Saturday night rolled around and Juliette’s stomach felt like someone was stomping grapes on it.
“You can’t go to dinner dressed like that, momma” Halle said, rolling her eyes as Juliette tried on yet another conservative black dress.
“Dressed like what, baby?”
Halle thrust a fistful of clothing at Juliette. “Like you’re going to a funeral. You’re supposed to look hot.”
“What’s wrong with what I’m wearing? This isn’t a date, young lady. You were invited too,” Juliette grumbled.
“I can’t go. Frankie, Maria and Sasha are coming over to help me with homework. “
Juliette suspected Halle had declined on purpose. She’d been home schooled for the last several months and while Frankie, Maria and Sasha had helped her keep up her grade point average, choosing homework over dinner seemed odd.
Juliette laid the bundle on the bed and began sifting through the clothing. “Every shirt has a plunging neckline and if these pants were any tighter I’d pass out,” she exclaimed.
Halle rolled her eyes. “Oh mother! Don’t you want him to do you?”
“Lose that crude expression right now, young lady. You’ve been watching way too much television.”
“But he’s hot, mother. Smoking, hot! You should want him to at least kiss you.”
“I’ve heard enough,” Juliette said, heading off to the shower.
A half an hour later, Juliette emerged wearing one of the shirts Halle had chosen. She tugged at the plunging neckline thinking she needed a scarf to hide her cleavage and settled for a necklace instead. The scooped neck shirt had been bought on a whim and stuffed in the back of her closet. The skirt was as close to a micro-mini as she’d ever get.
“You look awesome, momma. Lose the necklace,” Halle said, her eyes traveling the length of Juliette.
“Yeah, I’d lose it,” Pattie who’d arrived while Halle was in the shower agreed. “Unless he’s a eunuch, your man would have to do more than have dinner with you. He’s coming up the driveway, by the way.”
“He’s not my man,” Juliette snapped, glaring at Pattie
“What’s a eunuch?” Halle asked, getting between them.
“A man without balls,” Pattie said before Juliette could shush her.
Why did everyone want to push her on Xander? Did she look desperate?
The buzzer ended the exchange. Juliette gave a quick glance in the mirror and began fussing with her neckline again.
Pattie nudged her toward the door. “You wouldn’t want to keep him waiting.”
“Were my directions ok?” Juliette asked as she let Xander in. How could a man dressed in a preppy navy jacket and chinos be so sexy?
“Your directions were perfect,” he said, eyeing her legs. “You look especially nice tonight.”
Xander’s mild compliment brought the heat to Juliette’s cheeks. “Thank you. Did you want to say hi to Halle? She’s not able to join us, way too much homework.”
“That’s too bad. I was looking forward to spending some time with her,” he said, actually sounding as if Halle’s company would be missed. “I have something for you.” He turned over a gift wrapped package that felt suspiciously like a book.
“What’s this?” Juliette asked, “Should I open it now?”
“Save it for later.”
Thanking him, she went off to find Halle.
“Mr. Neale,” Halle greeted, angling her cheek for his kiss. “You smell delicious. “Where are you and momma going?”
“To a restaurant in Little Silver that someone recommended. Sure you wouldn’t join us?”
“Can’t.” The doorbell rang, and Halle with a smile and a wave, trotted off to answer it, tossing over her shoulder, “My friends are here. You’ll have a good time without me.”
She really is something,” Xander said, as Juliette gathered her pashmina and purse, and quickly introduced Pattie.
They drove the first half mile in silence, then Xander said, “Anything good come of your interview?”
“Funny you should ask. A few days back I spoke with the Grown Folks Radio show host. She says the station has been flooded with calls and they’ve made it easy for people to contribute by setting up a PayPal account. Pattie who you met is a PR pro. She’s helping me organize a fundraising walk. We’re hoping for sponsorships and we’ll publicize the event.”
“My firm will happily sponsor,” Xander offered. “We can discuss the details over dinner.”
“That’s awfully nice of you,” Juliette said, resisting the urge to be like Halle and throw her arms around his neck. Oh to be young and uninhibited like her daughter. Things were looking up. Having a well-respected firm like Neale and Associates offer sponsorship could only help.
Later as they were eating she asked. “Out of curiosity, why did you decide to get tested as a possible match for Halle?
Xander set down his knife and fork and answered without hesitation. “My doctor says it’s a relatively simple test. Even though it’s a longshot, it’s the least I can do.”
Juliette’s attention returned to her salad. She hoped that Xander wouldn’t see that her eyes had misted over. Who needed a scene with a maître d hovering?
Xander covered her hand, his long fingers brushing her knuckles. “Look at it this way. You’re giving me another shot at parenting. I’d given up on having children, and took the necessary steps to make sure that didn’t happen.”
He said it as if she’d given him the greatest gift of all time. Juliette squeezed his fingers. “That is by far the nicest thing anyone has said to me in a long time.” The tears fell freely this time.
“In that case you need new friends,” he responded, smiling warmly at her and squeezing her hand. “What were Halle’s first symptoms? How did you know she was seriously ill?”