“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.
“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