The restaurant was packed with the dinner crowd, but Charlie and her two companions had found a quiet spot to enjoy their meal. Travis was friends with the owner, a single mother, who kept popping up with drinks and trays of tapas for them to sample while they waited on their order.
“She’s cute,” Charlie finally said after the petite brunette showed up for a third time with another plate full of treats.
“Yeah,” Travis said his jowls jumping as he ate some hummus on pita bread. “I guess.”
“You guess? Man, that woman is fine,” Trace said ignoring both Charlie’s and Travis’ stare. Trace, who apparently never met a stranger, was just as relaxed with Travis as he was with her. Charlie wasn’t surprised that the two men had become fast friends.
“Yeah, she’s gorgeous, but not for me,” Travis said looking off to the bar. Charlie knew why, but she didn’t push.
“Who is she?” Trace said once again jumping in with both feet. Travis looked to Charlie, but she didn’t say anything.
“Her?” Trace pointed at Charlie.
“No!” Travis bellowed.
“Well, thanks a lot,” offended she sipped her tea.
“No, it’s just that. I mean I’m just,” Travis blustered before Trace interrupted him.
“Now look who’s flustered,” Trace said nudging Charlie but when he saw the look on her face he finally caught the hint to shut up.
“Cyndi,” Travis said. “It’s always been Cyndi. Not that she ever noticed.”
“Sorry, man,” Trace said contritely. “I didn’t know.”
“Yeah, well neither did she, apparently,” the big man said. “How do you think I ended up here in Siberia?”
“Siberia? It’s your hometown.”
“Travis, Bay St. Louis is not Siberia,” she said. “It’s beautiful here, I can’t believe you said that.”
“You better apologize man before she goes ballistic. You know you can’t speak ill about her beloved Gulf Coast without a total meltdown.”
“Oh, I see you’ve already learned, huh?”
“Ten minutes into our road trip, and I knew the deal,” Trace said. “It’s kind of a weird love affair.”
“I know, right?” The two men continued with their conversation about Charlie as if she weren’t even there.
“Excuse both of you, but I am not in some weird love affair with this city. I like it here, what of it? It’s a nice little town. So, sue me!” The two men stopped long enough to listen then promptly burst out laughing. “And, you’re here because we have a plan.”
“I know, I know. We’re just busting your balls, Charlie. I like your guy here, he’s fun,” Travis said laughing. Trace had a dopey smile on his face, and Charlie wondered if she’d made a mistake bringing him. The last thing she needed was these two linking up against her.
“And I don’t have balls,” Charlie said offended.
“Yeah you do, tiny little ones,” Travis said pinching his fingers together. Trace mimicked his hand movements.
“I can’t believe you,” she said slapping Travis’ hand away. Both of the men dissolved into giggles. “That’s it. No more alcohol for the two of you.” She picked up their glasses sniffing both. “What the hell did that woman put in here? Is she trying to get the two of you drunk?”
“I don’t know, but I think it’s working,” Trace said giggling.
“More drinks fellas,” the perky brunette asked as she bounced back to their table.
“I think they’ve had enough,” Charlie fixed her stare on the young woman daring her to say anything else. She caught the hint.
“I think we’re ready for our food, and can you bring a pitcher of water for them and some fresh glasses. I’m cutting both of them off the hard stuff for the rest of the night.”
“Aww, man,” Travis said reaching for his glass but the thing slid out of his hands and onto the floor.
“And we’re done,” Charlie said. “Food, now,” she ordered as a busboy came over to clean up the mess. A few minutes later their food arrived. They’d ordered home style so there were big platters of salad, steak and cream potatoes set on the table for them all to dig into. There was also some Brussel sprouts sautéed with bacon and a little pot of the creamiest macaroni and cheese Charlie had ever had. To top it off there were gooey chocolate fudge brownies for dessert.
By the end of the meal the giggling had mostly stopped and both men seemed to have sobered up enough to satisfy her.
Still Charlie insisted on driving Travis back to his apartment across the bay. The rain came while they were on their way back. By the time they got to Long Beach the rain was so heavy Charlie could barely see the road. The wind had her car rocking back and forth on the flooded streets. She knew instantly there was no way she was going to be able to make it home with as much rain that had come down. When ninety flooded the area surrounding her house didn’t stand a chance.
“So, what’s the plan,” Trace asked.
“What?” Charlie said confused.
“The plan you and Travis said you had,” Trace said. “Does he work for you?”
Charlie looked over at Trace for a brief moment, “No,” she said before turning her concentration back to the barely visible road. The rain was now moving sideways, and even Trace had grown quiet as Charlie inched along the flooded road. It was barely nine by the time they’d made it back to Biloxi.
As soon as she could, Charlie pulled into the far lane and then turned to go up the hill that was the Beau’s front driveway.
“There’s no way I can make it back home in this mess,” Charlie said. “You mind staying the night? My treat?”
“I’m all yours,” Trace said alligator smile and all. Charlie was too tired to fight with him though. She just wanted a bath and a bed, in that exact order.
The valet opened their doors and the two climbed out. Before they went inside Charlie pulled her black overnight bag from the trunk. She always carried one for just these types of occasions for emergencies.
“Prepared, huh,” Trace smiled. Charlie wanted to smack him, but she wouldn’t give him the satisfaction.
“Welcome to the Beau Rivage Resort and Casino,” a young lady behind the counter greeted them. “How can I help you?”
“I need two rooms for tonight,” Charlie said. The woman frowned.
“Two rooms,” the woman said. Her fingers started moving over her keyboard then came to a stop. “We have one room available.”
“One room,” Charlie said looking around the massive interior of the resort. “You have only one room available in this entire hotel.”
“Yes ma’am and it’s a king,” she said. “Lot of events this weekend. Got a concert and a game at the stadium. We have a full house tonight, except for this one room.” Charlie felt like banging her head against the counter.
“But I’d be happy to give you a discount.” Charlie was so tired she couldn’t even fight. Trace for once was completely quiet. Outside streaks of lightening lit up the sky. She’d always been scared of storms. There was no way she was going to be able to cross the bridge to get home. She was still stressed from driving all the way back from the Bay.
“Sign us up,” Charlie said. The woman’s fingers went to work for a full minute then came to a stop. Charlie didn’t like the look on the woman’s face.
“I am so sorry,” the woman said taking a deep breath.
“No, don’t say it,” Charlie said.
“I’m so sorry, but the last room just got taken.” Charlie looked down the counter in time to see another couple scoop up there bags and card key. She wanted to scream. She’d reached her breaking point. The last thing she wanted was to have to spend the night in a hotel lobby.
“Hey,” Trace said gently. “Look, my place is like four blocks from here. If you’re up to it, you’re welcome to wait it out there.”
The last thing Charlie wanted was to get back in her car in this storm, but one look around the swarm of people many of them stranded just like they were, gave her pause.
“It’ll be better than staying in this hotel lobby for the night, I promise you.” Charlie took another look around, and saw that all of the seating was taken. There were even people lounging on the floor.
It wasn’t until they were inching their way onto highway 90 again that she realized she’d be spending the night with Trace- alone in his place. Then her mind drifted back to that morning. The dream hadn’t been far from her mind all day, but suddenly it was all she could think about.
“God, help me,” she said as a bolt of lightning lit up the dark sky followed by crashing thunder.