Family Ties

Posted on 18/08/2017

Abe grinned from ear to ear as his younger brother Clement cuddled his new bride, all the while marveling over the years gone by.

He and Bart were high-schoolers when Clement joined the family. The sullen preteen kept his distance. Bart thought him a snob but Abe believed something kept Clement from trusting anyone. Although Dad loved each of his children, he was extremely patient with Clement’s mood swings. Abe remembered asking his father about the special treatment and his father’s response changed his attitude towards Clement. Unlike he and Bart who lost their parents, Clement’s parents were still alive–they just didn’t want him. He readily told Bart, and the two made it their summer project to love Clement regardless of his attitude.

Years later, their patience paid off. The once surly Clement became a responsible and loving brother who made both he and Bart proud. Abe was sure their parents in heaven felt the same way.

Clement pressed a kiss to Karen’s cheek and then turned toward his brother, one brow raised. “Ready?”

“Ready.” Abe gave his new sister-in-law a smile. “Sorry that I’m taking time away from your honeymoon.”

Karen slung an arm around Clement’s shoulders and laughed when her husband bent to accommodate her. “It’s alright. We’ve got the rest of our lives together. You’re just visiting for a week…” Her smile softened. “I’ll allow you some quality time together.”

Clement kissed her cheek before ducking out from under her arm. “Besides, she and the others are going on their own special tour.” He gestured for Abe to come with him and the two walked to the jeep.

“Be safe. Don’t do anything stupid!” Karen called behind them.

Abe smirked when Clement grunted and waved a hand over his head. “It’s already begun, huh?”

“She’s been nagging even before now,” Clement mumbled as he entered the driver’s side. “It’s coming too easily. Like she’s been practicing all her life for it.”

Chuckling, Abe folded his long legs into the jeep and strapped on his seatbelt. “So where to?”

Clement started the ignition and looked to his brother. “I want to show you what I do.”

Abe smiled at his brother. “We’re visiting a village?”

“Yes. A very special village.”

“Sounds good.” Abe patted his brother’s shoulder. “So, are you guys ready to host Eli?”

Clement sighed deeply. “Not yet. Stall for another few months. I just got married.”

“I get that but I doubt Eli will be as understanding. We’ve been stalling for months now.”

“I’ll help him understand….” Clement maneuvered the car off the bumpy terrain and onto the tarred road. Then he sighed, a blissful sound accompanied with a smile. “I like being married.”

“I bet. You haven’t stopped smiling since yesterday.” Abe chuckled. “Took you long enough to listen.”

“Trust me, if it wasn’t with Karen, it wasn’t gonna happen.”

Abe grunted and looked out the window. “Well I’m glad I could come, although I wish Phoebe was here.”

“Next time, you two should take a trip out. Maybe a second honeymoon.”

“Yeah, that’ll be good. She’ll welcome the break.”

“And see where you’re from.”

A furrow in his brow, Abe glanced over at Clement’s profile. “I remember nothing about this place.”

“Nothing at all?” Clement looked his way. “Really?”

Abe shook his head. “It was such a long time ago. All I remember was being Darah’s age when…” he trailed off, his gaze traveling to the mountains in the distance. In truth, his childhood memories were a blur.

“You know the toughest thing about being a pastor of that church?” Clement spoke through Abe’s reverie. “It’s having to balance the church affairs while working to reunite lost children with their families.”

“That can’t be easy.”

“It’s not. Especially when the children don’t remember where they’re from.”

Abe clucked his tongue. “Well, did they wander off on their own?”

“They didn’t. They were stolen.”

Frisson ran down Abe’s spine. He fixed his stare at Clement’s face. “What?”

“They were stolen from their parents’ homes and villages to be sold.”

Abe swallowed and looked away. He didn’t need Clement to elaborate; the mere thought sickened him.

“When I first heard about that, I reacted the same way you did. I was filled with disgust and disbelief. Then it turned to outrage. Then… I had to act.”

Abe’s lips twitched wryly. Clement and Darah were the most impulsive of all the Teka children; Clement more than Darah.

“With the help of Dula and later on, Ejigu, we began searching within our communities for these stolen children. Some were easier to find than others. The task was great, and we were just few. But slowly, surely, we were able to reunite families and villages with their lost children.”

Abe’s smile returned fully, pride surging through him. “Junior, that’s awesome. Man, I had no idea.”

Clement nodded. “I didn’t want to bother y’all with the details. It’s part of the job.”

“Still! It must take a toll on you.” His eyes moved over his younger brother’s features, realizing now why Clement often seemed bedraggled whenever he visited home.

His brother shrugged. “It’s a burden I’ll willingly bear.”

Abe placed a hand on Clement’s shoulder. “Mom and Dad will be proud. I certainly am.”

“… I do have a confession. I’m afraid I haven’t been fully honest about all I do here.”

“As long as it’s not putting you in harm’s way, it’s alright.” When his brother didn’t reply, Abe frowned. “Are you in danger?”

“No. Not now.”

Abe scowled. “Not now? What does that mean?”

Clement sighed. “Listen. There’s another reason why I’m bringing you out with me.”

“What?”

“On one of my trips to bring a bus full of children back to their village, I had this crazy thought.”

Abe frowned, not sure any of Clement’s crazy ideas was worth mentioning aloud. They’d gotten into trouble with their parents due to some of Clement’s crazy schemes. “What…?” he asked reluctantly.

“Your parents.”

Abe’s heart skipped a beat. “What… parents?” The only other parents he knew of had abandoned him in Wisconsin, and he preferred not talking about them ever again. The only parents he acknowledged had given him a name, a home and a family.

“The ones you were stolen from.”

Abe’s pulse jumped and his hand slipped from Clement’s shoulder.

Clement pulled up the side of the road and put the car in park. He shifted to face Abe. “I remember Dad telling me about how you and Bart came to the family. This was one of the days I was in one of my surly moods and Dad came to my room, telling me that you two had it bad as well. That I was acting like I was the only special case in the house, and that Bart didn’t even get a chance to say goodbye to his parents who died tragically. And that you were stolen and abandoned by two set of parents before coming here.”

Abe only stared in silence.

“I remembered that story when I tried to get the children to remember their homes. They were so traumatized by the kidnapping and imprisonment that it took weeks to get them to remember anything. And when they did, it was a skewed image of their parents abandoning them.”

Not wanting to hear anymore, Abe turned and reached for the door handle.

Clement grabbed Abe’s wrist, stilling his movement. “Abe, listen.”

“No. Let go.”

“Just hear me out.” Clement sighed, loosening his hold on Abe’s wrist. “I did some research when I came home. Remember how I showed up randomly when Bart and Geri were in that fake marriage nonsense?”

Abe couldn’t nod, couldn’t respond.

“Well it wasn’t random. It wasn’t easy getting answers but having a meddling sister-in-law came in handy.”

Abe jerked his attention to Clement. “Phoebe knew…?”

Clement shook his head. “Not fully. I couldn’t give her much detail and I’m thankful she didn’t ask too much. She just knew I was up to something and I promised I’d tell her once I found out everything.”

Abe only stared, feeling like he’d taken a sucker punch to his gut.

“I found out about your parents, the ones who left for Australia–“

“New Zealand.”

“Right, New Zealand.” Clement warily eyed his eldest brother. “I know this is hard for you, Abe…”

Abe swallowed hard and looked down. “We’ve all had it tough.” He heaved a sigh. Even though the pain in his past was something he would rather leave alone, Abe knew Clement wouldn’t just stop there. Couldn’t stop there. He lifted his gaze to his brother’s face. “What else did you find?”

Clement nodded. “I did some attic hunting and you know how meticulous Dad is, keeping records of everything. From Bart’s broken collar to Darah’s missing tooth.”

Abe smirked wryly. “He always kept journals.”

“Exactly. So I started looking for a journal from when you were adopted.”

Abe’s smile eased away. “Did you find anything?”

“A few things. He talked about the first time he and Mom met you, made a few notes about his first impression on you.” His lips twitched. “Scrawny beautiful kid who needs to eat more.”

His eyes stung with tears that fell freely. He missed his father like crazy.

“He said Mom cried all night when they came back home, begging him to let her bring you home immediately. It took a week and a half to bring you home.”

Abe pressed his lips together. He missed Mama also. To think they’d lived a decade without them.

“Well, Dad wouldn’t let it go that you’d been abandoned by irresponsible adults and wanted answers. He made notes about finding out their background and that of the organization that gave you to them. All he wrote though was the name and their location.”

“Ethiopia,” Abe drawled, knowing at least that much. Dad had always been open about their mixed family, answering any questions he had about his origin. But at some point, Abe stopped asking and Dad let him. Perhaps he knew Abe didn’t want to dig up any painful stories about his past and left him alone. Clement was a different case. He heaved a sigh. “Why bring this up now, Junior? I’m well into my forties and I’m satisfied with the family I chose. I don’t need–“

“I found your birth parents, Abe.”

Abe jerked his stare up. “What…?”

“I found ’em.” Clement wore a smile that Abe couldn’t reciprocate.

“What do you mean you found them?” Abe couldn’t believe what he was hearing.

Clement nodded. “I know it sounds crazy but it’s true. And I feel like it’s God’s doing.”

All Abe felt like doing was throwing up. His brother’s hand to his shoulder did nothing to quell the unsettling feeling. He dragged his eyes to Clement’s face and the sympathy displayed in his eyes.

“They’re alive, Abe. And they want to see you.”

Abe’s eyes welled with tears and he shut his eyes tightly.

“I know it’s hard. I know what you’re going through.”

“No you don’t.” Abe shrugged off Clement’s hand and glared at him. “Why d’you go do a thing like that? Why did you have to meddle in something even Dad couldn’t? Did I ask you to find them? Did I?!”

Clement barely flinched when Abe raised his voice. “Calm down. Your blood pressure.”

Abe bristled, his glare hardening. “Like you cared before meddling. You had no right, Junior. No right.”

Clement nodded, calmly taking the brunt of Abe’s frustration. “I’m sorry for adding to your pain. But if Kayla or Isaac or Jacob had been stolen from you… Not only would you have searched all over for them, your life wouldn’t be the same without them. Wouldn’t you want them to know you’re still alive and holding onto hope that you’re waiting for them?”

Abe scowled. “That’s not the same thing.”

“What’s not the same, Abe? You’re their son, a son they never wanted to give up. Some wicked person came to steal you from them. Stole you right from under their nose–“

“Alright, alright!” Abe snapped, holding a hand to his temple. He noticed the tremor in his hand and curled his fingers into his palm. It then dawned on him why Clement insisted that he visit this time around. Not just to stand as witness at his impromptu wedding ceremony but to reunite him with the family he’d forgotten. He squeezed his eyes closed. “This isn’t fair, Junior…”

“I know. It’s rocked your world, it certainly rocked mine seeing them that first time. Abe, your father looks exactly like you and your mother’s got your eyes…” he paused when Abe held out a hand and waited patiently. His brother would need time and Clement was willing to wait a little.

Abe drew in a calming breath and released it on a shudder. “Are they… healthy?”

Clement smiled. Interest was a start. “Very. They’re farmers in the Southeast. A few hours from the capital. Your father grows all sorts of crops. Your mom sells them in the marketplace with her granddaughters.”

Abe raised both brows. “I have siblings?”

“Several.” Clement grinned. “Thankfully your parents consoled themselves and have a few more. All girls. So they never forgot about their first and only son. Your sisters are excited to meet you too.”

Overwhelmed, Abe eyed Clement dubiously. “Is this why you planned this fake tour?”

Clement’s grin brightened. “It’s not fake. Their village just happens to be the one I’m visiting.”

“Right…” Abe sighed. “You’re just like Mama. Won’t stop until you get your way.”

“And just like Mama says, it’s for your own good.” He chuckled when Abe rolled his eyes. “You up for it?”

“I can’t lie and say I’m ever gonna be ready.” Abe frowned. “I had buried that part of my life long ago. I don’t even remember what they look like or feel like. I don’t know what I’d say or how to react when I meet them.” His stomach turned in anxiety and remorse filled his heart. If what Clement said was true, meeting his birth parents for the first time would be like meeting strangers. In a way, they were strangers and he didn’t know how to prepare for this.

Clement squeezed his shoulder. “Like you always tell me when I’m fretting about something. You’ll know what to do when you get there. You’ve been prepared all your life for this. As a father, husband, father to both your children and to us, you’re ready for this. You’ve got this.”

Abe eyed him dubiously. “That’s not helping. It’s like ripping open a wound and then giving me a Band-Aid.” He sighed and rested his head back against the chair. “Let’s go before I change my mind.”

Clement managed a smile. “You’re doing the right thing, Bro. I’m proud of you.”

Abe only grunted.

With one more look at his eldest brother, Clement maneuvered the jeep back onto the road. “Don’t worry. It’ll be as short or as long as you want it. And if you just want to see them and then leave, that’s fine too. They’re prepared to give you time also.”

Abe closed his eyes. “Just shut up and drive. I need to think.”

“Yes sir!” Clement stepped on the accelerator, heading for Abe’s childhood home.

<<Story Page>>

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Sanctuary, Chapter 32

Posted on 17/08/2017

Clement rolled his eyes as Bart’s laugh carried on longer than appropriate. He cast him a quelling glare that had his older brother finally ease off the laughter. “You done?” he drawled, not the least bit amused.

Bart dropped a hand on Clement’s shoulder and flashed a cavalier smile. “Not even close.”

Clement tossed an exasperated glance to the flight listings. “I don’t even know why I invited you here.”

“I just think it’s funny how you gave me such a hard time about Geri and you think I’m gonna let you off the hook now.” He nudged his younger brother. “Besides who else would keep you company on this drive?”

“I’ve driven to the airport by myself many times.” He glanced at Bart askance. “Can’t I greet my woman alone? Is that too much to ask?”

“Not at all… but then I distinctly recall saying the same thing and everyone ignoring me to go escort my woman from the airport while I was forced to stay at home.”

“To prepare for your proposal. And it was only a few months. I haven’t seen Karen in six months.”

“I could argue that’s your fault for sending her away.”

Clement sighed deeply, acknowledging his part to play in the prolonged separation. Bart patted his brother’s shoulder. “Your waiting is over. Does she have any idea what you’re planning?”

He didn’t answer, focused on the group of passengers exiting the arrival gates. Spotting Karen right away, a grin formed and he waved, moving toward her. She looked like sunshine in her yellow sundress and braids swinging as she rushed to meet him.

Catching her by the waist, Clement lifted her in his arms. A smiling Bart hung back, watching his brother and his girlfriend openly express how much they’d missed each other. Karen showered Clement’s face with kisses and Bart chuckled, marveling that this brother had once professed to remain a bachelor for life.

Love certainly had a way of changing a man’s plans. A good thing, in his opinion. His gaze shifted to the couple standing behind Karen and he smiled, stepping forward with a hand out. “You must be Mr. Wells. I’m Bart, Clement’s older brother.”

The man dragged his stare from his daughter to the man standing before him. A wistful smile twitched his lips as he returned the handshake. “Nice to meet you. Call me Gabriel. And this is my wife, Deidre.”

“Good to meet you both,” Bart said, giving Karen’s mother a smile. “I assure you, he’s not always this rude.” He cleared his throat and patted Clement’s back. “Junior, ease up.”

Clement lowered Karen to her feet and glanced over, realizing belatedly that her parents accompanied her. Releasing Karen’s waist, he moved to her parents. “I’m sorry about…that.”

Deidre looked more amused than her husband and tugged Clement into a hug. “Any man that greets his woman like that’s a winner in my eyes. Maybe Gabriel can learn a thing or two.”

“Dee…” Gabriel tossed his wife a warning look she ignored.

Bart gave Karen a hug. “Welcome back to Ethiopia.”

Karen acknowledged Clement’s older brother with a beaming smile. “Thanks Bart. You weren’t jetlagged?”

“Not really. We’ve been busy getting acquainted with everyone at the church.” He turned back to Karen’s parents. “I can assure you Karen’s in good hands. Junior and the guys have prepared a nice suite for you.”

Gabriel and Deidre smiled, albeit strained. They still battled over their second daughter being so far away from home. Gabriel draped an arm around his wife’s shoulders.

“I can’t wait!” Karen exclaimed, tucking an arm under Clement’s. Her parents glanced once at each other. It was plain to see what made their daughter overjoyed and excited for the first time in a long time. This man and this place were the source of her joyful smiles and longing sighs.

“Also, Karen, allow me this opportunity to thank you for saving my bro from bachelor—” Bart grunted when Clement ribbed him in the side. “Okay, yeah… l’ll go get your bags.”

Gabriel exchanged a look with Clement before steering his wife in the same direction as Bart’s, leaving the couple alone. Karen giggled as Bart gave Clement a thumbs-up before he ushered her parents toward the baggage claim. “I forgot how funny he was.” She gazed up at Clement. “I’m excited to see everyone. Not more than you, of course.” She lifted a hand to his cheek. “I missed you like crazy, you have no idea.”

“I think I do,” Clement brushed a kiss on her palm. “Only Abe, Geri and Bart are here. The children stayed behind with the rest.” Clement steered her toward the baggage claim. “How are your siblings?”

“Bummed they couldn’t come. Sammy kept whining about it until we had to board the flight.”

He smirked. “Same with Darah. She made us swear to let her visit once she weans Anwar.”

“We’ll have a vacation for everyone once we’re settled…” She paused, sneaking a look at him. Her boyfriend’s expression was distant as if his attention was on anything but what she just said. Karen didn’t complain, content to finally be with him again. Six months was too long a separation, even if it was necessary.

After the first few calls from Clement and some groundwork on her part, her parents grew supportive about her move to Ethiopia. The months flew by, and her time with family and friends seemed too short. Clement was supportive and understanding, allowing her to cry and whine throughout the grueling process of breaking her lease and moving her things back up. Tying up loose ends would’ve been more painful than it was, and having Clement in her ear and on her mind made it easier. Their prayers late at night and early in the mornings were something she looked forward to. His love and respect for God strengthened hers also.

Overcome with love for her man, Karen squeezed his hand. “You shaved again. Did you miss me?”

Clement glanced down with a smile, showing he was listening after all. “That’s not even a question.” His gaze shifted and Karen turned to see Bart dragging two suitcases. Her parents trailed behind with theirs.

“Is this all you’ve got?” Bart asked, a furrow in his brow. “Your entire life fit in two bags?”

“Mom’s got one of my bags. Besides, a missionary doesn’t need much. Right Babe?”

“Right,” Clement echoed, a proud smile on his face.

Bart snorted. “Alright, Mrs. Missionary. Let’s get going. Everyone’s waiting to see you.”

She watched as Clement relieved her parents of their luggage and followed his brother outside. Giving her parents an assured smile, Karen tucked her arms under theirs and walked with them outside. She was happy.

Thanks to both Darah and Samina, she had imagined Clement waiting for her at the arrivals gate on bended knee, holding a diamond ring. Seeing him with Bart was not exactly how she’d envisioned their reunion after six months but just the sight and the feel of him was enough to dispel the initial disappointment.

A day later, Karen stared gobsmacked at Clement kneeling before her. She barely register the ring box. Tears pooled in her eyes and her tongue was stuck to the roof of her mouth.

Clement took her shocked silence in stride and reached for her hand. “I love you, Karen, and I don’t want to be parted again. Be my partner in life and service. Marry me?”

“Say yes!” Geri and Wubit called out, and laughed together. The Bichena orphans chanted the same words.

Karen laughed shakily as she looked with blurry eyes at her parents, Clement’s brothers and sister-in-law, and even the Bichena church community. Abe and Bart waved their phones, revealing that the proposal was livestreaming to the rest of the family overseas. She squinted at one screen, spotting a beaming Samina. The other was of Darah and Phoebe, cheering silently.

Clement tugged on her hand to get her attention. “So will you?”

“Of course,” Karen said easily and watched as he stood. She let him embrace her and the tears fell.

He leaned back and wiped her tears. “Today?”

Karen paused. “What?”

“Will you marry me today?”

Her mouth dropped open and she really looked at him, realizing only now that he was wearing a navy suit and she a white floral tea-length dress. She gasped and smacked a hand to her mouth. Everyone cheered.

Karen sought her parents, gaze settling on her teary-eyed mother and smiling father. “Guys…”

Gabriel stepped forward, looking dashing in his formal attire. “Ready to get married, my Princess?”

“Daddy…” Karen burst into tears, realizing that it’d all been planned. Her heart soared with joy amid the cheering and jubilating. She was getting married today!

Clement encircled her waist. “Ready?”

“Been ready six months ago,” Karen said, earning laughs and giggles from their family and friends. She only had eyes for Clement. “I can’t believe you planned this behind my back. I love you.”

“I love you too.”

“Let the festivities begin!” Bart called out and everyone cheered as the couple embraced once again.

Dula presided over the ceremony, giving a brief message on the blessed gift of marriage from God to man. She felt the gentle squeeze of Clement’s hand around hers and marveled at how blessed she was to have met and fallen in love with such a man.

“If there be any among us who doesn’t think these two be wed, speak now or forever hold your peace…” Dula smiled at the worried look on Karen’s face. “Priscilla sends her congratulations.”

Karen let out an audible sigh of relief and could’ve sworn Clement choked on a laugh. She pinched his hand but kept her face forward.

“Keep going, Pastor!” Geri called behind them and both Clement and Karen chuckled along with their guests.

Dula nodded. “By the power vested in me by the constitution of the Federal Democratic Repub…” He paused when Clement cleared his throat and smirked. “Under God our Father and Creator, I now pronounce you man and wife. Mr. Clement Teka, you may now kiss your bride.”

Their family and friends, both present and via Wi-Fi, cheered as Clement gathered Karen in his arms.

Five months later.

Eleazar set his bags on the stone floor and scanned the humble furnishings of his older brother’s living room. Noticing the wedding frame propped on the cabinet, he studied it closely.

Half the family attended the impromptu wedding ceremony. He couldn’t since his passport hadn’t processed by then. Eleazar suspected Abe purposefully delayed finding his birth certificate in time.

The door opened and a bearded stranger stepped inside with a welcoming smile. “You must be Eli, the little brother.”

Travel-worn and hungry, Eleazar merely arched a brow.

“I’m Dula,” the man continued. “A good friend of Brother Clement. Did you enjoy the ride over here?”

“It was decent,” Eleazar answered, looking past him at the open doorway. “Where is my brother?”

“He’s… out.”

Eleazar arched a brow at the slight hesitation. “When is he coming back?”

It was already suspicious that Clement had sent another bearded stranger to meet him at the airport, and even that one named Ejigu, gave him a roundabout answer of his brother’s absence.

He squinted when Dula silently shrugged in response. “And you don’t know when he’s coming back?”

“It’s… hard to say. It’s been two days, but that’s normal.”

“Okay…” Eleazar frowned. “What about my sister-in-law?”

“She’s… out also.”

Just then, a girl stepped around Dula, carrying a bottle of cold water and a bowl of popcorn.

“This is Eddie,” Dula gestured to the girl. “She lives and works with us here at the church.”

She flashed Eleazar a welcoming smile and approached the table in front of him. Eleazar watched as she set down the refreshments, flashed him another smile and retreated from the room. Dula eyed him openly.

Face burning, Eleazar feigned nonchalance. “So are they together at least?”

“Your brother and sister-in-law? Oh yes, they’re always together when they go out.”

His brow furrowed. “And you don’t know where they are or when they’ll be back?”

“Nope.” Dula gestured to the snacks. “Why don’t you refresh yourself while my wife makes your dinner? Hopefully they will be home this evening.”

Eleazar warily eyed the man before lowering to his seat and reaching for the bottle of water. Gulping down the refreshing liquid, he continued his open perusal of the bungalow.

“We expanded the living quarters before your brother got married,” Dula said as Eleazar attempted to read the Amharic print on one of the snack bags. “Then we built this left wing for him and Sister Karen just a few months ago. And then he told us you were coming to visit for a month or so.”

Eleazar paused at opening the snacks. Although he’d agreed to stay just a month, he hoped Clement would let him stay longer. He couldn’t go back home now, not when—

A door slammed outside and Dula smirked wryly. “That must be your brother now.”

Eleazar shot to his feet as his brother and wife stepped inside and beside Dula, both covered in dirt and grass with their clothes disheveled and frayed. He gaped openly at them, not knowing what to say first.

Unfazed, Clement smiled in welcome. “You’re here.”

“Hi Eli.” Karen grinned through the grime on her face. “Welcome to our humble abode. Salam, Dula.”

Salam,” Dula answered, amusement clear in his tone. “Although I think you scared the boy to silence.”

“Oh right. Eli, we’ll chat later. Uh, Dula, could you help me and Ejigu with something outside…”

“How many do you bring this time?” Dula asked, following her out through the door.

Once the two exited the room, Eleazar turned to Clement with a frown. “Did you go mud sliding?”

Clement chuckled. “You don’t know the half of it.” He gestured for his brother to sit. “How was your flight?”

“Decent,” Eleazar sat down and noticed the glint of Clement’s wedding ring. “Congratulations again.”

“Thanks,” Clement perched on a chair, regarding Eleazar openly. “What’s the plan for your month here?”

Eleazar shrugged, reluctant to divulge his plans just yet. “Not much. Maybe chill and relax. See the sights.”

“Sights? Chill?” Clement smirked, not buying it one bit. “Hate to break it to you but Bichena is not a chill-and-relax type of place. And you forget I know you better than anyone else. What’s really going on?”

“I’m serious. It’s just for a break.” Eleazar shoved popcorn into his mouth.

Deciding he had time to figure out why his youngest brother sought refuge a thousand miles from home, Clement nodded. “Fine.” He smacked his palms on his thighs and stood. “Let’s get you settled in first.”

“Aren’t you gonna take a shower first? You smell horrible.”

“After we eat. I’m starved.” He slung an arm around his brother’s neck and tugged him toward the exit.

Eleazar wrinkled his nose but let his big brother lead him out to the adjoined living area where Karen, Dula and the tour guide Ejigu awaited them. They turned toward him and Clement froze. Eleazar stopped also, noting of their worried expressions. Karen looked especially conflicted as her eyes darted between Clement to Eleazar. Taking a hint, Eleazar turned to Dula. “Mind showing me the kitchen? I’m starved.”

“Okay!” Dula said with a bright smile. His gaze flitted over the couple and back at Eleazar. “Let’s go eat.”

They waited until both exited the room. Then Ejigu turned to Clement. “Ashon just called, he needs backup.”

Clement’s stomach flipped. They just came back. “Where?”

“East of Debre,” Karen replied. “He sighted someone resembling Petra at another auction. But Eli just got here. How do we explain leaving again?”

He frowned down at her flat stomach. “We are not leaving. You’re staying and I’m—”

“You got to be kidding me.” She scowled. “I already told you I’m not leaving you—”

“I’ll go,” Ejigu smiled when they looked at him. “Sister can’t go in her condition—”

“So I’m the last one to know my wife is pregnant?” Clement frowned at Ejigu. “What were you thinking not telling me about this? You knew and kept quiet, knowing it was dangerous.”

Ejigu held up both hands. “I was sworn to secrecy.”

“Way to go throwing me under the bus, Ejigu.” Karen rolled her eyes. “Relax. I was careful.”

“Careful is staying home and taking care of yourself and our baby.”

Ejigu cleared his throat, uncomfortable as always when they argued in front of him. “I’ll tell Brother Ashon that I am coming. We will take care of it. You two stay low and spend time with your brother.”

Karen placed a hand on Clement’s arm, silencing his protest. “Let them do it this time. They can handle it.”

“And you’ll be careful,” Clement said firmly to Ejigu. “Don’t do anything stupid this time.”

Something akin to regret flashed in Ejigu’s eyes and he nodded solemnly. Clement warily eyed his friend’s barely-healed arm from the gunshot and nodded. “When will you leave?”

“As soon as I get two servings of Wubit’s porridge,” Ejigu grinned and walked out to join the others.

Karen turned Clement to face her and framed his face between her hands. “Don’t worry. They’ll be fine.”

“I know.” His eyes moved over her face, his expression remorseful. “Sorry for freaking out earlier.”

She smiled, love shining in her eyes. “It’s my fault. I should’ve told you even if you’d make me stay behind.”

“At least you know.” He brushed a thumb over her mouth, silencing her protest. “You’ve made me a happy man, Karen.” He pulled her into his arms. “Happy and blessed.”

“You and me both, Babe,” Karen said as she leaned into him, content in his embrace.

– The End –

<<Chapter 31 || Story Page>>

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