The lecture had ended, and the chattering students rose and made their way out of the hall in groups and pairs. One of such pairs was Oby and Zaynab.
Both girls headed for the exit, to be called to a stop by Oby’s boyfriend, Jeta.
He was in another department, and already in his final year. A bulky, good-looking guy who topped both the swimming and track teams – and who adored Oby like crazy.
They’d met early on that year and already their relationship was waxing strong. Oby leaped and hugged him joyously.
“Jeta! What are you doing here?” she cried with an ear-splitting grin.
He grinned just as hugely. “Hey babe. My class finished early so I snuck in at the back to wait for yours to finish so we could hang out someplace.”
“So you’ve been waiting for me?” she teased, her eyes glowing with pleasure.
“Anything for my boo. It was just for a few minutes, anyway. Hi, Zaynab,” he said with warmth to the other girl.
Zaynab smiled. “Hello, Jeta. Look, you guys don’t worry about me. I’ll be on my way to the library. Have fun,” she said, waving to them as she went off in quick, easy strides.
Oby let out a deep sigh. “Bye, Zee,” she said but her friend was already a long distance away. She turned to Jeta with a sad shake of her head. “Poor Zaynab. She tries to hide it but I know she’s suffering inside, ever since Jimi left.”
“Ohh,” Jeta said with a nod. “That ex-boyfriend of hers you told me about? The one who left for the UK six months ago?”
“Yeah. It’s so obvious she still hasn’t got over him. I mean look at her; she has no social life to speak of. She buries herself in her studies and doesn’t want to hook up with anyone new. It’s like she’s lost all interest in romance.”
“Looks like she really had it bad for that Jimi guy,” Jeta said understandingly. “Sometimes it’s hard to let go of that first, great love. Not for a long while anyway. Stop worrying about Zaynab, Oby. She wouldn’t be happy knowing she’s caused you so much concern. Feel like some ice-cream?”
Meanwhile, Zaynab had just reached her locker, about to get that notebook she’ll need for studying in the library. She planned to spend at least two hours working on some of her assignments before heading for the dorm.
Opening the locker, she reached for the bulky notebook only to freeze at the sight of what lay at the bottom.
Her heart seemed to stop beating. She almost couldn’t believe what she was seeing. A blue, folded square piece of notepaper. Lying there, just the way it always used to do all those months ago…almost like a century before.
At first, she thought that it could possibly be just one of the old ones she still kept jealously, sometimes inside her books so that when she was alone in class or in the library she could read them with an aching heart and eyes that itched with unshed tears.
She had to find out. Snatching up the piece of paper she unfolded it with shaky fingers.
It took her moments to realize it was a note with a verse she’d never seen before, because she knew the contents of every ‘love note’ Jimi ever gave her by heart.
Uncaring of the students milling about in the busy hallway, she read out in a breathless murmur,
“Everyone has a reason why they were made and you, my
Beautiful Golden eyes were made for me. Yours, Jimi.”
The note slipped from her nerveless fingers.
The next second she was wondering who was responsible for this cruel prank. Why would anyone wish to hurt her so deeply? Slipping this note in through the bottom slit of her locker just like Jimi used to do back then when she thought they came from a secret admirer. Now Zaynab tried to rack her brain thinking of how many of her friends had known about the love notes. But the only person she could think of whas Oby. But why would Oby…
It sounded deeper, just that bit thicker and filled with masculine heat. leaving Zaynab in no confusion as to who it was. Who it could only be.
Zaynab whirled around in shock, and when she found Jimi standing there her world went blank white.
“Whoa,” Jimi said with faint amusement, catching her with an arm around her shoulders as she swayed on her feet.
“I’m not a ghost or some apparition so don’t you go passing out on me,” he joked. “Let’s go somewhere private okay, sweetheart?”
Sweetheart? The warm, silken endearment almost unraveled her just like his unexpected appearance had done. Zaynab didn’t – couldn’t speak, but could only let Jimi lead her, after closing her locker shut and picking up the fallen note, away to the nearby department cafeteria which was thankfully only half-filled.
He sat them in the coziest corner available, his hand never letting go of hers, even as she seemed to grip his so tightly she felt sure she was cutting off the blood circulation in his fingers.
Jimi smiled a little self-consciously at the way she was looking at him. He seemed oblivious to how much male magnetism he exuded, so much that others in the vicinity couldn’t help but keep sending them looks of interest.
He’d changed, of course. His tall, lithe frame had become more broadly muscled; his chest seemed expansive in the midnight-black Polo shirt he wore over his blue jeans and his jawline had firmed considerably giving him an undeniably virile aspect that left Zaynab more breathless than ever.
Had he been working out? Maybe he’d taken up some kind of sport? Because he looked fit as hell. And hot. More than ever before. No one would be mistaking him for a ‘geek’ now, no way.
At last, Zaynab broke out of her daze as a server came to ask them if they wanted anything, and Jimi ordered them both a soda.
Then he turned to Zaynab to ask if that was okay, and she could only nod mutely, her eyes busy tracing the movement of his firm, inviting looking lips.
Oh, hell. There was no getting over how ready she was to take a huge bite out of him right then. Just like wanting to pinch herself to make sure he was real. Jimi was back.
It was almost too incredible to fathom.
“Jimi, what…how?” she finally managed to let out.
He held up a hand, cutting in gently, “Before you ask me anything, Zaynab, I’d first of all like to tell you, from the bottom of my heart, that I’m so, so sorry.”
She looked down at their interlaced fingers, a sudden shyness coming over her. “You’re sorry? What for? I’m the one who let you down by going to the ball with…”
“Forget the stupid ball,” he said, squeezing on her fingers gently. “That’s not what I came all this way to see you about. I was wrong to have judged you; no matter what I shouldn’t have believed the worst. I should have guessed you weren’t doing it of your own free will.”
Zaynab looked up quickly. “You know the truth?”
“Yes,” was his quiet reply. “Oby wrote to me a few months ago and told me.”
At Zaynab’s accusing look, he explained, “It was only once and no, she had no idea I’d be coming back. And I never intended to. But when my dad called me a few weeks after I left and told me about your visit, I was almost tempted to dump everything I’d started up in UK and just come home – damn the consequences.”
Before he could continue, their drinks arrived and Zaynab used to few moments interlude to gather her scattered wits as Jimi’s words sank in slowly.
Once more they were alone, and he continued deeply, “Waiting these past several months for the chance to return was the toughest period of my life. When I heard you actually came over to my house looking for me…” He paused and shrugged, his handsome face creasing in half-concealed pain. “I didn’t care anymore about how or why we parted. I just wanted you back.”
Zaynab’s heart was plummeting, then rising into clouds of pleasure she didn’t dare give voice to, only able to stare at Jimi’s face as he went on speaking.
“I never thought I’d hear from you again, so that little proof that you still cared was enough to keep me going all that time I was away.”
“But why didn’t you call, or write me? There’s the email you know. Even posting a letter would have been nice,” Zaynab couldn’t help muttering, hurt.
“And say what?” Jimi asked gently. “What I needed to say, I wanted to do it face to face; I wanted to look into your eyes, your lovely, golden eyes when I told you I still loved you, and I’d come back even from the ends of the world to wherever you were. No matter how long it took to get there.”
He drew up her hand to his lips, pressing a kiss to her knuckles as Zaynab had to avert her eyes for a moment to veil her tears; a mixture of joy and pain.
She hunted blinding in her bag for tissues with her free hand, only to have Jimi hand her a snow-white handkerchief, which she took, thanking him as she self-consciously blew her nose. At last she breathed, “But…oh gosh, Jimi. Have you any clue how I’ve suffered these past months? Blaming myself, knowing I handled things all wrong and acted like a silly child – and all this time, one word from you would have made the difference. I’ve been so hellishly lonely,” she finished on a faded breath, as she fought back a sob.
His hand over hers was comforting, intensely possessive. “I’m here now, ready to do whatever I need to do to make it up to you,” he said softly, before looking piercingly into her eyes. “So…you’re saying there hasn’t been anyone else? Not then – and not now?”
Zaynab’s gaze fixed on him with an expression that seemed to say, Do you need to ask?, but moments later she found her voice enough to whisper, “Not ever. Like you once said…my feelings for you weren’t so easy to snap out of. Even after the way you left the country without even telling me.” Her eyes shadowed, unable to hold back that final hurting wound.
Jimi pressed more tender, appeasing kisses to the slim knuckles of her hand. “I’m sorry, Zaynab, but back then I wasn’t thinking straight. That would episode with the ball and you going with Nnamdi and then the things we said that night…I was left with the notion that you didn’t love me and never had; I’d always been second-best compared to Nnamdi and I just…it hurt. When I saw the chance to turn my back on it all, I took it. I thought not being anywhere near where I’d be constantly reminded of you would ease the pain. But it didn’t. I told myself you’d move on perfectly without me. I also managed to convince myself you were just an infatuation I’d soon grow out of. But not a chance.”
He suddenly grinned; that boyish flash of white seeming to brighten up the room and reminding Zaynab so achingly of the first Jimi she’d met as he added, “Looks like my ‘crush’ is going to be a perpetual one.”
Zaynab gazed at him adoringly.
“I love you, Jimi. I don’t think I ever really told you that. And every day for the past many months I’ve prayed and dreamed of how I’d never get tired of telling you those words, if only you’d come back.”
His smile faded, replaced by a look so vividly passionate that Zaynab felt a tingling flame shoot up and down her spine, making her belly quiver.
Swallowing, she broke into the smoldering spell to ask timidly, “Um…so just how long are you back home for?:
“I was able to get two weeks off to make the trip,” he told her with a smile. “I just couldn’t wait till the Summer break. Now I’ll be visiting as often as I can – plus for every holiday. I’m barely over six hours away. We’ll never be far apart for long, I promise. And when you’re finished with your course down here, you’ll definitely be joining me in England where we’ll start planning our wedding.”
“Mmm hmmm Jimi, now slow down,” Zaynab teased, regaining a little of her old self. “You haven’t even proposed yet, remember?”
His gaze darkened with that special heat she’d come to love that sent chills of excitement coiling in her belly. “I thought I had, when I told you in my little note that you were made for me. And I forgot to add one more thing…That I was made just for you, too.”
And Jimi leaned closer to the breathless Zaynab’s lips to seal each word with a kiss….
** ** **