Hope didn’t see Daniel for the whole of the next week. She didn’t see him, he didn’t call her, and even though she thought of calling him a couple of times, she remembered how she’d told him that she wasn’t ready and that made her hesitate.
What if he’d decided that he didn’t want to wait for her after all? The thought filled her with a vague sense of loss. He probably had loads of girls at his beck and call, why would he hold on for the one who was hesitating for no apparent reason.
By Friday afternoon, she still hadn’t heard from him. During her lunch break, as soon as people started getting up from their seats, she reached for her phone, intending to call him, but before she could, it started to ring.
Disappointment flooded her chest when she saw that it wasn’t Daniel. It was Ebisan Cassidy, one of her close friends from university days. In the years since school, they’d seen less of each other, mainly due to their jobs and the demands of Lagos life.
“Hello, babe,” Hope said cheerfully.
“Hope! What’s up? How is work?”
“Work is fine. How are you?”
They spent a few minutes catching up because it had been a while.
“So,” Ebisan said finally, “What are you doing this weekend?”
Hope thought about Daniel. “I don’t know. Nothing. Why?”
“Well…” She sounded excited. “Tunde’s birthday is next week, but he’ll be travelling the day before, so I decided to have a small soiree for him this Saturday evening. It’s a surprise.”
Tunde was Ebisan’s husband, they’d been married for four years and with a toddler and a little baby, Hope imagined that for them the party would be a much-needed break from baby talk and diapers.
“That’s exciting,” she said.
“Yes, isn’t it?” Ebisan sighed. “Anyway, you’re invited. OceanSide restaurant. Saturday evening at five. We’re getting a large table. Some people from school days will be there too. I don’t know if you remember Tunde’s cousin Dennis? He was at our wedding. I introduced you guys.”
Hope shook her head. So, there was going to be an attempt at the party to hook her up with someone. She almost sighed. “I think I have a faint memory, but I’m not sure.”
Ebisan laughed. “Well, he’s going to be there, maybe you guys will catch up, or something.”
Or something. After Ebisan ended the call, it occurred to Hope that she hadn’t asked if Hope was seeing someone or not. It was funny, as long as you weren’t married, people didn’t hesitate to set you up with eligible guys, didn’t matter if you were dating or not. As far as they were concerned, single was single until married.
Still thinking about the call, she dialled Daniel’s number, it rang but he didn’t pick up. A little deflated, she considered whether to just let it go until he decided to call. After a few seconds, she quickly typed out a text.
Hey…Just checking to see how you’re doing. Take care. Hope.
There was no reply. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, then dropped the phone and forced her mind to stop thinking of Daniel as she prepared to go out for lunch.
He called just before she left the office in the evening. She was shutting down her computer and putting on her shoes at the same time, so when the phone rang, she wasn’t really paying attention, she answered it without looking at the screen and almost melted when his warm voice filled her ears.
“Look who forgot about me,” he said teasingly.
“I so didn’t forget about you,” Hope protested, relieved and excited at the same time. “You forgot about me.”
“You did. At least I tried to reach you today. I even sent you a text.”
“And I’m calling you right now.”
She rolled her eyes. “So why didn’t you call me before? All week.”
“I’ve been in a crazy situation, meetings all morning, product surveys all afternoon, and meetings in the evening too. I’ve been in Lisbon all week and I feel as if I’ve been in a prison camp.
“Oh,” Hope was surprised. “I didn’t know you weren’t in the country.
He sighed. “I’d been putting the trip off for a while, then it rushed up on me this past Monday with a vengeance. I had to go.”
“But you’re back now.”
“Hmm.” Hope felt a rush of pleasure knowing that he called her as soon as he landed, then reminded herself that he’d gone a week without speaking to her. “I just wanted to check on you earlier. I noticed I hadn’t seen you around, and I didn’t know you travelled, so…”
“I guessed.” She heard him say something to someone, probably one of his staff, then he came back on the line. “Hope…” he paused. “I wanted to call, many times.”
She nodded, then felt silly when she remembered he couldn’t see her. She understood though, from his tone, why he hadn’t. She’d told him she needed time, and he’d been giving her the space she needed to decide if she was ready.
“I’d like to see you,” he said now.
“Me too,” Hope replied.
He was quiet. She heard someone on the other end talking to him. He responded to the person. Then he was talking with her again. “I’ll call you,” he said.
He didn’t say when. “Okay,” Hope said, wondering if she should be worried about that. “I’m glad you’re back, Daniel.”
All evening and the next day, she waited for him to call. By the time he finally did in the middle of the afternoon, she was a bundle of expectant nerves.
Calm down, she told herself sternly. You don’t even know where this thing with him will go.
But it was hard to control the flush of pleasure when she heard his voice on the phone.
“Hope,” he started the call with her name, as always, he said it like he loved the sound on his lips.
“Me,” he laughed. “I think I slept for fifteen hours straight. I was exhausted, then ravenous. Where are you?”
“I’m home,” Hope replied, then yawned.
“Are you still in bed?” he asked.
“Yeah. I got back into bed after breakfast. I was exhausted from a hard week at work, you know?”
“Exhausted from missing me, you mean.”
Hope laughed nervously. “Well, there was a little bit of that too.”
He was quiet. “I want to see you,” he said. “What are you doing this evening?”
She almost said she wasn’t doing anything, then she remembered Ebisan’s party. “I’m attending a birthday party for one of my friend’s husbands.”
“Hmm. I think I resent them already,” he said, laughing. “Where’s the party?”
She told him.
“Okay,” he said. “I’m just going to do some work over here since you’re too busy for me. I may surprise you later though, and show up there before you leave.”
“That’s mildly stalker-ish,” Hope laughed.
“Is it?” He seemed surprised. “Well, I probably will. Unless you tell me specifically not to.”
“I’m not doing that. Your mild stalker-ishness is fine with me.”
“That’s a relief,” he said. “So, I’ll probably see you later okay?”
After the call, she started getting ready for the party. She was already dressed and on her way downstairs before she remembered that Ebisan had mentioned that she’d be introducing her to some guy. The thought amused her. The last thing she needed was another guy.
As she drove towards the island, she wondered if she would even enjoy the party. She imagined that the table Ebisan was reserving would be full of smug married couples talking about marriage and parenthood. Not that she had anything against them, she just would stick out like a sore thumb, she and Dennis or whatever his name was, and everybody would have one eye on them, silently wondering if their meeting would lead to something serious.
Hope rolled her eyes at the thought. She hoped Daniel would come and rescue her before it got too weird or awkward or boring.
She got to the restaurant and parked, turning off her car radio, which had been blasting out very loud soft-rock. She noticed her phone was ringing, and as she picked it up, it stopped. The screen showed three missed calls and she frowned. The frown deepened when she saw who the calls were from. Charles.
No, she thought. Not today.
The ringing started again. She stared at the screen. She was tempted to ignore the call, but a small part of her was curious to hear what he had to say, and that small part won.
She slid her finger across the screen. “Hello,” she said, hoping the detachment in her voice conveyed every negative thing she felt about him.
“Hi,” he said softly. “Hope,” he sighed. “How are you?”
Perfect without you, she thought resentfully, mentally kicking herself for still feeling anything, even resentment. “I’m fine,” she replied. “Why are you calling?”
“Come on,” he replied. “Don’t be like this.”
Hope laughed. She was amused, actually. “Why are you calling me?”
“I wanted to explain about that night.”
“What night?” Hope asked pointedly.
“I want to explain why I didn’t show up.”
“Oh…that night.” Hope shook her head. “No need.”
“Come on,” he said. “Obviously, you were pissed. You didn’t even call me to find out why I didn’t show. What if something had happened to me.”
Hope listened, her irritation increasing with every word he said. “Well, nothing happened to you,” she told him. “So, all is well that ends well.”
“Hope,” his voice turned into a cajoling purr. “I want us to talk. Let’s talk, please.”
“About what, Charles?” Hope snapped. “Talk about what? How unreliable you are? How you’ve always lied to me, deceived me?” She regretted the explosion as soon as the words came out, but it was too late to take them back.
“See, this is why we need to talk,” he said softly. “I can’t let you just…carry all that anger towards me around.”
Hope was quiet. Somewhere inside, she was beginning to suspect that she was just entertainment to him. This thing he was doing, trying to make her emotional, trying to twist her around, resurrect her pain…it had really begun to seem like he was just bored and entertaining himself.
“Where are you?” he said suddenly, changing tack.
“I’m at a birthday party,” Hope said.
“Tunde’s party?” he asked.
Hope sighed. She’d forgotten that Charles had also known Tunde and Ebisan back in school. She tried to stem her alarm at the thought that he would be at the party. “Yes,” she admitted hesitantly.
“Okay.” He paused. “Don’t worry. I wasn’t invited. Tunde found out about the surprise and told me. His wife can’t stand me, so I didn’t get an invite.”
‘Well, thank God,’ Hope thought silently, then realised with horror that she’d said the words out loud.
“You sound very relieved,” Charles said. “Were you so scared of the thought that I’d be there?”
Hope ignored the smugness in his voice. “I have to go now,” she said. “I don’t want the party to start without me.”
“Hmm. Okay,” he said. “See you soon.”
If there was an ominous note in his voice, it didn’t really register right then. She left the car, walking into the restaurant to find Ebisan, Tunde and a few other guests who had arrived and were seated at a table on the popular back terrace of the restaurant overlooking the ocean. After a few enthusiastic hugs and greetings, and an introduction to Dennis, a handsome guy who seemed only cursorily interested in Hope, she settled at the table.
There was food, lots of drinks and laughter, and a delicious cake that melted in Hope’s mouth. One by one people around the table gave toasts, Hope too. Dennis was seated beside her, but they didn’t talk much until after the cake had been cut and he turned to her.
“Ebisan was telling me that she introduced us before,” he said.
Hope nodded. “That’s what she said…At their wedding. A long time ago.”
He smiled. He did have a charming smile. “I can’t believe we didn’t hit it off.”
“So, she tells me you’re an engineer. Why did you choose such a male-oriented course?”
Hope’s eyebrows went up. “Male-oriented? People still say that?”
He looked puzzled. “I mean, men are more equipped to be successful in areas like engineering, or architecture…just saying. Women usually go for banking, insurance, sometimes Law…though…” he shrugged and she surmised that even that one was something he considered to be male-oriented too.
“More equipped?” Hope sighed. “I’m surprised you think women should even work in banking. I mean…when they can stay home and rear babies.” Her voice was dripping with sarcasm.
“If a man needs his wife to give up her career, especially if he can provide for her, I don’t see anything wrong with that. In fact…”
Hope snorted, interrupting him. “I think I know exactly why we didn’t hit it off the last time we were introduced,” she said, turning her back to him and facing the person seated on her other side, who luckily, happened to be a girl she’d been to school with. She started a conversation, pointedly ignoring Dennis for the rest of the night.
Her phone buzzed not long after. She’d been waiting for Daniel and was flooded with puzzlement and disappointment when it was Charles again. She’d already exceeded her daily meter for annoying men.
“Hello,” she said brusquely.
There was a pause. “I’m at the car park,” he said.
“What are you doing here?” She asked, getting up to move away from the mellow noise of the party. “I didn’t ask you to come.”
“I said I wanted to talk. Just come outside. I want to explain…”
“No,” Hope replied. “No. Just go away, for God’s sake.” Why was he bothering her? What if Daniel came? The last thing she needed was for Daniel to come here and find her with Charles.
“I’m not going. In fact, I’m coming in now. Just come meet me at the entrance. If you don’t I promise, I will walk right up to that table, and you know what they’ll all assume.”
He was threatening her. Angrily, she walked towards the entrance of the restaurant. If he wanted a tongue-lashing, then she would give it to him.
She found him standing outside, to the side of the main entrance doors of the restaurant, overlooking the carpark. He was leaning on a wall, his arms casually folded over his chest.
“What is wrong with you?” she said through gritted teeth. “Why are you harassing me?”
He watched her silently, his expression puzzled, like he had no idea why she was angry. That annoyed her even more. He uncoiled himself from the wall, but Hope was too annoyed to notice how good he looked in his spotless white caftan. She wouldn’t have cared anyway, as far as she was concerned, she was really really done with him.
“I don’t know why you’re so angry,” he said softly.
“You don’t know?” she threw her arms up. “You just threatened me into coming out here to talk to you, but that’s the least of it. You’re the single biggest mistake I’ve ever made in my life. You stole my innocence, you stole my illusions. I shouldn’t even talk to you at all.”
He didn’t respond. She wondered if he understood, would ever understand just how much he’d hurt her in the past and take responsibility for it. A movement caught her eyes and she saw a black SUV drive into the parking lot, from the distance she couldn’t tell if it was Daniel’s, but as it inched forward, coming to park just by the entrance without anybody coming out, she knew deep down that it was him.
“You say you don’t care about me anymore,” she heard Charles say, “but here you are, talking to who? Hope? Me?” He smirked. “Why not accept it? You know you can’t walk away from us.”
She shook her head in disgust. “Can’t I? Charles…Just watch me.”
She spun around. She was beyond pissed. With herself for giving Charles an audience, with Charles for being the asshole that he was, and with Daniel… What was he trying to communicate by parking so close, watching her exchange with Charles from inside his car like he was performing some sort of evaluation on her behaviour or her character. To hell with all of them. She would go back to the party, pick up her purse and get the hell out of here.
She hadn’t taken a step when she felt Charles’ hand grip her arm. “Stop pretending,” he whispered. “What are you going to do? Hold on to your righteous anger forever? I dumped you once, so what? It didn’t stop you from dropping everything to run after me just because I paid a little attention to you. Admit it, you’re lonely and desperate and I’m doing you a favour by even wanting to sleep with you.”
His grip on her arm was like iron. Alarm, panic and utter humiliation flooded her in turn, then his grip left her arm, and she saw that Daniel was standing between them. She thought she heard a punch, but she was too humiliated to want to find out. She hurried inside the restaurant. The party was still going on, and she retrieved her purse, saying a hasty goodbye to Ebisan before hurrying out of there.
She walked past Daniel at the reception. She didn’t say a word to him as she hurried through the doors towards the parking lot. Outside, Charles was nowhere to be seen, to her relief. She heard Daniel’s steps behind her as she walked to her car.
“Hope.” She heard his voice just as she unlocked the car.
She almost burst into tears. She was humiliated that he had witnessed that scene with Charles. She realised now that she wanted any excuse to be angry with him, so that she wouldn’t have to explain Charles and why she’d been talking with him in the first place. She leaned on the car door and when he came up behind her and put his arms around her, she didn’t say a word. She allowed herself the sense of safety of being in his arms. She turned around to face him. There were still tears in her eyes, and he reached into his pocket and brought out a handkerchief, slowly dabbing her face with it.
“It’s alright,” he said softly. “I’m here now.”