TICKLES STOPPED RUNNING and drew in gulps of much-needed air. She felt her chest expand and contract as all the oxygen she needed, flooded her lungs. What the devil made her challenge Thom to a marathon? She’d just asked him if they could jog and he’d just sped away. She’d tried to keep up for as long as she could but it was okay. She’d finally decided to concede defeat. She was the one who asked for it but had given up. She saw a stone bench and went to sit on it.
“Oh, you stopped so soon?” Thom said as he ran back to where she was resting.
She didn’t have a white hanky with her. She’d have eagerly waved it.
“It’s ok. I give up.” Panting wildly
“So we should walk now?” he gave her a cheeky grin.
“Yes. Please, let’s walk.” She responded jerkily, finally glad to talk without panting too much.
He shook his head and walked away. Tickles felt irritated. He didn’t have to enjoy it this much. Mtcheeew.
“I heard that” he laughed out loud
“Heard what? But I didn’t say anything.” She was shocked
“You didn’t have to. You’re just mad that you challenged me to a run and yet you’re the first to concede defeat.” He guffawed this time. If looks could kill, he’d be a statistic. Tickles ignored him and walked on, annoyed that she was now his source of entertainment. “Why didn’t I mind my own business?” she asked herself. She grumbled underneath for a moment but stopped when a smiling Thom joined her. Though he smiled often, they continued the rest of the walk in silence.
30 minutes later, Tickles was glad to reach the apartment. She waved at Thom who waved her back with a smile and walked towards his apartment. She opened the door to find Stella seated on the sofa with her gaze trained at her.
“Well?” her friend asked impatiently.
“Well, what?” Tickles was puzzled.
“How did it go?”
She gave a short laugh. “So we walked less than 5 minutes when I asked him if we could jog. This guy started running oh. I tried to keep up but had to give up after about 10 minutes. He laughed at me and made us walk the rest of the way.”
Stella chewed on that for a moment. Tickles went to the fridge for a bottle of water. She’d somehow lost the one she took.
“So did he ask about me?”
“We didn’t talk about anything. The walk was in silence, we obviously couldn’t chat whiles running and when we resumed walking, also didn’t talk.”
“That’s strange. I thought that at least he would ask you questions about why I decided to make you join him instead of me going with him.”
“I’m sure whatever reason you gave him sufficed. We didn’t talk about anything. Try and join him next time though. I’ve had enough walking to last me a lifetime.” With that she entered the bathroom they shared to take her bath. Stella still sat on the sofa musing over what she’d heard. She didn’t know why she suddenly didn’t want her friend to get closer to Thom. She just didn’t.
STELLA WAS FIXING breakfast when she heard a knock on the door. She went to open it and found Thom framed in the doorway holding a water bottle.
“This for your friend?”
“Yes. She must have forgotten it.”
“Yes. She left it on a bench.”
“Ha. She told me about the run.”
“Yes. She challenged me but regretted it. She’s a good sport though. Tell her I enjoyed it. Hope to see you this evening?”
“This evening? Are you asking me out?” she purred.
“Maybe.” His eyes twinkled. “See ya at 8.”
“Will do.” She watched him walk away for a moment and closed the door. She went to open Tickles’ door but her friend was fast asleep. She went to put the bottle in the fridge and went back into the kitchen to find her eggs burnt beyond recognition. Muttering a short expletive, she switched off the car and started the meal from scratch.
TICKLES SMELLED THE coffee before she woke up. She sat up and winced. She could feel pain in strange places. She quickly stood up and groaned. Her entire body ached. She walked as if she was on eggshells as her painful calves tightened further. She walked into the living room to find Stella eating, entered the kitchen to take her share but there was none for her. She shrugged and went to the fridge to take some water and found her share stored in a container. She quickly grabbed it and popped it into the microwave.
STELLA TURNED TOWARDS her friend as she went to join her.
“I am surprised to see you up so soon. I thought you’d sleep for a couple more hours.”
“I’m surprised at myself but not really so at the same time. I’m aching all over.”
Stella burst out laughing and for the first time since morning, Tickles joined in. She grabbed a spoon from the cutlery stand and wiped it with a wet napkin. After that she wiped it again with a dry tissue. She noticed something off with her friend. Stella wasn’t really eating but was pushing her meal on the plate.
They both spoke at the same time. That brought laughter again.
“Okay. You go first.”
“Listen, Tickles I know I told you to test Thom but I don’t know if it’s a good idea. I really like this guy and I’m so scared to be disappointed.”
“That’s the exact same thing I wanted to speak to you about. Look it’s been years since I last saw you really like a guy. You’ve been fighting my battles for me all the time. Maybe this guy is a sleaze bag, maybe he’s not but I’d rather you enjoyed this relationship for as long as it would last without pushing buttons.”
“Hmmm,” her friend exhaled loudly. “I understand perfectly. Thanks for always having my back.”
“Hey, we’ve got each other. What else do we want?”
They both resumed eating but this time in companionable silence.
THAT EVENING AT exactly 8 PM. Thom knocked on their door, waited for them to admit him and entered with a bottle of 4th Street Rose wine, crackers and his laptop. He told them he wanted to have a group date with the two of them. Tickles laughed but Stella felt a twinge of discomfort. She’d thought he’d meant taking her out on a date, maybe a stroll since she hadn’t been able to join him this morning, anything. She watched Tickles closely and realized that her friend had other things to occupy her. She wasn’t interested in the collection Thom had and was busily showing them at posts on her phone that people had shared on social media. Her demeanor towards Thom was one of camaraderie. He differed to her on some topics but there was no indication of a romantic atmosphere between them.
Finally, Stella relaxed her tensed muscles. She finally conceded why she told her friend not to continue Testing him. She’d been scared Thom might have liked her friend enough to fall for her. She found it so strange. Why him? Why was she behaving so uncharacteristically jealous? She shoved that thought aside and concentrated on the movie he’d finally decided to show. Then everything got ruined.
Thom was watching the movie and laughing at some punch lines when his phone rang. Stella saw a picture of a pretty lady on the caller ID but didn’t pay attention to the name.
“Hi, ermm, hi,” he said when he picked the call. He listened for a moment and stood up, waved ‘1 minute’ at them and walked into their kitchen area to continue speaking to the person. Tickles wasn’t paying attention as she watched some videos shared on Tik Tok. Stella tried to eavesdrop but couldn’t hear much. After some minutes he came back, apologized to her and continued watching the movie. 5 minutes later, another lady called and he went to the kitchen to answer the call. This time, Tickles looked at him, very puzzled. She looked over at her friend but Stella could only shrug bemusedly.
A few minutes later, he returned with the explanation, “sorry. A colleague of mine needed help with someone.”
Barely 10 minutes later, another call from another girl and he also went to the kitchen to respond. When he returned Tickles watched him curiously.
“Eiii, do you operate a telecom business? Why is it that every minute you receive a call?”
“Oh, it’s not every minute,” he grinned. “They are just people I work with.”
“Where do you work?”
“Cool. I run a modeling agency. We had some issues at work yesterday and I needed some interventions so my staff called to give me the feedback.”
“Oh that’s nice,” Stella finally chipped in. Tickles went back to her phone, Thom resumed watching the movie but Stella was worried. Very worried.
TICKLES HAD JUST plugged in her phone when she heard a knock on her bedroom door. She knew it was Stella so went to open her friend.
“Tickles, I know I told you not to test him but I really want you to.”
Tickles watched her mouth agape. “Ah, how? Is it because of the phone calls? But the guy told you why didn’t he?”
“Not just that. An ad agency? I’ve heard of the way such guys behave. They sleep with the models and all that.”
“If you’re not sure then break up with him eh.”
“That’s the problem Tickles. You know he and I aren’t dating yet so what do I stand on to push him away? The only way will be for you to test him whiles I become more friendly towards him. Let’s see what he does.”
Tickles shook her head. “I really don’t like this idea. If you don’t trust him. Push him away.”
Stella played her trump card. “I would have done it for you if the shoe were on my foot.”
You could have heard a pin drop due to the ensuing silence. Tickles inhaled loudly and nodded.
“Okay. If you say so.”
TO BE CONTINUED