“I need you to be my boyfriend.”
Mario raised his head from the sales journal he was trying to update, which he hated that he had to, and slowly lifted his eyebrows. “Since when did they start adding alcohol to malt drinks?”
“There’s no alcohol in this and I’m serious,” Callista said, her gamine round face serious.
“You are serious about wanting…no, it was needing me as your boyfriend?” Since it had to be a joke, Mario grinned. “Okay, what else do you want, for me to marry you?”
“Chukwudi is coming for Christmas.”
As that bit of information meant nothing to Mario, his eyebrows tilted even higher. “So?”
“I don’t want him to think I’m still pining for him.”
“But you are still pining for him. And frankly, I don’t get why.” Impatient now, and a little irritated, Mario shoved aside the sales journal, and walked around to his table top refrigerator to grab another beer. “You and he broke up more than a year ago, and even before then, I didn’t see why you were so all over him. The man’s a pompous ass idiot.”
“No, he’s not. He’s just very confident in himself and sure what he wants out of life.”
“You’re still his number one advocate, I see.”
“Of course I’m not,” Callista snapped, more annoyed by her quick defense of Chukwudi than by the mockery. “And that is not even what matters here. He’s coming and I don’t want him to think that since he left I’ve not had anyone in my life because of him.”
“Well, if he wasn’t a self-absorbed pompous ass, he wouldn’t be thinking that,” Mario pointed out.
“He’s…” No, she wasn’t going to play defense attorney again. “Maybe he will think it, maybe he won’t. The issue is I don’t want him thinking it. I don’t want him to know I still have feelings for him. And no, I don’t want you arguing that I shouldn’t or that I don’t have feelings for him, I just want you to be my boyfriend. Just pretend to be my boyfriend until after the holidays when he’ll be gone again.”
“And what happens when another holiday comes, like Easter, and he’s back?”
Callista shrugged. “I’m not thinking that far ahead. I’m only concerned about this holiday.”
“You are very serious about this.” Mario realised that indeed she was and realised too that it annoyed the hell out of him. “I am not going to do any such thing. And guess what, you won’t either. Cally, this fool walked away like you didn’t matter and went off to the city to do God knows what.”
“He had a job offer and didn’t want to miss the opportunity.”
“Will you stop making excuses for him? He could have kept in touch with you. He could have asked you to join him, if he cared enough. He could have proposed to you and married you, since you two had been going out for nearly two years before he had this opportunity he didn’t want to miss.”
Exasperated, Mario emptied the beer and tossed the can in the bin with a thud. “He never even treated you well while you two were dating. Always acting like he was doing you a big favour being your boyfriend, which you made worse by also acting like it was a privilege he even looked at you.”
It was true, Callista couldn’t deny or defend this one. She’d acted like it was a privilege having Chukwudi Udolisa as her boyfriend, because she’d never expected a man like him to have interest in her. All her life, until when he showed that surprising interest in her three years ago, men like him, never spared her a second glance.
“You’re right, I felt special having him as my boyfriend. I felt like I was the luckiest woman on earth, and mostly because I felt he could have done better than me.” At Mario’s impatient curse, Callista sighed. “He’s so handsome, Mario. The most handsome man in the entire town. Plus, he went to the university, has a Masters and is from the royal family.”
“And those qualifications made him better than everybody else, and better than you.”
“No. Yes…I don’t know. No, of course I know they don’t. I know that now. Maybe I knew it then, but was just too flattered to admit it.” Again, Callista sighed. “But I really liked him. I really, really did, and I still do. I don’t want to him to know that. I am a woman and I should have some pride. He jilted me, so I shouldn’t be carrying a torch for him. Like you said, I should have been over him by now. Unfortunately, I’m not, and it will be embarrassing…no, shameful for me if he knows that. Please, understand me, Mario, I just want him to see I moved on with my life.”
“Except you didn’t.”
“Not yet. I’ve not met anyone I liked that way. Or anyone who liked me that way.”
“Gozie liked you more than that way a few months ago. The man was completely moon-eyed over you and didn’t hide the fact. But you wouldn’t give him the time of day.”
“Well, he’s marrying Dinma now, so I can’t go to him and say: oh sorry, I changed my mind, can you be my pretend boyfriend?”
“But I’m not marrying anyone, so you can ask me to be your pretend boyfriend.”
“No, I can ask you because you are my friend.” Callista walked around the counter to him. “I know it looks like unnecessary drama to you, Mario, but this is important to me. I made a fool of myself over him once, I don’t want to do so again.”
“Then completely ignore him. Don’t even look his way when he comes.”
“Easier said than done. Feelings have the bad habit of controlling us, Mario, and I’m afraid mine will do so again.” Callista made a puppy sad face. “Do this for me, Mario, and I promise to do anything you want me to in future.”
“You shouldn’t make promises like that, because there’s no telling what I might want,” Mario warned.
“I know you won’t want anything I can’t give,” Callista countered, feeling hopeful. “So, is that a yes?”
“What even makes you think anyone, let alone that arrogant ass Chukwudi, will believe we’re suddenly dating?”
“They won’t think it’s sudden, because almost everyone already thinks we’re dating and just pretending otherwise.”
“That is true.” Most people in their small town thought they were in a romantic relationship as they were often quick to believe when a man and woman shared a close friendship. “Still, I should insist on my no, because this is bound to have repercussions.”
“No repercussions. Once he’s gone, we’ll tell everyone we broke up and things will go back to normal.”
“I can’t even believe I’m considering this, but I’ll hate to see that fool looking smug around you–or even anywhere around this town. So yes, I’m officially your fake boyfriend.”
“Yes!” Relieved and delighted, Callista threw her arms around him. “Thank you, thank you.”
“Hopefully, I don’t regret it,” Mario said, already half regretting it because he’d had plans to make a play for Isioma this period. “Anyway, when is he due in?”
“Obi is celebrating his birthday on the twenty-first, so he’s likely to be here latest twentieth. Or maybe a day or two before that.”
“That gives us three to five days to practice on our boyfriend-girlfriend skills, super.”
Because she understood he wasn’t the sort to purposely deceive others and was only doing this for her, Callista gave him another hug. “I know you’d rather not do this, so thank you again.”
A throat cleared noisily behind them. “After you two will say there’s nothing going on between you, that you are only friends.”
“We won’t be able to say that for too long now,” Mario said dryly, almost amused at the fact that Callista pulled back from him as if they were indeed doing something other than an innocent embrace.
“I don’t know why you two bother denying it when it’s clear that you’re meant for each other.”
Already over her earlier involuntary jolt, Callista gave Mario a see-what-I-mean look before turning to smile at David, who was picking out a cough syrup from one of the shelves. “I think we’re starting to realise it’s pointless denying what’s obvious. Anyway, who has cough, I hope it’s not Nma?” Speaking of his three year old daughter. “She just recovered from Malaria not too long ago, is she sick again?”
“It’s like the parasite didn’t entirely leave her body. I’m taking her to the clinic tomorrow. Meanwhile, let me start treating the cough.”
“Tell her to please get well soon. If I’m able, I will stop over tomorrow to see her. My greetings to Jebo.” Turning to give Mario a grateful smile, Callista added. “We’ll see later, Mario.”
“I think we’ll have to. Practice, after all, will make us perfect before the D-day.”
Callista chuckled. “There’s not much to practice, but see you.” She grabbed her purse and strolled out of the store, happy that she’d found a solution to her problem.
“What are you two practicing?” David asked with unhidden curiosity.
Mario shrugged as he charged the drug he’d picked. “A little matter between us.”
“A little matter between you. See here, you should stop with the secrecy. It’s childish.” David counselled, bringing out money to make his payment. “Callista is a good woman and you should be proud to be with her.”
“I’m going to be proud for the next couple of weeks, if nothing else.” Amused, Mario passed his purchase. “Be sure to take Nma to the clinic tomorrow. It’s best if the doctor checks her out.”
“I will definitely. See you. And take my advice.”
“I think it’s already taken for the foreseeable future,” Mario murmured, dragging the sales journal back in front of him.
Then he scowled because he hated working on his bookkeeping, and the scowl darkened as he suddenly wondered why he’d agreed to help Callista with her crazy idea. It was only going to make things sticky for them when that idiot Chukwudi was gone and they stop pretending.
It was going to make him the next jackass who broke her heart, unless they told everyone the truth afterwards–which they would never do.
“Oh hell, what was I thinking?”