Posts tagged “CHILDREN

Samina’s Chance: Chapter 43

Posted on 20/05/2015


“There were twin girls… one fair and one dark,” Nadine said in a wistful tone. “Closer than two peas in a pod, playing together, growing together. We were the best of friends, Odetta and I.”

Samina glanced over Nadine’s head at Topher. He had his head bowed as if in reverence for his dead mother. Her heart ached for him. What would she do if she didn’t know her parents?

“Then there was three. A family moved to the upper level of our apartment complex.” Her lips twitched a smile. “We were in the same grade, but he was a few months older. Kind eyes, a good listener.”

Even without hearing the boy’s name, Samina knew who Nadine described.

“Jeremiah Dames,” Nadine said, her gaze softening. “We played together, growing together… He was our first friend.”

Samina’s heart skipped a beat as Topher’s brow furrowed. What was he thinking?

Nadine summoned a breath, coughing it out. “Then we went to middle school.” Her gaze flickered over Samina’s face.

Samina offered a smile albeit weak and uncertain. She held a baited breath.

“By this time,” Nadine continued. “Odetta and I and Jeremiah were closer than ever before. We didn’t mind sharing each other’s attention; he was the brother we never had.” Her lips curled in a wistful smile. “Then we became a foursome. A new kid on the block. He lived a street over but we often spent time together during school.”

Samina shifted on her feet, wondering if this was her father.

“His name… Maurice Santiago.”

Topher and Samina glanced once at each other before turning to Nadine.

“A complete opposite of Jeremiah; he was impulsive, stubborn and a force to be reckoned with…” Her smile contradicted her harsh description of this unknown man. “But fiercely protective. He took care of all the bullies that taunted any of us. He was our friend and we played together, grew together.” Her smile waned.

Samina’s heart skipped a beat.

“Then high school drew near.” Her now somber gaze skimmed over Samina’s face. “A new kid came to town. His father and mother were of a higher status than most; engineer and scientist. They were the talk of our small town for quite some time.”

Samina drew in her bottom lip, recalling her prestigious grandparents who had passed on years ago. “My dad…”

Nadine dipped her head. “Your father, Gabriel Wells….” Her brow furrowed slightly. “Odetta was obsessed with him, much to everyone’s chagrin. She suddenly lost interest with our group, wanting to spend time in Gabriel’s company.” Her voice took a disapproving tone that drew a frown on Topher’s face. “Suddenly, Jeremiah’s enduring strength and the security of Maurice’s reputation wasn’t enough… I wasn’t enough.” Her caramel eyes darkened. “By the end of high school, Gabriel and my sister became a pair. And Maurice, Jeremiah and I were…” She shrugged. “We just were.”

In silence, Samina watched Nadine’s bony fingers press the blanket bunched at her waist. Even after all these years, the older woman couldn’t forgive Gabriel for separating their close-knit group. But that couldn’t be the reason for her anger.

“I was certain all three loved Odetta equally,” Nadine mumbled. “She was comparably frailer in stature and disposition, while I was the darker, rasher twin.” She snorted derisively. “It wasn’t hard to realize that they dealt with me because of her.”

“Nadine…” Topher finally spoke out.

She brushed him off with a smirk. “Maurice became impatient, surly. Jeremiah was more subdued than normal. But funny thing was he and Gabriel became friends.” She chuckled softly. “At eighteen, I felt betrayed. All my three friends had changed once Gabriel came.”

Samina bit her bottom lip, a pang of guilt prickled by Nadine’s resentful tone.

“Odetta and I grew apart. We fought daily, we didn’t play together. She spent more time with Gabriel and Jeremiah. We argued about college plans and the future.” Her brow furrowed. “She wanted to leave Abbeville, dreamed of being something bigger than our hometown. I wanted to stay close to home. College wasn’t a priority for me then. It was everything to her. So we fought and she moved away.”

Topher blew out a breath, as if impatient to hear the truth of his birth. Samina couldn’t blame him and although her father wasn’t his, her whole body was stiff with anxiety.

“Our group was now severed with Odetta gone. Maurice moved away too, pursuing music. Jeremiah and Gabriel went to a college nearby. And I stayed home.”

Samina peeked at the tenseness in Topher’s shoulders, his hands hanging at his sides. She tamped down the urge to go to him and forced herself to listen on.

“I assumed Odetta would be happy now that she’d gone away. I wished her nothing but the best.” Nadine’s brow furrowed, her lips pursed at the painful memories. “But she was becoming restless, I could tell every time she visited home. Though she and Gabriel stayed together for more than ten years, Odetta constantly questioned her value in his life.” Her jaw tightened, her eyes hardened. “Almost as if she couldn’t keep up with him. I told her to break it off with Gabriel, anxious for her to return home.”

Topher frowned. Samina held her breath.

“She didn’t break it off with Gabriel yet, worried since he was working on his thesis. But she took a semester off and came home.  Then Maurice came back.”

Samina met the storm in Topher’s gray eyes.  Her heart thudded against her ribs.

“Everything changed.” Nadine murmured in a wistful voice. “Odetta was swept in a storm she had no idea was brewing in Maurice’s heart for years.”

Samina frowned. Topher shifted his head to look at Nadine.

With a sigh, Nadine leaned into the pillow, exhausted. “One night, she climbed in beside me, crying. Said she’d betrayed Gabriel and knew he would never forgive her.” She drew her arms around her. “Said she was in love and didn’t know how to tell Gabriel, how to make things right from that moment forward.”

Her heart skipped a beat. Maurice was Topher’s father?

Nadine shrugged. “I knew she always cared for Maurice. Honestly, if he’d been half as ambitious as Gabriel and as level-headed as Jeremiah, she would’ve ended up with him from the beginning.”

Samina held her breath.

“I asked what she’d done and she said that they’d eloped.”

Samina inhaled sharply. Topher’s jaw tightened, eyes glistening with tears.

Nadine silently pointed to the Bible on the bedside table next to Samina.

Passing it over, Samina watched as Nadine pulled out a faded photograph from the bind. Topher shifted closer, eager to see his father now.

Staring at the faded photograph, she immediately recognized younger versions of her father and Uncle Jeremiah. She saw the two women, the fairer twin of Nadine flanked between Jeremiah and Gabriel. Then, off to the corner, stood a somber-faced young man with hooded eyes staring the photographer.  His facial features were a muted version of Topher’s but the features were almost identical.

“This, my dear Christopher…” Nadine’s bony finger caressed the young man’s face. “This is Maurice Santiago. Your father.”

He heaved a deep sigh. “Wow.”

Samina’s eyes welled up with fresh tears and she finally lifted her gaze to Topher. The way he hunched over the bed, gazing at the picture hinted the turmoil inside of him. Again, she squelched the need to wrap her arms around him.

Nadine sighed and turned to Samina. “The reason I can’t forgive your father is not because he took my sister away from me, but because he didn’t give her a chance to explain… Didn’t give her the benefit of being herself.”

Samina nodded, her heart in her throat.

“No matter.” Nadine shrugged, extending the photograph to Topher. “Your father and I will talk later. Right now, you and Christopher need to talk.”

Topher stiffened visibly and Samina bit her bottom lip.

“Oh, for Pete’s sake,” Nadine scoffed. “Enough with the Romeo-Juliet drama. Go off with you two, I’m sleepy.”

At first, Topher could only stare at the photography while Samina waited on him. He seemed content to stay by Nadine’s side and would have if Nadine didn’t threaten to kick him out for good. It was a weak directive but Topher finally dragged his feet to the door. Samina followed and came to stand outside the room, facing a blank-faced Topher.

He heaved another sigh and looked down at the picture once more.

Samina frowned. “Aren’t you going to say anything?”

Topher didn’t lift his head. “There’s nothing to say.”

Samina squinted. “After all Nadine said, you have nothing to say?”

He sighed and finally lifted his gaze to hers. “This isn’t a good time. Let’s talk later. I have questions to ask Nadine.” He turned to go.

She grabbed his sleeve to stop him, bristling at his dismissal. “Not until we talk.”

Topher stared down at her hand on his arm.

Face on fire, Samina dropped her hand as if his arm was on fire.

A flicker of pain crossed his face before cloaked behind the blank stare. “What is it, Samina? What do you want?”

She swallowed hard, mustering up courage that was already wilting. “Do…” she licked her dry lips. “Do you like me?”

His expression darkened, his lips tightened. “Samina…”

“Do you?”

He squinted at her. “Should you be asking me this?”

“Just answer me.” Samina felt her pulse jump in her throat.

Topher averted his gaze. “What does it matter if I do? You’re dating someone.” He turned back to her, his gray eyes now dark, accusing. “I’m not like my father and you’re not like my mother.”

Samina reared back, his cold words slapping her in the face.

“Sorry I can’t escort you outside,” he said, stare detached, voice without pitch. “Goodbye, Samina.” Then he turned away and walked back into the room, shutting the door behind him.

Reeling from the accusation and dismissal, Samina sagged against the wall.

Nadine eyed Topher as he crossed the room and moved to the window. She scowled at his back. “You’re a bigger fool than I thought you were.”

His back answered her in silence.

“Can’t you see she has feelings for you? And you compare you and her to your parents? What rubbish.”

“It’s rude to eavesdrop.”

Scoffing, Nadine settled under the covers. “Topher, your parents wasted time because of hurt pride and misunderstanding. Don’t repeat their mistakes.”

“It’s more complicated than that.” Topher turned to look at her. “There’s bad blood between us. You hate her father, and besides–”

“I don’t hate Gabriel, I just don’t like him.” She rolled her eyes at his dubious stare. “And since when do you pay attention to me being dramatic anyway?”

Topher smiled wryly. “You’re always dramatic.”

She scowled. “You’re a cheeky, disrespectful boy.”

His smile waned, his expression now somber. “Tell me about… them. About Maurice. I need to know more.”

Sobering at the longing in Topher’s gaze, Nadine nodded and gestured him over. Silently, Topher ambled over to her side and settled beside her in the bed. Nadine smiled wistfully as he gathered her in his arms and she summoned a breath. “Your father…” She smiled gently. “He loved your mother fiercely.”

<<Chapter 42 || Chapter 44>>

Samina’s Chance: Chapter 28

Posted on 28/04/2015


Parked behind a cab van outside the William P. Hobby airport, Gabriel’s eyes scanned the crowd strolling out of the sliding door dragging their luggage onto the dock. He glanced down at his watch and clenched his jaw, wishing he’d taken his time driving. Now he’d have to wait a few minutes longer than anticipated.

Leaning back against the chair, he lifted his eyes to the rearview mirror, watching a woman run into a man’s arms and share a long kiss.

His brow furrowed slightly as a memory of the eagerness fluttering in his breast as he waited in the terminal entrance of the Abbeville airport many years ago, holding a bouquet of fresh lilies to give to her. Young and foolishly in love, he couldn’t wait to hold her in his arms and tell her how much he’d missed her.

A tap on the window pulled Gabriel from his reverie. He moved his eyes to the passenger’s window, his jaw tightening involuntarily. Jeremiah gravely watched him on the sidewalk, a bag slung over his broad shoulders.

Pressing down the lock button, Gabriel turned the ignition key to start the car just as Jeremiah slid into the passenger’s seat beside him.

“Thanks,” Jeremiah mumbled stiffly, buckling the belt across his lap. He folded his arms across his chest and propped his head back as if he meant to sleep immediately.

Gabriel didn’t respond at first, pulling out of the parking spot to merge onto the traffic lane. He glanced once at Jeremiah, clocking his friend’s disheveled appearance. Rumpled clothes and uncombed hair. Even his dark skin seemed lackluster and dry. Pulling his gaze back to the road, he sighed. “How did it go?”

Jeremiah had his eyes closed but he managed a tired smile. “It was a good service…” his voice shook and Gabriel peeked at him from the corner of his eye, noting the twitch in Jeremiah’s jaw. “She’s without pain now, so it’s good.”

Facing the road again, Gabriel squeezed the steering wheel. He should let Jeremiah grieve in peace but something bothered him. Once on the interstate highway to home, Gabriel cleared his throat. “Did you visit his grave?”

There was a noted pause before Jeremiah sighed. “Hmm. Aunt Neve’s in the same compound. A block or two down from his.” His eyes remained closed, his face turned toward the window.

Gabriel swallowed hard, flexed his fingers over the steering wheel. “It’s been a long while since we all gathered there. Is it being taken care of?” He’d been by there a few years ago, remembering how he’d spent time plucking out the weeds from around the site, mourning over the neglect of his friend’s grave.

“Seemed like it. Nothing out of place ever since you spoke with the custodian.” Jeremiah paused and Gabriel held his breath. “It’s a pity though….”

“What is?” Gabriel asked, glancing at Jeremiah’s profile before switching lanes.

“Maurice’s death…”

Gabriel stiffened, fingers squeezing the steering wheel.

“It was the beginning of the end for all of us.”

Gabriel clenched his teeth tightly. “No it wasn’t. You and I know it wasn’t his death that caused that.” He didn’t apologize for his cold tone, righteous anger coming over him. He couldn’t stop the dark memories of their adolescence from crowding his thoughts. “Don’t make that mistake again.”

Jeremiah’s shoulders stiffened. “Are you picking a fight with me, Gabriel?”

Gabriel flicked the windshield wipers with great force, the traffic jam up ahead only provoking his anger. “Let’s just get one thing straight, Jeremiah. Whatever you’re referring to was severed long before Maurice’s death.”

“Right.” Jeremiah grunted, shifting closer to the window.

Gabriel threw a seething glare at his friend and faced the traffic with a scowl.

For the remainder of the long drive home, the two friends didn’t exchange a word until Gabriel pulled the SUV into the driveway.

Jeremiah didn’t bother offering a word of thanks, climbing down and slamming the door behind him.

Gabriel watched with clenched teeth as Jeremiah stormed off and just as he started to reverse out of the driveway, he caught Sheena waving furiously at him as she waddled down the pavement to meet him.

“Sheena…” he hesitated, rolling down the window. His brow furrowed in concern as she shielded her face from the drizzling rain.

“Gabe,” Sheena gave him a kind smile. “Thanks for bringing him home. You’re such a good friend to him.” She reached in to squeeze his shoulder before pulling up a covered bowl to the window.

Gabriel fought back a derisive snort as he accepted the bowl. “What’s this?”

“A new recipe for you and Dee to try,” Sheena said proudly, her eyes dancing with delight. “Don’t eat it until you get home.”

He managed a smirk, placing the bowl on the empty passenger’s chair before glancing over her head at the closed front door. His smile waned, guilt settling in. “Take care of him.”

Sheena nodded solemnly and stepped away from the car as Gabriel pulled out of the driveway. “Drive safely,” she called, waving.

Gabriel glanced down once at the bowl of food, his brow furrowed. Deidre would interrogate him about Jeremiah, ask if they’d reconciled. He scowled, turning back to the road. She couldn’t leave well enough alone.

As he turned the corner, something caught his eye just across the bend, at the kiddie playground. The car his son Obadiah had inherited on his sixteenth birthday. It was the only car in the graveled parking lot. Squinting at it just to make sure, Gabriel took a detour, uneasiness replacing his fury for just a moment.

“No word yet?” Deidre eyed the calendar up on the wall, frowning. “Didn’t Sammie tell you where she was going?”

“No Mom,” Karen replied, clearly exasperated. “She hardly takes vacation time off. Let her be for a little while.”

Deidre bit her bottom lip, feeling uneasy. “That’s what I’m worried about. Your sister’s a homebody. She’s not spontaneous like you or Obadiah. Why the sudden change?”

Karen sighed. “She’s stressed, Mom. If I was her, I’d take a year off and travel the world.”

“That doesn’t make me feel better, Karen.” Deidre leaned against the countertop. “Are you sure this is just a vacation? Something’s not right.”

“Mom, please relax. Sammie’s fine.”

And before Deidre could respond, the door swung open. She straightened as a stormy-faced Gabriel and a penitent-looking Obadiah stood in the doorway. “Karen, I’ll call you back.” She disconnected the call before hearing Karen’s protests.

“Get inside,” Gabriel snapped at their youngest, Obadiah. “Now.”

Deidre eyed Obadiah’s disheveled form, raising a brow at his wrinkled shirt. “What’s going on?”

Gabriel ignored her, scowling at Obadiah. “Go pack your things and meet me downstairs.”

Obadiah edged around both parents and stomped up the stairs.

“Don’t make me come after you!” Gabriel barked, eyes blazing with fury.

Cold slithered down her back at his fierce expression. She hadn’t seen him this angry in so long. “What’s going on? What happened?” she grabbed for his arm, eyes widening at his taut muscles. Her eyes jerked to his face, searching for any explanation.

His dark eyes flashed with rage. “You won’t believe where I found your son. What I found him doing.” His body shook with barely-repressed ire.

Deidre’s heart clenched painfully, terrible thoughts crowding her head. “What…” she licked her dry lips. “What did you see?”

Gabriel shook his head in disbelief as if he couldn’t even bring himself to tell her. “I…” He closed his eyes for a second, released a haggard breath that sent cold shivers down Deidre’s legs. “He was in the car. With a girl,” he said, his lips curling in disdain.

“W-what are you saying?” Deidre shook her head, throat tight. “No, don’t say that to me.” She suddenly felt light-headed and turned toward the couch.

He seized her shoulders and pulled her to face him, glaring at her. “Your son was in there, Deidre! Tangled up with a girl. In the back of my car!”

Her body swayed, blood leached from her face. Deidre shook her head, sagging against Gabriel. “No.” Not her baby boy.

Then Gabriel swung his furious gaze over her shoulder, to the stairs. To Obadiah. As he released her, she shivered, wrapping her arms around herself.

He breezed past her to the stairs. “Did you pack your things?”

Deidre whirled around with her heart in her throat. “W-where are you taking him?” She gaped as Gabriel grabbed Obadiah by the collar, pulling him down the stairs. She stood in his path, met his fierce glare. “Where are you taking my son?”

His jaw clenched tightly, eyes hardening. Obadiah’s eyes remained downcast.

She steeled her spine and tilted her chin. “He’s not going anywhere until we talk.”

“Talk about what?” he gritted out. “I refuse to have any son of mine acting like a good-for-nothing.” He jerked Obadiah’s collar. “Get in the car.”

Deidre had no choice but to step aside, her heart racing in her chest as Gabriel pushed Obadiah out the door, wondering what possessed her once gentle husband.

Later that night, Gabriel stood in the doorway of the empty room, staring at his son’s empty mattress. He’d been too harsh tonight, lashing out at his son without stopping to listen. Stepping inside, he flicked on the light switch. Regret squeezed his chest as he surveyed the room.

He trudged to the bed, perching on the edge just beside Obadiah’s open book bag. Tugging out a textbook, he skimmed the pages, reading his son’s illegible scrawl along the margin.

His lips twitched at the highlighted print.

This was the studious work of his son who dreamed of becoming an engineer one day. The thought of anything jeopardizing his son’s future had him seeing red.

Spotting that car today sent him on a tirade he hadn’t experienced since college.  It beckoned a very dark memory he preferred hidden, never to remember again. But it came anyway and Gabriel closed his eyes, reliving it once more.

On a dim Wednesday in the fall of 1970, Gabriel stepped out of the Long-Jones hall in Grambling State University, jumpy with excitement. He could barely contain it, his footsteps quick and light as he crossed the lawn toward the Auditorium building where Odetta waited for him.

Passing Jewett Hall, Gabriel grinned at a group of classmates strolling his way. “Congratulations,” one of them called out as he passed. With a smile and a wave, he strode past them, Odetta on his mind.

Though he was a few minutes late, he knew she would wait. He knew how to make it worth her while. Grinning, Gabriel rubbed the envelope in his right pocket and quickened his steps toward the clubhouse.

Rounding the front of a one-story brick building, Gabriel recognized the tail end of Jeremiah’s beat-up Impala parked on the corner of a rock-paved intersecting road.

Shrugging off the niggling sensation creeping up the back of his neck, he took a detour to investigate. Approaching the back of the car, he heard muffled voices inside. He slowed his steps, curious.

The annoying sense of unease returned, warning him that Odetta would not appreciate his delay. That he could seek Jeremiah out later. Still, he had to wonder why Jeremiah avoided him since he announced his intentions to propose to Odetta after his fellowship application was approved. Though his friend expressed his well wishes, there was sadness in his smile that stayed with Gabriel all week.

He had to know if Jeremiah was okay. Then he’d go find Odetta.

Moving to the driver’s side, Gabriel bent and squinted in through the foggy window. He could make out the broad back of his friend and his lips quirked mischievously. Jeremiah was with a woman. Finally!

Unable to help himself, he grabbed the rusty door handle and jerked it open. “Jere, you sneaky dog—” the rest of his teasing taunt trailed off.

Jeremiah and his lady friend sprang apart.

Gabriel’s smile faded quickly as Jeremiah moved slightly, his gaze falling on the wide-eyed stare of none other than his Odetta.

He took a step back, Jeremiah stumbling out of the car after him. “Gabriel…”

He couldn’t hear or see Jeremiah, only Odetta’s beautiful eyes filled with tears, dark mascara running down her soft cheek and her rose-bud lips trembling. Gabriel inhaled sharply, his constricted lungs screaming for air.

“Gabe, I—” Jeremiah grabbed his hand.

Seeing red, something snapped in him. Gabriel flung a fist into Jeremiah’s face, sending Jeremiah staggering backwards onto the hood of the car.

Odetta’s frightened screams rang in his ears as he grabbed Jeremiah by the collar and flung him toward the dewy grass.

“Gabe…?” Deidre’s soft voice pulled him out just before he drove another fist into Jeremiah’s face.

He jerked his eyes to the door just as Deidre clad in her nightgown stepped into the room, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. “Dee…” he croaked through dry lips.

“What are you doing in here?” Her voice was still affected from her crying.

His chest tightened with regret and sadness. Gabriel looked down at the open textbook in his hands, feeling the tears well up in his eyes. “I just don’t understand why this happened. What did I do wrong?”

Deidre quietly settled beside him on the bed and gently rested her head on his shoulder.

<<Chapter 27 || Chapter 29>>

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