“Oh God, it’s worse than we thought,” Demoniker’s twenty-three-year-old publicist, Nneka, groaned as she drew the blinds hanging over the window of the singer’s five star hotel room. Her widened gaze took in the sight of the press milling outside, just beyond the gates of the hotel.

She looked back at Demoniker, who was curled up in daybed, clad in her home clothes and looking distressed.

Nneka turned to the iPad in her hand, and her fingers danced over the screen as she continued, “The major blogs have been publishing these lies all weekend. The social media is having a field day with it. The hashtag, ‘Demoniker is a Hoe’ has been trending on Twitter all day yesterday. And if that crowd outside keeps increasing, the hotel management may very well ask us to leave.”

“Wow, you’re just a ray of sunshine, aren’t you, Nneka,” Ben, the Highland representative Josh had assigned to Demoniker drawled as he walked into the room from the adjoining bathroom, wiping his hand on a handkerchief. The roar of the toilet flush came from the room he’d just exited.

“It is my job to bring us these realities,” Nneka said, with another quick glance at her boss, her expression betraying her consternation at whether she’d gone too far in voicing her updates.

“And the hotel management can’t just ask us to leave,” Ben said, as he tucked the hanky into his trouser pocket before tugging the hem of his expensive-looking suit jacket into place. “Demoniker is a world-famous artiste. And scandals like this are perpetuated all the time. The hotel would be a fool to inconvenience her over a pack of such lies –”

“They’re not lies,” Demoniker cut in.

Both underlings turned to face her, looking momentarily uncomprehending.

“You say?” Ben said.

“The scandal… it’s not a lie,” she repeated, looking up and at both of them, daring them to be judgmental in her presence. “Everything that journalist said on Saturday night – it’s all true. Ryan Bassey and I were sleeping together while he was still married and while Josh was producing my album.”

The silence in the room was suddenly thick enough to cut with a butter knife. Nneka and Ben stared at her, looking like they were trying to process what reaction was appropriate to exhibit before the singer.

Demoniker sighed and got to her feet. She walked over to the window and looked through the blinds, her gaze settling with some melancholy on the melee several stories down.

“Hasn’t either of you made a mistake before?” she said softly, still looking out.

“Wait, you’re not joking?” Nneka blurted.

Demoniker gave out a mirthless chuckle before saying, “No, I’m not.”

“Well, we have to get in front of it, stop the hemorrhage before it gets any bloodier,” Ben said. “We have to find out who leaked the story in the first place, find out everything they know and get them to make a statement, publicly admit to releasing false information to the media. It will cost, I’m sure, but–”

“No,” Demoniker interjected softly but firmly. She turned away from the window to the cellaret to pour herself a drink.

“What?” Ben and Nneka said in unison.

“We’re not doing that. I’m not doing that.”

“With all due respect, Demoniker,” Ben countered, “I think you should just leave this to the professionals –”

“With all due respect, Ben,” she rejoined coldly as she turned to fix the record label rep with a hard stare, “there’s no greater professional about my life than me. Everyone else is dispensable.”

The threat was thinly-veiled, and Ben nodded his acquiescence immediately.

“Good,” she said. “Now, the truth is already out. There’s no point denying it.”

“But –” Nneka started.

“There’s no point in trying to change my mind, Nneka.”

The publicist nodded. “Very well. So what now?”

“I come clean –”

“Er, just how clean do you want to come?” Ben interjected.

“The entire story of the affair,” Demoniker said as she took her glass to her mouth.

As she took a sip, Nneka came slowly toward her. Her face was full of concern – not on a professional level, Demoniker could tell. “Are you sure about this?” she asked quietly.

“Yes, I’m sure.”

“And you know once you talk, there’s no controlling the outcome, right?”

“I don’t know if I’m prepared for it, but I know I’m not about to give anyone the power of having the truth hang over my head.” She took another sip of her drink before instructing her publicist, “So, call Sandra Dede. Someone’s about to get an exclusive tell-all interview from yours truly.”

***

We were together in my sitting room; I was on the couch and Jude was sprawled out on the floor. Jude had the programme of Samuel’s funeral in his hand. There was an additional empty bottle of spirit lying on the floor, next to the one I’d started drinking earlier in the day. The day had long aged outside, and even though there was no light on in the parlour, the lights on in the adjoining kitchen and corridor illuminated the room, making it possible for me to observe every emotion that went through Jude’s handsome face.

And right at that moment, we were buoyed by alcohol-fuelled delight as we recounted the life of the friend we’d lost.

“Okay, okay,” I slurred at the end of a laugh, “what about the time we were all broke, so he sold all his Nike shoes so we could get tickets to watch the AFCON finals in South Africa?”

“Oh yeah, I remember that,” Jude replied. “What happened to that plan sef?”

“School happened. We couldn’t leave the country because of that damned –”

“Philosophy lecturer – yes!” And Jude let out a guffaw. “Oh man! We were so bummed out when that wicked man set his assessment tests around the time of the finals.”

“You were bummed out? I wanted to kill the man!” I exclaimed with a laugh.

“And whatever happened to the money?”

“I have no idea.” I shook my head.

There was a moment of silence, before Jude dredged up another bit of memory. “I remember when we were kids and Sam would cover for me with my dad when I broke something or did some other shit.  He was always so selfless like that. Everyone else came before him.”

“Preach!” I hollered, raising my glass to the air.

Jude followed suit. And then we drank some more.

“You know everyone thought Sam and I were the best friends because we knew each other a long time,” Jude said as he turned from where he was on the floor to face me. “But nuh-uh, it was him and you. The both of you had this weird bond. I was kinda jealous actually.”

Hearing this made my heart begin to break all over in a million pieces. The pain I thought had been deadened by the drink and Jude’s boisterous company began to creep back in, very alive. I forced out a laugh and quipped, “That’s not true o. His bond was with my mum, not me.”

Jude hooted with laughter, harder than he had all night, and I willingly joined in.

“With your mum, yes. In fact, at some point, I thought he was runsing your mum.”

“Jude! Eww!” I feigned disgust even though the thought had come to my mind at some point in the past.

Jude snickered. “That aside though, I firmly believe it was you and him that clicked the most above all of us. I mean, he did jump in front of a bullet for you. If ever there was confirmation needed for…”

He stopped talking when a sob erupted from my mouth. And then, another burst forth, and another, and then right then, I began crying, the sobs breaking out in fits and starts as the tears streamed down my face.

Jude stayed quiet for a few moments, before saying, “Okay, what did I say now?”

“You’re right!” I said in between sobs. “He jumped in front of a bullet for me. And now he’s dead – because of me. Because we had this stupid bond…” I spat the last word out along with finger quotes in the air, before letting out a brief humourless laugh.

“Hey stop,” Jude said as he got up from the floor to sit on the couch next to me. “Last I checked, he survived the bullet wounds. How on earth could we have known he was sick even before he was admitted for that? Look Kev, you got to stop blaming yourself for every single bad thing that happens.”

“Even when I’m to blame for him being in the hospital in the first place?”

“And that’s just it. We make all the choices that put us in these positions. Not you – Us! So all this crying, blaming yourself and quitting a job you clearly love – they don’t make sense at all. If anything, I think you’re more afraid than sad. You’re afraid that once you accept that it wasn’t your fault, you’ll be moving on.”

There was a pause, which I broke when I husked, “Did you just psychoanalyze me?”

Jude flashed me a grin. “Maybe. I gatz to use this degree for something nau!”

I chuckled. Jude joined in.

And in that moment, we both looked into each other’s eyes and I was positive he was feeling everything I was feeling – pain, joy, shame. The emotions throbbed like heavy undercurrents between us.

And pushed by the instinct that was no doubt a result of my inebriation, I leaned forward and placed my lips on Jude’s. He didn’t need any persuasion; he opened his mouth and let the kiss sink in, catch fire. My hands were on his body, and his were on mine. And we were groping each other and straining against each other, desire driving out reason as we sought to slake our passion.

Finally, Jude pulled back from me and said hoarsely into my ear, “I want you but this couch is too damn uncomfortable.”

***

“This can’t happen again,” I said wretchedly as I lay beside Jude on my bed.

We were naked on top of the sheets and our legs were entangled, with Jude lying on his front, his right arm flopped across my belly. He gave a languid smile.

I sensed he was smiling, and I turned my face to him to confirm it. “What’s funny?” I said.

“Oh nothing,” he said, still smiling. “It’s just that those are the same words you said the last four times we made love –”

“We didn’t make love,” I objected.

“Yes we did.”

“No we didn’t,” I said insistently. “We hooked up. Making love implies that we are more. And we are not.”

“We are not?” Jude said, as his hand slithered toward my crotch.

I slapped it away.

“Ouch!” he protested with a grin. “But we are having such a good time as less,” he said with a pout.

“Come on, Jude. I’m seeing someone. We can’t keep doing this!”

“Oh that’s right.” He rolled away from me. “What’s that his name again – Cain, Caleb?”

I rolled my eyes. “His name is Kuddus. You know this already. Stop playing dumb. And I can’t keep doing this to him. He genuinely loves me, and honestly, I see myself with him. Not you.”

“Ouch! That hurt.”

“You don’t say,” I said sarcastically. “Imagine how this would hurt him.”

“Well, if you see yourself with him so much, how come you’re here with me? Me, Kevin – the same guy you lost your virginity to.”

He had such an accomplished grin on his face that I wanted to smack him.

“Don’t go there –”

“Look,” he interrupted, his face suddenly serious, “I don’t like this sneaking around too. It’s not healthy. For any of us. But just face it, Kevin. You’re only using Kuddus as an emotional cushion. What you and I have – you can’t feel it with anyone else. And the sooner you realise that, the better it’ll be for everyone involved.”

“Will you please stop with the psych stuff!” I snapped, unreasonably getting annoyed. “You’re only saying that because it’s what you want to believe. When the truth is, all we cause each other is pain and more pain. Even Sam knew that. See, I’m in a relationship with Kuddus, okay? So we have to stop doing this, and you have to stop showing up at my house unexpected. It’s just that simple.”

“Well if that’s how you really feel…” He turned his sullen expression away from me and began moving toward the edge of the bed.

“It is,” I maintained.

“Fine then. I’ll leave.” He reached for his jeans and began shucking his legs into them. “In the middle of the night.” He stood to belt the jeans around his waist. “Even though your area is known for harnessing robbers.” He picked up his T-shirt and maneuvered it over his head onto his body. “But what the heck, I’m just the guy who gave you a mind-blowing orgasm minutes ago.”

I sighed, stifling a bubble of amusement at his histrionics. “I see what you’re doing.”

“I’m not doing anything,” he said as he moved toward the door. “I’m leaving o, in the middle of the night–”

“Fine! You can stay. But you’re sleeping on the floor.”

He gasped. “On the floor?”

“On the floor,” I reiterated.

I threw one of my pillows at him, followed by the blanket. He deposited the sleeping materials on the floor and removed his clothes again, except for his boxers, before getting comfortable on his makeshift bed.

For some moments, we lay on our different spaces, breathing deeply and wrapped in our individual thoughts. The silence was companionable, and I sighed, feeling a slight sense of contentment, a feeling that had eluded me for six months.

Jude broke the silence when he said softly, “Just so you know, I really don’t care that you have a boyfriend. I still love you. But I also wouldn’t do anything to jeopardize the happiness you have with him, if you’re happy with him.” He paused, as though to let those last words sink into me, before continuing, “And maybe I’ve been the one initiating our…hookups the past four times. But today, you kissed me, Kevin. You made the first move. So maybe you should ask yourself if you and this boyfriend are truly the picture you see when you imagine yourself with someone.”

We are, I thought to myself.

I wondered why I couldn’t get the words out, to speak them out to Jude. And then, I stopped wondering and shut my eyes, determined to sleep. I simply wanted this day – this night, to be over.

Written by The Reverend

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