James drove to Amina as fast as he could, within the legal speed limit. Soon he was knocking on the screen door, calling out for her to let him in.
“Amina I know you’re in there. Open up.” She still hadn’t come to a decision whether she would let him inside. It was bad enough some creeper had been on her property sneaking around causing anxiety to paralyze her in the middle of the living room floor. Now James was here just waiting for her to welcome him in with open arms, no reservations. Her back was to the door, head tilted up as if she were looking to god for the answer.
“Amina. I’m here. Just let me in and I’ll take care of the rest. I promise.”
“What guarantee do I have you won’t try to hurt me?”
“Isn’t my word good enough?”
“People say a lot of things they don’t mean in order to get what they want.”
“Well, what I want is to protect you, to make you feel safe, but I can’t do that if you don’t meet me at least part of the way. I know it’s a lot to ask you to trust me, but I can promise you, you won’t regret it.” Fear kept her welded in place while her heart thumped wildly at the possibility he was being sincere.
Waiting was getting to him and the gentleman within was fading by the second. James wanted to rip the screen door from its hinges and bust down the front door before him. But that would only serve to scare Amina more. Never had he the urge in the pit of his stomach to bogard his way into any place. He had to reign in his patience and endure just a little longer. Anticipation stood him on his toes as seconds ate away until the heavy sound of the top lock pulled back. A pent up breath he hadn’t known he was holding escaped his lips. It took all his might not to celebrate, even a little as hope filled his chest.
Swinging the heavy cedar door open, Amina put her hand on the handle contemplating flicking the lock up, letting James inside. She hoped she wasn’t making another dreadful decision because she couldn’t live through another personal violation. Hand trembling, she gripped the handle and listened to the lock scrape upward making her cringe and fold in on herself. Slowly, James reached for the handle while keeping his eyes on Amina. She was trembling and panic flashed across her face. Pulling the screen open, James carefully stepped inside as she inched away, wrapping her arms around her body. She didn’t know what to say so she plopped herself on the couch, watching him watch her.
James stood a moment, watching her from afar. She obviously didn’t want to look him in the face, probably to keep from falling apart. Soon, he launched off into the kitchen and made do with what was left in Amina’s refrigerator. It did her no good not to take care of herself and he’d make her see that. So, fried rice it was with a side of stir-fried vegetables. “Food’s ready. Come to the table.” Amina reluctantly obeyed, keeping her eyes training on the floor as she sauntered into her small dining room. Pulling the chair out she sat down with her hands tight in her lap. James stood on the opposite side of the table, placed her plate in front of her and waited.
“This is too much food.” she lamented as she surveyed her plate.
“You probably haven’t eaten all day. It’s only a half a cup of rice and vegetables. Eat. I’ll pour you a glass of water.” He returned with her glass and a plate of food. James wanted to dine with her, to get her used to his presence. Amina picked at the rice and pushed over peppers with her fork. She hadn’t had an appetite in days and didn’t like being forced to eat under prying eyes.
“Stop watching me.” she continued.
“Wouldn’t have to if you’d eat something.”
“I’m not hungry.”
“You don’t get to boss me around in my own home.” Her eyes flew up from her plate meeting his.
“I’m not bossing you, but you’re not taking care of yourself. When’s the last time you ate?”
“What’s it to you?” Amina challenged.
“When I see a beautiful woman wasting away, hiding in her house because she’s scared to death of stepping one foot outside her door, I can’t just look the other way.”
“Well, I didn’t ask for your pity!”
“You didn’t have to. And I don’t pity you. You know as well as I do, you’ll die in this house if you don’t make the decision to do something different.”
“I’ve lived just fine the last five years.”
“That’s a load of crap Amina, and you know it. You’re a smart woman but you’re not acting like it.”
“If you think I’m so stupid then you can just get out.” she shot up from the table and marched off.
“I’m not going anywhere.” James pushed back from the table, following her down the hall catching her by the elbow. “You listen to me,” he demanded as he spun her around, pushing her against the wall, “you will leave this house one way or another. You will live and find out what the world has to offer. There’s no sense hiding from people, you’re going to get hurt at some point, life is designed that way. You can’t avoid it.”
“I can and I have.”
“You’re dying, don’t you see that?”
“How can you be so selfish?”
“It’s my life. I can do with it what I please.”
“Your life is not your own. What about your family, huh? How do you think they’d feel if they lost you? Have you thought about that?”
“They haven’t checked on me in five years. They don’t care about me.”
“That is not true.”
“What do you know? You think you have an in with my father, my family and suddenly you’re the expert on all things Moorehouse?”
“No. I don’t know everything about your family, but what I do know is that I don’t want to lose you either.”
“I don’t care what you or anyone else wants! Leave me alone.”
“I can’t do that Amina. I’ll come by rain, snow or sunshine in order to keep you alive. You’re not dying on me, not when..”
“Not when what? You’re in love with me now?” she mocked.
“I’m not in love with you, yet. I’ve been upfront with you. You know I like you and that isn’t going to change. You’re stuck with me whether you like it or not.”
“I’ll call the police and sue you for harassment.”
James’s lips lifted in a half smile, “You do that, and I’ll be sitting right over there,” he pointed to the dining room table, “finishing my dinner.” As he back away, she felt her breath being forced from her lungs. His scent lingered, almost smelled woodsy, like all those Christmas’s spent at the estate, fireside, staked out in front of the living room window watching snow cover the landscape. She missed those times… Inhaling, she held it for a beat then exhaled and shook herself. What was this man doing to her? He smiled right in her face when she threatened to call the authorities. What sane person found humor in that? Against better judgment, Amina returned to the dining room, watching him as she sat at the table.
“Nothing’s funny, stop grinning.”
“Oh, sweetheart, I’m beginning to find many things funny these days.” Amina didn’t reply, instead, she absently stabbed at her food with her lips furled. James shifted uncomfortably in his seat at the image of fork tines sliding smoothly over her lips. He licked his lips while gazing back at Amina.
“What are you staring at?”
“Nothing.” His voice sounded a little too husky for his liking and hoped Amina hadn’t caught the change.
“You are leaving after dinner?”
“No, I’m staying the night.”
“Why else would I stay?”
“That’s what I want to know.”
“I’m not going to hurt you Amina. Relax.”
“You still haven’t answered my question.” Amina didn’t know why she was being so pushy, but she couldn’t help herself.
“You said there was someone lurking around your property. I’m here to see what I can see.”
“I forgot about that.”
“I’ll stay up a while then crash on your living room floor.” Amina’s conscious pricked with guilt for her bad manners. There was an extra room right across from hers that could save his back from unnecessary stiffness and pain in the morning, but she thought he should at least suffer for ordering her around. It was childish, she knew, but she didn’t care. They continued eating in silence until they’d consumed every morsel on their plates. Pushing back, James grabbed her plate and carried his own to the kitchen, setting them in the sink. He made quick work of the dishes while Amina scurried off down the hallway, probably to her room, he thought.
There was nothing about Amina that escaped his sight, like the way that she moved. It was that familiar Moorehouse gait only more sensual when it came to Amina. Though she had dropped down to an unhealthy weight, her hips were more than enough to capture his attention. He could only imagine what she’d look like once she was back at a hundred percent. Every time he’d seen her, her coal black curly hair was pulled into a ball at the nape of her neck. He wondered what she’d look like with her hair loose. What he didn’t have to wonder about was her plump lips, how’d they feel against his. He knew it would be curtains if they ever kissed.
After drying the last dish, James pulled off his shoes and sat them next to the wall and made his way to the living room. Sprawling himself over the carpet, tucking an arm under his neck, thoughts of Amina raced in his mind. It was going to be difficult to rest tonight. James shifted and adjusted to control the tightening in his groin. It was true he wanted her, but he wanted more than her body, he wanted all of her. He wanted Amina to be just as crazy about him as he was about her. Sighing, he hoped to earn her trust, inch by excruciating inch before anything sexual happened between them.
After waiting for what seemed an eternity, Amina kept her ear pressed against her bedroom door for any noise James made. It was quiet, too quiet. Turning the knob, gently opening the door, Amina stepped out into the dark hallway, silently sneaking to the front of the house like a thief in the night. Her behavior surprised her, James had her on pins and needles with what he was or wasn’t going to do, and here she was acting like an emotionally confused teenager. It was embarrassing and she needed to stop, so she stood flat-footed with her shoulders back and chin up and walked into her living room watching James sleep.
Indecision tugged inside her mind whether to go over and slip a pillow that rested on the couch cushions, underneath his head. What harm could it do? So she tiptoed over to retrieve a small throw pillow and knelt beside the arm that cradled in his head. Amina leaned over covering half his face unknowingly with the hem of her white oversized button down while trying to control her jitters.
“What are you doing?” Amina yelped and dropped the pillow on James’s face. Her hands shot over her eyes in embarrassment. She was only trying to do the right thing! He probably thought she was trying to jump his bones. Pulling her hands away, James was staring up at her seemingly relaxed on his back.
“I thought you might need a pillow since you’re sleeping on the floor.” she rushed on.
“That was thoughtful of you, but I’m okay.” Amina nodded yet her eyes stayed glued to his, all the while in a trance she wasn’t aware she’d slipped into.
“I-I thought you were sleep.”
“Not yet, sweetheart.” James finally noticed she’d let her hair down, flowing like waves just above her nipples. Two top buttons were undone, exposing soft flesh that just hid her breasts. When he’d finally forced his body and mind into submission, here she was tempting him again, and my oh my did she smell divine. He didn’t know what fragrance she was wearing but it was beginning to cloud his judgment. “Stop it.”
“Looking at me like that. Go back to bed Amina.” She stayed beside him staring not fully understanding what he meant.
“I was just trying to help.”
“I know and I appreciate it. Now go get some rest, sweetheart.” He tried to be as gentle as possible with his words but they had stung despite his best intentions. Amina jerked back as if she’d been slapped yet managed to push to her feet, then turned and walked away. Sauntering down the hall, she rubbed at her chest, trying to excise the growing pain forming in her heart. Amina inhaled a trembling breath as tears stung her eyes and exhaled forcing herself to stay calm. She didn’t know why she wanted to cry, there was no good reason for it. So what he’d rejected her kindness, it wasn’t like it was the first time that it happened to her. Fine, his back could snap in two for all she cared! It wasn’t her problem.
Closing the door behind her, she crawled into bed pulling the covers up to her neck and stared up at the ceiling until sleep drug her under. The nightmares never failed to replay when she fell into a deep sleep. Sometimes she felt shackled to that alternate world and had to fight hard to get back to her own. This time was no exception. She always heard herself screaming in her nightmares, in a pitch black room, bound and gagged. Nobody heard her, nobody ever would, he’d made sure of it. Suddenly, Amina felt hands clamp over her arms as she thrashed around violently, kicking and screaming, anything to save her life.
“Amina! Amina! Wake up.” James shook her until her eyes shot open. Amina struggled and struggled to be free of these phantom limbs that held her fast.
“Let me go!”
“It’s okay. It’s me Amina. Calm down, I’m not going to hurt you.” Her heart was pounding a mile a minute and showed no signs of slowing down until he clutched her face between his hands. “Look at me, look at me. Breathe.” Her eyes widened and her distorted vision cleared to find James looking back at her, brows furrowed.
“James!” she repeated his name to make sure she was back in reality. Amina crawled into his arms, curled up against his chest shivering just like that early winter morning stranger’s were kind enough to pick her up off the side of the road.
“It’s okay sweetheart.” he cooed against her ear. When he tried to adjust his position, she gripped his shirt tight.
“Don’t.” she pleaded.
“I’m not going anywhere. I promise.” He held her fast until her body became lax. His heart felt as if someone dropped a ton of bricks on it. A hard grim expression knitted his eyebrows together and lips were in a thin tight line. He didn’t want to think the worst, there were other reasons she could be having nightmares, why she won’t leave her house. He hoped and prayed it was something simple she could overcome just by coaxing and coaching her with his words. If not, he’d wreak bloody havoc on anyone who purposely hurt her, and that was a promise.
Next chapter here, Rocking the Boat