“It is beautiful. I love it,” Susan said. She looked at the silver locket in her hand and run her finger over the beautifully intricate design of a rose. Steve had great taste in everything, jewellery, clothes, cologne, and women.
“Good. I know Mary will love it. I think she might be the one.” Steve hugged Susan and took the locket from her. “I am finally ready to settle down. I think Mary would make a good wife. I will pursue her seriously”
Susan sighed as Steve went to get them more drinks from the counter.
“Men are so daft,’ she thought. Then she forgot where she was and she said out loud, “I wish he would think about me that way.” Then she shook her head and took a sip of her drink.
“Well girl, you had your chance, and you blew it. Steve is never going to see you as more than just a buddy”
She looked at the cake box which was on the table. She had baked one of her special raspberry cakes that also had wine in it. “Mary is going to love it,” she thought. Steve had ordered it specifically for her.
Susan could feel a headache coming on. Great – a headache to go with the heartache she was already feeling. She massaged her temples. “I can’t do this,” she thought. “I will give my excuses when Mary comes.”
An hour later Mary entered the restaurant to find that she had been set up. She thought she was having dinner with Steve, but Steve had planned a surprise birthday party with a few friends who had arrived half an hour earlier. Because she didn’t want to disappoint Steve, Susan stayed around for another hour but eventually, she couldn’t take it anymore. She excused herself and went home.
Susan swallowed some painkillers, took a shower, and got into bed. As she lay there under the cold sheets she reflected on where she had gone wrong.
4 years ago, Susan had come back from Italy where she had gone to culinary school and where she had worked in one of the top Michelin-star restaurants. She was excited to be back in Kenya after 6 years away. She started off by working at one of the five-star restaurants. Life was good and it was exciting to be back. Susan was working hard and saving up. She had some savings, and she was planning to add the money she earned this year to her nest egg after one year she planned to start her own restaurant. Working for somebody else was not ideal but since she had been out of the country, she needed experience in the Kenyan hospitality industry so that she could understand the market and what Kenyans were looking for.
During her day off, which was only one day a week she would go basketball with her friends. It was something she loved. It allowed her to exercise and meet new people.
At basketball practice is where she met Steve. He was tall, about 6 foot 5, muscular, and good-looking. He had beautiful chocolate skin.
The first time they met they were in opposing teams and they challenged each other. They met a couple of times after that and then started hanging out after the games.
Steve was interested in Susan. She was also tall for a girl, standing at 5 foot 9. She had a chocolate complexion, full lips that always had red lipstick, long hair that was dyed colour red and she was curvy in all the right places.
Steve tried chatting her up. She wasn’t interested. Well, she was interested, Steve was a hottie. But she had no time for flirtations or relationships. Susan was extremely focused on starting her business and looking for money to set up the business. She had been buying equipment for her kitchen and scouting around for staff.
Steve asked her out a couple of times. She said no, she didn’t have time for romance or dates. Her focus was on her restaurant and opening it. That’s what occupied her mind day and night. She told him as much – that she was focused on building the business and that at the moment there was nothing else she could focus on. Steve respected that and they still hang out they had the same friends although Susan stopped going to play basketball at some point because she was busy on her day off.
On one of the nights when Susan was out with her friends, Steve was there. Susan had a bit too much to drink and Steve offered to drive her home. She accepted the offer. Was it the alcohol or it was just Susan feeling a bit daring because when Steve took her to her door, she decided to be mischievous and kiss him? Although it caught Steve by surprise, he kissed her back. It was a passionate kiss. A kiss blew her away. Steve sure knew how to use those lips. She asked him if he would come in for coffee. Since Steve was a gentleman and didn’t want to take advantage he left. He said they would talk in the morning.
The next day Susan woke up and remembered the events of the last night, she was so embarrassed. She decided to behave like the kiss was nothing. When Steve called her in the morning, Susan told him the kiss had been a mistake and that they should just forget it had happened.
Steve was hurt that she would just brush off the kiss like that and his feelings for her as well. He decided to give up on trying to pursue Susan and he asked another girl out. Susan told herself that it wouldn’t have worked anyway.
But from that time, she would keep thinking about Steve. She would get so nervous if she was going to meet him and her heart would beat fast. Her palms would become sweaty. Steve had gotten the message she had been sending before, that he was friend-zoned. He never asked her out again. Before they would chat all the time but now, he stopped talking to her on WhatsApp and stopped commenting on her social media pages.
Susan eventually started her restaurant, and she threw herself into making the restaurant a success. She worked long hours and at the end of the day, she was tired. Too tired to think much about Steve and how she was still crushing on him and how she missed his calls and texts to find out how she was or tell her to check out something he thought she would be interested in.
Eventually, after a year or so they started talking again. But it was never the same. The teasing Steve was gone, he now treated her like a buddy. They started being close again and her crush moved towards love.
It was 3 years after that kiss that changed her view of Steve. As Susan lay in her bed alone, while Steve partied the night away with his girlfriend, she thought with regret that it should have been her. She should have been the one held close in Steve’s muscular arms, breathing in his sexy cologne. She should have been the one Steve kissed and who he took home at night to his bed, to make sweet love all night long.
Tears run down her face as she lay there in the dark in her sexy red lingerie. Outside the dogs were barking. She held her pillow close and slept, her body hot, thinking about Steve.
At 10 am Susan was rubbing the back of her neck. Her braids which were tied with a rubber band lightly scratching her hand as she tried to massage the kinks out of her neck. She thought “Great. Another thing I have forgotten to take care of. My hair.” She had been so busy working that she didn’t even have time to go to the hairdresser.
Susan sipped her strong black coffee as she looked at her favourite painting. It was an oil painting of a ship out in the sea. It helped calm her on most days but not today. Not after her meeting with her part-time accountant. He had explained the situation to her. She was bleeding money. The restaurant wasn’t making enough money to cover the expenses it was incurring.
When she had chosen the location of the restaurant 2 years ago it had been in the perfect place. On one side of the restaurant was a movie theatre and on the other side had clothing boutiques and a baby shop. Business had been good. The movie theatre had closed a year ago citing low sales due partly to the habit of Kenyans of buying pirated movies and also because many movie theatres had converted to 3D movie theatres. The other boutiques had also moved soon after to another prime location. Susan had paid her rent for the year in advance, so she had to stay there to recoup her investment.
“Why does everything have to spin out of control just now?” she wondered.
Last week her lover Anthony proposed. They were having dinner at his house and just before dessert he had proposed. The ring was a beautiful sapphire and diamond ring that had belonged to his family for generations. The proposal had come as a shock. Ok well, she should have read the signs, but she had been so busy with the restaurant she had ignored the signs.
Tony was dreamy with the kind of bad boy looks Italians were known for. He was 6 feet, 3 inches. He had olive skin and a smile that made girls weak in the knees. His jet-black hair was slicked back with gel and his ever-present black biker jacket made him look dangerous, gorgeous, and yummy at the same time.
Tony had been hinting they should move in together. Susan had resisted the idea. She liked her space and she also had a secret. That she loved Steve. Tony was a great lover, very considerate and fun to be with. He made her laugh, but she didn’t love him. She couldn’t be herself, the real Susan. She was in a relationship with her body but not her mind.
Susan told Tony she needed to think about it. Tony lived in Italy for most of the year and came back to Kenya to check on his investments. He also came back quite frequently to see Susan who he said, “was the love of his life.” Getting married would mean that she would have to move to Italy. Not that she didn’t love Italy. She loved it there. It just meant she would have to leave behind her restaurant, her family and Steve.
Susan had met Tony when she was studying in Italy. They had dated when she was in Italy, but she hadn’t thought of it as being a long-term relationship. After all, she was moving back to Kenya when she finished her studies. Tony had come to visit her, and he decided to invest some money in a leather factory that would export leather to Italy to make items. She started dating Tony because it was convenient, and a girl got needs. It’s not like Steve paid her any attention and she was kind of lonely. All the people she knew in Kenya had sort of moved on during the 6 years she had studied and worked in Italy.
Susan did try to stop thinking about Steve. But it was hard when he persistently brought girls over to her restaurant to eat there. He thought he was giving her business but what he was doing was constantly putting a sword through her heart.
The door to her office opened and Andrew her manager came in. “Steve is here. He is asking for the chef.” Andrew smiled and then said “This girl he has come with a couple of times. Things must be getting serious. Steve has good taste. I wonder where he gets those beautiful women that he is always dating.”
Susan said “At basketball. They are always drooling over Steve!”
Andrew said, “I think I should take up basketball. Hey boss can I be leaving early on Tuesday to play basketball? I need a cute girlfriend!”
“Of course, you can. I shall deduct the time from your salary, and you will have to explain it to your wife!” Susan replied.
“Ai boss usikuwe hivyo. You know I have a soft spot for the ladies. I just like to look.” Andrew said.
“Yeah, right look. That’s what they call it nowadays.” Susan retorted.
Andrew left the office.
Susan put on some of her signature red lipstick and put some lotion on her hands. She looked at herself in the mirror. She looked tired. She wondered where that beautiful, confident woman she used to be had disappeared to. She thought “I need a vacation, but I can’t afford one right now. Now I have to go to deal with watching Steve with Mary and pretend that I am happy for them.”
“I love my life,” Susan said out loud sarcastically.
Susan practised her fake smile in the mirror. Then she went out to meet Steve and his “marriage material” girlfriends.
Susan sipped some wine as she looked out of her seventh-story window. It was raining outside, and raindrops spattered on the glass window. Susan usually loved the sound of the raindrops hitting the window but today she was distracted. Her heart was breaking, and she didn’t know what to do about it.
This heartbreak was bad, and it wasn’t even caused by a man. Her restaurant was failing. Covid 19 had come and disrupted everything. It was the middle of the lockdown and restaurants were only doing takeaways. Her restaurant depended a lot on the foot traffic of the mall. Now she was forced to pay full rent for an empty restaurant.
On tv, she had seen people talking about landlords who were giving their tenants a reprieve. Those ones were lucky. Her landlord was a property management company, and they were not sympathetic to the tenants and their woos. She still had two months left on the contract and she wasn’t sure she would even have a restaurant to run let alone pay for.
On the love front, she was still loving Steve from afar. Antony her lover was stuck in Italy. The Covid pandemic had affected Italy and they were in a lockdown. It is not like he could travel anyway. Kenya had stopped commercial flights from other countries and was only allowing cargo flights in and out of the country. Antony had been calling her and asking her to consider his proposal. She could get a good job in Italy and they could get married and start their family. Antony really loved her. The problem was great love but the wrong guy.
Susan felt so stuck. She had gotten job offers from some hotels in Italy and also a high-end hotel outside Nairobi to be the head chef. She had been considering it because she was bleeding money, and she needed a solution to her money issues.
Susan had been having trouble sleeping and even getting bad migraines caused by the anxiety she was feeling. She had taken to having a glass or two of wine to help her sleep at night. Sometimes it helped, but sometimes she lay awake in her bed worrying about the restaurant.
Susan walked away from the window and sat on her rainbow-coloured couch. She reached for her phone and called Steve. He answered after 3 rings and said hello.
“Hello, Steve. I needed to talk to you. I hope it’s not too late to call?” Susan asked nervously.
“You can call me any time if you need me. What’s up?” Steve asked.
Susan didn’t know where to start so she just talked. “things have been pretty bad at the restaurant and I don’t know what to do. I don’t know if I should shut it down and go work for somebody else…” She paused, “I know you are a business strategist and I thought maybe you can help me figure things out. I don’t know how much it would cost… I don’t have a lot of savings right now…” she was silent for a minute “but I know if I don’t do something soon, I will lose everything I have worked so hard for.”
Steve who had just been listening said, “The first step is acknowledging that you need help. Why don’t I come over tomorrow and you can tell me more about it? We will see if we can figure this thing out. About payment, don’t worry. We can work out something. If worst comes to worst, you can be feeding me for the rest of your life. From you, I would accept meals as a form of payment. Anyway, I know this is serious. Thanks for reaching out. Try to get a good night’s sleep.” He checked his diary. “Can I meet you at the restaurant at 3 PM?”
“Yes, that will work for me. Thanks, Steve. It means a lot,” Sue said. She wished him a good night and went to bed.
The next day Susan dressed up in her favourite dress and wore her favourite shade of red lipstick and perfume. She was nervous, for many reasons. For the last couple of months, she had been avoiding Steve. He was probably too busy with his new girlfriend to notice. Also, he was working from home so now he did not have a reason to come by the restaurant. He still ordered food from her and it was delivered by bike.
Susan spent the day baking. She had a lot of baking orders, but they were not enough to sustain the business let alone pay the rent. Susan was listening to music as she decorated one of the cakes. She did not hear Steve come in so when she heard his deep baritone saying “Hi!” she almost tripped. Susan had been forced to let go of her kitchen staff, so she was the only one in the kitchen.
Steve looked good as usual. He was in a blue suit, with a white shirt which had two buttons undone. He looked different now because he had grown out his hair and beard, but it made him look more handsome. His cologne wafted across to her and damn this man smelled good. She wanted to go and hug him, but she restrained herself. She reminded herself, ‘This is a business meeting. Calm down.’ She wished she could convince her hormones of that. She felt hot and flustered.
“Hey. Please have a seat in the restaurant. I didn’t know it was 3 already. Let me just grab the books, some snacks and coffee then we can get down to business.” Susan said as she removed her apron.
Susan put some coffee to brew and went to her office for her accounts books which she took to Steve. She went back for the coffee, poured it into a thermos and carried it with some cashew nut cookies back to the table.
Steve asked her questions about the business and took a lot of notes. Susan was getting nervous. It must be really bad. Finally, he stopped taking notes. He had removed his jacket and when he reached for a cookie his well-toned muscles could be seen.
“so, do you want the good news or the bad news?” Steve asked.
“The bad news first,” Susan said nervously.
“Well, this is the worst time to have a struggling restaurant. Covid has messed up the hospitality industry. Also having a space that you are paying for but not using is a really big disadvantage” Steve was serious. “but I feel like you have a few options that you haven’t taken advantage of. I know you are not big on using social media, but this is the perfect time to use it. It is not expensive, and it can boost your business. I can do a social media strategy for you. We can discuss and see what you are comfortable doing and what you are not. Are you in?”
Susan was relieved that at least there was something she could do. She only used Facebook to keep in touch with her family and friends. Although she had Instagram and Twitter accounts, she never used them. She preferred to spend the time she was not in the restaurant, playing basketball, reading, and hiking.
“Yes. I am in. but I guess you are going to have to teach me everything because I have no clue where to start.” Susan bit her lip as she waited for Steve to reply.
“Well, I can do that. Let me just figure out what you need. Then we can get started,” Steve said as he stood up to leave.
“Ok cool. How will I pay you?” Susan asked.
“Let me figure this thing out and what it will take to set it up. For now, don’t worry about money. You’re my friend. We can talk about money when your business is up and running. I would feel bad if I took advantage when things are this bad. I believe in you and your business. With a little luck and a lot of strategy, we can turn things around for you.”
As he put on his jacket Steve asked, “How is Antony?”
Susan said, “he is ok. He is working on some products he wants to launch in the international market in the next few months.”
“You haven’t thought of going back to Italy? I know you had a good life there!” Steve said. It was the way he asked her that made her pause.
“Kenya is my home. I have thought about it and even though I know that things can be hard here, this is where I want to be. That’s why I am fighting for this business.” Susan said firmly.
“What about Antony?” Steve was asking. She wondered why he was insisting on knowing.
Susan sighed. “I need to break up with him. He deserves somebody who wants the same things he wants.”
Steve hugged her. “it will be ok. You will figure things out. I am always here if you want to talk.” He took his bag and left.
Steve came up with a social media strategy for her and a strategy for partnerships that Susan could explore. Thrice a week he would come to work with her to show her how to use social media and some tips and tricks to use. Slowly her online business started picking up. She was using Instagram mostly to sell her cakes and meals. Steve showed her how to leverage TikTok to do short videos of her making cakes. He even got some of their friends who were bloggers and influencers to talk about her food and do giveaways of cupcakes.
He also helped her advertise her restaurant for small parties for companies that wanted to have celebrations and families that wanted a space to have a small party with social distancing. He also got her a partnership with a flour company to be an influencer of sorts.
The last two months had been interesting working with Steve. She had come to admire him even more. He had a work ethic that rivalled hers and he had given her great ideas that had brought the business back to life in a different way.
Susan was clearing up the restaurant counters. The room was empty. Susan had decided to close the restaurant until further notice. Her lease was up, and she had decided not to renew. She would be working from home for the foreseeable future and she had moved one of her big cookers and an oven there.
While it was not ideal, Steve had convinced her it was the best thing she could do businesswise. “you can still open up another restaurant when the time is right. For now, with the coronavirus pandemic looking like it might not have a solution soon, you are better off not paying rent.”
Although it broke her heart she had to agree with Steve. Susan had sent all her restaurant furniture and ovens to her parent’s farm on the outskirts of Nairobi. They had a barn-type of structure where she could store her things while she decided what to do. She wasn’t sure what would happen but now that her business was flourishing, at least she wasn’t anxious. All thanks to Steve.
Speaking of Steve, he had invited her over to his house. They had spent so much time at the restaurant and her house when he was coaching her that he decided she needed a change in the scenario. He hadn’t talked about Mary for a while, but she assumed she would be there. Susan hadn’t wanted to ask him about her. She could only face one heartbreak at a time. She had broken off things with Antony because she knew it was the right thing to do.
Steve lived in a semi-detached house with a bit of a compound. She had never been there before. He had moved in a year ago from an apartment that she had visited a couple of times. She guessed he had moved because it was time to settle down. She knew he wanted somewhere he could put down roots and raise a family.
Susan had carried a plant for him as a gift plus some shopping and some cake and wine for dessert. Steve like her had grown up on a farm. They both loved plants and trees. When she entered the compound, she could see potted plants in bloom everywhere.
Steve opened the door when she knocked. He was wearing an apron over a black t-shirt and jeans. He welcomed her into the sitting room.
“Should I help you?” she asked. “I can cook you know!”
“Nah you are always cooking for me when I come over. Let me cook for you today. Besides, I know you are tired and today has been an emotional day for you. Just sit down, relax and listen to some music.” He poured her some wine. “Relax. Today you are my guest.”
Susan took her glass of wine and sipped it as she walked around to look at his beautiful art.
In half an hour they were sitting down to eat. Steve had prepared some seasoned pork ribs with sauteed potatoes and some greens.
Susan had thought she would see Mary and was surprised she was not there. She asked, “Should we wait for Mary?”
Steve said, “Mary and I broke up a couple of months back. I thought you knew. Things were going well but we were forced to spend a lot of time together during the first months of the pandemic. We quickly discovered that we did not have a lot in common. We were arguing a lot. She wanted to go out and hang out with her friends all the time and not take precautions. You know I am. Cautious.” He had a sad smile, “Well at least I found out before I proposed! She is a lovely lady, but I guess she is not the one for me.”
Susan said, “I am sorry to hear that you broke up.” Susan didn’t how to feel about this new development.
There was a bit of awkward silence. They served food. They watched tv as they ate and talked about general things.
Susan helped him clean the dishes. Then they settled to eat dessert with the wine she had brought. They were watching a comedy about a couple of guys who dressed up as nuns to escape the mob. Nuns on the run were hilarious and they were both laughing when it ended.
They sat there in silence then Steve said, “Can I ask you something?”
Susan said “Yeah. Of course.”
Steve said, “I don’t want to bring back old stuff, but I just wanted to know. What happened that day I kissed you? I thought we had a vibe but the next day when I wanted to talk about it you blew me off! I know it probably doesn’t matter to you, but it did to me. It still does.”
Susan had not expected this. She put down her glass of wine.
“I think I was embarrassed. To be honest I don’t know why I behaved like that. But I regret the way I acted. I wish I could turn back the clock. I would do things differently.” She picked up her plate of cake and fiddled with the spoon.
Steve looked surprised. “What would you do differently?”
Susan sighed, “I guess I would do the mature thing and talk to you instead of pretending nothing happened. I think I was surprised by how I felt when you kissed me. I think I couldn’t deal with how you made me feel. I was thinking about my business and how I needed to focus on it.”
Steve asked, “How did you feel?”
Susan said, “Well I liked you and I liked the kiss a lot. A little too much!” She blushed.
“Ok,” Steve said. “can I ask you something?”
Susan looked at him. “Yeah, I guess so.”
“What do you feel about me now?”
“Well, I…” Susan had not seen this coming. She did not know what to say. She needed to be careful with her words. “I like you. I regret not taking the chance to get to see where things could go. But I lost the right to ask for a second chance…”
“What if I still like you?” Steve confessed. “If I still can’t get you out of my head. Would you give me a second chance? I thought I had put my feelings for you behind me but working with you and spending time with you reminded me of why I liked you. Do you think there is a chance we could start over?”
“Yes!” Susan exclaimed with a smile on her face.
Steve came over to Susan’s seat, pulled her up and kissed her. The kiss was everything Susan had dreamed about and more. She felt like she was a dream that she would wake up out of. She wanted to pinch herself to see if this was real. She pinched herself to make sure. It was. It was real. It was happening. She had gotten a second chance.
During their 6th month anniversary, Steve proposed to Susan during a romantic picnic he had planned out of town. Susan said yes. They are planning to have a wedding in May 2021.
Thank you for reading this story. If you loved this story check out some of my other stories on love.
Potentash Founder. A creative writer. The Managing Editor at Potentash. Passionate about telling African stories and stories about the inclusion of minorities. Find me at email@example.com.
“We're all stories, in the end.” ― Steven Moffat