Tia observed the dress that her aunt had bought for her. Her eyebrows crunched in the middle of her forehead. She picked it up delicately observing it carefully. It was a white backless mermaid dress.
The door opened as her aunt stepped in. “What are you waiting for? Put it on!” She ordered.
“I don’t know, auntie, it looks very expensive. And the shoes too, it looks pricey.” Tia doubted.
“They are expensive!” Raden Nabila said. “The dress is a creation of the favorite designer of Latifa, I want to make sure she notices it and Hafiz was the one who suggested the style. The shoes, well I’m sure any woman would know what brand it is just by looking at the sole”
“Auntie, why did you spend so much money on these things?”
Raden Nabila smiled, “This is a matter of my pride. I hate the idea of that woman looking down on my family and humiliating them with money.”
“Umm…..isn’t it a little too sexy, especially if I’m trying to win her over? She already sees me a an easy woman because…..” Tia remembered who she was talking to and stopped.
Raden Nabila looked at her, “Why does she see you as an easy woman?”
“Because…..because….well….” Tia swallowed her saliva.
“Your mother said that you’ve been staying overnight at your friend’s place, which friend is that?” Raden Nabila interrogated.
“Ah, auntie…it’s my friend from work, her name is Winnie….” Tia replied nervously.
“Tia…..” Raden Nabila sighed, “You’re a grown woman now. I think you know what’s right and what’s wrong. I’m not going to lecture you. ”
Raden Nabila left the room brooding and pensive. She went to her son’s bedroom and knocked the door.
“Come in…” Hafiz said.
“You look handsome as always….” She admired him.
“Of course I do, I’m your son….” He replied.
“Hafiz, I’m worried about your cousin….”
“About Tia? Why?”
“Hafiz, I think between she and Ahmed, they’ve ….you know……”
Hafiz took a deep breath, “It’s difficult to be a woman, isn’t it? I’ve never really considered it before.”
“Hafiz, if it’s true that something had happened between them, you have to make sure that he takes responsibility for her.”
“Mother, times are different now….”
“Hafiz!” She almost shouted, “This is not only about Tia, it is the pride of my family. Ahmed is a good man, and I like him very much, he’s like another son to me, but he’s still the son of that sneaky woman. Your grandfather will roll around restless in his grave if he knew that we let his grand niece be taken by her son and let him walk away without taking responsibility for her. I still remember how she humiliated me in the past, I………….”
“Mother, I understand.” Hafiz stopped her knowing that talking about the past always hurts her, “I’ll make sure that Ahmed responds for my cousin and help you settle your score with Princess Latifa while I’m at it.”
“Thank you…..” She clasped his hand.
“Mother, help me with this tie…” He fussed.
* * *
“Look at you!” Raden Nabila praised her with satisfaction.
“She looks very beautiful, doesn’t she?” Mrs. Chang hugged her cousin, “Jiejie, thank you for your gifts.”
“Huh! You actually look like a girl.” Hafiz added.
“Hafiz, has something for you. Give it to her!” His mother ordered.
“Here,” He handed her a jewelry box, “Don’t loose it, you have to give it back after the event tonight so I can get my money back. I had to use up one of my credit cards to get this.”
Tia rolled her eyes up, she opened the box, “Wow, a diamond necklace….” She looked at it her eyes shining. “I’ve never seen one up close before.”
“Well this is the last time you’re going to see on up close. Don’t get any drool on it, it might decrease the value.” He took it from her hand and put it on her.
“Keep that up, and I might accidentally drop it in the toilet.” She threatened.
“Enough the two of you, you’re both adults but you still act like little kids.” Mrs. Chang scolded.
“Did you call a taxi?” Tia asked Hafiz.
“Taxi? If you’re going with me, then you’re going in style. I rented a limo.” He bragged.
Tia was unimpressed, “I suppose if you’re almost thirty and still get allowance from your parents, you can afford to be irresponsible with money.” She mumbled.
“Tia, don’t be ungrateful!” Her mother rebuked her.
* * *
Arriving at the mansion seemed like a dejavu for Tia, reminding her of the last party. This time she was praying that the night will go by without any embarrassing scandal. The driver dropped them off in front of the door. This time Ahmed wasn’t greeting the guests at the door, instead, they had employed people to do it.
Tia circled her hand on Hafiz’z arm, and they walked in silent entering the building. Tia glanced from left to right looking for Ahmed, but she couldn’t find him.
“Don’t be so obvious.” Hafiz whispered.
“Let’s go and find people from the office.” She whispered back. “Over there!”
They walked towards the people who were grouping together looking intimidated by the rest of the guests. “Hey…” Tia called out to them.
“Tia? I almost didn’t recognize you. You look….you look gorgeous.” Winnie looked at her in disbelief. “And isn’t this Hafiz?”
“Yeah, it’s Hafiz, hey man, how are you?” Ronald launched at him with a hand shake.
“I’m good, as you can see…” He replied. “Ah….and I see that you guys are together.” He looked at Winnie’s hand on Ronald’s arm and smile mischievously.
“Oh be quiet!” Winnie snared.
“Is there something going on here that I don’t know about?” Tia wondered.
“I’ll tell you later.” Hafiz winked.
“And you guys know each other?” Winnie asked them.
“Yeah, we’re cou…” Tia was about to tell them but Hafiz dodged her gently.
“Tia and I go back a long way.” He cut in.
“Ah….” Winnie nodded she looked at Tia, “Hmm….You should be careful with him, he might seem like a good catch, but he’s a slippery playboy.”
Tia laughed awkwardly.
* * *
“Here they come,” Hafiz whispered to her, “Stay calm and don’t be nervous.”
Princess Latifa glanced at Tia from where she was standing a few meters away, she gave a disapproving look before she saw Hafiz. She signaled to her husband and son to follow her, “Hafiz…” She greeted.
From the corner of her eyes, Tia could feel Ahmed’s eyes on her. She felt a little uncomfortable, but pretended not to notice.
“Auntie Latifa, Uncle Omar, congratulations on your anniversary” He greeted with familiarity.
“Thank you, young man.” Omar Al Rashid answered with a serious face.
“I’m splendid, how are you?” She asked, “Did Ahmed invite you?”
“No, I’m here to accompany my…friend here….” Hafiz gestured at Tia.
“Ah………” Princess Latifa didn’t make any comment. “How is Ali doing?”
“My brother is fine, he’s busy with his work.”
“When you see him, tell him that I miss him so much. He should bring his family to visit me. I want to get to know my grand children. I ask him to visit me every time we talk on the phone, but he just says yes without ever complying.” She said. “Hafiz, I’m glad you came today, I have something very big to announce.”
“Something big?” Hafiz repeated.
“You’ll find out soon.” Princess Latifa smiled glancing at Tia.
“Let’s go, we should start the celebration now.” Mr. Omar said to his wife.
“Great to see you here.” Ahmed shook Hafiz’s hand without taking his eyes off Tia.
He leaned over and whispered to her, “You look incredible tonight.”
“Ahmed!” His mother called, “Come on.”
They walked the center of the floor, waiters walked around the floor with a tray of champagne, serving it to the guests for the toast. Tia and Hafiz took a glass.
Everybody’s attention shifted to the center of the room, “I want to thank everybody for coming to our party tonight.” Mr. Omar said. “I also want to thank you for sharing this very special moment with me. Today marks twenty nine years that I share my life with this incredible woman, who gave me the honor of being her husband and the father of her son. Latifa, thank you for these wonderful years together, for all your dedication to our family and for your endless support towards me. I would never be where I am today if it wasn’t for your presence in my life. I can’t believe that after all this time, you still shake my world like the first day I saw you.” He kissed his wife gently on the forehead, making the guests clap their hands.
Tia wiped the tears from her eyes, “Look at how sincere he was when he said that.” She whispered to Hafiz.
“Oh wow, even I’m touched.” He replied.
“I want to make a toast.” Ahmed announced he lifted his glass, “To my parents, congratulations for a happy twenty nine years together, and a wish for many more years of joy and love!”
“Congratulations…” The guest lift their glass.
“Thank you…”Princess Latifa smiled, “Thank you to my husband and son. The most important people in my life.” She reached her hand out to Ratna and her parents who was standing in the front row, they came up and stood near the family.
Tia had a very bad feeling seeing this, her heart felt like it was about to leap out.
“To complete our family’s happiness. I want to take this opportunity to announce my son Ahmed’s engagement to our long time friend and business partner Mr. Suryawan’s daughter Ratna. Please join me to toast and congratulate them.” She said while lifting her glass.
The guests clapped their hands and a wave of congratulations filled the air. Ahmed became pale and looked at his mother in shock. He didn’t think that she would strike at him in public, making him unable to say anything but lift his glass and accept the congratulations to not embarrass his family. He knew that he couldn’t provoke a scandal again like the last time.
“Ahmed, put this ring on Ratna…” She said handing him a jewelry box.
Ahmed took the box from her hand with a shaking hand. He opened it hesitantly. “Ahmed don’t make us look bad in front of all our business partners. Think of the company. ” His father whispered in a asserting tone.
Ahmed swallowed his saliva, he took the ring out with his right hand and took Ratna’s extended hand in his left. He slipped the ring on her middle finger. The crowed clapped their hands and cheered.
Tia’s sight became blurry, she felt her head becoming light and spinning. Hafiz put his hand around her waist to prevent her from falling, “Let’s get some fresh air.” He whispered leading her out towards the side door.
* * *
“Hey, hold yourself together. Tell me honestly what’s the deal with you and Ahmed, you slept with him haven’t you?” Hafiz passed her a handkerchief.
“I don’t know how that’s any of your business!” She whispered wiping her eyes.
“It’s not. But it’s also not that simple. His mother hates you, and she wants him to marry someone else, and he’s officially engaged to her. I didn’t see him doing anything to reject it. He even put the ring on that girl, have you thought about what will happen to you?” He asked.
“I’m sure he didn’t know about the engagement plan.” She shook her head holding back her tears.
“Hmm…., maybe. But you couldn’t be so naive to think that your the only woman he ever took to bed.” He said frankly.
“Hafiz!” Tia shrieked.
“If he didn’t marry any of them, why would he leave his fiance and marry you? Have you thought about that?” Hafiz looked at her.
“I…he loves me….” Tia insisted.
“How could you know? Because he told you? I’m a man too, do you know that I tell all my girlfriends that? To every single one of them. Have you seen me marry any of them?”
“Hafiz! Just because you’re a miserable, irresponsible playboy, it doesn’t mean that he is one too.” Tia’s face was red with anger, “What are you trying to achieve by telling me this?”
“Tia, don’t be angry with me. I’m saying this because I care for you. You’re practically my little sister.”
Tia took a deep breath, “It’s too late for me now, isn’t it?”
“It’s not too late, we have to make sure that he commits himself to you, it’s not too late to snag him away from his fiance, because even though he’s engaged to her, but he has strong emotions for you,” Hafiz then asked, “How many times have you given yourself to him?”
“Twice.” Tia blushed feeling uncomfortable, but decided to be honest anyway.
“Huh! Okay. It’s not as bad as I thought.” Hafiz nodded, “Did you use protection?”
“No! But I know that I’m not pregnant, I just had my…you know.”
“Okay. From now on, don’t accept any of his advances. This is going to sound blunt and vulgar, but I’m going to say it anyway. You’ve already given him a taste of you, and by the way he looked at you tonight, I know that he wants more, but he’s going to have to work hard for it.”
“Hafiz! Don’t objectify me.” Tia took offence.
“I’m not objectifying you. I’m saying all this because I want you to open your eyes.” Hafiz said calmly, “Promise me that you will do what I tell you to do.”
Tia nodded, “So you want me to reject his advances? Should I avoid him all together?”
“No…no…no…..” He shook his head assertively, “Hey, remember when we were kids, we liked to play kites.”
Tia nodded, “Yeah, why?”
“When you want to keep the kite airborne, you have to know when to release the string, and when to pull it. It’s the same principle.”
Tia thought about his words for a while, “I think I know what you’re trying to say. I should stay close to him, but I shouldn’t give in to him.”
“Hafiz, I don’t know if I can do this.” She doubted.
He held her shoulder, “You have to, Tia. Are you going to roll over and admit defeat without even fighting?”
She looked at him without saying a word.
“Tia, you’re going to have to win over your man, not from that woman who’s engaged to him, but from his mother. Tia, do you know why my mother dragged me here?”
“You two came to visit us, didn’t you?”
“That, and your mother called mine. Princess Latifa went to your house to try and pay your mother off to keep you away from Ahmed.”
“What?” Tia looked in surprise.
“She went to your house and insulted your mother.”
“I didn’t know that.” She said softly.
“Let’s not let her win, okay?”
She nodded, she was about to wipe her tears again when he held her hand down. “Now let’s go back in there and torment Ahmed with that dying face of yours.”
“But his mother will be happy to see me suffering like this.”
“Tia, you’ve already lost this battle. She succeeded in getting him engage with that girl. Now, since you’ve lost the battle, you might as well use it to your advantage.”