chapter fifteen

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Derek opened his eyes the moment he heard the light splash from Leila and me entering the water. At first, he squinted in the dark of the evening, before smiling when my presence registered in his vision.

I felt Leila stab my side with her elbow under the surface of the water, but I kept a neutral expression on my face, reciprocating his smile with a small one of my own.

"Samar," he began, sitting up in the hot tub and dropping one of his arms into the water. "didn't expect to see you here."

Leila mumbled in my ear, "Because we're not staying at the same hotel or anything." This time I stabbed her underwater, and it probably hurt even more, considered I had a "pointy-ass elbow," according to Ben.

"Same," I answered and had to prevent myself from face-palming at my awkward reply. He chuckled, the vibration of the laugh seeming to resonate in the quiet of the December night. I sunk farther into the hot tub, folding my arms across my chest.

"Your boyfriend isn't lurking around here somewhere, is he?" he asked, tilting his head to the left and right. Meeting my eyes again, he added, "because I'd like to avoid the possibility of knocking him over again, considering this hot tub right here is a bit shallow."

That reminded me of the time when Ben's moronic ten-year-old self tried to nosedive into a three foot pool during the summer after fourth grade. It was a good thing I had fast reflexes and grabbed him by the waist before he freely met his death.

"He's not my boyfriend—"

Leila cut me off. "She's still taken."

Derek raised a brow, cocking his head to the side slightly in confusion. "So you're dating someone, but not the guy from a couple days ago?" he asked, trying to make sense of this information.

"I'm not dating anyone," I stated, glaring at Leila through my peripheral vision. "Please ignore my sister."

"Ah, your sister," he said, glancing between her and me. "I was about to ask if you were related. That was definitely something one of my brothers would say to annoy me." He was about to add something else when his phone rang from beside him. He wiped his hands off on the towel on the concrete and picked it up, ignoring all formalities and diving into a muted argument with the person on the other line. His expression grew more agitated as the call continued, ending with, "I'm not obligated to speak with her."

Maybe I'm not the only one having trouble sorting out my love life...

He left the hot tub shortly afterwards, telling me a quick goodbye before tilting his head in the direction of his phone as he walked and texted. I winced as I noticed he was inches away from slamming into a palm tree.

Leila glanced at me. "Not gonna lie, he's hot as hell." She then sucked in her cheeks, muttering, "God forgive me, I'm married."

We both cracked up, this moment reminding us exactly why we had put up with each other for twenty years.


╍╍╍╍╍


"Hey, where are you?" I asked, juggling my phone against my ear as I pushed open the door to my balcony. I had just showered and stepped outside, with my hair forming into damp curls. I heard a shuffle on the other side of the line, before Ben's voice came through.

"I'm with your parents and Eric," he replied. "Why, got something on your mind?" His tone was mischievous, and I rolled my eyes even though he couldn't see me.

"Not like that, Ben," I answered, pulling my knees up to my chest and enjoying the cool breeze against my cheeks. "What are you guys doing, by the way?"

"We're having a couple drinks in the lobby—well, Eric and I are, at least," he began, recalling the fact my parents didn't drink alcohol. "It must really suck being a baby, Samar."

"How many times do I have to remind you that you're only ten months older?"

"Yes, but ten months is the difference between you and this cocktail in my hand."

"Not that jealous, trust me... And you know, I wanted to spend the night over here with you, but now I think I change my mind," I replied, glancing at the empty seat next to me in need of an occupant.

"Spend the night?" I could almost see him raise his eyebrows teasingly as he repeated that phrase.

"Not like that, you shithead. I meant on the balcony. This night is too gorgeous for me to spend it alone." I could hear his laughter mingling with the sound of my parents in the background, and I hoped that they weren't listening to what Ben had been saying.

"I'll be up there in a couple minutes, Sammy," he replied and ended the call. I felt like I was fifteen again, texting Ben on my BlackBerry to meet me in the unoccupied part of the school library so we could make out during free period.

Five minutes later, the door handle twisted open and Ben stepped onto the balcony, sending a wave of cologne my way. He looked even more attractive in the dim light, dressed in a shirt with a few unbuttoned buttons at the top and jeans that hugged him perfectly. He dropped himself onto the chair next to me, kicking his feet up on the small glass table in front of us.

"So, is this my cue to start heavily making out with you?" he joked, tilting his head my way and smirking. He clearly recalled the end of our sophomore year of high school. His expression fell when he added, "Wait, never mind, I don't want to be tragically dumped a year from now."

The corners of my lips curled downwards as he mentioned that, because I had hoped that we could put aside what had happened years ago for a night. Leaning my head against my knees, I glanced up at him and replied, "Can we not talk about that today?"

"Fine," he replied, folding his hands behind his head and staring off at the black sky. It was a partly cloudy night, no stars in sight, with only a sliver of a crescent moon visible. It was quiet between us for several moments, before his voice cut through the silence.

"You know, your parents are pretty awesome," he began, his voice dipping. "They treat me like one of the family."

"That's because you are part of the family, Ben. And I'm really glad you like Mama and Baba that much. Let me tell you, they'll probably never be as nice to me as they are to you because you're not actually related to them." Memories of Ben and me breaking my mom's vases and accidentally driving our bikes into my dad's flower gardens came to my mind and the fact that I was the only one who ever got scolded afterwards.

He smiled, letting out a pensive sigh. "They kind of make me forget that my parents aren't around anymore. Well, of course I'll never forget Mom and Papa, but yours fill that aching empty void right here." He ran his fingers over the area of his heart and dropped them with another sigh. He sat up straighter, tugging his fingers through his tousled hair and putting on a faltering smile. "I don't mean to ruin the mood."

"No, it's fine, Ben," I replied, shaking my head. "This actually makes me really happy."

Unexpectedly, he reached an arm out and wrapped it around my shoulders, pulling me closer to his chest. Taking advantage of that, I curled up against him, my hand laying against his chest in a similar manner of his hand during our flight here.

He then lightly brushed his lips on the top of my head, making the part of me that loved this man grow far greater than the part that convinced me I hated him.

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