toucanFrancis lifted his head just as his son stepped into the house, dragging his feet on the stone floor. With a perturbed brow, the father leaned back in his chair and folded his arms. “Neve…” he started to say just as his son walked past him without saying a word.

The man clearly hadn’t noticed his father sitting in the shadows and straightened his shoulders. Turning around, he managed a weary smile. “What are you doing sitting in the dark?” He paused to yawn.

“Why don’t you have a seat? We should talk.”

Neville groaned. “Can we talk tomorrow? I’m exhausted.” He rubbed his face wearily and yawned again.

“No. It’s urgent.” He gestured to the chair beside him. “Sit. I’ll be quick.”

With a heavy sigh, Neville trudged to the seat and plopped on it. Leaning forward, he rested his elbows on his knees and lifted a low-lidded stare to his father. “Okay Pops… What is it?”

For a moment, Francis could only stare at his son’s haggard appearance, taking in the dark circles under his half-closed eyes, his slack mouth and the shadows covering his chin and cheeks. “Are you not working too hard these days?”

The corner of Neville’s lips curled upward and he glanced down at his folded hands. “You noticed?”

Francis didn’t respond, waiting with baited breath for his son’s admission, already fearing the worst.

Neville sighed. “Alright… Since you’re the second one who’s asked me this week, I’ll be honest.” He lifted his wary eyes to Francis’ worried face. “Pops, I’m in love… Madly.” His lips widened in a boyish smile. “I’m madly in love with Ameya, and I want to marry her.”

The concerned father’s lips dropped open, his heart falling to his stomach as he stared speechless at his son who beamed openly. No, Neve… You can’t.

“Genevieve was right. I shouldn’t be a coward,” Neve continued, his smile widening as he thought of Ameya doting her son. “I love her and Tomas. I love having them in my life, along with you.”

“Why now?” Francis heard himself ask aloud. It’s been eight years. Why couldn’t you wait a little longer?

Neville shrugged his shoulders. “I guess I was holding out, just in case someone from her past…” He trailed off, shaking his head incredulously. “Who cares about her past? I love her for who she is now, not who she was before I met her.” He laughed softly, shifting his gaze to his father’s face. “I want to marry Ameya. And I will.”

Joy amid fatigue danced in his son’s dark eyes and Francis could only swallow the hardened lump in his throat.

—-

Muffling laughter could be heard from the outer room facing the sea. A gentle breeze lifted the hem of the muslin curtains, stroking the edge of the bed. “That’s tickles!” a male voice exclaimed, followed by a female’s giggle.

“Stop,” came the half-hearted protest amid giggles as the long-fingered, left hand grabbed the slender one assailing him. “I told you I’m ticklish.”

She smiled, lowering her head to kiss the nape of his neck. “You’re too old to be ticklish.” Still, she didn’t bother pulling her hand from his firm hold. Her eyes lovingly trailed along his broad shoulders to his strong neck dusted with blond hairs, pausing at a curiously scarlet mark by his right ear. “Interesting…”

“What is it?” the husky voice of her male companion replied, half asleep.

“You have a very strange-looking birthmark, right here,” she said impishly, lifting her left hand to his ear. Before she could even touch his ear, the man swiftly grabbed hold of her other hand, the sunlight from the window reflecting light on his wedding band.

“Argh, curse you!” she giggled as he wrestled her onto her back with her hands imprisoned above her head. Breathlessly, she stared at his bare chest dusted with tiny freckles and blond hair.

Her heart skipped a beat as the man’s face lowered and she closed her eyes, pursing her lips in anticipation for his kiss that she looked forward to every waking moment.

Ameya snapped her eyes open to the ceiling, her cheeks and body warm from the dream. Dazed, she lifted a hand to her bosom, feeling her racing heartbeat.

She rose abruptly to her feet and quickly shuffled out and round the corner to Tomas’ room. Lifting her heels so as not to wake her sleeping son, Ameya made her way to his bedside and perched on the side. Staring down at his cherubim face, Ameya held back a sigh.

Eyes trailing down his face, she paused at his right ear. Her heart skipped a beat as she recalled the day she’d discovered the curious mark under his right earlobe while giving him a bath. Neville told her it was nothing to worry about, that it was just a birthmark. Ameya swallowed hard, her vision blurring as she stared forlornly at her only son. The man haunting her dreams every night was undoubtedly Tomas’ father, birthmark, hair color, pert nose, freckles… and gray eyes.

She paused at mid sigh and blinked at the boy sleeping with his pursed lips parted. Gray eyes…?

—-

“I feel like you’re hiding something from me,” Tampa accused in a low voice later that evening as she spoke with her strangely-subdued husband on the phone.

Marcus leaned against the banister, staring out onto the main road, his thoughts flicking from his wife to Hannah’s confirmation earlier.

“Marcus,” Tampa’s firm voice pervaded his thoughts and Marcus blinked to attention.

“Hmm?”

“Are you even listening to me?”

“Sorry…” Marcus mumbled and swallowed a sigh. “I’m sorry, Tampa.”

“Sorry for what?” Tampa sighed in exasperation. “Listen, I have this sick feeling in my stomach and it’s been bothering me. Put me out of my misery and just tell me.”

Marcus frowned. “What do you mean?”

“I can’t explain it. But there’s a feeling that I’m missing something, or losing something important… It’s really freaking me out, Mark. Is something wrong?”

His heart twisted in pain at the anguish in his wife’s voice. Guilt paralyzed him to tell her. She would only be angry that he hadn’t consulted with her earlier about finding Hannah almost a month ago. “No…”

“You’re lying again.”

Marcus rolled his eyes. “Don’t make this complicated, Tam. Nothing is wrong.”

She swallowed a gasp. “Tam? You don’t call me that except when you want me off your back!”

He swallowed a groan at the higher pitch of her voice. “Calm down. I’m not saying that. I’m just tired.”

“You’re tired? Try taking care of a moody toddler, a pubescent boy and two accident-prone kids!”

Marcus heaved a sigh. “I’m sorry.”

Tampa sniffed back tears. “I miss you…”

“I miss you too,” he said hoarsely, wanting desperately to hug her and comfort her. Marcus knew the only way he could ease her heart was to tell the truth, but it wasn’t time. Not yet.

“What is it? There’s no chance you’ve found her?” Tampa asked in mid-sniff.

Marcus stiffened.

“Mark?”

“Hmm…”

Tampa sighed. “Maybe we should just look somewhere else…”

“No.” Marcus winced at his quick reply. “There’s still a lot of ground to cover,” he remedied. “Just give us one more week.”

“One week?”

Marcus turned to face the sliding door that separated the balcony from the living room where Jonathan sat, his elbows resting on his knees and his face in his hands. “Yeah… Just one more week.” Don’t worry. I’ll bring Hannah back to you. I swear.

<< Part 20 || Part 22>>

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