sflowersjJonathan felt like kicking a stack of rocks. The perplexed look on Ameya’s face tore him up, especially when her dark eyes skimmed his as she glanced a few times into the rear-view mirror on their long drive. Though both Hapta and Marcus kept her attention with questions of the island, Jonathan could tell that she was wondering about him. It wasn’t something to rejoice about, since he’d put worry in her heart about him.

Swallowing hard, he cleared his throat once and Ameya’s eyes flew up to the rear-view mirror in expectation. He cleared his throat again before he lost his nerves. “Uh… where are we going?”

Marcus hid a smile at Jonathan’s hesitance. “You know, I’ve been wondering the same thing for about ten minutes now… Miss Ameya, where are we going?”

Jonathan felt his face warm as the woman narrowed her eyes slightly at him.

“For a moment there, I thought you were dumb,” Ameya answered honestly, lowering her gaze to the view before her just in time to press on the brakes before they rear-ended another tour van. “Ugh, great…” Her eyes skimmed the jammed road ahead, cars parked bumper to bumper, taillights blinking everywhere.

Hapta frowned. “What’s going on? An accident?”

“Nope.” She clicked on the left signal and peered over her left shoulder to merge onto the next lane. “Festival preparations.”

Both Hapta and Marcus grunted before leaning back in their seats. Ameya expertly maneuvered about the packed vehicles until she moved their tour van onto the only moving lane on the left. It wasn’t until a few minutes later, when she sped past a road sign labeled Mamiku Gardens, 9 km.

“Any of you like plants and flowers?” Ameya asked casually just as she noticed Jonathan’s eyes travel to the side where the sign was erected.

Hapta wrinkled his nose but Marcus cleared his throat, noticing the direction of Ameya’s gaze. He hid a smile. “Why don’t we check it out? I heard from Warren that you like plants…”

Ameya’s gaze shifted to Marcus and she smirked. “Don’t be mistaken. This tour is not about me.”

Marcus shrugged his broad shoulders. “Humor us… Besides Jonathan here has a garden at home. It might inspire him.” He wriggled his brows knowingly at his brother-in-law.

Jonathan frowned lightly. It’s Hannah’s garden…

She shifted her gaze back to Jonathan, one brow raised inquisitively. Then she nodded as if impressed and hid a smile. “Alright then… We’ll make a short stop at the Mamiku Gardens then.”

Jonathan swallowed hard and glanced once at Marcus who smirked at him as if to say ‘you’re welcome.’

A step ahead of the three men, Ameya gazed up at the scenic blue sky and smiled. It’d been a while since she’d come here and every time was just like the first time. The great expanse of green spotted with vibrant array of flowers and herbs was simply paradise and she had to refrain from grinning like an excited child in a candy store. Her fingers itched to trace the strong stalks of plants, to feel the soft petals of the flowers and her nose twitched from the alluring scents of fragrant herbs.

Steeling herself, Ameya glanced over her shoulder to check on the men silently taking in the legendary botanical garden. “Well…” the rest of the words were stuck in her throat as her eyes fell on the tallest of the three. He was staring up at a flower tree with a quizzical expression, unmindful of both Marcus and Hapta who were standing a few feet away from him, talking quietly among themselves. With one quick glance at their direction, Ameya straightened her shoulders and prepared herself to approach this elusive man.

Jonathan couldn’t believe it. He wanted to laugh, recalling how many times he and Hannah had argued about this so-called exotic flower that Hannah had wanted to plant back in Houston. If only he could remember that silly name.

“Noni tree,” a soft husky voice said from behind his shoulder and Jonathan instinctively stiffened his back at her unannounced presence.

Jonathan dared not look her way but kept his gaze on the strange-looking plant.  That’s the name… The tree of life. He couldn’t hide a wistful smile, recalling the adamant way Hannah tried to convince him of its benefits in their backyard. He argued that it would spook not only him but their neighbors, to which she ignored.

“Also known as Morinda Citrofolia. The tree of life,” Ameya continued, staring fondly at the plant. “It’s a strange looking plant but its benefits outweigh its ugly appearance.” She peered up at the man’s face, taking note of his strong jaw and long, slightly-crooked nose. A baseball accident. Ameya blinked in surprise at her wayward thoughts of curiosity for this man. “A curious tree, isn’t it?”

“Hmm…” Jonathan answered, shaken by how familiar her voice was, as if she hadn’t been absent from his life for more than eight years. God, how can I continue this? His body ached from being so close to her but unable to touch her. Except that her scent was different. Lighter but still welcoming. Without thinking, he took a step away from her. “H-how common is this tree outside of here?”

Ameya tried to ignore the stinging feeling at his open rejection. “Not very common. It would be hard to export this to America, if that’s what you’re asking,” she answered gruffly.

Jonathan peeked at her from the corner of his eye and hid back a smile. “I see…” His eyes trailed along the hanging fruit of the plant. “Hard but not impossible?”

“Right…” Ameya answered, suddenly curious of his inquisitiveness. “Are you an avid gardener, Mr. Harris?”

“Jonathan…” he answered quickly. “And not really.” He paused before speaking again, as if it was hard to speak. “My wife…”

Ameya felt her breath stop at this soft word of admission. His wife! She turned her eyes to him. “You’re married?”

Jonathan finally turned his full gaze to her face and Ameya felt her cheeks warm at the intensity of those gray eyes. She swallowed against the sudden dryness in her throat, waiting for his admission.

“Hey Jon! Come see this!” Marcus called from a few feet away and Ameya witnessed the warm look fade from his eyes as he lifted them over her head. She heard the soft sigh of relief from him as he stepped around her and practically stumble down the dirt path to meet his brother-in-law. She felt her feet turn, witnessed her own eyes follow the tall man’s lanky frame as he strode alongside Marcus before she heard her own sigh of relief. What’s going on here?

It wasn’t until she finally made her way to the front door of her neighbor’s house a few hours later, Ameya realized that she’d been so preoccupied with the mysterious giant of a tourist. As her son drowsily fell into her arms, Ameya gently smiled at her friend and neighbor. “Mesi…”

Genevieve grinned, rubbing Tomas’ back. “Be careful going home.”

Ameya sighed. “Bonne nuit.” She kissed her son’s downy head and with a farewell smile at Genevieve, she turned and made the short trek down the sloping street to her own dark house.

Balancing a sleeping Tomas on her right hip, she reached in her slingback purse for the house key. Rustling to open the door, she shifted Tomas onto her other hip and kicked the door to accommodate the two of them. “You’re not getting any lighter, Chou…” she muttered a few minutes later, tucking Tomas into his small cot.

Her gaze strolled down from his gentle-sloping forehead, his straight and pert nose, his puckered full lips and long lashes splayed on his high cheekbones spotted with light freckles. Ameya could see her in him, especially those full lips and high cheekbones… but the freckles, his straight nose and freckles, not to mention his light, downy hair and grey eyes.

She frowned lightly, suddenly recalling the grey-eyed man from earlier in the day. Ameya shook her head adamantly to remove the man from her thoughts. Why was she thinking about him? Hesitantly, Ameya turned her attention back to her dear son and told herself to focus on who she had in front of her. Family. This was her family and she was more than satisfied.

—-

“I have to get her back,” Jonathan said in a matter-of-fact tone, staring up at the ceiling.

Marcus lifted his eyes from typing a long text to Tampa and Hapta paused from polishing his brown leather boots.

“Standing next to her today, hearing her voice… seeing her face so close,” Jonathan said, his voice wavering. “I can’t just wait passively for her to remember me.” He swallowed hard. “She hasn’t remembered me yet.”

“He’s right,” Hapta piped in. “If anything, she seems to want to avoid him as if he’s creeping her out with all that staring and weird silence.”

Marcus smirked lightly. “I don’t think that’s it… She knows you’re familiar and it’s probably scaring her.”

Jonathan shifted his gaze to Marcus sitting a few feet from the window. “Scaring her?”

“Hmm, in a good way.” Marcus grinned impishly. “Honestly, it’s like watching a rerun… The chemistry between you two is palpable, I can’t barely stand it.” He chuckled. “She can’t keep her eyes off you.”

“Stop,” Jonathan muttered, feeling his cheeks warm visibly.

“See, you know I’m right.”

“Hapta is right. She’s just wary of me.” Jonathan turned his back to face his brother-in-law, staring at the wall in front of him. Except today, Ameya had surprised him by how she approached him first and spoke without hesitance. His cheeks warmed, his body tingled in anticipation despite the nagging worry that Hannah might never return to him.

<<Part 14 || Part 16>>

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