“What about this one…? She looks so sad…” Hope said, staring at a painting of a forlorn young woman holding an infant.
“Yes, she lost her baby.” Derick said looking at the painting as well.
“How did she lose her baby?”
“He was taken away…” he replied sadly.
Gloria and Jumoke looked at each other, what was going on?
“Did you paint her too?” Hope asked.
“Yes.” Derick sighed. “Why don’t you take a seat and have some refreshments? We can see the rest later.”
Derick turned to Jumoke. “Thank you for coming. You too.” he said to Gloria.
“It’s my pleasure!” Gloria said delightedly.
“What would you like to drink? I have some soft drinks, juice, cocktail… I’ve also made you that vegetable soup we talked about.”
“You cook?” Gloria said surprised.
“Yes, although I don’t do it as much these days. I only cook occasionally.”
“He can cook.” Gloria said to Jumoke pointedly.
“Yes, I heard him say so.” Jumoke rolled her eyes. “I’ll have some juice, Hope?”
“I’ll have one too.” she answered distractedly, still mesmerized by the paintings on the wall and nodding her head to the beat of the jazz music playing from the speakers.
“I’ll have the same thing.” Gloria replied, looking around the house too.
Derick smiled. ”Why don’t you ladies take a seat, and I’ll be right back?”
As soon as he was gone, Gloria nudged Jumoke and whispered harshly. “Don’t mess this up!”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“This guy really likes you and he has been patient. Don’t do anything to mess it up! He can cook, paint, goes to church and works as a senior manager in an advertising firm. How many guys do you know with that kind of qualification?”
“People are not always as they seem Gloria. I’m not getting carried away by all his qualifications. Who knows if he even cooked the food himself? He could have ordered it you know?”
Gloria sighed. “Jumoke, you’re such a cynic.”
“Yeah, I’m flattered.”
Derick returned then with a tray of drinks and groundnuts. Jumoke refused to relax, her mind was alert for any sign of mischief. She would only eat after he’d tasted the meal himself or drink after he’d sipped from his cup. She barely spoke and darted glances at the wall clock countless times. She couldn’t wait to return to the safety of her own house.
Derick observed that she was edgy, she was barely eating or drinking. She was preventing herself from enjoying the moment. He laughed and conversed with his other guests but inwardly wondered what he could do to make her feel comfortable. It hurt him to know that even though she’d finally accepted his invitation, she couldn’t trust him. Trust, Jumoke didn’t trust anyone. He could see that in her interaction with people and most especially with him. He would have to earn her trust but how long would this take?
Jumoke gasped. “Oh my God! Oh my God! I should have asked you…” she said anxiously opening her bag and searching for something.
“Jummy what is it?” Gloria asked.
“Mum?” Hope said.
“What’s the matter?” Derick asked calmly.
“Did you season the food with garlic?”
Derick smiled lightly. “No, I remembered…”
Jumoke stopped searching her bag for Hope’s allergy medication. “You remembered?” she asked surprised.
“Yes, I did. I’m trying to please you, I can’t forget such a detail.”
Hope and Gloria looked at each other conspiratorially, their breakthrough had come. Jumoke cleared her throat self-consciously.
“Hope!” Gloria suddenly said. “Let’s pack up these plates!”
“Of course Aunty Gloria!”
Jumoke was terrified, they were leaving her just as Remi had done. Was history repeating itself?
“I think I’ll help.” She said, getting up.
“No, no, no! We’re fine mum. We’re just going into the kitchen. It’s just over there!” Hope pointed at the door. “We’re not leaving you.”
Jumoke was too stunned to respond. How could she have known what she was thinking? She slowly sat back down, let them pack the plates and folded her hands together. She felt Derick’s eyes on her as Gloria and Hope went into the kitchen.
“So…” Derick began tentatively. “Did you enjoy my vegetable soup?”
Jumoke cleared her throat. “It wasn’t bad.”
“It wasn’t bad? You’re hard to please.” He chuckled softly.
The soup had actually been quite tasty, she had just been to tense to enjoy it.
“Doesn’t mean you cooked it…” she muttered.
“I did.” He replied.
“I didn’t say that out loud did I?” She asked embarrassed.
“Yes you did.”
She sighed and shook her head. “I didn’t…”
“It’s alright, you don’t have to apologize.” He held up his hand.
An awkward silence passed in which Jumoke wondered how long it took to take a few plates to the kitchen.
“I’m really glad you’re here today…” Derick said softly. “I’ve been looking forward to today for a very long time.”
Jumoke sighed. “It doesn’t mean anything Derick, this doesn’t change anything.”
He nodded, trying not to feel disappointed. “Still, I’m glad you’re here.”
“What will it take to change things between us?” he asked bluntly, looking into her eyes.
She looked away. “Derick it’s not you…”
“It’s me.” he finished for her and laughed. “How many times have you said that to men?”
Jumoke laughed in spite of herself. “I honestly meant that. It’s me.”
“So what can I do to help you? I want to get to know you better, I want…” he sighed and weighed his next words carefully. “I know I have to earn your trust, I know this. I can’t promise to meet up with all your expectations…”
“Who says I have expectations? Look Derick, I’m not even ready for this! And I’m not sure of when I’ll be.” She exhaled and flicked her hair. “You look like a nice guy, but I don’t want to waste your time. Find someone who is ready.”
“Are you saying…?”
Just then Hope and Gloria returned.
“Did you guys miss us?” Gloria asked.
Jumoke and Derick simply smiled.
Hope was staring at her mother while she cleansed her face.
“What?” Jumoke asked self-consciously.
“I like Mr Derick, why don’t you like him?”
“Hope… you’re too young to understand.”
“Mum, you have to give love a chance!”
Jumoke turned to look at her. “Excuse me? What books have you been reading?”
“Mum!” Hope sat up and looked at her imploringly. “I want you to be happy.”
“I am happy, where’s this coming from?”
“Even you forgot about my allergy but he didn’t. He’s a good man!”
Jumoke’s eyes flashed. “How dare you?”
“I’m sorry… but I think he’s a good man. And I know he really likes you.”
“Good night young lady. Up! Go to your room!”
Hope grudgingly walked out of the room. At the door she stopped and said:
“I just don’t want you to be lonely because of me.”
“Hope…!” Jumoke called but the girl didn’t return.
Lanre was enjoying the barbecued chicken on his plate when Gbemi sat by his side and made to pick out a piece. He slapped her hand away.
“Please go away. I’m not going to share.” He said.
“I want to enjoy my food in peace!”
Gbemi laughed. “You need it.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I’m saying you need it, I mean you must need some distraction if you suddenly realize that you might have an eleven year old child!”
Gbemi laughed while Lanre looked at her in astonishment. He looked around the room and back at her.
“Remi told you, didn’t she?”
Gbemi shook her head. “The two of you are something you know. So if Toyin hadn’t felt that something was wrong with you, I wouldn’t have found out about this. You guys just leave me out of the important gist. It’s just unbelievable!”
“Keep your voice down!” Lanre looked around the room again.
“So Toyin won’t hear us? What are you going to do Lanre? You need to find out if she had the baby or not. Toyin deserves to know! You guys have been together for almost four years. She followed you back here when we took over the company. She deserves more than this and if you think I’m going to sit by and watch you mess her up because of your teenage gold digger crush, you must be out of your mind. Find out about Jumoke soon or I will tell her.”
With that Gbemi got up and left, Lanre lost his appetite.