Maxwell entered with a faint friendly smile on his face, returned levelly with a firm unfriendly stare from Amara, who sat poise on her chair like an unmovable art work. He closed the door firmly behind him and stood before the table. His obviously expensive sky-blue shirt and black trousers gleamed in the office like it had just been removed from its nylons, and his irresistibly handsome face was as handsome as ever. However, Amara did not seem to see all that as she stared unblinking at him.
“To what do I owe this visit sir?” she said stonily as an opening greeting.
He smiled wider. “Can I at least sit Amara?” he asked.
Amara raised her eyes as all the happiness she had gathered grew wings. “It would do you good to remember that my name is Ara Peters. You are to refer to me as Miss Peters, if you don’t mind.” She said sternly, and then reluctantly pointed to a chair across the table. “You can have your seat Mr Babs”
Maxwell dropped carefully into the comfortable chair, disregarding the hostile words Amara hauled at him. He crossed his legs in a stylish fashion, keeping his eyes level with hers. “I came to find out the progress of the upcoming event” he said unceremoniously.
Amara almost sighed but her business ethics kept her from doing just that. She had been training her staff on the importance of courtesy with clients, no matter what; it would be bad if she couldn’t be seen doing likewise. She turned on her official smile despite the difficulty and said. “We are working on it. We would send our conclusions to Bracket when we are through”. There was still something about Maxwell that nagged at Amara, creating a faint sense of familiarity which she couldn’t place.
“That is good” Max said shortly.
Still keeping her smile in place, she said. “But that is not really why you are here, is it?”
Maxwell smiled mischievously. “Your face is beautiful to behold, it wouldn’t be a chore to stare at it all day. You are looking particularly exceptional today” his eyes left her face to give the visible part of her body a quick glance.
Amara’s spine stiffened as her smile faded and she was instantly glad she was seated behind her table, if not; he might have run his eyes through her body, like he had a right to do so. “You definitely did not grow Bracket by sitting around in other people’s offices, gazing at their faces, did you?” And there was that thing about the name of the company that gave Amara a pause. Despite Maxwell’s arrogance and pride, she could not imagine him giving the company a name as thoughtful and well-calculated as ‘Bracket’. The name had a ruggedness that Maxwell did not possess. She could instead imagine him calling his company cheesy names which would depict class and wealth.
“I am sure staring at your face would give me the required inspiration to take Bracket to unimaginable heights.” Maxwell said evenly, and then smiled brightly, showing that he knew exactly what he was doing. “It is no wonder Ara P grew so fast, with your face around, everything would fall into the right places”
Amara blinked, hiding the gentle delight that she derived from the compliment. “I see you have a way with words. It amazes me how you totally blundered the awkward date we had” she said levelly.
Maxwell’s smile grew soft . “I was a fool and spoke to you, forgetting that you are not like other women, please forgive me. I would see to it that the terrible mistake is fully rectified if you would only give me the chance” he actually looked sincere as he said it.
“No! It is unnecessary” For the first time, Amara attempted a slightly friendly smile, trying to forget the insult he had indirectly hurled at her at the blind date; besides, she had paid him back with unveiled insults of her own. “I showed up at the date for selfish reasons, I only got what I deserved”
Maxwell swallowed gently. “I am sorry all the same; I should have known that a woman such as you cannot be enticed with anything. I do hope we can be… friend”
Amara stared at him for a long time, trying to decipher what hidden agenda lay behind that friendship gesture. Can someone who once asked for a relationship with her really settle for mere friendship? But then is it wise to discard his thoughtful arm of friendship? Amara wondered carefully. Maxwell as a friend could be really good for Ara P, she thought vaguely. “I don’t really keep friends but, I can make an exception as long as you keep things at that. A relationship is the last thing I need now”
This pleased Maxwell as he smiled fully, displaying his perfectly arranged sparkling white teeth. “I would try my best to remember that”
“Stop right there” Alex told the taxi driver and the man pulled to a stop in front of Ara P. Alex was a bundle of nerves as he sat unmoving. Twice already, he had come this far but hadn’t been able to summon enough courage to go into the company. He had thought he would be able to go in today, but now, he knew that he wouldn’t be able to do that. The Amara inside there is nothing compared to the one I used to know, he thought in exasperation. Alex continued to stare at the building until his phone rang. He reluctantly took out his phone but when he stared at the caller, he almost growled as his lips pulled into a tight knot. He breathed deeply before pressing the green button. “Hello Lisa”
“Hello husband, where are you?” she asked in a biting tone.
Alex sighed. “What do you mean? You know I am in Lagos; I currently am in the middle of an important meeting and you are disturbing me” he let his voice drop to a low conspiratorial tone.
“Meeting” Lisa repeated smugly.
“Yes. I have to go now, I would call you when the meeting is over” he said and quickly hung up. He caught the eye of the taxi driver looking at him sardonically through the mirror and he glared back at the man who instantly averted his gaze. Giving up, he finally barked at the driver. “Take me back to the hotel”
The driver obeyed the command instantly.
Lisa gripped her phone in anger inside her own taxi as she watched the taxi carrying Alex drive away. She turned to stare at Ara P, wondering why Alex had stopped there and continued on without going in. the fact that Alex had lied about being in a meeting showed vividly that he was hiding something. “Follow the taxi” she ordered the driver and the man jumped into action. The man definitely knew that he was getting something fetchy from the entire exercise. Lisa tapped her foot furiously as Ara P pulled out of view. She noted the name and made a mental note to investigate further. Lisa followed Alex till he got back to his hotel, paid the driver and walked into the hotel. She fumed angrily. She hadn’t been able to find out anything; again! If she hadn’t grown to trust her instincts, she could almost believe that Alex truly came here for business because she hadn’t seen him with a woman, but Lisa knew something was definitely fishy and she did not like the smell of it one bit. She took note of the name of the company he had stopped by, repeating it in her head as she told the driver to take her to her hotel.
Amara stepped out of Ara P as the day grew dark. She was completely exhausted from the day’s work and all she really needed was a nice cold bath and a cool mattress to fall back on. As she walked to her car, she could not help the deep feeling of disappointment she felt at not seeing Kelvin. She had dressed up, wishing that he would miraculously show up, but he hadn’t. Amara wondered what evil had befallen her to even entertain thoughts of a man. She shouldn’t have been thinking of Kelvin and how much she had loved seeing him again; that stupid thought had led her into this stupidity. She had unconsciously started entertaining foolish girlish thoughts ever since Kelvin appeared. Amara wondered when she would finally learn that men never do what they say they would. They are all the same, she thought as her face pulled to hard angry lines. She had entertained hopes that Kelvin was different, but then, he had said he wouldn’t leave her and had done the exact opposite the very minute he left her office. Amara swallowed hard, quenching the deep ache she felt.
As she drew closer to her car and her thoughts eased, her eyes fell on something at the handle of the car and her earlier self-chastisements and anger fled as her heart picked up pace. Her breath caught in her throat as she stared at the white rose flower hanging on the door handle, which looked remarkably like the one she had seen years ago. She swallowed and took a deep breath as she pulled the single flower into her shaky hands. She was slowly being drawn into a web; she knew, yet was powerless against it. Her heartbeat wasn’t at all regular as she raised the flower to her nose and inhaled deeply, like a little romantic teenager. She vaguely remembered that a flower had been used years back and she had regretted it but she discarded the thought. She opened the card attached to the flower and read the short words. “You are more beautiful”. Her eyes watered as her head echoed the words over and over again. Even though the card held no name, she knew exactly who sent them. He had said those exact words about seven years ago. How could she have been equating him with other men? Amara blinked and put the flower against her nose again, inhaling deeply, allowing the fresh scent to wash away her fears and pains.
Amara finally entered the car and drove home with a smile playing on her lips. Over the years, Amara had effectively let all her bad experiences cloud her brain, making her forget the good experiences she also had. This flower brought back good memories she had almost forgotten.
Her smile was still intact when she drove into her compound, but immediately she entered, her smile slipped. There, at her entrance stood the one who had been occupying her thoughts. Looking more handsome than any man had the right to be, Kelvin leaned lazily against the wall, watching as she drove into the compound. Amara swallowed hard, as she did all her possible best to maneuver the car to a standstill in the parking lot. She took a deep breath before opening the door. Kelvin had already pushed away from the wall when she stepped out, but he wasn’t taking any steps towards her. She stood nervously by her car, praying that her legs would keep her standing.
“Ara” Kelvin breathed gently. His eyes left her face briefly as he gave her body a slow, nerve-wrecking study.
Amara swallowed and shifted, feeling too self-conscious. Despite the modesty of the cloth, Kelvin’s eyes left her feeling exposed and womanly. She could not tell if it was the heat in his eyes or the gentle blowing breeze that brought Goosebumps to her skin as his eyes finally came to rest on her eyes again. “Kelvin” she murmured breathlessly, not identifying her voice. “How… did you know my… house?”
He smiled faintly. “Where there is a will…” he murmured, and since Amara’s legs seemed to be on vacation beside her car, Kelvin walked up to her slowly.
Despite everything, Amara could not move. Years back, Kelvin had had this strong presence and appeal, but now, it seemed to have intensified somehow. He looked harder, like he had faced some really tough things which had hardened him. His muscles had become more pronounced, making him look more like someone who was used to hard labour. As he drew near, Amara’s gaze dropped to his slightly open shirt and the muscled wall of chest which peaked from beneath the blue shirt. She hurriedly averted her gaze, drawing much needed air into her lungs. “Have you been here long?” she asked.
He smiled. “If I have, seeing you is definitely worth the wait” he said, then moved carefully to her back. He placed his hands on her shoulders, causing her to shiver slightly, as she struggled to breathe evenly. Carefully, he removed the white suit-jacket, peeling it away from her hands slowly. “You look so beautiful” he whispered in her ear and she jumped stunned back into alert consciousness by his nearness. Amara turned to glare angrily at him and Kelvin burst into laughter, his face changed and the rakish seductive look in his eyes was gone, leaving a friendly look on his face. Try as she may, Amara could not but return the smile. You are growing soft, a voice whispered in her head, but she ignored it. She had always loved it when Kelvin laughed. His laughter could make everything alright with the world.
“You are a snake” she threw at him, smiling.
Kelvin grinned. “Would gladly be a snake if it would make you smile” he said. “Welcome back Amara, I am glad you are still the woman I used to know”
Amara’s smile slipped slightly. “No, I am not”
Kelvin ignored that. “Why don’t we go inside honey?”
Amara turned instantly and headed inside with her senses on hyper alert. Kelvin had always been used to endearments, and it just always had a way of making her heart race. As she unlocked the door, she started thinking of ways to get him to leave quickly. He was doing too much havoc to her defenses and Amara knew that she could get hurt again. But even as she tried to search for ways to make him leave, she realized rather shockingly that she really didn’t want him to leave.
Alex entered his hotel room and lay on the bed with his eyes closed. He had used some bottles of drink to work off his anxiety before going up to his room. He wondered when he would have the courage to face Amara once and for all. It shouldn’t be so hard, but it was, and now, he feared the person he used to trample on. The person who happened to be his sister. He ran a palm over his face in exasperation. “What are you doing here Alex?” he asked himself, not for the first time. He had been repeating to Toba that he wasn’t interested in anything untoward with Amara, but since he could not lie to himself, he knew that that claim is completely false. He IS interested in something untoward with Amara, and the worst part was that he couldn’t shake off this forbidden interest. He swallowed hard, driving away the thickness in his throat.
A knock broke into his thoughts and he raised his head to gaze at the door. “Who is here?” he asked, slightly irritated.
“Please, I need to see you Al… Mr. Alex Bello” came a hushed woman’s voice.
Alex frowned. “And who the hell are you?”
“You would know me once you see me” came the voice again.
Alex shook his head, mentally taking note to give the hotel management a piece of his mind. He unlocked the door and his frown deepened, creating a visible scowl on his handsome face. “You?” he barked in disbelief. “What on earth is a cleaner doing in my room?”
The woman looked around. “Please, may I come in?” she asked.
Alex opened the door wider. “Be sure your job is on the line if you dare step in” he said, hoping to scare the woman away so he can have some peace and quiet.
The woman, without missing a beat, entered the room hastily and quickly closed the door behind her. She stood and gazed at Alex, scanning him with her eyes. She still had on the same ragged clothes she had worn when he saw her in the morning, and she still stared at him like he had just resurrected from the dead. As she continued to stare listlessly at him, Alex snapped. “Would you continue to stare at me or is there a reason why you are here?”
She shifted nervously. “You… you are the son of Senator and Mrs. Bello right?” she asked hesitantly.
Alex almost hissed. “Are you here to tell me who I am?”
“No… No. I am sorry. It is just…” she swallowed. “It is just that I know them. I… I used to know them” she murmured.
Alex gazed at the woman for some time, and then started laughing. “You?” he pointed at her as he looked at her from head to toe. “You know the senator? How hilarious”
“Yes. I do… and I need to see them; it is very important that I see them” she said as her eyes took on a pleading note.
The anger in Alex multiplied three times more. “What is your name?” he forced out.
“Hannah. I am Hannah” she hastily said.
“Well, Hannah” he stressed. “Consider your opportunistic grey-headed self-fired from this hotel. How dare you have the guts to come into my room, stand before me and demand to see my parents? Who the hell do you think you are?” he roared.
“Your mother” she dropped. “I am your birth mother”
…to be continued