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Terdoo opened her eyes and stared up at the ceiling. It was his cologne that hit her first. She closed her eyes. It hadn’t been a dream. Everything that happened the night before actually happened. There was nothing she could do to change it. All she wanted now was to get away from him as far as possible.
She moved a little, making sure she was careful not to wake him but his hand drew her closer, fitting perfectly on the curve of her waist. Her heart stopped beating, her breath held. She didn’t want him to wake up and subject her to an awkward moment she feared she would never recover from. Not that she could even recover from allowing him into her bed the night before. But it had felt so good to have him hold her the way he did. If only he felt half the way she did for him.
A knock came to the door and she turned. Her heart began a fast race. She had to get off the bed before anyone burst in and found them in that position.
A second knock came and before she could get up, he stirred, turned, and with a sleepy voice invited the person in. Her mouth fell open the same time the door did. She shot up from the bed and pulled her wrapper over a flimsy night shirt she had on but it did nothing to erase the questioning look on the person’s face at the door.
“Liam!” Her voice came out in a gasp. “Hi. Good morning.” She smiled and stared at Jimi still lying on her bed.
“Am I interrupting?” Liam asked.
“No,” Terdoo replied, shaking her head but Liam’s look told her he didn’t believe her. “Nothing happened.”
Liam’s eyes nevertheless judged her and she heard his voice in her ears. What happened to I can’t fall for any man, Teddy? What happened to Jimi can go to hell for all I care, Teddy?
Three days ago, she had poured all her frustration on Liam after he got back from town with Sesan and the kids. She related the fight she had with Jimi and how it ended as Liam sat in the silence of his bedroom downstairs, listening to her with a tickled look on his face. When she was done venting, he smiled.
“With all the ranting you just did, you forgot to correct the part where you told me you guys were dating and that he was Kiki’s father.”
Terdoo stopped her agitated movement around the room and looked at him.
“Okay, I told you that just to kill any plans you have on me.”
“So… you’re in love with him.”
“Me? In love with who? Jimi? Didn’t you hear me? He’s my late friend’s husband.”
“And you were their housemaid?” Liam’s expression spelled confusion. “What type of friendship did you guys have?”
“Condition pushed me to accept the job, plus I was being well paid.”
“Or more like you didn’t want to leave the house because you were in love with Jimi?”
“No. Aren’t you hearing me? I’m done with men, thanks to you. I can never fall for any man.”
“He can go to hell for all I care!”
“Okay.” Liam smiled. “Just calm down, ma’am. He sounds like a cool guy. He’s just grieving. I lost my wife too so I know exactly what he’s going through.” Liam dusted an insect off his jeans. “The pain never goes away. I drank like a fish and insulted everyone around me. Maybe it was because I was in a wheelchair that I acted like a dick but on a serious note, I totally understand what Jimi is struggling with.”
“He better wake up from that his bed with apologies o. I didn’t come here to be insulted by anybody. I just want to take the time off to think and set my priorities right.”
“Speaking of which…” Liam took a bunch of documents off the nightstand and spread them on the bed. “This is one of the reasons I followed you here. These are school brochures that you can pick from and choose what school Jeff should start attending. Some are in Lagos, most are in Abuja…”
“Why Abuja?” Terdoo sat on the bed.
“Teddy, before I came looking for you, I did a little investigation on you. I found about your post graduate and all your qualifications and stuff and it took me a while to come to this decision but I feel you’d be the best to run the new consultancy firm I’m starting in Abuja.”
“Wait, who told you about me?”
“Your friend, Emmanuel.”
“The one your mom was accusing me of sleeping with.”
“Yes. I went looking for him when I came back. I was told he moved to South Africa. His mom gave me his address. I went there, found him and he updated me on the latest in your life.”
Terdoo gave the brochures on the bed a glance. “You went all the way to South Africa?”
“He wouldn’t pick my calls; I didn’t have a choice. Anyway, it’s just a job offer. It comes with a good salary and accommodation and later on, a car…”
“And easy access to you.”
Liam winked. “That’s the bonus.”
Terdoo rubbed her eyes. “So let me see… After everything you’ve done, you come back into my life, claim equal access to my son and then play the hero by giving me a better life while yet putting me under your thumb as my boss.”
“No. After everything I’ve done, I come back to you, asking for forgiveness, playing my role as a father by doing what I should have done a long time ago and kissing your ass big time while doing it. I can’t have all this money and you’re out there suffering for no reason.”
“I went through school on my own, Liam. I can survive.”
“As a housemaid? Even with all your education?”
“I had no choice!”
“Now you do. This is Naija, Teddy. There are no jobs and it’s a hundred times more difficult for a woman to get where a man would in a blink of an eye without sleeping her way there. Fight it all you want but it is reality. You have no working experience, no godfather at the top, you’re above the age they’re looking for and you have a son to take care of. I am offering you a boss’ position and I’m not asking you to sleep with me. Teddy, you’ve gone through enough already. Let me pay penance.”
She looked at the brochures again and then at him.
“You’re not asking to sleep with me?”
“I wouldn’t mind.”
She kept a serious face.
“You don’t want to date me?”
“I want us back together but you’re crazy about someone else.”
Terdoo tugged at the sleeves of her sweater. “Let me think about it.” She stood up and walked to the door.
“You’ll give me an answer before I leave?”
She opened the door and walked out. The rest of day was a drag for her. Having nothing to do, she sat in her room all day and only came down for dinner. Liam had graciously offered to cook and he served everyone, except Jimi who was still in his room. After dinner, Terdoo took Kiki upstairs and just as she was about putting her to bed, Jimi knocked on her door. She opened and invited him in but he remained outside.
“Terdoo, I’m sorry.”
“I know,” she replied, handing Kiki to him. “Walk around, pat her back, talk. Your voice will put her to sleep faster.”
Jimi went into doing as he was instructed while Terdoo busied herself with making her bed.
“I have issues with women,” he confessed. “It started with my sickness. As a kid I was always sick and the result left me small and thin with a big head and big stomach. That alienated me from everyone in school, girls especially. In secondary school it was worse. I had terrible encounters with girls and they stuck, scarring me badly. By the time I went to the US for my degree, I had become normal physically but inside I was already damaged. Girls scared the hell out of me. I became a recluse, staying indoors and going out only for lectures. I wore sunglasses to avoid having to look into the eyes of any girl I came across and it worked alongside therapy. For a while I could manage my introversion but it only got worse as I got older. Then Marie came…”
Jimi paused and looked at Kiki. Her eyes were still open. He continued his slow strut around the room.
“She changed my life. Therapy couldn’t do what she did for me. She was godsend. But what she did in the end… the betrayal, the pain she caused me… the pain she’s still causing me… Am I supposed to just let her go like that just because she says I should?”
“When did she say so?” Terdoo asked, stopping what she was doing.
“She was here.”
“Here? You mean, this house?”
“Yeah. Before you guys came she was here. She left this morning.”
“Oh. Wow.” Terdoo picked a pillow and began fluffing it. “She’s coming back?” she asked.
“No.” Jimi stopped for another break to stare at Kiki. “Terdoo… Did you know who Marie was from the beginning?”
“She was your wife. You knew her better.”
“You know what I’m talking about.”
Terdoo dropped the pillow and crossed her arms. “Okay, I knew. And that was why I didn’t want her to get married to you; not because I had feelings for you or anything like that. She was the one who confessed to me that she was into the 419 business.”
“Why did she tell you?”
“I don’t know.” Terdoo shrugged. “The day she told me about her past was the first time you kissed her. That kiss was the turning point. I think that was when she fell in love with you completely. She came to me crying and told me about her past but she swore that she was done. I believed her.”
“But what about you?”
“What about me?”
“Terdoo, I want to erase this tension between us. Do you have feelings for me as she said?”
Terdoo laughed. “Feelings? No. All I did for you, I did because Marie increased my salary by fifty percent and she helped me with accommodation once when I was trying to find somewhere for my mom and son to stay.”
“So you’re saying…?”
“I feel nothing for you.”
“Phew. Thanks. It would have been awkward for me too.”
Terdoo smiled but it was empty. The room remained silent after that. Having made her bed, she sat down and waited until Kiki slept.
“I’m sorry again for what I called you earlier. It was stupid and immature,” Jimi said after putting Kiki down.
“And I think we’ve passed the Uncle Jimi stage now. Just call Jimi.”
He left the room and Terdoo stretched out beside Kiki on the bed. As much as she tried, she couldn’t keep her thoughts off Jimi. The conversation had only worsened things, revealing a side of him she hadn’t seen before. Her feelings were now intensified but she made no plans to pursue them. To her, the excitement still lay in her hidden affections. She went to sleep holding Kiki close, inhaling Jimi’s cologne on the one year old’s body.
They saw little of each other the next day. Jimi left the house early and came back late, claiming it was work-related but she smelled the booze on him when he walked pass her. She feared more for his health than his drunkenness. With every intake of gluten, he was doing considerable damage to his small intestine. Somehow she felt he was deliberately trying to hurt himself. She didn’t know how to reach out to him.
“You’ll kill yourself for this guy, Teddy,” Liam said to her the next morning after Jimi left the house and she stood staring after him. She hadn’t realized she was doing so until Liam came behind and spoke.
“What?” She turned and gave Liam a slight shove. He was standing too close. “I was just looking outside. The weather is a bit erratic.”
Liam smirked and pushed the door close. “You still have this motherly thing about you and it’s cute but you have to learn to take care of yourself sometimes or allow someone else take care of you.”
Terdoo looked at Liam. She tried to read his face but his grey eyes disclosed nothing. However she caught a familiar twitch over his lips that exposed a little of what was on his mind.
“It’s never going to happen, William. You and I are so through.”
“Oh?” He raised his brows, a look of false puzzlement on his face. “Who was talking about us? I just said you need someone to take care of you. Everybody does.”
“Mommy!” Jeffery came running down the stairs. “Kiki is crying!”
“Okay. I’m coming. Go back to her.”
“Let me take you out today so you get to know Jos a little.” Liam turned Terdoo’s face back to him and held her eyes with a magnetic stare. “Sesan can watch the kids.”
“It’s nothing romantic. I just want you to breathe for a couple of hours.” He leaned on his support and put his hands on her shoulders, letting his fingers feel her muscles. “Yep. Tense. Come on, go up, have a shower, wear something nice and let me take you out.”
Terdoo stared at his hands and gave him a stern look. He withdrew from her but when she made to turn away, he pulled her close and forced his lips between hers.
She pushed him away in annoyance.
“If you try that nonsense one more time Liam, you will lose the privileges you’re having right now and like I promised you, you’ll never ever see Jeff again! He won’t be the first to grow up without a father in his life! I can make that happen!”
Liam smiled. “It was just a kiss na. Relax. You’re so uptight.”
They heard movement and turned to see Jeffery at the stairs. Terdoo saw the red on his face and didn’t know what to make of it.
“You’ve upset the boy,” Liam whispered. Terdoo hissed and hurried to Jeffery, took his hand and led him up to her bedroom. They walked in on a screaming Kiki and Terdoo attended to her straightaway while Jeffery sat on the bed glumly. After an entire routine of bathing, dressing and feeding Kiki, Terdoo finally had time for Jeffery.
“J-boy, what’s wrong?” She sat before him and lifted his chin to look into his face. “Talk to mommy.”
“I want to go to daddy’s house.”
Terdoo was surprised at his words. The last time she heard him refer to Liam, he was ‘that man’. What Liam had done to him in the two days they spent with each other she had no idea but she did notice the change in their relationship with Jeffery developing some sort of fascination for Liam and doing everything to please him. In his usual manner, Liam did what he knew best and in less than three days, Jeffery was in his hold.
Terdoo was pissed but she couldn’t show it. She took both of Jeffery’s hands and looked into his eyes.
“We will go to your daddy’s house when the time is right, okay?”
A smile lit up his face and she pinched his chin. He hopped off the bed but she pulled him back.
“Hey, don’t tell your daddy I said we’re going to his house.”
“Tell him we’re going to Lagos.”
“But mommy, daddy has PS4. I want to play. He say I can come and play.”
Terdoo felt her patience leave her. She smiled to calm herself and rubbed his cheek. “When it’s right, you’ll play computer games, okay?”
He pushed her hand off and she sensed the first sign of a tantrum.
“Don’t worry. Your daddy is here to stay and we’ll get you everything you need, including your own PS4 but you have to be a good boy.”
Jeffery smiled again.
“Oya kneel down,” Terdoo said, getting off the bed and going on her knees. “Time for devotion.”
“Nice dress,” Liam told Terdoo in a low tone. She was standing, staring at a life-size model of a masquerade in the middle of the Jos Museum.
“It’s just a dress, Liam.” Terdoo fought the urge to look at what she was wearing. It was a fitted Ankara gown with a green, noiseless pattern. She walked away from the masquerade and headed out a door, leading to a place called the Pottery Hall with a collection of beautiful pottery from all over the country. Liam followed her but stood near the door, waiting. When she was done, he trudged behind as she left the museum. They came down a flight of stairs to huge trees that had leaves and branches that spread out as a canopy, giving the area a constant shade from the sun and a home for all sorts of birds and bats. There was an abandoned fountain that stood in the center of an intersection before them. Across a tarred lane facing their direction was a zoo. Liam proposed a visit there but Terdoo declined, staring at the face of her wristwatch.
“Two hours are over. Kiki will be hungry.” She hugged herself as a cool wind blew in their direction.
“Okay. So did you have fun?”
“Yeah. As a tourist. The museum, the colonial railway, the Bight of Benin, the outdoor theater, the walls of Kano…everything was okay. But most of all it’s the atmosphere. It’s really peaceful and cool.”
“I wish I had more time, I would have taken you out for a proper lunch or dinner or to some bar in town.”
“Hm. Never going to happen.” She turned away from him and began walking to his car where his driver was waiting.
Terdoo heard strange laughter as she walked into the house. It seemed Sesan had female company. She didn’t feel it was necessary to say hi as she began making it up the stairs but halfway she heard Jimi’s voice and stopped. She came back down and walked into the living room. Sesan was with the kids but so was Jimi and some strange, busty girl who had her legs resting on Jimi’s laps.
“Daddy!” Jeffery hopped off the floor where he was playing with Kiki and ran to Liam who made his appearance at the entrance behind Terdoo. Terdoo was slightly baffled by Jeffery’s behavior. She still didn’t understand how Liam had charmed him. But her attention on father and son was cut short as her eyes rested on Jimi and the girl with him.
“You guys are back.” Jimi smiled. “How did your date go?”
“Oh, good,” Liam replied before Terdoo could open her mouth.
“Liam and Terdoo, meet my friend, Nandir,” Jimi introduced.
Nandir waved at them with a bright smile. “I’m his ex, actually. Don’t mind him.” She pulled Jimi’s ear. “We kind’a grew up together.”
“Na’an, meet Terdoo and Liam, Jeffery’s parents.”
“Aww, how nice,” Nandir cooed, batting long eyelashes. “I love beautiful families. Your son is all shades of cute.”
“Thank you,” Liam answered. “He has his mom’s genes. She’s amazing.”
“Yeah, she is,” Jimi agreed with a smile and Terdoo wished she could see if his eyes behind his sunglasses carried the same sincerity in his voice.
“Oh, that’s cool,” Nandir’s tone went flat. “Nice meeting you guys. Hope we get to know each other better.” Her smile faded as she turned to Sesan. “Ehm…Sexy, please ping me that link to that blog you were talking about.”
“And there goes your competition,” Liam whispered into Terdoo’s ear. “You should know that the ex is like herpes. They never really go away.”
“Look who’s talking.”
“Glad you got my point. Come Jeff. I bought something for you,” he announced, leading Jeffery into his room.
Terdoo took to Liam’s advice and decided to pamper herself for the night. Kiki was taken off her hands after dinner and she went upstairs to have a rejuvenating soak in the bathtub, enjoying the box of chocolate and bottle of wine Liam sent up to her. As the wine worked through her system, soothing her, she refused to allow the fact that Jimi went out and was not yet home get to her. She left the bathroom lightheaded and refreshed. After throwing open the windows, she slipped into a cotton nightshirt, turned off the lights and went to bed. She slept in no time, enjoying the feel of a cool draft of air from the windows over her body.
Sometime in the night, she stirred to get a better position but felt the weight of an arm around her. Her first response was to panic. Her breaths came out short and fast as she lay backing the male figure behind her. It wasn’t until after her heartbeat slowed and her nose perceived Jimi’s distinctive scent that she realized he was the one in her bed.
She knew the right thing to do was to send him out of the room but her body was in no mood to do so. A war began between her commonsense and her feelings and it went on and on, as minutes passed, with no compromise reached. In the end, commonsense was banished as her body began to accommodate the weight of his arm and the warmth of his presence. She felt the position she was in was a dangerous one, though, and so she turned, reluctantly pushing his hand off her waist. She lay staring at him. His lips trembled with every whistling breath he let out and his skin came alive with a thin sheen of perspiration over it. She had never fought so hard not to touch another human being as she was doing at the present. As a result, she gave him a little distance and moved lower to keep her face away from his. But his hand found her waist again and drew her closer.
“Don’t go,” he murmured. She looked up at his face. His eyes were still shut. She figured he was thinking she was someone else.
“Mmmmmmm?” His reply was lazy.
“You do know you’re not in your room, right? And I’m not Marie or…Nandir.”
He was silent but his hand remained on her, closing in the gap between them with one firm tug until her face was touching his chest.
“Mm? I know it’s you. But I’m spoilt. I sleep better this way. Indulge me this one time, please.”
Her commonsense returned and knocked at the door of her reasoning but found a heart sold to the man in whose arms she was held.
Terdoo smiled alone in the darkness. There was no worry about what the morning would bring at that point. This was a scene from a constant dream of hers. Why on earth would she try to wake up from it?
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