Scott Thebe sat at the head of the small dinner table surrounded by the people he loved, his family. Thanks to his wife, Lisa, who was sitting on his right, family dinners had become something of a family norm. Lisa, a petite, shorth-haired beauty he’d met in college, needed no excuse to celebrate even the smallest of occasions, be it achievements, holidays or anniversaries. Almost a month ago, there were two family dinners, one to celebrate their son's first year academic results, and the other, a week later, to celebrate his birthday. Scott thought the two occasions could’ve been celebrated as one, but Lisa would have none of it. She thought the two occasions would do great to lift their son's spirits. He hadn't been the same ever since a girl from his school went missing weeks before they finished writing their final exams. Luvo was normally a talkative boy with a boisterous personality to match that of his uncle, Miles. But ever since the girl disappeared, he was constantly on edge, paranoid, and cooped up in his room which was uncharacteristic of him. His parents had assumed she was his girlfriend, that was the only logical explanation as to why he was greatly affected by her disappearance. Even his uncle's efforts, whom he felt comfortable talking to about anything, proved to be futile. Miles always got through to him when his parents couldn't. He’d shut everyone out as the investigation that shook the whole country was ongoing.
Tonight was no different, as they were celebrating Miles' birthday. Luvo sat quietly at the dinner table, only acknowledging Miles’ attempts at a conversation with a faint smile and a nod.
“Do you think Liverpool have a shot at the title this season, Luvo? If you guys mess it up now, I doubt you’ll ever get another chance,” Miles said to Luvo, punching him playfully on his shoulder. Luvo needed no convincing when it came to European football debates, but tonight his silence still held him hostage.
“Luvo, your uncle is talking to you, boy,” Scott intervened, his stern voice a manifestation of the strictness that drove a wedge between them.
“I guess we’ll have to wait and see, uncle Miles. Life is full of surprising disappointments when you least expect them,” Luvo broke his silence, barely lifting his head while swirling his fork through his cold food. “May I please go upstairs now?”
“Honey, you’ve barely touched your food,” said Lisa with a mother’s concern. If only she could understand him and get him to open up to her like he used to when he was just a little boy. “But if you think getting some rest will make you feel better…”
“He’s not going anywhere until he finishes his food. I’m sick of Luvo acting like a spoilt brat,” Scott said as he devoured a drumstick. “Either you eat your food, or you tell us what’s wrong with you. What happened that made you like this, son? Did you know that missing girl?”
Luvo turned to his uncle, a tactic he used many a time to get out of trouble with his father.
“Scott, just let the boy get some rest. Come on, it’s my birthday, my dinner, my rules,” Miles played the all too familiar role of mediator, shooting Luvo a wink that was quickly followed by a look of concern. “But you must know that we’re all worried about you, Luvo. You need to open up, but only when you’re ready.”
Scott shrugged his shoulders, “We’re here for you son, you can tell us anything,” he paused for a reply, there was none. “You heard your uncle, you can go.”
Luvo rose from his seat and excused himself from the table.
"Thank you, Lisa, I appreciate this gesture. For a man who doesn't even remember his age, let alone his birthday, you really are an angel," Miles said to Lisa, devouring his favourite meal, rice with vegetables and chicken.
"It's always a pleasure Miles. I know how quiet it must be now that you’re all alone in that big house," Lisa said, then turned to her husband and gave him a look only he would understand. Scott shook his head, but Lisa raised her eyebrows. Without saying a word, the couple recited a conversation they'd had earlier. Scott put his fork and knife down, grabbed a serviette and wiped his mouth. He knew that the conversation he was about to start could ruin the dinner, but they were worried about Miles and he had been given the role to play bad cop, "We were hoping Amanda would join us this evening. What's it been now two months since found out about her?"
Without lifting his head, Miles paused as if someone had pressed a button on a DVD remote, "She's busy, had an urgent meeting with a client. She meant to come but everything happened in the last minute."
Scott exchanged looks with his wife, "We live ten minutes away from you guys. Surely, she could’ve postponed the meeting for your big day. Birthdays are important, aren’t they, honey?" he asked his wife.
"Do we really have to do this now, Scott? Luvo is who we should be worrying ourselves about," Miles pinched the bridge of his nose in suppressed frustration. He knew what was coming, an ambush. Scott meddling in his life as always.
"I’ll go to the kitchen and prepare some dessert so long,” Lisa said.
"Miles, we're worried about you," Scott said. He wasn't good with these types of conversations. He preferred someone to come to him and tell him how they wanted help. He'd bend over backwards to help Miles any day just not this way.
"Tell me something, Scott. Weren't you and Lisa the ones who were pestering me about moving on and finding someone when we buried Rachel? Weren't you the ones who were lecturing me about not dwelling on the past? But now..."
"Miles, listen –"
"No, no, let me finish, Scott. You started this conversation, didn't you?" Miles said, "I have something good going on with Amanda. We're still in the early stages of our relationship, getting to know each other but I have a feeling that she's the one for me. We love each other in a way that you and Lisa wouldn't understand."
"Then why –"
"I'm not done. You're my only friend. We've known each other since university, I love you like a brother and I love your wife and kid like my own, but that doesn't give you a right to stick your nose into my personal affairs. I will introduce Amanda to you guys when she is ready to take our relationship to the next step."
Scott paused before asking, "Are you done? May I speak now?"
"Speak freely, nothing's ever stopped you before."
"I know that we said meeting someone would be good for you and I still stand by that. With your kids now working overseas, you were all alone in that big house and we were worried about you. But this Amanda girl, she's trouble Miles. It’s like she’s hiding something, that’s why she keeps postponing meeting us.”
“Oh, don’t be ridiculous, where’s that coming from? You haven’t even met her,” Miles said as he cleaned his plate and gulped down a glass of wine.
“You think I haven’t seen that blackeye that you tried so hard to hide?”
"I told you I slipped in the shower."
"And what? The shower punched you in the eye during round three of your title bout? The signs are all there, Miles, and we are worried about you. Physically abusive relationships are toxic, and this one is no different. Put your pride aside, talk to me and we can go and lay charges against –"
Miles rose from the table, anger manifesting itself on his face, "Don't you dare involve the cops in this, Scott. I swear to God, I'll never forgive you. Everything is fine, couples fight all the time."
"I agree with you on that one, I fight with Lisa too, but you don't see me with bruises," Scott pointed out, “I want nothing but to see you happy.”
“I am happy, why can’t you accept that?” Miles rolled his eyes and grabbed his blazer from his chair, "You know what? I don't have time for this. Thank you so much for ruining a wonderful dinner." He grabbed his car keys and stormed towards the kitchen to bid Lisa goodbye. "Hey, Lisa, I just wanted to thank you for a beautiful evening. You really made it special but I'm afraid I have to rush home now."
"Oh, Miles, you're not even going to stay for dessert?" Lisa asked.
Miles shrugged his shoulders and gave a sigh, "I'd love to but –" he was interrupted by an urgent knock on the kitchen door.
"That's odd, why aren't they knocking at the front door?" Lisa muttered as she made her way to the door. Upon opening it, she was met by two individuals, a tall female, with long, silky black hair tied in a ponytail. Her serious face was emphasized by her navy suit. Standing next to her was a male who appeared to be in his late thirties to early forties. He too was dressed formally in a white shirt, a grey waistcoat and grey pants. He appeared disheveled and less serious than his counterpart. "Hello, can I help you?" Lisa said in a tone that was a mixture of concern and curiosity.
"Good evening, ma'am, I'm Lieutenant McCarthy from the Loneville Police Department," the lady in a navy suit said then turned to the man she was with, "This is my partner Patrick Diale. May we come in please?"
"Yes, of course," Lisa moved out of the doorway to let her unexpected visitors in, "You said you're the police? I'm not sure what we can help you with. Please, follow me." She led the two authorities into the dining room.
"And then? What's this about?" Scott enquired.
"Honey, they say they're from the Loneville Police Department."
"We have no business with the police in this house. What brings them here?" Scott said with the carelessness of a man who had nothing to worry about.
“We received a call from this address, a tip off regarding the disappearance of Gugu Langa, the university student. The case has been well publicized, I’m sure you’ve heard about her,” McCarthy said.
Scott exchanged a look of bewilderment with his wife and Miles. “You must have the wrong house, no one made a call here. As you can see we’re having a family dinner and you’re interrupting,” he replied.
“This is, 1926, Zone 8, isn’t it?” Patrick said as he helped himself to the wine on the table, “Are you the only people in the house?”
“I made the call,” Luvo said in a trembling voice. His wide eyes darted from his parents to the two detectives. “I’m sorry mom, dad,” he turned to his uncle, his voice slowly becoming inaudible as tears rolled down his cheeks. “I’m sorry uncle Miles, I didn’t mean to do it.”
Miles was lost for words as he put two and two together and came to a harsh realisation of why the boy had been acting strangely all along. He shook his head in dismay, “Luvo…”
“Son, what have you done?” Scott asked, unsure if he was ready to hear the answer to the question he was asking.
“I’m sorry, dad,” he turned to the two detectives.
“Your son called us about thirty minutes ago and told us the whereabouts of Gugu. I’m sure you know that they attend the same university and are in the same class. He saw her bracelet in his uncle’s car two weeks ago,” McCarthy said. “When we searched Miles Khumalo’s house, we found Gugu Langa tied up and gagged in the basement. She was in shock and traumatized. But she was able to confirm that Mr Khumalo was her abductor and captor, he was convinced they were meant to be.” She turned to Miles, “Mr Khumalo, you’re under arrest…”
“What? You must be mistaken, Amanda loves me. She would never… Scott, tell them Amanda loves me, tell them you wanted to meet her. Amanda loves…” Miles protested like a madman as the police took him away.