The car sped smoothly along the traffic-free Third Mainland Bridge.
Nathan looked at the lips-compressed figure in black jeans and a silk ruffle-neck blouse and grimaced.
She’d been this way since they’d left the Race Course Arena a few minutes back. Only responding in mono-syllables when he’d tried breaking the puzzling silence.
He’d picked her up much earlier for the Gospel Music Ministration Concert which had kicked off by seven p.m. She’d been totally excited then – all chirpy and beaming. Thrilled that she was going to meet Lara George, Samsong and Frank Edward.
And all through the blend of roof-shattering praise songs and soul-searching worship tunes, she’d either been jumping and dancing or simply singing along from her position just close to the stage.
But somehow she’d gone quiet when he’d started on his last song for the night – Let go, and Let God. He threw her another look, wondering if the lyrics had touched a chord. It was the only explanation he had for her sudden sullen silence.
He loathe to break the silence, yet he just couldn’t abide her surliness much longer.
“The concert must have been powerful, to have rendered you so… speechless.” His tone was jocular.
“I guess you could say that.” Valerie replied frostily.
At least monosyllables were slowly turning into longer sentences. “And it obviously sparked up your mood.” He remarked in a sardonic tone.
Valerie fumed, irked by his tone. What did he want, a goddamn eulogy?
“I’m sorry if you find me unappreciative, I’m just tired I guess.” She responded stiffly.
Tired my ass, Nathan thought irritably. She wasn’t tired, she was sulky and grumpy. And he was fast losing his patient. Deciding that they’d be safer having the argument she was spoiling for at her apartment, he returned his attention to the road, driving the rest of the journey in the brittle sullen silence.
Some couple of minutes later, he swung into the sidewalk by her building, and turned off the engine.
Valerie turned to him. “Thank you for a nice evening, I’ll call you tomorrow. Goodnight.” She said in a cool, haughty voice.
Nathan stared mouth-agape as she got down and marched to her gate. Unbelievable! Did he just get dismissed? He felt his temper rise. Pushing open the car door, he jumped down.
She was opening the side jam-locked gate, when she noticed him marching toward her. She scowled, couldn’t he see she wanted to be left alone, for heaven’s sakes?
“It’s not necessary to see me to the door.” She said sparing him a glance, voice frosty and snooty.
“Just open the gate, Valerie.” Nathan retorted, his tone equally frosty.
“I hardly think your car is safe out here on the street, this late at night.”
“I’m sure it can survive a few minutes alone without falling into desperate hands.” Nathan pushed open the gate. “After you.” He gestured with his hand.
Valerie stepped in, lips firmed into a thin line. She locked the gate and without another word, stomped upstairs toward her apartment.
She marched into the living room, leaving the swinging door to slam into Nathan’s face.
It hit him on the head. “Goddamn it.” He swore. ‘What the hell is the matter with you?” He demanded, furiously rubbing his forehead.
“Don’t you dare swear at me.” She screeched, flinging her handbag dramatically on the sofa. “And nothing is the matter with me.”
She knew she was acting childish and spoilt but for some pervert, incomprehensible reason, it delighted her.
“Don’t give me that nothing bull shit.” Nathan bellowed, letting go of the fury simmering inside of him.
“And don’t you dare shout at me.” She yelled back, standing hands akimbo, eyes blazing. “You’ve seen me to the door, now if you don’t mind I’d like to head to bed.” She added petulantly.
“By God, you are trying my patience, Valerie.” Nathan warned, heaving out a hot breath. “And I didn’t come up to see you to the door.” He rasped out, trying to strap in his temper. “I came to find out what the hell happened at the concert to put you in such a bitchy mood.”
“How dare you call me a bitch!”
“I didn’t call you a bitch.” He retorted, more than a little exasperated. His head was beginning to pound from where she’d slammed the damn door into it. “I said your mood was bitchy.”
“And that isn’t the same thing?”
God give me patience, he prayed silently expelling a hitching breath.
“That isn’t the issue here.” He gritted through clenched teeth, watching as her eyes sparked fire and brimstone at him. And wondering why in some odd perverted way, he was aroused by it. “The issue is – what is going on? What happened to put you in this…” Her eyes narrowed menacingly, “… totally irritating and annoying mood?”
“And I have told you a dozen times – NOTHING.”
“Girl, I know all about that female nothing drama and I am having none of it.” Nathan retorted sternly.
Realizing that this was probably going to take longer than he’d expected, he headed to the kitchen. His now pounding head needed some ice.
Valerie stared stupefied as he trudged into her kitchen. What the heck! Now he’s going to swagger around her flat and do whatever he liked? Well, she’d had enough.
“Fine. Suit yourself. When you are done strutting round my apartment, see yourself to the gate. Here, take the key.” She threw the key on the centre table, it clattered on the glass top. “I’m going to bed. Goodnight.”
Nathan watched as she flounced off through the side door, obviously heading to her bedroom. He felt conflicted. He wanted to dash after her and shake some sense into her, or maybe out of her, but he hesitated.
In the four months they’d been dating, he’d never really been in her room, and he wasn’t sure it was appropriate right now. Appropriate be damned, he decided tossing the blocked water sachet into the sink, he was going in there, and knocking some sense into her if he had to.
He marched toward the curtained door and wham, he slammed right into her.
Valerie shrieked, pushing aside the curtain furiously, clutching her chest. “Where the heck were you heading to?” She demanded in a furious voice.
“To grab you and shake or knock some sense into you.”
“Really?” Her hands dropped to her waist and her light-brown eyes narrowed into slits. “And how did you plan to do that?”
Nathan eyed her menacing stance, rubbing his hand against his throbbing temple. “Valerie, for heaven’s sakes, would you just tell me what upset you in my last song?”
The quiet exasperated tone only infuriated Valerie the more. “What makes you think it’s your song that upset me?” She spat out through clenched teeth. The utter conceit of the man. It had to be something about him that had upset her.
“Because you are Nate Phillips and my life begins and ends with you?” She interrupted in a snooty voice.
Nathan merely arched a brow, so it’s Nate Phillips now, great.
“Or is it your – You are broken by revulsion and malice; You crave restitution and justice?” She maimed his lyrics in a sneering tone. “Bah” She waved her hand in dismissal, marching into the kitchen with a toss of her shoulder-length weaves.
She flung open the refrigerator and drew out a half-empty bottle of chardonnay.
He watched with amused dark eyes as she got out a glass and poured herself a shot, then tossed it down in a single gulp.
Valerie poured another shot, but didn’t immediately toss it down this time. Instead she picked up the glass and pointed it to him, twirling the drink.
“What the hell do you know about craving restitution and justice, huh?” She demanded in a self-righteous tone. “What do you know about malice?”
“Enough to know that waiting and longing for apologies and maybe some kind of poetic justice would never bring it.” He responded quietly.
His quiet calm voice sliced through her, cutting deep. She slammed the glass on the slab and stomped back into the living room.
“How would you know?” She cried. “What right have you to judge me?”
He heard the anger and pain in her voice. ”I wasn’t judging you… it was just a song about letting God heal the pains we carry around with us, because only He can.”
“Oh yeah?” Her bitter eyes sneered at him. “Of course you were just singing… singing from your wealth of experience I bet.”
She walked up to him, lips pursed, eyes narrowed and taunting. “Tell me, Mr. singing Nate Phillips, have you ever had your whole life changed in the twinkle of an eye?” She poked him on the chest, with her forefinger. “No? Or maybe you’ve had what is left of your family turn against you and treat you like some evil plague?” Another poke. “Still no? Then it must be your experience in being ostracized, hated, abused and abandoned, right?”
Nathan caught her finger as it made for his chest again and pushed it down. “No. Those are not my experiences.” He responded, eyes cool, voice quiet. “They are your experiences.”
He saw again the flash of anger and pain in her brown eyes. “But I’ve got my own experience. I too was abandoned by a family who should have provided for and protected their late brother’s only child and young widow.” His cool eyes darkened, his voice roughened. “I was also thrown out of my father’s house, together with a mother who had no choice but to return heartbroken and shamed to her own home.”
He took a step forward and poked her on the chest.
Valerie stepped back, taken aback.
“I have my own experiences. We all do, Valerie. It is what we call life.” His voice was hard but his eyes had glints of compassion flickering in them. “It happens to the best of us and in varied proportions. And happening, it kills the light within us and instils a darkness that drowns us in its depth and mire.”
“And these big experiences give you the right to sing to the rest of us, like some self-righteous hero?” Valerie demanded, wanting to hurt because of the pain gnawing inside her.
“No. But learning to forgive, and finally succeeding to put it all behind me, makes me that self-righteous singer.”
She ignored the sardonic grin. “And I’m a bad guy because I won’t go running to them, to offer them my wholehearted forgiveness?” She spat out. “Even when they are not asking for it?” Her voice was hitching now, quivering with deep-seated anger and pain.
He gently touched her wet cheek, she pushed his hand. “Forgiveness is to set you free. You do it for you.”
She swung to the sofa. “Just like that? They just get a free pass?” She bit her lips hard to stop the tears threatening to fall. “They get to be set free without any restitution?”
“They can’t give you restitution, Valerie.” Nathan said softly. He sat down beside her, took her hands, held on when she tried to wrench free. “And you get to be set free. It’s all about getting closure and some peace.”
He leaned forward, tenderly kissed her brimming defiant eyes. “It’s all about finally letting go of this pain, this deep wound.” He looked into her eyes. “I’m not saying it’s all going to happen like some big miracle. It will take time, but it’s best to start now – the healing process.”
Valerie looked at the dark eyes brimming with love, compassion, tenderness and understanding. And sighed. “It’s hard.”
“Yes, it is. But you can do it – one step at a time.”
Valerie doubted she was capable of ever letting go, of ever forgiving them… they’d nearly destroyed her. But she didn’t want to linger on the issue any longer. She just wanted it forgotten.
So giving a half smile, she said. “Okay, I guess I can try.”
Nathan smiled tenderly. “And I know if you try, you can do it. I believe in you.” He gave her a lingering kiss. “I love you.”
Valerie glowed under his loving gaze. “I guess we officially just had our first fight.” She said in a teasing voice.
“Yeah, my pounding head is a sure sign of it.”
She giggled. “Your poor head.” She touched him gingerly on the forehead. “Looks like I nearly bashed it. Does it still hurt?”
“Like a bitch.” He teased.
Her face crinkled in laughter.
“Christ, you are mean when you fight.” He blew out a hot breath. “Scary.”
“Poor baby.” Her eyes twinkled with mischief and laughter. “I bashed your head and scared you… aww, maybe I can kiss it better?” Her cool lips caressed his forehead.
It was just a light stroke, but it sent tremors slithering down his spine, Nathan shut his eyes allowing the sensation to flow through him.
She drew closer, brushed her lips over his slightly parted lips.
Nathan felt her moist, cool lips caress his. A single, tentative gentle stroke.
Then it became more curious – tasting, teasing, linking. It was like she was trying to know him. It was unexpected. It was heady.
He felt his lips part, whether of their own volition or because she’d probed them open, he wasn’t entirely sure. He just felt the deep thrust as her tongue entwined with his own. She bit him lightly on the lower lip.
Nathan groaned. It wasn’t just tremors rustling through him now. Giant earthquakes were gyrating through him, vibrating as they coursed through his veins. Her hands had walked their way round his neck and were sending shivers swishing through him, as they stroked and scratched – gently, lightly.
He allowed his arms to go round her waist and holding her in place, enjoyed the quivering sensations before untwisting his tongue – regretfully, reluctantly – from hers.
He groaned deeply, shook his head. “I’m a sick, sick man, Valerie. I need my head examined. But I just can’t help but believe in exchanging the vows before tearing down all barriers and just… letting go.”
Valerie leaned forward, kissed him lightly on the lips. “You are a truly amazing man. And much as I would like to tear down all those barriers and just let go… I’m kinda glad to wait, too… thanks to your impressive willpower.” She winked.
“No thinking there must be something wrong with this man? Am I sure he’s capable?”
“Oh I’m sure you are capable alright.” She allowed her eyes to slid downwards, arching her brows at the still visible rise against the black pants.
Nathan chuckled, a little embarrassed, yet roused by her bold gaze.
“I got to say, I’m lucky to have me a gorgeous man with such restrain and honour.” Her eyes were teasing as she grinned at him.
Nathan laughed. Taking her hand, he got up and walked with her to the door. Opening it, he turned and softly planted a kiss on her forehead. “Let’s see if the neighbourhood masters managed to keep their hands off my car. I’ll call you when I get home.”
He walked through the door, tossing across his shoulder as he marched down the stairs. “Just so you know, it’s real hard being a man of restrain and honour.”
Valerie laughed, biting her lips she shut the door.
To be continued…