As the last crescendo of “Amens” bounced off the stone walls in the chapel, I breathed a sigh of relief and lowered myself to the pew. Mommy perched beside me to gather her purse while Daddy moved out of the pew to greet the family behind us.
“You okay?” Mommy asked quietly.
I managed a smile and was about to respond when someone tapped me on my shoulder. Peering over, my smile widened at Francine.
She winked at me before turning to my mother. “Good evening, Mrs. Abarca.”
Mommy smiled graciously as she rose to her feet. “Francine, how are you? Your parents here?”
Francine nodded, her primped hair bouncing on her shoulders. “Uh-hmm. They’re outside.” She looked at me. “Can I borrow your daughter for a moment?”
I stood as Mommy chuckled good-naturedly. “I’ll be back, Mommy.” Francine hooked her arm with mine and tugged me around the pews. “Finished it already?” I smiled in greeting at a few congregation members crowded in the aisles.
Francine scoffed softly, maneuvering us through the crowd. “Not quite. I had to get in the car just before I printed it out.” She nudged me then and moved her head in the direction of the hallway.
Frowning, I turned to where she gestured and suddenly felt my heart skip a beat. The shadow of a person stood next to the column that blocked the hallway and although I couldn’t make out the face, I knew exactly who it was. Amed Musa.
“You’re welcome,” Francine muttered, breaking the spell. I whipped around to see her sneaking away.
The shadow cleared his throat and I whipped back around, blinking as the shadow stepped away from the column. I quickly stepped forward toward the shadows and pushed at Amed’s sturdy chest. He grasped hold of my wrists, sending tingles up my arms and down my legs as he pulled me into the shadows, making us both invisible to the congregation.
I recovered quickly and pushed away from him. “What are you doing here?!” I whispered fiercely, thankful for the voices echoing loudly in the chapel, masking our voices.
Amed chuckled softly as if this was of laughing matter. “Surprise.”
I scowled. “How did you get here? Wha—” I swallowed the rest of my words when he placed his hand over my mouth.
“Somehow I’d pictured a different type of greeting, Bella.” His voice was soft as ever and I felt my knees weaken as it had many times before. Speechless, I watched his shrouded face leaned forward just as his hand slipped from my mouth. I closed my eyes, imagining him lean even closer and sighed when I felt his warm breath caress my face. Then a chorus of laughter ricocheted through the walls around us and I snapped my eyes open, leaning away from his face.
“Don’t. Not here.” My face was warm, my heart racing fast and hard. I glanced over my shoulder, expecting my father or mother or worse, the priest to catch us in the shadows. “You shouldn’t be here.”
Amed was quiet and I almost regretted my words. Almost. I scowled at his silence. “Say something.”
He sighed. “Is it a crime to surprise my girlfriend with a visit?”
I bit my bottom lip, knowing he was offended by my lack of warmth toward him. If we were still at school, I knew I would’ve jumped into his arms and kissed him until he teased me for smothering him. Except that we were no longer in school and my parents had no idea about him. If either of my parents caught him here with me, there was no way I’d return to the university for the next term.
“I see…” Amed muttered and lowered both hands from my waist, stepping away from the shadows.
“Babe, it’s not that…” I protested, stepping toward him.
“Then what is it?” his voice was short, cold. I knew I deserved it but it still stung.
I frowned, not knowing how to break it to him. Amed was a Muslim by birth, even if he didn’t practice it. Amed being in the Anglican Church was oddly strange. Maybe he didn’t care but I somehow felt a little guilty. Like the statue of the crucified Jesus could see him and I. My cheeks tingled, realizing that he probably would’ve witnessed us kissing in the shadows and I set my jaw. “You shouldn’t be here.”
“Are you kidding me?” Amed asked and I could feel his glare on me.
I nodded. “I’ll come to you later to—”
“Don’t bother, Belinda.” That was the last thing he said to me before stepping away from the shadows into the dimly-lit hallway.
I reached out to stop him from angrily stalking past me into the unassuming crowd but just then, my eyes collided with the stormy glare of my father standing beside a very contrite Francine. My hand fell to my side and I didn’t dare look at Amed who trudged past Daddy and out of the church.