THE lawyer listened to them with quiet patience on his face, like they were two quibbling toddlers requiring assurance from a grown-up, Levi thought.
“You know when she actually left you two the restaurant?” Kingston Akalue asked when Levi was done speaking.
They both gave their heads a shake. Again, like two toddlers, Levi mused.
“Just two days after your wedding.” There was a law journal on his desk and he crossed his hands over it. “Even way back then she wanted you two to jointly own the restaurant. So, this wasn’t a hasty decision she made to entrap you into doing something you may not want to do.”
“But the clause she added two days before her passing?” Levi frowned.
“I can’t explain why she did that. She gave me no explanations and I didn’t ask for any.” The older man gave his shoulders a slight shrug. “But I don’t think she knew she was dying, or any such thing. She probably only wanted to make sure the restaurant stays in the family. That business was very important to her, I’m sure you both know that.”
“Yes, we do. But it still would have stayed in the family if she’d willed it to only Levi.” Kristi pointed out.
“True.” The lawyer acknowledged. “But you were also family to her, Kristi, and I’m sure she wanted your interest protected.”
“But I don’t want the restaurant!” Kristi protested. “I love the place admittedly but I think it’s Levi’s right.”
“Well, according to the law, and adhering to the provisions of her will, it’s both your rights now.”
“We’re separated. We are looking to get a divorce.”
Levi shot a startled stare at Kristi, shocked at her statement and unsure why he was.
“I didn’t know that. Have matters degenerated to that point?” Kingston Akalue frowned.
“We’ve been apart too long, Barrister. We need to move on with our lives.”
“And you two think you can’t do so together anymore?”
The question hung in the air for a full thirty seconds before Kristi sent a glance to Levi that he figured was her way of handing the baton to him.
So, struggling past his lingering shock, he cleared his throat. “Sometimes, things don’t work out no matter how much we want them to. Kristi and I can’t help the way things are and we’d rather avoid a fight over a property.”
“Then you will have to find a way to manage the restaurant together because there’s absolutely nothing I can do for you. Except maybe to counsel you that there’s hardly anything irreparable between two people if they set their hearts to repair it.” Kingston Akalue looked at one before the other. “No marriage is without flaws. But commitment makes the difference you see in the ones that last the tide of time.”
“Thank you, sir. We’ll keep in touch.” With nothing else to say, Levi stood up.
Outside the one storey building where the lawyer had his office, he faced Kristi.
“I don’t know.”
Since her expression was sincerely confused, he sighed. “I don’t know either. But I think we should take it one day at a time at this point, until we can figure something out. I guess it’s time we call the staffs together and officially inform them that we’re both now co-managers for the foreseeable future.”
“I guess we should do that.”
“Tomorrow morning before the restaurant opens work for you?”
She nodded. “Yes, works just fine.”
“Cool. I’ll see you then.”
They both turned to their cars.
Levi waited until she pulled out before he followed her into the busy highway. But for the rest of the day, his thoughts whirled around her mention of a divorce. It was the first time she was doing so and it shook him in a way he hadn’t expected it to.
SUNDAY evening, he tucked away whatever was left of the disquiet and went off to dinner at the Cookeys’ home.
Ima Cookey’s smile bloomed with friendly welcome when she greeted him at the door. “Good evening, Levi. Come right in.”
“Gosh, you grow more beautiful every day, Ima.” She was beautiful, not facially, but in the perfect curves of her hourglass figure. Levi, and mostly to goad Tekena, slipped a hand around her in a hug. “And smell beautiful too. Tell me, have you given more thought to our trip to Dubai? Because the offer’s still open. You and me on the desert sands in the most gorgeous Arab city.”
Ima laughed. “My answer’s still an irrevocable no to that tempting invitation. But thank you again.
“Stop flirting with my wife.” Tekena strode over, tugged his hand off Ima’s waist and put a glass in it.
“Still so possessive, I see.” Levi teased, tasted the wine and approved it with a sigh as he strolled into the living room. “Hmm, something’s different about this place.”
“New wall paint, glamorous drapes and a couple of paintings. Ima’s handiwork. She’s the queen of the castle and I, her humble subject.” But Tekena’s smile was tinged with pride and buried in love as he handed over a wineglass to his wife, Levi noted.
“Amazing handiwork, Your Majesty.” He grinned. “Nothing like a feminine touch to give a house a homey ambiance. This…”
“I think that should be Kristi.” Tekena said when the rap on the door interrupted Levi.
“What?” He swung a shocked gaze at Tekena.
“I’ll get it.” Ima set down her glass and aimed for the door.
“You invited Kristi too?” Levi was frowning. “Why?”
“Because she’s my friend.” Tekena turned on the television, settled it on a News channel and left the volume low. “Plus, I want her and Ima to get better acquainted. You don’t have a problem with that, do you?”
“Your home, your choice.” Levi returned, irritated that his heart fluttered with confusing emotions.
“How gracious of you.” Tekena chuckled and started filling another glass with wine.
At the door, Kristi beamed at the woman she was meeting for the second time. A woman who made her lust for a narrow waist to perfect her own curvy build. Tekena Cookey’s wife—second wife. Well, only wife now since the first was no longer in the picture. Kristi had always thought that Jade should never have been in the picture. Somehow, she’d never liked her, even before her true nature had come to light. But this one, the one with the enviable figure and the lovely smile, she’d liked straightaway and wouldn’t mind to cultivate a friendship with.
“Good evening. I hope I’m not late. I see Levi’s car out there and he’s not particularly known for his punctuality.”
“Oh, you’re not late at all. He came early.” Ima assured. “Good evening. So nice to meet you again. Please, come in.” She backed two steps and waited for her to walk in before she closed the door. “Lovely dress.”
“Thank you. But I’m admiring your shirttail top and trousers and the magic they’re having on your amazing figure. God, what I will give for a slim tummy like yours.”
“Nature’s gift, nothing I made happen.” Ima grinned. “But really your flawless skin tone makes me wish for a magic wand I could use banish my freckles.”
“Like you, nature and then a little extra care.” Kristi touched a hand on her arm to stop her and then lowered her voice. “Don’t mind my asking, but is it just Levi and I as guests?”
“Actually, it is.” If the question baffled Ima, her easy smile didn’t reveal. “Well, my girlfriend, Fejiro, was also invited but unfortunately she could not make it.”
“Pity. I mean, her inability to make it.” Kristi clarified and then chuckled. “Of course, there’s the little snag of having to share a table with a husband you’ve been separated from for close to two years. But that’s just small potatoes.”
“Will it help if I assured you Tekena and I put away all our sparring swords and have the peacekeeping flag flying high this evening?”
Kristi looked at her, looked at the teasing smile around her lovely brown painted lips and the bright stars in her eyes and liked her. Really liked her. “That is reassuring. Keep that flag waving and I promise you, we’ll all survive the evening unscathed.”
She laughed and then tuned up her voice and said as they continued into the living room. “But this is a lovely room. It’s so warm and relaxing. Well done, Ima. For I know a woman’s touch when I see it.”
“If I say I helped hang the curtains would I share in the praise?” Tekena asked, strode over to give her a hug and pass her a glass of wine.
“Maybe for having the wisdom to pick the right woman and help hang the curtains.” Kristi laughed. “Good evening, Tekena.”
“Good evening, Kristi. Allow me to say that you’re looking elegant.”
“I take that as high praise coming from a man who sees absolute elegance every day.” Kristi grinned and because she felt in perfect charge of her emotions, turned to Levi. “Hello, Levi. How are you this evening?”
“I’m good. Good evening.” Levi kept his smile affable and ignored the pull below his navel at the sheer loveliness of her.
She’d used makeup this time and Kristi knew how to adorn her face and her body. The black and white wrap dress she had on slinked down to her knees and clung to her like a second skin. She was elegant as Tekena had praised, sensually so.
“Since dinner is all set, I’ll suggest we go straight to the dining table.” Ima said and with a smile led the way.
Tekena took the head of the oval shaped table with his wife on his right while Kristi and him were seated in the middle to his left. That there was another scent on her apart from Arden Beauty tonight didn’t surprise Levi. Kristi liked to mix scents on special occasions and this one was subtly alluring.
“Oh my, this is so tasty. You made this, right?” Kristi looked at Ima. “Because I know Tekena used to have a cook—or was it housekeeper?—in the old days.”
“He was all of the above.” Tekena replied. “We’ve sent Pere off to my cousin who got married a while back and needed help around the house. This is all Ima.”
“Simply scrumptious.” Kristi stated. “Tastiest ekpang nkukwo I’ve had. I definitely didn’t get this rich melange of seafood last time I was privileged to have it.”
“Thank you.” Ima beamed. “I aimed to dazzle with a true local dish and it looks like I succeeded.”
“You sure did. I love it.” Kristi lifted another forkful. “If you’re looking for a part time job, for I heard you’ve left your job, the restaurant will welcome you as assistant chef.”
“Oh, how I would love to snatch up the chance to assist Chef Cheta! Met him once when Tekena took me to dinner at Mama’s Kitchen. His coconut and seafood plantain pottage was out of this world tasty. I even had them pack me a takeaway pack. Greedy me.” Ima laughed.
“His seafood plantain pottage does that to you, I have to confess.” Levi said and almost sighed at the deep-throated mmm-hmm sound that came from Kristi. “The man’s a marvel in the kitchen. But it wouldn’t hurt if we have another marvel joining him there.”
“Seriously, I wish I can snap up this generous offer. But I’m looking to start a business myself.” Ima pulled a sad face.
“What kind?” Kristi asked, interested.
“I’m thinking of a bookstore. Maybe even have a library section on the side and a small business centre. Of course, I’m looking at my account and deciding how much of it I can do at once and when to begin.”
“Stop looking at that account because you know that’s not where this is coming from.” Tekena chided.
“I can set myself up, Mr Cookey.” Ima rolled her eyes at him.
“It’s your husband’s duty to set you up, Mrs Cookey.” Tekena countered and nipped her on the chin.
The pure love and unbridled desire in his eyes gave Kristi’s heart a clutch. Once she’d had a man looking at her just like that. “Talking about account,” she said aloud, shoved aside the wistfulness. “I need to hire an accountant for the restaurant. Mama started using one about three years ago and she resigned just before her passing.”
“We need to hire an accountant.” Levi corrected. “Partners, remember?”
“Sorry. We.” Kristi’s smile, mildly apologetic, was aimed at him before she turned on Ima again. “I think we will have to put up an online ad though. It works faster these days.”
“I believe I might know just the person you need. My girlfriend, Fejiro. I mentioned her earlier?” Ima sent Kristi a meaningful stare. “Well, she’s an accountant. Was working in an insurance company but got laid off about three weeks ago and haven’t found anything else yet. But she’s a decent accountant. Definitely one with integrity, I can assure you.”
“Uh, I think the job description for an accountant in a restaurant is a little different from the usual.” Kristi said.
“She worked a couple of months in a fast food place, so I think it’s a territory that will be familiar to her.” Ima readily assured her.
“Okay.” Kristi glanced at Levi. “What do you think?”
“I think we should interview her and see how it goes. No promises.” He added.
“An interview suffices. Thank you.” Ima smiled.
“Settled then.” Kristi nodded. “When is convenient for you for the interview? I can make myself available anytime.”
Levi considered his schedule. “Tomorrow evening. I’ve an appointment in the morning.”
“Tomorrow evening, it is then.” Another evening in his company, just great. Kristi picked her glass of water. “Ima, you can provide us her details, right?”
“I’ll have it written out for you.” Ima promised and rose. “I think we’re set for dessert. Why don’t you all adjourn to the living room and I’ll join you as soon as I clear this up?”
“I’ll help you.” Kristi pushed to her feet.
“Oh please, you don’t have to bother. This will only take a minute. Besides, if I needed help, I would put Tekena’s hands to use.”
“Well, let Tekena’s hands have a rest tonight; at least from clearing up the dining table.” Kristi grinned, already stacking dishes.
“Thank you, Kristi.” Tekena said with a heartfelt sigh. “This is exactly how she overworks me wrongly.”
“Oh, please, go on with you.” Ima rolled her eyes. “We’ll be right out.”
They joined the gentlemen a few minutes later and then settled into their dessert of homemade ice cream.
“This is nice. Although, I prefer to avoid ice cream.” Kristi loved the sprinkle of crackers and honey over the simple vanilla ice cream.
“Me too. I actually tried my hand on coconut cake for dessert, but it came out too dry, so I chucked it.” Ima grimaced. “But I heard you are a wonder with cakes.”
“And you sure heard right, Ima. There’s nothing like Kristi’s cakes, and her bread is the crispiest thing ever. The flavour of it you can even sniff a mile away. Don’t let me get into the buttery smoothness.” Levi let out a gusty sigh. “As for her pastries, you can make them entrée, main meal and dessert of them without getting bored.”
“Why, that’s the loveliest compliment you ever paid my baking.” Kristi’s smile glowed with pleasure at the praise that had surprised her.
“Just stating facts.” Levi shrugged. He’d got a little carried away, but still they were pure facts.
“Thank you still.” She would hug him now if she could. But she couldn’t and somehow, Kristi missed that.
“You’re welcome.” Levi gave his head a casual dip.
“Hey, what I will give to perfect my wobbling skills in baking.” Ima filled the silence that momentarily followed. “And especially with cakes. No matter how differently I go each time, it’s never quite right.”
“Well, I’ve got an order for black forest cake and some chops for an intimate birthday party this Wednesday. You can come watch and learn, if you like.”
“A training session with a pro? Yay! I would so appreciate that. Wednesday, what time?”
Her enthusiasm made Kristi chuckle. “Morning. About nine. I live at Ifako-Ijaiye. Tekena will tell you how to get to my place.”
“Oh my God! I can’t wait.” Ima beamed, excited.
The conversation soon shifted after that from food to business and then some politics. Something towards nine, Kristi announced her time of departure and Levi followed suit.
Alone in their kitchen and loading up the dishwasher, Ima aimed a knowing look at her husband of four months. “Don’t think I don’t see what you’re doing here, Tekena Cookey.”
“And what am I doing, Imaobong Cookey?” He dumped the empty bottle of wine in the trash can, strolled to the sink to wash his hands.
“You are playing matchmaker.” She chuckled when his arms came around her, leaned back into him. “You want those two back together.”
“They are meant to be together.” He sniffed in her scent, sighed at the femaleness of it and nibbled her collarbone. “They want to be together, they’re just confused who should make the first move.”
Since his fingers were already working on her trousers, she refrained from turning on the dishwasher. “So, like Levi’s Mama you’re pushing them together.” She swallowed a moan but couldn’t stop the shudder when his fingers found their way into her lace slip. “How very cunning of you, you closet romantic.”
“Oh please.” He glided his fingers through warm wetness. “Nothing romantic there. Just good sense.”
“Closet romantic.” Ima repeated, gurgled at his sharp nibble. “And just so you know, you’re coming back here to help me finish off.”
“Slave driver.” Tekena murmured, slipped out his fingers and scooped her into his arms, and then swallowed her laughter with his kiss.
We’ll be announcing publishing date of Definitely Sealed on Thursday. Until then, cheers.