soon as I close on the purchase.”
“That sounds good. I’ll look forward to hearing from you. Thanks for returning my call so quickly.”
“Goodbye, Mr. Miller.”
“I’m curious if Mr. Monroe will be participating in the project? If so, I wouldn’t mind meeting him. Perhaps the three of us could have dinner some evening soon.”
Yeah, it was direct, he knew, probably too much so. But it was worth the risk to know.
“No. My husband will not be participating. My husband and I are in the process of divorcing.”
“I’m very sorry to hear that,” Jacob replied, ashamed that he wasn’t all that sorry. He knew from his own experience the heartache and the hardship of divorce.
“Perhaps the two of us could meet for dinner,” he suggested. “I can give you some numbers for the cleanup, and information on the architect, if you’d like to meet him.”
“Couldn’t you just email me that information?”
“Yes, I can do that.”
“I think that would be best. I’ll text you my email address. Now I really must go. Goodbye.”
“Goodbye.” Jacob frowned as he disconnected the call, still pleased that no husband would be involved, but discouraged by Cassie’s apparent lack of interest. Strictly business on her part — she couldn’t have made that any clearer.
Cassie nibbled on a breadstick, wishing she had ordered a drink instead of telling the waiter she would wait for her dinner companion to arrive.
When Margo finally did, Cassie stood and hugged her.
“So, my dear friend,” Margo said as she unfolded her black cloth napkin after being seated, “what are we celebrating tonight that you refused to tell me over the phone?”
“We need a drink first so that we can toast the special occasion,” Cassie replied.
“Come on, spill it. What will we be toasting?”
“We will be toasting the fact that as of today, I am no longer a married woman!”
Margo looked at Cassie with obvious concern. “The divorce is final?”
“As of this morning.”
“Okay, I’m sorry, but this is wrong.”
“You do not celebrate the end of your marriage by having dinner in a fancy, stuffy restaurant.” Margo tossed her napkin on the table. “Come on. We’re getting out of here.”
“We can’t just get up and leave!” Cassie protested. “I reserved the table in advance. And I need a drink.”
“And you’ll get one. Several. But not here.”
“Where do you think, Cassie? A bar!”
“A nightclub, a lounge. Call it whatever you want!”
“We still can’t just get up and walk out without even ordering.”
“Sure we can. Hold on.”
Searching the room for a waiter, Margo finally spotted one at the table behind her.
“Yes? Can I help you?”
“Yes, my friend here is suddenly feeling quite ill. The stomach virus that’s going around, I’m almost sure of it. I’m afraid we’re not going to able to stay.”
Amused by Margo’s scheme, Cassie decided to play along. She cupped her hand over her mouth as she moaned.
The waiter’s eyes grew big. “Oh dear!”
“We truly are sorry. We made a reservation and everything!”
“Please, do not concern yourself,” the waiter insisted, motioning for them to leave.
Margo helped Cassie from her chair, and the ladies quickly made their way through the restaurant and out the front door. Once outside, they both broke out in laughter.
“Oh, my God! That was hilarious! The waiter couldn’t get us out of there fast enough! You are incredible, Margo.”
“He was afraid you were going to barf all over his pretty white tablecloth and spread your germs. Let’s get out of here. I’m driving; leave your car here. We’ll come back for it tomorrow.”
“I can’t just leave my car here overnight! What if something happens to it? What if someone breaks into it and steals it?”
“Then you file a claim with the insurance company and buy a new one!”
“You know, I have been thinking about trading it for something else. Something sportier.”
“Now you’re talking! Come on, let’s go celebrate the right way!”
“A sports car, huh?” Margo questioned as she pulled out of the restaurant parking lot. “I can see you in a fancy two-seater convertible. Go for it.”
Cassie shrugged her shoulders. “I might. I’m also thinking about changing my hair color. Maybe going blond. What do you think? They do have more fun, right?”
Margo shook her head. “I think no. A new car, yes. But, Cassie. Not a new you. You are beautiful and perfect the way you are. Don’t try to change yourself. There’s no need. Maybe lighten up some, don’t be so rigid, but otherwise, don’t try to change just because Phillip was too big of an idiot to realize what he had.”
Sitting in a booth for two in a dark, quiet corner of The Roux House, Margo and Cassie clinked their martini glasses together.
“To shitty ex-husbands!” Cassie exclaimed, then took a large sip of her drink.
“So, how are you doing, Cassie? Are you okay?”
“I’m glad it’s all done and finalized. But, to be honest, I feel mostly numb.”
“I know the feeling. Same with me when my first marriage ended in divorce after only two years.”
“It’s hard to explain. The last twenty years of my life over. Just like that.”
“How are the kids handling it?”
“By staying away. Avoiding facing it. And I'm okay with that for now. I understand. I wanted to do that myself. Patricia decided to spend the summer in Australia. Paul’s still in Europe. Neither will speak to Phillip. And would you believe, he blames me for that. Says I turned our kids against him. Unbelievable. He did the cheating, with my best friend no less, yet I’m the bad guy.”
“Have you seen or talked to Melanie since your birthday party?”
“No, I haven’t. And if I never lay eyes on the bitch again, it will be too soon. Have you seen her?”
“No, she’s made a point to avoid both of us it seems.”
“She has her travel business up for sale. Did you know that? Guess she doesn’t need it anymore. Now that she and Phillip are living together, I guess she doesn’t need to travel to be with him. I hope he cheats on her, just like he did me.”
“It would serve her right, but enough talk of them. What’s going on with you and the dream home in Vacherie?”
“I close on it next week.”
“That’s great! So, are you going to hire that hot contractor, Jacob whatever?”
“Yes. At least to do the cleanup.”
“So, have you met with him again?”
“No, not yet. Mr. Miller called last week. Offered to take my husband and me out to dinner.”
“Did you tell him about the divorce?”
“What do you mean and? And what?”
“What did he say?”
Cassie laughed. “If you must know, he offered to take me to dinner, to talk about the cleanup and other things.”
“Did you go?”
“Why not, for heaven’s sake?”
“Because it didn’t seem right.” Raising her empty glass, Cassie said, “I need another drink.”
Margo called the waiter over. “Two more martinis, please. And keep them coming. And a plate of the assorted appetizers.”
“Food. Good idea. Another martini on an empty stomach and I'll be drunk.”
“Oh, prepare to be plastered before the night's over. We're just getting started! So back to Jacob Miller. What do you mean it didn’t seem right? Why not? He invited you to dinner, not to bed. A business dinner. You should have accepted. You’re single now, Cassie, you can have dinner with a man, you can have sex with a man, whatever you want to do! Hell, you can pick up one of those men at the bar that keep checking us out. I’m surprised they haven’t made their way over here yet.”
“I don’t want to do any of that, Margo. Especially pick up some strange man in a bar! They probably all have wives sitting at home. Jerks.”
“So, all men are now jerks because Phillip is?”
Cassie waited to reply as the waiter returned with their drinks.
After taking a large sip of her second martini, she said, “I don’t know. I know that I loved Phillip. I adored him. He was my life, and he broke my heart. I need time to get over that. I need time to heal. I’m not ready to move on with that part of my life, and I can’t imagine that I will be anytime soon. Besides, I thought you had the hots for Jacob Miller.”
“He’s a cutie, for sure. But there are plenty of others around. I’ll leave this one for you,” Margo said, smiling.
“Aren’t you generous! Thanks. But I’m not interested.”
“Come on. Confess. Surely you noticed what a hunk the man is. Think of what he must look like without a shirt! Going to get hot this summer working in that unairconditioned mansion.”
“Would you stop it!” Cassie took another sip of her martini. “Of course I noticed! My heart might be damaged, but my eyesight is still working fine.”
Margo raised her martini. “Well, then, here’s to perfect vision and Louisiana summer heat.”