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AT ALL COST (1) Genevieve could have sworn that she saw the lady in blue wink at her husband. She gave the lady a flustered look then turned to look at her husband who was sitting next to her, also quick to catch him shoot the lady a subtle smile which quickly vanished when he noticed that he was being watched. Clearing his throat, he nervously averted his gaze as the MC continued to talk. This was their wedding reception and she wondered why any lady would have the guts to come flirt with the groom right in the middle of the ceremony. Genevieve didn’t know who the lady was; she had never seen her before and she wondered who would have invited her. The annoying thing was the fact that the lady made no attempt to hide that she was flirting with Nicholas. Did she even have any shame?! Putting the lady under keen scrutiny now, Genevieve noticed how provocative the blue dress was which the lady had on. A large percentage of her bosom was practically in the open for anyone to feast their eyes on, and all what the dress had to do was to move an inch lower and the lady’s areolas would be glaring at her guests in the eyes. Genevieve’s chief bridesmaid, Pheobe, who was also her best friend and was sitting close to her must have noticed the perspiration that was gathering on her brow, because she simply reached over and dabbed it away with the handkerchief, probably oblivious to the object of Genevieve’s distress. Genevieve was upset but she didn’t want to give this strange lady the satisfaction of ruining her big day. This was her day and not only was all attention supposed to be on her, she wasn’t going to let anyone steal her thunder; unfortunately, her newly-wedded husband was however partially carried away with the strange lady who just couldn’t take her preying eyes off him. It must be the boobs. Genevieve told herself. She knew that Nicholas had a thing for big boobs but did he have to disrespect her by openly staring at the lady in a wanton way? What if someone else was watching him? Did he want to make her a laughing stock right on their own wedding day? Here she was, seated next to him, but yet, he had chosen to feast his eyes on another woman seated among the audience. Who was supposed to be getting all of his attention if not her? This was not the first time that she had had to deal with Nicholas’ flirting attitude, but he had simply convinced her that girls hitting on him was normal because not only was he a doctor, he was also an influencer who had a lot of admirers on social media. He had told her to get used to it and to trust him wholly because he would never cheat on her and she had believed him. But she wasn’t too sure of that right now, not with that look in his eyes meant for the shameful bitch sitting in the audience, two rows from the front seat. “Do you know her?” Genevieve blurted, unable to stay mute about the matter anymore. Her voice seemed to startle her husband and he blinked and turned to give her a confused look. “W…what?” “You heard me, Nick, do you know her?” She intently asked, watching his eyes. “Know who?” He feigned ignorance but Genevieve wasn’t having any of it. “Stop playing smart, Nick, you know who I’m talking about!” She almost snapped, then she forced a smile to convince whoever might be watching them from the audience to make it seem as if they were just having a harmless chitchat. Nicholas involuntarily cast a sideways glance towards the lady’s direction. “Oh, you mean Tamara?” He asked with a nervous chuckle. She frowned at the mention of the name. “So, you do know her.” “It’s nothing, Genevieve. Please, don’t make a big deal out of this.” He quickly pleaded, forcing a smile to also deceive the guests that things were fine between them. “You are the one making a big deal out of this by flirting with her right in front of me! Have you no respect?” She asked, hurt. “Flirting? What do you mean?” He scoffed. “I wasn’t flirting.” He denied. “I know what I saw Nick. I saw her winked at you and you smiled back. What do you call that? Making acquaintances?” She queried in a sarcastic tone? “Being nice?” He partially said and asked at the same time with a little grimace and a hunched shoulder. “Seriously?!” Genevieve almost snapped but he quickly held her hand and gave it a small squeeze to calm her down before glancing through the crowd with a big convincing grin that didn’t reach his eyes. He knew that Genevieve had almost a short fuse and he wasn’t going to let her lose it right on their wedding day in front of everyone. He felt her secretly trying to wring her hand away from his hold in a stylish way and he added pressure on his grip. “Could we at least discuss this some other time?” He asked, his eyes silently pleading with hers. The event went on and the MC kept rambling on to the attentive audience of guests who occasionally laughed or clapped. “We agreed on a total of two hundred people which would be family, relatives, friends, colleagues and a few acquaintances; I don’t recall your ever mentioning a Tamara!” She bit. “She’s just a friend.” He said. “A friend? I know all your friends and yet I’ve never seen this lady until today, Nicholas! Who is she really?!” She demanded. He heaved a sigh of resignation, then answered. “Don’t freak out, but this is actually the first time I’m also meeting her in person. We met on Twitter and she’s a great fan of my work. We got talking and she asked if she could attend the wedding.” He explained. “And you agreed without seeking my consent first?” “C’mon Genevieve…give me a break… You should know better… Tamara came all the way from Rivers State just to be here for us. She’s only here as a guest, nothing else!” He assured her. “It doesn’t look that way to me!” Genevieve adamantly said, refusing to be convinced. “She’s probably stripping you naked with her eyes right now from where she’s sitting.” Genevieve said, shooting Tamara a scornful look. “Is there something you think I should know, Nicholas? Is there something between you two?” “Now, you are being paranoid.” He groaned. “A lady who would come all the way from such a distance just to attend a wedding, definitely has something up her sleeve!” She retorted, refusing to believe otherwise. Nicholas was about to speak when the MC interrupted him by announcing, “Time to cut the cake!” The crowd suddenly cheered, hooted and clapped, goading the couple to come on stage and Nicholas got up with a broad smile, helping his reluctant wife up to her feet and together, they made their way towards the tall cake which had been made by the best baker in town. After the reception came to an end and some of the guests began to present their gifts to the new couple as the crowd dispersed to their various destinations, Tamara approached them with a wry smile and her dazed eyes which hid under the thick shade of her artificial eyelashes were focused on Nicholas with a lustful look which made Genevieve’s stomach churn in silent anger. The nerve of this lady! “Congratulations.” She said in a gentle and sing-song tone that had a hint of huskiness and haughtiness in it. She reached out a hand with long claw-like artificial fingernails and subtly shook Genevieve’s hand. It was not really a hand shake, it was more like holding the tips of Genevieve’s finger and quickly letting her hand go as if scared that Genevieve might infect her with some contagious disease or leprosy and Genevieve felt insulted. Quietly seething, she watched the lady move her hand to give her husband a full handshake. She held his hand in a flirting manner and held it longer than was normal as she said to him, “Congrats Doctor Nichol… Hope today will be the most memorable day ever?” Genevieve felt that there was more to that question than the way Tamara said it, but she kept her cool. She was definitely not going to embarrass herself on her wedding day because of some hoe who lacked courtesy and didn’t know better than to flirt with her husband right in front of her and on the day they tied the knot. “Yeah…of course…” Nickolas answered. He was tensed, mostly because he was aware of his wife’s keen gaze which was suspiciously fixed on him. “Too bad that she got to you first,” Continued Tamara to Nicholas. “But it doesn’t mean that you still can’t attend to patients in dire need.” She said sultrily and Genevieve cleared her throat allowed to get their attention since they were so engrossed in gazing at each other that they had forgotten that she was even there. As if regaining most of his senses, Nicholas quickly removed his hand from the Tamara’s, sheepishly, smoothing his palms against his suit as if to rub the sweat off. Genevieve might not have seen it, but Tamara had been caressing the centre of his palm with the tip of the nail of her index finger. Genevieve on the other hand just wanted Tamara to leave; her perfume was stifling. Understanding his discomfort, Tamara said now, pulling out a parcel from her handbag and stretching it down towards him. “I bought this for you. I’ve always imagined how a Rolex watch would look on that firm wrist of yours and I hope I’m not wrong. It’s very expensive by the way; I ordered it from an international online store and it sure cost me a few thousand dollars.” “Thank you.” Nicholas said, smiling as he took the gift from her. “I’m sorry that I brought nothing for the bride.” Tamara said as she shifted her now-haughty gaze to Genevieve. “I had no idea what she might want, but I think she should be exceedingly satisfied and grateful since she already has you legally tied to her.” “I beg your pardon?” Genevieve snapped now, almost rising to her feet, but her husband quickly grabbed her arm and gently pulled her back down on her seat. “Point of correction, I’ve not legally tied him to me, we are legally married!” She gritted, lifting her left hand to flash her wedding and engagement rings to the face of the impudent lady. “Tsk!” Tamara rolled her eyes, totally unfazed. “What does it matter? But my dear, I have not come here to cause any trouble, so please, take a chill pill and pull your act together…act like a wife!” She said calmly but pompously as she flicked her hair behind her with a hand. “Anyway, I had better be on my way now. This occasion was tiring and I have to go take a rest in my hotel room before I leave Lagos tomorrow.” Oh, by God’s grace, leave tonight if you can! Genevieve wanted to retort, but the squeeze her husband gave her hand made her remain silent and all she could do was to glower up at the woman. Up close, she could tell that the woman was in her early thirties and was still very much single. After deliberately casting a last smile down at Nicholas to slight Genevieve, Tamara left and Genevieve instantly turned on her seat to give her husband a displeased look. “Seriously?! Nichol?!” She queried. “You let her give you a pet name?” “That’s not really a pet name, baby, it was coined from my name.” He explained. “Anybody could have called me that.” “I don’t care! I can’t believe that you encourage such women despite knowing that they are hitting on you!” She said in frustration. “Babe, I’m a doctor and I get this kind of thing all the time. It is really not my fault that women hit on me almost all the time-“ “Then do the needful!” She curtly cut him off. “You can’t keep entertaining these men-hunters all because you are a doctor and an influencer!” “You are getting it all wrong, babe, and sorry to say, you are also being insecure.” He grumbled. “I’m not insecure! I’m letting you know that you ought to set some boundaries to make this marriage work! We have been through this conversation a thousand times already, Nick and I’m not going to keep tolerating your trifling excuses!” “But who’s got the ring? I am married to you now, aren’t I? Isn’t that supposed to be enough proof that I really love you?” “Oh, don’t make marrying me sound like a privilege, Nickolas! Yes, I’ve got the ring, but what use is the ring if you’ll continue to flirt with your patients or your fans?!” She asked angrily. “It’s sickening!” Just then, Nicholas cast a sideways glance in front of him and quickly whispered, “Shrrr! Your parents are approaching!” The couple quickly faked a smile as they rose to meet Genevieve’s parents who had come to give their last farewells and blessings for the day. As they assumed all was well, they grinned as they briefly conversed with the couple and gave their last advice. ⚡⚡⚡ “You okay? You almost lost it back there?” Pheobe, her best friend and chief bridesmaid, asked as she accompanied Genevieve towards the restroom. “Yes, why?” Genevieve asked. “Do not think that I did not notice the blue lady who kept flirting with Nicholas from the audience.” Pheobe who had not witnessed the scene between Tamara and the couple because she had left to secure the gifts somewhere, said. Genevieve snorted then rolled her eyes. “Thank goodness you saw it too. I thought she was invisible to others.” She said ironically. “Her act was pretty obvious and I’m sure that I wasn’t the only one who noticed how inappropriately she was dressed. Who’s she by the way? Never seen her before.” Pheobe asked. “Nicholas claims she’s a fan on Twitter but I feel that lady has an ulterior motive for being here today. She would have eaten Nicholas raw in public if she could.” Genevieve remarked. “Well, whatever it is, she has left already. I don’t think you have anything to worry about.” Pheobe assured her. “I do hope so because I was at the verge of losing it with her.” Genevieve chuckled, remembering how upset she had been. Pheobe smiled in return. “And it’s a good thing you didn’t… I’ll wait here.” She said, stopping in front of the restroom door. “Please, do not take forever in there, my feet are killing me in these heels.” “Tell me about it.” Genevieve rolled her eyes, lifting up the hem of her gown to reveal her own feet being tortured in her heels, then she pushed the door open and was gone. Inside the restroom, she moved to the large mirror to check her reflection. The consistent dabbing of her face with the handkerchief during the reception had quite ruined her makeup and she couldn’t wait to take off the contact lenses Pheobe had insisted that she wore for this occasion. She was checking out her eye in the mirror when she caught a glimpse of a man’s reflection in the mirror and she suddenly gasped in fright, startled. Spinning around to look at the man who was standing behind her, she plastered her buttocks to the edge of the marble counter where she had left her fancy purse. “Excuse me, sir, are you supposed to be in here? The male restroom is the opposite door in the corridor.” She told him but he only fixed a lewd look at her. “Hello!” She said again, but with an uncomfortable frown this time. “Did you hear anything that I just said?” She asked, not comfortable with the way he was staring at her. “You are the new bride, right?” The man finally spoke, asking in a quiet but gruff voice that had a hint of huskiness in it. Judging from his looks, Genevieve noticed that he seemed to be in his early sixties, especially from the sign of grey hair on his head and in his beard, not to mention that he was well-dressed in what seemed to be an expensive modern traditional lace. He would have passed for a very wealthy chief but what she couldn’t quite understand was why he was in the ladies’ restroom. Genevieve glanced down at herself in confusion. Was he blind to see that she was still dressed in her wedding gown? She was the only one who had wedded in this hall today, so, what sort of dumb question was that? “Yes.” She involuntarily answered, not wanting to be presumed to be a snob. “Once again, you are in the wrong place, sir. This is the ladies’. You need to leave.” She said again. “I know that, young lady…” He simply answered in a relaxed manner. “I actually followed you.” “Me?” Her frown deepened. She was confounded. “Why? Have we met before?” “No, but here…” He stretched a square parcel towards her but when she hesitantly reached for it, he goaded, “go on… it’s just a gift… It’s for you.” When she hesitantly collected it and stared at the almost flat parcel, wondering what could be in it, he said with a proud smile, “Do open it and see what’s in it.” “Why must I do that here?” She asked, reluctant and uncomfortable. “I want you to see what I got you as a wedding present.” He said, smiling proudly. Involuntarily, Genevieve unwrapped the parcel to find a black box and when she opened it, her eyes grew big and round as the present glittered and sparkled in her eyes. She shot the man a surprised look mixed with confusion. “You bought me a diamond necklace?!” She was clearly awed. “Yes, I did.” “What for? I don’t even know you.” She softly protested. “It doesn’t matter… The best gifts can come from total strangers, my dear.” “Were you a guest at my wedding?” Genevieve asked, trying to figure out if she has seen him at the church or during the reception.. “Sort of, but I was not officially invited though… I accompanied a friend…” He answered. Genevieve stared down at the diamond necklace again and she knew that it would have cost him several thousands of naira. This was indeed a wonderful gift, but was this how this total stranger crashed weddings to present gifts to the brides he didn’t know, or was there something more attached to this. “Um…” She began with an apologetic smile now as she closed the box. “This is really generous of you, sir and I’m grateful, but I’m sorry, I can’t take it.” She politely declined his gift. His smile slowly died as she stretched the present towards him. “Why?” He asked in surprise as he glanced from the box to her. “Is anything the matter? You don’t like it? If that’s the case, I could get you another one…” He offered, much to her surprise that she could only gape at him. “No, no, no, not at all!” She quickly said after regaining her wits. “It’s indeed a lovely present and a worthy one at that, but I’m sorry, I can’t take it.” She insisted. Not attempting to take it back from her, the elderly earnestly asked, “Why not? I really want you to have it…please…” He pleaded. “One, I mean no offense whatsoever but I don’t know who you are; and two, it’s too expensive a gift to come from a total stranger… Why are you giving me such? Is this how you do to other brides?” “Only a selective few.” He answered. “Listen, you might not know why I chose to buy you a diamond necklace, but trust me when I say that you are worthy of it.” He said with a sly smile that made her quite suspicious. “What do you mean?” Genevieve asked, but the next words from the strange man who was old enough to be her father, shocked her. “Um…” He tentatively began after wetting his lower lip. “I know that this might sound very weird coming from a stranger and also a father-figure, but please take no offence, my dear for I must get an answer to this question that has lingered in my heart for too long since I set my eyes upon you- Is it true that you are a virgin?” Genevieve suddenly narrowed a look of disbelief at him then she scoffed, “Excuse me?” Had she heard right? What the hell? “Are you truly a virgin?” He inquired again, more earnest than the former. “What kind of question is that?” Genevieve asked, now upset. “I just want to know, that’s all… Just tell me and I’ll give you your needed privacy and be on my way without tarrying any longer.” The man implored and promised at the same time. Realising that this stranger was either mad or had been sent by the devil himself to tempt her with his gift and upset her with his question; and also realising that she was alone and vulnerable with him, Genevieve briefly pursed her lips, barely restraining herself from swearing at him, “Know what?” She finally said after a momentary silence of anger. “This is all my fault! I mean, what was I even thinking? I ought to know better than to talk to strangers, especially perverted ones. I shouldn’t even have given you any audience in the first place since it’s obvious that you are sick in the head despite your age! I don’t want your gift!” She tossed the box on the marble counter then grabbed her purse. “You can have the restroom all to yourself! Excuse me!” She disdainfully eyed him. She turned to stalk away without another word, but suddenly accidentally treaded on the hem of her wedding gown, losing her balance. Before she could blink, she found herself falling downward to the restroom floor and she impulsively shot her hands out in front of her to prepare for impact. Before she could hit the floor, the man caught her from behind and ceased her fall halfway, and when she straightened up, she was shocked and appalled to find out that both of his hands were pressed to her breasts while her back was pressed to his chest. This couldn’t be a mere coincidence, could it? When Genevieve tore herself away from him and spun around to look up into the eyes of the stranger who had just caught her and saved her from an embarrassing fall but had only ended up embarrassing her further by plastering his hands to her breasts; she got her answer. His dark eyes were dark with mischief, lust and something sinister which she couldn’t figure out. Quickly recoiling from him and without waiting to say or hear anything, she turned and hurried away from him, looking flushed. Why was today just determined to be terrible for her? First, it was a woman openly flirting with her husband, and now, a man had seized an opportunity to indirectly harass her. Could today get any worse? As she walked down the short corridor of the toilet, she impulsively glanced back and suddenly shuddered when she realised that the man had stepped into the open to watch her go. Eager to get as far away from him as possible, she quickly exited the restroom and was relieved to see that her chief bridesmaid was waiting for her just outside the door. “Are you okay? You look pale with fear. Did something happen in there?” Pheobe asked in concern. Genevieve simply placed a hand on her chest to calm her racing heart. The man had given her the creeps and she knew that if she told her feisty friend what had happened, Pheobe would go in and confront the man, and causing a scene was the last thing Genevieve wanted on her big day. “It’s nothing really, I’m okay.” She answered, swallowing hard. “Where’s Nickolas!” “Your husband is waiting for you outside… It’s time to go to the hotel where reservations were made for your honeymoon.” Pheobe replied. “Are you going with us?” Genevieve asked the bridesmaid. “No, I’ve to go home. I need to hit the shower and have a good sleep too.” Understanding that her friend was exhausted, Genevieve suddenly seized her in a passionate hug. “Thank you so much, Phoebe. You have been a tremendous help so far and I’ll be forever be grateful that you are my best friend.” “You’re welcome.” Pheobe patted her back. “You deserve all the happiness and more… As long as you gist me about how tonight goes for you, Mrs. Virgin Bride… And in case you need any tips on how to make tonight perfect, I’m just a call away.” Both ladies laughed and Pheobe quickly said, taking Genevieve’s hand when they heard the horn of the cat blare impatiently. “Come, let’s not keep Nicholas waiting… He’s probably anxious about tonight after waiting for years. Come, let me walk you to the car.” She offered, taking her friend’s hand. The elderly man walked out of the restroom just in time to see Genevieve get into the car, and as the car drove out through the gate, he lifted both hands and stared down at his palm with a lascivious smile on his face. “Succulent.” He whispered under his breath as he relived how soft her breasts had felt in his hands when he had deliberately fondled them all in her attempt to save her from falling. To be continued… © Angela Okoduwa
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