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Chapter One

An emergency meeting had been called.

“What happened?” Eka asked the moment Rita opened her apartment door to her urgent knocks.

“And a good evening to you, too,” Rita smiled at her friend’s frown, shutting the door and following her to the couch.

The three friends had a tradition. They were their own support group and didn’t hesitate to rush over when a friend pronounced an emergency meeting on the phone. The seriousness of a meeting was gauged using the type of alcohol revealed when all three friends were present. Champagne or white wine was celebratory, red wine was for worries, complains, stress and a need to unwind, and spirits were a sign of big trouble.

There was no alcohol out because their perpetually late friend, Nene, was yet to arrive. But Eka faced Rita with widened eyes when she settled beside her. “Well, what happened?” she sounded panicked. Amongst the trio of them, Eka was the worrier.

Rita was solution oriented and didn’t dwell on hurts, which is why Eka seemed panicked because in their years of friendship, Rita had never called emergency meetings three times in a row. She was always the one rushing to their rescue not the other way round.

She was about to calm Eka when Nene’s voice echoed in her stairwell. It was a one sided conversation, so Rita assumed she was on the phone. She shut her mouth and rushed to the door to open it before her friend reached the landing.

“Darling, I swear it won’t be long. Rita called the emergency meeting; you know she goes straight to the point.”

Her expensive perfume engulfed Rita as her tall friend leaned down for a brief hug, before walking to the sitting room, giving Eka the same hug while making mushy noises on the phone with her husband.

Rita rolled her eyes on her way to the kitchen to get the alcohol of the evening. When she returned she heard Eka complaining.

“I envy Mike checking on you and worrying why you aren’t home yet at 5pm.” Her sad tone stilled Rita at the entrance of her kitchen which could be seen from the sitting room, but her friends were on the couch, backing the dining table which stood beside the kitchen door.

“Well, crazy as that short woman’s ideas are, they seem to work.” Nene said this pulling off her incredibly high heels with a sigh of relief. “Since following her advice, Mike has been more solicitous. His work ends at five but he tells me he’s been home since four.”

Rita smiled at that, and retracted into the kitchen to change the alcohol.

Eka Ebong loved babies. At 5’6 with more plump in her lower half, wide hips and arse, she had decided she’d be a full-time mom before she married Jude Ebong. It was a good thing Jude was wealthy enough for that lifestyle, and having loved their friend had agreed to her decision. It was a trial for Eka to have been married five years without a baby, not even one miscarried pregnancy; she’d not taken-in at all. The habit of worrying had emerged, add a mean mother in-law and a husband that was under his mother’s thumb, Rita was surprised the marriage had lasted this long.

According to the fertility examination Rita had disturbed her friend and husband to take, they were both healthy. Rita suspected that the pressure and tension in their marriage was a big factor in their childlessness. She wished Eka would listen to her and become the girl she’d been before marrying Jude; a light hearted and fun loving person.

Knowing her own news had to wait a few minutes, Rita returned the white wine she’d pulled earlier and dragged out a bottle of red wine instead.

“Short woman!” Nene called, “If I’m not home by 6:30 latest, Mike has threatened to come fuck me on your couch!”

“Jesus, Nene!” Eka’s tone was appalled.

Rita laughed. “I’m getting glasses!”

“Well hurry. That your sex chat idea has got me fired up for some hard loving.”

“Hold your panties, Nene, one news at a time,” she called back from the kitchen.

“I’m holding,” Nene replied and added in a lower tone, “Barely.”

Rita shook her head. Almost a year ago, Nene wouldn’t have said ‘fuck’ with a gun held to her head. She had always been bookish and career oriented but surprisingly, she’d been and still is the muscle of their group. Nene Menim, 5’9, the tallest amongst them with an hourglass figure, was ready to tear off wigs and pull out teeth in public to defend her friends. She would not get into trouble, but she was always ready to fight out of it for her friends.

With a habit of being absent minded half the time and adorably clueless to social cues, Rita had no idea how Nene had landed her husband, Mike Menim. She’d settled on the assumption that par t of the things Mike loved about their friend was her die-hard focus when she put her mind to something.

The problem was, after several successes, Nene’s focus had gotten stuck on her career. The absent mindedness had become a problem to Mike as she’d become this zombie whose every breath was work. And her friend had been clueless to the fact that she was losing her husband of three years.

Rita had noticed the strain on Mike at a party they’d all attended. Nene had gotten lost in a conversation about stocks with a colleague while Mike stood off the corner getting furious by the minute. Then a scantily dressed lady had sidled up to him and Rita had seen the moment he gave up trying.

Nene had scoffed at Rita’s observation that she was ignoring her husband, not out of malice but with a deep seated conviction that her husband supported her focus in pursuing a managerial position. Mike did support her career climbing efforts but it shouldn’t be to the detriment of their family. And so, Rita had visited Mike at his office without Nene’s knowledge. She didn’t want her friend losing the love of her life; it was a simple decision for her, if she couldn’t get someone she loved, she would preserve the loves of her friends.

Since Nene hadn’t listened, Rita hoped Mike would. It had taken some persuasion but she’d been able to convince Mike to act up instead of expecting clueless Nene to notice that he was hurting. He came home late and drunk, four days in a row. He refused to have breakfast with Nene and their one year old son. When that didn’t seem to have any effect, they cranked up the heat and Mike stopped picking her calls and stayed out all night, only returning in the morning to shower and go to work.

And after a whole month, Mike had almost been ready to give up, Nene finally called an emergency meeting to ask for help. And Rita had been ready to give her help, which basically was what her husband expected from her despite her career. It wasn’t much, the man just needed romance back in his marriage and that’s what Rita had done for them.

Rita was almost to the sitting room when Eka turned from the flat screen TV to watch her approach. And at the sight of the red wine, she gasped, getting Nene’s attention and they both sobered up with identical worrying frowns on their brows.

“You’re still mourning? It’s been five months already.” Nene pointed out. And she wasn’t saying it out of malice. They knew her and how she didn’t dwell on problems. And their friendship had reached a point that they didn’t give out fake platitudes, but said it as it was.

“You do realise my mother died, right?” Rita replied calmly while opening the wine and pouring into glasses.

“But...but you seemed fine about it after the burial. You even cracked that joke about not being bothered about getting married again.” Eka pointed out, her tone close to tears.

“Mm-hmm,” she continued pouring drinks, seeming unperturbed. Finally, Nene noticed.

“Wait, you don’t seem like there’s a crisis,” Nene frowned in confusion.

Kudos to clueless Nene for noticing, “That’s because I decided my news could wait while we hear from Eka,” she replied, handing the fullest glass of red wine to Eka.

“Oh,” Nene exclaimed, turning widened eyes to Eka.

Eka lowered her eyes, and faked a laugh. “What? Nothing happened. Why do you say that?”

Rita cocked her head with one of her brows raised. “Really, Eka, haven’t we passed that stage in our friendship? We are here to help,” she pushed, and took the seat opposite her friends.

Nene’s head swivelled from one to the other. “Yes, Eka,” she reached out and squeezed her shoulder in support.

Eka blew out air, took a sip of her drink and busted into tears.

Rita bolted from her seat to her bathroom for wipes; it was obviously more serious than she’d thought. She offered the wipes and joined her friends on the couch, even though it was a tight fit, seeing as all of them had wide hips, hers the widest. In fact, she seemed extreme in all her attributes. Where her two friends were dark, she was fair complexioned. She was the shortest of them all at 5’4, the chubbiest, the craziest and wealthiest as a freelance graphic designer with an event planning company.

They huddled together, sandwiching Eka in a hug, until Rita felt her body shiver with a heavy sigh. Nene passed Eka her drink again and Rita rubbed circles on her back.

“I think Jude is...seeing someone else.”

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