The sound of Alex Saunders head hitting against the library desk echoed through the fully packed library.
She had just been rudely awakened from her sleep by her vibrating phone on the desk. Embarrassed, she pulled her hair from the sides to cover her face and raffled her hand through her bangs to ensure that her face was fully covered.
Alex had spent the last two straight days working on her undergraduate thesis for her Honours in Psychology Degree. After discovering the amount of work required for one to successfully obtain a Psychology Degree, Alex sometimes wondered if taking an honours degree was the best choice instead of simply majoring in Psychology and taking a minor in creative writing. She always felt that the online courses she had taken on creative writing whilst in high school were not enough to turn her into the kind of writer she wanted to be.
As a child, trekking from one library and bookstore to another, Alex’s dream was to become a renowned writer just like the ones she was reading about, to have her work read and revered by many and to gain worldwide recognition from it. Strangely enough, when the time came to pick a field of study to pursue for her undergraduate, after much consideration, Alex discovered that the need for a psychology degree outweighed that of creative writing.
Twenty-three year old Alex picked up her vibrating phone and checked the caller id. Mr C. There could only be one reason why Anton’s father could be calling her at that time of the day.
“Oh shit!” she cussed, suddenly getting up and picking up her books from the desk before running out of the fully packed library.
“I’m going to kill you for this Anton!” Alex said to herself as she unchained her yellow bicycle from the security post. Her phone stopped ringing for a few seconds and then resumed.
“Good morning Mr C!” Alex shouted into her earphone mouthpiece as she rode home.
Smiling bemusedly to himself with his billion dollars white teeth, Oliver Cooper held the phone away from his ear to save himself a trip to the otolaryngologist.
Is there ever a day this girl isn’t excited about something? The 42 year old business mogul thought as he handed his golf club to the caddie before leaving the field to head to his car parked out in the front.
“My little sunshine,” Oliver excitedly greeted his son’s best friend.
For the eleven years Oliver had known Alex, he had come to regard her as his own daughter. There were so many moments in his life when he wished his only son and heir Anton could be half as good a child as Alex was. How happy a father he would be if that ever came to pass.
“I have been trying to get in touch with this fool,” Mr Cooper’s voice poured straight into her ears through the earpieces. “Are you with him?” he asked.
“Not at the moment Mr C.,” Alex said. “I went out to the store to get some juice and left him getting ready for a shower…so, he’s probably in the shower…that’s probably why he couldn’t take your calls.” Alex lied through her teeth. “I am heading back to the house right now so I will get him to call you back.”
I am going to kill you Anton, Alex said in her head as she increased her pace.
“You are covering for him again aren’t you?” Oliver asked. If there was one thing he knew about Alex, it was that she was a very bad liar.
In Oliver’s eyes, Alex Saunders was the ultimate kind of girl; unpretentious, never spoke lies and always spoke her mind…sometimes even when the situation didn’t call for it. If only his son Anton would get a grip over his life and realize what a gem he had right in front of his eyes instead of chasing skirts everywhere around town. What sort of father wouldn’t want to have Alex as a daughter in-law?
“I am on my way over to your place, tell him to get ready. I need his input on one of my latest projects.” Oliver said.
Alex came to a sudden halt. “You are on your way right now?” She asked, her heart pounding against her oversize sweatshirt.
Oliver paused before getting into his car, holding the door open. “Yes, is there a problem Alex?” He asked, sensing something amiss.
Oliver Cooper did not need a psychic or a private investigator to tell him what mischievousness his son was up to while the two of them where talking on the phone. Even during week days, the boy drunk and partied like a teenager high on hormones. If not for Alex’s perseverance in keeping him in check every now and then, Oliver wondered just what sort of person his son would have turned into by now.
“No, no Mr C.,” Alex reassured him. “There is no problem. You can go ahead and come. You will find Anton ready by the time you get here.”
The gate to the three bedroom house Alex shared with Anton finally came into view. Thanks to Anton’s billionaire father, the two of them could afford to live in such a luxurious house just a few minutes away from campus.
Alex still remembered how excited she had been when Mr Cooper called her to his office and gave her the keys to the house, telling her that she was the one in charge of it and not Anton. The only reason he had relented to his son’s demands for private boarding was because he trusted Alex to be responsible for everything taking place there.
It had now been five years since they moved in together and with only a few more months to their graduation, they had a lot more memories to make…starting with rescuing Anton from the wrath of his father!
“Good,” Oliver stepped into his vehicle. “I will see you in about an hour or less, depending on traffic.” He said before hanging up.
Alex looked at her wrist watch, “One hour!” She shouted before getting back on the bike and cycling like a crazy person to the house. As she got closer to the gate, she pressed a button on her wrist watch and the gate opened. Once inside, she pressed the button again and the gate closed behind her.
Cycling through the long driveway made her feel like she had just been cycling in a marathon. She spotted Anton’s red Ferrari parked in front of the house and breathed a sigh of relief. Jumping off her bike and throwing it to the side, she quickly ran into the house, then up the stairs yelling Anton’s name at the top of her voice.
As she ran up the stairs, she couldn’t help feeling a great sense of relief and pride from the fact that no matter how much Anton partied, he always stuck to their agreement and got back home by 2 in the morning to at least get 4 hours of sleep before class.
As expected, she found him dead asleep on top of his beddings in nothing but his boxers. “Idiot,” she said before pouncing on him. “You are in big trouble Mr!” She warned him. “Wake up right now.” She softly slapped his cheeks left and right but Anton wouldn’t wake up.
There was just one thing she knew would do the trick.
“Mr Oliver is on his way!” Alex said the magic words and stood back to watch Anton respond.
He bolted out of bed at rocket speed.
“How long?” Anton asked, ferociously rubbing his eyes to force himself awake.
“Always works.” Alex laughed triumphantly as she watched him from the side.
“Are you kidding me!?” The twenty-four year old heir protested and tried to get back into bed again but Alex blocked him. She removed her phone from her pocket and showed him her call log. “See,” she pointed at his father’s name. “He said he should find you ready in about forty minutes.”
“The old man will kill me!” Anton sulked. “Where does he want to take me this early in the morning?” Even as he was complaining, he still went to the bathroom to take quickly take a shower.
Laughing, Alex went to the closet to help him find something decent to wear. Knowing the kind of background Anton came from, Alex was well aware of how on point her friend needed to look every time he stepped out of the house. There were always camera’s following the Cooper family around almost everywhere they went.
She picked blue skinny jeans with a white t-shirt for him. “Simple yet stylish,” she praised her fashion sense.
Alex then looked through Anton’s massive shoe collection and picked out some his latest Burgundy canvas for him. “Should I even ask where you were last night?” Alex asked, leaning against the bathroom wall, one leg crossed over the other and her head lingering a few inches away from the open door.
For all the years she had known Anton, she never dared to ask him about the girls or the women in his life. She could handle knowing that there were quite a number of them but she was not interested in knowing who they were unless he talked about them himself.
It had been two years now since she realized she liked him more than just a friend but the idiot was still oblivious to that fact. Alex had fallen in-love with her best friend without meaning to. She figured he would be just as shocked as she had been the day she found out about her own feelings and thus, not wanting to put a strain on their friendship, she had chosen to keep her feelings to herself.
Even if he knew, it’s not like he would ever consider dating me. Alex had reasoned to herself. She knew the type Anton liked and over the years she had been way too much of a friend for him to see her as he would any other woman.
“The guys and I tried out this new place called The Atlas and it’s the real deal Alex!” Anton shouted from the bathroom. The guys he was referring to where two of their four close friends; George Lee and Duncan Schmidt.
“We should go there together over the weekend. Anton suggested.
“What’s so special about this place?” Alex asked.
“Apart from it being dope, I met this chick there…wait, let me get out of here first and tell you about her.”
It was typical of Anton to shower within five minutes. He never went beyond that, no matter how desperate his body needed a good scrub. Alex always wondered how someone that hated showering still managed to look so good and have all the women he came across pine over him.
She had eventually concluded that the billions he stood to inherit from his father had a lot to do with it…and of course it helped a great deal that he was naturally good looking fella that had nature and good fortune on his side. Alex sometimes couldn’t help wondering if the girls that worshipped him would still feel the same way about him if they got to know him the way she did.
I guess the state of my heart right now pretty much answers that. Alex silently mocked herself.
Alex was laughing at her thoughts when Anton came out of the bathroom, one towel covering the bottom half while the top half remained wet and exposed in its muscled glory.
“Woah.” Alex came to stand in front of him, her eyes gawking in surprise as she ran her hand over his wide muscled chest. Her hand stopped right below his abdomen. “I think these babies have come out more now.” She remarked in awe. “When did you even find the time to hit the gym?”
Anton was looking at her quizzically and in slight disbelief at her careless action, one eyebrow raised. Unfortunately, Alex didn’t seem to get it because her hand was still lingering above his abdomen. He literally had to clear his throat noisely to make her realise what she was doing.
Alex quickly dropped her hand and dried it with the towel in Anton’s hand before stepping away from him. This is exactly why he will never think of you as a woman Lex. She admonished herself for her lack of tact as a woman.
“I think sometimes you forget that I am a hot bloodied man.” Anton complained as he finished drying himself. “What kind of girl touches a man so carelessly?”
Alex blushed, but only for a second. “My bad,” she didn’t sound apologetic in the slightest. “It’s not like you’ve ever thought of me as a woman.” She added as an afterthought, silently praying that he disputes her claim.
“And we thank god for that,” Anton said as he passed the towel through his hair. “The day I start looking at you as anything else either than a friend is the day I will pick up my dad’s gun and shoot myself in the head.”
“Ouch,” Alex said. “That’s a bit too harsh Tony.”
“No man wants his woman knowing all that shitty stuff you know about me Lex. I hope we remain friends forever cause you have so much dirt on me you would be my undoing if you ever became my enemy.” And just to prove how unperceptive he was, he went and planted a kiss on her forehead.
Anton could not read anything beyond Alex’s bittersweet smile.
“So where do you think your father is taking you this time?” Alex quickly changed the subject, moving in to put finishing touches on his hair.
“If anyone has a better chance of knowing, you do.” He said, lowering his head slightly so she could reach the back of his head. “Sometimes I think you know more about what’s happening in my father’s life than me. You are like the son he never had.” Anton joked.
Alex finished with his hair and pushed his head away with her finger. “That’s because I am his number one fan.” She said.
She went to sit on the edge of the bed and innocently watched him put on the clean boxers she had laid out for him on the bed. “Fans always know stuff about the celebrities they like.” She said.
“He might be just a father to you but he is like a god to me…well, not necessarily someone I worship, but someone I look up to.” She moved to sit on the edge of the bed, her mind drifting back to the time when she first met Anton and his father Oliver.
Alex was only nine years old when she first heard Oliver’s voice on the radio. The then twenty-seven year old Oliver had just released his seventh album since his debut at age seventeen. The new album was a dedication to his wife and son after taking two years off to spend quality time with them.
As a kid going through a complicated life, Alex found solace is the soothing voice of the man she could only wish was her father. How nice would it be to have a father sing such kind and loving words to her? There were nights when Alex would dream about Oliver barging into the orphanage and rescuing her from a world she felt she didn’t belong…a world she felt a strong desire to escape from.
On the eve of her tenth birthday, Alex dream of escape became a reality when a couple doing some volunteer work at the orphanage fell in-love with her and decided to adopt her. Humphrey and Evelyn Saunders already had four children of their own but they didn’t seem to mind adding a fifth one to the lot. They welcome the little girl into their home and made her feel like she was a part of their family.
For the first time in her life, Alex felt like she finally belonged somewhere. Unfortunately, the dream that had presented itself as reality before Alex’s eyes was soon covered by a dark cloud when the Saunders fell into financial. Humphrey Saunders had made some bad investments over the years thinking they would pen out a huge fortune but he was forced to admit defeat when they turned out to be a huge liability.
In Just over a year of Alex being in her new home, the Saunders declared bankruptcy.
The family had no choice but to move to a much smaller house. Mr Saunders who had been retired for two years was forced to get back into formal employment while his wife continued with her teaching job. For the Saunders, their new kind of life proved to be more challenging than they could have ever imagined. Because they were used to providing a comfortable life for their children most of their lives, the pressure for the Saunders couple to take care of such a large family on such a low income proved overwhelming.
Eventually, it was Alex who suffered the wrath of their stress.
In their moments of stress, the family could not help but lament about the mistake they had made in bringing someone into the family, and they would do so in Alex’s presence. Fearing feared that the incident that had happened five years ago might happen again; Alex started to mentally prepare herself to be taken back to the orphanage.
Alex could not run away from the fact that she was a burden on her new family. When meals became scarce, she was always the last one to be served after Mrs Saunders made sure that all her biological children had enough food on their plates. When everyone else was sharing beds in the bedrooms, Alex was made to sleep in the living room where she had to wake up two hours earlier than the other kids because the house was too small and Mrs Saunders needed enough space to move about while she did her morning chores.
At twelve years old, Alex was the only member of the family not enrolled in school. Although Mrs Saunders had promised to home school her, the most she ever did was leave her a bunch of books to go through on her own and Alex did just that. Whilst her siblings went to school, Alex would spend that time reading books in the local library, a period in time when she developed a passion for writing.
To kill time and stay out the way of her new family’s activities, Alex visited libraries and book stores and spent time there reading until they closed. It was during one of her book store tours that she met Oliver Cooper who was conducting a book signing for his third book compiling the adventures of his career.
Having made an arrangement with the store owner, Alex was given the keys to open the store very early in the morning, put the books in order and read to her hearts content whatever she wanted.
“Just stay away from adult books.” Mrs Davies store owner had sternly warned her, pointing to the CCTV above them.
That fateful morning, Alex had woken up at 4 and took the short walk to the book store. The streets where quiet and there was barely a soul in sight apart from the cars that passed by every now and then. Sometimes Alex wondered if her family even noticed her absence. She concluded they never did since they never asked her any questions about where she was or what she had been upto.
It seemed no one was missing her.
Alex had spent about an hour arranging the books in order and by the time it was five, she was wrapped up in a corner covered by a shawl given to her by Mrs Davis to her to keep her warm. The sixty year old woman was the kindest woman little Alex had met in a very long time.
By the time Mrs Davis reported for work, she found Alex soundly asleep, her head resting on the pile of books she had obviously been going through that morning. Although the girl had never been tested, Mrs Davis figured she had the mind of a genius. Her ability to read and understand so many books in such a short time was astounding. She even read books that most kids would shun away from. She had gone through almost all the encyclopaedias in the store and had read most of the sciences ranging from psychology to chemistry.
“She’s sleeping so soundly,” Belinda the store assistant said when she came in. “Should I wake her up? There are already people lining up outside for the book signing in a few hours.”
“Oh no, please let her rest,” Mrs Davis said. “The poor child deserves all the rest she can get away from her cruel reality. I will wake her up before Mr Cooper gets here.”
“I heard that he is bringing his son along,” Belinda said. “The boy is as handsome as his father. They really look alike.”
“Of course they should look alike since they have the same DNA,” Mrs Davis joked, clearing the table where Oliver Cooper was expected to sit. “Besides, I am the one that asked him to bring the boy along. I figured he might rub off some of his good fortune on our little friend here.”
Belinda gave the old lady a knowing smile. “You are very cunning Mrs Davies. Why didn’t I think of that?”
“Because I am wiser than you,” she said, her voice full of laughter. “Please check the microphone and make sure everything else is working perfectly over there.” She pointed to the area where authors normally stood to read excerpts of their books to their fans.
When Oliver was finally ushered into the store amidst the media and fan frenzy outside, Mrs Davies welcomed him and called Alex over to greet her role model.
“I thought the young man might enjoy the company of our book store’s most loyal customer while you attend to your duties Mr Cooper.” The old lady was holding Alex by her shoulders from behind, introducing her to the pair.
Alex immediately fell in-love with her role model’s smile. It was genuine and sincere. She had been right to like him. “You are even more handsome in person Sir,” the little girl quipped causing Oliver to laugh out loud.
“I have heard that plenty of times but never from a lady as beautiful as you Ms….”
“Alex, my name is Alex Saunders.” She answered cheerfully.
“And a beautiful name it is Alex. This is my son Anton, say hi to your new friend Anton.” Oliver presently his son before Alex.
After shaking hands, “you are not bad yourself,” Alex told the twelve year old, surprising both him and the adults in the room. “Do you want me to show you where to find cool books?” Without waiting for his response, she grabbed him by the hand and led him away.
Alex had gone half way through the store when she suddenly paused and looked back. She released her grasp on Anton’s hand, ran towards the front desk, grabbed a book from there and ran towards Oliver. “Here,” she handed him the book. “I almost forgot, I should be the first to get your signature!”
“Have you read my book young lady?” Oliver asked.
“Of course!” Her sharp voice echoed through the library. “I had been waiting for it all this time and when it finally came to the store, I sat down for three hours and refused to move until I read every single word.”
“Are you telling me you read the whole book in three hours?” Oliver asked.
“Yes, what’s wrong? Did I take too long?” The girl clearly had no idea what was going on. “I knew I shouldn’t have kept on re-reading pages 35 to 70 but I couldn’t believe that there was someone in this world who treasured his family as much as you did.”
“You think three hours is too long?” Anton had come back to join them and he was visibly shocked by the girl’s non-stop chatter and her oblivion to the fact that she could be a genius.
From that day forward, the two of them had become inseparable and thanks to Oliver Cooper’s generosity, he came to provide Alex with a new hiding place that was neither a library nor a book store.
He gave her a home.
“He’s a cool guy, but I kind of like his money more,” Anton joked, forcing his best friend out her reverie and back to reality.
“You are such a fool Tony,” Alex said, grabbing a pillow and throwing it at him only to miss as Anton dodged in time.
“Ah,” Anton remembered what he had wanted to share with her earlier. “I met someone at Club Atlas last night.” He said excitedly whilst putting on his shoes.
Alex braced herself for another one of his women adventures.
“Don’t give me that look,” Anton didn’t miss her look of disinterest. “It’s different this time,” he said enthusiastically. “I am really serious!” He shouted from behind as Alex started walking out of the bedroom.
“I am going to make some breakfast. There are only a few minutes till your dad gets here.” Alex shouted as she walked away.
Anton quickly finished tying his shoe laces and ran after her. “Aren’t you curious about who she is?” He sat on one of the chairs behind the Kitchen counter and watched Alex as she cooked up an omelette for him.
“Since when have I ever been interested in your women stories Tony?” Alex asked, her eyes fixed on the food she was making, desperately wishing for a change of subject. “I only listen because my ears are in perfect working order. You always say ‘this one is different’ about every girl you meet. What’s so different about this one this time around?” She asked.
“She is actually new in town,” Anton said. “Her father got a job with our university, he is a professor. Her mother is a philanthropist…apparently she runs a number of charities across the country.” He proudly said. “Unlike some people I know, she is sexy, classy as well as beautiful. We only chatted for a little bit but it felt like we’ve known each other for years!”
“Good for you,” Alex said sarcastically, her face as straight as an arrow. “I guess you are ready to settle down now. We should tell your father about this new development. I am sure he will be as excited as I am.”
“Tell me what?” A voice from behind them asked. It was Anton’s father. “What’s going to make me as excited as my little sunshine is?” He was mocking Alex because there was nothing about her attitude and demeanour that looked anything close to excitement.
With a knife in one hand and a tomato in the other, Alex walked over to Oliver and stood in front of him. She spread out her arms and he took her in for a hug, releasing her in time for her to rush back to the stove.
Oliver took a seat next to his son.
“I see you are ready.” It was all the greeting he would give his.
“Why wouldn’t I be?” Anton replied smugly but was immediately awarded with a reprimanding look from his housemate.
“How was golfing this morning?” Alex directed her attention to her mentor. “For a forty something year old, you must make all the twenty-something year olds reel with envy,” she was looking at Anton as she delivered the last part.
For a forty-two year old man, Oliver Cooper indeed looked like a man in just his early thirties. His boyish looks and infallible charm made women his age appear older. Alex thought it was such a shame that ever since his wife’s death; he had not been with another woman on a long term basis. Oliver Cooper rarely dated and when he did, it was either just a fling or a three months old relationship, which was the longest he ever reached.
“What’s wrong with how I look?” Anton looked at himself.
Alex shrugged her shoulders and didn’t even bother to hide the grin playing on her face. “Nothing,” she said unconvincingly.
“If I worked out as much as dad does no woman would be able to resist me. I am not trying so hard because I am considerate of less attractive men out there. Imagine the kind of attention I would be getting if that were the case? I can’t have all the women to myself you know.”
“You wish,” Alex muttered under her breath. “Can I make something for you as well Mr C.?” She asked Oliver.
“Oh no, I am not a breakfast person these days. Besides, we don’t have much time left.” He looked at his wrist watch. “There are some people waiting for us somewhere. I need to show this boy a certain piece of land I want to invest in…thought I could use his good architectural eye.”
Architecture was one of the very few things Anton excelled at. Even at a young age, he had helped his father who had a passion in real estate investment design some of the famous buildings around the world. Thus, it had come as no surprise when Anton finally decided to study Architecture at university after wasting a year of possible college time trying to follow his father’s footsteps in acting.
Oliver had been against his son entering showbiz because he felt he lacked the talent and drive it took to excel in that industry. However, Anton had been so adamant until his father finally allowed him to pursue his dreams for a year on the grounds that he couldn’t succeed; he would quit and get into university.
Without his father’s backing, Anton had tried auditioning for a few roles here and there which did not end the way he thought they would. Watching his father all those years living his dream, performing on numerous stages in front of large crowds, making his music videos and later on acting and directing his own movies, Anton wanted that kind of life for himself. There was nowhere his father went he wasn’t welcome or recognized.
Oliver Cooper was revered by many, especially women and his son Anton wanted to have exactly that kind of life when he grew up. Unfortunately, it did not take long for Anton to realise that he had no real passion or talent for acting. He had finally and happily given up his dream of stardom and settled for becoming a star in a whole other different world; the world of architecture.
Being in his fifth and final year, Anton could boast of having successfully designed and contributed to three major historical landmarks in the country. He was indeed a young designer on the rise and his future in the industry looked absolutely promising.
The only time Alex thought her best friend looked human was when he committed himself to finishing a project. It was after all during one of those times that she had found herself strangely attracted to him. Despite his playful nature, Anton never took his studies for granted. Although he missed lectures most of the time, he was one of the best students in his field and architecture was something that came naturally to him.
“How much is in it for me this time?” Anton asked. His father was about to smack him in the head but he dodged in time again.
“Before I forget,” Alex said. “Any plans for your birthday Mr C.?”
Oliver found himself smiling. There was something about Alex that reminded him of his wife. She always remembered his birthday no matter how busy she was.
“Dad, it’s your birthday today?” Anton asked. This time the smack landed right on his head.
Alex scowled at him and shaking her head said, “tsk, tsk, tsk,” pointing a spatula at him accusingly. “I would kill myself if I had a son like you. His birthday is on Monday…you have three days to prepare a present.”
“I’m still gonna use his money to buy it, so what’s the big deal?” Anton retorted.
Alex was still shaking her head. “I will not even qualify that statement with a response. How busy are you on Sunday?” She turned her attention to Oliver.
“What, you have something planned for me?” He asked excitedly, like a child looking forward to opening his presents on Christmas.
Alex couldn’t help smiling at Oliver’s play at enthusiasm. This was one of those rare moments when his child-like behaviour came out. Sometimes she secretly wondered if he had not lied about his age. There was nothing 42 about the man. If anything, the son and father seated next to each other looked more like a pair of siblings.
“It’s a surprise; just don’t leave home on Sunday morning okay?” Alex said. She put the breakfast in front of Anton and he got into it right away.
“I definitely won’t,” Oliver said. “Suddenly, I don’t mind growing a year older.” He added.
“I am included in that program as well, right?” Anton asked. “It will be like a present from the both is us….”
Both Alex and Oliver laughed at his shameless audacity. “You just want to avoid the hustle of looking for a present isn’t it?” Alex grabbed a chair and sat facing the men.
“Dame woman you know me too well!” Anton said in resignation, pointing his folk at her playfully. “That’s why I tell people who make wild remarks about us to take a hike. You are like the coolest dude I’ve ever met!”
Anton moved from where he was and went to put his arm around Alex’s neck.
Oliver did not miss the hurt in Alex’s eyes. She was slowly shaking his head in disapproval as he watched his son’s childish play with a girl that was obviously in-love with him.
“Tsk tsk tsk,” Oliver continued shaking his head. “What a bloody fool.” He muttered under his breath.
Published by Anisha Simutowe