“Dear Samina,” she read aloud, her sister looking over her shoulder. “Thank you for your interest in our art program. “While we were impressed by your diverse background and experience, we have decided that another candidate’s qualifications…” Releasing her pent-up breath, Samina shut the laptop and pressed a hand to her forehead.

“Eesh, they couldn’t even give you an interview?” Karen shook her head. “That’s messed up.”

Samina sniffed back frustrated tears. “I guess it wasn’t meant to be. Like the other ten jobs.”

“Don’t lose heart, Sammie.” Karen squeezed Samina’s shoulder. “The right job is out there waiting for you.”

Samina merely slid off the counter stool and rolled her shoulders. “It’s whatever. I’m done applying for jobs. This isn’t funny anymore.” With a heavy sigh, she trudged to her bedroom, intent on sleeping the day away.

“What about that nonprofit place we passed on the way to church?” Karen followed her to the room.

“What nonprofit place?” Samina mumbled, climbing into bed. She pulled the thick blanket over her head and settled into the warmth.

Karen took the seat by her bed. “The House of Hope. They might be hiring.”

The covers muffled Samina’s groan. “You better not say that in front of Mom.”

“Who cares if it’s a volunteer job? It’s a lot better than babysitting…” She trailed off and sighed at Samina’s covered form. “And why are you going to bed already? We’re supposed to go to Pilates class. Remember?”

“Not tonight. Sorry,” Samina mumbled, shifting in bed. “I have a woman’s exam tomorrow and I need my rest.” To mention that sleep was the only way to escape the present feeling of despair would only cause Karen to worry. “Karen…”

Samina’s cellphone on the desk flashed a blue light. Karen squinted at the screen.

“Hmm?” Karen mumbled as she eyed the screen, her brow knotted in a frown. There was a new text from Ezekiel Dames. Glancing once at Samina’s covered face, Karen carefully plucked the phone from the desk. “What is it?” she gently lifted the flip screen.

“Do you think I might be depressed?”

Karen raised a brow, hesitating as her conscience yelled at her to drop the phone. Whatever message Samina received was none of her business.

“Karen?” The blanket shifted.

Karen quickly lowered the phone to her lap. “Why… would you be depressed?” Certain that Samina intended to remain hidden under the covers, she opened Ezekiel’s text.

“Sam… Thought about you. Hope you’re doing well. Take care. Zeke.” 

Karen’s lips pursed, her face hardening.

“I don’t know…” Samina heaved a sigh, shifting in bed. “I just feel so useless and sad.”

At the despair in Samina’s tone, Karen rested the phone on her lap. “You’re just going through a time of uncertainty, that’s all. It’s only natural to feel sad about it.”

Samina snorted. “If only Mom will understand that.”

Karen rolled her eyes. “You know how she gets. Stop stressing over her. Eventually, she’ll realize her mistake and know that you’re trying your best.”

“Maybe… maybe not.”

Returning to the phone, Karen pressed the center button until a dialog box popped on the screen with the prompting to delete the text. Biting the inside of her cheek, she pressed the button to confirm the action and watched as the message disappeared from Samina’s phone.

“I’m just so tired all the time. It’s annoying.”

Karen lifted her eyes to Samina’s form and managed a smile. Placing the phone back on the desk, she scooted to the edge of the chair. “Don’t worry, Sammie. Everything will be fine.” With an impish grin, Karen leaned into Samina’s body and wrapped her arms around her sister.

“Hey!” Samina protested as Karen imprisoned her under the covers.

Karen snuggled against her sister’s body. “I love you, Sissi.”

Samina sighed. “I love you too…” She nudged at Karen’s cheek. “Can you let go of me now? I can’t breathe.” The two girls giggled as Karen only snuggled closer.

“How are the girls?” Ezekiel asked his father. “Are they still awake?”

“Wide awake,” Jeremiah replied. “Up making double chocolate cookies with your mom.”

“Yummy.” Ezekiel smiled warmly. “I’m jealous.”

“Well, if you’d come down soon…” his father chuckled.

Ezekiel scanned the empty living room and sighed. “I’m going as fast as I can.”

“I know you are,” Jeremiah said gently. “They miss you. We miss you.”

“Me too, Dad,” Ezekiel replied softly, eyeing one of Beulah’s Barbie doll peeking out from one of the marked boxes.

“Daddy?!” Beulah’s voice broke through the silence. Jeremiah chuckled in the background as his youngest granddaughter took over the phone. “Daddy!” she squealed into the mouthpiece

Ezekiel winced momentarily before grinning. “Pumpkin. How are you?”

“Daddy, when are you coming back?”

He could picture her adorable pout and smiled wider. “When do you want me to come?”

“Now!” his daughter demanded, Jeremiah chuckling in the background.

“Aw Pumpkin, it’s almost your bedtime.” Ezekiel said with a pout of his own. “If I leave now, I’ll be too late to kiss you goodnight.”

“Aww!” Beulah whined.

“Don’t worry,” Jeremiah coddled her gently. “Your daddy will come with lots of gifts for you and Sissi.”

Ezekiel grimaced as Beulah inhaled sharply.

“Really?!” Beulah shrieked. “Sissi! Guess what?” her voice faded into the distance as she relayed the good news to her older sister.

“Dad… was that necessary?”

Unrepentant, Jeremiah chuckled low. “I’ll do anything to get you down here.”

“I’m trying, Dad… Anyway, how’s Laide?” He pictured the wrinkle furrowing his oldest daughter’s smooth brow. She wasn’t as vocal as Beulah but he knew she didn’t care for him being away.

“Hey Dad,” Laide’s monotonous tone replied.

Ezekiel grinned, picturing her heavy-lidded eyes. “Hey sweetheart. Too busy to talk to your old man?”

Laide sighed in exasperation. “Gramma is making us do school work. In the summer.”

Ezekiel chuckled at her emphasis. “Don’t feel too bad. She used to do that to me also.” He glanced down at the clock, knowing their bedtime was in a few minutes. “How is the week going?”

“Enh,” Laide replied, noncommittal.

He wanted then only to reach into the phone to embrace her. Even with her moody, temperamental personality, Laide was as adorable as spirited Beulah.

“We have to get a babysitter this week.”

Ezekiel blinked, his brow furrowing. He thought they’d cleared the matter up already. “Why?”

“Gramma and Gramps have to go out of town next weekend—”

“Uh, Laide,” Jeremiah interrupted. “Let me talk to your dad.”

Ezekiel frowned deeper. “Dad?”

“Yeah, I didn’t think she’d hear that.” Jeremiah sounded too contrite.

“She has a pesky habit of eavesdropping.” Ezekiel sat up. “Where are you two going?”

Jeremiah heaved a sigh. “Aunt Neve. She’s been in the hospice since last Tuesday. Acute Liver failure.”

Ezekiel frowned as he thought of his father’s great-aunt. “Dad, I’m sorry.”

“The doctor said she doesn’t have much time left.”

A wave of sadness washed over him. “Oh man…”

Jeremiah grunted. “We have no choice but to go to her now…”

“Dad, it’s okay.” Ezekiel didn’t like the sound of his father’s wavering tone as if he was holding back tears. He’d never seen his father cry. “Look, I can come. I’ll bring my work for the week—”

“Don’t do that,” Jeremiah cut him off in a tone that brooked no argument. “We took the responsibility of taking care of the girls. Just focus on getting here when the house is sold and everything’s settled.”

Ezekiel bit his bottom lip, already making plans in his head. Even if he had to give James more responsibilities while taking an extended vacation, he just couldn’t allow his parents be any more stressed.

“Don’t stress it, Zeke. The girls are in good hands.” Jeremiah mumbled his weary goodnight and disconnected the call.

Lowering the phone to the glass coffee table, Ezekiel released a shaky breath, his shoulders sagging under the weight of added stress and anxiety.

<<Chapter 12 || Chapter 14>>