An Untimely Love – Part 3

Having slept at Oliver’s place, Alex had no choice but to drive her car straight to school for fear of being late for her first class on Monday. They were getting a new lecturer in one of her practical courses and the last thing she needed was to create a first wrong impression by reporting late for class.

Fortunately for her, she still had some of her clothes at the Cooper mansion from the last time she and Anton had stayed during the school break. She changed into them and left early for school. When she noticed that she was getting closer to campus, Alex put on a cap and huge sunglasses to protect her identity from onlookers. She would have a lot more drama to deal with if students knew she was the one driving such a fancy car.

Despite her relationship with the Coopers, Alex had made it a point to have her life reflect her own capabilities and not those of others. Whereas Anton was free to live a lavish lifestyle, Alex preferred a quiet and easy life that she could afford through her own means.

She already had enough of students, both male and female trying to ingratiate themselves to her as a means of getting closer to Anton. Some of the female students hated her naturally simply because she was closer to the heir than they would ever be. She was already on fire for posting a few photos of herself with Oliver Cooper and Anton celebrating the former’s birthday over the weekend.

In her desperation to dull down Anton’s media storm due to the pics of him partying it up that had surfaced, Alex figured that posting new pictures of the three of them having a good time would dull down the gossip. In the end, She had won herself thousands of new followers on all her social media accounts that she had to make most of them private.

Unfortunately, like all tales left open to the public, Alex’s photos of her breakfast with Oliver raised a few eyebrows, most commenting about the two of them looking more like lovers instead of a simple child and guardian pair that they were. Alex was learning first-hand the side effects of exposing oneself to the mercy of the media.

It wasn’t like it was the first time such speculations were popping up in the media. Anyone that didn’t know the relationship between Alex and the Coopers did not deserve to work for any media outlet, print or online. However, for the time being, that news overshadowed Anton’s binge drinking and to close to naked pictures of himself and his new girl. It was all Alex needed and it was all that mattered.

Alex drove through the student car park in search of a free parking spot. She finally found one after a few minutes but it required her to park her long car in reverse if it was to fit into the space properly. Unfortunately, just as she was about to reverse into the spot, another vehicle tried to get into the same spot as well.

Alex honked and the driver came to a stop, noticing his error. He rolled down his window and looked out. “Very sorry,” he said, loud enough for her to hear.

Alex was about to wave at him as a sign of accepting his apology when she paused in mid-air. She shut her eyes for a few seconds and opened them again to take another look outside but the driver had already driven off in search of a new parking spot.

Where was that weird feeling coming from? She asked herself. Do I know the man?

Shaking her head awake, Alex took off the shades and cap and headed to class.

Entering the lecture hall, she looked out for her friends Cassey and Paulina at their usual sitting spot and caught them waving at her. She smiled and walked over to them, completely ignoring the stares she was getting from everyone.

After many years of constantly finding herself in the spotlight due to her association with the Coopers, Alex had mastered the art of oblivion.

“Are you the one that came in a BMW that everyone is talking about?” Cassey Newton had pulled Alex by the shoulder and whispered the words to her the moment she sat down.

“News sure travels fast on this campus,” Alex said. “Do they know it was me driving?”

Both girls shook their heads profusely in response, like a pair of twin puppets.

“Only the two of us know for sure since we have prior knowledge,” Paulina Martinez replied, shaking her head proudly for having the inside scoop. “The rest of them are just speculating.” She added.

The two girls had been friends with Alex since high school. Due to her strained relationship with her adoptive sisters, Alex had found solace in Cassey and Paulina. Her relationship with her adoptive family existed only on paper. From the time Oliver and Anton entered her life, she spent more time with the two than she ever did with her family. Through his home, Oliver had provided her an escape, a place where she felt worthy and needed rather than a burden or an extra mouth to feed.

“Who do you think they will give us as our new lecturer?” Cassey asked. “I hope it’s not that sadist Ashcroft something.”

Both Alex and Paulina gasped in trepidation.

“Please don’t let it be him,” With her head bowed down, Paulina held her hands together and raised them to the heavens in prayer with her heavens. Before concluding, she raised her head and made a Sign of the Cross over her face and chest.

“I saw those pictures of you and Mr Cooper and I almost died swooning.” Cassey said. “That is one fine man. How can you spend so much time with such a grand man and not feel anything my darling Alex? Are you even human?”

Alex gave her friend ‘the’ look. “That man you are talking about is old enough to be my father,” she reminded the girls.

“And that man looks young enough to be your brother,” Paulina countered. “And who cares how old he is anyway? I have always suspected you had a vintage taste in men.”

“What do you mean I have a vintage taste in men?” Alex asked. “I happen to like that idiot Tony yet he has the brain of a two year old when it comes to love.”

Paulina and Cassey were the only ones who knew about Alex’s crush on Anton but she trusted they would never get to tell him unlike George and Duncan who were close to impossible when it came to keeping secrets.

The three girls were still arguing about who was hotter between father and son when their new lecturer walked into class. When Alex looked up to the front, the man had his back to the class as he closed the door behind him.

When he finally turned around, Alex froze.

“Lexie,” both girls turned to her. Very so suddenly, she was shaking and sweating profusely.

“Lexie, what’s wrong with you?” Cassey held her friend by the arm. She was burning up.

“Good morning everyone, I am your….”

“Help! Somebody!” Paulina and Cassey were screaming before the lecturer could finish his sentence.

Alex had passed out.

The lecturer ran towards the commotion and after asking everyone to quickly move away to create enough room, he carried Alex with the help of another male student and laid her on her back.

He began to shake her and when she didn’t wake, he placed his hand to her nose to check her breath and felt for a pause on her neck. That was when he noticed it. The birth mark.

Fortunately, Alex opened her eyes before the man could take another look to confirm his suspicions.

At first, everything seemed blurry for Alex. But within a minute, she had managed to open her eyes wide open just in time to see Paulina towering over her after pushing the lecturer away.

“Lexie, can you see me? Are you alright?” A very disturbed Paulina asked.

“What happened?” Alex asked, looking up to see people surrounding her. She immediately tried to get up but a hand held her back down.

Feeling very dizzy, Alex closed her eyes for a second and she heard someone say, “You had temporarily….” She immediately recognized the voice. For over ten years, that voice had haunted her in her dreams but there it was in real time, as clear as the day they existed in.

I should have listened to you and gotten rid of her, Alex recalled the angry words.

She turned in the direction the sound had come from. It was him. It was definitely him. The years might have aged him a bit but she could tell right away who he was. As if possessed by something, Alex started shaking her head, looking as petrified as a child coming face to face with the monster that had been hiding in her closet.
Before her friends could decipher what was going on, Alex had turned frantic, desperately holding on Paulina as if for dear life. “No….” she kept saying whilst shaking her head frantically. “Get me…get me out…” She struggled to get the words out. “Out…out,” She desperately pulled at Paulina’s skirt.

Alex tried to pull herself up from the ground but the man tried to stop her again only this time, Alex held out her hand to keep him at bay. “Don’t,” she warned him as desperate tears rolled down her cheeks. She managed to get up with the help of Cassey and Paulina and the two girls did not let go of her for fear she might faint again.

“You need to lie down before you can….” Cassey tried to reason with her friend but Alex forced herself to walk forward. She kept trying to free herself from her two friends who were holding her back so she could run towards the door. She needed to get out of there as soon as possible.

I can’t breathe…I need air. Alex kept telling herself as she tried to make her escape. The words couldn’t come out of her mouth.

“You need to help her lie down immediately,” the lecturer instructed the students from a distance.

The moment Alex heard his voice again, she passed out a second time.

“Call the school emergency service!” The lecturer shouted as he rushed to her side again. He had heard that the university had one of the best emergency services. It shouldn’t be long before they came.

He repeated the previous process on her but her pulse was very weak this time. She wasn’t coming to.

He immediately got into position and started performing CPR.

While Paulina was talking to Emergency Services, Cassey called Oliver Cooper using Alex’s cell phone.

Oliver was in the middle of chairing a meeting when he saw Alex’s number appear on his phone screen. She rarely called him during working hours especially considering that she was supposed to be in class at that hour. Did something happen? Did the media go to the university to disturb her? Did something happen to Anton? The last time they spoke had not gone pleasant for either of them. Could something have happened? He was thinking all this whilst watching the phone vibrate. When the others in the room started watching the vibrating phone with him, Oliver excused himself from the meeting and walked out to take the call.

“Mr Oliver.” It wasn’t Alex’s voice on the other end of the line. He held the phone away to check the name again and confirmed it was Alex.

“Who is this?” He asked.

He heard sobbing. “Who is this? Where is Alex?” Oliver was slowly starting to panic.

“It’s Alex Sir…something has happened.” Cassey reported.

“What has happened to Alex?” Oliver asked.

“She fainted twice and now she won’t wake up.”

The moment Oliver heard the word faint; he rushed back into his office where the meeting had continued and frantically started searching for his keys on the table.

“Is everything alright sir?” His CFO Mark Daniels asked.

“My keys,” Oliver said. “Has anyone seen my car keys?”

“They’re here sir.” Mark picked them up from behind the pile of folders where they were, away from Oliver’s point of view and handed them to him.

Without excusing himself from the meeting, Oliver dashed out of the room in what was almost a trot.

“Where are you right now?” He asked Cassey who was still on the line.

“At school.”

“I’m heading there right now. Are you Cassey or Paulina?”

“Cassey.”

“I am coming over right now. Please don’t hang up and keep me updated until I get there. Do you hear me?”

“Yes Sir.”
By the time Oliver had reached the school, Alex had been moved to the university hospital and had woken up. Cassey was outside waiting to take him in.

“I think she fainted because of our new lecturer.” She informed a visibly perturbed Oliver as they walked to the ward.

“New lecturer?” Oliver asked.

“Yes,” Cassey replied. “She fainted the first time he walked into the room and then he resuscitated her. But then she saw him again and she started crying and shaking all over. She was pointing at him and begging us to get her out of the lecture hall, away from him. Do you think he did something to her in the past?”

The first thought that crossed Oliver’s mind was that of Alex’s forgotten memories. Did she finally remember what happened seventeen years ago? Could this man be connected to her amnesia? Oliver wondered until they reached the ward.

The moment Alex saw him, she broke down and cried.

Oliver ran to her side and she immediately wrapped her arms around him, sobbing hard against him.

The look in her eyes for the few seconds he looked at her face confirmed his worst fears; she had remembered something. Oliver held her tightly in his arms and they stayed like that until she calmed down. However, even after she had stopped sobbing, she wouldn’t let go of him. She was still holding on him tightly.

Oliver looked up at Cassey and the rest of the crew; Paulina, George and Duncun…with the exception of his son Anton and motioned for them to leave them alone for a while.

“Alex,” he called her name once they were alone. “Alex,” he tried to pull her away from the embrace but she wouldn’t budge.

“Alex love, I am here,” Oliver tried reassuring her. “I am not going anywhere, I promise. I just need to talk to you for a bit.”

After a few seconds, she slowly released her grasp.

Oliver positioned himself comfortably on the bed facing her. He took her hands in his. “What happened sweetheart?” He asked, concern written all over his face. There was always a part of him that broke into pieces whenever he saw her down like that.

He had always wondered at the back of his head if there was something sinister or terrifying she was hiding behind her happy-go-lucky personality. Could this break down have anything to do with her dissociative amnesia?

The last time Oliver had spoken to Alex’s therapist, she had suggested that he convince Alex to continue with her sessions to help her quickly recover the memories she had forgotten.

Oliver had been against the idea of coaxing or manipulating her into recovering those memories. What if she had blocked them away for a reason? She was a very happy child and forcing her to revisit the past might just have a negative effect on her. He wasn’t going to let that happen. If the memories wanted to return, they should do so of their own accord. What was the point of forcing her to remember something so terrible that her own brain shut her out of that memory to protect her?

Had she finally remembered? Oliver wondered.

“I saw him,” Alex said.

“Who did you see Alex?” Oliver asked.

Alex shut her eyes as if to block the images and voices out. “Even after seventeen years, I still remember him. I remember most of it. I thought I had forgotten. I really wanted to forget it all.” She wiped the tears off her face but they just kept flowing.

“Who is it Lexie? What did he do to you?” He was dying to find so he would know how to help her but he also didn’t want to put pressure on her. He was well aware of the risks involved in forcing her to remember things she wished not to.

“He is looking at me,” Alex recalled in a trans-like manner, her arms stretched out as if to touch the memories playing in her head. “I am begging him to make her stop. He is just standing there. I want to say something but the words won’t come out.” And then she put both her hands around her neck. “She is choking me. She is choking me.” She said painfully, her actions mimicking the words she was uttering.

“She is pushing me deeper into the water. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.” She kept repeating, frantically shaking her head and waving her arms in the air with her eyes still closed.

“She is holding my throat. She is saying something but I can’t hear her. She won’t let me go. She is choking me. She is squeezing my neck…harder…harder…I can’t breathe….I can’t breathe…I….”

There was no missing the look of trepidation on Oliver’s face as he watched and listened to Alex. Fearing she might end up actually chocking herself, Oliver quickly reached out and held on to her hands. He then took her into his arms and kept her there until she calmed down. “I am here,” he reassured her again and again. “I won’t let them hurt you again Alex. I won’t.”

Oliver knew of the two sets of parents that had adopted Alex as a kid. The first one had returned her to the orphanage while the second pair treated her like a plague in their home. The only time they had ever shown interest in her was when they discovered her relationship with him and his son.

Oliver had been quick to dash their hopes when he told the Saunders upfront that they would never get a cent out of him. Just like the first parents, Oliver suspected that the Saunders would have given anything to return the burden child but since they were privy to her abandonment by the first family that had gone ahead and officially adopted her; keeping her even though it meant mistreating her. To them, not abandoning her once again was their ultimate act of humanity. She was indebted to them.

Could there have been any other family or person she had encountered as a kid? Oliver wondered. What really happened in this child’s past to scare her like this? Who was this new lecturer that had woken up her memories? And just who was this person that was choking her? Perhaps, did the private investigators he had hired to look into her past miss something?

“Dad…Alex….” Anton finally showed up at the hospital.

“What’s wrong with Alex?” Anton looked over at Alex who was still in his father’s arms. She was tightly holding on to him and crying.

Thinking that Alex was calling him on Cassey’s line to berate him over his attitude during the argument with his father and also on his behaviour when they got to his father’s place, Anton had avoided answering any calls coming from their mutual friends.

The previous evening, instead of getting inside his father’s house, Anton had gone straight to his car and driven off. Thus, not wanting to subject himself to Alex’s wrath, he kept ignoring all of Cassey’s calls that morning, until he noticed that all of their mutual friends were calling him at the same time. No matter how angry she was, Alex would not go to such extremes just to shout at him. He and his father had gone through worse misunderstandings before and she never overreacted.

It was Duncan’s call he finally picked.

“What’s wrong with you man,” Duncan castigated him the moment he answered. “We’ve been trying to reach you all morning! Come to the university hospital. Alex is sick.”

Anton thought he hadn’t heard his friend right. He even laughed for a second thinking it was some bad joke. “Stop playing man, I’m not in the mood.” He warned his friend.

“Think whatever you want but come to the hospital when you are done. We are all here, your dad too.”

Anton didn’t need any more convincing.

“I came as soon as I could,” Anton said, moving over to sit by Alex’s side. Oliver tentatively released Alex from his arms, got up from the bed to give his son room to comfort his best friend and stepped to the side.

Alex naturally moved from the father’s arms and into the son’s.

“What is happening to you my fiery princess?” Anton deliberately used the pet name she hated to lighten up the mood. He was not very good with dealing with emotional stuff and Alex was well aware of that weakness.

“I will be right back,” Oliver excused himself. “I need to make a call to someone right away. Take care of her Anton.” He said before disappearing through the curtain.

“I will dad,” Anton said, still holding on to Alex. Noticing the limpness of her body, Anton suspected that she had fallen asleep. He slowly held her away from him and confirmed his suspicious. He carefully laid her back on the bed and adjusted the pillow to make her more comfortable.

Outside, Oliver made a call to Alex’s therapists, Doctor Sanjay.

“I need to see you,” Oliver didn’t bother with pleasantries. “I will be at your door early morning tomorrow,” he said.

“I only get to the office at 9,” the doctor replied. She was already used to Oliver’s demands.

“I never mentioned coming to your office. I meant your home, doctor,” and he cut the line.
***

 

Professor Benson Russell entered his home from work looking like a man carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. His wife Matilda came from the kitchen in her apron and welcomed her husband home, taking his briefcase from his hand and laying it on the sofa.

The professor took off his coat, hanged it and dragged his feet like a man unable to carry his own weight. He dropped himself onto the sofa, sighing heavily.

Concerned, Matilda went to stand behind him and started massaging his shoulders. “Was your first day that bad?” She asked. “My gosh, you are so tense Ben. Did something happen? I always thought you were immune to the stupidity of students of nowadays. What happened this time to get you like this?”

Professor Russel placed his two thumbs on either side of his face and gently massaged himself there. “Get me some painkillers,” he instructed his wife.

Matilda stood back and looked at her husband. She was more than just a little concerned now. “You have a headache?” She asked from behind him.

“Stop asking me questions and give me the dame medicine won’t you?” Doctor Russel snapped.

Mathilda quickly went to the kitchen and came back with a glass of water and two pills in her hands a few minutes later. She handed them to her husband and sat down next to him, watching as he took the medicine.

“Why don’t you tell me what’s going on Ben?” she said.

Matilda was not known for her patience. In fact, the word patience did not exist in her vocabulary unless it was being used in the negative. She was a woman described by her family and friends as being impatient, demanding, manipulative, and always got her way in everything. Others even joked that her daughter Cathy had taken after her, a very unfortunate development, they would add. Professor Russel was the total opposite of the women in his life.

“Do you remember that child Karla McKenzie?” Prof Russell asked his wife.

Matilda gasped, covering her mouth with her hand. “Why are you bringing that child up? have you lost your mind?” She was whispering, acting as if they could be someone in their own home that might overhear their conversation.

“I met her today, at the university.” Ben announced.

Matilda bolted up from the sofa. “What do you mean you met her?” She sounded almost out of breath. “That child was still alive? But we haven’t heard about her ever since that incident….” She stopped herself from finishing.

“That is because she changed her name.” the professor explained. “It turns out she is one of my students.” He solemnly added.

“You can’t be serious?” Matilda plumped herself down. “How did you know it was her? Did you talk to her? Please tell me you did not speak to her. Did she recognize you? But how…that was a long time ago. She can’t possibly….” Mathilda went on and on, desperately looking at her husband who still had his head hanging low like a defeated man. She was literally trying to compel him into telling her what she wanted to hear and not what she needed to hear.

“It turns out she couldn’t remember…she must have lost her memory or something,” the professor said.

Mathilda’s face lit up the moment she heard that but she was immediately forced back to reality when her husband added, “she regained her memory when she saw me. She collapsed, twice.”

All Matilda could do was keep her mouth wide open, no words came out.

“I suspect she had amnesia,” her husband explained. “I am just not sure what kind because I couldn’t risk going near her again just in case she fainted again.”

“So she kept fainting because she saw your face?” Mathilda found her voice again. “What will your new colleagues think? And the students? Even after all these years that girl still manages to drive me crazy.”

Benson Russell scowled at his wife. “Is that all you can think about right now?” he rebuked her. “You and I very well know that child did nothing to deserve what happened to her. You should have seen the way she looked at me, gosh! I have never seen a child look that terrified upon seeing my face, and I have been dealing with children all my life.”

Alex’s desperation to get away from him had stung the professor harder than he would have ever imagined. The look of petrification that had enveloped her kept flushing before him.

“We deserve to go to hell for what we did to her.” He told his wife. “Instead of acting like a victim and hating her for no reason, you should be thinking about making things right with her.”

Matilda was befuddled. “You can’t be serious.” She glared at her husband.

“I am dead serious,” her husband retorted. “If you are human, then I don’t need to remind you about how much you owe that girl.”

“We gave that girl a home when no one in the world wanted her.” Matilda argued. “Even her own parents didn’t want her but I brought her into my home and treated her like my own daughter.”

“That was only for your own selfish reasons,” Ben reminded her. “The moment you realised who she was you wanted nothing to do with her. And in all of this, I am the foolish one for always letting you have your way!” He snapped. “That child trusted me…to the very end, she trusted me and I let her down. If you had told me the truth from the beginning….”

“What truth did you want to know?” Matilda asked. “If not for the CCTV you would have also made the same conclusions as I did.”

From the moment Benson Russel had discovered the truth about what had transpired that fateful morning seventeen years ago, he could no longer look at his wife the same way and their relationship had changed in the process. It wasn’t just her he was disappointed with; he also hated himself for having loved her like a crazy fool back then. If not for his stupid undying love for her, he would have put his foot down and not allowed her to bring that child back to their home with them.  In his desperation to see her happy, he had made a decision that ended badly for an innocent child.

“I wonder what will happen if people get to hear about this…my career will be over.” The professor lamented.

Matilda sat back down next to her husband. She held his hand. “What are you so worried about?” She asked. “It’s not like anyone will believe her. It’s her words against ours and who do you think people will believe; the accusations of a delinquent or the words of a respectable professor? Besides, we got rid of the only thing that would have implicated us if someone found out.”

Like a professional criminal, Mathilda had managed to erase any evidence that might have portrayed her family as perpetrators in that past scandal and no one had dared considered any other possibilities of what might have transpired apart from she let them believe.

Russel was shaking his head disapprovingly whilst looking at his wife. “You really have no idea what’s going on here do you?”

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“That delinquent you are talking about is Alex Saunders.”

“Who is Alex Saunders?” She was looking at him blankly.

“Tsk, tsk, tsk,” Her husband kept shaking his head. “Weren’t you and your daughter talking about getting rid of a girl who is so close to the boy she is trying to nub for herself just a few weeks ago?”

“Yes” Matilda nodded.

“Karla is Alex Saunders,” he said.

Matilda’s jaw dropped to the ground. “How can that be?” she gasped.

“It can be,” her husband answered. “And I saw it with my own eyes. Oliver Cooper had come to the university campus just a few minutes after Alex passed out. He looked like a man worried sick about his own daughter. That girl is like a daughter to him and I am afraid of what he might do if he learns about what we did to her…that is if he doesn’t already know by now.”

Matilda was up on her feet now, pacing to and from around the living room. Then she suddenly paused, new conviction registering on her face. “Then we should do something before things get out of control.”

“What are you talking about?”

Matilda went back to sit next to her husband, excited and breathing like she had just been pulled from running a marathon. “How about you go to his office and give him your own version of events? That way, he will have to decide which version is the truth and he is more likely to believe you since you are old enough to remember while Karla…Alex, whatever she’s called could not even remember that incident until she saw you.”

Bernard could not help feeling shame on behalf on his wife for all her cunning ways. How can her mind be so quick to start making such wild calculations already?

“Just tell him that she collapsed because she was in shock at seeing you after so many years after she had tried to kill your daughter out of jealous.” She continued. “That way, we will be killing two birds with one stone; your career will be safe, and she will be forced out of Anton’s life so our daughter can be with him.” She was smiling gleefully, feeling extremely proud of her master plan.

But the professor was not impressed in the slightest. If anything, he looked like a man that had just been informed that he only had a few days to live. He couldn’t believe what he had just heard. Could he get any more disappointed in her? He shook his head again.

“I am going to do no such thing,” The professor said sternly. “When are you going to stop using your daughter as bait to attract a rich suitor? Because you spoil her, Cathy doesn’t know right from wrong. She is a woman now.

“You should be done catering to her every whim just because you feel guilty you lost her in the past. She is not a little girl anymore and you don’t even need to make up for anything to her. It was not your fault she had gone missing. We were just unlucky.”

“Can you even hear yourself,” Matilda looked at her husband in disappointment. “I am not doing this just for Cathy, it’s for us too,” she said. “How many years have you laboured as a lowly professor all because we needed to keep a low profile because of that incident? Now when we finally have a chance for us to excel and live the kind of life we’ve always wanted, you want to give up…and because of what?”

“I was very happy teaching at my old job and despite everything, I managed to become a professor. Isn’t that good enough for you? What more are you hoping to achieve at this point in life?”

“You could be way more than that Ben,” Matilda urged him. “You are a very bright and intelligent man. You don’t deserve the kind of life we’ve living all these years. Once we sort out this little issue, we can live in peace and you can publish all those books you’ve been writing for the past ten years. Imagine the recognition and the amount of money you will get when your research is published? Isn’t that why we moved here?”

“I can still do that without the support of some rich business mogul. I will not sell my child like that. All we need to do is make peace with Kar…Alex I mean and move on.”

“I will do no such thing,” Matilda croaked. “If you are not willing to take care of this family, then I will.” With that, she got up and went upstairs.

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An Untimely Love – Part 2

(This insert is exactly as it appeared on [mytrendingstories.com] a few weeks ago)

When Sunday morning came, Alex woke up earlier than usual and went straight to Anton’s room to wake him up. He was not there. She looked for him in every room of the house but he was nowhere to be seen. She tried his cell phone numerous times but it kept giving her the same feedback; voicemail.

This was the first time Anton had spent a whole night out without letting her know where he was and what was keeping him busy. The latest Anton ever came home was 3 in the morning and even then, he always called to let her know he was safe. Between them, there were no secrets. If one of them was missing, their close friends simply had to ask the other and he or she would know exactly where the best friend was. Anton and Alex were more like siblings instead of best friends.

Unfortunately, that Sunday morning, Alex had absolutely no idea where her best friend and housemate was. Growing deeply concerned and worried, Alex decided to call one of their close friends she knew for a fact had been hanging out with Anton in the night.

“Hi George!” She breathed a long sigh of relief when her call went through. “Are you with Tony?” She asked.

“No, that fella ditched us last night with this new chik he’s been obsessing over lately.”

Alex remember the conversation she had had with Anton the other day.

“Her name should be Cathy or something.” George said.

“I see,” Alex said, her heart suddenly feeling heavy.

She just had to be a Cathy. Alex thought. Why couldn’t she be a Jordan or Bianca? Why Cathy?

For some reason, Alex never liked the name Cathy. “Thanks George.” She said. “I’m sure he is perfectly fine and enjoying himself wherever he is.”

“I bet he is!” George remarked.

“Thanks.” She ended the call.

Alex paused by the bathroom door for a moment to think. Had Anton been serious when he said something was different about this girl this time? Despite the long trail of girls he dated in the past, this was the first time he had stayed out all night and to make matters worse, he had not bothered to inform her. Had he forgotten about his dad’s birthday already?

Alex shook her head profusely, as if the very act could wipe away her thoughts. “Ah, what do I care?” She said and went into the bathroom. The bath tab was the first thing that came into view when she entered her bathroom but instead of going there, rolled out the curtain to fully hide away the tab.

Looking extremely absent minded, Alex walked to the other end of the room, stepped into the shower and slowly turned on the water, leaving it running at a very low pressure. It would take her more than an hour to finish showering under that kind of low water pressure. Still, her mind appeared not to be in the same room as she made no move to either stand below the shower or increase the pressure. Instead, she was leaning her back against the wall, one hand stretch out towards the warm running water, falling first onto the palm of her hand and then down to the floor.

Since Anton was not around to give her a ride to his dad’s place, Alex got the keys to her & series BMW that Oliver had gotten her when she graduated high school and made it to one of the best universities in the world with flying colours. Alex had been very reluctant to accept the luxurious car not only because of its value, but because she could not afford to maintain it in the long run. But Oliver was not the kind of man to take no for an answer. He offered to take care of whatever bills came with owning such a vehicle and when Alex still proved more difficult, he threatened to withdraw their allowances…something that Anton vehemently refused to accept and in the end Alex became a proud owner of a BMW.

Much to Oliver’s dismay, despite promising to be responsible for the car’s maintenance as well as gas, Alex had bought a car cover, parked the vehicle behind the house, dressed it into the cover and leave it untouched for months on end. She could count on one finger the number of times she had driven the car, and most of those times where emergencies, such as, when she needed to go somewhere far where her bicycle could not take her and Anton was not around to drive her.

Alex put everything she needed to use to prepare Oliver’s birthday meal into two baskets and she carried them outside to where her car was parked. She set the baskets filled with food and other cooking supplies on the ground and went to remove the dusty cover from over her car.

The car appeared as good as brand new.

She carried the baskets and put them in the back seat and she drove to Oliver’s house which was a two hour drive from home. Oliver preferred living in the outskirts, away from the commotion in the city and safe from crazy fans who could not tell the difference between love and obsession. Despite his profession, Anton had reached an age where stability and privacy meant more to him than fame ever did. He just wanted some peace and quiet.

Even though Oliver had retired from acting, he was the head of one of the largest entertainment and film studio companies that housed hundreds of actors and singers. At the age of  forty, Oliver was not famous for his old acting and singing career, instead, he had stretched his hand into the business world of entertainment and real estate. In the entertainment world, he excelled as an award winning producer and director, and in the real estate world, he was revered for his good investment eye that had earned him and some of his close friends billions of money.

The house was quite as usual and Alex was careful not to make a lot of noise in the kitchen since Bernard the butler had informed her Mr Cooper was still sleeping.

It’s not like he would even hear me from three floors up even if I played music on full blast. Alex laughed to herself as she went about her business in the kitchen.  The house was just too big for one man. Alex could imagine the kind of loneliness Mr Cooper felt with no wife or children running around.

The fully furnished but empty rooms where a constant reminder of the things he had lost and the things he had only dreamt about. Any other person would have probably moved to a much smaller house by now, but Oliver wanted to stay in the house he had designed together with his wife. In that house, they had planned to have as many children as possible and even after twelve years, Sophia’s laughter still echoed through the walls.

Rather than noise, it was the aroma that awakened Oliver from his sleep. Slightly dazed and confused, not sure whether he was dreaming or not, Oliver slowly got out of bed and followed the direction of the aroma.

It was a very familiar aroma.

Each step he took got him closer and closer to the source of the seductive flavours.  How long had it been since Sophia had cooked his favourite meal? If this was a dream, he didn’t want to wake up. Like a mad man, Oliver rushed down the stairs, sometimes taking two steps at a time.

His breath caught in his chest, his eyes anxious to behold the surreal moment. Finally at the door of the kitchen, Oliver found he was unable to move any further, his hand caught onto the door handle but still unable to push it open. Transfixed on the door, his heart started racing. The sound of his racing heart echoed through his head and made it hard for him to think properly.

Is this a dream? Oliver asked himself.

Slowly, he started pushing the door forward. The first thing that caught his eyes was the long silky red hair cascading down her back. It was a thick familiar mane whose feel he remembered even in his sleep. How many times had he run his hand through it?

Like a man possessed, Oliver’s thoughts propelled him forward, slowly and carefully, as if any sound he made would make the apparition before him disappear. Even if it killed it, he was not going to close his eyes, not even for a second. This image before him, whether dream or not, he was never going to let it go.

As he got closer, Oliver realized she was humming. It was a very familiar tune. How many times had he stood by the kitchen door and watched her hum her way through her cooking? It seemed even death could not defeat the beauty that she was.

A few inches away from her, he stopped. The fresh bolt of her shampoo went straight into his nostrils and triggered memories he thought he had forgotten. Despite the years she still looked the same from her back. Her legs were one of the things he had loved about her. How often had he teased her about their length and how they seemed to go on forever?

Except, Oliver rubbed his eyes with his fingers. Something seemed off.

Instead of two stick thin legs, he was looking at a fully figured woman. Unlike the Sophia he knew that struggled with anorexia for years, this Sophia in his dream appeared completely healed from it.

You finally did it my love. Oliver said proudly in his head. He liked this version of her, he admitted to himself as a mischievous grin appeared on his face.

From her legs, his eyes instinctively moved up to her waist. Indeed dreams came true in heaven. Oliver thought.  His wife had finally succeeded in attaining her ideal weight. How pleasing it was to his heart that she no longer had to worry about being underweight. Unable to control himself any longer, Oliver covered the space between them and stopped right behind her. It was as if something was pulling him forward and before he knew it, he was hugging her from behind. “Sophia-” he whispered into her ear, his scooped a handful of her hair and buried his face in it.

Alex froze, cooking stick in hand and her face hanging above the pot. She had just been about to scoop a spoonful from the pot to state how the beef stew was coming up when she heard Mr Cooper’s voice. Before she knew it, he was holding her by the waist with one hand while the other hand went in her hair.

She wasn’t sure what to do. Should she scream, kick, or run? Did Mr Cooper have a sleep walking habit? She remembered Anton once laughing at him for his sleeping habits but Alex had never bothered to find out what those habits were exactly.

Could it have been sleepwalking? Alex wondered.

Clearly, the man was sleepwalking, for why else would he be addressing her as his dead wife…and what the hell was he doing touching her like that?

Oliver’s gentle kiss on the nape of her neck was enough to jolt Alex into a decision. She quickly and forcefully turned around to face him.

“Mr C!” She said a little louder.

Finally, Oliver was awakened to reality.

“Alex,” he said, looking at her quizzically. “What are you doing here? Oh,” he took  step back from her, and then another one, and another one. There was horror written all over his face. “What have I done?” He slightly lifted his hand and turned his palm up, his eyes closely examining it in horror.

“I am so sorry,” Alex quickly apologized. She realized she was the one at fought for coming over to his house unannounced. “I shouldn’t have barged into your house without informing you…it’s just that, I wanted to surprise you….”

“What are you doing here this early in the morning?” he asked, checking the clock on the wall behind her.

“I told you on Thursday that I would be coming in the morning…have you forgotten? Was making some pre-birthday breakfast…”

Oliver remembered the conversation from their house. “Oh yeah,” he scratched his head. “I remember now…but isn’t this a little too early? What exactly are you-“ he turned his eyes towards the table that was filled with both cooked and uncooked food, and then he fixed his gaze on the stove where two pots were cooking.

“You did all that?” Oliver asked. What time did you get here?” He asked. “And where’s Anton?”

Alex could smell her beef stew starting to burn. “Can I…” she looked at him pleadingly and pointed to the stove.

“Sure, of course, go ahead,” Oliver said, still not sure about what exactly was happening. He was still going over what had just happened and what thoughts were going through his head as he did so.

Alex turned off the stove and turned back around. “Done!” She announced her arms up in the air. She was already back to her usual self in just a split second. It was as if the past three minutes had never transpired. Oliver didn’t know whether to be grateful or apologetic.  Either way, he had just committed a very grave sin.

“Alex…about what-”

“It never happened,” Alex brushed her hand in the air dismissively. “You don’t need to explain anything. When I was a kid, your wife did tell me several times that I looked exactly like her when she was young. Isn’t that the reason why she allowed me to be friends with her son in the first place?

“I don’t blame you for getting confused just now.” She added nonchalantly. “Anton also said I look just like her from behind.” Then she chuckled. “He says I’m beautiful from behind and handsome in the front. Your son is cruel Mr C.” She laughed.

“Now are you just going to just keep standing there or will you help me move this to the table?” Alex pointed at the plates and pots that were all over the table.

She moved away from the stove to the table. “Let’s move only that side over there.” She pointed to the plates at the far end of the table. She lifted the biggest serving bowl and put it in his hands.

“I’m going to carry these small ones.” She said and carried the two small bowls remaining.

“Where’s Bernard?” Oliver asked after the butler while following Alex into the small dining room right next to the kitchen.

“Since there’s no space on that table,” she pointed to the kitchen table where they had taken the food from. “We are going to eat from here today.”

Oliver laid the bowl on the table and dropped himself into one of the chairs. “How come I don’t see Bernard or Anton around?”

“Anton is over at George’s house, passed out,” Alex lied. “He is not a morning person. I bet he will come here at 1 in the afternoon.” She used to be a bad liar growing up, but after spending years being Anton’s friend, Alex had picked up a few bad tricks along the way.

“I asked Mr Ben to get me some something at the store.”

“So it’s just the two of us eating all this food?” A visibly perturbed Oliver asked.

“For now yes….you, me, and the Butler.” Alex answered. “The rest of the food is for later. And there’s still more to be made so be warned!”

“Are you trying to feed a nation or what?” Oliver asked. “I didn’t even know I had anything in this house to cook. Thanks to the chef, I always find food already prepared. I never ask where it comes from.”

“I came with everything I prepared,” Alex said. “I didn’t peg you for a cooking person so I couldn’t take the risk. Besides, I like making up my own recipes so I prefer buying the ingredients myself.”

She went back into the kitchen to get some plates. She appeared after a few minutes, placed the three plates and matching cutlery on the table and stood up straight.

“And now for the finale, wine!” She announced, her hands in the air.

Alex ran back to the fridge and come back with a bottle of Chardonnay. “When I was a kid, I heard someone on TV say that this is one of the best wines in the world and I have never forgotten the name.” She held up the bottle for Oliver to see.

“I always told myself that when I become rich, I am going to stock my wine cellar with 100’s of these…and do you want to know something funny?”

“What?” Oliver asked.

“This is the first bottle I ever bought and today will be the first time I get to taste it!” She announced.

“Are you kidding me?” Oliver asked, not believing his ears. “How did you even afford all this Alex?”

Alex rolled her eyes and sat down. “That’s the problem with rich folks,” she said. “You always give Tony and I allowances. Before I even get a chance to finish the first one, there’s more in the account!” She placed the bottle down and was about to start serving when a thought crossed her mind.

“What’s taking Ben so long?” She asked, turning towards the door to check for any signs of him.

“I’m here Ms Alex.” The butler showed up right on time.

“You found the –“

“Yes Ms, in the kitchen.” He answered before she could even finish her sentence.

“Come, sit down.” She pulled out a chair for him.

“I am afraid I can’t do that,” the fifty year old butler declined.

Alex scoffed. “We are about to have that hundred year old argument again.”

“Just for today, forget about your position and join us Ben,” Oliver urged. “This is my pre-birthday breakfast…so let’s just say that everything happening today is special. Take a seat. It’s an order.”

Reluctantly, the butler sat down and immediately went at the plates.

“You are such a bummer Ben,” Alex teased the man, pushing his hands away. “No one is serving anyone here,” She said. “We are just going to pick whatever we want and then stuff ourselves until we can’t get up from our chairs.”

“You are not serious are you?” Oliver looked worried; he took another look at all the food laid out on the table and shook his head in dismay.

“Watch me,” Alex picked a plate and stuffed it with all kinds of food. “Ah,” she suddenly stopped, “I forgot about pictures.” She ran into the kitchen and came back with a Kodak camera in hand.

“I want Anton to be so jealous when he sees them!” Alex said before taking shots of everything on the table.

She took pictures of the food, of Oliver as well as Ben before handing the latter the camera to take pictures of her and Oliver. “Wait first,” she told Ben as she moved to stand next to Oliver. “Okay, now,” she said after putting one hand across his shoulder while raising the other hand to the side with two fingers raised up. “Say cheers,” she told Oliver whilst smiling at the camera.

Oliver looked to the camera and smiled. Alex kept changing the pauses while Ben flashed away. “Act like you are having fun Mr C.,” Alex urged the reluctant widower. She goofed around and made faces behind him while Ben continued taking shots.

Seeing Ben’s reaction, Oliver got concerned and asked, “Why is Ben trying hard not to laugh and what the hell are you doing behind my back?” He tried to turn around to check but Alex put her hands on either side of his cheeks and forced him to look at the camera.

Ben took a shot right then.

While she still had a chance, Alex towered over the sitting Oliver and with her hands moving from side to side, she winked at the camera and Ben took another shot as quickly as possible while she held Oliver’s cheeks from the sides to mimic a smile.

The ultimate result was one of an utterly shocked Oliver with his cheeks pulled from the sides while Alex enjoyed a hearty laugh.

“I think we are done now.” A very satisfied and smiling Alex dusted her hands off and went back to sit by the table.

“Do you treat all men the way you treat Anton and me?” Oliver asked Alex in the midst of their meal.

“What do you mean?” A clueless Alex asked.

“It’s just that….” Oliver searched for the right words to say. “Sometimes I think that you forget we are men.”

Alex laughed, “That fool told me the same thing this morning,” she said. “You guys are closer to me than my own family. You are like the father I wish I had and Anton is like…you know, well….”

Oliver laughed. “Not like a brother?” he suggested.

Alex turned red on the face.

Alex had never been treated like family by any of the people she had expected to treat her as such. Therefore, she treated everyone she was close to and all those she came to consider as family the way she wished her adoptive family would have at least treated her. She didn’t know the right formula to use to show affection. She simply followed her feelings. That is what Mrs Davies the book store owner had taught her.

“If you may excuse me,” Bernard was up on his feet, his empty plate in his hands. “I must get back to work right now. Thank you very much for the meal Sir and Ms Alex.”

“Don’t thank me,” Oliver said. “I had nothing to do with everything that happened on this table or in that kitchen this morning. It was all Alex.”

“You are welcome Ben.” Alex said, amused by the man’s adherence to protocol.

Ben bowed his head slightly and left the room.

“How about telling that clueless boy how you feel?” Oliver suggested once they were alone.

Alex’s jaw dropped. “Is it that obvious?” She asked.

“That you like him more than just a brother or friend?” Oliver said. “Of course it’s obvious for someone as experienced as I.” He said proudly.

“Everyone thinks you are a very humble man Mr C but at times like this, I think you are not.”

Oliver laughed. “What are you afraid of?” He asked. “That he might not return your feelings?”

Suddenly, Alex lost her appetite and resolve to binge on everything she had laid out on the table. “I don’t need to tell him how I feel for me to know his feelings. I know without doubt what he feels about me. I’m like his sister…or, the coolest buddy he’s ever had. Anton would never look at me as a woman.”

“Maybe that’s cause you also treat him as such.” Oliver said. He too put his folk down. “I’ve seen the way the two of you interact. There’s nothing there that says you could be more than friends but because I know you, I am able to tell what’s going on.

“The thing with you Alex is that you wear your emotions on your sleeves. Only that my son is too daft to notice what’s happening right under his nose.”

“You know, sometimes I think that he knows but he avoids it because he doesn’t want to ruin our friendship.” Alex reasoned. “He knows how much the two of you mean to me and if we cross that line…when we confront this…whatever it is that I feel…when we confront it and he rejects me, things will never be the same between us.

“That’s why I have decided to never talk about it with him. I am just going to keep myself busy so that by the time we are graduating, I would have already gotten over my feelings. You guys mean everything to me. I won’t risk that by focusing on useless emotions.”

Oliver was watching her talk. He could tell how much of a brave face she was trying to put on. For a child that spent most of her time in his home than at her home, Oliver had come to know Alex like he would his own daughter. He could tell she was desperately fighting back her tears when she repeatedly kept biting her lower lip.

When Alex mentioned family, a huge part of Oliver finally understood why she preferred to keep her status quo with his son. Once on Anton’s thirteenth birthday, Oliver had found the poor child crying alone in the backyard. When he asked her why, she told him she was thinking about the first birthday she had celebrated in the home of the couple that had first adopted her.

Without her knowledge, Oliver had done a back ground check on her after Mrs Davis the store owner where he had first met Alex told him a bit about her tough background.

There had never been a father or mother figure in the girl’s life to teach her about life or to shield her from the bad things of the world. Everything she knew, she picked up from either reading books or watching people around her.

“I don’t know what to tell you Alex.” Oliver said. “I wish my son was not who he is right now when it comes to women. What’s worse even is the fact that he’s incapable of picking up clues or subtle hints from girls.

“Al his life he’s had girls chasing after him. He’s never had to go after anybody so he’s really the worst when it comes to knowing women. I would definitely die a happy man if the two of you married. You are the only person I know who manages to keep him grounded. He is a very hardworking boy, the only problem is; he’s easily distracted.”

“It’s only when you talk like this that I’m forced to accept that you are now in your forties.” Alex said. “You sound like an old man.” She laughed.

“I am an old man Alex! Only that my body refuses to accept the fact.”

“You sound like you are complaining…or is it that you are actually showing off?”

Oliver laughed. “You don’t miss anything Alex,” he admitted. “So are you planning on inviting a lot of people over for a surprise party or what?” he asked. “You know I hate such things right?”

“Yesterday I sat down and thought to myself; what can a forty something year old rich guy do on his birthday to celebrate growing a year older and look back on his past years fondly instead of feeling depressed about turning a year older?”

“And what was the answer?” Oliver asked, curious to hear the answer.

“I went shopping. That’s the answer.” Alex laughed at Oliver’s puzzled look. “We are going to cook nice food and go have lunch together with some kids at my former orphanage. After eating, there are a lot of other fun activities we can do. I promise you, it will be worth your while.”

“I would have never thought of that,” Oliver admitted. “You never cease to amaze me Alex….” Oliver looked at Alex. How fast they grow. He thought.

She was no longer a little girl. Since when did she turn into such a wise young lady? Had he not been paying attention? Granted, she still had that innocent look in her eyes and mannerism and despite being clever and as bright as a summer’s day, there was still some aspect of naivety about her. It was obvious she had her own ideas about the kind of world she wanted to belong to which sometimes was too far from reality…it was for that same reason he wanted to protect her, as he would his own child.

But when had she turned into a woman?
***

By the time Anton realised what day it was, it was 3 in the afternoon. He was forced awake by a naked Cathy in their hotel room.

“It’s 3pm,” she said while grabbing a towel from the floor and wrapping it around her chest. “Didn’t you say you had some family thingy to attend?”

Anton jolted up from his sleep. “What time did you say it was again?”

“It 30 minutes passed 3.” She replied.

“And you only woke me up now? Dear God.” He jumped out of bed and started picking up his clothes from the floor. “Alex is going to kill me, not to mention my father.”

“What’s this family event you have to attend to?” The twenty-three year old blonde didn’t seem to be in any kind of rush. She sat back on the bed and watched Anton walk about in panic, not lifting a finger to help him locate his clothes.

“It’s my father’s birthday tomorrow,” Anton replied whilst dressing. “And since people always have these parties planned out for him, the family uses the day before the actual day to celebrate with him.”

“So am I invited?” Cathy asked, an expectant smile playing on her face.

“I told you, it’s only family,” Anton replied without thinking.

“But you said this friend of yours Alex would be there…I am your girlfriend…or am I not?” She pulled a long face.

Anton moved to plant a kiss on her forehead as he pulled up his zipper. “Alex is like family. We’ve grown up together and I have never thought of her as anything other than family. You and I are still getting to know each other Cathy.” He tried to reason with her.

“After last time, I think we are way passed the getting to know each other stage don’t you think?” She countered.

Anton brushed her off. “You know what I mean.”

“But promise me you will introduce me to your father soon. Not as your girlfriend of course, just as a fan.”

“Yeah, I promise.” He said dismissively. He kissed her on the lips, grabbed his keys from the bedside table and off he went. “I will call you,” he shouted before disappearing.

Once she was alone, Cathy Russel went through all the pictures she had taken of herself with Anton, including the ones she had taken whilst he was sleeping. Smiling mischievously, she chose that very one and posted it.

Look at my boo sleeping so peacefully. She captioned it. Within seconds, the comments and likes started flooding in.

“Success!” Cathy kissed her phone in celebration and fell back onto the bed.

On his way to the hotel car park, Anton avoided incurring the wrath of Alex who had organized the whole thing by calling his father instead to find out where they were. Compared to his father, Alex had a tendency to both nag and scold him like a mother would. He could only imagine the amount of tongue lashing she had stored for him. Alex Saunders was not a woman to be messed with.

Besides, even if he called her instead of his father, she probably wouldn’t even tell him where they were out of anger. How many times had she reminded him about the birthday event?

“So you are alive,” his father said upon answering his call. And then he heard him whisper to Alex; “It’s Tony, he’s asking where we are; should I tell him?”

Anton’s jaw dropped, unable to fathom his father’s betrayal.

Oliver Cooper was a man revered and respected by many. He was also feared by most. Whether business or personal relationships, Oliver was a no-nonsense kind of man; neither too easy nor too difficult to approach but extremely careful about who he allowed into his inner circle.  Being a man of very few words, many people misunderstood him as being anti-social. The tabloids called him a perfectionist, a man hard to please, approach or befriend yet humble and highly talented.

However, whereas the rest of the world could never be sure about where they stood with his father, Anton had always been impressed by the kind of easy relationship he seemed to have with Alex. Even as a child, Alex had managed to steal his father’s heart without even trying. Now that he thought about it, apart from his mother, she was the only woman his father had ever trusted and embraced.

It was Alex that had introduced the pre-birthday celebrations four years after his mother’s demise. Despite her age, Alex was able to notice the depressing episodes that his father went into the days leading to his birthday or sometimes the very day before his birthday. At first, both Anton and his father were not aware that the requests she made were deliberate and a means to keep his mind from thinking about sad things. The first time she had suggested they go to the zoo because she had never been to one. The second time was a road trip and a picnic. It was during the fourth episode that Oliver Cooper confronted her with his suspicions.

Once the cat was out of the bag, they three of them decided to make Oliver’s re-birthday celebration activities official.

The nonstop notification coming through Anton’s phone from the time he turned it on made Anton feel like losing his mind. Did he miss that many calls while his phone was off? Probably Alex blowing off his phone in frustration, he concluded.

“That’s not up to me,” Anton heard Alex say. “Let him come if he wants I guess we should be lucky that he’s managed to find time for us.”

“We are at Alex’s former orphanage,” his father informed him. “Can you make it? It’s a two hour drive from the city.”

“I know how far it is dad, I’ve been there before.” He was trying to ignore Alex’s sarcasm but only ended up snapping at his father. ”Are you planning on being their the whole day?”

“I don’t know,” Oliver replied. “We are having so much fun I think we might even sleep here.” He said.

“What?” Anton spat.

Oliver laughed. “I’m kidding son.” He said. “Do you think you can make it?”

Anton could hear the screams of excitement from the kids in the background. Alex spent most of her allowance money and whatever money she got from her part time jobs to buy things for the playground and other toys for the kids. Anton also donated money and other things whenever he remembered to do so. The place had changed tremendously from the way it had been when Alex lived there.

“I’ll be there in two hours then,” Anton said and cut the line.

To avoid using separate cars when returning, Anton dropped off his car at his father’s place which was right along way leading to the orphanage. When he was done, he called for a cab to take him.

By the time Anton got to the orphanage, he found his father, Alex and the kids playing a game of paintballing or something of that sort that had escalated into something else.

Alex was laughing so freely, using Oliver as a shield to avoid the shots coming from the kids. Compared to him, her jumpsuit overalls still had some clean spots on it whilst his were completely covered in spots as a result of shielding her.

Watching them from a distance, Anton smiled to himself; anyone who didn’t know them would have thought they were a pair of lovers. In her usual Alex fashion, she was holding on to his father’s chest and sometimes would carelessly put her arms around him as she tried to shoot back at the kids. They were so wrapped up in the game that they did not notice behind them the mud they had earlier created from playing with water. Alex was the first to step in it and when she fell, she brought Oliver down with her. He landed right on top of her with their faces coming so close they looked like they were kissing from a different angle.

“I think I just broke my back,” Alex winced out the words.

“Of course you would if you had a 170lbs man on top of you any longer than this,” Anton said, extending his arm for his father to take.

“Thanks son,” Oliver grabbed his son’s hand and pulled himself up, then he helped Alex.

“Should I even ask what you’ve been up to?”  His father asked.

“I’m sorry dad-“

“Its fine son,” Oliver put his hand over his son’s shoulder. “I was your age once too. But next time try to put other people’s feelings into consideration as well,” he said, looking at Alex.

“I know,” Anton said resignedly, looking at Alex apologetically. “So what are you guys doing?”

Before they could give him an answer, Anton felt something hit him, again, and again except, unlike the force from the regular paintball, the shots where very light and soft. In typical Anton style, he prepped himself and went with the floor, picked up the paintball gun his father had dropped and went on attack.
It was dark when the Cooper’s and Alex decided to head back home. Anton was forced to sit in the back of his father’s Range Rover since he was the only one not wearing protective gear during paintballing. There was no way his father was going to let him spoil his front seat like that.

“I had a lot of fun today thanks to you Alex,” Oliver said as he drove them back. “…. And thank you son, for showing up.” He added.

It seemed Alex was hell burnt on ignoring Anton. She had not said a word to him from the time he joined them.

“I think we should make coming to the orphanage one of my birthday rituals.” Oliver kept trying to make conversation. The long moments of silence were driving him crazy. He was used to being in the company of a chirpier and non-stop talking Alex. “I haven’t had such a great time in a long time. I think am gonna live to 180 after today.” He laughed, hoping the others would join in.

They didn’t.

Oliver finally gave up and turned on the radio.

heir to the multi-billion dollar Cooper empire can be parting it up, binge drinking, and sleeping next to his latest catch without worrying about anything. A female presenter was saying.

Alex and Oliver turned to look at Anton who appeared as shocked as they were.

The playboy heir really has an eye for good looking women. A male co-presenter chipped in. Did you check out her pictures?

Oliver hit the emergency break, almost sent Alex flying through the windscreen if not for the seatbelt. He parked to the side of the road.

“I really don’t care much about the girls he’s bedding. The female said. “Perhaps I’ll start caring when he meets a good girl who will help him turn away from his bad boy ways instead of these girls he’s constantly picking up from clubs.”

Anton got his phone from his pocket and went straight to check on his social media. Immediately, his worst fears were confirmed as he was greeted with an array of photos of him and Cathy in their bedroom splashed all over his news feed.

Alex too went online and found the exact images trending on her feed.

“Is that you enlisting yourself as that potential good girl Michelle?” Her colleague asked.

Michelle laughed. “Hell no! But, if he’s into older women…am all game! Although…I think am more his dad’s type than anything. Mr Oliver Cooper, if you are listening, call me.”

Both presenters laughed.

“For those just tuning in,” the male presenter said. Michelle and I are discussing the racy photos posted by playboy heir Anton Cooper’s new squeeze which have sent the internet…mostly his female fandom buzzing in jealous rage.”

Michelle picked up from her colleague. “With just a few hours to his father’s birthday, could this be his stamp of rebellion…or perhaps his version of a birthday present? I should hope not. What do you think Cook?” She chuckled.

“Unfortunately, this is not the first time the twenty-four year old has been caught with his pants down.” Cook answered. “The only question remaining now is; how long will this one last? You’re listening to Michelle and DJ Cook on-“

Oliver turned it off and faced his son.

“Seriously?” Oliver said, not hiding his disappointment.

Anton was just as shocked as his father by the reports. “These guys are just exaggerating things.” He said. “It must be a slow news day today. You know how-“

“You don’t think your social life is newsworthy enough?” Oliver asked sarcastically. “And where did you find this girl who posted the pictures? How many times have I warned you to be careful of the women you pick?”

Anton was still stunned. How did this happen? When did Cathy take all those pictures and why would she post them without asking him?

“She is not like that dad,” He tried to defend her.

“She is not like what?” his father asked.

“I am sure she had no idea the pictures would cause such a media frenzy.” Anton argued.

Oliver scoffed. “Are you just playing dumb or are you trying to make fun of me?”

“She comes from a very respectable family and she just made a mistake,” Anton retorted. “Besides, it’s not like this is the first time something like this has happened. The media is just having a slow news day and they are using me to increase ratings and sell their tabloids.”

“The fact that you know that very well makes me even more disappointed. Do you have any-”

Alex surprised Oliver by putting her hand on his knee and squeezing slightly. He was stunned into silence. Wasn’t that exactly how Sophia put him in check in public? Alex quickly dropped her hand when she saw Oliver glaring at it. She could tell just how mad he was and could only imagine the direction the conversation was going to take if they both continued at that pace.

“It’s getting pretty late,” she said, looking outside. “How about we get home first and you guys can continue this conversation then?” She suggested.

Oliver got them back onto the road. “You should thank God that Alex is here otherwise I would have left you out there in the middle of nowhere.”

Alex did not doubt he would do that. But she also knew he would have regretted the moment his son stepped outside the vehicle. Both men were stubborn, but they were also softies at heart.

To drown out the awkwardness, Alex busied herself with the car stereo, finally settling for a John Legend CD.

You and I filled the air.

Kondwani’s Debt of Love – Part 10

Kayombo had just closed the door of his car and was about to start the ignition when his phone rang again. Thinking it was Alicia calling him back, he answered without checking the caller id.

“I know it’s very late Alicia but please, just let me see you for a little bit. I promise it won’t take long. I am already on my way there.” He started his engine running before he could even finish his sentence.

“I don’t believe this.” Came a very stern response.

Samuel Kayombo paused. “Gwen?”

“Yes it’s Gwen, the woman you claimed was the love of your life just a few weeks ago; Gwen Miyoba.” She hissed.

“I can’t talk right now Gwen-“

“Oh but I do believe you can.” Gwen replied sarcastically. “You and I need to talk right now so you better change direction and head over here.”

Kayombo started driving his car out of his yard. “There’s nothing left to say between you and me. I thought I made that clear-“

“Then you should have told that to your bloody swimmers!” Gwen yelled. “I’m pregnant you bastard.” She cried.

Kayombo hit the emergency breaks right before he could exit the gate. “What did you just say?”

“Come home right now, my parents are not around.” Gwen informed him.

Even as he cut the line, Kayombo could not believe the things his ears had just heard. Impossible, impossible, impossible…he kept repeating in his head.

“No way!” he said out loud, gearing himself up to change his destination. His mind was running so wild that he forgot to call Alicia to inform her about the sudden change in plans, only remembering when he received a call from her.

“Are you still coming?” Alicia asked.

“I’m very sorry Alicia,” Kayombo answered. “Something’s come up so I can’t make it.”

“You don’t sound too well?” Alicia observed. “Is everything okay? Are you on the road?” She could hear the wind blowing against the phone.

“I can’t really talk right now Ally. I will call you.” He sounded almost out of breath as he cut the line before Alicia could get in another word.

Alicia remained staring at her phone screen with question marks written all over her face. Shaking her head, she put the phone back on the bedside table and went back to sleep.
“Where are your parents?” Was the first question Kayombo asked when Gwen opened the door.

Stepping aside to let him in, “There’s a funeral somewhere, some relative died.” She said.

“What’s this about pregnancy?” Samuel went straight to the topic at hand the moment he was sure the coast was clear. He sat down, not trusting his legs to hold him up during that kind of conversation.

“Is this some kind of joke you are playing just because you wanted me to come rushing over here to see you?” Kayombo asked.

Gwen scoffed as she threw herself on the sofa opposite him.

It was no secret what Gwen’s father thought about Kayombo; an average middle class background with retired ex-civil servants for parents, there was no value Samuel could bring to the financially hungry business man.

To Lloyd Miyoba, his daughter’s marriage had absolutely nothing to do with love. To him, Gwen’s value was measured the same way he measured that of the thousands of livestock he kept at his farms. Samuel was content being a doctor and had no ambitions whatsoever to spread his wings into the financial or business world…and that was something Miyoba could not stand in a potential son-in-law. To him, Kondwani possessed all the qualities necessary for a worthy son in-law even though the two of them rarely saw eye to eye on anything.

“I told you, I’m pregnant.” Gwen stated flatly. “Why would I joke about something like this?”

Kayombo sat up straight. “How?” He asked and immediately regretted the question when his remark was greeted with a look of reprobation from his counterpart.

“I am just going to pretend I didn’t hear that question.” Gwen said.

“Last time,” Kayombo said. “It’s been a while since you and I-“

“Since we had sex?” She finished for him. “It was only four weeks ago and it’s been over seven weeks now since I last saw my period.”

“Seven weeks? And you only tell me now?” Samuel snapped.

“I wasn’t sure.” Gwen said. “At first I thought it was only stress causing me to mess up my days…but lately, I started feeling funny…and I took some tests. They all came up positive.”

“How do you know it’s mine?”

“Kondwani and I have never had unprotected sex. You know very well how much he hates kids.”

“Accidents happen Gwen.” Kayombo argued. “Besides, you told me that you were safe that last time.”

“I was so mad at Kondwani that night…I just-“

Kayombo glared at her. “So you were mad at your boyfriend and you decided to be careless with me!?” He yelled.

“Why are you blaming me for this?” Gwen fired back. “You are the doctor here. Shouldn’t you have known better than to trust the words of a scorned woman? Besides, this happened way before that.”

“How can you be so sure that it’s mine?” Kayombo asked again. “You were actively sleeping with two men at the same time; anyone of us could be the father. Just because Kondwani uses protection doesn’t mean he can’t be the father.”

“A woman can tell these things.” Gwen answered. “Don’t you think it would be easier for me to pin this on Kondwani instead of you? He is after all my fiancé. I know that it’s yours without a doubt. Besides, Kondwani and I haven’t been together like that for a while now.”

“Get it terminated.” Kayombo spat.

“What?” Gwen flared at him in disbelief.

“What, you want to keep it?” He asked.

“I don’t know!” She shouted. “Why do you think I called you in the middle of the night?”

“Unless you want me to lose my job and get blacklisted in my field, you will have to abort.” Samuel said. “Both your father and Kondwani will come after me with vengeance.”

“Then you should have thought about that before you nutted in me!” Gwen yelled. “Is it that easy for you to suggest something like that to a woman?” She started to cry again.

Kayombo sighed heavily. “It’s not like that….” He tried to explain himself but he knew the damage was already done. Gwen had now reached the chorus of her crying melody. He got up from where he was seated and went to sit next to her.

“Gwen-“ Samuel tried to hold her hand but she pushed him away.

“I mean nothing to you now that this Alicia person has come into the picture right?” She sulked.

“I am sorry I said that,” Kayombo apologized. “I wasn’t thinking when-“

Gwen turned her whole body towards him. “I might not be sure what I want to do with this pregnancy but how can you so easily suggest something like that to me? Did you even love me?”

“Let’s not talk about that right now.” Samuel said. “Let’s not even panic. This is too early…perhaps it was a false positive. You can take another test after a couple of days to-“

“This is the fourth test I took this week!” Gwen yelled.

Kayombo looked horrified. “Fourth?” He asked.

“I kept hoping and praying that it was wrong but I was feeling so strange today that I couldn’t keep it to myself any longer.”

Samuel had nothing to say in response, his mind had travelled miles and disappeared into a world of chaos he could not seem to make sense of. Alicia was at the very top of that chaos. How could this be happening to him right now? He had just resolved to get over a love that was going nowhere so that he could pursue one that held promises of eternal happiness…how can this be happening right now? He kept asking himself.

All the while, Gwen had not taken her eyes off of him.

When Kayombo finally lifted his head up to look at Gwen, it was to say; “Tell me what you want to do and that’s what will happen.” He appeared drained of every life in him; his eyes heavy with emotion and his body positioned like a defeated man that had no hope of ever getting up.

“I told you, I don’t know.” Gwen answered. “I don’t want to abort but I am also scared of what will happen if I decide to keep it. I don’t want to lose Kondwani…he will leave me the moment he realizes what’s going on.”

“What if he says you won’t have to break up as long as you terminate it?” Kayombo asked.

Gwen looked at him quizzically.

“Everyone knows why he’s with you,” Samuel explained. “Why do you always act like you don’t know? As long as he can keep his pride and the money coming, that selfish bastard can forgive anything you do.”

“I don’t want to lose my baby.” Gwen said as she gently rubbed her hand over her stomach.

Kayombo gave her a look. “I thought you said-“

“I know what I said.” Gwen retorted. “What if this is the only child I ever get to have in this lifetime? I have never ever considered abortion.”

“How about I give you some time to think?” Kayombo suggested, getting up from the sofa with both hands in his pockets looking about ready to leave. “You can stay away from Kondwani in the meantime…as you think about what you will do. He is too clever to miss the signs.”

“You are leaving?” Gwen stood up. “Just like that?” She asked.

“What do you want me to do Gwen?” He raised his shoulders in wonder. “I have an early shift tomorrow I need to go and get some rest.”

“And yet you were on your way to see that stupid nurse.” She said under her breath but loud enough for him to hear.

“Have a good night Gwen.” Kayombo said and started towards the door.

“When are you going to get over your inferiority complex against Kondwani?” Gwen shouted to his back, and when Kayombo made no move to stop or respond, she added; “Isn’t that why you are going after that girl?”

Kayombo paused by the door, his hand place over the door knob and without turning to look at her he answered; “If there was ever a part of you that genuinely loved me, then you should be able to answer that question yourself.” He then opened the door and left.

Angry, Gwen grabbed the flower vase that was close to where she was standing and she flung I in the direction Samuel had been standing, shrieking at the top of her voice.

Hearing her cry, Kayombo stopped outside the door, shook his head and walked back to where his car was parked.
Three days passed and Samuel was yet to hear from Gwen the decision she had made concerning the pregnancy. During this time, he steered clear from Alicia, unable to master the strength to look her in the eye knowing what might happen if the truth between him and Gwen came out.

Even though Samuel felt entitled to Gwen’s love, he knew deep down his heart that whatever was going on between them was wrong and morally unacceptable. So many times he had tried to stop and walk away but Gwen kept coming back into his life. From the time he returned to Zambia, Gwen had proved herself to be his biggest weakness. Kondwani’s lack of affection towards her made things even harder for Kayombo. Every time Gwen felt rejected by the great doctor, it was to Kayombo she ran, over and over again.

Having loved Gwen for years, Samuel Kayombo came back home from his studies abroad hoping to rekindle his romance with the vivacious heiress. Their young romance had been forced to come to an abrupt end when he had to travel for school but Kayombo always held on to the hope of the two of them working out in the end…but that was until Kondwani appeared and put a whole new twist to their love plot. In time, Kayombo had come to fear, despise as well as respect Kondwani for his ability to win over women’s hearts despite the coldness of his own heart.

“Have you been avoiding me?” Alicia had sneaked up behind Kayombo who was walking towards his vehicle at lunch time ready to run away from the hospital.

“Alicia,” Kayombo said, stopping to address her. “Why would I be avoiding you?”

“I don’t know, you tell me.” She said, crossing her hands over her chest and looking up at him suspiciously.

“You know I joined the new research team recently so-“

“You did?” Alicia asked.

“You didn’t know?” He asked.

“No.”

“Yes, that’s why I’ve become slightly expensive these days.”

“I wanted to ask what it was you wanted to talk to me about that night you called.” She reminded him.

“Oh, that….” Kayombo feigned a forgotten memory. “I was doing something at home when I came across some old pics of Nick and I…I don’t know what got into me but I found myself wanting to talk to you since you were the closest to him. I guess I just missed him….”

Alicia’s heart reached out to him, feeling his pain as much as he did. “Nicolas did tell me how close the two you were.” She said. “I can only imagine what it must feel like not having gotten a chance to say goodbye.”

The look in Alicia’s eyes immediately made Kayombo feel guilty for lying to her and bringing up her late boyfriend.
“Sometimes I also wake up in the middle of the night,” Alicia continued. “I get this stinging pain in my chest…thinking about the last thing I said to him. My last moment with him was an argument that shouldn’t have even taken place.” There were tears welled up in her eyes.

“I’m such a fool.” Kayombo said, his regret written all over his face. “I don’t know what I was thinking bringing up something like this.”

Alicia laughed softly and quickly pushed back her tears. “Are you having lunch out?” She asked.

“Yeah,” Kayombo answered. “I have to meet an old friend, away from the hospital. He’s just passing through town and he desperately wants me to meet his wife.”

“I’m sorry for-“ Alicia was forced to stop talking when she felt drops of water fall on her head and onto her shoulder. Her eyes shot up immediately, and so did Kayombo. They both gaped in shock when they saw Kondwani looking down at them from his office window, an empty glass of water in his hands.

“My bad!” He shouted. “Had no idea there was anyone down there, very sorry.”

Kayombo could only shake his head in disbelief while Alicia tried to shake the water from her hair using her hand.

“There’s no way that was a mistake.” Alicia said to Kayombo.

“You think?” Kayombo remarked, his eyes fiercely fixed on Kondwani whose facial expression looked nothing like a man sorry for his actions. If anything, he was smirking like he had just won a mysterious prize.

“I have to go.” Kayombo said. “I’ll see you later.”

“Okay.” Alicia said and turned to go back to the cafeteria where Evans and Caroline where waiting for her.

“What happened to you?” Caroline asked her friend the moment she joined them by the table. She was pointing to the part of Alicia’s uniform on her shoulder that was wet.

“I just paid the price for my foolishness.” Alicia said as she sat down and pulled her plate of pasta towards her.

“What do you mean?” Nurse Evans asked.

“Did Doctor Kayombo do that to you?” Caroline asked, her eyes blazing in fury and ready to fire away.

“Why would he do this to me?” Alicia asked.

“Wasn’t he the one you ran after just now?” Caroline asked.

“Yes, but he’s not the one who poured water on me. Now the both of you stop talking to me, I need to eat.” And she loaded her mouth with spaghetti so that she wouldn’t have to answer any more of her friend’s questions.

A few floors up from the cafeteria, Kondwani kept his gaze fixed on Kayombo’s vehicle until it disappeared through the gate, an angry expression on his face.

“Son of a bitch.” He cussed out loud and went to sit down. Now that the moment had passed, Kondwani replayed his actions a few minutes ago, cringing in embarrassment at his own childishness. Why had he poured water on them? Why did his heart darken the moment he saw the two of them talking?

Kondwani Chileshe lived his life in A’s and B’s, white and black. In his world, there was a plausible explanation for everything and if he couldn’t find one when he needed it, he was sure the answer would come to him in the near future. Unfortunately, from the moment Alicia came into his life, a lot of grey areas appeared and he found himself with too many options other than A and B to choose from. Still, he could not find the answers he so desperately sought.

He was busy reeling over his state of helplessness in matters to do with Alicia when a text came through his mobile phone. Thinking it was Gwen, he picked up his phone to check and found that it was his mother asking him not to forget to eat lunch. It was in that moment, with his phone in his hands that he realized it had been a while since he had heard from Gwen who previously had taken pleasure in being the reason behind his phone battery draining before it’s time.

Kondwani couldn’t help wondering about what could be happening with Gwen to cause her to stay away from him for three straight days and nights without personal contact. It was not like her. Fearing that she might have gone back to her rebellious ways when she tried to punish him by sleeping with Kayombo and pretending to have fallen back in love with him, Kondwani called his fiancé.

He called her, once, twice, thrice…and she still wasn’t answering. He tried a fourth time and when she still couldn’t answer, he followed her to her office. He knocked twice on her door and waited for a response but still, nothing came. Slowly, he opened the door and entered. Gwen was nowhere in sight. Her phone was lying on her desk.

Kondwani was about to turn back and leave when he heard a sound come from the bathroom. Like his executive office, Gwen’s office too had its own shower and bathroom. Kondwani followed the sounds until he found his fiancé kneeling on the toilet floor with her head down towards the toilet pan; she was throwing up.

“Gwen?” Kondwani called out to her.

Gwen who had been so wrapped up in her business quickly turned around and found Kondwani glaring down at her. She had not heard enter her office. Unconsciously and in her state of shock, Gwen’s hand went over her tammy…and so did Kondwani’s eyes.

“Were you throwing up?” He asked.

“When did you-“

“Answer me.” Kondwani said sharply. “Did you just throw up?” he was trying to look into the toilet but Gwen quickly flashed and brushed passed him out of the bathroom.

“What are you doing here?” Gwen asked, trying to busy herself behind her desk. “You’ve never voluntarily passed through my office.”

Kondwani rushed over to where she was and went straight for her eyes, examining them closely before Gwen pushed him away. “What do you think you are doing?” The petrification in her eyes and her whole demeanour was all Kondwani needed to confirm his suspicions.

“No,” Kondwani was shaking his head whilst looking at her. “You can’t…Gwen?”

Gwen admitted defeat a little too quickly, the pride she once held of her fiancé’s medical skills finally worked against her. How could she even imagine hiding something like that from him? In the end, she could only shake her head in anguish and cry.

Kondwani stormed out of her office and rushed back to his office. Gwen was following him closely behind.

“Kondwani-“She called out to him by the door as she closed it behind her. But Kondwano was not listening to her. He picked up his phone and called the man responsible for the mess.

“Yes doc,” Kayombo said when he answered the call after four rings.

“Tell me where you are and I will come there right now, unless you want to have this conversation right here at the office, your choice.”

“Kondwani,” Gwen tried to take the phone away from him but she was no match for his determined hands.

The moment Kayombo heard Gwen’s voice in the back ground; he knew his world had just turned upside-down. “I am at the Horse Shoe.” He politely informed his nemesis.

“Wait for me there.” Kondwani commanded and cut the line.

“What are you going to talk about?” Gwen asked.

Kondwani removed his coat and threw it on the chair. He grabbed his car keys and started walking towards the door. Gwen was following him closely behind. “I can explain this Kondwani.” She grabbed his hand and tried to pull him back, sobbing in desperation.

Kondwani suddenly stopped, grabbed her hand and pushed her to the side. “You disgust me.” He said, looking her straight in the eyes. “Did you have to go this far?”

“It was a mistake.” Gwen cried. “I don’t know how-“

Kondwani had no time to stand and listen to her. He turned and resumed walking. She followed him. Gwen ran ahead of him and went to stand in front of him right in front of the elevator. She was about to say something to him when the doors opened and five employees stepped out. Before they could all step out, Kondwani went in and pressed the button to close before Gwen could make her way passed the small crowd.

Kondwani found Kayombo waiting for him outside the restaurant, looking as guilty as any man in his position could ever be. Kondwani parked to the side, stepped out of the vehicle and took three long steps towards Kayombo. Kayombo did not need to ask what was about to happen because all of Kondwani’s intentions where written all over his face.

Kondwani’s punch almost sent Kayombo falling to the ground. Fortunately for the both of them, apart from the few cars approaching in both directions in the distance, there was no one around to bear witness to the men’s rivalry.

“Are you for real?” Kondwani asked Kayombo who appeared to be in no mood to retaliate. He had mentally prepared himself for the worst case scenario and all he could do was wait for it to happen. He could neither offer excuses nor put up a defence in his favour.

Kondwani punched him hard on the other cheek, this time Kayombo went down. The cars passing by slowed down as people took in the scene before them.

Kayombo picked himself up slowly. “I am sooo sorry.” He said, desperately avoiding his boss’ gaze as he picked himself up. “I don’t know-“

“You are sorry?” Kondwani scoffed. “You must think me a fool isn’t it?”

“There’s really nothing going on between Gwen and me.” Doctor Kayombo tried to explain.

“Then are you Joseph?” Kindwani asked. “Why is my fiancé in that condition? You must think me a fool Kayombo. Just because I allowed certain things to happen between the two of you does not mean I was not aware or that I didn’t care.

“I am very much aware of my own limitations and I allowed Gwen to indulge herself before our marriage because I know that I cannot give her certain things that she longs to have no matter how much time passes between us as a couple.

“Granted, it was foolish of me to allow another man to have my woman like that but I trusted that the two of you would control yourselves and know what’s good for the both of you in the end. If you stopped yourselves in time, then I wouldn’t have to worry about a thing in future.”

“I don’t know what to say.” Kayombo admitted. Indeed he had had no idea that Kondwani had willingly allowed him and Gwen to see each other behind his back like that. Samuel always thought that the man did not care whether his woman was faithful or not provided he still benefited from her the things he received by virtue of being with her. How was he to know that even his lazy attitude towards the knowledge of his fiancé’s affair was also one elaborate calculated risk on his part as well? Just how far would this man go to have his way?

“If you know what’s good for the both of you.” Kondwani continued. “You will handle this thing discreetly and save us all the embarrassment. No matter my ambition, I will not marry a woman that has another man’s child in her womb. This is the 21st century, not the 4th century.”

“You can’t be serious.” Kayombo said.

“Would you like me to demonstrate to you just how serious I am?” Kondwani asked. “Or tell me, are you planning on marrying her? And if your answer is yes, with whose permission, if I may ask? The things I can do to you are nothing compared to the things Miyoba would do to the man that’s interfering with his business investments.

People always make the mistake of thinking that I am the one that benefits most from our unholy union but they have no idea just how much money my talent and ambition is worth in the hands of such a man.”

Kayombo mulled over Kondwani’s words for a while, silently hating himself for his inability to operate at the same level as Kondwani despite the two of them being of the same age. Just how pitiful can a man get? How hopeless he felt every time he stood before this man.

“Don’t you even care about her feelings?” Kayombo asked. “This attitude of yours is the very reason we are in this situation in the first place.

Kondwani scoffed. “Are you trying to blame me for your decision to keep sleeping with my fiancé despite knowing that she was already taken? Between us there is a bigger fool and I can promise you that I am not the biggest. Are you planning on asking her to keep it?”

“I already told you, there’s nothing going on between Gwen and me, it’s all in the past. I already told her what I want but at the end of the day it’s up to her whether she keeps it or not.”

Kondwani passed is hand through his head frustratingly. “I thought she was the love of your life.” he said. “I expected more resistance from you than this…this attitude you are showing me today. Is this because of Alicia?”

“What?”

“You are one to judge my intentions with Gwen as a man but you are no better Kayombo.” Kondwani accused. “You think I don’t know why you approached Alicia?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Kayombo denied it.

Kondwani laughed. “Are you planning on going after every woman in my life?”

“Woman in your life?” Kayombo looked at him disgustingly. “How is Alicia in your life?” He asked. “I knew Alicia way before you even knew of her existence. Stop acting like she is yours. Not every woman in this world would kill to have a chance to be with you.

“You might have taken Gwen away from me but I will never allow you to take any other woman from me Kondwani. You better stay away from Alicia. She does not need someone as miserable as you to mess up her simple life.”

Kondwani busted out laughing. “And you think that you are any better than me?” He asked his colleague. “You knocked up my fiancé and now you are chasing after another woman that appears to like me. Tell me, who is the monster between us?”

Having said his piece, Kondwani turned and went back to his car. He deliberately pressed his foot hard on the accelerator and almost ran over Kayombo as he got back onto the road, swerving in time to avoid actually hitting him.

Unable to contain his anger, Kondwani drove straight home instead of going back to the hospital. Alone in his house, He finally let out the anger he had been holding onto by smashing whatever he could get his hands on in the living room. In his anger, Kondwani failed to notice the piece of broken glass lying on the arm of the sofa that when he placed his right hand there to take a breather, the sharp edge dug a deep hole into the palm of his hand, causing him to shriek in pain as blood gushed out.

Just then, his phone started vinarating from his pocket. Unable to contain the pain, Kondwani ignored the call and rushed to the kitchen to grab a towel. He wrapped it around the injured area to contain the blood for a while as he attended to his phone.

“Yes,” He answered without checking, his face all wrinkled up in pain.

“Dr Chileshe,” It was Alicia. “Are you alright?” She had not missed the pain in his voice.

“I cannot talk right now,” Kondwani said as he positioned the phone on his ear and raised his shoulder to hold it in place while he used his left uninjured arm to reach out for the First Aid kit in one of the top kitchen cabinets. However, Kondwani had underestimated his own strength under such pain that he ended up spilling the contents of the box as he tried to get it down.

“Sir!” Alicia yelled when she heard the noise and heard him wince in pain. “Is everything okay? Where are you?”

Kondwani went down on his knees to pick up the things on the floor. “I am at home.” He said. “I think I could use your help right now.” He admitted defeat. “Can you get here right now?”

“I don’t know where you live Sir.” Alicia said.

“Huh?” Kondwani said, not sure why he found that surprising. “You have a pen?” He asked.

“Wait a second.” Alicia grabbed the pen in Caroline’s hand as she filled in her report for the day before her shift ended.

“Yes doc, I am on my way.” Alicia said once she had written down the address and she cut the line without asking any more questions.

“Are you going to his place?” Caroline asked with a mischievous grin playing on face.

“He sounds like he’s in pain.” Alicia explained as she changed from the white shoes she wore around the hospital to the black ones she wore when she knocked off. But she still left her nursing uniform on. She threw the shoes into her locker, grabbed her small bag which contained most of the things she might need in an emergency situation and she ran out of the locker room.

Kondwani opened the door for her twenty minutes later.

“What happened?” Alicia asked when she saw the kitchen towel on his hand partly soaked in blood and then she noticed the chaos in the room.

Kondwani went to sit down and he stretched out his hand for her to start working. Alicia went straight to work, keeping her mouth shut the whole time she attended to him.

“Aren’t you going to ask me what happened?” Kondwani asked, closely trying to study her face from where she was kneeling in front of him but Alicia kept her gaze fixed on the work at hand.

Once she was done with the bandage, she started putting back the things into her bag and got up from the floor. “It’s done,” she announced.

“Thanks,” Kondwani said, looking at his well bandaged hand. “Are you are very quick.”

“It’s my job.” Alicia said, her eyes going over her surroundings. She put her bag down on the living room table and started picking up the things on the floor.

“What are you doing?” Kondwani asked, his eyes widening in surprise at her unexpected behaviour.

“I don’t think you are in any position to keep this up otherwise you might end up injuring yourself some more.” She carefully started picking up the big chunks of broken glass on the floor, separating them from the tiny ones. “I need a broom and-“

“The maid will be here tomorrow morning.” Kondwani said. “She will clean up the whole place. Get up.” He tried to grab hold of her arm with his uninjured hand so he could help up but Alicia got up on her own.

“Where’s the kitchen?” She asked. “This way, right?” She pointed in the right direction and headed straight there before Kondwani could say anything in protest. She appeared a minute later with a dust pan and a brush in her hands.

She was about to bend over when Kondwani pulled her away suddenly that she found herself nestled up against his chest trying to keep her balance, her face just a few inches away from his.

Alicia immediately lowered her gaze and tried to step away from him but Kondwani’s injured arm was wrapped tightly around her and he drew her even closer when he felt her try to move.

“Stay. Here. For. A. Second.” Kondwani said as he looked her straight in the eyes, pausing at every word in his sentence like a man not sure of what to say in such a situation.

“I ca-“ Alicia tried to protest but Kondwani was too quick for her.

“I’m sorry,” He said and immediately went for her lips, giving her no warning or time to get in a word.

Before Alicia knew it, Kondwani was kissing her, deep and hard like a man deprived of intimacy for a very long time. The last thing she heard was the sound of his heart beating hard against her, right after she heard the dust pan and floor brush that had been in her hand fall on the carpet.

Time froze.