Giselle was beyond inconsolable, openly sulking when Anaya returned to classes the following week. She folded her arms and eyed her classmate, waiting to cluck her tongue once the girl settled in her seat beside her. “So I’m guessing my invitation to your wedding got lost in the mail?”

Anaya managed to look penitent although she was still preoccupied with her own thoughts. “I’m sorry… Everything just happened… so fast.” She snuck a glance at the shiny solitaire diamond on her gold band. Her cheeks warmed, recalling the look in Tunde’s eyes whenever he lifted her hand to stare down at the ring before he breathed softly that she was his. Her body tingled, remembering every moment her husband reminded her of it.

Giselle snapped her fingers in front of Anaya’s face. “Alright, stop showing off already.” She clucked her tongue again and sighed. “Congratulations… although you’re a bad friend for not telling me.”

Anaya smiled gently and nudged Giselle’s shoulder. “I’ll make it up to you.”

“Oh yeah? How? Will you introduce me someone?”

Anaya blinked. “What happened to that other guy you were with?”

Giselle raised a thin brow. “Which one?”

“Never mind…” Anaya twisted her mouth and turned to face the front of the auditorium just as their professor sauntered in, carrying a stack of papers. She swallowed a groan, realizing belatedly that she’d forgotten all about her test.

Tunde peeked up at Anaya over dinner later that evening. “Sorry…”

Anaya lifted her eyes from her plate of untouched food. “Hmm?”

“Your exam,” he said softly. His eyes searched her face. “I’m sure it went better than you think. You’re a smarty pants, remember?”

She gave him that uncertain smile that twisted his insides, driving the stake of guilt deeper. First the break-in and now the possibility of a flunked exam. “It’s okay…” Anaya replied, lowering her gaze back to her food.

As she reached for the fork, Tunde reached over and covered her hand.

Anaya blinked up at her husband’s repentant expression and fought the tears that threatened to spill over. Why did it feel as if she was giving him too much to feel sorry about? Their marriage had caused him alienation with his community, the security of his home threatened because of her… and now he was even apologizing because she’d lost track of her studies? “I’m fine,” she answered in a clipped tone, annoyed with herself for letting him take responsibility for something he didn’t have to, and him for assuming it so quickly. She pulled her hand from under his and pushed away from the table, her appetite lost.

Tunde rose swiftly and blocked her path as she moved toward the bedroom. Anaya wanted to scream when he stepped in front of her and placed his hands on her shoulders, forcing her to look at him. She didn’t want him to see her disappointment and misunderstand, knowing that he would. “Stop…” she whispered.

“No, you stop.”

Anaya blinked up at his firm voice. The hurt in his eyes belied the firm set of his jaw. She swallowed hard.

“Stop hiding your feelings from me,” his voice softened. “Stop running away.”

“I’m…” her throat was dry as his voice wavered. It never did. Her eyes searched his, and regret settled in. She wasn’t being fair to him. “I’m sorry.” Anaya lowered her gaze.

His thumb hooked under her chin and nudged it up, forcing her to look back at him. The tenderness of his gaze took her breath away. “We’re in this together, Ana girl. You hear?” His hands curved around her, pulling her into his arms.

Anaya drew back to look him straight in the eye. “I want you to stop it too.”

It was his turn to blink. “Stop what?”

“Stop blaming yourself all the time.”

He raised a brow.

“And stop apologizing,” she continued in a firm tone. “It’s my fault for possibly failing the exam, not yours.”

His mouth curled in a toothy smile as his fingers traced lines along her spine. “Hmm well, I think I might have to take half the responsibility for that…”

Anaya bit back a smile, feeling her body already stirring to his fleeting touch. “Tunde,” she warned even as she shuffled into his arms.

“Hmm?” He leaned in.

“I’m serious.” Her eyes lowered to his mouth that hovered over hers.

A month and two passed easily and still Hadiza hadn’t uttered a word to her family. For Leeza and Aman, the woman’s cold and silent demeanor was their new reality but Anaya still couldn’t bring herself to accept it. Every time she visited, Anaya sought Hadiza but her mother retreated, stern-faced, to her bedroom.

“Still bothered by it?” Leeza drawled, picking dirt from her fingernails.

Anaya swallowed the hardened lump that had lodged in her throat since she stepped into the living room. She cast a forlorn glance at the closed door to her parents’ bedroom before turning to her sister. “How can you stand it?” she asked, her voice trembling to hold back tears. It was her fault that her family was suffering and her heart twisted that she was still overwhelmed with Tunde’s love and affection to take note until now.

Leeza shrugged. “No other choice. Papa is at work most of the time and when he’s not, she is.” She managed a bitter smile, rubbing her fingers on her knees. “I keep busy with school…” She paused to study her sister, frowning. “As you should too. Especially since you have more responsibilities now.” A smile crept up her face. “How’s my brother-in-law?”

Anaya sighed, pulling her gaze from the door. “He’s fine.” When Leeza nudged her knee with a foot, Anaya smiled shyly. “We’re fine.”

“Any news?”

Anaya tilted her head in her sister’s direction. “Hmm?”

Leeza wriggled her brows suggestively. “Honeymoon baby news?” She giggled when Anaya sputtered in shock. “Papa mentioned it earlier this week.”

She frowned, feeling a pang of envy at the way her sister spoke fondly of their father. She missed her private and warm conversations with Papa and suddenly wanted to see him. “Is Papa working tonight?”

“Miss him already, big baby?” Leeza giggled again when this time Anaya nudged her with her foot. “Yeah…” She sobered instantly, lowering her gaze to her bare feet. “You should check on him. He misses you.”

Her heart stirred painfully, catching the hidden message in her sister’s voice. Things had changed since she left home for Tunde’s. If her mother wasn’t speaking to either her daughter or husband, it was probably eating at her father just as badly as it was for her… or even worse.

A few hours after leaving her house, Anaya trudged across the block to the high-rise building her father worked his night job. The sun was setting fast and the streetlights flickered as Anaya crossed the street. She smiled in welcome when she spotted one of her father’s colleagues standing by the door of the building. “Good evening, Mr. Green.”

The wide-shouldered, freckled-faced man flashed Anaya a wide smile and opened the door for her. “Aman’s daughter! Congrats on your wedding, young lady.”

“Thank you,” Anaya ducked her head shyly as she stepped into the lobby. “How are you and your family? Your son’s graduating this year right?”

He beamed appreciatively from her attentiveness and leaned against the open door. “Oh yes! You have a good memory. I invited you and your family to come. You’ll bring your husband with you?”

She smiled and nodded. “I’ll do that. Thank you.”

Mr. Green eyed her, sobering. “Don’t forget to take care of that old man of yours.”

Anaya’s cheeks warmed, anxious to see her father. “I will…” She picked up her feet and started down the dimmed hallway, around the elevator toward the security station next to the stairwell. Her heart picked up speed as she pushed open the double doors and stepped into the cool and dank room.

“Ana?” her father’s soft and hesitant voice pulled her gaze to her right and Anaya’s heart slammed against her ribs as she caught sight of him. His jaw was shadowed with a few days growth of hair, his mouth was drawn wearily and dark circles framed his eyes.

Anaya’s knees weakened, taking note of his hanging shoulders as he stood by the door. From where she stood she could tell that in the few months she’d been away from home, her father had lost weight with his uniform hanging on his frame. “Papa…” her voice cracked, the lump hardening in her throat.

<<Part 18 || Part 20>>