Posts tagged “brothers and sisters

Refuge: Chapter 5

Posted on 26/09/2018

Over an unhealthy lunch of chocolate-filled donuts and overpriced coffee, Zoey and Eli sat near the window overlooking the planes docked at Heathrow Airport, awaiting their next flight in an hour. Zoey watched Eli lick the chocolate from his index fingers and rehearsed her next line.

The corner of his lips twitched a smile and he lifted his gaze. Zoey averted hers, occupying herself with stirring the coffee. “Chocolate tastes so different overseas.”

Zoey smirked. “Probably.”

“What’s Nigeria like? I mean, the food and stuff?”

She laughed, lifting her gaze. “You’re such a foodie.”

He shrugged. “I like food.”

“Well, since you love spicy, you’ll like Nigerian food.” Zoey shook her head. “We should’ve tried some while in Houston. Can’t believe I never took you to one.”

“You said they weren’t that good,” Eli reminded her, grabbing another donut. “Something about fake meat.”

Zoey choked. “Man, that was harsh…”

“That’s what you said.”

“Yeah well, you’ll have plenty opportunities to try it at home.”

“What’s your favorite food?” his eyes skimmed her face while he bit into the donut. “I’m curious about the jello rice.”

“Jello…” Zoey heaved a sigh, mildly frustrated. Just when she was ready to spill, he was distracted by food. “It’s jollof rice, babe.”

“Ah Jollof. It’s like Mexican rice, right?”

“Not even close.” She frowned. “Eli, I need to talk to you about something.”

A plane whooshed over their heads and Eli peered out, watching the plane ascend into the clouds.

“Eli.”

“Hmm?”

“Eli.”

Her sharp tone had him glance her way. He frowned. “What?”

Zoey tamped another sigh and stared him straight in the eye. “I haven’t been completely honest with you–”

A child behind them squealed with delight and Eli’s gaze shifted over her head. Zoey grabbed his hand, smearing hers with chocolate. She grimaced. “E, I’m not a poor international student.”

Eli smirked at her. “I know that already.”

She rolled her eyes. “I’m being serious.”

“Okay.” He released the donut and reached for a napkin. Taking her soiled hand in his, he wiped it clean.

Zoey drew in a breath and released it. “E.”

“I know you’re not poor, Zo. I know international tuition is high, and yet you have your own place, your own car, and you’re paying off your degree.” He looked up at her. “But what does that have to do with anything?”

“It has everything to do with everything.”

Eli chuckled, cleaning chocolate from her fingers.

Zoey frowned.

He paused to look up. “Okay, talk to me.”

There was no other way to say it so she began with “My parents have money.”

Eli arched a brow. “Okay…?”

Zoey rolled her eyes. “Let me rephrase that. My family comes from crazy money.”

“Still isn’t that much clearer, Zo.”

“You know that show Rich Housewives Chicago* and the lady with the real-estate investments?”

“Yeah?”

“One of my dad’s side investments is twice that.”

“In Naira?”

“Dollars, Eli.”

Eli’s hand loosened and slid from hers.

Zoey swallowed hard. “I know I should’ve told you but–”

“Why tell me now?”

The quietness in his voice stilled her. She stared at him.

His features were taut but his eyes resembled a confused little boy. “Why tell me when we’re halfway there that you come from money? Why now and not before?” His gaze skimmed her face.

Zoey searched his and didn’t like what she saw there. “I didn’t mean to keep it from you, not purposefully. I just didn’t know how to say it. Didn’t think it mattered.”

“Then why mention it now? What for?”

“Because you’re coming home with me and I…” Zoey swallowed hard.

“You want me to be prepared.”

Zoey nodded, surprised yet grateful that he’d taken the words from her mouth. “Yeah.”

“You think I’m gonna embarrass you?”

Her eyes widened. “What–? No, heck no.” She frowned. “Eli, I don’t care about that. I just wanted you to know that my folks are a lot…”

“Attention travelers,” the voice on the intercom interrupted. “This is an announcement for Flight Z345A to Lagos via British Airways. Boarding will begin in twenty minutes. Please report to Gate 40B.”

“That’s us,” Eli mumbled, grabbing his bag.

“Whoa, wait a sec.” Zoey grabbed his wrist, stilling him for just a moment. She searched his expression and scowled. “Sit first.”

Eli didn’t. “You had a year and a half to tell me about your family and you didn’t. Give me at least an hour to process what you just told me. I have nowhere else to go but with you, so give me that. Fair enough?”

Zoey hesitated. Eli’s brooding took way longer than an hour, and she couldn’t afford his silence for another six hours. “I meant no harm, Eli.”

“I know, Zoey, but it still stings.” Eli tugged his wrist free and gestured for her to stand. “Let’s go.”

At least he waited for her to stand before walking in front. Zoey heaved a sigh as she watched his lonely frame and wondered yet again if she’d made the right decision bringing him along.

Another plane whooshed above as Zoey grabbed her bag and rushed after him.

He wanted to stay mad; she deserved more than just his silence. But they were 11,000 feet off the ground with only a boring selection of movies for entertainment and ignoring the person beside him didn’t make much sense. Especially since Zoey kept sighing and fidgeting in her seat.

Eli dropped the headphones to hang on the back of his neck and leaned in his seat, arching a brow at her.

She squinted at the screen and sighed before glancing once at him. “What?”

“What happened to giving me an hour?”

Zoey frowned. “I did–I am.”

Eli squinted at her attempt to look innocent. “Nah, you’re not giving me space and time to think.”

“Space?”  She scoffed. “Eli, we’re in a cramped plane. How much space can I give you? You want me to switch places with a stranger? Should I tape my mouth and my body so I don’t bother you?”

Eli shook his head. Zoey could be so dramatic, just like his sisters. He sighed as a thought crossed his mind. “D’you know that all my siblings’ and their spouses have something in common?”

“What is it?”

“Lies.”

Her mouth tightened in a hard line. “I already said it was unintentional. It’s more of an omission, honestly.”

“Lie of omission is still a lie, Zoey.” Eli held up a hand before she could protest. “Hear me out. Phoebe lied to Abe about who she was and almost jeopardized Junior, Darah and I remaining with our family. Geri lied to Bart about her ex-husband.”

Zoey’s eyes widened. “Geri was married before?”

“She was. He was a mean jerk to her, and died for his crimes–”

“Good Lord!” Zoey slapped a hand over her mouth, eyes wide.

“But she was able to escape and come back home. Anyway, she didn’t tell him everything and they even tried to lie to her ex in-laws about having a relationship…” he paused and shook his head. “It was a mess and J.R. had to step in to fix it.”

Zoey lowered her hand and stared intently with no interruption.

“Then there’s Darah, trying to hide her pregnancy from everyone.” He frowned. “Hers isn’t much of lying as it is omission of fact but then she was being stupid throughout.”

“That’s harsh, Eli.”

“It is but it’s true. Actually, both were actually lying to each other about their feelings, and they spent so much time dancing around before coming together.” Eli shrugged. “And then there’s Junior.”

“What about him?”

Eli scoffed lightly. “Pretty sure he and Karen are keeping some crazy secret there in Ethiopia. When I stayed with them for a summer, it was weird.” He scratched the side of his head. “Can’t put my finger on it but they were sneaky.”

Zoey sighed. “What’s your point, Eli?”

“Lies only complicate a matter that didn’t need to be complicated.” Eli stared intently at her. “You didn’t need to hide the fact that your family is loaded. I don’t care if your mom’s the queen of Nigeria or your dad owns every building in the country. You’re you and that’s the reason why we’re together, not because of the money your family has.”

Zoey nodded, regret plain on her face. “I’m sorry, Eli.”

“It’s okay.” Eli frowned. “I do want to know now. Can’t go there looking like a fool.”

“So you want me to tell you now?”

“We’ve got five more hours,” Eli answered with a shrug.

Zoey glanced around first, caution clear in her tense shoulders. She dragged her gaze back to him. “Can I write it down?” she asked in hushed tones.

Eli fought a laugh. “They must be really loaded.” She looked tortured and Eli tamped down the laugh from spilling out. “Alright, write it down.”

Zoey readily grabbed her bag and pulled out her notebook. Eli leaned in as she started to scribble, him reading as she wrote.

Half an hour later, Eli sat back, reeling.

Zoey closed the notebook and looked up at him, expression penitent. “I’m sorry.”

He couldn’t respond; not yet. The chart Zoey scribbled out proved that his mind couldn’t fully fathom the implications of Zoey’s background compared to his. Her father, a retired bank commissioner with real-estate and political connections and her mother, a princess of an affluent tribe that he couldn’t pronounce. He was an orphan with a questionable background and only $10,000 in both his bank accounts. She had legacy in her family while he knew nothing about his birth father.

So deep in thought Eli was that he didn’t hear Zoey and jumped when her hand dropped on his shoulder. He blinked at her. “Hmm?”

“Say something.”

Eli stared at the woman he called girlfriend so casually, someone who was practically royalty. He’d always thought she was out of his league but now… The truth was a sucker punch to his gut, rendering him speechless.

Her eyes watered. “E, please say something.” Her fingers tightened on his shoulder.

He swallowed the truth down and tucked away his wounded pride. Zoey’s tears were more painful than whatever feeling he couldn’t fully identify. “I…”

Zoey sat up, eyes wide in anticipation.

Eli shook his head and laughed it off. “We should’ve taken the first class seats then.”

She blinked in surprise, obviously not expecting that reply. Then she giggled softly and shoved his shoulder lightly. “You gold digger.”

His half-smile dropped. Zoey’s laughter dissipated instantly and regret dressed her features. “Too soon, huh?”

“Yeah.”

Zoey sighed deeply and scooted close, tucking her arm under his. “Forgive me,” she pleaded, resting her cheek on his shoulder.

“Sure.” He stared listlessly at the movie Oceans 8 playing on the screen while sifting through his mind for a plan of action.

Four more hours till they touched down in Lagos, and he had no idea what to do.

“Everything will be fine,” Zoey said softly, tightening her hold on his arm. “My parents are more laid back than it seems. My cousin, Paula, she’s marrying a regular guy she met in London from university and everyone was cool with it. My mom was actually an advocate for their relationship.”

The need for an advocate meant there was initial pushback but Eli didn’t have the heart to interrupt her, partly because he wanted to believe that her parents would be accepting of his lack of qualifications too.

“And one of my aunties on my mom’s side is like the coolest aunty ever. Aunty Sophie, she’s picking us up from the airport.”

“What, no entourage?”

Zoey peered up at him, one brow arched. “Do you want one?”

Eli almost laughed. That she thought to ask was ridiculous. “No,” he answered simply.

She looked away. “Aunt Sophie’s like the rebel. She never got married and traveled all around the world. She reminds me of your brother Junior. You’ll like her.”

Eli could only nod. Any ally was welcome. “Ok.”

“I thought long and hard before inviting you, and I wouldn’t have done that if I thought you’d be treated badly. My family will love you. I promise.”

He nodded again, not wanting to weaken her confidence in him or his in her. “I hear you,” was all he said and allowed her to embrace him with all her might. He needed all the strength he could get for the journey ahead.

<<Chapter 4|| Chapter 6>>

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Refuge: Chapter 3

Posted on 18/09/2018

Eli squinted at his youngest niece clutching a worn-out teddy bear to her chest. “You don’t have a reason for pouting, Karla. If anything, it should be me throwing a fit, but I’m not.” He turned about to study the line of codes on his laptop. “It’s a good thing I hit save before stepping out. Although I don’t even know why I kept this thing here, knowing good and well what could happen.”

“Aw c’mon Uncle Eli, I didn’t do it on purpose.”

“Uh-huh.” He quickly typed a string of text. “This is gonna take all night.”

“I said I was sorry…” she whimpered with a sniffle.

Eli didn’t bat a lash. “Nope. Not falling for—” The stuffed animal hit the back of his neck. “Kindly pick up Mr. Teddy and put him back where you saw it.”

“Mr. Teddy needs a bath,” She scoffed, snatched it up and tossed it unceremoniously on the bed.

“Yeah, like treating Mr. Teddy badly’ll get me to forgive you.” He heaved a sigh as an error message flashed on the screen.

Karla scrambled to his side. “Did we mess it up, Uncle?”

Her timid tone had him glance over his shoulder at her. The furrow between her brow eased his frustration a bit. “It’s alright, Kay. It’s nothing I can’t solve.”

The furrow eased away and she gave him a smile. “Can I get you cookies?”

“Sure.” He returned to face the screen. “Oatmeal raisin.”

The door opened.

“Good, you brought the cookies,” Karla announced, leaving Eli’s side to address the visitor.

“Hey!” August protested as his cousin snatched the box from his arms.

“Oow!”

Eli rolled his eyes, typing lines of texts. “No fighting.”

“He’s pinching my arm.”

“You poked my eye!”

“That’s a lie!”

“Nu-unh! You’re always stealing from me!”

Eli turned, spotting August holding one hand over his eye and the other on the box. Karla held one hand to her arm and the other tightly on the cookies. He heaved a deep sigh and scooted away from the table. “Sit down.”

At his stern tone, the two reluctantly shuffled to the bed, not letting go of either.

“You two fight a lot,” Eli folded his arms across his chest, and eyed the cookies. “Give ’em to me.”

The two blinked, both reluctant to relinquish their war prize.

“For the madness you’d wreaked on my comput–” he held back a smile to accept the proffered prize and squinted at them. “Now apologize to each other.”

“Sorry,” they mumbled in unison.

Eli shook his head. “I swear you two act like you’re still in kindergarten. Now go and leave me in peace.” He turned about, dismissing them both.

The two stood. “What about dinner?” Karla asked. “Want us to bring you some?”

“He said to leave him in peace,” August said, nudging Karla toward the door. “Aunt Zo can bring it later.”

Eli paused and swiveled about. “Zoey’s here?”

“Uh-hm,” August answered. “She brought the cookies.”

It took less than a moment for Eli to hit save and stand. He pointed at both. “Don’t touch.”

“We won’t,” they answered emphatically, hands up in surrender.

Eli rushed past them to the stairs, following the laughter and the aroma of roasted garlic to the kitchen. From the side door, he spotted Zoey standing across the island counter from a smiling Abe and Phoebe.

“I can just imagine the beautiful chaos,” Phoebe said amid giggles. “Nigeria sounds like such a fun place.”

“It has its days,” Zoey answered. “Though some days are treacherous depending on your experience.”

Phoebe’s gaze lifted. “I wonder what your reaction will be, Eli. Stop standing there like a guilty man.”

“Dunno,” Eli answered, winking at Zoey who looked up at him. He strolled up to her and draped an arm over her shoulders. “Haven’t gone yet.”

“And when were you gonna tell us?” Abe’s stare pierced through Eli. “Planning on sneaking off like you did to Ethiopia?”

Phoebe nudged Abe’s side. “Relax.”

Eli frowned. “I didn’t sneak off. Junior invited me.”

“You invited yourself, Eleazar.”

“This is most likely why he didn’t tell you,” Darah spoke from behind Eli. She was empty-handed now, having put her sleeping daughter in the master bedroom. “The way y’all freak out about the littlest things.”

“Then why did you tell them?” Eli frowned as she stepped up beside him. Zoey’s shoulder tensed under his hand and he scowled at Darah.

“Traveling across the world to an unknown place where you don’t know anyone is little?” Abe frowned. “Are you two okay?”

“Relax Abe,” Phoebe cautioned, her eyes moving between Zoey and Eli. “We have a guest.”

“Zoey is not a guest,” Darah rolled her eyes. “And she’s the reason Eli’s going across the world.”

Eli squinted at her. “You trying to make this better or worse?”

“Neither. Just stating facts.”

“Take your facts somewhere else—”

“Eli!” Abe glowered and Phoebe frowned with disapproval.

Zoey flinched at the raised tones. Eli grimaced. “My bad.”

Darah scoffed.

“You too,” Abe pinned his stern glare on Darah. “Enough.”

“Alright, fine.” Darah raised both hands and took a step back.

“It’s my fault!”

All eyes faced Zoey and Phoebe frowned. “Not your fault, Zoey. Eli just has a terrible habit of keeping secrets from his family.”

“Speaking of secrets—”

“Don’t you ever shut up, Darah?”

“Eli, enough!” Abe roared, slamming his hand on the counter.

Zoey stiffened against him and Eli scowled. “This is why I don’t tell you guys anything. C’mon Zoey, let’s go…” He frowned when she remained rooted and unyielding to his nudge.

“I’ll stay here,” she mumbled, gaze averted.

“Right.” He dropped his hand from around her. “Do whatever you want.” Without glancing at either of his siblings, he walked out of the kitchen.

Zoey grimaced the minute Eli stormed out, regretting her decision to remain behind.

Abe grumbled under his breath and followed suit.

“Men.” Darah clucked her tongue. She arched both brows when Phoebe squinted at her. “What?”

“You’re such a troublemaker.” Phoebe shook her head. “Yet you complain that your kids are a handful. I feel bad for J.R. every single day.”

“Whatever, like your boys are complete angels.”

“Never said they were, kid. Now come slice the bread.” She glanced over at Zoey. “Hey, don’t blame yourself for Eli’s behavior.”

Zoey bit her bottom lip, counting on one hand the times they’d fought. Eli could be grumpy, but what man wasn’t when things didn’t go his way? An image of Eli exchanging heated words with her father flashed before her eyes. A tickle down her spine had her wrap arms around herself.

“You cold?” Darah asked casually, placing thick bread slices on the platter dish.

“We spooked her with all that yelling,” Phoebe sighed.

“No I’m alright,” Zoey insisted. “Just…” Her gaze shifted between the two women. “Worried?”

“About?”

Zoey’s eyes fell on Phoebe. “I guess I didn’t really consider how Eli would fare in Lagos.”

Phoebe smirked. “He can handle himself even in the craziness that is your home city.”

“I don’t mean that.” Zoey paused and sighed. “Nevermind.”

“You’re already regretting it?”

Zoey turned to Darah. “Kinda.”

Darah grinned. “I’m sure he is too–stop nudging me, Phoebe. It’s true. Most men are inherently childish. They feel like you’re against them if you don’t agree with their point of view. Take Abe for instance. He’s probably sulking that Phoebe nagged him just now, even after eighteen or so years of being married. Phoebe’s gonna have to go placate her man and make peace with him in a minute.”

“Nope!” Phoebe huffed, crossing her arms. “He’s not a baby.”

“And whether you’d like to hear it or not, Zo, Eli was spoiled growing up. By us and definitely by his grandma, may her soul rest in peace,” Darah continued, rolling her eyes.

“Darah,” Phoebe warned, squinting.

“It’s true. Anyway, yeah. Because we spoiled him rotten, he could never take confrontation or being reprimanded too well. And you not standing by him just now might seem like a betrayal of sorts. Or maybe not, who knows,” Darah shrugged. “But to be safe, you should go check on your guy in any case.”

Zoey nodded readily. She didn’t like fighting with Eli, even if he was mostly wrong. “I’ll go do that.”

“You too, Phoebe.”

“Hush.”

To the sound of Darah’s laughter, Zoey turned and hurried out of the kitchen in pursuit of Eli.

Approaching the bedroom door she’d shared with the Karla and her female cousins, Zoey rehearsed her apology. She imagined Eli brooding on his childhood bed and her footsteps slowed to a stop. Darah’s words echoed in her ears, painting the picture of Eli as an adolescent.

Her lips curved in a wry grin as she imagined his adorable pout and ruffled sandy curls. It must’ve been difficult staying mad at him as a child. Her smile eased away as she imagined him as a mouthy youth and grimaced. Her brother Law was a pain during puberty, and she could only wonder what a spoiled brat Eli must’ve been.

Zoey shook her head, grateful that she’d met him as a matured young man.

A muffled squeal snatched her from her reverie. Zoey approached the door, hand hovering over the knob.

“I’m gonna get you!”

“Not before I do!”

“What in the world…?” She frowned. Those voices belonged to Karla and August. Zoey opened the door.

The two adolescents sat on the bed with game controllers in hand, glaring at the screen. Sound effects of explosions and crashes filled the room. Her eyes moved over to the desk facing the window where Eli hunched over, headphones over his ears.

She shook her head and stepped inside. “Can you give us a minute?”

“One sec…”

Zoey propped her hands at her hips. “Your mom’s counting to ten—” she hid a smirk as the two tossed aside the controllers and scrambled past her out the door. Their rumbling footsteps down the stairs were followed by Phoebe’s muffled reprimand.

Closing the door slowly, she crept up to Eli and wrapped her arms around him. He was watching a tutorial video on computers and she smiled, placing a noisy kiss on his cheek.

He turned his head, giving her a low-lidded look she imagined he’d given to his siblings countless times.

Zoey snorted a laugh.

His brow furrowed.

She laughed harder.

Eli rolled his eyes and looked away.

“I’m sorry,” she said amid giggles. Releasing him, she perched on the bed beside the desk. “You’re just so cute.” She reached up and tugged the headphones off, ruffling his curls.

He only looked miffed. She mimicked his expression and he scoffed, returning his attention to the screen.

“You mad at me?” she faked a pout he didn’t bother inspecting. Zoey whined. “Are you?”

“Quit,” Eli muttered, typing on.

“My baby is so cute and smart and awesome.” She nudged his hand holding the mouse.

“Your baby isn’t in the mood.” He nudged hers aside.

She pouted. “Aww.”

“You have something to say, Zoey, ‘cos I’m kinda busy.”

Zoey rolled her eyes. “Okay, I’m sorry. I didn’t know what to do. Everyone was yelling and…”

“We’ve yelled at each other countless times. Harvey should’ve shown you that.”

Zoey shrugged. “Those were intense times, even a monk would freak out in that condition.”

“Well, we’re not monks. Everyone’s got a problem with patience, understanding and tact.”

She regarded him carefully. “My family’s the same way, E.”

He looked her way. “What are you trying to say?”

“You yelled at your forty-something-year-old brother, Eli. Yeah, he’s your brother but he’s not your mate. Where I come from, you could get pimp-slapped for that.”

Eli frowned. “We’re not in Nigeria, Zo.”

“But you will be in a few weeks, remember?” Zoey eyed him. “I can’t have you yelling at my dad or his friends, man. He’ll bust your jaw. Heck, everyone will stand in line to slap you.” She chuckled at the dubious look on his face. “I’m being serious, Eli.”

“Then don’t laugh about it.”

She sobered instantly. “No but seriously, you gotta learn to let it slide. Be the bigger man.”

“You want me to be a doormat around your folks, even if–”

“Even if, Eli. Even if they insult you, you stay chill.” Zoey sighed, watching the conflict on his face. “I know it won’t be easy and I’m actually worried how you’ll respond to them provoking you, because they will.” She paused again, hesitant to mention her deepest concern.

“You want me to be the bigger guy,” Eli mumbled, resembling a pained man.

She wondered how many times he’d exercised self-control when provoked and anxiety nipped at her conscience. She needed to prepare him now. “E, I…”

“Okay,” Eli answered.

Zoey blinked. “Hmm?”

“Okay.” Eli looked her straight in the eye. “No matter how they provoke me, I’ll chill.” He smiled in response to her furrowed brow. “Trust me.”

Except Zoey couldn’t muster a sliver of hope in his confidence. Eli had no idea what he’d agreed to.

<<Chapter 2 || Chapter 4>>

  

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