Setting down the lipgloss on the dresser, Zoey studied her reflection with a furrowed brow. “Why am I nervous?” she muttered, brushing the baby hairs along her temple. Her fingers trembled against her skin and she lowered them from view. “Keep calm,” she whispered, drawing in a deep breath and releasing it slowly. “This isn’t hard.”
A soft jingle sounded in the silence and she glanced over her shoulder to her bed where her laptop sat open. A glowing blue heart icon flashed on the screen with white text displaying “New message”.
Sighing, she stepped away from the dresser and perched on the bed, staring at the pulsing icon. Her fingers hovered over the keyboard and after a second, she tapped it.
A screen flipped over the flashing blue heart, revealing a live yet fuzzy image of a man. His reddish curly mop drooped over his bespectacled eyes and his fidgeting made Zoey smile. She settled in her seat as did the butterflies in her tummy. “Hi.”
He blinked once and a breathtaking smile spread his lips. “Hey.”
And just like that, the butterflies took flight. Zoey chuckled. “This is awkward so I’ll just start. My name’s Zoey Smith, you can call me Zo or Zoey.” She shrugged. “It doesn’t matter which.”
She grinned. “Hey stranger.”
“Eleazar,” he replied. “But you can call me Eli.”
“What’s your last name, Eli?”
He paused a little too long.
She frowned. “Hello? Did you freeze or did the camera?”
He shook his head. “Sorry. For some reason, that question caught me off-guard.”
Her lips twitched. “That sounds like a story.”
“A long one. Too long for this first conversation.”
“Anyway yeah, go on. You were still introducing yourself.”
“Right, Eli with a complicated last name story.”
He smirked. “It’s Teka-Crane.”
“Teka-Crane,” she echoed, brows arched. “Sounds like a story.”
He laughed and waved at the screen. “Go on, Zoey.”
Zoey tucked one leg under another. “Well, like I was saying. I’m Zoey Smith aka Zo. I’m a grad student at U of H studying economics and game theory.”
“Sounds like a story.”
“Indeed,” she grinned. “But a longer story than yours.”
“Fair enough. Continue.”
“I’m Nigerian, born and raised in Lagos. Came to Houston when I was eighteen to study medicine but quickly changed my mind upon arrival.”
He burst into laughter and so did she.
“You’re a trip,” Eli replied with a bright smile matching hers.
“So are you. Teka-Crane, since when?”
His smile dimmed and he shrugged. “It is my name.”
“Yeah but the first time we met, you were Eli Teka. What gives? Do your brothers know about this?”
“Zo. Don’t start.”
She rolled her eyes and crossed her arms. “Fine. I won’t start or we’ll be here all night.”
He was quiet a little too long and his eyes stared without blinking.
She frowned, uncrossing her arms. “Hello? Did it freeze?”
“I’m still here.”
Zoey sighed. “Well, it works. Congrats.”
He looked down for a moment and she heard the feedback of her voice from his end. “Yeah, looks like it. Might need to tweak stuff.”
“Don’t be hard on yourself, Babe. You’ve made a dating app.”
He grimaced. “It’s not a dating app, Zoey.”
“Fine, social app… although it’s basically set for dating activities. It’s like Skype with a romantic twist. And you incorporated my idea of blue and pink hearts for the calls, so yeah… dating app.”
He didn’t respond at first, and Zoey giggled. He glanced up and shook his head. “You’re a lot.”
Zoey grinned. “And you love me for it.”
“Yeah yeah…” The sound of tapping filled the brief silence.
Her smile eased off. “Hey Eli.”
“Do you have spring break plans?”
“Not really. Probably working on a few projects. Why?”
When she didn’t respond at first, Eli glanced up. His raised brows set the butterflies in a frenzy and she drew in a breath.
He frowned. “What’s the matter?”
Zoey licked the gloss and cringed. “Would you do me a huge favor?”
Concern gave way to suspicion on his face. “What favor?”
She choked on a laugh despite the nerves. “Dang, Eli… It’s nothing crazy.”
“Then say it already. When you get like this, it’s always something crazy.” He looked down again, busying himself with tweaking the code.
She bristled. “Never mind.”
Eli snorted. “Say it, Zoey.”
Zoey crossed her arms. “I said never mind. You’re not even paying attention anymore.”
He stopped typing and looked her straight in the eye. “You have my undivided attention. Speak.”
She nibbled on her bottom lip and shifted the weight off the leg tucked under. “Well… I wanted to know if you’d come somewhere with me for spring break.”
Eli stared and Zoey rolled her eyes. “Okay, answer already.” When he didn’t answer, she frowned. “Hello?”
Then the screen went black and Zoey’s jaw dropped. “Did he just…”
The blue heart icon flashed as the soft jingle played. Her jaw clenched, Zoey tapped the “accept” button. “Well that was–”
“Sorry about that, it froze. Gonna have to fix that but later.” Eli flashed that bright smile that could easily quell Zoey’s irritation. “Sure I’ll go with you. Where to?”
Now it was Zoey’s turn to stare. “Huh?” she asked after a moment.
He laughed. “I said sure. Where are we going?”
And as he gave her his undivided attention, the frenetic butterflies dissolved into peace.
Zoey smiled. “Home. I want you to come home with me.”
Darah paused mid-peel of her tangerine. “Lagos as in Lagos, Nigeria?”
“Yeah, Nigeria.” Eli popped a piece in his mouth and chewed.
“Well Eli, that’s… crazy.” She looked up at him as if remembering something. “Don’t you need a visa to go there?”
“Yeah,” he frowned. “It’s like going anywhere outside the U.S, Darah.”
“Answer the question, Smart-mouth.” Her scowl darkened over his shoulder. “Anwar, I won’t tell you again. Don’t hit your sister.”
“Yes Mommy,” replied a feeble voice.
“Now hug and make up.”
“Eww!” the young boy cried in protest.
Darah squinted. “Now.”
With a quizzical smile, Eli glanced over his shoulder to where two siblings sat on the floor, surrounded by toys. “If Abe could see you now. I remember when you used to bully me–”
“Because you were a brat, you still are.” Darah handed him another piece and took one for herself. Her expression softened as it did on her two children. It still amazed Eli how much she’d changed once she became a mother. It irked him how penetrating her gaze was on him, even now.
He lowered his gaze. “What?”
“Have you told the guys yet?”
“You know who I’m referring to.”
Eli heaved a sigh and chewed on the tangerine.
He shrugged and swallowed before speaking. “How do you tell your brothers you changed your last name?”
Darah frowned. “It won’t be easy but you’ve gotta tell them.”
“Well, if Abe wasn’t so…” Eli shook his head. “Sorry.”
“Yeah, you should be.” Her gaze drifted over his shoulder and she stood. “Anwar. Take your sister upstairs. I’ll be up soon.”
“I want Eli.”
Eli tucked away his concerns about the Lagos trip or the negative reaction to his name change, and turned to his nephew. “Let’s go,” he said with theatrics, swooping down to pick both in his arms.
Darah smiled as her children giggled with delight in her youngest brother’s arms. As she watched them climb the stairs, her smile dimmed. Then she grabbed her phone, immediately dialing. She reached the stairs before the call connected. “Hey Sis, I’ve got news.”