The house was less formal than Meaghan would have imagined. They drove under a wide portico, and then curved around to the front entrance.
A circular driveway with a white marble fountain greeted them. The sprawling two-story colonial –style structure was painted bright white, with areas of soft yellow along the roofline. Tall palm trees accented the corners, and wraparound porches with white balustrades looked perfect for a casual stroll. The front entrance was a simple series of wide marble steps leading up to a double door in teak, with stained glass panels on either side of colorful birds and fruit trees.
As the two women climbed up to the door, they opened up and Sethe stepped out.
Meaghan was relieved that Sethe was dressed similarly to her; a flower print dress and leather sandals with purple and green rhinestones. She gave them both a hard hug and grabbed Meaghan's wrist to pull her into the house. Meaghan allowed her to drag her into the cool foyer, but stopped short.
They were not alone. An older gentleman in a wheelchair sat to the right, and JoAnne, whom she had met at the office, stood behind him, her hands on the handlebars. The features of the man were reminiscent of Rickie's, and Meaghan realised his identity. She suddenly felt like a mouse when a trap is sprung.
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Her fears were born out when Sethe pulled her in front of him, and Meaghan's mouth suddenly went dry. Sethe released her arm.
"Bapa, this is my friend, Meaghan. Meaghan, this is my father, Charles Ahmad."
Meaghan made a formal bow. "Selamat sejahtera, Tuanku Ahmad," she greeted him.
[A/N]: "Warm greetings"]
[A/N]: "Tuanku": Traditional honorific for Malaysian individuals that are descended from certain royal lines]
The elder Ahmad smiled, and laugh lines crinkled around his eyes. He reached out and took Meaghan's hand in a strong, though gentle grip.
"Selamat datang, En Torno, but there's no need to be formal. I've wanted to meet you for a while now. Why don't we go into the parlour while we wait for supper to be ready? It will still be a few more minutes."
[A/N: "Welcome" to a person's dwelling or property]
Wait, dinner with the elder Ahmad? Rickie's father??
Meaghan sent a helpless look at Tina, who seemed unfazed by the situation, walked past her incredulous sister to address the owner of the house. After greetings, he gestured to JoAnne; she smiled at Meaghan and began to push the wheelchair towards an arched door.
After that, she felt compelled to follow the group into a large, sunny room with dark fruitwood floors and casual furniture. She gingerly sat on the edge of a cool green sofa; her sister plopped beside her, earning her a glare from Meaghan.
JoAnne wheeled the elder Ahmad to the edge of the sofa, and then sat down in an armchair directly across while Sethe took the other armchair. Before the silence grew awkward, JoAnne began.
"Did you have any problems finding the house?"
Meaghan shook her head. "The cab driver took us here without any problems, thank you for asking."
"And what do you think of it?"
Tina piped up. "I think it's beautiful, almost like The Astana, but smaller. Can we see some of the rooms?" Meaghan reached out and squeezed Tina's knee in warning, but the gentleman just chuckled.
"Sethe can give you a detailed tour after dinner, if you have any time before shopping." Here he glanced at his daughter in fond exasperation. "I know she has her heart set on buying more clothes, even though she brought back a lot with her from Korea."
"Bapa, you know my weakness is shoes. I promise to keep my purchases to necessities."
JoAnne rolled her eyes. "You always think shoes are a necessity."
Meaghan relaxed a little under the conversation. It looked more like a family bantering back and forth than an employer / worker relationship. She answered a few questions regarding her consultant job, and Tina contributed some amusing stories about school. It shouldn't have, but it came as a surprise when the conversation became personal.
"Well," said the patriarch, "what do you think of my son?"
"Erm, he's a good supervisor to work for. All of us at the office…"
He cut her off with a gesture and leaned forward in the wheelchair, his good left hand gripping the handrail.
"No, what do you *think* of my son." He sat back, studied her reactions, and was appreciative of what he saw.
'Excellent' he thought, already envisioning a rosy future with happy, fat babies.
Out loud, he said, "I know he thinks very highly of you. I want to know if you think the two of you are compatible."
Meaghan felt a blush blooming on both cheeks as she panicked for an answer. Looking at her sister didn't help, for she was grinning from ear to ear.
The supper chimes were a blessed and welcome diversion.
They followed behind the wheelchair, and Meaghan never noticed JoAnne give the older man a squeeze as he patted her hand on his shoulder.