It was ten in the morning and she was not halfway across the world, chilling under some palm tree and sipping on a margarita. She was in the elevator that led to her office. Ruby and Duke had been dropped off at school in record time, she had just come from a meeting with Imade Harrison, and she was congratulating herself for making it through the past eleven days without blowing somebody’s brains off.
Was she exhausted? Yes. Stressed? More than she would admit. Frustrated at Andre over the way he had ignored her since the day she lied to him? Of course!
She had apologized and he had responded in that cocky smile of his, telling her that he wasn’t mad that she had lied to him.
Pretty little liar, he had called her, and she unleashed hell on him. She raved and ranted and after she was done expending her anger, he gave her a kiss, got into his riding gear and disappeared.
He hadn’t responded to her calls since then. She had apologized via Whatsapp and even sent over a bottle of his favorite wine to his office. He was yet to reply.
Andre was difficult, sometimes even more than she was. And it was probably the reason why she was crazy about him. Men fell easily at her feet and did her bidding. But Andre was challenging. One minute he was all over her; the next, he acted like she didn’t exist. She was badly in need of some alone time with him to have a clearer definition of what he meant by an open relationship. If he was going to play games with her, she was willing to walk out on him a second time. She had recovered from the foolishness and desperation she displayed when she lied to him, and now that she had accepted that her fate was temporarily tied to the Ebute kids, she was back on her feet and brandishing her ego again.
The elevator doors parted. She stepped into the lobby, expecting to be greeted with the smiling, sometimes apprehensive face of Kudirat, the front desk girl, but it was the presence of an older woman that met her.
“Good morning, ma,” the woman greeted.
“Good morning,” Toni responded.
“How may I help you, ma?”
Toni’s brows went up. “How may you help me?”
“Yes. Who are you here to see?”
“You seem to be new here.”
The woman smiled. “Yes, I am.”
“Good. So, let me introduce myself. I’m Antonia Braithwaite.”
“Okay.” The woman looked at her blankly.
“Head of PR.”
“Oh.” Some form of embarrassment filled her face. “I’m sorry, ma.” She rose up.
“Sit down, please. It’s fine.”
Toni began towards her office.
“Excuse me, ma!” the woman called. She stopped and gave her a side glance.
“You have been moved to the executive floor.”
“Yes. PR is upstairs now. This floor holds the accounts, creative and production departments. All the senior partners and their core teams, apart from Ms. Christie, are upstairs. Management is downstairs.”
Toni strolled back to her. “When did this happen?”
“Last week, ma. There have been major changes. People have been moving offices.”
And Toni, as if just aware of her environment, picked out the changes around her. The lobby looked more colorful and compact. There were less waiting chairs and more artwork. The entrance to what used to be her unit now boldly had Creative written on it.
Toni headed back into the elevator, putting her phone to her ear. She waited impatiently as Pascal’s phone rang.
“Good morning, Toni.” He came on in his usual peppiness.
“I just got in and discovered we are not on our floor.”
“You just got in? Shit! I mean, when you say in, do you mean your house in or the office in?”
“Tell me you’re not at work.”
“I’m em…I’m at work but… Where are you now?”
“Pas, what’s going on?”
“Nothing. Nothing. It’s just that after you asked me to cancel all your travel arrangements, you said you wouldn’t be coming to work for the next two weeks. But now you’re back after one week.”
“Well, I changed my mind. What’s going on?”
“I didn’t tell anyone that you didn’t travel. I lied to all of them as you asked me to. But I didn’t know you’d be here…”
“Pascal, that’s not what I’m asking you.” The elevator door opened to another floor. “Forget it. Raji will explain everything.”
She hung up and stepped out to a classier lobby that was all glassy, more corporate-looking and had a color scheme of blue and dashes of orange. Toni was greeted by another front desk lady she didn’t recognize but who knew her and gladly pointed her in the direction of her office.
“But it’s still under construction. The architects are not done.”
“Okay. Where’s Mr. Asepita?”
“In a board meeting.”
“And where’s that holding?” Toni looked around. The sudden eruption of a combo of hammering and drilling sounds threatened to trigger a headache she had borne all weekend.
“It’s Boardroom Two,” the lady pointed. “But you’re not supposed to be in the meeting.”
Toni stared down at her dauntingly.
“I’m sorry, ma,” she muttered. Toni began towards the aforementioned boardroom. Just as she was about to get in, Pascal burst into the scene.
“Good morning, Toni,” he panted. “You’re really here.”
“Stop acting weird, young man. What’s with the changes around here?”
Pascal shrugged, still panting. “But don’t you like our new executive space?”
“I’ll like it when you tell me what is going on.”
“Okay. I’ll advise that you don’t enter there.”
“You’re not supposed to be there. You’re supposed to be somewhere in the Caribbean. Remember?”
Toni reached out and clasped his nose with her fingers.
“Ouch. Okay, just go in. But promise me to stay calm.”
She let him free.
“Promise me, Ms. Toni. Please.”
“Go away, Pascal.”
Toni patted her hair into place and walked into the boardroom. Heads turned at her unannounced entrance. She put a halt to her movement as her eyes gave the occupants of the room a quick scan and came to rest on the shocking presence of Andre who was seated beside Raji at the head of the table. She squinted at him. He returned her stare. She then shifted her eyes to Christie who was a relieving sight with her baby cradled in her arms.
“Antonia?” Raji called, a little baffled, a little guilty. “What a surprise. I thought you were supposed to be halfway across the world by now.”
“I canceled. I have a lot of clients to handle. A vacation is not for me right now. A week away did me some good, though.”
“Well, we’re glad you’re here. Come on, have my seat.”
“No, it’s fine…”
But Raji was already up. A couple of junior partners offered their seats but he declined. Toni took his place. She threw a warm smile at Christie and turned a cold stare on Andre who winked back in a subtle, slow blink as Raji launched into a speech.
“So, we have just welcomed our newest senior partner who will be taking over the marketing wing, which has become almost as huge as the entire agency. It was his professional advice in the first place that had us investing big and expanding to the branding and marketing sector. Andre Fabrice Kouassi is himself a tested brand and marketing expert, and I believe that his presence as a senior partner in Covet would take us farther than we already are.”
Toni was astonished. All that Raji had just said was news to her. Neither her partners nor Andre himself hinted that a deal with him was in the works. She felt grassed on but revealed nothing in her expression.
“Glad to have you on the team, Andre. Seems like we’ll be working closely together.”
“You will.” Raji smiled, holding some mischief in his eyes. “In fact, your offices share a mutual wall.”
Toni let out her annoyance in a smile. “I’m sure it’ll be fun.’
“I know it will,” Andre stated.
“Moving on to other issues!” Raji said. “We haven’t got all day.”
Toni leaned forward on the table, resting her elbows on it. She remained that way, nursing her annoyance, refusing to look at Andre, not even when his hand began to caress her thigh discreetly.
The meeting didn’t take long. It came to a close in half an hour. The board members cleared the room, leaving Toni, Raji, Christie and Andre behind.
“Andre, please could you give us a moment?” Christie requested.
He rose up and left the office.
“Are you out of your minds?” Toni said through clenched teeth, standing to her feet.
“Calm down, Toni,” Christie replied.
“Before we go on, lovely outfit, Christie,” Toni mentioned. Raji laughed. “Makeup on point. Hair on fleek. You’re looking awesome, but didn’t you just push out that little bugger from your vagina the other day? Why are you here? You ought to be resting.”
“I’m not coming in every day,” Christie replied. “Twice in a week. Just to keep up with my team. Ads are passing us by to other agencies.”
“You’re right. Back to my question. Are you out of your minds? My boyfriend? You make him partner behind my back?”
“He didn’t want us to tell you,” Raji explained.
“When did he start calling the shots around here? We are partners. We do this shit together, Asepita.”
“But you told me you trusted my judgment and you weren’t interested in knowing the person I picked.”
“I didn’t know it was the man I was sleeping with!”
“If I had told you, would you have let me go ahead?”
“And that’s because I don’t mix business with pleasure.”
“This is not just about you, Toni. It’s about the agency and what we stand to gain from Andre’s presence here. He is good at what he does.”
“We had other people just as qualified for the job.”
“But not as good as Kouassi.”
“And not as pricey too. I know he bought shares to become partner, but how much did he negotiate to be paid for his awesome work here?”
Raji and Christie gave no answer.
“Let me guess; more than all of us are being paid.”
“He is bringing in the money, Toni.”
“And he will. There’s no doubt about that. He’s freaking good at what he does. But here’s what you don’t know about Andre Kouassi. He is not just a brand specialist and a marketer. He’s an investor. He won’t sink his money, time and resources into a company if he has no desire of owning it all. This was who he was before he lost everything he had in the past. The old itch to possess and dominate has returned. I personally nursed that demon back to life, but I have no desire of letting it consume what is mine.”
“It will never come to that. He doesn’t want to own this place.”
“Really, Raji? Wasn’t it the same Andre who advised us to go public? Wasn’t it also he who told you to buy up a flourishing marketing company to expand the reach of Covet?”
“And I did, and look at where we are today.”
“No, look at where Andre is. You handed over the entire marketing to him, which is almost as huge as Covet itself. Don’t you see what I’m talking about?”
Neither Raji nor Christie spoke.
“Two of you, together with Jumo, will find a way to undo this.”
“We won’t, Toni,” Christie said firmly. “Andre, despite all you have said, is an asset to Covet and we will keep him because he will help us grow. If we let some other agency out there poach him, they will use him to bring us down.”
“I agree to everything Christie said, Toni. You just have to adjust.”
“Adjust? You put his office next to mine.”
“Let me guess again; he requested that you have us sharing a wall.”
“No,” Raji replied. “But if you want us to move you…”
“You don’t understand, Raji. This is not about moving offices or bumping into each other in the coffee room. It’s more than that.”
“Toni, you just have to learn to live with it,” Christie said.
“Not like I have a choice, do I?” Her smile was sad.
“Toni, come on…” Raji pleaded.
“As I said, it’s more than that. It’s personal too. The whole arrangement just ruined my relationship with him. Thank you.”
“See you guys.”
She made her exit. Pascal was waiting outside.
“Schedule my day, Pascal. Relieve Imodumeh of some of the responsibilities dumped on his lap.”
“Where’s Kouassi’s office?”
“Right beside yours. But don’t worry, you got the corner office.”
Toni began a brisk walk down an aisle that was bordered by offices, most of them glass-walled. She came to the end of the aisle and stopped at a door with Andre’s name on it. The source of all the drilling and hammering on the floor was from her office. She took a peep in and returned to Andre’s door which suddenly opened from within.
Andre was standing before her, brows brought together to stare down at her. She pushed the door and strolled in.
“You lied to me,” she accused.
He shut the door. She spun to face him.
“When I asked you what company you bought into, you didn’t tell me it was Covet.”
“That was because the couple of times I mentioned in the past that I had desires of buying into Covet, you kicked against it. You told me that you didn’t want me anywhere near your business.”
“Yet, here you are, Fabrice. All up in my shit.”
Andre smiled. “You don’t want me here, ma chatte?”
“No, Andre, because you want to take over everything my friends and I have sweated for over the years.”
“Is that how you see me?”
“I know you, Andre. This is why you’re here, why you bought major shares in Covet.”
“Admit it, Andre.”
He put a hand in his pocket and rested a foot on the door. “I’m not admitting anything to you.”
“You’re not the type of man who sits in one office and handles one department of an establishment. You are the type of man that owns the entire establishment.”
Andre smiled again. “Life dealt me a huge blow, Antonia, and taught me some hard lessons, one of them being that family and the woman you love are more important than amassing wealth. Toni, Covet is your work, your sweat, your blood. I will not take it from you. But that doesn’t mean I will not plan to own the largest stakes around here. That would be totally dependent on the turnover I bring to the agency. It’s all signed up in the deal I made with your friends. So, yeah, you have every right to distrust me now that I’m all up in your shit.”
He had a taunting look on his face that Toni wanted so badly to slap off, but she maintained her composure.
“The question here is, does it affect our relationship?” he asked.
“The relationship you made open?”
“Because you lied to me.”
“And you didn’t lie to me for months over what you were planning to do here in Covet? Andre, you’re a hypocrite. You were angry at me when I told you I couldn’t be in your life because of your son. But the moment you found out that Mark Ebute’s kids were my responsibility, you withdrew from the relationship.”
“You want me fathering another man’s children? A man that still has an untouched place in your heart even after his death?”
“You didn’t let me explain how it all came to be.”
“I am not interested, Arinola. I will not be responsible for that man’s children. Simple!”
“So you’re saying…?”
“I love you, Tone. You know that. I want to be with you, but not like this.”
“You’re just selfish.”
“Says the woman who doesn’t want my son.”
“I changed, Andre. I saw the wrong in what I did.”
“I changed too, when I realized I was asking too much of you.”
“And now, I’m the one asking too much?”
“I’m sorry, Tone.” He sighed, pushing out his cheeks. “Right now, we want different things in life. I want a wife and a mother for my son. I want to settle down again. If you want to be that woman, you’re welcome. Only if you’ll come without baggage from your past.”
“Those kids are not baggage, Andre. Their father died. Their mother abandoned them. It’s not their fault…”
“And they’re not going to be my responsibility, Arina. I already have my hands full.”
Toni bit her lip. “So you’re saying it’s over?” she asked, trying hard to still the tremble in her voice.
“I’m saying I’m still here, if you want to take my offer. I’m also available if you need a friend to talk to or for the occasional booty call and…”
“Fuck you, Andre Kouassi,” Toni spat out, tears in her eyes. She went to him, lifted her skirt, pulled out her thong and shoved it into his mouth.
“That’s the most of my booty you will ever get.”
Andre left the thong in his mouth but stepped aside and opened the door to let her through.
He never picked sides in a fight, especially when it involved two females. Females that were dear to him. He had learned, while growing up as the only son, surrounded by sisters, that it always ended badly when he chose one warring party over the other. The only woman he always stood for and defended, even when she was wrong, was Christie. But today, it wasn’t her pulling hairs with someone else. It was the two women he worked with. Savanna and Comfort.
Savanna had returned to the country two nights ago with her newly found bitchiness. The mess with her ex had robbed Folarin of a good friend and business partner. Being around her these days was like walking in a field of landmines. She had lost weight too, now slimmer than when they last saw. At this rate, Folarin feared that she would look sickly in no time. It bothered him. He had done everything to bring her back to cheer, but it seemed like the more he tried, the more her pain ate at her.
Today, she had showed up, waltzed into his office and announced to him that she was going to fire Comfort over the way she dressed.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea.”
“Larin, she came to work looking like a slut. Short dress, cleavage everywhere, red lips…”
“And so, you want to fire her?”
“This is an office, Larin. Not a sidechicks’ bar. I can’t have that bitch dressing that way and stealing our clients from their wives.”
“What has gone wrong with you, Savvy?” Folarin asked.
“Larin, Comfort and I have had a few fights over the way she dresses around here, but you always take her side. Every darn time. So, today, I will show her who’s boss when I show her the door.”
“Savanna, whatever is going on with you should not affect what goes on around here. Comfort has got nothing to do with what happened to you. You have no right to take it out on her.”
“Well, try and stop me.”
She made her exit and a couple of minutes later, he could hear her scolding Comfort. Her Bronx accent, tainted with a slight Puerto Rican inflection made her assault more painful to listen to. But Folarin endured it until she threw in an insulting word that brought out a quick retort from Comfort. What followed was an exchange of invectives from both ladies. Folarin was forced out of his office to Comfort’s where the drama was going on.
“Enough!” he bellowed, bringing the fight to an end. “What’s wrong with two of you?! This is a workplace, for God’s sake!”
Comfort burst into tears, covering her face. Folarin gave Savanna a reproving stare that was insolently ignored.
“Comfort, this is your last day here,” she stated. “You’re fired.”
Comfort dropped her hands. “Wh-what?”
Savanna marched out of the office.
“She fired me?”
“Calm down, Commie.”
“What did I do to her? Why does she hate me so much? She called me home wrecker.”
“And you called her names too, Commie. Homophobic names. She is your boss. You disrespected her.”
“But she started it. She just came in and started shouting on me, asking me what my aim was for dressing slutty. Is this slutty, Folarin?”
“No, Commie. Maybe, a little too much cleavage for a workplace… I’ll speak with Savvy. What you should do now is go home and rest. You’ve been working all through the weekend. The last thing you need is to stress yourself. Go home and chill and come back tomorrow.”
“But she fired me.”
“Trust me, she didn’t mean it. I hired you and I alone get to say when you leave here. So, go home and relax.”
Comfort nodded, but fell into tears again. Folarin reached over and delivered a hug. “Go home, Commie. I’ll drop by later.”
He left her office and burst into Savanna’s. Her chair was facing the window, her back to the door.
“You were out of line, Savvy. Comfort didn’t deserve what you did to her. She works twice as hard as we both do. She has proven her worth here and she’s going nowhere.”
Savanna spun her chair around. “You want to fuck her too?”
“Like your friend, Raji, you want to fuck her.”
“Savvy, what is wrong with you?!”
Savanna shook her head as if coming out of a stupor. “That’s how I feel these days. I’ve been doing a lot of sleeping around to fill in the emptiness. I just can’t heal,” she whispered in tears, smiling at the same time. “I also discovered the joys of the phallus,” she added with a laugh.
Folarin raised concerned eyebrows at her. “Savvy…” he exhaled.
“It started with some guy I met at some club and from then, I haven’t looked back.”
“Savvy, you’re on self-destruct. You’re hurting yourself.”
“It’s a lot better than keeping one partner and she cheats on you. I know you understand.”
“I do, but…sleeping with someone else doesn’t make you feel better.”
“You’re just saying that. If you were given the chance to get even, you’d take it,” Savanna replied.
But Folarin was. Savanna was right about him. He wanted Comfort. He wanted Khanyi. He even wanted Savanna, and the numerous females he saw on the daily. Even the ones that walked or drove past him. These days women heard his name and threw themselves at him. They were all over his Twitter and Instagram DM and Facebook inbox. They wanted him. He wanted them back – but not for the pleasure of it. He needed just one night with someone else. It was the only way he knew he could heal from Christie’s betrayal.
But his reason didn’t make sense to him. However, Khanyi, whom he had been having therapy sessions with, understood his problem.
“You forgave Christie too quickly and easily, not allowing yourself go through the motions. You wanted to be swiftly done with the pain and embarrassment of it. And the truth was that, despite all that happened, your relationship with her and the way you loved her was more important than anything. You saw that there had been something deep between her and Raji. The man was willing to leave his wife to be with her. You were scared of losing her, so you had to forgive her fast and move on, in spite of how you were dying inside. You weren’t as wealthy and influential as he was. All you had over him was your marriage to her, so you saved it with forgiveness. But time passed and the tables turned around for you. You got the money and the attention, and you began to realize that you were cheated on, that she hurt you shamelessly, that she didn’t pick a stranger to have mindless sex with. She picked your closest friend, who was also her closest friend, and they had something deep for months. You remembered the videos, the many different ways he slept with her. The images couldn’t leave your head. You began to hurt again. You began to feel angry over the way you easily forgave her. She should have suffered. She should have felt pain. The kind of pain you felt.
“Now, here you are, hurting yourself, hurting her all over again. And you’re unable to move past this, because you’re finding it hard to forgive her the second time. And the truth is that you may never be able to do so until you also cross the line. That way it would be even for both of you. That way you can judge yourself too, because, as much as you can’t get past what she did, you still love her, you still want to be with her; but my fear, Folarin is… what if you cross the line and never come back? What if you what you so badly want to do and realize there’s no way back?”
“Nice analysis, Khanyi. Can we now talk about the crush you have for me?”
His words had met her in a wrong place, but she kept a professional deportment. “Folarin, you’re deflecting. It doesn’t matter what I once felt for you. Your marriage and emotions are why you’re here right now. You need to handle them and not give into that voice that’s telling you to do that thing you badly want to do.”
He had laughed off Khanyi’s words, choosing denial over truth. But here was Savanna repeating the same thing to him, coming from a place they both had been.
“I know that sleeping with someone else doesn’t make me feel better but I know you understand where I’m coming from. I know you want to feel wanted again.”
“Savvy, I can’t stop you, but please, use protection.”
“I’m not that stupid, Larin.”
“And no more fights with Comfort. By the way, she stays.”
“As long as she dresses properly and doesn’t get in my way.”
“I’ll make sure of that.”
Folarin strode to the door.
“I bought some things for Vanessa and Tami. I’ll swing by the house later.”
Folarin held the door handle. “Christie and I are separated, Savvy.”
“Oh my God.” Savanna sat straight. “What happened?”
“It’s for the best, I guess. I don’t want to talk about it, please.”
He hurried out. Comfort, just leaving her office, bumped into him. He noticed she was still sobbing.
“Do you want me to walk you home?”
“I’m fine, Folarin. Don’t worry about me.”
He watched her dash out and then retreated to his office.
Christie found herself smiling as she sat staring into a painting of a waterfall while breastfeeding Tamilore in the coffee room. She hadn’t smiled that much in a while. The brief brainstorming session she just had with her team left her feeling in control again. It had been therapeutic, and she felt like she was going to do more than pop in twice a week. Folarin didn’t know she was back. She knew he was going to disapprove if he found out.
She missed him. And it wasn’t just the recent version of him she missed. She wanted back the man she fell in love with and the happy days when their love was young and free of complications.
She recalled a certain morning, thirteen years ago. It was the morning of her birthday and Folarin had just stirred from a long night of slumber, batting his eyelashes to focus on Christie who was straddling him. Her soft, natural locks that spread from their roots down to her shoulders had droplets of water in them that left tiny globules on his bare chest.
“Did you just shower?” he asked. She nodded, releasing more water droplets on him. She was clothed in a transparent t-shirt that had Parental Advisory scrawled across its chest area.
“Happy birthday, Chris.” He cupped her bum, pressing her into him. She let down for a kiss.
“Is it me or your morning breath is always fresh?” she asked, inhaling after the kiss.
“It’s you. You’re falling for me,” he responded.
“Falling for you?” She snorted. “Stop deceiving yourself.”
“Christie, you will marry me and have my kids and we’ll live happily ever after.”
“Shut up.” She blessed him with another kiss, more sensuous than the previous.
They had just stepped out of a two-year friendship into a sexually-intimate relationship. Folarin wasn’t hiding the fact that what he felt for her was something deep. Christie, on her side, held back on her feelings. She told him she had a foot outside, waiting to leave if he misbehaved. Yet she spent most weekends with him and would use the bulk of the time, if they weren’t having sex, cooking and doing his laundry. She was the perfect wife material. Her traditional views on relationship and marriage, deeply-rooted in her strong conservative upbringing, made it easy for him to fall for her. But it wasn’t principally what attracted Folarin to Christie. He told her he was in love with her natural beauty, her lightheartedness, her gentle nature and highly creative mind. He was also crazy about her seven-year old son, Cyrus Junior, whom he had already developed strong ties with. It was for these reasons and something more intense that he couldn’t explain that Folarin wanted Christie to be his wife.
However, the margin in status was an issue in their relationship. Christie often found herself adjusting her lifestyle to fit into Folarin’s. At that time, he was a smalltime columnist working with The Vanguard, earning just enough to foot his bills, but he liked to pretend the differences in their lifestyles did not exist. He surprised her with the occasional gift and dinner date, and for this birthday, she was expecting him to do both. But he surprised her when he pulled out a ring from beneath his pillow and asked her to be his wife.
“It’s not a diamond ring. I can’t afford that, but someday, I will. Until then, will you be my wife, Christina?”
She went mute. Her eyes glistened. Her hair suddenly became a disturbance. She pulled it together and dragged it to one side of her neck.
“Folarin, marriage is a serious thing. I don’t want to get into it only to get out at some point. I want to be all in.”
“And who told you I want less? I love you, Chris, and I love Cyrus Junior. I want to be his father and also the father to the kids we’ll have soon. I know I’m not as rich as the guys you hang with, but I know that no one will love you like I do.”
“I haven’t started living my dreams yet.”
“Live them with me, Christie. Let’s grow together. You’re the most magical, or maybe the only magical thing that has happened to me. I don’t want to lose you to someone else. Please, say yes.”
That day, she knew she wasn’t ready to be his wife. She was only twenty-three and was nursing this crazy idea of owning an advertising agency. She knew she could be the best at what she did. She was ready to take on the world. Being a wife was not what she had wanted then, but letting Folarin go was not an option. He was a gem. Men like him were had to come by. He was the type of partner that was fuel to one’s dreams, the type that would have tears in their eyes when you take off but cheer as you ascend. She needed him in her life.
Thus, she said yes, taking the cut-rate ring and slipping it on her middle finger. She never took it off, not even when it began to fade. She was not ashamed of him. She wore that ring for a year before walking down the aisle with him in a quiet ceremony attended only by friends and family because it was all he could afford.
“Do you think we’ll lose what we have?” she asked him on their wedding night.
“Never, Christie. I’ll never leave you.”
In his eyes she saw cast-iron certainty. If they lived in the medieval ages, he would be the type of knight that would fall on his sword if he failed in protecting his king. He was that faithful. It broke Christie that she hadn’t been that devoted to their love through the years. Raji was just an upshot of what her half-heartedness had done to their marriage.
She wanted the old days back. She feared that the Folarin she knew was no longer there.
Christie looked up from staring at the waterfall painting to cast her eyes on Raji who had just walked in.
“I was telling you that Tamilore is asleep,” he mentioned.
Christie suddenly felt bare. She looked down and saw that Tamilore’s lips had left her nipple, exposing it. She pulled her bra over her breast and let down her blouse as Raji walked to the fridge to retrieve his lunch.
“Can we talk like old friends?” he asked.
Christie held Tamilore in a more comfortable manner. “Let’s talk about daycare first,” she replied. “When is it going to be completed?”
“In about ten days or so.”
Raji took a chair and sat before one of the six tables in the lounge. He opened his lunch pack which was a chicken salad.
“So why are you back to work so early?”
“I already told you. Creative needs me.”
“Creative is doing fine. Yes, the boost your presence gives is invaluable, but your guys have been pulling their weight around here. And you know this. Why are you really here, Christie?”
She didn’t think it was wise to reveal that her marriage was going through a difficult time, but if Raji was still the man she knew, she suspected he already guessed what was happening.
“Things never got back to normal for you and Folarin after the affair, did they?”
“They did, but… We shouldn’t be talking about this, Raji.”
Raji looked up from his meal. “You’re still my friend, and I still care. You know you can always talk to me.”
“Not about my marriage, Raji.”
He continued eating. “I’m sorry for overstepping.”
“But if he’s treating you harshly because of what happened…”
“It would still be none of your business, Raji.
Toni walked in. “Hi Raji, Christie,” she greeted. Christie gave a smile. “So, about earlier… I’m sorry for lashing out on you guys.”
“It’s fine,” Christie responded. “We owe you an apology. Going behind your back was uncool.”
“But it had to be done. I understand.”
“Did you speak with him about it?” Raji inquired.
“We broke up again.”
“Andre and I are two stubborn, egotistic, complex people who are madly in love with each other. Our relationship will keep falling in and falling out until we’re both ready to take the plunge. Or until we realize that we’re not meant for each other.”
“Are you ready to take that risk?” Christie asked.
Toni gave her head a shake. “No, Chrissy. I’m terrified. I don’t want to lose him.”
Christie rubbed her hand.
“Has it got something to do with you now taking care of Mark’s kids?” Raji asked, reaching for his bottle of water.
“How did you know?”
“It’s the advertising world, Toni. Word gets around fast.”
“You’re taking care of Mark’s kids?”
“Yes, Christie,” Toni answered with a sigh. “The asshole died and named me legal guardian to his children. Nkechi has disappeared to God-knows-where and I’m left with them. I’m losing my mind, guys. And it’s affecting what I have with Andre. And this is why I’m actually here. I need your help finding that Nkechi person.”
“If we find Izu, we can find her,” Christie stated.
“But no one knows where Izu is. How is his wife taking it?”
“Berna is a strange woman. She spends her days fasting and praying for him to come home and for Nkechi to die by some means.”
“I’m sorry but she’s dumb,” Toni commented.
“Miracles still happen.”
Raji stood. “Not with a community penis, Christie. I was once there, and my dick was not even cocking around like Izu’s. Salma did everything to keep me faithful but she was wasting her time. Divorcing my cheating ass was the best thing to happen to her.”
“Well, your story is not everyone’s story, Raji,” Christie countered. “Let’s not belittle Berna’s efforts. She’s a strong woman to take Izu’s crap and still love him despite everything.”
“That’s depressing, actually.” Toni went for the coffeemaker.
“We’ll do everything to find Nkechi,” Raji assured as he walked to the bin to dump his half-consumed salad. “Have a great day, ladies.”
Toni poured herself a cup of coffee and sat facing Christie after Raji left. “How’s pseudo-spinsterhood treating you?”
“Horribly, Toni. I miss him. He hasn’t come to see me since the day I moved in.”
“He’ll come round. Folarin loves you too much to screw up what you two have.”
“I strongly believe that, but I’m scared, Toni. I’m really scared. Something doesn’t feel right.”
“Don’t be scared. Everything will be fine.” Toni tapped her hand as she reached over for some milk and sugar. Christie smiled, but the tremors in her tummy that had just begun stirring felt like they had come to stay.
The setting sun was cast over Folarin’s windshield. He didn’t bother to guard his face from its assault as he brought his car to a halt outside Comfort’s apartment. When he emerged from it, he discovered that he had forgotten his laptop in his office. He hissed, but locked the car and proceeded to Comfort’s door.
He found it open. There was a collection of shoes and bathroom slippers scattered on the doormat. Comfort was not the most organized person, but he had come to understand that there was always a pattern to her chaos, and somehow that part of her had never affected the quality of the jobs she did for him.
“Commie?” he called, but got no response. He stepped out of his shoes and ventured into the house. Just as he got in, Comfort emerged from her bedroom in the nude, head bopping to music she was listening to on her earphones connected to her phone which she was holding. She didn’t notice Folarin at first, until she lowered to pick a dustpan from the floor. She rose up to meet his stare just as her phone fell to the floor.
“I brought wine and chocolate and the manuscript you so badly want to have a peep at,” he said as if his eyes weren’t being assaulted by the tantalizing offer of her swollen breasts and the clean shave of the V between her legs. “But I left my laptop in the office. I’ll dash back and hope that, by the time I return, you’ll be dressed.”
Comfort nodded, making no attempt to cover her nudity. She stretched out her hands to take the bottle of wine and box of chocolates he had come with. He then left the house and got into his car. He tried not to think of what he just saw as he fired up the car and had it trundling down the street in the direction of his office. When he arrived there, he met Savanna hunched over her laptop, just as he had left her. A pack of untouched pizza lay open on her table. He walked past her office and into his to get his laptop. A photo of Christie on his table brought a halt to his actions. He paused for a bit and then pushed the frame down as he rushed out with his laptop. When he returned to Comfort’s place, the living room and entrance were shipshape. A mild, smoky fragrance that can only be gotten from incense permeated the house.
Comfort stepped out of her bedroom in a more decent presentation, but not enough to erase Folarin’s last view of her. The dress she was donning didn’t hide the fact that she wasn’t wearing a bra. It also didn’t do much to cover her thighs.
“I’m sorry about earlier,” she told him.
“I’m not thinking about that, Commie. I came as promised. And I brought that manuscript along.”
Her eyes lit up in excitement. Folarin had in his possession a manuscript, ghost-written by him, for a client who was once a mistress to some of the richest and influential men in Abuja. She was letting out juicy secrets of their sex lives and tidbits of political drama she had partaken in. Folarin had guarded the manuscript with his life, refusing to share it with Comfort who had begged countless times to have a glimpse.
“Savvy so badly wants this,” he told her, thrusting out a flashdrive to her. “She has some mad hacking skills and that’s why I don’t have it on a cloud online. You’re the editor I’m assigning to it.”
“Thank you so much, boss. Yay! I’m excited. Sit, Folarin.”
He took the couch she offered.
“So, how spicy is it?” she asked.
“If you like fat-bellied men erotica…”
“It’ll surprise you what turns me on,” she said with a rascally smile. He responded with a blank face. “As long as it’s you who wrote it, I know the erotica won’t tank.”
At that, he smiled quietly. He had an alias that ran a romance and erotica blog which Comfort recently discovered. They hadn’t spoken about what he wrote there. It comprised of a series of short stories chronicling his love and sex life with Christie. It had the quiet sort of mad following that erotica blogs were known for. People hardly commented or shared links, yet they came in their droves to read his stories. He hadn’t expected such following. In fact, he had started the blog just after he discovered Christie was cheating on him. The aim was to preserve the memories of the happier times in his life with her. How Comfort discovered he was behind it was a mystery to him.
“So, chocolate or wine first?” she asked.
She dashed to the kitchen and returned with two wine glasses while Folarin uncorked the bottle. He filled the glasses. She handed one to him.
“To what do we toast?” she asked.
“Why must we toast to something?”
“Isn’t that how it’s done?”
He laughed. “Just sit down and sip your wine, jare. Let’s talk about the ending of this book. I’m having a bit of a problem with the last chapter. I need a muse.”
Comfort sensuously settled into the space beside him. “I’m all the muse you need, Folarin,” she said, tucking her dress between her thighs as she thrust forward. “Start from the beginning. Tell me all about it.”
Folarin took a long gulp of his wine. The lust in her eyes was not hard to miss. He was sure it mirrored his.
A week ago, she was not on his list of desirable women. Today, he needed her. If she was Khanyi or Savanna or any other female sitting right where she sat, it wouldn’t have mattered. He would lust after her still. But there was something perverse about going after Raji’s baby mama. It gave him pleasure, the type his burning conscience was too weak to condemn.
As he sat sipping wine with her and talking about the manuscript, Khanyi’s warning was tossed away. He would cross the line. He was ready for whatever awaited him after the deed was done.