She had yet to stop grinning since that night Abe asked her to dinner, and Phoebe was pretty sure that he liked her as much as she liked him. They enjoyed each other’s company, that was for certain, whether they were hanging out in his parents’ home or out to dinner.

Bart graciously accepted his role as babysitter during those nights, encouraging the two to keep seeing each other. Darah and Eleazar were ecstatic, while Clement remained nonchalant though she’d caught him smirking a few times whenever they sat together for dinner.

Her mother, on the other hand, was not as enthusiastic. “Phoebe, that’s clearly a conflict of interest. What are you thinking?”

“How is it a conflict of interest? There’s no law that says I can’t date my student’s brother…” she grimaced, realizing how it sounded in her ears.

“He is your client, Phoebe. You’re his guidance counselor, you are supposed to counsel him, not date his older brother. That right there is an obvious conflict of interest.” Her mother shook her head. “I don’t like this.”

“I like him, Mom.” Phoebe moved around the counter and stood behind her mother, wrapping her arms around her waist and propping her chin on her shoulder. “I like them all. Just wait when you meet them and you’ll see. Eli and Darah are so adorable, and Junior he’s–”

“It’s one thing to like them. What you’re doing goes beyond that.”

Phoebe’s brow furrowed. “What am I doing, Mom?”

“You’re doing what I told you not to; getting too involved.”

Heaving a sigh of exasperation, Phoebe loosened her hold and stepped away. “Mom, please.”

“You, please. Phoebe, this is not the first time you’ve gotten involved. Isn’t that why you got released from the state department office?”

Phoebe stiffened and her mother grimaced. “I didn’t get fired, Mom. I resigned.”

Her mother eyed her warily. “And why did you resign? Wasn’t it because your boss encouraged you to do so before you’d be fired? Enough of this, Phoebe. Enough. Stop giving away your heart for every sad tale you come across. You can’t fix everything or everyone.”

The words stung, partially because her mother was right. She did get caught up in her cases, going beyond what was required of her to make sure the children were safe. It’d gotten her into trouble a few times, including a near-miss with one client’s estranged father putting a knife to her throat. Her involvement had shifted after that and so far so good, she’d been able to draw a line with every patient so as not to put herself or her clients in danger.

Abraham and his family made her forget that. They were genuine about their love and care for each other; it was easy to see their honesty. Even Clement, rough around the edges, didn’t hesitate when Eleazar or Darah needed him. How could she not want to draw close to them?

“Phoebe, break it off with this guy. I beg you.”

She blinked out of her reverie and frowned. “I’m sorry but I won’t be doing that.”

Her mother scowled. “And why not?”

“Because there’s no reason to.” She reached across the counter for a thinly-sliced piece of ham and hissed when her mother smacked her hand. “Ow, is that for not listening to you or for stealing meat?” she teased, rubbing away the sting.

Her mother glared at her. “I forbid you from seeing that guy. Don’t throw your career away just because of some silly fancy.”

Phoebe’s eyes widened. “Forbid? Mom, I’m twenty-eight, not sixteen–”

“I know how old you are, Phoebe. End it.”

“So, what do you think?” Geraldine asked, watching Eleazar and Darah chew the mush on their plate. Poor Eleazar could barely chew without making a face, showing just what he thought about the “food” Geraldine had attempted to make.

Darah was a little more considerate. She managed a smile. “It’s not bad, Geri. Kinda spicy though.”

“Oh!” Geraldine nudged the jug of water to her.

Bart wanted to laugh aloud, the look of chagrin clear on Geraldine’s face. She was adorable. He frowned at the train of his thought and when her gaze flickered over his, he was sure his face was red as the spicy sauce drenching the overcooked pork-chop. He started to give her his opinion when her gaze skimmed past him to Abe at his side.

“Is it okay, Abe?”

Bart frowned.

Abe nodded, taking a swig of his water and swished his mouth before gulping it down. “It’s not bad.” He gave her an encouraging smile and looked to Eleazar. “You okay, Eli?”

Eleazar shook his head, nudging the plate forward. “I miss Phoebe.”

Bart eyed Geraldine, watching her shoulders sag.

“Yeah, me too…” Darah mumbled, scraping her fork on the plate.

“Did you guys break up or something?” Clement asked, brow furrowed at Abe.

Abe shook his head, as confused as they were about Phoebe’s noted absence. She’d said she was busy with “stuff” but didn’t go into detail and he had no right to question her. “We’re not dating…”

Bart squinted as Geraldine looked up. He clenched his jaw at the light that flitted in her eyes as though she was pleasantly surprised by Abe’s comment.

“That’s obviously the reason she’s not coming anymore, Abe.” Darah berated her eldest brother, glaring at him. “Girls don’t like when you take too long.”

Abe sighed, rubbing his temple. “Well anyway, remember we’re having someone over tomorrow for the interview. Everyone has to be here and alert. We want this to go well, understood? Junior, Darah, make sure you’re home immediately after school. Bart–”

“I’ll pick Eli. No worries.” Bart snuck a look at Geraldine who appeared thoughtful.

Abe nodded his thanks. “Everyone make sure your rooms are clean. I better get a recipe for dinner or something.” He took a sip of his drink.

“I can make dinner.” Geraldine frowned when everyone stiffened. “What could go wrong?”

Abe managed a smile at Geraldine and nodded. “Nothing could go wrong. Thanks, Geri, for volunteering to help.”

Clement and Bart exchanged worried glances, Eleazar slapped a hand over his face and Darah squeezed her mouth to keep from laughing aloud.

Phoebe stared at her clock, wondering what the Teka siblings were up to. She missed them terribly, having avoided their house and Abe’s calls for the last three weeks. It’d been akin to torture, retreating to her lonely apartment with only her sad, lonely beta fish and the humming sounds of her air-conditioner to keep her company.

She missed Eleazar’s quirky laugh and Darah’s snarky comments, wished to see that half-smirk on Clement’s face or Bart’s teasing expression. But mostly she missed Abe. He was like an anchor; sturdy and constant. His strength encouraged and ensured her, made her want to draw closer. She missed the smell of him, the warmth of his smile and his steady gaze.

They could talk about anything and everything, even though they’d only known each other for weeks. It seemed to early to call it something other than a growing friendship, but Phoebe felt it was more than that.

Her cheeks warmed at the thought of him and she reached for her phone, ready to call him. Three weeks apart was enough misery. She missed the Teka family, and nothing her mother said would stop her from at least checking on them.

Before she could dial the house number, her phone rang. Abe’s number flashed on the screen. Her pulse quickened and she quickly answered, holding the phone to her ear. “Abe, I–”

“Quick! We need you!” Darah’s panicked voice filled the air, the distinct noise of a smoke alarm blaring in the background. “Can you come now?”

With her heart in her throat, Phoebe shot to her feet and grabbed her purse. “I-I’m on my way right now!”

<<Chapter 6 || Chapter 8>>