“There is a closed sign on the front doors of the Southern Fried Honeybee. It is the first time that the store has been closed since opening in 2010. An entire decade, but yesterday it suffered a fatal loss with the death of one its beloved staff. Romeo Harris was a full-time employee. He’d been with the Honeybee since it opened. The police are saying that foul play was involved. There are no arrests on the case 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. “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 a big shock. She couldn’t believe she was seeing her 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.
“It’s to be expected. Once they caught wind of Romeo, of course, they were going to report it. Where’s your phone?” For a moment Charlie panicked, but then she remembered she’d dropped it in the drawer when the screen kept lighting up all night long. Each time it woke her up until finally she’d put it away. She hesitated before opening the drawer.
“Just a sec, before I let the madness in,” she hesitated. She wanted to crawl back in bed and get under the covers with the handsome man with the kind eyes staring back at her.
“Take your time,” he whispered. “Believe me they’re going nowhere. They can wait a few more seconds.” Charlie took a deep breath then picked up the phone.
“Damn,” she said as she started scrolling. 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 had a significant increase.
Charlie tossed the phone on the bed. “I can’t.”
“Then don’t,” Trace said. “Stay here, with me.” He was already stretched out taking way more of the king bed then she thought possible. Then he had the nerve to lean back on her pillows with his hands locked behind his head.
“You’re not helping,” she said shaking her head but she couldn’t help the pitiful groan. “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 groaned already making plans. Shower, clothes, then food was her list of things to do. Trace was nowhere on that list- he couldn’t be. She couldn’t afford to let Romeo or the Honeybee down. Too many people relied on her.
“Okay, I’ll be here when you get out,” Trace said from his deep sprawl on her bed. Charlie did her best to frown, then turned on her heel.
“Lord help me,” she said as she closed the bathroom door behind her.
“You really didn’t have to come with me,” Charlie said an hour later. They’d both cleaned up and headed out together.
“I don’t think you should be alone. I may be on crutches, but with everything going on I think you could use some protection. Besides the crutch can be a weapon. I used to box too. I’ve got a mean uppercut.”
“Not you too.”
“What,” Trace said. “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 solid pastries, but there are no tables, no chairs. We are a come get your stuff and leave type of business. See that’s your problem. Your folks they will stay from breakfast to dinner if they got the time.”
Charlie had to laugh, because it was true. Her customers were very loyal, but she was okay with that because they weren’t just loyal they showed their love with their money as well. Any product she put out they bought and they were excellent at spreading the glory of the Honeybee to all that would listen. Word of mouth was the engine that drove her business. Those lingering customers were the reason the Honeybee was so successful.
“I wouldn’t have it any other way. The Honeybee is my heart. And I’m going to do whatever I have to save it.” She said as she shut the car off. “And if you want to sign on as my protector,” she smiled at the man that was becoming not only her friend but confidante, “I appreciate the offer. And I will take you up on it,” she said laughing. Trace smiled back but when he reached for a kiss she turned away.
“Okay,” was all he said, but the smile remained.
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. I don’t know if you remember me?”
“Of course, I remember. My aunt never lets any of us forget about our connection to the Honeybee,” the woman said with a teasing 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 said. She wanted to be as optimistic as Cyndi’s mom but considering everything she just wasn’t ready yet either, but she didn’t want to bring any bad vibes. Charlie introduced Trace to the woman.
“Nice to meet you.”
“What did the detective have to say, Janet?”
“Oh, the usual. They still believe it was an accident but they want to tie up loose ends. As soon as she’s able, they want to talk to Cyndi, of course.”
“Man, he came down just for that,” Trace said. “These cops are definitely thorough.”
“Well, that and scene earlier when Sue was here. The nurses called 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, as if she was looking for words.
“Really? Was she here for the doctor’s good news,” Charlie prompted, wondering why her friend hadn’t told her she was stopping by? She was just about to reach for her phone to see if there was a missed call when Janet spoke again.
“No,” Janet said looking uncomfortable again. “She missed that, but something was a little off about her when she came.”
“Off,” Charlie asked. “I mean there’s been a lot going on. I don’t know if you heard about Romeo,” this time Janet interrupted her.
“Yeah, I knew Romeo. I heard about that. Just terrible. I’m so sorry for his family and I know all of you were close to him. It broke all of our hearts when we heard about it. 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 was up to something, but I just don’t know?”
“I don’t understand,” Charlie was annoyed but she didn’t want to insult the woman. “Was she sick, what was off about her?” Frustrated, Janet gave up trying to be polite.
“Your girl came in and she kept trying to get us to leave the room. 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 wanting everyone to leave the room. 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. 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 was still in disbelief. “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 force people to leave.”
“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 cussed Mrs. Mackenzie out?”
“Kinda sorta,” Janet said getting riled herself. “You know that nice nasty way you can complement someone but call them stupid at the same time. Whew, I tell you what if the nurse hadn’t come in, I thought I was going to have lay someone out.” 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. Sue might not be handling this as well as Charlie had thought. 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.”
“Yeah, me too,” 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 glad for Trace’s consideration. He didn’t really know Cyndi before the accident and would be left out of a lot of their conversation. This way she could focus on what the Mackenzie’s needed and Cyndi.
Charlie sat with the family for a good hour. The doctor came in still convinced that her friend could be waking up at any moment. However, hearing him explain it there was still a possibility that Cyndi could have some mental deficit. Either way it was going to be a long road to recovery. When she finally left out she gave both Janet and Cyndi’s mom big hugs promising to visit the next day.
Now that the Honeybee was closed indefinitely, she had the time. Besides if Cyndi was waking up soon, she wanted to be there when it happened if at all possible. She’d missed her friend, and with Romeo gone, it had her feeling even more off kilter. After hearing about Sue, she realized she wasn’t the only one that was suffering.
“Hey, did you get some breakfast for me?” Charlie was joking, of course when she met up with Trace in the car. She hadn’t asked for anything, so she was surprised when Trace pulled a white bag from the backseat.
“I would have gotten you something like yogurt, I know how you girls like that light stuff, but I didn’t know if I could keep it cold long enough.”
“First of all, not a girl,” Charlie said with raised eyebrows. “Second of all, thank you.” The more time she spent with Trace the more she realized how much he really was a good guy. It was refreshing but also disarming. He just didn’t seem to have any bad qualities other than his ability to work her last nerve at will.
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. 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 peeking in the bag
“What? You don’t like biscuits? Eggs? Bacon? C’mon everyone likes bacon.” Trace said smiling. “Orange juice?”
“Good lord,” Charlie said noticing how animated Trace was. 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 had finally found his flaw.
“There’s what,” he asked confused but Charlie just kept laughing. 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.