Comfort took everything in. The hurtful words. The blame. The anger. She let it all fall on her without throwing a retort. She knew she deserved it. She blamed herself, even more than he did.
“You’re irresponsible!” Raji stated. “Do you even know what a child lock is there for?!”
Comfort sank deeper into her self-condemnation. She should have fixed the child lock when it started misbehaving. The thing had developed a habit of switching on and off and locking her in the car whenever it chose to. But she had been too busy to fix it. And then later on, she had felt it wasn’t necessary to do so since Raheem was away at Salma’s for an extended period. She had planned to fix it the moment he got back. Nevertheless, she felt it was no excuse for her error. A good mother always foresaw danger and prepared for it.
You’re a bad mother. The words resonated in her head, adding to the pain that Raji’s scolding gave her. It was a good thing that they were in a private ward of a hospital a few blocks away from Salma’s home. It was also a good thing that the nurse who was caring for Raheem had stepped out. Comfort was already doubly embarrassed. She didn’t need the presence of another judgmental person. Strangers at the accident scene had already done a fine job of making her feel horrible.
The door to the anteroom of the ward opened and Folarin walked in. His presence brought relief to Comfort. It had been his number she had dialed first after the minor accident occurred. She hadn’t been able to think clearly when she ran out of her car and saw Raheem lying unconscious on the ground. He was merely an inch away from the front tire. She had frozen up at the sight, and when asked by some Good Samaritan who had taken charge of the situation whom she wanted to call, it was Folarin that first came to mind.
“Commie?” He barged in with worry on his face. “How far? Where’s he? How’s he doing?”
Raji paused on his rant and looked at his former friend.
“Hey man,” Folarin greeted. “Is he okay?”
“Yeah,” Raji responded. “He’s sedated. Just a few scratches and a concussion. But it could have been worse.”
“What actually happened?”
“Our madam here didn’t turn on the child lock and Raheem opened the door and ran into an oncoming car.”
“He was knocked down but the impact was low because the lady had already stepped on the brakes.” Raji shook his head. “Imagine if she hadn’t.”
“Commie, is the child lock bad?” Folarin asked. Fresh tears filled Comfort’s eyes again.
“That’s all she’s been doing. Crying! As if that helps anything. The boy was with Salma this whole time and he didn’t have as much as a scratch. You get him for two seconds and he is nearly run over. You’re his mother, Commie. If you can’t even do that well, what then can you do?”
Folarin furnished Raji with a frown. “This is unnecessary right now.”
“She fucked up.”
Salma came in. A tired face broke into a smile at the sight of Folarin.
“Hi.” They shared a hug. “How are you?”
“Exhausted,” Salma responded. “Comfort, I’ve made the deposit for the bill,” she announced. “We’ll be leaving. It’s already late. Are you going to be fine?”
Head lowered, Comfort could only nod.
“You were there when it happened?” Folarin asked Salma.
“I was o. I was driving out just as they were about taking him to the hospital. Immediately I saw the blood on him and noticed that he was not moving… Ha! My spirit left my body. I was just there, shaking. I called Raji and couldn’t even speak. But we thank God he’s fine. Inshallah, he’ll be out of here tomorrow. They just want to observe him a little.”
“That’s good to hear.”
Salma rested a hand on Comfort’s shoulder. “Stop crying and blaming yourself. He was just being a kid. It’s not your fault.”
Comfort was still unable to speak. Salma offered a brief shoulder rub before leaving.
Raji gave Comfort his attention again. “When this is over, you’ll get your lawyer and I’ll get mine and we’ll sort out custody issues,” Raji stated. Comfort looked up at him. “I can’t keep looking over my shoulder when my son is in your care. If you’re not ready to be a mother, then let me know. I’ve had enough.”
He marched out.
“What was that about?” Folarin asked as he took the chair beside Comfort’s.
“He thinks there’s something going on between us. He’s been angry since that day you were at mine and he saw you. Last month he delayed paying Raheem’s child support. When I called him to ask, he told me to tell the married man I was sleeping with to send the money to my account. He eventually paid it, though, but started giving me the third degree on why I allowed Raheem stay with Salma for so long. I told him that the boy wanted to, and he said that if I was tired of his son, I should let him know and he’ll hand him over to Salma.”
Folarin was silent for a few seconds, and then he rose up abruptly. “I’ll be right back.”
He hurried out, walking through a short hallway that held private wards on both sides. He came out to a large reception area and found Raji speaking to a nurse. He strode to them.
“Nurse, please excuse us.”
The nurse stepped away and Folarin faced Raji. “I’m not sleeping with her. And she’s not sleeping with anyone else either. Not that it should be your concern what she chooses to do with her body.”
“She’s the mother of my son…”
“It is not your concern, Raji.” Folarin’s voice was almost loud. Salma, who was on the phone nearby, turned in their direction.
“You, of all people, have no right to judge anyone. Comfort is a good mother. Her only mistake was falling for scum like you. It’s painful that she had to endure your nonsense all these years, but it’s stopping today. One more act of disrespect from you towards her and you’ll have me to face.”
“I’m only protecting what’s mine, Folarin. Comfort is unstable. You know that.”
“And whose fault is it? You sleep with her, abandon her and come back whenever you feel like because you think you own rights to her body. And you have the guts to judge her? Leave her alone, Raji.”
Folarin remained standing with his eyes burning into Raji’s, ensuring that his words went beneath the surface. Salma came by. She looked from one man to the other.
“Is everything okay?” she asked.
“Yeah,” Folarin replied and returned to Comfort. She was now seated beside Raheem’s bed. In her hand was a rosary. She pushed it beneath the pillow and looked at Folarin.
“I’m freaking out here,” she confessed. “I’m never used to this. All the painful years of numerous hospital visits don’t prepare you for a fresh one. When he was still suffering from SCD and he got into a crisis, I’d have a mini panic attack. Mini, because it could have been full blown if I didn’t have to be responsible for him. I couldn’t adapt. No matter how many times or how long we stayed during each hospital visit, I just couldn’t. When the transplant was done and he got cured, I was elated. It didn’t stop the visits but it was like finally, I can breathe. Yet, here we are again. I’m not used to this, Fola. Maybe Raji is right. Maybe I’m a bad mother and Salma can care for him better.”
“Stop saying that.”
“Did Salma try to sleep with you? Even after she found out what her husband was doing to your wife?”
“Commie, stop it. What happened between us is not enough to mark you off as bad. It was mutual, and I’m a dad too. Does it make me a bad father? No. We just had a bad night, making stupid decisions. Just one night. Not enough to throw us both away. You are not a terrible mother. And Salma isn’t better either. You’re both good mothers to your kids. And hey, I’ve seen you with hers. You’re awesome with them.”
“I was angry that Raheem didn’t want to come home with me. He wanted to be with her. He was calling her ‘mommy’ and she didn’t correct him. That was what was upsetting me that distracted me from putting an eye on Raheem. And yes, I should have fixed that child lock.”
“Stop it, Comfort. Raheem needs positive energy to get better. Be strong for him. And you don’t need to be jealous of Salma. She’s jealous of you too. Raheem is the only child of Raji who has an education fund actually financed by Raji himself.”
Comfort looked at him curiously.
“Salma and I are pretty close. We talk all the time. She had found out about Raheem’s account and got upset about it, so she called and asked me to advise her on how to handle it. I told her to confront him. She did and they had a fight and she decided to use some of her alimony to set up her children’s funds. She was so angry that she wouldn’t allow Raji contribute at first. So, when she had bragged to you about it, it was just to hurt you because she was jealous.”
“Wow. I didn’t know that.”
“Raji has always had a soft spot for Raheem. Still no reason for him to talk to you the way he was doing. The only way to make him stop is to keep doing your best to live without him. Face your work, take care of your son and be the best you can be. When he gets into his needy place and he comes to you for sex, send him back. Stop being his fix.”
“He always gives me more money and it traps me,” Comfort said shamefacedly.
“You have to show him you’re more than that. But first, show yourself that you’re more than that. Okay?”
“I’ll try. Thank you, Fola.”
“I have to go. Tife and I want to go see this play at the National Theater. Are you going to be okay?”
“I’ll come back tomorrow morning.”
Comfort got on her feet and accepted a hug from him. When she stepped back, she said, “It’s crazy how I was planning so badly to repeat that night we had and now, all I can think of is how stupid I had been.”
Folarin stared at Raheem and laughed silently. “Yes. You’re going in a certain direction and something happens that puts things in perspective for you.”
“Is that the case with you? Are you going back to Christie?”
He swung his head back at her. “I’m still out of perspective.”
She nodded in understanding.
It didn’t occur to Leticia that she had no reason for visiting Dapo until she was standing outside his door. She sought for some excuse she was going to give him for abandoning Ruby and Duke with Tochi and driving all the way. But then she had never really needed a reason to be with him before. If they hadn’t fought last night, this would have been a regular visit from a girlfriend to her boyfriend.
Regular, she repeated in her head. But her outfit said otherwise. Regular didn’t leave the house dressed in a mini skirt and an off-shoulder crop top. It was the type of thing Dapo liked. And she was there to give him what he liked. That was the honest reason. Any other thing she told herself asides that was a lie.
She turned the door handle and walked in. Her movement came to a halt. Dapo was not alone. He was in the company of four friends, bottles of beer, game control pads and a television showing an ongoing FIFA computer game. Leticia had heard some noise before she barged in, but it hadn’t really registered in her head that Dapo was entertaining visitors.
The guys froze at her intrusion. She offered a shy smile and a wave of her hand. “Hi.”
Like zombies, they all chorused in response with widened eyes ogling her. At last, she was meeting with the friends he had kept away from her, an act that both pleased and bothered her. She hadn’t been sure if he was protecting her from being a topic of discussion in their circle or if he was hiding a part of him he didn’t want her to know.
“Hey, babe.” He straightened up. “You didn’t tell me you were coming.”
She suddenly became aware of what she was wearing, but was smart enough not to make a fuss about it. As usual, she had missed putting on a bra.
“I was in the neighborhood. Thought I’d stop by to see how you’re doing after last night.”
“Great. I should be going.”
“No!” His friends chorused.
“Go keh!” one of them said. “We’ve been dying to meet you. And this ode has been hiding you from us.”
He slapped Dapo’s head and rose to his feet. “My name is Sope.”
He walked over to Leticia, extending a hand. She took it. He bowed and kissed it. He got teased by the others for his act.
“If you don’t mind…” He took her hand and led her to his friends. One after the other, he introduced them. “We’re happy to finally meet you, Leticia. We’ve been secretly stalking you on Instagram. DP didn’t want to tell us your handle but we found it.”
Leticia looked at Dapo. She now understood why he had wanted her to make her account private.
“Please, sit with us,” Sope offered.
“No, no. I’m fine. I really didn’t come to stay.”
“Sit down, babe.” Dapo took her hand, tugging her down to sit beside him. He passed over his control pad to Sope and gave Leticia his full attention.
“Are you still mad at me?” she asked.
“It was just a silly fight.”
“Mad at me now for popping in without calling first? I know you don’t want me to meet them.”
His eyes did a lustful sweep over her body. She loved the way he never got tired of looking at her like he had just met her. He leaned towards her and stole her lips. The guys didn’t seem to mind. But she was shy. Yet she kissed back and remained in the living room long enough to watch them play four more games.
When one of the other three friends announced that they were leaving, Dapo was happy to give them the boot.
“He owes us drinks tonight at some joint like this,” Sope said. “But we forgive him because of you, Leticia. Can I tell you how fine as fuck you are?”
“No.” Dapo scowled. “The fuck is wrong with you? Be going jor.”
“DP, na wa for you o!”
Amidst laughter, Leticia and Dapo walked the guys to the door. Once they were gone, Dapo pinned Leticia to the door and gave her a full mouth service.
“So now that I’ve met your friends, DP, have I died?” she asked.
“Then what was the big deal?”
Dapo scratched his head. “My life is in compartments. You already know that. I don’t let the compartments mix.”
Leticia grabbed a fistful of his t-shirt and drew him closer. “I am not a compartment.”
“Okay, so…you’re in an age group that is slightly older than mine. My mates, they don’t know what morals are. Everything goes. Even friends’ girlfriends. I don’t want anyone hitting on you.”
“Why are you hanging with guys who can hit on your woman?”
“Because I’ve known them almost all my life. They’re loyal. Still, I can’t trust them. Everybody’s sense of value has gone to the dogs these days. Why do you think I like hanging with older folks?”
“Trust me, my mates aren’t any better. Cut your friends some slack. It’s not like I’ll enjoy hanging out with them either. It’s just that I hate that you put this trophy girlfriend tag on me.”
“You’re my special place, bae. Nobody’s straying here. Fight me all you want but I’m not letting them near you again.”
“So why are you really here? You came to get D?”
Dapo pulled out his phone from his pocket and got lost in it for a bit. “Fucktards,” he muttered, showing Leticia his screen. “See why I don’t want them near you?”
Leticia took the phone and found that she was on Sope’s Instagram page, displayed in a collection of pictures that had her alone in some; and in others, she was either snuggled up with Dapo or kissing him. The collection was captioned: We finally found her! Babe is snatched af! Relationship goals. DP and Tish be giving us life.
“What’s snatched?” she asked.
“It’s the new fleek. Means you’re slaying.”
“Idiots. You’re going to be the trending topic for them this entire weekend.”
Leticia snorted. “It’s harmless, Dapo. Let them be. I’m enjoying the attention.”
He seized her waist. “When are you going to give me some attention of my own?”
“Dapo, that’s not what I’m here for.”
He dragged her to a couch and had her sit on his laps.
“Still leaving on Tuesday?” she asked as he began to rub her thighs.
“Yeah,” he replied in distraction, taking her lips and kissing her softly. “I’ll be gone for two months.”
“And I’ll miss you.”
“Why are you doing this, Tish? Why am I being punished like this?”
“Nothing, baby. We’re getting married, aren’t we?”
“So you’re serious about not smashing until we get married?”
She kissed him back. “Is sex all you ever think of?”
“Come on, Tish. This is crazy. And we didn’t agree to shit like this from the start. If I wanted chicks that could front, they were all over me. You’re more mature than this.”
Leticia moved backwards. “Really?”
“Yeah. You’re giving me unnecessary drama. I don’t get.”
She tried to get off his laps but he held her back.
“Stop tripping, babe. Fuck with me, here.”
“I’m not fucking with you, Oladapo. You see me as some cougar fantasy who doesn’t give you the type of drama all those twenty-two year olds give. You call me up whenever you feel like and I come over, suck your dick and ride your brains off. I don’t PMS on our time, I don’t trip when you hang with your guys and leave me alone at home, and I sure as hell don’t flip when you start acting like a little mommy’s boy. In fact, I coddle you. I give you everything.”
“Then suddenly you take it all away and give me talk about rededicating your life to God.”
“It’s the truth.”
Leticia jabbed Dapo’s chest and got off his laps. But she got dragged back to the couch.
He managed to have her lying on her back and settled between her legs.
“I’m sorry but the truth is that I’m scared that you might leave me for someone older, someone more mature. You always have guys all over you. I pretend not to notice but they’re on your Instagram, your Facebook, the parties you attend, your office… You remember your birthday? You got seventeen cakes, Tish. And flowers and presents…”
“It made me feel small. And I think that’s why I spend so much on you and why I came up with the prenup. I’m sorry.”
“So you’re trashing the prenup?”
“Um? You’re not sure?”
“Maybe we can tweak it a little?”
“Get off me jare.”
He lifted his weight off her body and she sat straight. “You think I don’t have fears? Dapo, I’m seven years older than you are. There are younger girls out there who throw themselves at you. How do you think it makes me feel? I’m even scared for my future. In five years, I’ll be thinking about menopause while you’ll just be started with your life. But I don’t let these things come between us because you make me happy and I make you happy. But if all you see when you look at me is a gold digger gunning for your money, then I think we should end this.”
“Come on, Tish…”
“I’m serious, Dapo.” She stood. “Trash that prenup or we’re done.”
“Tisha, I can’t. My lawyer and partners advised me…”
“Are you fucking them?! Are they going to carry your babies and wear your ring?”
“No, but the rate at which marriages fail today scares me. I don’t want to be on the losing end.”
Leticia felt a stab of pain. “Because you assume I will leave you at some point, huh? Clearly, my love means nothing to you.”
“People fall out of love. Marriages crash…”
“And the rich guy loses in the end. Yeah, I get you.”
“Tisha, please, understand…”
Leticia marched to the door and out of the house. She stopped when the door shut, stunned that he hadn’t come after her. She waited but heard nothing. In tears, she hurried down a flight of stairs that brought her to a large compound housing six identical apartments in a building complex. Leticia entered her car and drove home. Ruby and Duke were playing in the living room with a neighbor’s kids when she arrived. Leticia zoomed past them into Toni’s bedroom where she turned on music and tried to catch up on some office work she had been too lazy to handle.
She didn’t cry. She was more angry at Dapo than upset with him; but as the minutes passed, her emotions mellowed. This was because she knew he would come looking for her. If it wasn’t the case, he would have been bugging her phone by now. His silence meant he was on his way. So she remained at the study table, trying hard to concentrate on untouched work. But soon she heard a knock on her door that brought a gratified smile to her face.
“It’s me,” Dapo replied.
Dapo walked in. Leticia lowered the volume of the music.
“Coming here is a waste of time,” she stated, “unless you’re coming to tell me it’s over between us.”
She turned. “Then why are you here?”
“To adjust the T’s and C’s. I’ll make you a signatory to all my accounts. You are free to use the money for whatever you want to, as long as I know what you’re doing with it. If we ever divorce, which I’m hoping we don’t, you get to take ten percent of all I have. And that’s huge, Tish, seeing as I don’t actually own all I own.”
“Dapo, you still don’t understand me. It is not about the money.”
“Fifteen percent, Tish. That’s the most I can do. I have worked so hard to be where I am today. So hard. My fears are genuine, as are yours. The only way we can erase them is if we both work towards proving that what we have is beneath the surface. I see a future where we trash the prenup. But for now, let it be what it is.”
Leticia felt a pang of guilt over the manner in which she was handling him. She understood where he was coming from, despite her own reasons. Nevertheless she wanted him to know she was genuine. She didn’t believe marriage should come with dotted lines that bear signatures of people who don’t trust each other. She wanted love and happiness, even though all she seemed to see around her were couples struggling with their marriages. Leticia still believed in love. And she convinced herself that it was because of it she was willing to compromise for Dapo’s sake.
“Fine. I accept your terms.”
“Yeah. The conditions seem fair.”
He smiled, sighing in pleasure at the same time. “So, does this mean…?”
Leticia got up from the chair and took her top off. Her skirt hit the floor next, leaving her in a thong alone.
“Lock the door.”
Dapo did as instructed. Leticia pushed the chair aside, cleared the table and sat on it, spreading her legs open. Dapo went to her like one hypnotized. As their lips met and tongues danced against each other, Leticia thought of fulfilling one desire of his with the hopes that in nine months, she would get a better deal than what he was proposing now.
“Are you ready?”
Toni gave Andre a nod. She felt a flurry of butterflies in her tummy as she stood with him in his living room, waiting to meet Jozi. The day had not started well for her. Work-related matters had had her jumping out of bed as early as six and keeping her on long, exhausting phone calls. It was now 9 a.m. and she was mentally drained. Jozi was going to be a sight for sore eyes.
“But what if he doesn’t like me?” she asked.
“He likes women. Beautiful ones.”
The front door opened and Jozi poked his head in. “Daddy?”
He barged in and sprinted towards Andre. Enthralled at first sight, Toni fell in love instantly. When his father picked him off the floor and into his arms, he turned and stared at her. She was amazed at how much he took after Andre in looks.
“Hi Jozi. I’ve been dying to meet you.”
“Jozi, this is Aunty Toni. Say hi to her.”
She smiled and he smiled back shyly with a finger stuck in his mouth. Toni felt a strong urge to hold him. Ruby and Duke had taught her how to give warm hugs on impulse. Showing affection now came naturally to her.
“So, did you have fun with Aunty Simone?” Andre asked Jozi.
“You were a good boy?”
“Yes. I-I-I brush my teeth by myself.”
“You brushed your teeth by yourself? Wow! You’re such a big boy now. Show me.”
Jozi flashed his pearly whites at his father.
“Wow! Look at that! All white and sparkly.”
Jozi giggled. Andre’s sister, Simone, walked into the house, carrying a bag and some toys. She brightened up when she saw Toni.
“Our wifey is here!” She exclaimed. “Yay!”
Toni eased the load off her hands and blessed her with a hug.
“Thank you. Phew! I needed that. I’m so exhausted. Andre, take your spawn, abeg. Jozi is more than a handful. It’ll take me two whole months and a nice bottle of champagne to recover.”
Jozi pushed down from Andre’s arms, went into a run and slid on the floor until he hit the wall at the other end of the room. Andre shook his head.
“Trouble is home.”
“Antonia, I have to run.” Simone tapped Toni’s cheek before turning to engage Andre in a conversation in French. They left the house together while Toni took Jozi’s things to his bedroom. As she deposited them on his bed, the boy came in and stood staring at her.
“Hi Jozi. You want to help me arrange your toys?”
Toni handed him a couple of stuffed toys and together, they dumped them in a basket where other toys were residing.
“Good boy. Go and get the rest.”
He hopped back to the bed and returned with the toys he found there, his small hands barely holding them. Toni lifted him up and he dunked them into the basket.
“And that’s a goal!”
He giggled. She put him down, noticing he held on to one stuffed animal.
“And who is that?”
Toni smiled. The toy was clearly nothing like a human. It was a yellow lion with a smiley face and a multicolored tail.
“Yes. Kiss her. She likes kisses.”
Toni bent and gave the lion a kiss. The act pleased Jozi.
“I have a fire truck. You want to see?”
Before Toni could respond, the boy brought the entire basket down to the floor.
“Jozi?” Andre, just stepping into the room, scolded.
“It’s fine. He’s just looking for his fire truck.”
Jozi found the truck and showed it to Toni. “See it.”
“That’s nice, sweetie,” she responded. “Who bought it for you?”
“Daddy. Let-let me put it on.” He handed the lion to her, turned over the truck and pushed a power button underneath it. Toni expected to hear a siren go off but nothing happened. He pushed it again and they both waited. There was more silence. He brought the truck to his face and gave it a thorough stare.
“It’s not on,” he grumbled.
Toni looked at Andre who explained to her in Yoruba that the truck was noisy and Jozi never gave it a rest. He had had to take out the batteries to have some sanity in the house.
“You’re mean,” Toni whispered back.
“Daddy!” Jozi thrust the toy at him. “Make it sing.”
“I’m so sorry, buddy, I can’t. I tried all through the weekend but couldn’t. Something is wrong with Mr. Truck.”
Jozi glared at the truck for a long time and then, using his might, he smashed it to the floor in anger and kicked it.
“Hey!” Andre scolded. “What’s wrong with you?”
Toni flashed a reprimanding stare at him. Jozi began to cry. She went to him and gave some explanation about how trucks, like cars, sometimes got sick and needed to see doctors who could fix them.
“We call the doctors mechanics. I always take my car to the mechanic. He’ll fix it and it’ll start working again. So, your daddy is going to take your truck to the mechanic and have it fixed. Okay?”
“Now, pick it and hand it back to daddy.”
The boy did as he was told. “Give the mechanic,” he demanded in a serious face.
“Say please,” Andre instructed. Toni rolled her eyes at him.
“I’ll see what I can do.”
Moments later, after Toni and Jozi had returned the toys back into the basket and Jozi was engaged in the activity of running and sliding into walls and Andre was doing the dishes, Toni made a suggestion to Andre.
“Let’s take the kids out to see a movie.”
“The kids?” Andre asked.
“My kids, your kid…”
“Duke and Ruby.”
Andre gave her a pointed stare. “They are Mark Ebute’s kids, Tone.”
“Well, they’re mine now.”
“What if their mother comes back?”
Toni picked out the disapproval on Andre’s face but pretended not to notice it.
“The movie is a great idea,” he commented.
“So, I’ll dash home and get everyone set and you guys can come and pick us up.”
She began out but he called her back. She turned.
“I had fun this weekend.”
“I’m sad it’s Monday already. Can we make this more lasting like it was before? No more fights?”
Her grin was genuine. She went back to him and pursed out her lips for a peck but got a French kiss, instead. When their lips separated, they found Jozi gawking at them curiously.
“I’ll leave you to do all the explanation.” Toni hurried out. She picked her overnight bag and left the house. When she arrived home, she met Ruby and Duke outside, making soap bubbles. When they saw her, they broke into shrieks and sprinted towards her. After hugs and kisses, she led them in.
“Have you guys showered today?”
“Yup!” Duke replied.
She instructed them to change into fresh clothes, announcing that they were going to see a movie. They ran to their room in excitement while she went into hers. Leticia was just stepping out of the bathroom when she got in.
“Hi Mrs. Frenchman,” she said.
“Hey. Em, I’m stepping out with the kids. We’re going to see a movie with Andre and Jozi. You want to come?”
“Naa. I’m good.”
Drying off the water on her body with a towel, Leticia hummed to the tune of a familiar song. Toni peeled off her clothes and dumped them in a laundry basket. She noticed that the room had been cleaned to an obsession, the drapes and beddings changed and the faint scent of a room freshener she was unfamiliar with hung in the air. But she didn’t linger on the changes. She dashed to the bathroom, had a shower and returned to Leticia who was now dressed in red matching underwear. She was before the dressing mirror, applying body lotion in a sensuous manner. Toni gave her a scrutinizing stare.
“Wait a minute…” Toni frowned in thought. “You got laid. A lot.”
“Hm?” Leticia paused from her humming.
“You’re humming, you’re wearing matching bra and panty, the room looks sex-worthy and you’re acting like I’m not here. This obviously means you got laid and you’re going for more.”
Leticia couldn’t stop the smile that showed on her face.
“You didn’t listen to me, did you?” Toni accused.
“He gave me a better deal.”
Toni sighed. “He was supposed to trash the prenup entirely.”
“I know but the deal was fair. Seriously.”
“Tisha, he’s my brother and I love him, but you come first. I’m more concerned about you. I don’t want this to be another Izu case.”
“Dapo is not Izu, and he’s really serious about me.”
“All you needed was to endure until he came back.”
“Okay, okay. Let me just be honest here, Toni. The real reason why we fucked and we’re still going to fuck tonight is because I want to get pregnant.”
Toni’s brows went up. “Pregnant?”
“When I was talking to him about our issues, I realized that I’ll be forty in five years and I neither have a husband nor a kid. It scared me. I don’t know about you but I don’t want to be menopausal before I start thinking of kids.”
“Okay. I totally understand. And I may not be fine with it now, but I’ll come around soon. Before then, I support you. Your happiness is important to me and I’m glad that you’re making this bold step with my brother.”
Leticia was suspicious. “Where’s the caveat here?”
“Caveat when it comes to wanting the best for you?” Toni gave a shake of her head. “I want you happy, Tish Tits.”
“Awww… That’s so sweet.”
Leticia rushed to her and wrapped her in a tight embrace. “You’re the bestest, most sweetest friend to have.”
“I know. Now, leave me let me dress up, abeg.”
Toni pushed away and walked to the closet.
“But don’t you want to have what I want to have?” Leticia asked as Toni pulled out a pair of jeans and a top.
“And what’s that?”
“A child? A stable relationship?”
“I already have children.”
“I know you’ve fallen in love with them, Toni, but they are not yours.”
“Says who? I’m their legal guardian.”
“For how long? Nkechi will soon come and get them…”
“She won’t. She can’t. I’ll fight her. She’s not fit to be a mother. If Mark wanted them with her, he would have offered her my money and she’ll come running back like the evil leech she is. But he didn’t. He took his chances with me who hates kids because he somehow knew I could be a better mother than she’ll ever be. So, good luck to her trying to steal them from me.”
“Wow…” Leticia had an expression of surprise. “Toni, is this why you’ve refused to contact her younger sister or why you keep rejecting calls from their relatives? You really want to keep Duke and Ruby?”
“They need me. They need stability. They can’t keep jumping from one person to another. Mark would turn in his grave.”
“Mark was selfish to thrust them on you without your permission! He had no right to do that and tie your money to them!”
“Yeah, I was thinking the same thing until I started falling for them. You don’t expect me to give them up now just like their mother did. I can’t live with myself if I do that.”
“Toni, how about Andre?”
“He’ll come to accept that they are mine now.”
“It would be selfish of you to make him raise another man’s children.”
“And it would be selfish of him to make me raise another woman’s son.”
“It’s not the same thing.”
“It is, Leticia. And please, marriage is the last thing on my mind. I’m fine with the status quo.”
“Toni, you’re not getting any younger. You need to bear your own kids and have a fulfilling relationship for once in your life. If you didn’t have a man who loves you or a man at all, I would have understood, but you have Andre. Stop this feminist thing you’re doing–”
Toni spun around. “Feminism has nothing to do with it! Stop vilifying the cause for my personal decisions! And stop making me feel bad for those decisions! You’re beginning to sound like daddy and mommy who always remind me that I’m not married! Or is it Andre himself? Or how I always feel out of place when I go for certain events and everyone is brandishing their spouses and they’re all asking me when I’ll get married? I’m tired, Leticia! You guys should leave me the fuck alone! I will have a baby and get married when I want to! When I am ready! Leave me alone!”
Tony disappeared into her closet again in search for underwear. Leticia went after her and stood beside her.
Toni picked a bra. She slipped her arms through the straps and turned around to have Leticia fasten it for her.
“I badly want to have Andre’s child,” Toni confessed in a low voice. “I dream about it. I sometimes want him to do the whole thing of cumming inside me, but… I just can’t. Not now. And it’s hard for me because I love him so much. He has my heart more than Mark did. I just don’t let him know because I fear that he’ll treat me like shit.”
Leticia hooked on the last clip on Toni’s bra and put her arms around her neck, resting her chin on her shoulder.
“Trust him to do the right thing.”
“I just can’t.”
“I understand. And I’m sorry that you feel this way.”
“Yeah. Me too.”
“It would be fun if we get knocked up at the same time.”
“You’re too girly for my liking sometimes, Tish. Get off me.”
Laughing, Leticia moved away, but not before smacking Toni’s bum.
“Start taking your vitamins,” Toni advised.
Leticia continued humming.
Tuesday came with the typical laziness that often accompanied workers after a holiday period. Everyone at Covet seemed not in the mood to get back to work so quickly. But there was a lot to be done, especially for the guys at marketing and PR. With bosses like Toni and Andre who didn’t entertain excuses, they jumped back into gear the moment they stepped into building.
Earlier, they had been in bed together, with Jozi lying in-between them. It was a perfect moment for Andre, but he didn’t sully it by pointing out to Toni how he felt. He knew, even if she didn’t mention it, that she was still holding back from going the whole nine yards. He also knew she was trying, which was why he had decided not to talk about lifelong commitments with her. He was even beginning to nurse the idea of an enduring relationship without marriage. Anything to be with her, whom he was falling deeper for by the minute. After watching her with the Ebute kids and how she had been compassionate towards Jozi, he was more than certain she was the one to fulfill the other half of his relationship goals. He would follow her with patience and indulgence.
So, all through the course of the day, he kept his distance, but when the evening neared, he began to look for some means to spend the night with her. However, Tochi entered his office and announced that a certain Izu and Nkechi Ebute were at the reception and asking to see him.
Andre frowned. He dropped the sheet of paper he was holding and lifted his eyes at Tochi.
“They are here? Right now?”
“But they’re not supposed to be here until Friday,” Andre muttered to himself, rising up.
“Is it the same Nkechi Ebute whose kids Toni is taking care of?” Tochi asked as Andre walked towards the door.
“Yeah.” He stopped. “Do everything you can to keep Toni in her office. She must not see them.”
“And when I mean everything, I don’t mean putting your lips on hers.”
Andre hurried out to the reception. Izu and Nkechi were waiting as Tochi had informed him. They stood beside each other, but both facing away, taking in the posh settings of the space surrounding them. Andre could tell, from the looks on their faces, that they couldn’t believe how far Covet had come.
“Guys?” He stopped in front of them. They turned in unison. “What a surprise.”
“What’s up?” Izu extended a hand that Andre shook. Nkechi offered no greeting. She didn’t look as elegant as the last time he had seen her. Undoubtedly, life had dealt her some blows.
“You are supposed to be here on Friday,” Andre stated.
“Yeah, but change of plans,” Izu replied. “My family is coming in tomorrow. I don’t want them to get to the house before me. I need to be up and running before Berna shows.”
“Okay, understood. I have to meet with the partners tomorrow, though.”
“You haven’t spoken with them?” Nkechi asked.
“But it’s cool. No need to worry. Christie and I are on the same page. I spoke with Raji this morning but he says he can only be cool with it if the others are. Jumo might be a tad difficult because of the history you had with him in DFL.”
“And Toni?” Izu asked.
“Why don’t you leave Toni to me?”
The elevator pinged and the doors parted to reveal Toni. She stepped into the reception, her steps slowing with the narrowing of her eyes as she came towards them. Andre’s breath was held in preparation for whatever hell she was ready to unleash.
“Hi Antonia,” Izu greeted.
She delivered cold stares to them, Andre inclusive.
“Welcome back to Covet, Izu, Nkechi,” she said with calm. “Junior partner is a generous offer from the senior partners to two slithering snakes. Please, don’t hesitate to keep to your nature by biting the hand that has fed you so generously. That is if you both don’t use your genitals to screw away your positions here.”
Her eyes gave Andre a brief stab as she began to walk away.
“We’re here to stay,” Nkechi uttered. Toni stopped. “At least, I’m sure of myself. I don’t intend to go away soon.”
Toni took a step back and angled her head at her. “And I don’t intend to let you have Mark’s kids. I have already begun the legal process of adopting them.”
“You don’t have any right to. They are my children. I’m their mother.”
Toni gave a full turn to face her. “Motherhood is not by whose pussy opens the widest, Nkechi. It is by responsibility, by being there when it matters.”
“You only started taking care of them for what, two minutes, and you’re already claiming responsibility?”
“They are not your children, Antonia.”
“Then, you better get ready to fight them out of my hands. Get a good lawyer because whoever told you that you could have them just by showing up here clearly knows nothing about me.”
Toni continued to her office, leaving Andre in embarrassment and bafflement, wondering how on earth she found out about his plans.