Posts tagged “nostalgia

Family Ties

Posted on 18/08/2017

A smiling Abe watched Clement envelop his bride of a day in his arms, reminiscing on their youthful days.

He and Bart were in high school when Clement joined the family. The sullen preteen kept his distance. Bart thought him a snob but Abe believed something kept Clement from trusting anyone. Although Dad loved each of his children, he was extremely patient with Clement’s mood swings. Abe remembered asking his father about the special treatment and his father’s response changed his attitude towards Clement. Unlike he and Bart who lost their parents, Clement’s parents were still alive… they just didn’t want him. He readily told Bart, and the two made it their summer project to love Clement regardless of his attitude.

Years later, their patience paid off. The once surly Clement became a responsible and loving brother who made both he and Bart proud. Abe was sure their parents in heaven felt the same way.

Clement pressed a kiss to Karen’s cheek and then turned toward his brother, one brow raised. “Ready?”

“Ready.” Abe gave his new sister-in-law a smile. “Sorry that I’m taking time away from your honeymoon.”

Karen slung an arm around Clement’s shoulders and laughed when her husband bent to accommodate her. “It’s alright. We’ve got the rest of our lives together. You’re just visiting for a week…” Her smile softened. “I’ll allow you some quality time together.”

Clement kissed her cheek before ducking out from under her arm. “Besides, she and the others are going on their own special tour.” He gestured for Abe to come with him and the two walked to the jeep.

“Be safe. Don’t do anything stupid!” Karen called behind them.

Abe smirked when Clement grunted and waved a hand over his head. “It’s already begun, huh?”

“She’s been nagging even before now,” Clement mumbled as he entered the driver’s side. “It’s coming too easily. Like she’s been practicing all her life for it.”

Chuckling, Abe folded his long legs into the jeep and strapped on his seatbelt. “So where to?”

Clement started the ignition and looked to his brother. “I want to show you what I do.”

Abe smiled at his brother. “We’re visiting a village?”

“Yes. A very special village.”

“Sounds good.” Abe patted his brother’s shoulder. “So, are you guys ready to host Eli?”

Clement sighed deeply. “Not yet. Stall for another few months. I just got married.”

“I get that but I doubt Eli will be as understanding. We’ve been stalling for months now.”

“I’ll help him understand….” Clement maneuvered the car off the bumpy terrain and onto the tarred road. Then he sighed, a blissful sound accompanied with a smile. “I like being married.”

“I bet. You haven’t stopped smiling since yesterday.” Abe chuckled. “Took you long enough to listen.”

“Trust me, if it wasn’t with Karen, it wasn’t gonna happen.”

Abe grunted and looked out the window. “Well I’m glad I could come, although I wish Phoebe was here.”

“Next time, you two should take a trip out. Maybe a second honeymoon.”

“Yeah, that’ll be good. She’ll welcome the break.”

“And see where you’re from.”

A furrow in his brow, Abe glanced over at Clement’s profile. “I remember nothing about this place.”

“Nothing at all?” Clement looked his way. “Really?”

Abe shook his head. “It was such a long time ago. All I remember was being Darah’s age when…” he trailed off, his gaze traveling to the mountains in the distance. In truth, his childhood memories were a blur.

“You know the toughest thing about being a pastor of that church?” Clement spoke through Abe’s reverie. “It’s having to balance the church affairs while working to reunite lost children with their families.”

“That can’t be easy.”

“It’s not. Especially when the children don’t remember where they’re from.”

Abe clucked his tongue. “Well, did they wander off on their own?”

“They didn’t. They were stolen.”

Frisson ran down Abe’s spine. He fixed his stare at Clement’s face. “What?”

“They were stolen from their parents’ homes and villages to be sold.”

Abe swallowed and looked away. He didn’t need Clement to elaborate; the mere thought sickened him.

“When I first heard about that, I reacted the same way you did. I was filled with disgust and disbelief. Then it turned to outrage. Then… I had to act.”

Abe’s lips twitched wryly. Clement and Darah were the most impulsive of all the Teka children; Clement more than Darah.

“With the help of Dula and later on, Ejigu, we began searching within our communities for these stolen children. Some were easier to find than others. The task was great, and we were just few. But slowly, surely, we were able to reunite families and villages with their lost children.”

Abe’s smile returned fully, pride surging through him. “Junior, that’s awesome. Man, I had no idea.”

Clement nodded. “I didn’t want to bother y’all with the details. It’s part of the job.”

“Still! It must take a toll on you.” His eyes moved over his younger brother’s features, realizing now why Clement often seemed bedraggled whenever he visited home.

His brother shrugged. “It’s a burden I’ll willingly bear.”

Abe placed a hand on Clement’s shoulder. “Mom and Dad will be proud. I certainly am.”

“… I do have a confession. I’m afraid I haven’t been fully honest about all I do here.”

“As long as it’s not putting you in harm’s way, it’s alright.” When his brother didn’t reply, Abe frowned. “Are you in danger?”

“No. Not now.”

Abe scowled. “Not now? What does that mean?”

Clement sighed. “Listen. There’s another reason why I’m bringing you out with me.”

“What?”

“On one of my trips to bring a bus full of children back to their village, I had this crazy thought.”

Abe frowned, not sure any of Clement’s crazy ideas was worth mentioning aloud. They’d gotten into trouble with their parents due to some of Clement’s crazy schemes. “What…?” he asked reluctantly.

“Your parents.”

Abe’s heart skipped a beat. “What… parents?” The only other parents he knew of had abandoned him in Wisconsin, and he preferred not talking about them ever again. The only parents he acknowledged had given him a name, a home and a family.

“The ones you were stolen from.”

Abe’s pulse jumped and his hand slipped from Clement’s shoulder.

Clement pulled up the side of the road and put the car in park. He shifted to face Abe. “I remember Dad telling me about how you and Bart came to the family. This was one of the days I was in one of my surly moods and Dad came to my room, telling me that you two had it bad as well. That I was acting like I was the only special case in the house, and that Bart didn’t even get a chance to say goodbye to his parents who died tragically. And that you were stolen and abandoned by two set of parents before coming here.”

Abe only stared in silence.

“I remembered that story when I tried to get the children to remember their homes. They were so traumatized by the kidnapping and imprisonment that it took weeks to get them to remember anything. And when they did, it was a skewed image of their parents abandoning them.”

Not wanting to hear anymore, Abe turned and reached for the door handle.

Clement grabbed Abe’s wrist, stilling his movement. “Abe, listen.”

“No. Let go.”

“Just hear me out.” Clement sighed, loosening his hold on Abe’s wrist. “I did some research when I came home. Remember how I showed up randomly when Bart and Geri were in that fake marriage nonsense?”

Abe couldn’t nod, couldn’t respond.

“Well it wasn’t random. It wasn’t easy getting answers but having a meddling sister-in-law came in handy.”

Abe jerked his attention to Clement. “Phoebe knew…?”

Clement shook his head. “Not fully. I couldn’t give her much detail and I’m thankful she didn’t ask too much. She just knew I was up to something and I promised I’d tell her once I found out everything.”

Abe only stared, feeling like he’d taken a sucker punch to his gut.

“I found out about your parents, the ones who left for Australia–“

“New Zealand.”

“Right, New Zealand.” Clement warily eyed his eldest brother. “I know this is hard for you, Abe…”

Abe swallowed hard and looked down. “We’ve all had it tough.” He heaved a sigh. Even though the pain in his past was something he would rather leave alone, Abe knew Clement wouldn’t just stop there. Couldn’t stop there. He lifted his gaze to his brother’s face. “What else did you find?”

Clement nodded. “I did some attic hunting and you know how meticulous Dad is, keeping records of everything. From Bart’s broken collar to Darah’s missing tooth.”

Abe smirked wryly. “He always kept journals.”

“Exactly. So I started looking for a journal from when you were adopted.”

Abe’s smile eased away. “Did you find anything?”

“A few things. He talked about the first time he and Mom met you, made a few notes about his first impression on you.” His lips twitched. “Scrawny beautiful kid who needs to eat more.”

His eyes stung with tears that fell freely. He missed his father like crazy.

“He said Mom cried all night when they came back home, begging him to let her bring you home immediately. It took a week and a half to bring you home.”

Abe pressed his lips together. He missed Mama also. To think they’d lived a decade without them.

“Well, Dad wouldn’t let it go that you’d been abandoned by irresponsible adults and wanted answers. He made notes about finding out their background and that of the organization that gave you to them. All he wrote though was the name and their location.”

“Ethiopia,” Abe drawled, knowing at least that much. Dad had always been open about their mixed family, answering any questions he had about his origin. But at some point, Abe stopped asking and Dad let him. Perhaps he knew Abe didn’t want to dig up any painful stories about his past and left him alone. Clement was a different case. He heaved a sigh. “Why bring this up now, Junior? I’m well into my forties and I’m satisfied with the family I chose. I don’t need–“

“I found your birth parents, Abe.”

Abe jerked his stare up. “What…?”

“I found ’em.” Clement wore a smile that Abe couldn’t reciprocate.

“What do you mean you found them?” Abe couldn’t believe what he was hearing.

Clement nodded. “I know it sounds crazy but it’s true. And I feel like it’s God’s doing.”

All Abe felt like doing was throwing up. His brother’s hand to his shoulder did nothing to quell the unsettling feeling. He dragged his eyes to Clement’s face and the sympathy displayed in his eyes.

“They’re alive, Abe. And they want to see you.”

Abe’s eyes welled with tears and he shut his eyes tightly.

“I know it’s hard. I know what you’re going through.”

“No you don’t.” Abe shrugged off Clement’s hand and glared at him. “Why d’you go do a thing like that? Why did you have to meddle in something even Dad couldn’t? Did I ask you to find them? Did I?!”

Clement barely flinched when Abe raised his voice. “Calm down. Your blood pressure.”

Abe bristled, his glare hardening. “Like you cared before meddling. You had no right, Junior. No right.”

Clement nodded, calmly taking the brunt of Abe’s frustration. “I’m sorry for adding to your pain. But if Kayla or Isaac or Jacob had been stolen from you… Not only would you have searched all over for them, your life wouldn’t be the same without them. Wouldn’t you want them to know you’re still alive and holding onto hope that you’re waiting for them?”

Abe scowled. “That’s not the same thing.”

“What’s not the same, Abe? You’re their son, a son they never wanted to give up. Some wicked person came to steal you from them. Stole you right from under their nose–“

“Alright, alright!” Abe snapped, holding a hand to his temple. He noticed the tremor in his hand and curled his fingers into his palm. It then dawned on him why Clement insisted that he visit this time around. Not just to stand as witness at his impromptu wedding ceremony but to reunite him with the family he’d forgotten. He squeezed his eyes closed. “This isn’t fair, Junior…”

“I know. It’s rocked your world, it certainly rocked mine seeing them that first time. Abe, your father looks exactly like you and your mother’s got your eyes…” he paused when Abe held out a hand and waited patiently. His brother would need time and Clement was willing to wait a little.

Abe drew in a calming breath and released it on a shudder. “Are they… healthy?”

Clement smiled. Interest was a start. “Very. They’re farmers in the Southeast. A few hours from the capital. Your father grows all sorts of crops. Your mom sells them in the marketplace with her granddaughters.”

Abe raised both brows. “I have siblings?”

“Several.” Clement grinned. “Thankfully your parents consoled themselves and have a few more. All girls. So they never forgot about their first and only son. Your sisters are excited to meet you too.”

Overwhelmed, Abe eyed Clement dubiously. “Is this why you planned this fake tour?”

Clement’s grin brightened. “It’s not fake. Their village just happens to be the one I’m visiting.”

“Right…” Abe sighed. “You’re just like Mama. Won’t stop until you get your way.”

“And just like Mama says, it’s for your own good.” He chuckled when Abe rolled his eyes. “You up for it?”

“I can’t lie and say I’m ever gonna be ready.” Abe frowned. “I had buried that part of my life long ago. I don’t even remember what they look like or feel like. I don’t know what I’d say or how to react when I meet them.” His stomach turned in anxiety and remorse filled his heart. If what Clement said was true, meeting his birth parents for the first time would be like meeting strangers. In a way, they were strangers and he didn’t know how to prepare for this.

Clement squeezed his shoulder. “Like you always tell me when I’m fretting about something. You’ll know what to do when you get there. You’ve been prepared all your life for this. As a father, husband, father to both your children and to us, you’re ready for this. You’ve got this.”

Abe eyed him dubiously. “That’s not helping. It’s like ripping open a wound and then giving me a Band-Aid.” He sighed and rested his head back against the chair. “Let’s go before I change my mind.”

Clement managed a smile. “You’re doing the right thing, Bro. I’m proud of you.”

Abe only grunted.

With one more look at his eldest brother, Clement maneuvered the jeep back onto the road. “Don’t worry. It’ll be as short or as long as you want it. And if you just want to see them and then leave, that’s fine too. They’re prepared to give you time also.”

Abe closed his eyes. “Just shut up and drive. I need to think.”

“Yes sir!” Clement stepped on the accelerator, heading for Abe’s childhood home.

<<Story Page>>

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Samina’s Chance: Chapter 38

Posted on 12/05/2015

metropolis

As they both reached for a dusty model ship kit, Gabriel looked up to his eldest daughter’s stern expression. Then he lifted his hand, watching with longing as Samina tucked it between two boxes. “Is that necessary?”

“Mom’ll give you a hard time if she sees yet another one.” Samina dusted off her hands. “She thinks everything you bring home from this place is just junk.”

Gabriel grunted, moving to her side as they strode down the aisle of the consignment shop. “She just doesn’t know hidden treasures when she sees it.”

“She saw you,” Samina tossed back with eyes dancing in amusement.

Gabriel poked her side, grinning when Samina giggled and ducked away. He’d missed her laugh, missed her company but knew she was far too grown to move back home. The house was entirely too quiet, to which Deidre claimed was his fault and not because she was often overbearing.

“Besides,” Samina’s low voice pulled him out of his reverie. “We’re only here to drop off old stuff, not bring back any.”

He smirked at her pointed stare and nodded. “Fine… Let’s just pass the time window shopping.” In truth, he needed this distraction from all that plagued his thoughts, his conscience.

Turning the corner to the furniture aisle, Samina cleared her throat to get his attention. “Dad, about Obadiah…”

Gabriel sobered at the thought of his only son. “Sam… I’m sorry for tossing him to you guys like that.”

“Don’t worry, Dad.” She offered him an encouraging smile that only made him feel guilt-ridden. Parents disciplined their children, not siblings.

Gabriel sighed softly, looking away.

“Besides,” the smile in her voice pulled his attention to her once more. “It’ll be good for us to be together now. We’re bonding quite nicely.”

He raised a brow at her. She normally valued her solitude, like he did.

Samina frowned at him, a smile on hers. “What?”

“You’ve changed.”

“What does that even mean?” She laughed softly. “Obadiah said that too.”

His brow furrowed, heart throbbing painfully. He missed his son, aware that the boy’s absence was entirely his fault.  He swallowed down the lump of regret and managed to respond with a “How is he?”

Samina hesitated before responding. “He still thinks you overreacted and didn’t wait to hear him out.”

Gabriel stiffened as Jeremiah’s accusations from yesterday rang in his ears, echoing what his daughter just revealed. Both his son and his best friend had been caught by him in the same compromising positions and with no defense to stand on. They’d let him down. So why was he the one that felt remorse and loss?

A jingle he recognized sounded. Gabriel blinked out of his reverie once more, watching Samina pull out her phone.  He frowned as her eyes widened and she hesitated answering.  “Go ahead…” he mumbled, hands in his pockets.

She gnawed at her bottom lip, hesitating once more before answering on the fifth ring before it went to voicemail. “Hello?”

Gabriel sighed, looking down at a worn baseball glove. He thought of Obadiah and the times they’d played in the park, tossing a baseball across the field to each other.

“Hey…” Samina answered reluctantly. “Yea, a little. I’m out with my dad.”

Gabriel looked back at her, noting her half smile with a frown. Whoever this person was made his daughter nervous and unsure.

Then she lowered her lashes, her smile waning. “Today? Why so soon?”

He raised a brow at the alarm in her tone.

“Oh, I see…” Samina snuck a peek at her father.

He raised both brows in silent question. He hadn’t seen her this disconcerted since she graduated from high school and was awaiting her college acceptance letter.

“Um…” Samina drew in her bottom lip, mulling whatever this person had asked of her. “Well, I’m with my dad so…”

She said that already. Gabriel shook his head, puzzled. His girl was definitely nervous, for reasons he couldn’t comprehend. But then again, she was like her mother in many ways. Complex, complicated, confusing.

Samina peered up at him once more, a question in her gaze. “Well, maybe we can catch an early lunch if that’s okay?”

Frowning at her beseeching look, Gabriel found himself nodding, not sure what he was agreeing to. Whatever it was wiped away the anxiety from her eyes. Then Samina flashed him a dimpled smile that cleared his own wariness.

“We can meet you at the Bread Café in half-an-hour.” Samina turned away, pushing the cart toward the exit. Gabriel had no choice to follow.

Once Samina disconnected the call, she turned to him with a strange smile on her face. “Wanna come somewhere with me?”

Gabriel bit back a scoff. She’d already invited him without permission. He kicked a shoulder. “We’re meeting a friend of yours?”

Samina nodded, lowering her gaze.

He cocked his head to one side, eyeing her curiously. Who was this friend? “A guy you like?”

Her head snapped up, eyes slightly wide.

Gabriel smirked. “It’s not every day I get to meet my girls’ crushes.” He nodded, approving. “What an honor. I’m down. Let’s go.”

Samina’s hand on his arm made him look back at her. “Don’t get excited, Daddy. He’s just a friend…”

Something glinted in her eye and even after thirty-two years of marriage to Deidre, the most complex woman he’d ever known, Gabriel couldn’t put a name to what he saw in their daughter’s gaze. He raised a brow. “If he’s just a friend, why am I meeting him?”

She blinked in surprise.

Gabriel hid a smile and cleared his throat. “Let’s go.” He grabbed the cart and moved toward the exit.

“Wait,” Samina called out as she shuffled to meet him. “He’s leaving today and I still want to hang out with you after he leaves.”

“Uh-hmm.” He deposited the cart in its holding place, his lips twitching with contained mirth.

“No really!”

Gabriel bit back a chuckle, the heaviness lifting off his heart at her agitated state. He fished out the car keys with one hand and took her hand with the other, leading her out of the store. “By the way, how’s the job?”

Samina pushed out an exasperated breath. Then shrugged. “I like it.”

Gabriel smiled, draping an arm around his daughter’s shoulders as they walked out onto the parking lot. “That’s good.”

Samina peered up at him dubiously.

“Hmm?” He steered her toward his truck.

“No lecture about maximizing my potential or downgrading my status?”

Gabriel paused, imagining Deidre’s stern face with Samina’s words. “Your mother is entirely too dramatic.” He led her to the passenger’s door, pulling it open with a gentle smile. “As long as this is what you want and you’re content where you are, I’m happy.”

“Dad…” Samina smiled softly, gazing up at him with tears glistening in her eyes.

“Oh boy….” He rolled his eyes and pointed his chin to the passenger’s seat.. “Get in before I change my mind about meeting this friend of yours.”

Samina’s smile faded and a line appeared between her brows. “Daddy!”

Gabriel chuckled, moving to his side of the car.

For reasons she didn’t dare explore, Samina was a mess of jittered nerves as she and her father pulled up in front of the Bread café. Her fingers skimmed over the seat belt, eyes scanning the front window for a tall, broad-shouldered man. Inadvertently, her heart skipped several beats.

Gabriel chuckled beside her and Samina schooled her features, knowing he would only tease her if he knew.

She paused, frowning. Knew what?

“Sam?”

She pushed back the disquieting thought and unbuckled the seatbelt. “Yes Daddy?”

“Is there something I should know before I go in there with you?” As Samina turned to him, he had a perplexed look on his face instead. “A way I should react to your friend?” His smile resurfaced; bright and full of mirth.

Samina rolled her eyes, anxiety rolling off her shoulders. “Daddy… He’s a friend.” She still had yet to mention her evolved relationship with Ezekiel, adding this to her list of grievances to her parents.

Entering the café, Samina didn’t have to search the crowd to find Topher and Nadine sitting in a corner booth. Ignoring the flutter of her rebellious heart as Topher stood to his full height and waved them over, she tucked an arm under Gabriel’s and led him around the chairs toward them.

Topher smiled warmly at them, walking over with a hand extended to Gabriel. “It’s nice to meet you sir. My name is Topher.”

Gabriel disengaged his arm from Samina’s and shook Topher’s hand. He quietly took in the young man’s impressive height and settled his eyes on Topher’s face. “Nice to meet you too, Topher. Where are you headed?”

Samina missed Topher’s answer as she skirted around him to greet Nadine seated at the booth. “Good afternoon, Nadine.”

The older woman smiled warmly as Samina slid into the seat beside her and gave her a brief hug. “You made it,” she said hoarsely, gently squeezing Samina’s hand.

Samina pulled back, penitent. “I’m sorry that you’re leaving so soon.”

Nadine winked. “We’ll be back.”

A flutter in her stomach stopped Samina from replying. Her cheeks warmed under Nadine’s pointed gaze.

“I wanted to meet you also because I hear you’re from Abbeville too,” Topher continued, a smile in his voice.

“Too?” Gabriel echoed.

Nadine peered around Topher’s bulky frame, curious to see Samina’s companion. Samina smiled as Topher shifted his frame to reveal Nadine. “This is my aunt, Nadine… Nadine, this is Samina’s dad.”

Samina’s smile froze when her father’s did. Nadine inhaled sharply beside her. Shock morphed to disbelief on her father’s face. She didn’t have to look at Nadine’s face to know the truth. Her father and Nadine knew each other.

Nadine tugged her hand from Samina and started shifting in her seat. She scooted against Samina, forcing the younger woman to step out of the booth. “I-I, we need to go.” She gripped the booth tightly, her breath becoming haggard with every move.

As Nadine bent over the table, Samina moved close just as Topher did, to steady Nadine before she slumped over.

Her body trembled against Samina’s arm and she lifted her face to Topher’s. “W-we need to go now.” She shrank away from Samina’s hold, leaning into Topher’s arm, hiding her face into his chest. “Please… Let’s go.”

Shaken to silence, Samina stepped back as Topher held a breathless Nadine in his arms and led her past a shell-shocked Gabriel toward the patio.

Her eyes fell on Gabriel, noting he stood frozen and haunted. A cold shiver skittered down her spine. “Dad?”

Gabriel moved woodenly to the abandoned booth and slumped onto the seat.

Suddenly cold, Samina wrapped her arms about herself and moved to take the seat Nadine once occupied. In silence, she regarded her father’s face. He looked positively spooked as though he’d seen a ghost.

As she opened her mouth to question his reaction to Nadine, Topher strode quickly to their table. She noticed Gabriel stiffened instantly.

Turning her attention to Topher, she noted that Nadine was absent. Questions swarming in her head, she lifted her eyes back to him. His face was somber, distressed as she felt.

He swallowed hard and turned to Gabriel. “Sir, my aunt… She’d like to speak with you…” His Adam’s apple jostled. “Would you?”

Gabriel’s eyes shot up in alarm and Samina noted the frantic glint in his eyes. His jaw worked, debating whether to oblige them and Samina silently pleaded that he would. He swallowed hard and jerked a nod. “Where…is she?”

Samina bit her bottom lip as Topher directed her father to the patio. Something was terribly amiss as her father dragged his feet to the door, his tense shoulders bowed as though he was being sent to the gallows.

Topher heaved a deep sigh and slumped into the seat. He groaned, leaning his elbows on the table and covered his face with his hands.

Nadine hurled a scowl at Gabriel as he stepped out onto the patio. Once he dropped heavily onto the metal chair, she pursed her lips. “Unbelievable.”

Gabriel slowly lifted his eyes to her. It was like if he’d been yanked to a past wrought with pain. His heart thudded violently in his chest, eyes gliding over her oval face. She was here yet not really. Gaze unwavering, he shook his head. “I can’t …believe it.”

Her lips thinned in loathing, glare revealing indignation. “I’m not Odetta, so stop staring at me.”

He flinched as if she’d slapped him. Gabriel curled his fingers into his palms, his jaw tightening. “The boy… He yours?”

Eyes narrowed. “What part of Aunt don’t you understand?” She folded her arms across her chest, face hard as stone.

No, this couldn’t be Odetta. Nadine had always hated him, that he remembered almost as clearly as Odetta adored him. He swallowed hard, a burn churning in the pit of his belly.

“Not that it makes a difference to you whether he’s mine or hers, right Gabriel Wells?”

He peered up at her, disconcerted.

Samina’s head was still swarming with unanswered questions, Topher sitting in silence across the table from her.

He sighed, broad shoulders bowed inwardly. “I don’t know.” He lifted a hand to his hair that had grown since the wedding.

Surprisingly, her fingers itched to smooth back the cropped curls he’d disturbed. She stiffened, curling her fingers inward. This was neither the time nor the place… Nor the person. Samina frowned.

Topher blew out a breath and looked up then. “I’m so sorry about Nadine…”

His worried gaze stirred something akin to regret in Samina’s heart. Wanting to ease his nerves and hers, Samina reached over the table and grabbed his free hand.

Topher gave her a rueful smile and looked down at their joined hands. His other hand lowered on top of hers, fingers brushing hers.

His touch sought and offered comfort for their frazzled nerves. Samina smiled in gratitude and clutched his hand tight. His gaze moved back to her face, now warm and tingling. In that brief moment, their parents’ unsettling reaction to one another was forgotten.

Her eyes swept over his features, realizing now that she wouldn’t get to see him for a long while. She bit her bottom lip. “Everything will be okay, right?”

Topher’s smile was rueful, uncertain.

Samina held her breath.

His thumb traced a line across her knuckles, warming her all over. “I don’t know, Samina… I think I’m in love with you.”

She inhaled sharply, her heart tossing into a somersault.

His gray-green eyes swept over her face in a caress, as though memorizing her.

She found herself doing the same, imprinting every line and curve of high cheekbones, Roman nose, and bow-shaped mouth. She drew hers in, sneaking a peek at his face.

He loved her?

Her face warmed under his intent gaze and she smiled.

Something about this, about him, felt right.

A slow smile curved Topher’s lips upward and he started to lean in. She found herself inching forward, holding tight to his hand.

“Let go of her hands now.”

At the sound of Gabriel’s firm directive, both Topher and Samina sprang apart.

Gabriel didn’t give Samina a chance to compose herself or explain, not that she could do much with her face on fire and her heart beating a tattoo against her ribs.

Breathless, she gasped as Gabriel snatched her hand from Topher’s and tugged her to stand. “Dad—”

The stormy, murderous look on Gabriel’s face made her swallow her words.

Topher scooted out of the booth and met Gabriel’s vehement glare. “Sir, I-I can explain. I–”

“There’s nothing you can explain,” Gabriel cut off Topher with a stern expression that brooked no argument. Topher drew in his lips.

Samina’s heart hurt at the contrition spread across Topher’s handsome features. She wanted to pull away but Gabriel gripped her hand tightly, keeping her at his side. She dared not look up at her father, afraid to see the indignant fury Obadiah described.

He tugged at her hand, pulling her away from Topher.

Heart in her throat, Samina looked over her shoulder at Topher standing by the booth and her eyes tingled with helpless tears as Gabriel led her out to the truck.

Frozen on his feet, Topher watched helplessly as Samina and her father left the restaurant. The ire flashing in Mr. Wells’ eyes forbade him to come any closer, to reach for Samina. Heaving a frustrated sigh, he pushed a hand into his hair.

“Christopher,” Nadine’s raspy voice grabbed his attention.

He jerked around to see her leaning heavily over a nearby table. Her light skin was pallid, her fragile features drawn with fatigue.

Topher hurried to catch her before she slumped over.

Nadine lifted a tear-filled, unfocused gazed to his face. Her breath grew more haggard, more labored, every breath pushing her body against him. Then her eyes crossed and she suddenly went limp in his arms.

Blood and warmth leached from his very being. “Nadine!” Topher swept her weightless body into his arms and started for the exit door, heart in his throat.

<<Chapter 37 || Chapter 39>>

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