Posts tagged “awkward conversation

Refuge: Chapter 5

Posted on 26/09/2018

Over an unhealthy lunch of chocolate-filled donuts and overpriced coffee, Zoey and Eli sat near the window overlooking the planes docked at Heathrow Airport, awaiting their next flight in an hour. Zoey watched Eli lick the chocolate from his index fingers and rehearsed her next line.

The corner of his lips twitched a smile and he lifted his gaze. Zoey averted hers, occupying herself with stirring the coffee. “Chocolate tastes so different overseas.”

Zoey smirked. “Probably.”

“What’s Nigeria like? I mean, the food and stuff?”

She laughed, lifting her gaze. “You’re such a foodie.”

He shrugged. “I like food.”

“Well, since you love spicy, you’ll like Nigerian food.” Zoey shook her head. “We should’ve tried some while in Houston. Can’t believe I never took you to one.”

“You said they weren’t that good,” Eli reminded her, grabbing another donut. “Something about fake meat.”

Zoey choked. “Man, that was harsh…”

“That’s what you said.”

“Yeah well, you’ll have plenty opportunities to try it at home.”

“What’s your favorite food?” his eyes skimmed her face while he bit into the donut. “I’m curious about the jello rice.”

“Jello…” Zoey heaved a sigh, mildly frustrated. Just when she was ready to spill, he was distracted by food. “It’s jollof rice, babe.”

“Ah Jollof. It’s like Mexican rice, right?”

“Not even close.” She frowned. “Eli, I need to talk to you about something.”

A plane whooshed over their heads and Eli peered out, watching the plane ascend into the clouds.

“Eli.”

“Hmm?”

“Eli.”

Her sharp tone had him glance her way. He frowned. “What?”

Zoey tamped another sigh and stared him straight in the eye. “I haven’t been completely honest with you–”

A child behind them squealed with delight and Eli’s gaze shifted over her head. Zoey grabbed his hand, smearing hers with chocolate. She grimaced. “E, I’m not a poor international student.”

Eli smirked at her. “I know that already.”

She rolled her eyes. “I’m being serious.”

“Okay.” He released the donut and reached for a napkin. Taking her soiled hand in his, he wiped it clean.

Zoey drew in a breath and released it. “E.”

“I know you’re not poor, Zo. I know international tuition is high, and yet you have your own place, your own car, and you’re paying off your degree.” He looked up at her. “But what does that have to do with anything?”

“It has everything to do with everything.”

Eli chuckled, cleaning chocolate from her fingers.

Zoey frowned.

He paused to look up. “Okay, talk to me.”

There was no other way to say it so she began with “My parents have money.”

Eli arched a brow. “Okay…?”

Zoey rolled her eyes. “Let me rephrase that. My family comes from crazy money.”

“Still isn’t that much clearer, Zo.”

“You know that show Rich Housewives Chicago* and the lady with the real-estate investments?”

“Yeah?”

“One of my dad’s side investments is twice that.”

“In Naira?”

“Dollars, Eli.”

Eli’s hand loosened and slid from hers.

Zoey swallowed hard. “I know I should’ve told you but–”

“Why tell me now?”

The quietness in his voice stilled her. She stared at him.

His features were taut but his eyes resembled a confused little boy. “Why tell me when we’re halfway there that you come from money? Why now and not before?” His gaze skimmed her face.

Zoey searched his and didn’t like what she saw there. “I didn’t mean to keep it from you, not purposefully. I just didn’t know how to say it. Didn’t think it mattered.”

“Then why mention it now? What for?”

“Because you’re coming home with me and I…” Zoey swallowed hard.

“You want me to be prepared.”

Zoey nodded, surprised yet grateful that he’d taken the words from her mouth. “Yeah.”

“You think I’m gonna embarrass you?”

Her eyes widened. “What–? No, heck no.” She frowned. “Eli, I don’t care about that. I just wanted you to know that my folks are a lot…”

“Attention travelers,” the voice on the intercom interrupted. “This is an announcement for Flight Z345A to Lagos via British Airways. Boarding will begin in twenty minutes. Please report to Gate 40B.”

“That’s us,” Eli mumbled, grabbing his bag.

“Whoa, wait a sec.” Zoey grabbed his wrist, stilling him for just a moment. She searched his expression and scowled. “Sit first.”

Eli didn’t. “You had a year and a half to tell me about your family and you didn’t. Give me at least an hour to process what you just told me. I have nowhere else to go but with you, so give me that. Fair enough?”

Zoey hesitated. Eli’s brooding took way longer than an hour, and she couldn’t afford his silence for another six hours. “I meant no harm, Eli.”

“I know, Zoey, but it still stings.” Eli tugged his wrist free and gestured for her to stand. “Let’s go.”

At least he waited for her to stand before walking in front. Zoey heaved a sigh as she watched his lonely frame and wondered yet again if she’d made the right decision bringing him along.

Another plane whooshed above as Zoey grabbed her bag and rushed after him.

He wanted to stay mad; she deserved more than just his silence. But they were 11,000 feet off the ground with only a boring selection of movies for entertainment and ignoring the person beside him didn’t make much sense. Especially since Zoey kept sighing and fidgeting in her seat.

Eli dropped the headphones to hang on the back of his neck and leaned in his seat, arching a brow at her.

She squinted at the screen and sighed before glancing once at him. “What?”

“What happened to giving me an hour?”

Zoey frowned. “I did–I am.”

Eli squinted at her attempt to look innocent. “Nah, you’re not giving me space and time to think.”

“Space?”  She scoffed. “Eli, we’re in a cramped plane. How much space can I give you? You want me to switch places with a stranger? Should I tape my mouth and my body so I don’t bother you?”

Eli shook his head. Zoey could be so dramatic, just like his sisters. He sighed as a thought crossed his mind. “D’you know that all my siblings’ and their spouses have something in common?”

“What is it?”

“Lies.”

Her mouth tightened in a hard line. “I already said it was unintentional. It’s more of an omission, honestly.”

“Lie of omission is still a lie, Zoey.” Eli held up a hand before she could protest. “Hear me out. Phoebe lied to Abe about who she was and almost jeopardized Junior, Darah and I remaining with our family. Geri lied to Bart about her ex-husband.”

Zoey’s eyes widened. “Geri was married before?”

“She was. He was a mean jerk to her, and died for his crimes–”

“Good Lord!” Zoey slapped a hand over her mouth, eyes wide.

“But she was able to escape and come back home. Anyway, she didn’t tell him everything and they even tried to lie to her ex in-laws about having a relationship…” he paused and shook his head. “It was a mess and J.R. had to step in to fix it.”

Zoey lowered her hand and stared intently with no interruption.

“Then there’s Darah, trying to hide her pregnancy from everyone.” He frowned. “Hers isn’t much of lying as it is omission of fact but then she was being stupid throughout.”

“That’s harsh, Eli.”

“It is but it’s true. Actually, both were actually lying to each other about their feelings, and they spent so much time dancing around before coming together.” Eli shrugged. “And then there’s Junior.”

“What about him?”

Eli scoffed lightly. “Pretty sure he and Karen are keeping some crazy secret there in Ethiopia. When I stayed with them for a summer, it was weird.” He scratched the side of his head. “Can’t put my finger on it but they were sneaky.”

Zoey sighed. “What’s your point, Eli?”

“Lies only complicate a matter that didn’t need to be complicated.” Eli stared intently at her. “You didn’t need to hide the fact that your family is loaded. I don’t care if your mom’s the queen of Nigeria or your dad owns every building in the country. You’re you and that’s the reason why we’re together, not because of the money your family has.”

Zoey nodded, regret plain on her face. “I’m sorry, Eli.”

“It’s okay.” Eli frowned. “I do want to know now. Can’t go there looking like a fool.”

“So you want me to tell you now?”

“We’ve got five more hours,” Eli answered with a shrug.

Zoey glanced around first, caution clear in her tense shoulders. She dragged her gaze back to him. “Can I write it down?” she asked in hushed tones.

Eli fought a laugh. “They must be really loaded.” She looked tortured and Eli tamped down the laugh from spilling out. “Alright, write it down.”

Zoey readily grabbed her bag and pulled out her notebook. Eli leaned in as she started to scribble, him reading as she wrote.

Half an hour later, Eli sat back, reeling.

Zoey closed the notebook and looked up at him, expression penitent. “I’m sorry.”

He couldn’t respond; not yet. The chart Zoey scribbled out proved that his mind couldn’t fully fathom the implications of Zoey’s background compared to his. Her father, a retired bank commissioner with real-estate and political connections and her mother, a princess of an affluent tribe that he couldn’t pronounce. He was an orphan with a questionable background and only $10,000 in both his bank accounts. She had legacy in her family while he knew nothing about his birth father.

So deep in thought Eli was that he didn’t hear Zoey and jumped when her hand dropped on his shoulder. He blinked at her. “Hmm?”

“Say something.”

Eli stared at the woman he called girlfriend so casually, someone who was practically royalty. He’d always thought she was out of his league but now… The truth was a sucker punch to his gut, rendering him speechless.

Her eyes watered. “E, please say something.” Her fingers tightened on his shoulder.

He swallowed the truth down and tucked away his wounded pride. Zoey’s tears were more painful than whatever feeling he couldn’t fully identify. “I…”

Zoey sat up, eyes wide in anticipation.

Eli shook his head and laughed it off. “We should’ve taken the first class seats then.”

She blinked in surprise, obviously not expecting that reply. Then she giggled softly and shoved his shoulder lightly. “You gold digger.”

His half-smile dropped. Zoey’s laughter dissipated instantly and regret dressed her features. “Too soon, huh?”

“Yeah.”

Zoey sighed deeply and scooted close, tucking her arm under his. “Forgive me,” she pleaded, resting her cheek on his shoulder.

“Sure.” He stared listlessly at the movie Oceans 8 playing on the screen while sifting through his mind for a plan of action.

Four more hours till they touched down in Lagos, and he had no idea what to do.

“Everything will be fine,” Zoey said softly, tightening her hold on his arm. “My parents are more laid back than it seems. My cousin, Paula, she’s marrying a regular guy she met in London from university and everyone was cool with it. My mom was actually an advocate for their relationship.”

The need for an advocate meant there was initial pushback but Eli didn’t have the heart to interrupt her, partly because he wanted to believe that her parents would be accepting of his lack of qualifications too.

“And one of my aunties on my mom’s side is like the coolest aunty ever. Aunty Sophie, she’s picking us up from the airport.”

“What, no entourage?”

Zoey peered up at him, one brow arched. “Do you want one?”

Eli almost laughed. That she thought to ask was ridiculous. “No,” he answered simply.

She looked away. “Aunt Sophie’s like the rebel. She never got married and traveled all around the world. She reminds me of your brother Junior. You’ll like her.”

Eli could only nod. Any ally was welcome. “Ok.”

“I thought long and hard before inviting you, and I wouldn’t have done that if I thought you’d be treated badly. My family will love you. I promise.”

He nodded again, not wanting to weaken her confidence in him or his in her. “I hear you,” was all he said and allowed her to embrace him with all her might. He needed all the strength he could get for the journey ahead.

<<Chapter 4|| Chapter 6>>

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Lighthouse, Chapter 23

Posted on 24/08/2016

J.R. gritted his teeth as Darah’s monotonous voice message played for the fifth time, this time he didn’t wait and disconnected the call. Then he blew out a breath.

“What, she’s not answering?”

Glancing once at Hana beside him, J.R. shook his head and started re-dialing.

Bhaiyaa, I really don’t think harassing—”

“I’ll be back,” he answered curtly and stood. Putting the phone to his ear, J.R. exited the room without hearing her response.

Though acutely aware of his brusque attitude with Hana, his growing frustration with Darah’s evasiveness left no room for patience. Three days had passed since he’d last seen Darah; terrified and trembling in front of his father’s hospital room. And since not even Clement was gracious enough to tell him what happened, he had to play phone tag until someone picked up—

“Teka House, may I know who’s speaking?”

J.R.’s face lit up at the sound of Abe and Phoebe’s eldest child. “Isaac, hey. It’s Uncle J.R.”

When there was a pause on the other line, J.R.’s brow furrowed. “Hello?”

“Uh, yeah… Uncle J.R., hello.”

Pausing, J.R. imagined what or who could cause awkwardness in his reply. “She’s there, isn’t she?”

Isaac peeked once at Darah gesturing wildly for him to keep her presence unknown. His eleven-year-old mind didn’t understand why telling a lie was right, no matter how many times his aunty reassured him. More troubling was why she didn’t want to talk to Uncle J.R. “Um….”

J.R. would’ve laughed if he wasn’t ridden with anxiety. This woman would be the death of him; that much was for sure. Dragging a hand over his face, he exhaled a breath. “Okay, don’t say anything but yes or no. Is your aunt sitting next to you right now?”

Again, Isaac peered over at his aunt who shook her head as though reading his mind. He worried his bottom lip, very much like his mother did when unsure. “Yes.”

“Is she okay?”

The pre-teen arched a brow when his aunty kept gesticulating wildly, as if he contemplated whether or not she was in her right mind. He sighed again and nodded. “Yes.”

J.R. breathed out a sigh of relief. “Okay, good… That’s good.”

“What’s he saying?” she mouthed to her nephew who merely shrugged, his brow knotted in confusion.

Deciding it was much easier hiding out in the room than making the kids lie on her behalf, she headed for the stairs. Upon descent, her legs were like jelly and tingled with every step. She had to hold the banister to guide her. Topping the last step, she heard Phoebe clucking her tongue in disapproval by Eli’s bedroom door.

“When will you stop playing phone tag with this poor man?” Phoebe came to stand before her, arms folded. “And it’s not cool to have the kids do your dirty work, Darah.”

“If he’d stop calling, I won’t need to do that.” She moved around her to enter the room. “I don’t have anything to say to him.”

“Yeah right. Weren’t you the one just begging Clement to take you to him? I don’t buy it.” Phoebe perched beside her. “What happened at the hospital?”

“I don’t have anything to say about that either.” She quickly turned away so her sister-in-law couldn’t read her face. The tingling sensation still remained, traveling up her legs to her hips. Instinctively, she wrapped a hand over her stomach and closed her eyes.

“In any case,” Phoebe spoke after a moment of silence. “The next time he calls my phone I’ll answer. If you won’t give me a reason for why we have to avoid him, I’ll have to do what is necessary.”

“Please don’t meddle.” Darah winced as the tingle morphed into a piercing pain across her stomach. She pressed fingers against her lower abdomen.

Phoebe scoffed. “When you’ve got the kids involved, how could I not?”

Darah didn’t respond at first, her body taut until the wave of pain eased off. She drew in a breath and released it, grateful for the reprieve. The painful pangs only came once in a while, and could easily be solved by eating. Realizing both breakfast and lunch had been forgotten today, she pushed herself up on her elbow. “Hey, is there any food?”

“So now you’re ready to eat without me begging?”

She ignored the derisive tone, well aware of the fact that Phoebe almost force-fed her for three straight days. She rolled her eyes. “My appetite is back. Look if there’s nothing, I’ll go get it myself.”

Phoebe smirked. “Okay then. What are you craving?”

As another twinge of pain squeezed her stomach, she stifled a grimace. The urgency to eat something couldn’t wait for Phoebe’s meticulous cooking. “Actually, never mind. I need some fresh air, so I’ll get something from the store.”

“Hope not fast food,” Phoebe said, following her out the door. “You’ve got to be careful about greasy stuff now, okay?”

“Got it,” Darah answered without exasperation, slightly distracted by the tingling in her stomach. Reaching the bottom of the step, she passed Isaac still on the phone. “Hang up the phone, Isaac!” she called over her shoulder, grabbing the car keys from the console table on her way to the door.

“Where’s she going?” Isaac asked his mother who placed a hand over his shoulder. He gladly relinquished the phone to her when she held out a hand and hurried back upstairs to play video games before it was time for homework.

“Hey J.R.,” Phoebe spoke into the phone, watching from the window as Darah climbed down the porch steps to the driveway. “How are you?”

Grimacing fully now, she rubbed her belly and walked up to the minivan. “What’s wrong, baby? I’m about to feed you so—”

“Darah?”

At the familiar voice, her face darkened and she turned to see Tess standing in the driveway.

With a sheepish expression, Tess waved. “Hey.”

Darah’s scowl darkened and she folded her arms across her chest. “What do you want? I’m busy.”

Her smile slipped off her face and Tess lowered her hand, tucking it behind her. “Can we talk?”

With the tingling in her legs resuming, Darah readied herself to reject the request. She didn’t have time for unpleasant chats with traitor ex-best friends.

“Maybe a café somewhere near. It’s on me.” Her expression turned plaintive. “Please?”

On cue, Darah’s stomach growled and Tess’s eyes dropped to it. Darah pursed her lips in thought. As much as she didn’t want to talk with Tess, it would be foolish of her to pass up free food. She cleared her throat and tilted her chin as haughtily as she could. “Where to?”

A ghost of a smile twitched Tess’s lips but faded quickly. “Uh, how about the Thai café you like, the one across the library?”

Apparently the baby wanted Thai food as much as she did, her stomach twisting and turning violently and loudly too. She cleared her throat to mask the gurgling sounds and shrugged. “I guess.”

“Uh, okay…” Tess paused, noting Darah’s legs trembled visibly. “Are you okay?”

“Yup.” Darah placed hands on her hips, adopting a casual air in spite of her wobbly legs. “Go ahead, I’ll meet you there.”

“You sure? We could drive together if—”

“That won’t be happening.” She threw Tess a withering look that brooked no argument. “Go on ahead.”

Tess nodded, her eyes volleying between Darah’s flat stomach and face. “Guess I’ll see you there then.”

“Right,” Darah answered curtly, keeping her face void of emotion until Tess finally turned away. Leaning back against the car door, she glared at the car blocking her passage. “Annoying wench.”

Her suspicion was confirmed moments later when Darah glanced at the rearview mirror and spotted Tess’ car trailing hers. In a moment of pettiness that would disapprove Phoebe, Darah suddenly braked hard and despite the niggling ache in her stomach, she grinned when brakes screeched loud behind her.

Then a car bleated impatiently behind Tess’s car and Darah’s smile disappeared. She immediately stepped off the brakes, deciding to hear Tess once she’d filled her restless belly.

Minutes later with an unsettled stomach, Darah wished she’d ignored Tess altogether. Even with an appealing plate of pad Thai before her, the smell of curry and peanut made her mouth water for a different reason. She pushed the nausea down and nudged the plate away.

“Don’t you have anything to ask me?” Tess took a sip of her water before reaching for her spoon. “I mean, I’m sure you have plenty questions about Jeremy and I.”

Darah dragged her eyes to the middle of Tess’s forehead. “I actually don’t.”

Tess didn’t look convinced. “You seriously don’t want to know how it happened?”

“Not really. Look, I’m not in the mood for small talk if that’s why you lured me here.”

Tess frowned at Darah’s untouched plate. “Isn’t Pad Thai your favorite, or do you want something else?” She turned her head and signaled for the waiter.

“Don’t bother with the fake courtesy either,” Darah replied, rubbing the tension in her stomach. “And don’t look at me like that. We have no reason to sit together and eat like we’re friends or something.”

One brow arched, Tess snorted. Then she lowered her gaze to her green curry dish and giggled.

Darah scowled. “And what’s so funny?”

“Everything…” Tess placed her fork down and folded her arms across her chest. She looked up at Darah, eyes dancing with mocking laughter. “It still boggles my mind how we ended up here, like this.”

If they weren’t in a public place, Darah would’ve tossed her cold water in her face. Instead, she bunched her free hand into a fist under the table.

“All these years I thought we’d be friends forever,” Tess continued, leaning back in her chair. “That we’d each get married to the loves of our lives, have children who’d be friends and we’d grow old together, sharing memories…”

“What nonsense. How could you even dream that up when you’d so easily betray my trust in you?” Just the mention of the betrayal made her stomach turn.

The wistful smile on Tess’s face disappeared. “I was only relevant when you needed to vent to someone, or needed advice that you didn’t want your family knowing about. Admit it Darah, you used me.”

Darah rolled her eyes. “How typical of you, acting like the victim.”

Tess gaped at her. “I’m the victim when you’re the one always mentioning your hard-knock life with meddlesome brothers and no parents—?”

“Shut your mouth!” she snapped angrily. “Shut your dirty mouth, you backstabber.”

“Oh, calm down…” Tess paused when the waiter suddenly appeared at their table, refilling their water glasses. She sighed in exasperation. “Could you come back later?”

“No actually, please pack this up for me,” Darah said, nudging the plate aside.

“Sure thing,” the waiter answered, reaching for the plate. “Will this be on the same order or—”

“Separate checks please!” Tess answered.

Darah laughed incredulously, unfazed. “Someone’s petty.”

“… I’ll be right back,” the waiter said awkwardly and hurried away.

“How funny, I thought you agreed to foot the bill.”

“I changed my mind.” The gleam in Tess’s eyes made Darah bristle. “Since I only pay for my friends.”

“Of course you—” Darah gasped inwardly as a sharper pain sluiced through her stomach, down to the spot between her legs. The hand on her belly clenched her shirt, and she pressed the heels of her feet against the chair legs. It took longer than a second to catch her breath.

“Well, I’ll just tell you that it was an honest mistake,” Tess sniffed, picking at invisible dust on her shoulder. “I certainly wasn’t expecting to fall for anyone while in grad school, but it happened. We saw each other and hit it off. I only found out he was with you after I saw a picture of you together. It would’ve been good if you’d told me about him beforehand.”

Darah ignored her, the sudden urge to use the toilet compelling her to leave the table. Plus, she wasn’t in the mood to hear any lame excuses for Tess’s betrayal. Except that her feet tingled, and she imagined herself falling on her face in front of Tess.

Then the waiter returned with the takeout box, and Tess turned to ask him about ordering another dish for her fiancé.

Using this chance to escape, Darah pressed her palms against the arms of the chair and pushed to stand. Suddenly, warm liquid gushed down her leg. Freezing to a stop, Darah’s eyes widened in astonishment. Then dread. Her heart started to race in panic as she looked down at her light-colored joggers.

Tess looked at Darah suspended between standing and sitting, noting her wide-eyed expression. “What’s the matter with you?”

Petrified, Darah dropped to her seat, her tingling legs and the spinning room knocking her off balance.

“Oh my God, is she bleeding?” someone behind her whispered, confirming what she’d seen.

“Is she okay?” another called out to their table.

“Darah!” Tess’ voice rang loud in echoes. She quickly pushed away from the table to reach for Darah whose body drooped forward.

The sounds of panicked voices drowned the violent thumping of her pulse. Once the waiter caught her head from landing in the plate of warm pad Thai, everything faded to black.

<<Chapter 22 || Chapter 24>>

  

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