A muscle jumped in her father’s jaw and Saami’ah feared she’d overstepped.
“Vibrant. She was so full of colour and boldness that she really took my breath away. No matter what room she stepped into, she was always the very centre of attention. That was exactly how she liked it too.”
A faraway look entered his eyes. “You look just like she does, you know. It was like I was looking twenty years into the past the first time I saw what you look like.”
Saami’ah shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot. “I didn’t know that.”
“I think I have some photos in my office,” her father offered tentatively. “I’ll look for them for you.”
“Thank you.” Feeling brave, she asked the other question that had been turning itself over in her mind, ever since she’d first met her father.
“Why did you never come see me?”
“Your grandmother was not my biggest fan. Let’s just leave it at that.”
“But you were my – father. You could have fought for custody or visitation or just done something.” Saami’ah said crossly. “I didn’t even know you had anything to do with us until after her funeral.”
“Saami’ah, I don’t want to ruin your memories of your grandmother.”
“So something happened? I want to know,” she insisted. “Tell me what happened.” She waited expectantly.
“I wasn’t allowed to see you. Your grandmother threatened to try and get me arrested, deported… Whatever she could think of to try and scare me. I didn’t know I was even on your birth certificate and I was young. I gave up and came back home.”
Sudden, involuntary tears burned in Saami’ah’s eyes. “Oh,” she mumbled.
“I am sorry, Saami’ah. I should have kept fighting for you. I wanted to, really I did. I just didn’t know how.”
“But,” he continued. “You’re here now and I would like to make up for lost time. If you’re willing to as well?”
Saami’ah pictured it. Agreeing sweetly and perhaps even embracing the man who sat across from her. Promising that everything was forgiven and buying into the dream that their little family of three would suddenly expand to make room for her.
It would be a lovely moment. It would also be a lie. Even if she wanted to let them mould her to their liking and absorb her in, that wasn’t how it worked. Not for her kind, at least.
Saying no, however, was not an option. So she pasted a smile on her face and mumbled something about wanting to try.
That, at least, was truth. If she kept silent about how badly she knew this little bit of effort was going to crash and fall, well that was just being kind.
“It’s going to be an adjustment for us all,” her father told her. “But I would like to get to know you. What do you like to do after your classes?”
Classes. Saami’ah suppressed a flinch. In the craziness of the past few hours, she’d somehow managed to misplace the constant stress that sat in the back of her mind, reminding her of the colossal mess she’d made of her life at the ripe old age of nineteen.
Should she tell him the truth?
Well, that wasn’t the question, was it? Of course she should tell him. If she didn’t, he’d find out some other way and she’d be in hot water for hiding it from him.
The question was – could she make herself do it?
Did that ‘new start’ extend to forgiving the wastage of several thousands? The fees that were being paid for her education were exorbitant, more money than she’d ever seen in her entire life.
It would ruin things, telling him the truth. She’d be destroying her one and only chance to live in comfort while she figured out how to survive.
Her own reluctance surprised her. Sure, it was a cushy house and the half-brother she’d never known she had was starting to grow on her but she hadn’t even noticed just how attached her foolish heart had gotten her.
Well, she knew better than to pin her hopes and dreams on people. For all that her grandmother hadn’t taught her much in the way of traditional lessons, she’d been careful to teach Saami’ah all about people and their motives, which were usually ugly.
Rip the bandaid off and get it over with, she decided silently.
“About those classes,” she started, then stopped, pulling her lower lip into her mouth to gnaw on.
“What about them?” her father prompted.
“I haven’t gone to any in months.” As soon as the last word left her mouth, Saami’ah was struck by a powerful, consuming feeling of regret.
She’d messed up. Bad.
“What have you been doing instead?” her father’s voice was even, She looked up at him but couldn’t make out his expression.
“Uh, going to coffee shops.” She sounded like an absolute flake, even to herself.
“Why?” he asked curiously. “Why do that every day?”
Saami’ah tipped her head forward and hid her face. “I didn’t want to do what you wanted but I didn’t want to tell you so to your face.”
“Any particular shop?”
Saami’ah shook her head. “Uh uh. I move whenever they start to recognize me.”
“You’re just like your mother,” her father commented, still in that awful, even tone she could make nothing of.
Her sense of self-preservation fled and she asked; “Are you furious?”
A little. Well, it was better than a lot. If it was the truth, that was.
“So now what?” she asked.
“Tell me what you like to do,” he requested, out of the blue.
“What?” Saami’ah blinked.
“I need to speak to your university before I make a decision there. In the meantime, what do you like to do?”