chapter fourteen

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"How come we've been here all day and you haven't eaten anything?" Ben asked as we left Mexico, our last destination of the day. Our noses and cheeks were tinted red from walking in the sun all day—his more so than mine—and our steps sluggish—his less than mine, because he had nearly eaten the whole world.

Literally.

"I told you I had a huge breakfast this morning," I replied, quickening my pace as he inched closer. I wasn't in the mood of discussing this now. We were in Disney World, supposedly the place where your troubles disappeared and were replaced by childlike imagination.

I supposed Ben and I had done a little imagining today, since we answered "yes" to the woman at the counter of the Moroccan gift shop when she asked if we were a couple. We snickered as we left the store, though our laughter quickly subsided, likely replaced by the prospect of being able to honestly answer that question with a "yes."

"Breakfast was eight hours ago, Samar," he replied, at my heels now. "You're not trying to starve yourself or something, are you?"

"No, I'm not," I replied firmly, because the issue wasn't with food itself—at least at this point in my life. The issue was with food and him and all the negative memories that came with it. I was not someone who enjoyed mulling over past happenings, yet with Ben it almost seemed like it wasn't a choice.

Every time I thought I wanted to bring him closer into my life, I was reminded of the fact I let him be the detriment of my self esteem all throughout my childhood.

And I knew that he was young and stupid when he said all that he had, yet the human mind didn't work that way. It subtracted motivations and knowledge from the equation and left an indelible mark that only moving on could erase.

"Then let me buy you something," he importuned, stepping in front of me and turning around so we were face-to-face. He gestured to the expanse. "You have a world of choices, Samar." How many "world" puns were we going to make?

"I'm really fine," I answered, stopping when I found an unoccupied bench to sit down on, a rare happening. "If I was starving, I would eat." I wished he had realized when I actually was.

"Fine, I'll stop bothering you," he answered, breathing out a short sigh and sitting down next to me, slyly placing a hand on my thigh. "It's just like I said before, a small part of me cares about you."

I whacked his arm. "You'll never admit it's a little more than a 'small part,' will you?"

"Well, maybe I'd like to wait until I know the words won't be wasted when I do admit it," he replied, glancing over at me before folding his hands under his chin and leaning his elbows against his knees. Do admit it, my mind repeated.

I didn't say anything more and neither did he, as we were both exhausted from a full day of walking. One person wasn't, however, and she came running to us at Olympic speed.

"Uncle Ben!" she cried, the energy and excitement in her exclaim making it seem like she hadn't seen him in years. He grinned widely and held his hands out to grab her by the waist and place her in his lap.

"Your title sounds like the brand of rice," I joked. Ella usually called him "Benny," so I had few moments to make this remark. Ben rolled his eyes at me and gave Ella a kiss on the cheek before setting her to her feet in front of her parents.

"Rice brand or not, our niece likes me more than you," he replied, sending me a smug smile.

"She so does not."

"Then how come she always comes running only to me?"

"Because..." I began, glancing at Ella as she danced around in circles in her red converse and then knocked into my dad. "you're the cool young uncle. I probably seem like the younger version of her mother to her."

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