Posts tagged “heart of a home

Refuge: Chapter 4

Posted on 19/09/2018

“Y’know you’re acting weird, right?” Eli muttered, peering over the seat in front of him at the line of people still waiting to board the flight.

Beside him, Zoey hunched over and adjusted the oversized sunshades over her face. “No, I’m not,” she whispered.

Eli arched a brow. She’d insisted on her old baggy hoodie and jeans for comfort and he could give her that since he opted for cargo shorts and his favorite Bowser t-shirt, but the sunglasses made little sense. “What’s going on, Zo—”

“Shh!”

He frowned. “You a spy or something?”

“Or something. Shh.” She ducked her head and pulled the hoodie around her head as a passenger stopped beside them.

Eli turned to the heavy-set man glaring at them and raised a questioning brow.

“That’s my seat.”

Eli blinked at the man’s reproachful tone and offending hand near his face. “Which one?”

The man’s upper lip curled in a snarl. “You can’t read? That’s my seat.”

“I said which—” Zoey elbowed his side, reminding him of the vow to remain composed throughout their trip. Eli drew in a calming breath. “Please check again, Sir.”

“Are you deaf? I said that’s my seat!”

Behind him, the other passengers grew impatient. Some scowled at the irate man while some glared at Eli. Another passenger drew a long hiss and shoved past, causing the obstinate man to stumble over his oversized bag and into Eli’s legs. Instead of apologizing, the portly man cursed loud and shoved at Eli’s legs. The passengers grumbled over the inconvenience.

Eli started to rise when Zoey clamped a death grip on his arm. He turned his scowl on her.

Zoey shook her head, refusing to let go.

“What’s going on?” someone bellowed above the chaos. A flight attendant made her way down the other aisle, concern etched in her face. “What seems to be the problem?”

“The problem is this oyinbo in my seat,” the irate man snapped, a harsh contrast to her placating tone.

“He has the wrong seat,” Eli insisted, arms folded to keep from shoving the man’s hand from his face.

The passengers grumbled, not caring for any of it.

The flight attendant barely skimmed the young couple and focused her attention on the scowling man. “Let me see your ticket, sir.”

“Why do you need to see my ticket? Check theirs—”

“Your ticket, sir?” she held out a hand.

“Let her see it already!” someone called from the back.

The man hesitated before handing it over.

She studied it for only just a moment and shook her head before handing it back. Her icy-blue eyes turned to the couple. “I’m sorry for the convenience.” Then faced their accuser. “You’re in row R, sir. This is row K. Please move forward.” She turned to help a young traveler struggling with her bags.

A few scoffs and grumbles articulated Eli’s disgust as the man awkwardly pushed his luggage forward.

The other travelers barely gave Eli a glance as they continued down the aisle, mumbling on their way.

“Unbelievable.”

“Leave it,” Zoey muttered.

“Did you see that? He didn’t like his seat so he wanted to fool us into giving away ours? That’s crazy.”

“Leave it, E…” She ducked her head again as the same flight attendant returned to their side.

“Excuse me,” the woman said quietly, eyes on Eli. “Sorry again for the convenience. We have two seats in first class if you’d like to upgrade—”

“We’re fine,” Zoey answered quickly.

“But it won’t cost you anything.” The attendant’s expression matched Eli’s piteous one. ” And it looks like your boyfriend wouldn’t mind. There’s more room for your legs.”

“I said we’re fine, thank you.”

Eli raised a brow at Zoey. Why turn down free first-class seats?

The attendant shrugged. “Okay, if you insist.” Her gaze swept over Eli and she smiled sympathetically before walking away.

Eli settled in his chair and sighed, silently bidding farewell to a gift he almost had.

“Are you upset?”

“Not really.” He leaned his head back. “Just never flown first-class before. Guess I wouldn’t know whether I’m missing anything or not.”

Zoey scooted close and rested her cheek on his shoulder. “I’ll make it up to you.”

Eli peered down at her pouting face. He smirked, irritation giving way to curiosity. “How?”

“Dunno.” Zoey laughed. “But somehow I will.”

“Not good enough.”

She giggled and leaned in to kiss his cheek. “Better?”

Someone snorted from behind and kneed Zoey’s seat hard. Eli started to turn when she gripped his arm. “Leave it, I know,” sighed Eli and settled back in his seat.

When she cuddled closer, Eli stared at her shadowed reflection on the blank screen before him. “Will you keep the hoodie and glasses on?”

“Maybe…”

“Kinda hard to watch movies.”

“I’ll figure it out. Maybe I’ll sleep some. Barely did yesterday.”

He nodded; his night was spent alternating between packing and finishing up a project for a client. Two hours was the most sleep he had before heading to the airport with Zoey. “Nervous about going home?”

Zoey was silent for a moment before she nodded. “A little.”

“Don’t worry.” Eli moved a hand over her leg and squeezed gently. “I’m here.”

It was meant to encourage her, his words, but they only unsettled her frazzled nerves more. The disguise was ridiculously uncomfortable but not as uncomfortable as sitting beside Eli, knowing that in less than fourteen hours, he would come to the rude awakening of who she was and there would be no escaping it then.

Yet she waited until they were 11,000 feet off the ground and in route to London before drawing in a breath. “E…”

“Man, I wish we took those seats.” He stretched his legs and peered down at her. “Hmm?”

Zoey drew back her words. Eli reached down and tugged off her sunglasses. “Hmm?”

“Nothing.” Zoey closed her eyes and ignored the nagging in her head. Later, she promised herself, scavenging for what decency she had left.

“By the way, my visa came in quick.”

Zoey’s eyes shot open. Her pulse quickened.

He was smiling. “I thought it would take a few weeks—”

“It doesn’t always take that long,” Zoey answered in hushed tones. “You got lucky.”

“Probably,” he whispered back, grin boyish. “’Cos my visa to Ethiopia took forever to come. My brothers, especially Abe and Bart, kept acting like it wouldn’t. By far the longest month of my life. But the summer made up for it.”

Zoey looked down at her sunshades in his hand. “Do your siblings always give you a hard time?”

“More now than before.” Eli sighed. “It’s annoying but that’s the fate of a last born. I’m used to it.”

“Are you though?”

“Some days it’s just stupid.” He paused briefly. “But nah, don’t think anyone gets used to being harassed.”

Zoey cringed. A few family members were long-time harassers, and even she couldn’t bear their crass humor.

“You tired?”

“Hmm, I hate turbulence.”

“Me too.” Eli rested his head against hers. “Y’know, I can’t say yo’ve told me much about your folks.”

Her erratic pulse jumped against her throat.

“Except for their names, you rarely talk about them. Besides Nwando, I guess.” Eli’s cheek brushed against her hoodie. “I know you’re the oldest of two, with a brother… Lawrence?”

“Law,” Zoey corrected gently. “He hates being called Lawrence.”

“Ah right. Good thing you told me.” She could hear the smile in his voice. “How old is he?”

“Nineteen.”

“Okay, almost Isaac’s age. Are they similar?”

Zoey pictured the first son of Abe and Phoebe. “Yeah and no. He’s less of a model son and more of a spoiled brat.”

“Sure, no one can beat Isaac in manners,” Eli chuckled. “And your cousin getting married, what’s her name again?”

“Paula.”

“Okay, Paula.”

“We won’t get to hang out with her. Nigerian weddings can be crazy hectic.”

He snorted. “I can only imagine. My siblings all had unconventional and small weddings. All hands on deck, even with Junior’s in Ethiopia.”

Zoey paused, wondering what his wedding would be like. If he married her, there would be nothing small about it.

“So, go on…”

“What else do you wanna know?”

Eli laughed softly. “You’re being weird again.”

Zoey frowned. “What’s wrong with what I said?”

“Every time I ask about your folks, you get vague. Hiding something, my cryptic beauty?” He nuzzled her cheek.

Zoey’s stomach did a somersault and she leaned away from his touch. “I need to pee.”

Eli’s narrowed stare pierced through her and the minute he loosened his hold, she stood abruptly and climbed over his legs to rush up the aisle for the nearest bathroom.

Zoey took time drying her hands minutes later, reluctant to return to Eli’s side; a first in their one-year relationship. Keeping secrets this big was a first too and she knew he’d react badly to it. Drawing in a breath, she stared at herself in the mirror and released it along with the truth in her head. “I’m not who you think I am, Eli. I’m not a broke international student Zo–”

A sharp rap on the door startled the words from her mouth.

Zoey wiped the moisture from her brow and turned to open the door.

A young woman with bright red lipstick and painted eyes stood in Zoey’s path. She squinted at Zoey for what seemed like a lifetime and then re-directed her gaze. “‘Scuse me.”

Zoey released a breath she didn’t realize she’d been holding and started down the aisle back to her seat.

“Wait a minute!”

Cold slithered up her heels and she turned slowly.

The young woman was now grinning, pointing a manicured finger at her. “I think I know you.”

Zoey gripped the hoodie that did nothing to mask her features. “I don’t think so…”

“Yeah!!” The young woman laughed. “I should’ve known when you walked past me the first time.”

Eyes from every side turned to look and Zoey froze like a dried-up specimen under a microscope. “You got the wrong–”

“Paula Ibazi’s cousin right?”

Zoey flinched as the woman closed the distance between them. “You look just like her. Omigosh, yeah! Same face and everything.”

She could’ve argued that the only resemblance was their complexion and eye-shape but that wouldn’t help the matter. She’d been discovered, even with her baggy hoodie. Zoey could feel her heart beating fast as the woman studied her carefully.

“So you’re traveling home for the wedding? Me too! I didn’t know you lived in Houston. Why are you in economy class? That’s crazy.” Her eyes moved past Zoey. “Was that guy your bodyguard or something?”

Zoey scowled as the woman’s raised voice. “Listen, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Hey, you!” the woman called over Zoey’s head, ignoring the travelers gawking at them. “Are you her bodyguard?”

Everything stopped in that moment except Zoey’s racing heartbeat. Her feet stayed rooted, knowing that the minute she turned around, Eli would be standing there with a confused look on his face.

Time started again and Zoey felt a warm hand settle on her shoulder. She turned, and the flight attendant from earlier was beaming warmly at her. Almost fondly. Zoey blinked, glancing around for Eli and the woman who’d ousted her. Only she and the flight attendant stood. Even the passengers were occupied with movies, food and napping. “What?”

“Please take your seat, Miss. You’re blocking the aisle.”

Warmth flooded Zoey’s cheeks but embarrassment was better than what she dreaded. “Sorry,” she mumbled and edged past the flight attendant back to her seat.

Eli focused on the lit screen while munching on the meal before him. He glanced up upon her arrival and arched a brow. “You good?”

Zoey nodded, realizing it was just her crazy imagination. No one recognized her on this flight and her secret was safe. For now. “Yup,” she answered a bit too cheerily and climbed over his legs to settle beside him. “Just fine.” She stole a piece of fruit from his plate and snuggled close to watch the blockbuster movie.

Later… she told herself, wishing time would stand still a little longer.

<<Chapter 3 || Chapter 5>>

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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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