Page 6

 Penelope Ward

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“Allison, I hope you have a safe way of getting home tonight…it’s pretty late.”
“I actually usually walk to the train station with Max, but…wait, what time is it?” She looked at her watch. “Crap,” she said.
“What…what’s wrong?” I asked.
“The last commuter train left at 11:20. It’s 11:25. I missed it,” she said sighing.
“Well, it’s obviously my fault. Please let me drive you home. Where do you live?”
This was too good to be true.
“I live in Malden. It’s about a half hour drive from here. Are you sure? I could call a cab.”
“No way. You are here because of me and it’s actually right on my way home. I live in the city.”
“I figured that.”
“You figured I lived in the city…how so?” I asked with a curious gaze, not able to take my eyes off her swollen lips.
“Well, you’re always so well-dressed, like a businessman from Boston, I guess. I mean…uh…I remember the first time you came in,” Allison said shyly.
Shit. Ok, so she remembered me as ‘tip guy’.
I had to think quickly and then lied. “Yeah, I have a client up this way which is why I’ve stopped in before.”
Allison searched her bag for the key. “Ready to go?” she asked.
I walked out first, watching her shut the light, lock the diner door and check it a few times. I disarmed the car and stopped at the passenger side to let her in.
Her smile was mesmerizing as she stepped into the passenger seat and I gently closed the door, wondering again how I got so damn lucky.
Holy shit. Is this really happening?
Cedric opened the driver’s side door, turned on the heated seats and started the car. He smelled so incredibly good, I swear, I could die happy right here in this seat, intoxicated by his scent. It was a mix of musk, sandalwood and leather in here.
He is so damn hot, dare I say the most handsome man I have ever laid eyes on. Just like I remembered, but with even more of a five o’clock shadow on his chin, which made him even sexier. There was a roughness about him that directly contradicted the business attire.
As he grabbed his stick shift (pun intended), a slight piece of his shiny hair fell over his forehead and I nearly died.
He wasn’t wearing a jacket, just a purple fitted dress shirt that showed off his muscular chest. He was even rocking suspenders, that wouldn’t have been sexy on any other man. He could pull those off really well, though. I had the urge to pull them and snap them back against his chest.
I turned around and saw that his suit jacket was thrown in the backseat, along with a bottle of wine on the floor. I wondered who would be drinking that with him.
Nervous chills ran through me as his big beautiful slightly scuffed hand grabbed the stick shift and moved it in a jerking motion. My body was fluctuating from cold to hot, reacting to these feelings of lust. I could feel my armpits welling with sweat again and a tingle in my nether regions. I realized at this moment, how little control I actually had over my own body.
Cedric broke the silence. “So, you remembered me, huh?” he said suggestively in a low smooth voice as he turned to look at me with a sexy side glance, before returning his eyes to the road.
“Well, you were kind of hard to forget. I…mean…you left quite a big tip.” I was sure to add that last part. I didn’t want to give away too easily the real reasons I thought he was unforgettable, which had nothing to do with the money.
Cedric seemed to hesitate, shaking his head and said, “Yeah…I guess I did, didn’t I? I was in a bit of a rush, so I left you what I had in my wallet.”
“Well, thank you. It truly brightened my day and was very generous. I had wanted to thank you, but you left so fast. I thought maybe it was a mistake. I have never received such a big tip in my life. I actually split it with Delores since it was technically her table to begin with. Delores is really cool. She’s a hoot. She makes working at the diner fun.” I shut up immediately. Oh God, I was rambling like a bumbling idiot and making no sense.
“Well, I am really glad I could brighten your day,” Cedric said as he glanced at me and smiled.
“Thanks again.” I turned to look out the window when a sudden bout of bashfulness took over.
In my periphery, I could see his head turn in my direction and I looked back at him.
“So, Allison, tell me, how long have you worked at the diner?” Cedric asked as he sped onto I-93, returning his eyes quickly to me once he entered the highway. I loved watching him drive.
“Just a few months. I am just biding my time there. I was in a special education program at Simmons, but I am putting that on hold for a while. But working with kids with disabilities is really my passion.”
“Simmons is a great school. Special education? That’s an honorable field. What made you decide to go in that direction?”
He switched gears and continued to alternate between looking at me and the road.
“Well, I really love kids and one summer when I was a camp counselor for the YMCA, I bonded with a little girl with Down syndrome. Her parents had actually given her up for adoption at birth, so she lived temporarily with foster parents. I am also adopted, so that made me even more attached to her. I was crushed when she was transferred to another family out of town. We still write to each other to this day. Ever since that summer, I wanted to work in some capacity with special needs kids. Even though I can’t afford Simmons right now, I am hoping to find a way to get into the field while I wait to get back to grad school.”
Cedric nodded slowly as if he was thinking of what to say next. “I think that’s amazing. I give you a lot credit for that.”
“Thanks,” I said.
He paused and licked his lips, his expression turning serious. “Actually, I don’t tell too many people this off the bat, but my younger sister, Callie…well, she has autism. She is twenty-four now, but she is a lot like a little girl in many ways. Back when she was diagnosed as a child, there were not a lot of autistic people. Nowadays, it’s something like one in every fifty kids is on the spectrum. Incredible. So, there really is a need for people who can work with them.” The emotions that talking about his sister conjured up were written all over Cedric’s face. After a pause, he said, “My sister…she’s…she’s special.”
I was caught off guard at how impassioned he became when talking about his sister.
“Wow. Is your sister verbal?” I asked as I thought to myself and smiled when I realized her name would be Callie Callahan.
“Yes, somewhat. She can ask for simple things. She can read, but she doesn’t have the ability to converse like you and I. She is totally dependent on my mother and has someone coming to the house a few hours everyday to work with her on daily living and to help Mom out in caring for her. They actually go with her to a job where she helps sort books at the local library, which is pretty cool.”
You could tell he was very proud of his sister, but also a little sad about it. The tender look on his face, made me want to grab his hand.
“She sounds amazing. I am sure having her in your life gives you a different perspective on things.”
“Yeah. It sure does. We neurotypical people take so many things for granted.” He smiled.
“I would love to work with autistic kids, myself,” I said.
Cedric scratched his chin. “Hmm. There’s an agency that provides the services Callie receives. I know they work with children, as well as adults. Maybe I can ask my mother for a human resources contact there and email it to you. My mother complains a lot that the turnover rate of people working with Callie is high, so maybe they are looking to hire. We can exchange emails.”
“That would be fantastic, Cedric…really, that would mean a lot.” I was truly amazed that he cared enough to offer to look into this for me. We’ve known each other less than an hour.
“My pleasure. I wish I could say I had a meaningful career like that. My profession…well, it’s about as shallow as they come.” He shook his head and glanced at me.
“What do you do?” I was dying to know.
He held his breath with a mischievous smile and then glanced at me again, seeming hesitant to tell me. He rolled his eyes and said, “I am a talent agent. I represent mostly TV journalists…news anchors and reporters and we handle things like contract negotiations for them and we also do some consulting for the news stations.”
“That sounds exciting, actually. So, you represent people like Katie Couric?” I asked.
Cedric laughed. “Kind of like her…but not her, yeah. It can be exciting at times. But it’s really quite a cutthroat business.”
“How so?” I was curious.
“Well, sometimes you have clients who are both competing for the same job and you have to make both believe that you’re in their corner, otherwise, you could stand to lose them, but you also want one of them to get the gig, because the agent gets a commission on their salary. And then there’s the consulting end of things, where you basically walk into these TV stations and tell management everything they’re doing wrong…which reporter needs to lose weight…which anchorman is getting too old to relate to the target audience…that sort of stuff,” Cedric said as he looked over at me for a response.
“You’re right. It does sound kind of nasty,” I smiled.
He nodded his head in agreement and we both laughed. “Yeah.”
I continued to ask him questions about his job over the next several minutes. That turned into my telling stories about some of the characters that come into the diner. We laughed a lot and it was so easy to talk to him.
Then, at one point, neither of us said anything for about a minute. He licked his lips again and I turned away embarrassed suddenly when he seemed to catch me staring at his mouth.
Breaking the silence, I spoke up. “You’re going to want to take exit 32, by the way, to get to my house.”
I glanced down at my watch willing the time to stop going so fast. I wished I lived farther away. I wanted to stay in this car forever with him.
“Great. So, do you live alone?” Cedric asked.
“No, actually, I live with Sonia…the waitress who took your order today? She and I met through Craigslist. She was looking for a roommate and thankfully it worked out. She and I get along really well.”
“You’re lucky she wasn’t a murderer if you were looking for roommates on Craigslist.”
We both laughed. “No kidding.”
After a bit more silence, Cedric turned the heat down and looked at me. “I hope I am not prying, but you mentioned you were adopted? Did you grow up here in Boston?”
“Yes. I have always lived here. My mother adopted me when she was in her mid-forties. She had always wanted a child, but never married and so, she took things into her own hands. She was really lucky, since in those days, single parent adoptions were rare. But Mom was a professional and made a good living for the city with good benefits and they had no reason to deny her.”
“What does your mother do?” he asked.
“Well, she worked for the mayor’s office before she retired. She passed away about a year ago.”
The look on Cedric’s face turned suddenly sullen and he was briefly silent before letting out a deep breath that made me shudder.
“Oh, I am so sorry, Allison. I lost my father…I know how hard it is,” he said frowning.
My heart hurt that he had endured losing a parent too. “Thanks. I was an only child. So, it’s been tough,” I said fighting back watery eyes.
Cedric looked at me and then turned away staring ahead in silence at the road. The expression on his face showed that he seemed genuinely affected by my revelation that I was essentially alone.
He turned to me again. “Allison…you don’t have any other extended family?”
Well, my aunt Irene…I call her Reeni…lives in upstate New York. She has a son, but he is a bit of an ass clown…Cousin Arthur,” I said rolling my eyes.
Cedric’s head rolled back as he shook with laughter at my use of that term. “Good old cousin Arthur the ass clown…I love it.”
He was cracking up and had such a deep smooth laugh. It was the first time I heard it.
I was laughing as well now. “Yes…cousin Arthur. He’s thirty-five, has incurable acne and spends most of his days playing video games and chatting online with other Trekkies. This is my next of kin. He works in a comic book shop part-time and mooches off my aunt the other times. So, essentially, I am indeed alone, although I have some wonderful friends, so I never feel it, really.”
“Well, that’s good. I am glad to hear it.” Cedric smiled.
“Um…the exit is coming up next.” I pointed to the green highway sign that showed we were a quarter of a mile from my neighborhood. I was bummed that this was coming to an end. It’s not like I could invite him inside.
Could I? God, I wanted to.
Cedric pulled off the highway and I directed him down the side streets of Malden.
I pointed. “Turn left here, this is my street.”
“Nice little neighborhood you have here,” he said, looking out the window.
“Yes, it’s very family-oriented, so it’s pretty safe. You can park right here,” I said, pointing to the space in front of the green two-family house that I lived in on the second floor.
Cedric pulled into the space, put the car in park and then surprised me when he turned the car off completely. There were no moving cars on the street and it was quiet except for the sound of a train horn in the distance.