“Why don’t you like me?” Trace said.
“I like you enough.”
“No, I mean like me like me,” he pulled down the visor to look in the mirror. “Aren’t I pretty enough for you?” Charlie laughed out loud.
“You’re fine,” Charlie said sucking her teeth. Trace’s whoop of laughter made her look over. She gave him a long once over. “You know you’re a handsome man,” she said before rolling her eyes. She couldn’t help it. There was something about him that made her want to play.
Her ex had been so serious, but Trace was the complete opposite. It was refreshing and the more she found herself around him, the more she enjoyed it. Shaking her head, she tried to clear the thought. A relationship was the last thing she needed right now especially with him.
“Well, thank you finally,” Trace said smoothing a hand down Charlies hair marveling when it sprung back to life right before his eyes. He slowly put the visor back up. “The lady finally admits it.”
“Admits what?” Charlie said not sure what the look was on his face. It was part villain and part detective. He wore a look like he’d solved some big puzzle.
“You finally admitted you want me.”
“I did no such thing,” Charlie frowned.
“Oh yes, you did. You don’t remember?”
Oh yes, Charlie definitely remembered. That night was never too far from her memory as her dream that morning had told her. Still the last thing she would do was admit that to him- now.
“It was all in the eyes and lips and the body language,” he said smugly settling his long frame back in the seat to accommodate his cast. “You want me. You can stop fighting it now.”
Charlie’s jaw clenched so hard she got a muscle cramp. The anger was partly because she didn’t like being told what she liked and part because what he’d said was true.
Charlie made it to the Honeybee Too in record time, pulling into the nearly empty parking lot. She slammed the brakes a little too hard. Trace groaned reaching for his cast. Although she hated herself, it felt good. It served him right, trying to tell her what she wanted.
She’d want what she want when she wanted it, but she’d be damned if he’d tell her that. She jumped out the car leaving Trace to do whatever he was going to do. He could stay in the car or follow, she didn’t care.
She’d marched half way across the parking lot before she noticed there was no crew.
There were only two cars in the parking lot and she recognized both of them. Her mind immediately switched to business. A car door slammed behind her but she didn’t bother checking on Trace. The cocky bastard could take care of himself from now on as far as she was concerned.
As soon as she walked in the building, she noticed the water was gone. “Thank God,” she said walking through the sunlit room.
Her tennis shoes were silent save for the occasional squeak on cement she caused making her way through the building. ‘Where are they?’ she thought as she made her way to the back. A second later she had her answer.
She heard the grunting first, then a soft moan. A chill went up her back. Had someone broken in? Could Betty and Romeo be hurt? Softly she walked into the kitchen area looking for something anything to protect herself. She settled on a wrench sitting on a counter top. The noise was coming from the back of the kitchen.
The door was slightly ajar, but she remembered it never closed properly. It was one of many things Charlie had placed on the list for the contractors to fix. Pushing it open she eased her way in to see. Once she opened the door wider, she was shocked at what she saw. It took a second for her eyes to accept what they were seeing.
Lying on the workman’s table Romeo was flat on his back with a half-naked Betty on top of him grinding her pelvis into his. Both of their heads were thrown back in ecstasy. Shocked, Charlie stood there unable to move until something bumped into her from behind. She dropped her wrench which clanged loudly on the concrete.
“What the hell?” Trace exploded, and the couple broke free from their trance long enough to look towards the door. Charlie tried to back away but Trace and his crutches blocked her. All she could do was watch Romeo and Betty scramble to separate and cover themselves.
The only one who seemed to not be embarrassed by the whole thing was Trace who couldn’t seem to shut up.
“What the hell is going on? Is that you Romeo? Betty? Well I’ll be damn,” Trace went on and on.
“Will you shut up and move,” Charlie said finally pushing the man back far enough so she could close the door behind them. The damn thing, of course, would not shut. Finally, she gave up realizing it wasn’t like they deserved any privacy. After all this was a place of business not some freaking motel.
Charlie felt a surge of anger erupt through her as she walked out the building. Desperately she wanted to be calm and cool, but seeing Romeo with Betty was just too much to get over. She needed a minute, no strike that several minutes.
“Well, I’ll be damned,” Trace said joining Charlie outside in the parking lot.
“Could you at least stop laughing,” Charlie said her eyes on the door. She didn’t know what she was going to say once Betty and Romeo came outside. Romeo had gone too far this time. Unfortunately, his first words didn’t help his case any.
“I thought you were off today,” he said still adjusting his pants. Charlie blinked at the young man several times before Trace spoke once again.
“Let me give you a bit of advice Rome,” Trace said looking at Charlie’s face. “That’s not how you want to start this conversation.” Betty came out a second later her face red and blotchy.
“I’m so sorry Charlie,” the mortified real estate agent said.
“That’s how you want to start,” Trace pointed to Betty.
“Shut up,” Charlie said hitting Trace with a not so soft punch in the gut.
“I don’t know what got into me,” the woman said before wincing at her own words. Charlie’s eyes immediately went to Trace warning him not to laugh.
“I’m so sorry,” Betty said before backing away. Romeo reached out to her, but Betty waved him away. Romeo’s face dropped along with his hands.
The three of them stood there watching Betty’s car as it sped out of the parking lot.
“Romeo,” Charlie began.
“I know what you’re going to say already,” he began, but Charlie held a hand up. Light glinted off the gold bangles she always wore on her arm.
“I’m so disappointed in you,” she said. “What the hell were you thinking?” Romeo’s head dropped. He shook it a few times before rubbing a hand over his forehead.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I really don’t know.” The look on his face told Charlie that he knew he’d really messed up on this one, but honestly, she didn’t know how she could let it pass. What if the crew had shown up or one of the vendors? Anybody could have walked in on them. Plus, it was just damn unprofessional especially after she’d already warned him. Now catching him in the act just felt like a slap in the face.
“Wasn’t there supposed to be a crew working today?” Trace said the obvious. Charlie looked to Romeo.
“They cut out early because they said the place needed twenty-four hours to dry out. They got all the water they could out.”
“Well at least there’s that,” Trace said. Charlie looked at the man with a withering stare until he backed away. She watched him hobble his way back to the car.
“I know I really fucked up this time,” Romeo said.
“Yeah you did,” Charlie answered the shock finally beginning to wear off only to be replaced with disappointment. “Royally.”
“What can I do?”
“I don’t know, Romeo,” Charlie said shaking her head. “How can I give you more responsibility if this is what you do with it. I was depending on you, Rome.” Romeo dropped his head looking appropriately stricken by her words.
“Aw, man,” Romeo sighed. “Don’t look at me like that,” he said covering both his eyes like a little kid thinking he could hide behind his hands.
“Go on back to the Honeybee,” Charlie said her voice heavy. “Go on back and help Sue. We’ll talk tomorrow.” Romeo raised his eyes to Charlie with a “for real” look on it.
“Just go,” Charlie said again. “I’ll see you in the morning.” Romeo looked like he wanted to say something, but finally he gave up and walked to his car relieved to still have his job.
Charlie hated to see the usually cocky young man looking so dejected, but this had to stop and it had to stop now. She needed people around her who were going to make Honeybee better and lift her up, not people who could potentially bring embarrassment and ruin to the Honeybee. They all had so much potential, but all it took was one person to screw it up. Charlie hated to think it, but she was beginning to wonder if Romeo was that person.
Charlie walked to her car sighing when she saw Trace leaning against it.
“You alright,” he asked. Charlie shrugged her shoulders.
“Got it,” he said. “You want me to drive?” Charlie stopped in her tracks.
“No, I don’t want you to drive,” she said unlocking the car.
“You sure,” he said limping to the passenger’s side. “I could maybe use my left foot, if I sat kind of crooked.”
“Just get in the car,” Charlie said not wanting to laugh but unable to help herself. When she got in the car her phone was vibrating again. She looked at the screen and sighed.
“The worst,” Charlie said debating whether to speak to Darryl now or not. At least he’d stopped with the anonymous calls. “It’s my ex.”
“Oh,” Trace nodded. “Want me to step outside.” Charlie put her phone down and started the car.
“No need. He can deal with whatever issue he has going now on his own,” she said. She was done. She pulled the car back on the road.
“So, did I mess your plans up today or what?” Trace said laughing.
“What do you mean?”
“I heard Romeo say you weren’t supposed to go in to work today.”
“Oh that,” Charlie said switching lanes. “That was for this afternoon anyway. Believe me you didn’t do anything to mess up my plans. Nothing at all.”
“Romeo really stepped in it didn’t he?”
“Big time,” she said. Trace adjusted in his seat stretching his legs out as far as they could go.
“You alright over there?”
“Sure thing. This car is like a limousine compared to what I’m used to,” Trace laughed. “So you’re heading out as soon as you ditch me, huh?”
“Yeah,” Charlie said distracted. Suddenly there was a horn behind them and Charlie had to struggle to correct herself.
“I think we’re supposed to stay in this lane,” Trace said looking at Charlie concern in his brown eyes.
“Shit, shit, shit,” Charlie said. She pulled off to the side then over into a gas station and put the car in neutral.
“Hey,” Trace said placing one hand on Charlie’s back. He stroked her hair softly as to not separate the curls before she turned to look at him. “It’s gonna be okay.” Charlie looked at Trace, really looked at him. She hadn’t realized she needed to hear those words until he’d spoken them, but she did. She inhaled deeply trying to calm herself down.
“I’m being stupid, I know,” she said attempting a smile but failing.
“No you’re not,” Trace said. “It’s not every day you catch your employee fucking in the abandoned building that would one day be your next restaurant.” Charlie laughed surprising herself.
“It’s not that,” she said after catching her breath. “Well, not all of that. It’s just that this day started out so promising, and then this.”
“What? You got saddled with a cripple and then caught your employee getting busy on the job?” Trace stroked her head again. “It’s not that bad is it?” Charlie shook her head.
She wanted to tell him it wasn’t just that. She wanted to tell him about Oprah and the potential growth Honeybee was looking at, but she held back. It was just too new and too tenuous.
It wasn’t the iffy-ness of the new that had her bummed. It was the fact that she didn’t have anyone special that she could share it with. Not having anyone to share such an important milestone with was what really sucked.
She was letting her feelings catch her up in a spiral that could only drag her further down. She most definitely didn’t want that. She had to stop it like right now.
Shaking her head she felt tufts of her dark hair softly tickle at her cheek. “You’re right,” she said trying to pull herself together.
“It’s not that bad. Romeo was completely in the wrong, but he was also being Romeo. That I’m going to deal with later. But you,” she said looking at Trace with a new respect. He’d really pulled her back from the edge, and he didn’t even know it.
“Well,” Trace said his eyes sparkling. “But you what?”
“You are entirely too you,” she said frustrated but smiling, “and you know it. That’s what makes it so hard.”
“What in the world does that mean?” Trace said, a puzzled look on his face. “Aw, c’mon, don’t start the car- not now,” as Charlie put the car in drive. “Not when it was starting to get good.” Charlie smiled back at him. He really was something. He was a man that could show a woman like herself a really good time, she thought to herself.
Suddenly, she exhaled. What the hell. She really didn’t feel like going to work or going home alone. She didn’t feel like being alone period, not now, and Trace was the perfect company. He’d at least keep her laughing.
Although a part of her brain screamed, “No!”, the other much more in charge part said, “Yes!” She needed this. Hell, she deserved this.
She’d been walking a fine line for a very long time. Charlie was tired of playing it safe. Trace made her laugh and that felt freaking good to her right now.
“You want to go on a road trip?”
“Yes, please,” Trace said his eyes lighting up like a little kid in a candy store.