For as long as Clement had been a pastor and a servant of God, he had come to the realization that God’s way of doing things and answering prayers was never his way. Sitting in the emergency waiting room with distraught members of Reginald Browser’s family was not Clement’s idea of an answered prayer. But indeed it was. After Reginald fainted, the officers were forced to end their search of the van and Ejigu gratefully directed the van toward the nearest hospital in Addis Ababa.

Since Ejigu had identified Clement as a pastor, Reginald’s wife insisted that he stay with them until the doctor gave word about her husband’s condition. Clement couldn’t refuse, not with a good conscience. After all, God had answered his prayer. They hadn’t gotten caught and the weapons were safely secure in the trunk of Ejigu’s tourist van.

A door opened and everyone but Clement stood to their feet. Belatedly, he realized that the doctor just entered the room and quickly stood also.

“Please tell me he’s alright,” the distraught wife pleaded with the solemn-faced man. She held back a whimper and her female friend drew her close. “Is my husband alright?”

The doctor nodded and Clement released a breath of relief as did the others. He could not afford a casualty because of his prayer.

Then the doctor’s solemn expression gave way to a gentle smile meant to comfort. “He was under duress because of heat exhaustion and dehydration. We’ve put him on fluids but will have to keep him for another night.”

“It’s just dehydration, Doctor?” the other male American asked, hesitance in his tone. “She mentioned that he had chest pains earlier.”

“We’re going to observe him tonight and find out what we can.” He gave the wife one last fleeting look before stepping back into the room.

“Should we trust his words?” the other woman spoke, worry etched in her brow. She rubbed her friend’s back while looking over at her own husband. “Maybe an American doctor would be better. You never know with these quack—”

“Mom!” her daughter hissed, mortification in her expression as she snuck a look at Clement.

Her father looked penitent as he turned to Clement. “Please don’t mind my wife. She’s… tired.”

Clement begged to differ that fatigue or jetlag was the woman’s only problem but he managed to rein his words and merely nodded. “It’s been a long day for us all.” And the sooner he could leave them and go about his scheduled program, the better. Patience with ignorant people was never his forte, and what he had left of it was rapidly running thin.

“Brother!” Etigu called and Clement gratefully turned away before he said something he’d regret. A burly man with a thick beard that covered half of his face and a wide smile walked behind Etigu toward them.

Clement grinned in welcome. “Dula,” He quickly stepped away from the tourists and caught the newcomer in a firm hug. “You are well*.”

What he really meant was gratitude that Dula was alive! His friend and brother had returned safely from the borders and from what he could see, without scratches or injuries. Pulling back, Clement studied Dula’s weathered features. “Please tell me you have come to rescue me,” he said in Amharic, earning a chuckle from both Ejigu and Dula.

“That I have,” Dula said, clasping his friend’s arm once before releasing him.

Satisfied and relieved, Clement faced the curious Americans. “I must leave you now. It was… a pleasure meeting you.”

Reginald’s wife smiled gratefully. “Thank you for helping us.”

“It is the work of God,” Clement said easily and turned to Ejigu, clapping his free hand over the man’s skinny shoulders. “I leave you in my brother’s care and hope you have a great stay in Addis Ababa.”

“Hopefully we’ll see you again,” the American man said, one arm draped over his daughter’s shoulder.

Clement only smiled. “Goodbye.” Then he patted Ejigu’s shoulder, shared a pointed look that promised they’d see again in the nearest future, before leading the way out with Dula following closely behind.

The moment they exited the building, the sky was dark and the streets relatively quiet. Clement stopped in his tracks and turned to Dula. The bearded man chuckled and pocketed his hands. “Everything is fine. It was a safe transfer from the van to my truck. The rest is easy from here.”

Clement blew out a breath and passed a hand over his shorn locks. One obstacle down, a million and one to go. His eyes noted Dula’s on him. “What?”

“You look different without a beard. Younger.” Dula wore a perturbed frown. “Will they recognize you?”

“I am young,” Clement countered with a smirk. “And they will, don’t worry. It grows back fast enough.”

“Well you behave like an old man.”

“My brother, you mistaken wisdom for age… something you’ve got lit—”

“Don’t even…” Dula growled. Clement burst out laughing and Dula joined in, their laughter filling the empty parking lot. Dula had stashed Clement’s duffel bag and the guns in his old and dusty jeep, and with night to aid and conceal them from watchful eyes, Clement relaxed in his seat as Dula maneuvered the jeep out of the parking lot and into the night.

The ride to Bichena would be long but relatively peaceful, especially since Dula knew all the back roads void of police surveillance. Clement rolled down the window and smiled as the warm breeze caressed his bare face. He would soon grow out his beard, so he relished this time of bare skin to air.

“Sister Priscilla has returned,” Dula said after a few moments of silence.

Clement’s eyes dragged open and he stared at the open road ahead. Priscilla James was the resident doctor at the church and his ex-girlfriend. She’d also resigned from her position shortly after their breakup months ago, and Clement didn’t think he would hear from her again. The news of her return was surprising but he merely released a breath. “When?”

Dula glanced over at him before returning his eyes to the road. “Two days ago. She asked about you.”

A vague memory of Priscilla came to Clement’s mind with her angrily forbidding him to even breathe her name before she stormed out of his office. Clement merely closed his eyes. “She’ll see me soon.”

A long stretch of silence followed and then Dula snorted. “Just when you think the drama is ov—”

“Leave it,” Clement said gently.

Another stretch of silence before Dula cleared his throat and shifted noisily in his seat. “On second thought, I’ve been driving for almost a day. Let’s switch places.”

Clement opened his eyes as Dula pulled the jeep to the side of the road. He dragged his gaze to his friend’s face and cocked a brow. “I just got to town… Jetlag, remember?”

“Spare me,” Dula shot back, not the least bit concerned for Clement’s plight. “You’re the same guy who drove a straight trip of eighteen hours north. You’ve got a mind of steel.” He put the car in park and pushed open the door. “Five hours is nothing for you.”

Groaning, Clement practically rolled out of the car and shuffled past a grinning Dula to the driver’s seat. “If we get in an accident, it’s your fault.”

“We won’t,” Dula said confidently. “But just in case…” he added with a glint in his eye as he strapped on his seatbelt.

Clement scoffed as he put the car in drive and eased onto the road. In truth, he wasn’t as physically tired as he was mentally. Mounting worry of Eleazar’s whereabouts and state of mind was doing a number on him. He had a feeling that his long absence from home strained their otherwise close relationship, and that was his only regret for becoming a missionary pastor to East Africa.

Dula’s snoring pervaded Clement’s musing and Clement glanced over at his friend who had his head dropped back, mouth open. No doubt he’d run himself ragged doing a two-person job while Clement was visiting his family in Houston.

Deciding he was responsible for his friend’s fatigue, Clement focused his attention on the road. He kept his thoughts from conjuring memories of Priscilla or he’d drive them off a cliff. Getting them safely to the church home was of most importance, for the sake of Dula’s wife and the children that couldn’t wait to see him. Even if Priscilla would also be waiting, Clement sped up on the empty highway to Bichena.

“Hey Karen,” Shonda said between bites of her burrito. “Your sister’s Samina Chance, right?”

Under the afternoon sun, the volunteer team and the children took a much-needed break in the open veranda of a local school in Kibera to eat their lunch. Some of the local children ate their rice and beans lunch under a tree while some playing a makeshift soccer game with a few volunteers. The other volunteers, including Karen and her roommates, sat on benches to eat their lunch.

At the unexpected question about her sister, Karen paused at scooping beef stew into her mouth and arched a questioning brow at Shonda. “Yeah, why?”

“I kinda stalked your profile and saw you were tagged in some of her pictures.”

Karen and Jennifer exchanged glances before Karen returned her attention to Shonda. “…okay?”

Shonda laughed and waved off her concern. “I’m not a creep.”

“Right,” Jennifer muttered and ducked away when Shonda tossed a glare at her. “You just admitted to stalking the woman’s profile…”

“Oh come on, like you don’t do that.”

Karen had definitely checked out a couple of profiles in her day, but never admitted—

“Anyway, about your sister…” Shonda’s eyes widened slightly as it did when curious about a particular gossip subject. “How’d she get to be Operating Director at House of Hope?”

Subconsciously, Karen’s shoulders drooped slightly. She eyed Shonda warily. “Providence.”

Shonda’s thick brows raised. “… what does that even mean?”

As much as she loved her sister, Karen didn’t particularly like talking about her with strangers. She sighed. “She got laid off from her job as an art teacher, decided to work as a volunteer at House of Hope. They gave her a part-time position after a few months of volunteering. Then a full-time. Then after the sitting director resigned, she was referred for the position.”

Jennifer whistled in awe. “Wow. That’s awesome.”

Shonda nodded with a grin. “Yeah. She’s lucky.”

Karen frowned. “You haven’t answered why you’re asking about my sister.”

“Oh,” Shonda started to lean back, realized that the bench was backless and quickly righted herself. “I applied for an intern position to work under your sister.”

“So you’re moving to Houston?” Jennifer asked before gulping down her coconut water.

“I have to pass the interview first but yeah, hopefully.” Her eyes skimmed Karen’s face.

“So you’re asking me instead of doing research on your own,” Karen drawled, returning her attention to the beef stew that was no longer appetizing. She couldn’t count how many people approached her just to get close to some member of her family. Being a middle child was the absolute worst.

“Don’t be offended,” Shonda said in a placating tone. “I didn’t mean to make it sound like I’m using you.”

Thankfully for Shonda, the whistle blew to signal the end of lunchtime. Karen swallowed her retort and quickly stood from the bench. There was no need making a fuss about a job Shonda might not even get.

“It doesn’’t hurt to use her as a resource,” Jennifer offered, grating Karen’s nerves.

“Yeah well…” Shonda paused and then chuckled. “Uh-oh, look who’s coming this way. Karen’s not-so-secret admirer.”

Against her better judgment, Karen glanced over her shoulder and immediately groaned. A wiry man with caramel skin, a bright smile, and a spring in his step sauntered toward them. He waved at Karen who turned away with a scowl.

Jennifer giggled. “You can’t avoid him for much longer, Karen… Might as well deal with it once and for all.”

The man came to stand near her and Karen sighed, turning back around. “Yes Reed?”

As if his smile couldn’t get any wider, he grinned fully. “Hey you.”

Karen’s stomach turned at his flirtatious tone. “Can I help you?”

“In a sec.” His eyes shifted over to Jennifer and Shonda both wearing amused expressions. “Hey ladies, enjoying your lunch?”

“Hey Reed,” Shonda said, mirth clear in her tone. “Saw you playing soccer. You’re pretty good.”

“Yeah thanks.” He swiped the sweat on his forehead. Then he returned his attention to Karen and smiled. “So can we talk?”

Not returning his smile, Karen folded her arms across her chest. “Sure. Talk.”

Shonda cleared her throat. “Uh, we’ll let you guys talk. C’mon Jen.”

Karen gritted her teeth as Shonda grabbed Jennifer’s arm and dragged her away. “What is it Reed?”

A slight wrinkle appeared between his brows and uncertainty flitted his features. He lifted a hand to the back of his head. “Am I making you uncomfortable?”

She refrained from rolling her eyes. “Not much makes me uncomfortable. Go ahead, talk. How can I help you?”

His smile returned. “That’s why I like you. You’re so down-to-earth and friendly.”

Not for long. “Thanks. Now what is it?” From the corner of her eye, she noticed both Shonda and Jennifer giving her thumbs-up. She wanted to throw something at them, shameless traitors.

He nodded, lowering his hand to his pockets. “So I know in two days, you’re heading to Kampala. Time went by so fast, right?”

It was no secret that Karen’s stay in Kenya was drawing to a close. She and Jennifer were traveling together, and the younger nurse had planned a going-away dinner at their hotel room tomorrow night. Exhaling a breath, she nodded. “Yeah, so?”

“So… I was wondering if I could get your phone number? Y’know so we can keep in touch after you leave.”

Karen couldn’t help the short laugh that escaped her lips. “I thought I said no the first time, Reed… or did you not hear me?”

“You said that but I was hoping you’d change your mind,” Reed said with a boyish smile that did absolutely nothing for Karen.

Her sister often spoke of her husband’s dogged persistence in courting her, and how it drew her to him in the end. But Karen always retorted that Topher’s good looks and charming personality won Samina’s heart, not his persistence. In fact, Karen did not prescribe to the notion that a woman could be won by just any man’s consistent pursuit. If anything, it made a woman want to run in the other direction or be more blatant in her rejection.

“Well I didn’t,” Karen answered. “No is no, Reed. Plain and simple.”

His smile eased away, followed by a frown. “How old are you again? 34?”

Karen snorted. “33 and I won’t even begin to explain why what you’re about to say is problematic.” She glanced over his shoulder, noting that the volunteers and children were walking toward the school.

“Well it’s true,” he continued. “How long you think you’ve got playing hard to get?”

She jerked her attention back to him. “If I was playing hard to get, even you’ll see that. But I’m not the slightest bit interested in you. Now if you’ll excuse—” she paused as he grabbed her arm. Karen glared at him. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

“Just hear me out first,” he said as firmly as his grip on her arm.

“Let go of my arm, Reed.” Her eyes hardened on his face. “My brother is twice your size and I’ve knocked him to his senses many times. Let go while I’m being civil.”

His expression darkened. “Why are you trippin’? Can’t someone just talk to you?”

“Well you’re doing more than talking. And I haven’t started to trip but you’re about to taste my fist if you don’t let go.” Karen jerked her hand from his loosened grip and glared at him. “I’ll say this since you’re confused and obviously don’t know any better. When a woman says she’s not interested, leave her alone. There’s nothing else you can do but mind your business. And obviously, keep your hands to yourself. Understand?”

“Just watch.” He eyed her warily. “You’re gonna end up a single, bitter old lady.”

Karen neither blinked nor flinched. “And you’re gonna end up in jail or in the hospital if you don’t take my advice. Keep your hands to yourself.” Then brushing past him, she sauntered off into the school.

Just outside the open door of the classroom, her roommates waited for her. Jennifer stared with mouth agape. Shonda wore an amused smirk and clapped dramatically.

Karen frowned, slowing to a stop. “What?”

That was beyond brilliant,” Shonda said. “That putdown was Oscar-worthy and oh-so-necessary.”

“Was it though?” Jennifer asked, just now recovering. Her brow furrowed slightly. “He didn’t mean any harm.”

“Being a bugaboo is harmful,” Shonda countered with a laugh. Then tossed over her shoulder to the open classroom. “Ain’t no one mess with Karen. She a firecracker!”

Karen refrained from rolling her eyes and moved past the two of them to enter the classroom. She needed to calm down and rearrange her expressions before she scared the innocent and sweet children of Kibera. They didn’t deserve the annoyance she felt for certain members of the volunteer team, and they were the main reason she’d come all the way from Houston… not to get involved in unnecessary drama and unwarranted romance. She didn’t have time for any of that.

“Miss Karen!” one of the children called out and Karen plastered a smile as she made her way to them.

<<Chapter 5 || Chapter 7>>