Chapter 39 & 40
Over lunch, Meaghan decided to take Ivoire’s file out and see if there was any correlation between her current assignments. She was reaching for her bag when her cell phone rang.
Looking at the screen, she felt a little burst of happiness.
“Hello,” she said, holding the phone in both hands.
“How are you doing, Meggie,” Rickie’s warm tones started a shiver across her shoulder blades, “I wanted to see you this morning, but I’ve been busy.”
“That’s okay,” she answered almost breathlessly “I’m doing good. I’ve missed you.”
At her admission, Rickie wanted to haul her off and have some time for just the two of them. Cursing his busy schedule, he thought for a moment, and then smiled. “Would you like to come with me to our gas rig? I promised my father I would perform the final inspection before they start drilling. Since I know your boss, I’m sure he’ll allow you to take off for the rest of the day.” He allowed a little hopefulness to creep into his voice.
Meaghan smiled. “I’d love to, but I can’t; I promised your sister we would go shopping this evening.”
Rickie deflated, but, still, he wanted her to spend time with his family. Sethe liked her, although no one in the family knew about them yet. He didn’t want their fledgling relationship to come under the scrutiny of his father just yet. If Sethe became her friend, then she would be firmly on his side if there were any objections.
“Well, have fun with Sethe then, and I’ll talk to you later tonight.”
“I’d like that.” Meaghan replied. “Be safe then.” She hung up already anticipating when she would hear from him again.
~ ~ ~
Meaghan had just changed into a floral print sundress when Tina came home. She gave her older sister a hug and a kiss, looked at her critically, and then nodded.
“Just give me a moment to change, and we can head out.”
A few minutes later, Tina came out. Surprisingly, she wasn’t as colorful as usual; she wore a short skirt in blue, with a yellow, green, and blue patterned jersey top. A wide black belt and black sneakers completed the outfit. Her normally spiky hair was pulled up in a curly ponytail, but without the streaks of color. Even her earrings were simple gold dangling chains, not her usual eye-popping style.
“You almost look like you’re going to a funeral,” Meaghan said good-naturedly.
Leaf said, seriously, “I just want to give a good impression.” Meaghan was surprised, but assured her she looked fine.
“And you have the address?” At Leaf’s nod, Meaghan grabbed her jacket, purse, and keys.
She decided to use a taxi to get to the Ahmad residence to cut the travel time. When they arrived at the front gate, she could only stare in awe. The curly metalwork of the gate gave way to walls of native stone, a gilt stylized sun in the center surrounded by graceful metal palms. Along the front of the wall, the bright green leaves of elephant’s ears competed with the fuchsia stars of bougainvillea. Meaghan’s had crept out and squeezed her sister’s.
Tina, on the other hand, was excited but not shocked at the opulence the gate hinted at.
The taxi driver rolled down his window and gave the security camera Meaghan’s name.
“I hope Sethe is ready, so we can leave quickly.” Meaghan mused and turned to Leaf. “We need to be on our best behavior; remember my boss lives here, too.” Leaf looked at her only sister for a moment, and then nodded.
“I promise. But, kakak, I don’t think you need to worry. Everyone’s is looking forward to seeing you.” Tina suddenly stopped, a stricken look on her face as the taxi cab drove through the now-opened gates towards the house.
Meaghan glanced at her sister as Tina’s words registered. “What are you talking about?”
Tina looked guilty.
“Sethe and I talked last night. She wants to have supper here at the house, before we go shopping.”
“Why didn’t you want to tell me?” Meaghan looked at her sundress, suddenly wishing she had worn something more formal. Tina saw the movement.
“Meaghan, you look great; don’t worry about it.” When she looked back up; they were at the house.
The house was less formal than Meaghan would have imagined. They drove under a wide portico, and then curved around to the front entrance.
A circular driveway with a white marble fountain greeted them. The sprawling two-story colonial –style structure was painted bright white, with areas of soft yellow along the roofline. Tall palm trees accented the corners, and wraparound porches with white balustrades looked perfect for a casual stroll. The front entrance was a simple series of wide marble steps leading up to a double door in teak, with stained glass panels on either side of colorful birds and fruit trees.
As the two women climbed up to the door, they opened up and Sethe stepped out.
Meaghan was relieved that Sethe was dressed similarly to her; a flower print dress and leather sandals with purple and green rhinestones. She gave them both a hard hug and grabbed Meaghan’s wrist to pull her into the house. Meaghan allowed her to drag her into the cool foyer, but stopped short.
They were not alone. An older gentleman in a wheelchair sat to the right, and JoAnne, whom she had met at the office, stood behind him, her hands on the handlebars. The features of the man were reminiscent of Rickie’s, and Meaghan realised his identity. She suddenly felt like a mouse when a trap is sprung.
Her fears were born out when Sethe pulled her in front of him, and Meaghan’s mouth suddenly went dry. Sethe released her arm.
“Bapa, this is my friend Meaghan. Meaghan, his is my father, Charles Ahmad.”
Meaghan made a formal bow. “Selamat sejahtera, Tuanku Ahmad,” she greeted him.
The elder Ahmad smiled, and laugh lines crinkled around his eyes. He reached out and took Meaghan’s hand in a strong, though gentle grip.
“Selamat datang, En Torno, but there’s no need to be formal. I’ve wanted to meet you for a while now. Why don’t we go into the parlour while we wait for supper to be ready? It will still be a few more minutes.”
Wait, dinner with the elder Ahmad? Rickie’s father??
Meaghan sent a helpless look at Tina, who seemed unfazed by the situation, walked past her incredulous sister to address him. After greetings, he gestured to JoAnne; she smiled at Meaghan and began to push the wheelchair towards an arched door.
After that, she felt compelled to follow the group into a large, sunny room with dark fruitwood floors and casual furniture. She gingerly sat on the edge of a cool green sofa; her sister plopped beside her, earning her a glare from Meaghan. JoAnne wheeled the elder Ahmad to the edge of the sofa, and then sat down in an armchair directly across while Sethe took the other armchair. Before the silence grew awkward, JoAnne began.
“Did you have any problems finding the house?”
Meaghan shook her head. “The cab driver took us here without any problems, thank you for asking.”
“And what do you think of it?”
Tina piped up. “I think it’s beautiful, almost like The Astana, but smaller. Can we see some of the rooms?” Meaghan reached out and squeezed Tina’s knee in warning, but he just chuckled.
“Sethe can give you a detailed tour after dinner, if you have any time before shopping.” Here he glanced at his daughter in fond exasperation. “I know she has her heart set on buying more clothes, even though she brought back a lot with her from Korea.” Sethe smiled.
“Bapa, you know my weakness is shoes. I promise to keep my purchases to necessities.”
JoAnne rolled her eyes. “You always think shoes are a necessity.”
Meaghan relaxed under the conversation. It looked more like a family bantering back and forth than an employer / worker relationship. She answered a few questions regarding her consultant job, and Tina contributed some amusing stories about school. It shouldn’t have, but it came as a surprise when the conversation became personal.
“Well,” said the patriarch, “what do you think of my son?”
“Erm, he’s a good supervisor to work for. All of us at the office…”
He cut her off with a gesture and leaned forward in the wheelchair, his good left hand gripping the handrail.
“No, what do you think of my son.” He sat back, studied her reactions, and was appreciative of what he saw. ‘Excellent’, he thought, already envisioning a rosy future.
Out loud, he said, “I know he thinks very highly of you. I want to know if you think the two of you are compatible.”
Meaghan felt a blush blooming on both cheeks as she panicked for an answer. Looking at her sister didn’t help, for she was grinning from ear to ear.
The supper chimes were a blessed and welcome diversion. They followed behind the wheelchair, and never noticed JoAnne give him a squeeze as he patted her hand on his shoulder.