“That’s enough, Darah. I said not another word about her,” Abe said in a sharp tone that drew Bart’s attention from the sofa. Once he saw Abe’s dark expression, Bart immediately shifted his attention from his emails to his two siblings; Abe and Darah.

Darah scowled and crossed her arms. “You’re wrong for this, Abe and you know it.” She spun on her heels and stomped upstairs, her feet pounding out frustration with each step.

Exhaling a harsh breath, Abe leaned forward and propped his elbows on his knees.

Bart frowned. “What’s the big deal, Abe? It was an honest mistake.” When Abe didn’t respond, he heaved a sigh and turned back to his emails. “Darah’s right, you’re wrong for this. We got the interview rescheduled, so calm down already. Eesh.”

“I’m sure you’re really concerned.”

The sarcasm in Abe’s voice drew Bart’s gaze. “Pardon?”

Abe’s face twisted in derision. “Drop the act, Bartimeus. You didn’t want that interview to happen.”

Bart scowled. “What does that mean, Abraham?”

“Exactly what I said. What, think I don’t know you’re still looking to sell this house?”

Bart squinted at him. “What does selling this house have to do with you being their guardian?”

Abe’s jaw tight, his eyes hard. “You have some nerve trying to sell this house behind my back.”

Bart scoffed a laugh. “You’re obviously still pissed about Phoebe and now taking it out on everyone.” He grabbed his laptop and stood. “Let me leave you to your pity session then.”

Abe stood swiftly and seized Bart by his collar. “I’m sick of your sarcastic, devil-may-care attitude when it comes to our siblings, our family.”

“Let go of my collar, Abraham.”

Abe’s fingers tightened, creasing Bart’s 100% cotton shirt. “Or what, you’re gonna hit me?”

“Abraham, I swear to God…” Only when Abe refused to loosen his hold, Bart’s face grew taut with pent-up rage.

“Then put the laptop down and hit me. Come on.”

Bart gripped the laptop with one hand, the other tightening into a grip. “Trust me, I can hit you fine with one hand.”

Abe’s lips twitched in a mocking smile. “Come on then. That’s all you know how to do anyway. When you’re not fighting, you’re running.”

Bart jerked his collar and lifted his fist to drive into Abe’s face.

“Hey, idiots!” Darah screamed from behind them. “HEY!”

“WHAT?!” they barked and turned their heads toward her.

The sight of a frightened Eleazar clinging to Darah’s side made them spring apart. Clement was content to watch them from his seat on the stairs, derision in his face.

Bart could barely hold back a scowl as he righted his wrinkled collar. Abe swallowed hard, his Adam’s apple bobbing uncomfortably in his throat.

Darah rubbed Eleazar’s head, attempting to comfort him. Eleazar inched closer to her when Abe stepped forward. “You guys are beyond ridiculous, you know that?”

Abe heaved a sigh and rubbed his face, frustrated.

“Anyway, one of you dummies needs to take me to the store.”

Abe and Bart exchanged glances before looking back at their scowling sister. “For what?” they said simultaneously, giving each other the stink eye.

“I just got my period.”

They jerked their wide eyes back to her. In fact, all her brothers stared at her, including Eleazar who had no idea what a period was.

“What?” Bart eked out.

Abe gaped, stumped for words.

Clement frowned. “Shouldn’t you have started that already?”

Darah scowled. “What do you know about periods?”

He shrugged. “Most girls get theirs before they’re ten.”

She pursed her lips. “Since you’re not a girl, I’ll graciously look past that ignorant statement and since you’re not taking me to the store, kindly shut up.” She turned to the other two. “Well?”

Bart gestured to his laptop. “I-I have stuff to do, sorry Darah… Abe?”

Abe swallowed hard. “Uh…”

Darah rolled her eyes. “All you have to do is drive me to the store. You don’t even have to come out of the car. Just give me your card and I’ll get it myself. Okay?”

His eyes darted to Bart who purposely avoided  eye contact. Clement picked at a scab on his arm and Eleazar just stared at Darah with a perturbed expression. He reluctantly looked to Darah and wishing for the umpteenth time that their parents were still alive.

She slow-blinked at him, expression expectant.

He swallowed and jerked a nod. Then concern flitted over his features. “You okay?”

Darah smirked. “I’m fine.” She patted Eleazar’s head and stepped away from him, moving to the stairs. “I’ll get my list and meet you outside.”

“Okay…” Abe said weakly, and all four brothers silently watched her climb the stairs to her room.

Phoebe didn’t expect to see Clement walk into the office the following Monday but when he did, the waterworks began all over again.

He stared at her, stricken. “Should I leave?”

“Oh please don’t!” she paused to blow her nose. “I’m sorry, I just…”

Clement sighed, leaning forward on his chair. “No offense, but that wasn’t cool what you did.”

Phoebe nodded. “I know…”

“He hates dishonestly, always has always will,” Clement said. “You should’ve just told him the truth. Certainly would’ve save you all this trouble.”

She sniffed, dabbing her eyes. “I didn’t think he’d want to see me again.”

“’Cos you used to be a social worker? That’s stupid.”

Phoebe cringed. “Okay, I know I screwed up, but using the word stupid right now is a little…”

“If you’d told him earlier, they could’ve arranged for someone else to do the interview.” Clement frowned. “And you wouldn’t be here crying your eyes out.”

She squinted at him. “Am I counseling you or are you counseling me?”

“Take it whatever way you want.” He folded his arms. “I think we should stop seeing each other, either way.”

Her heart skipped a beat. “E-either way?”

“Wrong word.” Clement sighed. “I meant me coming here, getting counseling from you, since it’ll be a problem with you dating my brother and all.”

Her heart dropped to her stomach. She lowered her gaze. “We’re not dating… at least not anymore.” The tears pooled again and she lifted the tissue to her face.

Clement heaved a sigh. “This is a mess. He’s stubborn and you’re not stubborn enough.”

She shrugged, devastated. “What can I do if he doesn’t want to see me again?”

“True…”

On a wince, Phoebe looked up at him. “Couldn’t you at least try and be comforting?”

Clement eyed her warily. “Is it only Abe you care about?”

She paused in mid-sniff.

“Call Darah and Eli sometimes. The house phone still works.” Clement stood to leave.

Phoebe stood also. “Thanks, Junior.”

He gave her a half-smile and nodded before leaving.

Once Clement closed the door behind him, Phoebe lowered to her seat and propped her elbows on the desk. She thought about Darah’s sad expression and Eleazar’s luminous eyes shimmering with tears.

Her heart twisted in pain. She missed them terribly. Without meaning to, she’d fallen in love with not just Abe but the entire Teka family.

Groaning, Phoebe lowered her head to the table and pressed her cheek on the surface, staring at the desk phone.

Darah and Eleazar, like Clement, were busy in school, and Bart was probably doing real estate on his laptop or arguing about bathroom tiles with Geraldine. And Abe–

Abe…

She closed her eyes tight, her heart breaking all over again. What do I do now?

<<Chapter 9 || Chapter 11>>

Advertisements