“I don’t know, Trace,” Charlie said from her driveway. She was in the passenger seat of her car as usual, and nervous as hell. She had no problem driving but ever since Trace had completely healed, he refused to be her passenger- ever.
Charlie didn’t mind, but that was because she didn’t have anything to prove. She’d been driving since she was fifteen years old, she actually liked having the break. No, what had her nervous was that today was the big day they’d all been working towards. Today the Honeybee was reopening.
“Cyndi said it was now or never, but I think we should hold off another month, maybe two,” Charlie said.
“Well, thank goodness Cyndi is the one that gets to make that decision,” Trace said smartly.
“Only because I let her,” Charlie responded peevishly although they both knew that was only partly true.
Since deciding on reopening the Honeybee, Charlie had made the agreement to have Cyndi take over the daily operations. They both agreed there were too many cooks in the kitchen before which led to unnecessary confusion and sometimes friction for the staff.
With Cyndi as the general manager, it freed Charlie to be the creative director she most enjoyed being. It also freed her from having to be in the shop every day. It was perfect, and Charlie only wished they’d thought of it before. At least she hoped it would work. On paper it seemed perfect. Today would be the big test.
“Okay, madame, are you ready,” Trace asked.
“But what if no one comes,” she said.
When they pulled up, they parked in the back lot behind the Honeybee. All the construction had been done. Cyndi had insisted on some remodeling to try to rebrand the Southern Fried Honeybee. Make it fresher, and newer. Everyone in town knew its history and what had gone down so there was no hiding the facts.
“And what if they do?” Trace fired back. Still he waited to turn the key in the ignition. It wasn’t until he got the nod from Charlie that the engine roared to life. “Honeybee here we come.”
Cyndi had smartly decided they would not try to act like the horribleness hadn’t happened a few short months earlier. Instead they embraced it. Romeo’s picture would forever be memorialized on the side of the building along with the original Honeybee staff, all of whom had returned. And instead of trying to cover it up, Charlie talked about the tragedy freely. Romeo would always be a part of their family. He was taken too soon and as long as the Honeybee stood, he would not be forgotten.
“Are y’all seriously clapping for me,” Charlie laughed, “Y’all so corny,” but she curtsied anyway as they hooped and hollered. “Did Cyndi make y’all do that?”
“I’ll see you in a couple of hours, champ,” Trace said before giving her a kiss. Charlie let herself out and watched until Trace’s taillights disappeared around the corner. She’d never been scared of the Honeybee, but for the first time she felt trepidation. She blew a kiss to Romeo’s mural before stepping inside. As soon as she walked in the kitchen everyone stopped and dropped what they were doing.
“Naw, Ms. Charlie,” Tink said, “we just want you to know how excited we are to be back and to have you back,” her voice filled with emotion.
Although she didn’t talk much about what happened that day, the story had gotten out. It had been a close call, but with the help of Trace and Cyndi she was recovering.
“I’m glad that all of us are back too,” Charlie said. “This has been a rough time for us all, but we are here to stay,” there was some whoops of agreement. “Look I appreciate every single one of you. The work you put in, the faith you gave to me and Cyndi. It is something neither of us will ever forget. We are a team and we are stronger together than apart. We lost some of our members, but we are still strong, and we gain strength from their memory. So, let’s get ourselves together and make this into the best comeback southern Mississippi has ever seen. The Southern Fried Honeybee is back y’all.”
Charlie went through the usual precheck for opening their doors. They had enough food to feed an army, but if she were honest with herself, she would be thankful if they sold even a quarter of what they had in stock.
The buzz had been consistent. Cyndi’s marketing was foolproof. There was no way anyone on the Coast was not aware of their opening their doors again. Cyndi had her on all the local news channels and radio stations for the past week hyping up the store’s return. Still Charlie was concerned that the nature of their closing was too much for people to recover from.
It was just so ridiculously sad. Even though Stan had been caught and was now awaiting sentencing it was still such a shocking crime. Charlie’s biggest worry was that the Honeybee would end up becoming one of those morbid tourist attractions that people came to because of their sick twisted fascination with death rather than the food.
“You can’t pick and choose why people come,” Cyndi had said trying to calm Charlie’s fears. “We just want them to come. Who cares why?”
“I care,” Charlie groaned. “I don’t want to be some crime scene stop on a ghost tour of the south. Hell naw, I couldn’t bear to have a bunch of death seeking people in here eating my food.”
“Girl, it don’t matter. What about all your faithful customers? Don’t you want to open for them?”
“Of course, I do, but what if they don’t come back?”
“And what if they do,” Cyndi said echoing Trace’s words. “Look until we open up, we won’t know.”
It was Cyndi’s logic that had finally worn her down. Although she refused to open the Honeybee Too up until the original was self-sustaining again, Charlie had finally agreed to an opening date. If all things went as planned, next month Travis would be running their sister store in Gulfport. Although to the world she was the picture of confidence, inside she was about to fall apart.
“Ms. Charlie,” Rashawna said from her office doorway, “it’s almost time.” Charlie took a deep breath and stood.
“Uh, excuse me,” Charlie said when Rashawna continued to just smile and stand in the doorway blocking Charlie’s path to the front.
“Well, I guess it’s now or never,” she said trying to look more enthusiastic then she felt.
“Oh, sorry, Ms. Charlie,” Rashawna said, “I guess I’m just a little excited.”
The doors were still closed, but even still she could see the shadow of people through the windows. As she looked closer, she saw it was more than just a few people. There was a line of people wrapped around both sides of the building. In fact, to Charlie’s surprise she couldn’t see where the crowd ended.
“I understand, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. It may be a little slow today. We’re just coming back but just do your job, that’s all you got to do,” Charlie said as she walked through the entry way towards the store’s front.
“Oh. My. God.”
“I think this is one of those, if you build it they will come moments,” Rashawna said, “except we didn’t build anything. They just all came.”
“Yes, they did,” Charlie smiled. Cyndi stared back at her with tears in her eyes. “Oh, no you don’t. Suck those tears back.”
“I can’t help it,” Cyndi smiled. “Just so much has happened.” Charlie nodded at her brave friend. She was right. After all those months of recovery Cyndi’s scars were still healing but her doctor’s said regaining eyesight in the damaged eye was a miracle that had stunned everyone.
“Guys, all hands on deck. All hands on deck!” Charlie yelled to get everyone’s attention. “Ok, guys, this is a code red situation. I expect everyone to be on their A-game. I know it’s been months since we’ve dealt with a crowd even half this size, but we can do this. Okay, does everyone know their station for the day?” Charlie looked at each of her employees until she had each of their attention. “Great, now what does that mean?”
“It don’t mean shit,” each employee said in unison.
“Because all of us are responsible for this ship,” they said together as one voice. “And if one of us goes down we all go down.”
“So what are we going to make sure we don’t do?”
“We don’t go down,” they said.
“There you go. Julio open that door.” Charlie watched as the crowd surged forward, but there was no pushing or impatience. She searched the crowd for familiar faces, calling those she recognized by name as she welcomed each person in to the store.
It didn’t take long before the orders started coming in and she was helping to serve and pour coffee. This was the time she liked the most, when there was a never-ending crowd that made the day pass quickly from the constant activity. There was no better feeling.
However, it wasn’t long before every seat was taken and there was still a long line that snaked out the door. There was a small commotion at the entry way, but Charlie was too busy chatting up an older couple to look up. A hush fell over the crowd but even then Charlie didn’t notice that the place had gone completely quiet.
“Oh, sweet baby Jesus,” Cyndi whispered. Charlie followed her oldest friend’s stare to a woman that seemed to be floating through the now parted crowd. Charlie thought her eyes were playing tricks on her, but no matter how many times she blinked the image remained the same. The woman came to a stop directly in front of Charlie.
Vaguely aware of the camera trained on the woman and her, Charlie paid them no mind stunned by the goddess in front of her.
“Well,” she said, “I heard that the Honeybees here are out of this world, and I had to come and see for myself.”
“Yes ma’am, you are absolutely correct,” Charlie said smiling back. “Welcome to the Southern Fried Honeybee, Ms. Oprah.”