chapter twenty-five

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"Are you feeling any better?"

The question came out faster than I could take in the view in front of me. It was mid morning a day later, and instead of finding Ben huddled under a blanket, still sick and weary, he was lying shirtless on top of his sheets and laughing hysterically at something on his phone. The color had returned to his face, and his laugh sounded deep and lovely, not like an old man's on his deathbed.

"I guess you are," I chuckled, and he tilted his head towards me, his eyes lighting up. He put down his phone and walked over to me in his doorway.

"You've cured me, Samar." He someone managed to say this with a straight face, but as he wrapped his arms around my smaller body and squeezed, I could almost feel him smirk against my cheek. I held onto his pronounced biceps and tried to wriggle out of his hug, but he only held on tighter, restricting the capacity of my lungs.

"You gonna let go yet or—" I choked out, tilting my head up to meet his eyes.

He cleared his throat. "Right, probably should," he replied, smiling awkwardly but not releasing me. He held me at arms-length instead, and I ended up reaching a hand up to feel his face, trying to make sense of the fact his cold had disappeared in a day.

I hated to judge, but I had a feeling part of his sickness was about as real as Kim K's ass.

Instead of bugging him about it, however, I decided to let him enjoy the fact that he was now "cured" and returned his smile.

"You should smile more often," he remarked as he padded to his closet to find a shirt. "It brings out your eyes."

"My eyes are brown; nothing brings them out, Ben," I replied, rolling them. He poked his head out from behind the door and frowned.

"Can't you just accept a compliment?" he huffed, slipping into a white linen shirt. "I don't give a shit that they're brown. They make you even more beautiful."

I smiled meekly for him. "Well, thank you."

Rolling up his sleeves as I had always told him to do, he replied, "You're welcome, baby."

My stomach fluttered in response. Damn feelings.


╍╍╍╍╍


"So, how do you feel about returning home in a few days?" My dad proposed this question to us over dinner. It had been quite a few days since we had all met together for a meal, and tonight we had ventured out to a Greek restaurant not too far from the hotel.

"Not ready for the cold." (My mom)

"Is that even a question?" (Me)

"Who said anything about leaving?" (Leila)

"I'm not returning to college, so I guess I'll just stay." (Ben)

There was a general consensus that no one wanted to leave this vacation, and my mother's words from Christmas Eve came back to me: Samar, before I make your whiny self stay home for this trip, stop complaining. You're going to end up loving it and wishing we could stay for longer, mark my words.

"Alright then," my dad replied, cutting a piece of lamb and stuffing it into his mouth. "How about we all just stay here forever? You know, since we don't have jobs or lives to get back to." Pausing to swallow, he pointed his fork at Ben, "Wait, did you just say you were dropping out of college?"

"I'm kidding," Ben quickly defended himself, holding his hands up innocence.

"Good, good," he remarked, nodding to himself. "I expect my daughter's future husband to be just as educated as her."

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