Kissenah squeezed the excess water from her braids before wrapping a large towel around her head, trapping her damp hair in a fluffy, pink and yellow-striped prison. She twisted the material into a bun and secured the tip with a silver hair clip. Satisfied with her work, she reached for the soft purple bathrobe that lay neatly folded on the black marble counter top. Her gaze flitted toward the steamed-up mirror, and she cringed.
“Don’t look,” she warned herself, but her eyes moved on their own. She stilled her movement, pressing her eyelids closed, and curling her fingers into tight fists. Kissenah did not wish to see, refused to see, the emptiness that lay behind her eyes. Just once, she would like to escape viewing the face that did not sit evenly over her cheekbones. Just once, she would like to not gaze upon slightly hunched shoulders, the ring of bruises that circled her neck, and the glowing crimson circle that spun slowly in the center of her chest. She ground her teeth together, hating that after all this time, she was still weak.
“Give her back!” were the words she had shouted more than twenty years before. Never did she regret them, though at times she wished that she had been a better negotiator. Not that there was any negotiation involved. When The Lady spoke, you listened and heeded, or you paid a dear price. Often, you paid a price whether you wanted to or not.
Keeping her lids tightly shut, Kissenah fumbled for her robe. Her knuckles brushed against the smooth material, and she forced her hands open to snatch it up. Shaking it out, she wrapped it around her shoulders, and shoved her arms through the sleeves. Turning her back to the mirror, she uttered two commands to her bathroom.
“De-steam,” she whispered. She waited for the soft whirr that signaled the exhaust system’s operation before she spoke the next command. “De-luminate.” Bright lights flickered off as the air cleared and cooled.
Kissenah forced a smile onto her face as she left the bathroom and strode toward the large walk-in closet in her suite. She chuckled a bit, recalling Patton’s enthusiasm as they shopped for the ridiculous amount of clothing. Flinging open the doors, Kissenah’s eyes immediately selected and rejected eight-tenths of the garments stuffed into the closet. She grinned as she noticed the perfect dress hanging innocently in a clear bag. Omari wanted proper? She could do proper. She could hardly wait to see him choke on his “proper.”
Omari shuddered and glanced around his office. He had the strangest feeling that someone, somewhere, was plotting against him. Annoyed with himself for having such superstitious thoughts, he shook his head to clear it and resumed the task at hand: digging into the past of one Kissenah Jefferies, resident eyesore.
He snorted as he read about her less than stellar grades, her minimal efforts at social interaction, and her lack of gainful employment through the years. The more he uncovered, the more he was forced to question the sanity of his beloved Parista! Why would she willingly involve herself with such a person? It was incomprehensible to him.
He removed his glasses, setting them gently on his desk, and rubbed his tired eyes. He had been pouring over these private files since he had been dismissed from his employer’s office earlier that afternoon. Which reminded him, he needed to return to his rooms and freshen up for the evening’s engagement.
Replacing his glasses on the bridge of his nose, he ran through the series of commands that would re-encrypt the life of the Jefferies woman, and put his computer to sleep for the evening. He stood and stretched, working out the kinks in his neck and back that were an occupational hazard. Spying the time on the telescreen, a soft eep! escaped his mouth and he shuffled quickly to the door. As he typed in the alarm code that would protect his work chamber until he personally returned, his personal communication device buzzed in his jacket pocket. He frowned as he closed the office door and fished the tiny device from his pocket.
His frown deepened when he saw the “number withheld” scroll across the small screen. Curiosity briefly battled annoyance before coming out on top. “Connect,” he ordered the device, and waited to hear the chime that signaled that the call was connected.
“Omari Kelvin speaking,” he announced into the built-in microphone.
“Omari darling!” a familiar voice chirped, eliciting a groan from the person named. “I miss you. It’s been ages since we chatted last, hasn’t it?”
“Mother,” Omari acknowledged with a sneer. “And how much money do you need this time?”
A gasp sounded in his ear. “How dare you imply that I use you for money! I gave birth to you! I fed you, and put you through school. How dare you treat me this way?”
“Michaela,” Omari sneered into the device, “you did the minimum amount you could legally get away with, and only acknowledged me as your child when I won my position with Parista! Isn’t that right, Big Sister?”
Omari could hear Michaela’s sniffles over the line, and he rolled his eyes. He stoically bore the sound of her sobs and, when it became apparent that her dramatic breakdown was not impressing him, the woman changed tactics.
“Very well, Little Brother,” she snapped. “Send me the usual amount that you owe me.” Omari balled his free hand into a fist. He owed this woman nothing, he reminded himself. Absolutely nothing. Not even his name.
“And what is it that you think I owe you, Michaela?” he growled.
“Just enough to keep your secret, Kenji. I wonder what dear Parista would think of her secretary if she knew.” Omari froze at the sound of the forbidden name. He could hear the dangerous smile in his mother’s voice, and he swallowed hard.
“You wouldn’t dare.”
“If I don’t get my money by next week, we’ll see how much I dare,” she hissed. “Don’t fail me, boy. I still own you.” Omari flinched at the sharp beep that indicated that the call had ended. With shaking hands, he tucked the communication device back into his pocket and leaned against the wall.
“This can’t get any worse,” he whispered to the empty hallway.
Patton Anderson rose to greet her guest. Her brown eyes widened as they met orbs the color of rust, and she quickly looked away.
“I’ve been waiting for you,” Patton said to her guest. “Please, have a seat. Would you like anything to drink?”
“Patton.” The stranger’s voice was dangerously low, and vibrated with tightly coiled tension. “This is not a social call. Surely you knew that when you invited me?”
Deflated, Patton sank into a chair. “I know,” she whispered. “But I had to do it this way. I had to! Or they’d suspect.. They’d know.” She whimpered, hoping that she was putting on a believable act. She sneaked a glance at the visitor, trying to gauge a reaction.
“Patton,” the stranger warned. “You wound me with your dishonesty. After all this time, this is how you greet me?”
Chastened, Patton slid to her knees and bowed her head. “My apologies. Welcome, Lady.”