I understand we are now just friends.
There’s no need to be a stranger though.
Three weeks later and Ben had yet to call Rita, not because he didn’t want to; he did. He wanted to hear her husky voice and giggle so bad he dreamt of it every night. But he didn’t call because each time he’d picked his phone to do so, he recalled her text message and it got him mad all over again.
It was the kind of fury that got him growling and snapping and he didn’t want to growl and snap at Rita, she’d gone through enough already from his family. He was also angry with himself, because, despite travelling impromptu to Lagos to deal with shareholders who wanted out of Global Press to avoid the smear Uncle Zach had brought, he should have called her and found out how she was doing. Except, he’d been worried she’d give him a fake version...that she might feel uncomfortable about sharing anything with him and he didn’t want that.
For some, that excuse would be lame, he should’ve still called, better the fake version than suffering through missing her and not knowing if she was okay as the doctor had assured. But he alone knew how he’d suffered when he’d discovered she’d been lying the whole time while he’d been ready for forever with her. He’d fucked her without protection for God’s sake! And had hoped she’d gotten pregnant, to tie her to him till the end of his days.
So, where the hell did she get off calling them just friends?
There you go getting angry again, when she has no idea you’re in love with her.
Ben rubbed his hand over his face and overgrown beard, nodding to the good sense of his subconscious. But he still couldn’t call her. He wasn’t a coward and he didn’t believe in declaring his love through a contraption. This was serious shit and it should be done face to face. He needed to see her eyes melt with love for him or...Ben didn’t want to consider it but the possibility remained, like the stink of a dead rat in an enclosed house, that she’d only wanted a night and had been okay with it; he grimaced.
His breath had yet to stop hitching whenever he recalled her last, incomplete words to him before the damn sedative took effect. He’d stayed the whole night, hoping she’d wake up at some point, but then his eldest brother had called and asked to speak with Uncle Zach. Ben had had to go to the police, broker a deal with the ASP to allow Uncle Zach speak with Jeff using his phone.
Uncle Zach, looking sober and guilty, had asked them to sell off his shares, which were the highest, to a certain Alhaji Usman who’d been offering to buy for a while before the incident. It would mean, Alhaji Usman would own the company. Or, he could hand over his shares to Jeff and Ben, and they’d source for money to buy from the other shareholders and own the company, selling shares to their choice of partners.
Jeff had demanded Ben be at Lagos as of the previous day. So, he’d taken off from the police station, only stopping to get a few personal effects. He’d had to call James at the airport to inform him that he was in charge. He’d never gotten to hear the complete sentence from Rita and the niggling doubt was driving him mad.
He was so confused and the issue with Global Press shareholders was not helping at all.
“Remind me again why you’re so untidy.”
Ben shoved to his feet in respect to his eldest brother, who apart from Uncle Zach, held the next largest share for Global Press, despite owning his own company. It was probably why he hadn’t been sacked when accused of attempted rape, but sent to the Akwa Ibom branch.
He knew his sibling and his sharp decisions; he’d have withdrawn from the company and probably used money from selling his shares to buy shares at a rival company just to spite Uncle Zach.
Ben cleared his throat. “Err...I told you already, I’ve not had time with all that’s been happening.”
Jeff lifted a brow, looking down his nose at his youngest brother. For a man closing fifty, he was huge and fit and looked like a defensive baseball player, still able to inspire wariness in Ben.
“Is that so?”
Ben had called him Brother Jeff for the longest time as he was first and Ben was last of four kids, until he’d snapped at him when he’d turned twenty to cut it out. He had more fear and respect for him than he’d ever had for Uncle Zach. He’d been trying to build his company when he’d agreed that for Ben to have a better future, especially after their mother’s death, it was pertinent that Uncle Zach, the consummate bachelor, adopt him, not legally, but as a favour to the family of the man who’d been Uncle Zach’s pseudo father.
Jeff took the seat in front of Ben’s desk, pointedly arranging his crisp suit while patting his well groomed hair and giving Ben’s cursory white shirt, folded to the elbow a stern look. “Sit.” He snapped, sighing wearily.
The man carried authority well. Their parents had gotten him early because Jeff was almost as old as Uncle Zach, seeing as their uncle was the last kid in a family of twelve, where Ben’s dad had been the fourth child. Their dad had died before Ben’s birth and Jeff had taken care of two brothers and a sister with their mom until she’d gotten ill and the doctor had confirmed she’d had less than a year to live.
It had been a terrible time for them but Jeff had stood strong and made difficult decisions that had made him look emotionless but had really worked out for good. His only sister had married early, Jeff had hated it, but Mary had assured him she loved her husband and true to her word, she’d remained happy so far.
Then there was Dan, Ben’s immediate elder sibling, the black sheep of the family, whom Jeff hadn’t hesitated to discipline in the severest manner. Ben recalled those sessions where Jeff would be so furious, roaring like a lion and Dan would belligerently stand his ground and get beaten to a pulp as Jeff had been freaking big, even as a young adult. It was his big, no-nonsense, eldest brother that had probably made him close to his mother and never got into trouble. Dan had gotten into trouble and endured the consequences from Jeff enough for all of them.
Until Dan found football anyway; by some stroke of luck at age 26, a German scout decided he was crazy talented and so processed his papers and took him overseas. He played for a club at Finland and was successful even though he wasn’t outstanding. When they spoke on phone he sounded subdued and far from the hot headed young man he’d been, Ben was happy for him.
“Hmm...” he looked up realizing he’d zoned off and had lost whatever the hell his brother had been saying. This was all Rita’s fault.
Jeff narrowed his eyes at him. “Now I see what my wife had been talking about. She said you were absent minded at dinner last night and that I should talk to you.”
It would explain why he was at his office instead of summoning him to Uncle Zach’s office which he now occupied. Ben looked away and busied with arranging his already neat table.
“Is it a woman?”
Yep, his eldest brother had hit the nail on the head as usual, and the direct and uncannily correct hit made him forget to arrange his expression; Ben’s shock came as a sharp head lift with widened eyes.
“Ah, so it’s true.” He shrugged with a grin, “Martha won this round then.”
Ben shook his head; he didn’t even want to know why his brother and his lovely wife were betting on finding out why he’d been absent minded at dinner. “It’s complicated,” he finally croaked, not recognizing his own voice.
Jeff scoffed. “This is 2018; nothing is ever that complicated bro. If she’s important enough to get you frowning most of the day, absent minded among people, uncaring of your personal grooming, then she occupies a damn, big space in your heart.”
True, Ben thought. “She’s back at Akwa Ibom.”
“I suspected that already, you did return – different.” Ben narrowed his eyes at his brother, wondering what he meant by different, but Jeff just continued. “But that doesn’t matter, it’s not like I was going to keep you here permanently, not when you looked like I’d snatched your favourite toy from you when you got here.”
Ben shook his head while his brother chuckled, seeming relaxed. He couldn’t recall when Jeff had ever been relaxed, well, at least, not before he met his wife. But he hadn’t been close to him, so, he was stuck with the memory of him being stern.
“She set up Uncle Zach to be arrested.”
Jeff sat up, all traces of mirth disappearing from his face. “Oh...when were you going to tell me this?” his stern look was back.
Ben bit his lower lip, thinking never, although it would have come up at some point since he couldn’t imagine not being with Rita. “I don’t know,” he mumbled, not looking at his brother.
“He...raped her?” Ben could see the same apprehension he’d had at that possibility.
“No...her 16 year old sister who later committed suicide,” he croaked.
Jeff sighed, “Still bad.”
“That’s what I said, except, I was fucking happy it wasn’t her. Does that make me terrible?”
“Terrible?” Jeff scoffed, “Man, there’s nothing terrible about relief that you won’t have to imagine your uncle humping your woman.”
And Ben was reminded that Jeff had always been frank too. He grimaced at his uncouth words, though his heart soared at Rita being called his woman and then sobered when it landed on the topic they’d been avoiding. “She saved my life. Uncle would have shot me if she’d not shoved me forward and took the hit.”
Jeff’s sigh was more of a mighty groan, like he was trying to unburden a load from his chest. He shut his eyes, rubbing underneath his lower lip, and then he shook his head.
“See, Ben,” he sat forward on the leather seat, “I know you assume I’ve been avoiding this side of the issue, but if I dwell on the fact that our uncle, father’s brother, whom father had treated and brought up like his first son, had the temerity to point a weapon at you...” he gave a sharp humourless laugh, “And actually pulled the trigger with the aim to harm you...” another half laugh. “If I dwell on that, Ben, then I will not make sane decisions. I would sell this company for peanuts as Alhaji Usman is insisting I do,” a bit of anger came through as Jeff slammed his big hand on the table.
Ben frowned, “I thought we’d settled on a reasonable price?”
Jeff shook his head as though unable to believe where he found himself, “That useless illiterate came back with a reduced number, claiming there was no one else who’d possibly buy a dying company. Dying? He had the...”
“We should have made public the offer to sell weeks ago.”
Jeff blew out air, his rising anger dwindling, “That’s what the company lawyers said, though it would’ve seemed desperate and we’d have risked a hostile takeover. But I’m not selling and then using the money to hire lawyers for Zach’s defence.” His eyes held stern warning, “He deserves whatever punishment he gets, there’s no need wasting money for defence attorneys when there are pretty damning evidence with the extra charge of attempted murder.”
Ben shoved off his swivelling seat and went to stand at the flushed window of his office, looking out but not seeing the spread of Lagos he’d usually enjoyed before he was sent to Akwa Ibom. “We’ve dallied on this long enough,” he muttered, thinking aloud.
“And I’m damned tired of it,” Jeff huffed. “With all the beautiful, adult women in Nigeria, Zach chose to prey on children. Does this mean he’d have preyed on you if you were female when you went to live with him?”
Ben refused to consider that, shaking his head to clear the thought as he turned from the view to face his brother. “Why don’t you take over the company?”
“Hmm?” Jeff sat up.
Ben sucked in breath as though gathering courage to say what he had to say. “I mean, I saw your company’s financial report in the last quarter, you’re good for it. With uncle’s shares added to yours, you can own Global Press. If the other shareholders are still clamouring to sell, you could call Dan, Mary, hell, I’d buy some too. Who knows, some of the staff might want in on the shares, with a stake in the company, they’d have no choice but to defend it and keep it running. Besides, with you owning it, I presume you’d kickoff immediate rebranding...”
“Review staff list, positions, the service charges and update the machinery.”
Ben grinned at his brother, “You’ve been thinking about this.”
Jeff smiled, “Yes, I’ve been thinking,” he agreed then looked up at Ben with narrowed eyes. “But I’ll do it on one condition.”
“It’s a good deal, Jeff, there’s nothing to consider.” His brother said nothing. Ben sighed, the damn bully, “Okay, what condition?”
“That you will go back for your woman the moment this deal is signed.”
Happiness bubbled in his chest, threatening to bust out. He’d not planned to remain here a second after the signing. He’d brought up that idea because he was tired of dragging the negotiations and was impatient to return to Rita.
He walked to his now standing brother, grinned and shook his hand, “Deal.”