Chapter 13 & 14
There was a long pause, but then Tina began talking.
“I saw him in the neighbourhood, and invited him over. That’s okay, isn’t it?” Tina asked worriedly in the continued silence. Meaghan was the first to wake up, reminding herself of who and what he was.
“Of course. En Ahmad, how are you doing tonight?” Rickie looked at her for a moment, and then suddenly bent down, causing Meaghan to jump back with a squeak. He straightened up, the dishtowel in one hand. He reached out and Meaghan took the cloth from him, pulse jumping as their fingers touched. She gestured with her free hand towards their sofa. “Please have a seat, and I bring out some tea.”
“Oh, you don’t need to do that…” Rickie began, but she quickly retreated to the kitchen.
Tina brightly spoke, “We don’t get many visitors, except when my friends come over to study.” She looked at him curiously. “So are you a playboy?” Rickie looked at her, affronted, but she blithely continued. “Meg said the birthday party was nothing more than players showing off.” She giggled at his face. “She was probably exaggerating. Anyway,” Tina performed a lightning-fast shift, “my birthday is coming up soon. Do you play any instruments?”
“Well, I play a little guitar, but I’m not all that good. I don’t have a lot of time to practice.” Rickie secretly smiled, thinking about Raine and her cello. “So what classes are you taking in school?”
~ ~ ~
When Meaghan returned to the living room, carrying a tray containing a plate of fruit, several coffee cups and a teapot, she stopped for a moment to look at the pair on the couch.
In spite of his high-quality attire of dark gray slacks and lighter-toned golf shirt, he looked perfectly as ease on the well-sprung couch as he listened to her sister’s prattling. The two of them seem to hit it off. It seemed like a chance meeting, but she was still suspicious.
Their conversation broke off at the sound of the tray being placed on the coffee table. Meaghan poured three cups, and then sat down on the wing-back chair.
Rickie admired the picture she made, dressed casually in green cotton pants and a button down blouse in a purple-check pattern, tied at the waist over a light green shirt. The curve of the shirt exposed the smooth skin of her throat; a gold necklace with a floating heart peeked out between the plackets. Her hair was in a simple braid; two small gold hoops in her ears. Her eyebrows suddenly moved together into a frown and he realised he was staring. He blurted out the first thing that came to his mind.
“You’ve got flour on your nose.”
Meaghan’s hand flew to her face as she rubbed her nose. Sure enough, there were telltale white smudges. It must have happened when she was refilling her flour tin. The heat creeping up her neck warned her that she blushing furiously. Tina squealed, and even Rickie was unable to hold back a chuckle as she rubbed her nose with napkin. To cover up the incident, he took the closest cup and brought to his nose. Sniffing, he said, “Chai tea is one of my favorites. Thank you.”
Meaghan decided she needed to gain back a little control. Picking up her own cup, she asked, “So why are you in this area? Aren’t your offices located in Sama Jaya?” She nearly cursed when his eyes sharpened, and she realised he now knew she had looked for information about him.
He relaxed into the couch, his response ready. “I’ve been tasked with looking at various properties for sale, and bumped into your sister. Should we go out to dinner tonight? I promised you a meal that morning at the waterfront.”
Meaghan’s first thought was to immediately refuse, but she glanced over to Leaf, who was coiled on the couch looking at her pleadingly. She sighed. “I need to finish putting away the groceries and change. And I’m choosing the restaurant.” She looked challengingly at the gorgeous man lounging on her sofa. He acquiesced with an almost royal wave of his hand.
“I’ll stay here with my tea until you’re ready to go. In fact,” he said, “I’ll help you with your kitchen chores so we can go to dinner that much faster. I’m getting hungry.” He rubbed his stomach.
Meaghan was momentarily mesmerized by that slowing circling hand, but rallied to give him a curt nod.
“Leaf, go ahead and get ready. En Ahmad and I will take care of things here.”
Rickie was very aware of the woman as they navigated her small kitchen. With the exception of helping with putting away things on the higher shelves, there was little he could do. At least until it came time to clean the remains of the tea.
“Let me wash those for you while you go get changed”.
Meaghan demurred while holding the teapot. “I can do it. After all, you are a guest.”
Rickie decided to see if the attraction went both ways; after all, did she look for information on him? He stepped towards her; she took a step back. He advanced until she was up against the sink, still clutching the pot. He took it from her unresisting hands and placed it on the countertop, and placed an arm on either side of the wide-eyed woman.
Meaghan could barely breath, watching as his eyes drifted over her face and hair, a visual caress that left her skin tingling. He leaned down towards her right ear. Incongruously, she stared at the diamond stud in his tragus as his breath whispered along her sensitive lobe.
“Trust me.” He pulled back and tweaked her nose. “Just go get ready.”
She practically flew to her bedroom and slammed the door.
Meaghan stood before her cheval mirror, holding up several shirts. Snorting in disgust at her dithering, she selected a scoop-necked blouse in cool beige, and paired it with black and brown tribal-patterned broomstick skirt. A pair of leather sandals completed the outfit. She had washed her face and decided to leave her hair in the simple braid, but reapplied her makeup. Once she finished with her lipstick, she nervously smoothed the front of the skirt and performed a final check in the mirror.
She almost didn’t recognise the face in front of her. Her cheeks seemed flushed and her eyes brighter than usual; she almost looked like a teenager on a first date. This isn’t a date, she scolded herself, its just dinner. But her traitorous body was telling her otherwise.
Ultimately ignoring the fluttering in her stomach, she opened the bedroom door and stepped into the living room.
Rickie ran his fingers through his blonde locks and tried to loosen tense muscles. He was striving to look relaxed as he fidgeted in the chair and waited for the two ladies to appear. He wondered what Meaghan would look like. Would she look severely professional like the waitress uniform from Saturday last week, or casually chic like that day at the waterfront? Or even slouchy comfortable earlier today? The sound of the bedroom door had him looking up.
His breath came out in a soft sigh.
Meaghan looked soft and approachable; the neutral colours of her outfit somehow enhancing the loose auburn hairs in her crown and the pink spots growing on her cheeks. Dark pink toes peeked out underneath the long skirt, and her arms were long and sleek, ending with several gold bangles.
She looked both sexy and shy, a combination that Rickie found almost irresistible. With his eyes still locked on her face, he started to rise from the chair, intending to walk to Meaghan; only to be startled by the sound of a slamming door behind him.
“I’m ready!” called out Leaf as she walked from behind the chair and went over to her sister. “Wow, Meg, you look awesome”. The teen was dressed in a bright purple tunic shirt over colourful leggings. A chain belt was wrapped several times around her waist, and her feet were encased in high-top sneakers that had tribal figures crudely drawn on them in black marker. Her flaxen hair was teased into spikes on the back and sides, with a blue streak behind her right ear.
As she stepped up next to her older sister, Rickie couldn’t help but note the differences between the two; one, bright and exuberant like a tropical fish; the other, cool and mysterious like the deep jungle.
“So, how do we look?” The younger girl looked at him expectantly.
Rickie leaned back with his left hand under his chin, and pretended to be in deep thought as he perused them. Then he straightened up, chuckled, and said, “All the guys will be envious.”
As Tina preened, Meaghan shot a narrowed glance at Rickie, unsure if he was making fun of them. The clear, guileless look held a spark of humour, and Meaghan felt an answering smile reluctantly form on her lips.
“So are we ready?” Meaghan nodded at the question, picked up her bag, and walked to the door.
~ ~ ~
The Jambu Restaurant and Lounge was an old converted Colonial building, painted in a soft orange. Inside, cozy groupings of chairs surrounded hand-carved tables, and native textiles adorned the walls and flooring.
At the entrance to the restaurant, Rickie looked at Meaghan and raised his eyebrow. Meaghan felt the need to explain.
“I know it’s not high class or anything, but the food here is good.” Rickie shook his head and opened his mouth, intending to say something, when an exotic female voice cut above the low murmur of the other patrons.
“Tuanku Rickie! Bonjour!” The sing-song sultry voice had a hint of British accent with overtones of the Caribbean, and belonged to a stunning dark-skinned woman, dressed in a tropical sarong.
“Bon jour, Hillary,” Rickie stated with laughter, before he was enveloped in a warm hug. The woman air-kissed both of his cheeks before turning to the two women.
“Welcome to Jambu Restaurant. I am Hillary, the owner.” Meaghan gave a slight bow, but Tina immediately got closer to the woman.
“You talk our language funny. Where are you from?” Meaghan stepped forward, grabbed Tina’s arm and tugged it. Tina didn’t budge. Rickie answered.
“Hil’s originally from Trinidad. We brought her here to implement the computer systems for our emergency shutdown systems as part of our disaster planning for our exploratory oil platforms.”
Tina mumbled, “She doesn’t look like a computer nerd. She’s too pretty.”
Hillary replied in an amused tone. “Looks are deceiving; I have a PhD in Computer Science. After I had a baby several years ago, I decided that pulling overnighters was too stressful, so I quit. And started this restaurant.”
“She still consults with us,” Rickie said, “And keeps our systems up to date and running. And she’s done well with this place. In fact, the only thing she wasn’t successful was her indoor garden.” Hillary punched him lightly in the arm.
“It wasn’t my fault the fuse blew and took out the automated watering systems and lights. I just had a lousy person helping me. Anyway,” Hillary’s voice became businesslike without losing the lilting tone, “how many in your party?”
“Just the three of us, Hil.” She led them to a round table secluded by lush tropical plants and left them with a smile.