Posts tagged “epilogue

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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Lighthouse, Chapter 27 (Final)

Posted on 02/09/2016

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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