Pulling into the Baton Rouge restaurant Tuesday morning, Cassie spotted Phillip's black Audi sedan immediately. Her palms began to sweat as her heartbeat increased at the sight of it. She parked her car far away from his and then sat for several minutes trying to calm her nerves.
Just don't let him get to you. Stay calm, no matter what he says. You know what you want to say. Just say it and leave.
She reached into her purse for her phone and made a quick call. Jacob answered on the third ring. She could hear hammering and sawing in the background.
"Hey, Cassie. What's up?"
"Not much. I just wanted to hear your voice."
"So come out. You can see my face as well. And I can see yours. I missed you last night."
"I missed you, too. I'm in Baton Rouge. I'm going to do some shopping, but I'll stop by Tara on my way home. I love you, Jacob."
"I love you, too."
She disconnected the call, returned her phone to her handbag, checked her lipstick in the rearview mirror, and then stepped out of the car and walked to the restaurant entrance.
"I'm meeting someone who I believe is already here. Phillip Monroe," she told the hostess.
"Yes, of course. Please follow me."
When Cassie reached the table, Phillip stood, looking as sharp as ever in his black Armani suit, white shirt, and tie.
"You look great, Cassie," he said as he waited for her to sit before returning to his chair. "As beautiful as ever."
"Thank you." With both elbows on the table, and her hands clasped together under her chin, she studied him for a few seconds.
"Pink tie. That's new. I believe you've added several gray hairs since I saw you last as well."
Straightening his neckwear, Phillip replied, "Yes, it is new. Like it?"
She shook her head. "Not particularly."
"Well, I guess it's an acquired taste. I rather like it myself."
"I'm sure you do," Cassie replied, quite confident the new preference in tie colors was compliments of Melanie.
Phillip touched his hair just above his ears. "You don't mind the few added gray hairs, though, right? As I recall, you always thought they added character."
"Yes, you did."
"Hmm. I guess my tastes have changed since. It happens, doesn't it."
"Yes, I guess it does."
The waiter arrived with two glasses of water.
"What can I get you to drink?" he asked. "Something from the bar, perhaps."
"Just the water for me, thank you," Cassie replied.
"I'll have a Scotch and soda."
"Yes, sir. I'll have it right out."
After the waiter left, Phillip asked, "No wine, Cassie?"
"No. Let's get on with why we're here, shall we?"
"Whatever you say. Your idea to meet. You start."
"That message you left me Saturday. What the hell, Phillip? That is not you. That is not the man I lived with for twenty years, the man I loved. What has happened to that man? Where'd he go? Or did he not exist at all?"
"I haven't changed, Cassie. I'm still that same man."
"If so, then I didn't know you at all. But I think you have changed, and I blame Melanie for it."
"Leave Melanie out of this!"
Cassie's laugh was bitter.
"If only that were possible. Phillip, you know I didn't turn Paul and Patricia against you. You did that all on your own. When you walked out on me, you walked out on them as well. At least in their minds. They adored you. You broke their hearts as well as mine. I will never forgive you for it, but they will, in time. I've never bad-mouthed you to them. I explained to them what was going on at the time, but nothing more. I haven't even seen them since before you left me. They won't even come home, and I know it's because they can't face the fact that we're not together anymore."
"Well, they're going to have to face it someday. It's time our kids grew up and faced reality."
"Sometimes reality is too painful to face, but they will, in time. Have you tried to reach out to them? Have you tried to explain anything to them?"
"How the hell can I do that when they don't even answer my calls? It's been months, and they still ignore them."
"Months! Wow! How dare they take so long! Seriously, Phillip. So your solution is to just cut them out of your life? Out of everything? That's not you. That's Melanie. Greedy, selfish, self-centered Melanie. She wants it all—the money, you to herself, everything. Yes, she was one of my best friends. But I wasn't blind to her. Are you that much in love with her that you will let her turn you against your children? The money for their college education is there. Or should be, if Melanie hasn't already gotten her hands on it. We started saving for it the day Patricia was born. Stop being such an ass. Pay for their college expenses, and give them time. They promise to come home Thanksgiving. Make an effort to talk to them then. Work things out with your children. In the meantime, do not call me again, unless it is an emergency involving one of them. Do not leave me another nasty voicemail. Anything you have to say to me, say it through our attorneys. I want nothing more to do with you."
She started to get up to leave, then hesitated.
"Oh, one more thing. I do have a life. I have moved on, with a gorgeous hunk who is ten times the man you could ever be. I'm over you. I don't give a shit about you, only the two children we created together."
She stood and picked up her glass of ice water she hadn't touched.
"Enjoy your lunch," she said, as she dumped the full glass of water in his lap before walking off.
Having sealed the deal with the MacFarlands the evening of his accident on the Sunshine Bridge, Jacob began spending much more time with them than he had in the past. Though pleased for him, Cassie found herself less than thrilled with the amount of the time they took Jacob away from her and Tara.
"I'm beginning to think the MacFarland's are two old people with a lot of money and no friends," she replied upon learning they had invited him and his architect to the Saturday LSU home football game.
Jacob laughed. "You may be right about that. But hey, I get good seats at football games out of it!"
"And I get to spend Saturday by myself," Cassie complained.
Jacob took her in his arms. "Not Saturday night. The game will be over around eight or so. I'll come straight here afterward."
"Fine. But don't take the Sunshine Bridge."
Jacob laughed again.
"Okay. So which bridge do you want me to take? I have my choice of three. The Sunshine Bridge, the Gramercy Bridge, or the I-10 bridge to Port Allen and around? Or would you prefer I swim across the Mississippi River to get back?"
"I'd prefer you stay on this side of it!"
"You know that's not possible. Besides, I could meet a drunk driver just as easily on River Road."
"I know. And I know I'm not reasonable. Just be careful."
"I will. I promise."
Jacob kept his promise and made it safely back to Cassie's Saturday evening after the game. As they cuddled on the sofa, watching a movie late that evening, they heard a knock at the front door.
"Expecting someone?" Jacob asked.
"Want me to see who is it is?"
When the knocking returned, much more aggressively, Cassie said, "Yeah, maybe you should."
As soon as Jacob opened the door, Margo entered, followed by Mark.
"Good," Margo said. "You're both fully clothed."
"Look who's here, Cassie," Jacob said. "It's M&M."
"M&M. Why, aren't you clever! Come up with that one all by yourself, sweetie?"
Jacob grinned. "I have my moments."
"Yes! So I've heard!" Margo replied with a twinkle in her eyes. Reaching toward Jacob's privates, she began singing.
"Sometimes you feel like a nut—"
Jumping backward, Jacob exclaimed, "Hey, watch it there! And wrong candy."
"Whatever, sweetie. It's all candy," Margo said, patting him on the cheek with her left hand.
Mark, who hadn't spoken, stood laughing and shaking his head.
"Oh my God!" Cassie exclaimed, jumping up from the sofa.
Turning to face her, Jacob said, "Hey, she's your friend!"
"Not that!" she replied as she quickly approached them. "This!"
Cassie grabbed Margo's left hand and held it up, exposing a huge diamond solitaire ring.
Beaming, Margo said, "Yes! That's why we're here. Mark proposed tonight, and I said yes." She wiggled her hand, allowing the marquise cut stone to sparkle in the light.
"Why, I do declare! Blanche Devereux engaged. Who would have thought it?"
"Who?" Mark asked, a confused expression on his face.
"No, one, sweetheart," Margo replied, patting him on his firm stomach. "You pay Miss Cassie Monroe no never mind." Turning back to Cassie, she said, "And I have been engaged—not to mention married—more than once, my dear friend. Not my first rodeo, you know."
"I know. But I never expected it to happen again. Not with someone so young, anyway."
"Cassie Monroe, now, you stop that. You're going to give my beau the wrong impression." Margo batted her long eyelashes as she spoke.
"Don't fall for this Southern belle routine of hers, Mark, and you'll be fine," Cassie teased. "A toast is in order! Let me open some champagne."
Returning from the kitchen a few minutes later with an open bottle of champagne and four poured glasses on a small round serving tray, Cassie handed each one a drink, then took her own, setting the tray on the coffee table.
Holding her glass up, she said, "To Mark and Margo, may you always be as happy as you are at this moment." She took a small sip then set her glass on the tray.
"One little sip, that's all?" Margo asked. "Drink up, girl, we're celebrating!"
Cassie looked at her glass.
"I'll drink the rest in a minute. I want another look at that ring. That thing is huge!"
"Yeah, that's quite a rock there, Mark. I must be paying you too well," Jacob added with a grin.
"Never mind that, boss. That's just years of modest living."
"Speaking of living," Cassie said to Margo, "what are your plans? Where will you live? Have you set a date? I want to hear all the details."
"Uh, oh. Sounds like woman-talk to me, Mark," Jacob said. "We better head to the kitchen and see if we can find some beers. Could be a long night ahead."
"Yep, partner, I think we'd better do just that."
While the two men relaxed in the two comfortable chairs sipping their beers, Cassie and Margo sat on the sofa, chattering on and on about weddings, honeymoons, and the future.
After Mark and Margo left, Jacob helped Cassie clean up. Carrying the tray with the four champagne glasses and the empty champagne bottle to the kitchen, he noticed one glass still full of champagne.
"Cassie, is this your glass?"
She looked at it. "Yeah, I guess it is."
"You never drank it. How come?"
"I don't know. We just got so busy talking, I forgot about it, I guess."
"You want to finish it now?"
"No, it'll be too warm and flat. Pour it in the sink. And leave the glasses by the sink. I'll wash them in the morning. Let's go to bed and celebrate our friends' happiness and future."
"And ours," Jacob said as he pulled her close.
"Yes, and ours."