Posts tagged “attraction

Samina’s Chance: Chapter 24

Posted on 17/04/2015

truelovewaits

Karen hid a smile as she entered the house and spotted Samina lounging on the couch, her feet curled under her with her laptop resting on her thighs. “What, no night rendezvous with the Dames kiddos?” She didn’t bother masking the sarcastic edge in her voice, and sauntered over to the couch.

Samina merely smirked as Karen dropped on the sofa beside her. “Don’t worry. I won’t be going there any time soon.” She scanned the screen, the screen reflecting on the rim of her glasses.

“I see.” Karen managed to sound neutral as she leaned in to read. “House of Hope? So you’re considering them then?”

“Already signed the papers,” Samina mumbled, scrolling down the fine print.

Karen nodded with a grin. “Don’t worry, you’ll fit in just fine.” She sighed, leaned back in the sofa. “I hate to bring up Bridezilla, but aren’t you supposed to be with her right now?”

Samina inhaled sharply.

Karen raised a brow at her stricken expression. “What, you forgot?” Her frown deepened as Samina shot to her feet and hurried down the narrow hallway to her bedroom. “Sammie,” she hollered after her. “It’s late. Just call and cancel.”

At Samina’s silence, Karen pushed to her feet and moved to the hallway. The sound of muffling sobs caught her midstride, a shiver skittering down to her toes.

As the sobbing intensified, Karen hurried inside. The sight of Samina huddled on the floor, her face buried into the bedcovers. Her heart was racing as Samina choked for air and she moved to kneel beside her.

“I can’t do this!” Samina wailed, pressing her forehead against Karen’s shoulder. “Why is this happening to me? Why?”

Karen gaped at her, fear gripped her throat. It wasn’t often she witnessed a breakdown quite like this. Samina hardly ever cried.

Then the doorbell rang, jarring Karen from her immobilized state. As the ringing persisted, Samina leaned away and released Karen to answer the door.

Still trembling, Karen pulled open the front door. Her eyes collided with the gray-green gaze of the man at her doorstep. Her brow furrowed in confusion at his broad shoulders, her eyes skimming over his imposing frame before returning to his warm eyes. “Yes?” she croaked out.

A trace of confusion quickly faded to recognition. He grinned, flashing straight teeth at her. “You must be Karen. I’m Topher Chance. Is Samina in?” He kept his arresting gray-green eyes on her and for a brief moment, Karen could only stare at him.

It wasn’t until he shifted his weight that she blinked out of a trance and recovered her tongue. “Uh, yeah, she’s in…” The disturbing image of Samina weeping inconsolably in her room made her pause. She shook her head. “She’s busy.”

Something akin to relief fell over his features and he smiled. “I’m glad she’s okay. We were worried about her.”

Karen tilted a brow, still holding the door to her. “We?”

“Ada, Jax and I. Well mostly, me.” He chuckled softly. “I apologize. I’m Samina’s friend and date for the wedding. More aptly, the best man.”

“Date?” Karen croaked as his grin brightened.

“How like you to exaggerate,” Samina countered dryly over Karen’s shoulder.

Karen noticed his eyes danced with mirth as he looked over her head to where Samina stood. Turning around, Karen swallowed a sigh of relief that Samina seemed composed as usual.

Samina stared past her. “Was Ada worried?”

Feeling awkward for standing between them, Karen ducked and walked around Samina to perch on the sofa. But not without peeking back at the attractive giant on their doorstep. “Date?” she mumbled incredulously.

“Well, she has a right to be.” Topher sighed. “Where’s your phone?”

Samina hesitated, hands clasped tightly behind her back . “I turned it off.”

He shook his head, a wrinkle in his brow. “Bad girl.”

Karen raised a brow at his berating tone and the contrite dip of Samina’s head.

Then Samina folded her arms across her chest, shoulders tense. “Did you come here to scold me or give me a message?”

Topher merely laughed in reply and Karen squinted at him. Seemed he was used to Samina’s snippy attitude. “Don’t worry about it. I covered for you.”

“And just how did you do that?”

Karen held her breath, her astute gaze darting between them.

“Don’t worry about that,” Topher answered easily. “Just have a good explanation when she comes charging through your door tomorrow morning.”

Karen snorted, pulling their attention to her. She stood from the sofa. “Doesn’t Ada have anything better to do than terrorize her wedding party?”

Topher smirked in amusement at Karen, recognizing the resemblance down to their strong-willed personalities. He brushed aside a buzzing wasp. “Samina, could you be a good hostess and let me in?”

Samina scowled but moved aside, Topher ducking inside with an unaffected smile.

Karen bit the inside of her cheeks to keep from laughing. She liked this guy. “So Topher, wanna enlighten me how you know my sister?”

“Karen…” Samina’s warning tone sounded over Topher’s low chuckle.

He nudged Samina and winked audaciously at her. “Want me to tell her or you?”

Samina merely jutted her chin in a stubborn angle, her mouth pressed in an obstinate line.

“No matter.” Karen quickly gestured to the couch. “Topher, why don’t you have a seat? I’ll get you a drink while you and Sissi talk.” She bustled past the kitchen, her heart thrumming with uncontained excitement.

Topher smiled in amusement as Karen skulked away. “Your sister’s nice,” he said quietly, settling into the leather chair and stretched out his long legs.

Samina closed the laptop and set it behind as she settled in the chair opposite him. “Why did you come?”

He then leaned forward and propping his elbows on his knees, he reached for one of her hands. Ignoring the slight resistance before she surrendered her hand to his, Topher smiled at her. “You remember what I said at the tea house?” he asked in a gentle whisper, admiring the gentle sloping of her high forehead and straight nose leading to the natural pucker of her full lips and stubborn chin.

Samina’s eyes widened and she tugged at her hand but he didn’t budge to release her. Resigned, she pressed her teeth against her bottom lip and averted her gaze. “Yes…”

Topher smiled wryly. It was a start. He looked down at her slender hand in his. “I was serious, Samina. I want you to consider it. Consider me.”

“Alright, here we are,” Karen announced brightly, entering the room. She frowned as Samina jerked her hand from Topher’s and shifted away. Hesitantly, Karen extended a bottle of water to Topher. “Sammie, want one?”

Samina only shook her head, gaze trained on her clasped hands.

Karen and Topher exchanged a wary glance.

To Karen’s chagrin, Topher stood to his feet. He smiled at Karen and gazed down at Samina’s downturned face. “Now that I’m satisfied that you’re safe and sound, I’ll take my leave.” He then turned to Karen, gesturing to the water bottle. “Thanks.”

“I’ll walk you out,” Karen said, trailing behind him.

“Not necessary,” Topher said gently, pulling open the door. He gave her a nod and slipped out of the house without another word to Samina.

Karen pouted as she slowly closed the door behind him. “He didn’t say goodbye to you…”

In silence, Samina picked up her laptop to retreat to her room.

Karen scowled as Samina’s lock fell in place, locking her in. The somber look on her sister’s face contradicted the bumbling joy in her heart at the prospect of a man besides Ezekiel vying for Samina’s heart. Clenching her jaw in determination, Karen stalked to the couch and reached for her purse, rooting out her purse.

Her lip curled in distaste as she scrolled down the contacts list for Ada’s number. Although she’d opt for a root canal procedure, questions urged her to dial her number. Plopping on her mattress, she pressed the phone to her ear and waited for Ada to pick up.

“Yeah…” Ada heaved a sigh, expressing her displeasure. “What could you possibly want?”

Karen rolled her eyes. “Trust me, if I didn’t have important things to discuss, I wouldn’t be calling you.” She scoffed at Ada’s bitter laugh. “Who is Topher Chance?”

There was a long stretch of silence on the other end and Karen almost snapped at Ada when the older woman chuckled dryly. “So he came over, huh? Probably to make sure his story matched hers.”

“Come off it and answer the question.”

Ada sniffed disdainfully. “He’s Jax’s best friend and the best man. Y’know, the male counterpart of what your older sister’s supposed to be.”

“Hey, handle your beef with her and not me,” Karen said easily. She folded her legs under her. “What else? Is he interested in Samina?”

“Excuse me, but how is this any of your business?”

Karen gritted her teeth. “Ada, I swear to God, if you don’t just act normal for one second.”

“If I tell you, will you convince your sister to behave like a responsible maid-of-honor?”

Karen scowled, bristled by Ada’s harsh accusation. “Look, I don’t know what’s wrong with Samina but she’s going through a lot right now.” She frowned deeper, the disturbing image appeared in her mind’s eye. “I found her crying in her room before Topher came over here.”

The silence on Ada’s end was as deafening as the static.

“Hello?” Karen mumbled in annoyance, ready to drop the phone.

“What’s wrong with her? She’s constantly out of it and she forgets our appointments as if she doesn’t care.” Ada’s voice trembled with concern. “I mean, I know I’m a little strung up right now—”

“A little?”

“Fine,” Ada conceded though her tone hinted impatience. “But Samina’s behavior has me even more agitated. What’s going on with her?”

Karen shook her head. “I’m not sure I would even know. She’s been so secretive lately… ever since Zeke and his girls came to town.” Her scowl deepened and she returned to the matter at hand. “That’s why I need to know about this Topher guy.”

“He likes her,” Ada sighed. “I mean, he’s been curious about her since five years ago. Now, I think he’s serious about pursuing her.”

Karen’s eyes widened. “How come he hasn’t said anything to her about it?” Her head swam, overwhelmed with excitement at the thought of a man other than Ezekiel capturing Samina’s heart.

“Bad timing, I guess. He’s a geophysicist and doesn’t stay long enough to pursue any serious relationship. It’s been complicated for him over the years but maybe he’s looking past that now, if he’s serious about her.”

Smart, handsome and has eyes for Samina. Karen couldn’t help the wide, stupefied grin that moved her lips. She clutched the phone closer to her ear. “How long is he in town for?”

“He took a break for our wedding and for his aunt. So a few weeks—” She groaned. “You’re killing me here, Karen. Can’t you help me?”

“Alright, fine,” Karen replied begrudgingly. “I’ll help get Samina back on track with your wedding. But trust me. I’m not doing this for you.”

She could picture Ada rolling her eyes. “Gee, thanks.”

“No Ada, thank you.” Karen promptly disconnected the call and stared up at the ceiling. It seemed things were finally looking up for Samina and if she had her way, Topher would have his chance with Samina. Her lips curved in a smile, hope fluttering in her chest. Samina could return to enjoying life again.

Topher fought a grin as he leaned against the back of the chair, scrounging for plane tickets on the laptop later that night. He mustered up the image of Samina’s dazed expression and the way her lips trembled, drawing his gaze there. He could still trace the dips and curves of her beautiful mouth.

As Nadine stirred awake in bed by the desk, Topher quickly schooled his features.

“Why do you look so guilty?” she asked, her voice hoarse from sleep.

He smirked. “Why’s your eyesight so good after all these years?”

“Oh shush.”

Topher chuckled lowly, pulling up another tab on the screen.

The sound of the bedsheets rustling pulled his attention and he warily watched as Nadine shifted her legs to stand. “Where are you going?”

“I want to walk around a bit.” She smiled weakly, his heart twisting at the fragile lift of her lips. Although she was improving under the nurse’s care, Topher still hesitated over her demand for independence.

“Want some company?”  He stood and moved to her side before she could protest.

Moments later, they walked slowly down the paved path that wove around the hotel, Nadine’s arm curved under Topher’s. They were preoccupied with their own thoughts, the bustle of the city and traffic filling the silence.

Topher smiled down at Nadine as she tugged at his sleeve, pointing across the street to a yogurt shop.

Settling down in a corner booth, Topher watch Nadine scoop pomegranate yogurt to her mouth before turning to his own melting treat.

“What do you think of Houston?” Topher asked after a few minutes of companionable silence. His eyes remained on his cup yet he felt the weight of Nadine’s eyes on him.

“Nice enough.” She scraped the spoon over the cold treat and slanted a curious glance at him. “Trying to dump me here?”

The corner of Topher’s mouth quirked in a wry smile. “Just a question.”

“It’s not like you to just ask a question, Christopher.” Her tone was serious, he couldn’t help but look up at her. Caramel eyes were blazing. She was angry with him, her lips thinning in a firm line. “What are you getting at?”

His jaw was slack as he gaped at her. When her eyes narrowed suspiciously, Topher blinked away the daze and choked a laugh. “Not just for you. I wouldn’t dump you for anything.”

“Or anyone?” she asked pointedly, her lips pursing.

Topher raised both brows incredulously. “Is that a pout?” He laughed when she glared at him and grabbed her hand. “Nadine… you’re the only family I have. Don’t say things like this. You’re breaking my heart here.”

Nadine tugged her hand from his to scoop up a spoonful of cream to her mouth. “You’ll have to soon.”

He scowled, retrieving his own spoon. “If my future wife doesn’t like the idea of having you around, then she’s not my future wife.” He paused from lifting the yogurt to his mouth at the sound of Nadine chuckling, eyes dancing with amusement. Topher rolled his eyes, feeling duped.

“You’re a good boy, Christopher.” Her lips curled in a satisfied smirk. “I raised you well.”

“You’d like to take the credit, wouldn’t you?” He licked the yogurt off the spoon.

“Speaking of future wives… how is your Samina?” Nadine’s probing gaze remained steady on his face.

Topher fought back a smile. “She’s fine. Hopefully you guys will get to see each other before we leave.”

At his waning smile, Nadine tilted her head. “You’ll miss her when we leave?”

He lowered his gaze. “We’ll keep in touch…” Hopefully. His stomach flipped over.

“You’re in love with her, aren’t you?”

The amazement in Nadine’s voice drew his eyes back to her face. He frowned. “Is that what it is?” Once, love had sounded so foreign to his ears.

Nadine pinned him with her probing stare. “Shouldn’t you know?”

Topher dropped his gaze and swirled his spoon in the melted yogurt. “I’m not sure if it’s that. I just think she’s…”

“Christopher,” Nadine interjected softly. “That you can’t come up with a clever comeback means you probably are.”

He blinked at her. “Really?”

She slow-blinked and flashed him a smile he returned. Nadine laughed hoarsely. “I don’t know what to do with you…” she returned to her yogurt while it was still worth eating.

Topher merely stared at her bowed head, letting her words sink in.

<<Chapter 23 || Chapter 25>>

Samina’s Chance: Chapter 23

Posted on 16/04/2015

southerncharms2

A wide grin lighting up his face, Ezekiel strolled up the sidewalk to the front door. His heart did a little dance at the thought of seeing Samina today, grateful to see her small car parked on the side of the street.

As he stepped inside, a sweet aroma of sautéed onions and pork chops tickled his nostrils. Breathing in deep, he followed the aroma to the kitchen.

The sight before him halted his steps and warmed his heart.

Samina stood with her back to him at the sink. His gaze took in her willowy frame and he shook his head in disbelief.  Had she gotten beautiful overnight or had he always been blind to her soft beauty?

Ezekiel smiled in unabashed appreciation, watching her.

“Papa, you’re home!” Beulah’s over-eager voice jerked his pining gaze from Samina and he turned to greet his youngest racing toward him.

Hooking an arm around Beulah’s waist, he hauled her into his arms and pressed a light kiss against her curly thick tresses. He chuckled as she planted smacking kisses on his shaven cheeks.

“I missed you too, Bumblebee.” He planted butterfly kisses in the crook of her nape until she wriggled in his arms, giggling. “Were you good?” he then propped her on his hip.

“Uh-hmm,” Beulah bobbed her head. “Right, Aunty Sammie?”

Warmth traveled up his neck as he was forced to look back at Samina.

Her eyes stayed on Beulah’s face, a wistful smile curving her supple mouth.

He couldn’t look away. Not until she slanted a curious look his way. He redirected his gaze over her shoulder at the bowl of chopped vegetables. “Uh…where’s Mom?”

“Sleeping again.” Beulah pushed out of his arms and he conceded, loosening his hold on her so she could slide down.  Beulah shuffled to Samina’s side and tugged on her apron. “Aunty Sammie, can we eat now?”

“Please,” Ezekiel supplied gently, watching the warm gaze Samina directed at his youngest daughter. His chest tightened.

“Please.” Beulah offered a sweet smile which drew Samina’s own, thus causing Ezekiel’s heart to commence in a series of somersaults.

“In a few minutes,” Samina answered in a soft voice oddly maternal. When she smoothed Beulah’s frazzled curls, Ezekiel wondered what it would be like to be a recipient of her warm touch. “Why don’t you check on Laide and Gramma first?”

As Beulah shot past him to the stairs, Ezekiel watched Samina turn back to the sink without looking at him. Something about her evading gaze made him feel slighted and uncomfortable.

He swallowed hard and stepped forward. “Mind if I help?” he asked, voice surprisingly huskier than he’d expected.

Samina visibly stiffened. Then she peeked at him over her shoulder. “Can you chop some carrots?”

Ezekiel flashed a knowing smile. “I know what you’re making.”

“It’s your mother’s favorite.” She turned away, chopping a celery stalk.

“And mine,” he said quietly, stepping close to her side. “You know, I’ve always been partial to your cooking.”

Samina remained silent, much to his chagrin.

Ezekiel raised a brow at her and he inclined his head to study her detached expression. “You alright?”

Her eyes flitted over him once before returning to the chopping board. She blew out a haggard breath. “Work went okay?”

He hesitated, aware she still hadn’t much luck with the job hunt. Grabbing a carrot, Ezekiel turned it in his hand before replying. “It’s just a lot of negotiating and planning. Any word yet on the job?”

She bit the inside of her cheeks. “Nothing really. Just a position with House of Hope downtown.”

His fingers stilled. “You interested?”

“Maybe.” Samina refused to look his way, her jaw clenched tight. “I’ll meet with the manager of the center if they’re even interested in me.”

“Of course they will.” He studied the carrot in his hand. “They’d be fools not to be interested.”

She placed the knife to the sink. “Don’t say that.”

Ezekiel frowned, looking up at her. “It’s true, Sam. You’re talented and smart. Why wouldn’t they want you?”

Samina scowled. “I don’t need those kinds of words. Especially not from you and especially not right now.” She stepped away from the sink and he noticed her hands trembled as she pulled her fingers into fists.

Alarmed, Ezekiel lowered the carrot to the sink and studied Samina’s taut features. “Sam…”

“Don’t start, Zeke.” Samina gritted her teeth. “I don’t want to hear it.”

The quiver in her voice and the glimmer of tears in her eyes undid him. He couldn’t hold back any longer and moved toward her. Ignoring her soft protest, Ezekiel pulled her into his arms. Tucking her head under his chin, he placed a soothing hand against her back. “I meant every word I said, Sam.”

She released a shuddering breath that shook him. Her vulnerability wasn’t lost on him.

Ezekiel held her tighter. “I have always believed in you and I don’t plan on changing my view now. You’ll succeed in whatever God has for you.”

Samina sniffed back tears and peered up at him with uncertainty and worry behind her watery eyes. Her stubborn chin quivered to hold back a sob.

The rest of his words hung on his tongue as he gazed down at her. When did it happen? When had this woman become so fragile?

“You two alright?” Sheena’s groggy voice forced them from their shared moment. They sprang apart, Ezekiel releasing Samina who scooted to the edge of the counter.

Sheena raised a brow but moved to the stove, breathing in the sweet aroma as Ezekiel did earlier. “It smells marvelous in here, Sammie.”

Ezekiel recovered first, giving his mother a smile before turning back to the carrot chopping duty.  He didn’t dare risk a glance at Samina or he would reach for her again. The feeling of her in his arms was imprinted in his mind.

“Beef stew?” Sheena implored, peering over Samina’s shoulder at the bubbling pot of meat, sauce and vegetables. “You know how Zeke and I are partial to your cooking… I can’t wait for dinner.”

“That’s what I told her.” Ezekiel chuckled. “Mom, how was your nap?”

Sheena yawned in response and laughed. “A guilty pleasure, I have to say. I feel so revitalized, thanks to my sweet Sammie. The girls and I had a tea party to hold us until dinner.”

“I’m almost done,” Samina said softly, eyes trained on the pot.

It was just as well since one look from her would weaken his resolve to let her alone. Ezekiel chopped the last carrot stalk and brought the bowl to Samina’s side.

“How was work, darling?” Sheena asked, stealing a handful of carrot bits.

“I’ll be in Houston for a few weeks…” Ezekiel replied, peeking at Samina for her response. She didn’t look up and he caught the suspicious look Sheena sent his way.  He cleared his throat to continue. “Which means you can go back to Abbeville.”

“Praise the Lord Almighty!” Sheena clasped her hands together and grinned in Samina’s direction. “See, Sammie dear?  God answers our prayers. With Ezekiel here, you can focus on the wedding.”

Frisson of cold shot through him and Ezekiel stiffened. Wedding? His brow tightened in a frown and he snuck a look at Samina.

Laide warily eyed Samina who sat between Beulah and Grandma Sheena. Then peeking a sigh at her solemn-faced father beside her, she heaved a sigh.

Sheena looked up with a frown. “What’s with the sighing, Laide?”

The girl looked pointedly at Samina and finally lowered her gaze to the bowl of meat stew. “It’s nothing…”

“Don’t lie to me, baby girl.”

“Oooh!” Beulah gasped in horror. “You’re in trouble.”

Laide glowered at her sister. “Shut up, stupid.”

Ezekiel dropped the spoon in the bowl and directed a scowl at Laide. “How many times will I say it? Don’t use that word again. Apologize now.”

“Sorry.”

He rolled his eyes at her dry and insincere response. He was in no mood to deal with her mercurial attitude.

Sheena raised a brow at both Laide and Ezekiel. “And what’s the matter with you, Zeke? Isn’t this your favorite stew?”

The fact that Samina still refused to look at him bruised him more than his mother’s announcement earlier. He pushed the bowl away, his throat tight and dry. “Not really hungry.”

“Me neither.” Laide plunked the spoon back into the bowl and folded her arms across her chest.

“Me neither,” Beulah piped, mirroring her sister’s actions and signature scowl.

Samina lowered her spoon in her bowl and all eyes turned to her. The corner of her lips lifted in a wry smile. “I guess you guys had too much to eat at your tea party. I’ll just pack it up for you to eat later.” She scooted back in her chair and stood.

Ezekiel couldn’t hold back the scowl as Samina gathered as many bowls as her hands could carry. His eyes met Sheena’s disapproving glare and he grunted. “Fine, I’ll apologize.” As he scooted back in his chair, Laide started out of her chair. “You stay here with Grandma.”

Sheena watched Ezekiel stalk to the kitchen before frowning at her granddaughters. “Really, must you two act like your father all the time?”

“I like Daddy!” Beulah countered emphatically.

“I’m sure you do, dear.” Sheena bit back a smile. This was a serious moment. She turned to Laide. “Now tell me what’s biting your backside?”

As Ezekiel approached the open kitchen door, he could hear Samina noisily rummage through the cupboards. Mustering a breath, he moved to her side as she jerked open another drawer. “It’s right here.” He pointed to a drawer to her right.

If looks could kill, the glare Samina speared him felled him. She whipped around and jerked the drawer open.

Ezekiel rubbed the back of his neck. “Sam, I’m sorry.”

“For what?”

He cringed at her cold, detached tone like she wasn’t bothered. Like he didn’t matter to her. Ezekiel swallowed hard. “For being impossible. I was being rude.”

Samina arranged the utensils and slammed the drawer shut. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Ezekiel.”

“Oh come on! Will you just stop and look at me?” he groused impatiently.

When Samina froze beside him, Ezekiel winced. “Aw, Sam… I didn’t mean to snap at you like that. Or snub your pork stew.”

She snorted derisively, moving past him to the stove.

“So help me, Sam…” Ezekiel scowled. “Look, I was annoyed with you.”

Samina huffed a breath. “Obviously you were and still are.” She finally looked over her shoulder at him, a line appearing between her brows. “Although I don’t see what I could’ve possibly done to deal with your royal snobbery.”

Ezekiel grimaced. He didn’t know what was worse; her silent treatment or this cold sarcasm.

“Not that it matters.” Samina turned away, dismissing him.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Ezekiel snapped. “Why do I have to hear from my mother instead of you?” He wanted to blame her for his unwarranted feelings for her but knew it was all his fault.

Samina glanced at him again, face riddled with confusion. “What are you talking about?”

“Your wedding. Your boyfriend.” He clenched his jaw, the words sounding bitter on his tongue. As her pretty eyes widened, his aggravation grew. “Why didn’t you tell me any of this before now?”

“M-my what?” Samina squeaked through parted lips. The spoon ladle in her hand dripped sauce on the floor.

Ezekiel scowled, stepping closer. “Give me that, you’re dripping sauce on the floor.” He snatched the spoon from her hand, ignoring any remorse when she flinched. “Aren’t we friends? Why didn’t you tell me you were getting married or that you have a boyfriend?”

“Who’s getting married?” Sheena asked from the archway.

Both Ezekiel and Samina jerked around to face her. Samina sighed haggardly. “Apparently I am.”

Ezekiel frowned at the baffled expression on Sheena’s face as her eyes darted from him to Samina and back to him.

“Wait, what?” Sheena squeaked in a voice like Samina’s.

Samina’s dry laugh drew Ezekiel’s attention. “Is this some perverse joke to make me laugh?” Samina asked, an unmistakable glimmer in her eyes.

Ezekiel’s throat dried up as Sheena rushed to Samina’s side. He swallowed hard  and looked away, spotting his wide-eyed daughters gaping at him from the doorway.

Beulah’s scowl matched Laide’s and she shook her head. “Aunty Sammie’s not getting married, silly Papa.”

His face grew hot. The way she admonished him was as if he was the four-year old.

“She’s the maid-of-honor,” Laide said matter-of-factly, her eyes wandering over to Samina and her grandmother. “I’m sorry for being a brat. I’ll eat now.”

Samina sniffed and released a trembling laugh. “It’s okay, Laide,” she said gently. “No harm done.”

Ezekiel stood in silence, a lump hardening in his throat. Her consoling words were only for his daughters, not him. He’d messed up big time and didn’t know where to begin putting things right.

Once Samina left hours later, Ezekiel numbly followed Sheena to her bedroom. He warily eyed the suitcase open on her bed. “How long will you stay?”

“We’ll be back in a week,” Sheena tugged at her son’s sleeve, gesturing to the bed. “Sit for a bit.”

He swallowed hard and perched at the edge. Sheena settled in beside him and covered his hand.

“I’ll get to the point since it’s been a long day and you know I despise mind games.” Sheena squeezed his hand, coaxing his gaze to hers. “You’re in love with Sammie.”

Ezekiel inhaled sharply, his body hot with embarrassment.

She rolled her eyes. “Don’t even try denying it. After the way you acted today, it’s no surprise what you’re feeling.” Her brow furrowed. “Except poor Sammie might think you hate her. You guys aren’t in high school anymore. What was that childish behavior about?”

“She thinks I hate her?” he felt like the wind was knocked out of him.

Sheena narrowed her eyes at him. “You do love her.”

Ezekiel jerked his gaze to their joined hands, his heart skipping a beat. “Of course I love Sam. She’s like a sister to me.”

“Of course,” Sheena answered, unconvinced. “Because a brother would act offended that his sister has a boyfriend and is getting married.”

He frowned. “You told us to call each other siblings…”

“When you were kids.” Sheena scoffed. “Not when you’re both adults and obviously struggling with your feelings for each other.”

Ezekiel didn’t answer. He couldn’t.

She snorted. “Stop with this brother nonsense. When your father proposed, your uncles wanted me out of the house immediately.”

He eyed her warily. “I heard you were a troublemaker.”

Sheena nudged his shoulder. “The fact is you’re not her brother and she’s not your sister getting married. She’s not even getting married. Honestly, Zeke, what were you thinking?”

“I know she’s not—” he took a deep breath and released it slowly.  “Yeah, I misspoke. I already tried to apologize.” He grimaced, recalling how Samina coldly brushed past him to the front door. “I’ll try again tomorrow.”

“Zeke…”

“Mama, please.” His head was full of thoughts, his heart felt suffocated.

Sheena looked down at their joined hands and her thumb caressed the back of his hand. “You might feel a little guilty about your feelings for Samina. It’s normal.”

Ezekiel swallowed hard.

“But it’s okay to let your heart choose again. Even you know it’s time.”

Ezekiel spared her a look. Did he dare believe it?

Sheena gave him a trembling smile, holding back her tears. “Whatever and whoever your heart chooses; your father and I will support you. I just want you to be happy again.”

He pulled Sheena into his arms. The images of Winsome and Samina swirled in his mind and he shoved both aside. There would be time for that later. “Mama, I am happy… I have my girls, you and Dad. That’s all I need.” His throat tightened against the white lie he told his mother and himself.

<<Chapter 22 || Chapter 24>>

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