Posts tagged “annoyance

Refuge: Chapter 10

Posted on 07/11/2018

He hadn’t dated Zoey for long; barely over a year since the hurricane that nearly tore his city apart. But Eli prided himself in knowing the woman he was dating. He wouldn’t have traveled clear across the world if he didn’t know her well.

But he couldn’t recognize the woman sitting across the room, legs crossed and back straight, with a stiff smile tacked on her face. Several times during the course of the evening, Eli tried to catch her gaze–he needed to talk with her, check her pulse. But her gaze never wandered to his corner of the room. It was as if they were in two different parties.

Zoey epitomized native opulence after changing to native clothing similar to her cousin, the one getting married. Makeup and jewelry adorned her, erasing the carefree and bare-faced beauty that he was so fond of. Even her laugh sounded fake, barely reaching the eyes that would always light up upon hearing a joke. She wasn’t comfortable; that much was clear… and he sought to rescue her, if only she would look his way.

“Hey, Lover boy,” Nwando’s stern voice pervaded his thoughts, followed by an elbow shoved against his side.

He barely caught the plate from sliding off his lap and glared at Nwando who sat beside him. “What?”

Both her brows raised inquisitively. “Chill. You’re staring.”

Eli scowled. “I can’t stare at my own girlfriend?”

Nwando frowned and leaned in to whisper. “She’s not your girlfriend here, remember?”

His scowl only deepened, recalling the plan they’d settled on without his input. “This is ridiculous.” He didn’t travel all the way here to be hidden.

“Well tough, EJ.” She gnawed at the large cowbone. “You’re here and you can either make the best of it or go home.”

Eli squinted at her, knowing he had little choice on the matter. “That’s not my name.”

“It is for now,” Nwando replied and sucked noisily on the bone.

He grimaced at the sound and shifted in his seat, gaze skimming Zoey as he turned toward the television where a soccer match was playing.

The younger guests, except Zoey and her cousin, had congregated to one side of the room to watch the game. Law and Dom sat in the middle of the group, adding colorful commentary on the live action.

Although Eli had no interest in the game and would’ve preferred going to Zoey for an explanation, he couldn’t do anything about the situation except mope. He hated moping.

“Stop moping.”

Eli tossed a glare over his shoulder at Nwando. “I’m not.”

Nwando snorted. “Yeah right, dude. Do you need me to explain–”

“I’m Law’s friend visiting the city from Brooklyn and have never met any of his family members before tonight. Got it.” He returned his gaze to the television.

“Well, you’re a smart cookie. Don’t worry, a week will come and go faster than you think.” Her greasy hand patted his shoulder and it took everything in him not to push her hand off. The dinner plate was like dead weight on his lap; his appetite for copulent goat meat and seasoned rice lost.

His smartwatch vibrated and he took it as a sign to escape from the disorganized noise. Holding the plate, he stood and set it back down on his chair.

“Where you going?”

“International call.” He strode past her, this time succeeding in not glancing Zoey’s way as he sought out the nearest exit.

Cars packed like sardines filled the veranda outside and with a drawn-out sigh, Eli manuevered around the vehicles to seek a quiet, empty corner. Finding one near the gate, he leaned against the brick post and unpocketed his phone.

Darah’s number flashed on the screen. He hesitated only a moment before answering. “Hello?”

“Oh great! It works!” her voice came out clear.

“Of course it works. It’s wi-fi.”

“Brat. How are you?”

Eli shrugged even though his sister couldn’t see. “I’m okay.”

“Sounds like you’re not. I was expecting loud tribal music and laughter but it sounds so quiet over there.”

“I’m in the middle of nowhere.”

“What?!”

Eli huffed a sigh. “Zoey’s parents, they…” He paused, not sure what words he could use to describe Zoey’s wealth.

“What, Eli? Are they treating you bad? Eleazer, are you okay?”

He shook out of his reverie. “Yeah.”

“They’re treating you bad?!”

Eli shook his head. “No! It’s not that.”

“Ugh, I knew you should’ve stayed home. I’ve heard about Nigerian parents looking down on us and act like we’re nothing… I should’ve said something before you got that visa.”

Eli frowned. “Wait what? What do you mean they look down on us? Who’s us?”

Darah paused a little too long and then sighed. “J.R.’s giving me a look. I should stop.”

“No, you can’t do that.” He pushed off the post and placed one hand on his hip. “Tell me now.”

“There’s no point telling you now. Ugh, I need to learn when to shut up. Darn it, Darah.”

“Hey!” he interjected, not in the mood for her introspective sililoquies. “Tell me.”

She groaned. “Leave me alone, Jay, he said he wants to know. I can’t stop him from–” she sighed again. “So apparently, Nigerian people–well, to be fair, the older generation–don’t really care for us. And I mean, African Americans as a whole. They even have a word for us. Dunno remember what it’s called but I’m pretty sure it’s not a nice word.”

Eli frowned. “But don’t they get called African-booty scratchers?”

“Well, that’s true. Yeah… I guess we both have issues with each other.”

“Not me,” Eli countered, frowning at the mansion before him. He recalled the strange but curious looks he’d received upon arrival. “I’ve never met these people before in my life, why should I have an issue with them?”

Darah sighed. “You’re so naive, Eli, and I love you for it, but that doesn’t change things, sweet one. J.R.’s extended family used to look at me funny whenever I came around. I remember asking him about it and he said they’re just not used to black girls. It’s almost impossible to see an Indian man marry outside his race, much less a black woman. Maybe it’s the same over there.”

“But I’m black, Darah, just like them.” Zoey’s words from earlier echoed against his and Eli’s frown deepened. “How are we different?”

“Well, you could honestly pass for a white man, especially in winter!” Darah chuckled and Eli’s mood soured. “Anyway, I’m worried about you, Eli. What if Zoey’s parents are that kind?”

“What kind…?”

“The kind that have preconceived notions about people they don’t understand. The kind that’ll make your relationship with Zoey difficult. In my case, both J.R. and his dad were supportive and firm when we received any pushback. If Zoey’s not firm enough, it’ll be hard for you. Now tell me, are they treating you good?”

“EJ!” Nwando’s voice interrupted before Eli could answer. He squinted as the young woman squeezed through the jam-packed cars to reach him. “Goodness, what’s going on with you, man?”

“Who’s that? Zoey?”

“No.” He eyed Nwando who bent over to catch her breath. “Darah, let me call you back.” He disconnected over his sister’s protests. “What is it?”

Nwando released a breath and straightened. “Well you’ve done it. I knew your staring would blow your cover. Someone wants to see you.”

Eli frowned. “What are you talking about?”

“Zoey’s father wants to see you. Now.”

Under the weight of her father’s glare, Zoey was tempted to seek an escape but she remained firm, annoyed that she even had to hide. Beside her father, her mother scowled at her. She couldn’t even pay attention to Aunty Sophia’s hand on hers as silent support. Her attention was focused on the door, awaiting the arrival of Nwando and Eli.

“So you guys are really pausing my door-knocking because Zoey brings an American guy home?” Paula shrugged off her fiance’s hand off her shoulder. “Are you serious?”

“Cool down, Paula,” Aunty Sophia said gently.

“This is crazy! It’s my wedding!” Paula burst into tears and rushed off towards the kitchen. Her frazzled fiance hurried after her.

“I can’t believe you, Ezinne,” Aunty Nneoma practically screamed, her face tight. “How dare you usurp my child’s happiness?!”

“Abeg, sharrap,” Zoey’s mother shouted back, piercing her sister’s face with her dark glare. “This is my house and I can do whatever I want.”

“You’re selfish, Ezinne. Always have, always will be. I don’t even know why I bother with you.”

“I don’t know why I bother with you either. Ungrateful–”

“Enough!”

The women flinched at the loud bark of Honorable Festus Smith. In all the years Zoey lived under her father’s discipline, he hardly raised his voice.

“Zoey.”

She lowered her head. “Y-yes Dad.”

“In all my years at the bank and in the court, have you ever heard of me cheating anyone?”

“No, sir.”

“Have you seen me tell falsehoods or deceive anyone?”

Zoey swallowed hard. “No sir.”

“So when did you start telling lies?”

“It’s because of that akata.”

Zoey cringed and squeezed her hands together. That word had never hurt like it did now.

“Ezinne, that will never be a word we use here. Not now, not ever. Understand me?”

Her mother kissed her teeth in muted rebellion. She may be a chief’s daughter but her husband’s authority would always supersede hers.

Her father sighed. “Where is he?”

“I think Nwando went to find him,” Law answered.

“And you,” her father growled. “Adding to the deceit. So what did she offer you? Don’t you look at me like that, I know you.”

Law didn’t answer, undoubtedly evading his father’s stern glare pinned on him.

“I had always prided myself as a man of integrity. To think that my own children are sneaky and deceitful is beyond disappointing.” His feet shifted to turn and Zoey looked up.

Her stomach somersaulted. Nwando stepped inside with Eli in tow. Zoey’s father gestured for Eli to come forward.

When Eli stepped around Nwando to approach her father, she tried to catch his gaze and somehow give him strength–perhaps garner some for herself.

Eli didn’t look anywhere but her father’s face.

“I want the truth and nothing but the truth. Understood?”

Eli nodded without blinking. “Understood.”

“Are you my son’s friend?”

“No, I’m not.”

A chorus of muttering filled the silence that followed, and Eli’s shoulders visibly stiffened. Zoey wished to go near him but Aunty Sophie’s hand rested firmly on hers.

“Then who are you and why are you here?”

Zoey silently pleaded for Eli to look her way; she needed him to pin his beautiful hazel gaze on her.

Eli shifted his weight, the only visible sign of his nervousness. “My name is Eleazar Teka, from Houston. I was invited to Zoey’s cousin’s wedding.”

“So who are you to Zoey?”

Eli’s hazel gaze finally shifted to her, expression unreadable. “Her boyfriend, I guess.”

“You guess?” her father prodded.

Her mother clucked her tongue in disapproval.

Eli’s gaze remained on Zoey for only a second before he swung it back on her father. “With all due respect, may I ask one question before I answer yours?”

The sound of a pin dropping to the floor could be heard in the silence that followed Eli’s question. Everyone, including Zoey, gaped at him.

“Go ahead,” Zoey’s father answered a moment later.

“If I was one of yours and not an ‘akata’, would I be treated this way?”

Zoey nearly staggered back, Eli’s use of the word piercing her deeper than her mother’s. Her widened gaze swung to Nwando who wouldn’t meet her eyes, confirming her one of her fears.

Eli had come to understand the definition of that very ugly word.

“In what way are you treated, Eleazar?” her father inquired, his tone steady as though speaking to a client.

“From the minute I stepped inside your house, some of y’all were staring like I was some strange creature.”

“We can’t help the way some ignorant people choose to behave, Eleazar. Did I look at you as though you were a strange creature?”

There were times Zoey appreciated her father’s moderate tone, but at this moment he sounded painfully placating. She was sure Eli would only be provoked.

“No, Mr. Smith, you didn’t.”

“So I would appreciate we speak like man to man. Have I or my children treated you in a way that made you ask that question?”

Eli’s jaw tightened visibly and Zoey squeezed her hands together. “No, I can’t say you had the chance to form an opinion about me. But I would say that the opinion was made for you.” His gaze skimmed over Zoey’s mother, Aunty Sophia, Nwando, and Law. “Like I don’t deserve to be anything but her brother’s friend from America.”

Zoey’s heart tripped over when his hazel eyes pinned hers.

“If that’s true then, I’m wasting my time here and I think it’s best that I go back home.”

Her stomach dropped, Eli’s pained gaze and words confirming her other fear. She’d made him feel as unwelcome here as those she worried would not accept him.

<<Chapter 9 || Chapter 11>>

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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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