Kobi dressed for dinner with a trepidation that worried her. It was Naeto and she enjoyed being with him. She liked him. There was even an unconscious attraction but… but there were no deep feelings.
She wasn’t in love with him.
That was what worried her, wasn’t it? She didn’t love him. She didn’t want to love him.
She was incapable of loving him.
Kobi frowned at her image in the wood-framed standing mirror as her mind swirled with that last thought. She didn’t believe in love, not anymore. Oh, she knew that love existed and that it was possible between a man and a woman. But she knew also that it didn’t exist for her. Not in this lifetime, if people had more than one.
How many times had she loved and longed, begged, to be loved in return?
Too many times. She’d stopped counting. She’d stopped hoping. She’d stopped waiting. She’d stopped loving. Her heart was frozen—closed off. Not by desire or by enforcement. It had just frozen up on its own, having suffered too many wounds, it’d learned to protect itself.
And she didn’t want to unfreeze it. No, she didn’t. Love existed but it didn’t exist for her. She would have to tell Naeto that. She didn’t want to hurt him but it was hurting him invariably leading him to believe that she had feelings, feelings that meant they had a future, for him.
Such a pity that he came into her life when her heart had stopped feeling.
Kobi stepped away from the mirror and picked her purse from the dresser. She clicked out her lights and left her bedroom. He’d be there any moment now. Naeto never kept her waiting. He was too courteous, too much of a gentleman to do that.
He was knocking just as she walked into her living room. Kobi made straight for the door.
“Evening, Naeto.” She brushed a kiss on his cheek. “Always on time.”
“And you, always beautiful. Dark colours have a way of making you look even more exquisite.” Naeto, urbanely clad in a dinner suit and looking as cultured as he most often did, smiled charmingly.
“Which is why I favour them, that they may make my big frame less conspicuous.” Kobi said with a smile that said she appreciated his compliment all the same.
“You’re not big, you are curvy.” Naeto’s almost black eyes chided her. “And you are a very beautiful woman.”
Oh, why hadn’t he been here at least three years ago?
Kobi forced aside the wistful thought and gave her head a gracious dip. “Well, thank you for the compliment, even though I think you’re biased. If we’re set though, I think we should get going. My tummy is starting to feel the strain of just having fruits for lunch.”
“Solid food for lunch is important, especially when you’re working, Kobi.” His hand lightly held her waist as they strolled to his car. “I wish you would stop worrying about your figure. You have the perfect figure.”
“Worrying and working at my figure is why you don’t find yourself walking beside a human whale tonight.” She slid into the passenger seat as he held the car door for her. He never missed a gentlemanly step and she never ceased to be impressed by his sheer graciousness.
If only that could revivify her heart.
“I’ve seen old pictures, you were a full stone far from a whale. You’ve trimmed down, yes, but from what I saw, you’ve always been beautiful.” He smoothly joined the paced traffic. “I love your body the way it is, Kobi.”
The dernier softly spoken words unsettled Kobi. She didn’t want confessions of love, not even for her physique. “I am beginning to think that you’re just too kind, Naeto.” She said lightly. “You can’t bear to hurt anyone’s feelings, so you never say a bad word to them.”
“Is that a bad quality to possess, being thoughtful of other people’s feelings?”
“No, it’s not. It’s in fact a commendable and admirable quality, especially in a man.” Kobi glanced at him. He had an attractive face that was angular and sculpted. “But I think it is the kindness in you that makes you fail to see the flaws in other people, or maybe even if you see, fail to acknowledge them.”
“I see no flaws in you, Kobi. And that is simply because there are none.”
“Of course there are, I am not perfect.”
“None of us are perfect but we are beautiful in the way that we are made.”
“No one… I mean, no man has ever said that to me.” Kobi looked out the window as they climbed up the Third Mainland Bridge, remembering and wishing she didn’t. “I’ve always had to defend my body type and even apologise for it.”
“With me, you don’t have to, Kobi. You never had to do so with anyone else.” His hand cupped her own. “No one created himself and the one who created us did not make any mistakes. Besides, you’re a full curvaceous woman and there are men who want their women ample-bodied and not a lump of sticking-out bones.”
“They’re not always sticking out.” Kobi chuckled and because she was grateful for his sweet words, squeezed his fingers. “So, where really are we heading to?”
“You will see. It’s a surprise.” The corners of his mouth curved with a teasing smile. “Just get your appetite ready and don’t even think about ordering light. I won’t hear of it.”
“I think my stomach won’t hear of it.” She patted her almost back to flat stomach. “I am so famished, I stand a risk of overeating, and that just wouldn’t be helpful.”
“Eating to your fill cannot be wrong. Stop obsessing and let yourself have fun, even if it’s only for tonight. Although, it will not only be for tonight, if I have anything to do with it.” He added with a wink.
Kobi smiled and said nothing, because if she found the courage to do what she must do, then it was possible that after tonight, he might not want to have anything to do with her.
It was a classy restaurant and Kobi found the ambiance soothing.
“I so love Chinese.” She sighed over the mouthful of sweetly spiced prawns. “And this one is simply excellent. Every food served so far has been perfectly cooked, perfectly spiced, perfectly served… simply amazing.”
“I’m glad you like it. I’m more the Nigerian cuisine man but sometimes, I allow my taste buds have a different experience. This one is indeed good.”
“It is.” Kobi contentedly acquiesced.
“You’re the most beautiful woman.”
The abrupt switch in topic brought up her head and at the look in his eyes, Kobi set down her filled fork.
“It is not just your body, it is your heart, the sheer simplicity and generosity of your nature. You give and yet, rarely ask anything of anyone.”
“I am a working class woman, Naeto, so it’s no hardship paying my own bills.”
“I am not talking money. I am talking about you not making demands on people. You accepting the people in your life just the way they are. You freely giving your affection, time and all you’re capable of, without really demanding much in return.”
Her disquiet spiked. “Naeto…”
“Kobi.” He said her name at same time and then, reached across the table to take her hand. “I have a confession to make.”
“No! I mean…” Kobi pushed back panic. “You don’t have to confess anything, Naeto.”
“But I do.” His fingers curled around hers. “I’ve been thinking about you.”
Oh God, here comes that dreaded moment!
“You’re always on my mind. Whatever I’m doing, wherever I am, I think of you.” His thumb lightly stroked the back of her palm. “I want to be with you, Kobi. I want us to take this from friendship into a relationship. I want a commitment with you.”
“Naeto.” She dropped her gaze on their linked hands. The light stroking of his finger only vaguely stirred her. Kobi raised her eyes back to his. “I… I am not sure.” Oh God, that wasn’t what she wanted to say! “I’ve never been any good at relationships. They just don’t work out for me. I…” Tell him you’re not into him. “I think I’m exhausted repeating same mistakes.”
“I understand. I understand trying over and over and not getting it right.” His eyes were quietly understanding and… loving. “But it won’t be just you trying to make this relationship work, Kobi. I will be in it with you. I will be committed to you. I have feelings for you, feelings that run deep, and I need you in my life.”
“I… I need to think about it.” Coward! She cursed herself but Kobi could not stop herself from being so. “Would you give me time, please?”
“But of course.” Naeto smiled, stroked her hand one more time before he let it go. “Take all the time you need, I’ll be here. I’ll always be here.”
Kobi’s mouth curved with a smile even as her heart wrung with self-recriminations. What was she doing, giving him hope when it was clear that she would never feel anything beyond mere likeness for him? Why postpone what was inevitable for heaven’s sake?
Their dinner went back to its smooth, friction-free affair. Naeto had that quality for making you feel at ease even when your insides were churning with mild confusion. They were even laughing as they strode out of the restaurant after their dinner.
But just outside the door, everything in Kobi froze when she saw him. “Chima!”
“Kobi.” His eyes flickered to Naeto and then swept back to her. “Evening.”
“Evening.” She had recovered enough to shelve the shock and inject coolness into her voice. “I see you’re just coming in. We are on our way out. Do have a pleasant evening.” She brushed past him, her hand gripped in Naeto’s.
“An old friend?” Naeto asked as he pulled out of the restaurant’s parking lot.
He said nothing, only slipped his hand over hers.
Kobi shut her eyes. He was back in Lagos, why? It should not matter to her. It did not matter to her. He belonged to the past and the past was dead, her heart was closed off, she wanted, and needed, nothing—or no one.
She shifted a glance at Naeto. She didn’t want or need him either. She would have to find the heart to tell him that and then, she would go on with her life—alone.
Alone, with no expectation, no disappointments and no pain, that was always the best.
*** ~~~ *** ~~~ *** ~~~ ***
One More Time… And Forever comes up every Tuesday on Life and Spices.com. Join us there.