Posts tagged “relationship

Chasing Truth: Chapter 32

Posted on 31/01/2020

“Are your friends usually on time?”

She glanced over her shoulder at Reese who stood in the doorway to the living room. Julia and Leilani were coming over to hear all about how her visit had gone with her father. The moment she’d texted them her father was gone, they’d arranged for the girls’ night. It was as much about seeing how she was doing as it was curiosity about the man they’d never met.

“They will be tonight. It’s been a few days.”

“Be careful about what you share tonight.”

She turned back to her laptop where she was reviewing the schedule for the next week of tours. “I don’t know enough to share anything threatening, so that should make it easy.”

“Mari.”

He didn’t say anything else, so she reluctantly turned her head again.

“That’s for your safety as much as it is his.”

She sighed. “I hear you.”

“Good. I’ll be with your uncle. Lock the door when I leave and after they get here.”

She nodded because they’d already covered how the night was supposed to go. Setting aside the laptop, she followed him to the door and locked it behind him. She hadn’t figured out exactly how much she was going to share with her best friends, but Reese agreeing to give them some time alone gave her some freedom.

Ten minutes before they were supposed to show, she heard banging on the door. Laughing, she closed the laptop and set it on the table before answering the door. Leilani drove her back through the doorway with the force of her hug.

“Stranger!”

Mari laughed harder as Julia followed them inside with bags from Joe’s in hand.

“It’s only been a few days.”

“A few days too long!” Leilani countered immediately.

“I missed you guys too. Man, that smells delicious.”

“You’re absolutely right,” Leilani agreed with a huge grin as they moved toward the table. “Let’s hurry up and load up on food goodness. Then we’ll be ready to hit you with all of the questions.”

It took longer than the girls wanted to get the food unpacked and pile their plates because it was Joe’s. Everyone’s eyes were too big for their stomachs when it came to Joe’s. They finally moved to the living room to get settled, though. Leilani folded her legs up on the couch, balancing her plate on her leg as she leaned forward.

“Okay. Now tell us everything.”

“I don’t even know where to start,” Mari admitted.

“Umm, I don’t know. Maybe the beginning?”

Julia grinned around the bite of her food. “I have to agree with her on this one.”

Mari took her time dipping her calamari in sauce. “So. He came. Obviously.”

“Janey said she saw you on the beach with a man she’d never seen before,” Julia noted. “I assumed then that was him.”

“It was. He showed up and honestly, I had no clue what to say when he did. He knows how I feel about the beach, the water. He suggested we head out there and, somehow, that made it easier. We talked.” Mari cupped the sides of her neck and let her head drop back. “What I share with you can’t leave us. You can’t talk to your parents about it, Keon, nobody. You can’t go trying to do any research on your own.” She looked pointedly at Julia. “I’m calling for sister silence on this one.”

Julia laid her fork on her plate and Leilani lost her playful expression. They looked at each other. Only twice before had they invoked the “sister silence” they’d created when they were children. Never had it been Mari to ask for it.

“He’s been gone your whole life,” Julia said slowly. “We talked and we figured that probably meant there was a pretty serious story, so I can’t say we’re surprised.”

“I talk. A lot,” Leilani told them what they both already knew and they laughed. “Sister silence.”

They each pressed two fingers to their lips, drew x’s over their hearts, laid a hand there, and then all linked pinkies before lifting their hands together to touch.

“He wouldn’t tell me the full story, but he’s connected to something that’s dangerous. That’s why he sent my mom away when I was a kid. He wanted us safe. When Mom died, the danger hadn’t gone away and he knew how close I was to Raoul, so he let Raoul raise me. He kept his distance all these years for the same reason.”

“You have no clue what he might be involved in?” Julia asked curiously. “I know you. You would’ve pressed for more.”

She hesitated. She wanted to tell them the truth about Tyler and his suspicions. This was the perfect opportunity and they could give her another perspective. They would second-guess her though, especially her continued involvement with Tyler. She was also afraid of what would happen if Tyler or whoever he worked for found out they knew. The fear made her settle for a modified version of the truth.

“I don’t know what to think. He didn’t give me a lot to go off of, other than when it first started they seemed to think it was going to be temporary. It turned into something permanent.”

“Do you think maybe he was involved in something bad, for like quick cash or something? And then he maybe got trapped?” Leilani asked breathlessly.

Mari shrugged helplessly. “I don’t know. That could fit for sure. He seems like a good guy, but isn’t that what everyone says about bad people when they find out they’re bad? ‘He was such a nice guy. He volunteered on the weekends, mowed the neighbor’s grass’? Besides, I had only had two days with him. They were good, but that’s nowhere near long enough to judge a person’s character.”

Julia’s brow wrinkled. “What are the other possibilities? He’s said whatever this is isn’t going to end, right?”

“Basically. Nothing I’ve managed to come up with has been the kind of story you want to put together about your father. That he was fun, sweet, and really seems to care for me didn’t make those thoughts any easier.”

“But the time with him was good?” Leilani asked hopefully.

“It was. I wasn’t sure what to expect. There were definitely some awkward moments, but most of the time was good. He was really interested in getting to know me. He and Raoul got along with no issues. We got to do a few things together.”

Mari’s food grew cold as she shared story after story about the times she had with Blake. Julia and Leilani clutched their stomachs in laughter and more than once Leilani tried to wipe discreetly at her eye. By the time Mari shared the stories Blake told her of her mom, there wasn’t a dry eye in the room. All three of them had loved Miranda. Sharing the stories with her best friends about her was like sharing them with sisters.

      “Outside of the worry about what he’s involved in, I…I liked him. So even though it’s not likely, I’m really hoping he’s not some horrible criminal and the story is just more complicated than I can put together on my own.”

“That’s good at least. I mean obviously, it’s complicated and it would suck if he turns out to not be a great guy, but at least he’s a good dad.”

Leilani made sense in a complicated way, so Mari nodded.

“So, what happens now?” Julia asked.

“We’re going to stay in touch. Talk on the phone, plan another visit sometime in the future. I guess we’re kinda taking it day by day and slowly getting to know each other.”

“That’s a good plan.”

“Yeah, well I’m going to need help keeping a hold on one day at a time because sometimes I really want to get ahead of myself and freak myself out thinking too hard.”

“That’s what we’re here for.”

Mari stretched her legs out in front of her before she grabbed her plate and pushed out of the chair. “I let my food get cold running my mouth,” she complained.

Julia and Leilani looked down at their plates. Julia blinked in disbelief.

“You always tell a good story, no matter what it’s about. Nobody can distract me from conch fritters. Nobody.”

Mari fist pumped in triumph, making Julia shove her playfully as they returned to the kitchen to warm their food. It felt so good to kick back with her friends and get everything off of her chest over amazing food. She hadn’t realized how much she needed it until that moment.

“Hey, how did Blake like Tyler?” Leilani asked.

Mari chuckled softly. “He had the typical dad response. He put up with him because he had to, but didn’t make much or any effort to get to know him. Granted, I think getting to know me took priority. Still, I think it’s safe to say he wasn’t a big fan but I don’t think he’d be a fan of anyone.”

“Man, Tyler is really striking out,” Leilani said ruefully. “Keon is still not a fan. I kind of thought maybe he would warm to him after a while.”

“At least he’s not as openly rude anymore. He manages not to insult him when Tyler picks me up from the shop.”

 “What wonderful progress. Do you like him anymore than you used to?” Leilani asked Julia.

“I don’t dislike him.”

Leilani snorted. Julia ignored her.

“Well, I like seeing you happy,” Leilani told Mari with a smile. “I think we can all admit he helps with that.  He watches you, you know? When you guys are together and you’re talking to other people or doing something. He watches you with this little smile on his face that says he likes seeing you be you. I like it.”

A knock on the door drew their attention. Before Mari could even start for the door Leilani was striding from the kitchen.

“We finally get our first girls’ night in forever and somebody has the nerve to knock on the door? It’s probably Tyler. Don’t let my food burn!”

 “You can’t just-” She stopped midsentence after yanking the door open. “Umm…hi. Can I help you?”

“It’s not safe to open the door without knowing who’s on the other side. You should be careful. My name is Reese. I’m a friend of Mari’s.”

Mari groaned at the sound of that voice, drawing Julia’s attention.

“A friend of Mari’s?” Leilani echoed in a voice meant to carry. “Why don’t you come inside?”

Seconds later, Leilani appeared with Reese behind her. Her eyes were wide in a silent demand for answers and Julia’s grew just as big when she spotted him. They stared accusingly at Mari. She nibbled at her bottom lip.

“Oh. Yeah. I forgot to mention. Umm, a family friend is in town for a little while. Reese, this is Leilani and Julia. Call her Jules or she’ll abuse me. Lani, Jules, this is Reese.”

They stared at her a moment longer to make sure she knew she would pay for leaving Reese out of her storytelling. They turned back to face him.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Reese,” Leilani said genuinely. “Welcome to Sakina.”

“Thank you,” Reese said with a gracious smile before he focused on Mari. “I take it this isn’t quite winding down yet. Raoul warned me you three could talk all night and never run out of things to say.”

“He wasn’t wrong.”

“You’re welcome to stay,” Leilani offered and jerked to the side when Julia elbowed her.

Reese pretended not to see it although Mari was certain he hadn’t missed it.

“I wouldn’t want to intrude on girl time. I’m sure I’ll have the chance to talk with you before I leave the island.”

Mari checked the time, surprised and yet not that so much of it had passed. It was always like that when they got together.

“Another hour or so?”

“That works. Have a good night, ladies.”

“You too.”

He smiled and let himself back out.

Leilani held her silence for all of three seconds after the door closed. “Who is Mr. Delicious?” she asked in a stage whisper.

“He’s a friend of Blake’s.”

“A same age friend? Because he looks closer to our age. And in case you somehow missed it, he is one fine man. Really fine. Super fine.”

“I’m dating someone, remember?”

She deflated. “Oh. Yeah.” She perked back up immediately. “Wait. You asked for more time. Is he staying here? Mari, Tyler is going to lose his mind!”

“He already did. He got over it.”

“He might have let you think he got over it. It needs repeating. The man is fine. No way is Tyler okay with him staying here.”

“Tell us about him.”

Julia’s prompting shifted the focus away from Tyler.

“He and Blake are really close. He pays attention. To everything and I mean everything. You could probably tell looking at him, but he’s in great shape. He’s got a good sense of humor.”

Mari shrugged and met Julia’s focused stare. She didn’t disappoint, cutting straight to the heart of the matter.

“Your dad is worried. That’s why he’s here.”

“He’s…being cautious. I don’t think he’s truly worried.”

Leilani’s mouth twisted up as she let go of Reese’s looks and the implications of his presence hit her.

“I’ll be telling everyone the same thing I told you guys. He’s a friend of the family visiting for a while. It’s not a lie. There’s just a reason for the visit.”

Leilani sank back into the couch and rubbed at her temple. “Your life has literally turned into a movie. This is crazy.”

“You’ll be careful,” Julia said pointedly. “We all will.”

Mari nodded. It was important for her to tell her friends as much of the truth as she felt was safe, but she didn’t want them to worry either.

“Reese will be around, sticking close. Just try not to embarrass me, please.”

“Hey, I’m never an embarrassment,” Leilani protested.

Julia burst into laughter and dodged Leilani’s swat. The night quickly devolved into amusing stories and endless teases. It was perfect.

<< Chapter 31     Chapter 33 >>

Samina’s Chance: Chapter 36

Posted on 08/05/2015

sunset

“Ow!” Ezekiel grimaced, looking down at a pair of big brown eyes staring at him. Beulah had his mouth pressed between her chubby fingers, pulling them to a painful stretch. “Bumblebee, that hurts.”

Beulah giggled and released his mouth. She settled on his lap and curled against his chest. Laide sat on his other side, face behind a comic book, ignoring everyone.

From her side of the couch, Sheena clucked disapprovingly. “Serves you right.”

Rubbing his sore lips, Ezekiel frowned. “That’s not very nice.”

“What’s not nice is ignoring your mother and smiling a goof while doing it.” She rolled a pair of pink frilly socks, depositing it into a laundry basket at her feet. “Honestly, Zeke, what’s going on? You’ve been distracted all week. Are you dating perhaps?”

Ezekiel’s eyes widened at the suspicious look on Sheena’s face.

“What’s dating?” Beulah peered up at her father.

Laide lowered the book, eyes on Ezekiel.

“Uh…” Ezekiel cleared his throat and glanced around the room. “Where’s Dad?”

Sheena arched a brow and then her expression darkened. “Out… Stop deflecting. Are you dating?”

Ezekiel frowned in concern. His father was barely at home these days. “Shouldn’t you be with him? He’s probably still grieving over Aunt Neve.”

Sheena rolled her eyes. “Zeke, your father is fine. Are you dating?”

“Papa, are you?” Laide asked.

Both Sheena and Ezekiel turned to look at her. Ezekiel’s heart skipped a beat and any fumbling attempt to deflect fell away at the wariness etched on Laide’s face.

“Is it Aunt Sammie?” Laide’s narrowed gaze swept over his face.

Beulah wriggled in his arms. “Aunty Sammie!”

Heat shot through Ezekiel, thinking back to Samina’s dazed expression when he kissed her and the soft warmth of her body against his. “Uh…”

Sheena gasped, pulling his attention to her face. Disbelief widened her eyes and parted her mouth. “Our Sammie?” She held a hand to her chest. “Really?!”

Ezekiel grimaced at the incredulity resonating. “Is it that hard to imagine?” And as Sheena moved closer and grabbed his hand, Ezekiel blinked at the tears swimming in her eyes. “Mom…”

She gripped his fingers tight. “You’re serious? You’re not pulling my leg?”

Ezekiel smiled, pleased that joy now danced in her tear-filled eyes.

Beulah giggled. “Silly Gramma.” She slid onto Sheena’s lap and wiped at her eyes. “Why are you crying? Don’t you like Aunty Sammy?”

“I do, Bumblebee… Gramma’s just happy.” Laughing softly, Sheena pulled Beulah close. Then her smile waned a little. “Does Deidre know?”

His own smile froze, imagining Samina’s mother. Then he remembered her sage words in the church parking lot, his smile returning full force. “Well, she did encourage me to pursue Sam.”

Sheena’s eyes grew wide as saucers. “She did what?!”

“What did you just say?”

Samina looked down, fingers bunching the silk material of her jacket.

Karen dropped to the couch unceremoniously. “This is a joke, right Sammie?” Disbelief clouded her eyes. “You did go on a vacation right?”

Samina could only swallow at the hardened lump in her throat. This was why she disclose details of her surgery or the tumor in the first place; they couldn’t handle bad news very well. She berated herself for leaving her phone at home, or at least for not protecting it with a password.

Groaning, Karen covered her face.

“Sam,” Obadiah finally spoke up, his hooded gaze scanning her face. “You’re… sick?”

Her heart twisted at the uncharacteristic lilt in his baritone. Samina managed a weak smile. “Not anymore,” she rushed in. “The surgery was success—”

“Surgery!” Karen snapped, eyes flashing. “You had surgery by yourself and didn’t tell anyone! How could you do…” she inhaled a harsh breath and with a groan, she covered her face.

Her lips quirked derisively. “Well, it’s not like you could’ve the surgery with me so—“

“Are you kidding me, Sam?” Obadiah scowled darkly.

Samina winced and looked away, smarting from his sharp reprimand. Her jaw tightened, fingers curled into her palms, forming fists at her side.

Even if she could’ve been more forthcoming about the surgery but what good would their panic and worries do for her? And why did it seem like they were mad about more than just her neglect of disclosure? Was it that they blamed her for having the tumor in the first place?

Choking on a sob, Samina turned and fled to her room, slamming the door behind their silence. Pressed against the door, Samina clutched her mouth to keep from crying aloud.

Instead of reveling in Ezekiel’s amorous pursuit, she felt sorry and increasing guilt over Topher’s disappointment. Instead of receiving understanding and comfort from her siblings, they harshly condemned her for keeping the surgery a secret. Instead of being content and successful at the age of 30, she was a social failure with squashed dreams and a debilitating condition that could rob her of a chance at being a mother.

Samina slid to the floor, too tired to hold herself up or hold it in. The sobs pressed against her palm, the tears wetting her hands and she screamed in her mouth. Nothing, absolutely nothing was going her way and she was tired of it. So tired.

Slumped over the marbled counter surface, Topher watched the amber-colored liquid swirl in his glass, soft jazz playing in the background. He lifted the crystal glass to his lips and threw back the liquid, grimacing as it hit the back of his throat.

A hand fell on his shoulder and he slanted his eyes to find a solemn-faced Jaxson standing at his side. Topher grunted and faced the front. “Nadine told you I was here?”

Jaxson slid into the stool beside him. “She’s worried.” He eyed Topher’s glass and waved the scrawny, blond-haired bartender over. “I’ll have what he’s having.” He pulled out his wallet and placed it on the counter.

The young bartender eyed both men warily. “Just go to a vending machine already.” He sneered in disgust but pulled out a crystal glass and a can of ginger-ale.

Spotting the three empty cans of ginger ale behind the man’s elbow, Jaxson offered him a wry smile and slung an arm around Topher’s hulking shoulder. “Can’t you see his heart’s broken? Have some pity.”

The bartender rolled his eyes but poured Jaxson a glass of the sparkling ginger ale. Jaxson raised a brow as the bartender squirted pure lemon juice inside and nodded in approval.

Topher scoffed, slugging down the rest of his drink. He gargled it deep in his throat before swallowing. Then he nudged the empty cup to the bartender. “Another.”

Jaxson shook his head but watched the bartender fill up Topher’s glass. “Don’t you think you’ve had enough? You’ll feel like crap in the morning.” He sniffed his drink and grimaced. An ulcer two nights before his wedding didn’t seem like a good idea.

“Leave me alone.” Topher rolled off Jaxson’s hand from his shoulder. “Go back to your wonderful life and let me wallow in peace,” he drawled, tossing the drink back.

Jaxson heaved a sigh and took a sip of his drink. He cringed, lowering the glass to the counter. Then he eyed his friend draped over the counter, sobering instantly. Nadine didn’t know all the details but informed him that Topher was in a foul mood after his date with Samina. With a grave tone, she cautioned him to be careful with Topher’s sensitivity, that he was very serious about Samina.

Judging from the scowl darkening Topher’s face, and having only witnessed it one other time in college, Jaxson knew the date hadn’t gone so well.

“Another.”

“Oh, for Christ’s sake!” The bartender barked, though he sloshed the liquid into the cup.

“Hey!” Topher slanted the bartender a glowering stare. “Be careful using that name…” He gripped the cup and with his glare unwavering, he tossed the drink back.

The bartender blinked at him, his scrawny shoulders stiffened in alarm.

Jaxson couldn’t help it. He burst out laughing. If Topher didn’t look half drunk in self-pity, it would’ve been a grave matter. His friend had a quick temper; cultivated by Nadine’s upbringing but softened by his relationship with God which he defended as fiercely as he did his aging aunt.

He slapped a hand over Topher’s stiff back and gave the astonished bartender a grin. “Relax, Toph. You’re scaring people.”

Topher grunted, lowering his gaze.

The bartender snuck away and Jaxson turned to his friend. “What happened?”

“What happened?” Topher echoed, his voice void of its usual brilliance and optimism.

Jaxson sobered. It was just like in college again, watching Topher’s face darken with the news of his aunt falling sick for the first time. It’d shook Topher to the core; Nadine was the only family he had. Blessed with four annoying older sisters and doting parents, Jaxson couldn’t imagine the pain and fear that his best friend went through. From his long friendship with Topher, he knew Topher feared being alone and abandoned. Staring at the 34-year-old Topher now, Jaxson felt that same feeling as he had ten years ago.

Topher rubbed at his face, frustration emanating from him. “I don’t know what happened… All I know is I’m too late.” He laughed bitterly, the sound stealing Jaxson’s breath. “Always too late.”

<<Chapter 35 || Chapter 37>>

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