Posts tagged “family time

Chasing Truth: Chapter 26

Posted on 13/12/2019

Gage’s gaze flicked over Tyler’s head when Blake and Mari walked closer. Tyler spun around. His glare softened and he left the porch to join her, ignoring Blake and Gage both. He came straight to her, his hands cupping her cheeks as he pressed his forehead to hers.

“How are you holding up?” he asked gently.

Her eyes closed against her will. He had an agenda. His focus was Blake. Except right now it wasn’t. Right now, it was her and in that moment she found it hard to keep reminding herself he was using her.

“Not bad,” she answered just as softly. “It went better than I thought it would.”

“That’s good, sweetheart. Really good.”

She opened her eyes to look into his. 

“I didn’t know you were coming,” she murmured for his ears alone.

“I wasn’t sure how you’d feel after you spent some time with him. I wanted to be here in case you needed me,” he returned.

She wanted to believe that and a part of her did. The other part whispered he was only playing the role he’d chosen before he ever met her. He lifted his head to press a kiss to her forehead before his hands dropped from her face. A second later he caught one of her hands in his.

“You want to introduce me to your father?”

In all honesty, Mari’s answer to the question would have been no, but it wasn’t a true question. Squeezing Tyler’s hand, she turned to Blake. 

“Blake, this is my boyfriend, Tyler. Tyler…this is my father, Blake.”

The warm man she’d started getting to know over the course of the morning had disappeared. In his place was a cool distant one. Tyler offered his hand with a faint smile.

“It’s good we’re getting to meet you.”

Blake took the offered hand and shook it briefly before letting go. 

“Tyler,” he returned noncommittally.

Mari bit the inside of her cheek and looked at the ground as awkward silence fell.

“Gage? Let everyone in, why don’t you?” Allison suggested from inside the house. “We can be civilized and have lunch.”

Gage snorted, but he stepped out of the doorway and back into the house. Blake followed him inside, leaving Mari and Tyler alone for a moment.

“Well. That went great,” Mari muttered.

“Most dads don’t like their daughter’s boyfriend,” Tyler said without a hint of discomfort. “Hey, it’s going to be fine. Let’s have lunch and get to know him.”

“I’m not so sure about him and Raoul sitting down together either,” Mari admitted in a mumble while she shuffled obediently behind him. 

Tyler didn’t let go of her hand as they went in. Everyone had found a seat around the table, including the man from earlier that morning, Reese. Tyler pulled out her chair for her before claiming the one beside her. 

There was more silence as Allison and Raoul brought salad and fish to the table. 

“I don’t think we were introduced,” Tyler said to Reese as he reached over the table to offer his hand. “I’m Tyler, Mari’s boyfriend.”

“Reese,” he said simply with a short handshake before his attention returned to the food at the center of the table. 

“Are you her brother?”

Mari bobbledd the salad bowl, dropping it back down on the table. Her eyes shot to Reese and bounced to Blake. She hadn’t even considered that. 

“No, I’m not Mari’s brother.” 

The calm matter of fact way he said it left no doubt in Mari’s mind he was telling the truth. She relaxed and picked up the bowl to add salad to her plate. 

“Sorry, Sweetheart,” Tyler said with a smile at her. “I didn’t mean to catch anyone off guard, but can you blame a man for being curious?” He looked back at Reese. “You and Blake must be pretty close for you to come with him to meet his daughter for the first time.”

“We are,” was Reese’s simple answer.

Neither he or Blake elaborated.

“I didn’t mean any offense, just trying to understand everything that’s happening here,” Tyler assured as he prepared his own plate. “This is a lot for Mari and I might think of some things that she doesn’t.” He shrugged his shoulder and accepted the bowl from Mari. 

Reese’s focus slid to her then. “Somehow I think Mari has it under control.”

A smile tugged at her lips and she ducked her head to hide it.

“Mari manages to get a lot of things under control,” Gage echoed and there was enough of a smile in his voice that Mari’s head jerked back up.

She stabbed her fork in his direction. “Whatever it is you’re thinking of saying, don’t you dare.”

“What’s a reunion without some stories? You didn’t tell Blake about the time you and Jules staged your mutiny?”

“I was only eleven! And I never said I started it!”

Raoul was all too happy to pick up the tale. “Mari was grounded, you see,” he told Blake after he swallowed a bite of fish. “No playtime with the girls, no guide trips. School and home. Looking back, I’m not sure if her punishments were worse for me or for her,” he murmured with a smile. 

“I had a tour late one afternoon so she stayed after school until I could come pick her up. There was a little clubhouse some of us had built for the kids. By the time I got to the school to get Mari, the three musketeers had about six of their classmates and they were all barricaded inside.”

“What?” Blake asked laughing and forking more salad. 

“We called for them to come out. They had something pushed up against the door. What was it?” Raoul asked looking at Mari.

“It may or may not have been an old log,” Mari muttered to her plate. “We all sat on it and leaned on the door.”

Reese choked on his food, unable to hold in his laugh.

“Oh, it gets better,” Gage promised.

 “They’d all brought snacks and water bottles. They were prepared to wait us out, you understand. Because they weren’t coming out until I agreed to take Mari off punishment and let her go to the dance that Friday.”

Blake threw his head back as laughter shook his body. 

“It was the last dance of the year!” Mari exclaimed in her defense.

Her words only drew more laughter from the table. 

“What happened?” Reese prompted Raoul.

“Oh, they were serious. Other parents started arriving to pick up their kids and they were still inside.”

“I can still hear Yuri now. ‘Raoul, that girl of yours is a bad influence. Get her under control’,” Mari mimicked with a laugh.

“Eventually I had to give in. I told them if they came out I’d see about letting Mari go to the dance. Of course that wasn’t good enough. The little rascal yelled through the door I had to promise I’d let her go before anybody came out.”

“So did you get to go to the dance?” Tyler asked her.

“Yes,” Mari grinned. “But guess who was a chaperone?”

The entire table burst into laughter. Even Reese chuckled. Tyler rested his arm on the back of her chair and leaned in.

“Wow, I always knew you were a tough one, but you’re a little manipulator too?” He teased.

“Hey! You’re supposed to be on my side.”

“Ellie could sell a shell to a crab,” Gage said fondly. 

“Did she tell you about the festival?” Allison asked as she poured a glass of water.

Blake glanced at Mari. “No, she didn’t.”

“We had other things to talk about,” Mari mumbled.

Allison launched right in over Mari’s words. “We have a festival here each year that’s a celebration of all the unique talents here on the island.”

“I heard of it,” Tyler said. “It’s a pretty big deal around here. Different arts, food, music, you name it.” 

“She started it when she was 16,” Allison said proudly.

Tyler’s head whipped around. “What? You?”

“We were bored.” She shrugged and took a drink. “I said something to one of our teachers about how there was never much for us to do and she told me if I was that bored I should plan something myself. She definitely didn’t think I would or that it would turn into what it did. It was mostly meant to shut me up.”

“Though why she thought she’d ever accomplish that, the world will never know,” Allison teased.

Mari smiled back at her. “Clearly it was a lost cause. Keon and his friends had a decent band back then. Joe could be talked into providing food in exchange for our labor on a busy night. A lot of people around here have talent they like to show when they have a chance. The first year it was really nothing more than a high school hangout night. Janey let us use her patio seating and we set some stuff up on the beach too.”

She cut up her fish with a smile. “We started doing it every few months or so, but then Mateo asked if his son could come play. Then Cheyenne insisted she wasn’t too old to come out and sing. More people started saying they wanted to come do something. So we just picked a day and said that’s when everyone could come. That next year somebody reminded us we’d done it and asked if we were going to do it again. So we did. Every year it just kept getting bigger.”

“She still plans it,” Raoul added. “Even when she was away in school, she got the logistics down for it.”

“It’s always a good time and these days pretty much the whole island comes out so it’s a good opportunity to spend time with everyone.”

“Modest,” Reese noted with a smile. “If that’s what you could do as a bored teen, I’m worried about what you can manage as a grown woman.”

“Ahh, see what you started Gage? You’re going to scare them off.”

“Come on now, there were plenty of other stories we could have told. I could have told Keon’s favorite story.”

“Okay! Okay!” Mari laughed and shook her head as she stuffed her mouth with her last bit of food.

“Well now I have to know who Keon is and his favorite story,” Blake said as if it were law.

“Gage, you are a menace,” Mari groaned.

“Keon Greco,” Raoul filled him in. “Mari’s honorary older brother. Mari was always convinced there wasn’t anything she couldn’t do. One of the island boys was teasing the girls, saying none of them could swim to the sandbar.”

“Oh boy,” Blake murmured with a knowing smile. 

“Exactly. So ten-year-old Mari gets it in her head that she’s the girl that’s going to make him eat his words. She gets, oh I don’t know, about maybe halfway out by the time somebody comes to get me. By the time I get down to the beach, Keon’s got an arm around her and is bringing her back to shore.”

It was amusing now, but at the time Raoul had been filled with fear. 

“I just got a little tired,” she said defensively. “I was catching my breath. Nobody told Keon to come play lifeguard.”

Blake’s laugh shook his body. “Just a little tired?”

“That’s what I said.” She couldn’t fight her smile though. “And if you meet Keon he will tell you that story at least five times. It’s his claim to fame around here.”

“I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear I had to go down to the school a couple of days later because she and the same boy got into it,” Raoul finished off.

“Not surprised at all.” Blake’s gaze was warm on her. “Fierce about your pride?”

“No,” she denied at the same time Raoul, Gage, and Allison all agreed.

More laughter spread around the table. 

“She kept an old man young. I never knew what each day would bring, but I knew she’d manage to make me laugh somehow.”

“We certainly had our hands full with her,” Allison agreed affectionately. “Even by the time I came around, she was still a little firecracker. Never a dull moment.”

“I appreciate the two of you gave her an environment where she felt safe to be that way,” Blake said. There were still traces of amusement on his face, but his eyes were serious as he spoke to Raoul and Allison. 

Mari’s breath caught. She couldn’t deny she’d been worried about how Blake and Raoul would get along. To hear Blake thank him…something in her melted. The silence that fell around the table this time was a comfortable one. 

“I heard you do a lot of the tours here on the island,” Reese said to Mari a few moments later.

Her face lit up. “Yeah, it keeps me active and busy. I’ve been doing it since I was young. This place is gorgeous and there’s nothing like getting paid to show it off. The boss isn’t too bad either,” she said with a grin at Raoul.

“Maybe you could take Blake and I out tomorrow and show us around?”

“I’d like that,” Blake chimed in. “A chance to see you doing what you enjoy.”

She beamed at them. “That would be fun. Let’s do it.”

Blake’s expression softened as he watched her. “Good. Now let’s hear some more stories.”

<< Chapter 25 Chapter 27>>

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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