Bart just wouldn’t quit; between the 40-page diagnostic report he’d drafted about the current standing of their parents’ home and his dire prediction of future depreciation, he kept pressing Abe to sell. Yet Abe refused to cave in. He’d already decided to stay in Houston, in this house with his siblings, that nothing would change his mind.

“And if you have time to make that report, why don’t you make yourself useful and help me with these papers,” Abe had groused to Bart, nudging a thick stack of papers to him.

The stack of papers, documents of Abe’s guardianship of Clement, Darah and Eleazar, was a daunting task he couldn’t do on his own. Half the terms didn’t even make sense to him, but he kept thinking that if Yonas and Ester had been discouraged by the documents or countless interviews to adopt both him and Bart, they wouldn’t be here. Abe tried not to imagine where he would be if Yonas and Ester hadn’t pressed on with the grueling adoption process.

His construction job was easily transferable; there would always be a firm looking for civil engineers especially in sprawling Houston with its endless construction. He wouldn’t need to look hard to find a job. Bart had a great thing in California, real-estate was a million-dollar business out there.

He could understand his brother’s hesitance to give it up but wouldn’t tolerate him showing discontent about being here. Especially around Darah. Their sensitive sister was wiser than her twelve years of life. He and Bart would have to be careful what they said around her. Neither she nor Clement had cried much since the funeral and Abe didn’t know if that was a good or bad thing, yet.

Tossing in the cot for a few minutes, Abe glanced once at the clock and stifled a groan. A quarter till four and he still couldn’t sleep. On the bed near his cot, Eleazar slept peacefully, the hum and hiss of the air purifier intermittent over his soft snores.

Abe’s lips twitched wryly and he wondered if Bart was sleeping soundly, especially after delivering dire news about their childhood home.

“It needs work, Abe. Lots of work,” Bart had said, pointing out the crumbling foundation and rusty pipes among other expensive problems Abe couldn’t imagine trying to fix right now. Yonas, with the help of Geraldine’s expertise, had done their best to keep the house livable but now it was just Geraldine. Even with their expertise combined, the cost of fixing the house was insurmountable.

He dragged a hand over his face. Taking care of the family was not going to be easy, and the thought of the added responsibility made him think of his elderly parents.

“How did you do it?” he whispered in the darkness. Silence answered and his eyes stung with tears unshed. He too hadn’t cried since he’d gotten the news. He simply hadn’t the time.

A muffled scream sounded on the other side of the wall and Abe jerked upright. It sounded again and he jumped to his feet, rushing to the door. A bleary eyed Clement stood in the hallway. Another door opened down the hall, Bart rubbing the sleep from his eyes. The scream sounded again, followed by crying. The three brothers looked at each other.

“Darah!” Abe hurried past the boys to the room around the hall. Opening the door, the sound of their sister’s screams spilled into the hallway. Her blankets tangled around her limbs, Darah writhed in bed, screaming inconsolably. He moved to the bed and reached for her, pulling her against him. She fought him, shoving at his chest with her elbows, biting his shoulder when he didn’t let her go. “You’re okay, you’re okay,” he said, voice shaky.

“Nightmare?” Bart said over Darah’s cries and Abe’s soft mantra.

Darah buried her face into Abe’s chest, her cries smothered. She trembled uncontrollably, as though fighting off chills. Abe held a hand over her forehead, frowning. “Fever…”

Clement muttered a curse from where he stood at the door and Bart exhaled a harsh breath, dragging a hand over his face.

Then they heard Eleazar’s wails a moment later. The three brothers groaned, Bart moving past Clement to their parents’ bedroom where Abe and Eleazar had taken residence. “Why didn’t you close the door, Abe?!”

“Like that would’ve made a difference…” Abe peered down at Darah who trembled in his arms. “Nightmare?”

She nodded, sobering now that her younger brother was crying. “I saw…” She sniffed. “Mommy and Daddy…” Tears streamed down her face. “They’re… gone. They’re gone.”

Clement muttered another expletive, earning him a glower from Abe.

“Go help Bart with Eli if you’re gonna just stand there and curse.” Abe waited until Clement stepped out and closed the door before he turned back to his sister, smoothing a hand over Darah’s tangled curls. “You’re okay.”

“You… you won’t leave too, will you?”

Her soft-spoken words broke his heart. He felt tears well up in his eyes and blinked them away quickly. His throat closed up. She’d lost her birth parents to an apartment fire when she was just three, and to lose Yonas and Ester, Abe couldn’t imagine the heartache and fear she felt. He couldn’t allow her to suffer more heartache.

“Abe?”

He swallowed hard and shook his head, holding her tight. “Not going anywhere.”

Darah sighed and her body loosened against him, as though content with those words alone.

Then Eleazar’s screams penetrated the walls of Darah’s bedroom and both Darah and Abe groaned, loosening their hold of each other.

“It’s my fault,” Darah mumbled as they both stood to go to their brothers.

He rubbed the back of her neck as he’d seen his father do time and time again. It was a comforting gesture and Darah managed a smile before they stepped into the hallway.

Clement stood glowering in the hallway. “Bart’s useless. You should get in there.”

“Like you could do any better!” Bart called over Eleazar’s screaming. “Eli, come on. I’ll give you candy. Stop crying, okay?”

Abe shook his head and stepped into the room before Bart started crying too.

Hours later and Eleazar was still inconsolable. His eyes were red from crying, and even his cries seemed weaker, the poor boy exhausted. Everyone was beyond worried. Both Darah and Clement refused to go to school, and Abe didn’t convince them otherwise. They needed all the support they could get.

Bart browsed the internet on his expensive laptop, looking up information about how to stop a child from crying. Clement flipped through baby books he’d scavenged from their father’s study. Darah attempted making Eleazar’s favorite foods while Abe carried a screaming Eleazar around the house, attempting to console the little boy. It was just like the old days when Eleazar was new into the family. The mood was incredibly sober as each Teka sibling wished their parents were around to help them.

“Anything?” Abe asked on his twentieth circuit around the living room. He adjusted a restless Eleazar on his back and peered over the computer. “Come on, anything?”

“WebMD’s no help,” Bart groused, typing furiously at the keyboard. “Junior?”

Clement shook his head, browsing a medical journal.

“He’s too old for colic, right?” Bart asked, peering up at Abe.

Clement’s fingers stopped flipping the page and he looked up at Bart.

Abe paused in step, fear sneaking up his legs. He peered over his shoulder, wincing as Eleazar’s intermittent whimper intensified to a full-blown wail.

Clement muttered an expletive.

Abe scowled. “What’d I tell you about that? You don’t say anything but curse words now?”

“No offense, Abe,” Bart interjected. “But what else is there to say?”

“A pray–”

The smoke alarm cut through Abe’s words and both Clement and Bart shot to their feet.

Abe turned toward the kitchen and stifled a groan.

Darah hurried out of the kitchen, hand over her mouth, alarm and chagrin on her features. Smoke swirled over her head and she stopped in mid-cough. “Sorry.”

Bart muttered a curse and hurried into the kitchen. “Darah, what in the world?!” He yelped and the sound of something clattered on the floor, followed by a stream of curses.

Darah flinched, Clement shook his head, and even Eleazar paused in his crying.

Abe scowled. “Watch it, Bart!”

“Oh come off it!” Bart groused aloud, opening the back door. He hacked a cough. “Everyone, go outside until we can get this smoke out.”

Darah edged away from the kitchen door, tears swimming in her eyes. “I tried to do it the way Mommy…”

Abe gestured for her to come to his side and they moved to the front door, Clement opening it for them. They all came to a stop as Geraldine walked up the stairs. She paused in mid-step and frowned at the lot of them still in their pajamas, looking ragged and disheveled.

Her gaze skimmed over Eleazar and at the smoke seeping from the open door. Then she looked up at Abe, brows arched. “I’m gone for a few days and you guys wanna burn the house down?”

<<Chapter 3 || Chapter 5>>

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