Posts tagged “ADVICE

Samina’s Chance: Chapter 48

Posted on 03/06/2015

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They hadn’t held hands in ages. At thirty-years old, it didn’t seem all that necessary as it was when she was ten years old. But when Gabriel grabbed hold of her hand and led her down the winding path, Samina felt a peace she hadn’t felt in years. In introspective silence, they listened to the crickets providing an evening melody, the croaking bullfrogs complementing the tone. Gabriel whistled a tune.

 “Oh my darling, oh my darling, oh my darling Clementine.”

Her nose wrinkled before he whistled the next stanza. “Dad, that’s a terrible song …” She raised a brow at him. “It’s about a man losing his daughter to drowning.”

Gabriel choked a laugh. “Oh wow.”

She shrugged, leaning into him as they walked the woven path. “I looked up the lyrics when I was fifteen. It changed my life forever.”

He nudged her shoulder. “Drama queen.”

Samina sighed and propped her head against his shoulder. “You heard everything?”

“Not if you didn’t want me to.”

She twisted her mouth. “Do you… think she’s right?”

Gabriel didn’t answer at first, mulling over his daughter’s words. The silence stretched for a few moments before he released a sigh. “I always used to think you were like your mother; headstrong and frustratingly independent.” He chuckled lowly. “In a way, you are… but I see a lot of myself in you too.”

Samina managed a smile. For so long, she always felt closer to him because they were so much alike. “I’m your mini-me.”

He peered down at her. “You’re my mirror.” He squeezed her hand. “Even when you were just a baby, your eyes always watched me, doing as you saw me do. Funny thing was you took your cues from me.”

She remained quiet, knowing he was right. A memory of a trip to the beach, walking in her father’s large footsteps, came to mind.

“I’m grateful that you are our firstborn, Samina,” he continued. “You set the temperature for the house based on how your mother and I were feeling. Your uncanny ability to moderate and set the mood of the family, it amazes me.”

Samina bit her bottom lip as he stopped walking. He turned to face her, his face shrouded and unreadable under the half-cast moonlight.

“But I’m seeing now, that you took on more than a child should have to. Because I got too comfortable with you and your mom being assertive and strong women, you took on a role you shouldn’t have.”

She blinked, wary of his grave tone. “Dad…”

“It is not your job to be your mother’s husband or your siblings’ father. That’s my job. You’re not supposed to be my mirror, or the family’s thermostat.” His thumbs brushed the back of her hands. “You don’t have to be strong or invincible. Even I can’t. Only God can.”

Tears welled up in her eyes. “Dad…”

“Embrace your weaknesses as well as your strengths, Samina. They are what make you special, what make you beautiful.” He lifted a hand and cupped her cheek. “It’s okay to say that you don’t have all the answers, or that you’re confused with your life’s journey, or that you’re not perfect. No one is perfect.”

Samina drew in her bottom lip, gnawing at it.

“You’re not me, your mom, Karen or Obadiah. God made you special, unique, beautiful in your own way. There’s no need for you to be someone He hasn’t created you to be.”

She nodded, looking down. “I know that…”

“If you know that, why are you confused?”

Samina looked up, her brow furrowed. “I’m not… confused.

“Ok… what is it then?”

She stiffened. He wouldn’t understand; no one ever did. Her eyes tingled. Don’t you dare cry again.

Gabriel’s hands let go of hers and moved to cup her shoulders. “Samina… Everything you’ll ever need in life, God has provided it for you.”

She refrained from rolling her eyes. “Dad…”

“Delay isn’t denial, you know that, don’t you?”

Samina held her tongue. It sure felt like everything in her life was a loud and firm denial, but arguing with him and God didn’t seem appropriate.

He squeezed her shoulders. “In due time, everything you need, will be met. Stop stressing about what will happen and live for today.”

She smiled wryly. “You sound like a fortune cookie, Dad.”

Gabriel chuckled softly. “Don’t think for a moment that I don’t know about you collecting notes from fortune cookies…”

Her cheeks warmed, recalling the box of rolled-up fortune cookies slips under her childhood bed, representing dashed hopes and dreams. ‘Your future is looking bright’; ‘Love is waiting at the next corner’; ‘Keep on believing.’ She’d been a fool to believe in it all.

He sighed, draping an arm around her shoulders and pulled her closer. “My mini-me…”

Samina leaned into him, warmed by the endearment. “Yes, Daddy?”

“Enjoy your life. Don’t dwell on the past, on things you can’t change. Live for today because you can.”

There was a soft wistful lilt to his tone that had Samina peeking up at his shadowed face.

He sighed. “For more than thirty-something years, I lived with regret and wished I could turn back time. I wished I could’ve told Odetta that I feared failing her, or not being the man she thought I was. That’s why I worked hard, knowing that if I didn’t, I might lose her to Jeremiah.”

She frowned. “Uncle?”

Gabriel grunted. “I knew he loved her too, maybe even more than I ever could… and it ate at me every time she talked about what a great and smart guy he was. In a way, I’d made him my yard stick on how to be a man. And even long after Odetta, I still found myself doing that. Seeing how he treated Sheena like she was his precious gift and finding myself wanting.”

Samina bit the inside of her cheek.

“And because I had my eyes on what he was doing, I hurt your mother with neglect.”

Samina had a sneaky suspicion that this was beyond fatherly advice and more so overdue contemplation over his past failings. She slipped an arm around his waist. “Daddy…?”

“Hmm?”

She hesitated. “You… love Mom, don’t you?”

“Of course I do.” His voice shook a little. “It’s a matured love that endures in spite of frustrations and insecurities because she’s my precious gift. No matter what, we’ll face every circumstance and struggle together.”

Samina swallowed hard.

“I wish I could say it was love at first sight or that I was head over heels in love with your mother… But I wasn’t. I was still hurt from Odetta’s betrayal and didn’t trust women. But your mother was enduring, patient and stubborn.” He chuckled dryly. “It’s funny; the very thing that attracts you to someone is often the very thing that drives you nuts.”

Samina paused, wondering what about Ezekiel attracted her and drove her nuts at the same time. Gabriel’s hand on her cheek caught her at mid-frown.

“Your sister is right, Samina.” Gabriel brushed her cheek with his thumb. “I rather you wait until you’re sure before you jump into anything in life. Career and in love. Even if you have to wait a while, wait and decide what you really want. When times get tough, and you’ve taken that much-needed time, you won’t regret waiting.”

The peace that had settled in her at the beginning of their walk was long gone, an unsettling feeling resting on her as they made their quiet walk back to the camp. She watched as Gabriel crossed the camp fire to where Deidre sat with Sheena and Jeremiah. With a wistful smile, she watched Gabriel reach for Deidre’s hand and tug her to her feet.

Deidre cocked her head curiously as Gabriel took the seat and patted his lap. Jeremiah and Sheena chuckled, Deidre smacking Gabriel’s shoulder before perching on his lap.

Tamping down a sigh, Samina turned away once the elder couples continued their murmuring and turned to where Karen and Ezekiel’s girls sat together, Beulah leaning into Karen as she re-braided her plaits while Adelaide nibbled on a graham cracker.

Samina snuck away to the tent she shared with Karen, intent on sleeping the cramps and fatigue away. A twig snapped to her left and she hurried into the tent, snapping the flap close. It could be Ezekiel, seeking her response. Or Topher…

She couldn’t face either one right now; not when her thoughts were a discombobulated mess.

Wiggling into the sleeping bag, Samina turned her back and squeezed her eyes tight. The last thought on her mind before drifting off to sleep was what Odetta must’ve felt making her decision.

Topher stood at the bank of the river, his brow furrowed slightly as he took in the orange and pink hues in the sky. The night passed too slowly and with Samina on his brain, he couldn’t sleep. It didn’t help that Obadiah’s guttural snoring was way worse than Nadine’s wheezing. By three in the morning, he’d given up trying and took a long jog around the river, trying to organize his thoughts and his feelings.

He wished to forget what he’d seen earlier that evening; the picture of Ezekiel kneeling before Samina.

“I thought I was the only one who couldn’t sleep past five.”

Topher’s jaw hardened. Though he didn’t know the man long enough, he found himself recognizing the voice of Samina’s boyfriend Ezekiel.

The man stifled a yawn as he came to stand at Topher’s side.

In the wake of their silence, bullfrogs hiding in the reeds along the bank croaked out their melodious beat.

“There’s nothing quite like the great outdoors,” Ezekiel continued, his voice light and cheery.

Topher grunted. It was too early in the morning for merriment.

After a brief pause, Ezekiel spoke again. “I heard about your parents. I’m sorry for your loss.”

He kicked a shoulder, not wanting this man’s sympathy.

“The older I get,” Ezekiel mused aloud. “The more I realize what a small world we live in. It seems everyone is connected somehow.”

He rolled his eyes. What did Samina see in this talkative, annoying fellow?

“That we’re all related in some way, it’s bizarre.” Ezekiel chuckled. “To think that Samina’s friendship with you allowed you to meet our fathers who were your parents’ friends… It’s definitely God.”

Topher bristled inwardly, wishing the man to leave.

Ezekiel then turned to face him. “I’d like us to be friends.”

Topher arched a brow. Did this guy think they were in kindergarten?

“I can see Samina cares for you. A friend of hers is a friend of mine.”

He wanted to laugh. Even with Ezekiel’s warm expression, Topher knew better than to take this man’s words at face value. Just as he stood at Samina’s side, occupying every moment of her time since they arrived at the camp, he was now verbally staking a claim over Samina. Topher felt his lips curl upwards. He did always like a challenge. “And if I don’t agree?”

Ezekiel’s smile froze. “Agree to what, Samina’s feelings for you?”

Topher grinned wider. “The latter. Do we really need to be friends to co-exist in her heart?”

Ezekiel’s smile changed. “I’m not good at sharing.”

“Neither am I,” Topher answered easily, shoving both hands in his pockets. “But this isn’t about sharing a cookie or a toy. Samina’s heart isn’t a toy.”

Ezekiel’s face hardened. “Samina loves me. Always have, always will.”

Topher smiled effortlessly. “Good for you.”

“I plan to marry her.”

He nodded. The image of Ezekiel kneeling was clear as day in his mind. “I know.”

“She will be my wife.”

Topher cocked a brow at Ezekiel’s face now taut with increasing irritation. The self-assuredness he’d assumed earlier was now absent in his expression. “Is that merely an assumption or a known fact?”

Ezekiel narrowed his eyes then, lips pursed tight. “Don’t confuse her.”

“What, you’re scared she’ll refuse?” Topher raised both brows. “That she has a better option than the one you’re proposing?”

Ezekiel scoffed. “You’re joking. Do you know her at all?”

“Do you?” Topher smirked as Ezekiel’s smile waned. “So what she had a crush on you? Does that give you full reins of her heart?”

Without warning, Ezekiel grabbed hold of Topher’s collar, face darkening with a scowl. “Who are you to say that? What do you know?”

Unaffected, Topher just stared down at him. “And who are you to decide what she wants?”

Ezekiel’s fists tightened on Topher’s t-shirt. “Shut your mouth.”

Topher breathed a laugh. “I’m not in the mood to repeat history here. Let go or I’ll make you.”

A round of claps alerted both men, the raging fires within sizzling as they turned to see Samina standing in the clearing. Ezekiel’s hands loosened around Topher’s shirt and he quickly stepped away. Topher didn’t blink as Samina walked forward, clapping her hands slowly.

“A round of applause,” Samina drawled out, stepping fully out of the shadows. “What an awesome performance, gentlemen.”

“Sam, I can explain…” Ezekiel stepped forward.

“Explain what exactly?” Samina glared at both men. “If I didn’t know better, I’d think you two were kids fighting over a toy.”

Topher swallowed a curse. Ezekiel inhaled sharply. She’d heard everything.

She folded both arms across her chest, her brow furrowed. “So what were you going to do, fight knowing your daughters could walk in on you two?”

“No one was going to fight,” Ezekiel insisted, his tone growing agitated. “I was just…”

“Warning him off? Making veiled threats?” Samina turned to Topher before Ezekiel could explain but could only shake her head. “I don’t recognize either of you.”  She turned away, hand to her head.

Ezekiel stepped closer but Topher grabbed his shoulder to stop him. He scowled when Ezekiel shrugged him off and closed the distance. He glared at Ezekiel as the man draped an arm around Samina’s shoulder.

“I’m sorry, baby,” Ezekiel murmured, loud enough for Topher to hear but soft enough to sound contrite.

Topher wanted nothing more than to grab Ezekiel by the collar and push him away from Samina. Instead he stood and waited in silence. It wasn’t his place to interfere, even if he desperately wanted to.

Samina elbowed Ezekiel to keep her distance. “Stop.” She glared up at him. “Even now, you’re still doing it. Stop it, for goodness’ sake.”

Dumbfounded, Ezekiel gaped at her. “Sam…”

“I’m not a toy, Ezekiel.” Samina snapped, indignant. “I decide what and who I want, not you.”

Ezekiel’s mouth opened and closed, eyes blinking.

“What do you want then?” Topher heard himself speak.

Samina turned to him, eyes sizzling. “I thought I knew but now… I don’t know.”

Ezekiel frowned. “But—”

“And until I’m sure, I don’t want to talk to either of you about it.” Samina hitched her chin. “And don’t you dare follow me or try to change my mind. Punch your stupid heads in for all I care. Good day!” She spun on her heels and stormed off.

Ezekiel puffed out an exasperated breath in her wake and dragged a hand over his face.

Topher slowly released a breath he didn’t know he’d been holding all this time.

Grunting, Ezekiel turned to him with a ‘now what’ expression and Topher did everything he could to keep from laughing. He was not in the mood to fight anyone, especially not now.

With a sigh, Topher turned to face the lake just as the sun rose above the trees.

<<Chapter 47 || Chapter 49>>

Samina’s Chance: Chapter 34

Posted on 06/05/2015

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Heart hammering hard and fast against her ribs, Samina blinked at Topher who still wore that chagrined expression, almost as if he regretted doing this for her. She averted her gaze to the cup of brushes coated with dried paint, the bristles bent from overuse. Then she pictured her own set of brushes in a crate at the back of her closet, her blank canvases next to them. Realization hit her hard and she took a step back, shaking her head. She couldn’t do this.

Topher frowned, but made no move to stop her. “What’s wrong?”

Samina bit her bottom lip, gripping the strap of her purse. “No, I can’t do this…”

Elias looked up then, squinting at her. “None of that running away business. If you claim to be an artist, get your backside over here.” He scowled when Samina made no move to obey. “Sit,” he hooked a thumb to the empty stool.

Topher offered her a wan smile, his eyes watching her as she trudged slowly to the booth. And as she took her seat, eyes moving over his to seek intervention, his phone rang. “Sorry, gotta take this…” He turned away without giving Samina a second glance.

Her shoulders sagged. He was definitely angry with her. Samina bit back a whine as his bulky frame disappeared around the corner.

“Picasso,” Elias mumbled to her right. “The paint is drying and your canvas is still white. My customers will come by at any minute now.”

Samina warily eyed the man’s knobby wrist flick the brush like a wand. She had to admit he made painting strokes look easily flawless. She fought a scowl. “What does that have to do with me?”

He turned to her, brow raised. “They know you’re coming as my guest artist. I keep my word. So paint.” He hooked a stained thumb in the direction of the easel to punctuate his words.

Samina sought out Topher in the crowd but finding no one, she bowed her shoulders, defeated.

“Pick your tool of trade.”

“Pardon?” Samina mumbled begrudgingly. How she got hoodwinked into being an active participant instead of a casual onlooker made her head spin. Even though Topher had a right to be angry with her, she was annoyed with him for leaving her with this craggy old man.

Elias grunted, waving his free hand over the bucket of old brushes, nodding when she reluctantly pulled out a slender brush. “Pick one. Oil, water or acrylic?”

Samina stared at the brush as if she’d never seen one before. Her heart skipped several beats. It’d been a while since she painted without a subject, without a plan. As the former art teacher at Bates, she’d only worked on stencils, painting samples for the class assignments. Inspiration, especially these days, didn’t come easy.

Drawing an inward breath, Samina dipped the brush into the rusty cup of water and dabbed the brush tip into a well of blue paint. Here goes… She lifted the brush to the blank canvas.

“How surprising…” Elias mumbled.

Samina paused at his censured tone. “What?”

He gestured at the well plate, shaking his head. “Watercolor and impressionism… ain’t no good.”

She frowned. “Actually impressionism can be characterized with either acrylic or watercolor.”

Elias groaned, shifting in his stool to face his canvas. He painted broad, careless strokes onto the canvas. “You ain’t one of those, are you?”

“One of those?” Samina squinted at him, bristling inwardly. He sounded just like those that appraised her work with disinterest before rejecting it altogether. Her spine stiffened in defense, despite the fact that her canvas was notably blank.

Elias dabbed the brush on the cloth draped over his knee. “Y’know the old saying. Those who can’t paint, teach.”

She scowled, heat coursing through her. Her jaw tightened as her teeth clinked together. “I know how to paint, Mr. Elias,” she forced out, body taut with aggravation.

He laughed, unaffected by her growing hostility. “I’ll believe it when I see it, Miss Picasso. Get to work.”

Samina’s lips pursed tightly as he dismissed her and she gripped the paintbrush tightly. Her parents didn’t take her art seriously and the academy hadn’t either. There was no way she was going to let this old, craggy peddler make a fool out of her.

“Fine,” she clipped out, dipping the brush into the water. Glaring at the blank canvas, Samina shoved aside apprehension and dipped the brush into the well plate with red paint. She’ll show all of them.

Elias grinned wide. “You better get to it, Miss Picasso. Your first clients will be here soon.” He whistled much to Samina’s annoyance and continued his painting.

An hour of silence and only a few spectators strolled past Elias’ booth, surveying the paintings. Elias stood from his stool, greeting them only to grumble when they wandered away just as easily and he returned to his seat. He glanced at Samina’s canvas, not saying a word except the occasional click of his tongue.

Too engrossed was she in her art piece that Samina paid him no mind, fingers moving the brush along the canvas, splashing bold and vibrant colors.

As the sky darkened slowly and the lights flickered on around them, Samina finally dunked the brush into the cup of murky water. Her heart thrummed and pulsated violently as though she’d just completed a run.

Breathing out a slow, measured breath, her eyes swept over the bold strokes and dots of color on her canvas. A warm breeze swept over her face, cooling the perspiration that beaded her temple and cheeks. And even though her right wrist throbbed from the exercise, she ignored it.

With a sigh, Samina leaned back and smiled with satisfaction. “Done,” she announced proudly.

Elias glanced over and shook his head. “I told you watercolor and impressionism, no good.”

Samina’s smile fell, her heart dropped. She jerked her eyes to seek out the disapproval in his shrouded features. “It’s not…?”

“I’m sure it’s a fine painting, Picasso… But I can’t see it.”

Samina scowled and jerked to stand, grabbing the edge of her damp canvas. Moving around the stool, she stomped to the streetlight and angled the canvas for Elias. “Well, how about now?” She couldn’t mask the frustration coloring her voice.

Elias squinted and shook his head. “Nope. Still can’t see it.”

Smarting from his disinterested tone, Samina bit down a sharp retort, gritting her teeth. “Well then, come see it from here.”

He waved her off. “No need. The customers will be a judge of it.”

Deflated, Samina trudged back to the booth, practically dragging the canvas with her. She slumped into the stool and positioned the canvas on its stand. “I didn’t paint this for money.”

“Oh of course. You’re saving it for Topher then?”

Samina frowned at the painted flowers on her canvas. In truth, she’d drawn this for herself but chose not to say anything before he turned it into a lesson about art teachers having no art sense. Heaving a sigh, she shifted her gaze to critique his own painting and froze.

Vibrant strokes seemed to glow in the shadows. Warmth tickled the back of her neck as she surveyed the bold, broad strokes. The smooth lines and vibrant hues would attract any spectator from a mile away. She leaned in. “What is this paint?”

“Radiant oil,” Elias mumbled. “You’ve never heard of it before?”

He was making fun of her! Samina clenched her jaw, silently wishing Topher would return. “I prefer watercolors.”

He chuckled. “Loosen up, Picasso. And diversify your work. Painting roses doesn’t sell.”

She clenched her jaw. “Petunias. I like flowers.”

“And I like robots and women. That doesn’t mean I should paint them all the time.”

Samina scoffed derisively, folding her arms across her chest. Her eyes once again scanned the bustling scene a few feet away, willing Topher to reappear. She was very much done with this unwanted art lesson and ready to go home.

Elias smirked. “Relax, Miss Picasso. People won’t always like your work. Learn to take honest criticism.”

“Like you did earlier?”

He scowled. “They ain’t got no art sense.”

“Of course…” Samina mumbled, sitting back on the stool.

In begrudging silence, she watched Elias finish his painting, her eyes widening as the lights brought his paintings to life. She could feel her breath catch as he angled the finished painting to face the light and watched the lights dance and skitter across the canvas. By the entrance, a crowd of people strolling toward the booth and as they moved closer, she could hear their open admiration for Elias’ work.

Her painting received a passing notice but she didn’t mind, watching the smile light up Elias’ face as he greeted each customer. He clearly enjoyed their praise and preened unashamedly. She found herself smiling too.

When Elias finally settled back on the stool, pocketing his dollar bills, Samina tucked away her smile and feigned boredom.

He nudged her shoulder. “The market people are good people. I’ve been doing this for more than ten years and every day is a better day than the first day I started.”

She remained quiet, eyes focused on his profile shrouded in the dark.

“Working for an art gallery is often about what sells, what makes people feel important when they hang artwork in their homes. It’s pretentious and dishonest.”

Samina merely stared at him.

“That’s why I like this market. It’s people are honest, both in their criticism and their praise. You can go home, assured that you’re a good painter because they take your paintings and display them on their walls, showing it off because they like it. Not because they want to feel important.” He nudged her shoulder again. “Once you’re honest with yourself, your paintings will become honest too.”

Samina swallowed hard.

“Topher would want to see it, I’m sure. The part you’re trying so hard to hide.” Elias gestured over her shoulder and Samina turned to see Topher strolling back.

She frowned as her heart skipped a beat.

Elias chuckled softly, pulling back her attention. “When you hear the fiesta music, it’s closing time.” He pulled the painting he’d just drawn and extended it to her. “This is for you.”

Her breath caught and she stared at the illuminous painting before looking up. “For me?”

Elias nodded. “I’ll trade you for the flower painting. My wife’ll enjoy this.”

Samina’s cheeks warmed, eyes stinging with tears.

Later, after they bid Elias a goodnight, Samina tucked back a smile and walked alongside Topher down the unleveled ground. Her eyes swept over the booths, watching the vendors close up their shop. She took in a deep breath, inhaling the sweet scents, making memories of this good day.

“So… did Elias treat you well?”

She nodded, side-stepping an older man scurrying between them with a wheelbarrow filled with crates. “It was fun.”

Topher smiled, adjusting the wrapped painting under his arm. He gestured for her to move ahead of him toward the car.

As they reached the car, Samina waited for Topher to place the painting in the trunk instead of getting inside. She bit her bottom lip as he walked over to her side and opened the car door. “Can we… talk?”

He stiffened visibly and dropped his hand from the car door.

Samina blinked as his dark gaze slid to her face.

Then Topher sighed. “Fine.” He moved around her to his side of the car and Samina slipped into the passenger’s seat.

Her pulse quickened as he started the engine but didn’t put the car in reverse. Instead, he leaned back in the seat, stretched out his long legs and turned to face her. “So talk.”

Samina hesitated, taken back by his clipped response. This wasn’t how she wanted to do it. Couldn’t they have gone somewhere a little more… comfortable and where she could at least see his face? She pursed her lips. “Aren’t you going to ask me?”

“Ask what? Who he is? Where you met him?”

She frowned. “Are you asking me then?”

Topher heaved a sigh. “Honestly Samina, it doesn’t matter who he is and where you met him. I’m disappointed that you didn’t give me a chance, but I can’t do anything about that, can I?”

She stared at him in silence. Was this all he had to say?

“But I’ll probably regret it either way, so tell me. Who is he?”

Tears stung her eyes and Samina blinked them away, annoyed by her reaction to his icy demeanor. This wasn’t the Topher she knew. Or maybe she never knew him at all and expected him to understand, at least give her a chance to explain.

She folded her arms across her chest, not knowing what else to do with her hands. “Never mind…”

And he didn’t prod her. Instead, Topher quietly turned in his seat and put the car in reverse, the engine revving loud as though echoing the screaming in her lungs. Samina turned her face to the window, tears stinging her eyes as Topher pulled out of the parking lot and took her home.

“Don’t you dare cry, Samina! Don’t you dare,” she screamed inwardly.

The love of her life had just told her he loved her too and wanted to be with her. Caring what Topher thought about her starting a relationship with Ezekiel was foolish and unfounded. She needed to get her mind right, starting now.

As Topher pulled into her driveway, Samina unbuckled her seatbelt and opened the door. She bit back a protest as he stepped out of the car and moved to the trunk to retrieve her painting. The sooner she got inside the better.

“Thanks,” she mumbled, receiving the painting from his hand. Forcing herself to look at him, Samina willed away the tears that threatened as she scanned his shadowed features. “For everything, Topher, thank you…” Swallowing the lump in her throat, she spun around and hurried up the driveway to the porch.

The sound of fleeting footfall, followed by the revving of an engine as Topher reversed the car onto the main street, invoked tears to fall down Samina’s face. The weight of the painting in her hand reminded her of the beautiful gift tonight had been for her. Topher’s surprise had touched her heart and she truly was grateful. Instead of showing him just how much his kindness and consideration meant to her, she’d hurt him.

A long tear slid down her face and Samina angled her face, pressing her cheek to her shoulder. Balancing the painting, she unlocked the door and stepped inside before the tears fell free.

Propping the painting against her knee, Samina pressed her hands to her face, catching the rebellious tears.

“Sam?”

She inhaled sharply and jerked her gaze up to where a concerned Ezekiel stood in the middle of her living room, a scowling Karen and curious Obadiah standing behind him. Samina groaned inwardly and wiped her face.

<<Chapter 33 || Chapter 35>>

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