Inhale…one month, two weeks and a day…exhale.
Inhale…clogging throat; where are you Richard? …exhale.
Inhale…aching heart; stomach gnawing pain…exhale.
Inhale…hot tears, stuffed nose and sobs…exhale.
But she couldn’t sob at a wedding; that would be contrary to the happy atmosphere and she didn’t want to look so pathetic, everybody already pitied her as it were.
Uncle Ebong had hurriedly declared his intension to marry Cecil and he’d done it; sighting that after ‘Fright Night’, he’d realized how short life could be.
Could somebody relay this message to Richard? No, no, no…inhale…don’t think like that, don’t despise him…exhale.
Inhale…think of something else…exhale.
Inhale…blink fast; look around…exhale.
Looking around was all Stacey could do at this wedding and sometimes she managed small smiles, because, inevitably, one had to mingle at a reception. She didn’t have the luxury of the backyard at home or her room, to bawl in freedom.
Her life had become a looping series of inhale and exhale moments as she struggled to curb the heavy sadness that grasped her heart and gnawed on it. The suffocating emotion aimed to overwhelm but she refused it to let it, so…inhale…exhale.
Tightening her hand on her pieced serviette, determined to keep the tears at bay, she looked around the great hall bleakly. Wana and the other women had outdone themselves in planning for this wedding.
Wana took every opportunity she could to celebrate these days. Since the ‘Fright Night’ everyone behaved differently, loved harder and showed concern. Wana even celebrated that Tony’s school went for an early holiday because of what happened on ‘Fright Night’.
Thinking of Tony’s school, her gaze traversed the full hall to find the beautiful Abigail. Wana had adopted her into the family, stating that she needed their support now that she was facing serious challenges in the fight to keep Ahead school open.
Parents were threatening court action to make sure the school closed down permanently, especially, after it’d been revealed that the proprietor was a con man. Stacey didn’t envy the quiet and intelligent woman’s position.
Looking at her now, her lips twisted in a parody of a smile as she recalled Wana bulldozing the shy woman into different dresses until they’d found the perfect one. Wana had said the dress would turn a certain man’s head and she hadn’t lied.
Shaggy had stared inexorably at Abigail the whole wedding and despite her coming to the occasion with the arse-hole doctor, as Wana referred to him, as her date, Shaggy was currently approaching her table with a determined look in his eyes.
Forgetting her own troubles for a little while and not listening to Uncle Ebong’s speech of gratitude, she twisted slightly in her seat and watched as Shaggy practically stalked to her and smiled.
Stacey’s eyes widened when she saw the handsome smile; the man had just been frowning thunderously a second ago, how had he come up with that devastating smile?
She noticed Abigail seemed flustered, she managed a nervous smile and refused to look at Shaggy. Her date, the arse-hole doctor, leaned back with an arrogant smirk on his face.
The man was so annoying, she felt like smacking that smirk from his face and he must have said something to make Abigail turn swiftly to him, she seemed to be insisting on something, but he smiled.
Abigail then huffed, got up, grabbed her purse and left the hall. Shaggy followed her out while the arse-hole doctor sat back unconcerned, looked around and smiled at a group of young, skimpily dressed girls who smiled back at him.
Stacey turned to the stage and noticed that guests, most of them staffs and agents of the DSS, had begun approaching the couple to present their gifts and receive souvenirs.
She was glad she didn’t have to join that throng; Wana had arranged an after wedding party for just family and she’d commanded that their own gifts to the couple be given then.
That the guests were mostly agents or staffs of the DSS didn’t mean that it absolved them from the struggle that usually occurred during souvenir collection. They were human beings after all and everybody loved free gifts no matter their careers.
Though she appreciated not joining that struggle, not in her mostly tired state as the pregnancy left her unbearably sleepy with a heavy dose of ennui; she groaned at the prospect of having to smile and keep a brave mien at the after wedding party happening at the house…at least that was good news, she could sneak back to her room anytime.
When she wasn’t sleeping though, she cried her eyes out in self pity every time she recalled Richard reaching for her and then suddenly retreating as though she would bite.
She had not realized he’d been kidnapped too. Stacey had been so shocked and happy to see his tall, handsome frame stroll out from that passage behind her dad and Wana. She was sure her eyes had glinted with the love she felt for him, yes, she loved him and regretted all the things she’d said to him almost three weeks ago.
Richard had looked up at her, she saw him gasp, his breath instantly changing and she was glad that she wasn’t the only person feeling nervous and anxious.
His eyes had mirrored what she’d been feeling; she’d been sure he loved her, just as Wana and the women had assured, she could see it clearly in that moment that he had always loved her.
Richard had taken an unconscious step towards her and her own pulse had quickened, she’d taken a step towards him too but he’d stopped suddenly. It wasn’t his sudden lack of movement towards her that had been a cause for concern but the visible steeling of his body.
His body, right before her eyes, went rigid, like he was bracing himself for a punch. The light of love she’d seen in his eyes dimmed and when he blinked, it was extinguished. His gaze was blank like he was staring at a stranger.
Stacey vaguely heard Eddy offer Morgan her car keys, the man was anxious to get to the hospital and his wife and new baby. But her eyes remained on Richard, he took a very conscious step back and she frowned in confusion, her heart already crowding with sadness.
“Richie…” she’d whispered and she’d seen him stiffen and swallow with obvious difficulty, he’d fisted his hands determinedly and rushed out of the house, calling after Morgan to give him a ride.
“What just happened?” she’d asked no one in particular and no one had answered her. How could they; when the women there were focused on their just freed husbands.
She hadn’t understood Richard’s reaction, she could have sworn she’d seen the look she had gotten used to in his eyes, the look that had always been there from the day he’d given her that leather bracelet on her birthday. But she hadn’t imagined his cold, blank look either.
For the next two weeks she’d silently questioned herself; had he just realized she wasn’t worth his love? Had he suddenly decided she wasn’t worth his effort? For as long as she could recall, Richard had always been there, supportive, caring, helping when she hadn’t even realized she’d needed help.
And it was the reason it had hurt exponentially when he’d broken their friendship after secondary school. She had felt like an arm had been ripped off her body. And she knew he’d felt worse when she’d doubted him and pushed him away because of her fear.
But could that had made him hate her? Could that had made him not want anything to do with her? Hadn’t he received her voicemail? She didn’t want him to be with her out of some sense of obligation but she at least wanted to see him and talk to him and understand what he was feeling.
By the third week, she’d begun being scared that something might have happened to him. Ani at his house said he hadn’t returned even though work was ongoing at his home; the last time she’d been there, a painter had been prepping to start painting the building.
Ani had informed her that a contractor handled the work and when she’d spoken to the contractor, he’d confessed that plans for the building had already been made and that he hadn’t spoken to Richard for weeks.
Fear had clogged her mind as she imagined him lying somewhere, wounded and helpless. She imagined that he’d been kidnapped again and the sight of his car parked there in his compound only seemed to increase that fear.
The morbidity of her thoughts had moved her to speak with Wana.
She had smiled, “Richard has always been sensitive, he’d become more so as he’d experienced the harshness of living in the street.”
“What has that got to do with him missing…” Stacey had cried desperately.
“He isn’t missing, Stacey…”
“Have you spoken to him then?” she’d asked sharply.
Wana had sighed and quietly said “No.”
“Uncle PJ or Debbie hasn’t either. His contractor hasn’t either; nobody has!” she’d cried hysterically.
Wana had pulled her into her arms in comfort, “I know it hurts right now. I know your heart is burning, you feel betrayed…”
“I just want to see him and apologize for the things I’d said. I just…I need to see and know he’s okay,” she’d cried brokenly on Wana’s bosom. So, she’d felt her take a deep breath as though bracing herself to say something unpleasant. Stacey immediately stepped back from her.
Her eyes looked into that of the woman that had been a real mother to her, with both hope and dread. “You know something,” she’d whispered, “Tell me…mom…please,” tears had dripped down her cheeks and she’d bent her head to the side in blatant supplication, for news…any news about Richard.
Wana had sighed again, “Your dad might have…said some things when they’d been locked up in the kidnapper’s cell.”
The uneasiness in Wana’s eyes had dread squeezing the breath out of her throat. She’d swallowed, choked and managed to ask, “What things?” her heart hammered because she knew her dad, he didn’t get angry easily but when he did, he usually regretted his words.
Tears had glistened in Wana’s eyes then and she’d looked away with a small sob to try and curb it and the whole thing had destroyed Stacey. Wana was also a mother to Richard, more to him than her since she’d been the one to discover him as an abandoned baby and had raised him.
Whatever her father might have said had been terrible for Wana to cry for Richard. Her heart hammered as she waited with bated breath for Wana to compose herself.
“You have to know,” she’d begun, wiping her eyes and swallowing, “PJ told me he’d returned to town that morning and had explained getting your voicemail and he’d been excited about making everything right and had come to him for advice, just before they were kidnapped.”
She’d nodded, that sounded more like the Richard she knew and loved.
“In the cell though, a quarrel had ensued among the guys, they’d been terrified for the kids, for us, you understand. And PJ slipped and mentioned that you were pregnant and your dad…he just lost it and went after Richard.”
Stacey wheezed in an effort to hold back the tears waiting to pour in torrents.
“He said…arrg, freaking Daniel,” Wana had cursed frustratingly, like she couldn’t believe her father had actually said what he’d said.
“He told Richard that no matter what he did he’d never be good enough for you,” Wana had choked on her own sob, feeling, sharing in Richard’s pain.
The tears had come then, a keening wail and later, Wana had been grateful that they’d been at home alone.
“PJ said Richard had been physically devastated at your dad’s words. He and Uncle Ebong, in a bid to take his mind off those harsh words had ended up discovering that he’d gotten a ring for you…”
“A…a ring?” she’d gasped, her hand going to her chest to try and curb the pain there and the rapid beat of her heart.
Wana had nodded, “He loves you, Stacey. Richard loves you, has always loved you. He got a ring for you at Belgium when both of you still had your differences. He loves you and he’ll find his way back to you.”
But all her words couldn’t comfort Stacey, “How could he…how could dad say that to him?” she was conscious she was a hypocrite since she’d basically said similar things to him before he’d left.
“You need to understand, Stacey, your father was hurt and worried for you. He…”
“You’re defending him?! Richard is…is your child and…”
“And your father is my husband! Do I then take sides…hmm? I got angry when I heard, I was furious and I’d wondered if perhaps he felt that way towards me since I and Richard share the same history.”
“No…” Stacey’s eyes had widened at how painful that conversation must have been for her parents, for she knew that her dad was head over heels in love with Wana and she had always envied that; she had always envied the adults’ loving marriages.
Wana had shaken her head, “Of course he doesn’t feel that way. He doesn’t feel that way at Richard specifically, more at all men in general when it concerns you. He made a mistake and he is terribly sorry, especially when he has to see you this melancholic everyday, he’s reminded that he caused it.”
“He has tried to find Richard, has called severally, and has dropped voicemails…”
Stacey nodded, she’d wanted to be furious with her dad but it seemed he was already suffering for his careless words as she was for hers. Maybe, if she hadn’t doubted his love for her and pushed him away, her father’s words wouldn’t have had so much damaging effect on him.
She understood why he’d just disappeared and according to the women’s suggestion, she’d prayed desperately, she’d prayed and hoped that he would fight his low self worth and find his way to her again.
In the meantime…inhale…I love you, Richard, come back to me…exhale.
DUCT SEASON 4 continues
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