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It was hard to accept that Mark was gone. Harder to stare at him as he lay in state as if he was having one of his long, lazy snoozes in which he would turn around and reach for her in bed. It was a difficult loss to bear, and Mark had not made it easier for Toni even after his death. He was still screwing her over with a list of demands.
To start with, she alone was to offer a eulogy. And then, she alone was to pour earth over his casket. And lastly, she alone had been made legal guardian of his two children.
The first two demands had been easy to execute. The last was where her headache was coming from.
“You can just walk away,” Covet’s lawyer told her over the phone. “Or if you want it binding, go to a court and make it legal, stating that you have no desire to take parental responsibility of the kids.”
“I wish it were that easy,” she responded, aware that Mark’s uncle and other family members were watching her as she stood outside the house, making the phone call. Few minutes ago, they had read out Mark’s will to her in Abram Ebute’s living room, and upon getting to the part where she was to take guardianship of the children, she had begun to laugh. And somewhere in the laughter, she uttered the F word before storming out.
“See, the problem is that Mark stole my money. A lot of money. It was to buy shares into DFL Creatives. I signed the papers, handed over the money and Mark disappeared. Now, he’s dead and ties my money to his children. The will says that if I refuse to accept guardianship, any other relative can go to court and seek guardianship and claim all the money. My money! My fucking money!”
“Calm down, Antonia. There’s still a way out of this.”
“If you have all the documents to the agreement you had with him, you can sue his estate…”
“What estate?! When he left DFL, Mark did nothing with his life! He had no house to his name! No company! No business! And if I am to sue what he had, I’d be suing DFL and DFL is now Covet, which means I would be suing my fucking self!”
“Since the money is in his bank account, Antonia, you can still get it legally without the children.”
Toni drew in a long breath and swore. In her vista, she saw Mark’s kids, a girl and a boy. They were seated glumly at the play area of the compound where a swing and seesaw rested. The girl was older, about nine years old, as Mark’s will had told. The boy was four years younger. He was Mark’s spitting image—the complexion, the hair, the pointed nose and even the downward arc of brows that often deceived people that he was merely thinking whenever he was upset.
“Are you there, Antonia?”
“Yes.” Toni returned to the lawyer.
“Would you want me to get involved?”
“I’d be glad.”
“I would like to speak to the executor of his estate.”
“It’s his uncle. He had taken care of him when the disease got worse.”
“You said Mark took the money from you last year?”
“Did you try to get it back, have him arrested?”
“No. I…had someone trace him. At that time, he was nowhere to be found. He returned to Nigeria a few months ago.”
“Okay. But please get the executor’s number. I will handle everything.”
“One question, though? Where is his wife?”
“Nkechi? She absconded with someone else’s husband. No one has seen her in almost a year.”
“I have to go.”
Toni hung up, not feeling any better than she had felt a few minutes ago or the day before at Mark’s funeral or even the night the news of his death came to her. Tears had been her food for days. She would go to work with a plain face and return home in shatters. Raji had declared the Monday after Mark’s death a work-free day at the office to commiserate with former DFL staff. Almost everyone had adhered to the memo, but Toni had shown up at work, locked herself in her office and buried her head in the day’s business. She continued this way until Friday when she broke down and refused to be consoled until Khanyi found some way to make her take a mood suppressant. Toni went through the funeral in a haze, largely aware of what was going on around her but not showing any reaction to it, although within, she was in pieces. It had felt like she was trapped in a cloud.
Today, it was still the same. The drug had worn off but she felt jaded, barely making it out of bed to meet with the Ebutes.
Abrams Ebute gave the impression of a man who had a large heart. The residents of his six-bedroom duplex were not just himself and his wife. His relatives and wife’s family also occupied the place. He wasn’t particularly rich but he was generous enough to take care of the people that mattered to him. Mark had been one of them. Both men had been close. Toni recalled Mark speaking fondly about him while they were dating. Abrams, then, was living in Europe. He had returned to Nigeria with his wife just two years ago, without his children, who were all grown. Upon his return, the leeches in the Ebute family that had relied on Mark’s late father for sustenance, hooked their talons on him, relieving Mark of some of the responsibility of caring for them. Mark had been furtive with his charitable acts to them because of Nkechi. She had hated the Ebutes and the feeling was mutual on their end.
Sitting with them in Abrams’ living room where the will was being read, Toni had felt the weight of their greed when the lawyer mentioned the amount of cash Mark bequeathed to his children, his uncle and Toni. Toni was to get her money back, down to the last kobo, only if she accepted legal guardianship of the children. If she refused, the money would go to whoever took the responsibility off her hands.
It was at this point she had walked out of the meeting and called the company lawyer. Now, she was back in the house but not in the mood to sit with them. Abrams took her to the kitchen for a private discussion.
The place looked a mess, with a heap of dishes in the sink and the smell of leftovers in the air.
“Everyone is mourning around here,” Abrams mentioned. “Forgive the mess.”
He opened the fridge and took out a soda. “You want one?” he asked, waving the bottle at Toni.
He shut the fridge, opened the bottle and sent the fizzing drink down his throat. Toni watched as his Adam’s apple bopped up and down. He was a huge man with a large gut. He wore his belt on his tummy, holding up trousers that were always too shy to touch his ankles.
Abrams made a smacking sound with his mouth when he was done with the soda. Toni wasn’t surprised to find that there was not a drop left in the bottle. He tossed it to the trashcan and missed his target, sending the bottle rolling to the floor. He seemed like a playful man. He was in his mid-fifties but behaved a lot younger.
“Did you see those people in my sitting room?” he asked, rubbing his hands.
“They want your money. All of it. And they are all praying to God that you walk away from it and give them the opportunity to go to court and fight for guardianship.”
“They should go ahead, but not a dime is coming to them.”
Abrams rested his back on the fridge, crossing his arms. “You know what Mark told me?”
“He was confident you’ll make a good mother to Ruby and Duke. He said you have the heart but you don’t know it.”
“It’s not about the heart. It’s beyond that. I don’t want to go into details of what Mark did to me or to tell you how upset I am at him for not letting me know what he was going through.”
“It was difficult for him, Toni. Huntington’s disease messed him up. Sometimes, he didn’t know who he was. Other times, he didn’t recognize me or the children. He had had it for more than ten years and I suspect it was the reason Nkechi left him. When he decided to hide away from the public, the disease had suddenly come down on him and left him helpless. He didn’t run away with your money…”
“He didn’t exactly give it to me.”
“Stashing it away until he died and giving it back to you under new conditions was the plan from the start.”
“I told him, but he insisted that you had already forgiven him.”
Toni didn’t counter Abrams’ words, and this was because she had actually forgiven Mark after the investigator she had sent to trace him came back with word that Mark had just arrived Nigeria after undergoing medical treatment. The investigator had also given Toni pictures of him in which he looked gaunt and in poor health. Before this, she had gotten an anonymous email from Mark, addressed to High Mistress, explaining his reasons for absconding with the money. The detective had simply corroborated the claims.
“And this is why I know that your anger today is not about your money which you had let go of a long time ago. It is about the fact that you feel an obligation to the kids.”
“You do, and if you ever felt anything for Mark, you would not let any of the vultures in there take Ruby and Duke.”
“How did they even find out about it in the first place and why are they in this meeting?”
“The content of the will was leaked out. I wasn’t supposed to let them come to this meeting but they insisted, under the claims that you may refuse the guardianship and the onus would fall on them to lobby for the rights.”
“Why don’t you just take those children, Uncle Abrams?”
“I would, but as you can see, I am too old to raise little kids. You’d do a better job.”
“I won’t. I’m really sorry to disappoint you, and Mark.”
“It’s alright, Antonia.” Abrams smiled. “I have something for you, though.”
He pulled out a phone from his pocket and passed it to Toni. “It’s Mark’s. He wants you to have it. He says you know the password.”
“Thank you, Uncle Abrams…for everything.”
“You’re welcome, Antonia. Please, let me know when you change your mind about the kids.”
“If… not when. If I change my mind.”
He gave a nod and led her out of the kitchen and to her car. After he returned to the house, Toni sat in silence, staring at Ruby and Duke who were still at the play area. Duke was on the swing but Ruby was seated on a plastic chair nearby, head bowed. Toni couldn’t tell if she was crying, but the sight was depressing.
She took her eyes away, started her car and drove home. An empty house welcomed her in. Dapo had gotten into town and Leticia was spending the weekend at his place.
Toni kicked out of her shoes and lit a cigarette. When she sat to smoke, she took out Mark’s phone from her handbag. She stared at it for the duration of her cigarette break, scared to find out what secrets it held. But she was prepared to let go of Mark by all means and if it meant dredging up his life, she was ready to do it and get it over with.
She turned on the phone and waited. When the lock screen went on, she typed in four numbers which was a mutual password she and Mark had used for their phones while dating. The phone unlocked and a wallpaper displaying a selfie of Mark, Ruby and Duke came on. She tapped on the files icon on the home screen, opened the video gallery and proceeded to play a video titled Toni1.
Mark’s face appeared on the screen. He was lying on a bed, head sustained up by pillows. He looked healthy enough but there was sallowness around his eyes.
“Cuddle bear,” he began, “by the time you’re watching this, I’ll be dead…”
Toni stopped the video. She couldn’t handle it. She locked the phone and tossed it into her handbag. The familiar sound of a male voice speaking outside drew her attention to the door. Just then the doorbell rang. She went for the door and opened it to let in the slim form of a man in sunglasses into her house. He had his phone pressed to his ear but took it away for a second to peck Toni’s cheek.
“I’ll call you back,” he said into the phone and took it off his ear. He then laid concerned eyes on her.
“I heard about Mark.”
She shut the door. When she faced him, he lowered and held her in a tight hug.
“I’m so sorry for your loss.”
She pushed away from him. “Let go, Tochi.”
“You need this, Toni…”
“Not when it would soon come with a boner. Step back, Tochukwu.”
He broke contact but caressed her cheek. She didn’t push his hand away. Her body needed the comfort it brought. She was starved of Andre’s touch.
“Can I kiss you to make you feel better?” Tochi asked. Toni took a step backwards.
“I have a man.”
“That you broke up with.”
“How did…?” Toni began to ask but stopped. “Leticia?”
“Yes. She called and accused me of abandoning you ladies for years. But I said that, technically, it was only two years, and that was because you told me that you didn’t do broke, single guys. So I had to stay away to get married and make some money. I was able to achieve the latter – partially. But the former is still pending.”
“You’re not married.”
“I have a girlfriend these days, so do I qualify to be your sugar daddy?”
Toni smiled, and it felt weird on her lips. She hadn’t smiled in days. Tochuckwu had the gift of appealing to her humorous side. He was good company and a loyal friend to her and Leticia, having gotten into their acquaintance ten years ago when he had shown up at their front door to fix an issue with their cable TV. He had then gone ahead to change dead bulbs, unclog their kitchen drain, service their generator, fix Toni’s broken bed and straighten out Leticia’s dislocated shoulder. Their friendship grew from that moment. When Toni had needed someone to help her start her website and design it, Tochi was her man; and from then on, he managed the backend affairs of stealherman.com. For a long time he alone was aware that Toni was High Mistress and the brain behind teaching single ladies how to woo, bed and dump rich, married men. He never judged her, and his reason could originate from the fact that he had been madly in love with her.
But Toni had felt nothing for him, not even when they fell into some sort of discreet arrangement that saw them having booty calls on the occasion. The sex and companionship had been awesome, but after more than a handful of encounters, she told him she never wanted to see him again. Nothing had prompted her decision. In fact, it had been made on a random day, after a wild afternoon in his single-bedroom apartment. In fairness, she had explained that he was not the type of man she was looking for.
“Come back when you have a wife and you are worth your weight in millions. Oh sorry, you’re skinny. Double your weight in millions.”
“But Toni, we’re just friends…with kickass benefits.”
“Yeah, even the friendship part has to stop. I’m done.”
As was his nature, Tochi had laughed her off. But when Toni made good her word and stayed away from him, he realized how serious she was. He respected her wishes and gave her the space she needed which stretched to two years. Now, he was back, reintroduced into his life by Leticia who had been oblivious of what had gone on between them.
“I don’t do sugar daddies anymore,” Toni made clear to Tochi’s imposing frame. A smile lifted one side of his face as he took the space beside her after she sat.
“Do you want us to talk about Mark?”
Toni stared at him.
“Tisha gave details. She said you really, really, really love him.”
“She used three ‘really’s’, Toni. Talk to me. Tell me about him.”
Hugging herself, Toni rested her head on Tochi’s shoulder. “I more than three ‘really’s’ love him. Andre is… he’s a long drag of menthols after a tiring day.”
Tochi laughed. He used to be a smoker. He understood her.
“He’s different. Stubborn. Annoying. Proud. Sometimes I just want to claw out his eyes.”
“Wow. You’re really in love.”
“I miss him.”
“Then go back to him.”
“I can’t. I can’t become his son’s stepmom. It’s not who I am. I’m not saying I may never be that person. I’m just not there yet. I need time. A lot of time. I don’t want to do it to please him.”
“And yet I hate myself for leaving him.”
“Maybe you can call him up and talk about it?”
“Seeing him is torture. I can’t. And he’s not changing his mind. I don’t expect him to. So, I think it’s best we stayed away from each other. I’ll get over it. Someday.”
Tochi seized her hand. “Am I welcomed back into the fold? Two years have been too long.”
“Two years you spent in Ghana, you mean?”
“I’m back now.”
They sat in silence for a bit until Toni began to fall asleep out of exhaustion. Tochi helped her head onto his laps. When he was sure she had drifted far, he rested his hand on hers
“Daddy, have you looked through my summer reading list?”
“Hmm?” Folarin turned his head in his daughter’s direction in distraction.
“You’re thinking again.”
“I’m so sorry, sweetheart. What were you telling me?”
Vanessa threw a pout at him. He agreed that he deserved it. Some silly encounter was replaying in his head.
“My summer reading list?” Vanessa repeated. She was seated beside him in his car on their way to the Ikeja mall, returning from Ignite Africa Library somewhere on Kudirat Abiola Way in Ikeja. It was one of Folarin’s favorite spots where he hid away to read and sometimes write. He had similar quiet reading spots around Lagos as well. His romance with literature was old school. It loved to feel and touch soft brown pages of texts. Sometimes he walked into libraries just to breathe in the air and calm. The smell of ink against paper, of books stacked beside each other, of worlds and lives set on endless pages always gave him a sense of quietude and escape. Recently, he had needed the aloneness, following the drastic change his life took from normalcy to fame. He had also needed to get away from depressing heartache over Christie’s infidelity that had crawled out from the place he had dumped it.
“Summer? When’s summer, please? All I know is the raining season and the harmattan,” Folarin teased Vanessa.
“Daddy, don’t start.”
“I read the list, Tife. Great books but they are all for teenagers. You’re way too young to be reading them. What happened to all the preteen books I got you last Christmas?”
“I’m done with all of them. And they were too childish for me.”
Folarin, regarding his daughter in a playful frown, said proudly, “You’re reading too much, you this girl.”
“There’s no such thing as reading too much. You told me that.”
“So, may I get the new books? Please?”
Folarin rested his elbow by the window and proceeded to play with his beard. “I’m not comfortable with you reading those books, Nessa. They have young adult content. You’re still a…”
“Child? Only you call me that.”
“Mommy thinks I’m a woman now.”
“Mommy was simply referring to your gender. Boluwatife, you’re still young. Way too young to be reading about teenage boys kissing teenage girls. I can let you have some of the books on the list but you have to promise that you won’t go reading the rest on your own.”
“Okay,” she replied, downcast.
“And in compensation, you can have that Capelli of New York quilted shoulder bag you’ve been bugging your mom about.”
“I don’t want it again.”
“I’d rather go with you to New York.”
Folarin let his hand down from the window. Vanessa was becoming impossible these days; her demands were sometimes too much for him and Christie to handle. The moment she celebrated her tenth birthday, (which had cost them more than they had planned for, but had done it anyways, just to make her happy) she became a different person.
“Sweetie, I’ll be doing a lot of stuff when next I travel.”
“I don’t mind. Aunty Savvy says she has a beautiful house there.”
“She does, but she hardly stays there, and she and I will be going around a lot.”
“It’s not fair! Everybody in the family has been out of the country. Even Tami was not born here. CJ travels all the time.”
“CJ’s daddy takes him out all the time.”
“Then why don’t you take me too?”
“Boluwatife…” Folarin let out a long sigh. “First, I don’t like your tone. It’s impolite.”
“I’m sorry.” She pouted.
“Second, I want you to know that I still love you so much, but I get a little busy these days.”
“Okay, a lot. And this is why we’re having moments like this. I’m not always going to be here like I used to, but I promise that things aren’t going to change between us. I’ll try my best, okay?”
Vanessa was silent.
She kept mute until they arrived at the mall. He was tempted to promise her that he would get her every book on her summer reading list, just to please her, but he controlled the urge. However, Vanessa blurted out, “Callista’s mommy bought her every book on the list.”
Folarin looked at his daughter.
“Just thought you should know.”
She stepped out of the car and he lingered a few seconds more, wondering who Callista was and why her parents allowed her read young adult content.
The feel of his beard on her shoulder made her smile. Cold hands crept into her t-shirt and she was encircled in a hug.
“Tisha is a beautiful woman,” Dapo said into her ear, holding her tighter.
“You won’t let me finish cooking in peace abi?”
He spun her around and filled her mouth with kisses, causing a different type of heat to build up.
“Dapo…” Leticia moaned out his name from between his lips. “Stop.”
But she knew she had only encouraged him to do more. He drew her away from the meal she was preparing and had her back on the nearest wall to continue what he started. He towed down the straps of her spaghetti top, exposing her breasts. A hungry look filled his eyes right as he dove for her nipples, taking the taut peaks in his mouth.
“Dapo, stop nau,” she pleaded, purring. Dapo, like most of the men she had been with, knew her weakness lay in her nipples. But unlike the rest, he knew how to work that weakness to ecstasy. He was a sexually-expressive man, the type that enjoyed giving a woman pleasure for the fun of it. He alone had successfully kept in step with Leticia’s insatiable sexual needs. Dapo was her first taste of younger men, and she feared that if she ever split with him, she might never go back to dating older men or those in her age bracket. But she knew that finding another guy that came with Dapo’s specifications was going to be hard, maybe even impossible. Asides the fact that he was wild in bed, he was rich and forward-thinking. Somewhere in him, there was an old soul that was sometimes wiser than she was. At those moments, she forgot that she was dealing with someone younger. He was all man and sufficient.
“Oya, go and cook.” Dapo pulled away from her, leaving her nipples sore and throbbing.
“You’re just wicked.” She gave him a jab on his chest and pulled her top over her breasts. He hung around, talking business with her as she concentrated on finishing dinner. When it was ready, she served him like a prince, laying the table with two different meals and a dessert.
Dapo was spoiled; he enjoyed being pampered. Leticia had learned about this side of him from their first month together, and from that moment, coddled him like a sugar mommy would. He had his boyish days when he threw fits and stayed away from her to hang with his peers. He wasn’t as experienced as she was in handling relationship complications. He was still climbing the ropes when it came to understanding the complexities of a woman’s emotions. He would rather give Leticia a gift than engage her in a simple conversation to iron out whatever issues they had. Still, she adored him and treated him like a king. Dapo was not a man she had plans to cheat on or leave. She had left her shoes outside the door of their relationship. He was her home. She was going nowhere.
“Oya, eat this.”
Leticia stared at the plate that had come from his side of the table to hers. It carried a heap of rice, plantains, beans porridge and fried chicken.
“I can’t finish this,” she complained.
He ignored her. He was already filling a second plate with the same thing she had on hers.
“This your plan to make me fat, I’m not liking it o. You know my body is like this, and I like myself like this. Or are you saying you don’t find me sexy anymore?”
Dapo looked at her. “You know I do.”
“Then, what’s your problem?”
“I just want you a little fatter. Just a little.” He dropped the serving spoon. “Okay, let’s do it this way. If you add weight, I’ll fly you out to anywhere you want.”
Leticia considered his terms. She had never been out of the country before. It was a fantasy of hers to be flown to some expensive city and splurged on by her man. Dapo knew this somehow and was yet to indulge her with a trip; but he always sought ways to dangle the offer in her face. It was the type of game he loved to play with her.
“Deal.” She picked a chicken lap and sank her teeth into it. He laughed.
They had dinner in a hearty mood, as they always did. Dapo cleared the dishes, afterwards. A routine taught to him by Leticia. When they had begun dating, she had battled with his lack of domestic manners. Having been raised by a male chauvinist, certain behaviors had been ingrained in him that didn’t sit well with her. It had taken Leticia, and sometimes, Toni to set him straight.
While he did the dishes, Leticia had a shower. When she came out to the bedroom, she found him waiting with a bottle of red wine and two glasses.
“Are we celebrating something?”
She mopped water off her body as he poured the wine. He sat on a long couch that stood by a window, stretching from one wall to the other. On nights when they fought, Leticia loved to sleep on the couch. It was a soft, velvety arrangement of deep purple and comfort. Leticia slipped into one of his clean t-shirts and went to him. She sat on his laps, with a leg on each side of him. He handed her a glass of wine.
“To us,” he toasted. “May this thing we have never die.”
Leticia smiled adoringly. Their glasses clinked and she sent the wine down her throat in a go, eliciting a frown from him.
“You can be so crass,” he commented.
“Top it,” she demanded. He obliged her, but stopped her as she put the glass to her lips a second time.
“Marry me, Leticia.”
Her hand dropped from her mouth. “What?”
“Be my wife. Marry me.”
“You’re proposing to me?”
“Without a ring?”
Dapo put his glass aside and lifted her off his laps. He then went down on a knee. “Will you marry me, Leticia?”
“I still don’t see a ring.”
“You’ll get one.”
“So this wasn’t thought out? You just decided, from nowhere, to ask me to be your wife?”
“Not really.” He stood up and went to his closet, returning with a blue file. He sat on the couch again.
“It’s um… Wait, first. Promise me you won’t get angry when I tell you what it is.”
“Dapo, what’s in that file?”
He cleared his throat. “It’s a prenuptial form I want you to fill before you get a ring and before we move on.”
“Are you joking right now, Ogunfuwa?”
“No.” He kept a straight face on which Leticia splashed her wine.
“Fuck! Why would you do that?” He dumped the file and wiped his face.
“You must be out of your mind, Dapo!” Leticia leaped up.
“You don’t even know what the form says–”
“I don’t want to know what it says because I am not signing anything! If you want to continue this relationship with me, you’ll take that nonsense form back to where you got it from!”
“Tisha, this relationship cannot go anywhere without you signing it. We will not move past this stage until we both agree to what is written in the form.”
“I’m not agreeing to anything! Why don’t you just tell me you’re done with me?! Why use this sneaky, cowardly way?!”
“I love you, Tish–”
“You don’t! Stop lying to me!” She picked up her phone, a pillow and blanket from the bed.
“Where are you going?”
“Far away from you, Ogunfuwa!”
“Goodnight!” She stormed out of the room, dragging the blanket on the floor as she went. She barged into the nearest guestroom. It was smaller and smelled of mold. She dumped the pillow and blanket on the bed and turned on the air conditioner. While she waited for the temperature of the room to drop, she typed a message to Toni, announcing that Dapo had proposed to her. She didn’t mention anything else. She kept the phone aside and slid beneath the blanket, staring at the mint greenness of the ceiling above. It matched the walls and the tiles on the floor, giving the room a dull appearance.
The door creaked and in strolled Dapo with the file in his hand.
“I’m sorry,” he apologized, carrying a contrite expression. He lowered and tried to kiss her lips. She gave him her back. He eased himself into the blanket and spooned her.
“I’m sorry, Tish.”
“If you’re sorry, you’ll throw that prenup far away and never mention it to me again.”
“Okay, let’s not talk about it tonight. Let’s tackle it another day.”
“You’re still talking about tackling it. If you insist on me signing it, just be ready to lose me.”
“Ha-ahn, calm down nau. It has not reached like that.”
“Me, I’ve told you my own.”
“Oya, let’s just forget the whole thing.”
She pushed away from his touch but he followed her, pressing his groin to her bum. She wasn’t surprised to find that he was nursing an erection. He had a way of developing strong boners whenever she was angry with him. And she, on the other hand, would allow him use the boner on her. Toni had called them both dysfunctional, but Leticia wasn’t bothered. Sex was sex to her, whether she was angry, happy, having a fever, menstruating or weepy.
Dapo, knowing what would calm her, lifted her t-shirt and slipped his fingers between her thighs. He found her predictably aroused. Without wasting both their time on foreplay, he separated her butt cheeks and pushed himself into her. She accepted him with a moan and a backwards shove of her bum. They started slowly and quietly, with a calculated rhythm; but they soon increased the pace when Leticia went on all fours. She rocked her body against his, slamming into his thrusts with equal wildness. It didn’t take long to have her screaming out his name and shuddering in an orgasm. He pulled out of her and wore his shorts.
“Please, don’t stop. More,” she said breathlessly. But he turned her round and gave her a kiss.
“You know I’m crazy about you, right?”
“Yeah,” she answered.
“And I’ll never do anything to hurt you.”
“Read the prenup.”
He let her have another kiss before leaving the room.
“I just saved the document in your OneDrive. Can you have a look?”
Folarin didn’t lift his eyes from his laptop when Comfort spoke. He was responding to an email from a publishing house in the US. They had emailed him the week before, informing him of their desire to sign him on as their newest author. He had gotten many of such emails lately, but this proposal had a mouthwatering offer he didn’t want to toss aside. Having just typed out a full reply, he was now reading through it a second time. He spotted a typo and made a correction before clicking on the send button.
“Did you hear what I said?”
Comfort was standing before his desk, two mugs of steaming hot chocolate in her hands. It was her routine to always end office hours with her special blend of hot chocolate.
Folarin accepted what she offered with a smile of gratitude. “I’ll have a look at it now.”
“I cleaned up a lot of stuff you missed. And that’s so unlike you to miss out so many grammatical errors. Should I be bothered about you?”
He stared up at her while having his first sip of the steaming beverage. It stung his tongue a little but he was now numb after similar tongue burns, courtesy, Comfort.
“Bothered about me?” he responded to her question.
“Folarin, something is going on with you and I’m worried.” She took the visitor’s chair in front of his desk and peered into his eyes, questioningly.
A year ago, she wouldn’t have had the nerve to be all up in his personal space. Today, they were close friends. He had taken her out of her low-paying job the moment he hit it big, and had offered her the position of assistant editor in the literary agency he founded with Savanna. Since then, he had worked closely with her, spending many hours together and developing friendship that stretched beyond the confines of their work environment.
“I’m fine, Commie.”
“Then how come you’re still here at this time?”
“My house is around the corner nau.”
“You’ve been going home really late throughout this week. I didn’t even expect you to be here today. It’s a Saturday.”
“I took Tife out, dropped her at home and came here to attend to important emails.”
“Which you could have done at home.”
“Commie, there’s nothing going on with me.”
Comfort lowered her mug to her laps. “You’ve still not forgiven Christie, have you?”
“I told you my personal life is never up for discussion…”
“But mine is abi? You ask me stuff about myself and I tell you.”
“And I appreciate that, but…”
“But what? You don’t trust me enough?”
“It’s not that.”
“Then what is it?”
“I don’t want to talk about Christie and I. It’s a very sore topic.”
“Are you talking to her about it?”
“Commie, let’s end this discussion abeg.” He shut his laptop, not because he wanted to, but because he was on edge.
Comfort leaned forward. Her long weave fell over her chest, covering her blatant cleavage which she had carried about all evening, much to Folarin’s knowledge. If Savanna were around, both ladies would have gotten into a fight over her dressing. Savanna was strict with Comfort in the work place, but Folarin pretty much allowed her do as she desired. This got Savanna always worked up. She had even developed an interesting theory about how his relationship with Comfort would go.
“She’ll get you soon, Larin. All that sweetness and friendliness and late nights in the office will lead to something. And just like Raji, you’ll become her baby daddy.”
Folarin always laughed off Savanna’s statements. He didn’t believe they came from a place of concern. She had become cynical after being badly hurt by her ex-wife. Her cheeriness which was her distinct characteristic was gone and she was now critical of women like Comfort. She hadn’t been elated that Folarin hired her, and would use every opportunity to remind him that Comfort had a rotten past and was thus, a perpetual home wrecker.
But Comfort was no longer that person. She was happy with who she was these days. Raji, to her, was simply her son’s father. Now and then, they had the occasional date, but it was hardly romantic. Just two friends eating out and discussing about their son. Comfort saw other men whenever she had the time. Folarin couldn’t imagine himself being on her list of desirable men. And she wasn’t on his list too. She was attractive enough to be any man’s wet dream if the man had his sights on her. But Folarin wasn’t looking her way.
“You should forgive Christie. She is your wife, Fola.”
Folarin continued to stare at Comfort without letting out the content of his thoughts. He pushed his chair backwards and lifted his feet to rest them on his desk.
“Did you know about the affair while it was going on?” he asked.
“Christie and Raji. Did you know?”
“Why didn’t you ever tell me?”
“Trust me, I was itching to, because at that time, I was still crazy about Raji. But you loved Christie so much, Folarin. You always spoke about her. So, I felt it was best for you to be oblivious of what was going on until it ended. I believed they were going to end it soon.”
“And they would have, and I would have been oblivious, if they hadn’t been careless.”
“But it’s all over now.”
Comfort stood up, clutching a mug on which was written her son’s name. “Go home, Folarin. It’s late.”
“Yeah, it is. Goodnight, Comfort.”
He watched her walk to her office. Soon, he heard soft music playing. Her house was just a couple of streets away, not far from his. She enjoyed working late nights, as did he, but she would always scold him if he stayed in the office later than 9PM. He glanced at the time on his watch. It was almost 10PM. He rose to his feet, picked his car key and phone, and announced to her that he was on his way.
She waved in distraction. He left the office. Outside, the air was humid and the sky starless. He entered his car and drove to a suya joint nearby. He got Christie some massa and suya, and afterwards, drove home.
When he got into the house, he found his mother watching a movie on Africa Magic Yoruba. She responded to his greeting absentmindedly as he walked past.
He entered his bedroom. Christie was awake, standing before her idea board with colored markers in both hands. She was wearing a pair of his boxer shorts and a supportive bra top. Her post-baby pouch was swathed tightly in a wrapper, probably done by his mother.
“Hey.” Christie beamed, turning in his direction. “You’re back.”
“I got you suya and massa.”
“From that our joint?”
“Yay! I love you so much!”
She went to him and took the polythene bag he offered, but not before throwing her arms around his neck and kissing him.
“Somebody’s all excited tonight.”
“Yes. An ad idea came to me.”
Folarin tossed a stare at the idea board. “That board is full, Chris. Do you want me to get you another?”
“It’s not full. There is still space for a thousand more ideas.”
She took him by the waist and sought for another kiss from his lips.
“So, the DNA results came in today,” she announced.
“Okay? Just okay?”
“I knew she was mine, Chris. There was no doubt about that.”
Christie’s smile dimmed a little as did her voice. “Then why did you ask for the test?”
“I just felt like it.”
She dropped her arms from his waist. “I don’t understand.”
Folarin began to remove his shirt. “There’s nothing to understand, Christie. I needed to have that test done.”
“But you just said you had no doubts in your mind that Tamilore was yours.”
“So why did you want the test?”
“Because it’s my right to ask for a DNA test, Christina!” he yelled. Christie flinched. Folarin shut his eyes in remorse. “I’m sorry.”
He tried to hold her but she withdrew from his touch.
“So, it wasn’t about the results. It was about punishing me?” she asked in strained voice.
“It was not about punishing you, Chris. I needed to have it done. She’s my child and the DNA test is my right.”
“Then maybe you should have Boluwatife tested too.”
“Stop making this what it isn’t, Chris.”
“I’m just saying that since it is your right, you should test your first daughter as well…”
“Because you and I know that this isn’t about rights. It’s about trust! You don’t trust me anymore, so go ahead and do what is on your mind!”
“You have no right to shout back at me, Christina!” he raged, slamming his shirt on the bed. “You cheated! You were fucking my best friend behind my back! And I forgave you! So I can damn well choose to do any test I want to do on my kids and even on you if I fucking feel like! And you have no right to give me headache over it! BECAUSE YOU CHEATED!”
Tamilore burst into a scream, but Christie remained standing, locked in a hostile glare from Folarin. They stayed that way until he broke contact, tramping off to the bathroom. When he returned a couple of minutes later, Tamilore was held in Christie’s cuddle.
“We should see a therapist,” she suggested as he walked to the closet. He picked a shirt and faced her.
“Does this therapist undo what you did?”
“Then I’m not seeing anyone with you.”
“So how do you want us to move past this?”
“Christie, I am not going to see a person that’ll dig into your past and give me shit about you being abused by your brother and locked up by your parents as reason for why you’re so messed up. And in the end, I’ll have to sympathize with you and accept bullshit explanations for why you cheated on me. No, Christina, no therapy for us. But for you maybe. You need to go and understand why, of all the men in the world, you chose Raji Asepita and allowed him fuck you like a slut. You need to go and find out what he gave you that I didn’t and I still don’t have. And then, you’ll come back to me and give me answers. Because seriously, Christie, I have tried to understand why you did it, but I can’t. And until I do, I’m never going to forget those videos of you and him together.”
A rush of tears came to Christie’s eyes but he stomped out of the room. He charged past his mother in the living room without uttering a word to her.
“Richard,” she called. He stopped without turning. “Where are you going?”
He wasn’t the type of man who slept outside his home, but there was a first for everything.
“I’m going back to the office.”
“Hmmm… Okay o.”
Folarin stepped outside and shut the door. Leaving his car behind, he strolled out the front gates. He hoped Comfort was still in the office. He had unfinished work waiting.