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Ezekiel propped the phone against his ear as he juggled with two boxes in his hands. “Mom, I said I’d think about it but I can’t make promises right now.” The kids giggled loudly behind him and he sighed heavily. “Girls!” he called over his shoulder but they made no indication that they were aware of his growing agitation. “Mom, I’ll have to call you back.”

“Daddy!” Beulah’s voice rang out in the next room and Ezekiel quickly lowered the boxes to the floor. “Daddy!”

“Mom…” he sighed into the phone.

Sheena sighed from her end, sensing her son’s despair. “Okay, call me later.” Once she disconnected the call, she shifted to face her husband standing at her side. “We have to help him move this along, Jere… It’s getting too much for him.”

Jeremiah lifted his glass of water to his lips. “Besides going over there ourselves, what else can we do? Your son’s stubborn as you are…”

“He’s my son now?” Sheena turned her nose up at him. “Look at the pot calling the kettle black. He’s a spitting image of you, inside and out.” She rubbed her arms folded across her chest. “It’s been two months and he’s yet to put the house on the market.”

He nodded, brow knitted in concern. “We’ll have to give them time. It’s not easy leaving what he’s built all these years.”

“I know.” Sheena bit her bottom lip. “I just hope he’ll make up his mind soon enough. I can’t wait for them to move back together.”

Jeremiah smiled wanly. “In time. They will.”

Sheena sighed softly.

Ezekiel gaped at his daughters, their faces covered in powder and their pouted lips smeared with red lipstick. He dragged a hand over his face.

“Where did you get that?” he managed in a quiet tone, keeping his frustration at bay.

As he stepped around them to the mess on the vanity table. It was Winsome’s, her favorite white oak vanity set from her childhood. After her death, he couldn’t bear to see it and had it locked away in the attic. Away from his daughters. Or so he thought.

“Dad, I’m sorry,” Adelaide’s penitent voice broke through his musings. “We just…”

“If you’re sorry,” Ezekiel caught her off, his tone brooking no argument. “You’ll take your sister and go wash both your faces.” He kept his back turned to them, not wanting to see their big-brown eyes that were so like Winsome’s.

Their light footsteps retreating down the attic stairs made him sigh aloud.  Maybe he was being too harsh but at this moment, Ezekiel was fed up and wanted to give up this moving process.

Packing up more than ten years of his life in Maryland was far from easy and the girls were getting restless. Adelaide, his first daughter became moodier by each day till their flight to Houston. She often vocalized her protests, complaining about leaving her friends behind…

He tamped down another sigh. Couldn’t they to realize how hard this was for him, leaving all memories of their mother Winsome behind?

Ezekiel picked up Winsome’s faded makeup bag and perched on the edge of the vanity table, staring listlessly at the mess of colors around him.

While Karen entertained Jaxson and a few of Samina’s friends, Ada snuck a look at a quiet Samina beside her and placed the clean crock-pot on the countertop. “Penny for your thoughts…”

Samina managed a smile as she handed Ada a handful of cutlery. “More expensive than just a penny.”

Ada sighed, wiping the cutlery dry. “What’s wrong? You’ve been quiet tonight.” Ada paused to smile as Jaxson, her fiancé leaned over the counter to grab another slice of watermelon.

Samina watched them quietly before averting her gaze. “I’m okay…”

“Don’t lie,” Ada turned back to her best friend as Jaxson returned to the living room. “Karen already told me already.”

Face on fire, Samina whipped her eyes to where Karen was standing, moving her arms animatedly as she recanted a joke.  Clenching her jaw at her oblivious sister, Samina turned back to Ada’s skeptical stare. “Really, I’m fine.”

Ada shook her head and sucked in her teeth. “Goodness Sammy, how could he just fire you like that?After the many things you’ve done for that school.”

Samina swallowed at the hardened lump in her throat, her hands submerged in dishwater.

At Samina’s silence, Ada snorted sardonically and dried the countertop vigorously. “Seriously they’re just like the hospital; use you up and suck you dry before letting you go without much benefits!”

“I said I’m okay,” Samina insisted softly, watching the scowl darken her friend’s face. “I guess it was time to move on.”

Ada peeked up at her and sighed, tossing the dishcloth aside. “I guess so…”

Once most of their guests had left and Karen excused herself, retreating to her room, Ada, Jaxson and Samina reconvened to the living room for coffee and tea.

Samina tucked her feet under her, cupping a mug of hot chamomile tea between her palms. With surprising graciousness, she listened as Ada recanted Jaxson’s proposal for the umpteenth time. Their loving glances and Ada’s soft sighs, she’d only read in the paperback novels or seen in movies. For Ada to experience it truly was more than wonderful, she assured herself.

But then why did she feel so put out?

“I wish Topher could’ve come tonight,” Ada interjected her thoughts. “But apparently he got caught up in some work.” She gave Samina an apologetic look. “I’m sorry, girlie… Here I am going on and on while I’m sure you have other things to worry about.” She shifted to face Jaxson again with a pout. “She got fired today.”

Samina’s spine stiffened as Jaxson turned to her with sympathy in his eyes, or was that pity?

“Aw, I’m sorry to hear that,” Jaxson said gently.

“It’s okay,” Samina sighed, unfolding her legs from under her. “I guess I just need to sleep it off.” She placed her glass mug on the side table and rose to her feet.

Both Ada and Jaxson stood, exchanging worried glances.

Samina placed her hands to her hips and stared past them at the door.

“We should go then,” Jaxson said quietly, nudging his fiancée who gaped at Samina open-mouthed. Grabbing Ada’s hand, Jaxson nudged her to his side.

“But…” Ada started to protest as Samina strode past them to the door. At Jaxson’s silent look to stay quiet, she pulled her purse onto her shoulder and let him pull her toward the door.

“Thanks for dinner,” Jaxson said with a gentle smile. Ada just kept frowning at Samina, thrown off by her withdrawn behavior.

Samina gritted her teeth as Ada gave her a fleeting look before Jaxson pulled her out the door. She heard Ada protesting loudly as they crossed the street, Jaxson mumbling his reply as he dragged her down to the car. Closing the door, Samina leaned against it and released a deep sigh as the events of the whole day rushed to the forefront of her mind.

Then her eyes cut to the hallway and her gaze hardened. “Karen!” she pushed away from the door and stomped to her sister’s room.

<<Chapter 1 || Chapter 3>>

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