“When will you start the training? Phoebe asked Abe from across the dining table as she kneaded whole wheat dough.
Since the incident with Eleazar, she found herself showing up to the house on a frequent basis. In fact, she rarely spent her evenings at her lonely apartment, retreating to the Teka home after school for weeks now.
Clement didn’t seem bothered by her constant presence and she was grateful for his silent acceptance. Darah and Eleazar were ecstatic about her being around every evening, while Bart teased her about taking her job as Clement’s guidance counselor a bit too seriously. She hadn’t yet told him it wasn’t her job that kept her coming back to their home.
“Next week.” Abe sighed, looking up from the papers strewn all over the craftsman dining table. He wore a perturbed expression that creased his brow and made her want to reach over and smoothen it.
Warmth infused her cheeks and she averted her gaze, squeezing the dough. “You ready?”
“Hope so.” He flipped a page. “Don’t know what I would’ve done if you hadn’t been here.”
She bit back a smile. “You would’ve been just fine, Abe.”
Abe grunted. “Didn’t understand half the words in this packet until you showed up.”
Before Phoebe could point out that all she did was look it up in the website glossary, Eleazar and Darah emerged from the living room.
“Can we eat the cookies now?” Eleazar asked with impatience in his voice.
“Homework all done?” Abe asked casually, sifting through the papers.
“Yup, we’re done.” Darah palmed a hand over Eleazar’s unruly curls as Phoebe did whenever the boy was irritable, and as sure enough, his shoulders loosened and he leaned into Darah. “Can we help, Phoebe?” Darah asked, moving her hand to rest on Eleazar’s shoulder.
Phoebe smiled at them both, loving the maternal way Darah cared for her little brother. In fact she loved the dynamics of the Teka family; each caring for each other in their own special way. She was sure their late parents would’ve been proud of the family they’d reared.
She nodded, setting the bowl aside. “Wash your hands first, and then Eli can help you cut the shapes. I’ll start on the lasagna.”
“Ooh yummy!” Darah and Eleazar chorused, making their way to the kitchen sink.
She grinned and lifted her eyes to see Abe staring at her. Again. Her cheeks tinged with warmth but she didn’t look away this time. “What?”
“You don’t have to do that… we still have the leftovers from what you made yesterday.”
Phoebe nodded. “I know I don’t have to, Abe. But I want to.” More often than not, she felt shy under his intense gaze, and wished to know what he was thinking. She wondered if it was what she was thinking.
“Hey Phoebe, should I preset the oven?”
Abe looked past her shoulder to his youngest siblings and frowned. “Eli, come stand by the table. Let Darah and Phoebe work on the oven, okay?”
Eleazar pouted but obediently trudged over to Phoebe’s chair.
Abe watched Phoebe palm a hand over Eleazar’s curls, watched his youngest brother soften against him and wondered what it would like to feel the touch of her hand on him.
His eyes widened at the thought and he looked away when her eyes drifted back to his. He cleared his throat and refocused his attention on the important documents.
Walking up the steps, Bart smiled appreciatively at the smell of lasagna drifting from the front door. Nothing beat the smell of homemade meals to welcome a tired man to his home. He reached for his keys when he heard a door slam behind him.
“She’s here again?” Geraldine groused, her clunky work boots thumping up the driveway.
He turned, only slightly amused by her grumpiness when it wasn’t directed at him. “What’s got your panties in a bunch this time?”
She slanted him a glare on her way up the steps, her tools belt swinging low on her generous hips.
He wondered what she would look like in a dress and scowled at the thought. This surly tomboy wouldn’t be caught in anything but her dusty overalls and old flannel shirt that she barely swapped out except for a slightly-newer one every other day. Besides, it wasn’t his business what she wore. She was annoying and he didn’t like her coming over, grating his nerves with her prickly nature.
He caught a whiff of old leather and something flowery as she breezed past him to the door. Her chestnut-mahogany hair was pulled up in a careless bun, wisps of hair curled about her slender nape. Was her skin as silky as her hair looked? Was that freesia or lavender–
“You gonna open the door or not, Bartimeus?”
Bart scowled darkly. “Don’t call me that.” He nudged past her and inserted the key, pushing the door open.
“Okay, Bartimeus. I won’t call you Bartimeus.” She tilted her chin up and sauntered past him into the house.
He clenched his jaw at her and stepped inside after her. “Immature.”
“Welcome home, you two!” Phoebe greeted them from the dining table. “C’mon in. We’ve saved you both a plate.”
“It’s yummy!” Eleazar piped in.
Geraldine’s scowl didn’t ease up and Bart smirked, knowing the reason for it.
“And who’s the grumpypants now?” Bart didn’t wait for her answer and breezed past her toward the kitchen. “Smells great, Phoebe. Your cooking’s the best.”
Geraldine had no choice but to follow, dragging her feet.
“Not like Mommy’s,” Darah protested, then gave Phoebe an adoring smile. “But good too.”
Phoebe winked graciously. “I’ll take it.”
Bart watched Geraldine from the corner of his eye when she stalled at the table where Phoebe took the seat beside Abe. He hid a smirk and gestured to the chair beside him. “Seat’s empty here,” he said, earning a glare from her. “Or you can stand up to eat. Your choice.”
“Don’t be rude, Bart.” Darah turned to Geraldine. “Please stay for dinner this time, Geri.”
Phoebe smiled up at Geraldine, unaware of the conflict she was causing with her constant presence in the Teka home. “We’d love to have you for dinner. Please join us.”
Bart held back a smile while Geraldine looked like she was going to be sick.
After dinner, Abe saw Phoebe to her car and stalled to discuss his upcoming training. Geraldine stayed behind to help them clean up. Phoebe offered to stay longer but Abe insisted that she go home since she had work in the morning.
While Clement and Eleazar went upstairs to get ready for bed, Bart stayed with the ladies in the kitchen, browsing the house listings for research. He kept glancing at the two standing at the sink, Geraldine uncharacteristically quiet as she helped Darah wash the dishes.
Darah took notice of her silence and nudged her. “Wanna hear something awesome?”
Geraldine looked down, a wary look on her face. “What?”
Bart paused in his browsing, curious himself.
“I’m 99.9% sure Abe and Phoebe like each other.” Darah grinned.
“… and the 0.1 percent?” Geraldine eked out.
Bart’s brow furrowed at the strain in her voice. Was she really about to be sick?
Darah shrugged, accepting the dish Geraldine held out. “Just in case I’m wrong.”
Geraldine nodded, giving Darah a wan smile. “That’s nice…”
“Isn’t it? What if Phoebe becomes my sister-in-law? Wouldn’t that be awesome?”
Bart couldn’t look away from Geraldine, noting her shoulders were taut. Most likely her pretty face was too. He blinked, realizing his thoughts and shook out of it. It wasn’t his business if Geraldine liked his brother, none of his at all.
“You’ll be just fine,” Phoebe said for the umpteenth time. “And if you ask me again, I’ll clunk you over your head, Abraham.” She laughed at his shocked silence. “I’m kidding.”
“That’s the second time you’ve threatened to clunk me over the head,” he said, mirth in his deep voice.
Phoebe shrugged. “Because I know you’ll be fine. The training and the interview later on will go well. You and your family will be together for a long time, Abe. Trust me.”
She smiled up at him. “No problem.”
“Seriously, thank you for everything.” His eyes swept her face. “You being here, it’s brought a sort of happiness and peace to the family that I didn’t think would be possible again. I am forever grateful.”
Warmth flooded her face and she was grateful for both her darker complexion and the darkness, for he would probably see just what his words did to her. She could never mask her feelings quite well, especially the ones growing for him.
She blinked up at him, face on fire. “Sorry, I missed what you said.”
He shook his head. “Just said I owe you dinner sometime.”
Phoebe paused. “Huh?”
Dragging a hand over his cropped curls, he laughed in exasperation. “I’m not saying this right. I meant that I would like to take you out for dinner sometime.”
Her throat was closing up, she could feel it. “W-why?”
Abe took a step back. “Uh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to offend you. We don’t have to, it’s okay.”
Phoebe grabbed his wrist to stop him. “No wait, I meant why do you want to take me to dinner? Because you owe me for helping or because you want to?” She felt his pulse jump between her fingers or was that hers?
Then Abe put his other hand over hers. “Both.”
She didn’t know whether to rejoice or feel some kind of disappointment. What if his gratitude trumped what she hoped was interest in her as a woman?
“Mostly the latter.”
Her breath caught in her throat and Phoebe suddenly wished the streetlight was brighter so she could see his face better. “Really?” she croaked out.
Abe squeezed her hand gently. “Really.”
Phoebe smiled like a fool. So he possibly liked her as she did him?
Her smile only deepened, for she’d already made her mind about him weeks ago. “Yeah.”