Britney flashed her trademark smile and dumped herself on the seat opposite him.
“Sorry I’m late…”
“Hmm. You’re welcome,” Owen said tightly, not raising his face from his laptop.
“Are you mad at me?” she asked cautiously, her eyes boring into his face.
“I’ll wait until you explain yourself. If your reason for being two hours late is very silly, then I might get mad.” Owen’s fingers worked rapidly as he typed his papers.
“Fine. I met an old friend. So… He wouldn’t just stop talking, even after I told him that I’m meeting someone. Sorry.” She splayed her fingers on the table, studying her manicure.
Owen stopped suddenly and narrowed his eyes at her. She blinked in response.
“Who was he?”
“An old friend,” Britney repeated slowly, studying him. Was he jealous? She really hoped he was. “Have you ordered?”
“I see. No, I’ve not.” His voice didn’t sound slightly jealous, or did it?
Britney rolled her eyes, sighing with exasperation. “When will you just stop! You don’t have to wait for me all the time.”
Owen saved his work and shut down the laptop before replying. “I want to.”
“I like you. I never delay my meal for anyone.” He grinned at her and signalled the waitress.
Britney pouted at that and struggled to steady her racing heart. They’d been friends for sometime. Very good friends. She didn’t understand if they were dating? Or were they in some undefined relationship? Were they just friends? No way. He called her sweet names, checked up on her, asked her out for lunch and dinner. There was no vocal agreement of any kind, but she was already in love with him.
He saw other women of course and that was what left her in confusion. Wait, would he cut off all his lady friends simply because he met her? Just listen to that. She’d tried hard to stay neutral around him, so as not to destroy their beautiful friendship. It meant so much to her and as long as it blossomed, she was content.
Owen pulled her cheeks sideways, making her smile. “Penny for your thoughts?”
She was going to speak when the waitress came over. They placed their orders, teasing each other over their addiction to Abacha. By the time they were done ordering, the thread of the previous conversation had been lost. They chattered away, with wide eyed attention to each other, like 4 year olds.
A petite lady walked into the restaurant. Her white, pleated skirt floated behind her, snug black turtle neck sweater hugged her figure, her sweet perfume announcing her entrance. Britney didn’t pay much attention until she stopped at their table. She looked on with mild interest, when Owen smiled warmly at the intruder and stood to hug her.
“Meg meet Britney,” Owen began, inclining his head towards her direction. “Britney, meet Meg, my fiancee.”
Britney swallowed her gasp and forced her lips to stretch courteously. “Nice to meet you, Meg.”
She extended her hand for a shake.
“Oh, stop,” Meg said, chuckling. She opened her arms and enclosed Britney in a warm hug. “Let’s not act like strangers. A friend of Owen’s is a sister of mine.”
Britney laughed uneasily, taking her seat once again. She exhaled slowly, wondering how exactly to go about this. “Owen, you never told me you had a fiancee.”
Owen’s face lit up with a smile as he reached out to take Meg’s hand. A muscle contracted in Britney’s jaw while she struggled to keep the smile on her face. “I wanted it to be a surprise.”
Meg gave him a chiding glance. “Don’t mind him sweetheart. I’ve heard so much about you. It was always, Britney this or that. I really wanted to meet Owen’s Britney.”
Owen burst into laughter. Britney didn’t see the humour in this whole drama. He seemed particularly happy with Meg around. She’d never seen him so lighthearted and elated.
“We are friends,” Britney managed, struggling not to fidget.
“Best friends,” Owen corrected, putting an arm around Meg’s shoulders.
The waitress arrived with their orders, giving Britney time to reorientate herself. Meg begged off ordering food, saying that she ate a lot at her friend’s birthday party.
“So to fill you in on this surprise, I met Meg about a year ago. We were just perfect for each other, but she left for the States. She returned last week.”
Then he turned to Meg. “Britney has been a wonderful friend. She’s my buddy, always got my back.”
Meg smiled at her warmly, clearly touched by her kindness. Britney returned the smile, not so warmly. She needed air. She needed to get out real quick.
“Uhh, excuse me?” she managed, hurrying out of the door.
“Sure. Take all the time you need,” Meg replied, linking her fingers with Owen’s. Britney thought she’d die right there and then!
“Are you okay? Meg was getting worried.”
Britney stood outside, facing the swimming pool and letting the sun dry Her tears. Startled, she blinked quickly, her hanky coming to the rescue.
“I’m okay,” she said without turning.
“Are you sure…?”
Owen turned her around so she’d look at him. She succumbed. She didn’t care what he saw. Her eyes moved to find his. The sun gave his hair a sheen of gold, carving his sculpted features. He was beautiful. Tears filled her eyes and spilled over.
His eyes searched her face worriedly. “My God. Brit, you okay?” He took her face in his palms. She brought up her hand to support his, burying her face in his palms.
“Yes,” she croaked, more tears running down her cheeks.
“No, you’re not. Please tell me what’s wrong.”
Britney threw her arms around his waist and held him tight. He’d never hugged her before. She needed a hug now, desperately. His arms reluctantly came around her.
“Talk to me, Brit.”
“I love you. Dammit!” Her tears gave way to body shaking sobs.
Owen stood completely still for a moment, then slowly disengaged her arms from his body. He held her by the shoulders, searching her eyes.
“I know,” he said glibly.
Suddenly angry, she pushed him away. “It’s not that way Owen! I love you, like a woman loves a man! Don’t you get it?” She jabbed a finger at his chest with each word. “Look at me Owen, I’m a woman! I’m not sexless like a table. That’s all you see right? A buddy?”
Owen opened his mouth and closed it, no sound came out. God, this was so awkward. He stuck both hands in his pockets.
Britney’s voice softened as she continued. “It was hard Owen. I tried, I really did. I tried not to spoil our friendship over mere feelings. I hoped that someday, you’d see Britney. I hoped you’d really see me, like a woman.”
She shrugged and laughed in self deprecation. “I guess that’s never going to happen. She’s nice, she’s pretty, she’s successful. I hope you two are happy together.” She began to walk away.
Owen reached out and grabbed her arm, halting her. “God. Britney, I’m sorry. I never knew. You were a great friend. Like, I really took you as a sister, someone who’ll always be there no matter what.” He brushed a palm across his face, trying not to pace. “I’m sorry Brit.” His eyes implored her.
Britney stared, then smiled. She knew it would never be the same again. Their friendship was ruined probably forever. How she had longed to be the one. “It’s okay. Let’s go back, Meg will be worried.”
The atmosphere at the table was tense afterwards. Meg didn’t seem to notice a thing. She chattered away about her grandma and her sass. Britney couldn’t eat more than two spoons of abacha before she gave a flimsy excuse and took her leave. She felt Owen’s eyes boring into her back as she walked away. He’d lost a wonderful friend.
Was it his fault? Was she the one at fault? What do you think about close friendship between a young man and woman? Maybe it was his fault for not setting clear boundaries. Maybe it was her fault for falling for him.
Either way, let’s learn to guard our hearts. Let’s learn how to relate with the opposite sex, without raising anyone’s expectations unnecessarily. Don’t get too involved and don’t make the other person get too involved.
Ladies, do not throw your heart on someone who has not made a verbal commitment. That he takes you out is not commitment. For your peace of mind, create boundaries and maintain it.
Men, please learn to create clear, healthy boundaries with your female friends. Mind what you say to them and the vibes you give. If you lead her on and go for someone else later, you’ve broken a heart and God will ask you questions.