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A Story written by Omolola…

Demola gulped a quick cup of coffee. Standing in his kitchen, he stared at the big house. He’d been out all morning, making sure everything was in order. He’d hoped Tomilola might make a foray onto the estate over the last two days, but not only had he not seen her since the night of their drinking, the helps working in the big house hadn’t, either. She’d obviously never left the house.

He thought she was making progress toward lightening up about her dad. About the estate. At least she hadn’t thrown his suggestion to keep the place and use it to help support her charity back in his face. A good sign. And he’d hoped the note from her father would soften her up even more. At least he’d hoped it would make her feel less like an outsider. Make her feel like a beloved daughter and therefore someone who belonged here on her father’s estate.

Of course, he didn’t know what Wole had written in that card. But if the man hadn’t told his long lost daughter he loved her, he’d be really surprised. Then again, did he really expect one “I love you,” to fix everything? He sighed, taking another sip of coffee. As a matter of fact, he had. He ran a hand down his face. What the hell had he been thinking? The kind of bond he’d been thinking about, the kind of bond that would make Tomilola feel as if she belonged on the Big W, was not created overnight. The bond between a father and daughter grew over time. The love and trust developing as first steps were taken, first bicycles ridden, first cars driven.

All Tomilola had was Demola’s word that her father loved her and a single card. Enough, perhaps, for a bond to begin to grow, but hardly enough to create any real sense of kinship. Any real sense of love. And if he was ever going to get her out of that house, that’s what he needed to create. He needed to find a way to make her feel Wole’s love. Not an easy task with Wole in absentia.

He took another swallow of coffee, thinking of ways to create that end. Only one came to mind. Decision made, he drained the cup with a giant gulp and headed over to the big house.

He stepped onto the porch and knocked. It seemed odd, knocking on a door he’d just walked through for the past ten years, but Wole was gone. The house was Tomilola’s now. She had every right to expect her privacy.

“I’ll get it.” Tomilola’s voice echoed inside.

Charles must be there, working. He couldn’t imagine who else she’d be talking to. He heard the tread of footsteps on the stairs and a few seconds later, the door opened.

Tomilola stood there, a smile curving her lips. “Hey, Dem.” She was wearing a tight pair of faded jeans, hip-huggers, and a tank top that stopped just above her navel. Heat shot through him, his gaze locked on her belly button. And the smooth expanse of skin below it. He wanted to touch her there. See if she was as soft and warm as she looked. Swallowing hard, he pulled his gaze up, made himself concentrate on her face,

She chuckled softly. “Come on in. Looks a little warm out there.”

He stepped into the house’s air-conditioning, glad for whatever cooling effect he could find, and attacked the problem at hand. “Thought maybe I’d see you out on the estate one of these days.”

She shrugged, closing the door. “I’ve been exploring dad’s office, seeing what I could learn about him.”

“Then I’ve come just in time.”

She cocked a brow in question.

“I came over to show you some things your dad left you.”

“Really?” Curiosity sparkled in her eyes.

“Yep, come on.” He took her elbow and guided her to the stairs, ignoring the electricity that jumped between them the second he touched her, ignoring the fact that while he was heading her upstairs for a totally innocent reason, his body seemed only to note that they were headed toward the bedrooms. She hesitated halfway up the steps. “Where exactly are we going, Dem?” It obviously hadn’t escaped her notice that there was nothing upstairs but bedrooms.

“Relax, I’m not dragging you away to seduce you. What I want to show you is in one of your dad’s closets.”

“Whew, I was afraid I was going to have to pull a Jackie Chan, send you sprawling down the stairs.”

He chuckled wryly. “So much for my charm, huh?”

“Oh, it’s there, Dem. And we’re both adult enough to know it But now’s not a good time for me to be distracted.” A wry smile of her own twisted her lips. “No matter how entertaining I think that distraction might be.”

More heat shot through him, his body only hearing the admission that she was as interested as he was and totally ignoring the part about this not being the time. Totally ignoring the fact that Wole’s daughter was completely off-limits, period. But if his body didn’t know it, his conscience did. Reluctantly, he let go of her and picked up his pace so he was a step ahead.

“So what did my father leave for me?”

“And ruin the surprise?” He shook his head. At the landing, he made his way into her father’s room. She stopped in the doorway, looking nervous and lost as she stared in. “So this was his room.”

“Yep. Now quit hovering in the doorway and come in.”

“I’m not hovering.” Lifting her chin and squaring her shoulders, she strode in,

He hid a smile.

She wandered aimlessly for a few steps, her gaze both voracious and anxious as she drank in every detail. Spying the big eight-by-ten photograph sitting on the nightstand next to the bed, she strode over and picked it up. Even from here he could see Wole standing in the picture with his arms around Nike’s shoulders. See Nike holding a brand-new baby girl – a tiny, bald-headed Tomilola – wrapped carefully in a pink blanket.

Tomilola studied the photo, her expression intense. Finally, she topped it toward him. “This was him? My father?” Her voice was whisper soft.

Surprise shot through him. “You’ve never see him before?”

She shook her head. “Mom didn’t have any pictures of him. Even after she died and I went through her things, there was nothing.”

During all these years, she’d never had a face to put her emotions to? What the hell had Nike been thinking? Not even letting her child know what her father looked like.

Yes, from everything Wole had said, he knew the woman had had problems. And from what Tomilola had told him about Nike’s childhood, he could understand why she had them. But right now, he didn’t care about poor Nike’s problems, he just wanted to strangle her. But he managed to keep his expression neutral as he said. “That’s him.”

She traced the figure of her father with a shaky finger, her expression bittersweet. “He was handsome.”

He chuckled. “I wouldn’t know. But he was a good man. A very good man.”

She didn’t comment, she just continued to study the picture intently. As if she might find the answers she so needed there. “They look happy.”

“I think they were when your dad wasn’t busy on the estate. But beyond what he looked like, you’re not going to learn much about your dad from that picture.” He strode over and took it from her, setting it back in its place. “If you want to know who your dad was, how he felt about you, the answers are in here.”

He strode to one of the doors leading off the room, pushed it open and stepped inside the walk-in closet.

Tomilola followed, once again pausing at the doorway and peering in. She took in the closet’s contents in one quick sweep. “Presents?”

He nodded. “Yours. And your mother’s.”

She stared at the packages. “Oh, God, please tell me he didn’t go out to buy all these after he found out he was dying as some sort of wish-I’d-known-you kind of thing.”

“No. Your father was a lot of things, but a fool wasn’t one of them. These are the presents he bought for you and your mother over the years. Presents bought with joy and the hope he’d find you and be able to give them to you. Yours are all birthday presents.”

The shadows turned to surprise. “You’re kidding. Birthday presents?”

“He always said any father worth his salt didn’t miss his child’s birthday.”

Tears misted her eyes. “So he thought of me on my birthday. I always wondered.”

Demola’s heart squeezed. He couldn’t imagine what it would be like to wonder if one of your parents even thought about you on your birthday. It had to be one of the loneliest feelings in the world. And loneliness, he understood. “Wonder no more. He thought of you. And not just on your birthday. All the time. Now get in here and see what he bought you.”

She stepped into the closet, her gaze skating over the gifts sitting on the shelves.

The space suddenly seemed smaller, warmer, much more…intimate. He thought about bolting, leaving her to open the presents by herself. But, there were stories behind a lot of these gifts. Stories he knew. Stories she should know. So he kept his feet rooted to the floor.

Standing in front of the gifts, she touched one with a shaky finger. “This paper’s old.”

“It would be. It would have been wrapped the year he got it for you. Let’s see . . .” He reached around her – trying not to notice how close they were – and opened the little card that was taped on top and read it. “Happy seventh, sweetie.”

“He wrapped this eighteen years ago?” Disbelief and something else, something tender, sounded in her voice.

“You bet.” He stepped back to a safer distance.

“Amazing.” She opened a few other tags, reading the inscriptions. Then she turned to one of the big presents on the floor. She angled her head, first one way and then the other, a smile playing over her lips.

“Do you think this is what it looks like?”

He chuckled, looking at the way the old paper with pink teddy bears and blue balloons defined the curved bottom of the object. “I’m sure it’s exactly what it looks like. Your dad told me. . .with great pride, I might add – how he made it himself.”

To Be Continued…

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