Jessica concentrated on taking in air and releasing it but even at that, her breathing was terribly fast and her chest was heaving. No! This is not happening! She tried to shake herself to see if she would awaken from this horrible nightmare but she could not even muster enough energy to move a muscle. Her horrible life of constant nightmares and disasters seem to be adding another event to the pent-up list. “Answer me Jessica, is this information false?” Sonia screamed. Andy, who had been glued to the spot, too stupefied to do anything suddenly charged to the front, marching to the podium. All he could see was Sonia and he would not stop till he got to her. A viselike grip dragged him back and he struggled, succeeding, due to his great strength. He did not even have the time to check the face of the person that stopped him as he charged forward. His dad blocked his way and Andy almost collided with him. The place was like a backstage entrance to the podium so people could not see them. “Dad, please leave the way” He growled. “What do you want to do?” “What sort of rubbish is this dad? What kind of stunt is this? Why are you doing this?” Andy’s hands were fisted and ready to charge. The only problem is that he could not punch his own father. “I am saving your sorry ass. Don’t think I don’t know what really went on but I am obliged to think that this Jessica of a girl bewitched you. I would not let the name of this family fall into a stinking mud because of your senselessness” Mr. Williams said too calmly. “How did you even find out? I bet that stinking thing out there spilled everything” Andy wished he could be left alone with Sonia so he could teach her a lesson she would live to remember. His dad smiled. “I knew something was fishing when I heard you got married. When I got to your house, I planted a camera in the sitting room when everyone was asleep. I did not expect to find anything suspicious though because you and your so-called wife seemed so intimate.” Andy stared, not believing his own ears. His father had invaded his own privacy. What on earth had given him the right? “I felt guilty about the camera and went back to the house to get the camera. I played what I saw on it just in case and saw some love scenes, just as I was about to stop it, I stumbled on the very interesting scene where Sonia came to your house. I heard all the drama that ensued and went looking for Sonia” “Who gave you the right dad? What makes you think you can meddle with my life? I am a grown man dad, perfectly capable of making my own decisions and choices” Andy yelled. “Even stupid decisions like a contract wedding? What happened to a normal wedding?” “You are pushing it dad. It is my life. How dare you do this to her? You may want to destroy someone’s life but the person involved here is the woman I love; my wife” Andy emphasized. “Contract wife you mean. Son, that girl is only after the money, she has no dignity and don’t even think of loving her.” Andy gritted his teeth painfully. “It is a bit late for that. Dad, tell that demented thing to get off the stage, or so help me God, I would cause a scene that even your almighty self would not be able to control.” Jessica, who was still standing where Andy left her could not respond to the challenge that was being tossed her way by the very person she called her best friend. Lizzy and Paulina went to stand with Jessie but she almost could not notice them, the only thing that clouded her senses were the murmurings she heard and the loud accusations. Her uncle suddenly appeared in front of her, his face as tight as hard rock. He seized her hand roughly and started pulling her out of the hall. She staggered behind him but he did not slow. When they got outside, her hand came free but pain shot through her like lightening as her uncle’s hand connected with her cheek. She winced and moaned in pain as tears that had been held in her eye socket rushed out. “How dare you Jessica” he roared. “How dare you shame our family like this? How can you stoop so low? Tell me” he growled. “No…” Jessica sobbed. “Dad, I…” “Don’t call me dad; don’t you dare. We are not rich but then, we are not hungry. Were you so discontented?” Her uncle’s wife pushed through the crowd that Jessica was just noticing. “Funsho! Stop this” she tried to calm him down. “We have not heard her own side of the story” “What does she have to say? She does not look ready to protest” What could Jessica say? That she had actually married Andy for 20 million Naira but not the way Sonia had put it? That she had decided to forfeit the money? That all their declarations of love had been a perfectly rehearsed drama? No! She could not say anything. In fact, it might just make things worse. She looked at the faces of people who had gathered, seeing so many friends of hers, seeing so many people who had attended their wedding, seeing their best man who was Andy’s best friend and some of Andy’s friends and family members. They all had the look of hatred and disgust on their faces. Some were stunned and many murmured continuously. She took to her heels and started running as fast as her legs could carry her, even though she wore high heeled shoes. Andy charged through the door. “Where is Jessica?” he yelled. No one was ready to give a reply but as he saw a familiar figure running ceaselessly, he ran after her. As he ran, he yelled her name but she did not slow down. Andy did not know if he was feeling rage, worry or confusion, all he knew was that he wanted Jessica to be alright. The heels were really affecting Jessica but she continued running. She just wanted to run. She could still hear all the voices in her head as she cried. She stopped abruptly and started tugging off her shoes. She did not care if her bare feet got severe injuries by running without her shoes. She felt she would be glad if a physical pain could take her mind off the incident that just occurred. She continued to sob furiously as she gathered the shoes in her hands and started running again. Andy’s arms closed around Jessica immediately, dragging her against him forcefully. She did not know that she was being followed but even as the familiar hands wrapped around her, she started struggling. “Please Jessica, sweetheart, please calm down” Jessica struggled and shook in his arms. “Leave me…” she cried. “Let me go Drew” “No, Jess. Let me hold you” Jessica had no more struggles. She buried her head against his chest and cried. Andy’s heart was shattered into pieces. It took all his willpower to stop him from crying. Seeing Jessica so heartbroken and shattered was more than he could handle. “I am ruined Andy.” Jessica wailed. “Why can’t I just die? Tell me Drew. Why does God hate me so much” she cried. Andy was not sure he had answers to any of the questions she asked. He hugged her tightly. “It is going to be alright Jess. I love you, nothing can change that. We would get through this” he kissed her head and held her close. He called the driver that brought them to the party and within minutes, the driver arrived. Andy was happy that the driver had not witnessed all that took place because the driver looked shocked when he saw Jessica crying. “Is everything OK ma’am?” he asked with concern. Jessica could not answer. “She would be fine” Andy replied and took Jessica to the backseat, sitting beside her also. The driver picked up Jessica’s shoes and purse which was scattered on the road and put them in the car as he got behind the wheels. Andy pulled Jessica back into his arms and she rested her head on his chest. Jessica sniffed and swallowed as her tears stopped. Andy stroked her head slowly and kissed the top of her head. He felt responsible for this occurrence. He never should have accepted the idea of a party, especially one which was being organized by his own father. His father had always been mischievous and spontaneous when it comes to the family name. To his father, nothing was more important and anything should be done when something untoward surfaces, even if it meant having a sacrificial lamb. Jessica was already asleep when they arrived home and he was greatly relieved. He carried her inside the house and straight to the bed. When he placed her on the bed, she sniffed like a baby that just finished crying and folded her knees, towards her chest. Andy swallowed and kissed her cheek as he ran his fingers through her hair. His temples throbbed. He had promised to protect her and make her happy but no, all he had been able to give her was more and more pain. He felt terribly devastated. He wanted to remove Jessica’s clothes and jewelries so that she would sleep more comfortably but he remembered that she did not get anything to eat at the party before it crumbled. He covered Jessica with a blanket and put on the air conditioner. He went to the kitchen but did not see any food there. Cooking seemed to be out of it because he did not feel up to it so he picked up the car keys and wallet and left the house to get food at the eatery. He wished he had not relieved the driver, he would have sent him to get the food while he held Jessica as she slept. He thought of how small she looked as she slept; she looked like a little girl who was afraid of a stormy rain. After he got the food, he got back into the car and drove home. He locked up the doors and went inside the room but received a very big shock when he found the bed empty. ********** ********** Sonia left the podium, feeling very low. She had just acted a script for personal benefit at the expense of her friend’s happiness. Sonia had always been jealous of Jessica’s pronounced beauty even though the person in question seemed not to notice it but instead, tried in vain to look unattractive. She started wearing various flashy clothes just to feel more beautiful whenever Jessica was around and her job at the bank enhanced it but Jessica never even noticed this act, no one did because Sonia was very discrete. Her jealousy had turned to envy when Jessica announced that she would be getting married to the richest bachelor in the country. Why couldn’t it be her? Why was it always Jessica? All this questions had clung to her subconscious. Jessica noticed that Lizzy was becoming closer to Jessie than she was and she became suspicious then one day, she got the golden ticket when she eavesdropped on their conversation and heard them talking about a contract. All that came to Sonia’s mind then had been to snatch Andy by seducing him but when she found out that he was loyal to Jessica and even seemed to have feelings for her, she became confused but the answer came looking for her. “Sir” she called when she sighted Mr. Williams. “My job is done and your son is not involved, he appeared to be the victim of the whole scheme” “Yes, good job” Mr. Williams said dryly. Sonia canceled the irritation she felt at the nonchalant dismissal. “Sir, if you would give me my due, I would be on my way” The elderly man faced her slowly. “You said that lady is your friend. Don’t you feel guilty for what you did to her?” Sonia was thrown off balance by the question but after thinking about it she decided. “No. I am doing the right thing. What they both did is wrong. No one should get married for money. She got what she called for” Sonia remembered how stunning and sophisticated Jessica had looked when she arrived at the party. She looked perfect and everyone’s eyes, especially the men had followed her around. He could almost feel the jealousy in their eyes as well as the desire to be in Andy’s position. The ladies had also admired her beauty and coveted it. Sonia remembered the golden costume jewelries that Jessica wore and anger clouded her senses. She had no doubt that the jewelries would cost a fortune. Mr. Williams looked at the woman in front of him and shook his head in disgust. “You are the worst friend a human being can have, it would be better to be friends with the devil himself.” The words stung Sonia painfully. He withdrew a check of 10 million Naira and gave her. “I don’t want to set my eyes on you again”. He turned and walked away. ********** ********** “Jessica” he called out with his heart pounding but did not hear any response. Alarm bells rang in his head and he flung the package he was holding, not caring where it landed. “Jess” he called louder. He checked the toilet and every corner of the room but did not find her. He started searching everywhere in the house, yelling ‘Jessica’ but he got no response. He hurriedly unlocked the door and went to his gateman. “Did Jessica leave the house?” “Yes, oga. She just commot, she no tell me anything” “Oh my God” He groaned. “Why did you not stop her? What is happening for Christ’s sake?” “Oga, abeg no vex” “Shut up and open the bloody gate.” Andy yelled. The young man spun into action. Andy jumped into his car and drove out with his blood boiling. He started driving and searching for Jessica. He crosschecked everyone twice even though he knew he would identify Jessie immediately he sighted her. After more than thirty minutes of fruitless search, Andy had to confront the fact that Jessica was nowhere to be found.