When Sunday morning came, Alex woke up earlier than usual and went straight to Anton’s room to wake him up. He was not there. She looked for him in every room of the house but he was nowhere to be seen. She tried his cell phone numerous times but it kept giving her the same feedback; voicemail.
This was the first time Anton had spent a whole night out without letting her know where he was and what was keeping him busy. The latest Anton ever came home was 3 in the morning and even then, he always called to let her know he was safe. Between them, there were no secrets. If one of them was missing, their close friends simply had to ask the other and he or she would know exactly where the best friend was. Anton and Alex were more like siblings instead of best friends.
Unfortunately, that Sunday morning, Alex had absolutely no idea where her best friend and housemate was. Growing deeply concerned and worried, Alex decided to call one of their close friends she knew for a fact had been hanging out with Anton in the night.
“Hi George!” She breathed a long sigh of relief when her call went through. “Are you with Tony?” She asked.
“No, that fella ditched us last night with this new chik he’s been obsessing over lately.”
Alex remember the conversation she had had with Anton the other day.
“Her name should be Cathy or something.” George said.
“I see,” Alex said, her heart suddenly feeling heavy.
She just had to be a Cathy. Alex thought. Why couldn’t she be a Jordan or Bianca? Why Cathy?
For some reason, Alex never liked the name Cathy. “Thanks George.” She said. “I’m sure he is perfectly fine and enjoying himself wherever he is.”
“I bet he is!” George remarked.
“Thanks.” She ended the call.
Alex paused by the bathroom door for a moment to think. Had Anton been serious when he said something was different about this girl this time? Despite the long trail of girls he dated in the past, this was the first time he had stayed out all night and to make matters worse, he had not bothered to inform her. Had he forgotten about his dad’s birthday already?
Alex shook her head profusely, as if the very act could wipe away her thoughts. “Ah, what do I care?” She said and went into the bathroom. The bath tab was the first thing that came into view when she entered her bathroom but instead of going there, rolled out the curtain to fully hide away the tab.
Looking extremely absent minded, Alex walked to the other end of the room, stepped into the shower and slowly turned on the water, leaving it running at a very low pressure. It would take her more than an hour to finish showering under that kind of low water pressure. Still, her mind appeared not to be in the same room as she made no move to either stand below the shower or increase the pressure. Instead, she was leaning her back against the wall, one hand stretch out towards the warm running water, falling first onto the palm of her hand and then down to the floor.
Since Anton was not around to give her a ride to his dad’s place, Alex got the keys to her & series BMW that Oliver had gotten her when she graduated high school and made it to one of the best universities in the world with flying colours. Alex had been very reluctant to accept the luxurious car not only because of its value, but because she could not afford to maintain it in the long run. But Oliver was not the kind of man to take no for an answer. He offered to take care of whatever bills came with owning such a vehicle and when Alex still proved more difficult, he threatened to withdraw their allowances…something that Anton vehemently refused to accept and in the end Alex became a proud owner of a BMW.
Much to Oliver’s dismay, despite promising to be responsible for the car’s maintenance as well as gas, Alex had bought a car cover, parked the vehicle behind the house, dressed it into the cover and leave it untouched for months on end. She could count on one finger the number of times she had driven the car, and most of those times where emergencies, such as, when she needed to go somewhere far where her bicycle could not take her and Anton was not around to drive her.
Alex put everything she needed to use to prepare Oliver’s birthday meal into two baskets and she carried them outside to where her car was parked. She set the baskets filled with food and other cooking supplies on the ground and went to remove the dusty cover from over her car.
The car appeared as good as brand new.
She carried the baskets and put them in the back seat and she drove to Oliver’s house which was a two hour drive from home. Oliver preferred living in the outskirts, away from the commotion in the city and safe from crazy fans who could not tell the difference between love and obsession. Despite his profession, Anton had reached an age where stability and privacy meant more to him than fame ever did. He just wanted some peace and quiet.
Even though Oliver had retired from acting, he was the head of one of the largest entertainment and film studio companies that housed hundreds of actors and singers. At the age of forty, Oliver was not famous for his old acting and singing career, instead, he had stretched his hand into the business world of entertainment and real estate. In the entertainment world, he excelled as an award winning producer and director, and in the real estate world, he was revered for his good investment eye that had earned him and some of his close friends billions of money.
The house was quite as usual and Alex was careful not to make a lot of noise in the kitchen since Bernard the butler had informed her Mr Cooper was still sleeping.
It’s not like he would even hear me from three floors up even if I played music on full blast. Alex laughed to herself as she went about her business in the kitchen. The house was just too big for one man. Alex could imagine the kind of loneliness Mr Cooper felt with no wife or children running around.
The fully furnished but empty rooms where a constant reminder of the things he had lost and the things he had only dreamt about. Any other person would have probably moved to a much smaller house by now, but Oliver wanted to stay in the house he had designed together with his wife. In that house, they had planned to have as many children as possible and even after twelve years, Sophia’s laughter still echoed through the walls.
Rather than noise, it was the aroma that awakened Oliver from his sleep. Slightly dazed and confused, not sure whether he was dreaming or not, Oliver slowly got out of bed and followed the direction of the aroma.
It was a very familiar aroma.
Each step he took got him closer and closer to the source of the seductive flavours. How long had it been since Sophia had cooked his favourite meal? If this was a dream, he didn’t want to wake up. Like a mad man, Oliver rushed down the stairs, sometimes taking two steps at a time.
His breath caught in his chest, his eyes anxious to behold the surreal moment. Finally at the door of the kitchen, Oliver found he was unable to move any further, his hand caught onto the door handle but still unable to push it open. Transfixed on the door, his heart started racing. The sound of his racing heart echoed through his head and made it hard for him to think properly.
Is this a dream? Oliver asked himself.
Slowly, he started pushing the door forward. The first thing that caught his eyes was the long silky red hair cascading down her back. It was a thick familiar mane whose feel he remembered even in his sleep. How many times had he run his hand through it?
Like a man possessed, Oliver’s thoughts propelled him forward, slowly and carefully, as if any sound he made would make the apparition before him disappear. Even if it killed it, he was not going to close his eyes, not even for a second. This image before him, whether dream or not, he was never going to let it go.
As he got closer, Oliver realized she was humming. It was a very familiar tune. How many times had he stood by the kitchen door and watched her hum her way through her cooking? It seemed even death could not defeat the beauty that she was.
A few inches away from her, he stopped. The fresh bolt of her shampoo went straight into his nostrils and triggered memories he thought he had forgotten. Despite the years she still looked the same from her back. Her legs were one of the things he had loved about her. How often had he teased her about their length and how they seemed to go on forever?
Except, Oliver rubbed his eyes with his fingers. Something seemed off.
Instead of two stick thin legs, he was looking at a fully figured woman. Unlike the Sophia he knew that struggled with anorexia for years, this Sophia in his dream appeared completely healed from it.
You finally did it my love. Oliver said proudly in his head. He liked this version of her, he admitted to himself as a mischievous grin appeared on his face.
From her legs, his eyes instinctively moved up to her waist. Indeed dreams came true in heaven. Oliver thought. His wife had finally succeeded in attaining her ideal weight. How pleasing it was to his heart that she no longer had to worry about being underweight. Unable to control himself any longer, Oliver covered the space between them and stopped right behind her. It was as if something was pulling him forward and before he knew it, he was hugging her from behind. “Sophia-” he whispered into her ear, his scooped a handful of her hair and buried his face in it.
Alex froze, cooking stick in hand and her face hanging above the pot. She had just been about to scoop a spoonful from the pot to state how the beef stew was coming up when she heard Mr Cooper’s voice. Before she knew it, he was holding her by the waist with one hand while the other hand went in her hair.
She wasn’t sure what to do. Should she scream, kick, or run? Did Mr Cooper have a sleep walking habit? She remembered Anton once laughing at him for his sleeping habits but Alex had never bothered to find out what those habits were exactly.
Could it have been sleepwalking? Alex wondered.
Clearly, the man was sleepwalking, for why else would he be addressing her as his dead wife…and what the hell was he doing touching her like that?
Oliver’s gentle kiss on the nape of her neck was enough to jolt Alex into a decision. She quickly and forcefully turned around to face him.
“Mr C!” She said a little louder.
Finally, Oliver was awakened to reality.
“Alex,” he said, looking at her quizzically. “What are you doing here? Oh,” he took step back from her, and then another one, and another one. There was horror written all over his face. “What have I done?” He slightly lifted his hand and turned his palm up, his eyes closely examining it in horror.
“I am so sorry,” Alex quickly apologized. She realized she was the one at fought for coming over to his house unannounced. “I shouldn’t have barged into your house without informing you…it’s just that, I wanted to surprise you….”
“What are you doing here this early in the morning?” he asked, checking the clock on the wall behind her.
“I told you on Thursday that I would be coming in the morning…have you forgotten? Was making some pre-birthday breakfast…”
Oliver remembered the conversation from their house. “Oh yeah,” he scratched his head. “I remember now…but isn’t this a little too early? What exactly are you-“ he turned his eyes towards the table that was filled with both cooked and uncooked food, and then he fixed his gaze on the stove where two pots were cooking.
“You did all that?” Oliver asked. What time did you get here?” He asked. “And where’s Anton?”
Alex could smell her beef stew starting to burn. “Can I…” she looked at him pleadingly and pointed to the stove.
“Sure, of course, go ahead,” Oliver said, still not sure about what exactly was happening. He was still going over what had just happened and what thoughts were going through his head as he did so.
Alex turned off the stove and turned back around. “Done!” She announced her arms up in the air. She was already back to her usual self in just a split second. It was as if the past three minutes had never transpired. Oliver didn’t know whether to be grateful or apologetic. Either way, he had just committed a very grave sin.
“It never happened,” Alex brushed her hand in the air dismissively. “You don’t need to explain anything. When I was a kid, your wife did tell me several times that I looked exactly like her when she was young. Isn’t that the reason why she allowed me to be friends with her son in the first place?
“I don’t blame you for getting confused just now.” She added nonchalantly. “Anton also said I look just like her from behind.” Then she chuckled. “He says I’m beautiful from behind and handsome in the front. Your son is cruel Mr C.” She laughed.
“Now are you just going to just keep standing there or will you help me move this to the table?” Alex pointed at the plates and pots that were all over the table.
She moved away from the stove to the table. “Let’s move only that side over there.” She pointed to the plates at the far end of the table. She lifted the biggest serving bowl and put it in his hands.
“I’m going to carry these small ones.” She said and carried the two small bowls remaining.
“Where’s Bernard?” Oliver asked after the butler while following Alex into the small dining room right next to the kitchen.
“Since there’s no space on that table,” she pointed to the kitchen table where they had taken the food from. “We are going to eat from here today.”
Oliver laid the bowl on the table and dropped himself into one of the chairs. “How come I don’t see Bernard or Anton around?”
“Anton is over at George’s house, passed out,” Alex lied. “He is not a morning person. I bet he will come here at 1 in the afternoon.” She used to be a bad liar growing up, but after spending years being Anton’s friend, Alex had picked up a few bad tricks along the way.
“I asked Mr Ben to get me some something at the store.”
“So it’s just the two of us eating all this food?” A visibly perturbed Oliver asked.
“For now yes….you, me, and the Butler.” Alex answered. “The rest of the food is for later. And there’s still more to be made so be warned!”
“Are you trying to feed a nation or what?” Oliver asked. “I didn’t even know I had anything in this house to cook. Thanks to the chef, I always find food already prepared. I never ask where it comes from.”
“I came with everything I prepared,” Alex said. “I didn’t peg you for a cooking person so I couldn’t take the risk. Besides, I like making up my own recipes so I prefer buying the ingredients myself.”
She went back into the kitchen to get some plates. She appeared after a few minutes, placed the three plates and matching cutlery on the table and stood up straight.
“And now for the finale, wine!” She announced, her hands in the air.
Alex ran back to the fridge and come back with a bottle of Chardonnay. “When I was a kid, I heard someone on TV say that this is one of the best wines in the world and I have never forgotten the name.” She held up the bottle for Oliver to see.
“I always told myself that when I become rich, I am going to stock my wine cellar with 100’s of these…and do you want to know something funny?”
“What?” Oliver asked.
“This is the first bottle I ever bought and today will be the first time I get to taste it!” She announced.
“Are you kidding me?” Oliver asked, not believing his ears. “How did you even afford all this Alex?”
Alex rolled her eyes and sat down. “That’s the problem with rich folks,” she said. “You always give Tony and I allowances. Before I even get a chance to finish the first one, there’s more in the account!” She placed the bottle down and was about to start serving when a thought crossed her mind.
“What’s taking Ben so long?” She asked, turning towards the door to check for any signs of him.
“I’m here Ms Alex.” The butler showed up right on time.
“You found the –“
“Yes Ms, in the kitchen.” He answered before she could even finish her sentence.
“Come, sit down.” She pulled out a chair for him.
“I am afraid I can’t do that,” the fifty year old butler declined.
Alex scoffed. “We are about to have that hundred year old argument again.”
“Just for today, forget about your position and join us Ben,” Oliver urged. “This is my pre-birthday breakfast…so let’s just say that everything happening today is special. Take a seat. It’s an order.”
Reluctantly, the butler sat down and immediately went at the plates.
“You are such a bummer Ben,” Alex teased the man, pushing his hands away. “No one is serving anyone here,” She said. “We are just going to pick whatever we want and then stuff ourselves until we can’t get up from our chairs.”
“You are not serious are you?” Oliver looked worried; he took another look at all the food laid out on the table and shook his head in dismay.
“Watch me,” Alex picked a plate and stuffed it with all kinds of food. “Ah,” she suddenly stopped, “I forgot about pictures.” She ran into the kitchen and came back with a Kodak camera in hand.
“I want Anton to be so jealous when he sees them!” Alex said before taking shots of everything on the table.
She took pictures of the food, of Oliver as well as Ben before handing the latter the camera to take pictures of her and Oliver. “Wait first,” she told Ben as she moved to stand next to Oliver. “Okay, now,” she said after putting one hand across his shoulder while raising the other hand to the side with two fingers raised up. “Say cheers,” she told Oliver whilst smiling at the camera.
Oliver looked to the camera and smiled. Alex kept changing the pauses while Ben flashed away. “Act like you are having fun Mr C.,” Alex urged the reluctant widower. She goofed around and made faces behind him while Ben continued taking shots.
Seeing Ben’s reaction, Oliver got concerned and asked, “Why is Ben trying hard not to laugh and what the hell are you doing behind my back?” He tried to turn around to check but Alex put her hands on either side of his cheeks and forced him to look at the camera.
Ben took a shot right then.
While she still had a chance, Alex towered over the sitting Oliver and with her hands moving from side to side, she winked at the camera and Ben took another shot as quickly as possible while she held Oliver’s cheeks from the sides to mimic a smile.
The ultimate result was one of an utterly shocked Oliver with his cheeks pulled from the sides while Alex enjoyed a hearty laugh.
“I think we are done now.” A very satisfied and smiling Alex dusted her hands off and went back to sit by the table.
“Do you treat all men the way you treat Anton and me?” Oliver asked Alex in the midst of their meal.
“What do you mean?” A clueless Alex asked.
“It’s just that….” Oliver searched for the right words to say. “Sometimes I think that you forget we are men.”
Alex laughed, “That fool told me the same thing this morning,” she said. “You guys are closer to me than my own family. You are like the father I wish I had and Anton is like…you know, well….”
Oliver laughed. “Not like a brother?” he suggested.
Alex turned red on the face.
Alex had never been treated like family by any of the people she had expected to treat her as such. Therefore, she treated everyone she was close to and all those she came to consider as family the way she wished her adoptive family would have at least treated her. She didn’t know the right formula to use to show affection. She simply followed her feelings. That is what Mrs Davies the book store owner had taught her.
“If you may excuse me,” Bernard was up on his feet, his empty plate in his hands. “I must get back to work right now. Thank you very much for the meal Sir and Ms Alex.”
“Don’t thank me,” Oliver said. “I had nothing to do with everything that happened on this table or in that kitchen this morning. It was all Alex.”
“You are welcome Ben.” Alex said, amused by the man’s adherence to protocol.
Ben bowed his head slightly and left the room.
“How about telling that clueless boy how you feel?” Oliver suggested once they were alone.
Alex’s jaw dropped. “Is it that obvious?” She asked.
“That you like him more than just a brother or friend?” Oliver said. “Of course it’s obvious for someone as experienced as I.” He said proudly.
“Everyone thinks you are a very humble man Mr C but at times like this, I think you are not.”
Oliver laughed. “What are you afraid of?” He asked. “That he might not return your feelings?”
Suddenly, Alex lost her appetite and resolve to binge on everything she had laid out on the table. “I don’t need to tell him how I feel for me to know his feelings. I know without doubt what he feels about me. I’m like his sister…or, the coolest buddy he’s ever had. Anton would never look at me as a woman.”
“Maybe that’s cause you also treat him as such.” Oliver said. He too put his folk down. “I’ve seen the way the two of you interact. There’s nothing there that says you could be more than friends but because I know you, I am able to tell what’s going on.
“The thing with you Alex is that you wear your emotions on your sleeves. Only that my son is too daft to notice what’s happening right under his nose.”
“You know, sometimes I think that he knows but he avoids it because he doesn’t want to ruin our friendship.” Alex reasoned. “He knows how much the two of you mean to me and if we cross that line…when we confront this…whatever it is that I feel…when we confront it and he rejects me, things will never be the same between us.
“That’s why I have decided to never talk about it with him. I am just going to keep myself busy so that by the time we are graduating, I would have already gotten over my feelings. You guys mean everything to me. I won’t risk that by focusing on useless emotions.”
Oliver was watching her talk. He could tell how much of a brave face she was trying to put on. For a child that spent most of her time in his home than at her home, Oliver had come to know Alex like he would his own daughter. He could tell she was desperately fighting back her tears when she repeatedly kept biting her lower lip.
When Alex mentioned family, a huge part of Oliver finally understood why she preferred to keep her status quo with his son. Once on Anton’s thirteenth birthday, Oliver had found the poor child crying alone in the backyard. When he asked her why, she told him she was thinking about the first birthday she had celebrated in the home of the couple that had first adopted her.
Without her knowledge, Oliver had done a back ground check on her after Mrs Davis the store owner where he had first met Alex told him a bit about her tough background.
There had never been a father or mother figure in the girl’s life to teach her about life or to shield her from the bad things of the world. Everything she knew, she picked up from either reading books or watching people around her.
“I don’t know what to tell you Alex.” Oliver said. “I wish my son was not who he is right now when it comes to women. What’s worse even is the fact that he’s incapable of picking up clues or subtle hints from girls.
“Al his life he’s had girls chasing after him. He’s never had to go after anybody so he’s really the worst when it comes to knowing women. I would definitely die a happy man if the two of you married. You are the only person I know who manages to keep him grounded. He is a very hardworking boy, the only problem is; he’s easily distracted.”
“It’s only when you talk like this that I’m forced to accept that you are now in your forties.” Alex said. “You sound like an old man.” She laughed.
“I am an old man Alex! Only that my body refuses to accept the fact.”
“You sound like you are complaining…or is it that you are actually showing off?”
Oliver laughed. “You don’t miss anything Alex,” he admitted. “So are you planning on inviting a lot of people over for a surprise party or what?” he asked. “You know I hate such things right?”
“Yesterday I sat down and thought to myself; what can a forty something year old rich guy do on his birthday to celebrate growing a year older and look back on his past years fondly instead of feeling depressed about turning a year older?”
“And what was the answer?” Oliver asked, curious to hear the answer.
“I went shopping. That’s the answer.” Alex laughed at Oliver’s puzzled look. “We are going to cook nice food and go have lunch together with some kids at my former orphanage. After eating, there are a lot of other fun activities we can do. I promise you, it will be worth your while.”
“I would have never thought of that,” Oliver admitted. “You never cease to amaze me Alex….” Oliver looked at Alex. How fast they grow. He thought.
She was no longer a little girl. Since when did she turn into such a wise young lady? Had he not been paying attention? Granted, she still had that innocent look in her eyes and mannerism and despite being clever and as bright as a summer’s day, there was still some aspect of naivety about her. It was obvious she had her own ideas about the kind of world she wanted to belong to which sometimes was too far from reality…it was for that same reason he wanted to protect her, as he would his own child.
But when had she turned into a woman?
By the time Anton realised what day it was, it was 3 in the afternoon. He was forced awake by a naked Cathy in their hotel room.
“It’s 3pm,” she said while grabbing a towel from the floor and wrapping it around her chest. “Didn’t you say you had some family thingy to attend?”
Anton jolted up from his sleep. “What time did you say it was again?”
“It 30 minutes passed 3.” She replied.
“And you only woke me up now? Dear God.” He jumped out of bed and started picking up his clothes from the floor. “Alex is going to kill me, not to mention my father.”
“What’s this family event you have to attend to?” The twenty-three year old blonde didn’t seem to be in any kind of rush. She sat back on the bed and watched Anton walk about in panic, not lifting a finger to help him locate his clothes.
“It’s my father’s birthday tomorrow,” Anton replied whilst dressing. “And since people always have these parties planned out for him, the family uses the day before the actual day to celebrate with him.”
“So am I invited?” Cathy asked, an expectant smile playing on her face.
“I told you, it’s only family,” Anton replied without thinking.
“But you said this friend of yours Alex would be there…I am your girlfriend…or am I not?” She pulled a long face.
Anton moved to plant a kiss on her forehead as he pulled up his zipper. “Alex is like family. We’ve grown up together and I have never thought of her as anything other than family. You and I are still getting to know each other Cathy.” He tried to reason with her.
“After last time, I think we are way passed the getting to know each other stage don’t you think?” She countered.
Anton brushed her off. “You know what I mean.”
“But promise me you will introduce me to your father soon. Not as your girlfriend of course, just as a fan.”
“Yeah, I promise.” He said dismissively. He kissed her on the lips, grabbed his keys from the bedside table and off he went. “I will call you,” he shouted before disappearing.
Once she was alone, Cathy Russel went through all the pictures she had taken of herself with Anton, including the ones she had taken whilst he was sleeping. Smiling mischievously, she chose that very one and posted it.
Look at my boo sleeping so peacefully. She captioned it. Within seconds, the comments and likes started flooding in.
“Success!” Cathy kissed her phone in celebration and fell back onto the bed.
On his way to the hotel car park, Anton avoided incurring the wrath of Alex who had organized the whole thing by calling his father instead to find out where they were. Compared to his father, Alex had a tendency to both nag and scold him like a mother would. He could only imagine the amount of tongue lashing she had stored for him. Alex Saunders was not a woman to be messed with.
Besides, even if he called her instead of his father, she probably wouldn’t even tell him where they were out of anger. How many times had she reminded him about the birthday event?
“So you are alive,” his father said upon answering his call. And then he heard him whisper to Alex; “It’s Tony, he’s asking where we are; should I tell him?”
Anton’s jaw dropped, unable to fathom his father’s betrayal.
Oliver Cooper was a man revered and respected by many. He was also feared by most. Whether business or personal relationships, Oliver was a no-nonsense kind of man; neither too easy nor too difficult to approach but extremely careful about who he allowed into his inner circle. Being a man of very few words, many people misunderstood him as being anti-social. The tabloids called him a perfectionist, a man hard to please, approach or befriend yet humble and highly talented.
However, whereas the rest of the world could never be sure about where they stood with his father, Anton had always been impressed by the kind of easy relationship he seemed to have with Alex. Even as a child, Alex had managed to steal his father’s heart without even trying. Now that he thought about it, apart from his mother, she was the only woman his father had ever trusted and embraced.
It was Alex that had introduced the pre-birthday celebrations four years after his mother’s demise. Despite her age, Alex was able to notice the depressing episodes that his father went into the days leading to his birthday or sometimes the very day before his birthday. At first, both Anton and his father were not aware that the requests she made were deliberate and a means to keep his mind from thinking about sad things. The first time she had suggested they go to the zoo because she had never been to one. The second time was a road trip and a picnic. It was during the fourth episode that Oliver Cooper confronted her with his suspicions.
Once the cat was out of the bag, they three of them decided to make Oliver’s re-birthday celebration activities official.
The nonstop notification coming through Anton’s phone from the time he turned it on made Anton feel like losing his mind. Did he miss that many calls while his phone was off? Probably Alex blowing off his phone in frustration, he concluded.
“That’s not up to me,” Anton heard Alex say. “Let him come if he wants I guess we should be lucky that he’s managed to find time for us.”
“We are at Alex’s former orphanage,” his father informed him. “Can you make it? It’s a two hour drive from the city.”
“I know how far it is dad, I’ve been there before.” He was trying to ignore Alex’s sarcasm but only ended up snapping at his father. ”Are you planning on being their the whole day?”
“I don’t know,” Oliver replied. “We are having so much fun I think we might even sleep here.” He said.
“What?” Anton spat.
Oliver laughed. “I’m kidding son.” He said. “Do you think you can make it?”
Anton could hear the screams of excitement from the kids in the background. Alex spent most of her allowance money and whatever money she got from her part time jobs to buy things for the playground and other toys for the kids. Anton also donated money and other things whenever he remembered to do so. The place had changed tremendously from the way it had been when Alex lived there.
“I’ll be there in two hours then,” Anton said and cut the line.
To avoid using separate cars when returning, Anton dropped off his car at his father’s place which was right along way leading to the orphanage. When he was done, he called for a cab to take him.
By the time Anton got to the orphanage, he found his father, Alex and the kids playing a game of paintballing or something of that sort that had escalated into something else.
Alex was laughing so freely, using Oliver as a shield to avoid the shots coming from the kids. Compared to him, her jumpsuit overalls still had some clean spots on it whilst his were completely covered in spots as a result of shielding her.
Watching them from a distance, Anton smiled to himself; anyone who didn’t know them would have thought they were a pair of lovers. In her usual Alex fashion, she was holding on to his father’s chest and sometimes would carelessly put her arms around him as she tried to shoot back at the kids. They were so wrapped up in the game that they did not notice behind them the mud they had earlier created from playing with water. Alex was the first to step in it and when she fell, she brought Oliver down with her. He landed right on top of her with their faces coming so close they looked like they were kissing from a different angle.
“I think I just broke my back,” Alex winced out the words.
“Of course you would if you had a 170lbs man on top of you any longer than this,” Anton said, extending his arm for his father to take.
“Thanks son,” Oliver grabbed his son’s hand and pulled himself up, then he helped Alex.
“Should I even ask what you’ve been up to?” His father asked.
“I’m sorry dad-“
“Its fine son,” Oliver put his hand over his son’s shoulder. “I was your age once too. But next time try to put other people’s feelings into consideration as well,” he said, looking at Alex.
“I know,” Anton said resignedly, looking at Alex apologetically. “So what are you guys doing?”
Before they could give him an answer, Anton felt something hit him, again, and again except, unlike the force from the regular paintball, the shots where very light and soft. In typical Anton style, he prepped himself and went with the floor, picked up the paintball gun his father had dropped and went on attack.
It was dark when the Cooper’s and Alex decided to head back home. Anton was forced to sit in the back of his father’s Range Rover since he was the only one not wearing protective gear during paintballing. There was no way his father was going to let him spoil his front seat like that.
“I had a lot of fun today thanks to you Alex,” Oliver said as he drove them back. “…. And thank you son, for showing up.” He added.
It seemed Alex was hell burnt on ignoring Anton. She had not said a word to him from the time he joined them.
“I think we should make coming to the orphanage one of my birthday rituals.” Oliver kept trying to make conversation. The long moments of silence were driving him crazy. He was used to being in the company of a chirpier and non-stop talking Alex. “I haven’t had such a great time in a long time. I think am gonna live to 180 after today.” He laughed, hoping the others would join in.
Oliver finally gave up and turned on the radio.
…heir to the multi-billion dollar Cooper empire can be parting it up, binge drinking, and sleeping next to his latest catch without worrying about anything. A female presenter was saying.
Alex and Oliver turned to look at Anton who appeared as shocked as they were.
The playboy heir really has an eye for good looking women. A male co-presenter chipped in. Did you check out her pictures?
Oliver hit the emergency break, almost sent Alex flying through the windscreen if not for the seatbelt. He parked to the side of the road.
“I really don’t care much about the girls he’s bedding. The female said. “Perhaps I’ll start caring when he meets a good girl who will help him turn away from his bad boy ways instead of these girls he’s constantly picking up from clubs.”
Anton got his phone from his pocket and went straight to check on his social media. Immediately, his worst fears were confirmed as he was greeted with an array of photos of him and Cathy in their bedroom splashed all over his news feed.
Alex too went online and found the exact images trending on her feed.
“Is that you enlisting yourself as that potential good girl Michelle?” Her colleague asked.
Michelle laughed. “Hell no! But, if he’s into older women…am all game! Although…I think am more his dad’s type than anything. Mr Oliver Cooper, if you are listening, call me.”
Both presenters laughed.
“For those just tuning in,” the male presenter said. Michelle and I are discussing the racy photos posted by playboy heir Anton Cooper’s new squeeze which have sent the internet…mostly his female fandom buzzing in jealous rage.”
Michelle picked up from her colleague. “With just a few hours to his father’s birthday, could this be his stamp of rebellion…or perhaps his version of a birthday present? I should hope not. What do you think Cook?” She chuckled.
“Unfortunately, this is not the first time the twenty-four year old has been caught with his pants down.” Cook answered. “The only question remaining now is; how long will this one last? You’re listening to Michelle and DJ Cook on-“
Oliver turned it off and faced his son.
“Seriously?” Oliver said, not hiding his disappointment.
Anton was just as shocked as his father by the reports. “These guys are just exaggerating things.” He said. “It must be a slow news day today. You know how-“
“You don’t think your social life is newsworthy enough?” Oliver asked sarcastically. “And where did you find this girl who posted the pictures? How many times have I warned you to be careful of the women you pick?”
Anton was still stunned. How did this happen? When did Cathy take all those pictures and why would she post them without asking him?
“She is not like that dad,” He tried to defend her.
“She is not like what?” his father asked.
“I am sure she had no idea the pictures would cause such a media frenzy.” Anton argued.
Oliver scoffed. “Are you just playing dumb or are you trying to make fun of me?”
“She comes from a very respectable family and she just made a mistake,” Anton retorted. “Besides, it’s not like this is the first time something like this has happened. The media is just having a slow news day and they are using me to increase ratings and sell their tabloids.”
“The fact that you know that very well makes me even more disappointed. Do you have any-”
Alex surprised Oliver by putting her hand on his knee and squeezing slightly. He was stunned into silence. Wasn’t that exactly how Sophia put him in check in public? Alex quickly dropped her hand when she saw Oliver glaring at it. She could tell just how mad he was and could only imagine the direction the conversation was going to take if they both continued at that pace.
“It’s getting pretty late,” she said, looking outside. “How about we get home first and you guys can continue this conversation then?” She suggested.
Oliver got them back onto the road. “You should thank God that Alex is here otherwise I would have left you out there in the middle of nowhere.”
Alex did not doubt he would do that. But she also knew he would have regretted the moment his son stepped outside the vehicle. Both men were stubborn, but they were also softies at heart.
To drown out the awkwardness, Alex busied herself with the car stereo, finally settling for a John Legend CD.
You and I filled the air.
Published by Anisha Simutowe