Posts tagged “annoyance

Samina’s Chance: Chapter 40

Posted on 14/05/2015

southerncharms4

Jeremiah wiped the sweat from his brow. His eyes swept over Sheena’s rosebushes and the weeds that threatened their survival. He stifled a groan. The sun beat relentlessly, and with sweat dripping between his shoulders, he settled back on his haunches to tug at yet another stubborn weed

“I’ll do it later,” Ezekiel spoke over him. “It’s too hot out.”

He shook his head, ripping the weed from the soil. “We said that last weekend and look, the weeds are growing too fast.” He turned his head, squinting against the sun at his son’s silhouette. “Get me some water, would you?”

Ezekiel hesitated. “Dad…”

Jeremiah clucked his tongue, the sun’s heat inciting impatience. “Don’t give your old man a hard time too. Go.” He sighed as his son trudged up the sidewalk and into the house. Then he leaned back and released a measured breath.

Even with the sun beating hard on him, this distraction was much needed. Sheena’s disparaging silence was getting too hard to bear.

Coward. You’re nothing but a lily-livered coward.

His fingers squeezed the weed in his hand, his jaw tightening as Gabriel’s words echoed in his head, mocking. It’d taken every ounce of self-control not to turn back and slug Gabriel in the jaw. The man had gotten away with his arrogance for way too long and Jeremiah was tired of it.

A car door slammed behind him. Jeremiah glanced over his shoulder and squinted at the truck parked on the side of the road. His shoulders stiffened as Gabriel crossed the street toward him. Every muscle in his body tensed up as the man’s long-legged pace ate the distance. He dropped the weed to the ground and stood to face Gabriel.

The hardened look said he meant business, a storm raging in his eyes.

Jeremiah smirked wryly. “What, no call—” Gabriel’s fist slammed into his jaw, sending him staggering back into Sheena’s rose bushes. Stars danced between his eyes as he righted himself. Instead of the man’s dark scowl, he saw red. And lunged for Gabriel’s throat.

They both fell back on the grass.

The time was 1971 again. The two young men stumbled onto the dewy grass. His left cheek on fire, Jeremiah gripped the grass to stand. Gabriel grabbed him by his collar, jostling him. He blinked away the stars dancing around his head. Gabriel drew back his elbow and slammed his fist into Jeremiah’s face. Odetta screamed as all turned black.

Jeremiah staggered to his feet just as Gabriel started to stand. “Not this time,” he growled, kicking his friend on his back. Gabriel stumbled to his knees. Jeremiah grabbed him by the collar, jerking him upright.

Glaring at the unfocused look on Gabriel’s face, his jaw tightened. His fingers curled in a fist and he drew back his elbow.

Deidre thumbed through a family album, a wistful smile playing at her lips.  Pausing at a picture of Gabriel’s goofy smile, his daughters draped over his arms, she giggled softly. Her fingers traced the lines of her husband’s warm smile and hers waned. Nowadays, he brooded, that smile she fell in love with, missing.

Blowing out a breath, she flipped the page. Her heart skipped a beat.

Thirteen-year-old Samina smiled back at her. Eyes danced with mischief as if she was struggling not to laugh. Deidre’s smile faded completely.

She leaned into the sofa and drew the album closer, gazing at her daughter’s vibrant eyes. Back then, Samina had just announced her dream of becoming a world-renown artist.

Pangs of shame made her wince as Sheena’s words mocked the formative years she’d spent raising her children. Her brow furrowed at the silence; every member of the family notably missing. Was she really that manipulative?

The sound of metal rustling across the hall drew her attention to the front door. Her heart fluttered as the door swung open.

Samina stepped inside, lugging a crate. Gabriel wasn’t beside her.

Deidre rose quickly and hurried to meet her daughter at the door.  “Sammie?” She noticed a frown marking her daughter’s pretty face and wanted to smooth it away. Her fingers twitched at her side. “Is… everything okay?”

Samina halted and blinked in surprise. “Mom?” The tension eased off her face and one corner of her lips twitched in a half smile. “How was your outing with Aunty Sheena?”

Deidre shrugged, eyes sweeping over her daughter’s face. Even though she’d seen her earlier that day, the urge to pull Samina into her arms overwhelmed her. “Too short, but fun.” She smiled, and reached for her daughter.

Samina laughed gently and patted Deidre’s back before drawing back. “Are you okay?”

“Uh-hmm.” Her gaze flitted over Samina’s face. “Where’s your dad?” She arched a brow when Samina’s smile faded and something flashed in her eye. “What?”

“Nothing.” Samina heaved a sigh. “I didn’t ask where he was going… Anyway, I better get going.” She stepped away, propping the crate against the wall.

“Wait!” Deidre bit her bottom lip when Samina eyed her curiously. “Can’t you stay for a bit? It’s been a while since we talked…” She still felt the pangs of hurt when Samina chose to go out with her father, even though both hadn’t seen her since her mysterious vacation. She started to ask Samina about it. Calm down, Dee… Don’t run off your children.

Samina kicked a shoulder, her smile feeble. “I guess so.”

The hesitance in her reply broke Deidre’s heart. Tamping a sigh, she tucked an arm under Samina’s and led her back to the couch. “I admit I’m a little jealous that you spend more time with your father than with me.”

Her daughter’s silence told her everything she hoped wouldn’t be.

Swallowing another sigh, Deidre offered Samina a smile. “Tea? I bought some yesterday.” Afraid that Samina would change her mind, Deidre spun on her heel and hurried to the kitchen. “Come choose one while I heat the water.”

Feeble footfall behind her made Deidre breathe a sigh of relief. She tucked in a smile, grabbed the kettle and moved around the counter to the sink.

“The microwave is better,” Samina mumbled, pulling open the cabinet.

Better as in faster. Piqued by her daughter’s attempt to hurry their time together, Deidre rolled her eyes and replaced the kettle. “I suppose…” She shifted aside as Samina came to stand by the sink, filling the mugs with water. Her eyes swept over Samina’s tense shoulders, and down her thin arms. “How’s… work? They’re treating you well?”

Samina lifted her face, a question in her furrowed brow.

Deidre offered her a blank stare.

“Everyone’s nice.” One corner of her lips twitched upwards and she lowered her gaze, her smile widening. “I like it.”

The shy warmth in Samina’s smile reminded her of the picture she’d gazed upon. This was Samina happy, content, and wistful. In a non-salary job, her daughter had found contentment. Deidre managed a smile and turned to the drawer, fishing out the bag of exotic tea. “Which one do you want? I’ve got jasmine, oolong and white.”

“Any is fine, Mama.” Samina skirted around her to the microwave.

Mama. Her heart fluttered at the word. Deidre smiled, grabbing a few packets of tea. “Let’s do a mix. Be a bit adventurous.” She hurried to Samina’s side, humming as she sniffed the teabags, her smile brightening. “Hmm, smells wonderful.”

“Mom, are you okay?”

Deidre snorted a laugh. “What, your mom can’t have a little fun?” She looked up.

Samina gauged her mother’s exuberance with a dubious stare.

Her smile sagged a little. Had her meddling really provoked her family to distance themselves from her? The truth in Samina’s eyes made it hard to swallow. Deidre grimaced. “You know that I love you, right?” Her voice shook. “You know I’m not trying to make you miserable, right? That I care for you very much?”

The doubt eased off Samina’s face and she smiled gently. “I know, Mom.” Her gaze sweeping over Deidre, warmed her from the inside out. “I know you mean well.”

Overwhelmed with relief, Deidre grabbed her daughter’s shoulders and pulled her closer. “I love you.”

Samina’s gentle laugh rocked Deidre, more so when her arms wrapped around her. “I love you too, Mama.”

Mama. Her heart soared. Deidre sighed and drew back to gaze at Samina’s lovely features. This beautiful, kind and talented girl was hers. Sheena was right. It was high time she stopped meddling and let Samina know she was proud to be her mother. “Sammie, I—”

The microwave beeped, cutting off her words.

Deidre sighed.

Samina smiled warmly and disengaged from her arms to retrieve the mugs.

She studied Samina’s slender form, brows drawing a frown at her too-thin arms and nonexistent waist. “Don’t people eat like gluttons on vacation? You’re looking too thin for my liking.”

Samina stiffened visibly, her hands stilled over the cup.

Deidre frowned, tugging Samina’s hands from the steam. “Be careful.” Tearing open the teabags, she dunked two bags in each cup and extended one to Samina. “How’s Topher?”

When Samina didn’t answer, Deidre squinted at her. “I thought you two were getting along. What happened?”

Samina blew the steam off the rim of her mug. “I don’t know…”

“I don’t understand.”

Her lips pursed slightly, eyes still downcast. “It’s nothing, Mom. Don’t worry.”

Mom? Deidre cocked her head. Lifting the cup to her lips, she watched Samina trudge to the counter stool. Something was wrong and she would’ve prodded if not for the sake of a delicate harmony they’d created after the embrace.

In silence, they sipped their tea, occupied with their own troubled thoughts. Samina kept her gaze downcast, busying herself stirring the tea bag. Deidre kept her eyes on Samina, questions forming in her head.

Then the house phone rang and both women breathed a sigh of relief. Deidre lowered her cup and picked the phone on its third ring. Her brow furrowed at the sound of sirens in the background. “Hello?”

“Deidre!” Sheena’s panicked voice broke through the din. “Come over now!”

A cold frisson shot through Deidre’s legs and she gripped the countertop with her free hand. Even before Sheena divulged the reason for her alarm, she knew. Gabriel. Her teeth clenched. “What’s going on?”

Samina looked up, watching as the frantic voice on the other end rattled a news that darkened her mother’s brow.

Deidre’s flashing eyes snapped to hers. “Okay, I’m on my way.” She slammed the phone on its cradle, her glare demanding an explanation. “What did your dad say before leaving?”

Words failed her. Anxiety prickled the back of her neck, recalling the stormy haze in her father’s eyes. The sharp tone when he barked at her, the tension stiffening his shoulders. Her heart skipped a beat. He’d barely uttered goodbye before reversing from the driveway, the truck engine roaring as it sped down the street. As Deidre grabbed the car keys and hurried to the door, panic seized her. “What’s going on?”

Deidre jerked open the door, slinging her purse over her shoulder. “Your father and Uncle Jeremiah are fighting each other at Sheena’s place. The cops are there.”

Samina shot to her feet. “What?!”

Heart in her throat, Samina peered out the window as they turned onto the street where Ezekiel’s childhood home stood. Her jaw dropped at the cars jam-packed, blocking the street. People walked down the sidewalk, toward the Dames’ residence.

Parking on the side of the street, Deidre snapped off her seatbelt and shoved the door open. “I can’t believe he would do this in front of all these people…”

Samina stepped out and peered over the cars, spotting the flashing lights of police cars. She shook her head.

“Unbelievable!” Deidre slammed the door and started for the house. Samina hurried to her side. Her heart beat a violent tattoo as they pushed through the crowd of onlookers, until they stood on the mowed grass.  She immediately spotted Aunty Sheena, Uncle Jeremiah and her father Gabriel standing before a burly uniformed officer.

Ezekiel stood behind them with arms folded across his chest.

Both her father and Uncle Jeremiah stood as far away from each other as they could but close enough to hear the officer’s stern lecture. Their faces, including Sheena’s and Ezekiel’s were like stone as they listened.

Then Gabriel’s concentrated stare shifted, stiffening as he spotted his wife and daughter. Instantly, his broad shoulders stiffened and he averted his gaze.

“Shameless man,” Deidre bit out as she stepped forward.

Samina seized her arm, holding her back. She shook her head when Deidre scowled in protest. “Let’s just wait here.”

“What a shame,” an onlooker mumbled in disgust. “Two grown men fighting like hoodlums in a suburb.”

The small crowd muttered their agreement. Deidre’s arm tensed under Samina’s hand. Samina held on tighter, her face on fire.

Both men didn’t look contrite, still buzzed with whatever anger caused them to throw fists at each other. A tremor shot through Samina. How could they fight? Why did they fight?

“What d’you think they’re fighting about?” Another asked, voice colored with derision. “A woman?”

Samina scowled and she had to grip her mother’s arm to keep her from whirling about to unleash her wrath. Though she was tempted to let her go and see what would happen.

Then the officer stepped away, speaking in low tones into his phone. Deidre wrenched her arm from Samina’s grip and strode quickly to them. Gabriel took a step back but Deidre ate up the distance, wagging her finger. “You…”

As they drew closer, Samina could see the streak of blood from her father’s split lip. Uncle Jeremiah didn’t look any better, his nose bloodied. Then her gaze collided with Ezekiel’s worried one and she quickly lowered her gaze, disturbed.

Ezekiel placed a hand on Jeremiah’s tense shoulder.  “Let’s go inside, Pops…” The older man made no fuss and let his son lead him up the sidewalk to their house.

Deidre smacked Gabriel’s shoulder. “Are you insane!?”

Samina grimaced at the vacant look on her father’s face. What was going on?

Sheena grabbed Samina’s hand. “Oh good, you’re here.”

“What happened?”

“Oh honey…” Sheena shook her head, gripping Samina’s hand. “I don’t know. It all happened so fast. One minute I’m inside with the girls, and then all of a sudden Ezekiel is shouting for his dad to get off yours. And then the police—” She pressed a hand to her temple, visibly disturbed.

“What were you thinking, Gabriel?” Deidre screamed from the sidewalk, pummeling her husband’s chest with weak blows. “What nonsense is this?”

The sirens sounded as the police car reversed out onto the street and drove away. Samina squinted at the crowd of onlookers stalling, waiting for something to watch, to criticize. Her lips pursed, her hand tightened around Sheena’s.

“Dee stop,don’t you think they’ve had enough?” Sheena protested weakly. “Where are you going?” Sheena called after her.

Deidre glanced over at Samina. “Drive your father’s truck back. His keys are in the ignition.” She scowled as Gabriel shrugged her arm off and stormed past her. “Don’t even think about–Gabriel!” she shouted, hurrying after him.

Samina pushed out a breath, growing increasingly agitated as the onlookers shook their heads, watching her parents flee the scene. She turned back to Sheena, struck by the tears glistening in her eyes.

Just then, Ezekiel came outside, his expression grave, disturbed. His eyes skimmed over the crowd still on the lawn and his lips pursed. “Show’s over!” he barked.

Muttering their disgruntlement, the crowd slowly dispersed until only Sheena and Samina stood in the driveway. Ezekiel heaved a sigh and stepped off the porch toward them. “Mom, you better get inside…”

Sheena managed a nod and patted Samina’s hand. “I’ll see you later.”

Samina bit her bottom lip, watching Sheena’s bowed shoulders as she trudged past Ezekiel to the door. Then she lifted her eyes to Ezekiel’s troubled ones. “The girls…?”Her chest tightened painfully, imagining their frightened faces.

Ezekiel shook his head. “They’re in the room.” His square jaw clenched revealed more than he said. “I’m pissed off. What’s going with the two of them?”

Samina remained silent as her father’s harsh directive to Topher came to mind. She stiffened.

Then Ezekiel’s hand rested on the back of her neck, his fingers kneading away the tension there. Samina released a sigh as he pulled her into his arms. For a moment, she rested against his warm strength, relaxing under his massaging fingers. Then her gaze fell on her father’s abandoned truck, and her lips pursed in displeasure. “You had to break them up?”

“Yeah, just before my dad slammed his fist into your dad’s face again.” He scoffed incredulously. “I didn’t even know those cats could still fight.”

She bristled inwardly, imagining the bruises that would mark her father’s light complexion tomorrow. “Who was winning?” she blurted out.

He paused. “What?”

Samina looked up to his dubious stare. “You heard me?”

The corner of his lips twitched, bemused. “Our middle-aged dads were pounding each other’s faces in and you ask who won. Sam, seriously?”

Suddenly annoyed, Samina nudged him aside and folded her arms. “I know who started it already, that’s why…”

“And still you have the mouth to ask.” Ezekiel kicked a shoulder, wry smile in place. “…Mine did.”

She scowled instantly. “Like that something to be proud of.”

His smile waned and then completely faded. His brow furrowed at the glare she hurled at him. “You started it…”

“And you finished it. Congratulations.” Samina started down the driveway toward her father’s truck.

His hand grabbed hers and pulled her flush against him. Her cheeks heated as his chin rested against her shoulder, cheek pressed against her ear. And though frustrated, Samina didn’t have the willpower to step out of his arms.

“Let’s not fight…” he pressed a placating kiss to her ear.

She frowned at the quiver shooting up her legs. “We’re not fighting.”

He tilted his head over her shoulder, catching her eyes. “We’re not?”

His warm breath kissed her skin. She drew in her bottom lip, fighting her reaction.

His gaze lowered and she held her breath. Then his mirthful gaze flickered to hers. Her face fired and she ducked from under his arms, hurrying down the driveway toward the truck.

“I’ll call you later, Sam. Be safe.”

Samina ignored him, climbing into the car. They couldn’t afford distractions. She snuck a peek at his fleeting figure as he ducked into the house. Samina heaved a sigh and started the engine of her father’s truck.

Their fathers were at odds with each other and no amount of distraction could stop the niggling feeling that she was partially responsible.

<<Chapter 39 || Chapter 41>>

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Samina’s Chance: Chapter 34

Posted on 06/05/2015

fleamarket

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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