The morning after, Samina and her siblings stepped out onto the porch, still dumbfounded. Having spent most of the night yelling at each other, their parents retreated into separate areas in the house. Their children felt strange leaving them alone and for once, all three agreed to stay and keep watch, just in case one of them did something drastic.
Stifling a yawn, Obadiah fondled the keys in his pockets. “I can’t believe it.”
Karen blew out a breath, hands to her hips. “Topher’s mom was Dad’s girlfriend.”
Samina cringed at the implications of this revealed truth. She hadn’t been able to sleep, replaying Gabriel’s dismay as he realized Odetta Chance was dead. As if he’d lost something very precious to him.
“Mom won’t let him live this down,” Karen continued. “And for once, I… I feel bad for Mom.”
Samina frowned. “What do you mean?”
Her brow furrowed with concern. “Samina, do the math. Topher was born in 1971. Mom and Dad got together a year before you were born.”
“1975,” Obadiah supplied gently, his grave gaze riveted to Samina’s face.
“Thanks, genius.” Karen rolled her eyes, and then grew solemn.
Gabriel’s stormy eyes and the look of horror on Nadine’s face appeared in her mind’s eye. Samina swallowed hard. “What are you saying? That Topher’s our… brother?” The word left a bitter taste in her mouth and she grimaced. No way.
Karen and Obadiah exchanged worried glances.
No way! Her stomach flipped over. Samina shook her head. “Dad wouldn’t do a thing like that.” She scowled at their dubious expressions. “Impossible. Dad loves Mom. He wouldn’t do this…” she trailed off, replaying her mother’s outrage over hearing about Odetta.
“Topher is not my brother.”
Karen folded her arms across her chest. “I know it’s disturbing to hear that Dad could’ve fathered another child somewhere, but think about it—“
“Enough.” Samina stepped off the porch, turning away from her siblings. “I said no!”
She spun on her heel and stomped back to the porch, holding her hand out. “Keys. Now.” Her face was hard as stone, though her heart was beating so fast.
Karen stopped Obadiah’s hand from extending the keys. She squinted at Samina. “Just because Mom and Dad are too distracted to scold you for keeping your surgery a secret, doesn’t mean you get to act like a brat.”
Samina scowled darkly. “Keys. Now!”
Stone-faced, Obadiah shrugged off Karen’s hand and dropped the keys onto Samina’s palm. “Don’t be like—”
She spun on her heels and stormed off, head spinning. Tears were in her eyes as she reversed onto the street and drove away.
Topher, her brother? Samina shook her head, dispelling the disturbing thought. As she entered the highway, her mind summoned an image of Topher’s bright smile lighting his handsome face. Her belly turned in anguish.
Moments later, she sat in a parking lot as the tears continued to fall unrestrained. Samina rested her head against the steering wheel and struggled to take a breath.
She recalled the first time they met; at Jaxson’s graduation where his curious, laughing eyes swept over her. Back then, she’d gotten goosebumps under his flirty gaze and was irked by it. Her heart had been devoted to Ezekiel for so long that any other man invoking feelings in her was akin to betrayal.
Treachery to Ezekiel. To her heart.
She’d fought against her keen awareness of his contagious energy. Now that she was officially dating Ezekiel, she fought against a stronger feeling toward Topher and settled with being his friend.
If Topher was her brother…
Samina drew in a harsh breath and looked up to the sign above the building of St. Luke’s hospital. Tears welled up in her eyes. By now, Topher and Nadine were probably on their way back home.
Still something stirred her to move, to step out of the car. Her feet walked without permission down the parking lot, into the building, up to the receptionist desk. Her mouth formed words, inquiring of a Nadine Chance. Her heart skipped a beat as the nurse replied that the patient was on the fifth floor, thudded violently as her feet moved toward the elevator.
She gripped the railing as the elevator began its slow ascent, summoning another memory of her and Topher standing in this chamber, both silent in their sorrows. The tears continued to fall; her heart began to ache as she imagined his despair, his loneliness.
If Topher was her brother… What I am going to do?
Topher grimaced as the resounding gong clanging against his temples. He closed his eyes against the nausea that trickled down the back of his throat. “Nadine, please.” If he hadn’t taken a seat by her bed, he would’ve been knocked off his feet from the dizzy spell.
“Serves you right,” Nadine growled, noisily stirring her bowl of oatmeal. “Who told you to drink?”
Topher groaned, pinching the bridge of his nose, clearing the dizziness before he lifted his gaze to hers. She looked fit to be tied, her features taut with disapproval. He pushed out a withering sigh and looked down, wincing. Everywhere hurt.
“You’re not a boy who needs coddling, Christopher. And stop your mindless sulking, I won’t stand for it.” Nadine snorted.
Though lightheaded, Nadine’s cutting barbs pushed him to stand. He needed to escape. “I’m going for a walk.”
“Fine,” Nadine clipped out, glaring at him. “And stay out until you’re done sucking your thumb. You’re driving me insane.”
“Like your disposition is any better,” Topher muttered under his breath, dragging his feet to the door.
“What did you say?!”
Topher cringed, jerking the door open. “Stop yelling, for goodness’ sake—” He pulled open the door and inhaled sharply.
The woman who haunted his thoughts since the Bread café stood on the doorstep of the hospital room. He almost forgot to breathe, beholding her somber brown eyes. That rebellious thought of pulling her into his arms drifted into his heart and he swiftly squelched it, clenching his jaw. Hardening his stare, he finally spoke. “What are you doing here?”
Her well-shaped mouth twisted with uncertainty, her chocolate gaze swept over his face. “I…” she floundered weakly.
Topher steeled himself against the longing to hold her.
“Boy, close that door!” Nadine’s gravelly retort was cut off by a racking cough.
Alarm ringing in his head, Topher jerked around and hurried to Nadine’s side.
Clearing her throat, Nadine gasped in a breath. “Oatmeal…” her hand hovered over her mouth, her eyes moving past Topher to the door. Then her brow drew a frown. “What is she doing here?”
Topher stiffened at her icy tone, and then recovered with a casual lift of his shoulders. Satisfied that Nadine was alright, he grabbed the bowl of oatmeal, collected Nadine’s spoon and placed it on the bedside table.
Nadine’s frown didn’t ease up but she did wave Samina over. “Don’t run away. Come here… What do you want?”
Topher snuck Samina a glance, finding her head bowed as she shuffled to Nadine’s bedside, opposite him.
Nadine eyed her warily.
At Samina’s silence, both Nadine and Topher exchanged a wary glance. Then Nadine blew out a breath. “Sit down. It doesn’t look like you’re just making a hospital visit.” She turned to Topher. “Go take your walk while we chat for a bit.”
Topher hesitated, not sure Samina could handle Nadine’s agitated personality. Even after thirty-four years of being with her, her sharp tongue still wounded him.
“Go on, boy.”
With one quick glance at Samina’s downturned face, he sighed and stepped back from the bed.
Then Samina found her voice. “Actually… I’d like to speak with both of you.”
Nadine caught Topher’s eye over Samina’s head and raised a brow. Topher shrugged wordlessly and moved back to Nadine’s bedside.
“Speak, then,” Nadine mumbled, arranging her bedcovers.
Samina bit her bottom lip and finally looked up. At Nadine. “I…I came to ask a question…”
Nadine narrowed her eyes, her lips pursing. “Go ahead.”
Without warning, his heart skipped a beat and tripped into a run. In the brief silence following Nadine’s directive, Topher gripped the sideboard of the hospital bed, waiting Samina’s words.
“Well? I’d like to hear this question before the day’s over.”
Samina stiffened. Topher grimaced.
“Did…” Samina croaked out, grimacing. She cleared her throat and began again. “Is my dad his father?”
His heart stopped beating. Nadine’s eyes widened, both gaping at Samina.
Then she shifted her forlorn gaze to his face and he mourned all over again. Now that she knew of their convoluted fate, there was nothing more to say.
“Who told you that?” Nadine hissed.
Samina shifted her eyes to Nadine, brow bent in a deep V. “Is… he?”
Nadine scoffed a forceful laugh. “That is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.”
Topher saw Samina’s shoulders sag with relief. He whipped his head to Nadine, stomach clenched with unease.
Nadine scowled up at him. “Gabriel, your father?” She coughed a bitter laugh. “What rubbish. You two are nothing alike.”
He would’ve rubbed his ears just to make sure he heard correctly. “But the picture. You told me—“
Nadine rolled her eyes. “I said your father was in the picture, not that Gabriel was your father.” She scowled darkly. “Thank God he’s not. No offense to you Samina, I’m sure your mother’s a lovely woman.”
Topher couldn’t stop staring at his aunt’s darkened features, his erratic heart thudding violently. The side-effects from the last night’s mistake didn’t help any, his head throbbing painfully as it tried to grasp all he’d heard.
Samina placed a hand over her chest, as if trying to catch her breath. He frowned at the relief eased over her features, and felt a pang in his chest. Did she really not want to have anything to do with him, even if it was blood-relational?
“I think you better tell me everything, Nadine,” he said as firmly as he could.
Nadine frowned. “Right now?”
He raised both quelling brows.
“Where would I even begin?” Nadine mused gently, leaning back against her pillow, lifting her eyes to the ceiling. “I guess from the beginning…”