Nigerian Marriages

Ten Things His Mother Told Me {Number 7} - Part B

Maintain Friendships with Good People

Continued...

“Can I get an update on the Desai strip mall project?”

Chiaka looked up at the sound of Andrew’s voice. “Sure. I’m adjusting the forecasts and comparing them to our reference baselines. Give me a few minutes and I’ll bring it by your office.”

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He nodded, a small smile curving his lips as he walked down the hallway and back to his office two doors away from hers. Chiaka released a pent up breath, wishing the tension coiled inside her would dissipate as easily as she drew breath.

What does he want? It had been a week since that last encounter, and she had been very careful to avoid being alone with him. After team meetings, she made sure she always left the room first, or second. Never last. She timed her arrival at work so that she was never the first to get there or the last to leave. Her actions hadn’t gone unnoticed. At least, not by him.

His raised eyebrows and slight smirk mocked her covert Operation Avoid-Drew-at-All-Costs, but that was a small price to pay for peace of mind. Sometimes though, she wondered if it would be so wrong to renew her friendship with Drew; strictly platonic of course.

Would it be so bad? To just be friends, no strings attached?

They had always been able to talk about anything – in the old days – and there were times when she longed for that same camaraderie; without the extras.

Then her common sense would kick in like a slap to the head, vaporizing any romantic notions.  She had no illusions about Drew. She could not afford to have any illusions about him. Trying to have a platonic relationship with Drew was like placing your hand on an open flame and hoping it wouldn’t burn.

Heart pounding, she strove for calm and control, deciding on the spot that she would walk out if he tried anything funny. Her emotions were all over the place, her marriage was in tatters and she felt like she was standing on the edge of a precipice – even a stiff wind would be enough to knock her over. Knock her right off the edge into dark, uncharted waters. And for what? Was her peace of mind the price she had to pay for financial security?

She found herself wanting to pray, but she couldn’t. Months of ignoring a God that had abandoned her rusted her heart and froze the words on her tongue. No. She wouldn’t pray. Couldn’t pray. Why would God listen to her? For months, she had prayed and cried for help, but none came. Why would He come to her aid now? Yet, the words cried out from somewhere within her, desperate for expression.

But she swept all thoughts of prayer away – swept them into the dusty corners of her mind and focused on her ex-boyfriend-cum-boss. What did he have up his sleeves? Was he going to toy with her again? Tease her with his clever innuendo, trying to trap her into a battle of wills with him?

So she prepared for the ‘meeting’ in Andrew’s office, giving herself pep talks along the way.

“Hey, Cindy,” she called as she walked past her colleague’s office.

Trying to act normal.

Like she was just another employee, going to the boss’ office for a meeting.

“Hi, Chi,” Cindy smiled, shortening Chiaka’s name to the more comfortable ‘Chi’. 

“I’m on my way to give Andrew the update on Desai. I’ll have the files up on the intraweb once I’m done.”

Cindy bobbed her head, her wavy hair swinging as she did so. “Sure, just let me know when they’re up so I can take a look.”

“Sure, will do.”

Talking about work with Cindy did what none of Chiaka’s pep talks could do, restoring some sense of normalcy to her day. A feeling of déjà vu swept over her as she paused briefly outside Drew’s door. She remembered the first time she had knocked on that door…remembered the mixture of fear and excitement that coursed through her. Then, she had come here to ask for a job. Now, she could be on the verge of giving up the very same job she had risked so much for.

What does Drew want from me? Why can’t he leave the past behind… let me work in peace?

Not sure what awaited her, she rapped on the door twice.

“Come in,” Drew’s said in a voice that gave no indication of his mood. His brown eyes somber, he waved her into the leather chair in front of his massive desk. Dark wood paneled shelves lined the back wall, and a few abstract art pieces hung on the side walls, giving the office a decidedly masculine look.

Pulling up another chair, Drew sat close to Chiaka – but not too close. She was glad to see a comfortable distance between their knees. Good. Maybe he was finally getting the message. She smoothed her skirt over her thighs, grateful that she had worn an ankle length skirt over black leather boots. The gesture also served to soothe her raw nerves, and she braced herself for the onslaught.

Then he surprised her.

“I’m sorry about the other day. I was a jerk.” His placed his hand on his chest, as though he was swearing an oath.

“I just…maybe I’m still hung up on you and it made me act crazy.” He smiled ruefully at her raised eyebrows.

“Yeah, just a little,” he said, holding his thumb and forefinger together.

“I was inappropriate and you have my word that it will not happen again. This is an office, you’re a married woman and I will keep things professional from now on.”

His admission took the wind out of her sails, deflating the nervous energy brewing inside her. It would have been churlish to do otherwise, so she graciously accepted his apology and he seemed determined to keep his word.

She should have been happy – her relationship with her husband was slowly getting back on track and Andrew was finally treating her like a colleague and nothing more. So, why did she still feel unsettled? Just last week, she had felt herself tossed about, in the grip of waves that threatened to overwhelm her. Now, finally cast ashore, she looked almost longingly at the turbulent sea, hoping for what? More turbulence? More drama?

“So, about Desai? Tell me what you have.”

Andrew’s voice pulled Chiaka from her thoughts and she shook her head, in a futile effort to clear the cobwebs from her brain.

For the next thirty minutes, she sat across from him as they discussed the project costs and forecasts. True to his word, he kept the conversation on point. Gone were the loaded glances, the sly smiles, the teasing innuendo that garnished their previous encounters.

Later, Chiaka sat at her desk, updating her files on the company-wide shared drive with details of the report she’d just presented to Andrew. A whispered sigh escaped her lips and a curious sense of loss filtered through her as Chiaka tried to remind herself that this was what she wanted. Andrew was her boss and he had been a good friend to her – giving her this job when she desperately needed one.

There was nothing more or less. The lines had been drawn and she would stay on her side of it.

***

Onyih Odunze

Thank you so much for reading this series. The conclusion will be available in my new book: Who Are You? and Other Stories...coming to Amazon on 02.14.14.

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