SINCE she’d showed up at the pharmacy on a surprise visit and with a surprise invitation to dinner, Levi had had no other choice but to take her along to the interview rendezvous at the restaurant.
“Why are we heading this way? I was thinking we will be dining at La Mango.”
“We’re going to Mama’s Kitchen.” Levi replied and turned into Kudirat Abiola Way.
“Oh really.” Zikora cast him a sidelong glance. She knew his mother owned—had owned—Mama’s Kitchen. “Is that where we’re dining then?”
“No. Kristi and I are scheduled to interview someone for a job.”
“You and your ex-wife are interviewing someone for a job together?” Zikora frowned. “Why?”
He sped down Obafemi Awolowo Way, glad at the fluid circulation. “We’re both now co-managers of the restaurant.” Levi paused, momentarily considered his option and then finished. “My mother left the restaurant to both of us.”
“What?” Zikora angled around on her seat, gaped at him. “Are you being serious? She left the restaurant to both of you? Why? Why would she do that?”
“I don’t know why. The will… her will said so and that is all I know.”
“She had a will?” Well, some people were smart enough to leave a will. “And when was the reading of this will?”
He didn’t care to be questioned in that very careful tone, but Levi replied. “A week after her funeral.”
“That’s like close to two weeks now.” She didn’t like what she was hearing. She didn’t like that he knew about this and didn’t tell her. “So, why am I just hearing about this now? Like this? Didn’t you think it was something I should know that you’re now co-managers of your mother’s restaurant with your ex-wife?”
“She’s not my ex-wife yet. And I’ve had a whole lot on my mind lately.” He sounded testy, Levi knew, but he couldn’t help that. “Look, I didn’t ask my mother to do this. She chose to do with her restaurant what she willed and there’s not much I can do about that now.”
She wanted to sulk, complain, fight over this; especially over his stony correction about her not being his ex-wife yet. But that would be infantile, and pointless. Plus, he’d just lost his mother and she needed to be sensitive about that.
So, Zikora swallowed her irritation and forced her tone to be gentler. “I suppose it must have been a shock to you. Why would your mother do something like this? You were her only child and she…” She stopped there, chose another route. “It’s weird. Not something you’d expect. She must have manipulated your mother into doing this. It’s possible. I mean, there’s absolutely no need for your mother to leave the restaurant to you both when you two are separated, is there?”
“Kristi’s not like that. She’s not manipulative. Besides, my mother was nobody’s fool. She did this of her own free will.” He turned on his right indicator light as he exited the Roundabout.
Zikora frowned at his defense of his estranged wife. She didn’t like it at all. She was starting to not like any of this anymore. “So, what are you going to do now?” She made herself casually ask.
“There’s nothing to do. We both spoke to the lawyer and he said there’s no changing the decisions of the will.” He pulled into the restaurant, found a parking spot along the side of the building. “We both own the restaurant now and it stays that way.”
Levi sent her a glance. “Yes, Zikora. Forever.” He pushed open his door. “Come on, let’s go inside. I’ll try to make this as quick as possible.”
It took Zikora more than a minute before she opened her door and stepped out of the car. She chose to say nothing further, for now. It wasn’t her first time being at Mama’s Kitchen. She’d been there twice before meeting Levi, but not once in their five months of dating.
Nothing was changed. It was still a nicely furnished restaurant with a homey feel. And really good food, she added the thought.
“I’ll be only a couple of minutes, I’m sure.” Levi said as he settled her at a table. “Lola?” He gestured to one of the waitresses. “Please, get her a drink.” Then with a flash of an apologetic smile, he started towards the door that led through the service counter into the offices.
Zikora declined the drink. Instead, she took out her phone and pretended to focus on it while worry with its rumble of confusion wandered inside of her.
Levi hastily offered his apologies as he came through the office door. “I’m sorry I’m a few minutes late.” He sent an apologetic smile to Kristi and then one built to charm to the quite tall, quite slim and quite pretty woman sitting cross-legged on the guest chair. “Hello. I’m Levi Azuike.”
“Good evening, sir.” She lifted to her feet, offered her hand. “I’m Fejiro Oberabor.”
“Fejiro—you don’t mind if we call you that, do you?” At her quiet no, Levi smiled, gestured to the chair. “Please, sit. Since my, uh… since Kristi here is more familiar with the workings of the restaurant, having been manager longer than I have, I’ll let her take the lead on this interview.”
“Well, ours is something of a small business and we’re more casual than formal.” Kristi refused to think about the fact that he’d stumbled over how to address her. “So, I think accountant is a fanciful title for what we’re looking for really. It’s more of book keeping which involves a daily and weekly preparation of financial reports, cross checking all daily stock books, confirming and approving all market lists in the absence of the manager… or managers, as in this case, and confirming all purchases made.”
She paused, looked down at the CV Fejiro had earlier presented and then passed it to Levi. “According to your CV, you have a HND Accounting and experience in the usage of several accounting software including Sage and I think this comes in handy. We would like to know though how much experience you have in the restaurant business?”
“Well, not so much as in years, honestly.” Fejiro kept her eyes on Kristi’s as spoke. “But as indicated on my CV, I have worked in a fast food restaurant—Tasty Fried Chicken, to be precise. I was there for about eight months and performed accounting and administrative duties whilst there.”
“Then you left and went into the Insurance sector.” Kristi kept her tone affable. “Did you find working in a restaurant not challenge enough, or not just lucrative?”
“It was a little of both. I wanted more accounting experience and needed a job that would pay me more.”
“And has that changed, the desire for more experience and a better pay?”
“The desire for a better pay never changes; definitely not in this part of the world, if anywhere.” Fejiro quipped with a smile. “But I am out of job and while not exactly desperate for just about anything, I am actually looking out for something different, something not as demanding as insurance or formal organisation’s accounting jobs. I did enjoy being a part of the restaurant environment and atmosphere and I believe I would again love to be a part of it.”
“So, you’re very much interested in this job?”
“Very much so.”
“All right.” Kristi smiled, looked at Levi, who gave a nod. “Your working hours will be eight a.m. to six p.m., Monday to Saturday. The restaurant doesn’t open Sundays. Every staff gets one free meal out of the kitchen, three bottles of water and if you want a drink, you pay for it.”
“Sounds good.” Fejiro said.
“It is. Now, about salary.” Kristi paused, and Levi thought it was for effect, and effective for Fejiro’s eyes flickered with interest. “It’s a restaurant and not a five star one. Though we’re very proud of our three-star status.” She added, smiled. “I don’t know what you were earning before now, but the pay might not compare. It is fair, in our opinion, and we hope you’ll find it so.” She named the amount and waited.
Fejiro seemed to ponder on it. There’s was only the slightest crease on her forehead which, in Levi’s opinion, either meant she was likely getting more before now or had expected more.
Whichever it was though, the frown cleared in just seconds and she gave her head a dip. “That’s all right.”
“You’re satisfied with the pay?” Kristi probed.
“It’s acceptable.” Fejiro responded.
“Good. I believe that finishes it then.” She looked at Levi. And he gave her his go ahead with a single nod. “Welcome to the Mama’s Kitchen family, Fejiro.” She smiled, reached out her hand to the other woman.
“Thank you very much, ma. Sir.” Fejiro shook his hand too.
“Oh, we’re quite informal here. It’s like one big family.” Kristi waved a dismissive hand. “Most of the staff use ‘Aunty Kristi’ being of the younger generation, but you can just call me Kristi.”
“And Levi works just fine for me.” Levi said.
“Thank you very much.” Fejiro beamed. “When do I resume?”
Tomorrow morning. That works for you, right?”
“It sure does. Thank you again.” Fejiro waited a heartbeat, and then lifted up to her feet. “I’ll see you guys tomorrow then. Have a good evening.”
“You too, Fejiro.” They said in unison, waited until she exited the office before looking at each other and smiling.
“I think she will do.” Kristi said.
“We just offered her the job and she accepted, so she’d better do.” Levi grinned. “You did good, manager. I’m impressed with your interview skills.”
“I’ve done this a time or two.” She casually brushed aside the praise though it thrilled her. “But mostly I’ve watched Mama interview wait staffs when we needed to hire a new one. I think she would have hired Fejiro too, if she was here.”
“I think so too. You know, it struck me that over the last couple of years, I’ve not been an active part of the restaurant. I’ve been so focused on the pharmacy and since Mama had you, I didn’t have to worry.” Again he suffered the temptation to hold her hand. He would have the old days. “I’m glad you’re here, Kristi. We might not have this thing figured out yet, but you’re meant to be here and Mama somehow knew that. You loved this place as much as she did. I think it is home for you too, not just business.”
His words touched her. His understanding made her want to reach out and hold him. She clasped her hands in her laps. “It is. I’ve spent so much time here, especially in the last year, and it’s so soothing. I miss her, especially when I’ve had to approve purchases. She used to do that. She would go through the lists with Cheta or me, and we’d debate the necessity of each item at the moment. You have to explain why this and not that, and then defend why that quantity and that amount.”
She let out a soft laugh. “It was all show though. She trusted us and knew really what was needed. Now, she’s gone and I don’t want this place she’s built to stop being what she made it to be.”
“It won’t. Not when you are here.”
Kristi blinked, looked at him. “Not when we’re both here. Want to hang around for dinner? I believe you’ve not had your entitled meal of the day yet today.”
He would have loved to hang around, talk some more with her. It’s been so long they did just that–talk. Listen to each other.
“I’m sorry. I have other plans tonight.” He offered a regretful smile. “May I take a rain-check?”
“Of course.” She was disappointed, but she wasn’t going to show it. “I’ll walk you out. I have to see Cheta about his shopping list for tomorrow anyway. How was business today?”
“Good. We’re thankful to God.” He wished she’d shown some sort of disappointment at his refusal. But it was probably silly, and maybe petty, of him wishing that.
He expected her to divert into the kitchen, but she followed him through to the dining hall.
“Uh,” he halted beside the table where Zikora was seated. She’d stopped whatever she’d been doing with her phone and was now watching them with seemingly casual interest. “Kristi, I’d like you to meet Zikora. Zikora, this is Kristi. We’re done with the interview.”
“Oh. I hope it went well?” Zikora beamed a friendly smile, lifted to her feet and inched closer to Levi, slipped her hand through his. “Hello. It’s nice to meet you.”
“Hello.” Kristi kept her smile pleasant. “The interview was a success. We have ourselves a new accountant.”
“That’s good then.” Zikora said, tilted her head—and this she hated—to maintain eye contact.
“It is. If you both will excuse me, I’ve got work. I’ll see you, Levi.” She gave a nod, kept that smile as she turned and aimed for the service counter.
“Are we set to leave?” Zikora asked, smiling too brightly.
“Of course.” Levi smiled, let her cling to his arm as they strode out and back to his car.
She wasn’t the sort to cling. She did so now only to prove a point to Kristi. An unnecessary point, he thought. A point she wouldn’t have needed to prove If he hadn’t brought her along with him.
Zikora allowed them to settle into their meal before she broached the subject that worried her mind.
“Have you started the divorce process yet?”
He didn’t want to talk about Kristi anymore. Not with her. “No.” He said shortly.
She hated his tone. Hated that he didn’t look at her, just continued eating. “I guess everything that’s happened lately has kept you distracted and busy. But I just feel the sooner you two finish this, the sooner you can both go on with your lives. You do still want a divorce from her, don’t you, Levi?”
“It’s likely the only way to go after nearly two years of separation.” Levi replied, picked his drink and drank.
His response was not satisfying. “It’s what’s best for you both, I’m sure. Anyway, how’s that puppy of yours?” She chose to change the subject. He wasn’t being receptive and she didn’t want a fight. Not when it would yield nothing.
Their conversation stayed light from then on. And after dinner, when he asked if she wanted to go home straight, Zikora said yes. She’d planned on them stopping by his house, as they often did after a date, having sex and maybe spend another few minutes of fun together, but she’d lost the taste for it. And she suspected he wasn’t in that mood either.
So, he drove her home and she bid him goodnight and then went into the flat she shared with her cousins to ponder on what she was doing with a man who had a wife as beautiful as Kristi with whom he was obviously reluctant to part ways permanently with.
LEVI didn’t know if he was aggravated or unhappy. He definitely felt both emotions. Why did it have to be this evening when he had an appointment with Kristi that Zikora had chosen to surprise him with a visit and a dinner invitation? And why the hell couldn’t he have declined the invitation with the excuse that he had a previous engagement?
But more so, why did he have to start wishing for things he’d long stopped wishing for where Kristi was concerned?
Levi lumbered out of the bathroom, dragged on his pajamas and climbed tiredly into bed. Was this what Mama had hoped for, that once he started dealing closely with Kristi again, old feelings would start awaken? And was that happening for Kristi too, or just him?
He didn’t know. He liked to think so. He wanted to believe so. He’d never wanted to lose her. Not even when his affair with Mabel had been going on. He’d tried to get her back after she’d left. But she’d refused to come back home with him. So, angry and hurt, he’d let her be and backed off.
But that had been his mistake, wasn’t it, backing away when he should have pressed on?
Or was the mistake trying to resurrect what was dead?
Confused, and really tired, Levi wished, and not for the first time, that he hadn’t allowed his baser nature push him into an affair with Mabel.
KRISTI came home, excused herself to her room on the pretext that she was quite tired.
But as she sat on the cane chair in the bedroom she’d once shared with her immediate younger sister, she reeled with anger, not fatigue. There was some feeling of sadness too, but that was so indistinct she barely took notice of it.
He had come to the restaurant with his mistress.
Kristi couldn’t get past that thought for that last three hours. And maybe ‘mistress’ was an archaic term but it pleased her to use it. It also pleased her, in some perverse way, to sit there in her semi dark room and ruminate on the fact that Levi had dared to bring his mistress to the restaurant knowing she was there.
And he had introduced her without any form of qualifications!
She was his wife… and no, it didn’t matter that they were separated, she was still his wife and he should at least have the courtesy to use that term when making reference to her. First, he’d stumbled over how to address her during the interview and then next, he’d chosen to not give her any definitions at all while introducing to his mistress.
How dared he?
How dare he bring her to the restaurant, asked her to sit and wait while they conducted the interview, and then had the effrontery to introduce them? And the woman had the silly boldness to stake her territory by slipping her hand through his.
Kristi hissed, jolted at the sharp sibilant sound and then let out a sigh. She wasn’t the type to hiss, or to generally lose her temper. But by God, Levi tested her patience!
Has it come to when he took her for granted now? Did she mean so little that he would flaunt the woman he was dating in her face?
Or he was sending her a message.
This new thought made Kristi tighten her lips as a frown creased her forehead. He’d never done anything like this before. She was not so naïve that she didn’t know that he’d been with other women since their separation. Christ! It was a woman that had caused their separation in the first place and he’d definitely been with plenty more since. But he’d never flaunted them. He’d never brought them over to the restaurant, or anywhere else where she was likely to meet them.
Now, he’s done that with… Zikora. And it meant something surely, didn’t it? He wanted a divorce. Levi wanted a divorce from her. He wanted their separation permanent now.
Kristi pressed a hand against her chest and expelled a shaky breath. She’d never expected this. They’ve been apart so long but she’d never expected it to become something permanent. She’d been waiting for him to come back again and ask her forgiveness.
But he wasn’t going to do that. Not again. Not ever again.
She blinked, felt the lone tear on her cheek and swiped it off. No, maybe it was for the best. Maybe she shouldn’t have held on this long. She’d walked out; maybe she should have walked all the way out from the get-go.
Maybe she should do so now.
Kristi shifted her gaze to the stool where the medication she’d started taking about six weeks ago lay in its pack.
PCOS. Polycystic ovary syndrome. She’d been diagnosed with it after their first year together and no conception. Levi hadn’t been worried, but she’d been, so she’d bulldozed them to the doctor’s and tests had shown she had PCOS. A series of treatment had begun and was still going on when he’d come home that evening and told her another woman—Mabel—was pregnant with his baby.
It had devastated her. Not only had he been cheating on her, but the other woman would give him the one thing she so longed to give him—a child.
She’d left the next day, and in a fit of fury and pain, she’d cast off all medications, stop ped all treatments and just closed her mind to every thought of having a baby. But after her thirty-seventh birthday three months ago, she’d realised that she needed to do this for herself. So, she’d gone back to the doctor, started the whole tests and diagnosis process all over again and went back into treatment.
That was good. She’d done that one thing for herself. Now, she would do another. She would go see a lawyer and commence the process of a divorce. Marriage between her and Levi was obviously not meant to be.
Hiya People, just a heads up that Definitely Sealed will be released on 20 June 2018. Let’s keep an eye out for it. Meanwhile, if you still haven’t read the #1 of the Workplace Romance Trilogy, just click HERE