She looked serene and calm; the indignation that she often wore on her face was nowhere to be found. He wasn’t sure if that was a good thing since he liked witnessing her eyes turn fiery whenever she was mad. Then again, it wasn’t his right to make her feel anything.

Her head tilted as she regarded him openly. “It’s been a long time…”

He nodded, holding back his retort that she was the one who made it so. “Indeed.”

Her lips twitched a smile. “You look good.”

Bart couldn’t, however, stop his face from warming up at her compliment. His eyes did a quick survey of her person and settled back on her face. “You too.” And he meant it. She seemed content.

Geraldine flashed a self-depreciating smile and tucked short tendrils of hair behind her pierced ears.

He stared, wanting to ask where she’d been for three years, why she never called, why she only came back now. Did she get married, was she still ornery under that calm façade. Didn’t she miss them?

“Mommy!” a child’s voice broke through his thoughts.

Heading toward them, an older woman wheeled a cart with a child sitting inside.

“Mommy!” the girl said, stretching her chubby arms to Geraldine.

Bart blinked, jaw slack, as Geraldine turned and lifted the girl onto her hip. Mommy?

Setting the little girl on her generous hips like he’d seen his late mother do with Eleazar, Bart’s suspicions were realized. Geraldine did get married and created this child who stared at him with big brown eyes lined with long lashes.

He swallowed hard and lifted his gaze to Geraldine. Her gentle expression caught him off-guard and for the second time tonight, he was left without words.

Geraldine smiled. “Bart, this is my mama Yelena… and my daughter, Joselyn.”

“Jozy,” the child said, sticking her thumb in her mouth.

The two women chuckled and Geraldine smiled, showing the charming gap between her front top teeth. “People she likes call her Jozy.”

Bart’s lips twitched slightly and he nodded his greeting to Geraldine’s mother who eyed him curiously. Then his eyes moved back to the child with the cherub face and wild sandy curls. Since Geraldine’s hair was naturally dark-brown and her eyes light amber, this child must look like her father… whoever he was. Bart ignored the tightness in his gut and smiled. “Nice to meet you Jozy.”

Jozy merely leaned her head against Geraldine’s bosom, chocolate-brown eyes focused on him.

He forced his gaze to Geraldine, the motion physically painful. “Uh…”

“It’s not often I catch you speechless, Bartimeus.”

He should’ve been annoyed by her use of his full name; she only ever did it to get a rise out of him. But it’d been three years of not hearing her voice, not seeing her, that the mention was welcoming. He shrugged with a half-smile. “Yeah.”

Then Geraldine’s mother, Yelena, turned to her and started speaking in low tones and in Spanish.

Bart had taken five years of the language and easily recognized Yelena’s warning her to hurry, and they were waiting. His gut tightened again at the thought of the baby’s father waiting on them.

Geraldine nodded, eyes stayed on Bart. “We gotta go now.”

He nodded too. So did he.

Her amber gaze slid over his well-fitted suit and back to the flowers. “Go with the tulips. She’ll like ‘em.” Then she adjusted her daughter on her hip and turned.

“Wait,” he said before realizing himself.

Geraldine turned back around, one shapely brow arched in question. Yelena’s brow furrowed slightly and even the little girl eyed him curiously.

Bart cleared his throat. “I’ll… I’ll tell the folks I saw you.”

She gave him a furtive smile and nodded. “Goodnight, Bart.”

He watched her go, curvy hips swaying as she followed her mother to the checkout line. Then he shook his head and turned to the flowers, unseeing. Geraldine, someone’s mother and someone’s wife…

“It’s none of my business,” he told himself, shaking his head to clear his thoughts of her serene expression and generous curves.  He snatched a bouquet of tulips from the bucket and started for the checkout aisle. Then he stopped with a scowl, spun around and deposited the tulips back into the bucket, grabbing roses instead.

Geraldine, her mother and daughter stood in the checkout line adjacent to the empty self-checkout. Bart turned his shoulder and busied himself with paying for the flowers. He snatched a packet of gum and paid for them too before heading out into the warm weather.

As far as he was concerned; Geraldine and her new life were none of her business, and he had an anniversary party to attend. Knowing Kasey, him being late was an option he couldn’t afford. Shoving aside all thoughts of Geraldine, he ducked into his car and drove away.

Geraldine stayed on Bart’s mind all evening, much to Kasey’s irritation. Granted she had no idea what or whom occupied his mind, but after he’d made a blunder with the pink roses and forgot her mother’s name for the fourth time that night, she was less than patient. Though her parents were gracious enough to ignore his mistakes, Kasey scowled all night.

Once the dinner ended with stilted smiles and awkward stretches of silence, he watched Kasey stomp off with her parents.

Abe and Phoebe were snuggled up on the couch when he returned home. Phoebe’s musical laugh and Abe’s low chuckles greeted him at the door. Bart rolled his eyes as he closed the door. “That’s why you have your own room upstairs. Try to use it, alright?”

Phoebe giggled into Abe’s chest. Abe smirked, holding her tight. “Heard Kasey’s parents had their anniversary. Had fun?”

Bart heaved a sigh as he dropped onto the adjacent recliner. “Geraldine’s back.”

Abe and Phoebe exchanged glances and then Phoebe frowned. “She was at the restaurant?”

“No, at the store…” Bart eyed them warily.  “Why do I get the feeling you knew that?”

“Knew what?” Abe asked, passing a hand over Phoebe’s tousled curls.

He squinted at his brother and sister-in-law. “That she’s back in town. That she’s… you knew?”

Abe nodded. “She came by the house a few weeks ago.”

“Did you see her precious little girl?” Phoebe gushed, stars in her eyes. “So cute!”

Bart frowned at his brother. “And you didn’t think to tell me?”

“Tell you what?”

He slapped his hands on his thighs.  “That she was back!”

Abe shrugged. “It didn’t cross my mind.”

“It didn’t—” Bart dragged a hand over his face and exhaled a harsh breath. “Yeah okay, whatever.”

“What’s the big deal, Bart?” Phoebe spoke up, gaze on him. “So what if we didn’t tell you about Geri? You’re in a relationship.”

“And so is she!” Bart snapped, more annoyed with that piece of news than the child.

Abe and Phoebe exchanged furtive glances and irked Bart all the more.

“You know what, forget it.” Bart pushed to stand. “Goodnight.”

“She’s widowed, Bart,” Abe spoke up before he reached the stairs.

He spun around, frowning. His eyes quickly sought Phoebe, the sadness on her face palpable.

She nodded. “Almost immediately after they got married, he passed in a boat accident. She was three months pregnant by the time they finally found his body.” She sighed heavily. “Poor Geri. I can’t even imagine what she went through.”

Abe put his arms around his wife and she leaned into him, their expressions downcast and mournful.

Bart stared with his mouth agape.

“What does it matter to you, anyway?” Darah’s voice spoke from the top of the stairs.

He tilted his head to look up at her.

“You never cared for her anyway, right?” She wore a look that dared him to contradict her.

And before he could come up with a smart remark, Darah exhaled a breath and looked over the banister at Abe and Phoebe. “Eli’s having another bad dream…” She put out a hand as both Abe and Bart started. “He wants Phoebe.”

“My poor baby.” Phoebe quickly stood and moved around Bart, climbing the stairs.

“Call for me if you need—“

“I got it, Abe,” she answered, putting a hand on Darah’s shoulder before passing by her.

The remaining Teka siblings stood in silence, watching the door to Eleazar’s room close after Phoebe. They heard Eleazar’s wailing but stayed still, pensive. It’d been three years since their parents’ passing and each one of them still felt the pain of loss. Eleazar’s hypersensitive nature made him predisposed to spontaneous moments of grief.

Right now though, Bart was more annoyed that everyone but him knew about Geraldine. He started up the stairs, ready to hide away in his room. Maybe let out a few curse words, kick a pillow or two.

“Bart, let’s talk.”

Ignoring Abe’s words, Bart continued walking. He scowled when Darah moved into his path. “Move.”

She lifted her chin stubbornly. “No.”

“Move or I’ll move you.”

Darah smirked, unfazed by his threats. “Try and regret it.”

Bart blew out a breath from his flared nostrils. “I don’t have time for this, Darah. Move.”

Abe sighed. “Let him pass, Darah.”

She rolled her eyes but stepped to the right, scoffing when Bart brushed past her. “Coward.”

His steps halted and he had half a mind to let her have it. She’d done more than enough for today.

“Oh quit it already, Darah,” Abe groused. “What’s with you giving him a hard time all the time?”

Bart resumed his climb up the stairs and down the hallway, missing Darah’s excuse for egging him. He didn’t care nearly enough for any of their lame explanations, not tonight. He barely shut the door without slamming it so as not to upset Eleazar further. His frustration rose to the surface but he tamped it down. There was nothing he could do but stay mad, and what right did he have for that?

Darah was right; he’d been a coward back then, watching Geraldine pine away for Abe. Instead he chose to tease her because it made him smile; made him feel like she noticed him.

When Darah said Geraldine wasn’t coming back after the holidays, he couldn’t believe it. Why would she just up and leave before he could tell her how he felt?

Toeing off his shoes and divesting his jacket, Bart lay face down on his bed. For the rest of the night, Geraldine and all that had happened in her three years of absence filled his mind until he finally fell into a fitful sleep.

<<Chapter 1 || Chapter 3>>

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