southerncharms3

Karen shook her head in disbelief. “You can’t do it, Sammie. Don’t do it,” she said urgently, nudging Samina who sat in silence beside her.

Across the family living room, Deidre glowered. “Did anyone ask for your opinion?” Her eyes flitted to Samina’s meek expression. “It’s ultimately your sister’s decision. Well, Samina, what have you decided?”

“You barely gave her a chance to think about it!” Karen protested, earning her mother’s warning glare.

Samina tamped down an exasperated sigh. The need to hurry home and sleep off the throbbing headache growing by the minute.

Deidre scowled impatiently. “You need to make a decision now.”

“Dee, enough…” Gabriel finally spoke, his tone firm enough to make Deidre stiffen. He turned to Samina. “What do you want to do?”

The warmth of her father’s beseeching gaze couldn’t quell the unsettling feeling in her gut. Samina bit the inside of her cheek. “I need time to think.”

Gabriel caught the silent plea in his daughter’s eyes and nodded, a ghost of a smile lifting his mouth. Samina breathed out a sigh of relief, sagging beside Karen who leaned into her.

Deidre narrowed her eyes at her husband and started to protest when the front door swung open. Obadiah trudged inside, his backpack and soccer cleats slung over one shoulder. She whipped her head back to Samina, brow knotted with confusion. “What is there to think about? You need this job.”

“No, Mom,” Karen inserted, exasperation coloring her tone. “She certainly does not need it. Why do you keep making it sound like it’s the only option she has?”

“Are you her adviser?” Deidre snapped back, her eyes flashing with impatience. “Has she mentioned looking for any new jobs? In this economy, do you know how hard it is to find one?”

Karen jutted her chin in stubborn silence. Forlorn, Samina lowered her gaze.

A curious Obadiah, moved into the living room and dropped his backpack near the end table. He perched on the arm of the sofa beside Karen and Samina. “What are you guys talking about?”

“Mom wants Sammie to be a babysitter to some kids,” Karen groused, crossing her arms.

Deidre rolled her eyes. “Nanny, not babysitter.”

“That’s lame,” Obadiah mumbled, eyeing Samina’s hands now pressed tightly together in her lap.

“Exactly!” Karen replied. “Why does she have to degrade herself to–”

“That is enough!” their father said firmly and Samina stiffened.

All eyes snapped to Gabriel’s face. Gabriel clenched his jaw at the sight of tears glimmering in Samina’s eyes and turned to the rest of them. “Can you hear yourselves? Are you being encouraging or condescending right now?” He silenced Deidre with a glare. “Before you start making suggestions and giving your opinions about what Sam should do, put yourself in her shoes. Stop talking and start listening.”

Deidre heaved a sigh, crossing her arms.

Obadiah and Karen exchanged a glace over Samina’s head.

Gabriel leveled his firm stare at Samina. “That goes for you too, Sam,” his tone softened. “Consider our concerns but at the end of the day, your decision is what goes. Understand?”

Samina tamped down the feeling of disappointment, expecting her father to make the final decision instead of relinquishing all rights to her. She licked her dry lips, feeling the weight of every stare directed on her face. “I need time.”

Deidre sighed in silent protest and crossed her arms.

The house was eerily quiet, Ezekiel noted, staring at the girls’ toys and books packed in boxes near the front door. He silently scanned the living room, filled with boxes, packed with memories and things collected and treasured over the years. On the dining table lay his blueprints amid stacked dishes and pots. The dank air and the stifling silence became more noticeable in the empty house. Ezekiel lowered his eyes to his empty hands. He missed the girls. He missed Winsome.

Adelaide’s Hello Kitty watch began ringing in the silent house, signaling that said it was bedtime. Wondering why his nine-year-old left her favorite watch, Ezekiel stood from the couch, when his cellular phone vibrated on the coffee table.

Seeing his mother’s number flashing on the screen, he grabbed the phone and flipped it open. “Mom?” His eyes widened with alarm, his mind racing. “Is something wrong? Are the girls okay?”

Sheena chuckled. “Must something be wrong for your mother to call?”

“Okay good…” Shoulders drooped in relief and he rounded the table to find Adelaide’s watch. Maybe misplacing the watch Winsome gave her a year ago caused his daughter’s perma-frown. He had to find it.

“So… I need to tell you something.”

Ezekiel smirked, walking around the couch to the box of toys. “Go ahead.”

Sheena was quiet, her pause hesitant. Ezekiel crouched beside the box and flipped the cover aside. “You sound like Laide caught doing something wrong.” He plunged his hand between the Barbie dolls and stuffed animals.

“Don’t… get mad.”

He frowned, his hand frozen in the pool of toys. “What is it?”

“Promise?”

“Mom.”

Sheena breathed out a sigh. “Okay… I asked Sammie to watch the girls.”

Ezekiel sat on his haunches and gaped at a scruffy-haired barbie. “What?”

“We’ll need someone to watch them while we’re at work. It was just a last-minute thing and Samina said she’d think about it,” Sheena rattled on as if to defend her decision. “Your father said we could find a nanny and Samina’s great with children. She’s always been so patient and loving and…”

Sheena’s words sounded like loud, incoherent echoes in his head and Ezekiel didn’t quite know how to process all she was saying. The thought of Samina watching his girls had never crossed his mind.

“Zeke?”

Ezekiel pushed out a breath and rubbed his forehead, feeling a pulsing ache at the side of his head. “Mom,” he managed in an even tone. “Why didn’t you ask me first?”

Sheena paused and Ezekiel squinted at the disheveled doll. Sheena sighed heavily. “I didn’t think you’d say yes.”

Ezekiel scoffed loudly at her meek confession. “You’re right. I would’ve convinced you it was a terrible idea.” He imagined the awkward conversation between his mother and Samina. No doubt Samina felt pressured to acquiesce to his mother’s request. He groaned, “Mom, why?”

“What’s so awful about it?” Sheena protested. “Okay sure, I could’ve asked first… not that it’ll change the fact that we need a nanny for the girls. Look, I was just trying to help.”

Indignant, Ezekiel scowled. “Seriously Mom, why does everyone think I need help?” He slammed the box lid over the doll’s head. “Is being widowed code for inept and incapable?”

“Oh come on,” Sheena cried in protest. “I didn’t say that!”

“You didn’t have to…” Ezekiel mumbled, throwing his eyes to the ceiling.

Drawing in a shaky breath, he pushed it out through his mouth in growing frustration. He needed to calm down. There was not much he could do now. Especially not now that Samina had been asked.

Stifling a groan, Ezekiel rose to his feet and placed his hand at his hip. “Fine, so we need a nanny. That’s fine. But why of all people did you have to ask Sam?”

The idea of Samina being asked to watch the girls made him uncomfortable. In fact, he felt oddly embarrassed that she’d think him incapable of caring for his daughters on his own. Feeling light-headed, he moved back to the couch.

“I wouldn’t have asked if she didn’t need the job, Ezekiel,” Sheena answered with a pout.

Ezekiel paused in step. “What do you mean?” His brow furrowed. “She has a job with an art school, doesn’t she?”

Had a job, Zeke. She was laid off.”

Speechless, he stared at the stack of blueprints on the table. Though he hardly spoke with Samina personally, his mother never failed to update him on Samina’s achievements with her art fairs and exhibitions. As a wave of sadness swept over over him, Ezekiel sighed. “That’s too bad…”

“Poor girl didn’t see it coming. And it’s hard in this economy for everyone, not just teachers.”

“Hmm…” Ezekiel trailed off. Then his brow furrowed. “Is this merely concern for her unemployment or that you need someone to watch the girls?” He heaved a sigh of exasperation at her pointed silence. “Mom, honestly, if this was much trouble, I’d have kept them with me until the move.”

“Oh nonsense!” Sheena scoffed. “So that you’ll leave ‘em with strangers while you work? Not while we’re still alive and strong. Don’t even think of it.”

Ezekiel rolled his eyes. At this moment, he preferred a perfect stranger to Samina. At least the stranger wouldn’t have any cause to judge his lacking parenting skills.

“For goodness’ sake, Ezekiel,” Sheena blustered at his incoherent mumbling. “We’re not forcing you. And if you act like this around Sammie, you’ll have to answer to me.”

He raised a brow at his mother’s firm tone. For as long as he could remember, she treated Samina like her own daughter and defended her passionately. He rubbed the knot of tension forming at the back of his neck. “I know Mom. But this… this is awkward.”

“Why is it awkward?” Sheena sounded baffled. “She helps you, you help her. What’s so difficult about it?”

His fingers stilled as Samina’s luminous brown eyes appeared in his mind’s eye and he suddenly couldn’t find an answer.

Sheena sighed at his hesitant pause. “Good. I’ll call her and let her know–”

“I’ll call her,” Ezekiel countered, dropping his hand to his side.

“Really?”

Ezekiel nodded, picturing Samina’s heart-shaped face. He hadn’t seen her in years. Hadn’t talked her in ages. Not since Winsome’s passing. He swallowed hard. “Yeah, I’ll call her tomorrow.”

“Thank you, Zeke,” Sheena replied, a smile in her voice. “I’m hoping you two will work something out.”

Ezekiel perched on the arm of the sofa. “Okay yeah…” He couldn’t imagine how he’d preface the subject to Samina. Conversation would likely be awkward, stilted, and he wasn’t looking forward to it one bit. He heaved a sigh. “Could I talk to the girls before they go to sleep?”

<<Chapter 8 || Chapter 10>>

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