Charlie crept behind the lone dark figure walking fast through the shadows. “You mess with the Honeybee, you get what you deserve.”
“Slow down you little creeper,” she said right after the tall lean figure darted across the street next to a street light.
“Ha, got you,” Charlie said as the light hit the man directly and she was able to see him clearly.
Charlie pushed her foot down hard on what she thought was the brake, but was actually the gas. The car lurched forward before she could react. She heard the thunk more than she felt it.
“Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God,” Charlie whispered behind the wheel frozen. She heard two thumps on the front grill. Scared to get out she was even more scared the man beneath her car was possibly dying. Jerking the door open she hopped out and ran to the front of the car only to see there was no man. There was nothing.
Dropping to the ground she looked under the car but it was empty too. Then she heard a car door slam, her car door slam. She looked up to see a furious Trace Johnsonne standing next to her car holding keys in his hand.
“What the hell were you thinking? Are you drunk or are you just insane?” he screamed.
“Neither,” Charlie said relieved to see him standing, but also very, very angry. “What was I doing? What the hell were you doing? You’ve been watching me like some pervert the last two nights.”
“Watching you? What?” he said looking completely confused. Charlie’s self-righteous anger waned a bit, as doubt creeped in, but she refused to let go of it. Now that she’d caught the man she wanted to know the truth. Taking two steps forward she pointed her finger at his chest.
“The last two nights,” Charlie said one blood red nail jabbing at the humid night air. “You’ve been standing on that corner stalking my restaurant and me.”
“Stalking? I was standing! standing on the corner! Since when was it a crime to stand on a corner,” Trace yelled.
“Standing, stalking- that’s not the point,” she said. “I’ve had two incidents this week and each time there you were.” Trace’s face puffed to twice its normal size right before he exploded.
“Are you serious? You can’t be serious because that would mean you were absolutely insane. Are you insane? You have to be crazy. You hit me!” Trace said waving his arms in the air as he yelled up at the sky. Charlie saw a couple of lights come on above them in the apartments lining the poorly lit alley. She was thankful for them. Maybe one would call the police and they’d arrest Trace and take him away for good. Okay, she didn’t want him arrested, but maybe then she’d have an uneventful day at work tomorrow.
“So is that why you ran me over,” Trace yelled.
“Whoa,” Charlie said her voice lowered hoping it would make Trace lower his. “That was an accident.”
“That was an accident,” he mocked. “Darling an accident is running over a Coke can not a human being.”
“Hey, y’all need to get up out of here with that mess. I’m trying to sleep,” someone yelled from a window. “I’mma have to call the cops if y’all don’t shut it up.”
“Call the cops,” Trace yelled back. “As a matter of fact I’ll call the cops.” Instinctively Charlie reached for Trace as he pulled out his phone knocking it out of his hands.
“What the hell,” he screamed again. Picking up the phone he said, “You cracked it. She cracked it. What is wrong with you woman!” he bellowed his voice growing louder, and Charlie did something she’d never done in her life. She jumped him.
Immediately they both went down landing with a smack on the wet concrete.
“Dearie, there’s a hotel six blocks downtown,” the male voice yelled down, but Charlie ignored him.
“I’m sorry,” she said in Trace’s ear. She could feel his hot breath on her neck as he lay motionless beneath here. “I’m sorry but I can’t let you call the police. I’m sorry, so sorry but I thought. Look, it doesn’t matter what I thought. You’re okay, I’m okay, we’re okay,” she said pulling back to look at his face. The light from the lamppost lit his face with a blue glow that would have been eerie if not for the grin on his face.
“What are you smiling about?”
“I’m not smiling,” Trace said the grin not faltering a bit.
“Yes you are. I can see your teeth,” she said using her arms to push herself up. She saw the smile stretch wider exposing more teeth.
“That is a grimace because your knee is squashing my balls,” Trace said through clenched teeth as he pushed her off. Charlie jumped up elbowing the battered man in the process. She felt bad when Trace flinched when she reached to help him up.
“I won’t hurt you,” she said but the look on his face said he didn’t believe her. He had almost two feet and thirty pounds on her, but Trace had balled himself into the fetal position.
Slowly he pulled himself up to stand. His pants were dirty and his shirt was torn. Backing away from Charlie he fell against the car and stayed there.
“I’m so sorry,” she said contritely. Trace groaned. Charlie looked down the dark alley which suddenly didn’t seem so scary. Even the man above them had grown bored and closed his window so they were all alone.
“But you know,” Charlie began and Trace squinted one eye at her as if daring her to continue. She did. “You know you really shouldn’t spy on people.”
“I wasn’t spying,” Trace said wiping a smear of blood from his bottom lip. “I live there,” he said pointing at the apartments. “I go there,” he said pointing to the street corner where she’d seen him the last two nights, “to smoke. My apartment doesn’t have a balcony and the building has a strict no smoking policy. It was my grand idea to help me kick the habit for good, but it seems it may be the death of me in other ways.”
“I’m sorry?” Charlie said again, but it sounded trite even to her ears. The silence stretched for what felt like minutes until Trace finally spoke again.
“So, Nancy Drew, what else you got planned tonight? Gonna pop a priest or maybe take out a line of tourists with this death mobile of yours.”
“Believe me the last thing I’d want to do is damage my paint job,” she said, “which you’re most definitely doing leaning against it like that.
“What your precious Beemer,” Trace said, stepping to the side. “Wouldn’t want that now would we? Worried about you paint job, huh? You owe me a phone, lady.”
“I’ll take care of it. Just let me know how much,” Charlie said.
“Didn’t even flinch, huh? Yeah, I guess the dick on a stick business pays pretty well,” Trace smirked.
“Wait, how did you know?”
“I’ve done my research,” Trace said. “I had to with my biggest competition.”
“Darling, you are nowhere near my league,” Charlie’s swagger bubbled to the surface. “Ten years we’ve been here.”
“Oh yeah, no competition, huh?” Trace said carefully stepping closer. Charlie bit back her smirk. “Then why’d you screw me on that building downtown?”
“Look, man I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Charlie lied.
“Oh yes you do,” Trace said taking a step forward, but his ankle rolled right after it popped loudly. “Dammit,” he said flailing, Charlie took a step back watching as Trace fell to the ground.
“You could have at least acted like you were going to catch me,” Trace said sitting on the asphalt.
“Sorry, but nope, not with the way my back is set up,” Charlie said. “C’mon, get up.”
“Leave me alone, you’ve done enough,” he said but when he tried to stand his foot wouldn’t cooperate.
“Is it broken?”
“Of course it is,” Trace said. “With my luck nothing less would make sense.”
The two struggled to the passenger side until Trace was safely tucked in the seat. A few minutes later they arrived at Regional’s emergency room in a repeat of what was beginning to feel like Groundhog’s Day to Charlie.
“You can go,” Trace said his face tight with pain after they’d been told to have a seat in the waiting area. Charlie didn’t move. She sat with him as he filled out the stack of paperwork the nurse had given him. About ten minutes later Trace was taken back.
Charlie waited a few minutes then told the nurse on charge she was going to visit a friend upstairs. She left her number in case Trace got through first.
She heard the Mackenzie clan before she even stepped off the elevators. Sitting with them Charlie got the 411 on Cyndi. She was still in the coma, but Mrs. Mackenzie felt good about her chances after talking with the neurologist.
“The doctors are all saying she’s right on schedule. They’re gonna keep her under for one more day then they’re gonna try waking her up,” she said her face tense but relieved. “It’s a good thing they’ve kept her under. I’ve heard some of the other patients when they have to clean their burns. It’s terrible, Charlie. Just thinking that Cyndi’s gonna have to go through that. I wished they could keep her under for another week.” Charlie sat with the older woman for a little while before returning downstairs just as they were rolling Trace out.
After getting her car, she listened to the nurse give the sour looking man his instructions for properly caring for his broken ankle before releasing him.
“You didn’t have to stay,” Trace said. “I could have caught a cab home.” Charlie silently wheeled him to the car and helped him inside. They drove in silence several blocks, Charlie’s mind lost in the city lights. She was tired, but the last thing she wanted was to walk into her empty house and try to act like she was going to be able to go to sleep.
“How is she?”
“They still have her under,” Charlie said quietly. Neither spoke again until they were parked outside his apartment building.
“Look, I’m not pressing charges or anything,” Trace said. “I know it’s been a stressful couple of days for you.”
“Don’t do that.”
“That man thing. Like I’m some helpless woman or something. Remember I kicked your ass.”
“Yeah after you mowed me down and broke my ankle,” Trace said.
“I broke your ankle? I didn’t break your ankle you did when you stepped wrong on that dainty little thing.”
“My ankles aren’t dainty!” he said his voice rising.
“The little thing cracked like a twig under pressure.”
“My ankles are not dainty,” he yelled again. She didn’t know if she was delirious or what but a second later Charlie started laughing and for the life of her couldn’t stop. Trace shook his head.
“Crazy woman,” but a second later he was laughing too. “What the hell are you?” he said looking at her in amazement. Charlie shook her head when she finally sobered up. She looked at the man sitting next to her his white cast glowing in the darkness of the car. Six weeks the nurse had said until he would be healed. Suddenly Charlie found herself feeling sorry for the man she’d called her enemy for the past year.
“C’mon, I’ll help you in,” she said quickly before she could change her mind. This time Trace didn’t balk. They rode up the elevator in silence, Trace awkwardly maneuvering his way through the hallways on his new crutches. She was surprised to see how neat his place was as if he’d been expecting company. Not only that but his place smelled like lavender.
“Where’s your girl,” Charlie asked as she checked out his kitchen. It was state of the art. She expected nothing less from a classically trained chef, but she also knew all of these newer buildings were coming with the higher end amenities to attract the wealthy hipsters moving into the area. Although they walked around town looking like bums they all stayed in these luxury apartments that cost over a thousand a month for one bedroom.
“What girlfriend?” Trace said sipping from a bottle of name brand water.
“The one that cleans for you and makes sure your apartment smells like a field of flowers.”
“Field of flowers?” Trace said.
“You don’t even notice it do you?” Charlie sniffed the air until she found the plug in unit behind an ottoman. “The scent, its lavender, right?”
“Oh that,” Trace shrugged. “Yeah, my mom sent it to me. But, I plugged it in,” he said sounding proud of himself. “And believe it or not, I know how to keep a clean place.” Charlie nodded as she scoped out the room.
He had nice furniture what little there was of it. She was surprised to see there were no leather sofas or chrome and glass tables- typical bachelor fare. The décor was actually very comfy looking with a big plush sectional couch dominating the living room with wood end tables and a matching coffee table. It wasn’t the hip bachelor pad she was expecting at all.
“Does it meet your standards,” he said smirking from a barstool at the kitchen table as he watched her snoop around his living area.
“I guess,” she said in her most unimpressed voice. “Well, you’re safely inside,” Charlie said suddenly at a loss for words which never happened to her. She usually always had something smart or funny to say. It was a requisite of being southern to have mastered small talk, but that particular gift seemed to have left her when it came to Trace.
“Yup,” he said, but neither made a move.
“Yeah, so just let me know how much for the phone and I’ll write you a check,” Charlie said ready to leave. She could tell by the smirk on his face that Trace was very aware of her discomfort. She didn’t like the smirk one bit. It was as if he was enjoying seeing her uncomfortable. She had her hand on the doorknob about to leave when her conscience got the better of her. She wasn’t really angry at him- at least not anymore. Knowing Cyndi was stuck in that hospital room indefinitely had her in her feelings and it wasn’t Trace’s fault.
“Look it, I’m sorry about hitting you with my car, and your leg,” she said her eyes on the door, but the smartass wouldn’t let her get away that easy.
“Mmhm,” he said. She waited for more, but his face said that was she wasn’t getting it. The temper that had all but disappeared suddenly roared up in blood. It took everything in her to not slam his door shut, but she was proud of herself when she barely heard the click as she softly closed the damn thing.
Getting into her car she breathed a sigh of relief. He could have really screwed her. If the tables were turned she certainly would have. As she started her car one question ran through her brain making her blood suddenly chill.
“Why hadn’t he?”