“One Day, Gabriella, I’ll Make You Beg Me To Have You.”
“Hmmn, teacher’s pet. Or should I say, “boss’ favourite,” Oma teased, grinning, when Gabriella appeared in their office moments later.
Guilt and embarrassment made Gabriella fumble with the papers she was arranging into the wall cabinet, which she slammed shut to hide her reaction.
“Don’t you start, Oma,” she muttered. “And you’re helping me with the party, okay? Boss’ orders.”
“Oh, I’ll be glad to. Maybe that way, I too could squirm my way into the boss’s good books.” She chuckled at her friend’s irritated glance. “Okay, you can’t be accused of doing any squirming – which makes it all the more annoying!”
“Makes what annoying?” Gabriella quizzed, though she had a sinking feeling that she might not like the answer.
“Come off it, Gabby,” Oma said, “You might be blind, but I’m not. The way he always picks you out, always gives you more attention. . .”
“That’s called bullying, Oma, if you really want to put a name to it,” Gabriella snapped, still shaken by all that had happened in the last half hour.
“Not bullying, uh uh,” Oma disagreed, shaking her head vigorously. “Me thinks our handsome boss has the hots for our prudish Miss Okon. I just can’t figure out why.”
Gabriella couldn’t face her by this time, but rummaged busily through the file cabinet. Oma went on in her contemplative tone.
“I mean, you could care less about what you’re wearing or how you look: you don’t have any interest in men, and all you think about is work, work, work- “ Oma shook her head wonderingly. “And yet, I feel like it’s all just an act.”
Gabriella was not in the mood for a second analysis that day. Jeta had effortlessly managed to peel down all her defences, virtually blowing her cover – and now even Oma was joining the dots.
Sighing deeply, she at last faced her friend. “Look, can we just drop it? I’m already having a rough day.” Yep, being kissed by Jeta had been one of the really low points. Or so she wished she could tell herself.
“Hey, what happened to your glasses?” Oma suddenly asked, her brow rising into her thick stylish fringe, surprised to notice the trademark goggles were nowhere to be seen. At that, Gabriella seemed to start guiltily, and Oma jumped to her feet and came to stand in front of her.
“Something happened back in the office with Jeta, didn’t it? I won’t let you be till you tell me, Gabby!” She gripped her friend’s shoulders and shook them.
“Oh, alright!” Gabriella cried, and with utmost reluctance, gave Oma the low-down. About the kiss, the things he’d said: everything.
“I knew it. I just knew he fancied you.” Oma’s jaw was almost on the floor as she spoke. “I mean, he’s always given you preference, in everything. And he holds your opinion higher than any one else’s around here. I always thought it was maybe because Jairo put in a good word for you when he left. . .but I’ve caught him looking at you several times, and the only way I could describe it was. . . steamy.” She grinned impishly.
“This is so crazy,” Gabriella sighed, fingers at her temples. “I should be slamming a sexual assault complaint on him, but instead, I’m just. .stumped. I don’t know what next to do.” She looked at Oma, who for the first time, saw the vulnerability and openness that had always been hidden away before.
“I wasn’t always like this, Oma. I wasn’t always “Drab Gab.”” She smiled. “In my first year in university, I was popular, the fun-loving, outgoing type that every guy in my class wanted to date. I was so busy going to parties and I hardly even attended lectures, but I was still making respectable grades. I was even approached by a modelling agent once, on campus. I could have been a super model.”
Looking at her, Oma could believe that. She had always envied Gabriella her slim yet Amazonian frame, with her high bust and long legs she always kept hidden beneath the floor-sweeping skirts. And without her glasses, her eyes, bright and thickly lashed without the aid of mascara, stood out in her lovely, clear skinned face.
“So, what happened?” Oma asked gently.
Gabriella shrugged. “It’s silly, really, now that I think of it. In my second year, I was sexually harassed by one of my lecturers. He’d lured me to his office under the pretext of discussing my grades, and next thing I knew, I was fighting him off. He warned me I would fail his course if I didn’t sleep with him. I was devastated. I was barely nineteen, and the experience made me feel like I was dirty, that there was something wrong with me.”
Gabriella shuddered now, and it was like the whole ordeal was still repulsive to her. She remembered how she’d run out of the office, and returned home in tears. She was unable to hide it from her mom, who in turn informed her dad. And the next morning, when she was on her way to class, he stopped her.
“Just look at yourself, Gabriella,” he’d told her, in a voice she could never forget. “How will you not be getting indecent offers from your lecturer?”
She obediently looked down at her jeans mini skirt, with the matching crop jacket, her mid-riff bared by her flimsy tank top. Her endless, smooth legs ended in strappy-sandaled wedges. She frowned in confusion. She always dressed like this. All the other girls on campus did, too. She looked up to see her father shaking his head at her with a pitiful expression.
“You look like a trollop, Gabriella. And that’s how you’ll always be treated. Noone will ever care about your brain, or what you have to offer. You girls of today keep objectifying yourselves, and you wonder why you get molested by randy old men.” He pointed back to the stairs. “Now go back up to your room and change out of those rags. And think about what I said. If you want to be a sex object for the rest of your life, or a woman who’d always be respected and admired for who she is.”
Gabriella held Oma’s gaze now, her expression somewhat pained. “I guess you could say those words really got to me. A lot of things really started to make sense. It was like the scales had fallen from my eyes. Bit by bit, I started to change those aspects of my personality that had made me so popular with the boys – and a bit unpopular with the girls, if I remember correctly. I actually overhead some of my female classmates talking about me once, asking each other that was I the only girl in the department, and why were all the guys after me. I felt really gutted that I was so disliked for my looks and my popularity. I started to withdraw into my shell after that.”
“Gosh, Gabby, I can imagine,” Oma said gently, squeezing her shoulder.
“But looking back now, I think it was really silly of me to let it all affect me so much. I mean, look at how I’ve turned out.” She threw her arms wide, making a disparaging face at her dull, un-chic clothes. “This isn’t me, Oma. I’ve been hiding behind a mask for so long, thinking that that was how I could win respect. But I only became a laughing stock.”
“I never laughed at you, Gabby,” Oma told her. “I always liked you for what you were – but now I want to see the real Gabriella.” She viewed her friend speculatively for a few moments.
“What you need, sweetheart, is a makeover. A complete overhaul,” Oma said decisively, at last. “I’m not doing anything this weekend, so we could go shopping. I mean serious wardrobe modification on a grand scale. After all, now that we know our sexy boss has set his sights on you, we’re not going to let such a golden opportunity pass us by now, are we?”
Gabriella looked appalled. “Let’s keep Jeta out of this, okay? That kiss was just his way of putting me in my place for saying I thought he wasn’t so hot. Some men don’t take criticism very well. Especially when they’re so used to having their way with women.”
“Okay, okay, we’ll pretend it’s not all for Jeta’s benefit,” Oma said quickly and dutifully, her eyes already gleaming with the idea of her new plan. “But I promise you, by the time I’m through, you’ll be thanking me for helping you to get Jeta eating out of the palm of your hand. . .”
It was Monday morning. Jeta strode into the office, his messenger case in one hand, and a hot cup of his early caffeine fix in the other hand. It was barely past eight, but a lot of the junior staff were already at their desks, and he returned their greetings with a nod and a smile. Which froze on his face at the unexpected image that was standing before him.
“Good morning, Jeta. How way your weekend?” Gabriella asked. She was right next to the copying machine and had a sheaf of papers in her hand. When he just stood there staring at her, she shrugged, an ironic smile curving her lips, then turned back to the machine. His reaction was much of the same she’d been getting since she arrived at work early that morning, and Gabriella would have laughed – but she knew she couldn’t dare.
Gathering his wits about him, he finally bent towards her and muttered thinly, “In my office. Now.”
Gabriella gulped at those ominous words. She glanced back to see he was already striding purposefully away, and she heaved a steadying sigh. Ignoring the curious looks some of the other employees were throwing her way, she turned smartly and headed for Jeta’s office.
He was depositing his coffee and case on the table when she entered, and as she shut the door behind her. “Is there a problem, Jeta?”
Her tone was innocent, and so was her expression, but he wasn’t fooled. “A problem? Oh, no. I just wanted to get a good look at you.”
“Oh,” she smiled, patting the side of her wavy, side-swept hair, while smoothing down the skirt of her blue, dogtooth-patterned suit. ”It’s amazing what a weekend at the hairdresser’s, and a load of shopping, will do. But I was just taking your advice.” She shrugged. “And oh, Oma and I have a few things to show you about our ideas for the office party – ”
“Forget the stupid party,” he growled, coming forward to where she stood. He stopped within inches of her, though it was with his eyes that he roved her from the top of her perfectly coiffed hair, to her feet shod in gorgeous snakeskin high heels. Her nicely tailored skirt suit moulded to her generously curved, womanly frame, and it was an effort to tear his eyes from the loveliness of her face. No more goggles, so her beautiful, coffee-brown eyes blinked prettily at him.
“Well well well,” he murmured at last, nodding with appreciation. “I’ll admit, I like the transformation. It’ll make you even more distracting than ever, but I think I’ll cope.”
“That’s a relief to hear,” she nodded, still all-innocence. “I wouldn’t want anything to affect our—business relationship. Though, I think I owe you a lot. Last Friday. . . you made me realise things about myself that I was running from for a long time. Thank you.”
He stroked that delightfully dimpled chin of his, and not for the first time, she dearly wished she could replace his fingers with hers. Just once. “I’m glad I could be of assistance,” he said, his expression nothing short of scheming. Gabriella’s age-old defences sprung up fast, and his next words made her shiver inwardly, “But I do think there are much better ways you could. . .thank me.”
Jeta saw her backing away slightly, and he chuckled. “Don’t worry, I’m not going to kiss you.”
“Thank goodness,” she muttered, though in her heart, she was sorely disappointed. He was a great kisser.
He twisted his lips at those words. “You know, one day, Gabriella, I’m going to make you beg me to have you. You’re going to want me soo bad. . .” He shook his head, as if annoyed at his own lack of self-command. “Just. . . go back to work. We’ll talk about the party later.”
“Yes, Jeta,” she said primly, secretly glad that she made him lose some of his cool. She was almost giggling into her hand as she quickly escaped, feeling like a feisty teenager again. When she saw Oma later, she told her the outcome, and how he’d reacted.
“Well, I’m glad our weekend effort has not been in vain,” Oma said proudly, rubbing her hands gleefully. “I mean, I’m happy with the new you, Gabby, and honestly, I did it for your own good. But I’m also glad you may just have hooked our handsome boss.”
Gabriella laughed nervously at that. “Look, Oma, I think we can forget about any designs on Jeta. This is a work environment, and you know the policy on office dating.”
“Yeah right,” Oma murmured. “Like you don’t know that one half of the “office” is dating the other half. You’ve been too busy being a workaholic to notice, I guess.”
“You might be right,” Gabriella shrugged, adding firmly, “But I’m standing my ground. Nothing is ever going to happen between me and. . .”
Her words trailed away as just then, a woman appeared in the reception area. She was dressed in an up-to-the-twenties outfit: a figure-hugging black jumpsuit underneath a puff-shoulder jacket, and she pulled off designer shades from her eyes to smile at the gaping receptionist.
“I’m here to see Jeta Clark,” she said, in a voice that was pure class. “He’s expecting me.”
The female receptionist nodded vigorously, glancing down at her appointment book. “Yes, Miss Sawyerr. Mr Clark is expecting you. Straight ahead and on your left.”
“Thank you,” the woman nodded, and Oma watched alongside Gabriella, as she glided out of their sight in the direction of their boss’ office. They both couldn’t get to the receptionist’s desk fast enough.
“Who was that?” Oma whispered breathlessly, and saw the receptionist, Sandra, lift her brows in surprise.
“Don’t you know who she is? Her name’s Omotola Sawyerr – she’s oga’s fiancee.”
Both Oma and Gabriella shared dazed, speechless looks.