“There is now a closed sign on the front doors of the famous local spot Southern Fried Honeybee. It is the first time that the store has been closed since its opening in 2010. An entire decade of service, but yesterday it suffered a fatal loss with the death of one its beloved staff. Romeo Harris was a full-time employee, yes- but members of the community say he was so much more. He’d been with the Honeybee since it opened and had become a staple of the neighborhood. The police are saying that foul play was involved. There are no arrests on the case at this time but apparently, according to the police chief, they do have some leads that they are following. Right now, this case is “top priority,” according to Sheriff Thompson.
“No, no, no,” Charlie said sitting with her legs crossed on the bed, her forehead cradled in her hands as the newscaster continued reporting. “I can’t believe this is happening.” Trace wrapped one arm around her then squeezed tight.
“Charlie, just breath,” Trace said, but she couldn’t. She was freaking out. They had just woken up. They’d fallen asleep in each other’s arms. It had been another wonderful night. They’d eaten, talked, drank, then talked some more. Both had been too tired for much more, but companionship was what Charlie needed more than anything and Trace had delivered.
She’d enjoyed having him stay the night, sleeping in his arms. It surprised her how much. Still when they turned on the news and saw her shop it was surreal. She couldn’t believe she was seeing this nightmare on the tv.
Biloxi was as small a town as you could get and having a murder happen at one of the most popular restaurants on the coast was of course going to make front page news. The Honeybee was a hot spot for tourists and locals alike. People came to the coast just to visit their store to buy not just food but merchandise from the little gift shop Cyndi had convinced her to set up. The fact that people actually wanted to buy an overpriced t-shirt with the Honeybee stamped on the front still freaked her out.
“Damn! I wonder if his family even knows. Where’s your phone?” For a moment Charlie panicked, but then she remembered she’d dropped it in the drawer. She hesitated before opening the drawer.
“Gimme a sec,” she hesitated. She wanted to crawl back in bed and get under the covers “Take your time,” he whispered reaching for her hand. “The world can wait a few more seconds.” Charlie squeezed his large warm hand before taking a deep breath then picked up the phone.
“Damn,” she said as she started scrolling through her texts. It just kept going and going. She’d never had this many missed messages in her life. Both her texts and voice mail were crazy. She peeked at her email and even that was more than usual.
Charlie tossed the phone on the bed. “I can’t.”
“Then don’t,” Trace said.
“You’re not helping,” she said shaking her head. “This is ridiculous.” Changing tactics, Trace stood up and wrapped her in a big hug but she pushed him away this time.
“I can’t hide away forever,” Charlie said already making plans. Shower, clothes, then the shop. She couldn’t afford to let Romeo or the Honeybee down. Too many people relied on her. She had to be there for them. When her phone showed another message from Cyndi’s family, her heart dropped.
“Lord help me,” she said into the mirror before quickly washing up and then getting dressed. They were out the door in record time. “Mrs. Mackenzie wants me at the hospital- it’s Cyndi. You really don’t have to come with me,” Charlie said as she drove them through the eerily quiet streets.
“Don’t you worry about that. I may be on crutches, but with everything going on…,” before his voice trailed off.
“Not you too,” Charlie frowned turning onto Hwy 90.
“What,” Trace said pulling himself up in the bed. “C’mon you have to be concerned. I mean, sure it could all be nothing. Just coincidence, but I say just at least err on the side of caution. Plus, what I got to do today? Unlike you my shop doesn’t require I’m even there.”
“I don’t understand how you do that. The first five years the Honeybee was open it felt like I never left the store other than to sleep.”
“See that’s the difference between you and me,” Trace said. “Treats isn’t a brand, we just cook pastries. No tables, no chairs. We are a come get your stuff and leave type of business. See that’s your problem. You encourage your folks to stay from breakfast to dinner if they got the time.” Charlie didn’t bother argue as she pulled into a parking spot because it was true.
As they walked into the hospital Charlie noticed several officers standing at the front. It wasn’t until they got to Cyndi’s floor that she grew alarmed. Outside her door the lead detective on Cyndi’s case stood talking with the family.
“Did something happen?” she said fearing the worse.
“Oh, Charlie,” Mrs. Mackenzie pulled her into a deep hug as soon as she was within reach. Charlie nodded at Cyndi’s cousin, Janet, standing to the side. “She’s gonna be just fine. Our Cyndi’s gonna be just fine.” Finally, some good news.
“Is she awake?”
“No, not yet, but they said her vitals or something like that were showing it should be soon. I don’t know but they said she’s going to be okay; Lord have mercy. My baby’s gonna be okay. God is good, God is good,” Mrs. Mackenzie said before walking back into Cyndi’s room.
“The doctors said her vitals show she is waking up,” Janet said.
“Good. So good to hear. Thank you so much for including me.”
“Of course, you’re family,” the woman said with a small smile on her face before getting serious again. “Everyone seems really optimistic but it’s been so touch and go,” Janet said. Charlie understood the woman’s hesitancy to believe Cyndi was out of the woods. Charlie was just as concerned.
“Cyndi’s always been a fighter,” Charlie nodded, then introduced Trace to the woman.
“Did the police have any news, Janet?”
“Nothing really, as soon as she’s able, they want to talk to Cyndi, of course.”
“Of course,” Trace said. “But were all those cops we saw coming in for Cyndi? Man, these cops are thorough, aren’t they?”
“Well, that was because of the scene earlier when Sue was here. The nurses had to call them,” Janet said as she reached for the door.
“Sue? Sue was here?” Charlie asked.
“Yeah, she came in to check on Cyndi, but,” Janet paused, “something was a little off.”
“Off,” Charlie said. “I mean- I don’t know if you knew Romeo,” this time Janet interrupted her.
“Yeah, I heard about Romeo. Just terrible, but that’s not it. Charlie, have you noticed anything different with- I mean, I don’t know her like you of course, but she was- it was like she wasn’t herself?”
“I don’t understand,” Charlie said confused.
“Sue came in and she kept trying to get us to leave. Yeah, I didn’t understand at all. My auntie hasn’t left cuz’s side since she got here, no matter how much we tried. She practically lives here at this hospital but Sue came in telling everyone she was going to relieve us. That she would stay with Cyndi. You know how many there are of us. There’s always four or five of us hanging around. It just happened that only me and auntie was here this morning though. At first I was all for going downstairs for breakfast, but of course, auntie wasn’t budging. Sue got mad.”
“With Mrs. Mackenzie? Wait, what do you mean she got mad?”
“She looked like she wanted to, I don’t know, just because she wouldn’t leave the room. It wasn’t until I told her I thought it was best that she left that she finally got out of here,” Janet said shaking her head. “She apologized and everything, but it was just- weird, you know? I mean how you gonna come into someone’s hospital room and try to take over.”
“Why did she want y’all to leave?”
“She said we needed a break, but like I said auntie wasn’t having that. And the more she tried to tell Sue she was fine. The louder Sue got. That girl got a mouth on her.”
“She yelled at Mrs. Mackenzie?”
“Basically,” Janet said getting riled herself. “Whew, I tell you what if the nurse hadn’t come in, I thought I was going to have restrain her.” Charlie couldn’t believe what she was hearing.
She didn’t know what was going on with Sue, but she needed to talk to with her asap. Something wasn’t right. Charlie remembered their conversation the night before. With Romeo’s death, it might be too much for her. She felt off kilter herself so she could understand that her friend could be tightly wound up and not even realize it.
“How was she when she left?”
“She apologized but, auntie doesn’t want her back up here again.”
“I understand, I’ll have to talk with her. Sorry that happened this morning, but I’m so glad to hear about the good news about Cyndi. We all need that.”
“Yes, indeed,” Janet said. “Y’all c’mon in and sit a while,” she opened the door.
“I’m gonna go downstairs to the cafeteria,” Trace said. “Give you some time.”
“Thanks. I won’t be long,” Charlie said and she wasn’t. She was glad for Trace’s consideration especially when he didn’t complain when she finally made her way back to the car to find him sitting patiently in the front seat. The more time she spent with Trace the more she realized how much he really was a good guy. It was so easy and refreshing but also disarming. He just didn’t seem to have any bad qualities. He could work her last nerve at will but even that she was beginning to get use to.
She had a hard time believing he was as good as he seemed. Charlie just couldn’t believe he had no bad qualities, but he if he did- he hadn’t shown them to her so far. He was kind, and considerate. He knew how to talk to people and not just certain- but all people. Since knowing him, Charlie had seen him talk with everyone from the janitor to the mayor, and he talked to them all the same. He wasn’t perfect, she wouldn’t say that about anybody, but he was close as perfect could be for her.
“Whoa,” Charlie said as the heavenly aroma from the bag sitting on the car’s console, hit her nose. Then she frowned.
“What? You don’t like biscuits? Eggs? Bacon? C’mon everyone likes bacon.” Trace said from the passenger’s seat. “Orange juice?”
“Good lord,” Charlie said in amazement. She looked at him with new eyes as she suddenly realized with horror his one flaw. “You’re a morning person aren’t you?”
“You know it baby,” he said smiling.
“There it is,” she laughed starting her car. She found his flaw.
“There’s what,” he asked confused but Charlie just kept smiling. Before long he joined in which made her insides melt. This wasn’t good what she was feeling. It probably wasn’t going to end well, but Charlie planned to just enjoy it while it lasted. She deserved something good.