“So what’s this about a fake marriage?” Clement ventured in the silence, ignoring the weight of stares around him. He focused his attention on Bart and Geraldine who sat together. “Why fake when you can have something real?”

“Don’t change the subject,” Abe groused in annoyance.

“No one was talking,” Clement said matter-of-factly. “You were just staring at me.”

Abe rolled his eyes. “What do you mean you’re dropping out of college?”

“Did you flunk out?” Darah asked, wide-eyed.

“No.” Clement frowned at his sister. “My GPA’s pretty decent.”

“What’s a GPA?” Eleazar asked, still leaning into Clement’s side.

“Something you don’t need to worry about for now, Squirt.” Clement ruffled Eleazar’s curls, earning him a smile.

“Was it too cold? Were you unhappy there?” Phoebe spoke softly, fading Clement’s smile. She tilted her head to study him. “Were you?”

“He’s homesick,” Bart muttered. “Practically calls every day.”

Clement scoffed. “Not every day.”

“Is that it, Junior?” Abe cut in, his tone equally gentle. “You’re homesick?”

“It’s complicated.” He sighed. “I just don’t like it there.”

“Then transfer. Why dropout?”

“I don’t like school.” Clement looked up at his eldest brother. “It’s just not my thing.”

Abe’s frown deepened. Their parents had saved up for each of their formal education, believing it would be the best investment for each of them. “Then what is your thing?”

Clement shrugged. “I’m working on that.”

Both Abe and Bart grunted in disgust.

“Hey, don’t look down on me just because I’m not cut out for school.”

“But that’s just it,” Phoebe inserted “You are cut out for school. You just said you have a good GPA which means you’re doing well in your classes.”

Clement heaved a sigh. “Guys, my decision has been made. I withdrew two weeks ago.”

“Two weeks ago?!” Abe roared. “Why didn’t you tell us? And what were you doing since then?”

“Backpacking in the mountains, getting inspiration.” Clement replied easily, undeterred by his brother’s rising irritation. Then he turned back to Bart. “Now what’s this about you and Geri not getting married?”

Bart rolled his eyes and shook his head. “Unbelievable.”

Geraldine managed a smile. “It’s complicated…”

Clement shrugged. “Then give me the short, easy version.”

Phoebe put a hand on Abe’s shoulder, shaking her head to deter him from starting an argument with Clement. She’d learned a while ago that Clement was probably the most stubborn out of the four Teka siblings–and if he’d made up his mind, there was no convincing him otherwise.

Abe frowned at her silent charge but blew a breath through his flared nostrils before dropping his shoulders in defeat. For now…

Once Geraldine had given Clement the short version of their plan, Clement sat back in his chair and shook his head. “This is the craziest thing I’ve ever heard.”

“Says the guy who drops out of school for no reason,” Bart grumbled, and the two brothers exchanged glares. “So what will you do now? Loaf around until you come up with inspiration?”

Clement smirked. “Why don’t you worry about your engagement? I’m sure you’ll have little time to worry about me when you’ve just inherited crazy in-laws. No offense, Geri.”

Geraldine shrugged, her expression wry. “None taken.”

“In order to be the voice of reason,” Abe spoke up. “You need to have reason.”

Silence filled the room while Clement and Abe locked eyes. It wasn’t often the two stood against each other, mostly because they often stood together in agreement. But Abe couldn’t sit quietly while his brother made a big mistake with his future.

Clement’s lips quirked upwards. “Since I’m well over the age where you get to tell me what to do, I’ll take your word as a suggestion. Now let’s get back to more pressing issues, shall we?”

“That’s enough.” Phoebe frowned. “What’s with that ugly attitude?”

Abe’s stiff shoulders lost its starch and he put a hand on Phoebe’s shoulder. “Hey, it’s okay–”

“No it’s not okay!” Phoebe’s voice shook. “Who do you think you are talking to him like that?”

Everyone gaped at her. As his former counselor, Phoebe was attuned to Clement’s melancholic personality and advised everyone to be careful of his sensibilities. She avoided arguments in the heat of the moment and usually sought him out once he’d settled down.

“Phoebe.”

“No Abe, I won’t stay quiet.” Her eyes were now glistening with tears. “After what he’s done for you, you treat his concern like it’s nothing. What, a suggestion? Where do you come off?”

Clement stared at her for a few moments and then he burst out laughing.

Shocked gazes swung his way.

Darah nudged him when his chuckles grew to loud guffaws. “Are you insane?” she hissed, eying Phoebe’s scowl. Abe looked ready to blow.

“That’s enough,” Bart growled, face tight with anger.

Perturbed, Eleazer scooted away from Clement and closer to Darah.

Geraldine watched in amazement that none reached out to seize Clement by the collar, the room growing tense as Clement’s laughter continued.

Finally and thankfully, Clement’s laughter abated. He wiped the tears from his eyes. “You guys are entirely too dramatic,” he said amid chuckles. He looked at Phoebe’s face and her trembling lips. “Phoebe, Abe… guys, I meant no disrespect.”

“Sure looks like it,” Abe groused, rubbing Phoebe’s back to soothe her ire.

Clement’s smile faded and he sighed heavily. “I dropped out of school because I want to be a missionary.”

Shocked silence fell on the family and they gaped at him, flabbergasted.

He shrugged. “I just know what I want to do now, and it’s not school.”

“M-missionary?” Phoebe echoed. “You?”

Clement’s smile reappeared. “Yeah, me. God can use anyone and he wants to use me. I’ve accepted the call.” His eyes swept over his family and settled on Abe. “And as my family, I’d like your understanding and your blessing.”

Phoebe and Abe exchanged glances, Darah and Eleazar the same. Bart just stared at his brother in shocked silence.

In an act of support, Geraldine subconsciously reached for Bart’s hand. His eyes remained on Clement, but his fingers covered hers and squeezed gently. She squeezed it back in silent encouragement.

The doorbell rang again and Abe groaned. “What now?” He rose from the couch and made his way to the door. Pulling it open, his scowl faded, leaving behind only curious confusion.

A small woman stood on the welcome mat, dressed in a tweed suit, her curly salt-and-pepper hair arranged in a fancy hairstyle, her weathered face adorned with faint makeup. She lifted familiar uncanny hazel eyes–the same color as Eleazar’s–and Abe gasped inwardly.

She eyed him with curiosity and her thin painted lips twitched a small smile. “Hello. I’m Mrs. Sharma Crane. May I come in?”

Footsteps rushed to the door before Abe could formulate a response. “Who are you?” Clement demanded at Abe’s right shoulder.

“Don’t be rude,” Phoebe berated him, standing between him and Abe. She turned to the woman with a kind smile. “Hello.”

The woman gave Phoebe a smile that was short of warm. “Hello.”

“Who’s this, Abe?” Bart asked, standing on Abe’s left shoulder.

Abe’s lips moved but no words came, panic seizing him as he repeated the name he’d only seen on birth records. Eleazar’s. His stomach did a somersault. How did she find–?

The woman swung her hazel eyes to him. “I’m Eleazar’s grandmother. May I come in?”

<<Chapter 9 || Chapter 11>>

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