Deidre had no idea how to phrase her concerns to Sheena but she had just a few seconds to figure it out before the dial-tone stopped ringing.
“Dee?” Sheena’s weary voice droned on the other end, jerking Deidre from her jumbled thoughts. “Is everything alright?”
Guilt seized her windpipe, nerves dancing. “How are you?”
“As well as we can be…” Sheena sighed. “Please talk about something cheerful. How is the fam?”
“We’re fine.” Deidre bit her bottom lip. “Sheena, let me ask you something. I’ll need your honest answer.”
“As if there was any other kind.” Sheena stifled a yawn. “Go ahead.”
Deidre shifted in her chair. “It’s about Ezekiel… And Samina.”
Sheena inhaled sharply.
Deidre gripped the phone, nerve slipping. “Y’know what, never mind. This was a mistake. I should’ve waited until—”
“Wait!” Sheena protested. “Dee, wait a minute. What do you mean?”
Deidre cringed, trying to figure out the best way to backpedal out of the mess she’d put herself in. “It’s nothing… Really, it was just a silly thought.”
“It can’t be if I’m thinking of it too.”
Deidre froze. “Huh?”
Sheena laughed softly. “Dee, that’s why you’re my best friend. Girl, we think too much alike.”
“Wait what? I…” Deidre swallowed. “What do you mean?”
Sheena giggled, her uninhibited joy prickling Deidre’s jumpy nerves. “Isn’t this great? It’s what I’ve been praying about for a long time. Dee, isn’t it wonderful? Your daughter and my son, in love. Finally!”
A strangled noise escaped Deidre’s throat and she bit it back, not wanting to alarm Sheena. “Finally…?” she breathed, incredulous.
“Of course he’s denying it but it’s so obvious,” Sheena gushed openly. “The moony stares and the forlorn sighs when he thinks we’re not looking.”
“We?” Deidre raised a brow, imagining the twinkle in Sheena’s eyes.
“Let’s just say I caught them being cute together.” Sheena giggled. “Oh gosh, Dee. Can you believe it? My son is in love with your daughter. It’s about time!”
Once they bid their goodnight, Deidre lowered the phone back on its cradle, Sheena’s words ringing in her ears. Ezekiel in love with Samina? After all this time?
At the chapel that following Sunday, Deidre struggled against rising indignation as she caught Ezekiel’s eyes travel down the aisle. Looking for Samina, no doubt.
Her lips pursed as Ezekiel’s gaze connected with hers. When he flashed her a smile of greeting, she forced one of her own and looked away.
At her side, Gabriel raised a brow at her. Deidre rolled her eyes. It was none of his business; especially if he didn’t divulge the reasons for why he fought with Jeremiah.
Shrugging Gabriel shifted to face the front stage. She wrinkled her nose in displeasure and turned her attention forward.
“We must put off any sign of judgment for our Christian brother and sister,” the senior pastor spoke on. “We might not have gone through the same set of troubles or tribulations, but in God’s eyes, we’re the same. Wretched, poor and lost.”
The crowd murmured their collective agreement. Deidre squinted her eyes at him.
“At the end of the day, the person you sit next to deserves your respect and love. Love thy neighbor as you love thyself, that’s what the Word says right?”
Squelching any reaction caused by the pastor’s words was difficult and she fidgeted with her Bible. Then the image of Samina weeping for her unrequited feelings stirred up indignation greater than any remorse or guilt.
She knew more than anyone what damage could be caused when someone pined over a lost love. Sneaking a glance at her husband’s profile, her jaw tightened.
Steeling her spine, Deidre made her decision. She would not sit back and watch her daughter waste years pining for a man who didn’t notice her until now. It hurt too much.
“What’s wrong with you?” Gabriel’s hushed voice tugged her to the present. “You’re daydreaming during the sermon?”
“No. Everything’s fine.” Deidre bit her bottom lip, her mind working out a plan.
“Hold on a minute, Laide.” Ezekiel tamped down aggravation as Adelaide pulled him toward the exit doors. He peered over his shoulder, eyes darting across the lobby for any sign of Samina. No luck.
“Papa,” Beulah whined, tugging at his other hand. “I’m hungry.”
Her voice like frigid water over his senses, doused his feverish search for Samina. Ezekiel jerked his eyes to her cherubim face. “Didn’t they feed you in Sunday school?”
She looked away guiltily. “I don’t like ham.”
Ezekiel snorted in disbelief. “Since when?”
Adelaide sniffed, mouth pursed in distaste. “Ham sandwiches are disgusting.”
“Apparently.” He rolled his eyes. His daughters were becoming too picky for his liking. “Alright then. Let’s stop at the pancake house before going home.”
“Awesome!” Adelaide grinned wide. Beulah danced beside him as they walked down the church steps toward the parking lot.
He grinned, leading them down the crosswalk. “You’re too spoiled for your own good—Aunty Dee,” he said in the same breath, spotting Deidre Wells walking up to him. “Good afternoon.”
Deidre nodded, eyes sweeping past him to gaze down at his daughters. Her warm smile was reserved for them. “Hello girls. How are you?”
Adelaide and Beulah merely blinked at her.
Ezekiel laughed nervously. “Girls, this is Grandma’s best friend, Gramma Dee.”
“She’s our grandma too?” Beulah asked innocently.
Deidre breathed out a laugh. “Oh heavens, no!”
Ezekiel’s smile waned at her fierce reply.
She bent, meeting Beulah’s eye-level, and smiled gently. “Why don’t you call me Aunty Dee?” She turned a pointed look at Ezekiel. “Lord knows I’m not quite ready to be anyone’s grandmother.”
He was rendered speechless at her unwavering gaze; as though she’d caught him doing something very wrong.
“Are you Aunty Sammy’s mom?” Adelaide asked, nudging their attention to her.
Deidre’s gaze bounced to Adelaide. “Yes I am.”
Beulah bounced on her heels. “I like Aunty Sammy. She’s nice.”
“Indeed she is and so are you.” Deidre tapped Beulah on the tip of her nose, earning her a giggle. Then she straightened, regarding Ezekiel solemnly. “Zeke, we should have a talk.”
“Yes, of course,” he forced through dry lips. “Girls, get in the car and strap up. I’ll be just a moment.” He released their hands and watched them walk to the car before turning back to Deidre’s unwavering stare. For some reason, he felt like she’d inspected him through and through, finding him wanting. He summoned a breath. “Is… everything alright?”
Deidre managed a smile. “It will be, Ezekiel.” She tilted her head slightly, eyes studying his face. “How long has it been?”
“How long?” his brow knotted in confusion though his mind had a clue what she was inferring. His shoulders tensed.
His gaze darted to the girls fidgeting in the car. “Five years…”
Deidre clicked her tongue piteously. “What a pity. She would’ve been proud to see you and the girls.”
He couldn’t answer, couldn’t look at her.
“I know how much you loved her.”
This time, her gentle voice nudged him to look at her. Ezekiel blinked at the warmth belied in her brown eyes and his Adam’s apple bobbed uncomfortably. “I…”
Then suddenly, her fingers reached for his. Gripping it tight, stealing his breath at her beseeching gaze. “But it’s time to move on, Zeke… Don’t you think?”
Ezekiel couldn’t speak. He just stared dumbly.
Deidre smiled warmly. “You could love again, find happiness again; not only for your daughters but for you.” Her gentle gaze caressed his face like a mother’s would.
He swallowed hard, realizing that she was as encouraging as his had been about moving on. Finding love again. His heart flipped over. Was she giving her permission to court Samina? Did he dare hope?
Then Deidre released his hand, though the warmth of her smile remained with him. “You never know who your heart might be open to.”
Ezekiel smiled. Yep, she was hinting as his mother did. “Yes Ma’am.”
Deidre’s lips curved. “Do you have any… prospects?”
His face heated under her astute gaze but he dared not look away. “Maybe.”
Surprisingly, her smile waned slightly. Her brows lifted. “Really?”
“Yes Ma’am.” Ezekiel nodded. He wanted to ease her nerves, convince her that she didn’t need to worry but only once he’d settled things with her daughter first. “Is… Sam around?”
She stiffened; the movement was hard to miss.
Ezekiel frowned. “I-Is she okay?”
Deidre’s smile was forced this time. “She’s fine. On a vacation right now.”
He raised his brows. “A vacation?”
She kicked a shoulder and crossed her arms. “Yes, vacation. She took off last night and she’ll be back in a week. Why?”
“Oh, it’s nothing.” He tamped down the pangs of disappointment that he’d have to wait a week. As Deidre bid him a good day and walked away, Ezekiel let out a whoosh of breath.
What was a week to wait if he could have the rest of his life to love Samina?
Time to love again… his heart fluttered in his chest as he made his way to the car.
The cool air skittered along her arms and she clenched her fingers together. In the thin hospital gown, she shivered.
It felt strange sitting in this empty room, waiting to be led into the surgery room. Around her, she could hear families encouraging their loved ones and felt a pang of sadness that she was alone.
If she’d told her family, Deidre would be weeping uncontrollably and her father would be pacing behind the curtain, tension etched on his face.
Samina shook her head, clearing the image. It was better this way, she told herself, squeezing her fingers together. The surgery would be a quick one and she’d be home before anyone could question her absence.
“I’m doing the right thing,” she muttered softly.
“Are you?” her doctor pulled back the curtain and came to stand by her bed.
Samina managed a smile, her nerves jittery and unsettled. She pressed her clenched hands to her midsection. “Is it… my turn?”
Dr. Halliday’s gaze was gentle, sympathetic. “Are you ready?”
Apprehension gripped her throat, rendering her speechless. For a moment, Samina wished she could’ve asked one person to come. Tears filled her eyes and she blinked them away, hitching her chin. “I’m ready.”