Even as the other messages played on, Samina stared out the window, reeling over the word. Love. It sent warm thrills down her spine just replaying his voice form the word. Ezekiel loved her!

Then her brow furrowed, the warm feeling gone. What kind of love did he mean? Was it just the love of a sibling since they practically grew up together? She bit her bottom lip, realizing she’d rejoiced all too quickly. Annoyance surged through her body and she leaned back in the seat.

But before she could decipher Ezekiel’s unexpected confession, her phone rang. Looking down, her eyes widened and panic shot through her veins. Ezekiel’s caller id flashed on the screen.

Heart thumping a mile a minute, Samina’s finger inched to the answer button. His last words echoed in her head and she hesitated. What if he really just meant that he loved her like a sister?

Squeezing her eyes shut, she pressed the button and pulled the phone to her ear. “H-hello?”

There was a slight pause and then. “Good morning Sam. You’re back yet?”

Heat flooded her cheeks. “Yes… just got in.” Her pulse was racing so fast, she was worried he could hear it and leaned away from the phone. “H-how are you?”

“I’m fine. How was your vacation? Good?”

Samina gnawed the inside of her cheek. “Uh-hmm.”

“That’s good.”

She pulled in her bottom lip. “Um…”


Samina frowned. “You wanted something?”

“Oh right.” Ezekiel laughed softly, the sound sending warm shivers down her back. “I called you, didn’t I?”

Something was strangely awkward about this conversation. Samina pulled at her lip. “Is everything okay?”

“Sure. Did you get my messages?”

Goosebumps skittered along her arms. Samina licked her sudden dry lips. “Y-yes.”

“All of them?”

She sat up. “Uh-hmm.”

“Can I see you today?”

Her heartbeat skittered at the softly-spoken request. “Today?” She grimaced at her breathless reply.

“Yeah, may I?”

Samina paused in contemplation. Meeting Ezekiel could verify her suspicions, could finally settle her conflicting feelings for him. It would also bid her time before meeting with her family, delaying the lectures even just for a few hours. She nodded, making up her mind. “Okay. What time?”

“Are you busy now? We can do an early lunch.”

Her empty stomach growled on cue and Samina’s cheeks heated, mortified. Hopefully he didn’t hear that. “Um okay, that’s fine.”

“Great.” His smile invoked hers, though apprehension slinked in as she noted the address to meet him around noon. “I’ll see you soon, Sam.”

“Yes,” she answered stiffly and disconnected the call, leaning back in her seat.  Her heart still hadn’t calmed down by the time she reached the highway and Samina wondered if meeting Ezekiel so soon after his confession was a good idea.

There was no time to rethink it. No time to turn back. She sat in the parking lot of one of the restaurants they’d frequented in primary school days.

She could see him from the window, in a booth. From where she sat in her car, she could see the furrowed lines in his brow; watched him shift to find a comfortable spot in the booth and adjust the salt and pepper shake bottles. He seemed as nervous as she felt, like they were just meeting for the first time.

Like this was some date.

Samina would’ve laughed at the absurdity if it wasn’t happening to her, right now.

Drawing in a deep inward breath, Samina glanced at the mirror to check her hair and light makeup. She told herself she wasn’t primping for him. That it was circumstances that forced her to mask the dark circles under her eyes and her dry face and lips.

“Relax,” she mumbled, checking her reflection one last time. Then she stepped out of the car.

At the same time, Ezekiel glanced out the window and saw her.

Samina froze.

Ezekiel smiled and waved her over.

She drew in another breath and released it slowly. “Relax,” she said through her teeth and managed a smile, making her way to the front door.

Ezekiel met her at the door, eyes warm and searching as it swept her face.

Samina’s face heated, taken back by the difference in his gaze. She was reminded once again by his words. I love you, Sam.

“Hi.” Such a simple word but filled with much more.

She drew in her bottom lip and squeezed the strap of her purse. “Hi.”

Then he stepped forward and wrapped his arms around her.

Samina bit back a gasp, eyes wide as he folded her in his embrace. He was all solid, warm muscle and her body couldn’t help melting against him. Tears gathered in her eyes as she leaned into him. Where was he when she lay scared and alone in the hospital? If only he’d spoken with her sooner?

Then Ezekiel leaned back and Samina quickly composed herself before his gaze slid to her face. His expression was rueful, the corner of his mouth lifted in a gentle, tentative smile. “Forgive me?”

She blinked. Was he rescinding his words already? “Forgive you for what?”

“For being a jerk.” His hands still remained on her shoulders, eyes riveted to hers. “I was a complete boor that night. I was jealous about something false and acted like an idiot.” He squeezed her shoulders. “Forgive me?”

Samina stared at him, lips parted in surprise. Ezekiel was jealous?

His smile brightened and he slid one arm around her shoulders. “Come. I’m keeping you hungry. Let’s eat and we’ll talk some more.” He led her toward their booth. “If you don’t mind, I already ordered for us both. Turkey and bacon club sandwich, right?”

Samina couldn’t stop staring at him as he slid across the booth from her. He remembered her favorite lunch order.

One brow arched, his smile waning a little. “Has it changed?”

She shook her head, offering him a gentle smile of her own. “It’s the same.”

“Good.” His eyes crinkled at the sides, making him look remarkably boyish; as though he was twenty and she a shy sixteen-year-old crushing all over again.

Her body warmed all over and she leaned back in the seat, intent to enjoy a simple lunch with Ezekiel. And they did. He teased her on their first and last trips to this very restaurant, surprising her that this was the very booth they sat in all those years. She laughed, impressed that he remembered, warmed by his gentle smile and kind eyes. Even though his intentions were unclear for now, it was comfortable revisiting fun memories of their childhood.

“Sam,” he sobered after a bout of laughter over yet another fond memory. “I meant what I said earlier.”

She swallowed a laugh, feeling Ezekiel’s steady gaze on her face.

His lips twitched a smile. “I know you must’ve been surprised by it.”

Samina gnawed the inside of her cheek, words caught in her throat.

Ezekiel nudged his plate to one side. Then he reached across the table, pushing hers aside also. His fingers sought hers.

She inhaled sharply and Ezekiel’s eyes skittered up to hers. Her face fired up, seeing the truth there. Her pulse hammered and she started to pull her hands away for fear he would feel it against his thumbs.

Ezekiel held fast, gaze unwavering. “Sam… I do love you and I want to date you.”

Her eyes grew wide as tea saucers.

“Can I?” His thumbs grazed the insides of her wrists, his touch rendering her speechless if his words didn’t already.

<<Chapter 30 || Chapter 32>>