With three years between Clement and Karen, the mature one in the relationship should’ve been obvious. In truth, neither were mature with love and all that came with it. After spending only a day or two before Karen was shuttled back to the States, the new couple embarked on a crash course in communicating. This was tough with more than a thousand miles between them and two hard-headed people involved.
Long-distance relationships were tough for Clement; he’d barely managed keeping in touch with his family. Karen wasn’t going to let him off so easily; hence the majority of their many arguments.
“I just don’t understand how you can go a whole week without talking to me,” Karen bemoaned over the video call. With her face covered in some green slimy mask, Clement couldn’t read her expression clearly. “I’m starting to see why you sent me home so quickly. It’s like you don’t miss me at all.”
“Karen, for goodness’ sake.” Clement refrained from rolling his eyes. “We’ve been through this already. I sent you home to get ready to come back here. You’re making this diffi… if you keep calling me with some weird mask on your face, maybe we should just text.”
“What did you just say?!”
He barely flinched at the shriek in her voice, grateful this time she was miles away. Clement straightened on his bed and rested his back against the headboard. “I’m just saying… why can’t you call me when you’re done with grooming. And what’s with the mask? It freaks me out.”
Karen scoffed. “If this is freaking you out, you’re not ready to be in a relationship.”
Clement squinted at her. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Exactly what I said. Did you expect me to doll up for you every single time? Well that’s not happening.”
“Okay, I didn’t even say that so I don’t know why you’re putting words in my mouth right now.”
“Whatever, I’m done with this conversation. Bye.”
Clement frowned as the screen went black and he shook his head. It was hard enough not having her with him and whenever he called, she was either in pajamas with her head wrapped or wearing some mask. He missed seeing her face… missed her. He pinched the bridge of his nose, debating whether to give her time to cool off. He rubbed his face, scolding himself for giving her time to decide whether to come back.
The familiar tone of an incoming call alerted him and he glanced down, sighing heavily when it wasn’t Karen but his eldest brother, Abe. Reluctantly, he answered the call and held the phone to his ear. “Hey.”
“Wow, you picked up!” Abe chuckled softly. “How are you?”
“Fine,” Clement muttered, glancing once at the clock above his door. Soon he’d have to get up and start his day, which meant he wouldn’t be able to call Karen until late at night. He sighed deeply.
“Uh-oh. What’s wrong?”
“It’s nothing. What’s up?” Clement shifted his feet to the edge of the bed and stood.
Abe sighed also. “Well for starters, Eli won’t quit. I don’t know how much longer I can hold out.”
Clement frowned. “I need more time.”
“How much longer? He’ll soon figure out I’m stalling with his birth certificate.”
“Tell him it got burnt or something.”
Abe scoffed incredulously. “I mean, I understand why I don’t want him leaving the country right now but what’s your excuse?”
“I won’t have time to look after him.” Clement rubbed his chin. “Besides, I’ve been here for ten years and he’s just now wanting to come over for the holidays. Why the rush?”
“I have no idea, but he’s not giving up. Moody and persistent isn’t a good mix for Eli, y’know this.”
Clement shook his head. “Well I can’t deal with him right now. Stall him until I can make proper plans.” A beep at his ear had him peering at the phone screen. A video call from Karen. His eyes widened. “Hey, I’ll call you right back.” He quickly switched calls before Abe could respond and watched with a smile as Karen’s face appeared. His smile brightened. The mask was gone.
She didn’t smile back, eying him with a hairy stare. “Happy now?”
“Very,” Clement said without hesitation.
Karen snorted derisively. “Of course. If I begin calling you out on your masochistic behavior, we’ll be here all day.”
“Then don’t,” he countered. “I love you.”
Her frown eased away and she drew her bottom lip in, attempting to hold back a smile.
“I miss you.” He gave her an innocent smile, having learned from the best; Bart was a pro at groveling.
It did the trick. Karen’s expression softened instantly. “Aww, I miss you too, Babe.”
He suddenly wished they didn’t have a screen or thousand miles between them, wanting to envelop her in his arms. “I didn’t mean to complain about your masks so much… I just miss seeing your pretty face.”
Her lips twitched. “Then you should’ve just said that, you silly.”
“I’ll do better next time.” Conceding was strangely easier with her than it’d ever been with anyone else. His smile widened. “You look pretty.”
Karen rolled her eyes, smoothing a hand over her cheeks. “It’s because of the masks you hate on so much.”
“Let me clarify. I have nothing against you showing that you’re free with me. In fact, I like that you’re far from pretentious. I like that you don’t wear makeup often, and I have no problem seeing you in your truest form. I’m cool with you talking about your period sucking and you shaving your mustache…”
“I didn’t say anything about a mustache, Clement.”
“Well, anyway I’m used to it, dealing with Darah and my sisters-in-law. That’s part of being in a relationship and heck, it’s to be expected if we’re gonna…” he paused, stopping himself from revealing too much.
Inspector Karen Wells didn’t miss a thing. She arched a brow. “If we’re gonna what, Clement?”
He mirrored her expression. “Hmm?”
Karen shook her head. “You’re not even slick… but whatever.”
Clement smiled, grateful she didn’t press him further. He needed time. His eyes swept over her pretty features. “Ready for bed?”
“Uh-hmm. Ready to start your day? No secret mission?”
He smirked. “Not today. We’re taking the kids back to their village.”
“Awesome!” Karen’s smile stretched from ear to ear, and warmed his heart. “Is Ejigu healing nicely? How are the others? Ashon, Wubit and Dula? Please give them my love… and Priscilla too.”
Fighting back a laugh, Clement nodded. “I will.” He paused briefly, then asked. “What’s your dad’s number?”
Both brows lifted. “… Why do you need my dad’s number, Clement?”
Clement rolled his eyes. “Babe…”
Karen giggled; the sound melody to his ears. “I’ll text it to you. Wanna tell me what this is about?”
“I think you and I both know what this is about…”
“Hm, but just tell me anyway.” She moved to her bed and lay back, batting her long lashes at him.
Butterflies fluttered in his belly and Clement shook his head. He was a fool for letting her stay away so long. “So when d’you think you’ll be back… if all goes well with my phone call to your dad?”
Her smile was sweet. Too sweet. “Well for starters, I need to break my lease, get my stuff moved back home, spending time with the parents. I might go visit Obadiah for a bit and then of course, chill with the Sis and her family. Then I gotta change my banking stuff…” she paused, frowning.
He could tell she was starting to get overwhelmed with just how much she had to do. He remembered how he’d struggled the first few days. “Relax. We’ll figure this out together.”
“Man, it’s great to have a capable boyfriend!” Karen then sighed. “I wish the days would go by faster.”
“Me and you both, Babe.” Clement perched against his dresser, wishing he could stop time for now.
The companionable silence stretched only for a minute before Karen squinted, stifling a yawn.
Clement chuckled. She was so adorable, his Karen. “Go to sleep. We’ll talk tomorrow.”
“Uh-hmm. Tell me.”
He arched a brow. “Tell you what?”
“What you’re gonna tell my Dad.”
Clement shook his head. “That his daughter’s a handful and I’m scared for my future.”
Karen mock-frowned at him. “Goodnight.”
“Goodnight. Love you.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Karen muttered and promptly disconnected the call.
Clement chuckled and pocketed the phone. It dinged a second before he exited the room. He pulled it out and smiled at Karen’s text with her father’s number and ‘I love you too.’ His smile was bright and his steps light as he strolled down the hallway to get breakfast before starting his day.
“I better get a gift for my awesome matchmaking skills,” Darah warned over the phone cam. She and Clement’s sisters-in-law filled the screen, their smiles matching. “I’d even say I’m better at this than Phoebe.”
“That’s because I had no idea anything was happening!” Phoebe protested with a laugh. “Junior, I’m impressed. How’d you get into a relationship without anyone’s help?”
Clement didn’t bother telling them about Priscilla. It was all in the past, and Karen was his present and future. “Lucky, I guess…” He looked up at the sunset. It was soon time to call Mr. Wells.
“’Cos he’s not a dunce like his big brothers,” Geri answered, a gleam in her eye. “Well done, Junior.”
“Thanks,” he squinted at the distance, spotting Ashon carrying his grandson Meko while strolling alongside his daughter Wubit. The former cab driver had chosen to stay in Kenya indefinitely, wanting to reconnect with his long-lost daughter and family. Clement was grateful on behalf of his friend and brother Dula. Wubit hadn’t stopped smiling since and neither did Karen.
“So what are your plans?” Phoebe asked, drawing back his attention. “Is it just dating or something more…?”
Darah started humming the wedding march song and the other two women giggled. “Marriage of course!”
Clement nodded. “That’s the plan.” He smirked as the women squealed with delight.
“This is the one time I’d say your impulsiveness comes to great use,” Phoebe said with a grin. “Congrats!”
“Hold off for a while. I have to ask her father’s permission first.”
Darah gasped. “So you’ll be coming home soon then? I heard they live close to the house.”
“No, I can’t. I’ll have to call him on the phone.”
Their smiles eased away. Darah looked stunned. Phoebe covered her face and groaned. “Junior.”
Geri shook her head. “You’re an idiot. Who asks a man for her daughter’s hand in marriage over the phone? That’s disrespectful.”
“It’s not disrespectful,” Darah countered; the family lawyer in her husband’s absence. “It’s unconventional but at least he’s asking for permission. They could’ve easily eloped without anyone knowing about it.”
Phoebe snorted. “I’d kill you if you married without us knowing.”
Clement chuckled. “I’d never dream of it.”
“Good… So when will you ask him? The sooner the better, honestly. Karen doesn’t look the kind to wait”
He smirked, agreeing with Phoebe. Karen was arguably as impulsive as he was. “Tonight. Once I hang up the phone with you.” He arched a brow when their groans sounded again. “It’s gonna be alright. I’m ready.”
“I don’t think anyone’s ever ready to ask that… but we wish you luck,” Geri said with a smile.
Darah gave him a thumbs-up and Phoebe nodded, her grin gentle and encouraging.
He smiled, grateful that his brothers had married such great women. There was no doubt in his mind that Karen would fit right in with them. He just had to get through this first conversation with her father and hope for the best.
He rubbed his sweaty palms on his jeans as he waited for the dial tone to stop ringing. It did a bit too soon and Clement swallowed hard, hearing the background noise first.
“Hello?” a deep baritone filled the air. “Who is this?”
Clement sat up, incredibly nervous. “Good evening sir. My name is Clement Teka, Karen’s…boyfriend.”
No response and if not for the muffled voices in the background, Clement feared he’d hung up. Then the man sighed. “I know. Was expecting your call later though.”
“Did I catch you at a bad time?”
Gabriel Wells grunted. A laugh or a snort, Clement wasn’t sure. “Not really. My girl tells me you have something very important to ask me, but let me ask you something first.”
“Sure,” Clement said readily, his spine straighter than never before.
“Are you the reason she’s been smiling like a goof since she came back?”
Clement’s brows lifted at the clear sound of Karen’s voice in the background. He relaxed only a little. “I think she’s smiling because she’s missed you all.”
Gabriel grunted again. “After thirty-three years, I can’t say I agree with you. She’s… different.”
“It’s called love, Daddy.”
That sassy retort from Karen made Clement smile. He missed that spunky girl beside him.
“Then are you also the reason she wants to move her entire life to Ethiopia?”
Clement’s smile eased away. “I…”
“Karen, step out for a minute. I need a heart-to-heart talk with your young man.”
Clement swallowed hard at the sound of shuffling feet and the squeaky sounds of a closing door, realizing then he was in the hot seat. He squared his shoulders and prepared himself for Mr. Wells’ hard questions.
Karen called the minute he ended the call with her father. She looked nervous and worried as her face came into view. “Are you okay?”
Clement granted her a smile, though his mind was still on her father’s last words. “I’m fine. Don’t be worried.”
Unconvinced, she squinted at him. “He gave you a hard time, didn’t he?”
“Nothing unexpected.” Clement lay on his stomach and propped the phone against his pillow. “We didn’t get to grill J.R. since we’d known him a long time, but the plan was to torture Darah’s guy.” He smiled. “I’d say your dad, in comparison, was pretty reasonable.”
Karen shook her head, propping the phone against her dresser. “I told him to go easy on you.”
“There’s no need for that. If it were easy, it wouldn’t be worth it.”
Mr. Wells had been clear about needing time to get used to his baby girl falling in love, and to a man he couldn’t easily get access to. His questions about education, past relationships and life overseas were fair and expected, and Clement answered each honestly and with deep conviction. He’d spent time in Karen’s absence thinking about their courtship, growing all the more convinced that he wanted forever with Karen. The “how” could be figured out in time, and Mr. Wells readily agreed. Clement was relieved, deciding to wait till a later conversation to ask for Karen’s hand in marriage. It was only the right thing to do.
“Gee thanks.” She rolled her eyes and took a brush to her curls.
Clement reminisced on the soft thickness of her hair against his fingers. “Where you going? You look nice.”
“Thanks love. I’m hanging out with your sisters and mine. Girls’ day out. The men are watching the kids.”
He arched a brow. “No one mentioned that to me.”
“Yeah, Darah called me while you were speaking with my dad. Invited me over to the house. Not sure what we’re gonna be doing but Sammy’s free, so I’m taking her with me in case I need backup.”
Clement shook his head, guessing what exactly his sisters had planned for Karen. “Just be careful.”
She flashed an assuring smile. “I can handle myself. Don’t worry.”
“Try not to mention anything about our… adventures. They’ll freak out.”
“Undoubtedly freak out.” Karen bit her bottom lip, messing up the lip gloss. “Even though that’s part of our story, I’ll have to be creative about how we met without lying.”
“No worries.” Clement propped his chin on his hand. “I already told them we met at a charity event.”
Karen laughed outright, doubling over in mirth. “You’re such a cad,” she said upon recovery, eyes glistening. Then her smile eased a bit, remembering something. “Just a heads up, my mom’s gonna call you. Beware, she’s a lot feistier than my dad. She doesn’t play, and her questions will be a bit… strange.”
Clement nodded, with a smile. “Yeah, your dad told me already. I’m to expect her call tomorrow.”
Karen tossed an exasperated glance. “Next thing you know, everyone’s gonna want a piece of you. I don’t remember everyone bugging Topher when it was Sammy’s turn. It’s annoying being the middle child.”
“I’m ready for it,” Clement assured her gently. “Don’t worry. Trust me.”
“I trust you. It’s my family I don’t trust. If they had their way, I’d be here a year before coming to you.”
His smile eased instantly. A whole year without Karen?