Posts tagged “apprehension

Refuge: Chapter 4

Posted on 19/09/2018

“Y’know you’re acting weird, right?” Eli muttered, peering over the seat in front of him at the line of people still waiting to board the flight.

Beside him, Zoey hunched over and adjusted the oversized sunshades over her face. “No, I’m not,” she whispered.

Eli arched a brow. She’d insisted on her old baggy hoodie and jeans for comfort and he could give her that since he opted for cargo shorts and his favorite Bowser t-shirt, but the sunglasses made little sense. “What’s going on, Zo—”

“Shh!”

He frowned. “You a spy or something?”

“Or something. Shh.” She ducked her head and pulled the hoodie around her head as a passenger stopped beside them.

Eli turned to the heavy-set man glaring at them and raised a questioning brow.

“That’s my seat.”

Eli blinked at the man’s reproachful tone and offending hand near his face. “Which one?”

The man’s upper lip curled in a snarl. “You can’t read? That’s my seat.”

“I said which—” Zoey elbowed his side, reminding him of the vow to remain composed throughout their trip. Eli drew in a calming breath. “Please check again, Sir.”

“Are you deaf? I said that’s my seat!”

Behind him, the other passengers grew impatient. Some scowled at the irate man while some glared at Eli. Another passenger drew a long hiss and shoved past, causing the obstinate man to stumble over his oversized bag and into Eli’s legs. Instead of apologizing, the portly man cursed loud and shoved at Eli’s legs. The passengers grumbled over the inconvenience.

Eli started to rise when Zoey clamped a death grip on his arm. He turned his scowl on her.

Zoey shook her head, refusing to let go.

“What’s going on?” someone bellowed above the chaos. A flight attendant made her way down the other aisle, concern etched in her face. “What seems to be the problem?”

“The problem is this oyinbo in my seat,” the irate man snapped, a harsh contrast to her placating tone.

“He has the wrong seat,” Eli insisted, arms folded to keep from shoving the man’s hand from his face.

The passengers grumbled, not caring for any of it.

The flight attendant barely skimmed the young couple and focused her attention on the scowling man. “Let me see your ticket, sir.”

“Why do you need to see my ticket? Check theirs—”

“Your ticket, sir?” she held out a hand.

“Let her see it already!” someone called from the back.

The man hesitated before handing it over.

She studied it for only just a moment and shook her head before handing it back. Her icy-blue eyes turned to the couple. “I’m sorry for the convenience.” Then faced their accuser. “You’re in row R, sir. This is row K. Please move forward.” She turned to help a young traveler struggling with her bags.

A few scoffs and grumbles articulated Eli’s disgust as the man awkwardly pushed his luggage forward.

The other travelers barely gave Eli a glance as they continued down the aisle, mumbling on their way.

“Unbelievable.”

“Leave it,” Zoey muttered.

“Did you see that? He didn’t like his seat so he wanted to fool us into giving away ours? That’s crazy.”

“Leave it, E…” She ducked her head again as the same flight attendant returned to their side.

“Excuse me,” the woman said quietly, eyes on Eli. “Sorry again for the convenience. We have two seats in first class if you’d like to upgrade—”

“We’re fine,” Zoey answered quickly.

“But it won’t cost you anything.” The attendant’s expression matched Eli’s piteous one. ” And it looks like your boyfriend wouldn’t mind. There’s more room for your legs.”

“I said we’re fine, thank you.”

Eli raised a brow at Zoey. Why turn down free first-class seats?

The attendant shrugged. “Okay, if you insist.” Her gaze swept over Eli and she smiled sympathetically before walking away.

Eli settled in his chair and sighed, silently bidding farewell to a gift he almost had.

“Are you upset?”

“Not really.” He leaned his head back. “Just never flown first-class before. Guess I wouldn’t know whether I’m missing anything or not.”

Zoey scooted close and rested her cheek on his shoulder. “I’ll make it up to you.”

Eli peered down at her pouting face. He smirked, irritation giving way to curiosity. “How?”

“Dunno.” Zoey laughed. “But somehow I will.”

“Not good enough.”

She giggled and leaned in to kiss his cheek. “Better?”

Someone snorted from behind and kneed Zoey’s seat hard. Eli started to turn when she gripped his arm. “Leave it, I know,” sighed Eli and settled back in his seat.

When she cuddled closer, Eli stared at her shadowed reflection on the blank screen before him. “Will you keep the hoodie and glasses on?”

“Maybe…”

“Kinda hard to watch movies.”

“I’ll figure it out. Maybe I’ll sleep some. Barely did yesterday.”

He nodded; his night was spent alternating between packing and finishing up a project for a client. Two hours was the most sleep he had before heading to the airport with Zoey. “Nervous about going home?”

Zoey was silent for a moment before she nodded. “A little.”

“Don’t worry.” Eli moved a hand over her leg and squeezed gently. “I’m here.”

It was meant to encourage her, his words, but they only unsettled her frazzled nerves more. The disguise was ridiculously uncomfortable but not as uncomfortable as sitting beside Eli, knowing that in less than fourteen hours, he would come to the rude awakening of who she was and there would be no escaping it then.

Yet she waited until they were 11,000 feet off the ground and in route to London before drawing in a breath. “E…”

“Man, I wish we took those seats.” He stretched his legs and peered down at her. “Hmm?”

Zoey drew back her words. Eli reached down and tugged off her sunglasses. “Hmm?”

“Nothing.” Zoey closed her eyes and ignored the nagging in her head. Later, she promised herself, scavenging for what decency she had left.

“By the way, my visa came in quick.”

Zoey’s eyes shot open. Her pulse quickened.

He was smiling. “I thought it would take a few weeks—”

“It doesn’t always take that long,” Zoey answered in hushed tones. “You got lucky.”

“Probably,” he whispered back, grin boyish. “’Cos my visa to Ethiopia took forever to come. My brothers, especially Abe and Bart, kept acting like it wouldn’t. By far the longest month of my life. But the summer made up for it.”

Zoey looked down at her sunshades in his hand. “Do your siblings always give you a hard time?”

“More now than before.” Eli sighed. “It’s annoying but that’s the fate of a last born. I’m used to it.”

“Are you though?”

“Some days it’s just stupid.” He paused briefly. “But nah, don’t think anyone gets used to being harassed.”

Zoey cringed. A few family members were long-time harassers, and even she couldn’t bear their crass humor.

“You tired?”

“Hmm, I hate turbulence.”

“Me too.” Eli rested his head against hers. “Y’know, I can’t say yo’ve told me much about your folks.”

Her erratic pulse jumped against her throat.

“Except for their names, you rarely talk about them. Besides Nwando, I guess.” Eli’s cheek brushed against her hoodie. “I know you’re the oldest of two, with a brother… Lawrence?”

“Law,” Zoey corrected gently. “He hates being called Lawrence.”

“Ah right. Good thing you told me.” She could hear the smile in his voice. “How old is he?”

“Nineteen.”

“Okay, almost Isaac’s age. Are they similar?”

Zoey pictured the first son of Abe and Phoebe. “Yeah and no. He’s less of a model son and more of a spoiled brat.”

“Sure, no one can beat Isaac in manners,” Eli chuckled. “And your cousin getting married, what’s her name again?”

“Paula.”

“Okay, Paula.”

“We won’t get to hang out with her. Nigerian weddings can be crazy hectic.”

He snorted. “I can only imagine. My siblings all had unconventional and small weddings. All hands on deck, even with Junior’s in Ethiopia.”

Zoey paused, wondering what his wedding would be like. If he married her, there would be nothing small about it.

“So, go on…”

“What else do you wanna know?”

Eli laughed softly. “You’re being weird again.”

Zoey frowned. “What’s wrong with what I said?”

“Every time I ask about your folks, you get vague. Hiding something, my cryptic beauty?” He nuzzled her cheek.

Zoey’s stomach did a somersault and she leaned away from his touch. “I need to pee.”

Eli’s narrowed stare pierced through her and the minute he loosened his hold, she stood abruptly and climbed over his legs to rush up the aisle for the nearest bathroom.

Zoey took time drying her hands minutes later, reluctant to return to Eli’s side; a first in their one-year relationship. Keeping secrets this big was a first too and she knew he’d react badly to it. Drawing in a breath, she stared at herself in the mirror and released it along with the truth in her head. “I’m not who you think I am, Eli. I’m not a broke international student Zo–”

A sharp rap on the door startled the words from her mouth.

Zoey wiped the moisture from her brow and turned to open the door.

A young woman with bright red lipstick and painted eyes stood in Zoey’s path. She squinted at Zoey for what seemed like a lifetime and then re-directed her gaze. “‘Scuse me.”

Zoey released a breath she didn’t realize she’d been holding and started down the aisle back to her seat.

“Wait a minute!”

Cold slithered up her heels and she turned slowly.

The young woman was now grinning, pointing a manicured finger at her. “I think I know you.”

Zoey gripped the hoodie that did nothing to mask her features. “I don’t think so…”

“Yeah!!” The young woman laughed. “I should’ve known when you walked past me the first time.”

Eyes from every side turned to look and Zoey froze like a dried-up specimen under a microscope. “You got the wrong–”

“Paula Ibazi’s cousin right?”

Zoey flinched as the woman closed the distance between them. “You look just like her. Omigosh, yeah! Same face and everything.”

She could’ve argued that the only resemblance was their complexion and eye-shape but that wouldn’t help the matter. She’d been discovered, even with her baggy hoodie. Zoey could feel her heart beating fast as the woman studied her carefully.

“So you’re traveling home for the wedding? Me too! I didn’t know you lived in Houston. Why are you in economy class? That’s crazy.” Her eyes moved past Zoey. “Was that guy your bodyguard or something?”

Zoey scowled as the woman’s raised voice. “Listen, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Hey, you!” the woman called over Zoey’s head, ignoring the travelers gawking at them. “Are you her bodyguard?”

Everything stopped in that moment except Zoey’s racing heartbeat. Her feet stayed rooted, knowing that the minute she turned around, Eli would be standing there with a confused look on his face.

Time started again and Zoey felt a warm hand settle on her shoulder. She turned, and the flight attendant from earlier was beaming warmly at her. Almost fondly. Zoey blinked, glancing around for Eli and the woman who’d ousted her. Only she and the flight attendant stood. Even the passengers were occupied with movies, food and napping. “What?”

“Please take your seat, Miss. You’re blocking the aisle.”

Warmth flooded Zoey’s cheeks but embarrassment was better than what she dreaded. “Sorry,” she mumbled and edged past the flight attendant back to her seat.

Eli focused on the lit screen while munching on the meal before him. He glanced up upon her arrival and arched a brow. “You good?”

Zoey nodded, realizing it was just her crazy imagination. No one recognized her on this flight and her secret was safe. For now. “Yup,” she answered a bit too cheerily and climbed over his legs to settle beside him. “Just fine.” She stole a piece of fruit from his plate and snuggled close to watch the blockbuster movie.

Later… she told herself, wishing time would stand still a little longer.

<<Chapter 3 || Chapter 5>>

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Lighthouse, Chapter 21

Posted on 16/08/2016

“You might want to keep it a secret for now,” Hana’s words echoed in Darah’s head as she sat on the garden bench, staring listlessly at the stagnant pond. She closed her eyes and drew in a breath.

“Like I said, it takes him a while to get used to things. You’re still very much a stranger, and he’ll have to get used to you. Ease into the baby news once you’ve won his heart.”

Darah released the haggard breath. That was easier said than done—not many people understood her much less liked her.

“There you are.”

She snapped her eyes open at the sound of Clement’s voice and shifted as he settled beside her. “What’s going on?”

He eyed her warily. “I should be asking you with all that sighing.”

Darah groaned and looked away. “I don’t think he likes me.”

“Who, J.R.?”

She rolled her eyes. “His dad.”

“Hm,” Clement rubbed his chin. “Well, he’s a bit cranky, but who wouldn’t be after all this? He’s had it tough.”

“Well, he’ll have more reasons besides me taking his son from him.” She dropped her gaze to her stomach.

Clement grunted. “That’s ridiculous. Who said that?”

“Hana.”

He snorted. “The ex-fiancée?”

“They weren’t engaged.”

“Okay… so that’s why your sighing, J.R.’s old man? Since when do people’s opinion about you get you down?”

She wrinkled her nose, her fingers tracing the slight bump on her tummy. “I just…”

He nudged her. “You worry too much. Leave that to J.R. and be your charming self. He’ll like you soon enough.”

Darah wasn’t so convinced, so she asked. “Junior?”

“Hmm?”

“If Eli brought a pregnant girl home… would you let them get married?” His silence made her stomach churn violently and she edged away. “Never mind. Forget I asked.”

“After beating the crap out of him…” Clement said after a moment of tortuous silence. He looked down at his sister’s illuminous eyes. “If he loves her and she loves him, what right do we have to get in the way?”

Tears pooled in her eyes and she bit her bottom lip to keep from crying. “Really?”

“Really,” he answered. “Although we’re very disappointed about what you’ve gotten yourself into, and don’t condone your actions one bit…”

Darah swallowed the lump in her throat, the tears filling her eyes.

He sighed and poked her cheek. “You’ve gotten weak.”

She brushed his hand away and ducked her head to hide the tears that slid down her cheeks. Though his words should’ve brought some relief, Abe’s visceral reaction kept replaying in her head. What if J.R.’s father reacted worse?

He cleared his throat and shifted away. “I’ll let the man tell you himself.”

Darah wiped her eyes as her brother rose from the bench. Her heart was in her throat as she heard J.R.’s low baritone responding to Clement’s bass, and she heard his measured steps approach the bench.

Then he sighed and came to sit beside her. She kept her gaze lowered, staring at his muscled legs clad in slacks. His hand rested on his left knee and her fingers itched to touch him. She curled her fingers into fists.

“What’s wrong?”

The soft inquiry threatened to undo her. She shook her head forcefully, unable to put words to her growing fear.

He scooted close, his knee bumping her thigh and his arm encircled her. When Darah’s cheek pressed against his chest, the tears spilled free. His fingers tightened on her shoulder as he pulled her even closer. He didn’t say anything, which for now was what Darah needed.

Once the sobs subsided, Darah remained in his arms with her eyes closed. His fingers lazily stroked her shoulder as they sat in companionable silence.

“Will you tell me now?”

Her eyes fluttered open and she stared at the starless sky. “I don’t want to.”

His arms tightened, the warm cocoon of his embrace comforting. “I won’t release you until you talk.”

Her lips twitched despite the dread weighing on her mind. “I’m not complaining.”

He clucked his tongue. “Darah.”

Darah closed her eyes again and nestled in his embrace. “I just wish things were simpler.”

J.R. stayed silent, but she knew he agreed with her.

“I wish my parents were still alive, and that your mother was here.” She paused when his fingers paused their stroking. She continued. “I wish your father wasn’t sick, and that he’d like me.” I wish I had waited for you.

“He will.”

Darah smiled wryly, grateful that he didn’t try to pretend his father was fond of her. “I hope so.”

J.R. pressed a kiss to her temple, sending warm shivers down her nape. He squeezed her. “You cold?”

She shook her head. “Just… content.”

“So why the tears?”

Darah slanted her head to peer up at him. “Weren’t you listening?”

His lips quirked in a smirk. “I heard you. But I believe Junior told you to let me handle it.”

She gazed at his handsome face, her heart hurting. “I wish I’d waited for you.” I should’ve waited.

His smirk eased away, his expression sobering. “I shouldn’t have made you wait.”

Darah looked away. “You needed someone mature and understanding. I was impatient… stupid.”

His hand cupped her chin and tipped it so their eyes met. “Don’t say that.”

The light brush of his thumb on her chin made her tremble. His brow furrowed in concern. “Sure you’re not cold?” His other arm slipped off her shoulder.

She grabbed his arm and wrapped it around her, then tipped her face closer. “Kiss me, J.R.”

Even under the streetlight, Darah could’ve sworn there was a gleam in his eyes. She shivered in anticipation for the touch of his lips against hers and closed her eyes.

His low snort made her squint one eye open. His wide grin caused her to snap both eyes open. He chuckled and Darah bristled. “What’s funny?”

“You,” he said, poking her cheek.

Annoyed, Darah elbowed him in his gut. When he grunted and his arms loosened around her, she escaped from his hold to stand. J.R.’s hand caught her wrist and tugged her back into his arms.

Biting back a smile as he enveloped her in his arms, Darah puckered her lips as J.R. dipped his head to kiss her. Except his mouth landed on her cheek and proceeded to pepper butterfly kisses there. “Ooh!” she protested when he raised his head and continued laughing.

A clearing of throat interrupted J.R.’s playful laughter and the couple sprang apart.

A sober Hana and frowning Clement stood near the entrance, and J.R.’s humor fled with alarm. He quickly stepped forward. “Father?”

“Calm down, Bhaiyaa.” Glancing over to where Darah inconspicuously adjusted her clothes, Hana turned back to J.R. “He wants to speak—not you,” she said as J.R. started for the door and pointed her chin at Darah. “Her.”

J.R. blinked. Open-mouthed, Darah gaped at Hana. “Me?”

Hana nodded and folded her arms. “Yes you. I’ll take you down.”

With her heart in her throat, Darah hesitated taking one more step. She glanced once at J.R. and her brother, seeking some sort of intervention.

“Go on ahead,” Clement said and clapped a hand over J.R.’s shoulder. “Seems your guy and I’ve got things to discuss out here.”

J.R. only gave Darah a slight smile meant to comfort her but only made her stomach twist in knots. Her feet remained glued to the floor, not wanting to go. If only he could read the silent plea in her eyes, would he go with her?

Hana stepped in Darah’s line of sight and flashed a smile. “Let’s not keep Uncle waiting.” She hooked an arm under Darah’s and tugged her toward the door leading into the hospital.

As the two girls entered the hospital, Clement loosened his hold on J.R.’s shoulder and grunted. “You sure you know what you’re doing?” He moved to lean against the back of the bench and folded his arms.

J.R. watched the door for a few seconds before turning to his friend. “I’ve wasted enough time as it is.”

“What does that mean exactly?”

Without hesitation, J.R. stared at his friend. “I want to marry her.”

Clement was silent only for a few seconds before letting out a laugh. When J.R. didn’t laugh, his faded. “You’re sure about that?”

“Never been surer than this moment.”

The corner of Clement’s lips twitched. “Even with the baby? And the drama that comes with her?”

J.R. nodded. “Yes.”

Clement released a breath and pushed away from the bench. Without breaking his gaze, J.R. tensed as the man approached him slowly.

Then Clement’s solemn expression broke into a smile. “It’s about time!” He grabbed J.R. by the shoulders and pulled him into a bear hug. “Welcome to the family, officially.”

He smiled when the tension slid off his shoulders, and accepted the warmth that came from Clement’s words. Once he disengaged from the hug, J.R. glanced over his shoulder at the door Hana and Darah exited, and his smile waned.

“Don’t fret,” Clement clapped a hand over his shoulder. “Darah’s a strong one. She’ll hold her own with him. Meanwhile, we’ve got phone calls to make.”

J.R. nodded distractedly, wondering if he could trust in such confidence. The small woman who trembled in his arms and wept silently seemed more fragile than the spitfire he’d fallen for.

Darah and L.J. sat on opposite ends of the bed, embarking on a staring contest. On her end, Darah bit the inside of her cheek to keep from trembling as she focused her eyes on J.R.’s father. On his end, L.J.’s eyes narrowed and his lips pursed tighter by the moment.

The intermittent hiss of the humidifier broke the silence, and the mist caused L.J. to blink. He grunted in annoyance and Darah finally released a sigh.

“How old are you?”

Darah tamped a sigh of irritation. What was everyone’s fascination with her age? She shifted on the cot before answering. “Twenty-five, close to Hana’s age.”

His lips only tightened. “Are you still in school?”

I was. Darah nodded. “Masters in Ceramics.”

L.J. arched a bushy brow. “And what can you do with that? Make plates?”

Oh he’d get along well with her brothers, that much was sure. Darah bit back a retort and gave him a patient smile. “That, or work in the museum.”

He slanted his head, gaze probing. “Is that what you want to do?”

Darah blinked at the unexpected question. “Pardon?”

“It’s a simple question. Is working in a museum your aspiration after graduating?”

At a loss for words, Darah gaped at this man whose eyes gleamed with derision. Compared to Hana, she was just a graduate-school pregnant dropout detracting his son from a bright future. Cold frisson ran down her spine and she shifted in discomfort.

“If you’re uncomfortable, sit on a chair.”

Darah shook her head. “I’m fine here. Thanks.”

L.J. didn’t look convinced but didn’t argue. His dark eyes swept over her face, inspecting her no doubt.

Unable to help herself, she tilted her face. “No moles or warts, just a few freckles along my neck.”

“I beg your pardon?”

She met his glare without flinching. “I know I’m not what you expected for J.R., but I’m healthy as they come.” She didn’t dare mention her pregnancy or he’d chase her out for good.

L.J. pursed his lips and was quiet for a few moments. Then he arched a brow. “You must’ve gotten in trouble for that smart mouth of yours.”

Darah bit back a smile. “I get that a lot.”

“Though not nearly enough trouble since you’re talking back.”

She sobered instantly and clasped her hands together. “Look, Mr. Obed—”

He held up a hand to stop her. “I admit, you’re not at all what I expected for my son’s wife. You’re audacious and uncouth. You’re too short and too skinny, like you’ll break at any moment.”

Darah’s cheeks flamed at his unflattering observation of her. “Actually I’m pretty strong, sir.”

He waved her off. “The thought of him continuing my legacy with someone who doesn’t share his heritage or culture leaves me grieved and unsettled. I’m not sure I can just let that go.”

This time Darah lowered her gaze, feeling defeated. If he was already making a fuss about heritage and culture, there was no telling how he’d react to the child she carried—a child that wasn’t J.R.’s.

“But…”

And with those softly-spoken words, Darah peeked up with a sliver of hope stirring within her.

<<Chapter 20 || Chapter 22>>

  

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