PREVIOUSLY – After his friends Tayo and Sly called him out on his self centeredness, Kevin felt so bad, he decided to confess his unfaithfulness to Kuddus.

And thanks to her therapist, Amara and her father reconciled, and he may or may not know why her dead mother is coming to her from the dead.

And finally, it would seem Demoniker is catching feelings for Joshua Bassey. First the Father, now the Son – who says the Holy Spirit isn’t next?

*

Baby I heard we always want what hurts us

I know it’s true when it’s just us. But…

Even if my heart should bleed like a waterfall

Even if my tears would flow like a river

I would still choose you again

So while we suffer together

Let us love the pain away…….

I sat in the backseat of the taxi, scribbling these words in my notebook as the lyrics took shape in my head. The verse was rising from my subconscious, driven by my ponderation of the turn my life had recently taken, and how it was largely my fault.

“Kuddus…” I’d said haltingly, staring anxiously at him. “Please, say something…”

He didn’t say anything. He simply sat there on the bed beside me, a vacant expression replacing the stunned look he’d been wearing moments ago as I told him how I’d been having sex with Jude virtually since we started dating. He didn’t say a word to me then, nor for the rest of the night. When I woke up the next morning, he was gone. There was a note on the night stand which read: I’ve gone back to Lagos. Please don’t call or text me.

The misery that was marked by the tears that began dripping from my eyes upon my reading of the note welled up inside me now, tightening my chest and causing my hand to tremble against the notebook.

“What have I done?” I whispered disconsolately to myself.

“Oga, we don reach oh!” the Warri-accented male voice cut rudely into my sad preoccupation from the front of the cab.

I shut my notebook involuntarily and blinked uncomprehendingly at him. “Eh?”

“I say we don reach, abi no be the place?” he said, this time impatiently.

I looked out through the window, my gaze falling on the imposing building that stretched skyward beyond the gates. It was familiar terrain, and yet, I didn’t feel any warmth that came from returning to a place where memories were created. Instead, the Highland edifice stood, unfriendly and reproving, as though admonishing me for being a part of past scandal, for abandoning it and for daring to return. I stared woodenly back, as though to say: Don’t worry. I won’t be here long.

“Oga, I get other passenger wey go dey wait for road,” the taxi driver snapped, cutting into my reverie again. “You dey comot, abi you wan go another place?”

“Okay, okay,” I said as I shoved my notebook into my backpack and got out of the vehicle. A tiny coil of annoyance bloomed inside me at the driver’s impatience and I welcomed it, fostered it – anything to serve as a distraction from the well of self deprecation rooting deep inside me. I walked over to the driver’s window and hissed as I threw a one thousand naira note at him. He hissed back as he snapped it up and then drove off.

I was left standing there before Highland Records, wondering if I’d made a mistake coming here.

***

“Oh my God – seriously?!” Demoniker said wrathfully to Benjamin as the man moved across the office he shared with another Highland staffer toward her.

“Demoniker, it’s not that bad,” he said in a cajoling tone.

“I didn’t even ask for this part!” the star said with an irate gesture. “I know I’m not a working actress, but he wanted me for this! And now, he wants me to audition! What am I, some sort of upstart?” Her eyes flashing, she drew herself up, and in a rare show of conceit, she said emphatically, “I am not like everybody else!”

“But that’s just the thing – you are,” Benjamin blurted.

 A second after the words left his mouth, he looked like he regretted them. He swallowed as the singer’s eyes narrowed on him.

“Excuse me?” she said with hissing softness.

“I mean no offense,” he hurried to explain, “but this isn’t music. This is the world of acting, and previous stints in school plays or not, you’re basically a babe in these woods.”

“He wants me!” Demoniker roared, jerking a finger to her side, as though pointing her accusation at the man responsible for her wrath.

“Yes, granted. Your notoriety at the moment gives his play the publicity he needs. But you have to also be worth the gamble. People will see through him casting you as the play for publicity that it is. And viewers who are serious about their drama will be waiting to call him out on this should it become obvious that you can’t act. There’s only so much good your notoriety can do for his production.”

For a long moment after Benjamin was done with his impassioned rebuttal, Demoniker stood and stared at him, her face still held in rigid lines by her anger.

And then, Nneka intoned from the corner where she’d been perched since she followed an enraged Demoniker into the office minutes ago. “I agree with Ben.”

Demoniker turned to face her, and then let out a heavy sigh before saying, “Give me that.” She was gesturing at the printout that Ben had handed to her moments earlier, upon which were written the terms the director wanted met with her. “Nneka, call the director and tell him I accept his terms,” she continued as she read the printout. “I just hope I don’t wake up one day soon, regretting this direction you all seem to think is good for me.”

“You won’t, I’m sure of it,” Benjamin said, before turning toward the door. “I’ll be right back.”

“Reassuring her is my job,” Nneka admonished him lightly as she retrieved her phone and began dialing. She started out of the office as well, when she sensed that her employer wouldn’t appreciate the intrusion of her phone conversation.

Within seconds, Demoniker was alone in the office. She was focused on the document, mentally checking off what she could work with and what she’d further challenge, perhaps this time to the director himself.

“Excuse me, Ms. Dawson…” a courteous female voice said.

She turned. “Yes?”

It was the secretary who manned the desk right outside, dividing her services between the six staffers in the three offices that hemmed in her work station.

“There’s someone here to see you,” the woman said. “He said he was directed here by someone in your team.”

“He says his name is –”

“Oh my God, Kevin…” Demoniker said softly over the secretary’s voice, staring beyond her to the man who’d just walked into the office behind her.

***

“Hello,” I said, suddenly feeling self conscious under the surprised and pleased stare of Demoniker.

“Hi.” A smile stretched her lips and sparkled in her eyes. I was struck anew by the knowledge of how truly beautiful she was. “Look what the cat dragged in.” She waved her dismissal at the secretary, and waved me forward.

I moved to her and we came together in a warm, sincere hug. It occurred to me then that this woman might just be more than someone I worked for – might just be my friend.

She pulled back and still held my arms. “How did you even know to find me here?”

I had stayed in contact with her scheduling assistant. She was the one who told me Demoniker would be in Highland today. I simply had to chat up a member of the security who I’d been friendly with during my time in Highland and got the information as to whose office she’d come to. Of course I didn’t tell her any of these.

“I have my ways,” I settled on with an enigmatic smile.

She laughed as she led me to the couch. “Oh you do, do you? And what brings you here?”

“What? I can’t just come here to say hi without an agenda?”

“Everybody always has an agenda, darling.” She shrugged. “It comes with the territory. Besides, you did say you were finished with this place. Kinda makes me wonder then what you came back to do.”

“Trust me, I’m still finished with this place. But recent events had me risking showing my face around here to –”

“What recent event –” She stopped as realization dawned in her eyes. “You heard, didn’t you? Of course you did.”

I chuckled. “Yea, I’d have to be living under a rock in Mars for me not to hear.”

She hung her head. “I can only imagine how shocked you must have been.”

“Mmhmm,” I said with a noncommittal nod. I wasn’t about to tell her that I was basically the first Nigerian to learn of her affair with Chief Bassey. Shock was definitely not what I felt when I learned of the scandal.

“Well,” she said, “I’m sorry you had to find out whatever way you did –”

“There’s no need to apologize to me,” I said. “I’m just glad you’re moving on now.”

“Yeah.” She smiled. “Ironically, it’s all thanks to Josh. He’s been really good to me, despite everything.”

I arched a brow at the nuance I perceived in her spoken gratitude. But I didn’t pursue it.

“Oh yea?” I simply said.

“Yea,” she said. “He’s been amazingly on my side. And now, he has me involved in this play thing in hopes of reshaping the narrative about me to the public.”

“That’s nice,” I said with noticeable lack of enthusiasm.

Demoniker paused then and eyed me. “Okay, enough about me. How are you doing?” She placed a hand on my shoulder as she said this.

There was a long pause after that question, a silence during which time I struggled inwardly for the right words to say that wouldn’t lead me to breaking down. I had precipitously gotten close to the brink of an emotional cascade, without realizing when I made the journey to this precipice.

“I’m fine,” I rasped, willing the tears back into the tear ducts. I smiled for effect. “I just got a new job, and everything’s going good so far. I’m good.”

“Well, you certainly look it,” she said as she scooted back on the couch so she could get a better view of me in my dashiki, skinny jeans and boots. “You’re really looking spicy, Kev.”

I attempted dialing the wattage of my smile, and succeeded. “Thank you.”

“And yet, I’d like to know what the problem is,” she said, bringing her disconcertingly discerning gaze back to my face.

“I’m sorry? I just said I’m –”

“Fine – yes, I heard you. But the thing is, you can’t bullshit a bullshitter. I’ve recently been in a not-fine place, remember? And so, I know the art, right down to a T, of trying to convince people you’re fine when you’re not.”

I sighed.

“What is it?” she asked.

I remained silent; contemplating what to say, how much to say. I mean, how do you tell a woman who doesn’t know you’re gay about your relationship problems?

“Okay, you know what?” Demoniker began. “Why don’t I guess, and you tell me if I’m right?”

“Demoniker,” I groaned, “I really don’t –”

“Family wahala? Work problems? Relationship issues…” She stopped when she observed the micro expression on my face. She sighed then. “Who was the asshole?”

“I was,” I said.

“What did you do?”

“I cheated. Had sex several times with someone I wasn’t supposed to from the onset of our relationship.”

“Are you still having sex with this someone?”

“No.”

“Are you sorry you had sex with this someone?”

“Very. Deeply sorry.”

“Were you found out or did you confess voluntarily?”

“I confessed. And now, I fear I may have ruined my relationship. I’ve been told to not call or text and just generally back off.”

She gave me a small smile, one that spoke volumes of her empathy. “Don’t do it.”

“I shouldn’t do what?”

“Give up that easily on your relationship. Fight for it. You love who you love, and when you love, you fight to get it back, no matter the circumstance. And love understands. Love forgives, as long as you are sincere in your quest for forgiveness and show that sincerity.”

I sat there, staring at her, increasingly aware how wrong I was in my previous supposition. There was no uncertainty to it; Demoniker was my friend.

***

Demoniker and I chatted about music and life for about another hour, so uninterrupted was our time together. Some underlings intruded every now and then, walking into the office, wanting her attention. But the star waved them away. She was determined to revel in my company.

And then, I had to leave. We got to our feet and hugged. Her mouth was next to my right ear when she said in a low tone, “I really missed you, sugar.”

“Me too,” I husked as I suddenly found myself fighting back tears.

“Take care of yourself, okay?”

“You do that too.”

As I withdrew from the hug and turned to the door, she said after me, “And Kevin…”

I turned around to face her. “Yea?”

“He’s a really lucky guy,” she said with a smile. “I hope he knows it.”

I stood there, not knowing why I was dumbstruck by her revelation of her knowledge of my sexuality, and yet feeling the tremors of realization go through my body.

“What?” she said as she observed my astonishment. “You think I’d work with you all this time and not know? Give a girl who’s lived in LA most of her life some credit, please.”

I chuckled. “Goodbye, Demoniker.”

“See ya, Kevin,” she replied.

I walked out feeling strangely light. There was coming to me the consciousness of how freeing it was to have someone know the real me. I should have suspected though – about Demoniker knowing, that is. The way she had structured our conversation about my relationship issues, using gender neutral terms in place of specific pronouns. That should have tipped me off to her awareness of my homosexuality. Besides, it was like she said: she’s an LA girl. You can’t live so long in California, the gay capital of the world, and not have a fine-honed gaydar.

I came to stand in front of the elevator just as I saw, from the indicator lights, that it was arriving on my floor. The doors dinged open and I stiffened for the second time in so many minutes.

“Hey!” Josh said with some effusiveness as he stepped out. “Oh wow, Kevin! Look at you!”

He pulled me into a hug, clapping his hands on my back.

“Hey, Josh,” I said when we broke apart.

“Did you need to see me or –”

“No, no!” I quickly interjected. “I’m just on my way out from seeing Demoniker.”

“Oh,” he said, looking suddenly somewhat downcast. “Well, how are you?”

“I’m fine.”

“That’s good to know. Well, if you ever need anything, just –”

“I got a job.” I couldn’t discern why I said that. But there it was.

“Oh,” he said again, clearly not expecting to hear this. “That’s fantastic! Where?”

I was not about to tell him it was in another record label, let alone one run by his mother. “One company like that,” I said with deliberate vagueness.

He nodded, clearly understanding my disinterest in giving any more. Looking at his wrist watch, he announced, “Well, I have a meeting now, so…”

“Yea, see you, Josh.”

“Bye, Kevin,” he responded, and started on down the hallway while I punched the button on the wall to summon the elevator.

***

There was nothing we could do, Amara… You were six years old when it happened, so that’s probably why you don’t remember…

Her father’s words still hounded her as she drove down the highway. She had thought she could process it all on her own until her next appointment with Deidre. But she couldn’t. She needed some help. And as she sped toward the woman who could help her make sense of her recent upheaval, she could also feel a slow onrush tears threatening to overflow.

A red light began to blink on the console attached to her dashboard. It was clearly a voicemail; she’d been too preoccupied to realize that she was missing a call. She tapped a button on the console with her forefinger and an automated voice said, “You have one new message.”

This was followed by Kareem’s voice bursting through the speaker. “Amara! I’ve been trying to reach you for a long while now. You’ve been screening my calls – why? Your father told me what he said to you. I’m so sorry, but you shouldn’t be alone in a time like –”

She terminated the message before it’d even ended. Minutes later, she was pulling up beside a property that was starting to feel less alien with each visit. She got out of her car, and headed straight in.

The secretary looked up from his desk when he saw her walk in. The smile he automatically began giving her vanished when he saw that she was about to invade his employer’s sanctum without an appointment.

“Hello, Ms. Peters,” he began as he hastened to his feet and darted forward to block Amara. “Sorry, madam, you can’t just go in there. You don’t have an appointment with her today –”

“I don’t care!” Amara exclaimed as she maneuvered her way round the secretary and barged into Deidre’s office.

The intrusion startled the woman seated behind the desk inside and speaking into her phone. She accessed the situation in a microsecond and said into the phone, “Susan, I’m going to have to call you back.”

Then she dropped the phone and said pleasantly to her secretary, “James, it’s alright. I’ll take it from here.”

The secretary retreated and Amara was waved over to their usual spot.

“So, you want to tell me why this couldn’t wait till next week?” Deidre asked.

***

The handkerchief in her hand had suffered the abuse of merciless rumpling and frequent trips to her teary eyes in the past thirty minutes she’d been talking, unburdening her mind over what her father revealed to her.

“And then…” Amara’s voice shook as another torrent of emotion overtook her.

“It’s okay,” Deidre said softly. “Just take a deep breath.”

Amara did just that.

“Good,” Deidre said. “Now you were saying?”

“And then, he said it wasn’t my fault! But I watched her hang herself and I didn’t do anything. It is my fault!”

Deidre sighed.

“It’s not, Amara.”

“But I could have–”

“You could have nothing!” Deidre said firmly. “Amara, you were just six years old. Your mother was mentally unstable. It’s not your fault she decided to end her life.”

“I know!”

“Good! Then why are you blaming yourself?”

“Because that’s the only explanation as to why she has come back,” Amara said, with tears tracking her helplessness down her face. “She has come back to haunt me, to accuse me with what I did.”

Written by The Reverend

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