Bella had been back from work for the past few hours but she felt physically and emotionally drained out. She laid on her back in bed in her office dress, staring at the ceiling and lost in thought.
She wished she could talk to Andrew but after calling him several times and sending him several messages without a response from him, she had stopped trying. It was almost a month since the last time they saw each other and she missed him as if a physical part of her was missing. She sighed heavily.
Her once close-knit family was splitting apart. Aliyah had been acting like a stranger in the house since their mother’s revelation a few weeks ago, she kept to herself most of the time and refused to mingle with the family.
Maria was almost always with their mother whenever they were both in the house. Their father had become invisible. Damn you, mother, for breaking us up like this. She thought angrily and bitterly.
Her phone rang noisily and it jutted her out of her reverie. It was Joseph Coker. She was smiling when she picked the call.
“Hi, Joe.” She grinned.
“How are you, my sweetheart? You are breaking my heart. What have I done to deserve this kind of treatment from you? You have not seen me in weeks and you didn’t bother asking after me?” He asked in a mournful voice.
“I am sorry. I thought you are out of the country?” She sat up in bed.
“How will you know if I am back when you have not bothered to check on me? Anyway, where are you?’ He asked with a smile.
“I am home. I just got back from work.” She bent to remove her shoes.
“It is Friday night. What are you doing at home? Meet me at the Shadow Bar at Tanke Junction. I will be expecting you.” He tapped the red button.
Bella strolled into the bar twenty minutes later and slowed down when she saw Andrew at Joseph’s table. She straightened her shoulder, schooled her expression and moved forward.
Andrew was about to raise the wine to his lips when he turned his head and saw her approaching. He dropped the wine glass and got to his feet.
“Hi.” She greeted politely. He drew her into his embrace and enfolded her in a warm, long, hug.
“I miss you.” He murmured against her throat. Tears filled her eyes as she stared at Joseph in amazement.
“Thank you.” She mouthed at him. He winked at her and sipped his wine.
“I miss you too. Thank you for forgiving me.” She drew back and cupped his cheek.
“You are welcome.” He smiled as he placed his lips on hers. He stared into her eyes as his lips rubbed against hers without pressure. Her burdens seemed to drain away and she smiled.
“I love you. Don’t ever doubt that.” She murmured as she rubbed her hands over his back.
“We will be alright. What is wrong with you? You look sad.” Andrew asked quietly as he drew her to his side.
“Hey, Bella. You know you should dump this idiot.” He grinned as he stood up and pulled her to his side for a quick hug.
“You know I don’t make idle threat, dog.” Andrew sat down with a lazy grin.
“Ignore him. Run away with this man that will treat you like a special woman that you are.” He smirked at Andrew as he reached under his table and gave her a colorful gift nylon.
“You brought a gift for me?” Bella asked in excitement as she tore through the nylon. She brought out a box of Amedei Porcelana chocolate, a pink teddy bear, and a Slim, Gold, Swiss wrist watch.
“I love it. Thank you.” She flew into his arms and hugged him tightly.
“You are welcome, dear. Forgive the ass-hole. He has truly suffered but his ego and pride will not allow him to rest.” Joseph whispered against her throat.
“Joe, release that girl before I have to kill you.” Andrew told him.
Tears filled her eyes and she squeezed him affectionately.
“Thank you. I love you.” She grinned as she kissed him on both cheeks.
“God save your ass. Go away and find your own woman abeg.” Andrew waved him away as he pulled her down on the seat beside him.
“Love is blind. Let me go and check out that chocolate beauty over there.” He picked up the wine and his wine glass, winked at them and moved to another table that was occupied by a lady.
“You are lucky. He is such a good man. He looks out for you all the time.” She murmured quietly.
“I know. We may not be related by blood but he is the only brother I ever have. What is happening to you? I think we should just leave this environment.” He shoots a message to Joseph via his WhatsApp. “Let’s start going.” He picked up her gift nylon, took her hand and walked out of the bar.
Titilola was watching musical video in her room when the door opened abruptly and Patricia came in.
“What the hell do you think you are doing? What were you doing in that woman’s shop? Don’t even bother denying it” Patricia screamed at her.
She clicked off the T.V and faced her mother.
“I have no intention of denying anything. I am an adult and I have the right to make friends with whoever I like. Your spies have been at work, isn’t it?” She put her hand on her hip in a challengingly.
“Don’t you have any shame? So you choose to be friends with your father’s concubine?” Patricia asked scathingly.
“She is his legal wife, mother. We both know that. They have gotten married long before you and I came into the picture. I find out that she is a warm and wonderful woman. She took her time to welcome me because she loves Dad.” She paused meaningfully as she looked her mother in the eyes. “I can’t say the same about you.” She ended finally.
“What do you mean by that rude statement?” Patricia glared at her daughter.
“What were you doing in that hotel with that man?” She asked coldly.
“What are you talking about? What the hell are you doing in a hotel?” Patricia was almost shouting.
Titilola gave her a scornful look before reaching for her phone, scrolling through it and gave it to her. It was a video recording. She sat down on her bed and watched her mother’s reaction. Patricia’s hand shook once before she stared down at the clear images moving on the screen.
“You can delete it if you want. I have copies on my flash drive.” She shrugged as she laid on the bed and crossed her legs at the ankle. “I was already in the lobby when he walked in. I remember thinking what a cute man he was for someone of his age. He ordered for champagne and was obviously waiting for someone as he kept checking his time. I was curious to know who his partner was going to be. You can imagine my shock when my mother joined him a few minutes later, blushing and giggling like a school girl.” She sat up in anger.
“His hands were all over you, mother. He was practically making love to you in plain sight. I don’t have to imagine what happened after you left the lobby with him. How disgusting could that be?” She asked in cold anger.
“How can you do this to me, Titi? What do you intend to gain with this recording? Your father has never had time for me. What do you expect me to do?” Patricia asked in a trembling voice.
“Come off it, Mum. That is not an excuse to cheat on him. Thank your star I have not told him or even decide to take it to Grandma. You know what that means right?” She asked tauntingly. Patricia blanched visibly.
“Good daughters are supposed to support their mothers unconditionally. How can you be so wicked and selfish? What did I do to deserve such treatment from you?” She asked accusingly as tears filled her eyes.
“Have you forgotten I am my mother’s daughter? I am as wicked and selfish as you were when I complained to you that your foolish, bastard son abused and defiled my innocence and you did nothing to stop it or protect me. Oh…I have forgotten he is the heir to the Coker dynasty. He is perfect and he can’t do anything wrong in your sight.” She mimicked bitterly. “You want my support now, mother? You can never have it. Get out of my room.” Titilola turned her back on her mother as tears filled her eyes.
“Titi, I am sorry.” Patricia began hesitantly.
“Get out, mother, before I say something that we will both regret.” Her voice came out, rocksteady, despite the turmoil going on in her mind.
Patricia turned on her feet and walked out grudgingly. Titilola turned her face into the pillow and wept silently.
“Mother, please tell your husband to get those goons off my back. I hate seeing them everywhere I go.” Joseph’s voice preceded him into the kitchen.
Naomi and Titilola were in the kitchen where Naomi was preparing her favorite Akwa Ibom native soup called Edika Ikong. Titilola stood beside her, watching with interest and wondering how soon she could try it out.
“It is smelling great already. When can I try it on my own? Our cook will not allow me to mess up her kitchen.” She asked with a grin, sniffing the aroma.
“I will give you the list of ingredient to get from the market. You can try it the next time you are here. Don’t you dare put your hand inside my pot of soup.” Naomi warned as if she was reading her mind.
“How did you know I was about to do that?” She asked in surprise.
“You will know when you have raised a child. I will hit your hand with this hot spoon if you try it. Thank your star I am even telling you before I do it.” Naomi stated with a little smile. Titilola laughed heartily.
“You are one bad ass mother. He is so lucky to have you.” Titilola said wistfully.
“He knows it.” Naomi smiled as she reached for her hand and squeezed it affectionately.
Joseph barreled into the kitchen and came to a sudden standstill. His gaze roamed over Titilola with pure masculine interest and he mentally nodded his head in approval.
“Hello, Beautiful.” He grinned at her.
“Hi, Handsome.” Titilola was amused.
“Titilola is your sister.” Naomi raised an eyebrow at him.
“Aww, mum.” Joseph felt the sting as if it was a physical slap.
Titilola burst into laughter and laughed till her sides ache.
“Aunt Naomi, you are harsh oo.” Titilola smiled as she wiped tears from her eyes.
“You are not nice either, Titi.” He gave her a side eye.
“Sorry, bros. I couldn’t help it.” She grinned at him.
“This should be done now.” Naomi opened the pot of soup and stirred it. Steam and aroma rose into the air. Joseph’s stomach growled loudly in hunger. Titilola caught his eye and laughed again.
“I will make the Eba, mum.” Joseph volunteered as he rolled up his shirt sleeve.
“You can make Eba on your own?” Titilola asked in an incredulous voice as she felt shame rolled over her.
“Come, let’s leave him in the kitchen.” Naomi took her hand.
“No, I will stay and keep him company. I am a fast learner.” She grinned at the older woman.
“No problem, then. Please don’t make watery Garri for me.” Naomi teased as she removed her apron and hung it as she headed out of the kitchen.
“She is my sister. You can’t disgrace me in her presence.” Joseph bellowed after his mother. Her amused laughter drifted to them.
“I heard your comment the other time about Daddy’s goons following you around. He is only trying to protect you.” She told him.
“I understand his need to protect but I don’t like the method. There are so many ways to get this done without having some 8-pack idiots trailing in your shadow throughout the day.” He frowned as he put the pot of water on the cooker and turned on the heat.
“Well, I am kind of used to it. I pretend as if they do not exist most of the time. How else can that be done?” She asked curiously.
“Mark Zuckerberg was in Nigeria recently. Did you see packs of thugs trailing after him during his short stay in Nigeria?’ He gave her a casual glance before bending to retrieve the bucket of gari in the bottom shelf.
“You have been watching too much foreign film. Using security devices and physical thugs have their own pros and cons.” She stated with a shrug.
“You may be right but I am not comfortable with it. It is like an invasion of my privacy and I am irritated by it. I will discuss it with him.” He insisted stubbornly.
“Well, you can talk to Grandma too as she is usually the architect of everything going on in this family.” She shrugged.
“Thank you. I will do that.” He flashed her a smile.
“All the securities in the world doesn’t protect you against certain things, even right under their noses.” She muttered under her breath.
He prepared the Eba in silence and dished it into the warmer.
“I heard that, Titi. We will find the time to talk heart to heart. Right now, let’s go and eat one of mother’s best delicacy.” He put his arm playfully around her shoulder and lifted the warmer with the other hand.
She laughed as she dished the soup into another warmer and followed him out of the kitchen.
In the middle of the sitting room, Olayemi and Naomi were in each other’s arms, their lips locked in a deep unhurried kiss.
Titilola’ s jaw dropped in complete shock. She had never seen her parent pecked each other, talk less of kissing.
She closed her eyes and tried to interpret what she was feeling. A twinge of envy and loads of happiness for her father.
“Guys, please postpone this until you are both alone. Some people are very hungry here.” Joseph didn’t spare them a glance as he moved to the dining table.
“I miss you. That meeting with Conoil just dragged on endlessly.” Olayemi complained good-naturedly as he broke the kiss.
“I miss you too. You are here now and it yielded a positive outcome. Let’s go and eat.” Naomi tapped his nose playfully and turned him towards the dining room.
“What are you doing here, Titi?” He asked in amazement.
“I am here to eat dinner.” She widened her eyes in exaggerated innocence.
“Dinner?” He croaked in confusion.
Naomi winked at Titilola and the latter laughed as she pulled out a seat.
“Naomi, I don’t know what to say. What did I do to deserve you?” He asked as he looked down at her, overwhelmed.
“Well, you probably did the same thing I do to deserve you. It is time for dinner, mister.” She grinned as she took his hand and led him to the table.
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