Nights at her lonely studio apartment were the toughest because she remembered the exciting activity going on at the Teka house. There would always be someone talking; whether Darah debating over things preteens cared about, or Eleazar telling her all about his day at school. Clement would be reading one of his father’s thick books, Bart would be sending emails on his laptop while Abe stressed over the guardianship papers.

She lifted her feet from the floor and propped it on the coffee table. Then resting her elbows on her knees, she stared listlessly at the lonely beta fish that swam in a circle, its tentacle-like indigo fins fluttering in the clean water.

While she ate dinner, the fish gobbled up the fish food she’d sprinkled into the tank. While she brushed her teeth and washed her face, the fish just swam.

Phoebe sighed. “Should I get you a lady friend, Festus? Maybe one with pretty pink fins?”

The beta fish didn’t break his swim.

She groaned and lowered her forehead to her knees. “Even my fish won’t talk to me.”

The doorbell rang and Phoebe’s head shot up. When it rang again, she put down her feet and pushed to stand. As it rang the third time, Phoebe knew exactly who it was. Only one person would be that impatient.

She hurried to the door and opened it. Her parents stood on the doorstep, her father in front.

Tears fell as her father opened his arms and she walked into them, sobbing openly. Her mother moved around them and wrapped her arms around Phoebe’s back. As a unit, they walked back into her apartment and closed the door.

With her mother rubbing her back, Phoebe rested her head against her father’s chest. It was a tight squeeze on the couch with the three of them but Phoebe felt safe, comforted by their presence. She released a tremulous sigh. “I think you were right…”

Her mother’s hand didn’t pause at the soothing stroking. “Right about what, dove?”

She sniffed. “That I’m a busybody.”

There was a brief moment of silence and she knew her parents looked at each other over her shoulder. She shrugged. “At least that’s what Uncle Harry said.”

Her mother sighed. “He was shocked to see you there. I’m sure he didn’t mean any harm by it.”

“But you said it too, and it’s true. I get into trouble because I don’t know when to stop trying to help.” A lone tear slid down her cheeks as she recalled the stern lecture Uncle Harry gave her in front of the Teka family. Then Abe’s response came to mind and she sighed. “Anyway, I understand why he was mad…”

“Do you?” her father asked gently.

Phoebe nodded. “I should’ve just stayed away, shouldn’t have gotten involved.”

“No, you should’ve told him the truth from the beginning.” Her father’s voice was firm but she didn’t mind it, not now at least. “But hindsight is 20/20. You have a choice to sit here and sulk or move ahead and make things right.”

She frowned, peering up at him. “How?”

He gave her a gentle smile, smoothing a hand over her hair. “You’ll apologize to him for not being honest. But first, you’ll apologize to your mom.”

Phoebe felt her mother lean away from her and sniffed. “Apologize?”

“For not heeding her advice.” He winked. “Although I’m sure she knows you’re sorry.”

“Clint…” her mother warned behind her.

Phoebe lowered her head. Admitting one’s wrong was still very hard for her to do, even though it was clear she’d been completely wrong to get too involved with the Teka siblings. Still, she didn’t want to apologize for her strong feelings for them. It would be insincere. Phoebe groaned and sat up. “I thought you guys came because you were worried that I didn’t answer your calls.”

“Oh I’m still mad at you for that.” Her father draped an arm around her shoulders. “But you know how your mother is. A worrywart. She begged us to come down instead of letting you come on your own.”

“I’m right here, y’know.”

Phoebe shifted to look at her mother’s perturbed expression. Her heart ached that even now her aging parents still worried about her as though she was still a teenager. She should’ve been more careful, more diligent about her life.

“And who said you could date without my permission?” her father groused, drawing back her attention to his frowning face.

Phoebe choked an incredulous laugh. “Dad, I’m twenty-eight.”

“You’re still my baby girl.” He pulled her close and kissed her temple.

“Thank you Daddy. Mommy. I needed that.” She reached out a hand and her mother clasped it, squeezing it gently. Her heart warmed despite the hollow ache for disappointing Abe and his family.

“So for Thanksgiving, I was thinking we deep-fry the turkey. What say you?”

Her mother scoffed. “What’s wrong with the regular roast?”

“I want to try something different this year.”

“Clint, that’s incredibly dangerous.”

“Marsha, relax. It’s not that dangerous.”

“Do you even have the instructions?”

“What instructions do I need to fry a bird?”

Phoebe smiled at her parents’ bickering and leaned into her father’s chest. For now, she would be fine. Just as long as she didn’t think about Abe and his family, she would be just fine.

“Deep fry the turkey?” Darah looked dubious as she stared up at Bart. “You?”

“What’s deep fry?” Eleazar asked, leaning into Abe’s leg.

Bart scoffed incredulously. “Have a little faith, will you? I got this.”

“Uh gee, Bart,” Darah replied sarcastically. “You’ve never offered to help make dinner before and we’re supposed to trust you with the turkey dinner?”

“A turkey dinner we need to impress the social worker,” Clement added.

Bart scowled. “I’ve helped with dinner before! Countless times.”

“Yeah when there’s not internet connection,” Abe muttered loud enough for Eleazar to snort in laughter. He ruffled his youngest brother’s hair. “Let’s save the experimenting for another day.”

“It’s not that hard,” Bart insisted. “I’ll look up the instructions easily.”

“Yeah, maybe not for others but since we’re prone to burning down the house, we’ll keep it safe with regular turkey roast.”

“I hate turkey.”

All eyes looked down at Eleazar who pouted up at his siblings. Darah frowned. “Who hates turkey?”

“I do,” Eleazar declared more firmly.

“Okay why?”

“I want chicken.”

“Chicken is better,” Clement agreed, hands in pocket.

“No way, Mom made the best turkey!” Darah protested, hands jammed to her hips.

“Not sure we can replicate it. Which is why crispy-fried turkey works. It’ll taste just like chicken, Eli,” Bart replied, still advocating his new technique.

“No turkey!”

Abe frowned, sensing there was more to Eleazar’s protest. He bent to his brother’s level and placed a hand on his shoulder. “Why not turkey, Eli?”

Eleazar’s cherub face scrunched in a scowl like Bart’s. “Because turkeys are animals, like puppies. We don’t eat puppies so we shouldn’t eat turkeys,” he said matter-of-factly.

“Uh Eli, chickens are–” Darah paused when Clement put a hand over her mouth. She slanted him a glare but didn’t push his hand away.

Bart and Abe exchanged a look, neither looking forward to explaining the difference to their six-year-old brother.

Abe squeezed Eleazar’s shoulder. “Okay, no turkey.” He watched Eleazar’s face brighten.

“Then it’s fried chicken for dinner,” Bart pronounced, ruffling Eleazar’s hair. “We’ve got to save the animals, don’t we?”

“Yay!” the six-year-old cheered in victory, missing the conspiratorial smiles all around him.

Darah finally pushed Clement’s hand from her mouth and shook her head. “You guys are so wrong.”

<<Chapter 10 || Chapter 12>>

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