“What insolence! How dare she hang up on me, her best friend!”

Topher and Jaxson exchanged wary glances as Ada paced the floor of Jaxson’s apartment, relaying Samina’s outrageous behavior.

“Do you know how many times I left her a message?” Ada seethed and the two men cringed at the fury blazing in her eyes. “How I worried if she was okay, only for her to say I’m full of nonsense!”

The two men quietly sat back, hoping for the end of her whining. The entire evening, she remained indignant and enraged by Samina’s insolence.

“I just don’t understand how she could do this…” Ada whined, turning to Jaxson for comfort.

“Maybe she’s really swamped…” Jaxson pulled her closer, letting her perch on his lap. He looked to Topher for help.

Topher frowned, recalling the distracted expression in Samina’s eyes that day in the hospital. “Or maybe she’s not well…” He caught both Jaxson and Ada staring at him, concern marring their features.

“Or busy,” he added quickly, not sure if Samina wanted anyone to know she’d been at the hospital. With a sigh, he stood. “Just be patient with her. I’m sure she’ll come around soon.”

Both Jaxson and Ada stood also, following Topher to the door. Ada lagged behind while the two friends stepped outside.

“Goodnight,” Topher said to Ada over his shoulder and led the way to the stairwell.

“How’s she doing?” Jaxson asked softly, falling in step with Topher.

“Doing better.” Topher shoved his hands in his pockets. “They’ll discharge her early next week, under the care of an in-house nurse’s. And you know how she’s taking it.”

“I can imagine,” Jaxson smirked. “You need to keep her busy so she doesn’t make both you and the nurse crazy.”

“Trust me, I’m thinking.” He paused at the top of the stairs. “Maybe she can keep Ada company so she won’t miss Sammie much.” He turned to Jaxson. “Has Ada even stopped by to check on her?”

“They’re not on speaking terms since the infamous phone call.” Jaxson shook his head, taking the steps slowly as he pondered Ada’s frequent outbursts. “I know Ada can be demanding and impossible to deal with but I’d assumed Sammie could handle it. She’s always been so patient with Ada for all these years.”

Topher nodded solemnly. “Maybe Ada’s gone too far…” He pulled out his keys. “Hang in there,” he mumbled as they reached the landing.

“Two more weeks,” Jaxson said smiling, watching Topher round the front of his car and duck inside. He whistled, surveying the smooth leather interior. “I see you changed the car. Nadine okay with that?”

“Too busy to notice,” Topher countered, starting the engine. “Later, man.”

Jaxson lifted a hand to wave as Topher reversed out the parking spot and out onto the street.

As she leaned in to press the doorbell, Samina summoned a sustaining breath. “Calm down…”

She didn’t have much time to think on it when the door swung open. Uncle Jeremiah and a young girl sporting puffy pigtails stood on the other side, both grinning at her.

Her cheeks warm from Uncle Jeremiah’s gentle smile, Samina shyly shifted her gaze to the beaming young girl clutching his hand. From the family photographs, Samina knew this was Ezekiel’s second daughter, Beulah. Her stomach flipped violently. “Hello…”

The girl flashed a bright smile, revealing small, evenly-spaced teeth. “Hi!” Beulah stepped over the threshold and flung her arms around Samina’s waist.

Her heart in her throat, Samina tentatively lifted a hand to the girl’s small shoulders. She peeked up at Uncle Jeremiah who watched her, gratitude warming his gaze.

Within moments, she sat on the family couch and listened as Beulah babbled about her exciting day. “And then the bear shouted ‘rarr’ and all the kitties ran away from the wolf.”

Samina smiled. “Both the bear and the wolf?”

Beulah paused momentarily from bouncing in her seat, her brow wrinkled. “No silly. The wolf. The bear is the kitties’ friend.” She grinned and continued bouncing.

“Ah… I see.”

“Beulah dear,” Jeremiah interjected softly. “Why don’t you sit still? You’re making Aunty Sammy dizzy.”

Beulah paused again, her brow furrowed as she peered up at Samina with wide brown eyes that stole Samina’s breath. “Aunt Sammy?”

Samina managed a smile. “Yes, Beulah?”

“Why do you have a boy’s name?”

Jeremiah chuckled when Samina paused. “She’s very inquisitive, isn’t she?”


His brows lifted. “Yes, Beulah?”

“What’s iniqu—?”

“Inquisitive?” he offered patiently. “It means you ask lots of questions.” He poked her chubby cheek and grinned when she wrinkled her nose.

When Beulah’s eyes swung back to study Samina’s face, Samina felt her spine stiffen. It was as if Ezekiel was staring right at her. She shifted in her seat.

Just as Beulah looked ready to ask another question, her gaze flitted to a spot over Samina’s shoulder. Her face brightened with a toothy grin. “Gramma’s here!” she scooted off the couch and skipped around the couch.

Samina turned, watching as Sheena lifted Beulah in her arms, while Ezekiel’s other daughter stood at her side.

“Aunty Sammy’s here!” Beulah announced.

“Right you are, Bumblebee.” Sheena kissed Beulah’s cheek, placing her back on her feet. She smiled at Samina. “You’re early.”

Samina managed a sheepish smile. “I didn’t know when you’d be leaving…” She took note of Ezekiel’s older daughter sitting quietly beside Jeremiah. Whatever else she wanted to say disappeared as she noted the suspicion in her eyes.

Catching Samina’s attention, Samina smiled. “I see you’ve already met Beulah. This one is Adelaide.” She gestured to the brooding girl. “Laide, say hi to Aunty Sammy. She’ll be staying with you girls while we’re away.”

Adelaide regarded her skeptically before responding. “Hello.” Her greeting was as stiff as her form perched beside Jeremiah.

Sheena chuckled. “She’s a bit upset that we’re leaving tonight.”

Beulah leaned over Sheena’s lap and smiled at her sister. “Don’t worry, Sissi. We’ll have fun with Aunty Sammy. Right, Gramma?”

Sheena rubbed Beulah’s cheek. “That’s right, Bumblebee…” She gave Samina a warm smile. “Aunty Sammy is family, so you don’t need to worry.”

Samina offered the bravest, most confident smile she could muster, all the while wondering if she’d made a mistake.

Within the hour, Samina fought back trepidation as she watched the taillights of Uncle Jeremiah and Aunty Sheena’s dark sedan disappear around the corner of the street. Fighting a sigh, she slowly turned to the girls standing on the porch step.

They quietly stared back at her in silence; Beulah with her thumb in her mouth, Adelaide stood stiff and sullen.

Tossing a silent prayer to the evening sky, Samina walked up the driveway to meet them. “Have you eaten dinner?”

“I’m not hungry.” Adelaide spun on her heels, stepping into the house.

Samina lowered her gaze to Beulah. “What about you?”

Popping her thumb from her mouth, Beulah’s gaze brightened. “Can I have mac n’ cheese?”

“Sure.” Samina smiled wistfully as Beulah grabbed her hand and tugged her inside.

Adelaide stubbornly refused to come downstairs for the rest of the evening. After a creamy and filling mac n’ cheese dinner, Samina cuddled up to Beulah who dozed off during the Cinderella movie.

Samina watched the cartoon heroine prance around the ballroom in her glittery baby-blue gown and sparkling diamond tiara, looking completely content in the arms of her Prince Charming. Samina tamped down a sigh at the dreamy looks on the cartoon faces. She’d been so silly to believe in happy endings that only existed in fairy tales.

She gazed down at Beulah’s innocent features, wondering to herself if Beulah dreamt of princesses and Prince Charming? And of love ever afters? Tears welled up in her eyes as she thought back to Dr. Halliday’s prognosis of her condition. From what she read on the internet about the disease, there was no possible happy ever after. She bit her bottom lip, blinking away the tears.

Her fingers tracing the lines of Beulah’s furrowed brow, Samina smiled wistfully. It was as if she stared at a picture of Ezekiel when he was a little boy.

“What a dumb movie…” Adelaide muttered from the staircase.

Heart skipping several beats, Samina lifted her fingers from Beulah’s face.

Adelaide strolled over to the empty chair beside the sofa and settled into it, folding her arms across her chest. She glared at the screen.

“You don’t like fairy tales?” Samina hesitated, troubled by the girl’s petulant expression.

“There’s no such thing as happy endings,” Adelaide muttered bitterly. “No one lives happily ever after.”

Stunned to silence, Samina solemnly turned to the TV screen just as the cartoon Cinderella rushed down the grand staircase, Prince Charming trailing after her.

<<Chapter 14 || Chapter 16>>