Lennox, Ryder, and Joe reached downstairs just as Mel walked in the front door. She smiled at them. "Hey, guys. Hey, Lennox. Who is that special- yum!" She sniffed the air. "Wow, Joe, what are you making?"
Joe smiled a little. "It's beef Manhattan."
Mel grinned at him, that pretty grin Joe liked so well. "Wow, I can't wait. Come on, guys."
Joe and Mel started to walk into the kitchen, but Lennox and Ryder stayed behind. "Actually," said Lennox, "Ryder and I are having pizza."
Mel turned around and her eyebrow arched. "What? But you love Joe's beef Manhattan!"
"Yeah, but that special someone will show up soon," Lennox said excitedly. "Come on, Ryder." They headed out the door.
Mel shrugged and looked at Joe. "Oh, well. Wow, Joe, you're dressed up fancy!" She looked him up and down.
Joe smiled. "Yeah, well... glad you noticed."
He and Mel walked into the kitchen. Smoke was rising from the oven. Joe's eyes widen. "No, no, no!" He raced over to it and opened it. Smoke flew out into his face, making his eyes water.
Mel stood at the counter. "Did it burn?"
Joe took a cloth and swiped at the steam. The food was really crispy. He sighed, disappointed. "Yeah... a little. I never should've left Ryder with it."
Mel sniffed the air again and shrugged. "Oh, well. It still smells really good."
Joe looked at her. "You still want it?"
She smiled. "Yeah. It actually looks good still."
Joe nodded. "Okay then."
Twenty minutes later, the two were just finishing their dinner. Joe was done, and Mel still had a few bites left. Joe had watched her face as she had eaten it. Along with a few, "Wow, Joe, this is great"s, she had smiled a lot, which meant she liked it. After she took the last bite of her food, she picked up her napkin and wiped her mouth. "Oh, wow, Joe, that was amazing. You should burn it more often."
Joe couldn't help but grin. Those words coming from Mel meant a lot to him. "Thank you, Mel." I'll have to thank Ryder later...
Mel leaned back and crossed her hands over her stomach. Some hair fell into her face, and she suppressed a burp. She looked happy. And beautiful.
Joe looked at her for a minute, then got up enough courage to ask, "So, uh... how are things going with Mickey?"
Mel shrugged. "Eh, I don't know. They're going."
Joe's heart fluttered a little bit. Did that mean he had a chance?
"So, do you think things are gonna last?"
Mel gave him a look like she wanted to know why he asked that, then answered, "Well... it's not that I don't like him. I mean, he's really sweet, but..." She shook her head. "I don't know. There's just no sparks. You know what I mean?"
Joe nodded. "Oh, yeah, I get it..." For some reason, that made his heart sink. Were there sparks between them? He sure hoped so.
Mel sat up and leaned forward. "I mean, I just... I'm thirty-four, Joe. My life is almost halfway over, and I'm still not married. I haven't really been in a long-term relationship. But, lately... ya know, I want one. I wanna find that special someone who I feel like I could spend the rest of my life with. I wanna just... meet the one. Do you think I ever will? Is there even anyone out there for me?"
Joe's heart broke. He gave her a reassuring smile and said, "Of course there is, Mel. There's someone out there for everyone. You're so beautiful... and you're so smart and funny and sweet... I mean, I don't know how you haven't met that special someone yet. Anyone would be so lucky to be with you. And if he's ever stupid enough to let you go, that's his loss, not yours." He patted her hand.
Mel's mouth fell open. Had he really just said that to her? What was going on here...?
She smiled. "That's very sweet, Joe. Thank you." She yawned and stood up. Suddenly, things were awkward, and she didn't know why. "I'm gonna go to bed. Goodnight." She patted his hairless head and headed upstairs.
As soon as she was gone, Lennox and Ryder crept in the kitchen door. Lennox smiled sweetly at Joe. "What you said to Aunt Mel... wow! Was it true?"
Joe looked down at the table, remembering her face after he had finished telling her. She had been so pretty. He sighed and looked back up at them. "Yeah, I really did."
Mel had been lying in her bed for a little over an hour. Her conversation with Joe kept rerunning through her mind. He thought she was beautiful? And smart? And funny? How was this possible? And why hadn't he said anything before?
She sighed and sat up. Okay, get it together, Burke. You and Joe have a very special business relationship going on. He has a right to be attracted to you... like that. There's nothing more going on. There can't be. He's Joe Longo, for crying out loud! Yeah... that's it. Just business. Strictly business.
Calming down a bit, Mel smiled and lay back down. Her eyes closed but she did anything but sleep.
A/N: So what did you guys think? Thanks so much for the reviews I've been getting! And the follows and the favorites... wow, you guys rock! Don't worry. The story is just setting up right now. Soon, the real plot will set in, and I will give some requested Joelissa fluffiness. :)