“I can’t believe you read my books,” Stacey murmured into Richard’s neck for the umpteenth time, smiling at the notion and feeling as special as Richard always made her feel.
They lay entwined on Richard’s bed, lazily talking about silly things, their relationship having increased in intensity over the month they’d been seeing each other.
Richard chuckled, his voice sounding low and sexy and the resulting vibrations on his chest sending pleasurable thrills coursing through Stacey’s body.
She could never have believed she would have ended up being this close to Richard. Sometimes she was terrified that it was too good to be true and that she was hanging precariously at the periphery of disaster just waiting to happen…because, it surely was abnormal for her to be this happy with him.
“It made me feel closer to you and I enjoyed it the seven times I read both of them. You’re brilliant,” he said and kissed her temple, while his hand caressed her shoulder and arm.
“It’s romance, guys don’t generally like romance,” she pointed out, raising her head from his chest to look at him.
“Okay, Stacey,” he said with a mock frown as though he was about to reprimand a naughty child. Stacey giggled, causing a smile on his lips, “First of all, your novels aren’t pure romance, the first one with the magic was scary the first time I read it,” Richard huffed at this point and she dissolved into hysterical giggles.
His heart melted at the sight of how beautiful she was; her giggles were exactly like the ones he’d enjoyed as a teenager.
Helplessly, he leaned down and captured her mouth in a searing kiss that easily elicited a groan of pleasure from deep, down his soul. I love you, he thought, wishing desperately that he could tell her, but they still had a long way to go.
He saw it in her eyes that she had doubts and Richard was making it his mission to clear those doubts, no matter what it took.
Stacey moaned, humming in her throat as her leg crawled up his hip, effectively aligning the front of her house shorts against the swelling fly of his sweatpants.
Just as things were heating up, Richard’s phone rang. They ignored it the first time, Richard frowning as he deepened the kiss, not wanting to let go. But the caller persisted, twice more, so he had no choice but to pick it.
The pleasure of that kiss hummed through out her body as was usual whenever their lips touched. If she was truthful, her whole body hummed whenever Richard was close by; she feared her body recognized his presence and went on alert when he happened by.
Once, she’d almost embarrassed herself when Richard had visited and her parents had been around. Richard had surreptitiously caressed her thigh when he’d walked by and she’d moaned, then tried belatedly to cover it with a cough.
Her father had been oblivious, while Wana had given them a knowing look but said nothing. She had even walked up to Stacey and pounded her back to help curb the cough.
Stacey smiled, her mind far off in that memory while her body trembled from the intense emotion coursing through her veins. She hadn’t been listening to his call, but she was aware when he ended it, because he was promising the caller that he’d be there in a jiffy.
Turning to him on the bed with a pout, “You’re going out,” she stated and he nodded with a regretful look.
“I won’t be long though. One of my colleagues just came off shore and he has a letter from one of the superiors for me,” he said, while pulling on a t-shirt over his sweatpants.
Stacey grinned, wiggling her eyebrows at him, “Big boy,” she hailed, affecting the Lagos street accent, “You’re rubbing shoulders with white men,” and Richard laughed so hard he coughed as he grabbed his car key from the table.
He crawled on the bed and knelt over her as she fell to her back still grinning mischievously at him. His eyes roamed her face tenderly, “God, Stacey, you make it hard to leave you,” he murmured feelingly while leaning down to take her lips in a soft, sweet kiss.
“I’ll take that as a compliment,” she murmured back with a smile.
With a smile he lifted his left wrist and checked his watch, “This is 11:20 am, I promise to be back before noon,” he kissed her again and then hurried off.
She missed him instantly. Stacey lay there listening to the sound of his car fade away, then after a minute of sulking, she decided to wash out their breakfast plates.
That took two minutes to complete. Then she used his tile broom to sweep the kitchen and then decided she had to sweep the room too.
After that she straightened the bed and carried her published novels, the ones that Richard had read more than seven times, from the bed, intending to arrange them on his table.
A torn envelop slipped from one of the voluminous novels to the floor. She bent and picked it and her eyes caught the address on the back, it was from Richard’s work place.
Curiously, she pulled out the letter, humming a tune in her throat as she read it. Her eyes widened, the tune ceased and just to be sure, she reread the letter and then she gave herself the permission to hyperventilate.
RICHARD SHUT THE FRONT door, hurrying towards the room, towards his girl, with a self congratulatory grin, “I made it back before noon…” but the words trailed off when he noticed the empty bed.
His eyes immediately shifted to the corner she’d placed her bag and found it empty. He frowned and wondered where she’d gone to without calling him.
Wiping out his phone, he dialed her number, and while it rang endlessly, reminding Richard of a not too far memory of her not picking his calls and the pain that accompanied it, his eyes found the letter and he understood.
“Shit!” he exploded and raced out of his house, jumping into his car and zooming off. It took him seven minutes to make the usual twenty minutes ride to her house.
He parked haphazardly outside the gate and was glad the security man unlocked the small gate before he was out of his car. The man was probably curious about the person driving crazily in front of his domain.
Richard offered a hasty hello to the man and hurried into the compound, making a beeline for the front door. Luckily for him, it was unlocked, he barged in with no fear of encountering one of the adults; Stacey’s dad would be at work with PJ and Wana would be at her boutique and Tony at school.
Hurrying through the house, he made for her room and though he was expecting to find her upset, he wasn’t expecting the debilitating sight that greeted him.
Stacey was frantically parking a bag…her very big bag, which only meant she was traveling; the tears drenching her cheeks meant she was leaving…again.
Richard couldn’t have stopped the ragged sob that tore from his throat even if he’d tried. “Stacey, please…” he moved into the room, intending to hold her still, but she dodged his reaching hands, flew into her wardrobe and returned with a handful of cloths to dump in her bag.
“Stacey, I can explain. It’s not what you think…baby…” his heart hurt as though it was being scraped with a rake.
Finally she stopped moving, took a deep breath and pinned him with a ferocious stare, “Why; was it because of me?” her voice cracked towards the end, almost causing her to cry.
He stood there helpless, towering over her but feeling small when she stared at him like that and he wondered what to answer. He was in a fix, if he said he’d ignored the call for under water training abroad because of her she would throw a fit, because she really wanted the best for him.
If he said it wasn’t because of her, he really couldn’t come up with an apt excuse why he’d ignored the letters.
Hopelessly, he told the truth, “You have to let me explain, Stacey,” he begged.
She shook her head in disappointment, “Explain what, exactly?!”
“That a grand opportunity, the one that would shoot you to the apex of your career had been relegated to the burner because…”
“Because you are my grand opportunity, Stacey!” he completed her sentence with the most sincere expression that he hoped communicated the fact that without her, all else was nothing.
Her heart stuttered and then begun beating rapidly again. Silence engulfed the room, tension was as thick as several pounds of raw beef and fear was so palpable, Richard was sure he could taste the bitterness of it at the tip of his tongue.
This was that precipice she’d been terrified of; she hung off it in that moment with just a couple of fingers, knowing that the wrong word would send her falling into the debilitating abyss of not having Richard as hers.
“But I don’t want to be like you; I would never hold you back from…”
“Jesus, Stacey, you’re not doing anything!” he cut off her sob, walking towards her but she retreated, causing him to stop his momentum; it pained him that she retreated from him.
“This isn’t the first time you’re displacing priorities,” she accused, her eyes reminding him of the fact.
“Finally we talk about five years ago. I apologized countlessly about that…”
“It’s not about the apology but your priorities.”
“Look Stacey, you made a choice five years ago, and even though I was blinded by hurt, I was a youth who felt he knew everything, I’ve come to realize it was simply your choice to go to a far away university.”
“I was selfish and thinking only of having you to myself, hoping to finally date you, but when you so casually mentioned going away, I saw nothing else but my best friend abandoning me …I was a stupid kid, but I understand now,” his voice broke here but he continued. “This is my choice and I feel you should respect it.”
“It is a huge opportunity, Richard! And why didn’t you tell me, if you really thought I should respect it? You knew I wouldn’t let you avoid it, you knew I wouldn’t agree with your choice,” she accused, and each accusation feel like blocks of stone landing on his already bruised heart.
Richard was losing her again without fighting enough. Of course, she was right, he’d known she would never hold him back but he’d known with him gone more than two weeks and as far away as overseas, she would have the window to widen her doubt about their relationship and he didn’t want that.
He sighed wearily, “I wanted to attend the one slated for later this year,” he explained tiredly and rubbed a hand on his face, his heart bleeding already because, subconsciously, he knew he’d lost.
“I’m not a child, Richard, the letter I read was the third reminder and the man promised to send a forth one if you didn’t accept…” then she gasped, her eyes widening in realization, “The letter you went to get…that was the forth reminder, wasn’t it?” she sounded hurt, more hurt than earlier.
Why couldn’t she see that he was fighting for them? Why couldn’t she understand that his priorities were actually right? She was important to him; he was actually telling the truth about the overseas training, there was another slated for later in the year.
His boss was only anxious for Richard to attend the one happening next week, just so he would act as Richard’s sponsor before his retirement next month. He was that brilliant and for his boss to sponsor Richard’s overseas training meant recognition to his boss by the company owners for discovering such outstanding brilliance in the company.
But he couldn’t tell her that, she already doubted him. And he didn’t know which hurt most, her doubt or her blindness to the fact that he loved her and couldn’t live without her.
Reluctantly, he nodded to her dismayed question and she sobbed more.
“I want you to go for the training,” she whispered, her eyes wide and peering at him as though he wore a scary mask; she dreaded what his reply would be.
Richard scoffed, clearly hurt, “And will you, dear Stacey, wait for me? Will you cease to doubt? Will you stop judging me for something that happened five years ago? Answer me honestly,” he sneered, his brow lifted in expectation.
Stacey shook her head and looked away, she couldn’t answer him honestly, her thoughts were completely jumbled and uncertain. Richard was a young guy with the brightest future before him. He was handsome and he could get any woman he wanted, women better than herself. She just couldn’t believe that he wanted her like that, maybe he was mixing up feelings of their friendship and the intense guilt of what had happened five years ago; she didn’t want to believe and then be surprised and pushed away…again.
Richard felt let down. He had honestly thought that he’d been making progress with her; he had desperately and stupidly hoped that he’d be able to convince her to stay, this time, forever.
At her blatant rejection of what they shared, fury suffused his heart. The old insecurities of his past surfaced, Richard panicked…he would never be good enough for her. Despite all he’d valiantly accomplished, he’d never be good enough for her and so he lashed out…
“So, you’re running back to Lagos to take up that position at the paper you’ve been putting off while having your fun,” he sneered at her and was hurt too because what he’d said hurt her.
But he didn’t relent even though he was technically stabbing himself as he verbally attacked her. “Finally, you have an excuse to do what you’ve been wishing. It has to be Lagos, seeing as people back home aren’t sophisticated enough for you.”
“Richie!” she cried out in alarm, pure pain written on her face, because he knew she wasn’t like that, but he wanted to give her hell too for assuming things about him that weren’t true.
“You should know though, we’ve been fucking like jack rabbits for over a month and more than a couple of times, we’ve done it without protection. If you’re carrying my child, Lagos would not be far enough for you to run,” he said with an evil smile, his eyes shinning with the knowledge she had yet to realize.
“What?! Richard…did you plan this…to keep me here?!” she was both dismayed and disgusted and in disbelief. Could he have done it on purpose? And here, she’d thought it’d been the fire of the moment that had caused them to forget protection a couple of times.
He swallowed with difficulty, because he seriously didn’t want to taint their possible baby with dirty words. He didn’t want to make it sound like making a baby with her had been something less than beautiful, something evilly premeditated, but…
It had been the fire of the moment, he hadn’t planned it. Even the words hadn’t been planned, he’d just blurted them out, desperately grabbing at straws in a situation that was unsalvageable, but…
Then there was the anger at her wrong assumptions of him, so he killed himself and agreed to that height of evil she suspected him of, “I might as well accept that I did. Seeing as all your assumptions point at the sterling faith you have in your so called best friend.”
Richard looked defeated; he looked at her one last time, and walked out of her room.
Stacey stood there, his last words echoing in her head as she realized that in her fear she had scrambled to build a wall of defense that only ended up hurting her friend.
She had forgotten that he was her friend first before their deeper relationship and he had remained her friend, except, her fears and doubts and desperate need to protect her heart had wiped out that significant feature of their relationship from her mind.
Realization slammed into her and it was like a physical blow, it weakened her limbs and she crumbled to the floor of her room. What had she done? Should she call him back?
But how would she convince him that she hadn’t meant the accusations she’d flung at him? How could she make this better? Uncertainty warred with guilt in her heart, she wanted to apologize and repair what they’d shared and she also wanted him to go for his training.
This time their separation was solely her fault and she was ashamed that she could fall so low. She that had taken a high moral ground five years ago and had ended up doing the same thing now but worse.
Fixing it currently looked daunting, Richard might not even want to talk to her anyway, just like she’d refused to talk to him five years ago; she sighed brokenly, it just felt easier to do nothing.
DUCT SEASON 4 continues
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