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One More Time… And Forever – 10

OMTAF EPISODES

CHAPTER TEN 

 

He thought he had a right to her. He’d never thought so before when they were together. In those days, he thought of her as he thought of any woman he dated—only as a sexual partner.

He was a man and sex was important. Sex was natural and women were there to satisfy that natural yen.

But she’d changed that. Without him noticing; not consciously enough at least. He’d stayed with her longer than he’d stayed with any of his lovers. He’d fallen in love with her, like he’d never fallen in love before. Like he would never again fall in love. He’d run away from her and from that love. But he couldn’t escape. Not her and not that love.

And so, he thought, now, that he had a right to her. As she had a right to him. For him, there was to be no other woman. For her, he was the only man.

Maybe thinking that way made him arrogant.

All right, it wasn’t ‘maybe’, Chima granted with a snorted sigh as he smoothly overtook the Kia hatchback. He was acting arrogant. Thinking arrogant. Definitely showing himself to be self-assured and over-confident to the point of haughtiness.

But that was who he was, a man who’d learned to depend more on himself than on any other. A man who’d had to keep his emotions strapped inside, exhibited the absence of them and flaunted instead his pride, his unshakable confidence and his haughty determination never to lose.

And he won’t lose Kobi. Hell no, he won’t, he vowed and swung off the express lanes into the long street that ended with The Big Mall. He was not going to allow himself lose her. He would be her friend, her confidante, her whatever and anything, just to get her back.

He parked his car at the end of the parking lot’s last row aisle, reverse style, and exited the driver’s seat, taking with him the leather bag on the passenger seat.

The mall was brimming with more people than you usually saw on a weekday and just after midday. Everyone liked sales and promos and everyone liked to take advantage of them. He would consider going through the racks on his way out–if things went as well as he wanted them to.

And he planned that they would.

“Oh, I’m sorry, sir, but Madam is busy right now.” Ola said once he walked into her small outer office.

“I’m sure she is.” Chima sent her an agreeable smile. “But you just call her and tell her I have a personal delivery for her.”

“Personal delivery?” She cast a glance at the leather bag in his hand and then nodded. “All right. Please, hold on.”

She spent a full minute on the table phone, listening and nodding mostly, then she set down the receiver. “You can go right in, sir.”

“Thank you, Ola.” He dipped his head in a courteous nod and walked to her door, knocked and waited for her to respond.

She did, with a quiet, “come in.”

“Let me begin by apologising for barging on you on a busy day like this.” He had that speech ready as he came through the door and he flashed his apologetic charming smile. “I promise I won’t take too much of your time. I only brought this for you.”

“What is this?” She asked, her eyes wary as they stared at him.

She had a deep sea blue suit on, her makeup was light, her hair, really her hair not extension, was pulled up in a ponytail. She looked like a smart executive behind a desk with a laptop, a table phone and a bunch of The Big Mall branded hardcover notebooks.

She looked beautiful. Chima felt the clench in his groin, the clutch in his chest and recognised the twin souls of desire and love. “Corn and pear.” He held out the leather bag to her.

“Corn and pear?” She stared at the bag. Then she raised her eyed to his. “What do you mean, corn and pear?”

He grinned. “Open and see.”

“Chima…”

He shook his head and interrupted. “Just open and see, Kobi.”

She didn’t touch the bag and continued to look wary.

“Kobi, please, I wouldn’t bring you anything that will harm you, you must know that?” He gave his eyes an exasperated roll and set the bag on her table, opened it and lifted out the silverware food flask. “It’s just this. Now, open it and see.”

“What’s inside the food flask, Chima?”

“I told you, Kobi. Corn and pear.”

“Corn and pear.” She exhaled, raised a hand to touch her forehead. Her usual gesture when she was striving for patience. Then she gave her head a shake. “Fine, I’ll open and see. Not that I know why you’ll be bringing me corn and pear.” She started unclasping the fastenings of the flask. “I’m glad the flask you got from us is serving you well, without complaint.”

It surprised him that his thudded with anticipation. And apprehension. “Lots of things I got here is serving me well without complaint.”

“Uh-hmm.” She flipped open the cover and then her mouth rounded in an oh. “It’s honey buttered corn and baked pear. You did this?” She looked at him. “Why?”

Because I wanted to do something special for you. Because I wanted you to know that I remember every little detail about you, your little likes and little cravings. “I laid my hands on some fresh corn this morning and honey buttered corn and baked pear came to mind.”

“Honey buttered corn and baked pear came to mind?” Her eyes were studying him. There was uncertainty in the dark depths, and the wariness was back there too. “You used to cuss me out for lacing my cooked corn with honey and baking my pear instead of dipping it in boiling water, Chima.”

“Yeah. But I still found the weird recipe weirdly tasty.” He wanted to touch her; to just reach out and tuck away her wariness with a caress, a kiss. He forced his hands into his pockets and casually tugged his shoulders. “That recipe came to mind this morning and I thought I’d share some of the result with you.”

“You thought you’d share some of the result with me?”

“There was plenty.” He held her gaze and added softly. “And it’s your favourite thing. You used to crave it like crazy when corn’s in season.”

She stared at him. Like she was shocked he’d remember something like that. Then she dropped her eyes to the corn cubs stuffed in a polythene bag inside the flask. “You shouldn’t have, Chima. I mean, I don’t want you doing things like this.”

“Don’t you like your corn laced in honey and your pears baked anymore?”

“Uh… yes, I do. But that’s not the point.” She shook her head, backed a step from her table. Backing up from the temptation of the corn, Chima thought. “The point is I didn’t expect you to do this. I don’t want you to do things like this… bring me things to my office. Or to my house.”

“It’s just a couple of corn cubs and some pears, Kobi.”

“I know. But I don’t want you bringing me corn cubs and pears. Or anything else.” Her eyes narrowed defiantly and her mouth tightened with same defiance. “You can’t get to me by bringing me gifts, Chima.”

But he’s gotten to her. He’s unsettled her. “Gosh, Kobi, I thought we’d agreed to be friends? Why are you making this out to be something more than it is?” He expelled an exasperated breath and yanked his hands out of pockets to pick one pear, tossed it in his mouth. “See? Not poisoned. Or laced with a love potion.”

Her mouth twitched but remained stubborn. So, he emitted the pear seed and gestured to the corn cubs. “Want me to taste those too, one after the other? Or should we be taking them into some food testing scientific lab to ascertain there’s no make-Kobi-brainless potion in them?”

“Don’t be dramatic!” Amusement lurked in the depths of her eyes. But her expression remained wary. “I didn’t say you poisoned them, or laced them with love potion. Though I’m curious now where you’d get love potion from, or anything that might make me brainless for that matter.” She rolled her eyes.

He grinned but said nothing.

“Anyway, all I’m just saying…”

“Kobi.” He offered her a quick apologetic smile at his interruption. “It’s just a thought. Just a gesture. Nothing attached to it. You like your corn laced with honey after being cooked and your pear baked, I made some, I thought of you and I came to share. A simple friendly gesture.”

“A simple friendly gesture?”

“That is all it is. I promise you I won’t ask you to nip a thumb and take a blood oath with me. Uh-uh.” He gave his head a definite shake and winked.

When she still hesitated, he strolled closer and gave her a light jab with his elbow. “Come on, Kobi, you know you’re tempted to pick one and taste. Try it. You’ll see I did it as well as you would. Maybe even better.”

“Even better? Please.” She emitted a derisive snort. “There’s nothing in this world you can cook better than me.”

“Sure about that?”

“Definite.”

“Okay. I don’t want to brag, so I’m leaving these here with you and I’m expecting an honest verdict.” He backed to the door. “Have a great day, Kobi.”

“Chima, wait!”

He stopped. “Yes?”

“Ah…” She looked torn—between insisting she didn’t want the corn and pear and thanking him for them. “Um, thank you.” Good manners won. And a mouth-watering yen, Chima figured. “I guess it was a nice thought and I appreciate it.”

He smiled. “You’re welcome. Now, enjoy.”

He went through the door, and decided as he strode back into the mall that not hanging around the store, looking through racks, was likely to save him from making the huge blunder of surrendering to the temptation of running back to her office to kiss her after all.

He’d crossed one barbed wire today, he would wait patiently and sensibly to cross the next another day.

He’d brought her honey buttered corn laced and baked pears. Her absolute food weakness, for heaven’s sake! Kobi wanted to scream, to stamp her feet repeatedly on the floor and scream like a child having a tantrum.

What had possessed her to agree to a friendship with him?

What had she been thinking of that had stopped her from giving him a definite and blatant no on that impossible, completely, utterly, totally impossible request, huh?

They couldn’t be friends. That was…

Stupid.

Crazy.

Impossible.

“Self-destructive.” She muttered and slumped heavily into her chair.

It would be destroying herself and her relationship with with Naeto.

“Oh, don’t be so unnecessarily dramatic.” She muttered again, crossly and yanked close her laptop.

It wasn’t self-destructive. Or destructive at all. It was just… risky. Risky because…

Her phone rang and Kobi hastily snatched it up, dodging the answer she couldn’t complete. She couldn’t allow herself complete.

It was Julianne Ada Brown and her brows knit together in a slight frown before picking the call. She almost could guess why she was calling.

“Good afternoon, Mummy Brown.”

“A good afternoon to you, Kobi.” Julianne Ada Brown’s voice was its usual friendly, cultured and softly modulated tone. “I do hope I am not interrupting your work, my dear girl.”

“No, you’re not, ma’am. I am, um, taking a brief lunch break.” Her frown darkened as her gaze flickered to the corn cubs and pears. “Is there anything I can help you with, ma’am?”

“No, nothing.” She gave a soft reassuring laugh. “I did not see you in church yesterday and when I tried to call you later in the evening, both your numbers were unavailable.”

She’d followed Naeto to his church. They’d been having a Youth Program and he’d invited her. Afterwards, when they’d gone out for dinner, she’d left her phone in airplane mode to avoid inopportune calls from Chima.

“I attended a different church yesterday, and um, my phone was mostly in airplane mode.

“That explains it. Well, I shouldn’t keep you. I only called to make sure you are okay and to remind you of my birthday dinner on Thursday. I am sincerely hoping you will be there.”

She couldn’t be there. Not when Chima too would be there. “I am sorry, Mummy Brown, I don’t know if I can make it. The dinner does start at 7 p.m., doesn’t it? Well, I can’t be certain when we workers will close for the day that Thursday. These things are never definite and as store manager, I can hardly leave before seeing to the proper closure of the mall.”

“Aperitifs actually begin at 6:30 p.m. but that hardly matters. You missed out on my Saturday luncheon last year and promised me you’ll make up for it this year, Kobi. So, I’m not accepting any excuses. You have to be there.”

The mall had had promo sales that week and it had been too busy for her to get away; especially as she was just assistant manager then.

“Mummy Brown, I’d hate to disappoint you…”

“Then don’t. I’ll see you on Thursday. And I will consider your presence, my birthday present.” She gave another soft laugh. “I will see you in church on Wednesday, dear. You have a blessed day now. Bye.”

“Bye, ma’am.” Kobi let out a deep breath as she dropped down the phone.

God, what was this, a conspiracy between mother and son to hound her to death?

Of course, it wasn’t. She sighed, breathed again and stared at the corn cubs and pears. Mummy Brown always invited certain church members to her birthday celebrations. For her sixtieth, every church member had been invited and it had been a huge celebration at the Browns amazing family home.

So, her son, her first son, was going to be there was that reason enough to avoid this year’s celebration dinner?

Yes. Yes, it was more than reason enough, because… because… because…

“Oh, for God’s sake, just because!” She snapped and snatched up one corn cub and bit into it.

“Hmm.” She breathed and took another bite, sending it home with a buttery baked pear.

Dang, he was right. These were good, almost better than hers. Almost.

She went through the whole cub before she half staggered to her water dispenser, filled her cup and drank thirstily. Escorting herself back to her chair with another cupful, she lifted another corn cub and took one small bite, and taking a roasted pear, she sat back and let herself think.

She didn’t want to go because of Chima. And she was right to not want to do so. She shouldn’t go, not when he was surely going to be there, not when…

Kobi lifted her rock glass tumbler and half emptied the water inside it.

Not when she was starting to be so aware of him again. Not when she was starting to tingle again at his closeness. Not when her heart was starting to hammer again because he looked at her with tender, wistful eyes. And not when he had made her want to laugh, though she’d successfully held herself back, just because he’d made a wisecrack.

And definitely not when she was starting to wonder if he really was in love with her.

She didn’t want to. And it didn’t matter that she didn’t want to start feeling all these… feelings. She was starting to feel them once again and so… she wouldn’t go. She would offer her apologies to Mummy Brown on Wednesday after midweek service and that would be that.

She debated if she should tell Naeto about the invitation or not. What would be the point, she’s made up her mind not to attend, hasn’t she?

But it would be hiding something from him if she didn’t tell him about it, wouldn’t it be?

But… he didn’t have to know everything that went on with her, particularly trivial matters like this one, did he?

Would this be lying, omitting the truth, or just avoiding unnecessary trouble?

Darn it, she hated to second-guess herself. And she wouldn’t be if that darned Chima hadn’t come bringing her corn and roasted pear when she hadn’t asked him to!

“You’re certainly distracted this evening. I don’t think I’ve heard that many hmms since my always-ailing uncle died of ant bite.”

“Died of an ant bite?” She tumbled out of her confused thoughts with a chuckle at the weird information. “How’s that possible?”

“Well, he did howl, and in the loudest screech, that he’d been bitten hard by a black ant.” Naeto gave his eyes a dramatic roll and stretched back against her couch. “Then he hmmed, and moaned and grunted the rest of the night. The next morning, he was found dead on his bed. So, since he was legendary for his unending stream of ailments and complaints, the family figured that saying that the ant bite killed him would better suit him than the true fact that he died of old age in his sleep.”

“Oh.” Kobi laughed. “Must have been a dramatic old fella.”

“That he was.” He nodded and smiled. Then reached over to cup her chin. “So, what’s got you distracted, beautiful? Tell all to your Naeto.”

Her Naeto. That was what he was, wasn’t it? Hers. And so, she was his.

No lies. No hiding or evading the truth.

“Mummy Brown invited me to her birthday dinner on Thursday.”

“Oh.” It took two seconds, then his smile dimmed. And her heart pitched. “Really? That’s nice. So, what’s the time and venue?”

“Seven p.m. At the Browns family home.” She put her hand over his, and almost sighed with relief when he entwined their fingers. “I’ve told her I can’t make it though. There’s no telling if I’d be able to leave the mall before that time and it is pointless if I’m going to be late.”

“You don’t have to say no because of me, Kobi.” His fingers tightened around hers, stopping her protest. “I know you said no because you are worried how I’d feel about Chima going to be there. But you don’t have to worry. You should go. It’s Mrs Brown, she and her husband were a great support when your mother was sick two years ago. So you said.”

It was true. Her mother had needed to travel for an kidney transplant to India and they’d been the biggest donor when the church had offered to support her financially. Not to talk of how regularly Mummy Brown had called to counsel and comfort her throughout those scary times.

“Yes and I’ve always been grateful to them. But I don’t feel like going, Naeto.” God, she couldn’t tell him of her fluttering confused feelings. So much for truth. “I’d probably be too tired after work for a formal social gathering.”

“Then take off from the mall early, you’ve got Jonathan assisting you, haven’t you?”

“Yes, but…”

“I told you I trust you, Kobi, and I meant it.”

It was herself she was starting not to trust. “Will you come with me? You can come as my escort. I’m sure I can bring someone.”

“And I would dearly have loved to go, especially as Barrister Brown himself already invited me.”

“Oh really?”

“Uh-hmm. He’s a big client and one who finds Bernard’s very satisfying.” Naeto grinned. “Unfortunately, I did have to refuse. I’m going to Abuja tomorrow and would be there until Friday. We’re putting finishing touches to opening Bernard’s, Abuja and there’s a line-up of meetings this week.”

“Oh. I thought it was only for tomorrow and that you’d be back Thursday morning.”

“A minor change in plans. A meeting’s been scheduled for Thursday evening. I’m sorry. Can’t be helped.” Naeto drew her against him, kissing her collarbone. “Go. It would make her happy and I’d at least be certain you are not home, twiddling your thumbs.”

“I don’t twiddle my thumbs.” She wiggled at his kiss and wished it was desire and not nervousness making her flutter. “Fine, I’ll consider it. If I can make it on time, all well and good. If not, well, there’s always next year.”

And she wouldn’t be going to that one either. She wasn’t going to this year’s and she wasn’t going to next year’s, and possibly, to any other year’s as long as there was the possibility of Chima being there. And he would most likely be always there now.

She debated if she should tell Naeto about the invitation or not. What would be the point, she’s made up her mind not to attend, hasn’t she?

But it would be hiding something from him if she didn’t tell him about it, wouldn’t it be?

But… he didn’t have to know everything that went on with her, particularly trivial matters like this one, did he?

Would this be lying, omitting the truth, or just avoiding unnecessary trouble?

Darn it, she hated to second-guess herself. And she wouldn’t be if that darned Chima hadn’t come bringing her corn and roasted pear when she hadn’t asked him to!

“You’re certainly distracted this evening. I don’t think I’ve heard that many hmms since my always-ailing uncle died of ant bite.”

“Died of an ant bite?” She tumbled out of her confused thoughts with a chuckle at the weird information. “How’s that possible?”

“Well, he did howl, and in the loudest screech, that he’d been bitten hard by a black ant.” Naeto gave his eyes a dramatic roll and stretched back against her couch. “Then he hmmed, and moaned and grunted the rest of the night. The next morning, he was found dead on his bed. So, since he was legendary for his unending stream of ailments and complaints, the family figured that saying that the ant bite killed him would better suit him than the true fact that he died of old age in his sleep.”

“Oh.” Kobi laughed. “Must have been a dramatic old fella.”

“That he was.” He nodded and smiled. Then reached over to cup her chin. “So, what’s got you distracted, beautiful? Tell all to your Naeto.”

Her Naeto. That was what he was, wasn’t it? Hers. And so, she was his.

No lies. No hiding or evading the truth.

“Mummy Brown invited me to her birthday dinner on Thursday.”

“Oh.” It took two seconds, then his smile dimmed. And her heart pitched. “Really? That’s nice. So, what’s the time and venue?”

“Seven p.m. At the Browns family home.” She put her hand over his, and almost sighed with relief when he entwined their fingers. “I’ve told her I can’t make it though. There’s no telling if I’d be able to leave the mall before that time and it is pointless if I’m going to be late.”

“You don’t have to say no because of me, Kobi.” His fingers tightened around hers, stopping her protest. “I know you said no because you are worried how I’d feel about Chima going to be there. But you don’t have to worry. You should go. It’s Mrs Brown, she and her husband were a great support when your mother was sick two years ago. So you said.”

It was true. Her mother had needed to travel for an kidney transplant to India and they’d been the biggest donor when the church had offered to support her financially. Not to talk of how regularly Mummy Brown had called to counsel and comfort her throughout those scary times.

“Yes and I’ve always been grateful to them. But I don’t feel like going, Naeto.” God, she couldn’t tell him of her fluttering confused feelings. So much for truth. “I’d probably be too tired after work for a formal social gathering.”

“Then take off from the mall early, you’ve got Jonathan assisting you, haven’t you?”

“Yes, but…”

“I told you I trust you, Kobi, and I meant it.”

It was herself she was starting not to trust. “Will you come with me? You can come as my escort. I’m sure I can bring someone.”

“And I would dearly have loved to go, especially as Barrister Brown himself already invited me.”

“Oh really?”

“Uh-hmm. He’s a big client and one who finds Bernard’s very satisfying.” Naeto grinned. “Unfortunately, I did have to refuse. I’m going to Abuja tomorrow and would be there until Friday. We’re putting finishing touches to opening Bernard’s, Abuja and there’s a line-up of meetings this week.”

“Oh. I thought it was only for tomorrow and that you’d be back Thursday morning.”

“A minor change in plans. A meeting’s been scheduled for Thursday evening. I’m sorry. Can’t be helped.” Naeto drew her against him, kissing her collarbone. “Go. It would make her happy and I’d at least be certain you are not home, twiddling your thumbs.”

“I don’t twiddle my thumbs.” She wiggled at his kiss and wished it was desire and not nervousness making her flutter. “Fine, I’ll consider it. If I can make it on time, all well and good. If not, well, there’s always next year.”

And she wouldn’t be going to that one either. She wasn’t going to this year’s and she wasn’t going to next year’s, and possibly, to any other year’s as long as there was the possibility of Chima being there. And he would most likely be always there now.

It was Mummy Brown who approached her at the closure of service. She’d come alone, without Tamara or Daddy Brown.

“A final reminder that we are expecting you tomorrow evening.” She said and smiled as she took her hand, giving it an affectionate squeeze. “And dear child, I am still not taking no for an answer.”

“I am dearly sorry, Mummy Brown, I would so have loved to come but I’m not sure at all if I can make it. This is such a busy week for the mall. So I’ve brought your present along, hoping you would accept it and my sincerest apologies.” She held forward the paper bag with the gift she’d gotten her yesterday.

“An extra present, how lovely. I did tell you the only present I want is your presence at the dinner, so this is extra and you will bring it along with you tomorrow evening.” Julianne Ada Brown nudged aside the paper bag and narrowed her eyes into a scrutinising stare. “Now, tell me, is it my son keeping you away, Kobi?”

“Your son?”

“Chima.”

“Ah…” What should she say? The truth? A lie? Another lame excuse?

“I can’t ask him not to come, Kobi. He’s my son. One I’ve not had the pleasure, in a long while, to share special moments like this one with. Not that that was his fault.” She smiled. And Kobi thought the smile had a shadow of wistfulness. “And George is so looking forward to having his big brother there, as is Tamara.”

“Oh, it’s George coming down from school then?”

“He’ll be flying in tomorrow morning.” Julianne Ada Brown affirmed with a nod. “Look, I understand how uncomfortable it can be being at close quarters with an ex, especially if things didn’t end well. But I was hoping that realising that he’s my son, you two can find it in yourselves to become a little more polite with each other.”

“Actually, we are kind of, um, friendlier now. But…” But that’s what worries me, Kobi finished sentence as a thought.

“I am glad to hear that, Kobi. You must know that I am very fond of you. We all are in the family.” She squeezed her hand again before letting it go. “I only invited a few church members this year… well, those dearer to us.” She added with a soft laugh. “Please be there. Tamara’s already looking forward to hearing your verdict on the cake she and Becca are baking for me.”

“Tamara and Becca are baking you a cake?” She knew Tamara liked to bake but she didn’t know she’d taken her baking into the lofty heights of cake making.

“They are baking the birthday cake.” Julianne Brown said and chuckled. “It’s going to be the highlight of tomorrow’s dinner. Oh my dear, please be there. I so want you to be and I am promising you, Chima would be in his best behaviour. He won’t trouble you at all.”

But it was his best behaviour that was worrying her, Kobi thought and sighed at Mummy Brown’s beseeching eyes. “All right, Mummy Brown, I’ll do my best to be there. Wednesdays are usually my day to close early but I’ll see if I can wiggle this Thursday too.”

“God will make it possible for you to.” Julianne Ada Brown beamed and gave her a quick squeeze. “I’ll see you tomorrow then, dear. Have a good night.”

“You too, Mummy Brown. And my greetings to Daddy Brown and Tamara.”

Okay, time to face it. She was going to the dinner party and Chima was going to be there. But that wasn’t going to be allowed to matter to her.

Not in any significant way, Kobi avowed and pulled her car into the highway. Tomorrow was going to be like any other Thursday and having dinner at the Browns wasn’t going to make any difference at all.

But the day did not begin like every other Thursday. It started off its misbehaviour with her waking up a good twenty-five minutes late and without a good explanation on why her alarm clock chose not to go off.

Kobi refused, vehemently refused, to think of the distorted dreams of she and Chima and… and things she wasn’t going to think about.

She took her bath, dressed up and marched out of the house to her car. And the car wouldn’t start. She banged at it, in places she was certain shouldn’t be banged at with a jackhammer. She cursed it, with an ill temper that made her want to yank up the miserable car and haul it out of this world. Then, she begged it. Pleaded with it, in desperate mutters and sweet-toned promises. But it would not start.

So, for the first time in her career, she was late to work, and had a mountain of complaints mounted up on her table by the time she stomped into her office. And a long stream of disgruntled consumers she had to soothe over the phone. Then she had to break up a customer-sales-assistant contention twice.

By the time it was five forty-five p.m., Kobi was more than desperate to escape the mall and all she wanted to do was fall flat on her face and pass out on her bed.

But the reminder text came and she cussed everyone on earth, and she was certain, including Julianne Ada Brown and Chima Obi-Ikendu.

So, with temper simmering, she had her bath and she dressed up, in the teal silk dress and heeled sandals she’d picked out last night, and she took another taxi to the Browns residence at Anthony Village.

She hadn’t thought she would enjoy the dinner. Not when she was in a foul mood and mentally exhausted. Not when Chima was there.

But she did enjoy the dinner. The food was spectacular; there was no better term for it. The company was just right, sociable and entertaining. The cake, and this was her personal verdict to Tamara and Becca, was sinfully divine.

Her exhaustion vanished and her foul mood scampered away. Chima sat to her right at the dinner table, an initial source of displeasure, but he was, as his mother had promised, on his best behaviour. And somehow it failed to bother her that he spoke mostly to her in soft tones, that he made her laugh in hushed giggles and that he wouldn’t stop looking at her with eyes that said things his mouth wouldn’t.

When dinner ended, and it shocked her that she thought it’d ended too soon, she walked up to Mummy Brown to announce her departure.

“Happy Birthday, Mummy Brown. May God bless you with many more happy years.” She said and embraced her warmly. “I must go now. I didn’t come in my car. It broke down this morning.”

“Oh, how unfortunate. Vehicles have the bad habit of disappointing when least expected.” Julianne Ada Brown made the appropriate sympathetic noises. “Hold on, my dear, I’ll have Reuben come drop you off.”

“That is not necessary. I’m leaving too, so I can drop her off.” Chima spoke from behind her.

Something, it’s been there all evening, tingled down her spine. “That won’t be necessary, Chima.” She offered him a smile as she shook her head. “And there’s no need to trouble Reuben at all, Mummy Brown. I’ll be fine on my own.”

“If Reuben is not to be troubled, then I must insist that you permit Chima drop you at home.” Richard Brown interjected in his known quiet but effectively authoritative voice. “It is past nine p.m. and we won’t be at ease knowing that you left here without proper escort, Kobi.”

“No, we won’t be. Do go with Chima, my dear. It would easier and safer for you.” Julianne Ada Brown embraced her and then her son. “Thank you, dears, for being here tonight. I feel so blessed to have had you all share this day with me.”

“Happy Birthday once more, mum.” Chima gave her an affectionate kiss on the cheek, and then he nodded to her. “Shall we, Kobi?”

Since it would be childish and ungracious to continue to protest, she nodded. “Um, yes. Goodnight, Mummy Brown, Daddy Brown.”

Accepting his gentlemanly gesture, she walked ahead of him through the door he held open for her.

The inside of his Range Rover felt warm despite the well-adjusted air conditioner.

“It was a beautiful evening, wasn’t it?”

Her body tingled, in more places than she cared to count. Her mind was chaotic with way too many thoughts. It’s been so long, too long, since she rode in his car, sat beside him up front, like they were a couple.

“It was.” She made herself glance at him and smile calmly. He always filled out a suit in a way that made him look even more manly.

“I am glad you were there for my mum. Having the people she treasured with her, made this day even more special.”

“It was my pleasure to be there. She and Daddy Brown have always been kind to me.” She glanced at him again and added softly. “But I think it was having you there that made it more special for her.”

He took his eyes off the road to look at her briefly. “Maybe you are right. She and I have missed out so much on each others lives. Me and my siblings too. We all have a lot to make up for.”

“And you have the time to do so now.”

“Yes, we do, and I am grateful for the second chance.”

Second chance. That was what he was getting with his mother and his siblings. That was something they would never get. And because she knew they didn’t require it.

“Do you think I will make a good farmer?”

“Farmer?” She stared at him, surprised at the sudden question. “You want to be… a farmer?”

“On a large scale. Rice farming, cassava farming… Uche and I and another friend, we’re going into a partnership. It’s already started, as a matter-of-fact.” He shrugged his shoulders. “I’m only wondering, belatedly, if it’s a good business venture.”

“Well, it’s the time for it, isn’t it? The economy is more favourable to agriculture than to any other sector. It would be a lot of work. But what work isn’t?” She countered. “I think you, and the others, will make a good success of it. You’ve always been dedicated to anything you set your mind to do and I know in this, you will be too.”

“Thank you.”

She looked at him, and for the briefest second their eyes met and held. He looked away first, switching his gaze back to the road. She turned too and stared out of her window.

“Do you remember the excursion to see the Obasanjo Farms? It was Uche who’d initiated it, not minding our protests, and it was he who’d gotten bitten by some unseen bug.” He chuckled. “Cynthia, his newly wed wife then, had called it poetic justice for his bullying us all into going.”

She remembered. They were just five months into their relationship and she was already head over heels in love with him. She’d started wishing for forever with him. Only him.

“And it was him who’d slipped and fallen flat on his face when we’d had the breakdown and had to push the car. Cynthia,” she remembered her, petite, pretty and full of laughter and crazy jokes, “had doubled over, laughing more than any of us did.” She laughed softly as she saw it all again–the almost deserted highway, the after-rain muddy sidewalk, the fall to the ground, the bouts of helpless laughter. “I think even then, Uche was already considering going into farming.”

“Mmm-hmm. And you had said, while we were still at the Farm, that farming was now the big thing. Those were your words, the big thing.”

Yes, she’d said that. She hadn’t thought much of him and Uche, or anyone she knew, going into farming that day. But she’d said those words, and he remembered them. Remembered them just as she’d said them. Just like he’d remembered she liked cooked corn laced with honey and baked pear.

“Well, here we are.” He parked behind her car and shut off the engine.

She snapped out of her wistful thoughts and memories. “Thank you for driving me home, Chima.”

“It was my pleasure, Kobi.” He smiled. And she had to snatch her eyes off the curve of his full lips. “Thank you for making the time to rejoice with my mum on this her special day. It means so much to me too, as she’s my mother and I know how tight your schedule can be.”

“I am glad I did it… for her.” She turned and pushed open the car door.

“Kobi.”

“Yes?” She turned again.

“You’re forgetting your gift pack.” He held out the small gift pack Mummy Brown had shared to all her guests.

“Oh, how remiss of me.” She reached for the box-shaped pack. Their fingers touched as she took it. A sparkle, one she clearly remembered, flashed through her. “Um, thank you again. And goodnight.”

“Goodnight, Kobi.”

She came down the car, gave him a wave and went through the pedestrian gate. The sound of the car receded into the night just as she entered into her apartment.

An hour later, Kobi lay on her bed, sleepless. Her heart thought of Chima, but her head knew, and reminded her, that Naeto was best for her. He was the one for her now. The only one.

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13 Responses to One More Time… And Forever – 10

  1. Frances says:

    Imagine This: I am the first to commentttttttttt!!!!!!!
    Wow! What a feeling!
    So okay go bak to Chima and betta don’t sing any other song ever again.
    Now I need my own corn and roasted pear.

  2. David Iyko says:

    I don’t trust this girl again ooo!
    Just be giving green light any how!

  3. Jojo says:

    Please Kobi carry ur kaya anf follow Chima jejely…..follow the onw ur heart loves.

    Well done TM.

  4. Sly says:

    matters of the heart…. so difficult to keep up with

  5. NA from clap, dance dey start Hehehehehe

  6. Patience Bassey says:

    Hmmm… This heart eh

  7. Nykky says:

    Matters that concerns heart hmmmmm sometimes you can’t dictate who the heart should love. Fingers crossed. Long time TM it feels good to be back

  8. Doyinsola says:

    New recipe alert
    Weldone ma’am

  9. chic says:

    The only thing I’m seeing here is the honey laced boiled corn.

  10. Roselyn says:

    Ahh! I need that honey laced corn too. Heart mataa, who go fit talk am? Thanks TM

  11. mz tee says:

    things love make us do………….#teamnaeto……….bin long u saw me……..thnkz ma’am TM

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