Chapter 11 – The Only One

“Auntie Hope, do you want a massage?” It was Diana, her six-year-old niece, hovering at the door to her mother’s bedroom, where Hope and her sister Grace were talking, or trying to.

“Maybe later,” Hope replied. According to Grace, Diana recently saw a massage programme on TV and decided she wanted to give everyone back massages, which were usually just hard punches with her small fists.

“Later when?”

“Later, Di,” her mother said sternly, leave mummy and auntie Hope alone to talk.”

“I want to talk too,” the little girl said folding small arms across her chest.

“Go downstairs and watch TV with daddy.”

“He’s watching football…!” Diana complained, but she obeyed her mother, closing the door and leaving Hope alone with her sister.

“These children can kill somebody,” Grace said with a sigh. “I haven’t had a real weekend since I had the first one, I swear.” She looked at Hope. “So, as we were saying…”

Hope continued telling her about the events of the past few weeks. She told her about Charles, the party, the dinner at his apartment, then Daniel and everything that had happened between them.

Grace sighed. “And the Charles hasn’t called you till now?”

Hope shook her head.

“At least you’re not making excuses for him, trying to reach him ‘in case he had an accident’ or those other kinds of excuses you used to make for him back then.” Grace patted Hope’s hand. “I never liked him. I think he’s the worst kind of man and I’m a little disappointed that you let him back into your life at all.”

Hope sighed. “Are you going to judge me?”

“I’m trying not to.” Grace stretched her arms and yawned. “I like the Daniel guy though. He seems like a nice sort of guy.”

“I think so too, but I don’t want to rush into anything. Given what almost happened with Charles, I don’t trust myself to make the right decisions right now. Maybe I’m just lonely, or maybe it’s mum’s marriage talk getting to my head, you know?”

Grace chuckled. “I understand. He’s there, he’s attracted to you… It’s easy to jump into something you’re not ready for.”

“Exactly.”

“Have you asked yourself what you’ll do if Charles comes back now, apologising, with a good explanation, and you find out that he’s really single now, and you two can be together…would you want to be with him?”

Hope was silent. She imagined it, somehow, the possibility of everything she used to hope for during the years she was with him, all the hopes he rekindled in the short period he’d come back into her life, it was tempting…

…but then she remembered all the lies, the betrayals, everything she’d foolishly forgotten just because he’d come back with his charm and his lies.

“No,” she answered, shaking her head. She met Grace’s assessing gaze. “No,” she said again, her voice firmer this time. “I believe I’m done with him, finally.”

Grace nodded. “Give yourself a little more time to be sure, get to know this Daniel guy…then who knows…maybe we’ll finally come and eat rice at your wedding.”

Hope laughed. “Ha! Please don’t let mummy hear o, before she starts planning the wedding in her head.”

The door opened again just then. It was Diana. She poked her head into the room and gave her mother an imploring look. Grace laughed and went to the door to swoop the little girl up into her arms, kissing her all over her cheeks. “Are you missing mummy?”

Diana squirmed and laughed happily, enjoying the attention. “Let’s go downstairs,” Grace said, beckoning to Hope. If my baby’s team loses, he’s going to need some consoling.”

On their way downstairs, Grace still carrying Diana, Hope’s phone rang. She saw Daniel’s name on the screen and her stomach did a small flip.

She slid the green button on the screen, noticing the tiny tremble in her fingers. She took a deep breath. “Hello,” she said.

“Hi.” His voice was deep and soft on the phone and Hope couldn’t help remembering that kiss from Thursday evening. She hadn’t seen him or spoken to him since then. She was feeling the need to be cautious because of the intensity of her reaction, and she wondered if he felt the same way.

“How’re you doing?” he asked.

“I’m fine.” She hovered on the stairs. “I’m at my sister’s.”

“Grace,” he said. “The doctor.”

He remembered. Hope felt a fluttering of pleasure at that small detail. “Yes,” she replied. “What about you? What are you doing?”

“Watching the match with a couple of friends.”

“You’re not watching it if you’re talking to me,” she teased.

He laughed. “I’m multitasking—and anyway, I don’t have to watch the full ninety minutes. If I miss anything important, there’s always a replay.”

Hope faked a gasp. “I’m shocked. You’re no true football fan.”

“I admit I’m not as obsessed as some,” Daniel replied, chuckling. He paused. “So…are you spending the whole day at your sister’s or should I come over and steal you right now?”

“Umm,” Hope paused. The offer was tempting but… she’d just been thinking about exercising caution when it came to him, and that meant taking it slow. If she started spending too much time with him, things would move fast, and it was likely they’d move out of her control.

“Umm…” he prompted gently.

“I’m a bit tired,” she said, wondering if she was making a mistake. “I think I’m just going to go home and rest.”

“Oh.” He sounded disappointed. “Okay. I’m crushed, but I’ll console myself with a possible win from my team.” He paused, then added, “Take care of yourself.”

“I’ll try to.”

He chuckled. “I’m serious.”

“Okay.” She smiled. “I will take care of myself.”

“I’ll see you,” he said. “Enjoy your weekend.”

“You too,” Hope replied, feeling as if she’d messed up somehow because the truth was she’d have loved to see him.

The next day was slow. After an early night on Saturday, she was up early on Sunday. After church with her parents, there really wasn’t much to do. She tried to read a novel but was too distracted by her thoughts, which kept straying to Daniel. She wondered what he thought about her decision not to see him yesterday. She was sure it wasn’t very often girls turned him down for dates or hangouts or whatever. She hoped he wouldn’t think she was playing hard to get—that wasn’t her style.

The day progressed. By evening she’d dozed, made little progress reading the novel and was now picking out clothes to wear for the week. Her phone rang for a few seconds before she heard it, and by the time she picked it up the call had ended. It was Daniel.

Great! She sighed. Now he would think she didn’t want to talk to him.

To her relief, the ringing started again, and she answered the call on the second ring.

“Hey,” she said.

“Hey,” his voice vibrated through the phone, as usual, deep and delicious to her ears. “How are you?”

“Great,” Hope swallowed, trying to control her reaction just to the sound of his voice. “I’m trying to get ready for tomorrow.”

“When the grind begins again.”

“You get it,” Hope replied with a sigh. “So… did your team win yesterday?”

“Of course,” he said, sounding as proud as if he had anything to do with the win. “We always win.”

Hope laughed. “That’s impossible.”

“Impossible is nothing,” he replied teasingly. He was silent for a few seconds. “How’re you feeling today?”

He sounded concerned, and Hope felt her heart tighten. “I’m okay.”

“Hmm.” He seemed to be considering something. “I need you to do me a favour,” he said. “Scratch that—two favours. Number two, I have a question, and I need you to answer it truthfully. Can you do that?”

Her stomach tensed with a mixture of excitement and alarm. “Depends on the question.”

“Fair enough. It’s not a big deal.”

“Okay.” She paused. “What’s number one.”

“Can you come outside your gate?”

Hope swallowed a gasp, then hurried to the window, trying to see the street beyond the fence. “You’re here?”

“Yes, I am,” he said slowly.

She breathed, excitement rocketing sky high as she totally forgot that she was supposed to be taking it slow with him and keeping time spent together to a minimum. “I’ll be right there.”

He was parked right outside the gate, seated inside a gleaming black Audi-something—she didn’t know car models well enough to say what it was. She walked over, and by the time she reached the front passenger door, he had opened it.

She slid into the car, taking in the sight of him in the driver’s seat. Casual clothes, grey t-shirt, black jeans, and a pair of sunglasses which he pulled off while she was looking at him. His eyes were warm, and he was singing along to the song that was playing on the radio—one of BankyW’s love songs—and as he turned to her, it felt like he was singing the words to her. It was something about what she was doing to his heart, or what some girl was doing to the musician’s heart—Hope couldn’t be sure, the warmth in his eyes was confusing her.

“You don’t look as happy to see me as I hoped.” Daniel gave her a teasing smile.

Her heart fluttered. Happy wasn’t a word she’d use to describe how she was feeling—confused, excited, tense, hot and cold and warm at the same time…? “I’m just surprised. I wasn’t expecting you.”

“Yeah,” he exhaled. “I wasn’t expecting me to be here either. I just…I found myself really wanting to see you.”

Hope swallowed. “I…” what could she say to that? She was flattered, pleased and a lot more she couldn’t really articulate. “Why?” she asked.

His eyes bored into hers, piercing, intense. He started to lean forward, then stopped himself. “I had a question I needed to ask,” he said.

“Okay.” Hope looked from his face to her hands on her laps. The music had changed to another love song, the sound blending with the low purr of the engine and the AC. Outside, the sun was setting, the midday glare replaced by dusk. There were a few people on the street, but that did nothing to quell the sense of intimacy within the car. “I said I’ll answer it if I can.”

“You can.” He gave her a measuring look. “Why didn’t you want to see me yesterday?”

Of course, Hope thought. He didn’t buy the lie she’d told about being tired. His eyes were on her face now, and she knew that repeating the lie would be tantamount to an insult to his powers of perception.

She sighed. “It’s complicated.”

He was silent. She met his gaze, and it seemed as if he was challenging her to say more, but she didn’t, the source of her confusion was murky, even to her, and she couldn’t yet put it into words.

He was still waiting, the silence stretched. Hope searched her head for something to say, something to lighten the mood, but she came up with nothing.

“Hope.”

She pulled in a small breath at the sound of her name on his lips. He brought his face closer to hers. “You know what’s not complicated?” he asked softly.

Hope shook her head.

“I like you,” he said, his voice still soft. “I’m a busy man, Hope. There are a lot of things I could be doing right now, a lot of places I could be, but here, with you, is where I want to be, because I enjoy being around you, and more than anything, I want you to feel the same about me.”

Hope sighed. “Daniel…”

“I’m not done,” he continued. “I don’t think you’re the kind of woman that likes to play unnecessary games. I think you like me too. If you didn’t you wouldn’t be here and neither would I.” He paused. “So, whatever your reasons for pulling back, I’m guessing they’re valid.”

“They are.”

He took her hand in his and traced his fingers over hers. “Do you want me to leave you alone?”

Hope looked at her hand nestled in his and shook her head. “Would you?”

He grinned. “No. I’m very patient, but I won’t wait forever either.”

“I don’t expect you to.”

“Fair enough.” He let go of her fingers, and she pulled them back onto her lap, feeling the absence of his touch. “What are your plans for the rest of the day?”

“Sleep,” Hope shrugged. “Get ready for work tomorrow.”

He nodded. “I guess I’ll see you tomorrow then.”

Hope bit her lip. He was leaving, then, but what had she expected? She’d practically told him that she didn’t want him around, at least not how he wanted to be.

She opened the door and climbed out of the car, surprised when Daniel did the same. He came around the car to where she was standing. Curious, she waited for him to say something.

He pulled her into a small hug and placed a tiny kiss on her cheek. “Take care,” he whispered softly.

She nodded and walked into the compound, leaving him outside the gates. Take care. Why did it sound so much like goodbye?

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