At 10:30pm, Richard had become curious about what was so intriguing that the adults, even Morgan, crowded around the kitchen window, staring outside.
He got up and made his way towards the kitchen but was accosted by the only child not asleep, Tony, Wana’s son. Richard groaned, wondering if the little guy ever rested and picked him to put on his shoulder.
When they got to the kitchen, he had to peek through the open door to find Uncle Ebong and the fine lady, Cecil, standing some distance away, having what looked like a really heated conversation.
Richard frowned, what could have happened in the small time he’d taken a break from tumbling with the children to taking a dump? Did the older people know each other? Because he was sure if this was a first time misunderstanding, the adults would have stepped in and Uncle Ebong, who was more like a very cool grandfather, would have made peace before it morphed into trouble.
There was probably history here and if he’d still been having phone conversations with Stacey, a thing he sorely missed and had become a barrier to having any fulfilling relationships, he would have investigated the story, just so he’d enjoy retelling Stacey. Apparently, their family was still going through drama which had become tradition.
Not understanding what was going on and not having the urge to find out, plus Tony was hopping so much on his shoulder it ached; Richard left the kitchen and returned to the calm sitting room.
A movie was showing, he could have enjoyed watching it now that the children were blessedly quiet, but Tony didn’t show any sign of falling asleep.
“Uncle Richie, do horsey,” Tony demanded after playing around for a few minutes by himself. Apparently, with no other children awake, the little dude was bored.
Richard groaned, “I’m tired, Tony,” he begged, and he’d been playing horsey for hours with the kids till the normal ones fell asleep, except the alien Tony.
“I want horsey,” he complained plaintively.
“Serves you right, you should never have introduced that kind of game to him. Maybe to the other kids but not Tony,” PJ said as the adults trickled back into the sitting room from the kitchen, obviously the drama was over.
“The little guy is crazier than his mom,” PJ added in an aside.
“I heard that,” Daniel said while walking pass into the room area.
Richard chuckled, of course Daniel heard, PJ had been whispering loudly. But Tony wasn’t giving up, he hit Richard’s thigh until he capitulated, if only to shut the boy’s whining, and went down on his hands and knees.
Tony immediately squealed in delight and scampered on his uncle’s bent back, where Richard proceeded to crawl about the sitting room, making neighing sounds that reduced Tony to delighted giggles.
“Wana, I hope there’s a special child sedative for Tony, because I can’t do this all night,” he grumbled when Wana finally emerged from the kitchen.
She had been about to answer him, probably with something sarcastic, when the door bell dinged.
“I’ll get it,” PJ announced wearily, leaving where he’d been sitting with his wife, to get the door.
Richard wondered who would be visiting at a few minutes past eleven; was it another new friend he didn’t know about? Because everybody licensed to visit at this time, were already here.
PJ was almost at the door when Tony prompted him, “Move, Uncle Richie,” and he moved, neighing and causing laughter from Wana.
“Take it as penance for staying away so long from home,” Wana said in a chuckle. And Richard had been about to reply her with a grumble that he wasn’t the only person who’d stayed away for so long from home when PJ spoke up.
“Well, look what the cat dragged in,” he exclaimed with a laugh.
“Good evening, Uncle PJ.”
“Good evening, dear, let me help you with that,” PJ offered.
And Richard, when he heard that voice, the one he hadn’t heard in more than five years but still recognized, the same one he’d been longing for, surged up from his kneeling position, hurrying to get a look at the new visitor and convince his pounding heart that it was really her.
He had totally forgotten about Tony on his back, so when he surged to his feet, the boy fell backwards from his back with a terrified shout, mirrored by his mom and the other women who saw it happen.
Luckily for Tony, he tumbled onto the mattress, his only contact with danger was landing awkwardly on Ruth’s leg, making the teenager turn in her sleep.
Wana rushed over and picked up her son, glaring at Richard whose guilt was written clearly on his face.
“Sorry, little man,” he apologized, touching Tony’s head as he cuddled into his mom’s arms and gave him a wide grin.
Wana walloped his upper arm and hissed, “You better not hurt my son because of a woman,” then in the next instant, she was grinning widely and happily, “Stacey, you made it!” and was rushing over to hug her.
Her-Stacey, had also hurried towards Wana with a happy grin too. The hug was awkward with Tony in Wana’s arm, but they managed it. The adults all trooped over to welcome her, Tony had already transferred from his mom’s arms into hers and was holding on tight…the little guy loved his sister, it was obvious, and had missed her.
Probably not in the same way Richard had missed her. His heart soared immeasurably when his eyes caught a glimpse of the brown and pink leather bracelet he’d given her on her thirteenth birthday. She had kept it and was wearing it, there was hope.
He stood where Wana had left him, the whole time Stacey accepted welcomes from everybody, she didn’t turn to him and he couldn’t look away or hide the awe of seeing her after so long or the fact she still wore his tag.
She hadn’t changed much, her height had increased by two inches or three; but she wasn’t exactly the same teenager he’d hurt five years ago, now her curves had blossomed, she was a woman and her maturity shone from her sparkling eyes.
“Don’t let her dad catch you staring at her like you want to devour her,” PJ whispered into his ear and Richard snapped out of his stupefied stare and moved forward.
“Stacey,” Richard said, feeling instantly awkward. How did one greet his best friend after five years of silence, especially when he’d been the one to destroy that friendship?
“Richard,” Stacey said, turning to him with Tony in her arms who finally looked sleepy.
“You guys are worse than a poorly made romance movie,” PJ whispered another aside as he walked by.
Stacey’s eyes widened as did Richard’s and then they both laughed at PJ’s ridiculous comment. They laughed because despite all that had happened between them, they still had this crazy family in common.
Because the adults sat around the sitting room, and seeing as they’d all been interested about Uncle Ebong’s issue with Cecil, even though they appeared to be conversing, Richard knew his reaction to Stacey’s sudden return was being watched.
And so he couldn’t react the way he would have wanted.
“I missed you,” he said under his breath, consciously thwarting the adults’ casual listening.
Stacey looked startled; she hadn’t been expecting that comment from him, nor the intensity with which he said it. Her mouth went dry the moment her heart began thumping, she had no idea what to say to that and was glad when her dad finally emerged from his room with a pleasant smile.
Daniel took her into a hug, kissing her temple and lifting a sleeping Tony from her arms.
“How was your flight?” he asked as he searched for space among the sprawling children on the mattress and laid Tony.
“It was delayed a bit, which is why I got here so late,” she answered wearily, she really was tired but she was also hyper aware of the tension inspiring presence of her former best friend a few feet away.
She had missed him no doubt, but she hadn’t thought he would come right out and say it to her face. Stacey had been thrown back to their budding friendship and the intense emotions he’d been able to evoke in her five years ago.
Emotions that he’d evoked effortlessly, emotions that she had decided to think were just juvenile exuberance; emotions that no other boyfriend had been able to evoke in her.
And yet, here she was again, just standing beside him was messing with her breathing; sparks crackled in her body and she felt as though she was glowing from the inside.
Granted, apparently they had an intense connection, but she wasn’t a teenager any longer. She wasn’t that girl that had thrown caution to the wind and ran after a guy who’d made the decision to break their friendship.
Stacey recalled that he had been the one to clarify that what they’d had, what they’d shared, was beyond mere friendship, but he’d been willing to destroy it, just because of some class distinction she still couldn’t understand.
And then he had called…so many times she’d been tempted to answer just so he’d stop calling, but then, she’d not had anything to say to him, she’d not known how to act with him after what he’d coldly said to her.
Richard had called so much she’d gotten used to expecting the calls. Every time his name appeared on her phone, her heart thumped and she’d be reminded of his mean face and his cold words and she’d force herself to ignore him.
Then the calls had reduced from everyday to once a week and then once a month, specifically on the date he’d broken their friendship. It had taken Stacey five months in a row to realize what he was doing.
Her heart had melted, but by then she’d convinced herself that it was actually better they stayed away from each other, because she would always be from a wealthy background and Richard would always wear his humble background as a shield.
He hadn’t sent any text messages and every time he called on that date, for the past years, she could practically hear him wishing, whispering to her to pick the call.
It had been so surreal, like she could actually hear him whispering to her, how she’d managed not to pick those calls, through those years was beyond her.
Stacey had even put a special ringtone for him, Jordin Spark and Chris Brown’s No Air, because she’d felt exactly that way when he’d told her there was no point to their friendship. It had been five years and though she’d been sure she’d gotten over him, just seeing him now was bringing the feeling back.
“Earth to Stacey,” Wana said fondly, startling Stacey back from her thoughts, she had actually zoned out on her step mother’s excited chatter after she’d wolfed down the plate of noodle that Wana had prepared for her.
“Are you okay?” Wana asked with a serious look; the one that made her confess whatever was bothering her, she had missed that concern, something her biological mother never had for her.
“I missed you, Aunty Wana,” she said instead and sincerely.
Wana smiled knowingly, “I missed you too, Stace,” she said, calling her the nickname she’d given Stacey.
“If you called me Wana, it wouldn’t be bad. Now I understand what PJ meant by not wanting an adult calling him uncle,” Wana said with a chuckle.
“I could, but I don’t want dad going ballistic on me,” Stacey replied with a faux appalled look.
“Yeah, your dad gets shocked easily…just like Debbie,” she murmured and Stacey giggled.
“He’s sorry you know,” Wana said out of the blues and both of them knew who she was referring to.
Stacey wanted to pretend ignorance, but this was Wana, it was always easier to give in than pretend confusion.
So she sighed, finally allowing her fear to show, “He hurt me,” she murmured and Wana nodded, reaching out to touch her hand in comfort.
“He hurt me too; he turned you into this over achiever…you published two novels while still in school, for crying out loud,” Wana joked, happy that the girl could laugh.
“I think that actually has to do with my dad having a publishing house, which he’s expanding into the west, my novels were more like an announcement of his presence.”
“But still, Stace, it’s damn impressive. I was so proud of you, but then I missed having my girl around…and my boy too. Both of you just ran from home. You made us feel like the plague, choosing careers that took you far away from us,” Wana really seemed hurt.
And Stacey itched with the urge to ask what Richard was doing now.
“He’s a dock engineer for a shipping company; sometimes he has to travel to other docks if they have issues that he can solve, but basically, he’s based at Port Harcourt, the main headquarters of the company in Nigeria,” Wana explained, once again reading Stacey’s thoughts clearly.
“I’m impressed,” she whispered in awe, he had really done what he’d determined he’d do. It was an admirable trait but that trait had also facilitated the end of their friendship.
“As was I,” Wana concurred, “I’m so proud of both of you making strong careers for yourselves. How are the book sales?”
“It’s coming along. Not as much as I wanted but not bad either. I’m going to discuss online sales with dad and uncle PJ before I leave though.”
Wana suddenly grabbed her chest as though it hurt, “You break my heart when you talk of leaving minutes after you just landed.”
And Stacey looked instantly apologetic, “For what it’s worth, I’m not leaving soon,” she said awkwardly and Wana smiled at her, making her feel like a child again.
“Wana! It’s 11:45!” PJ called from the sitting room.
Wana rushed out of the kitchen seat, hurrying to the entrance of the kitchen that led to the sitting room and glared at PJ.
“I swear, if you wake those kids, I’ll lock you in a room with them and I don’t mean your daughters,” she whispered fiercely, causing all the adults to laugh.
“Come on Stace, it’s time for the family prayers. Let’s thank God and invite Him into another year. It’s a tradition we’ve inculcated over the years,” she said while moving towards the kitchen door that led outside.
Stacey had just been about to ask why she was heading that way when uncle Ebong climbed into the kitchen behind a classically elegant older lady. Stacey stared, everything about the woman was sleek and she’d never seen that curious expression ever on uncle Ebong’s face.
Oh, there was indeed a story here. Did Richard know about this? Her heart bubbled in excitement at being able to share her suspicion with him, but then she recalled they hadn’t been that way in years.
In the next instant she was worrying; would they ever return to how they’d been? Could they be best friends again?
She pondered on this while she followed Wana into the sitting room. Aunty Debbie had already begun singing praises and the adults all stood around the mattress the children slept on, to include the kids in the prayer without waking them.
Stacey joined the circle, sang the choruses and felt her soul breathing a sigh of relief and praising God in belonging to this family. When the prayers started, they all had to hold hands.
DUCT SEASON 4 continues
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