So here’s what went down previously on BEAUTIFUL SINNERS:

Kevin hooks up with his first love, Jude, something that apparently wasn’t the first time. And he feels bad, really bad about it, because, well, he’s in a relationship with Kuddus.

And the runaway bride, Amara, just happens to be seeing a lot of her dead mother. And the hallucinations are driving her crazy.

*

Bright late morning sunlight invaded the sanctum that was my room, washing over my body and pounding at my closed eyelids. I could feel the glare and lifted my hand to shield my eyes as I opened them.

And then I noticed someone was standing at the door of my room. I blinked the person into focus, and felt my heart jump when I saw it was Kuddus. His eyes were teary and accusing as he glared at me. Then his gaze shifted to my side, moments before I felt the familiar heat of Jude’s presence on the bed beside me. My heart sank to my stomach as I turned to see a very naked Jude lying next to me, staring back at Kuddus with a set expression.

I turned back to Kuddus and let out a husky, “Kuddus…please, it’s not what you think…”

He turned that glare back to me and I was struck by the force of the emotions seething in his eyes. He looked wordlessly at me for a moment, before turning to storm out of the room.

“Kuddus, please!” I yelled. “Please wait…!”

I leaped up from the bed to chase after him, and gave a yelp of agony when my legs dropped to the floor and I felt burning pain shoot up my limbs from the skin underfoot. I fell back on the bed and stared aghast at smoldering coals spread out on the floor of my bedroom.

“You did this to yourself!” I heard a voice say.

I looked up to see Samuel standing right in front of me, his ghostly expression marred by heavy disapproval.

“No…” I gasped miserably.

“Yes!” he hissed.

“No… Please, no… Kuddus…”

***

“Yes?”

The soft response nudged me awake and my eyes shot open immediately to see the person standing at the door of my room. The midmorning sunlight was invading the room and felt hot against my body.

However, I felt an instant surge of ice within me as I jerked around, heart pounding, to see that there was no one on the bed with me.

“Dreaming about me now, huh?” Kuddus said as he advanced into the room with a small grin on his face.

I started to rise from the bed while listening to the sounds of the small apartment, trying to pick out any dissonance that indicated the presence of anybody else in the house.

Jude, where are you? I frantically wondered as Kuddus sat on the bed beside me and planted a quick kiss on my lips.

“That was a dream about me, wasn’t it?” he said, his eyes twinkling.

“Yes, it was,” I said, trying to steady my breathing.

“Ooh nice.” He beamed. “You sounded like you were moaning. I was that good, huh?”

I stared at him for a moment, before sidling close to him, into his willing arms and took his face in my hands. And then I kissed him. His surprise made him pause for just a moment, before he began kissing me back. His hands slid to my rump and he pulled me forward, closer to him, while kissing me hard, stamping his lips firmly against mine, his tongue moving searchingly over mine. I kissed him just as fiercely, before finally breaking contact and pulling my head back from his.

His breathing was harsh as he gave a shaky laugh. “You should dream more of me, and I should walk in on you more often.”

I smiled at him and then furrowed my brows in question. “How did you get inside?”

“I knocked for awhile, and when you didn’t answer, I turned the door knob, and behold, the door wasn’t even locked.” He frowned. “And that was very careless of you, going to bed without locking up. Anyone could have walked in at any time.”

I had locked the door, right after I let Jude in yesterday.

Jude must be gone then. He must have let himself out.

I heaved a sigh.

“I’m serious, Kevin.”

“And I appreciate your seriousness,” I said, permitting myself a grin now that I knew I was in the clear.

I pulled away from him and proceeded to get out of bed. I reached for my boxers and shimmied my butt into the underwear.

“How come you’re just waking up by the way?” Kuddus said as he rose from the bed as well. “It’s almost 11 o’clock.”

“I had a lot to drink last night.”

“Kevin…” he began, worry tingeing his tone.

“I know what you’re going to say,” I interrupted. “Please don’t say it. I’m alright.”

“Clearly you’re not, if you’re drinking and going to bed without locking your front door. You of all people should know how robbery-prone your neighbourhood is.”

A quick kaleidoscope of images and sounds instantly crashed through my subconscious – a distant echo of a gunshot, a splatter of crimson, Jude’s pale face, and then his heated gaze as his lips and hands invaded my body and stirred my passions.

Oh God, stop this! I admonished silently before blinking the cerebral intrusion away.

I turned a mellow expression to Kuddus. “You’re right. I should know better. I’m sorry I made you worry.”

“It’s fine. I love worrying about you.” He had come close to me again and we stood before each other for a moment, before he pulled me into another kiss.

As I sank into the kiss, I felt guilt batter at my insides. How could I have such a good man be so good to me in spite of all the ways I’d shown that I didn’t deserve him?

I broke the kiss again, pulling my head back so I could look into his eyes, emotion swirling in my depths. “I’m sorry about yesterday,” I husked. “I was a real jerk. And you didn’t deserve to be treated that way.”

“No, I’m sorry. I wasn’t being empathetic enough,” Kuddus countered. “I should learn to be more patient with your grief. I mean, your best friend died –”

“Six months ago,” I cut in. “I should learn to handle my grief properly.”

He nodded as he chuckled. “Yes, you should.”

I chuckled too as I leaned in closer to him and slid my arms up and over his shoulder. “I’m sorry, baby.”

“I forgive you.” And he pulled me in for another kiss.

This time, it was the sound of my phone ringing that ended the kiss. Kuddus groaned as I stepped away from him and moved toward the nightstand where my phone was thrumming. I gave a small start when I spotted Jude’s phone on the floor on my way to my phone. Without breaking my stride, I kicked the device straight under the bed and reached for my phone.

I didn’t know the number calling. “Hello?”

“Hello. Am I on to Kevin Achike?” a male voice responded.

“Who wants to know?”

“Good morning. This is Fred Adelaide. We met yesterday. I interviewed you – well, my partner and I did.”

“Interviewed me…” I said slowly, as I scrambled to sort through the mess that was my recollection of yesterday.

“I’m from Mad House Records,” the man supplied at the same time that I made the connection.

“Mad House, yes,” I said. “Good morning. I was under the impression that my business with you people was done. We aren’t a perfect fit, is what I believe your partner told me.”

The man gave a soft laugh from the other end. “Well, we’re not in a habit of doing this, but we’re sorry about how it went down yesterday. We didn’t realize we were giving Demoniker Dawson’s former songwriter such a small deal.”

Seeing as I hadn’t included my work on Demoniker’s album in my resume, I could only assume that they’d done some investigation on me. The thought of that was flattering.

“Seems like you guys went and did some homework after I left,” I said.

“We did,” Fred Adelaide said with another chuckle. “Why didn’t you include that in your resume?”

“I’d rather not get into that part of my career past, if that’s okay with you,” I said politely.

He paused, as though picking up on tensions that I’d carefully kept away from my tone.

“Very well,” he acceded. “Anyway, I called because I was hoping you’d consider coming back for another meeting tomorrow. We promise to seriously consider the terms you stipulated yesterday.”

They were offering me a job?!  I turned to stare with brimming delight at Kuddus.

What? he mouthed the word at me.

“Mr. Achike, are you there?” the man on the phone asked.

“Yes, yes I am.”

“So we’ll see you tomorrow?”

“Yes, I’ll be there. What time?”

“10 am.”

“10 am, it is.”

“Have a good day then.”

“You too, sir.”

I hung up and let out a whoop of joy as I darted back toward Kuddus.

“What, what, what!” He was yelling.

“I got the job – the one whose interview you drove me to yesterday.”

His smiled beamed. “Oh nice! Congrats!”

I went into his arms and kissed him.

“Just believe, everything is going to be alright, baby,” he murmured against my lips as he kissed me back.

“Yes, it will,” I murmured back as my hands began working loose the buttons of his shirt.

Everything was going to be alright, I thought fervently as I focused on getting my boyfriend into my bed.

***

“…I don’t in fact owe the public any apology. What I did had nothing to do with them. The only person that deserves my apology – the only person I feel bad about hurting – is Joshua Bassey, Ryan’s son.”

Amara was listening distractedly to Demoniker Dawson’s interview as she pulled up into the hospital’s parking lot. She snapped off the radio and turned to the rear view mirror to check out her reflection one last time, tucking back a stray strand of hair and swiping off a nonexistent smear from her face, before alighting from the car.

“Hey, Amara…!”

She turned and stifled a groan when she saw Kareem hurrying across the parking lot toward her.

“What are you doing here, Kareem?” she said as she turned and continued walking toward the hospital entrance, leaving him to jog so he could catch up to her.

“The hospital called my father to tell him our dad is now awake.”

“They shouldn’t have. I’m the only one who’s his family. It would be up to me to then let anyone else know,” she said primly as she moved briskly through the vast doors.

She could feel Kareem’s startled gaze on her.

“Are you upset with me or something?”

She stopped walking then, feeling a surge of emotion crash through her. Distress was etched on her face as she trembled where she stood.

“Hey, hey, Amie, are you okay?” Kareem drew closer to her, placing a hand gently on her arm.

“Yes, I am.” She shook her head, attempting to shake away the turbulence raging in her head.

“Is this about what you were going to tell me yesterday in your father’s hospital room?”

Amara looked at him.

It’s not going to be okay, Kareem. Something’s wrong. And I need help!

She’d started to tell him everything, all the craziness she’d been suffering ever since her deceased mother began appearing to her. And then she’d stopped. No matter how much she tried, she couldn’t get over the fear that no one could possibly understand what she was going through.

“No it’s not,” she said as she resumed walking. Kareem fell in step beside her. “I’m just worried about my father… Now that he’s awake, you know, considering what happened when he was last conscious…”

“I get it,” Kareem said, taking her hand in his. He squeezed it reassuringly. “That’s why I’m here, to ensure he understands that you’re not to blame.”

Amara blinked back the tears that pricked at the back of her eyes. Why hadn’t she fallen in love with this man? she thought miserably as she slid a side glance at her ex-fiancé.

Soon, they were in her father’s room. The bed had no one in it and there was a nurse tidying up.

“Good morning, ma,” she said with a solicitous smile. “Your father is out there taking in some fresh air.” She jerked her head in the direction of the verandah.

Amara and Kareem moved to the open doorway that overlooked the serene grounds of the hospital. Mazi Peters was seated in the relative solitude of the verandah, his profile turned to them. Amara noted with some relief how less frail he looked; he was clad in a dressing gown, and there was a small blanket thrown over his thighs, draping down his legs. When he turned his face to them, Amara didn’t know whether to be worried or pleased that the sternness was back in his bespectacled gaze.

“My beautiful daughter,” he said in a low voice. He was wearing a slight smile, enigmatic in its lack of expression.

Amara moved with small unsure steps toward him. “Hello, daddy, how are you feeling?” She placed a hand on his shoulder.

He reached up to put his own hand on hers. “Much better, my dear. I hear I gave everyone quite a bit of a scare.”

Guilt slithered upward, cleaving a pathway that burned at her nerve endings. The tears rose swiftly and blurred her vision as she suddenly blurted, “Daddy, I’m so sorry!”

He turned a quizzical look up at her. “Honey –”

“I am so, so sorry! I shouldn’t have acted so irresponsibly on what was a big day for both of us!”

“Hush, child,” he said. “Don’t beat yourself up over that. What’s happened has happened. In fact, if anyone is to be blamed, it is me.”

“How can you say that?”

He held her gaze for a moment before returning it to the view of the hospital’s environs. “I should have known you wouldn’t be capable of making such a commitment for the company.”

“Commitment?” Amara echoed.

“For the company?” Kareem said from behind her.

“Daddy, what do you mean?”

“Your father and I wanted so much for this merger,” Mazi Peters said, turning his face to Kareem as he spoke. “We wanted to solidify our relationships, both business and family-wise. We wanted to make a solid coalition, and what better way than to nudge our children into marriage. I honestly thought you two would fall in love, and then our matchmaking wouldn’t feel too much like the machinations of two old men.”

“But we didn’t fall in love,” Amara said, her misery receding to be replaced by gradual antagonism.

“I knew that.”

“You knew?”

Her father nodded.

“And you would still have us get married?” The incredulous question came from Kareem.

“Some of the best marriages don’t start out with the couples so giddy in love. Love grows with constant companionship. Amarachi, your mother and I… She became the love of my life, and our marriage was arranged –”

“You shouldn’t have tried to play god with our lives,” Amara cut in tersely. “Just because it worked for you and mum doesn’t mean it’d work for me. You were just going to stand by, knowing I may be making a big mistake? How could you, dad?”

“Well you came to your senses, didn’t you?” the man rejoined, his voice tight with responsive irritation.

Amara stared at him, astounded by his duplicity. The silence tautened with sudden tension between the father and daughter.

“Well,” Kareem interjected then, “it’s like you said, sir, what has happened has happened. Let’s just focus on getting you back on your feet so you can come back to work.”

“I’m afraid I won’t be able to get back to the helm of things soon. My doctor has impressed on me the need to take things slow.”

“You’d be the first businessman to take the advice of his doctor,” Kareem said with a chuckle.

Mazi Peters joined him, his mirth erasing some of the tension that had been on his face moments ago. “In the interim, someone would have to be appointed to represent my interests, someone from my side of the company.”

Amara furrowed her brow at her father, incomprehension clouding her eyes. “Someone? I don’t understand… Why does that sound contemplative?”

“Because I am thinking about who is best qualified.”

“But, sir,” Kareem said, “surely Amara is the right person –”

“For the job?” Her father let out an indulgent laugh. “Not after what happened on Saturday.”

The words thrust their way through her heart with acidic precision. Amara’s hand fluttered up to her chest. “But, daddy…” she rasped. “Just a moment ago, you forgave me…”

“I did. I forgive you, my darling.” He looked up at her, meet her gaze, held it. “But my feelings have nothing to do with my decision not to consider you as my replacement. The fact remains that you ran away from responsibility.” His stare turned to flint. “I can’t have that in the person taking my place in business.”

“Now, now, sir –” Kareem began.

“You can carry on with your responsibilities,” Mazi Peters continued addressing his daughter, like the other man hadn’t spoken. “In fact, I’d like you to come over later today with a list of your contemporaries at the company. I’d like to make a decision as soon as possible.”

Amara stared at her father, and could not believe the capacity she had for hating the man she’d once absolutely loved. Hot tears streamed down her face, unrestrained now, each one carving furrows on the tender flesh of her face.

Without a word, she turned and fled from the room.

“Amara… Amara…!”

She ignored Kareem’s calls and made for the elevators. She ran into the small metallic cage and jabbed at the close button repeatedly, hoping no one would get in, until the doors glided shut. Then she stepped back and leaned back on the wall, her body heaving with her quiet sobs.

And then, through her tears, she saw a ghostly figure materialize on the reflective surface of the elevator door. Misty and faint, the apparition that was her mother had superimposed itself on her own reflection.

For several moments, Amara stared at it. She didn’t speak to it. She didn’t move. She didn’t scream. She simply stared as the tears fell from her eyes.

Written by The Reverend

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