Posts tagged “CHILDREN

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 25

Posted on 02/08/2017

“I don’t like her,” Priscilla announced, hands propped at her hips.

Dula and Wubit glanced once at each other before watching the agitated doctor grow even more unsettled. Clement had still not yet returned from settling his friend Karen in his room, deciding to bunk with Ejigu in one of the small rooms near the back of the church building.

“I should’ve known she’d be trouble,” Priscilla continued, pacing the small space in the kitchen. She came to a stop and faced her friends. “Did you see the way she looked at him? Like he was some piece of meat!”

“I remember you looking at him like that,” Dula reminded her, earning a dig in his side from Wubit. Eddie who stood by the stove, dishing out the meal into small bowls, muffled a giggle.

Priscilla scowled at him. “Of course I did because he was my boyfriend!”

“Even before that…” Dula swallowed the rest and held up both hands. “I’ll go see where he is.” He stepped off the stool and hurried out of the kitchen in search for Clement. He slowed to a stop, finding Clement and his lady companion strolling toward them. Planting a smile, he narrowed the distance between them. “Hello.”

Karen looked rueful as she bowed again. “Salam.”

“You can speak English,” Clement said gently. “He understands well.”

Dula smiled for good measure. “With an accent, of course, but my college insisted we learn.”

He’d meant to assure her but the pained look on her face proved otherwise. “I didn’t mean to sound like an arrogant foreigner thinking no one else knows English besides Americans or the British. I’m sorry.”

“That’s okay, Ms.…”

“Please call me Karen.” She offered Dula a genuine smile. “You must be Dula, Clement’s oldest friend.”

“Old as in age and duration, yes,” he joked, pleased when she giggled. So she had a sense of humor. Good. “Please, come. My wife has made you some dinner.”

Karen grinned openly. “I’ve been dreaming of Ethiopian cuisine for weeks.”

With a smile, he gestured for her to go ahead and then clapped a hand over his friend’s shoulder. “Good job,” he whispered in his native tongue.

Clement’s smile froze and he turned from watching Karen to giving Dula a quizzical stare. “What?”

Dula wriggled his brows. “I thought you’d never move on from Priscilla but…”

“Hey calm down,” Clement protested half-heartedly. “We’re just friends.”

“Uh-huh,” Dula slung an arm over Clement’s shoulder and when Karen paused in step to look over her shoulder, he grinned and waved. “Let’s not keep the ladies waiting.”

Priscilla’s scowl was a bit distracting but Karen focused her attention on Eddie’s bright smile and Wubit’s warm expression. Wiping her mouth, she set her fork down. “So how long have you all worked with Clement?”

“We were at this orphanage before Brother Clement joined us in 2004.” Wubit tossed Clement a grin. “I remember he was such a know-it-all.”

Clement scoffed but continued eating.

“I can see that,” Karen teased, winking at him. “He does act like he knows everything.”

Wubit and even Eddie nodded, surprised that she could relate with their struggles. Clement shook his head. “No, I was excited about my new assignment and they wanted to stay in the past.”

Dula grunted in disagreement. “No, you were a know-it-all.”

Wubit, Karen and Eddie giggled when Clement growled. Priscilla rolled her eyes and crossed her arms.

Karen peeked at her once and then spoke. “You must be the one I talked to on the phone earlier right?”

Wubit and Dula exchanged questioning glances. Clement lifted the glass of water to his lips, gaze volleying between the two women. Priscilla arched a shapely brow. “Pardon?”

“Yeah, I think it was you… You said you were Clement’s girlfriend,” Karen merely blinked when Clement choked on his water. “Was there a reason for the lies?”

Priscilla frowned in Clement’s direction. “You told her I was lying?”

Karen noted the wrinkle in Clement’s brow. “Wait… it isn’t a lie?”

Clement swallowed the water and looked chagrined as he turned to Karen. “I can explain.”

Karen choked on an incredulous laugh and lowered the fork to the plate. Then she gave Wubit and Dula a smile. “It was nice meeting you and thank you for the delicious meal. I think I need to go to bed now.”

Dula and Wubit nodded, their smiles strained. “Goodnight,” Wubit said gently.

“Karen.”

Ignoring Clement, she also gave Eddie a smile before standing to her feet.

Clement rose with her, placing a hand on her shoulder.

“Clement,” she said in a falsely-calm tone. “I don’t want to embarrass you or myself in front of your lovely friends. So kindly let me get some rest.”

“But…”

“Brother,” Dula interjected gently and when Clement glanced his way, he shook his head imperceptibly. Wubit also nodded, silently willing him to let Karen go for tonight.

Reluctantly, Clement released Karen’s arm and she hightailed out of the kitchen and down the hall to his bedroom for the night. Heaving a deep sigh, Clement dragged a hand over his face.

“You were wrong for that, Priscilla,” Wubit berated her friend softly.

“She provoked me first.”

Clement scowled in Priscilla’s direction and stormed out in the other direction, to the small room he and Ejigu would have to share for the evening. He didn’t understand why he was so frustrated with how Priscilla behaved and Karen’s reaction, but he dropped on the bed exhausted and annoyed. Even though he was beyond exhausted, Clement tossed and turned on the cot until Ejigu dragged himself inside hours later.

“You’re still awake, Brother?”

“Hmm,” Clement muttered, tucking one hand under his head. He stared up at the ceiling, sleepless.

Ejigu chuckled, shrugging off his backpack. “Priscilla is such a pain.”

“You heard?”

“Uh-hmm. I also heard your lady friend is a fireball.”

“Firecracker,” Clement corrected softly and sighed heavily. “And yeah, looks that way.”

Though exhausted, Karen couldn’t sleep for long. She’d spent the night drifting out of sleep and tossing in bed. So after a few hours of trying to stay asleep, she gave up and left the room. The chapel was empty, so Karen claimed the first pew. An oak podium mounted the altar and a stained glass cross etched on the wall behind. Imagining Clement standing there with light casting a halo around his head made Karen smile.

The smile quickly eased away and Karen sighed deeply. “What am I doing here?”

She was a long way from home, with no way to reach her family. No doubt her family worried after not hearing from her for so long. She needed to call them soon.

Then her thoughts shifted to the children whose parents were undergoing the same turmoil or worse. She imagined their bitter and despondent cries, and wished she could do more to help.

Closing her eyes, Karen bowed her head and folded her hands. “Lord, I don’t know what else to do. I’m just one person and the bad guys are… they’re out there, doing really bad things to innocent people. But I know you are much bigger than any of them put together. Even when the wicked is mighty, you’re mightier.” She sighed deeply. “And please protect these children. Help us get them back safely to their families. Let us not lose any child to the wicked…”

Her brow furrowed. “And protect Clement also. He’s got a lot on his plate, serving as a pastor here and now having to go undercover as if he’s some James Bond…” She sighed. “I guess I did the same, so yeah. Forgive us for putting up pretenses to save the children. It’ll be great if you could provide a better way, one that we can safely bring them home and not have to sin against you.”

“Amen.”

Karen’s eyes snapped open and she jerked about to see a man sitting in the shadowed pew a few rows hers. She spun about, ignoring the quick jump in her pulse and closed her eyes. “Anyway, Father, please help me be able to locate Ashon so I can get back my passport. And keep him safe also. Oh, and help him find his daughter. In your precious name I pray. Amen.”

“Amen.”

She frowned and glanced over her shoulder at him. “It’s rude to eavesdrop on someone’s prayer.”

“Sorry.” He draped his arms around the back of the pew. “One of your prayers has been answered.”

Karen merely gave him a hairy stare and Clement chuckled in the shadows. “I see you’re still mad at me, but for the life of me, I can’t understand why.”

“Which request, Clement?”

“Ashon.”

Karen sat up. “Really?” She left her seat and walked down toward him, perching at his side. “Is he okay?”

“Hold on,” he answered with amusement in his tone. “My friend Ejigu, you’ll meet him at breakfast, he was able to get in touch with the cab your friend works for. Apparently, the day he picked you up was his last day. He no longer works for them.”

Karen frowned. “Okay, but did they have his contact information?”

“That’s why it’s a prayer answered.” Clement shifted, pulling out a sheet of paper from his pocket. “Here.”

She snatched the paper and unfolded it, although she couldn’t read it legibly.

“It’s his phone number. I doubt he’ll be awake now so let’s wait until sun-up to call him.”

“Yeah okay.” She folded and tucked the paper in her shirt pocket.

“Hmm.” Clement gestured to her. “We’ll need to get you a change of clothes.”

Karen glanced down. “No wonder your girlfriend made such a fuss. I’m still wearing your shirt.”

He heaved a sigh. “For the umpteenth time, she’s not my girlfriend.”

“Whatever.” Karen started to stand when Clement grabbed her hand. She sighed. “How many times do I have to tell you not to grab my hand whenever you like, without permission? Let go.”

“Not until you tell me what’s wrong.”

“Nothing’s wrong.” Karen lowered back onto the seat. “Let me use your phone.”

“You can’t call your friend, Karen. It’s late—”

“I need to call my family. Hand it over please…”

“Bossy woman.” Holding her with one hand, the other held out his phone. “I have an app that allows you to call without a calling card.”

“Yeah, I had one for mine. Let go, Clement.” She yanked her hand from his the minute he loosened his grip. Then standing, she relocated to her original seat and dialed her sister’s number first.

Samina picked on the second ring. “Finally! My goodness, Karen, where have you been?”

“I’m sorry, sis. It’s been a hectic week.”

“Are you okay?”

“Better than okay.” Karen dragged one foot on the cement floor. “How are you?”

“Nu-unh. You don’t get to divert attention to me when you’re the one whose been missing for a week.”

“I recall someone going off the grid for a week also, for surgery no less…”

Her sister cleared her throat. “That’s different. I was still in Houston, not some foreign place doing God knows what. Are you alright? What was hectic about your week?”

“I’ll give you details when I get home. Is Mom okay?”

“She’s pissed but that’s normal. I’ll tell her you called. Actually, it’ll be better for you to call her yourself.”

“And risk getting my ear bitten off? Nah, I’ll let you relay the news.”

Samina snorted derisively. “Anyway, when are you coming back? You’re still set for next week?”

Karen frowned, realizing that her trip was drawing to a close a little too soon. “Um, about that…”

Clement had abandoned his shadowy post to perch beside Karen. He smirked when she scooted an inch from him and found himself narrowing the gap between them. Something about her made him want to tease her, and he couldn’t figure out what or why he didn’t want to stop.

Karen scooted an inch more, teeth dragging against her bottom lip. “I might have to extend my trip.”

“What… Karen, you’ve been gone for a month and a half!”

“Yeah, I know but…” Karen sighed in exasperation as Clement scooted close, his thighs brushing hers. She tossed him a warning look which he responded with an innocent smile. She scowled. “What are you doing?”

Clement maintained his innocence and shrugged, refusing to budge.

“What am I doing?” Samina replied. “You’re the one being vague. Why do you need to extend your trip?”

“Just because…” Karen’s hip bumped into the wooden edge of the pew. She couldn’t move another inch away, pinned between Clement and the end of the pew.

“From your itinerary, I’m guessing you’re now in Ethiopia, correct?”

“Yeah, so?” Karen gestured for Clement to move. She scowled when he merely crossed his ankles and draped an arm behind her shoulders.

“You’re with that pastor guy, aren’t you? He’s the reason you’re staying, isn’t he?”

Karen stiffened and snuck a glance at Clement. He stared her down, one brow arched in silent question. She fought a grimace at Samina’s loud voice. There was little doubt in her mind he’d heard every word.

“Hey Sam, let me call you back.” She disconnected the call over her sister’s protests. “Did you hear her?”

“Not if you don’t want me to.” He drew back the arm draped behind her and eased back an inch.

“It’s fine. I have nothing to hide.” Karen lifted her chin, staring at him straight on. “Well it’s true. I like you. It’s the reason why I was pissed off last night.”

Clement remained silent, merely staring at her. It took everything in Karen to keep from not looking away. She continued. “I think it must’ve started at your sister’s wedding or maybe before that… It doesn’t matter when it happened. All I know is that I like you, Clement Teka.”

“Hey!” Clement exclaimed, rubbing the sore spot Dula had smacked him. “What was that for?”

“For being a fool.”

“I agree,” Ejigu said, folding his arms across his chest. “A woman tells you she likes you and you say what? That you’re a celibate priest?”

Clement frowned as both his friends muttered their disapproval. “Would you have preferred I led her on?”

“Admitting your feelings is not leading someone on. Don’t you like her?”

“This isn’t about liking her,” Clement countered, still rubbing the back of his head. “I already told you how difficult it is to be in a serious relationship right now. She’s saying she likes me now but she’ll be like Priscilla after a few months and end up resenting me.”

“That sounds like an excuse,” Dula groused. “A terrible one at that.”

“Not everyone is like Priscilla,” Ejigu refuted. “I haven’t met your lady yet but from what I heard, she seems very different. You’re always preaching about giving people a fair chance and not to discriminate, but you’re putting her in the same category as your ex-girlfriend. How fair is that?”

Clement regarded his friends warily. “Why are you all so invested in my love life?”

“Because you deserve to be happy,” Dula replied easily. “Marriage will do you good.”

He rolled his eyes and gestured to Ejigu. “Get him married first then. I’m fine—” He scowled when Dula smacked him upside the head. “Will you stop that?”

“Not until I knock sense back into you.” Dula shook his head and turned to Ejigu. “Never mind with him. Let’s get you married first. Maybe we can introduce you to Ms. Karen today at breakfast.”

Ejigu nodded, sneaking a peek at the frown forming on Clement’s face. He hid a smirk. “What a brilliant idea. Is she a beauty?”

“She’s beautiful.” Dula draped an arm about Ejigu’s shoulders. “Maybe you could teach her Amharic.”

“Hold on a minute,” Clement interjected. “Ejigu’s too young for her.”

“Age isn’t but a number. Besides, I like older ladies,” Ejigu tossed over his shoulder and flashed his friend a cheeky smile. Then turned to Dula. “Come introduce me to the beautiful Ms. Karen.”

The two smiling friends strolled out of Clement’s room and upon hearing the telltale growl behind the closed door, gave each other a fist bump before walking toward the kitchen.

<<Chapter 24 || Chapter 26>>

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