He called Zikora once he was heading out of Yaba.
“Oh, you’re too late. I’ve already made plans with the girls. We’re going to see a movie and then dinner at Barcelos. Sorry, baby.” She let out a soft laugh. “I can’t break up the plan with them now.”
“No, no, don’t. You ladies have fun together. Enjoy your movie and dinner.”
“Thanks. Anyway, how are you?”
“I’m good. And by the sound of you, you obviously are too.”
“I am.” Another soft laugh tickled into his ear. “I’ll talk to you later, okay? Take care of you.”
He ended the call and exhaled a breath, it was definitely takeout dinner tonight. Or, the thought struck, he could drive to the restaurant, dine there and check out things. He hasn’t been there since after the funeral.
He used to stop over once or twice a week while Mama had been there, but he supposed now he’d have to do so more regularly with the restaurant being his responsibility. Their responsibility, Levi amended and sighed. It sure wasn’t going to be easy thinking of them as partners again after such a long time of trying not to think of her at all.
There were a couple of cars parked in the spacious yard when he drove through the open entranceway but the azure blue Nissan Altima centred in front of the double roof bungalow building painted sunny yellow and mocha brown caught his eye. Kristi was there and he should have expected it as she’d been playing the role of manager for Mama in the past one year.
He’d met her here, after hearing unending praises of the baker with the magic touch. She supplied pastries for the restaurant’s breakfast menu those days. But after their wedding, she’d become something of an unpaid staff and stayed that way even after their separation. Now, she was part owner and he didn’t know how that was going to work out.
He used the backdoor, walked into the kitchen he always termed ‘functional’ because it had everything a kitchen needed to function rightly, in his thinking, and was only mildly surprised to see Kristi there.
She sat on one of the high stools by the counter, writing on a hardback notebook Levi knew was the restaurant’s recent stocks ledger, and an easy smile on her face. Chef Cheta was right beside her, eating what looked like the last bites of macaroni buried in colourful vegetables, a similar smile etched on his face while they chatted comfortably.
There was nothing suggestive in their sitting side by side on a kitchen counter, Levi knew that. But a man wasn’t expected to like the man who still shared an affectionate relationship with his wife when he has lost that right. Soon to be ex-wife, he reminded himself and let the door close behind him with a click.
“Hey, Levi. Good evening.” Cheta offered a friendly smile as he pushed off the counter. “Refuelling before we finish the last round of the day.”
Wrong choice of words, Levi thought and wondered if the chef had purposely used them. Not likely. “A necessity, I’m sure. I’m in need of it myself. Refuelling, I mean.” Not another round with my wife, his pervert mind completed.
“I’ll set you up then.” Cheta said, strode to the sink. “What would be your pleasure?”
“Whatever’s good tonight.” Levi focused on Kristi. There was not a shadow of makeup on her face and yet she looked like she has set herself up to allure. “Good evening, Kristi.”
“Evening, Levi.” She sent him a pleasant smile. “How are you?”
Levi nodded, angled a glance at Cheta. He was getting something out of the oven. “Hey man, could you arrange that meal as takeaway? I’d sooner eat at home after a bath.”
“No sweat.” Cheta nodded. The thing he was getting out of the oven was roast potatoes, which he set on a slab and reached for a pot that contained some sort of spicy sauce.
Levi angled back his gaze on Kristi. She had gone back to her ledger. “May I speak with you, Kristi?”
She looked up, appeared momentarily surprised, then nodded. “Of course. In the office would be private.”
“Yes.” Levi agreed and waited for her to close the ledger, stand up and lead the way out of the kitchen. “We’ll just be a few minutes, Cheta.” He said to the other man.
“Your dinner will be right here waiting for you.” Cheta promised.
“Thanks.” He said, then followed Kristi out the kitchen and through a narrow corridor to what has always been his mother’s office.
They both hesitated before settling on the two-seater couch.
“Being in here, it’s so fresh again that we’ve lost her forever.” Levi murmured and looked around the office where he’d sit with his mother and talk, or argue, or just listen. “It’s still the same. Nothing’s changed.”
“I wouldn’t change a thing without your permission.” Kristi held met his gaze. “Besides, there’s no need to, in my thinking. Mama’s taste was impeccable and this office is lovely.”
“A little feminine though.” He wrinkled up his face. “I wouldn’t use wallpaper with a touch of pink.”
“It’s actually more of beige with a subtle rose undertone. But you would likely prefer something in grey. Or altogether go for white paint.” Kristi chuckled and then cleared her throat. “You wanted to talk to me?”
“Yes.” He cleared his throat too. “About the restaurant.”
“Look, I hope you do not think that I, in any way, coerced her into doing this. Because I would never…”
“Kristi, stop.” Levi interrupted her, shook his head. “Why would you even think that I would think something like that? Coerce? You’re incapable of such manipulation and Mama knew her mind and followed it diligently. I’m not blaming you for this, Kristi. Mama did this only because she wanted to. Everyone knows that.”
“Okay.” Kristi nodded and let the twinge of worry flutter off.
It had preyed on her mind that he might suspect her of manipulating this somehow. But it satisfied her now to know that he still knew who she was. At least in that way.
“Thing is, she never approved of our being apart and wanted us back together.” Her eyes moved to the portrait of the woman who’d always been in smart in her moves. “I expect she thought this was one way to achieve that.”
“Yeah, I expect she must have thought that.” She still used the same perfume, Levi noted. Arden Beauty.
Kristi brought her gaze back on his. “I’m sorry about the baby. I never said so before. We were separated and not speaking… well, I was really sorry to hear the baby was a stillbirth.”
“Yes, I was sorry too. She was a pretty little thing; just didn’t make it out alive.” He had such an itch to hold her hand, so he cupped both of his on his knees.
“I’m sorry.” Kristi said again. Then asked, out of the faintest curiosity, she told herself. “And, uh, Mabel—how did she take it?”
“Pretty well, I guess.” Levi shrugged, faintly frowned as he recalled the events that ended so quickly. “She never really wanted the baby. Tried to get rid of it and didn’t succeed. So, uh, she was kind of relieved.”
“Oh.” To be relieved to lose one’s baby. Kristi supposed she would never be able to understand that.
“Yes. She’s now in the UK though. Aunt of hers invited her over and she’s now resident there.”
“Good for her.” Kristi murmured and tried to feel no resentment. It was meaningless at this point. “What are we going to do, Levi?”
“I’m stumped.” How can he have such a craving to lean in and just kiss her at this very moment? “I don’t know if we can do anything.”
“I can leave it to you, Levi. It’s your right anyway. We’ll just make a pact between us and consider the restaurant all yours as it should be.”
“There’s a legal written document that says it now belongs to you and I, Kristi. And that is more binding than any pact we might agree on, I’m sure.”
“Then what are we going to do?”
The faint exasperation in her voice made him smile. It reminded him of his exasperation earlier on when he was with Tekena. “Maybe see Barrister and find out what can be done. If anything can be done.”
“And if nothing can be done?”
“Let’s see him first.” Levi suggested, then changed the subject. “How’s business for you? I hear you’re more into catering events these days, not so much baking.”
“I still bake. I still take orders on cakes and pastries from old clients and referrals.” Though the subject change surprised her, Kristi went along with it. “I could never completely abandon baking. It’s a vital part of me. The catering is more of an extension; a partnership thing between Mama… well, between Mama’s Kitchen and me. As a matter of fact, we have a wedding next weekend. She and I were handling the details as a team.” She lifted her shoulders. “I guess Cheta and I will finish it. He would be the one representing Mama’s Kitchen.”
Levi had wanted to offer his help, but since she already wanted the chef, he only gave a nod. “Cool. I’m sure it will be a success.”
“Thank you.” Kristi smiled. “And for you, how’s Vita?”
“Doing quite all right. We’re working on opening a store in Festac Town.”
“I know, Mama told me. And I’m so happy for you.”
He smiled. “Thank you. It probably will become a reality in the next two months. If everything keeps working according to plan, that is.”
“It will work out. You will make it work.” Kristi said positively.
Her faith in him was a pleasure. “By God’s grace, no doubt.” He wanted to say something else. Anything else. But he didn’t know what. “I guess I should be on my way. I’ll call you about seeing Barrister tomorrow, or next.”
“That’s all right.” Why did she wish that he wouldn’t go? Stupid wish. “I’ll see you then.”
He took his takeaway pack from the kitchen, bid Cheta goodnight and drove out of the restaurant.
At home, he attended first to Frodo.
“Miss daddy today?” He asked as he cleaned out his cage.
Frodo let out a growl in response.
“I missed you too. I will be home earlier tomorrow and we’d have ourselves some guys’ time.” He set his dinner in his plate and put him back in the cage. “While we’re at it though, I’ll give you a bath. You kind of stink, mister.”
Since Frodo was already wolfing down his dinner, there was no response this time.
“Goodnight, boy.” Levi bade him, strode back inside and took his dinner with him to the bedroom.
He had his bath first, then turned on the 28-inch TV pinned to the wall before he settled on the bed with his plate of roast potatoes, shredded chicken and fish peppered sauce.
She’d liked stuff like this, them eating in bed while watching TV. If they messed up the bed, it was part of the fun and she never minded taking care of the mess the next day. She never minded them throwing caution to the wind and making love on top of the mess either.
God, tonight, like the first couple of nights after she’d left, he sorely missed her.
Definitely Sealed is #2 of the Workplace Romance Trilogy, read #1, All Business, HERE.