May 26, 2017
Sugar crosses paths with the last person she wants to cross paths with.
Music Mood: Do I Wanna Know? by Arctic Monkeys
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
"What do you think about this," Georgette Hartwell asked as she plucked a hanger from the clothing rack. The two pieces of scrap that dangled from the hanger were meant to be a bikini, but there wasn't enough fabric in the bikini top to cover an areola and the bottom piece was a pathetic thong. Sugar wrinkled her nose in disgust and made a gagging nose, which sent her mother into a light fit of cackles.
"I'll take that has a no," Georgette questioned teasingly with an infectious smile.
"You can take that as a heck no, Mama," Sugar replied, a smile of her own easing across her lips.
It was three days until her parents' two-week cruise to the Caribbean with some of her father's retired Marine pals and their wives. They all reconnected on Facebook about five years ago and every year since then they planned a reunion trip together. They had been all over the country. A cabin in Maine. A luxury boathouse in the Florida Keys. A ritzy hotel suite in Las Vegas. A horse ranch retreat in Wyoming. This year was the cruise.
Georgette put the hanger back where she found it before she walked over to another rack and sorted through the outfits there.
It had become a bit of a tradition for Sugar to accompany her mother on last-minute shopping trips right before the reunion meet-ups. Out of all three daughters, Sugar had a best taste in fashion and giving valuable opinions. She had acquired the talent from being a perfect housewife who had to look presentable at her husband's side always as a requirement imposed by Lance while he climbed further and further up the corporate ladder. Rochelle was about power suits or clingy outfits with no in-between. Odette had a love for trendy bohemian fashion.
"So, are you excited about your birthday night out with the girls, Maggie," Georgette asked. Maggie was a nickname for Magnolia, Sugar's middle name. Only her mother and the other old heads of the family ever called her Maggie or Magnolia. Her grandparents, aunts, and uncles weren't fond of the name Sugar, but Georgette didn't have a say with the first name, only the middle name.
The story goes when Sugar's parents were unsure if they were having twin boys or girls. Calvin had always wanted girls and Georgette wanted boys. So, they had come to an agreement that if the twins were boys then Georgette had claim over the first names and Calvin had domain over the middle name. If the twins were girls then Calvin had dibs on the first name. Needless to say, they were thoroughly shocked and surprised to have been blessed with a boy and girl. The baby-naming agreement was still in place.
Georgette gave her son Sullivan, a family name. Calvin thought his infant daughter was the sweetest little thing that he named her Sugar much to the dismay of both sides of the family.
Now, her thirty-eighth birthday was five days away. The last few weeks had gone by so quickly. It only seemed like yesterday it was April. Now, it was steadily nearing the end of May. Heck, even the one-year anniversary of her divorce was ten days ago—that too only seemed like yesterday—and she celebrated it by going home at seven in the evening, drinking a whole bottle of Moscato and watching a marathon of films were the deceptive villainous husband dies at the end. The night was rather satisfying. A little lonely but satisfying nonetheless.
Sugar sighed, "I think so."
The more she thought about it, her head swam with a million and one ways it could all go wrong.
"You think so? Doesn't sound like it."
"It's just," Sugar paused as she tried to figure out what she was going to confess, "girl's night gets too wild sometimes."
"Good," Georgette nodded. "You need a little wild fun in your life."
Sugar groaned. "Mama, not you too!"
"Yes, me too," Georgette huffed matter-of-factly. "You need to kick your shoes off, let your hair down, and let loose."
"You’re not supposed to encourage me to get drunk and go partying. You're supposed to steer me on the right path. Lecture me to be responsible and make the right choices."
Georgette snorted a laugh. "Magnolia, you've been doing that on your own for thirty-eight years. I can proudly say I've never had to raise a hand to you once unlike all your other siblings. You never worried me and your father silly with rebellious phases--unlike your younger sisters and brother--because you went from being our baby girl to being a wife. Now, you've paid your dues and it's time for you to throw caution to the wind. As a mature single woman, this is the moment to have the time of your life!"
Sugar sighed, "Then why do I feel like my time has passed?"
"Because you want to feel that way. You want to give yourself an excuse not to have fun."
The moment her mother uttered those words, it was nothing more than further proof that all her siblings were right. She was the thing that was holding her back.
"Maybe so," Sugar trailed off.
"I know so," Georgette said.
Eventually, they made their way to checkout. Georgette had bought seven different outfits that totaled out to be pretty little penny. Leaving the boutique, Georgette put her sunglasses on.
"You hungry, Magnolia?"
"Starving," Sugar admitted.
"I know this place at the Docks. Your father takes me there all the time. The food is amazing," Georgette said. "Plus, the owner is now a good friend of your father. He's a retired Marine like Calvin, so of course, they'd become friends."
Georgette slid her sunglasses slightly down the bridge of her nose to peer at her daughter over the caramel-hued rims. "And it does help that he's very easy on the eyes too," she purred with a suggestive wink that made Sugar laugh in shock.
"Mama, you're a married woman!"
Georgette rolled her eyes, flicking her hand dismissively at Sugar. "And? I'm a married woman, but I'm still a woman who appreciates a good-looking man in my presence. It’s not like I'm groping the man or running off with him, Maggie. Nothing wrong with some innocent peeking," Georgette said as they walked towards Georgette's BMW.
Once inside the vehicle, Sugar pulled out her cell from her purse to call the restaurant, but Georgette snatches the device from her hands and tossed it into the backseat. Sugar gawked at her mother's actions.
Georgette wagged a finger at her. "You promised me you wouldn't call that restaurant, Maggie."
"I just want to make sure," Sugar began, but swallowed her words when her mother nailed her to the spot with a motherly threat flashing bright in her eyes.
"Lory has everything under control," Georgette said. "This is good for the both of you. You need to take a much-needed break and Lory needs to learn to be more responsible."
Sugar sighed heavily in defeat, biting back the terrible urge to reach into that backseat and call anyway. She felt like a first-time mother leaving her newborn baby for the first. The separation was difficult, especially if you felt like you left your precious bundle of joy with an unreliable family member. Lory was a good manager when he wanted to be, but he played around too much to be taken be seriously at times. He was more of a friend to the staff than a supervisor, which sometimes led to mischief and drama.
She didn’t want to come back to a restaurant in complete dismay or worse: up in flames.
"Alright, Mama," Sugar sighed in defeat.
A pleased smile plastered across Georgette's lips as she started the ignition, shifted the gears into reverse, and backed out of the parking space.
Riverside was a quiet side of town nestled by the expansive winding brown-watered river that split the city in two. It was a trendy area with pockets of eclectic shopping strips and Instagram-worthy cafes, pubs, and restaurants. There were gloriously shady parks and playgrounds that dotted the area. Historic Victorian houses and beautiful brick houses were a commonplace. Old towering oak trees with Spanish moss covered every inch of the neighborhoods.
Sugar always enjoyed driving through the area. It was so tranquil and beautiful on a sunny May afternoon like this.
A bit further north from Riverside were the Docks, which primarily consisted of seafood markets, marinas, warehouses, and a few bars. The difference between the two areas were very stark. Riverside was much friendlier and safer while the Docks catered to a gruffer unsavory sort. Yet her parents loved frequenting there no matter how much Sugar and her siblings complained and begged them not to. Of course, the older couple never listened.
“There it is,” Georgette said with a grin as she pulled into a parking spot at the front of the establishment
Sugar peered through the windshield with an arched eyebrow as she looked at the restaurant. The Salty Marine, with a heavily-borrowed ‘old’ fishing shack appearance, was directly beside the river with a dock of its own. The two women out of the car and Sugar apprehensively followed her mother into the restaurant. It was dimly lit inside with strings of lights weaved into lazy webs overhead. There was a fully loaded bar to the left of them and typical restaurant seating to the right. Far ahead were two pool tables.
The place smelled like beer and fried food.
And it was completely void of patrons.
“Hey, Georgie,” an old man working as the bartender greeted with a cheeky smile as he wiped down the bar counter.
“Hey, Gizzard,” Georgette greeted back chipperly.
Sugar fought the urge to wrinkle her nose at the bartender’s name. Who in the hell would want to be nicknamed that and what did they do to acquire such a name?
“Who you got there with you,” Gizzard questioned as he peered at Sugar, interest as clear as day on his face.
“Gizzard, this is my eldest daughter Sugar,” Georgette introduced, gesturing to her daughter.
He gave a toothy grin. “That’s a mighty big name to live up to. Are you as sweet as your name says?”
“It’s a lifelong pursuit,” Sugar replied, smiling back weakly, “but I’m not quite there yet.”
He chuckled heartily at her answer.
“Is the original Salty Marine here,” Georgette asked, glancing around.
Gizzard nodded his head towards the kitchen’s entrance doors.
“He’s somewhere back there. I’ll let him know you’re here. Honestly, I think he’s got a bit of a crush on you, Georgie. He doesn’t give just anyone free meals and alcohol,” the bartender said in a teasing tone.
Georgette giggled bashfully. “You’re something else, you know that?”
Gizzard winked at Georgette before he began to walk towards the kitchen doors. “You know you love it, darling. Park yourselves at a table and I’ll bring some draft beers your way. On the house.”
“You really know how to spoil a girl, Gizzard,” Georgette said.
“A girl you are not, Georgie. You’re every bit a lady and more,” Gizzard called as he went through the kitchen doors.
“Let’s go get ourselves a seat,” Georgette said before she walked across the room to a booth with Sugar following her closely behind.
Georgette folded her hands on the table. “This place is really something, isn’t it?”
Sugar glanced around unimpressed.
“It’s…something alright,” she cleared her throat.
Georgette pursed her lips together, looking at her daughter in disappointment. “Don’t judge a book by its cover. It’s a little rough around the edges, but the people are great and the food is ‘straight outta Louisiana’ good.”
“I’ll take your word for it, Mama,” Sugar said.
Georgette regarded Sugar from across the table for a lengthy moment and folded her hands on the table like she was a businesswoman about to make a proposition. “Let’s talk about more important matters. You need to get back into the dating game, Magnolia.”
“Why are you, Roc, and Ettie keep nagging me about getting a man,” Sugar questioned, cocking her head to the side. “I don’t need one to make me happy.”
“Look, I know Lance burned you bad, but he was a boy pretending to be a man. You need a good man. A real man. Someone who can treat you like you deserve to be treated and that someone is out there waiting for both your worlds to collide,” Georgette said. “When that happens, you won’t know what hit you.”
Sugar thought about her mother’s words for a moment. “Mama, I really appreciate the advice, but I know what’s best for me.”
Georgette frowned. “You’re getting to be hardheaded, Magnolia.”
Once upon a time, she wasn’t hardheaded and stubborn. She was a submissive push-over that got walked all over like a doormat. Out of the divorce came a hardheaded firm woman with the drive and determination. She wanted to follow her own path, not the ones everyone else in her life was trying to navigate her towards.
“Two draft beers for two lovely ladies,” Gizzard announced with a grin as he approached the table, placing the two mugs filled with amber liquid and topped with crisp white foam. Sugar was more of a wine and cocktail kind of gal, but she immediately picked it up and took a deep sip to give herself something to do. Tucked underneath his arm were two menus that he pulled out and handed them to Georgette and Sugar.
Georgette glanced at the menu for no more than a handful of seconds before she handed it back. “I’ll take my usual.”
“You got it,” he said before peering over at Sugar. “What would you like, darling?”
“Um,” Sugar hummed as she gazed at the Louisiana cuisine-filled menu. All the options sounded delicious and the item descriptions made her mouth water. “I’ll take the fried catfish with lobster mac and cheese and filthy green beans.”
“You won’t be disappointed. I’ll put both your orders in, but just so you know, I’ve gotta leave for a doctor’s appointment,” he said with a cheeky smile once more
Georgette pouted. “Aw, okay. It was good seeing you, Gizzard.”
“Likewise, Georgie,” Gizzard said with a wink. “Chef should be out here any moment though.”
Then the older man walked away. She and her mother soon slipped into light conversation about the various activities Georgette was going to do on the cruise.
Then Sugar brought the beer to her lips once more and in mid-gulp heard a very familiar, very smooth southern-accented voice. “You rang for me, Mrs. Hartwell?”
Her widening eyes cut over to the man who approached the table and she immediately choked on her beer in shock. She put the beer mug down coughed a little, clasping a hand to her chest as she struggled through her little hacking fit.
“You alright, Maggie,” Georgette asked in concern.
“Mm hm,” Sugar hummed after her coughing died down, nodding her head vigorously. She reached for her beer again and took another deep gulp as a means to swallow down the bitter taste of shock.
“I tend to have that effect on people,” the man said, which Georgette to laugh.
“Chef, this is my daughter Magnolia,” Georgette introduced, gesturing her hand to Sugar who was still drinking her beer and avoiding his eyes at all costs.
“What a fittin’ name,” Chef replied with a grin. “Magnolias happen to be my favorite flower. My grandparents have countless magnolia trees on their land back home. Spent many a summer day up under them as a boy.”
Georgette smiled warmly at him. “That seems like a real nice childhood.”
“It had its ups and downs, but I wouldn’t change it for the world,” Chef paused, rubbing the back of his neck. “You enjoyin’ that beer?”
Sugar pretended not to hear him.
“Maggie,” Georgette trailed off sweetly, but there was an underlying threat masterfully laced in her tone that only an offspring could detect. “Chef asked you a question."
“Hm,” Sugar hummed in an artificial surprise and acted as if she hadn’t heard his question to begin with. She licked her lips and placed the beer mug down onto the table, gathering the courage to direct her eyes up at him. “I’m sorry. I didn’t catch what you said.”
His laugh lines crinkled in the same way it did that fated night she gently cleaned the blood off his face. There was no doubt in her mind that he was amused at this current predicament and she couldn’t for the life of her understand why. After that phone call, they weren’t ever supposed to cross paths again. After all, she rejected his courting attempt and insulted him in the same breath. She shouldn’t have been the only one that felt absolutely uncomfortable about their chanced second meeting.
Did God hate her?
Did she somehow die without realizing it and somehow ended up in her own personal hell?
“I asked if you were enjoyin’ the beer?”
“It’s alright,” she said as she traced her finger around the mug’s rim. “I’m not really a beer gal though.”
He cocked his head to the side, slipping his hands into his front jean pockets. “Might I ask what kind of gal are you then?”
The sexy delivery of that loaded question was not lost to her. His words vibrated through her, a tingly warm spreading across her flesh.
“I like wine and cocktails,” Sugar answered.
“Then I’ll get you something more to your likin’,” he said, putting a rumbly emphasis on the final word in his statement that made her knees weak. He reached down and retrieved her half-empty mug.
Sugar shook her head quickly and grabbed the other side of the mug, but his powerful grip wouldn’t let go of the mug’s handle.
“That’s quite alright,” she assured and gave a little hinting tug for him to let the damned mug ago.
“I insist,” he said, still firm on his grasp.
Georgette plucked her daughter’s hand from the mug and gave an embarrassed chuckle. “My daughter has a tendency to look a gift horse in the mouth,” she said. “She’ll gladly try whatever you have in mind.”
“Excuse me while I go whip up something special for our Magnolia,” Chef said before he sauntered off. Sugar couldn’t help but look at his backside as he went. He was wearing a short-sleeved plaid button-down shirt—tucked into his dark jeans—that did his muscular tattooed arms great justice. His shoulders were broad and strong. There was a military tattoo inked on the nape of his neck. Her eyes trailed down to his rear-end and she bit down onto her lower lip as she accidentally admired it.
“Magnolia,” Georgette snapped in a whispery voice.
Sugar jerked her attention to her mother, startled.
“What in the world is your problem? Where are your manners? I know I taught you better than that,” her mother demanded to know, in which Sugar blinked at her and plastered a mock-innocent expression on her face.
“He wouldn’t let the mug go,” Sugar answered defensively.
Georgette narrowed her eyes, crossing her arms over her chest. “He was trying to do a nice gesture and you were being extraordinarily rude. Plus, don’t think I didn’t notice you purposely ignoring him when he asked you that question.”
Her mother jabbed a thumb at the bar counter Chef was manning. “I like him. Your father likes him. We both like coming here and we want to keep coming here. You’re not going to disrespect that man in his own restaurant, especially when the drinks and the food are on the house and he has been nothing but kind. Go apologize now, Sugar Magnolia.”
Sugar clenched her jaw and slipped out of the booth, taking a slow funeral march to the bar counter. Chef busied himself with collecting a variety of bottles off the shelves behind him and poured different amounts of liquor into a stainless-steel cocktail shaker before he resealed the object and shook it expertly.
“Something else not to your likin’,” he questioned with a hint of charm, a subtle grin on his lips.
“I’m being forced to apologize to you,” Sugar replied, lowering her annoyed voice to keep her mother from hearing her displeasure.
Chef arched an eyebrow, his small grin widening just a little. He stopped shaking the cocktail shaker and put it down, placing his hands onto the counter and leaning forward slightly—tiptoeing on the invisible border that represented her personal space.
“I’m ready when you are, darlin’.”
That smug motherfucking bastard.
A tight smile of irritation stretched across her lips.
“I’m sorry,” she apologized through clenched teeth.
His grin inched a centimeter more.
“For?” he pressed.
Sugar narrowed her eyes.
“Being…rude,” she forced out the words.
He unscrewed the cap from the cocktail shaker and poured a bright green liquid into a cocktail glass. Then he placed the glass onto the bar counter. “Apology accepted.”
Sugar reluctantly picked it up and brought it to her lips, taking a gingerly sip. Immediately, her eyelids fluttered shut and she bit back a tiny moan as a sweet explosion dominated her tastebuds. The cocktail tasted exactly like a green apple jolly rancher with a smooth underlying burn of a mixture of top-shelf liquor. She took another sip, more appreciative this time around. Opening her eyes, her heart stopped she realized that his gray eyes were pinned on her heatedly.
“Verdict?” He cocked an eyebrow.
“It’s…okay,” she lied, not wanting to give him the satisfaction.
He chuckled softly, shaking his head.
“What’s so funny,” Sugar frowned.
“It must be killin’ you on the inside to want to hate somethin’ but can’t.”
Sugar scoffed. “I meant what I said. My younger brother makes way better cocktails.”
Chef stroked his clean cut salt-and-pepper for a moment, a pondering expression oozed from his face. “Maybe, I should come by to check out the competition. I’ve been known to make a mean cocktail, but if you claim your brother is better, I need to taste it to believe it.”
“I’d rather you didn’t. The one time you were in my restaurant is one time too many,” Sugar countered.
He leaned in a little closer, still skirting the edge of her personal space. “I’m nothing like the villain you’ve painted me out to be inside of your head.”
“Then why did I find you the way I did?”
“Do you truly want to know?”
“I think I deserve that much. I think I deserve to know if the man my parents are friends with is involved in some kind of shady illegal activities,” Sugar stated.
He tossed a crisp white hand towel over his shoulder. “I’ll gladly tell you over dinner tonight.”
Sugar snorted out a laugh before she could stop herself. “Wow, you’re bold. You have the actual nerve to stand there and try to coerce me into a date in exchange a simple explanation to clear my accusations of you.”
“I’m not a villain, but I’m definitely not a saint,” he replied. “I think you’re curious enough to accept my proposition, but I’ll sweeten the deal for the sake of my sanity. It’s a public place. Plenty of witnesses. No funny business. I’ll try to have you back at a reasonable hour.”
Sugar blinked in confusion, still stuck on something he said earlier. “…your sanity?”
“My mind has been running rapid with what-if’s, questions, and demands since you rejected my courting. I want to know what your genuine laughter sounds like. I want to hear your voice when you talk about something you love. I want to take you on a dancefloor just to get a chance to see how you feel in my arms,” he clarified. “There must be some divine intervention at play for us to meet again against all odds and I’m not one to sit around idly when presented with a blessing.”
With every word uttered, her restraint to remain reserved as he spoke chipped away like a glacier. Her jaw slowly gaped open into a perfect O. An intense heat flashed inside of her and she had to steady herself by putting her hand onto a barstool. She recovered as best she could and cleared her throat.
“That’s a tall order from a man that doesn’t have much to bargain with. Plus, it’s going to take a lot more work than sugary sweet talking to get all those things you so desperately want,” Sugar said.
His grin returned twofold. Charming as hell. Sexy as all get out. “The one thing you need to know about me, Sugar, is that I love to work. Being a hard worker is a part of who I am. I keep going and going until the job gets done, but maybe my words don’t do me any justice in this instance. Say yes for tonight and I’ll gladly let you see my work ethic firsthand.”
Her breath hitched a little at his words.
This was too much.
He was too much.
She needed to end this conversation now.
Sugar plucked the cocktail glass from the bar counter.
“Thanks for the drink,” she replied hurriedly before she swirled on her heels and sauntered away as quickly as possible, guzzling down the utterly delicious cocktail to cool herself down.
She could’ve sworn she heard him chuckling lightly behind her.
Now, all she had to do as survive lunch with her mother and him standing nearby.
Another chapter! Finally, Sugar and Chef meet again. Fate just won't let her walk away. Sugar wants to know why she found him the way she did and Chef will tell her...on a date. Is Sugar curious enough to want to find out? Stay tune for the next installment. I've added a picture of Gizzard on Pinterest.
The music I wrote this chapter to is absolutely perfect. It's definitely Chef's song even though the chapter wasn't in his point of view.
Anyways, have a wonderful Monday evening!
Pinterest Board: Sugar Mama by Missus James