After they left the “Casa Bongiovi” Richie took her hand and led her to his black gas guzzler. Opening the passenger door, he helped her climb into the Hummer. Settling himself in the driver’s seat he looked at her.
“So Mel, what were you planning on eating tonight?”
“Actually, I was planning to grab a slice of pizza and a salad. But I’m open to suggestions.” she winked at him.
“Do you trust me darlin?”
“Well, that’s a loaded question…”
“OK!” he laughed “Let me rephrase that! Do you trust me to pick something different? Something a bit more off the ‘beaten path’ sort of speak?”
“OK Richie, I’m gonna trust you and place my stomach in your hands.” smiled Melody.
Richie smiled and started the truck. Classic Rock came through the speakers. Melody smiled approvingly and nodded her head in tune with the Beatles. They drove for about 20 minutes before Richie brought them to a stop in front of a small strip mall and a generic looking place with a sign that simply read “restaurant”. Melody gave Richie a slightly shocked look and snorted.
“I know darlin, it doesn’t look like much. But trust me, the food here is amazing. My mom found this place and insisted I come with her last time I came to visit. It was as good as my Nana’s cooking!” He said helping Mel out of the truck.
Mel just chuckled as they walked through the door.
A large older woman dressed in a gaily embroidered peasant blouse and with a large blonde bun, looked up from the register. Gasping in surprise, she ran out from behind the counter and enveloped Melody in her arms.
“Melly, my Kwiatuszku (little flower)! What an unexpected surprise! Where’s Nicky?” then finally noticing Richie at her side “And who is this?” she raised her eyebrows.
“ Its good to see you Cioteczka (auntie) Anna” said Mel returning the hug. “Nicky is spending the night with friends. And this is Richie.”
“Richie, meet my auntie Anna!” she smiled at stunned looking man at her side.
Anna gave Richie long look and narrowed her eyes “You look familiar. Do I know you?”
Before Richie had a chance to reply, Melody chimed in “No Cioteczka! I only met him last night. His friend was a patient of mine in the ER. And please tell me Pan Stanley is cooking tonight! We are starving!”
The older woman nodded and her face dissolved into a huge smile. “Yes, of course your uncle is in the kitchen, Kwiatuszku! He’ll be happy to come out and greet you later.” she glanced at Richie thoughtfully “ Both of you!”
She led them to the back of the small restaurant, to a nice corner table and set two menus on the table. “I’ll be back in a few minutes. Why don’t you two decide on what you want to eat tonight!’’
After helping Melody with her chair, Richie set down across from her and cleared his throat “Uhm, Mel… I don’t know where to start! Who is Nicky? And do I need to be worried?”
Before Mel had a chance to answer him, her cell phone rang. She pulled it out of her purse, looked at the display, and with an apologetic smile to Richie, answered.
“Hi Nic! How are you baby?” she smiled as she listened to the excited chatter “Well I’m glad you’re enjoying your self! I’ll see you tomorrow baby!” closing the phone, she took a deep breath and looked across the table at Richie.
“I guess I should explain!” seeing Richie nod, she smiled and went on “No, you don’t need to be worried. Nicky is Nicole, my fifteen year old daughter. Anna is my mom’s sister, and her husband Stanley is a fantastic cook, and he will be very happy to see me not eating by myself for a change.”
Richie’s eyes did not leave her face. Seeing the emotions and shadows flicker in her emerald eyes, he reached across the table and took her hands.
“Mel, I’m not worried about your uncle.” he smiled as his thumbs gently rubbed across her knuckles. “But is there something I need to know about Nicole’s father?” he pressed on.
Melody swallowed audibly “The only thing you need to know is that he is not in the picture.” she answered quietly, looking down at the table.
Richie reached out and gently tipped her face up so she was looking at him again. Seeing the sadness reflected in her eyes, he nodded “OK, that’s good enough for now! But only because I am too hungry to dig for more info!” he grinned at her “But I’m not making any promises not to return to this topic after dinner.”
Melody nodded and handed him one of the menus. Richie opened it and spent a few moments looking over the choices. Squinting at some descriptions that were in small font, he gave up and looked at Mel who was watching him with a smile on her face. Noticing that she hasn’t even opened her menu, Richie grinned at her
“OK, why don’t you just tell me what’s good here, before I kill myself trying to pronounce the names of the dishes and trying to remember what they are!”
“I might be just a little bit biased, but as far as I’m concerned, EVERYTHING is good here!” she laughed at him.
Relieved to see her smiling and laughing again, Richie closed his menu. “Fine, smart ass! Since you trusted me with a choice of the restaurant, I’m gonna trust you to order for me!”
“And what if I order you a dainty, girlie salad?”
“Well, I’m just gonna have to trust you! Won’t I?” he pouted.
Jesus! What is he trying to do to me! Just look at that bottom lip! It was made for kissing, licking and biting! Lord Have Mercy on my soul! I’m going to have to spend HOURS in the confession tomorrow….
Her aunt’s return to their table brought Mel’s thoughts back from the gutter and to the task at hand. Smiling at her aunt, she placed their order in rapid Polish, with Richie listening intently, but only catching one or two familiar words. Her aunt nodded and smiled at Richie at one point.
I gotta ask Ma to teach me more Polish. I swear I heard “birthday” in there…some where.
With one more pensive look at Richie, Anna left for the kitchen.
“So, what kind of girlie salad did you order for me?” he smirked at Melody
“Don’t worry big guy, I ordered two of my all time favorite comfort meals. Hopefully you will like at least one of them.”
Before they knew it, Anna was back with two glasses of iced tea, a basket of freshly baked dark rye bread….and two plates of salad.
Richie looked at his small plate with what looked like sour cream and dill covered cucumbers and smirked at Mel. “I thought you said no salad!”
“I don’t know about your home, but at my mom’s table, every dinner started out with salad!” laughed Mel “Try it! You might actually like it!”
Richie gave her a loud theatrical sigh and picked up his fork. To his surprise, the salad was actually good. And the spicy sour cream and dill dressing hit the palate just right!
By the time Melody was mostly done with her salad, Richie’s plate was cleaned and pushed to the side.
He wiped his mouth with his napkin and sipped his iced tea as he smiled at her “So, what’s next?”
Before Melody could answer, an older man wearing a white apron, approached their table with a big smile and two big steaming plates of food. After setting the plates down on their table, he wiped his hands on his apron and hugged Mel. “ O my beautiful Kwiatuszku! Its so good to see you here! And you brought me company to feed!”
Melody laughed as she hugged her uncle. “Uncle Stanley, this is my friend Richie.”
The older man squinted at Richie and smiled “I know you!”
Before either Mel or Richie had a chance to respond, he went on “ Of Course! You are Joan’s boy aren’t you?”