Robert Lomeli decided that he wanted breakfast. He enjoyed the life he crafted for himself after the divorce because he could pick up and go without being accountable to anyone. He belonged to his life. Yesterday in the early evening before Tova arrived he decided to cut his hair, so he did. He fashioned his still wavy black hair into the old style duck tail with slick sides, popular decades earlier. He looked in the mirror and it fit him perfectly. He was never happy after visiting a stylist so he did it himself. Hard to get pissed off at yourself, he thought. Robert was a throwback to an earlier generation and he was well aware of that fact. He loved wearing jeans, t-shirts, and his silver bracelets. He wore motorcycle boots as he outgrew the need to wear gym shoes and the requisite backward baseball caps like so many thirtysomethings do. His six foot frame was solid, and muscular. He generally kept to himself, but was outgoing and friendly when occasion demanded that side of him. When aroused, the best course of action for anyone was a path for escape. Tommy Gentile found that out the hard way. Once, while playing cards, Tommy did not believe Robert had three aces. Bullshit, and he told him so. Tommy always had a big mouth, but this time it caught up with him.
Robert spoke low and slow with eyes narrowed. “Tommy, stop right there. Don’t fuckin’ ever call me a cheat. I may be an asshole, but I don’t cheat.”
“You know he’s just dickin’ around, Bobby,” Danny said. “He does that shit all the time,” Danny was always the peacemaker.
Tommy responded, “Fuck that, Danny. I call a spade a spade and you fuckin’ cheated Bobby so fuck you.”
Those were the last words Tommy Gentile could speak for a while. In a flash, Robert tossed the card table aside, lunged at Tommy and had him on his back. Danny, Tico and Mark did not have time to react. With one right cross, Robert smashed Tommy’s jaw. That fast. No shit was taken in the town just over the Chicago city limits called Rosewood Village. The north side of town was affectionately referred to as “The Ghetto.” Three square blocks of apartments and small homes surrounded by factories. This multi-ethnic and semi transient side of the Italian town was worn down and generally neglected by the police and village services, so it tended to be more rough than the high brow south portion where the old guard of the Outfit built homes and neighborhoods. It was the old guard’s way to escape the city and its scrutiny yet still be close enough to go back and conduct their business affairs. The town itself was “connected” in a big way, and was always taken care of by those that ran it. You cannot have a lousy town if the The Outfit is involved, it would look bad. Favors were done, and everyone knew someone in a position of influence, so there was very little trouble. Even the election for mayor was a done deal. No one ever contested the election. You were really in the pink if you could secure a job working for the village because the town always took care of its own. If you found yourself in trouble, you mentioned a name. If the name mentioned had enough juice, you got away with a warning. Simple as that. Outsiders were not welcome, especially with regard to race, and the same was in the reverse in the predominantly black town just to the south. In the neighborhood, if someone got out of line, it all got figured out pretty fast. No fuss, no muss. No cops were called, no mommies went to the police station to file a complaint, and sometimes the dads would stand by and watch the fight to make sure that their son learned the hard way, win or lose. Toughness was prized. The neighborhood was not the most refined, but friendships forged there were friendships for life. If you needed a favor, it was done.
Cell phone ringing. “Hello?” Tommy said.
“Yo, Tom. I gottn issue I need some help on over here.” Danny was on the other end, and he sounded pissed off.
Tommy said, “What’s the problem, bud?”
“This fuckin’ guy pinched me with a speeding ticket. Think you can help me out?”
“How fast were ya goin’ ya dumb ass?” Tommy said.
“Does it matter? I was ina hurry. Had to get home ‘cause my ma needed help. I’m goin down 5th and he fuckin’ pulls me over. I stop, I’m not an idiot,” said Danny.
“Were you at least nice?” Tommy asked.
Danny said, “Yeah. I wasn’t a dick. Told him I knew Johnny Rende. I thought that’d be enough. He says he didn’t care who I knew he had to write me up. I says ‘ok, no problem.’ He writes me up and now I’m callin’ you.”
“No problem. I’ll call Robert, he’ll know a guy”
Danny said, “Cool. Thanks, bud”
“No problem.” and then Tommy hung up. He called Robert and sure enough, Robert knew the court prosecutor. Robert and the prosecutor’s son were on the same sixteen inch softball team in the summer and had become good friends. Sixteen inch softball is one of the fastest games played and it is played only in Chicago. A summer past time for twentysomethings and older men still looking to compete…and drink beer. One phone call and it was all cleared up. Soon as Danny went to court, the prosecutor told the judge that the town “did not wish to prosecute this particular traffic case.” Danny was dismissed without so much as a warning. He did, however, get wry looks and audible groans from the rest of the people in the courtroom that was chock full of traffic offenders. They all knew the deal, and some even asked Danny “who do you know” as he exited the courtroom, a small grin on his face. The cop who gave Danny the ticket was told by Johnny Rende that if he did that again to “one of my boys” he would be looking elsewhere for gainful employment, although he delivered the warning with a bit more vitriol. The officer got the message. Johnny Rende was connected, and that is all anyone needed to know.
That is how Robert and his crew grew up. Tommy Gentile, Danny DiLino, Tico Villareal, and Marco Bianco. The five of them had known each other since they were old enough to wander the streets. Over time, they came to rule that part of town. They were not a gang, but five guys that stood by each other through the shit that comes with having to prove your toughness every day and the strength of some very important connections. Oh, yeah. Tommy still plays cards with Robert, but he does not call him a cheat anymore.
He was stuck out west, having moved there with Gina because Gina thought it was time to grow up and leave the nest that the neighborhood provided. They chose to move to California. After the divorce, they split what was in the apartment and Robert stayed while she left and went back home to Rosewood Village. She said that she missed her life there, her friends, and her neighborhood.
Robert remained in California because he was comfortable and he enjoyed the area. His ranch style house was exactly like his personality. The house was a two bedroom. The sparely decorated spare room was in case a member of the crew came to visit. They could sleep or conduct business with a side chick with some privacy. His place was built on a slab and had one bathroom and a one car garage. Simple, like his life. He hated the modern sub-division, so he made sure that his was a stand alone house. Sub-divisions had too many kids, was too much like Pleasantville and he was not interested in that life. Nosey neighbors, dinner parties and kids were not his style. His house was set back a bit off of the two lane road just outside of Bakersfield, CA. The town was called Big River, just over the California/Arizona border. If you take Old Parker Road west, you will eventually run into Sutton Place. His house was just north of there. You will not find it on a map, but it is there, just far enough away to keep anyone trying to find him from doing so without a bit of effort. That is how he liked it. Marco called recently and asked him how he was feeling, his answer was, “content”.
“How the fuck are you content out there?” Marco asked. “You were THE GUY around here and you leave it behind to sit in some desert reading? What the fuck?”
Robert laughed. “I don’t know. I love reading, and for some reason, it suits me here. Besides, I don’t hear you complain when you come out here to get away from the shit and snag a broad in my other bedroom.”
“That’s different,” Marco said.
“Yeah? How?” Robert responded.
“It’s pleasure for me. A release. It’s life for you, brother,” Marco said.
“That’s about it, my friend. The life for me,” Robert said.
“Yeah? Well, I still think you’re fucked, but whatever. I’ll see you in a couple weeks,” Marco said. “Got a couple things goin’ on here but could use some time in the fuckin’ desert.”
“What’s goin’ on?”
“Nuthin’,” Marco said. “I just need to get out there, get some time away, that’s all.”
“Anytime, brother, anytime,” Robert said.
“You just make sure the room’s clean when I get there,” Marco said.
“I will. I think Angie came out last week to make sure,” Robert joked.
“Not funny, asshole. She’s got enough going on here with the kids. Me? I need the break if ya know what I mean,” Marco said.
“Whatever you need. See ya in a couple,” Robert said.
Even though his wife and he went their separate ways, that did not mean that Robert hated women. On the contrary, he adored them, but to Robert, they were some sort of addiction, one that he had a hard time fighting, so he rather chose to limit his options. After Gina left, he resolved to keep women at arm’s length. He did not reveal much about himself, but just enough to hook the catch. He loved aspiring actresses and cocktail waitresses. California was a treasure trove of both, even where he was living. They were fun, easy going, and generally did not have any expectations, other than getting laid. Ironically, he felt the same way, and in his mind, they were helping each other in time of need. His dalliances were like him in that they both were in it for a good time and some temporary companionship. They filled needs for each other without the mess of meeting parents, having a “date night” or attending the christening of some distant cousin’s kid. It was an arrangement that benefited them both.
There was one girl, Tova, a striking blonde cocktail waitress with an attitude to boot who kept hovering around him one evening at The Sassafras Club, a local gin joint about five miles from home. She was working to make ends meet, on her way to Hollywood a while back, but somehow wound up at the club for the last five years. He recognized her signs that night and they both found comfort in his bed. Over the next year, they talked a lot about nothing in particular, and generally enjoyed each other’s physical and emotional companionship. They understood each other, neither wanting anything more than they had.
This night she reached over, kissed Robert on the cheek and said, “Hey. You’re not yourself tonight. You ok?”
“Whaddya mean,” Robert said, “I thought I was pretty good, no?”
She laughed, “That’s not what I’m talking about, ya single minded jerk. You don’t have much to say. Did I do something wrong?”
He laughed and deadpanned, “Yeah, ya didn’t get up and make any eggs.”
Tova pinched his face and said, “Stop dicking around, ok? I mean it…you ok?”
“That obvious? Sorry, babe. Just some things on my mind, that’s all.”
She said, “Yeah? About what?”
“About my direction.”
She reached down between his legs and said, “I kinda like the direction you’re going right now.”
Robert looked over at her and smiled. “I know…me too, but that’s not the direction I’m talking about. I mean my direction in life.” Tova stopped what she was doing and pushed back from his body.
“You’re serious? Is this some kind of midlife crisis or something?” she said.
He said, “Nah. I’ve just been thinking a bit, wondering if I’m missing something.”
“Wow,” she said. “I came here to get laid and you’re gettin’ deep.”
Robert sat up in the bed with his back against the headboard and looked her in the eye. He was serious, and she was not catching on. “Hey. You asked so I’m telling you what’s on my mind. Shouldn’t have asked if you didn’t want the truth. I’ve been re-evaluating my life a bit, that’s all.”
“OK, let’s talk,” she said in a more serious tone. “What exactly are you evaluating? I think we have a pretty good thing here, don’t you? You take care of me, I take care of you, I go home in the morning. What’s wrong with that?”
“It’s not that, Tova, not that at all. Believe me, I dig what we do,” Robert said with a sly chuckle. “I dig it a lot. I’ve just been thinking about my direction, that’s all. Just wondering if I need to change it or something, I don’t know.”
Tova got defensive at that last suggestion, sat up next to him and said, “Direction?” She thought for a moment and then looked at Robert and said, “Are you shitcanning me?”
“Babe, you don’t understand. This has nothing to do with what we do,” he said. “This is more about me and what I need to do. Working the construction jobs, bit parts acting all pay the bills and I like my life, but at some point, I wonder if there’s something else, that’s all. Tova looked at him for a moment, her blue eyes staring into his.
“Sounds like you are having some mid-life crisis shit to me.”
“Yeah, that’s it,” he said. “Midlife crisis at thirty.”
She slid over and got out of the bed, her tanned legs slipping over the side, her back turned to Robert with her ample assets swaying just enough outside of her hourglass frame that he took notice. She pulled her Arizona Cardinals T-shirt over her head, stood up and walked over to the chair that her jeans were draped over. Robert was sure that she showed him her ass on purpose.
“OK. Guess I’ll be going,” she said. “You’re getting a bit out there for me, so I’ll leave you to your thoughts.”
“C’mon Tova, you asked, I just told.”
“It’s fine, Robby. Gotta go anyway. The sun rises early around here and it’s gonna be a hot one. Gotta be back at the bar early.” She walked back over to the bed with her tight blue jeans, heels, and Cardinals t-shirt. She bent down and gave him a slow kiss and then a devious look. “You know where to find me if you need me, baby.”
As he sat in his bed, he listened to her leave the house, shut the car door, turn the engine on and drive away. He thought about her kiss, her ass, and then him. No question, it was time to move on.
Tova was right, the sun did seem to rise early. Robert was awoken by its rays as they entered the room just under the shade that was three-quarters drawn. There was just enough room at the bottom of it that he was hit right in the eyes by the emerging orb’s beams. The temperature was already 75 degrees and it was only 7:00AM. He still smelled Tova’s vanilla body spray in his bed and for a moment, missed her figure next to him, her soft skin against his. He pulled the covers back, stepped onto the cut shag rug and made his way to the shower stepping on clothes along the way. He just hated the morning. The steam from the shower filled the bathroom and leaked into his bedroom raising the temperature a bit. He loved the rush of cold air that hit his body when he exited the shower and opened the door. That was his favorite part. It was Saturday morning and he decided that he wanted breakfast. There was a diner that was semi famous in the area he had never visited, so he got dressed, went to the garage, and started up his rebuilt ‘71 Chevelle and the 350 with headers roared to life. He put the car in first gear and was gone.
Fred was a Korean War veteran who would come in every Saturday morning and sit at the far end of the counter so that he could see everyone that entered, as though he was on sentry duty again. He was a widower, and wore with pride the blue military cap with gold letters that indicated his service. He enjoyed initiating playful flirting with the young woman behind the counter, Janelle, entertaining distant hopes as all old men do. They were blunt and honest with each other, and both enjoyed that.
“Hey there, Janelle. Love your hair today,” Fred said with a wink as he made his way to his favorite spot. Janelle would wear her hair “up” on Saturdays at the diner. She knew the older customers really liked it that way and it usually translated into better tips.
“Why Fred,” Janelle said in her best southern belle imitation, “y’all just flatter me now.”
“That’s the plan, sweetheart. Still workin’ for my first kiss.“
“Now Fred, I know that’s a lie,” she said looking over her shoulder smiling with her auburn hair covering one eye, “you’ve been kissed alot and I know it. I’d be just another notch on the belt.”
“Yeah,” said Fred, “but you’d be the best notch.”
“You old charmer,” she said. “Bacon and beans this mornin’ darlin’?”
“Things don’t change, Janelle, only the seasons,” Fred said.
“You still want the biscuits too?” Things were picking up and Janelle was juggling plates and coffee around the counter while taking Fred’s order.
“Yeah, gotta sop up the bean juice with ‘em. Old habits die hard when your freezing in the mountains of Korea.”
Janelle looked at Fred and smiled saying, “There ya go again making me do the soldier boy swoon.”
“It’s all I got left in the holster, sugar,” he said.
Janelle turned to stick Fred’s order ticket on the order round for the short order cook and said, “I know you have more than that, darlin’ but I’m immune to your charms.”
“Someday, Janelle, someday.”
She smiled and said, “I love you too, Fred.”
The rest of the Saturday crowd was interspersed with regulars and people passing through on a Saturday morning drive. The place was lively with the crackling of bacon and eggs frying behind the open kitchen wall and the clanking of dishes and silverware on plates. The conversation that wafted throughout the diner this day was lively and occasionally, a baby could be heard wanting more of something. It was a perfect Saturday morning at the Cross Roads Cafe.
Robert was counting the minutes until he arrived at the diner. He pulled up just outside the window where Fred was stationed, igniting a glance from the old sentry. As Robert entered, he spied a seat just near Fred and sat down. The smell of fresh bacon and eggs kicked his hunger into high gear and he searched the white counter for a menu.
“Just rollin’ in from a long night?” Fred asked.
Robert looked over and said, “Nah, just got hungry and thought I’d try this place out.’
“Best damn bacon and beans in the county,” Fred said, “and the view ain’t bad either.”
Fred’s nod toward Janelle made Robert look. Janell’s apron was smattered with residue from a busy morning, and the clank of glass and dishes underscored how lively the Cross Roads Cafe was today. Janelle turned to a customer at the other end of the counter with a plate stuffed with eggs, bacon, and hash browns, glancing over to where Robert and Fred were seated. Instantly, Robert heard Italian in his head. COLPO DI FULMINE! It was an old legend passed down from one Italian grandmother to another over the centuries, and shrouded in mystery from the Apennines, but what it meant was thunderbolt. The legend was that when love at first sight strikes so hard that it cannot be denied, it hits like a thunderbolt. When it strikes, your brain is on fire, your thoughts dissipate, and all you can do is give in to the feeling. There is no hope when struck by the Thunderbolt. Growing up in heavily Italian Rosewood Village, Robert had heard of it, but did not believe it. He knew what lust was, but the Thunderbolt was something foreign to him. He did not believe it existed. He was wrong.
The moment that he glanced over at Janelle and she turned, his core was shaken. Her toned, tanned legs slid from her short off white skirt all the way to the floor. Her movements were in perfect rhythm to her body. Her hourglass figure and perfectly shaped face drew him in. He was lost in her. In that instant, he knew what all of those Italian grandmothers had been talking about for years as they sat on their porches. He understood what Italian men tried to avoid, but inevitably wound up succumbing to. You could almost see it in their eyes as they sat outside the Debonair Social Club on Fifth Avenue back home. They would see the young men talking about their latest conquests, look at each other and smile, knowing that those days would come to an end at some point because the Thunderbolt would hit them and all would be lost. They knew. They knew.
Janelle made her way down the counter to where Robert had planted himself.
“Hey sweetheart. Coffee?,” she said.
Robert looked at her for a moment before saying, “Sure. Black.”
“You got it.”
As Janelle turned to get the fresh Joe from the warmer, Robert snuck a glance at Fred who sat there smiling the entire time. What was it with old men, he thought. How the hell do they know things that the rest of us don’t? Robert smirked at Fred who just sat there watching the scene play out and turned back to Janelle who set the white cafeteria cup down in front of him and filled it up.
“Didja figure out what you want? Need more time?”
Robert said, “I’ll get the bacon and beans my friend here suggested. Said that they were the best in the county.”
Janelle looked at Fred and then back at Robert. Smiling, she said, “Well, he ought to know. Lives on the stuff.”
Fred said, “Well-it’s good.”
“I must’ve made the right choice then,” Robert said. “Can I get some eggs with that, along with your name?”
Janelle was looking down at her order pad when he asked that question. Without looking up she said, “Yep, eggs as well.” She lifted her eyes at Robert, gave a little laugh, and immediately walked to the other end of the counter to fill up someone’s cup. She’d played this game before and clearly, this new guy was an amateur.
“That’s the best ya got? You’ll have to do better than that, son,” said an amused Fred. “She’s a bit of a firecracker.”
Robert looked over and said, “I guess so. You gonna tell me her name?”
Fred, now fully engaged in the scene kept smiling and said, “Nope. That’s part of the game, and the fun for me. Besides, it’s on her name tag.”
Robert deadpanned, “Great.”
“Son,” Fred said, “I’ve been coming here for a while, and watched many take a swing and miss. DiMaggio himself would strike out, but he’d never give up. That’s what made him great…kept swinging.’
“So,” Robert said, “think I should stay in the game?”
“Dunno. All I know is I saw the look in your eyes when she turned around. Right now, strike one. If I were you, I’d step out of the box, readjust, and step back in.”
Robert thought a minute about the advice from his new manager. Strategy, he thought. She just threw me a curveball, now what’s the next pitch? This was no ordinary woman. This was a woman who knows what she wants, has been hit on numerous times and is immune to the usual tactics. As he watched her work the counter, he noticed a small tattoo on the inside of her left arm just above the wrist, about three inches in length. He could not see what it was, but knew it was there. He waited until she brought over his breakfast to get a better look. As Janelle arrived, she looked at him as she was placing the plate in front of him.
He said, “Scorpion tattoo. Interesting. Any significance?”
“Yeah,” she said. “It’s an adult scorpion. A reminder to me that life stings but won’t kill you.”
“I thought all scorpion stings kill which is why you’re supposed to avoid ‘em,” Robert said.
Fred chimed in looking at his plate with a mouthful of beans, “Nah. Only the babies do that. Poison is more concentrated.”
Janelle and Robert both looked at Fred then at each other and smiled.
“I’ll get you more coffee.” She turned to the warmer, got the pot and began to pour. As the coffee made its way into the cup, she looked at Robert saying, “Janelle. It’s on the tag.” She did not even look at the pour as it stopped right on the edge of the cup line, like a gunslinger not looking at the target yet hitting a bullseye. She turned and was gone to the other end of the counter again.
“Told ya she was a firecracker,” Fred said.
“I think you know more than you let on, friend. Wanna clue me in?”
“Name’s Fred Johanson.” Pointing to his hat saying, “Served in Korea ‘51-’52. Been coming here for a long time. Janelle is a fun girl but doesn’t play games.” Dishes clanging.
“Bobby Lomeli. Good ta meetcha.” They shook hands.
Fred said, “Everyone from businessmen to bikers have tried to hit the mark, but she is her own woman. Guess that’s what draws certain men to her. Anyway, she took a bit of a shine to ya, so count yourself lucky.”
Robert said, “How’s that? She barely looked up.” As he’s talking, his fork is swishing around the bacon and beans.
“She told you her name rather than point to the tag. Are you new at this or something? Been a while?”
“Somethin’ like that,” Robert said.
Fred had the last biscuit and was moving it around the plate to get every last bit of juice like it was still the Great Depression. Some old habits die hard for that generation, and Robert took notice.
“Well, you’d better find the right bat to hit the ball then, kid. She ain’t gonna wait forever. The door was cracked open. Now, back in my day I would have….”
“Ya know,” Robert said smiling, “I hear that a lot from you guys, ‘back in my day’. Was it that much better?”
Fred stopped moving the biscuit, looked at Robert then looked around the room, then back at Robert.
“Every generation says that their day was better. Ours really was.” He paused for a moment, then resumed finding the last bean on the plate. “Just simpler, that’s all. I like simple.” He popped the remaining portion of biscuit in , looked at Robert and smiled a biscuit mouth filled smile. Robert laughed.
Direct was the best approach, so Robert decided that was going to be his swing at the next pitch. He was going to hit a fastball right dead center of the plate once Janelle made her way back to their end of the counter.
“Janelle,” he said. She stopped at his station at the counter and looked him in the eye. “Crazy as it sounds, can I take you out for coffee or something? I’d like to get to know you a bit.”
Janelle looked at Fred, then at the guy next to Robert who was trying to find his eggs in the hashbrowns, clearly listening to the conversation but trying his best to not be noticed. She then looked back at Robert.
“You just figured out my name and now you’re asking me to coffee?”
“Yeah. Figured the best approach is the direct approach, that’s all,” he said.
“You’re right, it is.” She began wiping between the plates on the counter, making it look like she was busy. The guy to the right of Robert found the eggs in the hashbrowns, but continued staring at his plate. “I hate the lines I get, or the ‘hey baby’ stuff. Gets old. Thanks for at least being direct.”
A bell rang and Janelle made her way to the order pickup counter that was projecting from the kitchen wall. Robert watched as Janelle balanced one plate on her forearm and then scooped up the other and held it in the same hand. This time she delivered a spinach omelette to a woman and the other plate, balanced on her forearm, contained eggs, sausage and a fruit cup. This was set in front of the man next to her. Fred giggled when he saw the fruit cup.
“At least get some type of potato”, he mumbled to Robert. “Geeze, be a man.” Janelle made her way back to Robert’s stop.
“Fred, whaddya think?” she said with a glint in her eye.
“I like him, Janelle. Seems like a throwback to my day, especially the hair. Don’t see ducktails much anymore,” he said.
“I get off at two, Robert. I’d love to have coffee with you.”
Robert said, “How’d you know my name?”
“Well, you don’t wear a name tag, but I listen. You learn to hear a lot of things behind this counter. See ya at two.” The hashbrown egg guy next to Robert almost choked on his mouthful, but looked at Robert with a ‘how the hell did you do that’ look. Like he just saw a miracle.
“…and that’s how it’s done,” said Fred.
Robert showed up at the Crossroads Cafe at 2 p.m. as they agreed. For the first time that he can remember, his stomach was churning. He was not sure what it was, but he knew he was not sick. He wore black dress shoes with blue jeans, and a tight fitting black short sleeve shirt. As he entered the diner, he looked around but did not see Janelle. The place had a much different feeling in the early afternoon, with scattered patrons and the smell of fried chicken. A father and daughter were eating near the employees only entrance when Janelle exited. Her hair hung straight down just past shoulder length and parted in the middle. She walked toward Robert with a deliberate pace, her confidence in her appearance obvious. Straight leg jeans and a t-shirt with the left shoulder exposed made her look sexy and comfortable. Robert always glanced at the shoes because he thought a woman’s choice in footwear said a lot about her. High pumps-a “look at me” girl. Medium pumps-classy but willing to have fun. Gym shoes-not serious about much of anything. Janelle wore what he expected, the mediums. They noticed each other and smiled, with Janelle making the first move.
“Glad you made it,” she said. “Thought you might chicken out.”
“Not a chance. You look great.”
Janelle said, “So do you. I like the jeans/shirt look you have goin’ on here.”
“Thought it was better than the stuff I was wearing this morning,” he said.
“I dunno,” she said, smiling. “You look like a t-shirt guy.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment,” Robert said smiling.
They left together and Robert opened the cafe door for her. She snuck him a quick glance of surprise, but smiled as she walked through. He could not help looking at her as they made their way to his car. Just one of those things. She knew he was watching and told herself that men will always be men.
They drove along the Rio Vista Hwy to a little place called Bobby D’s diner which was known for its southern fried steak. It was a nice place to get to know one another as the Thunderbolt worked its magic on Robert. They made their way to a corner booth per Janell’s suggestion and cozied in. The waitress was cute, but Robert did not notice which, in itself, would have been a shock for anyone that knew him back in Rosewood. He always noticed. He ordered coffee and a slice of cherry pie.
“I’ll have the southern fried steak,” Janelle said. She looked at Robert with a sly smile. “Let’s find out if they are as good as advertised”.
“I love a woman that isn’t afraid to eat,” he said.
Janelle smiled right back and said, “That you don’t have to worry about. I’m not like some of those waifs I’m sure you’ve dated.”
“So…this is a date then?”
“Not so fast, cowboy. It was just a figure of speech, that’s all,” Janelle said. “I don’t even know who you are yet.”
“Fred vouched for me though,” Robert said, grinning. “That counts for something, right?”
Janelle laughed. “That’s why I’m here. I’ve known Fred for a long time and he’s a good man with good instincts,” then she smiled, “who still thinks he’s 21 and that’s fun.”
“Seems like a good guy.” Robert put his fist inside his other hand and placed his elbows on the table, adopting a listening position. “So,” he said, “how did a nice girl like you…”
They both started laughing. Janelle looked away with a slight blush in her cheeks, and then looked back at Robert.
“Do you like to be called Robert or Bobby or what,” she said.
“Doesn’t matter. I’ve been called all kinds of names,” he replied. “Bobby is fine.”
“OK, Bobby. Here’s the deal. I’m something of a broken person, ok? Fell in lust at a young age, was something of a rebel in my hometown, and decided to move. That’s kinda it, ya know?”
“Yeah, well I know there’s more than that. Ya ain’t tellin’ the entire truth, but that’s ok. This isn’t an inquisition, just a conversation. We all have stories but I have a hard time thinking that you’re broken. I’ve seen broken people before and you’re not one. Besides, I don’t scare easily.”
Janelle looked at Robert and said, “Sorry about that. I shouldn’t have put that out there,” she said. “I’m just a bit gunshy is all.”
Robert said, “That, I understand. No reason to be gunshy around me. Let’s just talk and have a good time. Two people getting to know each other.”
With that, Janelle looked down momentarily, Robert thought he felt a millisecond change in her demeanor. He loved how her hair swept back when she picked up her head. For a moment, he got lost in her again.
“So,” she said. “What’s yours?”
“Your story,” she said.
Robert laughed a bit. “Wait. We’re on me already? I didn’t even get your story. That doesn’t seem fair.”
“Who said anything about fair. I’m interested.”
“Good point,” he said.“ Ok. I’m from a town just outside Chicago called Rosewood Village.”
“Sounds like a nice place…Rosewood Village.” Janelle said. “You say the name with a lot of pride.”
“Yeah, well, I am proud of the place. It’s home. It ain’t nice all the time though.”
“Oh? How so,” Janelle asked.
“Let’s just say that if you’re gonna live there you’d better be able to take care of yourself.” Roberts eyes changed, becoming more focused. It was a look that she did not expect and one that impressed upon her how serious Robert could be.
“So,” she said, “it’s a tough place?”
“You can say that. It’s a close neighborhood. We all took care of each other but there was definitely a pecking order. You just had to make sure that you were in the right place in the order and be able to defend it at times.”
“I see. So, I should be careful, huh?” Janelle was being playful, her hair slipping again in front of one eye. Robert could not stop looking at her face.
Robert issued a small laugh and said, “I don’t think you have anything to worry about.” Pausing, he said, “That was a long time ago.” There was a silence as though neither knew what to say next.
Finally, Janelle asked, “So, how did you wind up out here from Chicago?”
“Bad marriage. Does that disqualify me?”
Janelle smiled and said, “Hardly. Maybe if you were a serial killer or something, but a bad marriage? Just means one or both of you made a mistake. We’re all guilty of that from time to time, god knows.”
“Yeah. We got married for all of the wrong reasons and came out here for more wrong reasons. She went home and I stayed. Picked up some odd jobs, and even a few acting things…just for fun, nothing serious, and just…stayed,” he said.
“Geeze. Another actor. Just what I need.”
“No,” he said, “I’m not an actor. I just did it for fun and a few bucks. A guy I knew back in the neighborhood knew a guy out here got me a couple of jobs for some quick cash. A couple of walk on things, the heavy in the background, that’s all. I do construction work. A guy I know had a couple of friends out here set me up.”
“You know a lot of ‘guys’,” she said.
“That’s how we do it back home. A guy knows another guy, we help each other out when we can.”
“So, are you in the mafia or something?” Janelle asked.
Robert laughed and looked down, then up. “No…we just know people, that’s all. We help each other when we can.”
The food came. The conversation stopped as the waitress put their plates in front of them. Janelle and Robert looked at each other, both wanting the waitress to leave so that they could continue their conversation. The country fried steak looked great, and Robert wished that he’d not gotten the cherry pie. The flow of the conversation was interrupted but Janelle tried to get it back on track.
“So, sounds like where you grew up was an interesting place with all of the ‘guys’ around. Are you Italian?”
Robert chuckled and said, “Yep. Lomeli is my last name. How did you know?”
“Just a guess. Your accent…and being from Chicago. From what I see in the movies, you Italians know a lot of guys.”
“Movies. Yeah, they get it right all the time. We all talk ‘like deeze guys over dere, yaknowwadImean’?” Janelle laughed out loud now, letting her guard down and when her head tilted back her hair moved with it exposing her neck. “My Dad made sure that I grew up not sounding like that. Hated it and thought it made Italians sound stupid. He was very protective of the Italian image and hated all of the mafia movies and references. Just hated it.”
Robert noticed a scar just under where her adam’s apple would have been. It was faded, but there. Janelle felt Robert’s gaze as she quickly brought her head back down, now being self conscious. There was an awkward silence, and Janelle poked her fork into the soft meat. Neither one of them wanted to engage the now sizeable elephant in the room, but it was Janelle who spoke first.
“You weren’t supposed to see that,” she said.
“Look. I am not here to judge anything…or anyone. I am in no position to judge,” he said.
“I’m not asking you to judge, or expecting it either,” Janelle snapped.
“Hey, hey. It’s no problem. We’re sitting here, me with my pie and you with your biscuits and gravy having a conversation, that’s all.”
“Sorry,” Janelle said. “I didn’t mean to snap at you. You’ve been nothing but nice to me and I….”
“Kidding? It’s called being human. No problem.”
There was a silence as Janelle picked at her food and Robert sipped his coffee. Janelle snuck a glance out the window into the parking lot. The sun was beating down on the town and even indoors, you could feel the desert heat.
“I had a baby that was stillborn,” she said. She then turned. “I haven’t told anyone about it before. I don’t know why I’m tellin’ you now. I really don’t.”
Robert was dialed in. His immediate thoughts were to reassure Janelle that she was safe, but thought it better to listen. He figured most guys would run or have run out on her, or maybe she deliberately drove them away, or maybe it was a combination of the two, but he felt something in that moment of confession that he’d not felt before. He felt need. A need to help Janelle. It was an urge that pulled at him from the instant that he saw that scar. This was not pity, only a genuine desire to help Janelle get through what her hard exterior was shielding, the pain of a lost child. Robert listened.
“I had something with this guy back in Missouri where I’m from. I was a kid. He was exciting. He was the bad boy of the town and I was looking for fun, trying to be rebellious. We had a thing and, well…we had a thing. Long story short, in a small town where church life the center of it, you don’t get pregnant because sooner or later everyone will find out. Kinda like that letter story we read in high school, ya know?”
Robert said, “The Scarlet Letter.”
Janelle looked at him and said, “Yeah, that one. I was the wild child, and probably deserved the title. I did everything I could to live up to it and I guess getting pregnant was the icing on the cake. He left, I went into labor and the baby’s cord was wrapped around it’s neck.” Janelle’s eyes teared up on that last part. “It’s been years and I still think that baby paid some sort of price for my wild ways. I had all these plans, ya know? I was gonna get married, the baby would be a doctor or something…” Her voice trailed off. Janelle regained her composure, a look of determination on her face. “Anyway, he left and I had to leave. There was just no staying in that town anymore, so I just left. Here I am, working in a diner, trying to forget about the past, and not really worrying about the future. Just living, ya know?” He looked at her and the determined look on her face. She was no waif, but a strong, intelligent woman.
“Plan B,” he said.
“Plan B. Most of us in this life never get or do what we set out to do.” She was looking at him intently. “ Circumstances dictate otherwise, so…we move to Plan B. There was nothing you could do about your baby, and my heart breaks for you, but now, you have to kick in to plan B.”
Janelle looked at this man that she’d just met hours earlier. How could someone just appear in a diner, convince her to go out and then have her spill her guts all over a table of cherry pie and country fried steak? She felt like she was in a movie.
“I don’t have a plan B. I’m not even sure I have a plan. Till now, working at Crossroads was my plan. I didn’t think about anything else.”
“Listen.” Robert was looking directly in her eyes. His eyes spoke volumes and Janelle thought that she would not want to be on the wrong side of those eyes. “We cannot always dictate the circumstances that we find ourselves in. That’s the shitty part of life. The good part is that we are adaptable as human beings and if we so choose, we can reshape our life,” taking her hand, “in any way that we want. We just have to decide our plan B.”
Janelle withdrew her hand, looked out the window again and said, “Easy for you to say. You didn’t lose a kid.” She turned back to Robert with a single tear rolling down her left cheek. “How do I recover from that? Will I recover from that?”
“You might already be recovering, “ he said. Looking at his pie, he took his fork and cut off a portion and then looking up, he put it in his mouth.
“You’re here with me.” Robert swallowed his pie. “ My guess is that you haven’t gone out or really talked to anyone for a long time. Look. Here you are.”
Janelle smirked and said, “Probably scared you away is all…cryin’ chick n’ everything.”
Robert found an opening in the hard exterior that was Janelle’s heart. “Nah. It takes more than that. Remember, I’m from Rosewood. We don’t scare that easily.”
“Good,” Janelle said wiping her face with her hand, “because neither do I.”
There was a moment there between them. It was palpable and genuine. There was no question that a tie was beginning to bind. They both felt it.
“OK, now that I’ve made a complete fool of myself, baring my soul to a stranger, what’s your story, Bobby?”
“My story?” he said.
“Yeah. Your Plan B. Clearly, Plan A didn’t work out.” She almost forgot about her country fried steak, so she took a forkful, looking at him as she did so.
“Well,” Robert said doing his best Ronald Reagan impression. She laughed. “I was just telling that to someone recently.”
Janelle said, “Yeah. A conquest, no doubt.”
“A someone, a friend.” Janelle smiled. “At any rate, I was just saying that it was time for me to reexamine my life. Where I’m going, what I’m doing. It’s not that I’m unhappy or something like that, just that I feel…incomplete is all.” He took a sip of his coffee and continued. “I’ve loved living by myself and the freedom that I get with all of that. I read tons of books and the solitude is something I really enjoy. But I’m nagged at the question of if there is more. Is there? Am I missing something? Does any of this make sense?”
Janelle was looking at him the entire time he was speaking to her, thinking that this man was thoughtful, intelligent, and a good person. She also had the feeling that he was holding something back, but was unsure how to ask. Looking at him engendered trust on her part, but also a bit of fear. She liked the fear. Something about him.
“Yeah,” she said, ‘it does. I’ve been there myself and maybe still am which is why I haven’t left the diner. Ya get comfortable, ya know?”
“I do,” he said. “That is part of the problem. Am I too comfortable. I never wanted a stationary life. I always saw myself on the road, or moving around or somethin’. Maybe that’s why I let Gina…my first wife…get us the hell out of Rosewood.”
“So…she’s the one that made the decision?”
“We both kinda did, but she was the one that pushed it. We’d never been out of the neighborhood, see. Once you’ve been in a place like that, sort of it’s own little world, you kinda don’t want to leave. It’s, as you said, comfortable. You know people, you know where you grew up, you know, well, everything and outside of it the world seems too big. You know what to expect and there are no surprises. Honestly, you almost get scared to leave, which is why I think so many of my crew stayed home all these years. I think they’re a bit scared to get out of their comfort zone.”
Janelle was intently paying attention and her mind kept racing back to Cedar Creek. She understood what Robert was talking about as all small towns were like that, she thought.
“That’s what small town America is…a comfort zone,” Janelle said. “I had to leave too, just had to.”
Robert said, “I was tired of all of the crap. Everyone trying to be on top, fights, working for the village and nothing else. I just knew that there had to be more, but I didn’t know how to get it, so when Gina wanted to leave, I didn’t really fight it.” Robert looked out the window, as if he was trying to see Rosewood Village from California. “Funny,” he said. “She went back. I guess the big world was too much for her, but I didn’t help the situation.”
“I wasn’t around a lot. Working, finding out about where we lived.” Now, Robert looked into Janelle’s eyes. “I really loved being away from there. I loved seeing new things. Mountains. I’d never seen them before, except in pictures. A Rosewood kid looking at mountains. Their awesome size, the color, the sky behind them, over them. I was…well…I fell in love.” He was being honest now. “It’s as much my fault as hers. I wasn’t a very good husband back then. Not sure I’d be now, but I do know that I’m older. That counts for something, right?” He continued, “It’s those mountains. I just love looking at them every morning, the sun just peaking over the top. It’s like seeing God or something, ya know?”
Janelle was captured. She knew it, and there was really nothing she could do about it. She decided that honesty was more than attractive, it was disarming, and she was not prepared for that. It took some time, but they both finished their food, deciding that it was quite good and enjoying each other’s company. Janelle thought the country fried steak was excellent, but Robert did not even taste his pie as his focus was Janelle. He could not remember how long it was since he had a decent conversation with a woman. Tova’s conversations were surface only, like small talk to fill the silence. Fun, but not substantive. This was different and Robert enjoyed every minute of it. So did Janelle. The waitress came by with the bill and Robert paid, leaving a nice tip. He always left a nice tip. As they slid out of the booth to leave, they noticed it was 4PM.
“Well,” Robert said, “where to next?” Janelle did not say anything as they made their way to the exit, with Robert behind her. The pause gave him a bit of concern as he thought she’d respond immediately. When they got to the car, Robert made sure to reach in front of her and open the door.
“Chivalry ain’t dead yet,” he said.
She looked at him and smiled.
“Don’t see that much anymore,” she said. The door clicked open and Robert gestured for her, palm up as chivalrous as he could be.
In his best fake British accent, “Your chariot awaits, my dove.”
As Robert got into the car and put the key in the ignition, Janelle said, “Why don’t we get a drink?”
“Afternoon drinks. I like it,” he said with a grin.
They stopped at a local gin joint called The Bar, just a hop, skip and jump from Bobby D’s. The locals like it because they run a pool tournament that results in the winner getting a week’s worth of steak dinners. This fact was advertised as a bi-monthly event, and as they entered the bar, Robert thought that it would be hard to eat that much steak in a week, but this was Arizona, so who knows? They took a seat in the corner so that they could talk. At 4PM, the place was relatively empty save a few of the locals who immediately shifted their gaze to Janelle when she entered the place. One of the guys at the bar, a chrome bearded man looked at Janelle the way a guy at the bar does, then spied Robert coming in after her and shifted his gaze back to his drink. Smart move, Robert thought. She’s with me this afternoon. Robert got both of them a beer. He was surprised that was her drink of choice for now, but loved it. A beer drinking woman is a real woman, he thought to himself and smiled as he made his way back to their corner.
“So,” Janelle said, “there has to be more to your story than you let on. Can I get in on the secret?” She smiled a wicked smile that Robert found hard to resist.
“Waddaya wanna know?” he said.
“I don’t know. Tell me about your parents, about the neighborhood, as you call it.” She put her chin in her hands with her elbows on the table and smiling said, “Keep me interested.”
“Well,” he said, “My parents are both gone, but lived their entire life in Rosewood. Dad built a business there, a small engine repair business and Mom just stayed at home. Simple. My sister is older, but we don’t really talk anymore. No animosity or anything, we just drifted apart. She’s living in Minnesota, married with two kids.”
“I don’t have a brother or sister, which made it hard on my parents when I left. They did resent me after I got pregnant, you know, small town and all. I embarrassed them. They thought I could be ‘saved’ if I stayed, but I decided to save myself. Don’t know if I have, but I’m working on it,” Janelle said. “I hated my hometown. Too small, everyone knew your business. It was pressure all the time to fit in.”
Robert said, “I loved where I grew up and my friends are still my friends from there, but I guess it was just time to move on, that’s all. Take that next step.”
“Funny, that’s what someone else said to me recently.”
“You mean the chick you were with,” Janelle said.
“I didn’t say that, you did.”
“Look, I don’t care, I’m just filling in the blanks here. At least finish the line”
“OK. Yeah. Her name is Tova and we spend time together occasionally.”
Janelle smiled because she know exactly what that meant and as she did the same thing, and enjoyed the honesty now that she pried it out of him. Guys have a good censor when they think they are going to get some, she thought. A safety device.
Robert said, “It’s not like it’s a midlife crisis or anything weird like that, just that there has to be more and I want to find out what that ‘more’ is.”
At that very moment, a man walked over to their table, stood next to Janelle. He eyed Robert and in that moment, Robert knew that this was not a good thing. A little bell went off inside his head, almost like a bell one would hear at a boxing match, and his focus was on this person and nothing else.
He was a stocky man, with better than average height and a thick head of hair pulled back into a ponytail. His thick mustache, sleeveless shirt and torn jeans made for an impressive sight. Without question, this man was used to getting his way just by his looks alone. He looked down at Janelle and spoke with a barely detectable southern drawl that belied the redneck he was.
“Haythere, J? Where ya beeun?”
Janelle looked at Robert who was clearly focused on the man, then looked back at him and said, “Jimmy. What’re you doin here?”
“Nuthin’. Came in for a drank and there you were with this guy, so I thought better wander by and see what’s up, that’s all.”
Robert was still examining Jimmy, but in such a way as to not cause concern for Janelle. There was something wrong and Robert felt it. Rosewood Village being what it is, Robert knew the feeling very well and was ready…for anything.
“We’re just sittin’ here talkin’ that’s all, Jimmy,” she said, her voice not wavering. Jimmy looked at Robert, saying “What’re y’all talkin’ about?”
Robert stared at Jimmy more intently now, eyes narrowing, and said with a low voice “We’re talkin’ about what we’re talkin’ about, Jimmy. Simple as that.”
Janelle looked at Robert and her eyes widened a bit. His voice had changed and she noticed it. She noticed his eyes changed as well. The sight she thought earlier that she did not want to see. There was an electricity in the air immediately, and there was no question Jimmy felt it too as evidenced by the sudden straightening of his body. He could not lose ground now and save face, Robert recognizing it as well.
“Well, I’d just thought I’d ask. Me and J go back a little ways, that’s all,” Jimmy said.
“I’m sure you do. I just want to make sure that we’re on the same page,” Robert said.
“What page is that?” Jimmy said.
“The one that says she’s with me right now and we are going to enjoy our drink, ok?” It was the coolness in which Robert delivered the line that was striking to Janelle. There was not a hint of gruffness, or of animal instinct, like two bulls on the plain duking it out. It was none of that. His response held an unspoken power that his eyes emphasized. The scene took Jimmy by surprise. A lion at rest but with eyes that told of a storm yet to come if aroused.
Janelle was quiet and intent on watching how all of this played out. It wasn’t that she reveled in this type of male behavior as she could handle herself quite well. She was more interested in how Robert was going to handle Jimmy. What was he like? Schooled is the word that came to mind for her.
Jimmy flinched first. “Hey, friend. Don’t get riled. I’m just askin’, that’s all.”
“Understood. No harm, no foul. I just don’t like being interrupted, that’s all,” Robert said.
“Jimmy. I’ll call you later, ok?” Janelle said deciding she’d seen enough. “We’ll talk real soon.”
“Yeah…ok. We’ll talk soon. Bye.” With that, Jimmy left the bar.
“So, that was impressive,” Janelle said. Robert looked at her a bit puzzled. He was not sure what she was referring to. Janelle sensed this and said “You know, what you just did. You didn’t do much, or say much, but a look came over your face and Jimmy knew that he’d need to move on.”
“Oh. That.” Robert did not realize that he’d “turned on” in the moment. He never really realizes when it happens, it just does. “I guess I just didn’t feel right about that guy, that’s all. There was something about him that didn’t fit right with me.”
“Good,” Janelle said. “He’s a bad element. Did time a few years ago for armed robbery. Kinda a local pain in the ass and bully around these parts at times. Mostly when he’s drunk. You must have sent some type of message ‘cause he don’t scare that easily.”
“I don’t know if I sent a message,” said Robert. “I just didn’t like the vibe I was gettin’ so I let him know is all. Sorry if I made you uncomfortable.”
Janelle laughed out loud. “Are you kidding? That guy is a pain in my ass and I’m glad someone let him know he’s not wanted. We went out on a couple dates and he thinks there’s still something there, which there isn’t. What surprised me is that he didn’t do anything other than leave.”
“Better for him then.” Robert felt pride that he was able to dispatch Jimmy without much effort. Most of his confrontations ended that way, and he was glad this one did too. They had a couple of drinks and continued getting to know each other when they both decided that two hours worth of booze and talk was enough. Robert insisted on paying the bill and Janelle let him. As they exited the bar and approached their car, Jimmy appeared. This time, it was a different Jimmy and Robert knew it.
“Hey! Fucknuts! Wanna try this ageeun?” This was not the Jimmy that entered the bar. Janelle tried to step in front of Robert but he would have none of it. He asked Janelle to move out of the way and she did. Robert knew that this time Jimmy meant to prove a point.
As Jimmy approached Robert with a head of steam, Robert narrowed his eyes and reduced his focus to just under Jimmy’s chin. He stood erect with his left hand on his chin as though he were contemplating a math problem during Jimmy’s approach. Jimmy was a little less than arm’s length away from Robert when he stopped, trying to use his height to intimidate his opponent. Robert had seen this before, and it was the fatal flaw of a larger man intent on intimidation rather than risk engagement. Jimmy’s attitude told Robert all he needed to know. The confrontation would be quick. Faster than Jimmy could hope to react, Robert struck Jimmy’s throat with three fingers, the ones that were on his chin feigning the contemplative look. Jimmy began to choke and used both hands to clutch at his throat. Robert stepped forward and hit him with a left hook that dropped Jimmy to the ground. As Jimmy struggled to regain any sense of self, Robert said,
“The problem with talkers is that they do more talking than actual fighting. Stay down. Don’t get up. I’d rather leave things as they are, ok?”
Jimmy, still holding his throat but now with blurry vision out of his right eye due to the hook he absorbed, nodded his head in agreement and sat on the ground.
“I think we should go,” Janelle said, almost out of breath at what she’d just witnessed.
“Fine with me,” Robert said. “But before we go, let me help Jimmy to his feet.” Robert reached out his hand and helped Jimmy stand up. Jimmy looked at Robert as if he could not believe that just happened. Robert smiled and escorted Janelle back to his car and they drove off.
“I never saw anything like that before,” Janelle said as they drove back to the diner where Janelle left her car.
“Well, sometimes guys get unhinged and that takes away their focus. Better to refocus them early before things get out of hand. I hope that I didn’t scare you. I’m really a nice guy,” a grinning Robert said.
“Yeah, you are. I don’t know anyone that would have helped him up like that,” Janelle said.
“No sense in allowing someone to lose face when they know they’ve been defeated. I tried to show a little class. He was beaten and he knew it. Show compassion and who knows, maybe we become friends. Stranger things have happened.”
Janelle focused on Robert’s features as he drove, trying to find something she did not like about him. This man was different, more different than anyone she had come across. There had to be something more than what he was showing, but Janelle could not figure it out. All she knew was that at this moment, in this time, she was fascinated, curious, and overwhelmed all at the same time. There was an energy about him, and it was palpable. She drank it all in.
They arrived back at the diner, it was 7P.M. The sun was beginning to exit the sky behind the mountains, leaving behind a glow that peaked over the peaks. As they sat in the car enduring a momentary silence, Janelle could see that Jose was in the kitchen and Miriam was working the counter. The crowd was sparse, but active. Robert looked over at her sitting next to him. Her hair was doing that thing in front of her eye that he loved.
“So. Thank you for coming out with me today. I know it’s not what you usually do.”
Janelle responded, “I had a very nice…and interesting time.”
“I hope that’s not a bad thing,” Robert said.
“Nope. Not at all, Bobby.”
She leaned over to kiss him. As she did, their teeth clicked together for just a moment. It was that moment that neither would forget.
“So, what will we call this? A date? A coffee?” he asked.
Janelle looked at him and smiled one of those sly smiles, and with her hair in front of her eyes, it was as alluring as Robert had ever seen.
Janelle said, “Let’s call it Plan B.”