“Seriously? Boy, I’m driving here,” Charlie yelled from inside her car. It was the third almost accident she’d had since leaving her house. “My God, what’s wrong with folks driving today?” she said braking to another stop to keep from hitting a taxi in front of her.
She’d decided to take the side streets down town to avoid traffic, but it seemed like she wasn’t the only one who had that idea.
It was a beautiful day, not a cloud in sight but for some reason everyone was squirrely behind the wheels darting every which way.
Traffic was horrible but nothing was going to stop Charlie’s high. Jan, Oprah’s booker, had called. She still couldn’t believe it.
Everything was turning out perfectly. It was even better than she’d hoped for, but unfortunately, Charlie wasn’t going to be able to talk to anyone about anything- at least not yet.
“Hi, Ms Daniels,” Jan said earlier. Charlie had never met her before, but something was off about the woman’s tone. The woman was too formal. Southerners were bred to ignore boundaries.
“Oh, please call me Charlie,” her voice sweet as iced tea.
“Sure thing, Charlie,” Jan said, but Charlie couldn’t help notice that Jan hadn’t given her the same instructions. “Ms. Winfrey just really wanted to touch base with you after our people came and filmed with you and your staff.”
“Oh, no problem” Charlie smiled. “The guys were great and absolute professionals. We enjoyed having them here.”
“Yes, they raved about the Coast when they got back, and everyone at the Honeybee. And the food, oh my God, we were all jealous. And I have to say that we all thoroughly enjoyed the footage they brought back,” Jan said. Charlie pumped her fist twice in the air.
“We were hoping to use some of it for a story we have planned about southern cooking. Ms. Winfrey is interested, as you know, in getting into some cooking programming. Like doing a southern cooking focused show. However, after your footage came back we were considering going in another direction.”
“Another direction?” Charlie said pulling herself up to the couch.
“Yes, we were thinking about a personality driven type show. Like maybe some type of cooking show with a talk show feel. You know we have reality shows already, but we don’t have a show that focuses on cooking itself.” Charlie couldn’t wipe the grin from her lips. It was happening- this was really happening right now she thought again, but she didn’t pinch herself this time. Pinches were no longer necessary- it was happening!
“We need to do a little more development, but we were wondering if you have an archive of recipes that you would be willing to share in a like, uh, a live demonstration type of environment?”
“Yes,” Charlie said on a rush of air. “I mean I have over a decade of recipes that could be used, I’m sure,” she said trying to not sound too desperate. She didn’t want to scare the woman away by being overly excited, but she couldn’t help. She loved food, but what she loved more was sharing it.
“Yes, well, that’s the kind of thing we were thinking of. We would, of course, have to develop them and make sure they’d play well on camera, but you kind of get the gist of where we’re going?”
Charlie wasn’t exactly sure if she’d been offered the job or not, but she knew better than to ask too many questions now. She didn’t want to come off as too pushy. “Yes, of course,” she said. “I’d be happy to work with your team to make this happen.” She said staying as neutral as she could. She’d do whatever it took to make this happen.
“So glad to hear you say that,” Jan said sounding relieved. “This is my private line so you have my number. And I’ll probably give you a call, in say about a week?”
“Good, good, let me just write this down,” the woman said. “If I don’t write it down, it doesn’t happen, you know.” Charlie could hear the rustling of papers on the phone as the woman wrote her notes. “Well, you put together maybe five to ten recipes that we could look through. Remember these are the ones that you think would be exciting for an audience on television, okay? And then we’ll discuss them next week.”
“Oh, that won’t be a problem at all,” Charlie said. “And thank you so much, I look forward to talking with you next week.”
“Sure thing Ms.- I mean Charlie,” the woman said with a smile in her voice. “And look if you have any questions at all just give me a call back any time. If I don’t pick up just tell them you want to speak to Jan, okay?” Charlie didn’t think her smile could get any broader but it did.
“I sure will, Jan,” Charlie said feeling like she’d just scored a touchdown in the Super Bowl although she’d never played football a day in her life. In fact she didn’t even really like football, except for the Saints, of course, but it felt exactly how she imagined it would be.
After they said their goodbyes, Charlie sat for a full half hour in the same spot her mind replaying their conversation over and over again until she couldn’t hold off the day anymore.
Another car horn blared behind her and Charlie hurried to cross the road to get on Division Street. She was only a few blocks from the Honeybee but she was staying true to her word. She’d told Sue she wasn’t coming in this morning, and she wasn’t.
She was leaving Sue in charge to run the restaurant today. The woman was more than capable, and Charlie knew it was time to start acknowledging that.
“Damn,” Charlie said as a couple of pedestrians stepped out in front of her car. She braked hard glad she hadn’t been driving too fast.
“Tourists,” Charlie rolled her eyes when the young men waved and then whistled at her.
“In your dreams bruh,” Charlie said noticing the New York cap one of the young men was wearing. They looked all of twenty probably coming down south to party and somehow got lost. God knows how since the entire Coast had like two, maybe three main roads. It was impossible to get lost. To the North was the Interstate and to the south the Beach. Between was just two lane roads.
She was used to guys like them. She didn’t hate them. Tourists were her bread and butter but she could spot an out of towner from a hundred yards. It was something about their walk, and kind of anything goes attitude. The problem was far too many of them got too loose, thinking they could get away with it down here. Southerners were a lot of things, but one thing southerners did not forget was bad manners. Unfortunately, the rules of polite society in the South was an unwritten thing and outsiders rarely took the time to learn it.
Charlie drove past the men and then several more streets before turning down a side street to park. She put the car in neutral so the AC could run.
A plastic bag blew down the street getting caught on an upstream of wind as it flew all the way up the brick façade of the apartment complex she was sitting outside of.
She could actually see the Honeybee in her rearview mirror but she had already made her decision. She would not run in real quick even though everything in her wanted to. She knew it was just habit.
She was glad to see the steady stream of customers entering the establishment though. She knew Sue and the rest of her staff would take good care of them. They knew what they were doing.
Besides if she did go in Charlie might be tempted to let her amazing news slide. Well, it wasn’t exactly amazing news yet. Charlie had caught in Jan’s voice that this was a tenuous deal at best. So, until she signed a contract, Charlie knew better than to write a check her ass wasn’t going to be able to cash. She would not get her staff’s hopes up until she had a done deal.
Charlie jumped at the knock on her window. Turning she looked at the smiling dark face staring back at her.
“Lord Jesus,” she said rolling down the window. The heat immediately hit her full on in the face, but it was the man staring back at her that made her heart beat a little faster which really pissed her off. “It’s about damn time.”
“What?” Trace said a confused look on his handsome face.
“What? You said it was an emergency. I expected you to be down here already waiting on me.”
“Well, if I had two good feet, that might have happened Princess,” Trace said an easy smile on his face. Charlie felt bad for a second, but she pushed it to the side. Yeah, she’d run him over, but it wasn’t like it was on purpose. Plus, he was the clumsy one that broke his foot- not her.
“Get in,” she said a little more harshly than she intended. She didn’t know what it was about him, but for some reason he brought out the irritable side of her more so than anyone else she’d ever known. Anyone else she’d remember to smile sweetly, and talk sweetly, but for some reason with him she always sounded a little witchy. What was worse, she was beginning to think he liked it.
“Yes, ma’am,” he said before hopping off the curb. Charlie couldn’t help chuckling when he made an exaggerated move to go around the back of the car. She actually didn’t blame him as she revved the engine watching him in her rearview mirror.
“Thanks again for taking me down to my realtors today,” Trace said shutting his door. “If it wasn’t an emergency I never would have called. I’m just glad you called me back.” Charlie nodded waiting until he was buckled in before taking off.
“It was the least I could do since we didn’t make it yesterday,” Charlie said trying to sound gracious.
“No, the least you could have done was to not have returned my call at all. But you didn’t, did you?” Trace said correcting her.
“No, I didn’t.”
“Mm-hm.” Trace added. “The idea of taking the bus for a few minutes of business was the last thing I felt like doing today.”
“You got all your paperwork,” Charlie asked.
“Yeah, my application wasn’t hard, it was all the notarized stuff that’s forcing me to hand deliver it. I tell you what, getting this new building better be worth all the hassle I’m going through.” Trace laughed. Charlie knew exactly what he meant. She remembered when she was first starting out. Hell, even with the new location it was still a process to get the ball rolling.
“It’ll be worth it,” Charlie said. “Once you have that newer bigger place of yours you are going to wish you’d done it sooner.”
“Aw you’re just saying that because I’ll be clear on the other side of town from you,” Trace said a mischievous smile on his face. Charlie couldn’t help but smile back.
“Please, like I care. Down the street, hell right next door the Honeybee would still beat your brakes off,” she said.
“Oh yeah,” Trace said.
“Yup,” Charlie said smoothly gliding her car around the roundabout. “We’ve got loyalty and the famous honeybee on our side.”
“That’s not all you got,” Trace said smiling appreciatively at her. He didn’t say anything further, and Charlie chose to let it drop as well. She didn’t know if she was ready for that conversation with him or anybody for that matter.
Thinking back to earlier that morning she doubted if she ever would after the voicemail she’d gotten from her ex.
While she’d been on the phone with Jan she’d gotten two calls. One was from Trace, who’d she’d called back immediately. The other was from Darryl. After listening to the message she’d decided not to return that one.
“Charlie, call me back. It’s about Ralph. I can’t drop him by Friday so you’re going to have to wait until next weekend to have him.” He’d hung the phone up after that. This was the fourth week in a row he’d put off letting her see their dog. It seemed to be his new tactic. Since she hadn’t responded to his attempts to get back in his bed, he decided to annoy her by keeping Ralph away from her. Charlie knew he was doing it just to punisher her for leaving him. It was for this reason that she didn’t argue.
It made no sense for her not to have the dog full time. She was the one with a house and a yard. Darryl lived in one of those new high-rise condos on the beach. The nearest park of grass was a block away from him, yet when they broke up he’d insisted on taking the dog. Charlie didn’t even think he liked the dog. She’d done all the work when they’d been together. Hell, she’d been the one who’d trained him to not poop all over the place. Yet he just had to have him. Charlie suspected Darryl’s sister ended up taking him most of the time. She had a nice house with a yard over in Woolmarket along with two kids who adored Ralph.
She could have fought it. Taken him to court, but Charlie let it go. It just wasn’t worth the fight that she knew it would bring on. She was hoping that after some time passed, Darryl would calm down and start acting like the rational adult he was supposed to be, but she had accepted a while ago that wasn’t going to happen.
She’d been so blind to the truth, but the chickens had come home to roost. Daryl had shown his true colors, but Charlie had a choice now. Now that she knew who the man was behind the pretty face she could choose to not engage with his petty antics.
“Hey, you need help,” Charlie asked as Trace attempted to get out of the car. She didn’t want to go in with him, but her conscience made her offer.
“Naw,” he said pulling himself out. “It should only take a few minutes, then I’ll be right out.” Charlie watched him limp away. He really was cute, Charlie thought noticing how even on crutches he got a few appreciative glances from women he passed. Tramps.
Charlie looked at the clock on her dash. It wasn’t even twelve o’clock yet. She still had plenty of time to take Trace back home.
It wouldn’t take long to get to the Honeybee Too after all they were right around the corner from it. She’d have a few hours afterwards to run a few errands, and then she planned to have dinner with Cyndi to discuss the Honeybees plans for the next year. After that she’d go home.
Charlie sighed when she heard her phone begin to vibrate. She looked at the screen. The number was unknown. Immediately she thought of Darryl. Something told her not to answer it, but she was tired of him and his games.
“Hello,” she said letting her irritation take over her voice.
There was silence. “Hello?” Charlie said but no one answered. She could tell there was someone on the line because she could hear music playing in the background. It sounded like one of those brass bands that played for the tourists on those walking tours downtown, but Charlie couldn’t tell if it was live or a recording. “Hello?” she said a little louder, but again no response and then the phone went dead.
“Weirdo,’ Charlie slid her phone back into the holder in her console. “Last time I answer a call with no name,” she said to herself.
Drumming her fingers on the wheel Charlie thought of all the things she needed to be doing. Yet, she didn’t make a move. She just stared at her phone. Today was supposed to be her day off she kept telling herself. However, chauffeuring Trace around felt like work. Only for some reason she didn’t mind today which made her uneasy. She liked it better when they were fighting, at least then she felt in control.
It was something about the man that brought out the fighter in her. She already had a competitive streak, but being around Trace multiplied it. It wasn’t as if she wanted to win, when it came to Trace- she had no choice, she had to win.
Looking at the clock again she wondered if Romeo left yet for that meeting. She’d told him she wasn’t going to stop by the Honeybee Too, but she was so close. Charlie thought maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad idea. Suddenly there was a knock on the door. Charlie unlocked it so Trace could get in.
“That was quick,” Charlie said watching the tall lean man fold himself into her car.
“Yeah, no lines,” he said, “who’d a thunk it? The heart of bureaucracy actually ran like a fine-tuned machine today. Thank you, Jesus,” he said raising both his hands to the sky.
“So you’re all set?” Charlie said breathing deep unable to ignore the intoxicating smell of the cologne he was wearing. Trace smiled back at her; his brown eyes attentive.
“I sure am,” he said. “You can drop me back off where you found me m’lady. Then you’ll be done with me, for now,” he said mysteriously. Charlie didn’t take the bait. She had plans of her own.
“Well, just one more thing, before I toss you to the side,” she said pulling onto the road. “I need to stop by the Honeybee Too. Since we’re already downtown. You don’t mind do you?”
“Naw, of course not,” Trace said. “Kidnap me. Do what you will with me. My body is all yours.” Again, Charlie said nothing. Her only reply was to raise one finely arched eyebrow. The look on Trace’s face said it was enough.