As he drove the car into the Browns Café, a mixed feeling of pleasure and disappointment ran through Valerie.
Disappointment that they weren’t going to his home, a feeling she tried to squash, she had no business thinking of going to his house. And pleasure for she’d been at the Brown’s Café once with Kike and cheating-ass Marc sometime last year, when Kike and Marc first started dating and Marc had been all attention and devotion.
He saw the crease on her forehead. “You are not considering literally killing me after all, are you?” He asked lightly.
“Kill you? Why would you think that?” Jolting out of her reverie.
“Because you were frowning so darkly.”
At Nathan’s nod, she sighed. “I was actually thinking of the only one time I had been here.”
A surprising feeling of jealousy twisted inside him, she’d been here before with an ex. But he merely said in a light tone. “Oh God, you don’t like their snacks.”
She laughed at his dismayed look. “Actually I did love their snacks. It’s actually the guy who brought us here I don’t like, I guess.”
And that was what I was afraid of, Nathan groaned silently. “Us?”
“Kike and I.” She supplied. “Her cheating, lying son of a …” She caught herself. “Sorry. “Her ex was that guy.”
A flash of relief cursed through him, but that wasn’t even sensible as he was sure that there must be an ex somewhere in her past. At least it wasn’t one who’d brought first to the Brown’s Café.
“I am sorry about the cheating lying son of a … I’m not really sure, you didn’t quite finish that very interesting sentence.”
She chuckled. “You do think you are charming, don’t you?”
“No I don’t.” He grinned. “But I’m thinking you do.”
Valerie stared at him, not quite sure how to respond to his flirting. Undecided she hit him with her purse. “Hey Mister, are you going to feed me or what?”
“One nice hot snack coming right up, Lady.” Nathan promised getting down from the car and walking round to open her car door.
As they shared grilled homemade beef burgers and the browns club sandwich, Nathan entertained her in his usual amusing and jocular manner with funny stories of his career as a gospel artiste.
Valerie had so much fun, she didn’t realize they’d spent two hours on the lunch date. It surprised her because she was always conscious of time when out on a date with a man. But twice now, he’d managed to keep her so engrossed, time became something she only recalled after and never during.
She turned to smile at him as he stopped the car in the Chop N’ Munch parking lot. “If I get a query for spending more time than I’m allowed for lunch, I am holding you responsible.”
His mouth curved in a grin. “I plead guilty.” Then a sombre look crept into his dark brown eyes. “I enjoy being with you. And not just because you are the most beautiful woman I ever saw.”
“Oh, that kind of makes it easier, you know.” He winked.
She hit him with her purse. “You are such a man.” She shook her head at him.
He watched her struggling to overcome her slight embarrassment. “That there is what I enjoy about being with you.” He said.
She looked up at him, baffled. “What?”
“Never taking your beauty for granted.” He shook his head, marvelled. “It embarrasses you, makes you blush when I make a remark about how gorgeous you are.”
Valerie looked away and shrugged. “Well, that is easy. My mother used to say that being beautiful is a gift, a privilege from God, not a right we should take for granted.”
Her eyes clouded for a moment as she remembered. Mama had told her that on her ninth birthday, when she’d spent the better part of an hour gazing admiringly at her image in the mirror – twisting, turning, posing, sashaying back and front.
Nathan saw again the momentary haunted look before she quickly tucked it away. He’d seen it before, at the mall when she’d turned to look at Toinette.
He wanted to say something about it… but instead he merely nodded. “A wise woman. She must be a rare beauty herself to know that.”
She only inclined her head, saying nothing.
“I on the other hand, do think beauty is a burden laid on us privileged few by God so we can share it generously with the world.” He gave a mournful sigh.
She eyed him, saw the sad look of martyrdom and her eyes crinkled with laughter. “Uh hmm, looks to me like you are doing a great job sharing that burden.”
“I do what I can.” He deepened the mournful sigh.
She grinned and shook her head. “You are a menace, is what you are.” She made to open the car door, then turned back to him and said impulsively. “Would you like to have lunch, Thursday at my place? It’s my day off.”
He gave her a toothed smile. “I’d love to have lunch, Thursday at your place, it’s not my day off but I think I can sneak out of the office.” The last was said in a whisper.
“You do that.” She whispered back. “But don’t let the boss catch you.”
She got down from the car and with a cheerful wave walked back into the restaurant.
Nathan exhaled deeply as he watched her saunter into the restaurant. She was as dangerously tempting walking away from him as she’d been walking towards him.
Blowing out a hot breathe he put the car in reverse gear and drove out of the jam-packed parking lot. You are in big trouble, Nathaniel, he thought with a rueful shake of his head.
She stood in front of the mirror thinking that just like Nathan, her mother’s teaching on the peril of staring long and hard at the mirror had not sunk in.
For she’d been standing here the better part of thirty minutes – primping, brushing, tugging and smoothening – and wishing this was Magic mirror so she could ask, ‘Mirror, Mirror, Mirror who is the fairest of them all?’ And
hopefully get the response she was so dying to hear.
Ha, Valerie breathed, when did you become so vain? She dropped the hair brush on the dresser. The man already thinks you are gorgeous, so stop fussing and just relax.
But as she stepped away from the mirror and the doorbell rang, she was primping, brushing, tugging and smoothening all over again as she headed for the front door.
A deep breathe to calm her jumping nerves, and a wide smile in place, she drew aside the door.
The first thought that came to Nathan’s mind was that simplicity looked amazing when Valerie was wearing it.
A simple mauve cotton dress just below the knees and bare feet with almost non-existent make-up, even the usual maple pink lips were now the lightest brown gloss; and yet she looked like a supermodel on runway.
You are not just in trouble, Nathaniel, you are knee-deep in trouble.
“Hi. Do come in.” Valerie smiled moving aside to allow him in.
His body brushed past hers lightly as he entered the sunlit living room. The mild whiff of her perfume added to the simple dazzling look seemed to befuddle his mind.
She gestured to the sandy brown sofa. A little self-conscious. “How was the drive down? Not much traffic at this hour I hope? The traffic flow is less condensed in the afternoons and only returns after the close of work.” She babbled nervously.
Wondering why he was staring at her like he wanted to drown in her.
Nathan coughed to clear his head. Say something you idiot, you are freaking her out.
“Em … traffic was … light.” He dropped into the sofa. The bottle of wine knocked against the seat. Jesus, he’d forgotten the wine. “Ah, this is for you … I mean to go with the lunch … or not … that is if suitable.” He clamped his mouth shut.
Oh my God, I’m stuttering for Christ’s sakes, he groaned inwardly.
Valerie grinned as she watched him fumble. Realizing he was nervous too, her jumpy nerves instantly settled.
“Thank you.” She took the bottle of wine. “And it will go … at some point I guess.” She sauntered off to the kitchen, opened the refrigerator, dropped the wine inside and drew out a silver dish of neatly squarish-cut pineapples.
How about we …” She jerked slightly as she noticed he’d followed her into the kitchen. “… ah, start with pineapple as appetizers? Did you want something?” She asked, he was looking at her with intense dark eyes.
“I think I need to say this now, so that we could get it out of the way and concentrate on having a great lunch.” He said in a matter-of-fact voice.
“Oh.” She frowned slightly. “And what is that?”
“You look simply exquisite. And I use simply because your whole appearance is simple yet it only managed to enhance your overall loveliness.”
She stared at him for a moment, eyes assessing, then she nodded. “Well, we’ve gotten that out of the way, now let’s go set the table and eat. And you get to help as punishment for your ogling.”
She nudged him aside as she walked back into the sitting, ignoring his goofy grin. “Grab the smaller grey dish.” She instructed briskly, laying table mats on the centre table. “I hope you love semolina and okra soup? Because that is our main dish.”
Semolina and okra soup turned out to be a scrumptious rare delicacy.
Nathan asked for a second and third helping as he munched and savoured the taste of well-seasoned fresh fish, dry fish, stock fish, prawns, beef and cow stripe.
“Damn, this is the best okra soup I ever tasted.” He drawled in a deeply satisfied voice as he helped her clear the dishes. “I never knew I could down so much semolina in one go.” He sighed with pleasure as he laid the plates in the sink. “Dunc would have been so proud of me.”
Valerie laughed. “Because you ate three helpings of semolina?”
“Because I ate like a man.”
She chuckled. “Glad to be of service then.”
As they sat on the sofa watching Law and Order, Nathan turned to her. “So are you a in-Lagos-alone babe or does your family also reside here?” He asked curiously.
She stiffened. “I live here alone. Are you not enjoying Law and Order? I could change the channel?” She picked up the remote control.
He snatched the remote from her. “I enjoy Law and Order.” He stated. “One of my favourite detective series.” He lowered the TV volume. “But something else I’d enjoy more today is hearing you talk about yourself. I notice it’s a topic you have a knack of avoiding.”
She shrugged. “Maybe because there is absolutely nothing to tell.” At his arched brow, she sighed dramatically.
“Fine. My name is Valerie Adanna Chibuike. I’m from Asaba, Delta State. I studied Business Management at the Ibadan Polytechnic, OND and HND. And I work as all-around admin personnel at Chop N’ Munch restaurant. The End.”
He gave a derisive snort. “That was just your bio data on your résumé, except of course you left out your age.”
“What happened to a man not supposing to ask a lady’s age?”
“I’m not asking, just stating facts. Besides I don’t believe in that crap and something tells me, you don’t too.”
She angled her head.
“Fine.” He shook his head at her. “If it makes you feel better I’ll say it first. I am thirty-three years old and would be celebrating by thirty-fourth birthday on the twenty-eight of July. Now your turn.”
“Okay. I’m thirty years old and my birthday was fourteen February, Valentine’s Day.” She stopped, an old familiar feeling returning. Her light-brown eyes clouded, as the familiar coldness gripped her heart.
“My whole family died on Valentine’s Day twenty years ago in a car accident on our way to a musical show I had to see because it was my tenth birthday.” She finished in a hoarse whisper.
To be continued…