Posts tagged “sadness

Samina’s Chance: Chapter 46

Posted on 27/05/2015


“Now wait a minute,” Deidre called out as Samina followed her siblings to the door. “Samina, we need to talk.”

A chill ran down her spine at her mother’s no-nonsense tone, reminding her that she was not yet off the hook. They’d just been slightly distracted with Topher, with Odetta, with themselves to worry about her surgery. Samina stifled a groan, fearing her parents’ reactions. Keeping secrets and telling lies were punishable crimes in the Wells family.

“Can we go?” Karen whined, earning her a look of betrayal. She shrugged, giving Samina a ‘serves you right’ look and turned back to their parents. “I have to study before we leave.”

“And it’s too awkward for me to stay, so…” Obadiah kicked a shoulder.

Samina scowled, feeling slighted. Wasn’t he supposed to be her ally?

Gabriel nodded, waving them off. “We’ll drop her off later tonight. Be here by nine tomorrow morning.”

Samina stood frozen as her siblings scurried out the door, imprisoning her inside, her pulse racing as she gauged her parents’ stern expressions. How she wished this day would just end.

“Come sit,” Gabriel muttered, patting the spot between him and Deidre.

Samina hesitated and eyed the chair clear across the room. That would be a safer seat. “I guess I can’t stand?”

“Not an option,” Deidre clipped out, folding arms across her chest. Indeed, she meant business.

Heaving a deep sigh, Samina pushed on her feet and trudged to the chair.

“First,” Gabriel began before she could find a comfortable position. “How are you feeling?”

His concern made her sit up straighter. “I’m fine. Everything’s fine.”

Deidre scoffed lightly. “Is that so?” Her flashing eyes showed no sign of mischief and blatant scheming to put her and Topher together.

“What was it for?” Gabriel continued in his patient voice that brooked no argument or lies. “The surgery. What was wrong?”

“Huh?” Samina sounded too breathless for her own liking. Signs of nervousness, which could mean she was about to tell yet another lie. She couldn’t do that. Not with her father. His probing eyes would realize it even before she uttered the words. With a sigh, Samina averted her gaze to his right shoulder. “I-It was a tumor.”

Deidre inhaled sharply. Gabriel sat up in alarm. Samina cringed. This was what she wanted to avoid, if Karen had kept her big mouth shut.

“Tumor?” Deidre gasped. “W-where?” Her fingers grabbed Samina’s, squeezing it.

A lump hardened in her throat, making it hard for her to respond. Though the surgery was weeks ago, and her last checkup showed signs that she was going to be just fine, reliving those moments of loneliness and fear rendered her speechless. She’d been really terrified that night before the surgery. What if she hadn’t woken up?

If possible, Deidre would resurrect her only to give her a peace of her mind. Her father would hold his head in his hands and groan as he always did when he didn’t know what to do. Karen would cry for years. Obadiah would punch something or someone… Everyone would be sad.

A tear rolled down her cheek, as if she finally realized what she’d done by going through the procedure without notifying anyone. She’d been selfish, even if she was thinking of everyone’s feelings.

“What were you thinking?” Gabriel bit through clenched teeth. His eyes were red, as if he was holding back tears. Deidre didn’t bother hiding her distress, weeping aloud. “Surgery without any of us beside you. How could you do this, Samina?”

She sniffed, her mouth trembling. “I-I’m sorry! I was… scared.” She choked on a sob as Deidre wrapped her arms around her. “Everything was going wrong, with me losing a job, not having a husband or anything to call my own. It’s bad enough that I’m a failure as your eldest, why did I have to be sick too?”

Gabriel’s scowl darkened. Deidre hugged her closer. “Oh Sammie… don’t say that.”

Samina shook her head. “I am…” she insisted weakly, the tears falling with no signs of stopping. She sagged against Deidre, the sobs seizing control.

In that instant, Gabriel’s indignation faded at the sight of his girl’s tears and wrapped his arms around the two of them. “It’s okay… you’re okay,” he hushed Samina’s bawling while Deidre rubbed Samina’s back in that soothing manner as if she was six again.

Within the hour, Gabriel placed a call to Karen and spoke in hushed tones. Samina lay in Deidre’s arms, listening as her father announced that Samina would be spending the night. She closed her eyes before he turned and feigned sleep. She felt the gentle brush of her mother’s palm over her frizzy hair, felt the warm breath of her father’s sigh when he settled beside his wife and first daughter.

“Poor thing,” Deidre cooed gently, smoothing Samina’s brow. “She’s been through so much in so little time. I can’t even imagine…” Her voice trembled a little. “It’s our fault.”

Gabriel didn’t argue. Didn’t dare.

“If only I’d been more observant.” Deidre sniffed a tear. “I should’ve noticed what was really bothering her instead of worrying her about a stupid job or a husband. My poor baby girl.”

Samina felt the lump in her throat but couldn’t swallow. Not when they were gazing down at her.

“You couldn’t have known,” Gabriel insisted gently. “She’s always been reserved; keeps things to herself, for fear that she’ll inconvenience everyone or appear too weak.” He grunted, incredulous. “I wonder where she gets that from.”

Deidre snorted derisively. “Seriously, Gabe… You’re really asking?”

He sighed resignedly. “Not now, Deidre. Let’s focus on her for now.”

Samina felt a tear slide down her cheek.

In the silence, Deidre sighed. “I think she likes Topher.”

Samina’s breath caught and she quickly pushed it out, as if snoring. Her heart was racing so fast, she was sure her mother could feel it against her thigh.

Her father chuckled, his rough palm rubbing her cheek. “Since when does she snore?”

“Life is hard, Gabe,” Deidre answered in a dismissive tone. “Did you hear what I said?”

He pushed out a long-suffering breath as he always did when Deidre took that tone with him. That exasperated tone that said he wasn’t listening to her. “And what happened to focusing on her?”

If she wasn’t pretending to sleep, Samina would’ve high-fived her father. But that would just blow her cover. She didn’t need their nagging, or crying, or whatever else right now.

“I am…” Deidre sighed in resignation, brushing back Samina’s curls. “I’m just not sure she’s happy. With anything in her life right now. Not even Ezekiel.”

Samina bit the inside of her cheeks, her chest throbbing a slow dull ache. Was she really as pitiful as her mother made it sound?

“That’s not true…” Gabriel countered softly. “She’s painting now and aside from our little drama, she likes her job. She’s plenty happy, Deidre.”

Again, Samina would’ve hugged her father tightly if not for her cover. She drew in another measured breath and released it slowly.

Deidre paused. Then sniffed. “She told you that?”

“She told you too but you were distracted on your crusade to get her married.” Gabriel sighed. “Let her be, Deidre. She’ll find her way as she’s always done.” His heavy hand rested on Samina’s shoulder, the pad of his thumb brushing her bare arm. “With a mom as headstrong as you, why wouldn’t she?”

Deidre snorted. “That sounds deceptively like an insult, Gabriel Thatcher Wells.”

“A compliment, my love. A well-intended compliment.” He chuckled lightly, the welcoming sound wrapping Samina like a warm fleece blanket. She’d missed his laugh. Feeling her mother lean over her, Samina hid a smile when her parents reconciled over a lengthy kiss.

Samina stirred to the sound of a lawn mower and groaned at the dull ache on her side. Squinting one eye open, she saw Topher sitting on a chair opposite hers. Scoffing softly, Samina closed her eyes. Wake up, Samina… enough with the weird dreams. 

She attempted again, squinting the other eye open this time. Topher stared at her, one dark bushy brow raised inquisitively. Choking a gasp, Samina snapped her eyes shut. This wasn’t a dream. Topher was sitting in her parents’ living room. For how long?

She started to sit up, her legs felt stiff, bound. A blanket was caught between them, holding her legs captive. Her face was on fire, knowing exactly what he must be thinking, watching her flail with a blanket. How long had he been sitting there, watching her sleep?

Shifting a little too far left, Samina squeaked as she felt her body lose contact and roll over the cushioned edge. She braced herself for the short fall. Except strong arms prevented her from falling face down.

Samina jerked in his arms, pushing her palms into his chest.

“Hold still,” Topher sucked in his teeth, holding her close despite her pesky wriggling.

Samina lay stiff in his arms as he pushed her gently onto the couch. Mortified, Samina riveted her bleary gaze to the carpeted floor. No doubt she looked a hot mess, with one side of her frizzled curls lopsided and flat. Her eyes were probably swollen from crying. She groaned inwardly. She must’ve really dozed off once her parents got distracted with their reconciliation.

Breathing out a sigh, Topher moved away to retake his seat.

Through lowered lashes, Samina peeked at him. He looked like a mountain man; deep-blue flannel shirt stretched over his muscled torso and loose dark jeans with boots. While she still wore her musty Sunday clothes and probably had eye-boogers. He smelled freshly of sandalwood and mint, while her exotic jasmine body mist faded hours ago.

He settled into his seat and folded his arms across his chest, assessing her in silence.

Samina clenched her jaw, willing her rebellious pulse to stop skipping. She was too grown to be swept away by a man’s impressive physique and amazing scent.

Ezekiel smells like lime and clean laundry, Samina told herself, staring at him dead on. She refused to be intimidated by her conflicted feelings.

Topher squinted at her, jaw hard as stone.

She glared back. “What are you doing here?” It was much too early for heart palpitations.

His gray eyes swept over her and Samina sought out the blanket to wrap around her. Then his lips lifted in a mocking smirk, a brow arched derisively. “Long night?”

She stiffened at his scathing tone. This wasn’t the easy-going, kind Topher with a perpetual warm teasing word and eyes that often danced with mischief. No doubt he still felt slighted by her new relationship, but now she was much too tired for sympathy. “Please, grow up.” She fought a grimace at her own breath, deciding to keep her mouth shut from now on.

His smile faded instantly, his features hardening. “That’s what you say when I saved you from falling on your face?”

Her face fired. A gentleman wouldn’t have mentioned that. Ezekiel surely wouldn’t have. Samina clenched her jaw. “You wouldn’t have noticed if you weren’t staring at me while I slept.”

He pursed his lips and looked away, brow drawing a frown.

Samina frowned as her indignation fizzled instantly, leaving only regret. She hadn’t meant the accusation but for some reason, it came out as though it was the truth. Even though it surely wasn’t. He probably just glanced her way when she stirred from sleep. Why would he stare at her? Rolling her eyes, Samina started to apologize. “Look, I…”

“Next time,” Topher cut in, voice low and without intonation. “Sleep in your room… It’s distracting.”

She frowned at his begrudging tone. “What… is?” When he turned her way, her stomach pitched. Stunned, Samina shot to her feet and rounded the sofa toward the stairs.

Topher stood quickly and with his cursed long legs, closed the distance between them, blocking her path.

Samina inhaled sharply as he grabbed her arms. The smell of him and mint filled her nostrils. Her knees suddenly felt weak and she frowned. I don’t swoon. I won’t swoon!

His mouth opened and closed, wrestling over a word. Her gaze volleyed from his lips to his eyes, trying to decipher what he struggled to say.

Suddenly, Topher dropped his arms and stepped away. Samina bit back a protesting sigh, watching him drag a hand over his beautiful curls. She squeezed her fingers together, inwardly berating her wanton thoughts.

You love Ezekiel! Her head screamed even as she gazed at Topher’s dependable shoulders, having silly and unnecessary thoughts.

Topher was a head taller than Ezekiel, with broader shoulders, a longer torso and strong legs. He looked good in jeans, but then again, so did Ezekiel. Always had. In fact, she always felt fuzzy when Ezekiel touched her. Though Topher’s touch was equally warm and unsettling…


Samina blinked out of her reverie. “Huh?”

Topher was now facing her, gaze solemn and resigned. “You’re happy… right?”

Her mother’s words from last night echoed in her ears. Happiness. The word sounded so foreign in her ears. Samina felt her eyes sting at the concern etched on his brow. Topher looked better, approachable smiling. She didn’t like when he frowned, knowing it was because of her. “Uh-huh,” she managed, voice shaking. She eyed the stairs, seeking a quick escape.

Topher took a step forward. Samina took a step back. He paused, cocked his head in silent question.

“I-I need to get ready,” she mumbled the only excuse possible and hurried up the stairs to her room before the tears fell. The door closed behind her, Samina closed her eyes and told herself to breathe. She’d made the right choice; going to her surgery alone, getting a job at House of Hope, choosing Ezekiel instead of Topher. She should be happy.

Downstairs, Gabriel greeted Topher warmly just as the door opened, Karen and Obadiah announcing their arrival. Samina quickly wiped her face and pushed away from the door, to the bathroom. She had to get ready fast, before everyone worried about her again.

Within the hour, Samina pondered feigning an illness to skip the camping trip altogether. Meanwhile, Topher helped Gabriel and Obadiah load up the van. Karen and Deidre stocked the backseat with a cooler full of snacks for their long drive.

“Okay, that’s done.” Dusting his hands together, Gabriel moved past Samina to the driver’s seat. “Sam, take the middle row with Topher. The rest, get to the back.”

She squinted as her parents shared a conspirator’s smile across the hood before ducking inside their respective seats.

“Uh, Sammie, why don’t you take the backseat?” Karen intervened with a kind smile. “You can stretch out and rest some more. Toph, Obad and I can squeeze in the middle seat.” She hooked an arm under Topher’s. “She gets car-sick easily,” she informed him as they walked up to the open car door.

So it’s Toph now? Samina narrowed her eyes at her sister, clearly flirting with Topher.

“Ah, I see…” Topher glanced over his shoulder at Samina, concern wrinkling his brow.

“I’ll sit between you guys,” Karen continued, batting her lashes. “Since I’m smaller.”

Obadiah scowled but didn’t argue.

Samina quickly schooled her features. Whatever her sister chose to call Christopher Chance was none of her business. In fact, Karen could flirt with him all day, for all she cared. Samina loved Ezekiel. Tilting her chin with this resolve, Samina breezed past them. “Obad can sit back with me. It’s not a problem.”

Obadiah smirked knowingly. “That’s okay, Sam. My legs are too long for the back seat anyway. Karen, you sit there.”

Karen’s eyes widened. “But—!”

“You know, since you’re smaller.” Obadiah winked at Topher who tried his best to hide a smile.

“Hurry up!” Deidre interrupted Karen’s protest. “The others are already on their way there.” She smiled at Gabriel as he sorted out the CD-player choices.

Samina frowned as Karen slumped beside her and folded her arms. Tossing her a ‘serves you right’ look, Samina cocked a brow. “Flirt,” she mouthed, earning a loud scoff from Karen.

Topher slid into the seat in front of her, the scent of him tickling her nostrils. Samina leaned into her seat, far away from his warmth and disconcerting cologne.

Karen tugged her sleeve to pull her close and whispered. “So what? It’s not like you like him, right?”

It was definitely a whisper but loud enough for Topher to hear it clearly. Thankfully, he focused his attention on Obadiah’s words to take note. Samina snatched her arm back and glared at her.

Unapologetic, Karen’s eyes danced with mirth and something else Samina didn’t want to decipher.

She looked away. It would do her no good to humor Karen, who spent half of her day reading trashy romance novels and letting her wild imagination run free.

Her eyes fell on Topher’s dark curls, her fingers itching to touch them. Samina curled them inward and faced the window just as the car pulled out onto the street. She drew in a measured breath, ignoring the weight of Karen’s eyes on her. Definitely no good at all.

“Camping, here we come!” Obadiah whooped and both Karen and Topher chuckled. Samina groaned inwardly, slumping deeper into her seat.

<<Chapter 45 || Chapter 47>>

Samina’s Chance: Chapter 45

Posted on 26/05/2015


Deidre had one last moment of rebellion as she took in the too-brilliant smile Ezekiel gifted her daughter. He started to pull back Samina’s chair, intent on sitting beside her. Topher was rounding the table to sit by Jeremiah.

“Uh, Zeke,” she spoke up, ignoring the warning in Sheena’s glare. “Why don’t you sit by your father?”

Topher stopped short. Samina’s eyes flew to his.

Jeremiah snorted, pulling his chair out. “No need for that, Dee. The kids are fine where they are.”

“Indeed,” Sheena clipped out with a stiff smile on her lips.

Deidre clenched her jaw and squinted at her friend.

“Actually, Topher,” Gabriel spoke up, gesturing to the chair on his left. “Come sit here so we can get acquainted.” He met Deidre’s gaze and offered her a half-smile.

Deidre blinked at his wary smile and though they had much to settle between them, she answered with one of hers.

Jeremiah raised a brow. “What’s with the musical chairs? He’s fine where he is.”

“Ooh, musical chairs!” Beulah cooed as Ezekiel helped her onto her chair, boosted up by a cushion or two.

The adults shared a chuckle, Topher catching the gentle smile Samina cast on Ezekiel’s little girl before he looked away. Deidre didn’t miss this and lifted her stubborn chin. “I insist. Ezekiel?”

The man noticed her raised brow and his knotted in consternation. “Uh, well…”

Karen sighed and nudged Ezekiel aside. “I’ll switch with him, no problem.”

Obadiah frowned at the now-empty seat by him. He glanced over at Topher. “Let’s sit together. You play basketball?”

Sheena pouted. Deidre preened as Ezekiel trudged to the seat across from Samina. Gabriel and Jeremiah glanced at each other and smirked.

Topher smiled as he moved to take the empty seat. “A little.”

“You look like a basketball player,” Karen said. “You’re tall enough.”

“He’s not that tall…” Adelaide muttered and all eyes turned to her. She shrugged her bony shoulders nonchalantly, although her critical gaze swept over Topher. At the mature age of nine, she could read people very well. She knew when her father was unsure or nervous. Like now, fidgeting in his seat, with his jaw clenching and unclenching. All because the tall stranger made Auntie Sammie stare like he was the only person in the room. Immediately she didn’t like this guy.

Then he turned to look at her. “You’re right, Adelaide. I’m not that tall.” Topher gave her a smile that almost blinded her.

She blinked.

He winked and she felt her cheeks warm.

Adelaide looked down. “Laide…” she mumbled shyly.

Both Ezekiel and Samina gaped as Adelaide furtively glanced at him through lowered lashes. Samina raised both brows. So Topher’s exuberant charm extended to reserved adolescents also?

“Maybe you’ll join me and a couple of guys later for a game or two?” Obadiah asked, taking a sip of his water. “We’d love to have you on our team.”

Gabriel cleared his throat before Topher could answer. “Let’s say a prayer first. Some of us are starved.”

Ezekiel sought Samina’s eyes after the quick prayer but she dutifully kept her head bowed for an extra minute. He smiled. Her devotion for God was incredible. His heart warmed with pride that she could be his one day.

Leaning into Karen, Beulah giggled as Karen wiped a smudge of mashed potatoes from her cheek. Ezekiel smiled but Karen purposely avoided looking his way.

“So, yeah you will?” Obadiah nudged Topher just as he began to eat.

Jeremiah chuckled. “Obad, let the man eat first.” He winked at Topher before cutting into his ribeye steak.

“I thought you were heading back to Canada…” Samina spoke softly, finally lifting her gaze to his.

Ezekiel frowned. Sheena and Deidre both raised brow at her forlorn tone. Gabriel leaned into his seat.

Topher paused at cutting his own steak and looked up. “We will… Any day now.”

Feeling the full attention on them, Samina lowered her eyes. “I see,” she answered stiffly and remained quiet.

Jeremiah frowned. “Nadine, how is she?” His gaze skittered over Gabriel’s face, noting the tension between his eyes.

Topher kicked a shoulder. “She’s on the mend.”

“I should visit her before you two leave.” He gave Topher a smile and returned to eat his food.

“Why Canada?” Gabriel spoke softly.

Topher took his time chewing, mulling over the question. “Nadine said my fath—Maurice worked there.” He shrugged. “I guess he prepared a place for her there.”

Gabriel nodded, his features solemn, thoughtful.

Jeremiah sighed but didn’t say anything else. No doubt the two friends thought of their dead friend and all they’d missed over the years.

Again, Topher’s gaze collided with Samina’s. She offered him a smile, albeit wobbly and unsure. This time, he just stared back instead of looking away, sorrow plain in those striking grays of his.

She swallowed hard as her heart skipped a beat. Oh how lonely he looked, even surrounded by people. How she wished to reach across the table and grab his hand and—

“So Zeke,” Deidre spoke up. “How’s house hunting?”

Samina’s face lit aflame and she broke eye contact instantly, mortified that she’d forgotten where they were.

“We saw a purple house!” Beulah piped up, flashing her toothy smile. “Daddy said we’ll buy it.”

Ezekiel smiled indulgently. “I said we might, Bumblebee…” His warm gaze skittered over Samina before returning to Deidre. “We’re working on it.”

Samina dipped her chin, training her eyes on the steak and potatoes on her plate. Her heart was hammering in her breast and she would’ve held a hand to her chest if not for the hawk-eyes trained on her.

The lunch ended with no incidents and the men stood from the table, grunting their appreciation. Topher quietly stacked his dish over Obadiah’s. Deidre brushed his hands aside. “You’re a guest. We’ll take care of it. Go watch the game with the men.”

“Nadine’ll have my hide if I let you clean up after cooking. I’ll do it.” Topher granted her a smile that warmed all the women’s hearts all over. Even Sheena couldn’t help but grin.

Obadiah wrinkled his nose but followed suit, stacking a few plates and trudging after Topher to the kitchen.

“What a nice young man,” Deidre cooed, openly admiring the broad-shouldered man standing by the kitchen sink. “He’s not afraid to do housework. He’ll make a wonderful husband.”

Sheena snorted at her pointed words and folded her arms.

The rest of the men grunted. “And what are we, chopped liver?” Jeremiah countered good-naturedly, nudging Gabriel on the shoulder.

“Maybe I’ll marry him,” Karen teased as she wiped Beulah’s cheek.

Samina frowned as a pang tingled her insides. She avoided her mother’s eyes.

“You’re too old!” Adelaide protested, the adults chuckling softly.

Sheena laughed a bit too loudly and gathered her oldest granddaughter in a hug. “I think you have competition, Karen dear.”

Karen grinned audaciously at Adelaide’s blazing eyes challenging her. “Is that so?”

“You’re too young.” Ezekiel smoothed a hand over Adelaide’s puffy hair. He glanced once at Topher and Obadiah, his brow drawing a frown that persisted long into the evening.

Hours later, Samina trudged out onto the driveway beside him, smiling as Beulah and Adelaide raced to their car. She drew in a breath as Ezekiel’s fingers sought hers. Glancing once at his shadowed features, she noticed the absent smile on his face and stopped short. “Hmm?”

Ezekiel grabbed her other hand, lacing their fingers together as he came to stand before her. “You alright, Sam?” The pad of his thumbs brushed her palms.

She avoided his perceptive gaze even under the dim light of the half moon. “Uh-hmm…” was all she could muster for even if she wasn’t okay, there was no way she could disclose the reasons for her jumbled thoughts. It wouldn’t be fair to him.

He inclined his head closer, attempting to peer at her face. She held her breath, only releasing it when he leaned away. “I would kiss you if not for the faces pressed against the front window of your house.” He chuckled as Samina jerked her face up. “Oh, who cares?” Ezekiel leaned forward and planted a peck on her lips.

Samina jerked back, more surprised than she should’ve been.

He raised a brow, smile unrepentant. “What?”

She drew in her lips as his eyes focused on them. No doubt her parents, his parents, her siblings and Topher watched them from the window. Her stomach did a somersault, stealing away her breath. Topher. What if he saw? What would he think?

Ezekiel tugged one hand free and brushed back stubborn tendrils of hair that tickled her cheek. “I hope I’m not moving too fast for you… am I?”

Samina just stared as he tucked the hair behind her ears, his fingers brushing the skin of her nape. She stiffened her shoulders. “And if you are?”

He raised a brow, fingers paused. “I am?”

She looked over her shoulder at Beulah bouncing in the backseat, a frowning Adelaide wagging her finger in protest. One corner of her lips lifted in a wry smile. “I don’t know.” Her mother questioning if she was ready to be anyone’s mother plagued her thoughts more today than before. Although she loved Ezekiel’s daughters, Samina wondered now if she really could step into the role of stepmother. Her chest tightened.

“Sam…” Ezekiel’s gentle voice drew her attention. His smile was missing. “You know I won’t force you to do anything you don’t want, right? You know I respect and love you, don’t you?”

Samina searched his face, knowing the lines of his face that she’d memorized over the years. This was the face of the man she’d loved for all her adolescent life. She’d dreamt of being his wife, the mother of his children. Could she give up this chance just because of a passing fancy?

Ezekiel squeezed her hand, a ghost of a smile twitching his lips. “You do, don’t you?”


He smirked. “Love me too, right?”

Samina bit the inside of her cheeks. She did, didn’t she? Breaking eye contact, she leaned into him and pressed her forehead against his shoulder. “Yeah…” Topher was just a passing fancy. He’d leave town and she’d never see him again, and her conflicted heart would finally settle on what it really wanted. Ezekiel. Right?

An hour after Topher left the house with Jeremiah and Sheena tailing, Samina sat up in her seat and gaped at her parents. “What did you just say?” There was no way she heard him correctly, yet her heart pounded violently.

“We’re going camping,” Gabriel repeated, not breaking eye-contact.

“With everyone.” Deidre grinned from ear-to-ear, though not as keen on adventure as she was on potential time to set her plans in motion. “Jeremiah and Sheena are fine with it and Ezekiel will take time off since he’s the CEO of his company. The girls will love it too. Finally some summer time fun.”

Karen shrugged. “It might be fun, Sammie.”

Not really. Samina shook her head adamantly, missing the conspiring smile shared between her mother and sister. “Okay, camping with the Dames family is fine… But why is Topher invited?”

“Why not?” Gabriel frowned. “This trip was planned with him in mind.”

Her heart flipped over. If her father came up with the idea, there was no way she could protest now. Samina groaned inwardly.

“Before he and Nadine leave the country,” Gabriel continued. “It’ll be good for us to connect with him. Let him know he’ll always have family here.” His Adam’s apple bobbed, his eyes glistened with unshed tears. “I’d like to do this, Samina. And I want you all to be there too.”

Obadiah smiled approvingly. “I’m with you Dad. Topher’s cool.”

“Isn’t he?” Karen grinned in reply, folding her arms. “It’s a great idea, Dad.”

Deidre rubbed her husband’s back. “I’m sure Nadine will appreciate you making amends this way… His parents would’ve too.” She met his eyes and gave him a smile.

The odd man out, Samina quietly struggled with this charitable act. How could she spend a weekend in the company of two men who made her heart and mind constantly confused and bothered? Pushing out a breath, Samina slumped into the seat.

Ezekiel was just as conflicted, except he openly rejected the idea. “I can’t afford to go camping. We’re in the middle of a negotiation deal.” He scowled, tossing a pair of rolled socks into the duffel bag. “Like whoever came up with this inconvenience?”

James smirked knowingly from where he stood, watching his best friend grow more agitated. “Inconvenient because you’ll have to trust me completely to figure things out on my own, or inconvenient ‘cos you’ll have to date Samina under watchful eyes… or is it something else?” His lips twitched as his friend’s face darkened, fully aware of the new dilemma. Another man in contest for Samina’s heart.

“All of the above.” Ezekiel forcefully shoved a pair of cargo shorts in the bag.

James sputtered in laughter and once Ezekiel hurled him a warning stare, he snuffed it out quickly. Clearing his throat, he schooled his features. “And what makes you think this guy’s worth your concern?”

Ezekiel frowned. “I don’t know… I just… do.” He rolled up a jacket and shoved it into the bag. “It isn’t just the way he looks at her that makes me mad. It’s…”

“You’re worried that your jealously is warranted.”

It was times like this that Ezekiel wished his long-term friendship with James wasn’t so strong. The man could read him too well.

“Samina loves you, Zeke. She always has. Just because some guy passes her fancy doesn’t mean her feelings for you will change.” James smirked. “You gotta give it to her, man. For how many years, she’s only ever loved you.

Ezekiel swallowed hard. He should’ve been warmed all over at the thought of Samina loving him for so long. He should’ve been strengthened with confidence that this Topher fellow wouldn’t make her waver. But he was worried. He really was.

“That’s the problem…” He met James’ concerned gaze. “I don’t think this is just some passing fancy.”

James rolled his eyes. “Then you better step up your game.” He nodded when Ezekiel raised a querying brow. “You never really had to try winning Winsome over. She only had eyes for you, lucky son-of-a-gun.” He shook his head incredulously. “I don’t know why. I’m better looking.”

“Your modesty’s pretty impressive too,” Ezekiel answered dryly.

“Isn’t it?” James flashed him a grin. “In any case. If this guy’s making Samina’s heart waver, you’d better show her why it shouldn’t.”

Ezekiel frowned. “What are you suggesting?”

James snorted. “I can’t spoon-feed you forever. Woo her.” He raised both bushy brows. “The right way, this time.”

The right way… Ezekiel bit the inside of his cheeks, brow drawing a frown in deep thought. Was there a right way to win Samina’s heart completely?

Nadine eyed Topher warily. “So you’ll go then?”

He silently traced lines on her wrinkled palms.

With his head bent, she could only stare at his stubborn curls and imagine him as a boy, asking for permission to play with friends till sundown. Nadine pushed out a sigh. “Is this really what you want?”

Topher nodded.

Even without looking at him, seeing deep into his solemn gray eyes, Nadine knew he wanted this. He was curious about his father and who knew him best were his only friends, Jeremiah and Gabriel.

“And even if you see Samina…” Nadine paused when his fingers stilled. Her heart ached, recalling the solemn way he told her about Samina loving another. “Won’t it hurt being close to her?”

He didn’t lift his head once, didn’t answer with a grunt or a sigh. And Nadine knew then why he said yes.

More than knowing about his father and mother, Topher realized that this would be the only time he’d see Samina before leaving for Canada. He’d resigned in himself, most likely after the lunch at her place, to let her go. It was in his eyes when he came home that evening; that he’d decided to give her up.

Nadine lifted her free hand to his head, the soft curls of his head tickling her palm. She didn’t need to say a word and he didn’t ask for it. This was the only way she knew to comfort him. To comfort a man who had given his heart away.

<<Chapter 44 || Chapter 46>>

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