It was her brother’s wedding and Chisimdi stared enviously at the couple who were gazing with undiluted adoration into each other’s eyes, oblivious of the jokes from the MC that had guests reeling in laughter.
She couldn’t help her envy, they looked so happy—so in love. Hilary who’d sworn as a teenager that he’d never marry had just exchanged vows with the girl he met barely six months ago. While she, who’d been dreaming of a fairy-tale wedding and happily-ever-after all of her life, sat at his reception single, no-man-in-her-life and helplessly envy-ridden.
Chisimdi felt like such a loser.
She was quite a pretty young woman, had a great job in a telecoms company, had her own car and her very own apartment in a plush side of the Mainland. She was a good Christian girl and she devotedly paid her tithe, month in, month out—no fail. Ladies like her shouldn’t be single and without a man of their own.
Of course, she wasn’t without admirers. There were hordes of men dying for her attention. Well, not hordes, she admitted grudgingly, sipping her wine, but there were men who wanted her. Who were attracted to her and who would anything to have her give them the time of day.
But how could she, when she had long given her heart to her brother’s best friend who also had sworn off matrimony as a teen and who, unfortunately for her poor heart, appeared to be bent on keeping his own eternal-bachelor vow.
She’d been just twelve when her young, impressionable heart had first skidded to a stop at the sight of Jeneta Nnani. It had been a simple, regular girly crush that first moment. But as the years went by, and her heart grew and became stronger and more knowledgeable, that crush had grown, flourished and had become a deep rooted affection. An affection that was—love.
A love hidden deep in her heart and away from the prying eyes of the world. A love only she knew about and thought about. She had learned to stay away from him. Learned to avoid running into him at family functions with one girlfriend or another. Learned to act and remain aloof despite the unbearable ache in her heart. He was a sworn bachelor and she was a fool in love, the two can never meet. Her secret dreams—of being his one true love—were only dreams that will never be a reality.
She had learned to accept that.
Chisimdi shifted her gaze to where he was seated as his brother’s best man. True to type, he was charming the maid of honour beside him with his seductive smile and deep-toned voice.
The MC announced that it was dancing time and her brother and his new bride swayed, hand in hand, to the centre of the hall. As traditionally expected, people jiggled to the dance floor and started spraying Nigerian currencies to the floor with happy, reckless abandon. And as was expected, she got up and two-stepped to the dance floor, unclipping the wad of two-hundred naira notes she’d kept aside for the occasion.
Soon the music shifted from spray-dancing rhythms and turned to the real boogie down thingy. Chisimdi, not much of a dancehall girl, wiggled her body a bit and then sneaked off the dance floor and out the reception hall.
Maybe it was time she let go of this unrequited love, she counselled her heart, standing at a quiet corner of the event centre. Maybe it was time she forcefully removed him from her heart and gave herself a chance to find a man who will love her.
“Hey, Simdi, running away from twirling around the dance floor with me?”
Chisimdi involuntarily shut her eyes to steady herself against the effect of his deep, resonate voice. Certain she had herself in control once more, she turned slowly and arched her brows at him. “What? No girl draped all over you?”
Jeneta curved his full mouth into a tempting grin. “What girl would that be?”
She lifted a shoulder nonchalantly. “The maid of honour for one. You seemed to be successfully charming the brains off her.”
He threw back his head in a rumble of deep-throated laughter. “Just doing my best man duties is all.”
“Really?” She tilted her head to the side. “And what is this, an extension of that duty?”
He grinned. “No, this is a special kind of duty.”
That was all she’ll ever be to him—duty. His best friend’s little sister he has to look out for. Oh yes, it was time she wrenched him out of her heart all right. “Thank you, dutiful friend, but I don’t need charming.”
A pained expression crossed his face. “Gosh, I don’t mean it like that. You are not just duty to me. You are…”
“Your best friend’s kid sister who’d always tagged after you two. Yeah, I know. That’s all I’ve ever been—I get that now.” She blinked rapidly. The tears will wait for when she was alone.
For a long moment there was silence. Chisimdi frowned and looked at him. He had a thoughtful expression on his face like he was contemplating something. Was he wondering what to say to her because he thought he might have offended her? Or was he just wondering how best to escape her annoying company without being obvious?
Well, she’d do him that small favour since she wanted to get rid of him too. Her heart wasn’t doing so well having him standing so close and looking utterly gorgeous in his steel-blue three-piece suit.
“Neta, if you don’t mind I was actually…” she broke off abruptly when he reached out and took her hand. Jolted, she stared at their joined hands and tried not to pay attention to the tingle she felt in her palm and in her tummy. “What are you doing? Let my hand go, please. I came out here for some quiet moment and I’d like to have it, if you don’t mind.”
“Actually I do mind.” He was looking into her eyes.
“Simdi, I mind leaving you alone. I’m tired of leaving you alone.” Jeneta sighed and gave his head a shake. “I’m tired of telling myself, I should leave you alone. Reminding myself that you are my best friend’s little sister.”
She gawked at him. What the heck was he talking about? “What the hell are you saying?” She rasped, frowning even as the flutter of nerves rippled through her.
He shrugged, looked away and then back at her. “Are you seeing anyone? I mean, I haven’t heard anything about a man in your life from Hilary lately.”
What? That was it? He was checking up on her? Was this some kind of sick game he and Hilary had come up with like when she’d been in the university and they’d want to know if she’d started dating?
“What kind of silly question is that, Neta? Am I not beautiful enough to have male attention?” She shifted her mouth into a cool smile. “Anyway, since it interests you, I am. My boyfriend just couldn’t make it. He’s away on a business trip.”
“Oh.” Jeneta frowned, darkly.
Chisimdi tried to tug her hand free but he just wouldn’t let go. She couldn’t stand it! Bad enough he was touching her like this in the first place—when she was trying to convince herself the time had come to forgot about childish dreams—but he’d started to stroke the back of her hand with his thumb. She doubted he was even aware of his actions. Jeneta was a lady’s man who likely knew all the right moves to make on a woman and carried them out unconsciously.
“So, is he the reason I never see you around anymore? Are you two… serious?”
Chisimdi glared at him. How dare he question her about her relationship like he was her father? She added pressure and wrenched her free hand. “You care to explain how that is any of your business? Or are you just fishing for information for my brother? Why can’t the two of you realize that I’m all grown up and don’t need you getting into my business?”
He leaned his face closer to hers. “This has nothing to do with Hilary.” He growled. “Just answer the question. Are you two serious? Is that why you never return my calls?”
The calls he made every now and then to check up on her as he was doing now? The calls that were like burning coals to her aching heart? “I told you, I don’t need another big brother. So back off!”
Jeneta cussed, grabbed her by the arm and yanked her forward. “I am not your brother! I never were and I never will be. Now answer me, are you serious about this guy?”
Chisimdi blinked. Suddenly, her place in the universe seemed to slip and she felt like she was free falling. Holy crap! Was he jealous? And if yes, why would he be?
“Why do you care?” She snarled at him. “You’ve got some chick on your arm every time I see you. So, is it really your business?”
“Indeed, I always have some chick around me.” Jeneta let her go but his eyes stayed on her and they still held a puzzling expression. “But like I said before, I haven’t seen you on your own in ages and I want to know what’s going on with you.” He casually lifted his shoulders. “Maybe if you returned my calls or messages once in a while, I wouldn’t be so curious and we wouldn’t be here at your brother’s wedding making a scene.”
Though he tried to sound offhand, Chisimdi could still read the possessive look in his eyes. Jeneta was jealous over her… wow! He wasn’t the type to make a scene and he was indeed creating a scene with her, at a wedding, and probing her about her private life.
What the heck was going on?
“Just answer the question, Simdi. How involved are you with this guy you’re seeing?”
She took a deep breath and stared at him. She was tempted to keep bluffing. But she was curious as to what was going on, so she shrugged carelessly. “We’re as involved as any new couple. Nothing deep has happened yet; we are still feeling the water and trying to see where it might lead. Now, mind telling me why you are so interested?”
He looked away quickly. “Well, I was just curious.”
He didn’t speak for a moment. Then he shrugged. “Because you matter.”
Chisimdi frowned. “I matter? How do you mean?”
Jeneta face her again. “You’ve always mattered to me. You’ve always been important to me. First as my best friend’s kid sister and then…” he huffed out a breath. “Then as the woman I was fast falling for and now, as the woman I am heads over heels in love with and don’t know how the hell to tell her or to tell her family.”
Chisimdi gaped at him. Her heartbeat had picked up the speed of an express train. “Why… why did you never say anything? Why can’t you tell me or my family?”
“Because you are Hilary’s sister!” Jeneta snapped out, tossing his hand in the air in frustration. “I am his best friend—there are codes of honour about such matters.” He sucked in breath and sighed. “Besides, I am the guy he knows—your entire family know as a playboy, a ladies man. They would never trust me with you.”
Chisimdi could not believe it. She had loved him for so long and he had loved her too but neither knew of the other’s feelings? And even worse, she’d been working on herself on how to get him out of her heart?
“I think the most important factor is, can you trust yourself with me?” She met his gaze. “Can I trust myself with you? Can I entrust my life, my heart… my love to you?”
Something she’d never seen happen happened right before her eyes and Chisimdi knew even before his words came that she could trust him forever.
His eyes welled up and a tear slipped. “If you entrust your life, your heart, your love to me, I swear on everything I hold sacred, I will never fail you or let you down. I will love you forever. I swear it. I have loved you forever.”
Chisimdi felt her own tears fall and she blinked away the blurriness. “I can’t believe I’ve loved you for so long and did not know you felt the same.” She shook her head, in wonder. “We have wasted so much time.”
“No, we haven’t.” Jeneta said with certainty. “We have needed the time to grow and I think the time to find the courage to face your family—at least I needed the time.” He laughed.
She laughed with him. He was right, she had needed time too, to grow up and be sure. The dancehall beat that was filtering out from the hall changed into a slow, romantic beat.
“Hmm, all of me. If I remember correctly, that’s like your best love song.”
“It is.” She agreed with a smile.
Jeneta held out a hand. “Want to dance with me, Simdi?”
Chisimdi hesitated. But only for the briefest second. Then she took his hand and allowed him to draw her closer and mould her body perfectly against his.
His hand slipped around her waist as their bodies started to move in slow, even steps. “Dance with me forever, my heart’s dearest.” He whispered into her ear.