Click here to read the previous chapter; Behind Her Smile – Chapter One, Behind Her Smile – Chapter Two, Behind Her Smile-Chapter Three, Behind Her Smile – Chapter Four, Behind Her Smile – Chapter Five, Behind Her Smile – Chapter Six, Behind Her Smile – Chapter Seven, Behind Her Smile-Chapter Eight, Behind Her Smile – Chapter Nine, Behind Her Smile-Chapter Ten, Behind Her Smile-Chapter Eleven
Exams started two weeks later. I’d avoided any form of contact with Isaac or Leo and convinced myself that if I tried hard enough, I could be invisible to both of them.
“Precious, why are you doing this?” Anna asked one day.
“You know what.”
“I honestly don’t know what you mean.”
“Listen, I don’t know what exactly is going on between you and my cousin but-”
“Nothing is going on.”
“Oh, will you calm down and let me finish?”
“All I know is that my cousin is acting differently and I know you’re the reason. Oh and just so you know, I gave him your number.”
“You did what?”
“He is family and despite our differences, I care about him. Since he was so worried, I had to do something.” She shrugged.
“You could’ve asked for my permission.”
“Why would I do that when I know you wouldn’t agree?”
“Yes, and don’t even try to avoid his calls.”
I was left staring at her with a gaping mouth as she walked away. Hours later, I found myself glancing furtively at my phone in case I received any call from an unknown number but none came that day. The following morning, I was studying when I received a call from an unknown number and my hands shook as I reached for it. I stopped at the last minute and let it ring until it went silent. Instead, a text message notification came through.
Precious, it’s Isaac. Please pick up.
I sighed and raised my book up to my face to continue reading but my phone beeped again. I tossed my book beside me on the bed and picked up my phone.
It was a single word yet I couldn’t ignore it this time. The next time the phone rang, I answered.
“Hello?” I said tentatively, clutching my book tightly for a source of support.
“Precious, I’ve been meaning to talk to you.”
“What do you want Isaac?” I asked wearily.
“Just to talk, can I see you tomorrow?”
“I’m really busy, I’ve got exams to study for and-”
“I promise I won’t take much of your time.”
I considered it briefly before I agreed. “Alright,” I said.
“Thank you, is 5 pm convenient?”
“Yes.” Just like that, I’d agreed to the meeting that would not leave my memory in a hurry.
Narrator’s Perspective (On the other side of campus)
In a secluded area off campus where large trees and dense bushes grew for miles and miles, Leo stared down at the guy who stood before him. His stance was hard and unforgiving, every bit the ruthless cultist he was. He sneered at him in mockery as his men laughed again at the scene before them.
“So, you’re telling me you cannot do this simple task?” He asked.
“L-Leo it’s t-too much-” The guy froze at the look on Leo’s face. “Er, what I meant to say is that I need some more time to-”
“How much more time? Or do you not care about your loyalty to Orion anymore?”
“But I have been loyal. I’ve done so many things for the sake of Orion. I even gave you the information you needed for the raid.”
“Shut up, it’s not enough until I say it is.”
“I’m sorry.” He gulped and looked down, thinking that all of this had gone on for too long. He’d done all that had been asked of him for so long now it almost seemed like he would never get a break from the endless tasks.
“Listen very carefully Kolade,” Leo leaned down closer to look him in the eye. “I don’t take things lightly with weaklings and you better not prove yourself to be one. We don’t accept boys but men. Now take this gun and shoot this guy.”
Leo gestured at the cowering young man who seemed to be in his late Twenties. His body shook convulsively and his hands were tied behind his back. His eyes were wide with fear and sweat dripped from his forehead.
“But, what did he do?” Kolade asked as his hands gripped the gun reluctantly. He’d never been asked to physically hurt someone before. Leo usually left that to the more skilled guys in that area, guys like Victor who he hadn’t seen in a while. The words were barely out of his mouth when he was roughly grabbed by his shirt collar.
“You don’t get to ask questions. You just do as I say.” Leo spat before he let go of him roughly.
Kolade adjusted his shirt to buy some time in order to calm his racing heart as he remembered his reason for joining Orion in the first place. After the hard life he’d lived, always being bullied for being a bookworm, he wanted to put an end to all that and secure some assurance in form of protection from them. In his opinion, there was no better way to ensure that he was protected unless he joined them, thereby putting himself under their protection. He figured it was better to be under the protection of what you’re scared of rather than be haunted by it. But he’d never imagined having to take a man’s life.
“Are you hesitating Kolade?”
“I-I…” Kolade stammered.
Before he knew it, Leo grabbed the gun and shot the guy himself. Kolade watched in shock as life was drained from him. Dark, red blood pooled beneath his body and his eyes slid shut, never to open again. He’d just witnessed a murder.
“I knew you didn’t have it in you.” Leo spat and shoved the gun in the waistband of his jeans. “Speak nothing about what happened today. Now, get out!”
Kolade didn’t wait for a second warning before he made himself scarce.
Isaac took me to Aroma, the campus’s prime spot. Luckily for us, there weren’t many people there and I didn’t know how I would feel if we had several curious gazes trailing us about. I realized most students would be studying and I felt a pang of guilt that I wasn’t anywhere near my books right then.
“I really need to study,” I said nervously.
“But we just got here.” He looked shocked.
“I know but I have a lot to cover.” I shrugged.
“I understand I won’t take your time.” He smiled and gestured for some service from the waiter.
When we were served, I’d chosen to have a bottle of soft drink and chicken pie. I waited for him to begin because I had no idea what to say. ‘
“You really don’t talk much do you?”
I shrugged and shook my head.
“I see,” He smiled slightly. “I was wondering if you thought about what I said.”
It suddenly became difficult to swallow. I coughed and spluttered before I grabbed my drink to take a sip.
“Wow, never knew I had that effect.” Isaac chuckled.
“It’s not you…” I began.
“It’s me,” He wrinkled his eyebrows. “Sounds like a breakup line. We haven’t even started… yet.”
I cracked a small smile and bit my lip to hold in my laughter.
“I don’t think I’ve heard you laugh before.”
My smile became dim when I remembered my roommate saying that a long time ago but I was sure I had made progress since then.
“Sorry, did I offend you?” He asked.
“No, I just remembered something.”
“So, back to my question,” He said. “You may be very beautiful but you can’t distract me from the purpose for which this meeting is holding.”
I froze and lost my voice somewhere in the back of my throat. It wasn’t often that I was called beautiful. Leo did a long time ago but it was meaningless to me now.
“Did you think about what I said, about giving me a chance, getting to know me?”
I cleared my throat before I spoke. “I did.”
“And…?” He looked like he very much depended on my answer.
I hoped I was about to say the right thing. Meeting Leo was a disaster for me but Isaac had shown none of the traits Leo exhibited. But then again, Leo had been the perfect gentleman too at some point in time. Isaac claimed to have given up on his former ways but I still knew next to nothing about him. However, in order to discover more about him, I had to give him a chance, get to know him better. God, please let this be the right decision. I prayed silently.
“I thought about it and I don’t judge you based on your past. I think there is more to you than meets the eye and I want to discover it if you’ll let me.”
The way his eyes lit up warmed me up from inside and I knew I had made the right choice.
“You have no idea how happy I am to hear you say that.” He took in a deep breath. “Frankly, I was scared of rejection. I know that not many people would want to associate themselves with me, not after knowing about my past. My cousin only tolerates me because we’re blood-related. Do you want to know a secret?”
I leaned closer at the almost-shy look he had in his eyes. “I’m all ears,” I whispered.
“Before I met you, I told you I met some people who helped me out right?”
“Yes.” I nodded.
“They were Christians and they convinced me to give life another shot but to do things differently this time around. I accepted Christ but I’ve been struggling with feeling worthy again. I made a promise to myself and God that if I should find someone, anyone who could accept me the way I am, I’d never go back to my old ways.”
“I had no idea…” I trailed off at the realization of just how much had been hanging on my decision.
“I know and that’s why I’m going to treasure our… friendship.” He hesitated like that wasn’t the word he planned to use but I let it slide.
“I’ve been meaning to ask you something.” I started.
“You told me that you nearly died twice in one day, how did that happen?”
“That’s a day I wish I could forget,” He sighed. “I was ambushed by a rival cult gang that wanted to overthrow Orion on campus. Back then, I was pompous and sometimes careless because I thought I was invincible. My second-in-command then warned me but I couldn’t be bothered.”
“Your second-in-command was his name Leo by any chance.”
“Yes, why?” He looked shocked for the second time that day.
I gasped lightly but brushed it off. “Um, nothing. I just figured since I heard rumours that he’s the current leader, he must have been your second-in-command back then.”
“Oh alright,” He said but his eyes still held curiosity. “Well, that fateful day, I was challenged on campus and decided to revenge. I didn’t know it was all a trap. I gathered a handful of my men to fight with me, Leo was one of them and we met the other gang some distance from the campus. We were outnumbered and it was an ambush. I ordered the rest of my men to get away from danger and single-handedly fought the rivals off but they were too many. I was beaten and stabbed several times. By the time I managed to crawl to safety, I was so disoriented that I walked right into a car. There was a family in it but I didn’t remember any faces. I couldn’t wait for the man’s help and stumbled away before the rivals met up with me or worse, with the innocent people who were trying to help.”
Something pricked at my memory.
“Do you remember what day that was?” I asked.
He frowned as he thought about it and the date he mentioned was the exact same date that my family and I came to Osun state for me to start university.
“Isaac, this may sound strange but that’s the day I came to this state. I think it was my family that you saw that day.”
“What are the odds? That’s impossible.”
“No, it isn’t,” I shook my head. “Think about it. A man came to help you with his wife and there was a girl in the car. I saw you that day, you were bleeding from a cut on your side and I found it strange that you refused our help. Now that I think about it, there were people in the shadows, still chasing you but they withdrew when they saw us.”
Isaac was quiet for so long that I began to worry. “You mean…I nearly died a second time that day, because of you?”
Oh no, I didn’t mean for him to see it that way.
“Isaac…?” I said tentatively. “I’m sorry.”
“I can’t believe it.” He shook his head.
“It was an accident. We stopped to help.” I defended slowly.
“It’s been so long I rarely think about it, but that doesn’t matter now. It shouldn’t.” He struggled to smile but the difficulty was obvious.
The mood was ruined after that and we ate in silence.
“I have to get back to study,” I said quietly.
“Huh? Oh yes,” He seemed lost in thought. “I’ll take you back now.”
We walked back to my hostel in silence and when he turned to leave, I couldn’t just let him go like that.
“Isaac, please I’m sorry about what happened that day.”
“It’s not your fault Precious, you weren’t behind the wheel. It was partially mine for being so disoriented that day. I can’t blame you or your family.” He smiled and walked away.
I felt terrible as I walked up the stairs to my room. I just hoped that our friendship which had only just started wouldn’t be ruined by this. Should I have just kept my mouth shut? I sighed shook the thoughts out of my head, I had to focus right now. I picked up my chemistry lecture notes as soon as I stepped into the empty room and busied myself with my studies.
To Be Continued…