“Sweet Jesus,” she said as she pulled the sheets off her still burning body.
It had felt real- all too real just how she remembered that night at the White House when Trace followed her into the courtyard. Charlie was still shaking. It had felt so real she forgot where she was, but one look around her empty bedroom told her she was most definitely alone.
Groaning she sat up in her empty bed brushing the soft dark curls from around her face. Somehow her scarf had come off.
“What the hell was that?” She knew the answer of course, but it was still hard to believe. She’d never had a dream that vivid in her life. What bothered her more was the fact that her mind had decided to replay it now. She had worked so hard to forget what happened that night. It had been just that one time, but she had regretted it especially after she found out who Trace really was. The betrayal had angered her the most.
Trace was the first man after Darryl that she was really interested in and then to find out that he was trying to muscle in on her territory was the worse thing to happen to her at the time. Just because she had been spending time with him lately her mind decided to play tricks on her like that?
Sue was right. She needed a date and she needed one fast.
Charlie believed that dreams mattered, but when you had a dream about your arch nemesis what did that mean? Just thinking about the things she’d let Trace do to her made her entire body blush.
How long had it been? Sadly, it was a couple of months ago with Darryl. The better question was how long had it been good.
Remembering the pitiful event, she wished she could wipe away the memory of her one time backslide with Darryl. She’d regretted it ever since especially since now he called her at the most random of times. She called it the ‘just in case’ call.
It was a one-time mistake she wouldn’t be making again no matter how many times he called.
She’d been bored when he arrived and even more bored when he came. Laughter exploded from Charlie’s chest echoing off the walls of her bedroom.
It felt good to have a laugh. It felt even better to have a laugh at Darryl’s expense. He deserved it. The man had been such a source of misery to her for longer than she cared to remember.
There were times right before they broke up she didn’t think she’d ever be able to laugh again. Starting another relationship now was the last thing on her mind.
As much as she hated to admit it, her dream with Trace was probably a good thing. It meant that she was finally over the weirdness she’d had with Darryl for way too many years she cared to mention.
Cyndi had always told her that everything happened for a reason, but she couldn’t for the life of her understand what it was she was supposed to learn from the craziness that was her relationship with Darryl. He was selfish, materialistic, and an egomaniac. That last one she’d learned much too late.
It was the one quality of his that she could never overcome. That was when she knew they weren’t going to work. It was one thing to have a character flaw. Those could be changed or modified, but when a flaw becomes a part of one’s character there’s not much you can do especially if the person doesn’t see it as a problem. You have to let it go.
The truth was that Darryl was Darryl and he was never going to change. However, Darryl was not all men. It was a hard truth, but she knew better than to paint all men by the same paintbrush. Trace was nothing like Darryl.
Trace talked to anybody and everybody. When they were at Honeybee Too walking through to look at the damage he had blended right in with the workers asking questions she’d realized much to her chagrin she hadn’t even thought to ask.
He’d been able to get more information about the place in his short visit then she’d been able to get since the project had begun. As angry as she’d been at his interference it had actually been helpful. It was also interesting to see him around other people.
It was so different than with her ex.
Charlie believed how a person treated people they had nothing to gain from said a lot about what type a person they were. Trace’s behavior that day spoke volumes to her, and it had left a lasting impression on her- obviously.
Not to mention that dream was unbelievably hot- and so real.
She lay back on her king-sized mattress. It was already six thirty. She should be up and working out now. She wasn’t a morning person, but she had developed a schedule that allowed her to get everything done in a 24-hour period. Sacrifices were made, but it worked for her.
Usually by now she was already finishing up her routine which included some time on her stair master and her treadmill. She had weights and some exercise bands she used as well, but she didn’t feel like getting up just yet.
When the clock hit six thirty, she rolled over and let one foot dangle off the bed. Five minutes passed but she still hadn’t moved. Ten minutes later she’d made her mind up. Reaching for her phone she rolled over on her back. Before she could talk herself out of it, she dialed the first number.
“Hey Sue,” Charlie said wiping the sleep out of her eyes. Her heart was beating fast, but she forced herself to stick with the plan.
“Hey, what’s up,” Sue said sounding distracted as usual.
“I know this is a bad time,” Charlie said, “but I need your help.”
“No, it’s never a bad time. My kids are a force of nature, but we get it done…eventually.”
“Hey, no judgment here. You and Stan have your hands full with my girls but y’all handle them beautifully.”
“Yeah, beautifully if it means two of them are presently covered in strawberry jam from head to toe and the third one is drinking milk out of the cat’s bowl. Honey can you get Kaley for me before she contracts some feline disease no one’s ever heard of,” Sue yelled.
“Tell the kiddos I said hello,” Charlie said smiling.
“Tee Tee says hey,” Sue said sounding out of breath. Charlie heard a door close in the background.
“Locked yourself in the closet again?”
“Bedroom. Those little rugrats use any distraction as an opportunity to attack. I have my clothes on already the last thing I need are strawberry thumbprints on my bum.”
“Yeah they always go for the bum.”
“Just like their daddy,” Charlie laughed. “Okay, I’m finally going to take your advice.”
“Ooh do tell,” Sue said practically purring into the phone.
“Get your mind out the gutter, Mrs. Caldwell.” This time it was Sue laughing wildly. They both knew Charlie rarely took her advice. Truth be told Charlie rarely took advice from anyone. She didn’t need it. If anything she was usually the one giving advice which was the problem. Even the wisest person needed a break from time to time from standing at the helm, and Charlie had decided today would be hers- sort of.
“I’m not coming in this morning,” Charlie said exhaling loudly. Just saying the words made her head feel a little light and her heart thump in her chest, but it didn’t last long.
“Okay,” Sue said sounding a little breathless herself. “Are you alright?”
“Yes, yes,” Charlie said. “Do I have to be sick to take a day off?”
“No just dead,” Sue said with a laugh.
“I know, I’m not the most relaxed person, but I’ve decided it’s time for that to change. Besides I’ve got a great staff working for me, who know their jobs backwards and forwards. And most importantly I’ve got you.”
“Of course, you do babe,” Sue said automatically. “You know I’ve been telling you for years you deserved a vacation. As a matter of fact I was the one who told you that not only did you need a vacation you needed a vacation with someone special.” Charlie groaned.
“Okay, okay, one thing at a time, Miss Matchmaker. I’m still not going out with your cousin.”
“He’s gorgeous, Charlie. I’m telling you if I was single I’d be all over him.”
“First of all ew,” Charlie said.
“Not like that. I mean if he wasn’t my cousin. Stop being gross.”
“Second of all he’s a funeral director.”
“And what’s wrong with that,” Sue said and Charlie rolled her eyes. “It’s a job. Not everyone gets to bake cinnamon rolls all day. Besides when you think about it we’re the cause of a lot of his business. All those fattening sugary treats we sell, all the fried food. We’re pushers only our customers are food addicts.”
“It’s totally not the same.”
“If you say so,” Sue said.
“Anyway, I’m taking the morning off, but this afternoon I’ll be in to work on a few things.”
“No, it’s not.”
“Yes it is. Taking a day off means not doing any work. It means a movie, a nice lunch maybe even a spa date. You’re just basically delaying your day by a couple of hours.”
“Well, it’s the best I’m going to be able to do.”
“Okay. I guess,” Sue said her motherly disapproval practically oozing from the phone. She was getting pretty good at it. By the time her kids were teenagers she’d be able to guilt trip with the best of them.
“So what do you need me to do,” Sue said.
“I need you to just keep everything running smoothly there. Make sure everyone follows their schedule and we don’t get another brick through the window,” Charlie laughed but she was only half-joking. It still disturbed her that the vandals hadn’t been caught and they were still out there somewhere.
“Aye, aye captain,” Sue said.
“Oh, and I have a meeting set with Betty over at Honeybee Too.”
“No problem. I’ll be there. What time?” Sue asked but Charlie stopped her.
“No, I’m gonna let Romeo take that. I want him to go meet her,” Charlie said. The line was silent. “You still there?”
“Yeah, I’m here,” Sue said before clearing her throat. “It wouldn’t be a problem to meet her, Charl.”
“Yeah, I know, but I need you at the store. All Romeo is going to do is walk Betty through the place to see the damage I told her about. It shouldn’t take more than an half hour, but the place is going to be empty since we have to wait for it to dry out. I’d rather Romeo be there for extra muscle if there’s someone lurking around. You understand, right? Believe me you’ll be a bigger help for me at the shop.”
“Sure, okay,” Sue said but she could hear the strain in her friend’s voice.
“You know what else you can do for me?” Charlie said.
“Anything,” Sue said immediately and Charlie thanked her lucky stars to have the woman as her friend and her right hand woman. She didn’t know what she’d do without her.
“Can you go check on Cyndi for me? I didn’t get to go last night and even though they won’t let me see her I just like to show up.”
“Sure thing. Yeah, I was planning on going over today anyways, of course,” Sue said sounding more like her regular self. “Stan is supposed to be taking the girls to a movie this evening and Chuck E. Cheese so they’re going to be out anyways.”
“Stan is a brave, brave man,” Charlie said.
“Yeah, he is.”
Although Charlie would never admit it, she’d been envious of their relationship years ago when they were younger and just starting out. However, that envy had turned to relationship goal status over the years. Charlie hoped to find someone that she was as compatible with as Sue and Stan were.
“Okay, boss, I’ll make you proud,” Sue said. Charlie could hear the door open as the sound of children laughing in the background grew louder. Sue had her marching orders and was ready to take on the day go getter that she was.
“Alrighty then. I’m gonna give a call to Romeo and let him know the plan. The meeting with Betty is for noon so he’ll be out of pocket for part of lunch which means y’all are gonna have to hump it.”
“No problem, we’ll get it done.”
“I know you will,” Charlie said before saying goodbye. She fell back on the bed. She felt deliciously naughty.
Although it was only part of the day she was taking off, it felt more like a very mini vacation something she hadn’t had in almost ten years. It was all the more reason she wanted to get her next phone call over and done with so she could get started with relaxing.
Romeo was already at the shop when she reached him, and he had about the same reaction as Sue.
“It’s about damn time.” Just like Sue, Romeo readily agreed to meet Betty. Both of them along with Cyndi had been hounding her to take some time off for years.
Once again lying on the bed she was surprised at how easily she’d been able to delegate. She really should have done this sooner.
However, as the minutes ticked by she felt a little lost. Okay, she thought, staring at the ceiling. What do people do when they don’t have to work? Charlie’s mind drew a blank. She really didn’t know. Every minute of her day had something directly to do with either the Honeybee or something associated with the Honeybee.
Sue was right she could go to the spa, but to be honest the idea of some stranger rubbing on her didn’t appeal to her. She could go to a movie, but she didn’t really want to sit in a theater alone. Cyndi and Sue were usually her movie buddies.
Maybe she should go to the hospital, Charlie thought but she pushed the idea to the side. She felt guilty but then remembered Sue was going to stop by to see about Cyndi, and give her the rundown if anything had changed.
Charlie hadn’t stopped by last night but she’d called the waiting room and Cyndi’s brother had told her that her prognosis hadn’t changed. She was still stable. The doctor was just trying to give her another day before they woke her up. Charlie would go to the hospital tomorrow. Besides Mrs. Mackenzie kept telling her she would call the second Cyndi even looked like she was thinking of waking up.
Today Charlie was determined to do only what she was wanted to do (at least for the next few hours). She was going to take it easy and ignore the million and one tasks that usually floated through her brain on a continuous loop.
First, she exercised. Just enough to get her heart pumping. Then she had breakfast and took a bath.
By ten o’clock she was actually beginning to get the hang of relaxing for the first time in a decade as she sat eating a snack on her couch watching some silly talk show on TV she never had a chance to watch because she was always working.
Then suddenly her phone came to life. First, the phone started vibrating; then ringing and then finally she could have sworn the text alarm went off all at the same time.
Charlie picked the phone up her mouth full of popcorn, fingers greasy with butter. The first thing she saw was a text from Trace: he’d sent a 911 next to a poop emoji and something that looked like a skull and crossbones.
At the very same time, her car alarm went off. Charlene raced for her keys phone still clutched in her hand. It was then she noticed the phone call and almost choked on a popcorn kernel. She hit the green button without thinking.
“Hello, please hold for Ms. Winfrey.”