sixty-nine

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Nicholas's mind wouldn't shut up that night. The silhouettes of his former meek self made appearances in the shadows of his mind, walking through the barren trail of emptiness. Darkness loomed over this trail, chased after his new confidence, but he refused to submit to his old habits of self-doubt. 

Dina laid beside him, her back turned to him, breaths soft in the misty air of their room, a stream of moonlight slipping past the curtains. His arm wrapped around the curve of her waist, holding her close to him as if she would disappear if he let go. 

His responsibilities seemed so far, yet their pressure suffocated him. Even in the presence of his beloved, his mind didn't stay silent, voices roaring in his head. For a moment, he thought he was crazy. That was the price of reality kicking in. 

"Nick?" 

"You're awake," he whispered.

"Yeah," she said softly, turning in his arms. They were face to face now, her gentle breath mingling with his, distance so thin between them. Even when she was veiled by the tendrils of midnight, the brown of her eyes only seemed brighter, warmer, and full of the hope she desperately chased after.  "Something's bothering you, I can feel it."

His lips curved into a half-hearted smile. "Only a few minor stresses. Nothing too bad."

Dina frowned. "You can't hide what you feel from me, Nemo," she persisted, flicking his forehead. "Come on, tell me."

Nicholas rubbed the spot she hit. "You didn't have to be that aggressive," he muttered. 

"Shut up and tell me."

He sighed, knowing there was no way out of this. Once Dina had her mind on something, it was impossible to make her let it go without repercussions haunting him. She always got her way.

But how can I tell her that I hate my job? That's the only security we have right now. I can't just quit.

Sensing his hesitation, her hand cradled his cheek, thumb stroking the pale skin below, slow and soothing. Shock engulfed him as he stared deep into her eyes, stared at the abyss that lured him closer to his undoing, stared at the beauty behind those gentle, brown eyes. Never did Dina make him feel less than what he was. Never did she express any disappointment at his lack of being perfect. 

Through every trial they faced, she regarded him as the imperfect man that he was, one that could be capable of being more than what others saw, one that could be capable of feeling the loved he desired. She was that driving force. 

And for those reasons, he couldn't feel shame for his words.

"I don't want to work for my dad anymore," he said. 

"I don't blame you," she assured, offering a small smile. "The work is really draining."

"It's not just that. He always seems to be plotting something towards me, and I'm always trying to be one step ahead of him. It's a sick game we're playing for two men who are father and son."

Her thumb paused its movements, resting limply on his cheek. "But if you don't endure and work for him, then what will you do?" she asked, worriedly. "I mean, I don't doubt that you'd excel in anything because you will In Shaa Allah (if God wills it), but your father is one of the most powerful men in business right now. If-"

Nicholas rolled his eyes playfully, covering her mouth with his hand to silence her. "Shh," he said. "Just listen."

She glared at him, pushing his hand off. "Fine," huffed Dina. 

My little lioness. Of course, she'd give me attitude over silencing her. 

He chuckled, brushing a stray strand of hair behind her ear, a crimson tint painting her skin. "I want to work for a rival company," he said softly, "but only if you think it's a good idea too. We need the income, so the decision rests on you as well as me."

"I don't control you."

"That may be so," he teased. "However, you have me wrapped around your finger, sweetheart. Even if you don't control me, I still value every word that escapes those perfect lips of yours."

Her brown eyes widened. "What?"

Nicholas chose this moment to lean in for the kiss he'd desperately desired. He wasn't sure what possessed him or what urged him to take that leap even though his mind screamed his responsibilities in bold letters. All Nicholas could think about was escaping reality through her breathtaking kiss.

Feeling her soft lips on his, a part of his rationality withered like the fleeting storms that came to pass through dark nights and gloomy dawns. Feeling her fingers tangling in his hair, a part of his heart pulled in the same direction, a beat, a rhythm that was tuned to hers. 

She pulled back, panting, "You can't just kiss me during... a serious conversation."

"I couldn't resist," he whispered lowly, trying to capture hers once more. 

Dina turned her cheek. "No," she pushed at his chest. "Talk first."

Nicholas laid back, sighing through his frustration. "Why must you always be right?"

"Because I am a blessing."

"Seems a bit arrogant."

"Nick."

"I'm talking," he said defensively, grateful that the shadows hid the ghost of a smile playing at his lips. "If I transfer jobs, I'd still be making as much, maybe a little less but I'd be free of the constraints that my father's position entitles. There would be no games, no self-doubt, no false climbs. I would be a normal employee if I left."

"What would your father do if you left?"

"Probably destroy me," he admitted, dryly. "I wouldn't put it past him to be vengeful."

"That's not very comforting," she winced.

Nicholas pulled her closer to his chest, kissing her forehead. "I know, sweetheart. I'm sorry," he whispered into her mass of black hair. "I wish there was another way."

"Me too."

Silence ensued between them, stretching longer and longer, the void deepening while the cloudy mist engulfed them in its doubts and pessimism. Their thoughts drowned them, yet in the comfort of each other's arms, a sunrise still awoke their raw feelings, still engrossed the young couple in the basking of hope. 

"Do you want to quit, Nick?" his wife spoke in her soft, lilting voice, gentle as a wind. 

"Yes."

Dina exhaled slowly, staring up at him. "Then, I'll support you. If this is the only way to get a wake up call to your parents, then so be it."

"You mean it?"

"Obviously," she yawned. "Now, go back to bed. It's late."

A hint of devious nature touched his mind. "I was promised a little something for talking," he said, slyly. 

"Nick!"

----

College hasn't even started, and I can already feel my wallet weeping. I'm honestly not ready for school, but like I never am, so uwu.

Nick is getting saucy ;) Shame on me, I know. Shh.

I finished a book, so if you're waiting on updates, then check out "Bitter Sweet."

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