“You know you overreacted, right?” Dotun said.

“In hindsight, yes, I know that,” I replied, standing by the lone window in his office and looking out into the street. It was 4:30pm on Monday, and the afternoon light was slanting westward, casting the beginnings of the evening shadows in corners of the room.

“And when did you come into this hindsight?” He was teasing, and the remark drew a rueful smile from me. I’d just finished narrating the story of my fight yesterday with Bryson to him. I’d needed somebody to talk to, and he’d been a willing ear.

“I had most of yesterday, after I got home, to stew over our fight. Then I got sidetracked with family stuff and didn’t have time to dwell much on it. Then I went to bed, and by the time I woke up this morning, I found myself missing him.” I turned to face Dotun. “I believe I’m falling in love with him, and it scares me.”

“Why? Because of some flirty messages you saw a few guys send to him?”

“It’s not about the messages. It’s about the fact that he seemed to enjoy them.”

“But you said he didn’t respond in kind to them…”

“Yes,” I said. “He also didn’t let on that he was unavailable, that he has a boyfriend.”

“Oh,” said Dotun, his mouth mooning in an ‘O’ of comprehension.

“Exactly!” I said, walking away from the window and toward him. “That is what pissed me off, the fact that I wasn’t even acknowledged. At no point in those chats did I see anything from him that read, ‘Hey, you shouldn’t be flirting with me like this, because I have a boyfriend.’ Instead, all his responses were LOLs and Smileys.” My lip curled, and my hands cut through the air in a disparaging wave. “It was as though he was trying to maintain the impression that he was good for all that flirtation.”

“Surely that can mean anything –”

“I don’t know how it works in the man-woman dating world, but in the gaybourhood, when the guy you’re dating is not letting on to the thirsty hoes coming after him that he can’t be had, then it means he’s hoping to one day be had. And I’m saying this, knowing that there are those who are upfront about their relationships and still want to fuck around.”

I blew out an exasperated breath, and dropped into the seat beside Dotun.

He chuckled and said, “That isn’t very different from the man-woman dating world, you know.”

“You’d know better than me.”

“This is your very first relationship, you say.”

“Yes.”

“And it’s Bryson’s first too, not so?”

“He’s dated a woman before,” I said sourly, thinking about Asri and wondering if I wasn’t better off letting her have at her ex.

“That doesn’t count. This is his first gay relationship, right?”

“What’s your point?”

“That the two of you are basically going to make a lot of mistakes for first timers, if this is right for you. Then again, it could not be, in which case the earlier you get out of it, the better. Because Bryson would be a fool not to know that you’re very good for him…for any man.”

An awkward lull descended over us, that tenseness that underscored the uncertainty between two dancers partnering for the first time, both of them unfamiliar with the other person’s rhythm. Dotun’s gaze was suddenly sharpened on my face, and I felt my breath catch moments before the inevitable happened.

He reached out his hands and pulled me to him. He gave me the opportunity to object, and I didn’t. Perhaps I wasn’t thinking straight. Perhaps I was feeling too vulnerable to resist. Perhaps a part of me wanted this boost, the validation that came from being desired. Perhaps it was all three scenarios that overcame my reasoning, so that when Dotun brought his mouth down on mine, I kissed him back. It was an ardent kiss, but I had the feeling that he was testing me with it, trying to ascertain if the sexual feelings we’d shared in the past still existed.

The kiss lasted all of a minute, before there was a shift in my senses, and I found myself pulling back hard from him.

“I’m sorry, Declan…” he blurted out immediately.

The momentum of my retreat from him nearly had me toppling out of my seat. I got to my feet and began readjusting my clothes, which had barely been ruffled. My eyes refused to meet his as I mumbled, “I can’t believe…God, I can’t believe we did that…”

“It’s no big deal.”

I shot him a swift, peeved look that told him how big a deal I thought it was.

“What I mean,” he quickly corrected himself, “is…” He drifted off when he realized he had no idea what he meant.

Frowning, I said, “You realize that this is exactly what I was venting about concerning Bryson…the fact that I resent how he might have cheated on me…”

“Yes, yes, I know, Declan. And I’m sorry I put you in this position.”

My fire cooled a bit and I said ruefully, “It’s not all your fault. I’m complicit in what just happened too. Let’s just try and act like it never happened.”

“Absolutely.” He began smiling at me.

I smiled back.

He glanced at his watch. “It’s almost five…”

I groaned with relief. “Oh thank God. I can’t wait to get out of this place.” I was already making my way to the door. “Today has really being a long day.”

“In case I don’t see you before we leave the office, have a good night,” Dotun called.

“You too, Dotun.”

The next few minutes were characterized by the bustle of wearied colleagues eager to call it a day. I was among the first set of people to crowd into the elevator and get whisked down to the lobby.

The man I saw at the reception desk, chatting idly with the security woman manning the desk, made me pause and wonder just what the witches in my village were playing at.

Intuitively, as though he could feel my stare on him as physically as a touch, he glanced around and saw me approaching.

“Hey,” he said, his mouth curving into a smile.

“Hey back.” I smiled in return.

“How was your day?” Kizito fell in step beside me as we made for the glass doors of the lobby.

“Pretty much the way you’d expect Monday to be,” I answered. “And yours?”

“Take whatever day you had, multiply it by three, and you’d come close to an idea of how my day was.”

I laughed. “That bad, huh?”

“Yup.”

“Well, I’m sure it’s nothing a bath and dinner won’t cure.”

“A massage somewhere in there should go a long way too,” he said, wagging his brows suggestively at me.

I swatted lightly at his arm, laughing and feeling my mind come instantly alive with the images of Kizito’s body unclad, with my hands running over it, pressing against the sinews, digging into the tendons. I quickly skirted a couple of steps away from him. This guy was just not good for my well-being.

“Why are you running away from me?” He’d noticed.

“I’m not –”

“Come on, Declan –”

“Please, Kizito, don’t…”

“I haven’t even done anything.” He said that with a slow grin, the kind that revealed how aware he was of the effect he was having on me.

“Oh good then, let it remain like that,” I said, chuckling and turning away from him.

Then I gave a start, and the mirth evaporated from my countenance.

“Hey, what’s the ma –” Kizito began, as he followed my gaze, and stiffened.

Bryson had just stepped out from the car he parked some yards away from us, and was now walking toward us with that loping stride that made his catwalk run such a sensual experience. A smile hung on his lips.

“Hey, Dee!” he hollered as he drew closer.

I didn’t reply, but maintained a neutral expression on my face.

“That’s the boyfriend, right?” I heard Kizito say in a low tone beside me.

I nodded.

“You don’t seem too happy to see him.”

“It’s nothing,” I said woodenly.

“Are you okay? Do you need me to stop him from bothering you?”

“No,” I hastened to say, turning an urging look to him. “No, please. Don’t get involved.”

His lips tightened at my rebuff, but he didn’t get a chance to respond, because just then, Bryson stopped before us.

“Hey, man, what’s up?” Bryson said breezily, stretching out a hand to Kizito.

For a moment, I thought Kizito would snub the gesture. He stared with frank dislike at Bryson for a microsecond, before taking his hand. The handshake was brief, and then Kizito was retrieving his hand and saying ‘Good night’ to me, before walking away.

“What’s his problem?” Bryson said.

“What do you want?” I cut in stonily.

He rested an earnest look on me. “Come on, Dee. You can’t still be mad at me. I should be the one who’s upset. You were the one who crossed the line of my privacy, remember?”

“I’m sorry about that. There. An apology. Is that why you came? Are we finished now?”

“No, that isn’t why I’m here,” he intoned. “And no, we’re not finished. I need to talk to you.” When I hedged, he added, “Please.”

“Very well, follow me.”

I turned around and started back for the building. We walked into the lobby, past the traffic of proletarians heading toward the exit, and took an elevator ride back to my floor. There were still a few people present there, but no one spared us a second glance as I led Bryson to the conference room, the one place I knew we’d not be disturbed at this time. I clicked the door shut, and we took our seats, facing each other.

“Look, first of all,” he began, “I’d like to assure you that I’ve never cheated on you, Dee. Never. I’m not that kind of guy.”

“But you have, in a way…”

“How?” he asked uncomprehendingly.

“When you don’t acknowledge me to your admirers, those who are so brazenly chasing after you, when you condone a flirtationship with them, you’re cheating on me, don’t you see?” My voice cracked then, and my iciness thawed as I stated miserably at him. “I care about you, Bryson –”

“I care about you too –”

“No, please, let me finish. I care about you a lot, to the point that I might be falling in love with you. I’ve had issues with my friends because of this relationship, and how I’m willing to stick up for it. How then do you think it makes me feel when I find out you’re not that devoted to me either?”

“I am!” He moved forward on his seat, reaching out and taking my hands in his. “I am devoted to you. I’ve had these guys throw themselves at me, but I haven’t given in, and I don’t intend to. Because they don’t matter to me like you do. This is all new territory to me, believe me, me feeling the things I feel for a guy. But it’s fine for me. You’re fine for me. You have to understand that.”

My eyes had turned misty as he spoke, and I felt my heart tighten with a swell of emotions. “Kiss me,” I husked.

“What?”

“Kiss me already, you clueless, beautiful man.”

“Are you sure?” He threw a quick glance around the room and at the door.

“Just kiss me.”

Without further prompting, he took me in his arms. His mouth met mine, and we strained against each other. Eager. Hungry. The kiss was moist and hot. I clasped my hands around his neck and slid out of my chair onto his laps, grinding my bottom down on his straining groin.

“God, Dee, stop…” he groaned against my mouth.

I chuckled, and we kissed some more.

“Let’s go back to my place.”

“I can’t. I don’t have a change of clothes with me.”

“Fuck that! You can wear my clothes to work tomorrow.”

I laughed softly, allowing myself to be persuaded, as we got to our feet.

Then a synapse fired in my brain, and I paused, my brows crocheting as I queried, “Wait, you said ‘First of all’…”

“Huh?”

“When you started talking to me, you said ‘First of all’. Was there anything else?”

Bryson opened his mouth, as though to reply in the negative, then seemed to think better of it and shut his mouth. His eyes slid away from my stare.

Instantly feeling a niggling of dread, I let go of his hand and took a step back. “There is something else, isn’t there?”

“Can we talk about it later?”

“I want to talk about it now.”

“Dee, that won’t be a good idea.”

“I want to talk about it now,” I reiterated, the ice creeping back in.

He released a sigh, before saying, “It’s about Rome.”

I blinked. For a second, I didn’t know what he was talking about. Then a tumbler dropped in my mind, and I said, “Romesh? What about him?”

“He asked me out yesterday.”

My heart lurched. “And?”

Bryson became earnest again. “There are so many things he means to do for me, for my career. That guy has the connections to get me to go places, and he wants to help. He also really likes me, and will only do what he can if we’re dating…” He paused a beat before adding, “Exclusively.”

I stared at him in disbelief. Was he trying to play some kind of joke on me? I searched his face, a slow sensation of sick realization creeping like death along my veins. This was no joke.

“So everything you said earlier…” I rasped. “About caring for me… About being devoted to me…” He opened his mouth to say something, but I halted that with a lift of my hand. “I can only presume that the fact that you’re explaining Romesh’s proposition to me means you said yes to him, and you’re breaking up with me.” My extremities started to go cold as I said the words.

“No!” he blurted out. “I’m not…I don’t want to break up with you…”

“But you said yes to Romesh.”

“Yes, but –”

“You agreed to his terms of exclusive dating.”

“Yes, but see –”

“But you don’t want to break up with me.”

“No, I don’t.”

The sick realization was creeping faster through my veins. “So you want to cheat on him with me. You want to turn me from your current boyfriend to your side chick. You actually explained all that to me earlier, because you want my approval for that to happen.” A caustic laugh burst from my lips and I shook my head. Declan Odum, see your life?

“Look, Dee –”

“Don’t. Don’t ever call me that again.”

“Declan –”

“We’re through, Bryson. You may carry on with Romesh. I don’t begrudge you the choices you’re making. But you and me – we’re done.”

“Don’t do this, Declan.”

I was already on my way to the door. I turned the lock and pulled the door open. “We should leave,” I said flatly. “We’re not supposed to be here past closing time.”

Wordlessly, he walked past me out of the room. I followed. We got to the elevator and rode it down to the lobby. We walked past the security and out into the evening. He started for his car and I made my way toward the gate. He stopped and turned to me.

His voice was toneless as he said, “Are you sure about this?”

“Yes, Bryson,” I said, feeling the words come out like shards of glass. “I’m sure. Goodbye.” I took in a deep breath and moved to the main road, where I proceeded to flag down a taxi. The vehicle pulled up beside me, and the driver poked his head out at me.

“Oga, where you wan go?”

“Festac.”

We quickly settled on a fare, and I got in. During the long drive, I sat numbly, not saying a word. My mind kept flashing from one image to the next, a kaleidoscope of sight and sound and smell.

It was almost an hour later before the cab driver was pulling up before the address I gave him. As I stepped out of the car, I hoped he would be around. The lights that blazed through the windows strengthened my expectancy.

I knocked three times on the door.

“Who is it?” the familiar voice called out several seconds later.

I knocked again.

“Look, Funmi, I have told you, I don’t want –” Adebola was saying as he jerked open the door. He stopped short when he saw me on his threshold.

For a long moment, u stared at him. And he stared back. Then the control I’d maintained over my emotions in the past hour slipped. My eyes moistened and my lips began to tremble.

“Oh Dee…” Adebola sighed. “You poor dear…”

He opened his arms, and I stepped into his embrace before my grief overtook me.

Written by Pink Panther

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