Bart blinked. “Huh?”

Geraldine smiled, expecting his blank stare. “I sat in the row behind you, two chairs to your right. The principal congratulated us graduating and everyone tossed their hats in the air. I tapped your shoulder and when you turned around, I kissed you.”

His eyes grew wide. “Huh?!”

She couldn’t help the snicker, his expression priceless. “That’s exactly what you said afterwards. Huh.”

Bart shook his head. “Did I know you? Why would I kiss you–I mean, not that I wouldn’t have enjoyed it. We kiss pretty well–” he paused when she put up a hand.

“From the scowl on your face, you didn’t like it. And it looked like you were getting ready to let me have it when your friend grabbed your attention. So I escaped.” Her expression turned wry. “Good thing you didn’t remember, although it stung a little when you acted like you didn’t know me.”

“I don’t remember any of this…” Bart shook his head in disbelief. He could hardly forget her once she left three years ago.

“Well I didn’t look like this back then,” she said in chagrin. “I looked a hot mess.”

He stared at her quizzically.

“You really don’t remember me, do you?” Geraldine rolled her eyes. “Coke-bottle glasses, a bit on the thick-side, frizzy-haired.”

He shook his head. “Sorry. I can’t…”

“It’s fine,” she said, waving it aside. “I did it as a dare anyway so–”

“What?!”

Geraldine eyed him warily. “So what? It’s not like you remember it.”

He scowled. “You kissed me as a dare? What kind of foolishness–”

“Bartimeus!” Geraldine grabbed his hands. “Let me finish?”

Bart frowned but nodded begrudgingly, wary of any more secrets she’d kept from him.

She sighed. “When I called you from the airport three years ago, I had one thing in mind…”

He snorted. “Yeah, to find out about Abe’s relationship status.”

“Well, that too.” She squeezed his hands when he scowled. “But mostly because I wanted to know if you’d miss me as much as I would miss you.”

Bart blinked again, a furrow in his brow. “Huh?”

“Now who sounds like Darah?”

“You missed me?”

“So much…” She turned their joined hands and laced their fingers. She wasn’t sure if the sharp intake of breath was hers or his.

“Geraldine?”

The adorable squeak in his voice made her smile. “The more we spent together, the more I realized that I couldn’t deny how attracted I was to you–physically, emotionally…”

Bart nudged her hand, making her look up at him. “Give me the real reason you moved to Peru, Geraldine. You didn’t know about your grandmother’s debt then, but you chose to put your house for rent and move away. Why?”

A shiver rolled down her spine, shame tightening her throat. “I didn’t think there was anything else left for me here… and I thought you didn’t care enough for me to stay.”

“Of course I cared,” Bart barked impatiently. “It drove me crazy how you looked at Abe like you were in love with him. I… what’s so funny?” He frowned, tugging at her hands.

“We are.” She leaned forward, resting her forehead on his shoulder. “You thought I was in love with Abe, and I thought you could care less about me.”

Bart shook his head, annoyed that he’d wasted enough time. If he’d been honest from the start, Geraldine would have never traveled so far away and gotten into this mess. He tugged his hand free and pulled her into his arms.

Geraldine sighed against his chest and stayed there. Until he heard her sniff.

He tightened his hold on her, refusing to let go. Not anymore. “We’ll figure it out, Geraldine.”

She started to lean back to look at him but he kept her close. Sighing, she rested her cheek against his chest. “I don’t want to burden you.”

“Shush. The moment you first called me Bartimeus, you already burdened me.”

She choked a laugh. “Why does it bother you so much?”

He sighed, stroking her back. “Because the only other person that called me that was my mom, when I was in trouble. Hearing it from a stranger–”

“Gee, thanks.”

Bart chuckled and pressed a kiss on her temple, ignoring the shiver of her body against his. “I meant hearing you use it that first time made me notice you. That much is certain.”

She didn’t say a word but Bart had a feeling she was pleased with his reasoning. Good. He didn’t want her crying ever again. He kissed her temple again. “We’ll figure it out, Geraldine.”

Her hands wrapped around his waist and held on tight. “I trust you.”

And those three words, more than her touch, stirred him alive. He leaned away and lifted a hand to cup her chin. Her brown eyes searched his, and he could see that she truly did trust him. Strengthened and encouraged by her confidence in him, Bart lowered his head to kiss her.

“You better get inside before the neighbors start cheering,” Clement called out from the front porch. The couple broke apart and met Clement’s pointed expression. He smirked. “Abe’s got an idea.”

Bart rolled his eyes, letting Geraldine tug him toward the steps. “Better than the last one?”

“Which one?” Clement inquired, unaware he’d foiled Abe’s first plan earlier that day, and led the way into the Teka home to brainstorm their next move.

But first, it was dinner. Geraldine sat; a bundle of nerves and holding her breath as everyone took a bite of the meal she’d insisted preparing for the family. Their disbelief in her newly-acquired ability to cook chafed more than she cared to admit and spurred her on to prove them wrong. Ignoring Phoebe’s amused smile and everyone else’s wary stares, she made them sit in the living room until she was done cooking.

Now she watched Bart’s face as he chewed; like Darah, his expressions often spoke louder than words.

“This is good, Geri,” Clement said with transparent surprise in his voice.

The others nodded their approval, choosing to eat instead of speak.

She didn’t notice either way, waiting for Bart to look at her. Then he looked up and winked with a dimpled smile. Heat flooded her cheeks and she sat back in the chair, satisfied with his silent praise.

“Yummy,” Eleazar piped in, taking another bite of the enchilada.

Geraldine’s smile widened. “Told you I could cook.”

“Maybe once you and Bart get together, you can live here and take over my kitchen duty,” Darah answered, licking her fingers. Unlike her sister-in-law, she didn’t like being assigned to cook.

Bart and Geraldine eyed each other furtively and quickly looked away. Observant as ever, Clement smirked. “You are getting married, aren’t you?”

“Lay off, Junior,” Bart mumbled as he took a bite of the barbecued beef.

“Wait, you’re not?” Darah glanced from Bart to Geraldine and back to Bart. “But you guys were kissing–”

“Okay,” Phoebe intervened with a shaky laugh. “Let’s leave them alone and eat.”

Clement snorted derisively but returned his attention to the food. So did everyone else, much to Geraldine’s relief. She snuck a look at Phoebe and mouthed a thank-you.

Phoebe gave her an encouraging smile and lifted another forkful of gooey cheese to her mouth. Her hand froze and her eyes widened. The fork clattered onto her plate and everyone sat up in alarm.

Abe frowned and scooted close to his wife. “You okay?”

Phoebe turned her widened stare to him. “I think I’m pregnant.”

All of them stiffened visibly. Abe’s frown deepened. “Why do you think that?”

“Because I’m about to be sick–!” She dry-heaved on that last word, doubling over.

Everyone, including Geraldine, pushed back their chairs. Abe grabbed Phoebe by her shoulders and ushered her away from the dinner table before she ruined their dinner.

“Oh my gosh!” Darah exclaimed when Phoebe emptied her dinner on the wooden floor just outside the guest bathroom. She moved toward her brother and sister-in-law. Geraldine snatched the roll of paper towels from the table and hurried to Abe and Phoebe.

Clement sidled up to a dazed Bart and nudged his shoulder. They could hear Geraldine from the other side of the closed door, instructing Abe and reassuring a groaning Phoebe. He nudged Bart again.

“What?” Bart groused at the distraction, anxious about Phoebe’s condition.

“Aren’t you glad she’s back home?”

Bart peeled his eyes from the closed bathroom door and frowned at the glint in Clement’s eye. “What are you on about now?”

Abe burst through the door, eyes lit with panic. “Guys, I…” He looked lost.

Geraldine peered from behind him. “She needs Emetrol and I’m sure you don’t have it in the house. Darah, check in your pantry for Pepcid.”

Darah rushed past her brothers without hesitation.

“I’ll–”

Geraldine grabbed Abe’s arm to stop him. “Not you. Barty, go buy the Emetrol and Vitamin B6. Junior, go open the windows. Eli, get me more paper towels.”

“Yes Ma’am,” Clement gave her a mock-salute and stepped away. Eli scurried off in the opposite direction.

Sighing, Geraldine turned to Abe. “Go prepare the bed and get me some clean clothes for her.”

Abe nodded mutely, still dazed. She watched him hurry up the stairs and then her eyes swung back to Bart who was now gaping at her. She cocked a brow. “Stop wasting time, get on it.”

Clement’s pointed words came back to his mind and his lips twitched a smile. “Yes, love.”

Caught off-guard, Geraldine blinked at him in surprise.

Phoebe’s groan and another round of dry heaving interrupted the moment and Geraldine broke her gaze. She ducked back into the bathroom and shut the door.

Bart grinned from ear to ear as he strolled past the door, collecting the car keys on the console table. He heard Geraldine’s voice encouraging Phoebe and stepped out of the house.

On his way to the nearby pharmacy, Bart made up in his mind to show Geraldine just why he needed her just as much as she needed him. Show her why he wanted to marry her, for real this time.

<<Chapter 16 || Chapter 18>>

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