Take Me As I Am

My sincere apologies for having not been here the last two days. Life has just been hectic. Please bear with me. And I also apologise about not updating Who killed Dana Bala? A whole lot is going on now and I do apologise but I have to put a break on it for a couple more weeks. Thank you for your understanding.

TMAIA PICTURE

Sixteen

JUST AS SHE’D PROMISED she was right over after church service. The kids were in the living room, watching television and looking a whole lot better.

“Miss Elizabeth, good afternoon. We’ve been waiting for you.” Rukky jumped down from his seat and ran over to give her a hug.

“You have?” She smiled stooping down to wrap her arms around him and then slipped a hand to his forehead to feel his temperature. He was still a little warmish but not as yesterday. “And why is that?”

“Good afternoon, Miss Elizabeth.” Stella greeted stepping over to give her a hug too. She was beginning to feel much more comfortable with her, especially after yesterday. “Because we are hoping you’ll make us lunch again.” She answered her question.

“Yes. Daddy is preparing stew but we don’t want to eat rice.” Rukky stated. “We want to eat something special and delicious prepared by you.”

“One day in my kitchen and you knocked me off my position as greatest-cook-ever.” Caleb said strolling in through the kitchen door. “What have you to say in your defence, Miss Harcourt?”

She grinned. “Good afternoon and it’s not a permanent competition?”

“Hmm, I’ll have to let that very-odd defence do for now.” He smiled. “Good afternoon and how was church service? We at the Onofighe’s household could not keep the Sabbath day holy today.”

“That’s because we are sick and you had to look after us.” Rukky said promptly.

“And God understands because He knows all our weaknesses and abilities.” Stella put in.

Caleb arched a brow. “And now I have a Preacher in the house.”

“Oh no, just a wise girl who listens attentively in church.” Stella said with a sunny smile.

Elizabeth laughed.

Caleb narrowed his eyes. “Sit down – both of you.” He ordered pointing to the chairs.

“But I’m hungry and need to eat something.” Rukky wailed softly as he trudged back to his seat.

“Me too.” Stella seconded following her brother.

“Have you finished the soup?” Elizabeth inquired.

“Yes. We ate it all up last night.” Rukky replied, settling into the soft cushion.

“And this morning, we ate bread and tea.” Stella added.

Elizabeth inclined her head. “Okay. Well, since you don’t want anything heavy like rice, how does noodles in soup sound to you guys?” She slipped her handbag onto the space beside Stella on the sofa.

“Noodles in soup?” They both stared at her.

She chuckled at their slightly worried expression. “It’s a special thing I do when I haven’t got much appetite for heavy food.” She explained. “I cook the noodles in already spiced soup with fish… a little like yesterday’s soup… only I add noodles into it and exclude the basil. So instead of eating the noodles, I actually drink it. It’s really quite delicious.”

“Yes, we want to eat noodles in soup.” Rukky declared excited at the prospect of tasting something new, especially from Miss Elizabeth.

“Can we come and help out?” Stella asked.

“No!” Caleb answered swiftly. “You two watch your cartoon. We’ll do the cooking. After you, favourite chef.” He gestured to the door.

Laughing Elizabeth went ahead of him.

“Have you had breakfast?” Caleb asked once they were in the kitchen.

“Me?” She turned to him, three packs of noodles in her hands. “No. I don’t eat before I go to church. But it’s just a little over midday now, so I’m not really hungry yet.”

“I’ll just make you a cup of tea.” He was already setting out the tea cup. “And how’s Tonye by the way?”

“Still in church.” She said over her shoulders, getting out the pot and setting it on the burner. “With the Youth Congress starting off Tuesday, the EXCOs are having final deliberation meeting.”

In no time the noodles in soup was ready and the kids were called in to eat. They went at it like hungry wolves and just a matter of minutes later their bowls were empty.

“Thank you, Miss Elizabeth.” They both greeted. “Thank you, daddy.”

“You guys want some more?” Elizabeth asked. “There’s still some left in the pot.”

“No thank you, we are full – at least I am full.” Stella took their plates over to the sink.

“I am full too.” Rukky answered.

“Hey, leave those there, I’ll take care of them later.” Caleb said to Stella as she turned on the tap.

She turned it off. “Thank you, daddy.”

“Daddy, could we go play with Tola and Kemi?” Rukky asked looking up at his father.

Caleb considered the request for a moment, then nodded. “Yes. But you two don’t overdo it, okay?”

“Yes sir.” They responded racing off.

He strolled over to the sink to wash out the plates. A minute later he turned. “What should I do about the leftover noodles?”

His nonchalant tone didn’t fool her.

“Oh, I don’t know. We can’t leave it for long and can’t refrigerate it.” She hung her head. “Maybe you should eat it? That is if you want to.”

“Yes… I mean… I suppose I have to… unless of course you want to.”

She almost giggled at his attempt at indifference. “No, you go ahead.” And just as he picked the pot and poured the contents into a bowl, she added with a mischievous grin. “After all, you’ve been eyeing the pot for a bit now.”

He threw back his head in laughter as he slid down beside her at the slab. “The aroma was so irresistible.” He took a spoonful and groaned. “It tastes even more amazing.”

She smiled. “Thank you. You want to make soup?” She asked nodding towards the vegetable leaves on tray.

“Mmm hmm – ogbono soup.”

“Want any help? My ogbono soup is not half bad.”

He squinted his eyes at her. “Still trying to show off, huh?”

She laughed. “Well, I can’t help it if I’m that good.”

“Finally the braggadocio surfaces.” He chuckled and shook his head. “Go right ahead… it’ll be a relief as I’m still feeling a little fagged out anyway. Ogbono is already blended and in the cabinet, meat stock and steamed fish and kpomo are in the refrigerator.”

“Good.” She said grabbing the tray and taking it to the sink. “I’ll just slice this then, that way everything will be all set before I begin.”

She washed the leaves, arranged them and taking down the chopping board, swiftly sliced them and poured them into a small bowl, then marched towards the refrigerator. By the time he’d finished eating and washed out his bowl, she had the pot with meat stock and all other ingredients cooking on the burner.

He lifted the lid off the pot of stew he’d left on low fire.

“What are you doing?” She asked as he scooped a piece of chicken into a small plate.

“About to taste and see if the seasoning spread nicely into the chicken.” He answered with an innocent look.

“You want to taste by eating a whole portion?”

He lifted his shoulder carelessly. “It’s the only way to truly ascertain if all the condiments went right through.”

Her mouth dropped open. “Seriously?”

He walked to the slab, drew the stool to the opposite side and slide into it. “And just so you know, I don’t do this in front of the kids.”

She threw back her head and laughed. “Is that even supposed to be a valid self-defence?”

He nodded as he bit into the meat. “Mmm hmm. It shows I’m a good parent and not corrupting my kids.”’

“So you do admit that this is a bad habit?”

He stopped munching and eyed her narrowly. “Uh huh… no comment.

She laughed again, shaking her head. “You are incorrigible.”

He grinned. He loved her laugh – it was warm, free-flowing and had this way of making her lips curve at the edges so he just wanted to lean in and kiss her.

“I like you hair.” He said, trying to distract himself from stirring sensation he could feel swirling already. “You don’t use weaves… at least I’ve never seen you in one.” Elo had been crazy about weaves, she couldn’t be found without one on.

She touched her fingers to the tips of her hair. “Oh. Thank you. I like wearing my natural hair – it’s long enough and I try to make sure it’s always healthy looking.”

He nodded. “It is. And it suits you. Goes way down your shoulders and the ebony black colour is rich and attractive.”

She smiled. “I took after my father’s family in hair – Tonye and I. Only Tonye prefers to scrape off all of his, being a guy – he used to wear afro at a time but now he considers his NBA style the zing thing.” She chuckled as she thought of something. “My sisters used to hate me for having the thickest and longest hair while we were growing. They had my mum’s kind of hair – scanty and receding.”

Caleb watched as her face crinkled in laughter at what she’d just said. His mouth curved with amusement. “Hmm, I ought to tell on you for that mean statement.” He said.

She stopped laughing. “You wouldn’t dare.”

He shrugged casually. “Don’t tempt me. Matter-of-fact, I just might.” She opened her mouth, but he pointed the piece of bone he’d been tackling at her. “Hold it… I said I just might not that I will.”

She narrowed her eyes. “What’s the catch?”

He shrugged again. “No catch. Just that if you promise not to say anything while I taste another piece of chicken, I promise my lips are sealed forever.”

“That is blackmail. You can’t have another chicken.” She spluttered.

He lifted his shoulders nonchalantly. “Do we have a deal or not?”

She crossed her arms over the front of her plum cashmere dress. “If you touch that pot one more time I’ll tell the kids, daddy pinches meat from the pot.”

“You won’t do that.”

She leaned her head closer. “Dare me.”

“It will be a lie – I only tasted it.”

She snorted. “Yeah right. You lose, Onofighe, so accept it and suck it up.” She got up and poked her tongue at him as she swept over to the cooker.

The corners of his mouth lifted in laughter. “That is so mature, Miss Elizabeth, poking your tongue out at your rival… wow!”

She chuckled as she stirred the soup. “You are just a sore loser, Caleb Onofighe.” She taunted.

“No, I’m a man being threatened in his own kitchen.” He corrected picking up the plate and walking over to the sink.

Elizabeth chortled. “It’s not blackmail. It’s a promise of what’s to come if I ever hear my mother mention those two words.”

“She could hear them from just about anybody else you might have told your hair story to.” Caleb pointed out, amused by the cheerful, crafty look on her face.

She checked the stew and turned off the burner and did the same with the soup. “The only other person who knows I consider her hair scanty and receding is Tonye – and I swore him to secrecy. He dies if he ever speaks of it.”

He shook his head, returning to his stool. “You are really a bossy big sister.” He sneered.

She snickered. “Don’t be such a grumpy bear because you lost in your own game, Caleb.”

Her eyes were dancing with mischief and he was grateful he was far away from her or else he’d have been sorely tempted to draw her close and kiss that curved, perky mouth.

“Don’t be so overconfident… it could be blinding.” He warned lightly.

“So could the heat that comes from opening a pot on the cooker and pinching a piece of meat.” She sniggered.

He chuckled. “Okay you win. My lips are sealed… for now.” He added in a low voice.

“Good.” She gave a satisfied nod. “How about a game of Monopoly… feel up to it?”

He saw the twinkle in her eyes as she came forward. “Looking to drown me in debt, Liz?”

“Well if you are scared…” She smirked.

“Let’s play Scrabble.” He cut her off, rising. “And wipe that smirk off your face. I am unbeatable in Scrabble.”

“Ooh, bring it on, Caleb.” She laughed and dropped into the stool as she waited for him.

Dang, she couldn’t remember the last time she had so much fun with a man that wasn’t her brother, she smiled tapping the slab with her fingers.

A warning alarm went off in her head at the thought. She shut it down firmly. There wasn’t anything wrong in having fun with a man who was a friend… and he was a friend.

****

She allowed him talk her into them dropping her off again.

Tonye was inside when she walked in. She hadn’t been expecting to find him there. He was lying on the sofa.

“You are home already?”

“Yeah. And with a blinding headache.” He scowled.

“Aww, sorry.” She went over to the sofa, lifted his head, pushed aside the pillows and sat down, his head on her laps. “Poor baby.” She cooed. “Have you taken some pain relievers?”

“Mmm hmm.” Tonye moaned, having her hand caressing his temple felt so good.

“Then you will feel better soon.” She murmured leaning down to peck him on the temple.

“How are the kids?” He asked.

“Oh, doing much better. As a matter-of-fact they all just dropped me off. They wanted to come inside but I told them no one was home – didn’t know you were back.”

Tonye adjusted his body so he could look up at her face. “Hmm, looks like Caleb is really enjoying dropping you off nowadays.” He teased.

“The man dropped me off only last Saturday and today and it’s now nowadays?”

He grinned. “This is how these things start.”

She pushed his head off her laps and got up. “I’m going to undress.”

“I can smell the romance in the air.” He sniffed dramatically. “Oh my, hot.”

She hissed. “The only hot thing here is the madness that your blinding headache has obviously triggered off.”

She stamped through the door, muttering viciously under her breath. Why the heck that boy persists in taunting her about Caleb is beyond her.

He was just irrepressible, she decided marching into her room.

Tonye chuckled and bent to retrieve the sofa pillows. Oh, there was romance in the air alright. That stomp-in-the-yard march off was proof to it. She’d have laughed and brushed him off if she wasn’t beginning to care for Caleb.

He settled back into the sofa. No matter how this all pans out, it will at least shake her out of the lethargy she’d been in since that damned fool left her.

“It would be nice if you get me some dinner – I’m sick too, you know.”

The only response he got was the ear-splitting slamming sound of her bedroom door.

“Ouch!” He cried out grabbing his head with both hands.

Dang! This was going to be a fire-cracking romance.

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