southerncharms2

Tunde only stayed with her, holding her as if she was a fragile piece of china and Anaya swallowed the rest of her tears, pushing against his chest. She peered up at him, her eyes frantically searching for the truth and only that. “The baby…?”

He gave her a soft look but no smile crossed his lips. Anaya felt the tears rush in again. Then he sighed. “She’s fine. The baby is just fine.”

Anaya couldn’t breathe.

He barely noticed and idly rubbed her back. “A little spooked but nevertheless, she’s doing okay.”

“She…” Anaya’s voice wavered above a whisper. She cleared her throat, her brow furrowing slightly. “We’re having a girl?”

Then he gave her that gentle slow smile she’d grown to love and long to see always. “Yes, my dear wife. We’re having a baby girl.” His fingers tightened around her, pulling her into the crook of his arms. “In less than five months, you will be holding our beautiful daughter in your arms.”

Anaya couldn’t speak anymore, her dry throat constricted so tight. And for good reason since she felt like crying again. Closing her eyes, she leaned her head against Tunde’s chest, feeling his own heart beat a little faster than normal. Then she allowed herself to smile.

2008

“That’s it, huh? You had the baby girl that following January.” Keziah Halliday inserted, pulling Anaya’s attention from the faded picture under the glossy cover.

Anaya lifted her eyes to the slender, petite young woman standing by the bay window, holding a notebook in her hands. Her gaze lovingly traced the girl’s heart-shaped face and glistening black eyes just like her father’s. She gave her a gentle smile. “Uh-hmm. Around 4 in the morning on January 2nd, 1988. You were such a wonderful surprise to your father and I.” Her heart squeezed tightly as she took in her first daughter’s gentle features. “Your grandparents too.”

Keziah’s lips curved up in a knowing smirk. “Even Gram Hadiza?” She placed the notebook on top of her open suitcase. “I’m not surprised about her though. She’s always been so quiet around us. Now I know why.”

“It’s not that way now though,” Anaya said, standing to her feet and pulling the photo album against her chest. “She finally came around.”

“Yeah, after Robbie was born,” Keziah muttered, shoving another book in between her clothes.

Anaya didn’t respond as she walked over to Keziah’s bed.

Hadiza remained solemnly withdrawn even through her pregnancy with their second daughter, Lydia… But she had noticed a difference in her mother’s behavior in her third trimester. Even though she didn’t say a word, there was a silent acceptance when Keziah turned two. She couldn’t ignore the innocent child’s curious stares or poking fingers. By Keziah’s sixth birthday and Lydia at three, Gram Hadiza became the silent but caring presence in their home while Gram Jojo, Tunde’s mother Josephine, was the openly doting grandmother. For the unhurried but definite change in her mother, Anaya was more than grateful.

Keziah’s giggle drew Anaya from her reverie and she raised a brow at her daughter’s impish grin. “Hmm?”

“I said it’s cool that technically I’m the oldest child in our family. Both ours and Uncle Silas.” Her eyes danced with open mischief that had her thinking of Tunde.

Anaya rolled her eyes. “Don’t let Naomi hear that,” she said and clucked her tongue as she placed the album on the mattress. “I still don’t understand how you two cousins always find a way to compete about the silliest things.”

Keziah shrugged, still grinning from ear to ear. “She’s always pulling the seniority card so it’s about time I set her straight. For a change.”

“Hmm, maybe not…” Anaya frowned slightly, giving her daughter’s pharmacy textbooks a quick glance. “Even if she knows she’s adopted, that might be a touchy issue.”

“Not when she keeps bragging about her half-Cherokee blood,” Keziah rolled her eyes this time, placing the photo album on top of her other books. Then she gave her worried mother a gentle smile. “Don’t worry, I’m just pulling your leg.”

Anaya reached over and tweaked her daughter’s pert nose. “Silly girl.” Then suddenly, she felt a wave of nostalgia rush over her as she thought back to the first day she and Tunde brought Keziah home, bundled up in a warm blanket to fight off the Houston cold. Just as quickly, an image of a waddling and toothy Keziah taking her first step flashed before her eyes.

“Mommm…” Keziah drew out, poking her mother’s cheek. “You have that faraway look in your eyes again.”

Anaya ducked her head and blinked back her tears. “Sorry…” she mumbled, rubbing her eyes.

Then she felt Keziah’s slender arms wrap around her. Anaya sniffed noisily but didn’t protest as her first daughter pulled her into an embrace. She wasn’t ready for her little one to grow up and start her own life. Going to pharmacy school in another city, far from their watch and protection… how would she cope without hearing Keziah’s calming voice or her low, assuring laugh in the house?

“Is this a private party?” her husband’s gentle baritone voice drifted into her ears and Anaya blinked away the tears. She lifted her head and so did Keziah, both glancing over at the doorway where her tall, dark and still strikingly handsome Tunde leaned against it, his devastating smile ever present as he took in the scene before him. When he caught her staring, Tunde winked at her.

Keziah scoffed, releasing her mother. “Now that I’ve heard your entire story, I don’t know whether to be grossed out by you two or let you have your moment…” She grinned impishly at her father.

“Take a guess,” he bantered, his eyes still on his wife.

“I hear you Dad,” Keziah replied, pulling her suitcase off the bed. She started for the door and paused to peer up at her father. “But please don’t take too long. We gotta head out soon.”

Tunde merely poked Keziah’s smooth cheek and smirked when she ducked under his arm and giggled all the way down the hallway. He pulled his gaze back to Anaya standing in the middle of their daughter’s bedroom, taking in her glossy eyes. “Walk down memory lane again?”

Anaya only smiled through her tears, gazing at the love of her life and her unwavering protector for all the twenty-one years they’d forged through life together. Through hardships and joys, surprises and disappointments, Tunde remained by her side. Even when she doubted him along the way, he remained her pillar of strength and hope, encouraging her to be the woman she was today. Her heart soared as she recalled his firm words that night in the hospital, to protect her for as long as they both lived and immediately, she thought back to their wedding day and his clear voice as he recited his vows. He’d lived up to every one of those promises. Her eyes filled up with fresh tears.

“Ana,” Tunde pushed away from the door and crossed the room to pull her into his arms. “What’d I tell you about this crying…?” His fingers moved up her chin to wipe her tears.

She leaned her head back to avoid his fingers, gazing at him through the blur. “Don’t…”

His fingers stilled over her stained cheeks.

“They’re happy tears, Tunde… I’m happy. I’m blessed and content.” She lifted her hands and grabbed hold of his, pulling them to her lips. Gently, she kissed every one of his fingers. “Because I’m yours.”

“Good… I don’t plan on any other way,” Tunde bantered in a gentle tone and lowered his head to kiss her parted lips. “I love you, my Ana girl.”

She smiled as their lips met, knowing she was far from the wide-eyed innocent and timid girl he’d married but the heart of the same girl now beat strong and fast in her. “I love you too, Tunde.” Forever. Her heart skipped another beat, allowing the silent word resonate in her, to encourage her for the next twenty years together.

The End

Please look out for Keziah Halliday’s story very soon. 

<<Part 24

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