Nicholas bit into the chocolate cupcake. The cupcakes tasted good, heavenly. Nalia was a temptress, he decided. How had she known he liked chocolate? .

She passed him a mug of coffee and he stared at the steaming liquid.

There’s a shop at the end of the road. I bought instant coffee there. I took money from your car.”

She grinned.

I think it’s funny you have a jar of coins in your glove compartment.”

Nalia seemed to have gone exploring while he slept. She wore a clean white t-shirt that read ‘Wishing for the stars’, and the blue jeans she’d worn yesterday. They had water marks. She had obviously tried to clean out the mud. Her braids fell around her face, hiding the bruise that had turned darker overnight.

I borrowed this too,” she said, tagging on the t-shirt. She sat on the chair across him and leaned her elbows on the table. “Found it in a closet on the second floor. Do you live here?”

Nicholas sipped the coffee. It wasn’t the best, but it was hot and sweet. Three healthy sips and the sleep cobwebs dissipated.

No.” He looked around the kitchen. The previous owner had left a lot of things hanging around. “This is my first time here.”

Waa,” Nalia’s eyes went wide. “You’re one of those people, aren’t you?”

He didn’t like the tone she used, accusing…judging.

What people?”

You own a country house and an apartment, and a hut in the hills, and a bungalow by the beach.” Nalia counted his imaginary houses using her left hand, she shook her head. “No one lives in these houses but the rats and the stray cats. So, why own them?”

Nicholas chuckled.

You have a wild imagination. Do I look rich enough to throw money away that way?

So, are you fickle then?” she asked. “Ah…but the coins in a jar should answer that question. You know, I noticed you don’t have proper furniture around here. There’s only that one mug you’re using, and I had to use a rolling pin to mix the cupcakes. Do you know how hard that is?

“No.” Nicholas sipped his coffee. “You talk a lot.”

It’s not my fault.” Nalia sat back. “I hang out with kids all day. When I meet adults, I get excited and try to use all my words.”

Nicholas laughed then.

She smiled.

Finally,” she said. “I was a bit worried you’re those people who frown all the time. I feel better now. I wanted to thank you when you’re smiling.”

“Thank me?” Nicholas asked, reaching for another cupcake.

For being my life saver last night,” she said, her tone changing. “You took a risk taking in a strange woman in the night.

You jumped out of nowhere,” Nicholas accused. “You could have been killed, what were you thinking?

I don’t think I was.” Nalia rubbed her arms with a sigh. “I wasn’t in the best of places last night. You must have been shocked.”

Nicholas studied her face. She had one of those slender faces. Clear dark brown eyes, and a ready smile. She was pretty, in a plain innocent way. The bruise on her left cheek bothered him.

“Did you get that bruise running in the woods?”

She reached up and touched it, her fingers trembling as they touched the tender skin.

“I got it from a bad habit.” She got up. “I’m sorry to have bothered you. I’ll leave now.”

Wait,” Nicholas said, surprising himself.

She paused, giving him a frown.

I made you coffee and chocolate cupcakes. I don’t have money to pay you—

That’s not why I’m asking you to wait.” Nicholas waved her worry away. “Please, sit down for a minute. If you stay a bit, I’ll drive you home.”

No.” Nalia shook her head, the cheerful smile disappearing. “I—

Fine, I won’t drive you home,” he said, wanting that ready smile back. “I’ll take you to the bus stop.”

I don’t have money.”

“I’ll lend you bus fare.”

“How will I pay it back?”

“You can pay me with M-pesa.”

“I’m—

“Hey, it’s a Saturday.” Nicholas sat back and folded his arms against his chest. “Everyone takes a break on Saturday morning.”

Yeah, not me,” Nalia clutched the back of her seat, looking out the window at the rising sun. “I need to get going. I did something last night.”

Something bad?” he asked, curious as to what would make a woman go running in the woods so late.

Something outside the box,” she said with a sigh. She let go of the chair, and crossed her arms against her chest. “I know I look like I’m smiling right now, but…I’m a bit insane.”

Should I be worried?” Nicholas asked.

Nalia stared at him and when he lifted a brow in question, she burst out laughing.

You can’t possibly be afraid of me, can you?”

You said you’re insane,” Nicholas countered.

Nalia studied him for a moment, and then nodded.

Yes, you’re right. I’m insane. I’ve gone crazy. You are the first poor soul I ran into, so you’ve taken a risk I tell you. Who knows what I’ll do next.”

My friend is coming over,” Nicholas said.

He reached for another cupcake.

“What does that have to with this situation?”

Nicholas bit into the delicious chocolate cupcake.

“I’m just letting you know someone will worry about me if I go missing.”

Nalia laughed again, and she pulled out the chair she’d vacated and sat down.

“I thought you were leaving?”

Nalia reached for his mug of coffee and made a show of taking a sip. She took one of the cupcakes and made a show of eating it too.

He frowned.

I’m eating too, in case you think I’ve poisoned them. This way, you’re sure your friend will find two bodies.” Nalia swallowed quickly, and sipped his coffee again. “Mmm…these are really good.

Nicholas chuckled and wondered what fate had decided. It seemed his risk taking last night had awarded him with a crazy woman who loved chocolate cupcakes.

What was he going to do with her?

***

(to be continued)

 

 

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