As predicted, Bart was impossible to be around once Geraldine left with Yelena, Joselyn and J.R. for Peru. The week was longer and more unbearable for the rest of the Teka family because Bart acted like a rabid dog, barking at whoever provoked him. Clement was merciless, poking fun at him whenever he had the chance.

Phoebe, normally lenient toward Clement, took him to task. “Pastor Clement Teka, will you please behave? Stop provoking him, for goodness’ sake.”

He frowned, dropping his hand from Bart’s shoulder. “How many times do I have to say it? I’m not a pastor. I’m a missionary–”

“Same thing,” she returned impatiently. “Just leave him alone.”

Bart snorted in disgust and started to walk off when the doorbell rang. He ignored it and headed for the kitchen instead.

“Get that, Bart–” Phoebe halted as Eleazar breezed past her to answer the door.

Clement groaned at the woman standing on the doorstep. “What is she doing here? Eli, get away from the door.”

“It’s alright,” Abe said from behind them. He moved past them to meet Eleazar and the elderly woman gazing longingly at him. “Mrs. Crane, please come in.”

Eleazar gave the woman a smile and beckoned her to enter. Phoebe frowned at her husband. “Abe, what’s going on?”

Abe turned to his wife with a sheepish smile. “I thought that this would be a good time as any to invite her over. Besides, Eli begged me to let him meet her.”

Dumbfounded, Clement and Phoebe watched as Eleazar and his grandmother exchanged a smile. Then Mrs. Crane turned to Phoebe and Clement, her smile waning. “Please call me Sharma, and I want to apologize for the trouble I caused earlier. I didn’t mean to alarm you or Eleazar.”

Phoebe raised a brow, noting that the woman had surrendered the name she’d once insisted was Eleazar’s. The fact that she’d chosen to accept his adopted name was a good sign.

She glanced once at her husband who silently pleaded with his eyes. Relenting, Phoebe offered the older woman a kind smile. “Please come in and have a seat. Eli, why don’t you bring something for your grandma to drink?”

They waited until he’d hurried to the kitchen before turning back to Sharma Crane perched on a chair with her hands resting primly on her lap. She looked out of place with her coiffed salt-and-pepper hair and a tweed suit that was too inappropriate for the humid weather.

For a few moments, they sat in silence, watching her fidget with her hands. They recalled the last time she’d sat in their living room, livid and inconsolable. The difference was striking.

“What genius allowed Eli in the kit–” Bart mumbled as he reentered the living room and halted. His scowl darkened. “What is she doing here?”

Sharma flinched. Phoebe placed a hand on her knee. “Don’t be alarmed. He’s currently sulking over his fiancée’s absence.”

“I am not sulking,” Bart grumbled, squinted eyes on the woman. “Is someone gonna answer me?”

“Eli and I invited her,” Abe spoke up. “Where’s Darah?”

“Helping Eli clean up the mess in the kitchen.”

Sharma started to stand. “Oh, I didn’t mean for you to make a fuss.”

“Too late,” Clement muttered, earning him glares from Abe and Phoebe.

“Why don’t you go see about them?” Phoebe told him pointedly before flashing Sharma another smile. “I’m sure he’s just trying to make a good impression on you. Please, sit down.”

Clement rose from the chair after one steely look from Abe and strode into the kitchen.

Hesitating, Sharma peered over their heads in the direction of the kitchen, as if debating whether to follow Clement.

“Mrs. Crane,” Abe said, grabbing her attention. “I was hoping we could come to an agreement. Eli’s curious about you and we don’t want to deny him something he wants except if it’ll cause him mental and emotional harm–”

“I promise it won’t happen again,” Sharma interrupted quickly, eyes wide as tea saucers as she sat back down and faced Abe. “I’ve been looking for Cale…Eleazar since she lost him.”

Bart snorted derisively at her poor choice of words but didn’t say a word, not when Phoebe gave him a warning glare. He leaned back and folded his arms over his chest.

“When I was informed he was alive and healthy, I-I just had to see him.” Big fat tears escaped her eyes and slid down her plump cheeks. “I acted foolishly, but you have to understand what finding him again means to me.”

Abe and Bart grimaced at the sight, but Phoebe grabbed a tissue box from under the glass coffee table and held it out to her.

Sharma accepted it with a shaky laugh. “Thank you for giving me a chance to see him. To talk with him.” She dabbed her cheeks. “I promise not to mess this up.”

Eleazar picked that very moment to step into the living room, with Darah and Clement holding the refreshments instead of him. The nine-year-old halted at the sight of his grandmother sniffling back tears and his brow furrowed in concern. Then with pursed lips, he turned to Bart with an accusing glare.

Bart sat up and held both hands. “Whoa, I didn’t do anything.”

“Then why are you looking at her like that?” Darah mumbled, earning her a scowl from Bart. She rolled her eyes and set the jug of lemonade on the table.

Sharma smiled gently. “I’m fine, Eleazar. Thank you.”

Eleazar’s frown eased off and he turned back to Sharma, a shy smile lifting his countenance. To his siblings’ surprise, when Sharma gestured for him to sit beside her, he went willingly.

Clement and Bart glanced at each other curiously while Abe and Phoebe eyed him with concern. They hadn’t planned for Eleazar to want to meet his grandmother; in fact, they’d expected him to avoid all talk of her after she’d spooked him the first time. But it seemed their little man was growing up after all.

They watched and listened in awe as Sharma and Eleazar strike a conversation over favorite foods; the tie between grandmother and grandson forming before their very eyes.

Darah busied herself pouring the drinks. She held out a cup of juice to Sharma. “So does that mean you’ll be hanging around here?”

Sharma paused in mid-laughter and accepted the drink. Her gaze skimmed the pensive expressions from Eleazar’s siblings and managed a smile. “I would like to know more about Eleazar and for him to know me more. Maybe introduce him to his heritage and his family.”

Darah frowned. “But we’re his family.”

“So am I,” Sharma said firmly, softening her words with a smile. Then she glanced up at the older siblings. “I’m willing to compromise in whatever way you see fit.”

Eleazar who wore a thoughtful expression, one that preceded a panic episode. Though he hadn’t suffered one recently, his siblings worried about Sharma’s presence in his life. Having his past constantly show up couldn’t be good for him.

“Mrs. Crane, it’s like this,” Phoebe spoke up. “Eleazar suffers panic attacks ever since he was a baby.”

Sharma’s eyes widened and she glanced down at Eleazar. “Oh no.”

“It’s not her fault!” Eleazar shouted, glaring at Abe and Phoebe. “Don’t listen to them.”

Sharma shook her head. “My poor baby. I’m so sorry.”

Eleazar’s lips trembled as he spied the tears forming in his grandmother’s eyes.

“I’m so sorry for hurting you,” She placed her hands on his shoulders and pulled him close.

The Teka siblings held their breath and awaited Eleazar’s reaction, for he didn’t allow just anyone to touch him. But Eleazar didn’t shove her aside, instead resting his cheek on her shoulder. Sharma rocked him as she wept openly and Eleazar wrapped his skinny arms around her, his fingers clutching the tweed of her suit.

Phoebe leaned into her husband and he draped his arm about her, pulling her close. Darah sat back on her heels, watching Eleazar fight tears while comforting his grandmother. Bart’s scowl eased away and Clement watched with a wistful smile.

Hours later, Bart, Darah and Clement watched from the window as Eleazar, Abe and Phoebe stood in the driveway with Mrs. Sharma Crane. The solemn-faced woman smoothed Eleazar’s hair and gave him a gentle smile before looking up to Abe and Phoebe.

From where they stood, they couldn’t hear what Sharma said to either, but had a feeling she was thanking them for loving Eleazar.

Stepping away from the window, Clement walked back to the coffee table and downed a glass of lemonade. “I wonder how Geri’s doing.”

Bart grumbled something incoherently under his breath, acting nonchalant over Clement’s musings. Darah and Clement exchanged knowing glances, amused by his sulky mood.

“When do they get back anyway?” Darah asked casually.

“Two days–” Bart caught Clement’s pointed smirk and scowled deeper. “Oh, whatever.”

Darah scoffed. “You’re a hot mess. All because she hasn’t called you.”

“Like you’re any better,” he tossed back. “Sighing over J.R.”

She mirrored his scowl. “That’s a lie! When have I ever–”

“Junior said you wrote his name in hearts all over your notebook, Mrs. Darah Obed.”

Clement’s smirk faded when Darah whipped around to glare at him. “Now wait a minute…” He lowered the empty glass and dashed for the stairs, Darah racing after him.

Bart snickered as Clement yelled his innocence from the top stairs. Then he turned as the front door opened; his siblings and Phoebe stepping inside.

Abe frowned at the ruckus ensuing upstairs. “What is going on?”

Phoebe shook her head. “We can’t even leave those two for one minute.” She placed a hand over Eleazar’s shoulder. “You okay?”

“Yeah. I’m fine.” The nine-year-old turned and gave them a smile. “Thanks guys.”

Even Bart gave him a smile. “You sure about this, Eli?”

Eleazar sighed. “You guys always taught us not to abandon our family, even if they suck.” He shrugged his thin shoulders. “Besides, she wasn’t the one who abandoned me, so I gotta take care of her.”

The three adults watched as the lanky kid ambled up the stairs. Then Abe shook his head in awe. “From the mouth of babes…”

“He’s not a baby anymore,” Phoebe reminded him and tucked her arm around his.

Bart rolled his eyes when they shared an adoring glance at each other. He stepped away from them before they started kissing. “For goodness’ sake, get a room.”

Phoebe poked his leg with her foot. “Come back here, you grump. How long are you gonna sulk over Geri leaving? She’s not gone forever, although I don’t blame her after what you did.”

“Let him be, Phoebe.” Abe patted her shoulder.

“Not this time. Why would she call a man who rejected her proposal? Just call her and accept already.”

Bart heaved a sigh. “It’s not like that at all.”

“Then what–oh.” Phoebe’s lips made an o-shape, her eyes wide. “You wanted to be the one to propose? Is that it?”

Bart pocketed his hands. “She already proposed once, I wanted to do it right this time around.”

“Ah,” Phoebe breathed, nodding her head. “I see.”

Abe smirked at his younger brother. “It seems you’ve got a method to your madness after all.”

“Of course,” Bart sounded and looked smug. “Can’t have her making all the decisions in our relationship. I plan on asking her when she comes back.”

“Oh, I see,” Phoebe said slowly. “That’s… the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.”

Confused, Abe frowned down at her. Bart gaped in shock. “Huh?”

“You’re a hot mess, Bart. And I hope for your sake Geri doesn’t hold it against you.” She snorted in disgust and stepped away from the two of them, muttering under her breath about chauvinistic males and their inflated egos.

Bart scratched his head and glanced up at Abe. “What just happened?”

Abe looked equally confused and shrugged. “Beats me.”

<<Chapter 24 || Chapter 26>>