Monday was filled with meetings. Victoria spent most of her day moving from one conference room to another, crunching numbers and working with the various sales department heads planning events in the Savon Hotel. The holiday season was around the corner, not to mention the end of year parties. The hotel was booked up for three months straight, which was great for revenue, but it meant more work for the staff.
“Vicky,” Bernard from the PR department caught up with her after a meeting with the business-travel sales manager.
She bit back a groan because she’d been hoping to hide out in her office for thirty minutes. It was only three o’clock but she was ready to call it quits and head home.
“What’s going on Bernard?” she asked, giving him a tired smile.
“I need your help,” he said walking with her to her office. “I heard you know Eric Kabuto.”
She was careful not to show a reaction as she entered her office. Taking the files she held to her desk, she faced Bernard with all the professionalism she could muster.
“Are you looking for Mr. Kabuto?” she asked.
“His studio took shots for the Talua Resorts in Samburu a couple months ago. They look so good; I can’t even begin to explain. I called them to ask for his contact, but when I tried to get a hold of him, it turned out he was busy. We need to take new pictures for our website, and brochures, considering we’re gearing up for the holiday season. I was hoping you’d talk him into taking the assignment.”
She hadn’t heard from Eric since Saturday night after he’d dropped her off. She’d hoped he’d text her, or even call, but he hadn’t done either. Yesterday, when visiting her parents, she’d kept her cell phone close hoping he’d call.
“If he’s unavailable, why can’t you choose another photographer?” she asked, walking around her desk to her chair.
Her feet were killing her; she’d made the mistake of wearing new heels today. Her toes weren’t going to thank her this evening.
“Eric is the best in the business,” Bernard insisted. “I have a second choice but since you spent time with Eric on Saturday, I was hoping you’d meet with him and give him our proposal.”
Bernard held out a Savon Hotel folder and she took it with a slight frown.
“His studio is in Hurlingham,” Bernard said with a hopeful tone. “I’ll forever love you if you get him on board.”
“Fine, I’ll give it a try,” she said. “I’m not promising anything.”
She chuckled as Bernard thanked her and hurried out. Opening the folder, she read the proposal absently. Her thoughts centered on Eric, she wondered why he hadn’t contacted her. Had she read too much into the kiss on her cheek? He’d acted as though he wanted to see her again. She frowned. Then, maybe he was still nursing his heart after Beth’s wedding.
Letting a sigh escape, she removed her shoes under the table and swiveled her chair around to stare out the windows. The sunny afternoon looked enticing, her thoughts instantly strayed to the gazebo she and Eric had seen on Saturday. She wondered if Eric would ever go back to that place. He probably would, visiting Taylor’s aunt, maybe with Beth and Taylor. The stab of jealousy wasn’t new, she’d been having repeated pangs all day yesterday. She wished they’d go away. She and Eric might never happen in this lifetime.
Shaking her head, she turned her chair back to her desk and decided to concentrate on work. Arranging files and event schedules, her gaze returned to the folder Bernard had given her more than once.
Thirty minutes later, she gave in to the burning curiosity.
Putting on her shoes, she grabbed her handbag and Bernard’s folder. She locked her office and headed out of the hotel. She boarded a bus to Hurlingham ten minutes later, determined to find Eric’s studio.
Victoria had no trouble finding the studio. It was quite visible once she walked behind the supermarket at Hurlingham. She rubbed her hand over her stomach, hoping to settle the butterflies dancing inside. She stood outside the studio staring at her reflection in the tinted windows analyzing her appearance. She was having a serious case of panic and maybe a loss of confidence. Gods, why did she have such a typical pear shape. Small upper body, fuller hips and thighs than she liked. She’d always felt a bit self-conscious that she couldn’t be considered skinny and petite like Grace or Olive. Not to mention her height, she grimaced thankful she was wearing her heels.
How could she compare to Beth, the paragon of virtue and beauty?
Running a hand down the form fitting cream dress she wore, she suddenly wished she’d gone home. Her clothes looked too formal to visit such a hip looking place.
What was wrong with her?
She smacked her forehead and took in a deep breath.
This wasn’t a social visit. She was here on hotel business. She had no time for self-pity parties. Adjusting her handbag on her shoulder, she tugged open the studio doors and entered the cool reception. Music filled the room, giving it a laid-back atmosphere. The interior designer had glossy photographs of Nairobi mounted on the walls. A logo that read, ‘E.K. Studio’ graced the wall behind the receptionist’s desk. A wide counter that fit horizontally from wall to wall kept customers out of the corridor behind the reception desk.
A young woman appeared at the end of the corridor and she came up to the desk with a wide smile. “How can I help you?”
“Hi, I’m Victoria Waina. I was hoping to see-,”
“Oh,” the young woman moved to the left corner of the counter and opened a door. “Eric has been waiting for you. I’m Rulisha. I’m the receptionist here.”
She waited for Victoria to pass, before she returned the door making it a full counter again.
“I love your dress,” Rulisha said giving her a once over. “And your shoes, they’re fabulous.”
Victoria instantly liked Rulisha. Glancing down at the green heels she’d bought a while back but never won. “They’re new, but they are killing my toes.”
“I can’t tell.” Rulisha said looking at her hair. “I love your natural hair too, wow its long. Who did your hair?”
Victoria touched the soft tresses with a smile. She’d removed her weave last night and stopped at the salon at seven this morning. “There’s a little place two streets from here. Across Chaka place-,”
“I know it, Gugu’s Hairdressers. They do good work.” Rulisha touched her own short hair. “They cut and dyed my hair for me. You like?”
Rulisha had cut her hair and dyed the top of it a dirty blond. She had a delicate, youthful face and the short hair made her look like a pixie.
“I love, you wear short hair very well,” Victoria said as she followed Rulisha. Dressed in slim black jeans and a gray t-shirt, Rulisha looked like she’d left high school a year ago.
Rulisha led her to a sealed black door that opened into a large white room. “Eric, she’s here,” Rulisha said in a singsong voice.
Victoria closed the door behind her awed by the sight around her. The walls of the studio were a pristine white, no windows anywhere. Fans in the corners of the walls circulated the air, keeping the room cool. There were three umbrella lights currently arranged around a setting of lotion products arranged on the floor. Eric stood on a ladder, focusing his lens on the products below.
“Victoria, what took you so long?” Eric demanded not breaking his concentration. “I was starting to think I’d have to go to your house to get you.”
“I didn’t realize you were waiting,” she said looking around the busy room.
Linda was at one of the desks set by the wall working on a computer there. An industrial photo printer whirled to life beside her. Rulisha took an empty box from the floor and filled it with Velo shampoo bottles on a table close to Eric, before she carried it to Linda’s table.
“Hi, Linda,” Victoria said.
Linda glanced up and smiled at her. “It’s nice to see you again, Vicky.”
Eric straightened up on the ladder to look at her. His camera went up again and before she could protest, he took a picture of her.
“Hi,” he said grinning wide.
“Hi,” she said shyly.
“Put your bag down, get comfortable,” Eric said waving around the room. “Lisha, will you call for coffee, and food. I’m starving.”
“Sure,” Rulisha said and handed Victoria a box filled with lotion bottles. “Will you take this to the table next to Linda? How do you like your coffee?”
“Lots of milk, no sugar,” Victoria said as Rulisha left the room. She took the box to the table next to Linda. Placing her handbag beside the box, she pulled out a chair. “What’s going on?”
“We have a deadline,” Linda said. “He’s hoping to get this done today.”
Victoria watched Linda print out pictures, study them for a moment, then hand them to her.
“Trim those for me,” Linda said pointing to a paper guillotine mounted on the edge of the table. “Sorry to put you to work.”
Victoria got up and took the photos to the guillotine. She looked at Eric and wasn’t surprised to find his attention back on the products below him. She spent the next hour working with Linda, trimming pictures of Velo shampoo, conditioner, bar soaps, and lotions into different sizes.
Linda made fun of Eric when he lost his temper and yelled at the two men assisting him with the lighting. Eric would make a face and turn to Victoria for support. She loved their camaraderie.
Rulisha appeared at around five-thirty carrying bags of food. The scent filled the room making her stomach growl.
“What took you so long?” Eric demanded as he got off the ladder.
“You’re so grumpy when you’re hungry,” Rulisha retorted. “I have all the food here, time to eat.”
Eric grinned and patted her head.
“Such an obedient receptionist,” he said.
“Such a grumpy boss,” Rulisha answered taking Linda her food.
“Victoria, do you see what I have to deal with daily?” Eric asked as he handed his camera to Linda.
He took her hand when she finished cutting a set of shampoo bottles and placed them on the pile Linda was stacking together. “Thank you for helping.”
“I’m going to ask for a salary,” Victoria said.
He laughed and led her to a black storage container. They sat down and she slipped off her heels. She wiggled her toes with a sigh.
“I should have known I was coming to work,” she said leaning back against the wall. “Then I would have worn flat shoes.”
“Coffee for you,” Rulisha handed her a steaming black mug, “lots of milk, no sugar.”
Victoria took the mug with an appreciative moan. “This smells so good.”
“Coffee just became my favorite food,” Eric murmured into her ear.
She jabbed his ribs with her elbow and sipped her coffee. “Find this guy some food, Rulisha. His brain cells are dying slowly.”
Rulisha chuckled and held out a plastic container filled with Rice Pilau and beef stew to Eric. He took the food with a wicked grin. He opened the container and took a healthy bite of rice. He too gave an appreciative moan and winked at her when she stared at him.
“Why didn’t you call me yesterday?” he asked when Rulisha handed her a container of food too. “I waited.”
“Why didn’t you call me?” she asked him putting her coffee cup on the floor.
“You were with your parents and your brother,” he said with a shrug. “I figured if I called when they were close, you’d have a hard time explaining who I am.”
“I’m over eighteen, you know,” she said. “I can answer calls as they come without anyone asking.”
“Yeah well, I wanted you to call me,” he said with a sulking tone.
She took a bite of the rice and felt her mouth water. Rulisha had found a great restaurant. The food was delicious. They ate in silence for a few minutes, listening to Rulisha, Linda and the two assistants talk about the movies.
“Want to go?” Eric asked suddenly.
She shifted to look at him. “Go where?”
“To the movies,” he asked refusing to look at her.
“Because,” he said chewing slowly.
“Because what?” she asked.
Hiding a smile, she took a bite of her rice and ignored him for a moment. When he didn’t look away, she lifted her brow in question.
“Do we like each other?”
“I thought-,” he broke off when she laughed at the surprised expression on his face. “Jeez, you’re impossible.”
“You should have seen your face,” she said pointing at him with her plastic spoon. “I thought you were going to start crying.”
“Cry? Me cry?” Eric asked her with a narrowed gaze.
He looked so scary she froze for a moment. When he smiled, she poked his arm with her index finger and scowled.
“Stop wearing such a scary expression if you don’t want me to run away,” she said. “Eat your food before you burst a vein. What kind of movies do you like anyway?”
“The ones that have people mindlessly blowing up things,” he said.
“Oh come on, that’s so boring,” she frowned. “That just means we’ll argue if we go to the movie theater. We’ll have to go to separate movies and meet afterwards.”
“Does that mean you like the ones people cry?” he asked.
“How did you know?”
He scoffed. “Hopeless romantic, I bet you believe in true love too.”
“And why not?” she asked taking a bite of her food. “This world would be a lot happier if a few more people believed in true love too.”
“I think it would mean more sad people.”
“Because,” he said, “not everyone gets to meet their true love, Victoria. Sometimes, it’s just not possible.”
Thinking about him and Beth, she held her tongue and reached for her coffee. She took a healthy sip and another one. She reminded her heart not to get too fond of him. He wasn’t the type to stop caring for a woman just because she was now married. Moreover, even though Beth was out of his reach, she frowned; he’d probably compare every other woman to her.
“No comeback?” he asked, bumping her shoulder.
She looked up to find him watching her. “You might be right, why should I argue?”
“I like hearing you argue with me,” he said. “I love your hair by the way. You changed it.”
Her hand went up to her hair automatically. “I got it done this morning,” she mumbled out.
“It suits you.” He finished his food and put the container on the floor. He picked up the coffee Rulisha had brought to him earlier and took a sip. “I feel so much better now. I hadn’t eaten anything all day.”
She pointed to the set up of products. “Are you finished now? Linda said you had a deadline?”
“Yes, we are done. Velo is creating a brochure for their products. They wanted us to do it on Saturday, but I had the wedding.” Eric rubbed the back of his neck to ease tension. “This morning, I had models from a fashion house over, that job took forever. I didn’t want to disappoint Velo, so we agreed to do it today.”
She nodded and closed her container. Putting it on the floor, she reclaimed her coffee. “I actually came to talk business with you.”
“What kind of business?” he asked leaning back on the wall too.
“The hotel’s PR team needs a photographer. We want to update our brochures and websites,” she started to reach for her handbag but he stopped her.
“Did you come here specifically for that? For the hotel?” he asked.
She held his gaze with a shrug, but didn’t answer. He put his mug on the floor. Squeezing her hand, he asked again.
“Is that the only reason why you came?”
“What do you want me to say?” she asked him quietly.
“That you came to see me,” he said.
She dropped her gaze away from his. She would have answered him, but Rulisha chose that moment to get their dishes.
“I hope you’re feeling better, boss,” Rulisha said. “Victoria, it was nice to meet you.”
“It was nice to meet you too,” she said with a smile. “Are you leaving?”
“Yes, after I get this cleaned out.”
Victoria nodded, wore her shoes and stood up.
“I should get going too,” she said reaching for her handbag from the table.
Eric stood as well. “Linda, will you take care of things here. I’ll be upstairs.”
“Sure,” Linda said. “Thanks Victoria, for helping me.”
“No problem,” Victoria said.
“I want to show you something, Victoria,” Eric said grabbing keys from the table where Linda worked.
Not giving her a chance to protest, Eric took her hand and led her out of the large studio. When they were in the hallway, he stopped at a door she hadn’t noticed and unlocked it.
To be continued…..Thank you for reading ^_^