There were things Mario knew of himself and never questioned, one of them was his uncompromising need to be honest. He told the truth unconsciously and rarely found reasons to do otherwise.
But now when Callista was gone and he was back in his living room unable to concentrate on the movie he was watching, he questioned the things he had told her. They were true, he had no single doubt, but he could not understand how they came to be.
Was he feeling sorry for her as she’d said?
No. Mario shook off that thought as he rolled to his back on the couch and faced the POP ceiling. Whatever he was feeling for Callista had nothing to do with pity. But it might have sprung from a desire to be kinder to her because of the way she’d been treated by Chukwudi.
Considering this next possibility, he frowned at the flickering light bulb as electricity went off and came back on. He had been a little restless when she hadn’t picked his call last night. It wasn’t in his nature to worry needlessly when he had a fight with his friends, but he’d been disturbed that she might have been mad at him. Then there was the fact that he thought more about her these days than he’d ever done in the past. When she was close to him, he wanted to hold her.
Like he’d done that night when they’d been making a show for that idiot, Chukwudi, Mario thought, recalling how she’d felt cosy and warm against him with that soft scent of hers he’d all of a sudden become too aware off seducing his senses.
Seducing? Mario chuckled at the word. He, who charmed and seduced the ladies, was now being seduced by a woman he’d known for more than a decade and barely took notice of all of that time. How was it possible? What had changed his warm feelings of friendship into a hot desire to kiss her?
He wanted to know. He wanted to understand this unexpected and inexplicable desire that suddenly burned inside him for her.
“Mario?” His sister called even as she opened and walked through the door. “I brought your lunch.” She set the tray of food on the centre table. “Why’s your TV off, I thought you were watching a movie?”
“Power went off for a few seconds.”
“Oh, I didn’t notice. Well, sit up, so you can eat.” Ifeoma didn’t wait for him to do so himself, but pushed him up and took the spot his head and shoulders left empty. “Father Dennis asked why you didn’t come to church and I told him you said you didn’t sleep well last night.”
“Why couldn’t you tell him I was sick? That would have made a better excuse.”
“Lie for you and then have to go for confession to clear my conscience?” Ifeoma shook her head. “No way. Anyway, it wasn’t just Father who asked of you. Adanma did too. She suggested coming to see you, but I told her you’d made plans to go out this morning and won’t be back until late in the evening.”
“Thanks for that as I have no wish to see that girl. I keep giving her subtle signs to tell her I’m not interested, but she refuses to take a hint.”
“Subtle won’t work with Adanma and you should know that.” Since he hadn’t made the move to do so, Ifeoma uncovered the plate, passed him a spoon and went to the refrigerator in the kitchen to get a bottle of water. “She’s had her eyes on you since you ended your affair with Linda, and she’s determined to be Mario’s next love interest.” Ifeoma rolled her eyes as she usually did when she thought of the women her brother dated. “I don’t know what they all see in you.”
“You wouldn’t. Sisters are often blind to their brother’s great qualities,” Mario said with a grin before taking a bite. “You and Mama know that I can make my own meals, and actually do, don’t you?”
“We do. But we also know you burn up more than half your food most of the time.”
“Unfortunately, that is true.”
“So, what were you thinking about before I came in?”
Of course she had noticed he’d been preoccupied. Ifeoma, like their father, was very observant. And also like him, she’d gone into the teaching profession. Of his three sisters, she was closest to him in spite of being younger by five years. Maybe it was the fact that she was the baby of the family, and he’d always felt a special protectiveness towards her.
“Cally,” Mario said, noted the quick frown that flickered across her face, and added. “I’ve been thinking a lot about her lately, which is completely out of character for me.”
“I was going to bring her up.” While her brother looked unperturbed, Ifeoma continued to eye him with concern. “I’ve been hearing things, and thought it was the usual fanciful stories concerning you two. But Adanma asked me about it this morning, saying her cousin, Nonye, had told her you and Cally announced you were dating at Buchi’s Bush Bar.”
“I believe we made a show more than announced it.”
“Is it true then? I didn’t think it was even though I told Adanma that if she heard it, then it must be so.”
“It is true and not true.” Between him and Ifeoma there were rarely secrets, and this wasn’t one he intended to keep from her. “We were pretending to be in a romantic relationship, but we are not pretending anymore.”
“But why would you be pretending at all?”
Mario explained the reason why to her, added when he was done, “she’s put him out of her life now and we find no reason to pretend anymore.”
“I’m glad to hear it. That Chukwudi treated Cally like someone he deigned to bequeath his attention on while they were together. But you two publicly announcing you’re in a relationship and putting an end to that relationship is going to cause fresh speculations. You know how people are,” she added, thinking more of Cally than her brother at the moment. “It will look like you jilted her just as Chukwudi did. Or, are you going to tell everyone it was pretence?”
“No, we are not. It will only make us look like fools, especially Cally. We are not putting an end to the relationship either; at least not yet.”
“I don’t understand. If the reason you claimed to be in a romantic relationship was because of Chukwudi, and Cally is well rid of him, then why do you need to continue to pretend?”
“We won’t be pretending anymore, like I said earlier.” He emptied what was left of the water in his glass, picked it and took a gulp. “We will be dating for real from now on.”
“You and Callista?”
“Me and Callista.”
Ifeoma stared at him. Mario liked to be mischievous, and sometimes he took his mischief too far. “Are you trying to play a trick on people because they were telling tales before?”
“No. Whatever tales they told didn’t bother either of us. I am serious about this.”
“You are serious about dating Cally? Why?” It didn’t make sense to Ifeoma. “She’s your friend. I mean, that’s all you two have always been, friends. Besides, she’s not your type of woman.”
“Is she not?” Amused, Mario piled up his empty dishes, picked up the tray to take it into the kitchen. He would wash them before returning them to his mother’s kitchen. “What’s my type of woman then?”
“Adanma’s type, beautiful, curvy, fair-skinned, and only out for a good time,” Ifeoma said promptly. “While Cally has the required fair skin, she’s not exactly beautiful, definitely not curvy and I am sure she’s interested in a meaningful relationship.”
“She’s not ugly either. And none of my relationships have ever been meaningless.” Mario shot her a glare as he resumed his seat.
“But they’ve not been serious, have they?” Ifeoma pointed out with a shrug. “The point I’m making is that Cally is not the kind of woman you play with. She’s nice, doing well for herself, and after the way Chukwudi treated her, I don’t think it will be fair for her to be involved in a relationship such as the kind you usually have.”
“Why are you so certain I only want a physical relationship with Cally?” It’s what Callista had thought, and it annoyed Mario that he was being made to look like a Casanova. “Why can’t it be that I’m looking for something more serious with her?”
“And are you?”
“Yes. No. I don’t know,” he confessed, letting out a sigh. “I don’t know what I actually want, that’s what’s got me worried. I want her and…”
“Want her like how?”
“Maybe this is why I shouldn’t be talking to you.” Mario glared.
“Oh. That kind of want.” Ifeoma chuckled. Then she frowned. “But that’s odd, isn’t it? I mean, you have been friends for such a long time, have you always had this lustful feeling towards her?”
“It’s not lust.”
Ifeoma lifted her eyebrows. “It’s not?”
“Okay, maybe it is,” Mario relented. “But it’s not like I just want to sleep with her and get the need out of my system. I want… that’s it, I don’t know exactly what I want.” Frowning, Mario gave his head a shake. “I don’t know why I want her, desire her. Like you said, she’s not beautiful and curvy like my regular type.”
“I wasn’t trying to demean her. You know I don’t care much what anyone looks like, one way or another.”
“I know. But I do care what the woman I choose to be with looks like, and now, it feels like I don’t. It baffles me, this sudden attraction to something completely different from the usual, and I need to know why that is.”
“So you are going to date her to find out why you are lusting after her. And she, why is she willing to date you?”
“I think she’s having the same baffling feelings. Why shouldn’t she?” His silly humour back on, Mario winked. “I’m a good looking man.”
“So your mirror reassures you.” Ifeoma snorted.
“Not just my mirror, but also the horde of women after my fine self.” But Mario sobered up as his thoughts fixed again on Callista. “The thing is I don’t want her hurt again, Ifeoma. I don’t want anyone treating her the way Chukwudi did, and it’s making me wonder if that’s the reason I’m feeling this way.”
“You are worried it’s your need to protect her from another heart break that’s making you lust after her?”
“Can you say desire instead of lust?”
“I don’t see the difference, it’s all a matter of the need of the flesh.” But because he was glaring, Ifeoma stopped teasing and said seriously, “while I don’t have your worldly experience, I doubt a brotherly, or friendly, feeling of protection can make anyone feel sexual desire. If you are wanting her, it’s likely something else prompting that feeling. Or,” she added with a shrug. “It might just be you seeing her in a different light for the first time, and realising you like what you see.”
“Maybe the reason is your last suggestion. But if it is, then why did it take me so long to notice her?”
“Possibly because you were blinded by all the other things which were easier to see.” Having chores to attend to, Ifeoma rose. “Whatever the reason, you will figure it out as the dynamics of your relationship changes. But…”
“But what?” Mario gave her hand a tug when she paused.
“You shouldn’t forget your don’t want her hurt, so thread carefully. I’ll see you later.”
“See you,” Mario murmured and stretched out again on the couch.
Ifeoma was right, he needed to keep in mind that he didn’t want her hurt again, because it might be him hurting her while trying to protect her.