Abiye wondered if the first person to say never judge a book by its cover went to hell like they should have.
She hated it— an understatement. It was disgusting. Nothing like she imagined. Horrific. And she was going to give Juliana an earful.
"It's not just what I had in mind," she told her editor over the phone.
"I prayed you wouldn't say that," Juliana answered and a strip of guilt trickled into Abiye's defense.
"It's not that I hate it," Abiye began slumping down on her lonely couch. "It's my first book Juliana. I want it to be good." Perfect.
"That's the thing. You're a debut writer, Biyay. You don't really have the power to overly assess this."
It hurt to hear but Abiye knew it was the truth.
"The fact that the designer's pay is above average doesn't help with any extensions. I'm trying to not increase your fee here. I really hope you understand."
Abiye sucked in a breath and tried to listen to reason. Could she really let this go? "There's nothing that can be done?" she tried and cringed when Juliana gave an exasperated sigh.
"The marketer approved and I don't hate it. At this point the only person you can persuade is the artist."
"Send his address "
It was no wonder his pay was above average.
For one he lived in the suburbs, far from civilisation, and a good quarter tank of car fuel. Abiye recovered from the intimidation of his marbled duplex and walked to the front door.
The door opened after four knocks and there the owner stood in a white t-shirt and shorts. Fine, he was fine.
He rose an eyebrow.
"I'm Abiye Lawson."
She saw realisation hit and his raised brow drew to the middle.
"The thing is I liked your art work for my book—"
His voice was raspy like someone who'd just woken up and she wondered why. It was nearly two pm.
"It's not what I had in mind."
"It's what I did."
He frowned and folded his arms. "Enlighten me."
Abiye clenched her jaws, remembering the horrendous picture Juliana had mailed to her. "The woman's silhouette you used doesn't fit the protagonist's figure in the slightest. I don't see a use for the sun at the top, the font could use some work and the back ground colors...they were too bright."
"People like bright."
"I know I know. But the feel of the story isn't that bright. It's not gothic or dreary but you can't deny it's not a sitcom. Everyone that read it said the same thing. How could you miss it?"
"Because I didn't read it."
The words hit like a wrecking ball and Abiye blinked—thrice.
She didn't expect him to have read it but hearing him say just that sent her into a frenzy.
Why didn't he read it? Did he try and not like it? Why didn't he like it? Was it the characters? She knew the first sentence sounded a bit forced but Juliana had tagged it as paranoia. Still, there had to be a reason he didn't deem it fit to even skim through the first few chapters.
Her heart sank. It's too late to turn back, Juliana's voice rang in her head and she picked it back up.
"I'll come everyday until you change your mind. " Madness had started.
And then he slammed the door shut.
His car wasn't around the next day, and Abiye had spent thirty minutes panicking on the mere possibility of him running away from her.
It was clocking five pm when a car pulled up the house and Abiye immediately recognized her designer at the driver's seat.
He stepped out his car and she ran to his side. "Good evening,"
He sneered. "I don't believe it,"
"I'm a woman of my word," she said falling instep with him.
"I can arrest you."
"And you'd be the first person I visit when I come out."
That cracked a smile and she followed him to his front door.
He opened the door and then stared at her. She kept her chin up as he scrutinised her.
"If you're going to woo a guy, at least bring food," he said and closed the door.
Abiye returned the next day with a box of pizza. With maybe two or three slices missing.
Like yesterday, his car rolled in at five and she stood to her feet, pizza bag in hand.
When he walked to her she shoved the bag forward and his eyebrows drew to the middle.
Andrew's shoulders shook with laughter and a smile formed on her lips. His stare challenged her and she shot one back.
"Are you wooing me?"
"Is it working?"
He scoffed with a smile then folded his arms "You're persistent."
"It's my first book."
She took his hand and placed the bag handle in it. "It may be missing a few slices," she said with a sheepish smile.
He shook his head and made his way into his house.
She could swear he walked in with a smile.
Andrew had asked to meet at her house and Abiye may or may not have worn her good perfume.
His text had said dress casual, but she dressed to impress. At least that's what her blouse and jeans told her.
Prior to what she had planned, they didn't step foot in her house, rather he opened the door to his car and ushered her in.
"If I was going to kidnap you, I wouldn't have worn my expensive shoes,"he told her when he closed the door.
"If you weren't going to kidnap me , you wouldn't have brought it up in the first place," she retorted and they both put on their seatbelts with hidden smiles.
The drive was smooth and quiet and Abiye glanced Andrew's way every now and then. His eyes were fixed on the road and she took the time to actually look at him. God really did a great one.
"Good, you're staring. It means my extra effort to look good paid off," he said and her cheeks instantly heated.
"Where are we going?"
"We're almost there."
"Is that an answer?"
"Yes. Now this is a question; Orange or grey?"
Abiye's lips squeezed to a pout. "What?"
"What color would you rather have on your skin: Orange or Grey?"
"Never mind. Now, Ice cream or biscuits?"
"Depends on the situation."
"It's a life or death choice."
She smiled. "Ice cream."
"Congrats, you're alive," he said and Abiye giggled.
"What are you doing?"
"Isn't it obvious? I'm getting a feel of what you like and don't like."
"It'll help me with your cover."
That means he was redoing it. A smile stretched on her lips and she looked out the window.
" It's good that you take your work seriously," she said and then their destination came to view. Her eyes narrowed.
"I try," he said parking the car. "So...what type of movies do you like?"
Abiye's seat was at the farthest corner of the theatre, at the very last row. At her left was the wall and at her right a smiling Andrew.
"How are you supposed to get the feel of my interests when we're going to be silent throughout," she continued her one-sided argument.
Right from when he asked her to choose the movie, the only other thing he'd uttered was when he asked what type of popcorn she liked. Every other word said from that moment were all hers and her annoyance was reaching its peak.
"You can learn a lot from someone without words," he said then placed the sugar popcorn at the middle of their chairs.
"I'm sure that's a wonderful philosophy but we —"
Andrew shoved a handful of popcorn in her mouth and she munched the kernels with a mock frown.
"Watch," he ordered, not hiding his smile and she sunk into her chair as the name of the director popped on the screen.
Sometime along the one hour mark, his palm rested on hers and she didn't pull away. By the end of the movie their fingers were intertwined on her lap.
Once the movie ended, Andrew suggested dinner and pulled her to the cinema's restaurant before she could process his words.
She was three spoons into her rice when he broke the silence.
"I read your book."
Abiye's fork dropped "Oh my God," she said, her face behind her palms.
Andrew laughed. " Don't worry, it's a great story,"he said pulling her hands of her face. " I got a feel for the redesign and today helped my final decision."
"But," Abiye interjected.
Andrew's lips shifted to the side and his eyebrows did that thing they did whenever he was confused.
"Juliana explained to me the process that goes into selecting the cover and I know it's not up to you alone," Abiye explained. " It might take days,maybe a month for the final approval and then the printing might take even longer."
"But it will be published."
Abiye forced a smile and ran a finger round the rim of her cup.
"Is there something else?" he asked.
She looked through her lashes to see him staring at her.
"You can tell me if you want," he offered and she took it.
"My resolution last year was to get it published," she said and then chuckled. "By March I changed it to 'Just get it to the seventh draft and then submit it.' It took me three months, killing off twelve thousand words and a lot of pushing from my dad but I finally submitted."
She turned to Andrew , grateful for his silence and then gave a weak smile. " This year ,at the fourth rejection I gave up. But then God sent me Juliana. I think I need to pay for her therapy sessions as well as editing. She pulled me right from the pit I dug myself in and placed me on some pedestal of perfection.
"After her third sleep over my excitement was just like the one I had when I first came up with the book idea. I helped her with everything, even started learning marketing strategies and shit. Never did i think... Never did I think the cover of all things will pose this much trouble."
She went silent.
"I just thought that maybe this was the year y'know. " She struggled to keep her voice stable." I really wanted this to be the year."
A single tear dropped and she didn't bother wiping it away. She focused outside, fully aware the man beside her was staring and she willed herself to forget.
The tear dried before Andrew shifted her head with his finger to face him. She couldn't place his expression.
"Your book will be published this year," he said.
He placed a hand over hers and she revelled in the warmth. His voice was firm, but eyes soft.
Christmas was in eleven days and Abiye had not seen Juliana or Andrew in exactly six days and thirteen hours . No call, no text, not even a mistake dial.
The first two days were nothing short of hell. Like an addict forcing herself out of rehabilitation ;She'd contemplated barging into Juliana's office or staking out at Andrew's house and on the third day she was ten minutes from Andrew's when common sense found her pride and turned her wheel back home.
By the fifth day, she'd began her Christmas shopping ,with the intension of getting the remaining good stuff before the present rush.
That was what kept her sane. The comfort and intentionality in his voice was the last thing she heard before sleeping and first thing that answered when anxiety knocked on the door.
Up to this point, with the last of her family presents stamped and mailed, she planned on getting something for Andrew also . That was until she got a call from Juliana and her one week self therapy was thrown into hysteria.
Abiye sat at the closest table to the door in the cafe Juliana had asked to meet, her feet tapping off tune to the Christmas song that played in the background and her eyes glued firmly to the door.
Abiye glanced to her phone. It was 9:58—Juliana had asked to meet at 10. She ran her fingers through her hair ,cooing herself to not panic or set any expectation. To all she knew Juliana might want to ask for an extension and she had lectured herself that she was okay with that. Great things took time.
Just then the door opened and Abiye's back shot straight.
Confusion settled as the person walked to her table and she stood from hers.
"Where is Juliana?"
His face was blank of emotion.
"I asked her to let me tell you."
Abiye's heart rate began to pick up and by time he pulled out the printed piece of paper from his satchel, her breathing had heavied.
Her eyes were glued to him, hands fidgeting as he handed it over. If she didn't know any better she could say he was as nervous as her. If not more.
Andrew licked his lips then bit the bottom.
"Do you like it?" he asked.
It was new years eve and Abiye was dressed in a cotton jerry onesie and fluffy slippers. The onesie was his idea.
She headed to the already occupied couch and a smile took rest on her lips . How he made his tom onesie look good was beyond her.
Snuggled on the couch, with her back to his chest and his arms around her waist, she stretched to the coffee table and took a book in her hands.
For a moment all she did was stare at the hard cover, with exactly six hundred and seventy three pages of blood, sweat and mid day tears. All that hair pulling and sleepless nights and here it was, in her hands with her name in baskerville font.
The hairs on the back of her neck stood when the person under her shifted and brought his lips just beside her earlobe. "This should be one of my best works," he said and she stopped herself from blushing.
Abiye nestled deep into his chest with a mock scowl. "Would you keep quiet. I'm trying to read my book," she said and her insides fluttered.
The soft chuckle followed by a peck on her cheek put her hidden blush on full display and she stopped herself from caring.
She sighed and then flipped open the first page.
Next year she was writing a fantasy-romance series.