Picture Perfect 9

Chapter 9

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.

“Why?”

“Because,” he said chewing slowly.

“Because what?” she asked.

He looked at her with an exasperated expression. “That’s what people who like each other do.”images (1)

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.”

“Why?”

“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 ^_^

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Picture Perfect 8

Chapter 8

“I’m the manager in this hotel.” He sneered at her, his face turned into a hateful mass of lines that froze her in place. “You can scream, but there’s nothing they’re going to do for you, Vicky.”

“I suggest you do as the lady asks,” Eric said making Victoria glance up to find him standing a few feet away. “I don’t care who you are. If you don’t let go of her, I’m going to break your fingers.”

“This is none of your business,” Ronald said still holding on to her arm. “Why don’t you walk away?”

Afraid the scene would escalate, Victoria stepped into Ronald’s personal space. Surprised by her abrupt move, shoesRonald didn’t get time to react when she stabbed the tip of her right heel into his toes. She used all the force she could master, digging her heel into the expensive leather.

He howled and let go of her arm. She jumped away from him and Eric tugged her out of Ronald’s reach. She was pleasantly surprised when Eric used his own body to shield her in case Ronald retaliated. Eric took her right arm and studied her skin searching for bruises.

“Are you okay?” Eric asked meeting her gaze with concerned eyes.

“I’m fine,” she said giving him a small smile. “I’m not sure Ronald is though.”

“You did good,” he said stroking his thumb over her arm. “Just stay here for a moment, okay?”

She nodded and he smiled. “Good.”

Eric turned to Ronald and in a split second, he had Ronald pressed against the wall. She gasped as Eric tugged Ronald’s tie, tying it around his fist and pulling it until it was choking Ronald.

“I hate men who treat women like you do,” Eric said with disgust. “You listen to me, if Victoria ever complains about you again, even if it’s because of a paper cut, I’m going to find you and you won’t like what happens. Do you understand?”

Ronald choked and nodded his head.

“I didn’t hear you,” Eric hissed in anger.

“I u-understand,” Ronald managed.

Eric tightened his hold on the tie for a second then let go. Ronald collapsed against the wall gulping in air with deep heaves, as he tugged at his tie to release his neck.

“You-, get out of this hotel-, you-”

“Remember what I said,” Eric warned, pointing a finger at him. He turned away from a wheezing Ronald and smiled at her. “Come on, Victoria. I’ll get you home.”

She allowed Eric to lead her away from the alcove and they headed to the stairs. She was conscious of Eric’s hand on her left elbow as they went down the stairs. Once they got to the lobby, she stopped and turned to him.

“I’m fine now,” she said pointing in the direction of the ballroom. “You should go back.”

“Will you stop chasing me away,” Eric said glaring at her. “I just choked a guy for you.”

“I didn’t ask you to do that,” she said glaring at him. “You did that all on your own. Thank you for helping me. Now, go back to the wedding party.”

“I don’t want to be at the wedding party,” Eric said with a stubborn tone. He took her elbow and led her toward the front door. “I promised Olive I’d get you home. That’s what I’m going to do, even if I have to carry you to the car. Cooperate, Victoria.”

She chuckled as the front doors slid open and they stepped out into the cool night air. When they got to his black Jeep, he opened the passenger door for her and waited until she settled to close the door.

When he slid into the driver’s seat, she asked, “Why did you follow me?”

“You’re my date,” he said, starting the car. “How could I let some weird guy steal you away without a fight?”

She smiled at him. “You didn’t have to follow me, you know.”

Eric spared her a glance before he asked. “Is that guy the reason you were crying that day we bumped into each other?”

Her smile faded away as fast as it had come. Remembering that day, all the reasons why she now hated Ronald Mutoko returned and she was suddenly glad that Eric had threatened him. She looked out the window at the city lights, and the vehicles passing them.

“It doesn’t matter anymore,” she murmured.

“He hurt you,” Eric said quietly. “It matters.”

“Not if I don’t want it to matter,” she replied firmly. “I don’t want to dwell on that guy anymore. You have no idea what it has been like since I found out what he did. I don’t want to think about him.”

“Fine,” Eric said.

When she turned to look at him, he looked away.

“I won’t ask again, as long as you admit something,” he said.

“What?”

“You thought I was pretty cool back there.”

She scoffed. “Please, I had already rescued myself. You were just trying to be macho man.”

“Come on, I was the warrior with his spear defending his woman. You were impressed.”

“Warrior with his spear?” Victoria laughed. “What do you think this is? A movie?”

10000BC“Hello, I’m sure my grandfather was the clan chief in the past. I’d have been the one leading battles against the wild animals in the village. I won the fight today, so that means you’re my reward. Haven’t you watched 10,000 B.C.?”

“You really are insane,” Victoria said with amusement. “I’m not a thing to be won.”

“No, you’re not,” Eric said quietly as he sped up the hill on Valley Road. “I’m hoping you won’t have trouble with that Ronald. I need you to promise that you’ll call me if you do, Victoria.”

She dropped her gaze. “He won’t bother with me anymore.”

“Promise anyway,” Eric insisted as he joined Argwings Kodhek road. “It will make me feel better.”

“Fine, I promise,” she said, welcoming the warmth that flooded her at the thought of having someone other than her big brother to call on for help. She concentrated on giving him directions to her apartment building, which was off Argwings Kodhek in Hurlingham. When he found her residential street and turned on to it, he slowed down.

“This is very close to the shopping center. Maybe you can come visit my studio tomorrow.”

“It’s Sunday,” she said with a sigh. “My brother is picking me up. We’re going to visit our parents in Kinoo.”

“Are you going to be there all day?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” she said with a sigh. “Things just end up going nuts on days like tomorrow. It will depend with what’s happening.”

“Oh,” Eric said in disappointment. He stopped the car before the black gates outside her apartment building. “So, when will I see you again?”

She looked at him. “Do you want to see me again?”

“Give me your phone,” he said holding out his hand.

She got the phone from her purse and handed it over. She watched him type in his number and save it. He called his number and handed her phone back when his rang.

“Come see my studio on Monday,” he said when she put her phone away.

“After work,” he said when she started to protest.

“I might work late,” she said with a frown.

“Come on, make time” he cajoled. “I’ll even feed you.”

She reached for the door handle. “I’ll think about it.”

“Just think about it?” he asked when she opened the door.

“A lot, I’ll think about it a lot,” she said with a small grin.

When she started to get out, he placed a hand on her right hand to stop her.

“Victoria,” he said.

She turned to look at him and he smiled. “Thank you for being my date today.”

Before she could answer, he leaned over and pressed a kiss on her cheek.

“Sleep well,” he murmured.

“Good night,” she managed and slid out of the car.

She closed the passenger door, waved at him and waited for him to drive away. He didn’t.

“Go on in,” he said leaning out the window.

She frowned but did as he asked. Greeting the guard on the other side, she closed the gate and grinned when she heard Eric honk once and drive off.

****

To be continued……Thank you for reading, “_”

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Picture Perfect 7

Picture Perfect 7

“What’s wrong with your car?” Eric asked when he settled in his seat.

“I don’t know,” Victoria said with a shrug. “My brother towed it to a garage a few days ago. I’m hoping he no cargets it back to me soon. I miss the freedom of my car.”

She sipped her drink and stared into the glass in silence.

He cleared his throat and asked, “What did I do earlier?”

She lifted her head to look at him.

“What do you mean?”

“When we were in Upper hill this afternoon,” he said quietly. “We were talking nicely; you were having a good time. When I finished taking Beth’s photos and came to find you at the gazebo, you changed. What did I say?”

“Nothing,” she said her gaze sliding away from him. “It was foolish.”

“Your feelings aren’t foolish, Victoria.” He touched her shoulder, marveling at how soft her skin was.  “Please just tell me.”

She closed her eyes. “Why?”

“Because, I want to know,” Eric said.

She met his gaze again. “I saw you with her. How she made you smile, you light up when you’re around her.”

“Victoria,” he started shocked by how deeply she saw inside him.

“You must love her very much,” she said quietly. “How can you stand it?”

He dropped his hand away from her shoulder and reached for his beer. Taking a healthy sip, he shrugged.

“I stayed away. It was easier.”

“Hence the dangerous excursions to all kinds of places,” Victoria said studying him. “Did it help?”

“Yes,” he said with a small smile, “until I came back for the wedding. I’m glad you went to the church, you distracted me and the day has ended without me noticing.”

“What about the rest of your life?” Victoria asked. “Are you going to avoid them?”

“I don’t know,” he said.

He’d thought about immersing himself in work again, taking on more out-of-town assignments. Now–

He glanced at Victoria…maybe she could be the distraction he needed.

“What?” she asked.

I like you“Nothing,” He smiled and leaned on the counter to study her. “You’re very beautiful. I don’t know if I’ve told you that.”

Victoria laughed and pushed her drink away.

“No, you’re not going to use me as a distraction.”

“I’m just giving you a compliment,” Eric said, noting the small laugh lines that appeared at the corner of her lips. “I’m stating a fact here.”

“You’re not flirting?” she asked giving him a skeptical look.

“No,” he shook his head even though he didn’t quite manage to hide his grin.

She punched his left arm lightly.

“You can’t even lie with a straight face.”

“You’re the one who wants me to lie. I’m happy telling you the truth.”

“Let’s discuss something else,” she said shifting in her seat to look at him.

Dark hair fell over her right eye and he reached out to push it back. She sat still as he stroked a finger over funher soft brown cheek. When he dropped his hand away, she met his gaze. He read fear, and uncertainty. She looked like she wanted to bolt for the doors, but wouldn’t.

“Vicky,” a gruff voice interrupted the moment and he turned to find a tall man standing a few feet away in an impeccable suit. He was looking at Victoria expectantly and giving Eric an irritated glance. “Can I talk to you for a moment?”

Eric turned to find Victoria staring at the man with a mutinous gaze. He started to send the unwelcome man away, but she stopped him with a hand on his arm.

“Give me a second, Ronald,” she said with a cold tone. She slipped off her chair and turned to him. “Eric, I can get myself home.”

“No way,” he protested taking her hand. “I promised Olive.”

“There is no need to drag you away from the party going on downstairs. Beth and Taylor’s families need you there. Please, don’t worry about me. I’ll take a taxi home. I had a very good time today. Thank you,” she said leaning to press a chaste kiss on his jaw. “Let’s meet again.”

She let go of his hand and turned to the man standing a few feet away. Roland or Donald, whatever his name was, slipped an arm around her shoulders and he felt an ugly surge of jealousy sweep through him.
Who was this guy holding on to her like he owned her? It didn’t help when the bastard turned and gave him a smirk. Reaching for his beer, Eric took a healthy sip and wondered if he could get away with punching the smug bastard. He sighed and turned away to keep from running after Victoria.

****

“Who is that guy?” Ronald Mutoko asked Victoria when they were in a private alcove around the corner from the Tropical Isle bar. “Why was he touching you?”

Victoria folded her arms against her chest and studied him. She’d found his impeccable taste in suits attractive once. Now, the tailored garb seemed too much like a costume Ronald was using to hide his rotten nature.

“What does it matter?” she asked meeting his dark gaze. “Why should it matter to you who touches me?”

Ronald’s forehead creased.

“Vicky, why are you acting like this? If it’s about that new concierge, you don’t have to worry about her. I’ll fire her and you’ll never have to see her again.”

“She’s not my worry, Ronald.” How had she never seen this horrible side of Ronald? “And leave that poor girl’s job alone. You’re the one in the wrong here. I trusted you and instead you,” she broke off and looked away from him. “You turned me into an idiot. That’s never going to happen again.”

“What if I apologize?” he asked touching her arm.

She shrugged his hand away. “You can apologize. It won’t mend us.”

“Vicky-,” Ronald said quietly.

“How many have there been?” she asked abruptly. “These past two years, while I blindly trusted you, thinking we were building a relationship, how many women have there been?”

He took a step back and shook his head. “You can’t ask me a question like that.”

“Why not?” Victoria asked her voice rising unintentionally.  Jeez, he was such a bastard.  “You felt you have the right to ask about the guy I was just having a drink with. Why shouldn’t I ask you about the women you’ve slept with behind my back?”

“Don’t talk so loudly.” Ronald looked around the hallway, making sure no one was around.

She was disappointed there wasn’t anyone in sight.  Not because she liked drama, but she wished others would see this Ronald.  This sleazy, unscrupulous side of him.  God, she was getting bitter.

“I already apologized,” he said returning his gaze to her. “Let it go, and let’s start over. I promise I will never do it again, Vicky.”

let goGoodness did she have stupid stamped on her forehead? She scoffed and stepped away from him.

“I hope your next girlfriend believes you. We’re over, Ronald. We’re going to keep up a professional relationship, that’s it. If you have any questions about the hotel sales, I’ll be happy to answer them. On a personal note, you’re nothing to me.”

“You can’t do this,” Ronald said glaring at her.

“Yes I can,” she said narrowing her gaze. “I should have done it a long time ago, but I’ve been too scared of the future to face the truth. Thank you for opening my eyes.”

“Vicky,” he grabbed her upper arm tightly when she turned to leave. “You have no right to do this.”

“Let go of my arm, Ronald.” His fingers were digging into her skin and it hurt.

“Who do you think you are to judge me?”  His fingers tightened around her arm. “Aren’t you also just as vulgar? Look at you, slathering on red lipstick, dressing in a provocative dress, and having drinks with strangers. Weren’t you asking for attention from that guy I just dragged you away from?”

“Let go of me, Ronald.”

She winced when he tightened his hold and tugged her closer to him. His cologne made her want to gag. It was unbelievable as she’d once found it enticing.

“You still want me.” His leering tone made her skin crawl. “You want it, you’re just angry with me for choosing another woman. So you’re trying to make me jealous by going after strangers.”

“I’m not even going to address that comment. Let me go before I start screaming.”

“I’m the manager in this hotel.” He sneered at her, his face turned into a hateful mass of lines that froze her in place. “You can scream, but there’s nothing they’re going to do for you, Vicky…”

****

To be continued… Thank you for reading >_<

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Picture Perfect 6

Chapter 6

index2“Victoria, you ran off,” Eric accused when he reached them. “How can you leave me to my own devices?”

“You were getting along quite fine.” She sipped her drink and glanced at Olive. “This is my best friend, Olive. She’s a doctor at the Nairobi hospital. If you ever need a check-up, she’s the one to call.”

Olive held out her hand to Eric with a dazzling smile. “Nice to meet you and you are?”

“Eric Kabuto, photographer,” he said. “Victoria is supposed to be my date but she keeps leaving me alone.”

Olive chuckled. “Why don’t you join us? Grace told me to keep Vicky up here.”

Eric ordered a beer from the bartender and moved closer to Victoria.

“This is why you should have listened to me. Nagging Grace will just get her irritated with you. Is that why you ran up here?”

“No, I was running away from you,” Victoria answered looking at him. “Did you abandon your job again?”

“You keep forgetting Linda is here with me,” he said thanking the bartender when his beer arrived. “Olive, is it just Olive or should I call you, Dr. Olive?”

“I should make you call me Dr. Olive.”

“What do you call her?” Eric asked nudging Victoria’s shoulder. “I’ll call her the same.”

“Olive, but that’s because we know each other. You’re a stranger.”

“I’m a stranger?” he asked pressing a hand against his chest feigning pain. “After we had such a good time earlier, how can I be a stranger?”

Olive laughed. “Just how close did you two get at the photo shoot?”

“She knows my biggest secret,” Eric said with a serious tone. “I’m amazed that she guessed it so easily too. So you can imagine we’re close.”

Victoria shook her head. “Your secret is so obvious, Eric. I’m surprised no one else knows.”

“Olive doesn’t know.” Eric sipped his beer. “Olive, tell me something I don’t know about Victoria.”

“What would you like to know?” Olive asked. “Me and this chick, we went to college together. I even know her eating habits.”

Eric glanced at Victoria and winked. “What should I ask first?”

“Don’t tell him anything,” Victoria said to Olive.

“Eric, I think I have to turn this against you,” Olive said then. “She’s my best friend. I can’t tell you anything when she tells me not to. Why don’t you tell me about you instead?”

Eric shrugged.

“Ask anything,” he said.

“Where did you go to high school?” Olive asked. “You look like a Dagoretti Boys student.”dagoretti

“Do we have some kind of stamp on our foreheads?” he asked with a laugh.

“It’s the way you act,” Olive said. “Comfortable, like nothing scares you anymore.”

“A lot of things scare me,” Eric said with a small smile. “Like Victoria here, when I first saw her, she wouldn’t even crack a smile.”

Olive chuckled. “She has that effect on people when she doesn’t want to talk.”

“Hey, I’m sitting right here,” Victoria complained. “And this is supposed to be about Eric answering questions.”

Olive turned to him with a small grin. “The craziest thing you’ve ever done.”

Eric sipped his beer and answered. “You won’t believe me.”

“What is it?” Victoria asked shifting her chair so that she could see him.

Mara“I went to the Maasai Mara once for an assignment. My guide and I ended up in a situation where we had to stay inside a vehicle for a day and a half waiting out a hungry lion.”

Olive burst out laughing. “That only happens when you provoke the wild animals. What did you do?”

“I needed to pee.” Eric confessed in a matter of fact tone. “My guide stopped the car near a bush and I got out to do my business. The next thing I know, I was running to the car because a huge lioness had appeared and she wanted me for lunch.”

“You could have died, or lost vital equipment you idiot,” Victoria said glaring at him.

“Again with the name calling,” Eric complained.

Olive laughed. “That’s insane and untrue. Tell us another one; something that’s actually happened this time.”

****

Eric took in the frown on Victoria’s forehead and couldn’t help hoping it was concern. He wanted it to be, because then he’d know she’d at least noticed him. He’d spent the afternoon watching her and decided that she was worth getting to know better. She had this ability to slip in and out of his thoughts. She’d even managed to distract him from Beth and Taylor’s wedding.

Clearing his throat, he turned to Olive.

“My buddies and I took a trip to the Marsabit National Reserve weeks ago to take landscape pictures. The paradisedrive there is tough, our car would go for an hour, and a tire would blow. I swear we had fifteen tire punctures. We spent the day taking pictures of the wild, so raw, and untouched. You can imagine our return trip was on four flat tires. We drove fast over rough terrain. The car bounced up and down,” he chuckled just remembering it. “It was exhilarating.”

“Why do you do it?” Victoria asked him. “I mean, you could easily just take a simple assignment. Why travel to such places?”

“Why not?” he asked meeting her gaze. “Those pictures we took in Marsabit were accepted by National Geographic. I shared a part of our country with so many people. Don’t you think it’s worth the trouble?”

“So you do it for patriotism?” Victoria asked with a frown.

“I had a lot of fun with my friends on that road trip. I can show you the pictures if you visit my studio.”

“Where do you live?” Olive asked then.

“I have a half-acre piece of land on Ndwaru Road near Riruta. I’ve been developing the property slowly for the past few years. Every time I get money, I build.”

“Do you build rental houses?” Victoria asked.

“I have a few rental houses,” he said with a small nod, “but also my own house that’s been under construction for what seems like years. I just finished plastering the walls, now I just need to paint.”

“That’s good,” Olive said with a nod. “You at least have something solid. It’s getting hard to buy land anywhere close to Nairobi lately. I’m half-afraid I’m going to rent my whole life.”

“What about you, Victoria?” he asked.

“I rent too,” she said. “I live in Hurlingham; it’s close to town and my job. Although, I’ve been saving money for a project I want to start at home.”

“Home?” Eric asked.

“She’s from Kinoo,” Olive provided finishing her drink. “Her father owns land that he’s going to share between her and her older brother.”

“What kind of project are you planning?” Eric asked signaling the bartender for more drinks. He tugged a high chair between Victoria and Olive and sat down.

“I like to farm,” Victoria declared with a tilt of her chin. “My dad has green houses where he grows different vegetables. I figured I’d start a green house project of my own. I love strawberries, so I want to grow them.”

“She has a few growing in containers on the kitchen veranda at her apartment,” Olive said. “I steal them when I go visit her. I can’t wait until she has a full greenhouse…all those strawberries.”

“The kind of farming you’re talking about requires planning,” Eric said impressed.

images23“Yes, I have one green house planned so far. I want to get started by next year in February,” Victoria said with a pleased smile. “I’ve talked to a few people in the hotel industry who are ready to buy the fruits. Strawberries have a market as fruit, garnish or for making jellies, so I have a wide market. I just need to make sure that I have the right seed otherwise all my plans fail.”

“You will make it work, don’t worry. Our Victoria was born with a green thumb,” Olive said with pride.

“Unlike you,” Victoria said taking Olive’s hand. “I gave her a small mint plant for her kitchen and found it dried two weeks after I gave it to her.”

“I’m never at home,” Olive said with a sigh. “I did try to look after it when I could.”

Olive’s phone buzzed and she reached for it with a frown. One glance at the caller ID and she shook her head. “I have to go. This is the story of my life, just when I’m starting to have fun.”

“Another patient?” Victoria asked with a frown.

“No, same one from the other day,” Olive said as she got up. “Eric, can I leave my friend in your care? I was going to give her a ride home later.”

“I can do that,” he said quickly. “Don’t worry.”

“Thank you,” Olive said turning to Victoria. “Thanks for the drinks, my dear. Call me tomorrow.”

Victoria accepted a short hug from Olive before she left. Eric returned his chair back to its place and took Olive’s seat.

****

To be continued….Thank you for reading! ~_~

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Picture Perfect 5

Picture Perfect 5

flowers  An hour later, leaning on a tree in the gorgeous garden belonging to Taylor’s aunt, Victoria watched Eric focus his lens on a laughing Beth. They were standing by a bush of pink roses, Beth holding one up to her nose. Her wedding dress gorgeous in the afternoon sun. Victoria wondered what Eric was thinking as he took photographs of a woman he wished had been his. She watched him smile at Beth and frowned when a tinge of jealousy stirred inside her.  Turning away from them, she pushed off the tree and walked to the gazebo.  Eric’s bag was still on the bench. She retrieved her purse and perched on the bench.  She took her phone out and dialed Grace’s number.

“I was wondering when you’d call,” Grace said in greeting.  “The reception is going very well. We have just finished serving the guests lunch. We’re now waiting for the bridal party.”

She looked around and saw Eric and Taylor talking as the rest of the bridal party headed to their cars.

“We should be on the way over in the next ten minutes or so.”

“How is it?”

“Glamorous,” Victoria said studying the ranch-style brick house looming a few feet away.  “Taylor’s aunt houseshas a gorgeous house in Upper hill.  You’d never believe such a place exists so close to the CBD.”

“What else can you expect from such a family.”  Grace sighed.  “I have to go, some kids are running and causing havoc.  Call me when you get close to the hotel.”

“I will,” she said and Grace ended the call.

Returning her cell phone into her purse, she watched Eric part with Taylor and head back to the gazebo.

“Victoria,” Eric said.  “Why are you hiding away in here?”

“I’m not hiding, just resting my feet.”

She looked behind him to see Beth and Taylor kiss and head to their car. They looked blissful in marriage. She decided they were a very beautiful couple.

“I’m hoping we’re headed to the hotel now.”

“Yes, we are,” Eric said, then paused to study her. “I thought you liked it here. Don’t you want to stay? The house is empty and Taylor’s aunt won’t mind us exploring her compound.”

Victoria rolled her eyes at him playfully.

“I can just imagine that. Beth and Taylor will be angry with me if I keep you from your important job.”

“I’d much rather an afternoon with you exploring the outdoors,” Eric said then as he closed his camera bag.

Remembering how he’d smiled at Beth, she stood up and started for the gazebo steps.

“Then the faster we get to the hotel the better, that way this day will end quickly.”

“Wait,” Eric said behind her, but she didn’t.

Her steps fast as she walked along the gravel path to his car. He caught up with her just as she reached the Jeep.

“You’re upset. What did I say?”

“I’m not upset,” she said with a sigh. She didn’t have the right to be upset that he was still hang up on a woman who was now married. “What’s there to be upset about?”

Eric frowned as he met her gaze. “Nothing.”

“Exactly,” she said with a tight smile and hurried around to the passenger side. “Great, let’s go then.”

****

Victoria avoided Eric when they got to the reception at the Savon Hotel. She busied herself with activities that constantly had her working outside the ballroom. She helped Grace deal with the demands from the guests who felt entitled to the finest in life and therefore kept making orders that had the waiters on their feet.

She helped the wedding planner deal with the wedding gifts that filled the section they’d set aside. When friendsOlive showed up at around four o’clock, Grace urged them to head to the bar on the second floor.

“She’s driving me insane,” Grace said with a sigh. “She’s dressed in a gorgeous red dress, and all she can think about is work.”

“Hey, that’s not fair,” Victoria said keeping a watchful eye on Eric who was taking pictures of children eating candy.

The children sat on the floor in one corner of the ballroom and she would never have noticed them had it not been for Eric standing over them.

“Who’s the handsome photographer?” Olive asked slipping a hand over her right elbow. “He looks yummy.”

“Eric Kabuto,” Grace said. “Vicky’s date, she’s spent the last two hours avoiding him.”

Eric lifted his head as though he’d heard them talking about him. She looked away from him fast and started for the door.

“Grace, you’re right. You don’t need my help. We’ll be at the bar upstairs if you need anything.”

She dragged Olivia out of the ballroom.

“Wow, you haven’t acted like this since that guy you liked in college. What was his name?” Olive said as they headed upstairs. “Gatheru, Gatheri-,”

“Gathanga,” Victoria said. “You never liked him much.”

“He was an idiot,” Olive said.

Victoria laughed suddenly remembering Eric’s comment about ex-boyfriends and how women labeled them.

“How is that funny?” Olive asked as they entered the Tropical Isle bar.  She led the way to a set of high stools set around a polished mahogany counter.

“I just remembered how much Gathanga was afraid of you.  You threatened him with a knife once when he stood me up on a date. I think you’re the reason we broke up.”

Olive placed her purse on the counter and smiled.

“He didn’t deserve you.”

index2Victoria settled on her stool and studied Olive. She’d chosen a pink empire waist dress. The silky fabric framed her figure as she sat on her stool. Her long black natural hair falling down her back made her look younger; Victoria doubted anyone would believe Olive was a doctor.

The bartender took their orders and Victoria sat back on the high chair with a sigh.

“What’s with the photographer?” Olive asked when their drinks came.

Victoria sipped her white wine and shrugged. “He’s handsome.”

“I agree,” Olive said picking up an olive from her martini with her toothpick and popping it into her mouth. “Why are you running in the other direction?”

“In case you didn’t notice, I just recently broke up with a guy I could have married.”

“What does that have to do with the handsome photographer?” Olive asked with a frown. “Who is currently walking up to us.”

“What?” Victoria turned and gaped when she saw Eric walking up to them without his camera. “What are we going to do?”

Olive patted her cheek and smiled. “Make him pay for the drinks.”

Victoria shook her head wondering if there was a way to escape Eric without seeming rude. Since they’d come back from the photo shoot, she’d decided that it was better to keep her distance. She was starting to like him and he wasn’t available. Emotionally anyway, his thoughts belonged to someone else.

***

To be continued…Thank you for Reading. ^_^

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Picture Perfect 4

Chapter 4

wedding picEric focused his lens on Beth as she prepared for her wedding. He locked away his emotions, snapping pictures as the woman doing Beth’s make-up ran a brush over her soft brown skin. He shifted angles and concentrated on capturing Beth on the most important day of her life. Her dress was stunning. A white confection of silk and organza, the bodice hugged her chest and waist tightly, then floated to the floor in wide skirts. When she sat down, it looked like a sea of white. Her hair brushed into a tight ponytail held with a shining clip decorated with tiny diamonds. She smiled at him and he took a picture of it. She was happy, happier than he had ever seen her. That truth stabbed deep inside him, it was obvious he was just going to have a very hard day today.

Two hours later, Eric stood on the sidelines of the altar at the Holy Basilica in Nairobi, his lens focused on Beth and Taylor. With each picture, he captured their smiles, Beth’s teary eyes, and happy laughs. His jealous heart was suffering. If the fates had chosen different, he’d be the one holding Beth’s hand, watching her blush when the priest asked her to say her vows. Taylor dried the tears of happiness from her eyes when she slipped a ring on his finger.

When the priest announced them as husband and wife, the cathedral erupted in wild ululations, women sang, men clapped in jubilation. He documented it all, taking pictures of the happy couple then turning his lens to the happy audience. The cathedral was full with family, friends, distant relatives and work colleagues.

Then, there she was.

Victoria Waina in red, she looked gorgeous. She’d added a red flower clip in her hair on the left side. red flowerHe smiled taking a series of pictures. He lowered the camera and walked toward her. She’d chosen a bench near the back of the church, and sat on the edge near the aisle. She graced him with a smile when he approached and moved to make space for him to sit.

“You came,” he said taking her hand.

She’d even painted her nails red.

“Yep,” she said, turning to look at him.

Her smooth skin was a warm caramel brown. He dropped his gaze to the hem of the silky dress, and followed the curve of her legs to find her feet in delicate red heels and her toenails painted a fire engine red. She’d gone all out.

He lifted his gaze and met her inquiring one. “I told you red would look great on you.”

“I didn’t do it for you,” she said tugging her hand out of his. “Shouldn’t you be taking photographs?”

He pointed to his assistant Linda, who’d taken over the job. She was at the front taking pictures as Beth and Taylor settled into their seats. The priest launched into a short blessing and he slouched on the bench so that he could whisper in Victoria’s ear.

“I’m so happy to see you.”

“This is a church, don’t make noise,” she said clutching her red purse tightly.

“Everyone is making noise, the ceremony is about to end. Stay with me,” he said as the priest finished the ceremony.

“I have to get to the hotel,” she said.

“You’re my date, you can’t abandon me,” he cajoled. “I’ll let you play with my camera.”

She chuckled. “I really doubt that, you hug that thing like it’s a baby.”

She’d noticed, he thought with a smile. His gaze dropped to the expensive camera resting against his chest.

“It is my baby,” he said grinning at her.

basilicaThe priest finished his blessing, officially ending the wedding ceremony. He grabbed Victoria’s red purse from her hands and slipped it into his camera bag. He stood and walked up the aisle to take pictures as the bride and groom turned to face the world as newlyweds.

Victoria found him outside the cathedral. She’d slipped on dark glasses because it was very hot. She touched his arm when he finished taking a group photograph of Taylor, Beth and their immediate family.

“Give me back my purse,” she said.

“Nope, you and I are stuck together.”

“I’ll take your camera hostage,” she warned as Taylor’s workmates arranged themselves around the Bride and Groom.

“I’m working, dear. Do you want me to get fired?”

“In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m working too. You’re keeping me from my job. I need to get to the hotel.”

“Grace hasn’t called you, so in truth, I’m saving Grace from an overly concerned boss.”

Victoria laughed. “Are you always this annoying?”

He flashed a grin, “Only when I want something.”

She folded her arms against her chest and moved closer to watch him align his shot. He rarely had anyone watch him work, but her presence was welcome. She wasn’t intrusive, and he liked the flowery scent of her perfume. She’d changed it from the mint he remembered at the hotel.

When he finished the shot, the group around Beth and Taylor congratulated them on their wedding.

“So, do you only do wedding photography?” Victoria asked him as he waited for Beth’s workmates to arrange themselves.

“It depends on the assignment. There are months when I have weddings each weekend. But, during the week, I spent my time in my studio in Hurlingham, or on the road taking shots for assignments out of town.”

“Where in Hurlingham?” she asked.

“Will you visit?” he asked looking at her.

“Maybe,” she said with a small shrug.

He smiled mesmerized by the elegant motion of her slender shoulders. “My studio is behind the supermarket at the Hurlingham Shopping Center.”

UntitledShe pointed to the group who were waiting for him to finish. He winked at her and returned his attention to his camera. He spent the next ten minutes answering her questions and taking photographs of Beth and Taylor and their guests. When they were finished, Victoria watched him pack up the tripod.

“Can I have my purse now?” she said. “I should really get to the Savon now.”

“Grace seemed competent to me. She’ll do better without you hovering.”

“Are you going to keep my purse hostage?” she asked.

“If that’s what I have to do, then yes.”

He held the folded tripod in his left hand and waved to Beth and Taylor. “Come on, let’s go on an adventure.”

“Where are we going?” Victoria asked following him when he started walking to his black jeep.

“The wedding pictures are going to be taken at a home in Upper hill. Taylor’s aunt owns property there, please come with me.”

He handed her the tripod as he unlocked the Jeep. He opened the trunk and took the tripod from her. Placing it gently on the trunk floor, he closed the door and moved to open the front passenger door for her. He urged her in, closed the door firmly, and hurried around to the driver’s side. He wanted to reach the venue first so that he could look around for the best places to take wedding photographs.

Starting the car, he drove out of the parking lot at the Basilica. When he joined traffic, he tuned the radio to a rock station, and lowered the volume to a comfortable level.

Victoria settled in her seat and asked, “So, how did you start doing photography? Did you train in school?”

He chuckled. “Why?”

“Because,” she smiled at him and he wondered at the small punch in the depths of his stomach. It was the curve of her lips her smile was genuine. “Most people just self-train when it comes to Photography. They do it like a hobby, and keep a day job.”

“I actually wanted to do journalism, but changed my mind and decided to do Film Production in college. I wanted to make movies in Kenya. But, my photography career started long before college, so you’re right, it was first a hobby.”

“Have you made any films?” she asked with genuine interest.

“I have done documentaries,” he said. “I have worked with different organizations and institutes, doing environmental and social pieces. I get to see many sides of this country through the different assignments. Some are heartbreaking, others breathtaking, it depends on the topic.”

“Do you like it?” she asked studying him.

“I love it,” he said truthfully. “I don’t remember a time when I didn’t have a camera in my hands. From doing wedding photo shoots, to making documentaries in the slums of the city, I’m just happy to be telling a story.”

“Do you remember your first photograph?”

He laughed. “My first photograph, wow, that was way back in high school. December holidays, Taylor’s uncle invited Beth, Taylor and I to his house for Independence Day celebrations. Taylor’s uncle had a camera he let me use to take pictures of the family. I bugged Taylor and Beth all day. They were my first subjects.”

Victoria laughed a happy sound that filled him with joy. “I can see why they asked you to do their wedding photos. You guys must go back very far.”

“We bonded while making mud pies at Taylor’s parents’ farm. Our parents were friends and we always ended up in the same schools, same social gatherings, you know how that goes. We grew up together.”

“I’m envious,” Victoria said, her gaze shifting to the passing scenery. “That’s a long time to know someone. Most of the kids I went to nursery school with have moved away from my area. We all scattered.”

“You must have one or two close friends,” he asked, stopping at a traffic light on the Haille Selassie roundabout.

“Yes I do have close friends,” she said with a smile. “One is a doctor, her name is Olive. She and I were in Nairobi University together. Then there is Grace. We’ve been friends for three years, and she’s like a sister to me.”

“Do you have a boyfriend?” he asked as the lights changed and they started moving again. He wanted to know, curious about the tears he’d seen on her cheeks a few days ago.

“No,” she said in a quiet voice, “not anymore.”

“So you had one?” he asked wondering if he should press her more, “how long ago?”

“Recent,” she said reluctantly. “He turned out to be a bastard.”

He laughed.

“Why are you laughing?” she demanded giving him a short glare.

“Because,” he said as he turned onto a forested road in Upper hill. “Every woman I know who’s broken up with a guy, describes him like that. The ex-boyfriends are bastards, idiots and other choice words never his name.”

“That’s because the ex-boyfriends fit all those choice words,” Victoria said. “It’s the things they do that win them those names.”

“What kind of things?” Eric asked as he slowed down to turn onto a residential street.

“I’d rather not talk about it,” Victoria said firmly.

“That bad,” Eric asked as he slowed down on the quiet street, and turned the car into a tarmac entrance with a dark green gate. He turned to find Victoria staring out the window with a frown.

“Victoria,” he prompted.

She turned to give him a small smile. “I’m not ready to define it yet.”

He nodded in understanding and rolled down his window to talk to the guard who came to check the car. Finishing with the guard, he thanked the man as the gates slid open to reveal a long driveway into a splendid compound. He’d always liked Taylor’s aunt. She took care of her compound and the ranch-style house in the middle of the property.

He drove along the driveway, passing manicured bushes to the front driveway. pretty gazeboHe drove around the house to the back and parked the car close to a gravel path that led to a white gazebo in the middle of the back garden. Victoria looked at him when he pointed to the white wooden structure surrounded by blooming white bougainvillea.

“We’ll start taking photos in that gazebo and then take pictures around the compound. Taylor’s aunt was very generous. She’s even opened the house in case Taylor and Beth want to take photographs in there.”

“What does she do?” Victoria asked.

“She’s a professor at Daystar University. Her husband was a wealthy executive who died ten years ago in a car accident. He left her the property. She and Beth are very good friends.”

****

Victoria stole a glance at him at the tone he used when he said Beth’s name. She’d noticed it each time he talked about her. There was softness to it. Clearing her throat, she looked away from him.

“You like her more than you should, don’t you?” she asked quietly.

“What?” Eric asked meeting her gaze. “No.”

His protest was so vehement she knew she was right.

She chuckled. “It’s the way you say her name.”

“I say her name like everyone else,” he said with a scowl. “What do you mean?”

“Beth,” she said mimicking him, making her tone low, smoky, “like she is some kind of goddess to be worshiped.”

“Women,” Eric said in exasperation. He opened his door and got out. “You read too much into everything.”

She laughed when he slammed the door closed and went to open the trunk. Getting out of the car, she stretched and took in a deep breath of fresh air. She loved the setting. If the fates allowed it, she was going to have a compound like this in the future. She’d love a peaceful, green and beautiful compound where she could lay on the grass and watch the clouds. Dropping her arms, she turned in time to see Eric lower his camera.

“What are you doing?” she demanded adjusting the neckline of her dress. “Did you just take a picture?”

“You looked so caught up in the moment. I couldn’t resist.”

He winked at her and disappeared behind the car.

“Hey,” she said hurrying to join him. “You can’t take random pictures of me when I’m not looking. What if my mouth is open too wide or I have a funny expression on my face. Show me that picture right now. You’re so deleting it if I hate it.”

“No way,” Eric said handing her the tripod again.

She took it with a scowl.

“I insist you show me. Now I’m sure it’s a terrible picture. You have to delete it,” she said.

“No,” Eric said moving her to the side so that he could close the Jeep’s trunk.

“Eric,” she said following him to the gravel path that would lead them to the gazebo. “Come on, I’ll let you take a nice picture of me later.”

“The one I took was better than nice,” he insisted. “The more you protest, the more I want to keep it.”

She punched his left arm and he gave an exaggerated moan of pain.

“Victoria Waina,” he said dramatically. “I didn’t realize you could be childish.”

“You’re making me childish,” she said with a pout.

“Don’t make faces at the guy with the camera,” he warned as he stepped into the gazebo. He placed his bag on a bench mounted along the gazebo wall. He gave her a smile and she gave in.

“Stop threatening me,” she said placing the folded tripod next to his bag. “What a stubborn man.”

“There you go again with the labeling,” he said.

“You deserve it,” she said and sat on the bench, placing her right leg over her left knee. She adjusted her dress and watched him look around the compound.

“What do you see?” she asked after a few minutes passed.

“Color,” he said lifting the camera to his eye. “The pink rose bush in full bloom, the willow tree with its branches sweeping the air,” he smiled and turned slowly until he was facing her. “There you are, seated with a backdrop of white bougainvillea.”

She turned to see what he meant and smiled when saw the blooming bush beyond the gazebo.

“Oh wow, that is lovely,” she said.

She turned to look at him and sighed when she saw his lens focused on her again.

“I can see you’re beyond obsessed with that camera. How do you get girlfriends?”

“Women love to get their pictures taken,” he said lowering his camera with a grin. “You’re the first to get irritated with me.”

“Oh come on, that can’t be true,” she said returning her attention to the white bougainvillea flowers behind her. They looked sparkling white in the afternoon sun. “I see why Beth and Taylor would choose such a place for their pictures. It’s really beautiful.”

Eric came to sit beside her and she shifted her gaze to his face. His attention on his camera, she got the chance to study him unnoticed. He kept his hair cut very short; his skin reminded her of a dark chocolate bar. His eyes when he looked at her were kind and full of mischief. Although once in a while, like now in the silence, she sensed a sadness enveloping him. He was handsome with an athletic football player physique. Dressed in a pale green fitted shirt, the sleeves folded to his elbows and a pair of neat khaki pants. He looked comfortable and dressed up for his best friend’s wedding.

“Eric,” she said quietly and he lifted his head to meet her gaze. “Do you really have feelings for Beth?”
He studied her for a minute then looked away.

“Not anymore,” he said matching her tone. “It wouldn’t be appropriate.”

“Does she know?” she asked.

“No.” He shook his head and shifted on the bench to look at her. “And she can’t ever know. I decided that the day she and Taylor told me they were together.”

“This day can’t be easy for you,” she said with a sigh. “I’m sorry.”

He shook his head.

“For what?” he asked leaning back on the wall. “I’m the one who couldn’t get the courage to confess before it was too late. They’re happy together.”

“But you’re not,” she said watching him.

He shrugged. “Happiness is relative. I can’t complain. Look at me, seated here next to a beautiful woman, what is there to complain about?”

She laughed. “I love your optimism.”

“You should agree to model for me,” he said watching her. “The camera loves you.”

“No way,” she said shaking her head. She didn’t have the body to be a model, her face was too soft, her shape too full. “Stop making fun of me.”

“I’m not making fun of you, Victoria.”

“Vicky,” she corrected him. “No one calls me Victoria.”

“They should,” he said. “Your full name suits you. You’re strong and delicate at the same time.”

She blushed and shifted her gaze in time to see the bridal party arrive.

“Stop flattering me and get ready to work. You had better find me something to do since I came with you.”

Eric stood up and held out his hand to her.

“Your job is to keep me happy. Since you’re my cheerleader keep smiling,” he said.

She chuckled and took his offered hand. As he tugged her to her feet, she was suddenly glad that she’d decided to come to this wedding. She hadn’t been sure what she was thinking getting in the car with Eric. In fact, from the moment she’d bought the red dress she was wearing. She’d just known that she didn’t want to be the same woman she’d been with Ronald. That pathetic woman who was so naive that she hadn’t seen Ronald cheating on her with her co-workers. Letting out a soft sigh, she decided to let those thoughts go and instead concentrated on the happy bride and groom walking toward the gazebo.

****

Chapter 3

Chapter 2

Chapter 1

Picture Perfect 3

Chapter Three

doctor's plazaVictoria sat in the waiting room on Thursday morning, fighting anxiety as she waited for her doctor’s appointment.  She’d called her doctor the same day Grace told her about Ronald.  Olive had insisted she come in the evening after work.  They’d taken her blood for testing, her anxiety had started building from that moment on.  She kept suffering episodes of fear every time she thought about the test results.  She’d barely gotten any work done yesterday.

Shifting on the comfortable gray couch, Victoria picked up a magazine and flipped through it absently.  The nurse was busy at her desk typing away into her computer.  Victoria looked around the elegant waiting room and smiled.  She and Olive had been in college together.  They’d gotten closer when Olive started dating her big brother, Clifford.

Victoria sighed and dropped the magazine on the glass table.  She was afraid her brother might walk in and find her waiting.  She wasn’t ready to discuss why she was here.  Ronald’s betrayal was too new, too painful.  So much so, she was actually avoiding him at work.  She figured it was better not to see him until she could control the urge to scratch out his eyes.

She’d instead thrown herself into the wedding reception plans for the Kamau wedding.  Thinking about the coming wedding, she remembered Eric Kabuto’s ridiculous invitation.  Her cheeks flamed when she also remembered he’d seen her at her lowest moment.  Closing her eyes to escape that embarrassing memory, she wondered if she could just keep from seeing him again.  She’d contemplated not showing up at the church.  After all, Beth would be too busy getting married to notice if she showed up, and her car was still messed up.

Clifford had said he’d get it fixed by today, but-.

She shrugged.  She also didn’t have a dress to wear.  What she needed was a day spent on the couch eating ice cream and mourning her stupidity.

“Miss Waina,” the friendly nurse called her name.  “Dr. Mulua is ready for you.”

She stood up with shaky knees and followed the nurse to the doctor’s office.  Her anxiety returned tenfold as she entered the neat room to find Olive jotting down notes at her desk.  Her friend looked every bit the successful doctor in a neat gray skirt and matching silk blouse.  Olive had always been the studious one in school.  The gold-rimmed glasses resting on Olive’s nose had helped the image along.

“Vicky,” Olive said when she glanced up and saw her.  “I’m sorry to make you wait.”

Olive finished writing and closed her pen.  She came to hug Victoria warmly.  “I’ve had the busiest day and it’s not over yet.  One of my patients was admitted earlier this afternoon.  I need to see him this evening.”

Olive’s life was a series of emergencies now.  Victoria understood since her older brother Clifford was in the same boat.  No wonder the two made a perfect couple, she thought.

“I don’t mind waiting,” Victoria said as she took a seat.

butterfly in stomach
Photo Courtesy of Queen of Superficial queenofsuperficial.tumblr.com

The butterflies in her stomach went on a wild riot when Olive chose to use the guest seat beside her.  She couldn’t help thinking Olive was doing it in order to comfort her.  The idea that she was sick made her more sick.  Did that make sense?  Goodness her heart was going to come out of her chest.

“Vicky,” Olive said, interrupting her wayward thoughts.  “I said I got your results.”

Victoria sucked in air, watching Olive read through the white paper she held.

“You specifically asked for a H.I.V. Test.  You’re negative and your blood work looks good.  Your weight needs to go down a bit, but that’s not critical.  You’re healthy.”

Relief flooded through Victoria so hard, she got light headed.  “Are you sure?”

“Yes,” Olive said gently.  “Can I ask why you wanted to do these tests?  Did something happen to you?  You can tell me you know.”

Victoria felt tears prick her eyes and she reached for the box of tissues at the corner of Olive’s desk.  The past forty-eight hours had been hell.  Ever since she’d discovered what Ronald had done, she’d felt stuck in a dark cloud.  Afraid of what could happen to her if he’d caught something and passed it on to her.

“Vicky,” Olive said reaching for her hand.  “Honey, what happened?”

She wiped the corner of her eyes and shook her head.  “It’s silly, I didn’t sleep at all last night worrying about these results.  I was afraid.”

“Afraid of what?” Olive asked squeezing her fingers.

Victoria sighed and the words tumbled out.  “Ronald is cheating on me.  I’d never have known if it weren’t for Grace, who heard it from Nick, Tropic’s chef.  Can you imagine how many people knew for Nick to find out?  I’m such an idiot.”

“Oh you poor thing,” Olive said her eyes wide.  “No wonder you had me check you for HIV.  Jeez, Vicky.  I’m so sorry.”

“It’s all my fault,” Victoria said.  “I couldn’t see it.  I should have, but I don’t think I wanted to see what he was doing.”

Olive leaned to pull her into a hug.  “This is not silly at all.  You deserve better than Ronald.  He’s not worth your tears.”

Vicky laughed because those were the same words Grace had said to her on Tuesday.  She sighed and pulled back to meet Olive’s concerned gaze.

“Are you sure I’m okay?  I won’t stay a month and then end up having a disease?”

“I’m sure,” Olive said.  When she didn’t stop frowning, Olive patted her hand.  “Why don’t we have a follow-up in a month.  Meanwhile, take it easy, I’d suggest a week-off work.  When was the last time you took a vacation?”

She couldn’t remember.  “I think it was that trip we took to Diani.”

“That’s two years ago,” Olive said in surprise.  “Jeez, take time-off.  You look stressed.”

“I’m not stressed,” Victoria insisted.  “Work makes me happy.”

“Work is where Ronald is and you need a break from him,” Olive pointed out.  “Take a vacation, Vicky.  Doctor’s orders.”

Olive’s phone beeped on the desk and she sighed.  “The hospital is calling.  I have to go.”

Victoria stood and hugged Olive.  “Thank you for doing this for me so fast.”

“Anything for you,” Olive answered stepping back.  “Drinks this weekend?”

Victoria picked up her bag, the burden on her shoulders disappearing.  “I have a wedding thing happening this Saturday.”

“Great, I’ll crash.  We can have drinks at the bar on the second floor.”

Victoria felt the first genuine smile tug at her lips.  “It’s a date.”

Olive grinned and picked up her stethoscope from the desk and her jacket from the back of her chair.  “Invite Grace and it will be like old times.”

****

Happy about her clean bill of health, Victoria decided to walk back to her apartment.  good healthHurlingham wasn’t far from the Nairobi Hospital, and Olive had urged her to get her weight down.  She was glad she’d worn her flats.  She’d take weight management over terminal disease any day.    She couldn’t stop thanking God for the good fortune he’d granted her today.  That stupid Ronald, she wondered what she could do to him that was worse than what he’d done to her.

When she reached the Hurlingham Shopping Center, she decided to stop in the supermarket for toiletries.  She was busy debating over Close-up toothpaste and Aquafresh when her phone buzzed.  Worried that it might be Grace with an emergency, she answered without looking at the caller ID.

“Where are you?” Ronald demanded in an entitled tone.  “You’re not in your office.”

“I took the afternoon off,” she snapped.  Just hearing his voice was enough to make her angry.  “What do you want?”

“Vicky, why do you sound so upset with me?  Is it because I missed our dinner on Monday?  I told you I was busy–”

“Stop,” she said holding on to the shopping cart. “I don’t want anything to do with you, Ron.  It’s over between us.”

“Vicky-,”

“Don’t ever call me Vicky again.  You bastard,” she said with disgust.  “Why don’t you call Anita the concierge if you need a date?  I’m sure she’ll be glad to meet you.”

She ended the call abruptly and let out a harsh breath.  Everything inside her trembled.  She wasn’t sure she’d ever get over the anger boiling inside her.  Taking in deep breaths, she waited until she’d calmed down before she returned her attention to the toothpaste.

moving on
Make a Change, Be Brave

She’d always used Close-up like a dedicated girl, always buying the standard toothpaste her parents had taught her to use.

No wonder she’d held on to Ronald like a bad habit.  The bastard had the nerve to call her and ask why she was upset.  Shaking her head, she realized that choosing toothpaste had turned into a decision about her life.

She could keep using Close-up like a fool, or make a change.  She reached for the Aquafresh without a second thought.  She wasn’t going back to the woman who’d let Ronald treat her like an idiot.  Never again.  From now on, Victoria Waina was making a change.

With this new conviction, she matched to check out thinking about the best place to buy a red dress in Nairobi.

****

To be Continued….

Picture Perfect 1

Picture Perfect 2