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."

"Bet I'd make an even cooler dad," he joked, giving me a wink before standing up to talk to his brother. I placed my face in my hands and heaved out a sigh as my emotions confused themselves even more.

 I placed my face in my hands and heaved out a sigh as my emotions confused themselves even more

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In the late evening, Leila and I decided to head down to the pool for some private relaxation. We didn't spend as much time together as we always wished we could, because the reality was, the time usually wasn't there.

"You need to savor the unmarried life for some time," Leila began, pulling off her cover up over her head and revealing her perfectly slim figure. She stretched out her arms and yawned so wide I worried her jaw would lock. "Being a working mom and wife is exhausting. I don't ever get a break. I mean"—She broke into a light chuckle—"I even see my husband at work." She and Eric worked at the same law firm in a nearby city, which I found kind of cute. At least they could relate to each other's complaints.

"I'm not planning on tying the knot with anyone anytime soon, if that's what you're worried about," I replied, yanking off my stubborn sandals. The night was warm and quiet, on the verge of being a little too cool to swim, but that just made the hot tub call our names all the more. "But I can definitely tell you're tired."

"I don't regret it," she began, grabbing two towels for us and setting them down onto our chairs. "because it seems that once you find someone you love and then get married, you get so into this life. And sometimes, even as tired as you are, you end up wanting, well...more."

"What do you mean by 'more'?" I questioned as we pattered to the hot tub. She opened her mouth to reply, stopping when I grabbed onto her arm as I spotted someone in the hot tub. There Derek was, with his arms draped over the sides of the concrete and his eyes closed, enjoying the heart of the water all alone.

"We can't go in there," I whispered in her ear, eyeing him. Leila arched a brow in confusion.

"It's just a guy...?"

"Yeah, well, he also kind of knocked Ben into that pool yesterday," I said, jutting my thumb to it behind us. Switching to Arabic when I realized that he could probably hear us, I continued, "and we kind of got to know each other for a bit. Well, before that happened." That was one of the benefits of being bilingual, except for the very few times when you didn't realize people could actually understand you.

This didn't seem to be the time, since Derek appeared nearly asleep in there. I hoped he hadn't been knocked out for that long, since hot tubs lowered your blood pressure. Then again, why do I care?

Oh right, I do have a kind heart...somewhere.

"So Ben is just out of the picture, huh?" she teased, folding her arms across her chest.

"No. I barely got to know this guy. But he's pretty...fascinating."

"And pretty temporary, unlike Ben," she countered with a hum. I rolled my eyes and a groan escaped my lips, wanting desperately to switch the subject from him. It was always about him.

"So are we just going to stand here like morons or exercise our free rights as guests here and enjoy this damn hot tub?" she asked, gesturing to it with her right hand. I sighed and tightened my arms across my chest.

"Free rights it is."

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