“I don’t feel like attending this celebration. Could we go somewhere else? Anywhere else?”
“We could,” Mario said, casting her a glance. “But tell me why you don’t want to go. Is it because of Chukwudi?”
“Yes and no. Well, mostly yes,” Callista admitted with a grimace. “The Obi is his uncle, and I have no wish to see him, or partake of anything he’s involved in.”
“It’s the Obi celebrating his birthday, and the celebration was organised by the town, not by Chukwudi. There’s no doubt he will be there, but I’d rather you didn’t go out of your way to avoid him. Don’t let his arrogance and narrow-minded thinking make you coil into yourself.”
“I wasn’t going to let it, and I won’t. I only have no desire to deal ever again with him.” Staring out the window, she wasn’t surprised everywhere looked deserted. Almost everyone would be at the Obi’s palace. “But you’re right, I shouldn’t try to avoid him. We will see each other again, and he will know exactly what I think of him–which is nothing.”
“You sound fierce there.” And Mario liked it. “Put him out of your mind. I’ll promise you one thing though, we won’t stay long. I have a better plan for my evening out with you than spending it watching dancing troupes amid a crowd of people.”
“I didn’t know you had other plans.” Turning to face him, she asked eagerly, “So, what are they? Where else would we be going? Am I dressed right for the place you have in mind?”
Mario laughed at the string of questions. “You’re dressed more than right. As a matter of fact, you look especially lovely this evening. You’ve styled your hair differently, and I like how you have some of it sweeping down your forehead.”
“You noticed I changed my hairstyle?”
“I did. I wouldn’t usually, but I seem to have my eyes on you all the time now to miss even the most negligent change.” He slipped his hand off the steering wheel to touch her face. “Like the fact that you’re wearing a non-visible lipstick.”
“Nude. The lipstick colour, I mean. And the hairstyle is called the fringe. Had it done today–my Christmas hairdo.” She was babbling Callista realised, and paused to steady herself. “Thank you for the compliment. I’m glad you like the hairstyle.”
“Not just the hairstyle. I like your entire look.” He maneuvered the car into a space between a pick-up van and a Volkswagen golf, and turned off the engine. “You have the most beautiful skin. It’s rich, spotless and so smooth.”
“I use a lot of oils, which I make myself. Natural products can be wonderful for the skin. They make it glow and shine.” She was blabbing again, and her heart was hammering at an alarming rate. “Sorry, you don’t want a lesson in skin care. I’m just nervous.”
“Why?” Mario asked softly, raising his finger to caress her chin. Good heavens, he wanted to capture those nude painted lips. “Why do I make you nervous?”
“It never was like this before.” She never trembled when he touched her.
Then again, he never touched her face, or any other part of her body, in this soft, tantalising manner.
“Now that it’s like this it scares you,” Mario guessed, trailed a finger across her lower lip before he dropped his hand. “You shouldn’t fear, Cally. One thing we can both confidently expect from each other is honesty. I will be plain with you as you will be with me. Neither will lie to the other.”
“I know that,” she said, feeling weirdly bereft when he wasn’t touching her anymore.
“I’m glad you do, because when I say I want desperately to kiss you, I want you to know I’m telling the truth.”
“Desperately?” Why had her mouth gone dry?
“Quite desperately,” Mario confessed, touched her chin once, and let out a sigh. “But there’s a place and time for everything, so we will go watch the dancing troupes now, and kiss later.”
“We’re going to kiss later?”
“We will, or I might find myself unable to think of nothing else.” His eyes alight with sudden humour, Mario exited the car, went around to help her out. “Come girlfriend, let’s go celebrate with our Obi.”
It wasn’t every year that the town publicly commemorated the Obi’s birthday, but this year when he celebrated his seventieth beat any other. There were at least a dozen dancing troupes, including the popular Atilogu dancers from the east. Then there was a display of masquerades, talent shows, and comedians to riddle guests with laughter.
Dignitaries sat in the main palace area with the Obi and his household, while the rest of the people hung around the large yard.
It was colourful, spectacular, and absolute fun, so that Callista soon forgot she didn’t particularly want to be there. Mario bought them drinks and snacks from hawkers who took advantage of the crowd to make sales.
“I think I would have regretted it if I were not here to witness this myself,” Callista confessed, turning up her head to offer him a smile. “It’s all so wonderfully entertaining, almost outmatching the coronation of the Obi.”
“That I fear is a bit of exaggeration,” Mario said, his voice teasing, his head lowered to rest on the curve of her neck. He had his arms around her, and after she’d squirmed and offered half-hearted protests, she’d nicely settled against him. “I think your memory fails as you were no doubt a mere child during his coronation.”
“I was thirteen at the time, and so not a child.” His chin touching her bare skin sent warmth through her, while the caress of his breath tingled her. “My father was still alive at the time, and I’d gone with him, and had the privilege of sitting under a canopy where I could see everything.”
“And I was among the young men chosen to tend to the Obi, and so had a better view. From my angle, I assure that it was a celebration never again to be rivaled.”
Callista snorted. “Now, who is exaggerating? In any case, it’s grand celebration, as it was then, and I’m glad not to have missed it.”
“I am glad, myself, to share it with you.”
“That’s such a nice thing to say.”
“I didn’t say it to be nice. I said it because it’s true,” Mario whispered into her ear, enjoying how she quivered slightly against him. “I would have enjoyed it alone, or in the company of others. But having you with me made the enjoyment more pleasurable.”
“That is the nicest thing anyone ever said to me.” Not caring that they were in the midst of people, she turned in his arms. “You said something about having other plans for us, didn’t you?”
“I did.” He circled his arms around her waist. If she wasn’t shy, he wasn’t going to pretend he was. “No longer interested in this?”
“We’ve seen all the dances. The major ones, at least. Besides, listening to dignitaries make boring speeches is going to ruin the enjoyment.” At his chuckle, she grinned, and said boldly, “Let’s go. I want to see what your plan is.”
“I have a couple of ideas. A trip to Asaba, and we can see a movie there and eat. Or visit the games arcade, and see how well you do at video games.”
“I will do poorly. Even games on the phone stumps me. My excuses aside, I think it’s a little late in the day to go to Asaba. Do you have a plan closer home?”
“I have one. But I’d rather surprise you there,” Mario said, shooting her a wink.
Grinning, Callista said, “I think I will love a surprise.”
Hands clasped in each other’s, they meandered through the crowd, exchanging a greeting here and there until they reached the spot he’d parked the car.
The pick-up van was gone, and in it’s place was an SUV. Chukwudi’s car.
He was inside, in the backseat, with a woman. Both of them entangled in each other’s arms.
“It was Adanma inside the car with him. Did you notice?”
At least two minutes had lapsed before she made the comment.
Noting the small frown on her face, Mario said in a tone he forced to remain casual, “So it is. Does it bother you?”
“Why should it bother me?” Frowning even more, Callista angled on her seat to stare at him. “I thought it would bother you. But you didn’t act surprised, or even offended.”
Letting go the building irritation, Mario threw her a glance. “And why should I be offended?”
“You don’t care that Adanma was in that car with Chukwudi, and that they were…?” she left the rest unsaid. It wasn’t necessary anyway. “I don’t know her well, and what little I know isn’t flattering, but I didn’t expect her to be with Chukwudi. I heard she’s been showing interest in you.”
“You heard that, did you?” Briefly taking his eyes off the road, Mario studied her expression.
She was frowning still. But it was more of a puzzled frown now.
“Well, it appears she’s shifted her interest to Chukwudi,” he said. “She probably considers him a better catch.”
“Only a fool would consider Chukwudi a better catch.”
The vehemence of her tone made him smile. “Now, that is a compliment I’m never going to forget.”
“It’s not a compliment. It’s the truth, and I should know,” Callista said with a sniff. “In any case, I thought you’d mind she was with him.”
“I don’t. Not at all. It’s also likely she turned to him because I made it clear that I have no interest in her.”
“Yes. But you, are you offended?”
“Why, because Chukwudi was with a woman?” Callista snorted. “I was more of embarrassed by the blatant intimate display.” She looked at him. “I’m over Chukwudi forever, Mario. He, and nothing he does, will ever again interest me.”
“Good. I was a little worried you might have been affected.”
The confession surprised her. “But why?”
“You’re my girlfriend, and I don’t want you affected by what any other man does.”
“I am not.” Buzzing with a bit of excitement, she added, “I’m sorry I brought Chukwudi into our conversation. I guess I shouldn’t now that we’re dating.”
“We are still friends, Cally. We will always be, and I’d like us to continue to be open with each other.” He reached for her hand. “With me, you don’t ever have to hide whatever you’re thinking, or feeling.”
“I don’t want to. I’ve always been able to share a lot of things with you, and it makes me happy that I can continue to do so.” Smiling, she gave his fingers a squeeze. “You and he were once friends. I mean Chukwudi. I recall vaguely that you used to hang out together.”
“In a far away past.”
“What ruined your friendship?”
“The one thing that causes a rift between men–a woman.” He said it lightly. But noting her concern, he shrugged. “We weren’t close friends to begin with, or true friends. I doubt Chukwudi inspires enough affection and loyalty for real friendship.
“Anyway, he found a way to convince my girlfriend I was only using her, got her in bed with him, and went around bragging about it.” Recollection made him frown. “It wasn’t the betrayal that completely ruined whatever respect I had for him. I would have found a way to shrug that off. But having a need to belittle her and cheapen her left a bile I couldn’t swallow in my throat.”
“How long ago was this?”
“And he’s still the same disgusting blabbermouth. Such a waste. And an even bigger waste spending our time together talking about him.” Deciding to never ruin the present with the past, she said, “Let us agree, no more talk about anything but us for the rest of the evening.”
“Only for the evening?” he teased.
Callista grinned. “We can make it for as long as we like. But tell me, I see you’re taking us out of town, where are we going?”
“Somewhere not so far away, but still a surprise. So, stop asking. I can tell you though that it’s nowhere fancy, but private.”
“Nowhere fancy, but private. I’m intrigued.” And utterly excited, Callista thought. “I can’t wait to see this place.”
“Then sit back and relax. I’ll get you there soon.”
Taking his advice, she settled back in her seat, kept his fingers entwined with hers–because she didn’t want to lose the warm hold–and stared out at the scenery surrounding the highway.
It didn’t take too long before he was pulling off the highway and into a curb by the bank of a stream.
“Here? The Atachi Stream is our destination?”
“So it is. Disappointed?”
“No. Surprised, and oddly pleased.” Laughing, she pulled his hand. “Come on, let’s get out and paddle in the water.”
“You’ll have to let go off my hand, so I can get out of my door, and you out of yours.”
“Oh.” She unclasped his fingers. “Hurry. I’m not a good swimmer, but I like to paddle my feet in water. Especially when it’s icy cold. And this one will be because of the harmattan.”
Since she was running down the slope towards the stream, Mario laughed as he followed her. “Hey, don’t go too far in. The water is steep in the middle. I can swim, but I’d hate to battle with the water to save you.”
“You might hate it, but you’ll have to do it, or else if I drown, I’ll haunt you as a ghost.” She pulled off her shoes and with a teasing smile, back stepped into the stream.
“What a spooky scary thought. And at a deserted stream too.” His own shoes off, he came up behind her, put his hands around her waist, and lowered his head to sniff her in. “I wanted to be alone with you, somewhere out of the ordinary.”
“You chose a good spot. I like it.” She liked even more him holding her this way.
“I like it too. I like you.” Mario turned her around. “More than I did before. Actually, not in the way I did before. I like you in a way that surprises me.”
“I like you too. In a different way than I did before. I like it so much when you hold me like this.” Shyly, she put her arms around him too. “I’ve never had this before, you know. Someone hold me like I’m something precious. Or, someone special.”
“You’re special to me. You will always be. And I will always hold you, one way or another, if you let me.”
“Always seems so far away, but I’m grateful for now.” Content, she laid her head against his chest. “It’s so quiet, with only the noise of sweeping by cars. I can’t think of anything I’d enjoy more than to stay like this, with you.”
“I can think of something.” Mario nudged up her head. “I can think of this, and guarantee it will be better.”
He bent his head, and his lips touched hers, stayed that way a few seconds, and then moved to completely take control.
Oh, goodness, was Callista’s first thought. Her only thought as his mouth seduced hers.