chapter five

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I always felt awkward eating around other people.

Around my family, it wasn't that bad of an experience, since our house was largely a judgment-free zone. Plus, we usually dined together and ate the same foods.

It took me until my second semester of college to get used to the idea, since eating there usually involved a dining hall flooded with people I didn't know. I had no choice but to get over my anxiety, because it was either do that or starve, and college was already rough enough with food.

With Jeffrey, I usually ate a lot to make up for the sheer awkwardness of some of our dates (and to take advantage of the fact the food was always expensive). And with how often that occurred, eating in front of him quickly wasn't a problem.

It wasn't like I didn't understand why I had issues that involved the mere idea of food. But those were easier to overcome throughout the years than the idea of stuffing my face with what I thought were everyone's eyes on me.

Especially Ben's.

Somehow I felt like his hypnotizing golden-green gaze was scrutinizing every part of me at Christmas Eve dinner, when in reality, he was probably just mentally calculating what grade he had to have gotten on his final in order to make at least a B- in his class.

"Samar, do you want more lasagna?" My mom tilted the pan towards me, and I shook my head.

"No thanks, Mom." If she hadn't noticed, I still had half a slice left on my plate. I was too busy working on my third piece of rosemary olive bread. With all of the delectable and rather pricy food on the table, I ended up finding the most satisfaction from a simple loaf of bread.

"I'll gladly take some," my dad offered, reaching over so my mom could serve him a slice. Instead, she whacked his hand away.

"You don't need anymore lasagna. I thought you said you were trying to watch your weight?"

"I don't remember saying that..." he replied, pursing his lips and looking away.

"I think you did on Tha—" I kicked Ben's leg under the table with the point of my shoe, angrily glaring at him. I didn't know if he didn't detect my dad's sarcasm or if he was trying to start drama, but I wasn't having any of it. He bit the side of his cheek in pain and tilted his head downwards towards his plate, mumbling a curse at me once again.

"Well, Mama, to end this, Dad is not fat," Leila began, swallowing a bite of bread. Raising her index finger with a pointy burgundy-painted nail, she added, "However, it's always good for everyone to be mindful about portions on the holidays. Besides, I think we all want to look good for our vacation."

My head popped up, and I raised a confused eyebrow. Vacation? "Wait, what are you talking about?"

She glanced at me as she cut Ella's piece of roast into small pieces. Then she looked over at my parents, as if not understanding why I was left out of the plans. "We didn't tell you?"

"Well, last time I recall, there were no vacation plans."

"If it makes you feel better, Sammy," Ben began, using the nickname he knew I hated. "I have no idea what she's talking about."

"I think you said you wanted to keep it a surprise for them?" Eric stated, glancing at my parents. Ella hopped off the table then and began to run away from the dining room when Eric caught her by the waist and hoisted her onto his lap. She let out a high-pitched whine at first but soon enough began to giggle as he whispered something into her ear.

She was so growing up to be a daddy's girl.

My mom swallowed the last of her drink and set the glass down definitively. She sat at the opposite side of the table next to my dad and Eric, so she tilted her head to make eye contact with Ben and me. "Well, I suppose we can't keep it a surprise for long. The day after Christmas, we're all heading to Florida!"

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