“I’m very very attracted to you.
What did that even mean? Hope wondered later, in the privacy of her room as she prepared for bed.
What did he want, or expect, and more importantly… what did she want?
She was attracted to him, she’d be lying to herself if she denied that. She remembered how she felt being close to him, the way her skin tingled, the way her whole consciousness reacted to even the slightest touch…
She closed her eyes and sat on her bed. After dinner, after that discombobulating revelation that he was attracted to her, he’d brought her home, allowing her to give him directions. He’d been polite, pleasant as he said goodbye, nothing else. No hint of desire for any kind of intimacy, no suggestion of wanting something as simple as a kiss. She’d said goodnight too, questions hovering on her tongue.
And now she couldn’t stop thinking about him.
The air from the AC felt cool against her skin. She sighed and lay back on the bed, pulling the duvet over her body. She had work tomorrow, so she needed her sleep, but just before she finally let go of thoughts of Daniel and drifted off, she realised with satisfaction, how little thought she’d given to Charles throughout the night.
The next day was uneventful. When she got to the office, Hope kept an eye out for Daniel in the lobby, but she didn’t see him. All through the morning, her mind kept wandering back to him as she worked, going over every single word he’d said. They hadn’t made any arrangements to see each other again, and now she wondered when she would see him.
At lunchtime, she ordered a Chinese takeaway and ate at her desk while most of the others went out. Then, with about thirty minutes to spare, she did a little online shopping and checked her social media while around her, colleagues returned from their lunches.
She heard her name and looked up from her computer to see Ladi, one of the front desk receptionists, approaching her desk. Ladi was petite and soft-spoken. With a degree in accounting, she’d only settled for the front desk job because she hadn’t found anything else.
“Hey,” Hope smiled at the girl. “What’s up?”
“You have a delivery,” Ladi said in her tiny voice, and Hope noticed the gift bag in her hands, watching as Ladi placed it on her desk. “I signed for it.”
“Thanks,” Hope said. She opened the package and pulled out a box of Belgian chocolates wrapped with ribbons tied in a bow. There was a note under the bow, and Hope frowned, convinced that it was an attempt at a half-assed apology from Charles.
It wasn’t. She opened the note and read the words in a firm, slanted handwriting she had never seen before.
Hope stared at the note, a flush of pleasure causing a smile to take over her face. She noticed that Ladi was still standing there, looking expectant as she squinted at the note. “Thank you,” Hope said pointedly, certain that if Ladi so much as guessed the sender of the note or it’s content, the news would be all over the office in seconds.
“You’re welcome,” Ladi said, looking disappointed as she walked away.
“Yay! Chocolates!” It was Agnes, and Hope hastily put the note in her desk drawer. She wasn’t ready yet to talk about Daniel with anyone, least of all Agnes.
“Who’re they from?” Agnes asked, coming over to lean on Hope’s desk.
Agnes gave her a look. “Okay o! If you don’t want to tell me, at least give me small chocolate make I chop.”
Hope laughed. She opened the box of chocolates and took out a few of them for herself, then gave the rest to Agnes to share with the others, since it wasn’t like she could eat them all anyway. She would have liked to send Daniel a thank you message, but she realised now that she didn’t have his number, and he didn’t have hers.
By the close of day, she still hadn’t seen him, and she wondered if he had been out of the office all day. It was just as well. She could imagine the furore it would cause among her colleagues if he showed up at the office looking for her, or if he called the front desk and identified himself. Ah! Hope could just imagine Joy and Ladi making a huge mountain out of such a little thing.
She got ready to go home, freshening her makeup and telling herself that it wasn’t because she hoped she would run into him in the downstairs lobby.
She took the lift to the ground floor, then stepped into the lobby, her eyes scanning the full area she could see, expectation making her chest tight.
But he wasn’t there.
She was being silly, she decided. He was a busy man. It wasn’t like he was the kind of person who had time to hang around in the lobby hoping that she’d walk by. When he wanted to talk to her or see her, he’d probably make it happen.
She started towards the entrance. She slowed her steps as she passed the seating area, still hoping that maybe there was a chance that he’d be there. He wasn’t. Sighing, she continued outside.
She whirled around at the sound of Daniel’s voice, then cursed herself for being too eager, too excited. He was standing behind her, wearing a light blue shirt, sleeves rolled up again, and pants that showed off his slim waist and long legs. He had a mischievous smile on his face though he seemed to be trying not to smile. The whole effect was very endearing.
“Excuse me,” he said again, still trying to wipe the smile off his face and look serious. ‘My name is Daniel Amadi, and I work in the building. I’ve noticed you around, and I’d like to get to know you better. Can I have your number so we can…maybe talk?” He even managed a hopeful expression for effect.
Hope burst into laughter. “I’ll give you my number if you admit that those lines you just used are terrible, and wouldn’t work on any girl who didn’t already know you.”
“You think?” he joined in her merriment. “That was the standard pick-up speech when I was in secondary school.”
“I’m sure you were also awful at picking up girls.”
He quirked a brow and raised his eyebrows. The mischievous smile was back. “I’m not telling.”
Hope gave him a pointed look, and his grin widened. “I had lines,” he proclaimed. “Good ones.” He paused and regarded her for a moment. “So seriously, I’d like to have your number.”
Hope nodded. “Of course. I was thinking about that earlier. How I couldn’t call you if I wanted.”
He raised an eyebrow teasingly. “You wanted to call me?”
Hope blushed. “Just to thank you for the chocolates.”
“So you say,” He was smiling, the teasing expression still there. They exchanged numbers, saving each other’s contact details into their phones.
“I’m working late tonight,” he said, when they were done, a note of apology in his voice. “But I’ll call you later. Do you mind.”
Of course not! “No, I don’t,” Hope said evenly. “Thanks for last night, …and the chocolates.”
He winked. “I told you,” he said, backing away. “I aim to please.”
She watched him go, sure that she had a foolish smile on her face. She turned back towards the entrance, unable to stop smiling as she walked outside. In the parking lot, her phone beeped, and she unlocked the screen. There was a new message.
Now there was no way she was going to succeed in wiping the smile off her face.
When she drove into the compound, she noticed her brother’s car. Excited to see him, she hurried into the house. Her parents were in the living room, with Gerald seated on the arm of her mother’s chair, showing her pictures on his tablet. Her mother was laughing and blushing, as she always did when her son was around.
“Who is this troublemaker?” Hope said, walking into the living room.
Gerald looked up and his face split in a grin. He was taller than Hope, slightly darker, but their features were very alike. He was handsome, and he knew it, that was obvious in the way he carried himself.
“Hope!” he exclaimed, walking towards her. He wrapped her in a hug, then pulled away to peer at her face. “You’re looking very pleased with yourself,” he noted suspiciously.
“It’s God,” Hope said with a shrug, her mind going back to Daniel’s text. “What are you doing home?”
He sighed. “I was missing you guys. Decided to bless you people with one night of my busy life.”
“Seriously,” Hope rolled her eyes. “You’re so full of yourself. Nobody considers your presence a blessing.”
“I do, please,’ Patience quipped. ‘I’m ecstatic to see him.” She gave Gerald an indulgent smile.
Gerald smiled smugly in Hope’s direction. “I’ve missed pissing you off,” he said.
“I’ve missed your empty head,” she replied teasingly.
Later, when she’d gone upstairs to change out of her work clothes, she returned downstairs, and they all had dinner together. Gerald worked in the legal department of one of the biggest auditing firms in the country, and he had a lot of stories about work.
“How’s that your friend from Law school?” their mother asked, naming one of Gerald’s friends who’d made an impression on the family during Gerald’s law school days.
“Oh. He’s fine,” Gerald said. “He’s actually getting married next month.”
Patience sighed. “His parents are so lucky.”
Both Gerald and Hope rolled their eyes, and even their father couldn’t resist a chuckle. Patience shook her head. “I don’t know which one of you two is worse. Settling down is not a curse. It is a good thing. If not for Grace that has consented to give me grandchildren, I don’t know what I would do with the two of you.”
Their father looked from Hope and Gerald to his wife. “Patience, let them eat.”
She huffed but kept quiet after that.
“You’re lucky you still live at home,” Gerald said later, when they were up in her room, gisting. “Home cooked meals and free housemaid.”
“Sometimes, I don’t think it’s worth the freedom of having my own place, especially when mum starts with her marriage wahala.”
Gerald laughed. “You know if you really wanted to move out they won’t stop you. They’d just be sad and lonely.”
Hope sighed. “So, I’m the loneliness alleviation child.”
He ignored her. “I saw that your former boyfriend about a week ago. Charles something. He came for a meeting in my office.”
Hope was quiet. “Did you talk to him?”
He frowned. “No. I don’t think he recognised me. He was flirting with one of my colleagues after the meeting. I almost decked him. I still remember how he made you cry for like six months straight when he messed up.”
Flirting with one of Gerald’s colleagues. She wasn’t surprised. A week ago. Even while he’d been telling her how much he’d missed her, he still had time to flirt with someone else.
“Forget about him,” she said, more to herself than to Gerald.
They talked a little bit more, then Gerald, who was spending the night, went to sleep in his old room. He was leaving very early in the morning, since, as usual, his visit had been spur of the moment and he still had to go to his own apartment to change before going to work.
After he had gone, Hope prepared for bed, taking a quick shower before changing into her night clothes. She got into bed and almost immediately, her phone started to ring. It was Daniel.
“Did I wake you?”
“No.” It was odd, how happy she was to hear his voice. There was a little bloom of pleasure starting in her belly. “I just got into bed.”
“Hmm,” his deep voice vibrated through the phone. “I got home a couple of minutes ago, and I wanted to say goodnight before it was too late.”
“Now is perfect. My brother’s home, so I stayed up talking with him.”
“Lucky you. I’m alone here. I wish I saw my family more, but they don’t have time for an old workaholic like me.”
“You’re not old,” Hope protested.
“Ah…” he laughed, the warm sound filling her ears. “but I’m a workaholic, right?”
Hope smiled at his teasing. “I didn’t say that.”
“You didn’t not say it.” He paused. “Did you get my text?”
“Yes,” Hope blushed. “Thanks. You didn’t look too bad yourself.”
He laughed. “Thank you. I don’t get complimented on my good looks often enough.”
She knew he was joking, but she didn’t laugh. “Maybe I should remedy that,” she said.
She heard him breathe. “Hope,” he said softly. She liked the way he said her name… as if he liked the way it sounded on his lips. “Hope, will you have lunch with me tomorrow,”
She smiled. “Depends. Will you take me somewhere as nice as the last place?”
“Somewhere even better,” he promised. “And while we’re there you can tell me how hot and irresistible you think I look.”
“I’ll make sure to do that,” Hope laughed. “See you tomorrow then.”
There was a short pause on his end. “I can’t wait,” he said finally.
To be honest, neither could she.