“Do you like barbies?”
“What’s your favorite color?”
“Purple. What’s yours?”
“Pink. Do you go to school?”
“Yeah I do but-”
“Do you have more tattoos?”
“How many do you have? Can I see them?”
“Sure I have-”
“I like your hair.”
Unable to control herself Zara burst out laughing.
Amy’s brown eyes popped open and then she imitated Zara, throwing her head back and laughing gaily.
She was seated in Zara’s lap, her mouth stuffed with a chocolate cookie. The movement made the crumbs roll down her chin and fall onto the couch.
Zara turned her tiny head toward her and dusted them off her dress.
“Why are you laughing?“, Amy asked her, her smiling mouth displaying the chocolate stains all over her teeth.
Zara bit back another smile and shook her head.
“Because you’re cute and funny.“, she pressed a finger to the tip of her nose.
Amy took another bite of the cookie and grinned, “You’re funny too.“, she offered the cookie to Zara.
Intensely aware of Nathaniel’s eyes on her, Zara bent low, and took a small bite of the cookie.
Why in the world was this darling child so taken with her?
“And very pretty.“, Amy said again in a hushed whisper.
Zara grinned at her.
“You think I’m pretty?“, she ruffled her hair.
Amy nodded and pointed to where Nathaniel sat.
“That’s why Nathiel is staring at you, see?”
Zara choked on the piece of cookie she was about to swallow, her gaze already focusing on Nathaniel’s brown one which was painfully similar to Amy’s.
The statement had caught him off guard and she saw that in his widened eyes.
Matt and Susan who were seated next to Zara, had gone completely silent, their eyes darting between the two of them.
Zara wanted the ground to split open and swallow her up. The silence in the room pulsed loud in her ears and she unconsciously gripped her knee trying to keep the blush from appearing on her face and giving her away.
Oblivious to it all, Amy continued, “Nathiel lets me ride his back when I want to.“, she said proudly, giving her a dimpled smile.
Zara couldn’t help glancing at him.
He was staring right back at her with an unreadable expression on his handsome face.
Her stomach flipped.
She looked away.
The thought of Nathaniel carrying Amy on his back made her smile. It was so unexpected, based on what she knew about him. Was he good with kids?
Amy was tugging on her ear.
“What are these?“, she asked curiously.
Zara’s fingers caught her own earlobe. She had put on a pair of studs shaped like leaves.
Gingerly, she removed the support that held it and placed it in Amy’s opened palm.
“These are leaves.“, the girl frowned, the chocolate cookie in her other palm all but forgotten.
“But they grow on trees.“, she said again, her worried eyes looking up at Zara for an explanation.
Before she could answer, her brown eyes brightened and she jumped.
“Did Nathiel get them for you?“, she asked hopefully, as if that was the only possible answer.
This time Zara blushed.
She wished she hadn’t worn those stupid earrings.
“Actually my mama did.“, she said softly, keeping her head down to avoid Nathaniel’s probing gaze.
Zara regretted it the very next second.
Amy’s eyes lost their sparkle and she fisted her palm over the single earring.
“I wish my mama brought something for me too.“, she whispered softly, her shoulders slumping.
Zara felt her heart break.
From the corner of her eye, she saw the others instantly straighten up in their seats.
Tipping her chin up with her forefinger, Zara forced Amy to look at her.
“She did, darling.”
Amy’s eyes widened in surprise.
Zara continued, “She’s just waiting for the right time to give it to you.“, she said softly.
Amy wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and sniffed.
“I miss her.“, she said softly, her voice cracking.
Zara cast a look at Matt. And reeled back when she saw his watery eyes.
Susan was staring at her with a look of pity on her face.
She saw Nathaniel get up from his seat and come to where Zara sat.
Her heart picked up pace and she went still when he knelt down next to them.
Then he picked Amy’s hand that still held Zara’s earring and gave her a smile.
“She misses you too, Amy.“, he said in a strong voice and Zara was struck with how badly she wanted him to turn around and look at her in exactly the same way.
“And she’ll be back soon.“, he promised.
Amy sniffled, “How long will she take?”
Nathaniel looked at Zara, his eyes beseeching hers for something she still didn’t understand.
“Soon.“, he said to Amy, giving her a confident smile.
Zara realized that she was holding her breath.
Amy nodded like she believed him and then focused back on Zara.
“Here.“, she offered her palm that held the earring.
Zara fumbled as she took it back, her chest feeling heavy.
Amy took a bite of the cookie, watching as Zara struggled to put the earring back on.
Why the fuck was she shaking so much?
She could feel the warmth that seemed to radiate from Nathaniel’s body as he kept his position right next to her.
The earring slipped through her fingers and landed on the rug.
Before she could reach out to lift it, she saw long fingers pick it up.
Nathaniel didn’t give her a chance to move.
He slowly reached past Amy, taking the earring-back from her other hand. Then Zara felt his fingers on her flushed skin and she almost lost it.
His face was inches away from hers and she struggled to remain still and not bolt from her seat.
Nathaniel gently slipped the earring through the piercing in her ear as though he was handling a child. Then keeping his eyes on her lowered gaze, he put the earring-back on and turned it so that it would stay.
Zara breathed in and tried hard not to swoon.
He smelt like vanilla and coffee with just a hint of sweat and she found the combination oddly exciting. In response, her nipples tightened and a flush of color rose to her cheeks.
Her traitorous body!
Her heart was pounding in her ears and she was sure he had noticed her reaction to him.
Her skin burned where his fingertips grazed her. When it was done, she was shocked to feel his touch linger at the hollow behind her ear. Instinctively, she raised her eyes to his and was taken aback at the emotion that was visible in their depths.
Nathaniel’s eyes were focused on hers just before they dropped to her lips and stayed there. He seemed to sway toward her.
“Could you read me a story?”
Amy’s voice made her jump and Nathaniel moved back, lifting to his feet.
Zara caught Susan’s questioning gaze right before she met Amy’s.
She was going to answer in the negative but the hope in the girl’s eyes made her falter.
“Sure, sweetheart. Just let me get you all cleaned up and then I’ll read you whatever you want.“, she was already reaching toward her e-reader.
“I’ll clean her up if you want.“, Susan offered, smiling at Zara and dusting the crumbs that had fallen onto her tshirt.
Zara nodded, grateful for the help.
“Thanks, I’ll clean this up in the meanwhile. Susan will help you brush your teeth alright, Amy?”
Matt stood up and followed the girls into the bedroom, saying something to Amy that made her laugh.
Zara went about, cleaning the space, her attention completely focused on Nathaniel’s every move as he wrapped up the uneaten cookies and put them back in the box.
“Do you need help with that?“, he asked her, standing a few feet away.
Zara looked up at him and gave him a small smile, “Thanks but I’ve got this.”
He nodded and went to the kitchen.
Zara followed him and went to the wastebasket.
When she straightened up and rinsed her hands, she heard the sound of his footsteps right behind her.
She turned around, hoping to appear nonchalant.
Why was he making her nervous?
He had his hands in his pockets and looked uncomfortable.
“I’ve been meaning to ask you something for the last couple of days.“, he said in a low voice and Zara could swear she detected nervousness in it.
Nathaniel rubbed the back of his neck, his brown eyes looking troubled.
“About what happened with Danielle..“, he trailed off.
Zara’s spine stiffened when she heard the name.
“I know what I did was really shitty-”
Zara cut him off by raising her hand.
She had to tell him that she had moved past that.
“It’s in the past, Nathaniel. I’ve already forgotten about it. You need to stop beating yourself up over it.”
He didn’t seem convinced.
“I just need you to know that I’ll make it up to you any way I can.“, he said sincerely.
Zara smiled at him, “That won’t be necessary, but thanks. ”
He didn’t smile back, his eyes staring at her as if he wanted to see right into her head.
Zara turned around to wipe her hands off.
“Zara?“, Amy’s soft voice made her turn toward the bedroom door.
“Coming.“, she said as she made her way to her first story telling session.