The Bean Hive buzzed with the harmonious clatter of a typical morning — cups clinked, the espresso machine hissed, and the rustic charm of the shop invited a comforting start to the day. The air was rich with the aroma of blended coffees and freshly baked pies, a sensory promise of home that only the Bean Hive could deliver.
I was behind the counter, putting the finishing touches on a latte with the meticulous care that our regulars had come to adore, when the door flew open.
In came Loretta Bebe, looking like she had just stepped out of a tanning bed and into a Southern belle costume contest. She was waving an envelope above her head like a flag of victory.
“It’s here! It’s here, y’all!” Her voice stretched each word into its own little song, the kind that told you she was from the South and nowhere else. – redo this and talk about her pearls, jangling bracelets, bright white teeth, short black hair that aunt maxi swears comes from a box you can grab from a shelf at the Piggly Wiggly.
Bunny Bowowski, ever the pragmatist, barely looked up from the espresso machine, her hands a blur of efficiency. “If the results aren’t what she wants, we just might have to put her out of her misery right here,” she muttered, the whir of the machine muffling her words to all but me.
Aunt Maxi, perched like a regal figure by the chalkboard menus, her eyes twinkling with mischief, couldn’t resist a jab right before she took a bite of this week’s featured breakfast casserole.
“Wouldn’t that be a shame?” she said, her sarcasm as thick as the hairspray holding up her gravity-defying hairdo.
Loretta, bless her heart, didn’t even notice. She was too caught up in her own drama.
“Oh, Low-retta, what on earth are you hemhawing around about?” Bunny called out, drying her hands with a bar towel and nudging me to keep the line moving.
I chuckled, playing along.
“Who works for who around here?” It was a dance we all knew well, with Bunny’s unwavering dedication making her the heart of our operations.
The envelope held the results of Loretta’s efforts over the past six months and promise of recognition for Honey Springs.
She’d poured her heart into transforming our town into a Southern hospitality, hoping to see it named among America’s best small towns.
The moment of truth arrived.
The clatter of coffee cups paused, the air stilled, and all eyes in the Bean Hive fixed on Loretta as she theatrically ripped open the envelope.
For a moment, she was the very picture of drama, the letter held close as her lips silently traced the words, her audience captivated by the suspense.
Slowly, deliberately, she lowered the paper, her mouth agape in an exaggerated gape of surprise, as if the words on the page had rendered her speechless.
Bunny, ever the embodiment of Southern wit, leaned over the counter, her eyes twinkling with mirth. “Loretta, honey, close your mouth. You’re catching flies,” she drawled, her voice dripping with that warm, sassy charm that seemed to come so naturally to the ladies of Honey Springs.
“We did it! Honey Springs is officially one of the best small towns in America!” she crowed, and I felt a swell of hometown pride so strong it almost made me forget the coffee I was pouring.
“We did it! Honey Springs is on the map!” she exclaimed, her voice rich with pride. “They’re sending a journalist to experience everything.”
She twirled, threw her head back, held the letter to her chest before she gestured out the window.
“The lake views, our gourmet teas, the casseroles that Roxy starts at dawn, and the charm that only our small town can offer!” She squealed.
The news was met with a round of applause, the Bean Hive erupting into cheers and laughter. It was a victory for Loretta, for the Bean Hive, and for Honey Springs.
Loretta’s excitement was contagious, and everyone in the Bean Hive was cheering and clapping. But I needed to know something important. I leaned over the counter and asked, “Loretta, when is the journalist coming? We need to get the Bean Hive all spruced up.”
Loretta quickly looked back at the letter, her eyes moving quickly as she searched for the answer. Then, suddenly, her eyes widened. “Today!” she exclaimed, her voice rising to a near-scream in her excitement. She started listing off everything she needed to do – calling the mayor, the sheriff, and everyone else who needed to know. Then, just like that, she was out the door, a whirlwind of energy, leaving the rest of us in the shop buzzing with anticipation and a little bit of panic.
Today? I silently looked out on the boardwalk as my gaze shifted across Lake Honey Springs to the small, wooded island that was so much prettier in the spring, summer or fall. But winter?
The revelation that the journalist was coming today sent a ripple of urgency through me. I found myself staring out at the boardwalk, my eyes drifting across the serene expanse of Lake Honey Springs. In the warmer months, the view was postcard-perfect, but now, in the grip of winter, the charm seemed to hibernate along with the leaves and the vibrant Kentucky bluegrass.
The little island, usually a lush retreat where a spa was located as well as a real bee farm, now looked bare and somewhat forlorn.
“What are you thinking?” Aunt Maxi’s voice pulled me back from my reverie.
I glanced around the Bean Hive, taking in the cozy familiarity of it all, but with a critical eye.
“I’m thinking we’re looking a bit… well, bland right now,” I admitted, shrugging as I moved towards the coffee bar.
The morning rush was winding down, but the aftermath was evident. I hadn’t had a chance to tidy up the self-service bar, where customers could grab a quick cup without waiting in line.
The bar, with its six industrial thermoses filled with various coffee blends, including a decaf option, usually looked inviting. But now, it seemed to lack its usual sparkle.
As I started cleaning, I couldn’t help but notice the salty patches on the floor, remnants of snow tracked in by our morning customers. They were a stark reminder of the winter outside, a season that, while beautiful in its own right, had stripped Honey Springs of its vibrant, picturesque charm. The Bean Hive, normally a haven of warmth and cheer, now reflected the drabness of the season.
I pondered over what could be done to spruce up the place, considering the leafless trees and dormant grass outside.
The challenge was to bring some of that lost vibrancy back inside, to transform the Bean Hive into a welcoming oasis that would captivate our soon-to-arrive guest, despite the bleak winter setting.
It was time to get creative, to infuse some life and color back into our beloved coffee shop, making sure it showcased the best of Honey Springs, even under a blanket of snow.
But it was going to have to wait.
Louise Carlton came through the door, sweeping in some chilly air and poofs of snow.
I smiled as I watched her warm and compassionate heart and the promise of a new furry guest.
She was dressed in her signature style—a long-sleeved denim dress that flirted just above her knees, adorned with charming ruffled sleeves. The silver bob with its blunt bangs framed her face, complementing her outfit and silver accessories perfectly.
As she approached, I could see she was carrying a small folder and, more importantly, a leash that wriggled with excitement.
At the end of the leash was a sprightly little beagle mix with hopeful eyes and a wagging tail. The dog’s coat was a patchwork of brown, black, and white, and his ears flopped with each enthusiastic step.
“Roxy, meet Bandit,” Louise said with a smile, handing me the leash. “He’s a two-year-old beagle mix, fully vaccinated, house-trained, and just the sweetest thing. Loves people, great with kids, and has a thing for squeaky toys.”
I took the folder from her, flipping it open to glance over Bandit’s records.
“He’s adorable,” I remarked, kneeling to give Bandit a gentle scratch behind his ears. His response was a soft, appreciative bark, his tail a blur of motion. Louise’s eyes lit up with hope and gratitude. “We thought he’d be perfect for the coffee shop. He’s friendly, not too big, and I have a feeling he’ll win someone’s heart in no time.”
My moment alone with Bandit was brief. Pepper, my beloved Schnauzer and a proud alumnus of the Pet Palace, seemed to have a sixth sense for these things.
He bounded over from his cozy spot in front of the shop’s fireplace, his curiosity piqued by our new visitor. To Pepper, this was more than just an adoption initiative; it was a weekly playdate, a chance to meet a new friend.
The collaboration between the Bean Hive and Pet Palace had become a cherished part of our routine. Louise kept thermoses of my special coffee blend at the Pet Palace, a gesture that helped promote my small business. In return, I hosted a furry guest from the Pet Palace every week, a practice that had proven incredibly successful – every animal we featured found a forever home.
I watched as Pepper and Bandit cautiously sniffed each other, the beginnings of a friendship forming between them. It was heartwarming to see, and it reinforced my belief in this partnership. Not only did it bring joy to the customers of the Bean Hive, but it also gave these animals a much-needed spotlight, increasing their chances of finding a loving home.
As I stood there, watching the two dogs begin to play, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride. This little corner of Honey Springs, with its charming coffee shop and community-driven initiatives, was more than just a place of business. It was a hub of warmth and compassion, a place where coffee, community, and canines came together in perfect harmony.
“Did you hear the news?” I asked Louise, pen in hand as I signed off on the paperwork for Bandit, a necessary formality in our weekly adoption routine.
Louise looked up, a hint of apprehension in her eyes.
“What news?” she asked.
I couldn’t suppress the grin that spread across my face.
“Honey Springs has been picked as one of the best small towns in America,” I announced with a mix of pride and excitement, slipping the folder neatly beside the cash register. It was important to keep the adoption paperwork handy for any potential new pet parents.
Louise’s hand flew to her chest, her expression a mix of surprise and delight.
“You’ve got to be kidding me!” she exclaimed. “Well, good for Loretta!”
Aunt Maxi, ever the source of playful jabs, chimed in from across the counter.
“Don’t you mean Low-retta?” She snorted, the twinkle in her eye betraying her amusement. “Imagine the scene at the Southern Women’s Club meeting tonight.”
I perked up at the mention of the meeting.
“What meeting?” I asked.
“We have our Southern Women’s Club meeting tonight,” Louise explained, her tone indicating the importance of the event. Aunt Maxi nodded in agreement, both of them proud members of the exclusive group.
The Southern Women’s Club was an institution in Honey Springs, known for its selectivity and prestige. I had been invited to attend a meeting once.
Apparently I wasn’t the type of member they wanted.
That single experience had been enough to give me a glimpse into the workings of the club, a world of its own within our small town.
The prospect of tonight’s meeting, especially with the big news about Honey Springs, promised an evening of excitement and, no doubt, a fair share of town gossip.
I nodded, already imagining Bandit mingling with the customers, his gentle demeanor winning over even the most reserved patrons. It was a belief I held close – that showcasing these animals in a familiar, communal space could spark the connection needed for adoption.
“Thanks, Louise,” I said. “I’m sure Bandit will be a hit here. And who knows, with the journalist coming in today, he might just get some extra attention.”
Reaching over to the counter, I grabbed the jar of homemade animal treats, a special touch we proudly offered at the Bean Hive.
“He’s already fitting in,” I said with a laugh, watching as Pepper and Bandit eagerly trotted over at the sound of the jar opening.
They knew what was coming and were more than ready for their treat.
Louise watched them with a smile, then turned back to me with an unexpected proposition.
“Why don’t you come to the meeting tonight?” she suggested.
I chuckled, imagining Loretta’s reaction.
“Are you kidding? She’d have a fit. Her head might spin right off her shoulders,” I replied, securing the lid back on the jar. I couldn’t resist sneaking a few extra treats into my apron pocket for Bandit and Pepper later.
But Louise had more up her sleeve.
“I’m in charge of dessert tonight, and I want to hire you. Not just for the dessert, but for the coffee too. And to serve it.” Her eyes sparkled with a mix of challenge and camaraderie. “Besides, you’re a lawyer and you have good business sense. Who knows what this new title of Honey Springs is all about.
She knew just how to tempt me. Our conversations at the Pet Palace, often peppered with tidbits about the Southern Women’s Club, had given her insight into my curious nature. And the idea of catering for the club, especially on a night like tonight, was certainly intriguing. It wasn’t just about business; it was a chance to be a fly on the wall at one of the town’s most exclusive gatherings.
I pondered the offer, weighing the opportunity against Loretta’s potential reaction. Serving the club could provide valuable insights, the kind of small-town intel that was like gold in Honey Springs. And who knew? It might even stir up some inspiration for another mystery to brew at the Bean Hive.
With a decisive nod, I agreed. “Alright, Louise. You’ve got yourself a deal. Dessert and coffee, served by yours truly. It’ll be a night to remember, that’s for sure.”
As Louise turned to leave, a sudden flurry of movement caught my eye. Bandit, the lively little beagle mix, had noticed the door swinging open and made a dash for it. “He’s a runner!” Louise yelled out, her voice tinged with panic as she hurried after him.
In his excitement, Bandit weaved through the legs of a customer holding a hot latte. The inevitable happened – the customer wobbled, and the latte went flying, landing all over a man who had just walked into the Bean Hive.
Louise raced to catch Bandit before he could escape, while I grabbed a bunch of napkins and rushed over to the latte-soaked newcomer. “I am so, so sorry,” I blurted out, offering him the napkins and trying to help clean up the mess.
Despite the unfortunate situation, the man took it in stride, accepting the napkins with a half-smile. “It’s okay, accidents happen,” he said, surprisingly calm.
Something about him – his demeanor, the way he spoke – made me suspect he wasn’t just any customer. “You’re not from around here, are you?” I asked, a hunch forming in my mind.
He chuckled, wiping off the latte from his jacket. “That obvious? I’m Ethan Harper, the journalist here to do the exposé on Honey Springs.”
My heart sank. Ethan Harper, the journalist we had all been eagerly anticipating, had just received a very unconventional welcome to our town. “Oh, no,” I said quietly, feeling a mix of embarrassment and concern.
Ethan Harper, however, just waved off my apologies with a friendly grin. “Don’t worry about it. If this is the most excitement I get in Honey Springs, I think I’ll be fine.”
His gracious response did little to quell my embarrassment. This was not the first impression we had hoped to make on Ethan Harper, but it was certainly an unforgettable one. Now, it was up to me and the rest of Honey Springs to turn this slightly chaotic beginning into a charming story for him to remember our town by.
“My goodness gracious! What in the world of mint juleps have you done, Roxanne Bloom?” Loretta Bebe exclaimed, standing at the door with a look of utter disbelief painted across her face.
Her Southern flair for the dramatic was in full force, her expression as exaggerated as a scene from a classic Southern play.
“You’ve turned the Bean Hive into a splash zone at a latte rodeo!” Her words, though laced with shock, couldn’t hide the underlying mix of embarrassment and upset tone in her voice.
Loretta quickly made her way over to the journalist, her eyes fixed on Ethan Harper with an earnest plea.
“Now, Mr. Harper, please don’t judge our sweet Honey Springs based on this little… mishap,” she implored, her hands clasped together as if in prayer. “We’re usually more about warm welcomes than warm lattes over strangers.”
She moved closer, her voice taking on a tone of desperation mixed with Southern charm.
“And if you could, would you kindly consider leaving this… unconventional greeting out of your article? We’d hate for our town’s first impression to be anything but the hospitable and charming place it truly is.” She gave me a hard stink eye.
Ethan, wiping the last remnants of coffee off his jacket, looked at Loretta with an amused smile.
“Don’t worry, Mrs. Bebe. I’ve seen enough to know there’s more to Honey Springs than an overenthusiastic dog and an accidental latte shower. I’m looking forward to discovering all the charms this town has to offer.”
Loretta let out a relieved sigh, her posture relaxing slightly, though her eyes still held a hint of worry.
“Thank you, Mr. Harper. You’ll see, Honey Springs is a gem of a place. Just wait until you’ve had a taste of our Southern hospitality – minus the spills, of course.” Her attempt to lighten the mood brought a few chuckles from the other customers, easing the tension in the air. “Why don’t we come back when it’s not so…,” she searched for a word, “chaotic.”
He smiled and agreed as she slipped her hand in the crock of his arm but not without giving me a quick nod– a silent message that all was not lost with our visiting journalist.
Despite the rocky start, there was still hope that Honey Springs would charm Ethan Harper, just as it had charmed so many others.