“Dearly beloved we are gathered here today to lay to rest a friend, a son, a nephew, an uncle, and a brother. Romeo Harris was all of those things and more to many people. He believed in community and having a strong presence in it. He wasn’t just a success story in the making he was a success as all here can attest. Amen?”
“Amen,” rang through the church as those in attendance responded to the preacher.
“We had yet to see all of what this young man was to do, because he was taken to soon. It was too soon for us, Lord but I want everyone here to know that it was only because this man was needed home. It’s hard for us to believe and accept but although he may not have made the mark that we knew he was capable of making, Romeo definitely made his mark on this world. Everyone in this room can attest to the impact he had on their lives, am I right?”
“Yes,” Charlie said along with the other hundred or so people sitting in the pews and standing along the walls of the church. She’d heard there were people waiting outside who were unable to fit within the church’s walls. She wasn’t surprised. The only reason she had a seat was because the Harris family had been kind enough to have saved a pew for the Honeybee staff.
Every single staff member squeezed into the pew save for two of the part time staff who stood next to it. Sue squeezed her hand and Charlie was thankful to have her there. She wished Trace was beside her, but he’d given up his spot for the other staff members. She wasn’t worried, she was sure he’d found a spot somewhere. From experience she knew Trace could take care of himself in any situation.
After the service there was a long procession of cars to the gravesite. Charlie made sure to give her condolences to Romeo’s mother and sisters, but she tried to not take up too much of their time. She would stop by later in the week when things had calmed down to sit with them.
The whole town was there, but there was a somber feeling unlike Charlie had ever had felt before. It was all still so shocking and sudden. By the time the dirt had being laid, Charlie was more than ready to go. She’d promised to stop at the repast, but after that she just wanted to get out of the black dress and try to forget the awful fact that Romeo wasn’t with them anymore.
“Ms. Daniels?” Charlie turned to see a young woman. She had fire engine colored hair, but even without that Charlie would have recognized Shameika or Shay as Romeo usually referred to his girlfriend.
“Shay,” Charlie said hugging the young woman tightly. “How are you holding up?”
“Not good, Ms. Daniels, but I’m trying,” she said her voice shaky. She’d been crying, of course.
“I know, I’m so sorry. I know how much you and Romeo meant to each other,” Charlie said giving her another squeeze. “If there’s anything I can do, you let me know, you hear- anything.”
“I’m pregnant,” Shay whispered, and Charlie’s heart broke at the sadness in the young girl’s eyes. Despite Romeo’s history he was a good man. He and Shay were both very young but they were a couple. If Romeo were here she was certain he’d do right by Shay.
“How you feel about that?” Charlie asked without judgement once she got over her shock.
“I’m keeping it. I know Romeo wanted that,” the young woman said with a confidence that made her like wiser than her nineteen years. Charlie had no choice but to respect her choice.
“I believe so too,” Charlie said. “Have you told your Mama?” Shay nodded. “What about Romeo’s people?”
“Not yet,” she said looking back at the family still sitting under the tent. “I’m going to wait until after some of their people clear out. Romeo had people from all over, and their house is full of folks. I’m gonna tell them in a few days when I can sit down with his momma. She was always nice to me.”
“You know what, I think that’s a very good idea,” Charlie squeezed the girl’s hands. “You know sometimes life has a funny way of working everything out. What may seem like an obstacle may become your saving grace. It’s all in how you view it. I think- no, I know you’re going to do just fine.” Charlie couldn’t help but smile at the wistful look on the girl’s face.
“Thank you, Ms. Daniels for that,” Shay said. “I didn’t want to tell you- not like this, but I didn’t want you to hear it from anyone else,” she said looking over her shoulder to a small group of people. She had a frown on her face when she turned back to Charlie.
“Oh, so I’m not the first,” Charlie pouted, hoping to make the young lady smile again.
“No ma’am, not the first,” she said looking sad. “Let’s just say not everyone is as kind as you.”
“Look don’t worry what any hater may say to you. This is your life for you to live and only you can know what’s best for you.”
“I know,” Shay said. “It’s just that sometimes we look up to the wrong people and it takes something big happening to show us we’re wrong.” Shay looked back over to the small group of people and Charlie did too. She caught Sue’s eye and she could have sworn her friend’s face twisted into a frown after she saw Shay.
“She doesn’t like me I don’t think.”
“You told Sue about the baby?”
“No, but Rome did,” Shay said. “She told him to tell me to get rid of it. But Romeo wasn’t like that. He said he wanted me to keep it. I promise you he did,” the girl said tears coming to her eyes again. Charlie hugged her.
“I know, I know,” Charlie said. “I’m happy for you, so very happy. Once you tell Romeo’s people you call me, okay. That baby’s gonna need all the aunties it can get, you hear?”
“Yes, ma’am, I sure will,” Shay said. Charlie left the girl smiling once again, but she couldn’t help wondering about what she’d said about Sue. There’d been friction with Romeo and Sue off and on but that had always been just basic work stuff. They both were strong personalities, but Sue stepped over the line if what Shay said was true. Sue had no business saying that to Romeo. Having the baby or not having the baby was Romeo and Shay’s decision. Charlie hoped it was a misunderstanding, but either way her biggest concern from now on was making sure that baby had whatever it needed. She owed that much to Romeo.
“Sweet baby, Jesus,” startled Charlie took a deep breath when she recognized the voice. Why Lord, why now?
“Darryl?” Charlie inhaled his familiar scent. She used to crave it, but now it was just a bittersweet reminder- more bitter than sweet.
“Charlie, I’m so glad I caught up to you,” Darryl said with thirst in his eyes and she was tall glass of sweet tea. “Horrible occasion, but still so glad to see you. It’s been a while.”
“Yes, a while,” Charlie said.
“You look stunning as usual. I heard the Honeybee’s expanding.” Charlie hid the groan. Of course, he’d immediately start in on business. He’d been hounding her to franchise for years but she’d always begged off. She wasn’t trying to build a conglomerate but that was all he ever wanted to talk about the last year they were together.
“Yes, we’ve been in talks to open Honeybee Too,” Charlie said refusing to go further.
“That is amazing,” Darryl said as if waiting for more, but when it didn’t come, he jumped to fill in the silence as usual. “So sorry to hear about Romeo. He was a good kid. I didn’t know his family but it was all over the news. I heard the mayor spoke at the funeral.”
“Yes, he did,” Charlie said. “She said a lot of beautiful things.” Charlie wanted to end the conversation as quickly as possible but when she saw Trace hobbling her way, she forgot about trying to be impolite. “Well, I’ve got to go, I wanted to stop by the repast before it gets too crowded.”
“Yes, of course,” Darryl said, “About Ralph.”
“Look, Darryl,” Charlie began already tired.
“You can have him if you want,” Darryl said stunning Charlie. “It was stupid of me to take him. He deserves more than what I can give him. So, if you want, I can drop him off this weekend sometime?”
“Sure,” Charlie said shocked by his change of heart. Before she could ask why he pulled her into a big hug. “Give me a call when you want me to drop him off,” he said before releasing her. She was about to thank him but, Darryl caught sight of the mayor and just like that he was gone.
“Who was the Ken doll,” Trace said casually. Charlie didn’t want to tell him, but she knew that if she didn’t, he’d just keep hounding her.
“That was Darryl.”
“That was Darryl?”
“Did I stutter?”
“I just thought that with a name like Darryl, he’d be,” Trace said looking to where Darryl ran off to.
“He’d be, what?”
“Black,” Trace said surprised, but once the shock wore off he started smiling like a Cheshire cat.
“Not now,” Charlie said. “This ain’t the place or time.” For once Trace didn’t argue, but his face told her that he wasn’t done.
“Just get in the car.”