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CHARACTER STUDY



by





NIA EZE

Character Study

By Nia Eze

Copyright 2018 Nia Eze

All Rights Reserved.

Digital Edition

ISBN 9781370865345

Without limiting the rights under copyright preserved above, no part of this book may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means, (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright holder and the publisher of this book.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

TABLE OF CONTENT

GLOSSARY

CHAPTER 1

CHAPTER 2

CHAPTER 3

CHAPTER 4

CHAPTER 5

CHAPTER 6

CHAPTER 7

CHAPTER 8

CHAPTER 9

CHAPTER 10

CHAPTER 11

CHAPTER 12

CHAPTER 13

CHAPTER 14

CHAPTER 15

CHAPTER 16

CHAPTER 17

Glossary

Jor - Yoruba word for ‘please’ used colloquially to place emphasis on any given sentiment.

Mscheww - A derisive sound usually made by forcing a hissing sound out through a puckered mouth.

Kpakpa - Yoruba word used to indicate the crux of a matter.

Wetin dey…? - What’s happening…?

Okada – Motor bike; used in most West African countries as a supplementary means of public transportation.

I dey H - I am hungry.

E no know where e from dey do am - He does not know where he problems come from.

Gbogbo squad – A slang word for a group of friends/family that you can depend on for support always.

CHAPTER 1

The click of her high heels was drowned out by the blast of her winning streak in her ears through the ear plugs she had in them.

Ekanem looked up long enough to ascertain that the door to the elevator was indeed open before she stepped in through it. The door had hardly slid shut before she was once again engrossed in her game.

She had come across a recommendation for the game on a tech blog that she followed and had gone on to download the free sample of the game that had been offered there. She had only played the game for all of ten minutes when she knew that she would be paying for a download of the full version of the game.

She had spent a better part of her weekend glued to her mobile devices and she had downloaded the game on all of them. The game developers had hit the legendary pot-of-gold-at-rainbow’s-end with this one. She did not need to be as tech savvy as she was to know that this game was going to define a whole new genre of gaming for mobile devices. She was almost envious of them. What a coup!

She had checked on the site from where she had done her downloads earlier that morning and saw that it had already garnered a couple hundred of thousands more downloads in the last two days.

The elevator shuddered to a stop and she perked up, looking at the top of the door and then deflating. It had not gotten to her floor so that meant that she was going to get a co-passenger.

‘There goes solitude.’ She sighed mentally, returning to her game as the door slid open. She peeked a glance at the person getting on and felt her breathe suspend as it was wont to do around him. Her concentration on her game scrambled and the boom of defeat sounded in her ears. She made a huff out of irritation at her defeat and slid her phone back into the pocket of her gown. She was sure that any attempt to play now would end in defeat, especially as all her senses were hyper-aware of the man standing across from her on the other side of the elevator.

It was ridiculous really. The way this young man tied her up in knots. On the one hand, he was…like chocolate and caramel candy. You kept telling yourself that it would be just one candy you ate even as you knew that you would be finishing the entire pack and making yourself ill with it before you stopped. On the other hand, he was the most exasperating team member she had ever had to work with.

She glanced at the watch on her wrist. It was way past the time for him to be returning from his lunch break. He had left on it a good thirty minutes before she had left for hers.

“I stopped by Marketing to pick up those proposals you said you wanted to look over.” He supplied without request.

She turned to look at him with what she hoped was a disinterested and steely look. He held out the papers in his hand to her like he was making an offering.

“I’m sure I specifically asked Curtis to get them for me.” She snapped in frigidly clipped tones to convey her annoyance.

“Yes you did but since I was going for lunch, I told him I’ll pass by and get it for you. He had a bunch of other urgent things to do as well.” he explained still holding out the papers to her.

She eyed the papers in his hand with unwarranted malice. She was not sure why she was miffed at him. There was nothing objectionable about his explanation.

‘Don’t be a horrid boss.’ She admonished herself and took the papers from him.

“Thank you. That was thoughtful of you.” She conceded rather grudgingly. “I hope you did not use that as an excuse to overstay on your lunch break.” She raised her wrist up as she spoke, a wry expression on her face.

“Not at all.” He responded with a cheeky smile.

The elevator slid to a smooth stop and the door opened to their floor. She stood for a moment, unsure whether to let him step out first as he was closer to the exit or to proceed and risk having to brush up against him. He solved the dilemma by indicating with a flourish of his hand that she leave before he did.

She nodded briskly and stepped out of the elevator first. As she strode down the corridor to her office, she could feel the prickle of his stare on her. She was tempted to turn around and catch him at it, and perhaps, see ‘where’ he had been staring at but decided against it. The certainty in her mind that he would take that as an encouragement to stare at her every time he had opportunity, stopped her.

Truth was she was enjoying the secret glances and the thrill of being rather openly admired by a younger man, a younger fine looking specimen of male.

However, at her age, she supposed she needed to lend her attention to more viable matrimonial prospects. Prospects like Jidenna. An unconscious frown marred her face at the thought of him. He was a perfectly nice man, gentlemanly, successful, a member of her church communion and an all-round well mannered person. Add that to the fact that he had never indicated that he found her career in IT to be too consuming of her time and attention, he was a discovered gem. So why could she not work up some enthusiasm at the prospect of spending the rest of her life with him. It just felt like something she should do, rather than something that she just had to do.

She had had a front seat with all the trimmings when her friend Halima had been courted and had married her heartthrob and she would be a liar if she did not admit, at least to herself, that she wanted that for herself. Love with all the trimmings. She scoffed at the ridiculousness of her thoughts.

“I hope the ideas are not so bad. They looked okay to me if for a little tweaking here and there.”

She turned back in surprise and felt her breathe suspend again. ‘This is ridiculous!’ she mentally berated herself.

“Did you want something else?” she asked as she paused at the door of her office. He was standing so close to her that Ekanem was certain that it was his breath she could feel stirring the small hairs on the back of her neck.

“Ah…ah…” he seemed to only just realize that he had passed the door to the office he shared with two other team members.

“I’ll just…” he pointed back to his door and jogged lightly back towards it. He tossed her a small discomfited smile and went in through it letting it shut behind him. Ekanem thought she heard a small thud against the door but she could not be sure what the sound was as it was immediately followed by the mumble of conversation.

She stood in her spot a few moments longer torn between hilarity and angst.

How was it that this totally unsuitable ‘boy’ would have all her hormones crying out while the eminently suitable Jidenna hardly got them warm?

I am ridiculous!’ she mumbled to herself as she stepped into her office and slammed the door behind her.



“Guy! This your game is going nuclear o! Come and see! You are almost hitting one million downloads in just over a week!” Curtis exclaimed as soon as Steven shut the door behind him.

Steven banged his head on the door behind him as he struggled to get over his embarrassment.

‘He had actually stuttered like the little boy she thought he was!’

“Wetin dey worry this one?” Afam, the third occupant of the office space asked. “Dem dey give you good news and you resemble person wey wan cry, how far?”

Steven shook his head and pulled his tall frame from the door.

“Guy, no be that one dey do me now.” He said as he pulled out her seat with more force than was necessary and slumped dejectedly into it.

Curtis threw him a sly look and chuckled. “That was Miss Ekanem’s voice out there then?”

Afam huffed out a breath and threw his arms up in exasperation but said nothing.

Steven threw Curtis a nasty glance. “What if it was? Stop with all those your snide comments. I’m not in the mood right now.” He shifted his mouse to awaken his screen and began to type out his password.

“I can’t understand.” Afam began. Steve waited for him to continue and when he did not, he threw him a questioning glance.

“This your...crush abi fascination abi obsession with Miss Ekanem. How far?” Afam had a frown of confusion on his face as he asked.

Steven shook his head and continued working on his computer.

“Steve sef does not know what is happening to him.” Curtis said laughingly as he too continued fiddling with his computer.

Afam continued to look at Steven expectantly. Steven shrugged his shoulders at him still saying nothing.

“You just like her? Why her?” When Steven gesticulated like he was about to respond, Afam held up his hand and continued. “Okay. But really, of every girl out there…I’m not saying she isn’t cute because she is. But she’s quite a bit older than you are you know. Do you have some kind of Oedipus complex thing going on, do you think?”

Steven slammed his hand against his desk and swung his chair away from it.

“Guys, if you are going to rib me like this, I’d rather we can it until a day I can tolerate it.”

Both Afam and Curtis turned concerned looks on each other and turned as a man to face Steven as he sulked in his seat.

“What happened? Did you mess up the papers somehow?” Curtis asked.

Steven rolled his eyes. “That would have been preferable.” He pushed his seat back towards the desk and woke his screen again.

“What I did was stutter like a school boy!” he muttered as he continued with his work.

Afam and Curtis were silent for a bit before Curtis burst into laughter while Afam still wore a confused look on his face.

“Stutter? How do you mean?” he asked.

Steven sighed and looked at him. “I stuttered over my words as I was speaking with her. What is so hard to understand about that?” he asked, exasperated.

Afam’s frown cleared and was replaced with a look of mild amusement as clarity dawned.

“Nothing now.” He shook his head and went back to his work. After a few minutes of quiet, he suggested. “Maybe you are trying too hard.”

“Afam! Don’t even encourage him! Which one is ‘he is crushing on Miss E?’” Curtis reprimanded.

“As he is crushing? Let’s see if we can help the guy. Maybe if he’s able to get her, his eyes will clear, the itch will stop and he’ll be able to settle down and look for what he wants to do with his life.”

Steven sighed, got up from his chair and moved towards the door.

“Where are you going to again? You are yet to pass this matrix you were supposed to have given me this morning o!”Curtis called out.

“I just sent it in.” Steven responded as he slammed out of the office. He stalked to the rest room at the end of the corridor and stormed inside breathing heavily.

‘Okay Steven, no need to go crazy.’ He tried to calm himself down but his head was buzzing with embarrassment, humiliation and anger. Why was it so impossible that he could genuinely admire? Alright, this was beyond admiration.

He shook his head and rubbed his hand over his face as if it would make for more clarity in his mind.

‘What to do Steven?’ he asked himself. Afam in his usual way had made a lot of sense. Perhaps, if he had a chance with her, he would be able to get over his attraction for her and move on to…his guts clenched at the thought. It just did not sit well with him.

He had never felt this way about anyone before so he had no reference point. He had no friends who had ‘fallen in love’ before so he did not trust their advice. Because he was afraid, gut-clenching afraid that that was what he had gone and done.

He had gone and fallen in love with his boss, his older and disinterested boss.

CHAPTER 2

Ekanem sat in the booth at the fast food restaurant fiddling with her phone. She had been trying to beat the same level for the last nine tries and she was hanging on to her patience by a very thin thread. She let out an exasperated gasp as her last chance at success on this try slipped past her. The boom and accompanying dirge of defeat made her want to toss the phone hard on the floor and stomp on it.

She heard a chuckle as her friend Lisa slid into the booth across from her.

“You should see the look on your face. You look like a five year old about to throw a tantrum.”

“I feel like a five year old about to throw a really big tantrum. This level has me stumped!” she bit back.

“I should have known you were playing one of those your games. Are you testing out this one too?” Lisa asked as she turned to look at the display of meals available on the electronic board behind her.

“I wish!” Ekanem exclaimed as she took a little sip of her drink through her straw.

Lisa turned back to her with a corked eyebrow.

“This game is blowing up really big! And you know what I found out? The developers have a few other games on too, not as intense as this one is, but really good! And they are apparently a team from here! Isn’t that just mind boggling? I really need to find out who they are. It would be such a coup if we could work something…Why are you staring at me like that?” she asked her friend when she noticed the incredulous look on her face.

“Was I beginning to rap on and on again?” she asked laughingly when Lisa just continued to stare at her.

“Yes, you were.” Lisa answered with a wry, sarcastic twist to her mouth.

Ekanem laughed and said, “Okay. Let’s order so that the food can shut me up.”

“You know that if you start with all that your computer gibberish, I’ll just get up and leave you here on your own to t…”

“I’ve said we should get food now o! So that my gibberish will stop and you’re now the one yapping. I’m not Anthonia for you to scold incessantly o!” Ekanem’s smile became wider as her thoughts perched on her adorable, vibrant and entirely-too-charming-for-her-own-good goddaughter.

“How’s she anyway?” she inquired as both friends stood to go up to the counter and place their orders.

“Fine.” Lisa answered with a dry look that Ekanem recognized.

She smiled at her friend and said, “You know she gets it from you.”

“And what exactly is it that she has gotten from me?” Lisa queried dryly.

“Whatever it is that put that look in your eye!” Ekanem smiled.

“Let’s eat. I’m famished.” Lisa circumvented with a responding smile.

“Naughty woman.” Ekanem chided.

“Hmm! Pot calling kettle black.” Lisa threw back.

They placed their orders and were asked back to their seats to wait for their meals.

As they sat back down, they began to chat about sundry things.

“So how is Jidenna?” Lisa asked with a teasing smile.

“He’s fine.” Ekanem quipped.

“Hmm. He’s fine. You this girl.” Lisa chided.

“What? He’s fine!”

“How is your relationship with him progressing?” Lisa picked her words slowly like she was talking to a retarded person.

“It’s progressing well enough.”

Lisa shook her head. ‘You don’t…you’re just not that into him.” she surmised.

Ekanem shrugged dismissively. “What does that matter? The ones I was that into, how did those work out?”

Lisa sighed but refrained from commenting as their meal arrived and was served. After the waitress left, she picked her plastic fork and cast a contemplative glance at her friend.

“What would you want in a man?” she asked in conversational tones.

Ekanem cast a startled glance at her and picked up her own piece of cutlery. When it became apparent that Lisa expected a response of sort from her, she shrugged in bewilderment.

“What do people usually want in a guy?” she repeated.

“No. What do you want in a man?” Lisa stressed. “Not what everyone wants, what you want in a man.”

“Haba! Lisa! I don’t really know! He should be God-fearing I guess.” Ekanem exclaimed, discomfited by the questions.

“Have you ever really given it some thought? Like, if God were suddenly to give you options, gift wrapped and all, what would you use as a yardstick? Who would you choose?”

Ekanem squinted at her friend in bewilderment. “Are you trying to imply that I don’t know what I want in a man?”

“Do you?” Lisa challenged.

“Yes! I do! That I have never drawn up a list doesn’t mean that I can’t recognize a man that I admire when I see him!”

“Babe, we are not talking admiration. We are talking about the possibility of a lifetime. Admiration doesn’t cut it.”

“So I shouldn’t admire the man I should want to spend the rest of my life with?”

“Hah! Who has said so now? I am saying that you should admire him and then so much more!” Lisa remonstrated.

“Liz, you know that this topic doesn’t end well when we start on it. Abeg, drop it. When I see a man that I want to commit to, I will know him.”

“Will you?”

“Of course!”

“You know, he may just be right there in front of you but with your nose stuck in a computer or any one of those your devices, how would you see him?”

“So now you are telling me that my dedication to my career is also my problem.”

Lisa made a dismissive wave of her hand and quipped. “Girl, your issues are plenty.”

Ekanem felt the sting of hurt glaze her eyes with tears which she rapidly blinked away.

“I hear you Lisa. I hear you. I will make a list to present to you for approval at your earliest convenience.” She said dejectedly.

“Aww Sweetie! Don’t be like that now!” Lisa cajoled. “You know I love you that much. It’s just…you know…I want you to settle down. I know you love your career and all that but you have so much more to give! I don’t want you to miss out on marriage and kids and grandkids, the works, because you are not paying attention.” She sermonized.

Ekanem nodded her head distractedly partly mollified by her words. She shoveled a forkful of food into her mouth and was surprised by the feel of Lisa’s fingers on her chin and the slight pressure they exerted to bring her gaze back to her.

“Come on. Let’s not fight about it. We got together to catch up not quarrel about your man issues.” Lisa rolled her eyes.

Ekanem felt a giggle threaten to escape her lips and ruthlessly tamped it down.

“You know you love me!” Lisa continued in a singsong voice and Ekanem struggled to hold in her laughter.

“Come on let it out. I love you too.” Lisa said with a widening grin and Ekanem felt and heard the laughter spill forth from her mouth. She laughed until there were tears in her eyes and still she struggled to control her mirth. Lisa looked on with an amused and fond gaze.

“Later you will say you don’t know how Tonia is the way she is! Hah!” Ekanem teased as she dabbed at the tears with her paper napkin.

Lisa shrugged her shoulders delicately. “She has to resemble someone. Might as well be me.”

Ekanem shook her head in fond exasperation and dug into her meal with gusto.

CHAPTER 3

Steven stared at the message on his phone in surprised consternation.

He was tempted to call his bankers just to confirm that the amount was correct but the e-mail he had received from the vendors he used negated the need for that.

He was a millionaire in double digits.

He guessed it should not have surprised him so much. When one worked at something as diligently as he had at perfecting this game, one should expect positive results.

It was how positive that had him in shock.

He had created games in the past. This was by no means the first, even second or third game he had developed and distributed via this same vendor. He had no clear idea why this time it had blown up the way it had. Sheer dumb luck or heavenly favour? He supposed his mother’s prayers were finally taking.

His concentration on the message was broken by an incoming call alert. He picked it up on first ring.

“Hey!” he answered. The line was silent for a heartbeat and then her voice floored him through the phone.

“Hello? Is this Steven?”

“Yes it is.” He sat up straighter on his sofa and stared at the watch on his wrist.

“This is Ekanem.”

“I know that.” He said, forcing his voice to be steady.

“I’m…hope I’m not interrupting your evening.”

“No! No, not…I hope everything is alright?” he asked, scrambling for composure.

“Yes, yes. There…it’s nothing really. It’s just that there is this game that I would like you to look at with me. I understand the developers are here in this country and I thought with the links we have in IT here, we could do something with them. I’ll send you a text with the link to the game so you can have some ideas before tomorrow. You know, for a chat.”

For some reason, Steven felt that she was not quite herself as she spoke.

“Sure. I’ll look at it this evening.” He assured.

She bid him a good evening to which he responded likewise and then he cut the connection.

A short while later, a pinging sound announced the arrival of an SMS. He opened it and scrolled to the link she had sent. A feeling of half anticipation and dread began to flow through his veins as he clicked on the link.

When the page to which the link sent him opened up, his breathe whooshed out and he was not sure whether relief, dread or anticipation had won out.

It was his game. She wanted to talk about his game with him.

He could barely sleep that night. He flitted from elation to trepidation every twenty minutes. Finally when the light of dawn began to streak across the skies, he pounded his pillow for one last time and began to get ready for work.

He expected that he would be the first person into the office early as it was when the elevator got him up to his floor. He was a little surprised to see the light shining from under the door to Ekanem’s office. The natural light was still dark enough that she would still need additional lighting to see clearly.

He sighed as he hefted his backpack more snugly against him and made his way to his office. He was still putting down his back pack when the scent of her perfume filled the room. He looked up as she came more fully into the room.

“Hey. I wondered if it was you in.” she said by way of a greeting.

“Yeah.” Steven responded as he nodded.

“You look exhausted.” She commented dryly.

Steven paused in the act of booting up his laptop and threw her a disparaging look.

“It’s not just ladies that don’t want to hear that first thing in the morning.” He joked.

She chuckled and came right up to his desk. “So? Did you get to look at the game I sent you a link for?”

Steven rubbed his hand over his face and sat down to wait out his system’s booting process.

“Yeah I did go to the game.” He answered tiredly.

“And?” she asked, leaning forward in barely concealed fervor.

“It seems to be really good. There were a lot of downloads.”

Ekanem threw him a look of disbelief. “Did you try to play the game at all?”

Steven shrugged. “I did.”

Ekanem shook her head agitatedly and all Steven could think about was whether her lips would taste as good as it looked in that plum shade of lipstick.

“Really? It didn’t take with you?”

Steven was so lost in his thoughts that it took him a few moments to process that she was expecting him to respond to her question.

“It did. I’m just wondering what we would have to offer the developers. It’s not actually our particular cup of tea.” He finally responded.

“Well there’s no saying that we cannot branch out. I want to talk some more with the management board about a few ideas but I would need a more concrete plan in place. I’m thinking this could be a great springboard for those ideas.” She postulated.

Steven followed the prompt on his laptop and logged into the company’s network.

“Steven why do I feel like…you are not so excited about this? You’re usually the one who is gung-ho about ideas like this and that’s why I elected to talk it over with you instead of one of the others.” At Steven’s continued silence she continued. “Do you think it’s a bad idea?”

“No. It’s a great idea. If a business does not keep expanding and refreshing itself, it would soon die.” He sounded like he was quoting from some business guide that he had read.

“What’s wrong with it then?” she asked and realized in that moment that she indeed sounded out a lot of her work related opinions and ideas with Steven. Was she inadvertently encouraging his crush on her then by always seeking him out? But she trusted his opinion in a way that she could not truly trust the others. It always seemed to her that he was never being trite with her when she asked for his feedback. She sensed that he, of everyone working in Strategy and Development, was always rooting for her to succeed.

He sighed deeply, bringing her consciousness back to their conversation. She watched him as he struggled with something in his mind and then he seemed to come to a decision.

“It’s good Miss E. Can you just use another game for this springboard thing you’re saying?”

Ekanem corked her head to the side in surprise. “Why? It’s a really good game and the developers seem to be fairly new too, a perfect time to get onboard if we can.”

“I developed that game, and several others besides. It’s not something I want to bring to work.” He gesticulated to convey his hope that she understood what he was trying to say.

He should not have bothered because Ekanem stared at him in mute shock.

“You? Developed Galaxy Adventurers? Aliens? You’re not mixing this up?” she sounded a bit more confused with each question.

Steven shifted uncomfortably on his seat. He felt slightly affronted and at the same time crowed with triumph at the flabbergasted look on her face.

“You think I couldn’t have done it?” he asked affront winning out in his tone.

Ekanem stared at him for a few minutes longer before she answered softly. “I guess I shouldn’t be so surprised.” She admitted and just like that, Steven felt his offended ego deflate. This woman and what she did to him!

“Why did you keep it a secret?” she asked.

“It wasn’t. The guys knew.” Steven answered simply as he began to check through his emails.

“Oh.” Her voice sounded small. Hurt too.

Steven looked up at her and saw the look of forced nonchalance on her face.

“I did not keep it from you.” He explained itching to take her face in his hands and smooth the look of hurt she was trying so hard to conceal, away. “It just hadn’t come up with you before today.”

Ekanem nodded her head and got up to go to her office. Steven squashed the urge he felt to go after her and apologize for a wrong that he was sure he had not done.

“It’s a great idea Miss E. Really.” He said as a parting shot. She nodded and gave a small wave of her hand and closed the door behind her.

Steven sighed. It seemed Fate was conspiring to drive a wedge between him and this woman. Every step he made…

He checked his thoughts right there. He hated to whine about life. Life was good. Fate had treated him better than most.

There was nothing for it. He’d just have to see how things went. If it was meant to be, it would be.’

And with that, he went back to checking his emails.

CHAPTER 4

Ekanem walked despondently into the house. It had been an exhausting day. After her early morning talk with Steven, it seemed like everything had gone from bad to worse.

It had first started as a glitch on a server and with project deadlines looming, it had been a mad rush to get the system backup, up and running seamlessly. Then the ornery task of trying to decipher what had gone wrong with the server and eventually having to rewrite a part of the memory disk on one of the boards. It would still need some work done tomorrow, but for today, the servers were all back online albeit fitfully.

She closed the front door as quietly as she could and took off her heels before carefully making her way towards her bedroom. She really did not want to deal with her aunt today.

She was almost to the door of her room when the door adjacent to it swung open. She yelped in surprise as that room was usually unoccupied.

"I thought I heard someone in the hallway."A voice drawled, spreading instant dread all along Ekanem's spine.

She froze mid-motion and had to make a conscious effort to put her foot back down on the floor and she felt her whole body tilt forward with the strain of the effort it took her to do it. Then, as if in slow motion, the rest of her turned around to confirm with her eyes, what her ears had already deciphered.

"Gavin." Her voice croaked. His mother, her aunt, walked up to the door behind him.

"Ah! Eka! You're back! See who decided to surprise us from the abroad! I almost fainted when I opened the door and it was him!" Her aunt chattered as she shoved her bulk from behind her son into the hallway.

"You are just coming in?" She asked as she eyed Ekanem's shoes which she was holding in one hand and the paraphernalia of her bags.

Ekanem struggled to clear her clogged throat as unobtrusively as she could.

"Yes Ma." She croaked.

"Have you had dinner?"Her aunt asked as she made her way to the kitchen with swaying hips.

Ekanem could barely blink away her terrified gaze away from her cousin's who held it with an amused one of his.

"No Ma."

"Well then, get into your room and freshen up. I made something really delicious to welcome your cousin home." Her aunt called from the kitchen.

"Yes Ma." She answered even as she marveled at how calm and collected her voice sounded to her ears.

She was still staring at her cousin while her heart thudded uncontrollably with fear.

"I was beginning to doubt the veracity of the claim that you lived here." He drawled in an accent that was faintly tinged with some Americana.

Ekanem felt the object clogging her throat grow thicker. 'What should I do?', 'How to get out of this predicament?' Her mind whirled with options.

"What's the matter?" Gavin asked in a smooth amused voice. "Aren't you delighted to see me too?" He drawled.

Something about that question rankled so badly that Ekanem snapped out of the stupor of fear that had held her motionless. She turned abruptly to the door of her bedroom. Just as she made to turn the key in the lock, she felt his overly warm hand clasp her arm just above her elbow. She turned fiercely into him ready to physically attack him if need be. The velocity of her turn slammed her into his chest with a loud smack.

"Waoh! Easy! I just wanted to help with the keys."

"I don't need your help!" Ekanem's voice was brittle with the jumble of emotions roiling inside of her.

"Eka... "

"Don't! Don't even speak my name!" Ekanem whispered fiercely.

Her cousin looked at her with sadness and worry in his eyes.

"Eka," he began and when she stiffened and slapped his hand off of her, he sighed and ran his hand through his artfully disheveled hair.

"It was a long time ago. We we're kids who didn't know better." His voice and his eyes pleaded.

"Speak for yourself!" Ekanem's voice was the painful scratch of nails on the chalkboard. "I know exactly what happened that day!" She fired back at him.

"It's been so long! We're talking over twenty years!" He exclaimed in a bewildered whisper.

Ekanem felt the scab that had been covering the sore wound in her heart peel back violently. She jerked around turning the key in the lock in one fluid motion.

The slam of the door made even her own ears ring but the howl from the other side made it worth her while.

"Idiot!" She fumed, dropping her bags and shoes in a heap around her.

She was too angry to cry, too angry to do anything as mundane as freshen up. Too angry to sit still and so she paced until her feet ached. She was still pacing when her aunt came to the door, turned the handle and finding that it was locked, knocked and announced that dinner was ready.

Ekanem declined joining her and her son for the meal and continued pacing.

She paced until every nerve on both her legs and feet spasmed with exhaustion and when she could no longer pace, she collapsed on the floor, dry eyed still and fell into an exhausted sleep.

CHAPTER 5

Steven strolled out of the elevator and was surprised to see the light shining under the door to Ekanem's office. 'She's really packing on the hours!' he thought.

It was not as if she was not a hard worker, she was, and also one of the most brilliant and organized minds that he had ever encountered, but it was not Ekanem's style to be first in two days in a row, especially not after the last couple of days that they had had.

He contemplated popping into her office to say hello but changed his mind at the last minute.

She had been reserved all through yesterday. Yes, they had worked fluidly together as they were wont to but he had sensed the reserve, a distance between them that had been unusual. Nobody else had seemed to notice it in her manner but then nobody else in this place paid as much attention to her as he did.

He strolled to his desk, offloading his backpack on to it and sitting down on his seat. He held his face in his hands and took a few deep breaths to see if the tinge of hurt in his chest would clear.

That was when he heard the loud crash from her office. In an instant, he was off his seat and through the doors into her office. She was kneeling down in the midst of shards of glass and Steven could see drops of blood on the floor.

He was beside her in a flash, his eyes wide with concern.

"What happened?" he asked briskly, checking her hand to determine the depth of the cut. It was deep but he did not think that it was something a band aid could not handle.

He looked up to her face expectantly and was shocked at how worn she looked.

"What happened?" he asked again in a quieter voice, sensing that something other than broken glass was wrong.

She stared at him silently for a few moments and then blurted out a question that stunned Steven to his marrow.

"Why are you attracted to me?"

Steven stared at her in mute shock. He had not even realized that she knew he was attracted to her. He watched as she recovered her equilibrium and let go when she tugged her hands out of his and stood while trying to straighten out her skirts. As she did so, some blood smeared on her dress and she gasped, seemingly spellbound at the sight of the stain. She was transfixed, not moving at all, barely breathing.

"Miss E?" Steven called but she seemed not to hear him through the haze of what held her bound.

"Ekanem?!" he called sharply and stood to take her in his arms. She shook her head and looked up at him with a lost look like he had never seen in her eyes.

"Are you okay?" he asked. She looked down at her hands wryly in response and he looked down at them too.

"Let's get you cleaned up. I'll call the cleaners to come clean this mess." he said as he steered her towards the convenience.

He was tempted to go in with her but she shoulder checked him.

"You should help me with the cleaners." she said softly. Steven's brow wrinkled. Even her voice sounded off. It was softer, vulnerable even, almost childlike in its cadence. He looked her over with a frown of concern.

"Are you sure that you'll be fine?" he asked.

She smiled wanly. "It's just a cut and a few messy stains." Her voice hiccupped between 'messy' and 'stains'.

Steven nodded even though his frown did not dissipate.

"I'll get those cleaners then." he said as she shut the door in his face. He listened as she ran the tap and when he heard her yelp of pain, it was all he could do not to barge in. Instead, he turned around and went to find the cleaners.

He could feel his heart beating very fast and the beginning of a headache starting at the corner of his eyes.

'What could have happened?' He thought even as he went through the motions of supervising the cleaning of her office.



Ekanem stood staring at her reflection in the mirror. She had long since cleaned her wound and stamped a band aid on it. She had cleaned her dress until she was fairly certain that whatever stain remained would be quite invisible in the patterned material of her dress but still she stood staring at her reflection.

She looked into her eyes as if she could, if she looked hard enough, make sense of the hurt that still roiled inside her after all this time.

'It was a long time ago.' She heard the echo of her cousin's words in her mind.

'It was a long time ago.' Her mind agreed. So why did it hurt so badly still. She thought she had healed. She had so effectively scabbed over her hurt that she had been certain that she had moved on from it.

A mirthless laugh surprised itself out of her mouth and she slapped her hand over her lips to hold the hysteria back in.

There was a knock on the door.

"Miss E?" Steven called out to her.

"Miss E, are you in there?" he asked.

When Ekanem did not answer, she heard the shuffling of his feet and then saw the handle of the door begin to turn.

"I'm in here." she answered quickly to stop him from turning it fully. This door did not lock like the inner one on the other side of it.

"Are you okay?" he asked again, his concern apparent in his tone.

"I'm fine Steven. I'll be out soon. Did you get the cleaners?"

"They are done." He answered and then shuffled some more at the doorway before walking away. She listened as his steps became fainter and he called out a greeting to one of the other guys, Afam by the sound of it, and then the hall was silent with only the soft whirl of computers that never quite stopped on this floor.

Ekanem sighed as she turned on the tap and washed her hands one more time. She made her way back to her office, pausing at the door to give the room a once over.

The only sign of her mishap was the absence of her favourite mug on her desk. She sighed again and sat down behind the desk leaning her head on the back of her chair.

She remembered with no small mortification the question she had asked Steven.

She could slap herself silly for that lapse in judgment.

'What must he be thinking?'She worried.

There was nothing for it. She was going to have to pretend that it never happened.

That it all never happened.

CHAPTER 6

Steven drummed his long slender fingers on the flat surface of his desk as his ears remained tuned to whatever sound he could decipher from the office next door.

It was gone past eight pm and Ekanem did not seem to be winding up. She had barely stepped out of her office all day, only coming out to use the convenience twice. She had kept up with the rest of them via emails and phone conversations.

Thinking about it, he realized that she had not eaten all day too. Or had she? The thrill of her cell phone interrupted his reverie.

He could hear the distinctive 'Hello' but after that, her voice was jumbled by the dividing wall between their offices. Still, he could hear that she sounded...unlike herself.

She seemed to be stressed by the phone call as her voice became increasingly strained for the duration of the call.

Then he heard 'See you later' and then a loud expulsion of breath.

He could not take it anymore. He walked to her door, gave it a smart rap of his knuckles and pushed it open.

"Hey! Aren't you ready to leave?" he asked in as casual a tone as he could manage.

She looked up sharply from her laptop, a little too sharply.

"Ah..." She looked nonplussed to see him there. "I didn't realize you were still here." she said.

Steven raised a disbelieving eyebrow at her and she sighed.

"Look, I'm not done here yet." she said. "Why don't you head on out? I'll shut down when I'm done." she smiled too brightly at him.

Steven pulled out one of the seats meant for guests and sat across from her. He leaned back and pinned her with a steady look. She returned the look for a bit and then huffed.

"What?"She turned her attention once again to her laptop, refusing to hold his gaze.

"Is something going on with you?" he asked quietly and noticed her shoulders stiffen at his question. After a moment, she made an effort to flex her shoulders surreptitiously.

"Ehm....not sure what you mean." She mumbled and shuffled some papers while readjusting her glasses, the ones that she only wore when she was feeling especially tired.

Steven did not deign to argue with her. He just continued to look at her with his steady, piercing gaze.

She kept up the semblance of working for a few minutes and then she took off the glasses and slammed them on her desk, rubbing tiredly at her eyes.

"Okay. What do I have to do to make you go away? She asked snappishly.

"What's wrong? You haven't eaten all day."

She sighed tiredly. "I had a lot I needed to get done." She smiled wanly at him. "I'll have something to eat on my way...home." She stumbled over the last word.

Steven nodded in agreement to placate her. She seemed distressed to him.

"Are you about done? I could shut down while you head out." he offered.

Ekanem turned an exasperated glare on him and began shutting down her computer. She mumbled as she packed up and Steven was sure that he could make out the words, 'pain in the neck', in her ranting. He was not sure whether to be hurt or alarmed at her behaviour but he decided to hold his peace.

When she was done packing up, she stood and stalked out of her office, flinging a curt ‘good night’ over her shoulder.

Steven stared nonplussed at the door that she had swung shut for a moment and then he shook his head and set about shutting up the office.

When he got out to the second floor of the multilevel car park where the company rented two floors for its staff, he was surprised to see Ekanem's car was still there.

She was bent over, looking down at something in her hand. As he got closer, he saw that it was her phone and her lips were moving even though he could not hear what she was saying.

Suddenly she threw her head back jerkily and froze in surprise when she saw him standing there looking at her. She gave him a small cheery wave and threw down her phone on the passenger's seat with unwarranted angst.

Steven walked up to her window and rapped on it, motioning for her to wind it down.

"Are you having car problems?" he asked.

"No. No it's not that." she babbled with a discomfited smile on her face.

In that moment, an unlikely thought popped into his mind.

“Do you need a place to crash?” he asked.

Ekanem looked at him in surprise and nodded.

Steven felt like cheering even as his concern ate deeper into him.

“Do you need to get anything at your place?” he asked sounding slightly confused. Ekanem shook her head.

“Alright.” Steven said as he straightened from her window. He rattled off his address and directions as best as he could.

“Just follow behind me… Or you could leave your car here and hitch a ride with me?” he offered.

Ekanem paused to think for a scant moment.

“Let me just get my other bags.” She said as she opened the door and stepped out of her car. After she had retrieved her handbag, her laptop bag and an overnight bag from the trunk of her car, she activated the lock and followed him to his.

Steven unlocked the car and took her laptop and overnight bag from her to stow it at the back of his car. By the time he came round to the driver’s side, she had gotten in the passenger’s seat and strapped on her seat belt.

Steven watched her silently as she settled in and took her shoes off before leaning into the soft leather seat of his car. She turned a questioning glance on him and he started up the car and smoothly slid out of the parking slot.

“Thanks for the offer.” She said. “You know, if it would be too much of a bother, you could drop me off at a good hotel.”

Steven did not respond as he navigated the busy streets. It was a Friday and the weekend revelers were out in full swing. She gazed absentmindedly out the window as the lights of the city passed by and was a bit surprised to see that they were turning into a fast food court. She turned to look at Steven just as he turned to look at her.

“You haven’t eaten all day and I don’t have anything readily prepared at home.”

“Oh.” Ekanem’s voice came out in a self conscious whisper. “You shouldn’t have bothered.”

“I’m hungry too.” He interrupted. Ekanem sighed. She did not like to sound ungrateful, especially when he was being so nice and thoughtful.

“Sure. Can we take it away though?” she asked as she unbuckled her seat belt and scrambled out of the car.

Steven shrugged. “Why not? If that’s what you prefer.”

She nodded and they walked into the restaurant together.

As Steven drove them the rest of the way to his house, his mind churned with all the reasons he could think of for her needing a place to crash tonight. She did not speak much about her family but he knew she stayed with relatives as her family was back east. ‘Why?’ the question rang in his head.

It was a short while later when he turned the car into his compound and shut off the engine. He handed her his keys and pointed her in the direction of his front door while he got the bags.

When they entered, he locked up behind them and turned on the lights. He could not help but feel a sense of pride as Ekanem ran her eyes around his living room. His apartment was very well furnished, even if he did say so himself.

“Exactly how successful is this your ‘side business’?” she asked with wry amusement in her voice.

Steven chuffed out a laugh and carried her bags through to the guest room while Ekanem followed more slowly, looking about her as she went.

He opened the wardrobe and dropped her bags in it before shutting the door.

“This is the guest room. It’s yours for as long as you need it.” He said as he walked back out the door. “I’ll just set dinner up.” He smiled and shut the door behind him.

As he picked up the bags of food that they had gotten from the fast food restaurant and sauntered into the kitchen, he felt like breaking into dance. Ekanem was in his home! At the same time, the intense gratitude in her eyes that she had tried unsuccessfully to hide from him had him worried.

‘Why did Ekanem need to run away from home so badly?’ he wondered.

CHAPTER 7

“Miss E?”

Ekanem jolted awake. She had been having a disturbing dream where she had been naked and frantically looking around for a hiding place while Gavin and all their cousins had been laughing and maligning her.

“Miss E?”

She sighed tiredly as she remembered where she was, in the guest room in Steven’s house. He had been a wonderful host, far more accommodating than she had thought a bachelor would be.

“I’m awake.” She called and rolled off the bed to stand on her feet. She walked sleepily to the door and pulled it open. As tired as she had been the previous evening, she had forgotten to lock the door as had been her habit in the days since she had bunked here.

When her sleepy eyes adjusted to wakefulness, she was jolted further awake by the sight of the smooth, ripped skin of Steven’s chest. As soon as her brain registered the fact that she was staring slack-jawed at Steven’s chest, her eyes hurriedly made the journey up to his face. She was certain that if she was the kind to blush, her face would be fire engine red right about now.

There was a banked amusement in Steven’s eyes as he looked at her.

“Good morning. I trust you slept well.” he greeted.

It was then that Ekanem registered that he was wearing running shoes and he was a bit sweaty.

“Good morning. Did you just come from a run?” she asked surprised. She had never really given any thought to it before now, but as fit a specimen of male as Steven was, it made sense that he would be an active person.

“Yes I did and I was a bit concerned when I noticed you hadn’t gotten out of bed. You have been sort of moping these last few days.” He said as he looked over her features, searching for something.

“Oh!” Ekanem answered, again surprised and humbled at how much attention he had apparently been paying to her. She had tried not to let her mood spill over to others and had thought she had succeeded spectacularly. Work had not suffered in her estimation and no one was the wiser about her inner turmoil. Also, because Steven had the tendency to be among the first into the office every day, she doubted that anyone had really noticed that they tended to arrive and leave together albeit in different cars. At least, she hoped no one had. It would not do for the gossips to get started on conjectures about that.

“Let me…brush my teeth” she felt the embarrassment colour her, “And I‘ll get breakfast started.” She stammered as she backed into the room.

Steven’s eyes lit up at the mention of her preparing breakfast. “Don’t put yourself out. I take things more slowly on the weekends.” He bantered as he watched her retreat back into the room.

“I’ll be right out.” Ekanem mumbled and shut the door. Now that she no longer had his probing, searching eyes on her, she noticed that her erratic breath was slowing evening out. ‘Fancy that! He now makes you breathless.’ She scolded herself mentally. ‘What is the matter with you?’

It seemed that Gavin’s return had messed up more than her peace of mind. Apparently, her previously comatose libido was going into overdrive too.

‘Dear God, what does that say about me?’ she worried. Was she mentally ill and did not know it?

She hurriedly brushed her teeth and was about to rush out of the room when she was struck by her image in the mirror. She had actually answered the door in just her nightie. She had not even thought to tie a wrapper talk less of her robe around her. As she stared at the image she cut, she noticed that like most soft, overly washed cottons, her night gown was slightly transparent and she was not wearing any under wear. She rarely wore those to bed.

“Oh Lord!” she groaned as she went back to pull a pair of panties from the wardrobe and tie a wrapper around her bosom before leaving the room.

Steven was already in his tidy kitchen when she walked in. He was filling a kettle with water at the sink and humming a song that she did not quite recognize.

“So what would you like for breakfast?” she asked in her best breezy voice. “I got a few things yesterday as I came in.”

“Yeah, I noticed. You didn’t have to though.” He smiled as he turned from putting the kettle to boil to look her over. His eyes noted her wrapper and a faint smile touched his lips. He had a surprisingly nicely shaped mouth. Manly, firm but lush. Ekanem almost slapped her forehead silly for noticing.

“It was the least I could do.” Her voice came out as a breathy whisper. She cleared her throat rather noisily and asked again. “So?”

“So?” Steven parroted with mild confusion.

“What would you like for…?”

“…Breakfast? Right. Surprise me.” He smiled enigmatically and turned back to get a mug and spoon out from the cabinet above the sink.

Ekanem drew a long, hard breath. “Okay. How do you like omelets and toast? Or would you prefer… Okay. I’ll surprise you then.” She walked into the kitchen but tried to avoid the sink area where he seemed to have planted himself as he watched her, a considering expression on his face.


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