Posts tagged “realization

Samina’s Chance: Chapter 25

Posted on 23/04/2015

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“Well hello humidity and smog,” James drawled, leaning back into the cushioned passenger’s seat of Ezekiel’s car. His mouth twisted in plain discontent over the slow-moving cars. “And of course, horrible traffic.”

Ezekiel smirked, switching on the signal to make a right turn. “Like D.C. is any better.”

James scoffed, peering out the window at the cloudy sky. “Well at least our weather isn’t as temperamental.”

“Our?” Ezekiel chuckled, giving his friend a cursory glance. “Do I need to remind you this was once your home?”

James threw Ezekiel a scowl. “Don’t tell me you’re already used to it.”

“It’s not that bad.” Ezekiel shrugged, turning the car onto Louisiana Street. “It’s home.” He slammed on the brakes as a Metro bus swerved into his lane.

“Sure it is…” James snorted derisively, clocking his friend’s tight jaw. Shaking his head, he scanned the bustling lunch-hour crowd strolling down the street. He surveyed the eclectic mix of historic brick buildings jammed between modern-styled steel-framed lofts.

“You’ll be surprised how many people migrate to Houston on a daily,” Ezekiel remarked, slowing to a stop at the intersection. “Especially when places like Downtown are evolving to look like places in downtown D.C. and even some places in Chicago.”

James threw him an exasperated glance. “So you took a part-time job as a tour guide on your free time. Save the speech, will you? I’ve lived in Houston long enough to know not to return here.”

Ezekiel laughed, draping his hands over the steering wheel. “Never say never… Besides, D.C.’s summers can get as hot as Houston’s.”

“Bite your tongue. No summers are worse than Hou—” He trailed off, eyes focused on the pedestrians crossing the street in front of their car. “Well, I’ll be…” he breathed, a smile lifting his lips.

“Changing your mind already?” Ezekiel muttered dryly, adjusting the collar of his polo shirt.

“Yeah right.” James choked out an incredulous laugh. “You won’t believe who I just saw.”

“Who, an old girlfriend from high school?” Ezekiel eased off the brakes and continued on Louisiana Street, breathing a sigh of relief when the Metro bus turned on the next street. He sped up a little.

James chuckled. “Samina.”

Ezekiel jerked on the brakes. A drawn-out car horn screeched behind him. Ignoring it for a moment, he snuck a look at his rear view mirror and would’ve turned fully around if it wasn’t for the weight of James’ astute gaze on his face.

“You okay, man?” James’ voice hinted restrained mirth at his reaction.

Clearing his throat, he eased off the brakes and continued on. “Sure it was her?” he managed to ask as nonchalantly as he could.

“Positive.” James folded his arms. “I’ll spare you the suspense. She looks good.”

“I guess…” His teeth clenched at James’ delight on his expense, Ezekiel couldn’t help picturing her in her surprise birthday party. The yellow sheath dress that accentuated the coffee tones of her skin.

“You guess?” James mocked, snorting a laugh. “Well, it looks like she’s out on a lunch date with someone.”

“Date?” he echoed softly. Samina out on a date? Ezekiel scowled as a biker swung onto the astonishingly-narrow lane beside him. Nothing was going his way today.

James smirked at the hitch in Ezekiel’s baritone voice. “Looked like it. She was walking with a tall dude.”

A frown marred his brow. “Maybe it was her dad. Uncle Gabe’s a tall guy.”

“Uh, hate to break it to you, compadre… that wasn’t her dad. Except if by some groundbreaking new technology, he’s become thirty years younger, taller, more toned and lighter in complexion.”

Ezekiel’s scowl darkened, imagining the faceless man James just described as Samina’s companion. He didn’t like what he saw. “I see…” he managed, not knowing what else to say.

“Indeed,” James replied, amusement clear in his voice. And without another word, James returned to people-watching, openly listing the differences between Houston and D.C.

Tuning out his friend, Ezekiel scowled as yet another cyclist swerved around him. He sat up in his seat and shoved aside the nagging thoughts of Samina in the company of a younger man, knowing all the while that he couldn’t delay any longer.

Samina sighed as Topher closed her door and hurried around the front to enter the car. “Really, you didn’t need to pick me up,” she said, tugging the seat-belt across her lap. “I could’ve driven myself there. It wasn’t far from my work.”

Joy surged through her at the thought of working again. Yes, “work” at the House of Hope was more of a volunteer job but it still felt good leaving the house, driving with other Houstonians heading to work. She had her own cubicle and her business cards were on order!

Topher smiled at the serene look on her face. “I wanted to surprise you. Is that a crime?” He turned on the engine and put the car in reverse.

She shrugged. “Not a crime but unnecessary. You didn’t need to waste time coming to pick me up.”

“Oh it’s worth it.” He reversed onto the cross street, tossing her a bright smile. “Definitely worth it.”

Samina’s face fired at the knowing twinkle in his eye and looked away, watching the buildings blur as Topher entered the main street.

“So, Ms. Wells…” Topher spoke up in the silence. “How’s work so far?”

His question coaxed a smile and she turned to face him. “I like it,” she answered honestly.

“It fits you,” Topher answered, tossing her a glance.

Samina raised a brow, surprised at his confident tone. “You think so?”

He dipped his head, a slight dimple appearing at the corner of his mouth. “Oh definitely.” He smiled to punctuate his words. “You’re kind, conscientious, generous, talented, determined. And you have an uncanny protective quality that I’m sure they’ll appreciate there.”

She lifted her head. “Uncanny?”

“Mother Hen-esque quality.”

Samina scoffed out an incredulous laugh. “Mother Hen-esque?”

He grinned, eyes dancing playfully. “It’s one thing I like about you.”

Her face heated as he flashed his straight pearly whites at her before facing the road. “Thanks?”

“Oh, you’re most welcome, Ms. Wells.”

The hum of traffic filled the silence as they took the circuitous route in Downtown Houston. Then Samina frowned, turning to face him. “Those things you said earlier…”

“Compliments?” he offered, eyes on the road. “I meant them.”

Her cheeks tingled. “It seemed too easily said…” She wouldn’t readily admit that it wasn’t often anyone complimented her on anything.

He tossed her a look before smiling. “Can I be honest with you?”

Samina’s shoulders stiffened and she braced herself. “Sure…”

“When I meet someone, I make a list.”

Her brow furrowed. “A list.”

“Hmm,” he bobbed his head. “A list of qualities I like and dislike about a person.” He turned to look at her. “After five years, I’ve developed a list for you too.”

She raised a brow, curious what bad things were on the list. “Go on.”

Topher chuckled softly. “Let’s just say your good outweighs the bad, by far.” He slowed the car at a traffic light. “You know, it’s a strange coincidence that our families are from the same town. Abbeville.”

She smirked, noting his deflection. “It is strange.”

“I’m inclined to say it’s more like fate. Destiny…” He flashed her a crooked grin.

Samina rolled her eyes at the suggestion. “Actually only my dad’s from Abbeville. And besides, you’ve never mentioned anything about your parents.”

“You never asked,” he countered, pulling the car onto another street. “Actually, I never met either of them. Nadine’s the only one I’ve known all my life. All I know is that my folks met when they were kids, got together in college and had me. At least that’s all Nadine says. I know nothing about my father.”

Her heart squeezed tight, her eyes roaming over his striking profile. “What was your mother’s name?” her voice was soft, hesitant.

His lips curved in a half smile. “Odetta Chance…”

“Odetta Chance.” Samina smiled. “Very pretty name.”

Topher winked. “Not as beautiful as Samina. Your name is exotic yet homely.” He chuckled when she rolled his eyes at him. He faced the road again just as a cyclist swerved around him. “So… after the wedding, I’ll be heading back to Montreal.”

Samina frowned at a fleeting twinge in her chest. “When will you return?”

Topher smirked, glancing her way. “That question means you’ll miss me then?”

She pressed her lips together and quickly faced the window.

“I’m teasing,” he cajoled, nudging her hand with his.

At his unexpected touch, a warm shiver zinged up her arm. Swallowing a gasp, she quickly shifted her hand away.

He merely smiled, pulling into an open parking spot in front of a Mediterranean grille café. Without unbuckling his seatbelt, he turned to face her. “Samina…”

The solemnity in his voice coaxed her to look his way. When she did, Samina blinked at the intensity in his gaze. “Y-yes?”

His eyes swept over her face, a corner of his lips lifted. “I hope you’re aware how serious I am about you.”

Samina couldn’t breathe or move a muscle. She could only stare, overwhelmed by the intensity of his gaze burning into her.

Then his fingers grazed her wrist and the warmth from his touch traveled up her arm and along her shoulders. Involuntarily, her fingers curled into her palms and his eyes darted up to hers.

Samina swallowed hard, unable to look away.  “I…” she began, her throat clogged with emotion.

His fingers curled around her slight wrist, Topher offered her an encouraging smile to continue.

“Nadine…” she choked out. “H-How is she?” And before she did something crazy like lean into him again, Samina tugged her hand from his.

Topher smiled. “Doing a lot better. Hopefully, she’ll be at the wedding and would like to see you before we leave.” Then he unbuckled his seat-belt. “Let’s get some food in you so I can take you back to work. Don’t want you getting in trouble on your first week there.”

Samina nodded, bewildered by her wanton response to his touch.

As they settled in a booth at the corner of the restaurant and ordered their meals, Topher adjusted his long legs, his knees brushing against Samina’s. “Sorry…” he muttered, shifting his legs.

She shrugged silently and turned away to scan the restaurant hall, aware of his gaze on her. Unable to stand it, she tossed him an exasperated look. “What is it?”

He merely shook his head, a contented smile playing on his lips. He leaned back and draped one arm casually on the top of the chair.

Uncomfortable under his open perusal, Samina dropped her gaze to the unlit candle before them.

“Can I ask you a question?”

She slanted him a glare. “Do I have a choice?”

His lips twitched in amusement. “You always have a choice, Samina. But could I ask anyway?”

She kicked a shoulder, looking down. “Go ahead.”

“What do you see yourself doing for the rest of your life?”

Samina frowned up at him. “Pardon?”

Topher tilted his head, studying her with those gray-green eyes. “What are your aspirations and dreams?”

She scoffed incredulously. “What, are you a counselor?”

He smiled, gesturing her to answer.

Samina blew out a sigh. “Aspirations…” She smiled wistfully as if recalling a thought from a long time ago. “To be a world-renown artist.”

Topher’s brows lifted in surprise. “Really?”

Just then, a waiter returned with two plates of pesto grilled chicken and steamed vegetables. Once he thanked the waiter and watched him leave, Topher turned back to Samina. “Artist as in drawing and painting?”

She reached for her frosted glass of water. “Yeah.”

“Like Picasso or Michelangelo?” he lifted the glass to his lips.

Samina paused to sip the cold water before responding. “Not quite, but yeah.”

“I bet you’re as good as them.” He then reached across the table, hands open to her. “Let’s pray.”

At his softly-spoken mandate, Samina felt her cheeks warm and she placed her hands in his. The strange sensation returned, skittering along her skin like electricity as his fingers wrapped around her palm.

Squeezing her eyes shut, she listened in silent reverence as he said a soft prayer, blessing their food and their families. Her eyes teared up as he prayed for their health and her chest squeezed tight, recalling Dr. Halliday’s urging to prepare for next week’s surgery.

Once they whispered their shared amen, Samina quickly slipped her hands from his before losing all composure.

Topher made no mention of her discomfort and lifted his fork. “So did you ever fulfill any of your aspirations, Ms. Artiste?”

Samina smirked, cutting a piece of grilled chicken. “I wouldn’t be sitting here, if I did.” She grimaced at the bitter undertone. “Sorry, that didn’t sound very nice.”

“It’s alright,” Topher chewed on a steamed stem of broccoli. “So what made it impossible to fulfill? I thought you were an art teacher in college?” He grinned unapologetic at her raised brow. “Jaxson has a big mouth.”

She kicked a shoulder. “There was no opportunity. Hard to break into that kind of business.”

“How come? Art fairs, flea markets…”

Samina inclined her head. “Flea markets?”

“What, don’t like them?”

“Never really thought about them.”

“You think it’s only for weird people?”

Her eyes widened, cheeks blazing at the amusement dancing in his gray-green eyes.

Topher chuckled. “You’ll be surprised the talent in a typical flea market.”

Samina hesitated replying, envisioning a pen of clucking chickens and a mystical tent.

Topher chuckled. “How about you come with me once next week?”

She frowned. Her plans for next week consisted of a week-long escape to a hotel to recuperate from the surgery. She couldn’t afford traipsing through a flea market with anyone. “I don’t know…”

“C’mon, Samina. What d’you got to lose?”

Sighing, Samina warily eyed his boyish grin. Maybe the surgery wouldn’t be as bad. Maybe Topher had something worth checking out. “What day?” she heard herself ask.

<<Chapter 24 || Chapter 26>>

Samina’s Chance: Chapter 23

Posted on 16/04/2015

southerncharms2

A wide grin lighting up his face, Ezekiel strolled up the sidewalk to the front door. His heart did a little dance at the thought of seeing Samina today, grateful to see her small car parked on the side of the street.

As he stepped inside, a sweet aroma of sautéed onions and pork chops tickled his nostrils. Breathing in deep, he followed the aroma to the kitchen.

The sight before him halted his steps and warmed his heart.

Samina stood with her back to him at the sink. His gaze took in her willowy frame and he shook his head in disbelief.  Had she gotten beautiful overnight or had he always been blind to her soft beauty?

Ezekiel smiled in unabashed appreciation, watching her.

“Papa, you’re home!” Beulah’s over-eager voice jerked his pining gaze from Samina and he turned to greet his youngest racing toward him.

Hooking an arm around Beulah’s waist, he hauled her into his arms and pressed a light kiss against her curly thick tresses. He chuckled as she planted smacking kisses on his shaven cheeks.

“I missed you too, Bumblebee.” He planted butterfly kisses in the crook of her nape until she wriggled in his arms, giggling. “Were you good?” he then propped her on his hip.

“Uh-hmm,” Beulah bobbed her head. “Right, Aunty Sammie?”

Warmth traveled up his neck as he was forced to look back at Samina.

Her eyes stayed on Beulah’s face, a wistful smile curving her supple mouth.

He couldn’t look away. Not until she slanted a curious look his way. He redirected his gaze over her shoulder at the bowl of chopped vegetables. “Uh…where’s Mom?”

“Sleeping again.” Beulah pushed out of his arms and he conceded, loosening his hold on her so she could slide down.  Beulah shuffled to Samina’s side and tugged on her apron. “Aunty Sammie, can we eat now?”

“Please,” Ezekiel supplied gently, watching the warm gaze Samina directed at his youngest daughter. His chest tightened.

“Please.” Beulah offered a sweet smile which drew Samina’s own, thus causing Ezekiel’s heart to commence in a series of somersaults.

“In a few minutes,” Samina answered in a soft voice oddly maternal. When she smoothed Beulah’s frazzled curls, Ezekiel wondered what it would be like to be a recipient of her warm touch. “Why don’t you check on Laide and Gramma first?”

As Beulah shot past him to the stairs, Ezekiel watched Samina turn back to the sink without looking at him. Something about her evading gaze made him feel slighted and uncomfortable.

He swallowed hard and stepped forward. “Mind if I help?” he asked, voice surprisingly huskier than he’d expected.

Samina visibly stiffened. Then she peeked at him over her shoulder. “Can you chop some carrots?”

Ezekiel flashed a knowing smile. “I know what you’re making.”

“It’s your mother’s favorite.” She turned away, chopping a celery stalk.

“And mine,” he said quietly, stepping close to her side. “You know, I’ve always been partial to your cooking.”

Samina remained silent, much to his chagrin.

Ezekiel raised a brow at her and he inclined his head to study her detached expression. “You alright?”

Her eyes flitted over him once before returning to the chopping board. She blew out a haggard breath. “Work went okay?”

He hesitated, aware she still hadn’t much luck with the job hunt. Grabbing a carrot, Ezekiel turned it in his hand before replying. “It’s just a lot of negotiating and planning. Any word yet on the job?”

She bit the inside of her cheeks. “Nothing really. Just a position with House of Hope downtown.”

His fingers stilled. “You interested?”

“Maybe.” Samina refused to look his way, her jaw clenched tight. “I’ll meet with the manager of the center if they’re even interested in me.”

“Of course they will.” He studied the carrot in his hand. “They’d be fools not to be interested.”

She placed the knife to the sink. “Don’t say that.”

Ezekiel frowned, looking up at her. “It’s true, Sam. You’re talented and smart. Why wouldn’t they want you?”

Samina scowled. “I don’t need those kinds of words. Especially not from you and especially not right now.” She stepped away from the sink and he noticed her hands trembled as she pulled her fingers into fists.

Alarmed, Ezekiel lowered the carrot to the sink and studied Samina’s taut features. “Sam…”

“Don’t start, Zeke.” Samina gritted her teeth. “I don’t want to hear it.”

The quiver in her voice and the glimmer of tears in her eyes undid him. He couldn’t hold back any longer and moved toward her. Ignoring her soft protest, Ezekiel pulled her into his arms. Tucking her head under his chin, he placed a soothing hand against her back. “I meant every word I said, Sam.”

She released a shuddering breath that shook him. Her vulnerability wasn’t lost on him.

Ezekiel held her tighter. “I have always believed in you and I don’t plan on changing my view now. You’ll succeed in whatever God has for you.”

Samina sniffed back tears and peered up at him with uncertainty and worry behind her watery eyes. Her stubborn chin quivered to hold back a sob.

The rest of his words hung on his tongue as he gazed down at her. When did it happen? When had this woman become so fragile?

“You two alright?” Sheena’s groggy voice forced them from their shared moment. They sprang apart, Ezekiel releasing Samina who scooted to the edge of the counter.

Sheena raised a brow but moved to the stove, breathing in the sweet aroma as Ezekiel did earlier. “It smells marvelous in here, Sammie.”

Ezekiel recovered first, giving his mother a smile before turning back to the carrot chopping duty.  He didn’t dare risk a glance at Samina or he would reach for her again. The feeling of her in his arms was imprinted in his mind.

“Beef stew?” Sheena implored, peering over Samina’s shoulder at the bubbling pot of meat, sauce and vegetables. “You know how Zeke and I are partial to your cooking… I can’t wait for dinner.”

“That’s what I told her.” Ezekiel chuckled. “Mom, how was your nap?”

Sheena yawned in response and laughed. “A guilty pleasure, I have to say. I feel so revitalized, thanks to my sweet Sammie. The girls and I had a tea party to hold us until dinner.”

“I’m almost done,” Samina said softly, eyes trained on the pot.

It was just as well since one look from her would weaken his resolve to let her alone. Ezekiel chopped the last carrot stalk and brought the bowl to Samina’s side.

“How was work, darling?” Sheena asked, stealing a handful of carrot bits.

“I’ll be in Houston for a few weeks…” Ezekiel replied, peeking at Samina for her response. She didn’t look up and he caught the suspicious look Sheena sent his way.  He cleared his throat to continue. “Which means you can go back to Abbeville.”

“Praise the Lord Almighty!” Sheena clasped her hands together and grinned in Samina’s direction. “See, Sammie dear?  God answers our prayers. With Ezekiel here, you can focus on the wedding.”

Frisson of cold shot through him and Ezekiel stiffened. Wedding? His brow tightened in a frown and he snuck a look at Samina.

Laide warily eyed Samina who sat between Beulah and Grandma Sheena. Then peeking a sigh at her solemn-faced father beside her, she heaved a sigh.

Sheena looked up with a frown. “What’s with the sighing, Laide?”

The girl looked pointedly at Samina and finally lowered her gaze to the bowl of meat stew. “It’s nothing…”

“Don’t lie to me, baby girl.”

“Oooh!” Beulah gasped in horror. “You’re in trouble.”

Laide glowered at her sister. “Shut up, stupid.”

Ezekiel dropped the spoon in the bowl and directed a scowl at Laide. “How many times will I say it? Don’t use that word again. Apologize now.”

“Sorry.”

He rolled his eyes at her dry and insincere response. He was in no mood to deal with her mercurial attitude.

Sheena raised a brow at both Laide and Ezekiel. “And what’s the matter with you, Zeke? Isn’t this your favorite stew?”

The fact that Samina still refused to look at him bruised him more than his mother’s announcement earlier. He pushed the bowl away, his throat tight and dry. “Not really hungry.”

“Me neither.” Laide plunked the spoon back into the bowl and folded her arms across her chest.

“Me neither,” Beulah piped, mirroring her sister’s actions and signature scowl.

Samina lowered her spoon in her bowl and all eyes turned to her. The corner of her lips lifted in a wry smile. “I guess you guys had too much to eat at your tea party. I’ll just pack it up for you to eat later.” She scooted back in her chair and stood.

Ezekiel couldn’t hold back the scowl as Samina gathered as many bowls as her hands could carry. His eyes met Sheena’s disapproving glare and he grunted. “Fine, I’ll apologize.” As he scooted back in his chair, Laide started out of her chair. “You stay here with Grandma.”

Sheena watched Ezekiel stalk to the kitchen before frowning at her granddaughters. “Really, must you two act like your father all the time?”

“I like Daddy!” Beulah countered emphatically.

“I’m sure you do, dear.” Sheena bit back a smile. This was a serious moment. She turned to Laide. “Now tell me what’s biting your backside?”

As Ezekiel approached the open kitchen door, he could hear Samina noisily rummage through the cupboards. Mustering a breath, he moved to her side as she jerked open another drawer. “It’s right here.” He pointed to a drawer to her right.

If looks could kill, the glare Samina speared him felled him. She whipped around and jerked the drawer open.

Ezekiel rubbed the back of his neck. “Sam, I’m sorry.”

“For what?”

He cringed at her cold, detached tone like she wasn’t bothered. Like he didn’t matter to her. Ezekiel swallowed hard. “For being impossible. I was being rude.”

Samina arranged the utensils and slammed the drawer shut. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Ezekiel.”

“Oh come on! Will you just stop and look at me?” he groused impatiently.

When Samina froze beside him, Ezekiel winced. “Aw, Sam… I didn’t mean to snap at you like that. Or snub your pork stew.”

She snorted derisively, moving past him to the stove.

“So help me, Sam…” Ezekiel scowled. “Look, I was annoyed with you.”

Samina huffed a breath. “Obviously you were and still are.” She finally looked over her shoulder at him, a line appearing between her brows. “Although I don’t see what I could’ve possibly done to deal with your royal snobbery.”

Ezekiel grimaced. He didn’t know what was worse; her silent treatment or this cold sarcasm.

“Not that it matters.” Samina turned away, dismissing him.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Ezekiel snapped. “Why do I have to hear from my mother instead of you?” He wanted to blame her for his unwarranted feelings for her but knew it was all his fault.

Samina glanced at him again, face riddled with confusion. “What are you talking about?”

“Your wedding. Your boyfriend.” He clenched his jaw, the words sounding bitter on his tongue. As her pretty eyes widened, his aggravation grew. “Why didn’t you tell me any of this before now?”

“M-my what?” Samina squeaked through parted lips. The spoon ladle in her hand dripped sauce on the floor.

Ezekiel scowled, stepping closer. “Give me that, you’re dripping sauce on the floor.” He snatched the spoon from her hand, ignoring any remorse when she flinched. “Aren’t we friends? Why didn’t you tell me you were getting married or that you have a boyfriend?”

“Who’s getting married?” Sheena asked from the archway.

Both Ezekiel and Samina jerked around to face her. Samina sighed haggardly. “Apparently I am.”

Ezekiel frowned at the baffled expression on Sheena’s face as her eyes darted from him to Samina and back to him.

“Wait, what?” Sheena squeaked in a voice like Samina’s.

Samina’s dry laugh drew Ezekiel’s attention. “Is this some perverse joke to make me laugh?” Samina asked, an unmistakable glimmer in her eyes.

Ezekiel’s throat dried up as Sheena rushed to Samina’s side. He swallowed hard  and looked away, spotting his wide-eyed daughters gaping at him from the doorway.

Beulah’s scowl matched Laide’s and she shook her head. “Aunty Sammie’s not getting married, silly Papa.”

His face grew hot. The way she admonished him was as if he was the four-year old.

“She’s the maid-of-honor,” Laide said matter-of-factly, her eyes wandering over to Samina and her grandmother. “I’m sorry for being a brat. I’ll eat now.”

Samina sniffed and released a trembling laugh. “It’s okay, Laide,” she said gently. “No harm done.”

Ezekiel stood in silence, a lump hardening in his throat. Her consoling words were only for his daughters, not him. He’d messed up big time and didn’t know where to begin putting things right.

Once Samina left hours later, Ezekiel numbly followed Sheena to her bedroom. He warily eyed the suitcase open on her bed. “How long will you stay?”

“We’ll be back in a week,” Sheena tugged at her son’s sleeve, gesturing to the bed. “Sit for a bit.”

He swallowed hard and perched at the edge. Sheena settled in beside him and covered his hand.

“I’ll get to the point since it’s been a long day and you know I despise mind games.” Sheena squeezed his hand, coaxing his gaze to hers. “You’re in love with Sammie.”

Ezekiel inhaled sharply, his body hot with embarrassment.

She rolled her eyes. “Don’t even try denying it. After the way you acted today, it’s no surprise what you’re feeling.” Her brow furrowed. “Except poor Sammie might think you hate her. You guys aren’t in high school anymore. What was that childish behavior about?”

“She thinks I hate her?” he felt like the wind was knocked out of him.

Sheena narrowed her eyes at him. “You do love her.”

Ezekiel jerked his gaze to their joined hands, his heart skipping a beat. “Of course I love Sam. She’s like a sister to me.”

“Of course,” Sheena answered, unconvinced. “Because a brother would act offended that his sister has a boyfriend and is getting married.”

He frowned. “You told us to call each other siblings…”

“When you were kids.” Sheena scoffed. “Not when you’re both adults and obviously struggling with your feelings for each other.”

Ezekiel didn’t answer. He couldn’t.

She snorted. “Stop with this brother nonsense. When your father proposed, your uncles wanted me out of the house immediately.”

He eyed her warily. “I heard you were a troublemaker.”

Sheena nudged his shoulder. “The fact is you’re not her brother and she’s not your sister getting married. She’s not even getting married. Honestly, Zeke, what were you thinking?”

“I know she’s not—” he took a deep breath and released it slowly.  “Yeah, I misspoke. I already tried to apologize.” He grimaced, recalling how Samina coldly brushed past him to the front door. “I’ll try again tomorrow.”

“Zeke…”

“Mama, please.” His head was full of thoughts, his heart felt suffocated.

Sheena looked down at their joined hands and her thumb caressed the back of his hand. “You might feel a little guilty about your feelings for Samina. It’s normal.”

Ezekiel swallowed hard.

“But it’s okay to let your heart choose again. Even you know it’s time.”

Ezekiel spared her a look. Did he dare believe it?

Sheena gave him a trembling smile, holding back her tears. “Whatever and whoever your heart chooses; your father and I will support you. I just want you to be happy again.”

He pulled Sheena into his arms. The images of Winsome and Samina swirled in his mind and he shoved both aside. There would be time for that later. “Mama, I am happy… I have my girls, you and Dad. That’s all I need.” His throat tightened against the white lie he told his mother and himself.

<<Chapter 22 || Chapter 24>>

  

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