A rose by any other name, p.6
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       A Rose by Any Other Name, p.6

           Nia Eze
 
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  Keira could not help the chuckle that burst out of her. "Payment indeed!" she exclaimed in cynical amusement.

  Funke watched her closely. "If you're still worried about attending by yourself, you really should ask Oga to go with you, even Aunty Clara or Aunty Bimpe."

  "I've heard you Funke ahn! Go back to work jo! Who did you leave the store floor for now?" she hustled Funke out of her office jovially.

  Keira pushed the dilemma of her attendance of the Forum away from her mind as the business of the day began in full swing. It was indeed a busy day as customers and potential clients kept the front door swinging. By the time the store was closing, Keira was truly exhausted but elated at how well the business had done that day. She gathered up her things from her desk and shut down her computer readying her staff for the routine shut down of store for the day. As she made her way out of the office, her cell phone beeped out a tone. She dug into her handbag and brought it out. It had barely begun ringing before it stopped. Keira hissed wondering who could be flashing her. When she saw the name on the missed call she stopped dead on her track and quickly tucked the phone back into her handbag.

  She made her way out of the store with a frown on her face barely acknowledging the calls of 'Good night ma' from her staff.

  Why, oh why would Majid suddenly begin to call her, send her invitation cards again? It was déjà vu. She pondered on what action she would need to take, conjuring up plan after plan and casting them aside as they failed in her mind. If Majid had decided after months of silence to reach out to her, she knew him well enough to know that he would not stop except something drastic happened. She could think of only a few sources for that kind of drastic but she was loath to bother any of them. Her father would probably just 'kill' him and there was no telling what Jude would do.

  As she went on, the cell phone in her bag kept sounding off as message after message dropped into it. She suspected that a good number of them would be from Majid. She decided she would leave the matter for now. There was at least two weeks or so before she had to make a firm commitment to attending the Forum.

  She would think of a way to bring this madness to a resounding end before then.

  CHAPTER 14

  Keira located the seat which had her name card in place. As she took her seat, her emotions were a strange mix of unperturbed calm and nervous tension. She brought out her cell phone and began to scroll through her messages in an effort to look busy as none of the other occupants of her table had arrived. Her fingers itched to pick up the name cards flanking hers to see who was going to be sitting next to her but she restrained herself. Besides, she already had a good idea who would be occupying one of those seats and she would not put it past him to be watching her right now to see what she would do. Well, she would not show any sign of nervousness. She refused to hand over that much power to him.

  When she had told Jude about the invitation to the Forum, she had not been sure what reaction she had actually been expecting but it definitely has not been silence, again. A raging, screaming rant she might have tried to soothe, a period of sulking she might have tried to diffuse but this silence? What was she supposed to make of his silence?

  "You are looking well Stranger." she heard Majid say as he materialized at the seat to her right. Keira smiled wryly. It really was déjà vu.

  "Hello Majid." she responded with a calmness she did not feel. She felt rather her belly lurch. He was really a handsome man. "It has indeed been awhile." she greeted.

  He pulled out his seat and sat in it all the while watching her like she was curiousity.

  "I've been trying to get a hold of you. Do you not pick your calls anymore?" he accused.

  "I do." Keira answered simply determined that this time she would not fall prey to his propensity for mind games. She realized with sudden clarity that she was in a fight for her sanity, her husband and their life together.

  "So you've been avoiding me." he pronounced even as he laid out the contents of his Forum bag in front of him.

  "Perhaps." Keira answered as she looked around at her fellow attendees. There were a few faces here today that she was certain had not been here last year and she made a mental note to introduce herself to them when the opportunity presented itself.

  "Are you upset with me?" he asked in a cloying voice that Keira found ignited the slow burn of anger in her. She turned to him with what she hoped was a fittingly irritate look.

  "Why would I be?" she asked.

  Majid sighed. "Keira stop this. How are you doing? I haven't seen you since you got out of hospital. Are you doing okay?"

  Keira nodded, the words of accusation fighting to burst out of her. She held them all back in by sheer force of will. She refused to give this man the satisfaction. She experienced another bright burst of illumination as she realized that this was how he got her every time. However, today, she would refuse to engage.

  "I'm fine Majid. Thanks for asking." she replied sweetly.

  "Are you here alone?" he asked.

  Keira took a calming breath before she could respond, "Yes, I am."

  Majid snorted softly and turned away. Keira felt the ringing of exploding temper in her ear but she held her peace. She refused to lose it with him.

  "Can I ask you something?" Majid queried even as the moderators climbed up on the stage. Keira raised an eyebrow at him.

  "You've been asking them since you sat." she chided. Majid gave a small tight smile in acknowledgement.

  "Do you really think I would have just kept away, forgotten you like that? Why didn't you ever call me?"

  For a moment, his questions threw her off balance then she felt her anger freeze and disintegrate leaving an achy, haunting sadness in its place. She felt a headache come on as she tried to understand the meaning behind those questions.

  "Why would I call you?" she queried.

  "I came by the hospital the day after your accident. Did 'he' not tell you?" Majid demanded.

  "My husband?" Keira stated and as she turned to blast him an angry glare, she caught his wince at her bald statement.

  "Yes, he did. And no, I didn't think to call you."

  "Why Keira?" he asked plaintively.

  "I thought we were getting to be good friends."

  Keira sighed "Was that where we were heading?" she asked as anger and shame began to get the best of her. "Majid they are about to begin. Can we keep this for later?" She picked up the pen and jotter that had been provided by the organizers and began to ready herself for the opening address and speeches.

  Majid was still turned towards her and his lips pursed like he would have liked to say something but he turned and picked up his own pen and jotter.

  Keira let out a breath she had not realized she had been holding in at the reprieve she had just been given. Her body shook with trepidation as she imagined what Round 2 would bring.

  At the end of a long, successful but tasking day, made all the more tasking by Majid dogging her every step, Keira walked down the step on the front stoop at the entrance to the venue that held the Forum.

  "Keira wait up!" Majid called from behind her as he hurried up to her. Keira did wait. Somewhere in her mind, she decided now was a good time as any to tell him off once and for all.

  To think she had been so scared in the days running up to this meeting. She had known without a shadow of a doubt that Majid would be here today. She had worried that she would be unable to resist him had he tried to charm her, woo her or just overwhelm her as he usually did. She tamped down on a wave of angry disappointment at Jude for not being here right now. She had wanted him to save her. She had needed to be able to lean on his strength, and where was he now? Probably at home or somewhere else and leaving her to face this menace all by herself.

  She turned to Majid as he caught up to her.

  "You're in a hurry!" He said coolly.

  "Yes, I am."Keira answered as she turned to continue on her way to her car.

  "What's the hurry? You've been acti
ng weirdly all day." Majid held her hand to stop her from walking away from him.

  Keira looked down at where he was holding on to her arm and felt a loosening of something inside of her. It was that fear that she had felt and she gloried in the release of it. She had been so afraid, afraid that she would be unable to fight her attraction to him, that she would fall so willingly back into their set pattern but in that moment, fear lost its hold on her. She really would not go down this road again. She quietly pulled her arm away from him and looked at him squarely in the eyes.

  "You do have a nerve Majid. I'll give you that." she said bitterly.

  A frown hit between Majid's eyebrows.

  "How...what do you mean?" he asked.

  "What are you trying to do?" Keira asked exasperatedly and without waiting for his response continued, "Married! That's what I am! I will not go down this road with you!" she fair shouted at him.

  "You are causing a scene! What's gotten into you?" he whispered fiercely and angrily at her.

  "Then don't give me reason to!" Keira fired back. "Walk away Majid. You've done quite enough! We have done quite enough!" she swung away from him to continue towards her car.

  "What are you trying to insinuate Keira?" his voice had taken on a nasty edge. "What road?"

  "The road where my head was spinning so wildly that I almost lost my life, my friends and my husband, that road!" She turned again at the foot of the steps to him. "It might have been fun and games to you, but the stakes were just too high for me. I almost lost everything!" her voice alternated between a near shout and a near whisper.

  Majid was quiet for awhile as he looked at her intently. "Does that mean we can't even be friends?" he asked in a subdued voice.

  Keira looked at him long and hard, returning the same intensity with which he had looked at her.

  "Can we be that? Friends and nothing more?" she challenged.

  "It...Keira!" he sighed and rubbed his hand over his face, his inner turmoil showing through the tortured expression on his face. As he made to look up, his gaze got stuck, transfixed to a point behind Keira. She turned to see what had caught his attention and saw that it was Jude who had just gotten out of his car and was walking towards them.

  A wild tumble of emotions raced through Keira. She felt elation, joy, angst and exasperation. He would show up now wouldn't he? She stalked off towards him on her way to the car. She was parked two rows behind his. As she passed by him, he made to intercept her but Keira held up her hand to cut him off and kept on walking.

  "Now you show up!" she mumbled.

  As she got to her car, she indicated to the attendant that she was ready to leave and got in and started up the engine before she had even shut the door fully. She watched as Jude made his way over to Majid and stop right in front of him in a passively aggressive stance. Part of her wanted to get back out of the car and go towards them but some instinct held her back. Maybe they needed to have this show down. Her 'drastic measure' had shown up albeit late.

  She spun out of the parking lot at the attendant's go ahead and went on home to wait for Jude. She would have her own show down with him there.

  CHAPTER 15

  Keira paced the length of her sitting room too keyed up to sit in a place. She turned towards the door as she heard the key slide into its slot and turn. The door opened to reveal Jude walking into the sitting room. Just as she was about to go off on him, an amazing sight stopped her. Majid walked in right behind Jude.

  "What's this?" she flicked her hand to indicate the two of them.

  "He wants to talk to you." Jude responded as he shrugged and invited Majid to sit down with a spread of his hand. Majid shook his head in refusal.

  "I won't be here that long. I just want to apologize...and say a few things." Majid said shocking Keira even more. She would never have imagined it possible that Majid would ever feel the need to apologize for anything. He just had not struck her that way.

  He seemed to struggle to find the words to say as he looked around the sitting room. Anywhere it seemed but at her. Keira stood still, waiting for him to say something. She was just about to lose her patience when he said, "Keira I'm sorry if I hurt you."

  She felt rather than saw Jude stiffen on his seat. Keira flinched. It was just too intimate. The tone of Majid's voice and the way he had said her name. She raised her gaze to his and flinched again at the maelstrom of emotions swirling in his. Had he really loved her? Was he that good an actor? What would acting benefit him?

  What did she say to him? What had they been doing? Had they set out to...fall in love? Was Majid in love with her?

  "I am not sure I had a right to be hurt." she answered honestly.

  Majid sighed out a breath. "I just wanted you to know that. I apologize if I made things difficult. I never, never set out to hurt you." he said very emotionally. It seemed he was trying to embrace her with his voice even as he kept his physical distance from her. Keira felt the prickle of discomfort on her skin. She was so overly conscious of Jude sitting there, watching the two of them with a very stoic expression on his face. She wondered what was going through his mind at the scene unfolding before him.

  "I'll accept your apology if you'll accept mine." she said.

  Majid nodded and turned woodenly to leave. Jude got up to walk him out of the apartment. There was an eerie silence as he let Majid out and shut the door behind him.

  Keira watched her husband as he locked up and turned back to her. Her feelings of righteous anger had fled.

  "What happened?" she asked her husband. "How did that come about?"

  Jude walked past her into the bedroom. Keira remained rooted to the spot as trepidation and shock washed over her. She shook herself free and walked in after her husband.

  "Jude, why do always do this?" she asked as she watched him slump on to the bed and put his head in his hands.

  "How long had you known him?" he asked, his voice warbled by his hands over his mouth.

  Keira looked at him in consternation at his unexpected question. She flung her hands out in her confusion. Jude raised his head and looked at her fully in the face. He looked worn out, ragged and marked by the emotional upheaval. Keira sat quietly beside him on the bed and felt him stiffen at her nearness. She turned to look at him and felt tears sting her eyes.

  "I don't love him." She said. Jude drew in a longish breath that went ragged at the end.

  "How long Keira?" he repeated wearily. Keira felt the cold seep into her system and settle around her chest and stomach.

  "I met him shortly before our wedding." She shook as Jude let out a ragged sigh. "It was just...one of those meetings and we didn't see each other until around the time of his father's birthday party last year."

  "You met him again at the party?" Jude queried. It was obvious that his brilliant mind was trying to put the pieces together.

  "No, not at the party. He came by my shop earlier that day." She looked at Jude's profile as she spoke trying to gauge his reaction to her answers. "I never found out if it had been just a coincidence or if he sought me out."

  Jude remained silent for a long while and Keira sat beside him for as long as she could bear it. "Jude, talk to me. Shout at me, rage at me, yell at me just do anything but be silent." She placed her hand on his arm and shook him lightly. "Please Jude. I am sorry. So very sorry that I put us through this but you are shutting me out again. Please Jude."

  He put his hand over hers and made to pull hers away from his arm but Keira clung.

  "Jude." her tone warned him.

  "Keira I need some space. Just a few hours. I need to think things through."

  "And when you've thought things through? What happens? Jude please. I. am. sorry."

  He struggled with some strong emotion and reluctantly patted her on her hand.

  "Kei, it's for better or worse." For the first time since she had joined him on the bed he looked at her, studying her face. His hand went to the side of her face, to her considerably cleared scar. It w
as a thin line that marred the soft perfection of her skin but it was no longer as hideous as it had been at first. Jude sighed again as he put his hand down.

  "I...I just need to come to terms with a few things Kei." He said as he bent over looking down between his feet. "We will be fine." he assured.

  "Don't shut me out again Jude. Don't..." Keira put a balled up fist to her mouth as her voice broke on a sob. Jude reached out and pulled her into a side hug reflexively and Keira felt the ball of dread in chest relax. It may take a while, but they would be fine. Jude and her, they'd pull through. She crossed her fingers in her heart.

  CHAPTER 16

  Majid had not realized how small a city could be when you were trying to keep out of someone's way.

  He watched the couple make their way into the shopping mall to the rhythm of his hard beating heart. They were holding hands and talking intimately to themselves. It seemed like they were oblivious to all that was happening around them. They went through the door of the shopping mall and were soon out of his sight. He sighed loudly.

  He had not imagined that it was possible to miss someone as much as he missed Keira. He had not been cognizant of just how deeply under his skin she had gotten until he had had to give her up wholly. And she had gotten there stuck there like a burr oh-so-reluctantly. Some days he was glad that they never did have that affair. How would he have ever let her go then? Why had he listened to Jude, her husband? He remembered their conversation like it had just happened.

  As Jude had stalked up to him after his wife's snub, he had looked murderous. Majid had half expected him to march up those steps and deck him one. In fact, he had hoped that he would. He had been feeling very primal as the fear that he was losing Keira to this man had overtaken his common sense. Instead Jude had stopped at the foot of those steps.

  "You need to leave my wife alone." he had stated with a calm that was at variance with the look of anger blazing from his face.

  A thousand and one sharp retorts had crossed Majid's mind but one word had snagged the flow of his thoughts, 'Wife'. His mind repeated the word 'wife'. Keira already belonged to the man.

  He remembered the uncontrolled detonation of his rage as that realization finally sunk in.

 
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