Posts tagged “family time

Sanctuary, Chapter 17

Posted on 13/07/2017

Karen shifted in her chair and hissed in pain. Her hands moved to her throbbing knees from landing on them when the man dropped her. Sitting in a car for more than five hours was taxing on her joints, and even though Ashon had graciously stopped at any rest area available, her body was screaming for relief.

“You okay, Missi?” With one glance at her, Ashon started to veer onto the shoulder of the road.

She held out a hand. “Keep going. We’ll be too late if you keep stopping.” Then she chuckled, glancing once at him. “Did you just shorten my nickname?”

One corner of his lips twitched upwards. “Missionary is too long. Are they broken?” he gestured to her knees.

“Or you could call me Karen, my real name. That’s short.” Touching her knees gingerly, she held back a grimace. “Nah, probably more bruised than anything else… I just need to soak them soon.”

“There’s nowhere to soak your knees.”

“I know that, just wishful thinking…” Karen heaved a sigh and turned her face to the vast expanse of land before them. The road was empty except Ashon’s sedan and the occasional truck that zoomed past them every thirty kilometers. “Are we at the border yet? This A2 highway is making me dizzy. How can people do road trips?”

Ashon chuckled, drumming his hands on the steering wheel. “Most don’t drive it all at once. They usually take their time, see the sights—”

“Excuse me, what sights?” Karen swept a hand over the bare scenery. She pouted when he laughed loud.

“Our east mountains are breathtaking,” Ashon said amid chuckles. “Take a picture before you miss it.”

“No phone, remember?”

“Ah yes…”

“And how would I miss it when we’ll be seeing it for the next ten hour—” Karen gasped and sat up. “Oh no, oh no!” she slapped hands to her cheeks; the face of sheer horror. “Oh noooo!!”

Alarmed, Ashon guided the car to the right shoulder. “What’s wrong? Are you hurt?”

“My passport, my stuff!” She groaned. “I lost it!”

Ashon was quiet, watching as Karen dissolved to sobs for the first time since he found her on the field. He’d expected that she was much braver and stronger than most since she didn’t cower in the face of her attacker. Yet, here she was weeping over a passport.

“H-how w-will I-I get home?!” she wailed, eyes filled with tears. How could she have been so stupid to carry all her things to that shady place? Because of her foolishness, everything she owned was gone.

“Missi, don’t cry.”

“How can I not cry?” Karen whined, big fat tears falling fast and free. “I’m alone in this foreign place, injured and unidentified. Can we even cross the border if I don’t have my passport—oh God, why?!” She choked on her sobs and pressed her forehead against the window, despondent and angry at the same time. “Why did I come here?! Why didn’t I just stay home and mind my own business?”

Ashon remained silent, his stare heavy on her.

“Let’s go back,” she said amid a hiccup. Dragging a hand over her face, Karen looked at him. “You were-hic-right, this is stupid. I can’t-hic-save anyone when I’m a-hic-hot mess myself.”

“Missi…”

“No, you were right. I can’t-hic-do this.” Her face twitched as another wave of despair swept over her. She would never go home now. “I have to go to the em-hic-bassy.”

“Missi.”

“I don’t even know what to tell them. Without-hic-proper ID, they’ll-hic-think I’m lying and-hic-put me in jail. I’ll get deported, but the U.S. will-hic-disown me and I’ll have nowhere—“

“Missi!!”

Karen flinched at his loud firm tone, and blinked at the man. “What?” she eked out in mid-hiccup. “Don’t you know you’re not-hic-supposed to yell when someone’s—“

“Your passport isn’t lost.”

She scowled. “How’re you gonna tell-hic-me when I definitely lost-hic-along with everything…” Karen bit her trembling bottom lip. It wasn’t like a Well to cry, and she usually prescribed to that saying until now. Everything, absolutely everything, except her checked-in luggage back in the airport was gone forever. And even the luggage wouldn’t be hers without proper ID. Karen groaned and covered her face, overcome with grief. This was, by far, the worst day of her life. Worse than that time she’d gotten dumped via a text.

“I said your passport isn’t lost.”

His firm conviction had her looking up. The look in Ashon’s stare had her trembling and she frowned. “What-hic-are you trying to say, Ashon?”

“I said your passport—”

“Yeah, what do you-hic-mean it isn’t lost?”

Ashon sighed. “Now you want to listen.” He held up a hand when she started to scowl. “There were two reasons I came back for you. Number one reason was I remembered that clinic had been abandoned for demolition a year ago. No one but government is allowed…” He paused when she squinted at him. “Okay, number two reason was because I found something in the backseat after you left the car.”

Karen drew in a sharp breath, and her pulse quickened as Ashon reached across the dashboard and popped open the compartment. A familiar leather pouch slid in view, perched on top the stack of papers. She caught it before it fell to the floor. “Oh…” she whispered reverently, turning the pouch in her hand.

“Is it yours?”

“I can’t believe…” she unzipped the pouch and peered it inside. Her breath caught and a lone tear fell. A sanitary pad, a roll of dollar bills, and a pack of unopened gum nested her American passport. “…this,” she whispered the rest of it and lifted her eyes to Ashon.

“So it’s yours?”

“It’s mine,” Karen said softly, looking back at the pouch she thought she’d never see again. Zipping it close, she held it against her bosom. “Oh thank you God!”

Ashon snorted, guiding the car back onto the road. “I found it, not your God.”

“He helped you find it,” Karen countered with a laugh. “And let me forget it here so you’d come back for me. My goodness, how did it slip out of my bag?!”

“Maybe when you made me take your money.”

“Yeah, maybe…” Karen nodded and then bit her bottom lip. “Is it too late to ask for it back?”

“Missionary!” Ashon said in mock disapproval and chuckled.

“I’m kidding,” Karen said while laughing. Then she released a sigh and sat back, relieved and grateful. “Man, you have no idea what a Godsend you are. Twice, you’ve saved my life. How can I thank you?”

He chuckled. “By not crying anymore. So what’s your plan when we get to Finch’awa?”

She nibbled her bottom lip. “I don’t actually have a plan. I just know I want to save the children.”

“And how do you plan on doing that, Missionary? Sure you can tackle one bad guy but an army of them?” Ashon shook his head. “I don’t think so.”

“I’ll wing it.”

“…wing it?”

Karen nodded. “Yeah, just like with the glass bottle.”

Ashon frowned. “But do you really know how to gut someone?”

“In general terms, maybe, but I wasn’t actually going to.” Karen shrugged. “Big guys like that are scared of dying painfully. They’d rather take a bullet to the head because it’s quicker than bleeding out. Anyway, I figured he’d croak before I really had to give it a shot.”

Incredulous, he blew out a breath and shook his head. “You’re one scary woman.”

“Only under life-threatening circumstances. How many more kilometers before we get to the border?”

Ashon’s lips twitched at the excitement in her voice now that she had her passport back. “Too many to track now. Why don’t you tell me about yourself, your family… anything to pass the time?”

Karen groaned but shifted in her seat to get more comfortable. “Where to start?”

“Anywhere. We’ve got a long way to go.”

Ashon chuckled when Karen whined in protest, and stepped on the accelerator to speed up their journey.

“Still nothing?” Clement asked over the speakerphone.

“No. She wasn’t in the afternoon or evening flights, Brother.” Ejigu answered. “I don’t think your lady friend even left Nairobi.”

He heaved a sigh. “That’s what troubles me.”

“She’s still not answering her calls?”

“It won’t even go through. Says the phone has been turned off.”

“Oh no.”

“Exactly.” Clement squeezed the steering wheel. He’d hoped for good news concerning Karen but this kind of silence wasn’t good for him. He had too many things to worry about. “And I have no information on the NGO she’s working with so can’t call them either.”

“Maybe she didn’t charge her phone. Don’t worry for nothing yet. You need to concentrate, Brother.”

His eyes scanned the mountains in front of him. “Nothing else to concentrate on, Brother.”

“Will you get there on time?”

Clement nodded, though Ejigu wouldn’t see it. “Hm. Just passed the 450-kilometer mark. Maybe get there by eight. Should give me time to freshen up before I meet Madame Deville.”

“Madame who?”

“Nevermind.” Clement drummed his fingers on the steering wheel.

“Dula is angry with you.”

“He’s always angry. What’s new?” Clement glanced at his rearview mirror and frowned. A dump truck had been tailing him for more than 100 kilometers.

“He says you’re reckless and inconsiderate. Oh, and childish for not answering his calls.”

“I can see that,” Clement switched to the next lane and watched as the truck zoomed past him. He released a breath and switched back to the faster lane, speeding up also. “What else did our big brother say?”

“He said your brother called.”

Clement stiffened in alarm. “Which one?”

“Eli or something… I didn’t get the full message because—”

“I’ll call you back,” Clement interjected and pulled the car onto the left shoulder. Without hesitation, he redialed Dula’s cellphone and waited, eyes on the road and the cars that zoomed past him. The delay was worth it if he got a chance to talk with Eleazar.

“How kind of you to finally call me back,” Dula answered sardonically.

“Yea, sorry about that. Did someone call for me?”

Dula snorted but answered anyway. “He said he’s your brother.”

“Youngest one. I’ve been trying to reach him for weeks now.”

“Well he called.”

Clement’s pulse skipped. “Did he leave a message? How did he sound?”

“How’s he supposed to sound?” Dula sighed. “He said he’ll call back later.”

“Did he leave a number?”

“Hm, no. I guess he figured you’ll call him.”

Clement worried his top lip between his teeth. “Okay. Yeah, that’s fine. I’ll call you back.”

“Are you—” The rest of Dula’s inquiry was cut off once the call disconnected.

Dialing out one of the few numbers he memorized, Clement eased back onto the road and waited for the ringing to stop and for Eleazar to answer. He gripped the steering wheel when it kept on ringing and he feared that he’d missed this rare opportunity to—

“Hello?” Eleazar’s hesitant voice filled the silence.

Clement almost slammed on the brakes, surprised and relieved. “Hey!”

“Junior?”

“Yea, hey!” He could barely contain the excitement nor the grin that brightened his face. “What’s up?”

Eleazar blew out a breath. “Thought you were Sally or something…”

“Sally, who’s that?”

“Nevermind. Are you driving?”

“Yeah, what’s up?” His smile softened, grateful that Eleazar sounded like his normal self. “Where you at?”

“Home.”

Clement arched a brow. “Home as in…?”

“I moved back home.”

He punched the air with his fist but contained himself to answer casually. “Oh yeah? When?”

“Father’s day.”

Clement grinned. “That’s… nice.” He had much to say but didn’t want to bombard his elusive sibling with too much all at once. “Everyone okay?”

“Yeah, they’re fine. I’m fine.”

“That’s good…”

Eleazar sighed. “Hey, I want to come stay with you. Abe said I should ask first. ”

Clement’s smile waned. Father’s Day was less than a month ago and he was already seeking an escape. “What’s going on, Eli? You just got home.”

“You can say no, if you want. It’s no big deal.”

His voice didn’t match the nonchalance in his words and Clement’s brow furrowed. “I’m not saying no…” his eyes made note of Finchawa exit sign. “It’s just a little crazy around here.”

“I won’t cause trouble, I swear. I’ll be useful. Whatever you need me to do, I’ll do it. C’mon Junior, please?”

Clement hesitated, wanting to understand the urgency in his brother’s tone but didn’t have the much needed time for it. “Why don’t we talk about this when I get back—”

“Whatever, it’s fine. Forget I asked.”

“What? Now wait a minute, I didn’t say no.”

Eleazar heaved a sigh. “Not yet. You want to think about a nice way to say it. I get it, I know I’m a burden.”

“Now where on earth did you get such…?” Clement paused and a scowl formed as realization hit. “Don’t tell me that’s why you moved out from home. Eli, I swear to God, I’ll whoop your a—backside if that’s why you’ve been avoiding us for months.”

When Eleazar didn’t answer, Clement gritted his teeth; his suspicions confirmed. “Yeah, you know what? Let’s talk later before I say something you and I will both regret.”

“Fine.”

Clement’s scowl darkened. “Stop acting like a self-entitled brat, Eleazar. A burden–what kind of stupid thought process is that?”

“I thought you said you didn’t want to say anything you’ll regret.”

“Eli!” Clement snapped. “You better be lucky I’m more than a thousand miles from home.”

“So that’s a no then? I can’t come stay with you?”

The uncertainty in Eleazar’s tone reminded Clement of his little brother at a very young age. He sighed deeply, his annoyance waning. “Later I said… We’ll talk later, okay?”

“Okay…”

“I love you, Eli. We all do. You’re not a burden, never have and never will. Hear me?”

“… I hear you.”

Clement shook his head, knowing his brother wouldn’t believe it and that grieved him. They’d given him everything, especially Abe and Phoebe who raised him as their first son. To think that Eleazar thought he was a burden would break Abe’s heart. It certainly broke his. “I’ll call you when I get back, okay?”

“Alright. Drive safely.”

“Will do. Take care, bro.” Clement waited until Eleazar disconnected the international call and then slammed a fist on the steering wheel. He felt helpless, not knowing how to help his family from clear across the world. He would give anything to be home to spend time with his younger brother, to assure him that he was well loved and show him how fortunate he was compared to abandoned children.

But he could understand Eleazar’s fear, especially since both of them had been abandoned by their mothers. Yes, he was three when his mother dropped him off at a police station saying she couldn’t handle him anymore while Eleazar was abandoned near a garbage can by his drugged-up mother. Clement knew early on that his mother resented him for blocking her future and didn’t hesitate leaving him behind.

She was still alive, the wicked woman, and had the audacity to have more children with her new husband. Even though she’d supposedly repented and sought him out through emotional letters when he was a teenager, he tore every single one. He didn’t care to know her; not about her whereabouts or her new family. He was a Teka now, and readily left his past behind.

Unfortunately, Eleazar didn’t and couldn’t have that closure since his mother died shortly after abandoning him. The sad part was Eleazar had no idea he wasn’t only one abandoned by his birth parents, and Clement vowed to make him see the truth once he returned to Bichena.

But for the next day and a half, he was Mr. Austin Legesse who had an auction to crash and a nefarious scheme to disrupt. Hitting the gas pedal hard, Clement guided his rented SUV toward the Fincha’wa exit.

“Relax,” Ashon mumbled as they inched closer to the border. Along the road were armed officers, their watchful eyes shielded behind dark sunshades, their faces stern and unfriendly.

Vehicles lined up, bumper to bumper. An open truck in front of Ashon’s cab contained restless cattle that protested the cramped space. Unfazed by the giant flies that flew around them, the soldiers strolled casually alongside and inspected each vehicle.

“Don’t worry,” he reassured his restless passenger. “We won’t have any problems.”

Karen watched a soldier peek into one of the other covered trucks. “How were they able to pass a truck full of children across the border?”

“They probably took a backroad. There’s one that cuts through a hill in Marsabit…” he paused as one of the soldiers paused in front of their car. “Stay calm.”

“I can’t,” Karen hissed, clutching the pouch that held her passport. Fear gripped her throat as one soldier rounded the back of their trunk, and she wished for the second time that day to be back in the comfort of her apartment in the United States. “Who sent me here…” she mumbled under her breath.

Ashon chuckled low, not the least bit fazed that soldiers were inspecting his cab.

She frowned. “I really don’t see what’s funny here, Ashon.’

He lifted one shoulder. “For someone who claims to trust God, you are a scared kitten.”

The conviction slammed her like a punch in the gut and she gaped at him, gutted.

Ashon glanced once at her, then smirked unrepentantly. “We are not criminals, so there is nothing to fear.”

A tap on the window pulled his attention from her and he rolled down to address the soldier. Answering in a language she didn’t understand, Ashon reached across her to open the glove compartment. Pulling out his passport, he held out a hand for hers.

Karen swallowed the lump lodged in her throat and quietly surrendered her passport to him. Giving her a gentle smile, Ashon handed both passports over to the soldier who studied them quickly.

And true to his word, Ashon received both back without any trouble. Soon they were on their way across the border toward Fincha’wa.

Karen settled in her seat, quietly mulling over Ashon’s keen assessment of her.

<<Chapter 16 || Chapter 18>>

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A Father’s Joy

Posted on 19/06/2017

“Daddy I love you,” six-year-old Karla mewed against her father’s cheek.

Abraham Teka cupped the back of his daughter’s head, his long fingers stirring the newly-plaited hair complete with ribbons. “I love you too, Ladybug…” He placed a kiss on her temple.

Karla’s fingers loosened around his neck, cueing her father to be set back on her feet. He obliged her and watched with a fond expression as his only daughter rounded the table to where her brothers watched a movie in the living room.

“Happy Father’s day, Baby.”

He looked up to the woman before him and with a smile, opened his arms to receive her also. “I’m a father because of you,” Abe said against her warm cheek. The moment she sighed against him, emotion came over him. Tears welled in his eyes as he held his bride of thirteen years.

The first few years of their marriage were tough, especially after several miscarriages and a pregnancy scare with their first child Isaac. But his strong and courageous wife had never given up; her desire for children stronger than his own at some point. He’d hated the pain wrought in her eyes and the fatigue that dimmed her smile for years. He’d wanted them to give up, content to love only her for the rest of his life. Adoption, although it had been the reason he was a Teka man, wasn’t something he wanted for them. But Phoebe, his beautiful bride, wouldn’t give up on their dream to expand the Teka name.

Isaac’s arrival was a joy, one he didn’t think he would ever feel. Then Jacob… and then Karla.

His grip around Phoebe’s waist tightened. She’d gotten a bit rounder over the years, no longer the wispy and slender woman who’d captured his attention the moment she walked up to his porch fourteen years ago. But by God, she still took his breath away.

He drew back, his gaze feasting on her beautiful features. “I love you,” he croaked out.

Her gaze was tender and she lifted a hand to cup his cheek. “I love you more.” And without prompting, she leaned in to plant a kiss on his lips. And another. And another.

Abe lifted a hand to the nape of her neck, slanted his head and deepened the kiss. It was one of gratitude, love strengthened over the years, and a promise of more years to come. Phoebe was a gift he didn’t think he needed or deserved, and for that he was grateful to God for her.

A clearing of throat interrupted them. Phoebe pulled back, eyes moving once over her husband’s features before glancing over her shoulder to where an amused Geri and Bart stood in the doorway.

“Sorry to interrupt the love fest,” Bartimeus Teka said, one arm slung over Geri’s shoulder.

Phoebe grinned. “Happy Father’s day, Bart.”

Bart winked. “Thanks.” His eyes moved over to Abe at her shoulder. “Happy Father’s day, Bro.”

“Happy Father’s day, Abe,” Geri echoed with a bright smile filled with admiration.

“Thanks Geri,” Abe smiled in reply and then shifted his gaze to Bart. “Same to you, Bro.” His eyes lowered to the package in Geri’s hands. “What’s that?”

“Cake. Your favorite too, Louisiana Crunch.”

Phoebe groaned and Bart’s eyes twinkled. “We know cake’s usually off limits, but it’s a special day. Not everyone can be a father.”

“Yeah yeah…” Phoebe sighed and then looked over her husband. “Fine, you can have one special slice.”

“Just one?” Abe and Bart replied simultaneously. Even their hopeful, boyish expressions were similar.

Geri and Phoebe laughed in unison, then Phoebe gave her husband a stern expression. “Three tiny slices. And that’s it.”

“Might as well have one huge slice and be done with it, Bro.” Bart followed Geri to the counter, looking over her shoulder as she opened the top lid and began cutting the cake.

“Boy, if you don’t stop hovering…” Geri nudged Bart’s side with her elbow.

“I’m just making sure you’re cutting them properly,” Bart countered, winking at Phoebe who shook her head in mirth. “Make that one a bit bigger.”

“Impossible,” Geri muttered. “You’re lucky it’s your day or you’ll be getting nothing.”

“Thanks babe,” Bart said, placing a kiss against the nape of her neck.

Abe and Phoebe shared a warm smile. Then the three watched in companionable silence as Geri expertly sectioned the cake in generous slices. Phoebe leaned back against Abe’s chest and smiled when he circled her waist with one arm.

Placing two equally-sized cake slices on saucers, Geri handed one to her husband and the other to Abe. Then she sighed softly. “It feels weird this year. Three are missing…”

Phoebe snuck a peek at Abe’s pensive expression and managed a smile. “I’m sure Darah’ll call once she settles in. It’s her honeymoon, after all.”

“Junior’s probably busy. It’s also two in the morning right now.” Geri pinched a corner of Bart’s cake and tossed it into her mouth.

Bart’s exasperated expression made the two women laugh. He shook his head as he looked over at his elder brother. “Don’t know why they can’t just get their own cake…”

“Oppressors,” Abe muttered, earning a glare from both women.

Just then, the house phone rang. Phoebe shook her head and moved around her husband to catch the phone on its third ring. “Hello, Teka’s resid—Junior!” she grinned in welcome. Her gaze swung to Abe and she nodded. “Sure, he’s here. Hold on.”

Abe moved to the phone, accepting it from Phoebe and held it to his ear. “Hey Junior.”

“Happy Father’s day, Big Bro.” There was static, evident of the international call.

“Thank you.” Abe leaned against the counter, watching Phoebe steal the rest of his cake.

“I know I don’t say it often, but thank you for choosing to stay and raise us.”

Abe swallowed the lump in his throat. The words from Clement, his second brother, brought back memories of the first few days after their parents’ tragic accident fourteen years ago. He’d left his home in Chicago immediately following the worst day of his life, and made the decision to become guardian of his three youngest siblings, Clement, Darah and Eleazar.

“It couldn’t have been an easy decision for you to make. At thirty now, I can see how scary that would’ve been, becoming a father of three kids… Four, if you count Bart.”

Abe’s lips twitched a wry smile, his eyes moving to Bart who now held up his plate from Geri’s reach.

“But you didn’t hesitate one bit even when it got tough dealing with my surly attitude, Darah’s bratty behind and… Eli.” Clement sighed heavily. “And thank God Phoebe came into your life at the right time.”

“Thank God,” Abe said, his loving gaze settling on Phoebe who watched with amusement as Geri and Bart bickered over Bart’s second slice of cake.

“With Mom and Dad leaving the way they did, life could’ve been really hell… but you stepped up in a big way. I know they’ll be very proud of you.”

Tears welled up once more and Abe swallowed at the lump lodged in his throat.

“And I’m proud of you, Abe. You’re a great man and a great father.”

Abe couldn’t find the words. At his silence, Phoebe glanced over at him and raised a brow at the tears forming in his eyes. The bickering couple paused and glanced over also.

“I love you, Brother. Happy Father’s Day.”

Tears slid down his face and Abe held a fist to his mouth.

Clement chuckled. “Wish I could see your face, no doubt you’re tearing up over there.”

Abe grunted a reply, swiping at a tear that slid down his face.

“Eli called you yet?”

His chest tightened at the question and Abe heaved a wavering sigh.

Clement heaved a sigh also. “That boy.”

“It’s okay,” Abe finally spoke up, his voice barely a croak. He then drew in a breath and released it. “Thank you, Junior. You all made it easier than I thought it’d be.”

“Doubt it,” Clement countered, a smile evident in his voice. “But that’s exactly what fathers say.”

Abe could only smile, meeting his wife’s curious expression.

“Where’s Bart?”

“Here… but how are you? Everything okay?”

“Sure, all is well,” Clement replied, as vague as always. “Let me talk to Bart for a bit.”

“Okay. Thanks for calling. I love you.” Ever since their parents died fourteen years ago, the Teka siblings did not hesitate saying those three revered words to each other. Life was far too short to reserve those words, and so they used it liberally.

“Love you too, Bro.”

Abe shifted his gaze to Bart who was already stepping around the women to collect the phone. Then he exhaled a shaky breath and moved to Phoebe’s side.

She immediately wrapped her arms around him and kissed his cheek. “Want another slice?”

“Of course,” Abe answered easily, winking at Geri who was already placing another on his dish.

As Bart laughed over something Clement said, Abe and the women moved to the living room where their children sat together with Geri’s mother. The older ones argued over a card game while the younger ones watched the cartoon movie on the screen. Joselyn, first daughter of Geri and Bart, seemed to be winning a debate over Abe and Phoebe’s two sons Isaac and Jacob. The youngest of the Teka kids; Karla and her cousin Augustus, danced in front of the television screen to one of the musical scores. The twins of Geri and Bart, Fallon and Tomas, complained openly and commanded them to move out of the way while their grandmother watched in quiet amusement.

The doorbell rang then, and Abe’s stomach flipped over as Phoebe left his side to answer the door. His brows lifted as a heavily-pregnant Darah and J.R. entered the house. Half of the kids turned and squealed in excitement. Karla, Augustus and the twins abandoned the movie to greet their aunt and uncle.

Geri and Abe met them at the landing. “You cut your honeymoon to Dubai short? What gives?” Geri asked, giving Darah a hug once the kids returned back to the living room.

Abe’s gaze darted to Darah’s stomach before lifting to her face. “Are you okay?”

Her smile melted his fears. “It’s Father’s day and I’ve got four men I have to thank.” She moved around her nephews and nieces to give Abe a tight embrace. “Happy Father’s day, Abe.”

Abe held his only sister as gently as he could. “Thank you.”

She kissed his cheek and leaned back, warmth and admiration in her eyes. “You’ll never know how thankful I am for you. Especially how you handled my stubborn self for all these years. I’m the woman I am today because of you.”

“Thank you for that, by the way,” her husband J.R. bantered, earning him a dig in his side. He smiled on. “Happy Father’s day, Abe.”

Abe nodded, overcome with emotion. His heart was beyond full already.

Darah smiled over his shoulder. “I hear Bart with that annoying laugh. Let me go surprise him.” She ducked around Abe’s arm and waddled toward the kitchen. “Hey big head!”

Phoebe slung an arm around J.R.’s shoulder. “Tell the truth. Why are you guys back so quickly?”

“Like seriously…” Geri muttered, parking her hands at her hips. “Who cuts short a trip to Dubai?”

J.R.’s smile didn’t dim. “It’s true. She wanted to spend Father’s day at home with family… Couldn’t deny her.” Then his lips twitched. “Besides, it was too hot.”

He and Abe chuckled when the women scoffed in unison.

“You should’ve gone to Hawaii like I said,” Geri said, shaking her head.

“There’ll be other chances to go,” J.R. promised, eyes moving to the open doorway where he could hear his wife chatting with her brothers, Bart and Clement on the phone.

“Yeah right,” Geri countered. “Once that firecracker comes, vacations will be few and far between.”

“Don’t scare him,” Phoebe said. “Fatherhood is a great adventure. Right babe?” she gave Abe a pointed look.

Abe nodded without hesitation, his smile widening. “Wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

J.R. smiled in return. “Well I certainly can’t wait.”

“You been by your father’s yet?”

“Spent the night there. Darah insisted.”

Abe nodded and Phoebe smiled in silent approval.

“Atta girl,” Geri said. “Already performing her daughter-in-law duties.”

“What about Eli?” J.R. asked, a furrow appearing in his brow.

Phoebe spied Abe’s shoulders dip a little and sighed in unison with Geri.

J.R.’s frown deepened. “Maybe we should—“

“It’s okay,” Abe said gently. “He’ll come when he’s ready.”

Phoebe and Geri exchanged worried glances and J.R. didn’t look as convinced. Eleazar’s pointed absence and silence was troubling. He avoided talking with Abraham after Darah’s wedding ceremony and slipped out of the house before his brothers could get a chance to talk with him. Before Clement left for Ethiopia, they’d attempted to corner him at his grandmother’s house but he didn’t show.

Though not articulated, they were all concerned for the youngest member of the Teka family. For Abe the patriarch, the burden was visibly taxing. His hypertension was barely under control, and no strict vigilance could ease the hurt in his heart for his youngest brother.

Phoebe gave him a smile that showed her love for him. Even if Eleazar was misbehaving, she prayed her love and that of those present would fill the void.

The doorbell rang suddenly and everyone stiffened visibly.

J.R. recovered first and moved to answer the door. Phoebe and Abe turned as he opened the door, and Geri gasped loudly. “Eli.”

A morose young man stood in the doorway, his dark eyes moving past J.R. to his oldest brother.

Abe didn’t hesitate, moving past his wife and sister-in-law. He didn’t wait for J.R. to step aside or for Eleazar to say a word. He grabbed the young man’s shoulders and caught him a tight embrace.

A second passed before Eleazar slowly lifted a hand to rest on Abe’s shoulders. The touch, though hesitant and light, invoked the tears at bay. Abe closed his eyes and tightened his grip around Eleazar’s slender frame. His brother was home. Warmth surged through him, filling that Eleazar-shaped hole in his heart.

Eleazar’s hold around Abe tightened also. A weepy Phoebe held a hand over her mouth and teary-eyed Geri draped an arm around her sister-in-law, content to watch the brothers embrace.

Darah and Bart stepped out of the kitchen then, and Darah paused in mid-laugh. Bart’s eyes widened in surprise at the young man in Abe’s arms. “Eli!”

The Teka children turned at the sound of their youngest uncle and all, including the older children, abandoned all to join their parents in the landing.

“Uncle Eli!” the children rushed forward.

Abe reluctantly released his brother to the kids that greeted him with warmth and unabashed welcome. He watched them with content, eyes focused on his youngest brother’s face. His features were a bit gaunt and Abe recalled how small Eleazar felt in his arms. But he tucked that disconcerting thought away for later. For now, his heart was full. Everyone, except Clement, was home.

And this was the best Father’s day by far.

“Son, brother, father, lover, friend. There is room in the heart for all the affections, as there is room in heaven for all the stars.” – Victor Hugo
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