SHADOW

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CHAPTER 5

ALAN PRINCE LOOKED gleeful, trying to control the excitement bubbling in his stomach.

His was in high spirit, and for good reasons; it had been only a couple of weeks since he had that chat with his parents and already he could see his humble words had some impact on them at least. Of course, he didn’t expect that things would do a 360 backflip overnight, but the prospect of his parents mending fences was there. He only had to give them time to work things out but at their own pace. But he was reasonably optimistic that everything was going to be alright for his family.

Just the night before, for instance, Dad had watched TV in the living room with the children – without having a beer in hand! Mom had gotten back from work earlier than she usually did and, quite reluctantly, joined everyone to watch the Nollywood series being aired. But only for a bit, because she later had to go to the kitchen and set the dining table.

Mom hadn’t been in the kitchen for a while, let alone setting the table. There certainly was hope for the family yet.

They had dinner together. It was a quiet, grim dinner without many exchanges between his parents. Still, Alan had reasons to feel hopeful. They would soon come around, he told himself.

And this morning, it was dad who dropped him and his siblings off at school, something he’d never done in a while.

Julie was equally happy when Alan told her how things had starting to look up since he spoke with his parents.

But in spite of the cheer she tried to put up, nothing could conceal the gloom she bore within her own spirit just then; she was yet to come to terms with the fact that her boyfriend was leaving for college soon but did the best she could to remain comported and calm.

She probably might not bring up the subject, had not Alan noticed the sadness in her eyes and wanted to know how she was holding up. And like she’d advised him concerning his parents, Alan suggested that she sat with Kamil and have a heart to heart with him to make him see exactly tell him exactly how she felt.

Julie sighed, walking quietly alongside him with the hot afternoon sun bearing down on the town. “Thanks, Al. But it’s no use. I tried speaking with him but his mind appears set.”

“You think there’s more to his decision?”

Julie looked at him. “You mean if he’s seeing someone else?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Well, it did cross my mind. Maybe, maybe not.”

He paused. “But what do you think?”

She shrugged and sighed, exasperated. “I don’t know….But it’s not like there are no good colleges here in Tempest, right?”

They walked on a few paces in silence in silence. Alan suddenly had an idea that might possibly cheer her up and take her mind away from Kamil and, if he played his cards right, she might dance into his arms.

“What are you doing tonight, J?”

“What?”

“If you’re not busy tonight, I could come by your place,” he told her. “Maybe buy you chocolate.”

Julie laughed heartily. Then she looked at him. “Are you asking me out again, Alan?”

He seemed fidgety and unsure of himself then, but was quite relieved to find that she took no offense. Still, he made no attempt to answer her question presently.

She said, nodding thoughtfully, “Of course, Alan, you can come by later in the day; that’d be nice. And I’ve not had a good chocolate in a while, too.”

Alan grinned thankfully. “It’s a date, then.”

The timing was right, or so Alan thought, and he was at Julie’s a few minutes before 6 o’clock putting on his favorite sweatshirt and jeans pants. He’d visited a large neighborhood department store on his way over, where he bought several chocolate bars before proceeding to her house.

He walked briskly, picking his steps with spring in heels. He couldn’t wait to get there, to see the look in her eyes when she ate the chocolate out of his hands.

Out of his hands?

“Wishful thinking, Alan,” he told himself.

But he smiled at the fancy thought, though. Who knew? It might yet work out in his favor.

Of course.

The house was silent when Alan got there, walked up the short flight of steps and pushed the doorbell.

He waited with bated breath, feeling a bit nervous. He pressed the bell a second time.

No response. The house seemed rather quiet, perhaps no one was home. He was going to ring the bell again when his curiosity kicked in and he took the door knob instead, turned it gently.

The door clicked open.

With his heart picking up pace, Alan Prince pushed the white polished wooden door further in and stepped lightly into a small, quiet lounge. He hesitated uncertainly, listened for any voices or sounds of presence in the house.

He felt like calling out but decided against it. What if her parents were home already? He wasn’t sure how they’d take to having a male visitor in the house looking for Julie. He decided he would give it up to ten seconds, and then step out of the house as quietly as he had come in if no one came out, unnoticed and unseen.

Then he heard a voice; a soft, whisper. Someone was in the house, after all. Alan froze and swallowed nervously.

The voice came again, a bit clearer this time, and he recognized it as Julie’s. She was somewhere in the house, probably in her room upstairs. She was speaking faintly, perhaps with someone on the phone, that’s why she didn’t hear the doorbell ring.

Alan walked in the direction of the voice, and then caught another voice in the background.

A male voice.

Alan’s heart stiffened, felt his legs get suddenly heavy, like clay. Was Julie’s father home already?

He wanted to backtrack and beat a hasty retreat. But it was too late; he was already at the edge of the staircase and had Julie’s room, just adjacent to the mouth of the stairs, in view.
He had come up very quietly on the rugged steps, breaking no sound at all. Now he stood at a spot on the stairs, feeling his muscles tightening, feeling his heartbeat quickening as he watched through the narrow slit of the slightly opened door.

There they were; Julie and her boyfriend, Parker, in the room, all over each other while she giggled softly intermittently.

Alan felt totally paralyzed, unable to move. He felt broken, felt like she’d made a fool out of him and led him to believe she was heartbroken and willing to consider a new relationship with him.

How utterly gullible and emotionally naïve he had been.

The lovebirds smooched for a few seconds more, until she opened her eyes in the throes of ecstasy and found him standing outside the door. She pulled back gently, embarrassed and hurried out to meet him.

“Hi, Alan, I didn’t hear you come in,” she said quietly, feeling self-conscious and red-faced at once. Even her smile was weak and made no impact.

“Hi,” he said quietly and gasped, hoping in his heart she didn’t see the lump go down his throat. He felt so ashamed of himself just being there at that moment. “Sorry. I was just passing by, thought I should say hello.”

“Hello, Alan,” said Parker, stepping up behind her with an awkward grin, scratching his head uncertainly.

“Hi, Parker,” said Alan.

Julie stared at him, not sure what else to say and feeling obviously terrible about Alan walking into her and Parker.

“OK, then, J,” he said. “See you at school.”

Alan turned and bounded down the step. Behind him, he heard Parker say, “Come on, J,” and her sharp voice snapped in frustration, “Stop it, Kamil.”

Alan walked out the front door in utter dejection, cursing himself for getting his hopes up.

It was the worst encounter he’d ever had in his pursuit of love. The look on his face was tight as he stomped down the street in anger and regret, with the hood of his sweatshirt pulled over his head.

He walked by a vagrant lying on a bench along the street, handed him the chocolate bars and just kept going with his head bowed, his ego having suffered a major crash.

What an idiot he’d been to think, even for a moment, that she would take him seriously.

Love sucks. Oh, it sure sucks.

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