Although there was relief in her father’s words, the empty look in her mother’s eyes haunted her throughout the night. She’d begged her father not to say a word until she was sure about her feelings and about Tunde. He readily agreed, still grieved for his wife who would no doubt protest the relationship if it indeed happened.
Anaya tamped down a sigh as she shoved her notebook into her purse before standing. Blinking at the empty classroom, she shook her head wryly. Since last night, she couldn’t get her mind to focus on anything but her mother’s feverish words to keep her daughters safe from the evil ones… She shivered involuntarily, already imagining her mother’s adverse reaction to Tunde. Shaking her head again, Anaya exited the classroom and headed down the hallway.
The loud chatter of pharmacy students crowded in the hallway bounced off Anaya’s ears as she remained in a daze, trying to figure out how to reconcile her duty to her family without ignoring her heart. She’d had another dream about Tunde and although it was a foolish thought of being with him, happy and content, she couldn’t help it. Smothering another sigh, Anaya pushed open the glass door and headed down the stairs toward the parking lot.
She rubbed the back of her neck, sore from reading throughout the night. Two more days and she would have to sit for the first final of the year. It was enough reason to push Tunde from her mind. It didn’t matter since he had no way of finding her or her finding him. It was probably better this way, she assured herself as she crossed the street to the lot.
Lifting her eyes as she stepped onto the sidewalk, Anaya almost choked on a gasp as she saw him. Long legs clad in charcoal slacks crossed at the ankle, arms folded over a broad chest and that smile that she admittedly had missed. She felt her heart slam hard against her chest as Tunde Halliday pushed away from his car and started slowly toward her, long arms at his sides. She couldn’t move, couldn’t look away. The sun behind him had cast an almost ethereal glow over his head and she would’ve laughed at the silliness of her thoughts but couldn’t. She just gaped openly at him.
He gave her a lopsided smile and Anaya finally released the breath she’d been holding. “Hey,” Tunde said softly, his eyes tracing her face openly as if he’d missed seeing her as much as she did him.
The overwhelming desire to fall into his arms rocked her. She’d missed him. “Hey,” she breathed, tightening her hold on her bag’s strap. Her eyes did their own open perusal of his angular face before returning to those dark eyes. Her brow furrowed slightly when she noted the absence of mirth.
“I hoped I wouldn’t miss you coming out of class…” Tunde continued, his eyes holding hers captive.
Anaya blinked. “How long did you wait?” She could hear her heartbeat in her ears.
He shrugged casually, one corner of his lips lifting in a half smile that made her warm all over. “Not long. How was your day?”
Better now. “Not bad… Yours?”
Tunde merely smiled and Anaya forgot to breathe as she saw the answer in his eyes. “Want a ride home?”
Anaya bit her bottom lip. She wanted to spend time with him, wanted to be with him now more than ever. Then her mother’s solemn expression crossed her mind and she frowned slightly. “I don’t know…”
He raised a brow at her. “Why not?”
Anaya shook her head. “Well, I drove so…”
He chuckled. “That’s right. Well, I merely said that so I could spend time with you.”
She felt the warmth rush up to her head, overwhelmed that her thoughts were echoed by his words. “I know…” she said quietly and lowered her gaze. So much for staying away from the distraction of him.
“Have you had dinner?”
Anaya lifted her eyes and shook her head. “You?” she adjusted the thick strap over her shoulder.
Again with the crooked smile. “I was hoping to eat with you.” He raised one dark brow. “What about it?”
She smiled back. “Okay…”
Tunde grinned fully now, some of the mirth returning to his gaze. He nodded and hooked a thumb over his shoulder. “Mind riding with me? I’ll bring you back to your car after dinner.”
Anaya knew it was probably easier to drive separately but had a feeling he didn’t care. She didn’t either. “Okay,” she replied, soft and serene smile curling her lips.
As they walked back to his car, Anaya snuck a look at the tall man beside her. There was something very secure and comforting about him, as if she didn’t need to worry or fear anything when she was with him. When he pulled open the passenger’s door for her, she lifted her eyes to his and felt the reassurance in those keen dark eyes that she was right. He would take care of her.
Giving him a shy grateful smile, Anaya ducked into the car and settled in the seat, realizing only then that the heaviness on her shoulders had eased off once she’d spotted him waiting for her. In the back of her mind, she knew that everything would be alright.
Dinner with Tunde Halliday was probably one of the best times Anaya could remember. She couldn’t stop laughing at his stories of growing up in Nigeria; from his horrible experience in a Navy boarding school where he ran home almost every week, to escaping from alligators in Yenegoa.
Anaya shook her head as she tore another piece of bread. “I don’t understand why you boys take such a risk with your lives? Why go into the river if you know there are alligators?”
Tunde grinned boyishly, dipping his piece of bread into the tomato soup. “Curiosity drives a man to do certain things, Ana. It’s what we’re about.” He smirked at her. “Don’t tell me you’ve never done anything risky.”
Anaya wrinkled her nose. “No way.” She chewed on the soft bread, eyes dancing at him.
His brows shot up in surprise. “Nothing risky at all?” He shook his head. “I don’t believe that.”
She shrugged her shoulders. “It’s true. I’ve lived a careful life.” With a naturally-apprehensive mother like Hadiza, she didn’t have much of a choice. Also with a sister like Leeza who strived to test all boundaries, she had to keep it balanced in the house. In fact, choosing to be with Tunde would probably be the most risky thing she’d ever considered doing.
Tunde nodded, leaning back in his seat. “Well, that’s very admirable. I’m guessing it’s good. No scars or terrible stories of the past.”
Anaya frowned at him. “I didn’t say that…” She shrugged, lowering her eyes to the bread in her hand. “I just try not to get in situations that I can help avoiding.”
He was quiet for a moment and she lifted her eyes to his face again, surprised to find him staring solemnly at her. Anaya quickly retraced her words, trying to figure out if she said something wrong.
“Do you think you and I pursuing a relationship is a situation you want to avoid?” he asked softly.
“What do you mean?” Anaya asked, unable to breathe. How could he read her so easily?
Tunde shrugged, leaning forward to rest his elbows on the table, gaze focused on her face. “I know that your people are wary of us…”
“Not you,” Anaya said quickly. “You’re only part Yoruba, right?”
He shook his head. “It doesn’t matter, Ana. It’s still my blood. They’re still my people.” He forced out a sigh. “I’m sure you heard about what happened a few days ago… Two young men were killed because of what’s happening between our people.”
She frowned, her body tensing up. “What is this about?” Was he retracting his intentions to be with her just now that she was convincing herself to fight for it, for them?
Tunde raised a brow at her impatient tone. “I don’t want to stop seeing you. I don’t want to let the fighting between our people to stop me from pursuing you. Is that going to be a problem for you?”
Anaya gaped at him, unable to respond.
She shook her head. “I can’t believe this…” she whispered softly.
Tunde blinked at her. “Will it be a pro—“
“No.” Anaya shook her head again. “No, it’s not a problem.” She couldn’t fight back the smile as she lifted her eyes to his. His gaze was steady and strong as if he would stand with her and fight against the impending struggle that would ensue. Again the overwhelming desire to fall into his arms returned in full force and Anaya had to steel herself from standing.
“Good,” Tunde said, giving her a smile of his own. His dark hand moved across the table and caught hers, his long fingers wrapping around her palm as his eyes caressed hers, promising her he was here to stay.