SHE was nervous.
“I don’t know why you are fretting. You’re meeting his family not facing the firing squad.” Joy fastened the invisible zip and took a step back.
Shiloh tugged at the V-neckline of the Polka dot pencil dress. “That’s not exactly why I’m nervous, though meeting a man’s family almost feels like facing the firing squad.”
“It’s your past, Shiloh. There’s nothing to fret about that too.” Joy lowered on to the bed and studied her as she studied her image in the mirror. “It’s no longer who you are. Realise that and let it go.”
“I have. I thought I have.” Shiloh amended, sighing as she turned. “Then I came to know him and the kind of man he is and now I feel like he won’t get who I was.”
“Was being the operative word.” Joy said and patted a hand on the bed. When she sat down beside her, she took her left hand. “Why are you letting this make you doubt who you are and what you deserve?”
“Because what I was afraid of has happened, mum. I have fallen in love with him and I am so afraid what I once was might be a source of pain for both of us.” Shiloh tightened her grip on her mother’s hand. “This past one month since he said he wanted to share his life with me has been a whirlwind. Sometimes, I feel like I can’t catch my breath. He’s just the most amazing person, so real. He says everything, no hold barred. I feel like I know all there is to know about him, yet I have this dark past I am hiding from him.”
“Sometimes the past is best left in the past.”
Shiloh met her mother’s candid eyes. “Isn’t that lying somehow?”
“I want to say an outright no, but the truth is more than just what is said. It is everything else in between too.” Joy lifted her hand to caress her cheek. “But your truth is beyond what you once were. It is more of what and who you are now. And I think—I believe that if he indeed loves you, that part of who you won’t matter anymore because it is no longer who you are. You are this amazing God-loving and serving woman now. That is who he sees. That is who he loves.”
“I will tell him. He deserves to know all of me. And I deserve to know he is with me all the way, no matter what.” Shiloh squared her chin and drew on her pride and dignity. “If he decides it’s something he can’t leave with, then so be it. I’ll let him go and go on with my life.”
If only it would be that easy, Joy thought, but smiled as she tweaked her chin. “That’s my stand-up brave girl. I think he’s here now though.” She lifted to her feet and drew up Shiloh with her. “So, you put all of that aside for now and have fun this evening. Don’t let no one cower you, even if they have three horns.”
“I won’t.” Shiloh leaned close to give her a quick hug. “You’re always the best, mum.”
“Easy when I’ve got the best kids.” Joy smiled and forced down the worry in her heart.
“YOU don’t look nervous at all.” Jeth observed as he parked the car in the wood-top car shed of his older brother’s semi-detached home.
“Should I be?” Shiloh unstrapped her seatbelt and tossed him an amused smile.
“I’ve been dealt with tall tales of ladies battling the jitters when meeting their future in-laws for the first time.” Jeth grinned, snapping off his own seatbelt.
“Is that what I’m here for—to meet my future in-laws?” Shiloh rounded her eyes. “Oh boy! And here was I thinking I was only going to have dinner with my best friend’s family.”
“So I’m your best friend?” Jeth’s grinning mouth curved as he leaned towards her. “I love the sound of that. I’ll love it more if you tell me I am also your man and the love of your life.”
“Gosh, your gigantic ego these days! I’m not going to stay here and stroke it.” Shiloh rolled her eyes and laughed. “So, let’s get inside. I don’t want them thinking we were late.”
“I am tempted to kiss you.”
The caressing look in his eyes tickled her stomach walls. “Resist the temptation.” She told him with a flinty stare and pushed open her door.
“Ooh, you turn me to mush with all your don’t-give-him-an-inch toughness.” Jeth evaded her smack and climbed out of the car. He slipped his hand through hers when she walked around to his side. “I’m glad you are finally meeting them. I want every part of me to meet and become one. And I want you to know that they love you already even without having yet met you.”
“You are a man who knows how to charm with words, aren’t you?” Shiloh smiled.
“Was I being charming? Thought I was just being reassuring.” Jeth winked.
“Smart mouth.” She jabbed her elbow to his side and started forward. “Come on, let’s go meet the in-laws… oops! I meant to say, the family.”
“I heard that loud and clear, Shiloh. And you can never ever take it back.”
“I don’t know what you are talking about, Jethro.”
“Mmm-hmm.” Jeth shot her a grin before he pressed the doorbell.
It was Gloria who opened the door.
“You two are finally here, we’ve been impatient. And you must be Shiloh. Oh my, but you’re one beautiful woman. Your Facebook pictures I’ve been peeking through don’t do you enough justice.” Gloria laughed and drew her into a warm hug. “Hello. I’m Gloria. This young man’s one and only sister-in-law. You’re so welcome to our home.”
“Thank you for inviting me, Sister Gloria.” Shiloh decided to stick to how Jeth referred to her. “And I apologise if we kept you all waiting.”
“No need to apologise.” Gloria, with her big smile and her dark-skin tall curvy build, brushed off the apology, linking their hands as she led the way into the house. “You weren’t late at all. We are impatient by nature in this family.”
“Maybe you should be telling her our virtues, not our unbearable vices.” Jeth teased.
“Best if we toss the worse out first. That way she’d really be beguiled by our meagre best.” Gloria winked and then announced. “She’s finally here and I’ve waved the scary side of the Ailemeh family red flag in her face, she’s still here and not running, so I guess that makes her good for keeps.”
“I’m still here because I’m debating how fast I can run on my three-inch heels.” It was a battle struggling to keep herself from feeling flustered at the extra four pair of eyes fastened on her.
“If she told you we are a bunch of impatient people, then you’ve heard the worst.” Ethan took a step forward, his smile ready and welcoming. “I’m Ethan Ailemeh and I think at this point I’ve earned the title Patriarch of the family.”
He was an older version of Jeth, only with a string of greys on the frontal part of his low-cut hairstyle. She figured him to be in his early forties. No more than forty-three though.
“Good evening, sir.” Shiloh offered her hand and wasn’t surprised at the quick firm grasp. He looked like a man who’d be firm and direct. “Thank you for having me in your home.”
“It’s definitely our pleasure.” His grin was a quick flash with a trifle mischievous edge.
“That it is. And these are our kids.” Gloria gestured to the standing children. “He’s our first son, Asher.” She beamed a smile that Shiloh thought was creamed with utter pride. “And next to him is Joseph, the middle one, and then the baby of the home, Ruth.”
“I am the baby of the home but I am not a baby.” Ruth, who was a female and cuter version of her father and her Uncle Jeth, said in a childlike snotty voice. Then she beamed a smile and greeted. “Good evening, Aunty Shiloh, and welcome to our home. Mum’s already told us your name and she told us that you are likely to soon be a part of our family.”
“And she told us too not to say everything we hear.” Asher stretched his hand and tapped his thumb on her head. Then gave his head a respectful dip. “Good evening, Aunty.”
“Good evening, Aunty.” Joseph imitated his brother’s head-dip.
“Evening. How are you?” Shiloh smiled. The boys were spitting images of their mother—skin colour, facial look and the promise of full body builds. And although a little less overtly like their sister, they were watching her with curiosity.
“We are fine and dinner is set on the table.” Ruth chirped, eyes watchful, smile huge. “I like your dress. I have one like it. Only it’s pink in colour.”
“Thank you, radio announcer.” Her mother sent Shiloh a playful roll of the eyes. “And since she’s announced it, I suggest we all go straight to the dining. I hope you like banga rice and seafood, Shiloh?”
“I do love banga rice with just about anything. It’s like my world’s favourite. Which makes me wonder if someone shared that secret.” She cast a suspicious glance at Jeth.
“No, no one shared a secret. Banga rice with fish’s usually our dinner every Sunday.” Ruth chipped in and earned another tap on the head from Asher. She glared at him before sending Shiloh a sweet smile. “I’m sorry. I talk too much. Daddy says that is my biggest vice.”
“Right after being annoying and a menace.” Joseph quipped with a smirk.
“I am not annoying!” Ruth’s small mouth pouted.
“Quiet you two!” Ethan ordered.
It was a soft command but that firmness Shiloh had foreseen was evident and obviously the children recognised it because they were both silent at once and their expressions cleared up. A family were a certain kind of freedom of expression was allowed but discipline reigned supreme, Shiloh thought, impressed.
If they ate banga rice and seafood every Sunday, Shiloh didn’t think they did so with fine china, resplendent silverwares and a tantalizing combination of vegetable and fruit salad and a side dish of Shawarma. If they did, then Gloria Ailemeh must be a super-woman cum world-class chef.
“Wow! This looks amazingly scrumptious.” Shiloh complimented.
“Thank you. I helped prepare everything.” Ruth dipped one knee in a curtsy.
“I think she was talking to mummy and not you.” Asher gave his head a shake.
Shiloh laughed at her baby-faced chagrin. “I was actually complimenting all of you. I don’t have to taste any of these to know it’s all delicious.” She slid into the seat Jeth held out for her which was in between his and Ruth’s. “So, what part did you play as assistant chef?”
Obviously pleased at the question directed at her, Ruth beamed. “I helped mummy wash the palm nuts and the vegetables. Asher assisted with the chopping of the fruits and celery. He’s good at chopping like mummy.” She praised generously.
“And what is Joseph good at?” Shiloh grinned.
“Washing the dishes.” Ruth replied in a matter of fact tone.
“I’m so good at it, mummy never screams: ‘you watch my china or your head is on the mill.’” Joseph declared with boyish puffed pride. “And she screams it like twice when it’s Asher doing the dishes.”
“Someone’s head will be on the mill if I don’t hear silence at once.” Gloria said in a voice Shiloh decided was hard-ass-mummy tone. “Ruthie, want to lead us in grace?”
“Yes, mummy.” Ruth slipped her hand through Shiloh’s and bowed her head.
Everyone did the same.
“Our Father in heaven, we thank you for this food you have given to us. There are so many around the world who don’t have food, yet you never forget to bless us. Use this food to nourish and heal our bodies, minds and spirits. In Jesus’ Name.”
“Amen.” Everyone chorused.
Shiloh was impressed at her use of words and calm composure. “How old are you, Ruth? You don’t mind if I ask that, do you?”
“We are not supposed to talk once we start eating but since you are asking me a question, I guess I have to answer.” Ruth began smartly.
A low but distinct snort came from her brothers. Which she was smart enough to ignore.
“I am six. I turned six January 10. My birthday is always the first in the entire family.”
“Six. Wow, you’re one sharp little girl for six.” Shiloh had thought her seven at the very least. They were a tall family. “So, what class are you in? Or maybe, I should save my questions for when we are done with our food, so I don’t lead you into the temptation of breaking mummy and daddy’s rules.”
“She’s going to break it anyway at one point or the other, so why not give her a valid reason to?” Ethan said and jerked his head at her. “Go on and answer, miss gabby. You know you’re raring to like a chatty parrot.”
Ruth giggled at her father’s teasing. “I’m in primary three.”
“Primary three?” Shiloh swept her surprised gaze to Gloria.
“She had a double promotion… twice. Both in mid-school year.” Gloria’s smile streamed with pride. “Now, we are putting our feet down that she’s taking it one class at a time until primary six.”
“Double promotion twice? That’s really impressive.” Shiloh was thoroughly impressed. “And you guys, flying high like your sister here too?”
“Maybe.” Joseph gave a lose shrug. “I’m in primary five and Asher is in J.S.S 1.”
“And you both would be nine and eleven?” Shiloh tried a guess.
“No.” Joseph grinned. “Eight and ten.”
“Oh my, genius kids. I wonder if there’s like some kind of special food a woman eats to make them possible.” Shiloh looked at smiling Gloria. “Any trick ideas, Sister Gloria?”
“Just marry Uncle Jeth and it will happen.” Ruth declared before her mother spoke.
“Now, you are banned from saying another word for the rest of the evening.” Jeth leaned his head forward and aimed her a stern stare.
“Oops! Sorry, Uncle Jeth.”
Her baby-faced chagrin was back. But Shiloh was busy struggling with her own over-heated face to be rightly charmed by it.
Luckily for her, the rest of dinner went wisecrack-free and Shiloh was once again back to being impressed when the three kids stood after their meal and started clearing the table.
“Can they handle all these breakables?” Shiloh asked, her mild awe mixed with a tinge of apprehension.
“They’d better or it’s their heads on the mill.” Gloria returned, completely unperturbed.
“I don’t know what magic touch turns women into super-humans once they are mothers but I hope mine comes in double.” Shiloh said with a look of admiration.
“That magic touch comes with simply carrying your child and having that child placed in your arms.” Gloria smiled.
“Women are not the only ones with magical parental touch. I’ve plenty of mine in case you didn’t notice, Shiloh.” Ethan chimed in.
“I did.” Shiloh grinned. “One quiet word from daddy gets everyone back in line. No magic bigger than that.”
“See, she knows my magic is bigger than yours.” Ethan sent his wife a teasing wink as he rose. “Let’s adjourn to the living room. I think it’s getting close to Who Wants To Be A Millionaire time-slot and we don’t like to miss it.”
“I don’t either.” Shiloh confessed. “But maybe I should be heading home.”
“It’s barely eight. And I haven’t even grilled you to know what’s your intention where my little brother is concerned.” Ethan waved aside her excuse and for good measure, he grasped her hand, imprisoning it in his own.
“Ha-ha, that’s his weird humour talking, so don’t panic, Shiloh.” Jeth said.
“No, it’s not my weird humour.” Ethan sat on the sofa and drew her down beside him. “I really want to know why he’s still single after at least two months of knowing you.”
“Ah…” Shiloh cast a glance at his wife. “Did this happen to you?”
“No.” Gloria shook her head. “But then I grew up with them and so it was all natural. I was only told, one bright evening I came visiting, that I’d be marrying his son by their no-nonsense father. Then got a solid nod on it from their sweet-natured mother. And next thing, Mr Ethan right there was hassling me down the aisle.”
“Aha! I see now where Jethro got his fast-and-furious moves from. It’s in the blood, straight from Daddy Ailemeh.” Shiloh refused to give in to the clutches in her stomach. “Well, Bros Ethan, Jeth’s single status at the ripe age of thirty-three and doing well for himself financially continues to baffle me too. I don’t know what has become of our young men of nowadays. So commitment-shy it grieves my heart.”
“ What! I don’t believe you just did that!” Jeth gaped at her near smug expression.
“Ha-ha, I knew I liked the sound and look of you for a bigger reason than your pretty very face.” Gloria hailed her gleefully with two thumbs up. “You start the way you mean to go, Shiloh, because with the Ailemeh brothers you need all your smartness and more.”
“And instead of having my back, she’s making it worse.” Jeth groaned. “See what you caused, Patriarch of the family?” He turned to his brother.
But Ethan only gave his head a rueful shake. “Hmm, I see now the game is ready but my brother went hunting with no bullets in his gun. A clear case of unpreparedness not only commitment-shyness. Indeed, it is worrisome, Shiloh.”
“Now it’s ancient proverbs and philosophies?” Jeth shook his head. “I can’t believe you’re pulling the rug under my feet in front of these ladies. So much for big brother.”
“But that is what big brothers are for—tormenting little brothers and having fun at their expense.” Ethan was grinning. “Don’t you agree, Shiloh?”
“Well, I wouldn’t know. I have only one brother and he is younger than I am.”
“Ah yes, Jeth told us he’s studying in Ukraine.” Gloria said.
“Yes, he is.” Shiloh nodded. “Biomedical Engineering. He’d be done next year.”
“Your mother and you must be looking forward to his permanent return.” Ethan guessed.
“We are. My mother especially. You see how Asher and Joseph look like Sister Gloria here, that’s how my brother is an image of my mum and they are quite close.”
“And you, who do you look like?”
Shiloh grinned at Ethan. “My father. Like Ruthie looks like you and Jeth. But we lost him twelve years ago and so he’s not here to see how his children turned out.”
“I am sure where he is, he’s proud of who you both are now as adults and proud of what his wife, your mother, has done for you two.” Ethan said. “But still, it’s never easy on any family when they lose their head, the one they all look up to. Sometimes, it takes years to get over it.”
“Or sometimes, we never get over losing them at all.” Shiloh murmured. “I don’t think I really have. I’m not sure if my mum and brother have done so either. You just learn to accept the loss but still you feel that tiny ache of something missing.”
“I get your meaning. Losing one is tough, losing the two—it takes some getting used to.” Ethan rolled his shoulders as he usually did when he wanted to shift a heavy feeling. “But the most important thing is we are alive and we still have family to share that life with.”
“Yes, that is the most important thing.” Shiloh agreed with a quiet smile.
“Mummy, we are done.” Ruth announced, leading the way as they all filed into the room. “May we join you in watching Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, please?”
“Anyone has an unfinished assignment of any kind?” Ethan demanded.
“I’m clear.” Asher first responded.
“Me too.” Joseph seconded.
“I always finish my assignments on Friday.” Ruth replied.
“All right, get your last hour of TV for the weekend.” Ethan assented. “Asher change the station to NTA, please.”
“Yes, sir.” Asher dipped his head and went to grab the remote control.
That one last hour of weekend TV time turned out to be even more fun and as they started on their way back, Shiloh couldn’t help but wonder if the chatty Ruth’s remark that all she needed to do was marry Jeth to have kids so intelligent and smart was right.
It was a theory she’d like to put to the test. The entire family, and the man himself, after all were not pretending they wanted her to put that theory to the test.
Dedication: For all March celebrants. Love… Life and Happiness
Warning: Chapter 11 coming right after. Comment here before you dash off!!!