Picture Perfect 1

Chapter One

AloneDinner for one, Victoria thought with a sigh as she stared at the clean plate across her.

This wasn’t the first time her boyfriend had canceled on her.  She chewed the spicy piece of chicken she’d spent hours marinating and swallowed it along with the lump in her throat.  She’d made dinner thinking her boyfriend, Ronald, would show up.  Instead, he’d called her an hour ago to call off their date.

She placed her fork on her plate and reached for her large glass of red wine.  Sipping a healthy gulp, she pushed away the loneliness creeping on her and decided it was for the best.  She had a report to finish tonight, and sleeping early was better.

She worked for the Savon Hotel Nairobi as a Senior Sales Manager and spent most of her time creating ways to increase revenue and keep the hotel’s largest accounts happy.  This week was especially busy.  She had a meeting tomorrow with a couple who worked for their largest account; Taylor Kamau of Kifaru Industries, a leading stationery company in the country was wedding his fiancee this weekend.  The Savon Hotel would host their wedding reception, and after-party.  She was meeting Taylor and his bride-to-be in the morning at seven-thirty.

Finishing her wine, Victoria Waina stood and decided to bury her thoughts in work instead of her mediocre relationship.  Taking the wine bottle with her, she walked away from the small intimate table she’d set up by the windows in her living room. She’d clean up later, she decided, or tomorrow morning.  She entered her bedroom and crawled into her bed taking her laptop with her.

****

Victoria woke up to chaos the next morning.  She’d drunk too much wine and her head felt heavy.  When her brain finally computed the numbers on her alarm clock, she stumbled out of bed and ran to the bathroom.  A hurried shower later, she pulled on a black fitting dress that stopped just above her knee and tugged on a red jacket over it.  She ran a brush through her black weave, bumped her toe on her desk as she gathered her laptop, phone and keys.  Ignoring her throbbing toe, she hurried out of her bedroom and went into the living room.

The dishes she’d left on the table by the window called to her, but she fought the urge to clean up.  It was six-ten in the morning.  She wanted to reach her office by six-forty five.  Taking black flats from a closet in the hallway where she kept her shoes, she slipped them on and tried to shake off the lingering sleep cobwebs.

Taking her handbag from the couch where she’d dumped it last evening, she gave the table by the window one last glance before she left her apartment.  She locked the door, and took in a deep breath of the morning fresh air.

Trees surrounded her apartment building keeping the temperatures cool and fresh.  The mornings were best, she thought as she made her way down the veranda to the stairs.  She lived on the fourth floor of her building.  Her brother had helped her find the apartment when she’d gotten the job at Savon Hotel.

Those days she’d lived with her parents in Kinoo and the commute from the hotel to their house had been a nightmare.  Whenever it rained, she’d needed to wake up at four o’clock just to get to the city at six in the morning.  Clifford, who was older than she was by five years and was a doctor at the Nairobi hospital, had used his connections to get her the apartment closer to town.

When she got downstairs, she hurried to the navy blue Jeep she’d bought a year ago.  Opening the passenger door,car start she dumped her handbag, laptop and phone on the passenger seat.  She slammed the door closed and hurried around to the driver’s side.  Once inside, she fit the key into the ignition.  Glancing at her watch, six-fifteen, she smiled, the roads would be clear of traffic and it would only take her ten minutes to get to town.  She turned the ignition and her smile disappeared when the engine clicked.  Closing her eyes, she sat back in her seat and tried not to panic.  This time she turned the key slowly.  When the engine clicked again, she punched the steering wheel and glared at the lights on the dashboard.  Her oil was fine, she had gas, and the battery was obviously working since the lights were on.  She shook her head, turned the key again, and got the same annoying clicking sound.

She let out a string of expletives that would have her mother smacking her with a cooking stick and sat back in her seat.  What now?  She dared not try to look at the engine; her mood would only get worse once she realized she had no idea what she was looking at.

Rubbing her forehead, she picked up her phone, slipped it into her handbag, and did the same to her laptop.  Taking her keys out of the ignition, she got out of the car and locked it.  Swinging her bag over her shoulder, she gave the Jeep one last irritated glance and started toward the black gate.

citi hoppaTen minutes later, found her seated in a fourteen-sitter city-bus headed into town.  She took in a deep breath of relief.  Her joy was short-lived because an older gentlemen reeking of booze sat beside her at the next stop.  She held her breath and tried not to gag.  It didn’t help that she’d chosen the two seats side and the window wouldn’t open.

Closing her eyes, she hugged her handbag and decided to concentrate on the end of this ride.  When the bus lurched into motion, the man beside her bumped against her and she resisted the urge to push him off.  She turned to see what he was doing and found him staring at her with a gaze that made her skin crawl.

Why today? She wondered in exasperation.

She pressed closer to the window and cursed the fates that ruined her car this morning and vowed to learn more about engines.  The bus turned on to Valley Road and she counted the minutes to her freedom.  She sneaked a glance at her watch.  It was already six-thirty.  Panic butterflies attacked and she took tried to fight them away.  Her meeting wasn’t starting until Seven-thirty but she hated not being ready.

The man beside her shifted and she scowled when he coughed, the stench of stale alcohol filling the small space between them.  Jeez, the first time taking a bus in a few weeks and she had to be saddled with this guy.

“You’re so smart, madam,” he growled at her and she gagged.

“Where do you work?” he asked.

She bit her lip hard and fought not to engage.  If she did, she was going to curse him out, and that would just make a scene.  Thankfully the bus approached the G.P.O. Bus stop and she stood.

“Excuse me,” she said eager to escape him.

When he didn’t move, she signaled the conductor.  The drunk man moved then and she hurriedly squeezed past him on to the aisle.  Giving the offending man an irritated glance, she stumbled to the exit.

Pole, Madam,” the conductor said when she reached him.  “Don’t look so angry, it’s too early.”

She smiled because his apology was unexpected.

“That guy is unbelievable.  How can he be drunk this early?” she asked with a sigh.

“There are people like that,” the conductor said as the bus came to a stop.

He jumped on the tarmac and waited for her to alight.  She wished him a good day as he boarded the bus and she got on the sidewalk.

Adjusting her red jacket and handbag, she started the trek to the Savon Hotel which was located along Loita Street.  She sometimes got sentimental pangs when she looked across Uhuru Highway at the national park.  She’d spent her primary school years racing through that park to get to school, or strolling to the bus stop with her friends when it was time to go home.  In some ways, she missed those simple years.

She reached the hotel in minutes and walked through the elegant glass doors with a relieved sigh.  The concierge at the front desk, a young woman named Anita, waved at her and she returned the greeting.  She crossed the lobby to a hallway that led to the back of the hotel and made a note to seek out Anita later.  The young woman was a new addition to the front office staff.  It paid to make friends with the concierges, otherwise important guests would come and go without an alert.

Her office was located at the back of the hotel in the business section of the hotel.  It wasn’t a corner office, but big enough to have become her second home in the past year.  She unlocked the door, turned the lights on and entered the large office.  Dropping her hand bag on the couch by the wall, she hurried to the little closet set in the corner.  She removed her black flats, stowed them away in the closet and retrieved black stilettos.  She closed the closet and went to the windows behind her desk.  She opened the blinds and dropped the heels right by her desk.

A knock came on her door and she glanced up to find her best friend and the hotel’s wedding sales manager at the door.  Grace Musata waved at her and entered the office.

“Glad to see you, I panicked when I didn’t see your car in the parking lot,” Grace said.

“It wouldn’t start,” Victoria said with a sigh.  She removed her brush from her handbag and started brushing her weave.  “I have to call Cliff later.  He’ll have it checked for me.  I had to take the city-bus into town.”

“You’re so lucky you live in Hurlingham,” Grace said, glancing at her phone.  “Otherwise, you’d be stuck in traffic.  We have thirty minutes before the Kamau couple shows up.  I met with Chef Nick yesterday after the disastrous food tasting with Beth, Taylor’s fiancee.  Nick says he won’t do the job if Beth’s family meddles.”

“He has to,” Victoria said firmly.  “Nick is the best.  If he prepares the food as they want it, there shouldn’t be a problem.”

“He says if they want him to cook, they have to stay out of his kitchen,” Grace said.  “Why don’t we just ask Chef Allan from the second floor restaurant.”

“Allan does better with small gatherings.  I don’t want this wedding party to source a chef outside this hotel.  Talk to the bride and find out what’s wrong.”  Victoria put back her brush, and slipped on her shoes.  She rummaged through her handbag for her perfume.  She was afraid the stench from the man in the  bus still lingered.  She spritzed perfume into the air and walked through it, inhaling the fresh, minty scent with a smile.

“We need coffee before this meeting,” Grace said.  “You look fabulous. I’m jealous of your dress.”

Victoria took her phone from her bag and followed Grace out of her office.  “I grabbed it blindly this morning.  Ronald never showed up for our date last night and I ended up drinking half the bottle of wine alone.”

Grace gave her a skeptical look and she sighed.

“Okay, I drank the whole bottle.  Goodness, you know me so well.  I was so lonely.”

“What happened?” Grace asked.  “Did he call you?”

“He was here trying to sort out a night shift crisis.  I think I love my job too much.  Every time he says he has to work, I feel guilty about complaining that he’s not showing up.”

“Are you sure?” Grace asked her with a frown.

“Sure about what?” Vicky asked as they entered the busy kitchen.  They navigated around the room service station to a staff lounge tucked into the corner of the huge kitchen.

CoffeeThe scent of coffee hit Victoria so hard, her mouth watered.  Her stomach growled and she laughed when Grace looked at her.

“I didn’t eat dinner, or breakfast.  This morning has been quite the adventure,” she said heading straight to the coffee pot in one corner.  She took a mug from a tray on the table and made herself a coffee.  “Imagine starting my car and having a clicking sound greet my ears.  So, I trek to the bus stop and just when I’m settling in, this drunk guy sits beside me.  He stunk so bad, I wanted to gag.”

“Oh honey, that’s nothing.  Last week, I took a matatu to Uthiru, and ended up squeezed next to a screaming child.  I would take drunk guy any day over a screaming child stuck in a traffic jam.  My head wanted to explode by the time I got out.”

Victoria chuckled and sipped her coffee.  The sweet dark liquid healed most of her frustrations this morning.  Three sips later and she was ready to face solid food.  She left her coffee at a table set by the windows and went to survey the buffet.

Grace took a bowl of fruit salad and stood deliberating over assorted pastries arranged on a tray.  Victoria walked around her to get some scrambled eggs.

“About Ronald,” Grace started.

“I know you don’t like him,” Victoria said with a sigh.  “But he’s a nice guy outside this hotel, Grace.”

“Yeah, he roars and spits as the hotel manager, and turns into an angel out there.  I’ve heard that before,” Grace said shaking her head.  “His bipolar attitude is not the reason why I don’t like him.”

Victoria surveyed the buffet table and wondered if it was unladylike to binge.  She was starving and the scent of sausages, bacon, fruit salad, the scrambled eggs and assorted pastries was going to her head.  Taking a plate, she served herself two sausages, a helping of scrambled eggs and two slices of toasted bread.

“Vicky,” Grace said and she turned to find her friend staring at her.

“What? I’m starving,” Victoria said taking her plate to the table where she’d left her coffee.

She was partial to the outdoors.  If it was possible, she’d spend all day sleeping under a tree, watching the clouds dance across the sky while she pretended to read a novel.  Sadly, her life wasn’t that lucky.  She instead spent her work days trying to get a glimpse of the sun through windows.  She was lucky the Savon Hotel had so many, each one with unexpected views.  The staff lounge overlooked a grassy patch that led to the Uhuru highway and beyond that, was the Serena Park.

Grace brought her coffee and as she settled into her seat, Victoria frowned at the single piece of toast and small bowl of fruit before her friend.

“Seriously?” she asked.

Grace groaned.  “I’m trying to lose weight.  Hubby mentioned my chubby stomach a week ago.  I’ve been getting lazy lately.”

“Lose what weight?” Victoria gaped at her best friend.

Grace was tall, dark-skinned and beautiful.  Her long mink black hair was held back in a slick ponytail.   Her figure was model perfect, she looked gorgeous in a navy blue long-sleeved dress.  There was barely any fat to speak of, if Grace needed to lose weight, then the world was truly ending.

“Does he want you to flatten into a stick?” Victoria asked taking a bite of her scrambled eggs.

Grace laughed.  “Only you would say that.  There are billions of women outside this door working out as we speak to lose weight.  Please note that they are thinner than me.”

“Not me,” Victoria said.  “I couldn’t live without food, certainly not for a guy.  I love my curves.”

“That’s because your weight goes to your hips, never your waist.  You have a soft hourglass shape, no matter how much you eat.  The rest of us have to work to keep in shape.”

Victoria shook her head.  “Your stomach is fine, Grace.  Your hubby is just giving you stress.  He should be happy you’re so beautiful.”

“Gal, it takes a lot to keep a marriage going.  Besides, he only mentioned my tummy.  I’ll go two months on diet, and the gym after work.  That should shut him up for a few months.”

“Enough,” Victoria said sipping her coffee.

Listening to Grace discuss her happy marriage, she couldn’t help thinking about her relationship with Ronald.  She didn’t want to feel depressed so early in the morning.

Ronald Mutoko was her boyfriend of two years.  Their relationship had started out fast and fiery, and then it had turned into a routine.  Now that they were a long term couple, she could count the number of times they’d actually had a date.  He took her to formal occasions when he needed to show her off.  She dragged him to her own events when she needed a guy to show off.  They were getting boring, and she was afraid that they’d get stuck that way.

Maybe that was all she could manage.  A lukewarm union with a man who admired her work.  Her job took so much of her time, she barely had a chance to meet other men.  Maybe she was just being selfish wanting a guy like Grace’s husband.  Despite the weight issues, the guy truly loved Grace, and they had built a very comfortable life together.

“Vicky,” Grace cut into her thoughts.  “I was here yesterday evening.  Remember I told you I met Chef Nick?  We sat at the front lounge having drinks.  We saw Ronald leave the hotel at around six o’clock in the evening.  I thought he was coming to see you.”

“What?” Victoria stared at her best friend in surprise.

“He wasn’t here for the night shift,” Grace said quietly.

“Maybe he came back,” Victoria insisted only to have Grace shake her head.

“Nick and I left at nine o’clock and he still hadn’t come back.  There was no night-shift crisis, ask the front office department.”

Victoria studied Grace for a second.  “What are you trying to tell me?”

Grace pushed her bowl of fruit away and sat back in her seat.  “You and I have been friends for three years.  You know I’ve got your back, Vicky.”

Her heart hammered in her chest and she tried to shake off the sick feeling creeping into her stomach.  She met Vicky’s gaze and read pity in the kind dark-brown orbs and she just couldn’t handle whatever Grace was going to tell her.

“No,” she shook her head.  Her chest felt tight.  She shouldn’t feel hurt, she and Ronald didn’t have a very close relationship.  But still-,

“There are rumors going around,” Grace said anyway her tone light.

“What kind of rumors?”

Grace winced.  “Rumors that Ronald has been seen at the Seasons Hotel with some of the girls from front office.”

Victoria took the stab of pain in her heart silently.  “What girls?”

“Vicky,” Grace said shaking her head.

“If you’re going to tell me it’s better you say it all,” Victoria insisted.

Grace sighed.  “Yesterday, it was the new concierge.  That girl called Anita.  Before that, it was Beatrice.”

Victoria closed her eyes and shook her head.  “There is no way.”

“Nick told me yesterday when he saw Ronald leaving.”

“Why didn’t he come tell me?” Victoria demanded losing her appetite.  How dare Ronald turn her into an idiot.  Last night when she’d been cooking for him, he’d been out with Anita.  Did everyone know about him?

“Nick figured it would be easier to let you discover it on your own.”  Grace sipped her coffee.  “Maybe he told me because he knew I’d tell you.  All our friends know I don’t like Ronald.”

Victoria stared at her coffee and wondered how she could have been so blind.  She should have known.   There had been signs, no one called off that many dates.

“We should go,” she said abruptly.

“Vicky,” Grace said reaching to touch her arm.  “Are you alright?  Maybe I should have waited until later.”

“No,” Victoria said quickly.  “You did right to tell me now.  Thanks, Grace.  We should go, the meeting is in ten minutes.”

Grace gave her a concerned glance as she stood up.  They left their cups and plates on the table.  Grace slipped an arm around her waist and squeezed, offering much needed comfort.

“Ronald is not worth it,” Grace said firmly.  “Don’t meet him anymore, Vicky.”

“I know,” Victoria agreed as they left the lounge.

She listened to Grace expound on the benefits of being single.  The words were meant to sooth her, heal  her wounded heart.  She tried to listen, but her thoughts strayed back to the last two years.  How many times had Ronald cheated on her?  When had it started?  Had he ever cared about her?

tears

Tears of a Brokenheart

All those times they’d been together, she stopped in the middle of the hallway.  Jesus, a knot of panic formed in her stomach.  She needed to make an appointment with her doctor!  She and Ronald hadn’t been careful the last few times they’d been together.  Ronald hadn’t used a condom and she’d foolishly let it go because he was her longtime boyfriend.  What a fool she was!  Romance in this city could turn into a deadly game with one stupid decision like that.  What if she had AIDS?

“Vicky,” Grace said and she looked at her friend.

“Just a second,” she managed.  “I need to go to the ladies room.  I’ll meet you at the conference room.”

Grace nodded, still giving her a concerned glance.  Victoria ignored it and instead changed direction.  She blindly ran to the public bathroom around the corner.  Fear filled her as the idea that she could have  an STD took root.  She bumped hard into someone and fell to the floor with a soft sob.  Tears she hadn’t realized she was holding back streamed down her cheeks.

When had she turned into such a foolish woman?

****

To be continued…

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