Samina groaned as the melody of Whitney Houston’s ‘I Wanna Dance with Somebody’ filled the gym room. She placed a hand on her hips. “Do we have to do this?” She needed to get rest before her surgery tomorrow.
“What’s with the look, Sammie?” Ada teased. “You don’t wanna dance?” She shimmied to Jaxson who eyed her in open amusement. “Ohh, I wanna dance with somebody…” She draped her arms on Jaxson’s shoulders and swayed her hips to the rhythm.
“Really, Ada,” Samina pushed out an exasperated sigh, hands planted on her hips. “How could this be the bridal party song? You’re supposed to pick something slow and romantic—” she swallowed a gasp as Topher took her hand in his and tugged her to his side.
“Relax, Samina.” He smiled. “It’s her wedding after all.”
“How right you are,” Ada tossed over her shoulder and giggled as Jaxson took her around the room for a spin. “This is the perfect song.”
Samina bit back a retort when Topher placed a hand against her back. Face on fire, she directed her gaze to his right shoulder.
“Put your hand on my shoulder. I won’t bite you.”
“I wanna feel the heat with somebody,” Ada mimicked Whitney’s contralto, tossing her dark bob as Jaxson spun her around. “C’mon, loosen up.”
“Might as well, Sammie.” Jaxson tossed Samina a grin. “She’s got the song on repeat and won’t quit until you give in.”
Samina stifled a groan and placed her hand to Topher’s shoulder. “Just one dance,” she informed with a stern expression.
Topher nodded. “Yes, Ma’am.” Then he guided her around the dance floor.
An hour later, Samina accepted the bottle of water Topher extended to her. Twisting the cap, she tilted her head and swallowed a gulp of the cool liquid.
Ada dabbed her forehead with an engraved towel and grinned at Samina from across the car hood. “Now, wasn’t that fun?”
“I’m not sure if that’s exercise or a dance recital,” Topher drawled, taking a swig of his own water.
“It wasn’t bad,” Jaxson piped in, draping an arm around Ada’s shoulders.
“Of course it wasn’t. We got our steps to match and put in a good workout too.” She grinned unapologetically. “Sounds like a win-win to me.”
“Not if we already worked out,” Jaxson mumbled, earning him a quelling stare from his fiancée. He cleared his throat and tossed his head back for a gulp of water.
Samina snuck a peek at Topher’s biceps, her fingers recalling the solid cords of muscle as she held onto him during the dance. It was almost like she floated on air when he spun her around, light on his feet, like he’d done this before.
“Ready?” Topher’s voice broke through and Samina peered up at his handsome face shrouded by shadows.
Heat shot through her cheeks and she blinked at the amusement dancing in Ada’s eyes. She’d been caught daydreaming. “Uh…”
“The car’s this way,” Topher gestured to his left.
“Right.” She turned to Ada, accepting her friend’s quick hug.
“Call me tomorrow,” Ada said, releasing Samina. “We’ll talk.”
Samina didn’t have the heart to mention that she’d be out of pocket for the next week. “Goodnight.”
Once they parted ways with the engaged couple, Topher and Samina strode over to the dark Audi parked across the street.
“Did you have a good time tonight?” Topher asked as they drove down the quiet street. “You seem a little tuckered out.”
She shrugged. “Maybe a little. I just need to lie down.”
“I completely understand. Ada’s a little too excited about this dance.”
Samina snorted. “A little?”
Topher chuckled. “But she was happy to see you. She missed you.” He tossed her a glance. “We all did.”
She quietly faced the window, eyes stinging.
“I don’t mean to rush you, but—“
“Then don’t.” She curled her fingers into her palms, holding her breath and hoping he’d leave well enough alone. She couldn’t think about anything but her surgery for now.
Samina’s shoulders relaxed and leaned back in the cushioned seat. In the companionable silence, she made plans. Excuses for her family once she returned. They’d wonder at her absence, probably be angry that she left without notice. But it was better than face the terrifying backlash that she’d undergone surgery without telling them. She squeezed her eyes shut and released a breath. For now, she’d focus on praying for peace and a safe surgery. Her family’s wrath, she’d deal with later.
“Looks like your sister has a visitor.”
Samina’s eyes snapped open and she squinted at her driveway. She sat up in her seat, her heart skipping a beat. “Oh no…”
“What’s the matter?” Topher put the car in park behind the minivan. Her mother’s.
Eyes on the lights in the condo window, Samina quickly unbuckled her seatbelt and pushed open the door. “Thanks for the ride. Don’t worry about walking me to the door.”
“Wait a min—Sam—!” the rest of his words were muffled by the car door closing.
Samina could already hear her mother’s clear soprano as she stood by the front door, saying a little prayer before she stepped inside.
“Hey Sis,” Karen greeted her by the door. “I was just about to call…” she peered over Samina’s shoulder at the shiny Audi parked behind their mother’s minivan. “Who?”
Samina grabbed Karen’s arm and jerked her away from the door. “Not a word,” she warned in a low tone.
“What?” Karen blinked. “Mom said she’d be stopping by. I figured you were out with your friends. How’d it go?”
“Stop talking,” Samina mumbled, peering over Karen’s shoulder at the empty hallway. “Where’s Mom?”
Karen placed her hands on her hips. “By the way, your bags are packed. Are you still babysitting those kids? I thought you’d stopped.”
“Will you stop it already?” Samina snapped. “Mind your business, Karen.”
“Hello?” Deidre’s voice echoed in the hallway, frowning at her two daughters glaring at each other. “What are you conspiring about?” She opened her arms and stepped forward
Samina turned to face her mother with a wavering smile. “Good evening, Mom…” she stepped into Deidre’s embrace.
Karen caught her mother’s confused look over Samina’s shoulder and shrugged.
“I wasn’t expecting you,” Samina confessed as Deidre released her. “Is everything alright?”
“Honestly,” Deidre scoffed incredulously. “Does anything have to be wrong before I come visit my girls?” She hooked an arm under Samina’s, steering her first daughter toward the living room when the doorbell rang.
Samina stiffened against her. Please no… No!
Deidre peered over her shoulder as Karen hurried to the door.
“Oh hey Topher,” Karen greeted cheerfully.
Samina squeezed her eyes shut.
Deidre gaped at the tall, handsome man filling the door with his imposing frame. “Oh…my.”
Topher smiled in greeting. “Hey Karen.” He gave Deidre a smile, eyes skimming over Samina’s back turned to him. He lifted a leather purse. “Just bringing this for Samina.”
Samina turned her head, face flooded with heat. She’d forgotten her purse!
Karen grinned, accepting the bag. “Thanks.”
He smiled in kind and dipped his head slightly. “Have a good night.”
“You too,” Karen chirped, closing the door as Topher turned away from the doorstep.
Deidre quietly tugged a wooden Samina to sit beside her. Karen trailed behind.
Samina perched on the seat her mother patted beside her, eyes trained to the floor. The silence in the parlor was so thick; she could cut it with a knife.
“So…” Deidre began. “How was your outing?”
Samina pinched the hem of her skirt. “Fine.”
“Hmm, seemed like it was more than fine…”
Karen muffled a cough in her shoulder, evading Samina’s eyes.
Samina scowled. “What did you say?”
Karen’s eyes grew wide as tea saucers; a picture of innocence. “I didn’t say anything, I swear!”
“Yeah right,” Samina retorted. “You can’t keep your big mouth shut for anything.”
Deidre rolled her eyes. “Samina, that’s enough. Don’t bully your sister.”
Samina glared at her sister, her mouth pursed tight, her body trembling with pent-up frustration. It was certainly a good thing she didn’t tell Karen about her surgery. The entire church would’ve probably shown up at her doorstep if she had. Samina rolled her eyes, irritated to distraction.
“Since I hate beating around the bush, who was that man?”
Groaning, Samina shot to her feet. “Mother, please!”
“What?” Deidre blinked, looking every bit as innocent as Karen. “What did I say?”
Karen sighed petulantly. “Honestly, Sammie. Why so catty tonight?”
Samina hissed. “Do you two ever quit?”
“Sit down, Samina,” Deidre said firmly. “What’s the matter with you?”
Throwing an exasperated glance to the ceiling, Samina dropped to her seat and folded her arms across her chest.
“Explain this fierce reaction you’re having. Now, young lady.” Deidre’s stern expression brooked no argument.
“Don’t listen to Karen,” she clipped out, glowering at her younger sister. “He’s just one of the guys in the wedding.”
“Just one of the guys, huh?” Deidre nodded her head in understanding. “So he’s the Christopher Chance, the best man and your date for the wedding.”
Samina whipped her head to glare at Karen.
Karen lowered her head.
“What didn’t you tell her?”
Deidre’s brow furrowed. “Sammie, why are you so defensive about him? Shouldn’t you be at least flattered that he’s interested in you?”
Samina rolled her eyes. “He’s not interested in me, Mother.”
“Is that right? That’s not what I heard.”
“My God, Karen!” Samina stood again, jabbing a finger in Karen’s direction. “This is why I can’t tell you anything.”
Karen stiffened, leaning away from her sister’s offending finger.
“Relax,” Deidre tugged Samina’s sleeve, pulling her back to her seat. “Your sister’s just excited for you. And frankly, so am I.”
Samina dragged a hand down her face. She needed to lie down. Now.
“You’re messing up what little makeup on your face, dear.” Deidre held onto Samina’s wrist. “Anyway, he looks like a very nice young man. Tell me about him.”
Biting back a moan, Samina met her mother’s expectant gaze and took a deep breath. “There’s not much to say. He’s Jaxson’s best friend who I met five years ago. He’s the best man and that’s it.”
“Actually, there’s more,” Karen inserted, ignoring Samina’s heated stare. “Ada told me he’s crushed on Samina since the first day they met.”
Samina scowled. “That’s a lie…” even her protest didn’t sound convincing to her own ears and she bit the bottom of her lip.
Deidre gestured Karen to continue and at the end of Karen’s detailed account of the handsome gentleman who had eyes for her first daughter, she was practically jumping in her seat over Topher’s intentions to pursue Samina. “Very interesting…”
Samina shook her head in despair, wishing her bedroom door was close enough for her sneak away before the onslaught of questions forming in her mother’s mind.
“So let me get this straight,” Deidre drawled. “There’s a gorgeous, kind and attentive man wanting to court you and you’re hesitating because…?”
“Thank you, Mom!” Karen piped, wrinkling her nose when Samina sent her a scathing glare. She sat back, arms folded.
Samina then sighed, too tired to argue with either of them. “It’s complicated.”
“What’s complicated about that? He wants to get to know you. So let him.”
She shook her head, the side of her temples throbbing. “It’s not that easy.”
“She still loves Zeke,” Karen inserted softly.
Samina inhaled sharply, jerking her eyes to Deidre’s.
“What?” Deidre squeaked out, sitting up in her seat. “Who? Ezekiel Dames?!”
The horrified look on Deidre’s face was too much to bear. Samina looked away.
Karen nodded solemnly. “It’s true.”
Deidre gaped at her daughter’s profile. “Samina, still? After all these years?”
She could hear the censure in Deidre’s tone. Tears welled up in her eyes.
“But he’d been married for eight years. Sam—” Deidre’s voice oozed with disbelief. “There is no way you could’ve harbored your feelings for that long.”
Feeling the judgmental stares boring into her, Samina drew in her shoulders. Tears rolled down her cheeks, overwhelmed with embarrassment and sadness.
In college, she’d avoided dates with men and declined attending social events for fear that a guy would ask her out. She was that loyal to Ezekiel. Years passed as she lived that way, holding a torch for him while he made a family with his college sweetheart. Her throat clenched up, realizing now that she was a social failure at thirty years old and now that Topher expressed his intentions to court her, she didn’t know how to let him.
Deidre shook her head. “This can’t go on, Samina. You can’t continue like this.”
Samina bobbed her head stiffly, vision blurred with tears. “I know…”
Both Deidre and Karen blinked in surprise at Samina’s soft reply.
“Huh, what?” Karen asked dumbly, expecting protests instead.
Samina summoned a breath, releasing it. “I know I should let go of my feelings for Zeke.”
“Do you think you can after all this time?” Deidre’s question was soft, sympathetic.
Lifting her eyes to the gentle look in her mother’s gaze, Samina wanted to weep. There was no reproach, only love. Samina nodded. “I will. I have to.”
Both Deidre and Karen sighed in collective relief, watching Samina swipe the stray tears on her cheeks.
“Oh, Sammie,” Karen scooted off the couch to kneel beside Samina. She grabbed hold of her sister’s hand and squeezed it tight. “You can do it.”
Samina managed a watery smile at her sister, letting herself be embraced by both mother and sister.
Deidre wrapped both arms around her daughters; her heart breaking at the sounds of Samina’s muffled sobbing against Karen’s shoulder.
As much as she wanted to believe Samina intended to release her feelings for Ezekiel, she knew firsthand that a person’s heart often rebelled against his will to change, to move on from a past love.
Her jaw tightened in resolution, knowing she had to do something about Samina’s heartbreak as soon as possible.
“Everything will be okay,” Deidre said gently, rubbing Samina’s trembling shoulders. “I promise you…”