seventy-four

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"Nemo, I'm scared," whispered Dina as she clutched onto Nicholas's arm for her dear life. 

"Relax, they won't kill you."

"But they'll glare at me," she whined, hiding behind her sleeves. 

The couple walked past his family's elegant gates that loomed over them like foreboding shadows. Darkness engulfed the estate, a cold breeze bristling past with a wave of deep red and decayed brown leaves rustling around them. Their steps crinkled against the fragile pieces of autumn left behind.

"Dina, you'll be fine."

"But they hate me," she protested.

"So what?"

"So what if they yell at me?" 

"I won't let them, don't worry," he tried to reassure her, but her grip on his arm only tightened. Nicholas rolled his eyes. "Dina."

She halted her steps, shaking her head. "I don't want to go," she pleaded desperately, the brown of her eyes watering at the sheer fear she felt. 

Cupping her flushed cheeks in his hands, bright, electric blue eyes searching for the depth of her fears, the taunting insecurity that her fierceful persona could not defeat. "What's going on with you?" he couldn't help to ask, brows knitting together. "This isn't like you."

Dina averted her gaze to the ground, avoiding eye contact. Pulling her bottom lip into her mouth, ambivalence etched across her features, painting a portrait of a woman too afraid to cross the line. 

"Dina, talk to me."

Her dark eyes met his. "I can't take being yelled at anymore, Nick. I don't want to be punished for loving you," she brokenly whispered, tears glistening her eyes. "It's not fair."

His gaze softened, heart clenching in his chest. The pain his family put his wife through was unacceptable. She wasn't the type to be burdened down by some drama, nor was she the time to be broken by a couple of unfriendly encounters, however, they were family. They shared his blood, and whether Nicholas liked it or not, his parents did raise him.

Of course his wife would be upset by their hostile nature towards her. 

Leaning down, he kissed the tip of her nose, pulling back to watch the rosy embers burst across her cheeks, a cute blush blossoming like the buds of dahlias. Her eyes widened, warmth filling them as she blinked the shock away, thick lashes fluttering like wings. Nicholas loved watching this expression of hers, and he wished he could spend the whole day staring at her.

"You're right," he said softly. "That isn't fair at all. We're going to this dinner to make sure they understand that, okay? If you feel uncomfortable, we'll go. No questions asked."

"Promise?" 

"Wallahi (I swear to Allah)," he smiled. 

Exhaling a deep breath, Dina nodded, the confidence returning back to her form. Her hand still gripped his tightly, but the fear that lined her dark, kohl-lined eyes slowly released its captive hold on her. With one last nod, they started walking again.

Each step felt like a weight of impending doom. The closer and closer they got to the towering building of broken memories, Nicholas felt his pulse rise, his body weakening at his tormented memories. He knew he had to be strong, not only for his wife but for himself as well. 

They were his parents after all. 

Stepping onto the front porch, he gave a sideways glance at Dina, checking to see if she was still as nervous as before. "Ready?" he asked.

"I think you're more terrified now, Nemo," she said a little too smugly. 

He narrowed his eyes at her. "I regret comforting you."

Playfully, she pushed at his shoulders, causing his chest to rumble with laughter. Although the unknown awaited them, the two bookworms knew how to keep each other light with joy and smiling for no reason. Their company proved to be healing to all the suffering life brought. 

No life would ever be dull with Dina. 

Knock Knock.

Sergio opened the door, stoic expression twisting into relief once he recognized Nicholas. "Sir, welcome back!"

Nicholas raised a brow. "What? No hug?"

Throwing his head back in a small laugh, Sergio pulled Nicholas into a warm embrace that seemed so familiar. His mind blurred into images of his childhood, dark tendrils encircling through the voids and scars of his past. However, Nicholas realized how easily he forgot all blissful, elated times he had with people who treated him as his son. 

He remembered all those times Sergio held him in his arms as Nicholas cried for hours, as Nicholas wailed his dissatisfaction with his parents' lack of affection. Nicholas remembered that night when his father scolded him for talking too loudly while he was in a meeting, and his family's chef and Sergio ushered Nicholas away. 

Though Nicholas yelled at them for being "servants" that had no idea what he was feeling, not once did Sergio, the maids, or the chef ever treat him as their young master.

They treated Nicholas like a son. If he cried, Sergio cheered him and talked to him. For hours, Sergio hugged Nicholas till his breaths were even and his eyes were dry.

Those nights when his mother mocked Nicholas or spoke about how irrational he was, the maids would do silly skits to make him smile through his tears and the chef would make Nicholas his favorite dessert.

After that fatal car crash, only the servants pushed for Nicholas to leave the jaws of his dark, gloomy room and join them for a sip of delight and sweets, to keep Nicholas alive among them, to keep him smiling even when his heart was silently breaking apart.

They were aware, but they were ready to stitch him together again.

No matter how many times Nicholas fell, they were his family.

Slowly, he closed his eyes, relishing every fleeting memory of those light-hearted days, of those nights that were once shrouded with a cloak of midnight now had a starry galaxy shining for him, a path towards redemption, towards happiness.

"I missed you too, Sergio."

I'm sorry for not saying it sooner.

----

I love drowning under my homework and being forced to four parties back to back. I'm gonna be crippled T^T

Luckily, the book is almost over.

Next chapter might be intense. We'll see =]

Do you think Nick was loved without realizing it?

Don't forget to vote, comment, and follow!

Don't forget to vote, comment, and follow!

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