The next morning, with her eyes swollen from crying, Hope considered calling in sick and spending the whole day in bed, but she didn’t want her mother hovering and asking questions, specifically, questions about Daniel, so she steeled herself and prepared for work.
Trying to keep her face from betraying her feelings was the hardest thing she’d ever done. Her insides felt shattered. Thinking about Daniel wrecked her heart and yet, she couldn’t stop. Everything reminded her of him.
Everything hurt. Her skin where she lacked his touch. The thought of him in the same building. The idea that maybe she’d gone too far. The thought that their relationship could be over…
She wanted to see him so badly, and yet she couldn’t reconcile that desire with her pain and disappointment. He had made awful assumptions about her. She was angry and hurt, and yet…she couldn’t stop wondering…was he thinking about her? Was he as destroyed as she was? And if he wasn’t…how would she bear it? How would she bear it if he decided that a minor inconvenience like Charles was worth risking what they had?
The thought made her frantic. It made her want to go up to his office and tell him she was sorry, even though she knew she hadn’t done anything wrong.
She barely contributed in the morning meeting. Her mind kept wandering. During all those years with Charles, she’d thought she knew what it meant for love to hurt, but she hadn’t…She’d never felt like this–as if the world was an endless pit, and she was falling, unsure if the sickening descent would ever end.
“How far? You look down. Have you had breakfast?”
Hope focused on Agnes’ concerned expression and shook her head. She’d returned to her desk and was staring blankly at her computer screen.
“It’s showing on your face,” Agnes teased. “Send for something to eat. Or call your bobo and tell him you’re hungry. Daniel Amadi’s babe can’t be looking like someone that has Malaria this early morning.” She laughed.
Hope was barely listening. Hearing Daniel’s name felt like a physical tear in the tender flesh of her heart. “I just need to rest,” she told Agnes. “I don’t really have the energy to talk.”
“So…I should leave you alone.” Agnes was still laughing. “Okay o.”
Hope stared some more at her screen, then started to compose an email to Daniel. After a few sentences, she abandoned it. What would she say? How many ways could one say I love you but I’m mad at you but I can’t live without you.
Again, she wondered where he was. The silence from him was driving her crazy. She needed to talk to him. She reached for her phone, then put it back down. She was a mess.
She got up and walked the length of the office. There was a water dispenser close to the large windows, and she stood beside it for a few seconds before walking to her desk. Her body was as restless and chaotic as her emotions and she couldn’t stay still. She picked up her phone again and started to type a message. There was so much she wanted to say, about how she expected him to trust her, how he shouldn’t have been so quick to believe the worst, how pained she was feeling, how much she missed him…
She pressed send and stared at the message she’d sent.
Are we giving each other the silent treatment now? Is that how we’re dealing with this?”
Her eyes watered. That wasn’t even close to what she wanted to say, but her feelings had gotten in the way of her ability to express herself.
She waited for him to respond, and as the seconds ticked by, panic set in. She’d sounded like such a shrew. That hadn’t been her intention. What if he didn’t respond? What would she do?
Relax Hope. He’s only a man. He’s not the last man on earth.
Stop fooling yourself. You know he’s the only man for you.
The voices in her head were tortuous. She got up and walked to the water dispenser again.
“Why are you walking up and down?” Agnes asked when she returned to her seat. “You’re giving my neck whiplash from looking at you walk this way and that.”
“Then don’t look,” Hope snapped.
Agnes raised her brows, then turned back to her screen with a frown.
Hope closed her eyes. She hadn’t meant to be brusque with Agnes, she was just…unable to focus on anything except the vortex of emotions swirling through her mind. Daniel. Daniel. Daniel.
Her phone beeped and she snatched it up. There was a message from him.
“We’ll talk later.”
Hope stared at the screen. Three words. Three words? That was the best he could do? She wanted to cry, to scream, something…anything to let out the mixture of pain, longing, panic, hurt, and loneliness she was feeling.
Three words. How could he? Did he have no idea how she was feeling right now? Didn’t he care? Didn’t he feel the same way?
She decided to focus on work. She opened one of the design projects on her computer and the lines blurred into one another as she fought back tears of frustration.
Her hand was shaking as she tried to move the mouse. She’d never felt so miserable. She grabbed her phone and stared at his message again, then without thinking, typed a reply.
“What’s the point?”
She waited for him to reply but seconds turned to minutes, then to an hour, then two, and she didn’t hear anything from him.
“Are you sure you’re all right?” It was Agnes again. “You look strained.”
Hope forced a smile. “I’m just thinking about work,” she said, not wanting to snap at Agnes again.
Agnes looked unconvinced. “If you want to leave early you know you can…” She trailed off.
“I don’t want…” Hope started, then noticed that Agnes was no longer listening. Instead, her eyes were fixed on something, or someone, who was in the office and from the direction of Agnes’s gaze, making their way straight toward Hope’s desk.
Her stomach knotted. There was a sweet kind of tension seizing hold of all her limbs. She wanted to turn her chair around, to stand up and see him, because she could already feel that he was here, coming toward her.
Agnes gave her a knowing look. Then her gaze lifted to just behind Hope and she smiled. “Good afternoon,” she said.
“Good afternoon,” Daniel’s voice was deep, polite, and without inflection, but it tugged at everything inside Hope. She got up and turned to face him.
He was dressed casually. Black jeans that hugged his slim hips and strong thighs paired with a grey Henley that fitted just enough to show off his athletic build. He wasn’t dressed for the office. She frowned, a part of her wondering why, while the other part ached to throw herself into his arms.
“Hope,” he said simply, meeting her gaze. There was something imploring in his eyes, and it tore at her heart.
She looked around the office and saw people hurriedly glance back at their monitors. “Uhm…” she met his gaze. “Please come with me,” she whispered, then hurried toward one of the conference rooms.
He followed her. Inside, she shut the door and turned to face him.
“I got your text,” he said quietly.
Hope sighed. “Daniel I was-
He stopped her. “I’m sorry about the way I acted yesterday. I was hasty. I was quick to blame you for a situation that wasn’t your fault. You have every right to be angry with me.” He paused. “I shouldn’t have left it the way we did yesterday. And I’m sorry. The thing is…I was jealous, Hope. You have to understand…I’ve known from the beginning that I was competing against your first love-
“No,” Hope shook her head. “Daniel, you are my first love.”
His chest rose. “Hope,” he said softly. He stepped forward, as if to take her in his arms, then he stopped. “Those things you said yesterday-is that how you really feel about me, about us?”
“No.” Hope sighed. “Yes… I don’t know.” She paused, trying to gather her thoughts. “You’re perfect, Daniel. You’re everything. How could I not wonder why you are interested in me?”
“And you decided that it was because I was trying to settle down and you fit a stereotype I have of the perfect partner?”
She didn’t reply.
“Hope,” he said softly, taking her hand. “You don’t fit any stereotype. You’re special. You’re different. I’ve never seen you as one of many possibilities, Hope. You’ve always been the one. I wasn’t thinking of settling down when I first saw you, but when I did, I lost the ability to think. For months, I tried not to approach you because I wasn’t sure I was ready for the way you made me feel. You make me want to forget everything, to know you as deeply as it is possible to know another person.”
“Daniel…” Hope sniffed. There were tears in her eyes.
“I love everything about you,” he said. “I love that you’re beautiful and smart. You’re curious, stubborn, loyal. I love how you talk about your family, how much you love them. I love that you complain about living with your parents, but secretly you love the way your mum hovers over you…” he smiled. “I love your lips, I love that your second toe is longer than your first. I love how you carry your kindle everywhere. I love your tiny little snores.”
Hope chuckled through her tears. “I don’t snore.”
Daniel laughed, then sobered again. “I didn’t choose you because I was thinking of settling down, Hope, but I’m thinking about it now, because I don’t want to contemplate my life without you.”
Hope walked into his arms and buried her face in his chest. “I love you,” she whispered. “I’m sorry and I love you.”
He stroked her hair. “My interest is in you. I want to be with you, without the shadow of anyone else…
Hope met his gaze. “Nobody else matters. Not for a long time. Not since you.”
He nodded slowly. “I love you,” his voice was gentle.
“I love you,” Hope replied, tightening her arms around him.
He sighed. “I hate to leave, but your colleagues are going to start wondering what we’re doing in here.”
Hope giggled. “Let them wonder.” She paused. “How come you’re dressed so casually?”
“I decided to work from home today.”
She frowned. “Really?”
He nodded. “Yes. My girlfriend left my heart a bit tender over the weekend, so I stayed home to lick my wounds…until she compelled me, via a very alarming message, to come over and plead with her not to leave me.”
“I’d never leave you,” Hope laughed.
He kissed her again. “That’s the best thing I’ve heard today.”
Luckily, she’d chosen the least used of all the conference rooms, so nobody had walked in on their conversation. They kissed goodbye and emerged together, ignoring the covert looks from people in the outer office.
“I’ll see you later,” Daniel said with a smile, then started walking to the entrance.
“Isn’t that Daniel Amadi?”
Hope jumped, then turned to the voice. It was one of the senior partners and he was standing right beside her. She hadn’t even seen him come out from his office.
The man peered into the empty conference room, then at Hope. “I wasn’t aware we were doing any work for him.”
“I…yes,” Hope lied. “that’s what we were meeting about. He wanted to discuss design possibilities for a site he’s interested in. It’s prone to flooding, and he wanted to get a feel of what was possible before engaging us formally.”
The man nodded. “Good job then. I hope that means we’ll be seeing more of him.”
Hope smiled. “I hope so too.”
(Also, I’m so so sorry this is taking so long. I deserve all the censure. I really should do better, and I will.)