Chapter 2 – The Only One

It was still lunchtime when they arrived at the office. Joy, one of the receptionists, was stuck at the front desk while her colleague Ladi had gone out to lunch. She was flipping through a boring looking travel magazine when Hope and Agnes walked into the reception.

Agnes had recovered her form enough to tottle past Hope on her high heels, right up to the marble and glass reception desk.

“Sweetie, you’ve still not gone to lunch.” She sounded concerned as she took the magazine from Joy. “What is this one you’re reading sef?” Not waiting for an answer, she tossed the magazine aside and went on. “If only you had come out with us, then I won’t have been the only witness to Hope and Daniel Amadi flirting in the lift.”

“Flir what!” Joy’s face lost the expression of boredom in an instant. She looked at Hope with a gleam in her eyes that eyes that could have been either respect or envy. “Serious?!”

Hope rolled her eyes. “Don’t mind Agnes. He only said hello.”

“He said hello to you?” Apparently that was as much of a big deal as the flirting that hadn’t happened. “But he doesn’t say hello to anybody!”

Come to think of it, had he even said hello? Seeing the expression on Joy’s face Hope was suddenly seized with a morbid fear of seeing her picture in some gossip blog or the other. BREAKING! Lagos millionaire bachelor, Daniel Amadi, says “hello’ to plain, boring engineer.

“It wasn’t like that… we were in the lift together.” Hope looked at Agnes for help. “He didn’t even say hello, he just acknowledged us a little.”

“Us? Don’t mind Hope,” Agnes countered, enjoying the fact that Hope was on the receiving end of the teasing. “I was there, her purse fell and he picked it for her.” That statement caused Joy’s eyes to grow wide, but Agnes wasn’t finished. “Then they started looking into each other’s eyes ehn… in fact I felt as if I was intruding.”

Hope burst into helpless laughter at the ridiculous exaggeration of what had actually happened. “I am not having this conversation with you girls. He was just being polite. I don’t even know why you are all so crazy about him. As for me, I don’t see what the big deal is. I’m going to my desk. I have work to do.”

“So you don’t think he’s hot?” Joy asked, her face a study in disbelief.

“He’s okay,” Hope replied.

“Hmm.” Joy smirked. “He is the complete package o! There is nothing wrong with him.”

Agnes nodded in agreement. They launched into a conversation that started with “If someone like him asked me out ehn….”

Hope left them talking and escaped into the main office. It was an open office design, with glass walls on three sides. The partner’s offices were partitioned off at the rear, and one side was taken over by two enclosed conference rooms. In the wide space where Hope was standing, multiple cubicles were arranged in open ended squares, each square containing three workstations.

Hope made for her workstation, stopping in her tracks when the doors to one of the conference rooms opened and two men emerged, right in front of her.

Hope froze, her legs suddenly leaden as her blood slowed. Then her heart started to pound, hard and heavy against her ribs, making it very hard to breath.

One of the men was her boss. Greg Abudu. He was a friendly man in his late thirties, always cheerful, and just beginning to show the early signs of coming portliness. He smiled widely, as he always did whenever he saw Hope.

The other man was smiling too, his eyes fixed on Hope’s face with an expression of pleasant surprise. Hope stared at him, her mind bubbling with emotion. God! How she hated that painfully handsome face. How the pleasure in those brown eyes grated on her nerves as they slid over her face, silently saying how glad he was to see her, how beautiful he thought it was that they had met again. She hated the illusion of friendliness and amiability that he projected. ‘I’m one of the good guys,’ he seemed to say without speaking. ‘see how nice I am even though I am so handsome I should be a demon. I’ll never break your heart.’

But he had. He had broken her heart, in the worst way possible.

“Hope!” His voice was crème. That was the only word to describe it. The perfect pitch and smoothness to make one unaware of everything but the pleasure of listening to him. She wished the sound was ugly to her ears, but it wasn’t. No matter how much she hated him, she couldn’t hate the sound of that velvety voice washing over her skin like a caress.

Hope chose not to respond to his eager exclamation, instead, she stood there, silent, causing Greg to start with introductions, even though it was obvious that they knew each other.

“Charles this is Hope Alade. She’s one of our building services engineers.” He gave Hope a proud smile. “Hope, this is my friend Charles DaSilva. He’s a manager a Bond bank.”

“I know Hope very well,” Charles said smoothly, still smiling. He stepped forward, closer to where she was standing. “Long time no see, Hope. Aren’t you going to give me a hug at least?”

Of course not!

“Hello Charles.” she made no move to hug him. He had taken too much from her to be entitled to anything else, even something as small as a hug.

“You look wonderful,” he said, ignoring her obvious hesitance to talk to him. “More beautiful than I remember.” His eyes did a leisurely journey over her face and figure. “I had no idea you worked here, I’d have been around to see Greg sooner.” He turned to Greg, and explained in that smooth voice of his that he had met Hope back in the university. “She was the love of my life.”

One of the many loves of your life, Hope added silently, bitterly… the memories were rushing back now. Back in school, she had being careful. She hadn’t been one of those girls who went wild at their first taste of freedom, whose sole purpose was to find a boyfriend and lose their unwanted hymens. She’d been determined to wait, to fall in love with someone who was worth it. So she had waited, two years after freshman year, all her friends were hooked up, some on their second, third boyfriends, and she had continued to rebuff the guys who showed interest. It was easy, you only had to look at them, to hear them talk, to see that they really wanted only one thing.

Then there was Charles. Unlike the popular guys, who wore their swagger on their sleeves, Charles was refreshing. He was a final year student, studious, and so good-looking it was impossible not to stare at him, but so unaware of his cuteness, that he was perfect. He was always courteous. He would open doors for strangers. Of course, in retrospect, Hope had realized that all the strangers on the receiving end of his courtesy had been pretty girls. He was so gifted at making girls feel like princesses, that it was too easy to fall in love with him.

She hadn’t trusted him though, even when she developed something close to obsession for him after just a chance meeting at the library. She had never met him before, but he had helped her find the books she wanted and carried them to her reading desk, leaving her alone to read afterwards. Hardly able to concentrate, and definitely unable to dispel the image of his perfect face for long enough to get interested in what she was reading, she’d been relieved when she was ready to leave, to find him waiting at the library car park.

“I wasn’t waiting for you,” he’d said with a mischievous smile, and a twinkle in his eyes that made it so obvious that he had indeed being waiting for her.

That was the first day. After that he seemed to always be there. He found out everything about her, and pursued her. She fell hard for him, but she didn’t trust him, there were rumors about him and many different girls all over campus.

He pursued her for a whole semester. At last it had been the promise of sensual delight, and the whole world that she could glimpse on the other side of his kisses, that had made her stop resisting him. Her body argued for him in a way that her brain was helpless to resist, so first she agreed to be a girlfriend, and in no time, she was his lover.

She had been happy, so happy and in love. The first time is always like that, like the opening of a whole new universe. It didn’t take long to wake up to reality. While Charles had been waiting for her to say yes, he had been sleeping with someone else, someone who, as she discovered just a few weeks into their relationship, he was still sleeping with.

When she confronted him, he didn’t bother to deny it. “How long was I supposed to wait?” he had asked, his incredulous expression almost convincing her that she was being ridiculous. “I’m not built to be celibate. No man is, regardless of what those silly romance novels you read tell you.”

“But you’re still sleeping with her,” she had cried, hoping that he would at least deny that part, the passion that just weeks ago, she wouldn’t have known that she was capable of feeling, making her desperate.

“I can’t just tell her that I’m no longer interested.”

He made it sound like commonsense, like she would understand if only she were more mature. Still, she’d stormed out, spent the night crying in the hostel while her roommates exchanged knowing looks. Everybody knew about Charles daSilva, they’d all warned her, and they’d been expecting the breakup sooner than later.

But the next day he had come to find her. With promises of how she was the only one he really wanted. There would be no one else from now on, he’d said, and foolishly, she had believed him, spending the next few years closing her eyes to all the evidence of his cheating, because she didn’t want to feel the pain of losing him again.

But she still lost him. Right under her nose, he’s met, courted and gotten engaged to someone else. She’s graduated then, working at her first job and waiting expectantly for the ring she’d deluded herself into thinking he would give her. He hadn’t even bothered to give her the dignity of ending their relationship properly, he’d allowed her to hear of his engagement through a mutual friend.

Keeping herself from confronting him was the hardest thing she’d ever done. She’d ignored his calls and finally changed her number. She told the gatemen and receptionists at her office to always tell him that she wasn’t around. She’d refused to allow herself the temptation to listen to whatever explanation he would give her for why he was marrying someone else.

He got married, about a year after she found out about the engagement. The transition from deluded girlfriend to bitter ex had been painful, but she dealt with the pain and the shame, and even though it took a while, she succeeded in getting her happiness and confidence back.

Hope realized that she was still staring at him, with a god-knows-what expression on her face. She was behaving stupidly, she realized. When you met an ex-boyfriend again, you wanted to be beautiful, rich, and charming. To be enjoying your life, and to be able to show him in every gesture, word and smile that you didn’t care about him anymore, and that he had lost the world when he lost you.

So why was she standing here acting like some wife whose cheating husband had come home to beg for forgiveness.

She smiled at him. “That was a long time ago, Charles.” She turned to Greg. “At that age everybody fell in and out of love all the time.”

Greg laughed jovially. “I can attest to that!”

“I can’t.” Charles said earnestly, gazing deep into Hope’s eyes. “My feelings were always very concrete, even then.”

Even though she knew it was rubbish, Hope felt her heart tighten. That look! She took a deep breath. “I hope you had a good meeting. It was nice to see you again Charles.”

He smiled back. “Yes it was.”

She nodded, keeping her smile on her face she stepped around them and took the few steps to her desk. She sat down and turned on her system with shaking fingers, keeping her eyes on her screen until the men were long gone.

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