“Now boarding business class and club members onto Flight 3485 to Abu Dhabi,” the flight hostess spoke over the noise in the terminal. Karen crosschecked her ticket although she knew very well she hadn’t the funds for a club pass. Still, she was still thrumming on anxious energy to remain seated. So she stood, grabbed her carry-on backpack and slung it over her back.
Moving her way to the back of the line, Karen peered out the window at the parked airplanes. Her stomach somersaulted, knocking the wind out of her. She drew in a breath and released it slowly.
“First time flying?”
Karen peered behind her at the willowy older woman with kind grey eyes and bottle-red hair. The woman’s thin brows raised in question and Karen blinked from her long stare. “Uh yeah—I mean, not first time flying… just overseas.”
The woman’s smile was gentle. “You’ll love it. Nothing better than the feeling of weightlessness.”
Except that was part of the reason for her stomach-turning dread. The longest she’d stayed on a plane was a college trip to Seattle from Houston, and motion sickness almost did her in. The thought of sitting in one position for more than four hours made her want to lose the burrito she’d eaten an hour ago.
“And they’ve got the best meals on these type of flights!” the woman continued her gushing, eyes dancing with delight. “Not to talk of the free movies!”
Karen blinked, wondering if this woman wasn’t a teenager in disguise. No elderly person she knew was that excited about movies… or anything for that matter.
“Now boarding all other passengers.”
The woman, Red as Karen dubbed her, snorted. “All other passengers—what, are we chopped liver? Did we pay nothing for our tickets?”
Karen noticed the bemused stares and the smirks from those around her. She gave Red a strained smile and turned around, clutching her ticket. Movies and airplane food were the least of her concerns. She was about to embark on a cross-country trip in East Africa starting with Kenya, and the thought of how much awaited her in each of the six countries she’d planned to visit made her nervous and tired at the same time. The first thing she’d do was get some sleep on the plane.
Once she’d reached the door of the plane, Karen accepted the welcome from the uniformed hostess with a bright smile. She merely nodded her thanks and inched her way inside, eyes darting between her ticket and the numbers above the seats.
“Wait, wasn’t that Karen? Karen!” a voice called out behind her. “Hey Karen! Look back!”
Karen looked up from her ticket and behind her to see who called for her or another Karen. Except she knew exactly who it was calling her; the young bride waving at her.
Joy surged through her and Karen grinned openly. “Darah!”
“What a coincidence!” Darah exclaimed, glee in her voice.
“Sit down, Darah,” J.R. whispered fiercely, tugging at his wife’s arm as she knelt on the seat and spoke over rows of seats to where Karen’s assigned position. He managed an apologetic look at the bemused woman at his side. “Sorry about this, Ma’am.”
The woman looked up from her electronic reader and flashed J.R. an unaffected smile. “It’s alright.” Her eyes moved over his head to where Darah still attempted a conversation across the plane. “Would you like for me to trade places?”
J.R.’s brows raised in surprise. “Oh we couldn’t…”
“Would you really?” Darah who had pretended not to hear her husband’s firm words had miraculously heard the suggestion. She beamed at the woman. “That would be so lov—“
“Stop Darah,” J.R. said firmly and looked to the woman, chagrin clear on his handsome features. “You don’t need to switch seats. Besides, we’re about to take off.”
“Babe, she said it was fine,” Darah said in a sweet tone that promised him getting an earful once they were alone. Still, her smile brightened on the woman. “She’s my soon-to-be sister-in-law…”
“Oh brother,” J.R. muttered, dropping his head back against the chair.
The woman looked amused and curious. “Oh really? That’s wonderful.” And while saying that, she unbuckled her seatbelt. “Call her over and we’ll switch.”
“Oh thank you so much, Ma’am!” Darah straightened on her seat and waved at Karen. “Come over. A kind lady just offered to switch seats!”
J.R. rubbed his face; not because his young wife was currently making a scene but that this long plane ride to Abu Dhabi would not be a quiet one. “Since we’re playing musical chairs, let me have the window seat…” he grunted when she lightly smacked his shoulder.
The woman chuckled as she gathered her purse from under the chair in front of her. “Take heart, young man.” There was a twinkle in her eye as he looked up at her from the seat. “Have a safe and fun vacation, you two…” She waited until another passenger walked down the narrow aisle toward the back of the plane.
“Thank you!” Darah called out to the woman who winked at her, then turned a frown at J.R. “What’s the matter? She’s being a good Samaritan.”
J.R. snorted. “Probably wanted to save herself and the rest of the passengers from listening to your conversation.”
“Be grateful, Mr. Obed. We’ll get the chance to properly thank Nurse Karen for taking care of your dad.” She glanced up and smiled at Karen who now stood beside the woman, confusion clear on her face as the woman gestured back to Darah.
“You sure it’s not to put your plan in place?” he drawled, flipping through one of the magazines. “If I didn’t know better, I’d think you and Phoebe were blood sisters. Meddlers through and through.”
Darah snorted. “I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that.” She waved at Karen. “I’ll let you have the window seat so stop scowling.”
“I am not scowling, Darah.”
“I’ve known you for ten years, my love, and that face is a pure unadulterated scowl.” She flashed a smile as Karen approached them slowly. “Hey girlie! What a lovely coincidence!”
Just as Karen was about to respond in kind, a host walked up to them. “Excuse me ladies,” the man began in a dry banal tone. “Could we please take our seats? We’re about to take off in a few minutes.”
Still confused as to what was transpiring, Karen looked from one expectant face to the other. “Uh…”
“Take your seat, Karen,” Darah said, gesturing to the aisle seat.
The kind-faced woman had mentioned that she’d volunteered to give up her assigned seat so she could sit with her family, so Karen nodded and sat beside J.R. Obed. Then the host gave all three a smile and hurried down the aisle to grab his seat before the plane took off.
“So how are things going for you?” Darah asked, leaning over her husband to talk with Karen over the loud engine. “Are you excited about your trip?”
J.R. fought a groan and gave up reading. Instead, he dropped his head against the chair and closed his eyes. Thankfully, he could sleep fast and deeply.
Karen fought a chuckle when Darah stuck her tongue out at her husband and nodded. “I am. Was a bit nervous but not anymore.” Her smile warmed at the thought of Clement Teka holding her hands while he said a prayer over her journey and her frazzled nerves. Her cheeks even tingled with warmth as she remembered his solid arms around her and the touch of her lips to his cheek. She hadn’t planned on doing that, but was so overcome with emotion that he would pray for her. He was truly a good man.
“So what countries are you going to?” Darah’s voice broke through Karen’s thoughts.
Tucking away the memory of Clement for later, Karen smiled at his only sister. “My first country is Kenya. I take a bus from Nairobi for a few days and then head over to Kampala, then uh…” She paused, racking her brain for the other places on her itinerary. Then she shrugged. “Well, I know it’s in Burundi, and then I get on a plane to Addis Ababa.” She smiled as J.R. lifted his head and looked at her, curiosity in his eyes as was Darah’s. “I’ll visit some of the cities there before heading back.”
Darah whistled in awe. “That’s some trip. No wonder you took a sabbatical. How long will you be gone for?”
“A few months.”
“And Addis Ababa is your last stop,” J.R. said plainly, eyes on her face.
Karen nodded. “I fly out from there back to the U.S.”
“Junior should be there by then,” Darah interjected, glancing once at her husband’s furrowed brow.
“Yeah, he told me,” Karen answered, allowing herself a smile as she thought of their last conversation and the way he squeezed her hand while praying. She drew a breath and released it. “I’m excited.”
“I can tell,” Darah mused aloud, eyes moving over Karen’s face.
“This doesn’t sound like a tourist vacation,” J.R. answered quietly. “Am I wrong?”
Karen nodded. “You’d be right. I’m actually working with a few organizations in those cities, working with children there.”
“Oh really?” Darah piped up, curiosity brightening at the mention of children. “Which ones?”
“All Saints Foundation in Kenya, Green Acres Council in Burundi and Uganda…” She frowned, wracking her brain. Then she shook her head, chagrined. “Sorry, I can’t remember the last two.”
J.R. merely nodded and Darah smiled. “It’s alright. I’m sure Junior’ll know about them since he works with a few organizations like that for the whole of East Africa.”
Karen arched a brow, recalling the business card he’d given her at Darah’s wedding reception dinner. “I thought he was just a missionary pastor…”
“He is.” Darah grinned, clearly proud of her big brother. “But he’s been serving in that region for such a long time that he’s got contacts in some many places, including the neighboring countries. When you’re serving the community, you’re bound to work with so many different organizations.”
Karen nodded, growing more curious about the handsome and charming Clement Teka.
Fifteen hours later, J.R. stood and watched as the two women embraced one last time. Once they drew back, Darah smiled up at Karen. “It was really great seeing you. Enjoy your travels and be safe.”
Karen nodded with a warm smile and her gaze skimmed over to J.R. “Have a wonderful time together.”
J.R. slipped an arm around his wife’s shoulders. “We will. Take care of yourself.”
“Will do.” She sighed softly as the couple turned and headed for baggage claim. Sitting by them had really helped ease her anxiety and taken her mind off the uncertainty of her trip. Although she’d done her research on the organizations and made sure to read the testimonials, it was still nerve-wracking as it was driving blind… not that she would know a thing about that.
In any case, the sassy Darah and her level-headed husband were a perfect foil and great companions for the otherwise grueling 14-hour and 55-minutes flight from Houston. The food was delicious but the company was much more memorable. It was clear that J.R. adored Darah as she adored him in return, and Karen found herself inspired and wistful for such a partnership one day.
With a sigh, she grabbed her roll-on duffel bag and turned toward the terminal for her second flight. She barely ran into a woman in her path and side-stepped her with a soft apology.
“I thought you were going with them,” the woman called and Karen turned toward the voice.
“Oh hey!” Karen exclaimed, recognizing the Good Samaritan who gave up her assigned seat so Karen could sit with her friends. “Thanks for giving up your seat. That was sweet.”
“It’s no problem,” the woman said, waving off her gratitude. Then she glanced over her shoulder before looking back at Karen, a furrow in her brow. “You’re not going with them?”
“No ma’am.” Karen arched a brow. “Why?”
The woman laughed softly. “I thought since you were family, that you were traveling together.”
“Oh no,” Karen smiled. “They’re on their honeymoon. Wouldn’t want to interrupt all that.”
The woman’s face tightened and confusion etched her brow. “Honeymoon? As in second?” When Karen merely blinked at her, she let out a short incredulous laugh. “But they’re… she’s pregnant.”
A frown wrinkled Karen’s brow. “So? What does that have to do with anything?”
The frost in Karen’s tone had the lady lift both hands. “Nothing, just curious.” Then her eyes moved over Karen’s taut expression and flashed a smile less sincere than the first. “Have a safe flight to wherever you’re going.” And before Karen could return the wish for her, she hightailed in the opposite direction.
Snorting at the woman scurrying away, she shook her head. “Nosy…” Tugging her bag after her, Karen headed down the hall toward her assigned gate for the flight to Nairobi.
“Wait a minute!” Darah called to her husband as she waddled to the ringing phone near the bed. “Can’t believe I almost forgot it.” She laughed, blaming it on her pregnancy brain and snatched the phone from underneath her pile of clothes. “Hello?” she answered before it went to voicemail.
“Just barely got here, Sis,” Darah answered, tugging off her kimono and tossing it on the bed. “About to head out for dinner.”
J.R. peeked inside the room and shook his head as Darah pulled off another layer of clothing before grabbing another. Deciding to wait inside, he stepped into the suite and shut the door.
“I’m sure he is,” Darah quipped with a laugh that Phoebe returned. She glanced over her shoulder to give her husband a smile. “Phoebe says hi.”
“Hey Feebs.” He smiled. “Report yourself or I will.”
Darah choked a laugh. “He said I should report myself. So dramatic, my dear husband. Oh, by the way, we bumped into Karen—you know, Babu’s former nurse.” She chuckled low. “Uh-hmm, Junior’s Karen.”
J.R. groaned and slapped a hand over his face. “You two are impossible.” He moved to the edge of the bed and tugged the phone from her hand. “Hey Feebs, I gotta feed my ravenous wife before she gets cranky, so let’s walk and talk.” He smirked at Phoebe’s answer. “Even better. We’ll call the minute we get back to the room. Okay, great. Bye.”
“You straight-laced fellow,” Darah said, tugging at his collar. “Remember, Mr. Obed, this is a vacation. No timetables here, no rules.” She pulled him closer and presented her lips for a kiss.
J.R. rolled his eyes but obliged her with a quick one. “You’re saying that now but you’ll be the one waking me up begging for food—” he chuckled when she smacked his thigh. He placed a kiss on her brow and then stood from the bed. “Now come on. I’m starved.”
“If you’re starved, I’m ravenous!” Darah frowned as J.R. picked up her discarded kimono. “Do I have to wear this? It’s a million degrees outside.”
“Who told you to pick Dubai? We could’ve gone to Europe,” he held out the kimono and settled it on her slender shoulders. “Don’t worry,” he said close to her ear. “There’ll be AC inside. Let’s go.”
Darah sighed as he took her hand and led her out the door. “I hope Karen got to her destination safely.”
“I’m sure she did,” J.R. said as they walked down the hallway toward the elevator. “Give meddling a break. We’re on vacation, remember?”
She stuck out her tongue at him. Then sighed. “But in all seriousness, something felt weird about Karen’s itinerary.” Nestling against him, she propped her chin against his arm.
J.R. was quiet for a moment and Darah peeked up to see the wrinkle in his brow and distance in his gaze. She straightened. “What are you thinking?”
He met her worried stare and gave her a gentle smile. “It’s nothing… We’ll ask Junior once we get back. Right now, I need to feed my two babies.” One hand dropped to her stomach, cupping its roundness.
Darah’s adoring smile brightened her face and she leaned into him. “You’re so good to me.”
A kiss to her temple was his only reply and Darah was more than satisfied with that, convinced of his unconditional and unflinching love for her.