Amina couldn’t believe it herself, she had literally come face-to-face with another human being and not blacked out. Not only that, she’d pushed him away. She’d physically made contact with a man, after five years! It wasn’t entirely unpleasant, she admitted. Now she was unsure of herself. Her body and heart were betraying her, even after the abuse she suffered. She wondered if she could ever really function fully as a woman?
Yes, James was attractive, she’d seen many men who were and it never phased her one bit. But things have been the opposite for her. Amina knew she was average aesthetically, she wasn’t even a blip on the radar when compared beside her sister. Chaunice could have the pick of the litter while she was tossed leftovers and not even they wanted her. Rania didn’t want her feeling discarded so she introduced Reginald Jones III to Amina hoping for the perfect match. Women who saw her next to him gave her the ole evil eye. They were more than willing to scratch her blind over him. She thought after a while her mother did her justice, Reggie had wined and dined her, bought her expensive gifts and invited her to his company dinners.
She made it a point to ask him to dial things down a notch. He didn’t understand she was well versed in lavish living and possessions, and she was bored with it all. All she wanted was love, someone ordinary, not caught up with material things or the endless pursuit of money and status. Growing up under successful and wealthy parents were stifling. Rania made sure Amina and her siblings were trained properly to use cutlery at home just in case they dined out with the elite.
Brendan, her brother took up cricket while Chaunice learned of investing. Amina was the only rogue child who fought against complete conformity. She hated dressing prim and proper, she hated being served as if she hadn’t able limbs. When her mother wasn’t around, she stowed away in the kitchen with the cooks or was in the laundry room learning to separate clothes. Rania blew a gasket when she caught her daughter doing manual labor and banned her from the kitchen. Anytime she wanted to try something new, she had to be chaperoned like she was a part of the first family.
She liked getting dirty and climbing trees, using slang when she thought appropriate. Amina had to admit her family was too posh. But one day Charles gave them thirty days to find a place of their own. Til this day Amina didn’t know what made their dad turn an about face on them, but for once she shined. While her older brother and sister struggled with the task of independence, Amina thrived, securing a simple house in two days. She even obtained her driver’s license before they did. That was the kind of life she thought she was going to have with Reginald. When they had kids, they’d be able to have a normal life, their kids would have a normal childhood. But she had been wrong, being with him cost her everything.
Amina didn’t know how to trust against, she felt her judgment was no good. But what else did she have to lose? She had barricaded herself from society but she’d also taken the fuel driven step to share a meal with a practical stranger just outside her front door. Right and wrong, good and bad stewed in one pot and it all looked and tasted the same to her. How could she recognize genuine sincerity when she saw it? James didn’t seem like a bad man but neither had Reginald. Oh, she didn’t know, she was all confused! In her mind, she had become a thirty-four- year old failure who had nothing to show for herself.
Amina threw her hands up in frustration as her temples began to ache. She couldn’t be bothered with all these swirling questions tonight instead she’d fix a cup of tea. It usually helped clear her thoughts. Before she could set one foot into the kitchen, her phone rang as she moved to answer it.
“Did I wake you Amina?”
“No. What do you want?”
“I want to apologize for my behavior earlier today. I didn’t mean to make you feel uncomfortable.”
“If you’re repulsed by me-”
“I’m not, not at all,” he cut in, “you’re beautiful and I’m sorry for making you think otherwise.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“Amina, if I was completely honest with you about why I left, you’d call me a liar.”
He sighed, “How can I do to make it up to you?”
“Forget it.” As she went to press the Off button, he admitted something that was way too early to reveal.
“I like you. That’s why I left. You scared me and it caught me off guard. I normally don’t turn tail and run like I did, but I didn’t know what else to do. Amina, are you still there?” Amina was speechless staring back at the receiver. What was the right thing to say? How should she feel about his confession? What was she going to do? When things got tough, she hid away, medicated herself with pills, but there was no medicine for the blood rushing between her ears. She couldn’t string two good thoughts together to form a sentence. “It’s okay, you don’t have to respond back. Silence is better than you telling me to go fly a kite in a severe thunderstorm.” James thought that would at least make her laugh, instead he listened to her cry, for an hour. She’d had a meltdown trying to sort out her feelings and insecurities, why her life was being upended now. He stayed on the line listening to her snoring lightly, anything was better than listening to her ball her eyes out.
For the first time in his life, he stayed glued to the phone until his battery drained. There was no point going to sleep now when he had to be back up in five hours. He hadn’t pulled an all-nighter since his corporate America days, and he still was trying to catch up on some rest. He didn’t miss the crabs in the bucket, the stressful day and nightly grind. Making his mark was what he thought he was doing but he was just spinning his wheels burning himself out for a wife who hadn’t appreciated all the suffering he put himself through so she could live comfortably, buy things that made her happy. But she never had enough, nothing satisfied her and it broke him. Quitting his job meant she quit him and later down the line, he was thankful she did. James hadn’t been able to stomach women since then, that is, not until Amina.
Throwing his legs over the bed, he sat contemplating if he should risk giving his heart away again. He still held bitter remnants of his marriage within his soul and in no way did he want to project those feelings on Amina. She didn’t deserve it, not from him or any other man. Shoving grave thoughts away, he reminded himself that he had a task to complete, getting Amina out of that house and finding the root cause of her panic attacks.
Tension dug between his shoulders and he remedied it with a brutal workout until he was exhausted. Dragging his tired bones to the shower, he relished hot water that pelted his skin melting away any residual stress he hadn’t worked away. Heavy lids threatened to cover his sight if he pushed on any longer. After his shower, he emerged with a towel cinched around his waist, James intended on throwing on his sweat pants and shirt but he hadn’t made it that far once he sat on his bed. The only thing that jolted him awake was the constant ringing of his cell phone. Groaning, he turned on his side blindly feeling around for the device.
“Yeah?” he replied in a rough tone.
“Where are you?”
“Yes. You’re normally at your shop by now. I called your landline multiple times to inform you I’m standing outside your workplace. Lucky for you, no customers have shown up yet.”
“Oh, sorry. I had a late night.”
“Well, are you heading down?”
“Yeah, yeah, I’ll be there after I’m dressed.”
“Good, because I have breakfast for us. See you soon.”
Charles cut the call as James ran a heavy hand over his face. Being late wasn’t professional no matter the circumstances, but he assumed there was a first time for everything. Stretching, James pushed up from the bed and went in search for something clean, he hadn’t done laundry in a week. Pulling on his clothes in a hurry, he trucked to the bathroom and fixed his appearance. His stubble had quickly grown a small beard, one he wasn’t willing to shave just yet. He still looked human. Sliding paste on bristles, he made quick work brushing then stalked for his overcoat and keys, and headed out. It took him no time reaching his shop. Charles was resting on a bench with blessed nourishment he was in desperate need of.
“Actually, it’s noon. But there’s never a wrong time for breakfast.”
“Please tell me that it’s still warm.”
“It is and what’s going on with you?”
“Food first.” Charles chuckled handing over the goods. Grabbing keys from his pocket, he jabbed one in the lock and let them inside. Dropping the container on a desk, he ripped the top off and dug into sausage biscuits and gravy. “Oh, help me to remember to thank your cooks, they saved my life today.”
“They’d be happy to hear that.” Charles had a soft spot for James, he was a good person, always willing to help yet he stayed to himself and trouble rarely found him.
After inhaling his meal, he looked up at Charles, “Do you need me to fix something for you?”
“No. I’m here about Amina. Has she told you anything? Anything at all?”
“You can’t rush someone with her kind of phobia. I have made some progress, though. Apparently, I ticked her off. She ripped open the front door after me and started yelling and pointing, shouting her commandments. I think I broke one.”
“This is good right?”
“Absolutely. We stood face to face, literally. She ordered me to eat breakfast, in the cold, outside her screen door.”
“So you’re in?”
“Not quite, but I’m working on it.”
“Now I can rest easy. You’re a man of your word James.”
“Don’t applaud just yet, I don’t know how this is going to go.”
“I have faith in you. I’ll leave Amina in your hands.”
“Did you tell Mrs. Moorehouse about Amina’s…issue?”
“God no! I plan to keep her in the dark for as long as I can.”
“I love my wife but she’ll try and go over my head on this one.”
“No need to explain. I understand.”
“I hope to have a family dinner when this is all over. Don’t forget, you’re always invited.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“Call me Charles. We’re past formalities.”
Charles left The Cobbler and James went to work. The day was a blur. Thankfully he hadn’t many customers so he closed a little early. Dialing Amina’s number always added a kick to his mood until she answered frantic and angry.
“Where were you!? I called and called.”
“How could you not answer? I could have died!”
“Wait, calm down. What happened?”
“There was someone lurking around the house. He kept ringing the doorbell and knocking on the door. It went on for hours. I could have been murdered and you wouldn’t have been the wiser.”
“Can you give me a description of the perp?”
“No, I can’t, it was too dark.”
“Okay, okay. First, have you eaten anything today?”
“No. I’m too tired to.”
“I’m coming over and I need you to let me in.”
“You’re not getting in my house!”
“Amina, stop being bullheaded and let me help. You want me there, so let me be there.”
“I can’t let you in. What if he’s still hiding somewhere close and you get hurt? It’d be my fault.”
“I can take care of myself just fine. You just stay by the door until I get there. You’re going to let me in and I’m going to cook something for you. Do you understand?”
“I’m done waiting. If you’re in any danger, I’ll be there to protect you. Give me fifteen minutes and I’ll be at your front door. Stay close.”
Next chapter here, Rocking the Boat