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Time to go.

Chapter Thirty

Sanniyah

They moved him to a bigger hospital room. I am pleased to see that much.

My mother is in the straight-backed chair, head leaning slightly backwards, hands clasped, her lips parted a little. She looks like she is asleep, but I know she is praying.

When I walk into the room, her eyes flutter open and a bare smile flickers across her face. "Hey baby."

"Hey mama," I say, bending to kiss her cheek before holding out the cardboard tray. "I brought you a latte."

She smiles wider and reaches eagerly. Her rise from abject poverty has marked my mother in a lot of ways, but one of the strangest is her lasting devotion to fancy coffees. I used to jokingly ask that if it came down to a choice between Starbucks, and me, what would she do?

"You don't want to tempt me on that," she would say, fixing me with a glare over her white and green cup.

She cups her hand greedily around the latte and inhales. "How'd you know I needed this?" she sighs tiredly.

"Daughterly intuition," I reply, leaning against the clacking radiator. "How is he?"

"They're keeping him sedated. Something about letting his brain rest," my mother sighs, leaning back.

"You should go home mama, get some rest."

She shakes her head vehemently. "I'm not about to have him wake up alone in a hospital. Mmmph, Lord, he won't have any idea what happened or why he's here." She reaches out and strokes the top of his hand, gingerly avoiding the IV line that snakes out of a mass of tape and tubes. "No, my place is right here," she says softly, looking at him with such love that my heart hurts.

I feel the avalanche of words coming. I need to do something. "I'll sit with him a bit, mama. You go stretch you legs. Have you eaten? Do you want me to go to your place, bring you a change of clothes? How about Otis, you think he might wake up and want something comfy from home? I can grab his robe for you, bring you some stuff."

Mama turns with a strange look. "There you go again," she says, freezing me with one stare.

"What?"

"Stop tryin' to figure what's next, Sanniyah. Does you no good to worry yourself to death."

I straighten up. "I'm not worrying mama, I'm trying to plan for you."

My mother's glare should have burned me to ashes. "Listen to me really carefully Sanniyah Rose. I...don't...want...your...plans. Do you hear me? You can't set out a timetable and delegate responsibility and all of that other stuff you love to do. Not right now. Right now we live, moment by moment, and we spent time with Otis. That..." she bares her teeth at me, "is...it."

Her tirade has sent me backing into a corner. When my hand brushes against the wall, I have to fling it out to steady myself. "I was just trying to help," I whisper. She stares at me, not forgiving me, but not dismissing me either. "I want to do something, mama," I plead.

She shakes her head sadly. "It's in God's hands now, honey," she says softly. "We can't control this, okay?" She opens her arms and I go to her, a child needing her mother, and we cry.

The tears are wholesome and clean, and I feel myself strangely renewed for having shed them. I look up at my mom, who is brushing my hair back with a look of pride. "I don't think I've seen you let yourself cry like that since you were a child," she says, in a tone of wonder. "You always make me feel bad for being the emotional one."

I laugh and wipe away the tears with the back of my hand. "I think I've cried enough in the past twenty-four hours to make up for lost opportunities."

My mother grips my shoulders. "It's okay to cry. This is sad. You don't have to do anything else than that, you got it baby girl?"

"Yeah, I think I do, mama."

My mother nods, her point made. She leans back in her chair and sips the coffee I brought her. We sit in silence for a moment. Crying has made my eyes tired and puffy, and I find myself stifling a yawn.

"You sleep last night?" my mother says sharply, without turning around.

There's no use lying to her. "Not very well."

"Go home and sleep, Sanniyah. Turn your ringer on and I'll call you if there is any change."

I am about to protest, that I need to be here with her, but the argument we just had rings in my ears. Worrying is not planning. My fretful presence is only making things worse for her. "Okay mama," I relent. "Call me if you need something. I can still swing by and get your clothes."

"Sleep first. Those bags are going to swallow your eyes whole."

I laugh ruefully. "Gee thanks, mama."

She pulls me down to her level and presses her lips to my cheek. "You're a good girl. The best girl, really. You make me proud every single day."

"Mama, I'm going to start crying again," I tell her stiffly as I pull away.

She shakes her head. "Go home, honey."

Once I settle into the back seat of the cab, I lean my head back, trying to ignore how I am smashing my hair, and close my eyes. I am deliriously tired, to the point of feeling like I'm floating.

I must have actually fallen asleep, because the cabbie shakes me awake in front of my building. I startle and wipe the drool from the corner of my chin. "Thank you," I blush and flee from the back seat as if I could leave my embarrassment there. The elevator ride up to the sixth floor seems like an eternity as my head slumps down to my chest.

But when the doors ding open in front of my door, I snap awake and am instantly on high alert.

It is standing slightly ajar.

Heart pounding, I reach into my purse for my keys, the only weapon I have. I close them into my fist like they taught in self defense class and wield my purse in my left hand like a club. "Who's there?" I shout, as menacingly as I can muster.

"Sanniyah?"

My body knows it's him before my mind can understand. "How the hell did you get into my apartment?!" I demand.

"Erm, that was me." Tricia is behind me, her excitement clearly showing in her incessant movement. "I used the key you gave me. I like him, Yahya," she winks. "And your refrigerator was a sad, sorry state of affairs."

Carter Easton is standing in the middle of my apartment, making everything around him look shabby and worn in comparison. He smiles nervously, and gestures to the open, stocked cupboards. "Hello Sanniyah," he says. "Dinner will be ready in a half an hour."

Chapter Thirty-One

Carter

She looks exhausted. I want to go to her, sit her down and fold her into my arms, letting her fall asleep on my chest as I brush those worry lines off of her forehead. Instead, I clumsily wield a spatula.

"I'm really good at eggs, and not much else," I tell her. "So I hope you don't mind giving me a second chance to make breakfast for you."

Her friend Tricia is gaping openly at me from over Sanniyah's shoulder, but when she hears me say that, she turns red and bolts from the apartment without saying goodbye. She is careful to close the door tightly behind her.

Sanniyah is still blinking at me like she is trying to see an out of focus picture. "You're here," she says at last.

"I wanted to help you," I say simply.

She finally takes in the kitchen. "You went grocery shopping for me?"

"Ah, actually one of Tallarico's stockboys did your grocery shopping. I was just here for the pick-up."

"And now you're cooking me dinner?"

"Breakfast," I clarify. "Since you didn't take me up on my offer in my house, maybe you'll let me cook for you in your house?"

I expect her smile, laugh, or maybe even slap me and tell me to get the hell out. What I don't expect is for her to apologize.

"Carter...," she exhales, sinking to the couch like she's melting. "I'm sorry. I flipped out on you for no good reason. Would it make it up to you if I told you I'm trying to get over my neuroses?"

I go to her and swiftly take her hand. She leans her head on my shoulder and my heart catches in my chest. Sitting next to her, just breathing, just like we did on the log on the beach the

first time we met. I let her go that night. Then, when I came to my senses and got her back, I lost her again.

I wasn't about to screw this up a third time.

I cup my fingers under her chin. "I have some shit I'm trying to get over too," I tell her.

She nods a little and veils her eyes. "Camilla told me," she says.


Tags: Mia Caldwell Erotic
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