Sandwiched between Clement and Darah, Eleazar studied the woman sitting opposite him while everyone else watched them in silence.
Phoebe curled her hand around Abe’s and Geraldine spied Bart’s expression before placing her hand over his. Her pulse tripped when he took her hand and held it at his lap. Her cheeks warmed and she snuck him another look but he kept his attention on the woman, Eleazar’s grandmother.
Mrs. Sharma Crane pulled an embroidered handkerchief from her clutch purse and dabbed her weathered cheek. When her hazel eyes met Eleazar’s, the boy looked away and leaned into Clement. She sighed and turned to Abe. “I know this isn’t protocol showing up like this, but I couldn’t not come. I didn’t mean to alarm anyone and…”
Clement grunted under his breath, receiving a quelling look from Phoebe.
“It’s alright,” Abe reassured her. “I know this must’ve been hard for you also.”
“You have no idea.” Her gaze sought Eleazar once more and a lone tear slid down her cheek. “For nine years, I’ve been looking for him. I had no idea he was still in the city… still alive.”
Phoebe hesitated–Eleazar hearing about the demise of his mother in this way wasn’t right. She looked over to where Eleazar sat hunched over, his way of shielding himself during uncomfortable situations.
“Hey guys,” Clement interrupted Phoebe’s thoughts. He draped one arm around Eleazar and the other around Darah. “It’s been a long day and I’ve got tons to unpack. Eli, Darah, give me a hand, yeah?”
The anxiety rolled off her shoulders as Clement stood and the younger siblings rose from their seats without a word of protest. It seemed this was one conversation they were willing to miss and Phoebe was grateful for that.
Mrs. Sharma Crane couldn’t say a word but her longing gaze followed Eli around the sofa and disappeared behind the wall. Sighing, she turned to the remaining adults in the room, chagrin etched on her features. “I really am sorry.”
Gone was the enraged woman who demanded her rights as grandmother. She’d witnessed Eleazar’s frightened eyes and the quiet terror in his stance as he leaned away from her.
“I know the agency suggested I wait, but I just couldn’t stand missing a chance to see him. He’s my grandson…”
Phoebe gave the older woman a kind smile. “It’s okay, Mrs. Crane. Losing both your daughter and grandson must’ve been hard for you.” When Abe quietly slipped his arm around her shoulders, tears rushed to her eyes and she blinked them away quickly. Her loss was nothing compared to Mrs. Crane’s, for she hadn’t developed a long-term relationship with her unborn daughter as the older woman had with hers.
Mrs. Crane dabbed her eyes and looked down at her gnarled hands. “After all these years, I just never thought I could hope again.”
“What happened?” Abe asked quietly.
“My daughter was in real bad shape. I did the best I could for her when she was young but there’s only so much you can do when they get older. She got into poor company, started drinking heavily.” Pain deepened the grooves on her face. “God knows what else she got involved in. It got to the point that I couldn’t do anything else for her. She wanted to leave so I let her go.”
Everyone sat in tense silence. Phoebe prayed Clement had kept Eleazar and Darah from hearing distance.
“She was my only child,” Mrs. Crane continued, her voice trembling. “I was devastated at how she’d changed. But I’d always believed one day she’d forgive me for giving up on her and just come home.” Tears streaked down her face. “Then one day, she came home. Heavily pregnant. It didn’t matter, I was hopeful she was ready to get better.”
Phoebe gripped Abe’s hand, giving him a silent warning to brace himself.
“And she was! We were doing well. She was determined to get clean and fix her life.” Mrs. Crane wiped her cheeks. “She started coming to church with me frequently and we spent quality time preparing for the baby.” She wore a wistful smile that wobbled. “I thought for sure all would be fine.”
Abe and Bart stiffened visibly when Mrs. Crane choked on a deeply-wrought cry.
“Then she just disappeared the day before she was to deliver.” Mrs. Crane’s eyes flashed wild as though reliving the day. “I thought for sure the father of her baby had come to get her. I was like a crazy person looking for her everywhere. The police said there was no sign of struggle and that she’d left on her own.” Mrs. Crane shook her head violently. “I refused to believe it; not after all the changes she’d made, all the plans we’d made for her and my Caleb.”
Phoebe felt the jump of Abe’s pulse against her hand and snuck a look at him. He looked as visibly pained as she felt inside. Oh how she wished to shield him from hearing the rest of the story.
Mrs. Crane swallowed hard. “Then she showed up in the hospital with clothes bloodied, refusing to talk, and looking like she’d lost her mind. They said she willingly came without the child.”
Geraldine inhaled sharply, her free hand moving to her mouth. Bart looked as though he was about to be sick. Phoebe fought the nausea rolling in her stomach. Abe sat deathly still and Phoebe just couldn’t bring herself to look at him.
“They said she abandoned him somewhere after birth,” Mrs. Crane shook her head. “It’s a lie. She did want Caleb–”
“No she didn’t,” Bart finally spoke, his tone callous. He stared hard at Mrs. Crane, no sign of empathy in his angular features. “Your daughter didn’t want Eleazar. She never wanted him.”
“That’s not true!” Mrs. Crane protested. “You weren’t there, what do you know?”
“Your daughter played you,” Bart continued, face tightening with rage. “She knew you’d take her back if she agreed to sober up, but never had any intentions of keeping him.”
“Shut up!” Mrs. Crane shouted, her voice carrying in the room.
Phoebe glanced at the empty hallway for signs of an eavesdropping Eleazar or Darah. Or worse Clement, for he wouldn’t sit as quiet as Abe was.
“Mrs. Crane,” Abe spoke up. “I’m afraid I have to ask you to leave.”
The righteous indignation in his tone made Phoebe shiver.
Mrs. Crane’s eyes were wide as saucers. “But–”
“We’ve heard what you’ve had to say,” Abe continued. “As you said earlier, this is against protocol and you’re acting inappropriately by showing up here. I’ll have to report it to the agency if it continues.” He stood and Bart stood also.
Both Geraldine and Phoebe gaped at the two men who resembled stern bodyguards ready to escort the older woman out of their home.
Mrs. Crane stood stiffly, eyes glistening with tears. “You’re wrong. I did not abandon Caleb.”
“No one said you did,” Abe said in a placating tone although his expression was stern as Bart’s. “Yet the fact remains that your daughter did just that, and she lost her right and yours the day she gave him up.”
“He’s no longer your concern,” Bart added, his jaw clenched so tight Phoebe was sure it hurt.
Mrs. Crane flinched at his words. She turned pleading eyes to Phoebe.
“You should’ve really called first, Mrs. Crane,” Phoebe said gently, her heart hurting for everyone involved. “Eli shouldn’t be hearing this from a stranger, which is unfortunately what you are to him.”
Seeing she had no allies in the Teka clan, Mrs. Crane’s face hardened. “If I didn’t take drastic measures, you wouldn’t have let me see him.”
“Again,” Bart inserted. “Eleazar is no longer your concern.”
“That’s not for you to say. He’s my grandson.”
“Was,” Bart muttered. “He sat in a foster home for two years before our parents adopted him.”
“I-I didn’t know he was alive!”
“I’m sure you didn’t. Still doesn’t change the fact that he’s our brother and he’s staying here.”
Phoebe’s chest tightened when Mrs. Crane winced at Bart’s callous words. No telling how she would’ve reacted if Clement had been the one to deliver the blow.
Abe then stepped forward. “Mrs. Crane…”
The woman flinched and took a step back, visibly overcome.
He sighed. “If you’d like to communicate with any of us, please do so through the agency. Don’t show up unannounced like this again.”
“Goodnight, Mrs. Crane.”
The four adults heaved a collective sigh once Abe closed the front door behind Mrs. Crane. Phoebe lowered to her seat. Bart dragged a hand over his face. Geraldine sat in pensive silence.
“Unbelievable,” Bart muttered, perching on the couch beside Geraldine.
Abe stared over their heads at the stairwell, a frown forming. “How much did you hear?”
All of them whirled about to find a scowling Clement and a teary-eyed Darah. Clement had an arm around Darah. Eleazar was notably absent.
“More than enough,” Clement growled.
Bart breathed a curse when Darah dissolved into sobs.
“Oh dear…” Phoebe stood quickly and hurried to Darah’s side. The girl turned her face to Phoebe, the wails muffled against her shoulder.
Abe scowled. “Where’s Eleazar?”
“Pretending to sleep,” Clement grumbled. His eyes moved to both Bart and Geraldine. “I told you guys to soundproof the walls.”
Geraldine grimaced. Bart muttered another curse word and dragged a hand over his face.
“H-how can people be so-so horrible?” Darah railed against Phoebe’s shoulder.
Abe moved past Clement, taking the stairs two at a time.
“He locked the door, Abe,” Clement called after him. “Leave him alone for now.”
Phoebe shook her head when Abe didn’t listen and kept going. Clement grunted and followed him up.
Then Bart’s cellphone rang obnoxiously in the tense mood and he snatched it from his belt loop. “Hello?” he barked, entirely out of sorts. The scowl on his face morphed into alarm and his gaze slid to Geraldine. “Hold on.” He extended it to her. “It’s your mom.”
With a quizzical look, Geraldine accepted the phone and put it to her ear. “Mama, what’s wrong?” she asked in Spanish, her expression changing as her mother rattled in rapid speech. Her eyes widened and she looked to Bart. “They’re here!”
Darah’s sobs paused and Phoebe frowned, both looking to Geraldine. “Who’s here?”
“Your in-laws?” Bart’s frown deepened.
Geraldine nodded vigorously. “They’re at the airport.”
He scowled. “But they’re a week early!”
“But your engagement party!” Darah protested, glistening eyes wide with alarm.
Both Bart and Geraldine groaned. Abe and Clement trudged down to the living room without Eleazar. Abe frowned. “What’s going on?”
“Geri’s in-laws are here a week early,” Phoebe mumbled, watching displeasure shadow his features.
Clement whistled in disbelief. “And this day just went from bad to worse…”