After Daniel Amadi left the party, Hope found that somehow, she had lost the ability to enjoy the music, the food, or even Charles’s company, and she knew deep down that it was because of that look, that expression of realisation she’d seen on Daniel’s face.
And he had been wrong! He’d probably assumed that her being here with Charles meant that they were lovers, that she’d lied to him earlier about spending the evening with an old friend. His opinion of her had probably plummeted to the lowest possible depths.
“Are you all here?” Charles asked at some point. He was frowning, probably wondering why she looked so preoccupied.
“I don’t really feel…” Hope sighed. “I’m really sorry, but I’d like to leave.”
“Now?” He looked nonplussed. “But the party is just starting.”
Hope shrugged. “You don’t have to come with me,” she said. “I know my way home.”
Charles turned away, his eyes going to the girls dancing close to their table, and for a moment, Hope thought that he would really let her leave on her own and enjoy the rest of the night with one or two of the babes that were so plentiful, but he got up and held out a hand to her. “Fine, lets go.”
He said his goodbyes to the host and led Hope out to where he’d parked his car. He was obviously not happy. As he unlocked the doors and they both climbed in, he suggested that they could spend the rest of the evening at another lounge in Victoria Island, but Hope shook her head. She knew that with all her thoughts about Daniel Amadi, she wouldn’t be able to enjoy herself and Charles would find her company to be a drag.
In her mind, she saw that look on his face again and she blanched. Why do I care so much what he thinks? The question played over and over in her mind as Charles drove. And why did she care if he was disappointed in her or whatever. He had no right to judge her. He didn’t even know her. They’d only had a couple of conversations. There was absolutely no reason for her to care so much what he thought.
“What’s the problem?” Charles asked, his voice cutting into her thoughts. “Did I say or do something to annoy you?”
“No, you didn’t. I just wasn’t enjoying myself,” Hope replied.
“That doesn’t make me feel better,” Charles remarked, his eyes skipping from the road to her face. “You might as well tell me that I was boring you.”
She remembered the sexual tension of the moments before Daniel Amadi arrived. “You definitely weren’t boring me, Charles.”
“But you couldn’t wait to leave.”
“I’m sorry,” Hope said, “I just stopped feeling the party after a while.”
He was silent. “Did I come on too strong, is that it?”
“You can tell me,” he continued, interrupting her. “I’ve never stopped wanting you, Hope. And I’m not going to lie and act as if I’m not crazy about you right now. I am. So… If you don’t want to be around me at all… if you want me to disappear and leave you alone, just tell me.”
Hope was silent. If she said that was what she wanted, she’d be lying. He was still attractive, there was still something about him that drew her and made her want to risk… her commonsense, it seemed, for the gratification of the knowledge that he still wanted to be with her, that he still found her attractive, that he regretted walking away from her.
Don’t be a fool, she told herself sternly. Men like Charles can say anything, pretend for as long as it takes, just to conquer a girl’s defenses. That was just the way they were wired. To see women as conquests, as victory stories to tell their friends over drinks.
She stole a glance at him as he drove. He was waiting for her answer, silent, his gaze on the road. What if she was wrong? What if he was hurting, lonely and really missed her… She remembered that day at the office with Greg. He’d implied that she was the love of his life.
She turned to the window, looking outside, and the silence stretched until he parked in front of her parent’s gate.
He drummed his fingers on the wheel for a few seconds before turning to her. “You didn’t answer my question,” he said.
“You haven’t told me what happened with your wife,” Hope replied.
He let out a long breath, and Hope could swear she saw moisture in his eyes before he turned and fixed his gaze ahead. “Many girls these days just want to get married,” he said slowly. “It’s a rite of passage. Something all their friends are doing,” he sounded bitter, pained. “A man is like an accessory to them. Someone to show off to their friends… to hold on to at parties while looking down on the unfortunate ones who haven’t hooked one of their own yet.”
This was the most sober she’d seen him in a long time. Hope looked down at her fingers, tempted to reach for him, to offer some words of comfort, but she held herself back. After all, it was he who’d made her a certified member of the group of ‘unfortunate ones.’
“Are you saying your wife… is like that?” she asked softly.
He was silent.
“Weren’t you aware, before the wedding? Why did you go along with it?” Internally, she was screaming. I loved you with my whole being, and you chose to spend your life with someone who saw you as a prop to impress her friends with? It was saddening.
“I don’t know that I was really aware. Maybe I was and instead chose to tell myself that she was in love with me. There was some family pressure too. Her family and mine are close, and once I’d been out with her a couple of times, they kinda expected an engagement. There were advantages, I wont lie to you, Hope.
Like the connections. Hope thought. His wife came from wealth. Lots of it. She regarded him for a moment, taking in the set of his jaw and his expression that, even in profile, communicated a mixture of anger and sadness at the same time.
“I always enjoyed being with you, you know. Even just talking. You were never boring. I was never lonely with you. You knew me, and you loved me for who I was.”
Hope turned away, angry with him for even talking about their past relationship. He’d been the one to throw it away. Was she supposed to pity him now? He’d made his bed. It was his fault that he was feeling like this.
“I’m sorry Charles, but I don’t know what you want me to do… How you want me to react to this. Are you saying your marriage is over? Am I supposed to be glad that it failed, that you’re free to take me to parties and stuff?”
He shrugged. “I’m not asking anything, Hope. She left and yes, it’s given me a chance to spend time with you. I don’t regret that.”
“So you’re not planning to get her back? To work on it at all?”
“Why should I?” His eyes searched Hope’s face. “Seeing you again, Hope…” he sighed and took her hand in his, stroking her fingers gently. “I want you. I feel like I missed my chance to be happy before and I have it again… with you.”
The words send a tremor through her, the words, and the sensual warmth of his hand on hers. She swallowed as long ago memories of pleasure raced through her brain even as she tried to suppress them.
“I have to go inside,” she said, her voice sounding strange even to her ears. She drew her hand from his. “Goodnight, Charles.”
She didn’t reply, instead, she pushed the car door open and climbed out, hurrying towards the gate. Her emotions were all over the place, and being with him, inside that car with those memories… it reawakened things in her body that she knew would be dangerous to explore.
The gateman opened the gate and she stepped inside the compound, quickly pushing the gate closed before leaning back against it, taking deep breaths to slow her racing heart.
Later that night, Hope tried to do some social media digging. She didn’t know if Charles’s wife had enough of a social profile for it to be a thing on the blogs if she left her husband, but she searched for her name on the local gossip blogs anyway. Apart from the years old spread done about their wedding, there was no news of them. Hope checked Instagram and Twitter and other social media profiles, but it seemed like Charles’s wife or ex-wife wasn’t an ardent poster. There was nothing to point towards a separation, but there was nothing pointing away from it either.
So what if Charles was telling the truth? What if he was lonely and miserable and his marriage was over. Would she forgive him for the way he’d hurt her in the past just because there was now a chance to get back in his life? That would be stupid. What if he hurt her again? Wouldn’t that make her the biggest fool who ever lived?
And yet, she couldn’t forget his voice, the words, he’d said, the earnestness in his face when he told her that he was lonely, that he missed her. “I want you,” he’d said. The stark admission made her want to drop all her defenses, all her anger and resentment, and pretend, just pretend that they were together again, the way they used to be.
A voice at the back of her mind kept trying to remind her that even those days when they were together, he’d not really been hers, that he’d hurt her even then, but she ignored it. She closed her eyes and concentrated instead of the feeling of being close to him again, the excitement she’d felt when he’d touched her, the tremors that had gone through her body.
She had a hard time going to sleep.
The next Monday, Hope listened to Agnes go on and on about her weekend. She’d spent almost the entire time with her new beau. “I think I’m in love with this one,” she told Hope. “He’s the full package.”
“Is it him you like or his package,” Hope quipped.
Agnes laughed. “See your dirty mind. Later you’ll say I’m the rotten one.”
Hope wondered what Agnes would say if she told her about Charles, about the conflicting emotions she was feeling. She desperately wanted to talk to someone, but she didn’t want anyone to make her feel foolish or careless for considering…
For considering what exactly? Going back to him? Having an affair, maybe trying to have something serious with him?
“How far you and Daniel Amadi now? I saw you two talking at Greg’s baby dedication… Shey he hasn’t made his move?”
Hope looked around the office, hoping no one had overheard. She thought back to her encounter with Daniel Amadi on Saturday and bit back a sigh. “Which move again?” She replied Agnes. “I don’t even know what you’re talking about.”
Agnes shrugged. “Ok o, but if a guy like that showed even the least bit of interest in me…” The advice went on and on but after a few words, Hope blocked it out and went back to her thoughts.
Like… what was really going on with Daniel anyway? She didn’t want to read anything into a few polite words, and after the party on Saturday… Well, he’d probably formed an opinion about her that she could do nothing about. She wished that wasn’t the case, but what could she do?
At lunchtime, she had errands. She left her car in the office and walked to the bank, then to a nearby store to buy a few cosmetics, before buying a snack at a local fast food and heading back to the office. She entered the cool marble lobby and made for the lifts, slowing when she saw Daniel emerge. He was wearing a suit, a magnificent three piece that made him look fiercely handsome. He had three companions with him, but he stood out. He was speaking and the others were listening to him and nodding, obviously deferring to him. They walked closer, and just before they reached Hope, Daniel looked up and his eyes met hers.
Hope tried a hesitant smile, lifting her hand to wave in his direction.
His response, a small inclination of his head, was hardly perceptible, his eyes slid off her, barely showing any recognition as he continued his journey with his companions to the doors leading out of the building.