Posts tagged “fathers

A Father’s Joy

Posted on 19/06/2017

“Daddy I love you,” six-year-old Karla mewed against her father’s cheek.

Abraham Teka cupped the back of his daughter’s head, his long fingers stirring the newly-plaited hair complete with ribbons. “I love you too, Ladybug…” He placed a kiss on her temple.

Karla’s fingers loosened around his neck, cueing her father to be set back on her feet. He obliged her and watched with a fond expression as his only daughter rounded the table to where her brothers watched a movie in the living room.

“Happy Father’s day, Baby.”

He looked up to the woman before him and with a smile, opened his arms to receive her also. “I’m a father because of you,” Abe said against her warm cheek. The moment she sighed against him, emotion came over him. Tears welled in his eyes as he held his bride of thirteen years.

The first few years of their marriage were tough, especially after several miscarriages and a pregnancy scare with their first child Isaac. But his strong and courageous wife had never given up; her desire for children stronger than his own at some point. He’d hated the pain wrought in her eyes and the fatigue that dimmed her smile for years. He’d wanted them to give up, content to love only her for the rest of his life. Adoption, although it had been the reason he was a Teka man, wasn’t something he wanted for them. But Phoebe, his beautiful bride, wouldn’t give up on their dream to expand the Teka name.

Isaac’s arrival was a joy, one he didn’t think he would ever feel. Then Jacob… and then Karla.

His grip around Phoebe’s waist tightened. She’d gotten a bit rounder over the years, no longer the wispy and slender woman who’d captured his attention the moment she walked up to his porch fourteen years ago. But by God, she still took his breath away.

He drew back, his gaze feasting on her beautiful features. “I love you,” he croaked out.

Her gaze was tender and she lifted a hand to cup his cheek. “I love you more.” And without prompting, she leaned in to plant a kiss on his lips. And another. And another.

Abe lifted a hand to the nape of her neck, slanted his head and deepened the kiss. It was one of gratitude, love strengthened over the years, and a promise of more years to come. Phoebe was a gift he didn’t think he needed or deserved, and for that he was grateful to God for her.

A clearing of throat interrupted them. Phoebe pulled back, eyes moving once over her husband’s features before glancing over her shoulder to where an amused Geri and Bart stood in the doorway.

“Sorry to interrupt the love fest,” Bartimeus Teka said, one arm slung over Geri’s shoulder.

Phoebe grinned. “Happy Father’s day, Bart.”

Bart winked. “Thanks.” His eyes moved over to Abe at her shoulder. “Happy Father’s day, Bro.”

“Happy Father’s day, Abe,” Geri echoed with a bright smile filled with admiration.

“Thanks Geri,” Abe smiled in reply and then shifted his gaze to Bart. “Same to you, Bro.” His eyes lowered to the package in Geri’s hands. “What’s that?”

“Cake. Your favorite too, Louisiana Crunch.”

Phoebe groaned and Bart’s eyes twinkled. “We know cake’s usually off limits, but it’s a special day. Not everyone can be a father.”

“Yeah yeah…” Phoebe sighed and then looked over her husband. “Fine, you can have one special slice.”

“Just one?” Abe and Bart replied simultaneously. Even their hopeful, boyish expressions were similar.

Geri and Phoebe laughed in unison, then Phoebe gave her husband a stern expression. “Three tiny slices. And that’s it.”

“Might as well have one huge slice and be done with it, Bro.” Bart followed Geri to the counter, looking over her shoulder as she opened the top lid and began cutting the cake.

“Boy, if you don’t stop hovering…” Geri nudged Bart’s side with her elbow.

“I’m just making sure you’re cutting them properly,” Bart countered, winking at Phoebe who shook her head in mirth. “Make that one a bit bigger.”

“Impossible,” Geri muttered. “You’re lucky it’s your day or you’ll be getting nothing.”

“Thanks babe,” Bart said, placing a kiss against the nape of her neck.

Abe and Phoebe shared a warm smile. Then the three watched in companionable silence as Geri expertly sectioned the cake in generous slices. Phoebe leaned back against Abe’s chest and smiled when he circled her waist with one arm.

Placing two equally-sized cake slices on saucers, Geri handed one to her husband and the other to Abe. Then she sighed softly. “It feels weird this year. Three are missing…”

Phoebe snuck a peek at Abe’s pensive expression and managed a smile. “I’m sure Darah’ll call once she settles in. It’s her honeymoon, after all.”

“Junior’s probably busy. It’s also two in the morning right now.” Geri pinched a corner of Bart’s cake and tossed it into her mouth.

Bart’s exasperated expression made the two women laugh. He shook his head as he looked over at his elder brother. “Don’t know why they can’t just get their own cake…”

“Oppressors,” Abe muttered, earning a glare from both women.

Just then, the house phone rang. Phoebe shook her head and moved around her husband to catch the phone on its third ring. “Hello, Teka’s resid—Junior!” she grinned in welcome. Her gaze swung to Abe and she nodded. “Sure, he’s here. Hold on.”

Abe moved to the phone, accepting it from Phoebe and held it to his ear. “Hey Junior.”

“Happy Father’s day, Big Bro.” There was static, evident of the international call.

“Thank you.” Abe leaned against the counter, watching Phoebe steal the rest of his cake.

“I know I don’t say it often, but thank you for choosing to stay and raise us.”

Abe swallowed the lump in his throat. The words from Clement, his second brother, brought back memories of the first few days after their parents’ tragic accident fourteen years ago. He’d left his home in Chicago immediately following the worst day of his life, and made the decision to become guardian of his three youngest siblings, Clement, Darah and Eleazar.

“It couldn’t have been an easy decision for you to make. At thirty now, I can see how scary that would’ve been, becoming a father of three kids… Four, if you count Bart.”

Abe’s lips twitched a wry smile, his eyes moving to Bart who now held up his plate from Geri’s reach.

“But you didn’t hesitate one bit even when it got tough dealing with my surly attitude, Darah’s bratty behind and… Eli.” Clement sighed heavily. “And thank God Phoebe came into your life at the right time.”

“Thank God,” Abe said, his loving gaze settling on Phoebe who watched with amusement as Geri and Bart bickered over Bart’s second slice of cake.

“With Mom and Dad leaving the way they did, life could’ve been really hell… but you stepped up in a big way. I know they’ll be very proud of you.”

Tears welled up once more and Abe swallowed at the lump lodged in his throat.

“And I’m proud of you, Abe. You’re a great man and a great father.”

Abe couldn’t find the words. At his silence, Phoebe glanced over at him and raised a brow at the tears forming in his eyes. The bickering couple paused and glanced over also.

“I love you, Brother. Happy Father’s Day.”

Tears slid down his face and Abe held a fist to his mouth.

Clement chuckled. “Wish I could see your face, no doubt you’re tearing up over there.”

Abe grunted a reply, swiping at a tear that slid down his face.

“Eli called you yet?”

His chest tightened at the question and Abe heaved a wavering sigh.

Clement heaved a sigh also. “That boy.”

“It’s okay,” Abe finally spoke up, his voice barely a croak. He then drew in a breath and released it. “Thank you, Junior. You all made it easier than I thought it’d be.”

“Doubt it,” Clement countered, a smile evident in his voice. “But that’s exactly what fathers say.”

Abe could only smile, meeting his wife’s curious expression.

“Where’s Bart?”

“Here… but how are you? Everything okay?”

“Sure, all is well,” Clement replied, as vague as always. “Let me talk to Bart for a bit.”

“Okay. Thanks for calling. I love you.” Ever since their parents died fourteen years ago, the Teka siblings did not hesitate saying those three revered words to each other. Life was far too short to reserve those words, and so they used it liberally.

“Love you too, Bro.”

Abe shifted his gaze to Bart who was already stepping around the women to collect the phone. Then he exhaled a shaky breath and moved to Phoebe’s side.

She immediately wrapped her arms around him and kissed his cheek. “Want another slice?”

“Of course,” Abe answered easily, winking at Geri who was already placing another on his dish.

As Bart laughed over something Clement said, Abe and the women moved to the living room where their children sat together with Geri’s mother. The older ones argued over a card game while the younger ones watched the cartoon movie on the screen. Joselyn, first daughter of Geri and Bart, seemed to be winning a debate over Abe and Phoebe’s two sons Isaac and Jacob. The youngest of the Teka kids; Karla and her cousin Augustus, danced in front of the television screen to one of the musical scores. The twins of Geri and Bart, Fallon and Tomas, complained openly and commanded them to move out of the way while their grandmother watched in quiet amusement.

The doorbell rang then, and Abe’s stomach flipped over as Phoebe left his side to answer the door. His brows lifted as a heavily-pregnant Darah and J.R. entered the house. Half of the kids turned and squealed in excitement. Karla, Augustus and the twins abandoned the movie to greet their aunt and uncle.

Geri and Abe met them at the landing. “You cut your honeymoon to Dubai short? What gives?” Geri asked, giving Darah a hug once the kids returned back to the living room.

Abe’s gaze darted to Darah’s stomach before lifting to her face. “Are you okay?”

Her smile melted his fears. “It’s Father’s day and I’ve got four men I have to thank.” She moved around her nephews and nieces to give Abe a tight embrace. “Happy Father’s day, Abe.”

Abe held his only sister as gently as he could. “Thank you.”

She kissed his cheek and leaned back, warmth and admiration in her eyes. “You’ll never know how thankful I am for you. Especially how you handled my stubborn self for all these years. I’m the woman I am today because of you.”

“Thank you for that, by the way,” her husband J.R. bantered, earning him a dig in his side. He smiled on. “Happy Father’s day, Abe.”

Abe nodded, overcome with emotion. His heart was beyond full already.

Darah smiled over his shoulder. “I hear Bart with that annoying laugh. Let me go surprise him.” She ducked around Abe’s arm and waddled toward the kitchen. “Hey big head!”

Phoebe slung an arm around J.R.’s shoulder. “Tell the truth. Why are you guys back so quickly?”

“Like seriously…” Geri muttered, parking her hands at her hips. “Who cuts short a trip to Dubai?”

J.R.’s smile didn’t dim. “It’s true. She wanted to spend Father’s day at home with family… Couldn’t deny her.” Then his lips twitched. “Besides, it was too hot.”

He and Abe chuckled when the women scoffed in unison.

“You should’ve gone to Hawaii like I said,” Geri said, shaking her head.

“There’ll be other chances to go,” J.R. promised, eyes moving to the open doorway where he could hear his wife chatting with her brothers, Bart and Clement on the phone.

“Yeah right,” Geri countered. “Once that firecracker comes, vacations will be few and far between.”

“Don’t scare him,” Phoebe said. “Fatherhood is a great adventure. Right babe?” she gave Abe a pointed look.

Abe nodded without hesitation, his smile widening. “Wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

J.R. smiled in return. “Well I certainly can’t wait.”

“You been by your father’s yet?”

“Spent the night there. Darah insisted.”

Abe nodded and Phoebe smiled in silent approval.

“Atta girl,” Geri said. “Already performing her daughter-in-law duties.”

“What about Eli?” J.R. asked, a furrow appearing in his brow.

Phoebe spied Abe’s shoulders dip a little and sighed in unison with Geri.

J.R.’s frown deepened. “Maybe we should—“

“It’s okay,” Abe said gently. “He’ll come when he’s ready.”

Phoebe and Geri exchanged worried glances and J.R. didn’t look as convinced. Eleazar’s pointed absence and silence was troubling. He avoided talking with Abraham after Darah’s wedding ceremony and slipped out of the house before his brothers could get a chance to talk with him. Before Clement left for Ethiopia, they’d attempted to corner him at his grandmother’s house but he didn’t show.

Though not articulated, they were all concerned for the youngest member of the Teka family. For Abe the patriarch, the burden was visibly taxing. His hypertension was barely under control, and no strict vigilance could ease the hurt in his heart for his youngest brother.

Phoebe gave him a smile that showed her love for him. Even if Eleazar was misbehaving, she prayed her love and that of those present would fill the void.

The doorbell rang suddenly and everyone stiffened visibly.

J.R. recovered first and moved to answer the door. Phoebe and Abe turned as he opened the door, and Geri gasped loudly. “Eli.”

A morose young man stood in the doorway, his dark eyes moving past J.R. to his oldest brother.

Abe didn’t hesitate, moving past his wife and sister-in-law. He didn’t wait for J.R. to step aside or for Eleazar to say a word. He grabbed the young man’s shoulders and caught him a tight embrace.

A second passed before Eleazar slowly lifted a hand to rest on Abe’s shoulders. The touch, though hesitant and light, invoked the tears at bay. Abe closed his eyes and tightened his grip around Eleazar’s slender frame. His brother was home. Warmth surged through him, filling that Eleazar-shaped hole in his heart.

Eleazar’s hold around Abe tightened also. A weepy Phoebe held a hand over her mouth and teary-eyed Geri draped an arm around her sister-in-law, content to watch the brothers embrace.

Darah and Bart stepped out of the kitchen then, and Darah paused in mid-laugh. Bart’s eyes widened in surprise at the young man in Abe’s arms. “Eli!”

The Teka children turned at the sound of their youngest uncle and all, including the older children, abandoned all to join their parents in the landing.

“Uncle Eli!” the children rushed forward.

Abe reluctantly released his brother to the kids that greeted him with warmth and unabashed welcome. He watched them with content, eyes focused on his youngest brother’s face. His features were a bit gaunt and Abe recalled how small Eleazar felt in his arms. But he tucked that disconcerting thought away for later. For now, his heart was full. Everyone, except Clement, was home.

And this was the best Father’s day by far.

“Son, brother, father, lover, friend. There is room in the heart for all the affections, as there is room in heaven for all the stars.” – Victor Hugo

Samina’s Chance: Chapter 45

Posted on 26/05/2015

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Deidre had one last moment of rebellion as she took in the too-brilliant smile Ezekiel gifted her daughter. He started to pull back Samina’s chair, intent on sitting beside her. Topher was rounding the table to sit by Jeremiah.

“Uh, Zeke,” she spoke up, ignoring the warning in Sheena’s glare. “Why don’t you sit by your father?”

Topher stopped short. Samina’s eyes flew to his.

Jeremiah snorted, pulling his chair out. “No need for that, Dee. The kids are fine where they are.”

“Indeed,” Sheena clipped out with a stiff smile on her lips.

Deidre clenched her jaw and squinted at her friend.

“Actually, Topher,” Gabriel spoke up, gesturing to the chair on his left. “Come sit here so we can get acquainted.” He met Deidre’s gaze and offered her a half-smile.

Deidre blinked at his wary smile and though they had much to settle between them, she answered with one of hers.

Jeremiah raised a brow. “What’s with the musical chairs? He’s fine where he is.”

“Ooh, musical chairs!” Beulah cooed as Ezekiel helped her onto her chair, boosted up by a cushion or two.

The adults shared a chuckle, Topher catching the gentle smile Samina cast on Ezekiel’s little girl before he looked away. Deidre didn’t miss this and lifted her stubborn chin. “I insist. Ezekiel?”

The man noticed her raised brow and his knotted in consternation. “Uh, well…”

Karen sighed and nudged Ezekiel aside. “I’ll switch with him, no problem.”

Obadiah frowned at the now-empty seat by him. He glanced over at Topher. “Let’s sit together. You play basketball?”

Sheena pouted. Deidre preened as Ezekiel trudged to the seat across from Samina. Gabriel and Jeremiah glanced at each other and smirked.

Topher smiled as he moved to take the empty seat. “A little.”

“You look like a basketball player,” Karen said. “You’re tall enough.”

“He’s not that tall…” Adelaide muttered and all eyes turned to her. She shrugged her bony shoulders nonchalantly, although her critical gaze swept over Topher. At the mature age of nine, she could read people very well. She knew when her father was unsure or nervous. Like now, fidgeting in his seat, with his jaw clenching and unclenching. All because the tall stranger made Auntie Sammie stare like he was the only person in the room. Immediately she didn’t like this guy.

Then he turned to look at her. “You’re right, Adelaide. I’m not that tall.” Topher gave her a smile that almost blinded her.

She blinked.

He winked and she felt her cheeks warm.

Adelaide looked down. “Laide…” she mumbled shyly.

Both Ezekiel and Samina gaped as Adelaide furtively glanced at him through lowered lashes. Samina raised both brows. So Topher’s exuberant charm extended to reserved adolescents also?

“Maybe you’ll join me and a couple of guys later for a game or two?” Obadiah asked, taking a sip of his water. “We’d love to have you on our team.”

Gabriel cleared his throat before Topher could answer. “Let’s say a prayer first. Some of us are starved.”

Ezekiel sought Samina’s eyes after the quick prayer but she dutifully kept her head bowed for an extra minute. He smiled. Her devotion for God was incredible. His heart warmed with pride that she could be his one day.

Leaning into Karen, Beulah giggled as Karen wiped a smudge of mashed potatoes from her cheek. Ezekiel smiled but Karen purposely avoided looking his way.

“So, yeah you will?” Obadiah nudged Topher just as he began to eat.

Jeremiah chuckled. “Obad, let the man eat first.” He winked at Topher before cutting into his ribeye steak.

“I thought you were heading back to Canada…” Samina spoke softly, finally lifting her gaze to his.

Ezekiel frowned. Sheena and Deidre both raised brow at her forlorn tone. Gabriel leaned into his seat.

Topher paused at cutting his own steak and looked up. “We will… Any day now.”

Feeling the full attention on them, Samina lowered her eyes. “I see,” she answered stiffly and remained quiet.

Jeremiah frowned. “Nadine, how is she?” His gaze skittered over Gabriel’s face, noting the tension between his eyes.

Topher kicked a shoulder. “She’s on the mend.”

“I should visit her before you two leave.” He gave Topher a smile and returned to eat his food.

“Why Canada?” Gabriel spoke softly.

Topher took his time chewing, mulling over the question. “Nadine said my fath—Maurice worked there.” He shrugged. “I guess he prepared a place for her there.”

Gabriel nodded, his features solemn, thoughtful.

Jeremiah sighed but didn’t say anything else. No doubt the two friends thought of their dead friend and all they’d missed over the years.

Again, Topher’s gaze collided with Samina’s. She offered him a smile, albeit wobbly and unsure. This time, he just stared back instead of looking away, sorrow plain in those striking grays of his.

She swallowed hard as her heart skipped a beat. Oh how lonely he looked, even surrounded by people. How she wished to reach across the table and grab his hand and—

“So Zeke,” Deidre spoke up. “How’s house hunting?”

Samina’s face lit aflame and she broke eye contact instantly, mortified that she’d forgotten where they were.

“We saw a purple house!” Beulah piped up, flashing her toothy smile. “Daddy said we’ll buy it.”

Ezekiel smiled indulgently. “I said we might, Bumblebee…” His warm gaze skittered over Samina before returning to Deidre. “We’re working on it.”

Samina dipped her chin, training her eyes on the steak and potatoes on her plate. Her heart was hammering in her breast and she would’ve held a hand to her chest if not for the hawk-eyes trained on her.

The lunch ended with no incidents and the men stood from the table, grunting their appreciation. Topher quietly stacked his dish over Obadiah’s. Deidre brushed his hands aside. “You’re a guest. We’ll take care of it. Go watch the game with the men.”

“Nadine’ll have my hide if I let you clean up after cooking. I’ll do it.” Topher granted her a smile that warmed all the women’s hearts all over. Even Sheena couldn’t help but grin.

Obadiah wrinkled his nose but followed suit, stacking a few plates and trudging after Topher to the kitchen.

“What a nice young man,” Deidre cooed, openly admiring the broad-shouldered man standing by the kitchen sink. “He’s not afraid to do housework. He’ll make a wonderful husband.”

Sheena snorted at her pointed words and folded her arms.

The rest of the men grunted. “And what are we, chopped liver?” Jeremiah countered good-naturedly, nudging Gabriel on the shoulder.

“Maybe I’ll marry him,” Karen teased as she wiped Beulah’s cheek.

Samina frowned as a pang tingled her insides. She avoided her mother’s eyes.

“You’re too old!” Adelaide protested, the adults chuckling softly.

Sheena laughed a bit too loudly and gathered her oldest granddaughter in a hug. “I think you have competition, Karen dear.”

Karen grinned audaciously at Adelaide’s blazing eyes challenging her. “Is that so?”

“You’re too young.” Ezekiel smoothed a hand over Adelaide’s puffy hair. He glanced once at Topher and Obadiah, his brow drawing a frown that persisted long into the evening.

Hours later, Samina trudged out onto the driveway beside him, smiling as Beulah and Adelaide raced to their car. She drew in a breath as Ezekiel’s fingers sought hers. Glancing once at his shadowed features, she noticed the absent smile on his face and stopped short. “Hmm?”

Ezekiel grabbed her other hand, lacing their fingers together as he came to stand before her. “You alright, Sam?” The pad of his thumbs brushed her palms.

She avoided his perceptive gaze even under the dim light of the half moon. “Uh-hmm…” was all she could muster for even if she wasn’t okay, there was no way she could disclose the reasons for her jumbled thoughts. It wouldn’t be fair to him.

He inclined his head closer, attempting to peer at her face. She held her breath, only releasing it when he leaned away. “I would kiss you if not for the faces pressed against the front window of your house.” He chuckled as Samina jerked her face up. “Oh, who cares?” Ezekiel leaned forward and planted a peck on her lips.

Samina jerked back, more surprised than she should’ve been.

He raised a brow, smile unrepentant. “What?”

She drew in her lips as his eyes focused on them. No doubt her parents, his parents, her siblings and Topher watched them from the window. Her stomach did a somersault, stealing away her breath. Topher. What if he saw? What would he think?

Ezekiel tugged one hand free and brushed back stubborn tendrils of hair that tickled her cheek. “I hope I’m not moving too fast for you… am I?”

Samina just stared as he tucked the hair behind her ears, his fingers brushing the skin of her nape. She stiffened her shoulders. “And if you are?”

He raised a brow, fingers paused. “I am?”

She looked over her shoulder at Beulah bouncing in the backseat, a frowning Adelaide wagging her finger in protest. One corner of her lips lifted in a wry smile. “I don’t know.” Her mother questioning if she was ready to be anyone’s mother plagued her thoughts more today than before. Although she loved Ezekiel’s daughters, Samina wondered now if she really could step into the role of stepmother. Her chest tightened.

“Sam…” Ezekiel’s gentle voice drew her attention. His smile was missing. “You know I won’t force you to do anything you don’t want, right? You know I respect and love you, don’t you?”

Samina searched his face, knowing the lines of his face that she’d memorized over the years. This was the face of the man she’d loved for all her adolescent life. She’d dreamt of being his wife, the mother of his children. Could she give up this chance just because of a passing fancy?

Ezekiel squeezed her hand, a ghost of a smile twitching his lips. “You do, don’t you?”

“What?”

He smirked. “Love me too, right?”

Samina bit the inside of her cheeks. She did, didn’t she? Breaking eye contact, she leaned into him and pressed her forehead against his shoulder. “Yeah…” Topher was just a passing fancy. He’d leave town and she’d never see him again, and her conflicted heart would finally settle on what it really wanted. Ezekiel. Right?

An hour after Topher left the house with Jeremiah and Sheena tailing, Samina sat up in her seat and gaped at her parents. “What did you just say?” There was no way she heard him correctly, yet her heart pounded violently.

“We’re going camping,” Gabriel repeated, not breaking eye-contact.

“With everyone.” Deidre grinned from ear-to-ear, though not as keen on adventure as she was on potential time to set her plans in motion. “Jeremiah and Sheena are fine with it and Ezekiel will take time off since he’s the CEO of his company. The girls will love it too. Finally some summer time fun.”

Karen shrugged. “It might be fun, Sammie.”

Not really. Samina shook her head adamantly, missing the conspiring smile shared between her mother and sister. “Okay, camping with the Dames family is fine… But why is Topher invited?”

“Why not?” Gabriel frowned. “This trip was planned with him in mind.”

Her heart flipped over. If her father came up with the idea, there was no way she could protest now. Samina groaned inwardly.

“Before he and Nadine leave the country,” Gabriel continued. “It’ll be good for us to connect with him. Let him know he’ll always have family here.” His Adam’s apple bobbed, his eyes glistened with unshed tears. “I’d like to do this, Samina. And I want you all to be there too.”

Obadiah smiled approvingly. “I’m with you Dad. Topher’s cool.”

“Isn’t he?” Karen grinned in reply, folding her arms. “It’s a great idea, Dad.”

Deidre rubbed her husband’s back. “I’m sure Nadine will appreciate you making amends this way… His parents would’ve too.” She met his eyes and gave him a smile.

The odd man out, Samina quietly struggled with this charitable act. How could she spend a weekend in the company of two men who made her heart and mind constantly confused and bothered? Pushing out a breath, Samina slumped into the seat.

Ezekiel was just as conflicted, except he openly rejected the idea. “I can’t afford to go camping. We’re in the middle of a negotiation deal.” He scowled, tossing a pair of rolled socks into the duffel bag. “Like whoever came up with this inconvenience?”

James smirked knowingly from where he stood, watching his best friend grow more agitated. “Inconvenient because you’ll have to trust me completely to figure things out on my own, or inconvenient ‘cos you’ll have to date Samina under watchful eyes… or is it something else?” His lips twitched as his friend’s face darkened, fully aware of the new dilemma. Another man in contest for Samina’s heart.

“All of the above.” Ezekiel forcefully shoved a pair of cargo shorts in the bag.

James sputtered in laughter and once Ezekiel hurled him a warning stare, he snuffed it out quickly. Clearing his throat, he schooled his features. “And what makes you think this guy’s worth your concern?”

Ezekiel frowned. “I don’t know… I just… do.” He rolled up a jacket and shoved it into the bag. “It isn’t just the way he looks at her that makes me mad. It’s…”

“You’re worried that your jealously is warranted.”

It was times like this that Ezekiel wished his long-term friendship with James wasn’t so strong. The man could read him too well.

“Samina loves you, Zeke. She always has. Just because some guy passes her fancy doesn’t mean her feelings for you will change.” James smirked. “You gotta give it to her, man. For how many years, she’s only ever loved you.

Ezekiel swallowed hard. He should’ve been warmed all over at the thought of Samina loving him for so long. He should’ve been strengthened with confidence that this Topher fellow wouldn’t make her waver. But he was worried. He really was.

“That’s the problem…” He met James’ concerned gaze. “I don’t think this is just some passing fancy.”

James rolled his eyes. “Then you better step up your game.” He nodded when Ezekiel raised a querying brow. “You never really had to try winning Winsome over. She only had eyes for you, lucky son-of-a-gun.” He shook his head incredulously. “I don’t know why. I’m better looking.”

“Your modesty’s pretty impressive too,” Ezekiel answered dryly.

“Isn’t it?” James flashed him a grin. “In any case. If this guy’s making Samina’s heart waver, you’d better show her why it shouldn’t.”

Ezekiel frowned. “What are you suggesting?”

James snorted. “I can’t spoon-feed you forever. Woo her.” He raised both bushy brows. “The right way, this time.”

The right way… Ezekiel bit the inside of his cheeks, brow drawing a frown in deep thought. Was there a right way to win Samina’s heart completely?

Nadine eyed Topher warily. “So you’ll go then?”

He silently traced lines on her wrinkled palms.

With his head bent, she could only stare at his stubborn curls and imagine him as a boy, asking for permission to play with friends till sundown. Nadine pushed out a sigh. “Is this really what you want?”

Topher nodded.

Even without looking at him, seeing deep into his solemn gray eyes, Nadine knew he wanted this. He was curious about his father and who knew him best were his only friends, Jeremiah and Gabriel.

“And even if you see Samina…” Nadine paused when his fingers stilled. Her heart ached, recalling the solemn way he told her about Samina loving another. “Won’t it hurt being close to her?”

He didn’t lift his head once, didn’t answer with a grunt or a sigh. And Nadine knew then why he said yes.

More than knowing about his father and mother, Topher realized that this would be the only time he’d see Samina before leaving for Canada. He’d resigned in himself, most likely after the lunch at her place, to let her go. It was in his eyes when he came home that evening; that he’d decided to give her up.

Nadine lifted her free hand to his head, the soft curls of his head tickling her palm. She didn’t need to say a word and he didn’t ask for it. This was the only way she knew to comfort him. To comfort a man who had given his heart away.

<<Chapter 44 || Chapter 46>>

  

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