“What the hell?” Charlie pulled in her driveway but kept the car running. There was a large man walking around her house. “Is he looking in my windows?” Charlie reached for her phone but then the man stopped and turned around.
“Stan?” Sue had gone to the funeral alone, so Charlie assumed Stan was off with the kids somewhere. Confused, Charlie turned off the ignition.
“Hey,” Charlie said as she got out of her car and walked up the steps. “Hey friend, long time no see. Where my nieces?”
“They’re with Sue’s parents,” Stan said. “We thought it would be the easiest thing, until you know, they figured out what’s going on, you know?”
“A month ago I would say that was ridiculous, but you know what Stan with everything that’s happened, I don’t blame y’all.”
“Yeah, it’s been pretty wild. How you been holding up?”
“Day by day, that’s how I’m taking it. Don’t really have a choice you know? But it’s the Honeybee and the staff that I’m more concerned about,” she said. “We don’t open, we don’t make money. We don’t make money, folks can’t be paid. So, not good is my answer, yup- not good.”
“Yeah,” Stan said.
“So, was there a reason you stopped by,” Charlie searched her key ring for her house key. “I mean Sue’s at the shop. The only reason I stopped by was to change real quick. Once the repast is over we’re all meeting at the Honeybee to talk about some of our plans.”
“Oh, no. No reason, not really,” Stan stammered. He looked troubled, but Charlie wasn’t sure what to make of it. They’d been close at one time, when they were all in school but they hadn’t talked much in the last few years. Work and their growing family had created a distance neither had tried to bridge.
“I was just wondering,” Stan said, “if you’d noticed anything you know, different with Sue lately?” Charlie stopped at Stan’s words.
“Different,” she asked. “What do you mean different?”
“Just that she’s been not there like she used to,” Stan said. He looked uncomfortable, but Charlie wasn’t sure why. She really didn’t want to talk about her friend behind her back, especially with her husband. However, she and Stan had once been friends too. If he noticed something about Sue she wanted to help. Too many things just weren’t adding up.
“Why don’t you come in. We can get out of this heat and chat for a bit, okay?” Charlie unlocked the front door and was about to push it open when she heard a car horn. “Oh Lord.”
“Who’s that?” Stan said taking a step away from Charlie.
“The devil,” Charlie said as she watched Trace exit the car’s back seat. A minute later the car was backing out of her driveway as Trace made his way up the walkway.
“You’re getting dropped off at my house now?”
“Well, someone seemed to have forgotten about me.”
“I didn’t forget.”
“Hahaha,” Trace said but there was not a smile anywhere in sight. “I’m Trace,” he said extending a hand towards Stan.
“Stan,” he said before backing away.
“Stan you’re not leaving, are you? I thought we were going to talk about,” Charlie started but the man interrupted her.
“No worries, Charlie. We can get together some other time,” he said. “And don’t mention about, you know, everything to Sue. I’m sure it’s fine. Just stress.”
“Sure thing,” Charlie said as she waved goodbye.
“He didn’t drive here,” Trace said watching until Stan turned the corner.
“Well, thanks Captain Obvious,” Charlie rolled her eyes still salty from earlier. “And that’s really none of your business, is it? You just dropping by people’s houses unannounced now?”
“Please, don’t act like you’re not happy to see me,” Trace said with a shameless smile. “Acting like I’m some stranger. We both know that’s not true.”
“Put those teeth away before they get knocked out.” Charlie opened the door but didn’t move for Trace to enter.
“May I come in?”
“Only if you don’t patronize me.”
“Okay, Grandma stop clutching your pearls,” Charlie said stalking into the kitchen and taking down two glasses. She filled them with tea from the fridge. “Those looks you were giving me after meeting Darryl. And then that smug grin of yours.”
“Oh, so we just going to jump right in, huh?”
“Ok. What looks you talking about?” Trace said but Charlie just looked at him refusing to answer. “Fine. I’m not gonna lie I was thrown, at first. But it makes sense. I mean, I should have known,” Trace laughed but it seemed to be more directed at himself then Charlie.
“Known what?” Charlie asked.
“Darryl,” he said as if that said it all. Charlie’s raised eyebrows said otherwise.
“As soon as I saw him, I understood the reason why you fought me every step of the way.”
“Every step of the way? What way. And who’s been fighting?”
“You. From the moment you met me, at least- wait a second,” Trace said suddenly confused. “When we first- first met, you were, different? You were open to me, but then after you found out I. Had. Treats.” Trace’s said in growing disbelief. “You felt threatened.”
“No, no, no, no,” Charlie said refusing to let Trace off the hook. “What about Darryl? What do you mean you should have known? Should have known what?”
“Oh, that,” Trace said dismissively, but Charlie wasn’t letting it go. “I thought maybe you had, you know, a preference.”
“No, don’t get funky now go ahead and say it,” Charlie said when he didn’t continue.
“I mean tall, good looking, from that suit obviously got a little bread, and.”
“White,” Trace said his gaze unwavering. His words felt like a judgement.
“And what if I did have a preference? Would that change how you thought about me?”
“No, no, I mean,” Trace said laughing and Charlie’s anger exploded within her but she didn’t let it show.
“First of all, my dating Darryl was not about a preference. Only self-hating idiots have “preferences”. I dated Darryl because he was nice to me. He pursued me. He looked me in the eye when he spoke to me. He learned what I liked and what I didn’t like and acted accordingly. He courted me!”
“Well, if he was so great, why’d y’all break up?”
“Because although he was good to me, he wasn’t always kind to other people. I didn’t know it at the time, of course, but later I found out, that he was a bit of a snob. Okay, a lot of a snob. He valued the pursuit of money more than our relationship, but even then I still didn’t hate him. It just made him not a good partner- for me.”
“Mm-hm,” was all Trace said, and it infuriated Charlie. Who was he to judge her?
“However, none of that changes the fact that during a time when no brothers were checking for me because they had “preferences” of their own. I didn’t and don’t fault them. During college us sisters outnumbered them ten to one. I mean they had it made. They had their pick of any woman they wanted basically, and boy did they pick. But I didn’t get mad because, that was within their right. But I’m supposed to sit at home alone waiting? Please. I wasn’t with Darryl because I had no choices, I was with him because he made me feel special not for him choosing me, but for doing all the things that made me want to choose him. And don’t get it twisted, those brothers not choosing me wasn’t because I wasn’t fine- because I’ve always been fine. Trust. No, it’s because they wouldn’t have known quality if it would have slapped them in the face. They were into quantity, and I refused to just be another notch on some bedpost.”
“That’s what you think?”
“That’s what I know.”
“Well,” Trace said closing in on Charlie until he was so close, she had to tip her head back to maintain eye contact. “If it went down how you said it went down, those boys were fools. Because you’re not the kind of woman any sane man let’s get away.”
“Really, that’s what you think?”
“That’s what I know.”
“Well, truth be told, Darryl didn’t let me get away. I walked away. No man can keep a woman from leaving, they can only make it more pleasurable for her to stay.”
“Message received,” Trace said with a smile. “You gave me a hard time after you found out I owned Treats.”
“Oh God,” Charlie groaned not believing he wouldn’t just let it go. Why couldn’t the man let sleeping dogs lie. She didn’t want him to know that side of her, but if he kept playing, she’d have no choice but to let him have it. She hated to lose and anyone who knew the real Charlie knew that.
“No for real, you dropped me like a hot potato. What’s the matter, couldn’t stand the competition,” Trace taunted. He smiled that alligator smile again at the sudden glint that flared in Charlie’s eyes.
“What competition?” Charlie asked and something in her voice made Trace pause. He couldn’t tell if she was flirting with him or serious.
“I see, you got jokes,” Trace swallowed. “It’s been one thing after another since I opened. I haven’t really gotten Treats off the ground yet, but when I do it’s going to give Honeybee a run for its money.”
“That’s what you think.”
“That’s what I know.”
“In your dreams,” Charlie said as she put on her shades then gracefully slid into the front seat of her Mercedes. She watched as Trace made his way to the passenger seat.