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“Here’s your phone back.”

Samina paused at buttoning up her collar when Dr. Halliday held out the cellphone. “Thanks.” Collecting the phone, Samina promptly pocketed it and resumed buttoning up her shirt and shrugging gingerly into her sweater.

Dr. Halliday eyed her warily. “You’re not gonna check your messages?”

Again she paused. Undoubtedly there would be an inbox full of worried and aggravated voicemails from everyone. She bit her bottom lip. “I’ll check it later.” She slowly eased herself into the chair, biting a grimace.

“Taken your medication today?”

“Forgot.” Samina turned an apologetic smile at her physician. “I will.”

Dr. Halliday shook her head as she rounded the desk to sit on the other side. “Well, everything looks good. The incision is healing well. I’m pleased about that.”

Samina nodded, relief sweeping over her. “Well you did tell me to rest as much as possible.”

“Is that why you isolated yourself from everyone this past week?”

Instead of responding, Samina averted her gaze from Dr. Halliday’s probing stare. Taking in a deep inward breath, she changed the subject. “So what is next?”

Dr. Halliday sighed, leaning back in her chair. “Another MRI scan, blood tests. We’ll need to make sure that everything is functioning normally and that your hormone levels are back to normal…”

Samina gnawed on the inside of her mouth, her stomach clenching. “Could the tumor come back?”

Dr. Halliday’s worried gaze slid over her face and Samina braced herself accordingly.

Later as she sat in the car, Samina stared at the blank screen of her cell phone, her mind on Dr. Halliday’s parting words, stressing due diligence with her medication, check-up appointments and prayer. Apprehension roiled inside and she swallowed.

“You can’t keep this hidden forever, Samina,” Dr. Halliday said gravely. “A condition like this should be shared with your family.” Her brow furrowed, lips pursed. “I know that if my Naomi hid something this serious from me, I’d be more than angry. I’d be hurt. Tell your family, Samina. They deserve to know the truth, for your sake.”

“My sake?” Samina echoed, fingers tracing the smudged lines on her screen. She could imagine the horror on her parents’ face, the look of fear in her siblings’ eyes. Their reactions of betrayal terrified her more than their worry on her behalf. She’d lied about a vacation, locked herself up in a hotel for a week and turned off her phone. No matter what, telling them about this wouldn’t go well.

Summoning a breath, she switched on the phone. Her eyes widened, watching the number count of messages climb to 20 voice-mail and 3 email messages.

As the coward she was, Samina checked her emails first. One from her bank, notifying her of a change in her account; another featuring a House of Hope newsletter and a letter from Bates’ Principal Forrester.

Rolling her eyes, she turned back to the voicemails and began to listen to each one.

The first was from Karen.

“Sis. Mom’s really worried. I know you’re probably living it up on this mysterious vacation, but call your mom. She’s bugging me every day—hey!”

The next message was from Obadiah.

“Hey, Karen said you should call Mom. Dunno why you’re ignoring her so she’s bothering me. Oh, I’m crashing at your place. You guys need a better sofa, so I’ll be in your room until you get back. Later.”

Shaking her head, she moved to the next few messages, heart clenching as both parents beseeched her to call.

“This isn’t you, Sammie,” Deidre’s voice wavered with concern. “Where are you? Call me. I’m worried.”

“Your mother’s worried, Sam.” Gabriel’s tone was gruff. Probably he too was forced to call her too. Then he sighed. “And so am I. Call your mom or me. Love you.”

By Karen’s next voicemail, Samina’s eyes were filled with tears. She sniffed and wiped them away, listening to her sister’s impatient tone.

“Samina Miriam Wells, people take their phones on vacation. Pick up!”

Samina choked a laugh and wiped her tears. Her heart throbbed, imagining her family’s increasing frustration at her absence. Sitting alone in a hotel room for a week, with the Bible and Living Single reruns to keep her company, she pondered on too many thoughts.

The Bible said she was wonderfully made and born with God’s purpose in mind, but this pesky condition had her thinking otherwise. How could this surgery, this debilitating condition that wreaked havoc on her hormones and her future as a potential mother be part of God’s plan?

Being the eldest of three children, she often stood as a mediator between her traditional-thinking parents and her new-age minded siblings, but nowadays Samina couldn’t figure out who she was. Karen had surpassed her already, pursing a stable career in nursing and Obadiah was set for a bright future in engineering. Their parents would be proud.

Samina sniffed, shaking off the depressing thought. She clicked the next message.

“Hey pretty girl,” Topher’s husky baritone filled the silent car. “Hope your vacation’s all you want it to be.”

Warmth crept in as Samina listened on.

“Don’t worry, this is still me giving you space. You’ll be pleased to know that I plan on only calling you once till you get back.”

Samina laughed, imagining the cheeky smile on his handsome face.

“Anyway, don’t forget our date this Wednesday. Can’t wait to see you. Bye.”

She breathed out a sigh, surprised that she too couldn’t wait to see him either.

“Hey, Sam.”

Samina blinked at Ezekiel’s voice on the other end. He was the next voicemail message. She sat up.

“I heard you’re on vacation. That’s good.”

She frowned at his halting tone, as if he was picking his words carefully.

“When you get back, can we talk? It’s important.”

Without her permission, something at the base of her stomach fluttered. She gripped the phone as yet another message came from him.

“I meant to say that I’m sorry for being a jerk that night.” Now he sounded tortured, unsettled. She could picture the hurt in his eyes and bit her bottom lip, worried. “I hope you know you’re important to me, Sam. I don’t know what I’d do…” he paused, blowing out a breath. She imagined him rubbing his face in frustration. “Okay, bye.”

Again another from him. “Sorry, I know this is stupid but I… I’m blessed to know you, Sam. You’re a special woman and I’m… proud of you.”

Samina raised both brows when he laughed nervously. What was wrong with him?

“Okay, I’m done now.” Ezekiel’s voice softened, nervous laugh gone. “I’ll see you when you get back. I love you Sam.”

Her eyes widened, a gasp caught in her throat. Her heart started hammering hard and fast. Love?

<<Chapter 29 || Chapter 31>>

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