“How can you be so selfish?!” Her mother’s words were muffled behind the front door, but Samina heard the frustration. Her hand hovered over the doorknob, hesitating to enter. Although her parents had always argued in front of her and her siblings, it still made her uncomfortable.

She shifted on her feet, contemplating whether to just call Karen to pick her up instead of bothering her father for a ride.

The sound of pots and pans crashing on the floor made her decision for her. Samina grabbed the door and pushed herself inside, chest hammering as she took in the scene.

Eyes wild with indignation, hair unbound, shoulders tense, Deidre glared at her husband who stood in stony silence with a kitchen counter between them. Both were still in one piece. She scanned the floor by her father’s feet, spying for pans.

“Your behavior is intolerable and I’m sick of it.” She scoffed at his silence. “So you’re just going to stand there and say nothing after behaving like a barbarian?”

Samina bit her bottom lip. Gabriel’s shoulders were stiff, stubborn and unyielding. No doubt he bristled with pent-up fury and her mother’s provocation could only cause more harm than good.

“What possessed you to fight your best friend like a mad man, Gabriel?”

Gabriel then sighed heavily. “Deidre, please…”

Samina frowned. The weariness in his tone didn’t match the man that engaged in a fist-fight moments ago.

Deidre refused to back down. As always. “Please what, Gabriel? Please don’t call you out for your nasty behavior?” Deidre laughed scathingly. “You wish.”

Samina cringed as Gabriel’s hands bunched into a fist.

Deidre’s face hardened. “Something’s eating you up and I’m sick of it affecting this entire family. You chased my son out of this house because of your blasted mood and now you’re acting like a common thug!”

“For the love of God!” Gabriel snapped. “Will you shut up for once in your life?!”

Deidre’s scowl only darkened, her lips pursed tight.

Samina trembled as her father’s voice boomed along the walls, shaking her. This was more than annoyance or some unresolved issue between him and Uncle Jeremiah. Her father was visibly disturbed by something; if only she could know what it was.

“I’m tired of your dramatics.” Gabriel continued, anger loosening his tongue. “Enough already!”

“Me, dramatic?” Deidre scoffed loud, hard. “And you causing a scene at Sheena’s house, shooting an episode of Cops isn’t?” She jammed her hands to her hips, eyes sweeping over him with distaste. “What a joke.”

A cold shiver shot through her. Stiffening, Samina clenched her teeth. She hated when her parents fought like this.

“All you do is nag,” Gabriel spun on his heel and halted, spotting Samina standing in the doorway. His jaw tightened and averted his gaze.

“We’re not done!” Deidre said, though she made no move to step away from behind the counter. “Stop running away when things get hard, you coward!”

Something snapped in Samina. “That’s enough!”

Both her parents turned to look at her, dumbfounded.

The front door opened, Karen and Obadiah entering the house.

Samina didn’t notice them, so fired up with frustration at her parents. “Can’t you hear yourselves? Calling each other names, fighting like you’re children instead of adults? Aren’t you ashamed?”

Deidre squinted at her. Gabriel glared in stony silence.

Tears welled up in her eyes. Samina sniffed. “How are we supposed to look up to you, to trust you with anything, when you’re both caught up in your own issues? Is this how parents are supposed to act?”

Her heart was racing so fast, she could barely take a breath. Tears slid down her cheeks and she scrubbed a hand over her face. “Do you even realize what we’re going through? Do you even care?”

“Samina…” Deidre started, taking a step forward.

Samina turned to Gabriel. “You’re supposed to be our example, a godly man who’s a strong tower to us. But I don’t recognize you anymore. You kick Obadiah out without hearing his case, you’re fighting Uncle Jeremiah, and you treat Topher like he’s scum—” she inhaled sharply, finally taking a breath. Her head swam and she closed her eyes briefly.

Deidre shot an accusing glare at Gabriel. “You met Topher?”

Gabriel clenched his jaw tight.

“Have you gone mad, Gabriel?”

“Enough!” Samina snapped, grabbing both their attention. Her breath was haggard as she tried to hold it in. But couldn’t. She choked on a sob.

Karen and Obadiah moved slowly behind her.

Samina sniffed back tears. “Can’t you two just behave like our parents? Can’t you just act like…” The room spun around her and Samina swayed.

“Sammie!” Karen caught Samina’s arm; Obadiah grabbed her waist, to steady her.

Samina blinked at the dizziness, struggling to stand.

Karen shot her parents a glare. “Now you’ve done it!”

Deidre clenched her jaw at her second daughter. “Be quiet if you don’t know anything.”

Pulling her arm from Karen, Samina attempted to balance herself but the room was spinning. She needed to get out of here. “I’m… fine,” she managed, her voice weak, unsteady as her feet.

“No you’re not!” Karen snapped, voice wavering. She scowled at her parents. “Are you really that blind with your own issues to realize Samina’s not well?!”

Samina shrugged off Obadiah’s hands around her and glared at Karen. “Don’t!”

Karen eyed her warily. “I know why you didn’t want to tell but they have to know… or they won’t stop.”

Samina shook her head. This wasn’t how she wanted it. Their anger would only be directed at her again. She grabbed Karen’s arm, shaking her head. “Please, don’t.”

“Sam had surgery,” Obadiah spoke up.

She squeezed her eyes shut, not wanting to see the shock and betrayal on her parents’ face. “That is not what’s important right now…”

“What are you saying?!” Deidre demanded, her feet moving around the counter toward her children.

Samina took a step back and stumbled against Obadiah. He braced her shoulders, keeping her from running away.


“It’s my fault!” Samina interjected forcefully, tears stinging the back of her eyes.

“Come on, Sammie—” Obadiah berated her, squeezing her shoulders.

“It’s true,” she insisted firmly, opening her eyes. Deidre stood close, eyes welled with tears. Gabriel gaped at her. She shifted her gaze to the floor. “If I had my life together, if I was settled down… maybe you two wouldn’t fight.”

“Samina, what is this nonsense?” Deidre sighed impatiently. “What are you talking about now? What surgery?”

“Mom, just listen…” Karen asserted firmly.

She sniffed, unable to lift her head. “I’m thirty years old with no real job, no real accomplishment and on top of that, I may never bear a child even if I get married today… Mom hates the man I love and Dad hates the guy I…” she swallowed the rest.

Deidre frowned. “What is she talking about?”

Karen sighed. “She and Zeke are dating.”

Samina grimaced inwardly.

“Ezekiel?” Gabriel grumbled. “I thought you liked that boy Topher.”

Samina didn’t miss the growl in his voice when he said Topher’s name. Her chest tightened and she lifted eyes to her father. “Why don’t you like him? What did he do to you? Why did you treat him and Aunt Nadine like they were… were lepers?”

His face darkened in a scowl. “Don’t start, Samina.”

Though her strength was dissipating, Samina glared at him. “Was it so hard to be nice? Do you know what he’s been through?” Fat tears rolled down her face. “Why’d you have to be mean when he’s been very nice to me?”

“Who’s Aunt Nadine?” Deidre’s voice broke through Samina’s ranting.

Karen blew out a breath. “Topher’s aunt. Apparently, his family is from Abbeville too. What a strange coincidence.”

Deidre’s brow furrowed. “Not this again.” She spun around to face her husband. “How come anything to do with your hometown brings out the boor in you?”

Gabriel stiffened.

Samina’s lips pursed. “Topher’s aunt and Daddy know each other.”

Deidre frowned, her mind silently working out the details. Then she scowled. “Wait a minute.” She turned to Samina. “What’s his aunt’s last name?”

Gabriel glowered. “What does it matter?”

“Answer me, Samina.”

Samina hesitated, the fury boiling in his father’s eyes as he silently forbade her to speak further. Her lips parted, formed the words. “Nadine Chance.” She turned back to Deidre, at the questions in her gaze. “His mother’s name was Odetta Chance.”

Deidre let out a strangled noise from her lips. She leaned away.

Gabriel blew out a breath and scrubbed a hand over his face.

“Odetta Chance, you say?”

Samina nodded, her brow furrowed in confusion at the haunted look in her mother’s eyes. “She died when Topher was born…”

A wheezing sound pulled at their attention. Samina’s stomach dropped at the shock in Gabriel’s eyes.

“Odetta’s… dead?” his voice was barely audible, his eyes wide with disbelief.

The shock faded from Deidre and she scowled at her husband. “I can’t believe this. Gabriel, after all this years, you’re still thinking about Odetta?!”

Samina looked away at the shock frozen on her father’s face and frowned at her mother. “Wait, what?” Her eyes flew back to Gabriel.

His head now hung, his shoulders slumped over. “She’s… dead?”

“Gabriel!” Deidre snapped, infuriated. “How dare you mourn your dead girlfriend in front of me?!”

Samina’s jaw dropped as her stomach did.  What?!

Topher rapped his knuckles on the scuffed wooden counter. “C’mon. Another one.” He nudged his empty glass forward, head swimming.

“Don’t you think you’ve had enough?”

He rolled his eyes in an exaggerated manner. “I just had one glasssss.” He giggled, head lolling.

“That’s obviously enough for you,” the bartender muttered in disgust, snatching the whisky bottle from Topher’s reach. He eyed him warily. “Just go home.”

Topher slammed his open hand on the counter, nearby patrons jolting at the sound that ricocheted down the bar, chinking their cups. “Don’t tell me what to do…” his scowl eased into a sloppy smile.

Not amused, the bartender scowled. “You better relax or you’re leaving.”

Topher glared at the bartender’s hulking form. “Give me the bottle and I’ll be quiet.” He scoffed in laughter when the man narrowed his eyes at him. “Give me my drink while I’m being nice.”

With a cool gaze, the bartender placed the glass before Topher and slowly poured the amber liquid. He gritted his teeth Topher grabbed the glass and tossed it back quickly. “Be careful!” he growled, shaking his head in disgust as Topher coughed and sputtered the potent drink.

“More,” Topher gasped, extending the cup.

“You’re done,” the bartender said coolly, snatching the glass from the table. “Don’t make a fool of yourself and call your ride. Or get out before I help you out.” He twisted the cap onto the bottle and pushed it far away from Topher’s sticky hands.

Topher scowled through the haze. “Call who?” he mumbled, dropping his head. His phone felt heavy in his pocket, reminding him of his loneliness. Suddenly, he needed another drink to drown out the despairing thoughts.

“Call your wife, your girlfriend or your mom,” the bartender said over his head. “I don’t care who you call. You have an hour to get out of here. I have customers waiting.”

Topher flung a dark glare, the man’s words striking a raw nerve. “Way to kick a man when he’s down. Thanks.”

The bartender merely grunted and taking the bottle with him, he moved down the bar to fill another customer’s order.

Topher heaved another sigh at his empty glass. So much for drowning his misery in some port of strong liquor.

Call your wife or girlfriend or mother!

The bartender’s callous suggestion mocked him, his head throbbing. Everything including the empty glass was unfocused. He blinked away the dizziness and smacked at his dry mouth.

His fingers slid down the counter to his pocket, outlining the cellphone. Tugging it out, he traced the keypad. “Sammie…” his mouth formed the word haunting his mind. A tear fell down his cheek as he pressed the number 1 key and dropped his head to the counter, watching it dial her number. Would she answer? Should she?

Topher groaned, disconnecting the call on the second ring. He couldn’t face her. Not after what he knew.

Disgusted by his cruel fate, Topher tossed the phone aside and slammed his palm on the counter. “Another one!”

“Shut up!” a drunken patron protested loud.

<<Chapter 40 || Chapter 42>>