Darah and J.R.’s wedding day came on a muggy Saturday with scattered clouds blocking the sun. Bart and Geraldine’s twins stood at the bay window of the Teka family house, argued back and forth about the different types of clouds.

“It’s a cumulus!” Fallon shouted, jabbing a finger at the window.

“Nu-unh!” Tomas argued. “It’s a nimbus!”

“No,” Fallon said in a haughty tone, poking her twin brother’s forehead with her finger. “It’s a cumulus.”

“Oww!” Tomas whined, shoving Fallon with a force that had her tumbling over a decorative pillow with her dress billowing over her face. When she started whining, he glanced guiltily over his shoulder and bent to help her, hushing her as he did.

The youngest Karla and Augustus chased each other around the center table, dressed in their wedding clothes. Standing off to the side the older of the cousins, brothers Isaac and James, occupied themselves with a handheld game.

Across the hall, the oldest of the Teka children Joselyn fidgeted with her floor-length gown as her mother secured flowers in her plaited hair. “Be still,” Geraldine berated her firstborn and clucked her tongue. “This is the third time, already.”

“It itches,” Joselyn complained, reaching up to touch her hair only to have her hand smacked. “Ow!”

“Shush.”

Phoebe sauntered by at that moment and Joselyn grabbed her hand. “Please save me.”

The two women exchanged amused glances, then Phoebe winked at Joselyn. “You look like the bride.”

That seemed to appease Joselyn, who flashed her a dimpled smile. “Can we see her?”

“Well your Nana is putting last-minute touches on her hair. Should we go check?” Phoebe winked at Geraldine who rolled her eyes but released Joselyn.

Then the three of them headed upstairs, both Geraldine and Phoebe careful not to step on Joselyn’s elegant gown that trailed the stairs. At age thirteen, she was almost as tall as her father and appeared older than her age. No doubt Bart would be stunned when he saw her.

In front of the master bedroom, Phoebe knocked. “May we come in?”

“As long as no males are with you!”

All three grinned at Darah’s voice and slowly entered the room. Joselyn gasped audibly and hurried to the window where Darah stood bathed in white and light. Stunned, Geraldine and Phoebe hung back.

“You’re so beautiful, Aunty!” Joselyn gushed, clasping her aunt’s hands.

Darah dipped her head to hide a demure smile. “Thank you.”

“You look like a princess!” Joselyn continued, circling her aunt to admire the wedding gown. At almost six months, her protruding stomach was visible in the lace masterpiece yet she was a vision to behold. “Doesn’t she?” Joselyn asked her mother and aunt still standing the doorframe.

Phoebe sniffed and all watched wryly as she wiped tears from her cheeks. “Aww, don’t,” Darah started, her lips trembling. “I’ll start again…”

“Again?” Geraldine echoed, walking up to her sister-in-law. She adjusted the sleeve of Darah’s dress draped over her arm; the dress revealing her bare, slender shoulders. “You’ll ruin your makeup.”

“Nope,” Darah sniffed back tears. “Nana got me covered.”

“Waterproof,” Yelena added with a twinkle in her eye, then nudged Darah to sit. “Let’s add more curls.”

“There’s no point,” Darah mumbled. “With this weather, it’ll just turn puffy again.”

Joselyn giggled, playing with one of the big fat curls atop her aunt’s head.

“Stop that,” Geraldine berated softly and peered out the window. “Ooh, someone’s here.”

Joselyn quickly joined her mother at the window and Phoebe took her place. Peering down at her sister-in-law’s reflection in the mirror, she gave her a smile. “You’re gorgeous.”

Darah gave her a shy smile. “Really?”

Phoebe winked. “J.R. won’t know what to do with himself when he sees you.”

“Hopefully he’ll say I do,” Geraldine piped up from the window and everyone laughed at that. Then a knock came on the door and they quieted down. “Who is it?” Geraldine called out.

The doorknob twisted, causing alarm. Geraldine grabbed Joselyn’s arm and tugged her toward Darah, quietly instructing her to shield her aunt. Phoebe rushed to the door just as it opened. They sighed with relief when Abe stuck his head in, curiosity in his face. “Are we ready?”

Phoebe poked his shoulder. “You could’ve said something…” she trailed off when his eyes fell on his sister and watched his expression change. Her lips twitched a smile. “Isn’t she beautiful?”

Transfixed, Abe entered the room and closed the door behind him. Geraldine tugged Joselyn to her side and even Yelena inched back as brother and sister stared at each other.

Then Darah broke contact first and ducked her head shyly. “Do I look weird?”

Abe shook his head and Phoebe could’ve sworn there was a glimmer in his eyes. He walked to his sister’s side. “You look beautiful, Darah, like a…”

“A princess?” Joselyn offered when her uncle faltered a little too long.

Abe nodded, a smile forming. Then he held out a hand when Darah looked up, her eyes glistening with tears. “Ready to get married, Princess?”

Darah gave him a shy smile and put her hand in his. As he embraced her, careful of her delicate gown, there was no dry eye in the room—except Joselyn’s watching them curiously.

The ceremony was held in the Teka family backyard; three rows of white painted chairs adorned with flowers. Sand-filled candle jars lined the flower-laden aisle to the altar where Clement stood by J.R., with Bart and Eli acting as groomsmen. As the officiating pastor, Clement faced the small group of people invited to the wedding; the father of the groom, L.J., sat in the front row with Hana and his nurse Karen Wells. On the opposite row sat the Teka children, Isaac and James sandwiched the twins suspending their arguing under their father’s stern eye. On the next row sat Phoebe, Geraldine and her mother Yelena, waving delicate fans to cool themselves in the humid air.

Walking down the aisle now where cousins Karla and Augustus, the flower girl and page boy. Soft music played in the background and at the end of the aisle, both Clement and Bart winked at the youngest Teka children. They flashed similar grins and hurried to the seats Isaac and James prepared for them.

Joselyn was next and just as predicted, Bart stood mouth agape as he watched his firstborn daughter walk elegantly down the aisle. Once he recovered, Bart mouthed ‘beautiful’ and with a shy smile, she took her position on Clement’s right. Then the music changed and the audience stood, L.J. with the help of both Hana and Nurse Karen.

J.R. straightened his shoulders as the back door opened. He drew in a breath that caught as the couple emerged from the house. Even Clement, Bart and Eli gasped audibly at the sight of their sister being led down the aisle by Abe.

Unable to take his eyes of Darah, J.R. barely noticed when Bart nudged his arm. He blinked up at Clement who gestured for him to step forward. He promptly closed the distance between him and Darah. Without a veil, he could see the amusement shining in her eyes and wanted to reach for her hand. How was it possible that she looked more beautiful every day?

“Who gives this woman to this man?” Clement asked, his voice firm and clear.

“We do,” all four brothers said at once and the guests clapped, the younger kids joining in with gusto. Then after their mothers hushed them, Clement gave Darah a smile. Abe pressed a kiss to her forehead and then turned to J.R.

Quietly accepted Darah’s hand, J.R. squeezed gently. She squeezed back and they shared a smile before turning to face Clement. Abe quietly took his seat beside Phoebe who rubbed his back and drew him close.

The ceremony began and everyone watched in rapt attention, witnessing the union between J.R and Darah. In the middle of the ceremony, as Clement gave his exhortation to the couple, tears welled up in Phoebe’s eyes and even Geraldine ducked her head to surreptitiously wipe her cheeks. The Teka brothers were solemn, listening intently as J.R. and Darah professed their undying commitment to one another for life, in health, in sickness and in death.

At the exchange of the rings, Joselyn assisting Augustus with passing over the white-gold bands to the couple, J.R. and Darah married before their family. They also honored the memory of family members long since passed; Yonas and Ester Teka, Darah’s late parents and Madhu Obed, J.R.’s late mother.

“By the state of Texas,” Clement said, a grin widening his lips. “I now pronounce you husband and wife. J.R., you may now kiss your bride.”

Darah held her breath as she turned from her brother to face the man now her husband. Her eyes swept over his handsome face, still in shock that he was finally hers after ten years of pining after him. Tears pooled in her eyes and she blinked them away as he drew closer—as far as the baby would allow.

J.R. took in the soft beauty of his bride and marveled at his fortune. Her enduring love for him still took his breath away, almost as much as her beautiful eyes. He was a blessed man to call her his wife. He cupped her cheeks, his thumbs caressing her soft skin. “I love you.”

Her lips twitched a wobbly smile. “I love you too.”

“Kiss her already!” Geraldine called out, earning her laughs from the small group.

J.R. dipped his head and Darah tilted hers upwards, their lips meeting as their eyes drifted shut. The small crowd erupted in cheers and applause as J.R. embraced his wife for the first time.

Eleazar gave Darah a cautious smile during the reception held inside the house. “Congratulations,” he said as she flung her arms around him and held on tight. He gripped her shoulders, lingering in the embrace longer than she’d expected.

“Thanks.” Darah squeezed his arm as she drew back. “You okay?”

His smile was faint, his expression vague. “Yeah.”

Though she wanted to push him for clues, this was supposed to be a happy day—her day. Her heart fluttered as she heard her husband laugh across the dining room. She smiled, deciding to leave Eleazar for now. “You’ll tell me when you’re ready, won’t you?”

Her younger brother nodded and accepted another hug before she hurried to her husband’s side. Watching her walk away, he tamped a sigh and retreated into the background and away from the group.

From his corner of the room next to his first son, Abe noticed and left his place to go after his youngest brother. At the foot of the stairs, he called to Eleazar. “Eli, let’s talk.”

Karen stifled a great yawn while dishing a plate of pasta for herself. She swallowed another as Clement came to her right side balancing two plates and a can of soda. Peering up at him, she greeted him with a faint smile. “You’re a pretty good officiator… if that’s a word.”

“We’ll say it is. Thanks” He reached for a chicken drumstick. “You must’ve had a long weekend, with everything going on around here.”

She shrugged. “I’ve seen my share of weddings… and birthday parties, and funerals.” When sadness flickered in his face, Karen averted her gaze. “I don’t mind attending. It’s fun to celebrate with others.”

“I can understand that.” He placed a roll atop her plate and then put another on his.

“Thank you,” Karen said and returning the favor by dishing rice onto his plate, she laughed when he flashed her a wink. “I see you’re a charmer.”

“Don’t know what you’re talking about.” With a dimple in his cheek, he nudged her shoulder to move her up the buffet line. “So what’s next for you after this?”

Karen’s smile waned then disappeared, much to Clement’s chagrin. “Mr. Obed is my last patient, actually.”

“Oh?” he paused at biting into his bread roll, eyes fixed on her face. His brow furrowed with concern. “I didn’t realize things were bad with Mr. Obed.”

“Oh heavens no.” Karen let out a nervous laugh. “On the contrary, he’s doing quite well.” She bit her bottom lip when the furrow in his brow didn’t ease up. “Actually… I’m taking a sabbatical from the hospital and thinking of traveling.”

His brows lifted, tension loosened. “Oh yeah? Where to?” He leaned his hip against the table, waiting.

She shrugged. “Not sure yet. Somewhere in Africa.”

One corner of his lips lifted in a smirk. “That’s a bit vague.”

Cheeks warm, Karen nodded. “Still in the planning stage.”

Nodding, he lowered one plate on the table and fished into his back pocket. “Here,” he said, holding out a rumpled card. “If you’re ever in the neighborhood, give me a call.”

Karen eyed the card, then his face, and back to the card. Accepting the card, she read it aloud. “Trans-Amharic Missions, Ethiopia…”

Across the room, Phoebe watched the scene unfold with a smile playing on her lips. Handing over an empty plate, Geraldine looked up when Phoebe didn’t accept it. She followed the direction of her gaze, spotting Clement and the nurse conversing with smiles. Then she snorted and nudged Phoebe’s shoulder. “Mind your business, Phoebe.”

Darah sauntered over to them. “Two pieces of cake, please. What are you staring at?”

Phoebe giggled and dutifully cut out two sizable pieces of the wedding cake. “And who is this for?”

The shy smile resurfaced, a becoming flush coloring her cheeks. “My husband and father-in-law.” Darah giggled as they teased her and escaped with the plates.

With a sigh, Phoebe watched Clement and Karen sharing a laugh. “Three Teka marriages down, two to go.” She grinned unashamedly as Geraldine groaned in protest.

“Mommy! Mommy!” Augustus and Karla said in unison as they hurried over with empty plates, demanding more cake. With long-suffering smiles, the mothers attended to their youngest children.

At the end of the long day and parting ways with family and friends, J.R. and Darah retreated to their hotel room across town. Dressed in matching pajamas, they lounged in the suite and snacked on wedding cake—mostly Darah. Nibbling on yet another piece, Darah perched her swollen feet on J.R.’s lap and sighed blissfully as he kneaded tension from her feet.

“Happy?” he asked, amusement coating his voice.

“You have no idea…” She dropped her head back, her once-perfect curls now a frizzled mess. “I think I must be the happiest girl in the world.”

J.R. chuckled, releasing her feet and crawled up the bed to hover above her. Darah paused at nibbling the cake, enraptured by the look in her husband’s eyes.

“That’s good ‘cos I plan on making you the happiest woman for the rest of our lives.” J.R.’s eyes twinkled as he took the cake from her hand. “What do you say to that, sweetheart?”

On another occasion, she would’ve whined at him for taking away her snack. Instead, she slid her hands up his chest and draped them around his neck. “I say I’d like that very much.” She closed her eyes and angled her face as he dipped his head.

His mouth brushed along her jawline and Darah snuggled closer. Then she frowned as a thought came to her. “Hon, what do you know of Nurse Karen?”

When J.R. mumbled incoherently against her chin, she mused aloud. “’Cos Phoebe’s back to schemi—” the rest of her words muffled when J.R. planted a kiss on her mouth.

“Let’s talk about them later, alright Mrs. Obed?”

Darah paused as though realizing for the first time that her last name had changed, but instead of sadness, she felt gratitude to belong to two; the Teka and Obed families. With a grin, she nodded and flashed him a grin that he mirrored. “Carry on, Mr. Obed.”

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Please stay tuned for the next installment of the Heart of a Home Series…

<<Chapter 26 || Series Page>>

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