He wasn’t going to be nervous. All right, he was already nervous, so that admonition wasn’t going to work, Theodore sighed and pulled the collar of his Polo shirt. Maybe he should have worn something a little more formal. But she’d said informal dressing and the Polo shirt over Chinos with his mocks on his feet was as good as informal as he could go and not look like an overfed toad.
No undignified thought about yourself, he warned himself. Self-confidence begins with a healthy dose of self-esteem. And self-esteem sprung from an appreciation and acceptance of who you are. That used to be his mother’s lesson and right now, it did what it usually did for him—made him to straighten his shoulders and stare more confidently at the interlocked driveway that led up to the house she’d sent as her address.
He picked the hamper from the passenger seat, stepped back and secured the car. Then he started towards the house. The security guard allowed him in after an introduction and as he went through the iron gates, Theodore realized two things.
The first being that she obviously lived alone in the duplex house that put a nervous tweak at the back of his neck. And the second, that the only car parked within range of the house was his own.
Was he early? Theodore checked the watch on his left wrist and assured himself that he wasn’t. It was one twenty-five and she’d given time at one-thirty. Five minutes wasn’t too early. Maybe her other guests were the usual Nigerians who believed in African time.
He knocked on the solid oak door and fixed his best smile.
She opened a minute and half later and that best smile wobbled. She was dressed just as informal—the most informal he had ever seen her, at least. But there was nothing informal about the way the split-front pearl coloured dress slung down to her long, lithe form. She was beautiful, breathtakingly so.
“Hi. So glad you’re here.” Her smile was wide, warm and winning. “Come right in.” She gestured just as widely and stepped away from the door.
“Thank you.” Theodore found his voice, after having to clear it. “And another thank you for inviting me.”
“Thank you for accepting.” Kome said lightly. “Please this way.”
She led them through a foyer into the living room. The room was exactly what he’d expected, posh and elegant. And completely suited her.
“Your living room is lovely.” Theodore said, looking from it and back at her. “And let me take the chance to say that you too are looking the same.”
“Thank you on both counts.” Her smile twinkled. “Please make yourself comfortable, won’t you?”
“Oh yes. But first, this is for you.” He raised the hamper several inches up. “I hope you don’t find a hamper in August too ridiculous.”
“Actually, I find it adorable.” Kome received the hamper with a delighted expression. “It is heavy. And I think I can catch a glimpse of chocolate cookies in there. Someone whispered to you I have a weakness for chocolate?”
“Maybe I have good ears.” Theodore smiled, pleased that she was pleased. “You did say something to that effect to your friend yesterday.”
“Ah, a man who notices.” Her smile flashed. “A great quality, Theodore.”
His skin warmed. “Thank you. But I might be a man guilty of poor timing now, it seems.” He added lightly. “I seem to be here way earlier than anyone was supposed to be.”
“You’re just right on time.” There was a brief pause as her eyes lifted to his. “And no one else is expected. You are my only guest.”
“I am?” Theodore was surprised. Greatly so.
Kome nodded. “Uh-hmm. I thought it’d be nice for two usually alone-at-weekends people to spend an afternoon together. Hope you don’t find it an imposition now realising you’re the only one here?”
“An imposition?” He was her only guest? She thought they should spend the afternoon together? “No.” Theodore vigorously shook his head. “No imposition at all. I am, in fact, honoured that you would think to invite me to your home. That you would consider spending an afternoon with me.”
Her mouth parted, like she wanted to say something. But no words came. And Theodore couldn’t stop staring at the rosy red fullness.
“Would you like chopped mixed fruit salad as an entrée?” The question was blurted. And her voice was a trifle unsteady.
Theodore nodded, cleared his voice. “Yes. Chopped mixed fruit salad will be perfect for entrée.”
“I’ll get it then.” For quarter of a minute she didn’t move. Then she laughed. Quick, soft—nervous. “Right away.”
The second she disappeared, Theodore expelled a long, hot breath and pulled at his collar. Holy God, he’d been nearly tempted to kiss her! Gosh, what was wrong with him, first time in her house and he wanted to ruin it by entwining his tongue with hers?
He exhaled again, then tracked back to a plush cushioned single sofa and lowered into it. Don’t allow your hormones ruin things, man. Keep it together. Keep it one-pace-at-a-time together.
She carried over a tray with a white dish to the dining area where a polished cherry wood four-sitting table was set.
“Over here, Theodore.” She called. “This is my little dining room. I actually have a bigger table in my kitchen, but this is more comfortable when I have company.” She gestured to a chair. “Hope you do like fried rice and chicken? That is our main meal.”
“I do love fried rice.” He lowered into the chair next to her own. “Rice dishes are usually favourites of mine. Of course, I’ve been cutting back on them because of the carbs…”
“You have a good body build, Theodore.” She passed him a bowl of fruit. “You shouldn’t be worrying about carbs. You shouldn’t be counting your calories. At least, I don’t think that you should be.”
Theodore stared at her, his hand transfixed in the air. “You think I have a good body build?”
“Uh-hmm.” She nodded, her eyes were soft, and earnest.
Theodore swallowed. “I… I should at least be thirty pounds lighter than I am presently. Fitness and health nuts would say that I’m really overweight, bordering on obese.”
“Your six-feet-one, I think…”
“You know my exact height?”
She coloured. Theodore noted the rise of colour over her fair skin.
“I saw the game you and your friends came up with months back on Facebook.” She said with a light shrug and picked her fork. “I also know your scale size. Saw your last entry about still being stuck at two-sixty. I figure it’s not a bad place to be stuck in.”
She lifted her fork to her mouth but her eyes did not leave his as she chewed.
“You don’t care that I’m overweight?” Something was tickling in his throat.
“I don’t think that you’re overweight at all.” Her voice was all shades of soft. “I think you’re perfect as you are.”
“You do?” The ticklish feeling slithered to his stomach. “You’re not being nice to a big guy, trying not to hurt his feelings, are you, Kome?”
She smiled, shook her head. “Nope. I’m being point blank honest. I usually am.”
“Point blank honest.” He nodded. She thought his size perfect as it was, and she’d wanted to spend an afternoon with him. Okay Theodore, you can take it from here. “Hmm, this tastes good. Does it have wine in it?”
“Your tastes buds are skilled. I love a sprinkle of wine in my fruit salad. Also in vegetable salad.” She laughed.
He grinned. “It sure has a nice bite to it. I like it.”
“I’m glad you do.” She smiled, lifted another fork to her mouth, then asked. “So apart from rice dishes, what’s in your list of favourites?”
You. But of course he couldn’t voice that thought. “RnB for music. Blue for colour. Action for movies and Crime and Detective for literature.” He shot her a wink. “I’m your regular predictable guy.”
“Looks like I’ve got a bit of ‘guy’ in me as most of that works for me, except for shades of white where colour is concerned.” She chuckled. “I don’t do whites full on, but its many shades just calls to something in me.”
Common grounds, great. “I noticed about the shades of white. You favour them no less than twice weekly in your work clothes.” He jerked his head. “And your wall paint is platinum white.”
“My step-mum recommends I try dark colours more.” She smiled.
“You have a good relationship with your step-mum?”
“The best. My sister and I, and my dad too, got lucky with her. We’re actually a close knit family.” She got up and picked their dishes. “Give me a moment to return with the main meal, will you?”
“Need any help?”
“Just get your appetite ready.”
“That is easily done.”
“Super.” She aimed a twinkling smile before sweeping off.
She was back in three minutes with another large tray and quickly set to serve them.
“Hmm, this chicken is amazing.” Theodore complimented at first taste.
“I marinated the chicken in tomato puree and lightly baked. My step-mum’s recipe and best thing I cook.” She angled her head to the side. “Tell me about your family.”
“My family?” He wiped his mouth and took a drink of his water. “Well, I’ve lost both my parents.” He gave a nod at her quick sympathetic apology. “Yeah well, my father many years ago and my mum, just three years back. I’m an only son with four sisters, and the last of the pack too. They are all waiting for Theo to begin his life as a man though. Marriage makes a man as my oldest sister never fails to tell me.”
“And Theo, what’s he waiting for?”
He held her eyes. “For that special someone.” For you.
“We all are.” Her gaze did not waver.
But his heartbeat did.
Kome woke up literally full of beans and with the biggest smile on her face.
“Isn’t this the best Monday morning you ever saw, Ted?” She beamed at her big teddy bear.
Old Ted just genially stared back at her.
Kome chuckled, smacked a kiss to its furry face and jumped off the bed. She hummed as she brushed her teeth. Sang as she enjoyed a quick luxurious bath in the tub. And swung her body to beats that were ringing in her head as she picked a black and ivory suit match for her first day of the week. Her strides were long and sprightly when she started out the house, and the big smile was still on her face.
“Why, good morning, Theodore.” She caught him just as he was walking into the building. “You’re bright and early today, and looking suave in that suit.”
His smile was as dazzling as hers and not at all shy. “Thank you, Kome. And let me say that you are looking exceptionally spectacular this morning. I am tempted to think that you should be on some runway, not the halls of an office building.”
“You’re too kind.” Her laughter rang out and her cheeks tinged with pleasure. And she stayed close when the elevator opened.
“I had the best time yesterday.” He said, then chuckled. A deep soft sound. “Guess I said that yesterday, multiple times. But well, it doesn’t hurt to say it again.”
“I had the best time too.”
“Would you like to do lunch together today?”
Yes! Kome did the break-dance in her head. “I sure would.”
“One p.m. good?”
“One p.m. is perfect.” Kome beamed.
The other occupants went from staring at them curiously to exchanging meaningful glances. But Kome didn’t care and it was clear that Theodore didn’t either for he aimed a wink in her direction when the elevator groaned to a stop at his floor.
“Have a good morning, Miss Douglas.”
“You too, Mr Malik.”
Oh, she was so calling her step-mum to share the super great news. Theodore Malik just asked her out on a date.