“Custody of who?” Clement demanded of his older brothers. They stood inside a few feet from the door while Phoebe kept Mrs. Sharma Crane occupied on the porch.
“She’s not coming in here until we get some answers.” Clement’s scowl darkened when Abe gestured for him to be quiet. “Where was she when he was left starving and scared on the porch steps of that church? Where was she…”
Geraldine quickly ushered Darah and Eleazar to the kitchen to help prepare dinner.
“Phoebe’s uncle gave us notice a few days ago,” Bart muttered, his scowl matching Clement’s. “But it seems Eli’s grandmother couldn’t wait–”
“Mrs. Crane,” Clement corrected firmly. “The only family Eli has is us, not some old rich woman with regrets at the end of her life.”
“Junior…” Abe sighed in exasperation.
“Am I wrong?” Clement threw a glare to the front door. “Phoebe shouldn’t have to be courteous with someone who abandoned their own. Let the woman stand outside for all I care. She has no reason to come in here.”
“Is that how a missionary should talk?” Bart sized him up.
Clement rolled his eyes. “Missionary, not saint.”
Both Abe and Bart grunted derisively.
“Tell her to go away. She’s got no business showing up uninvited and expecting us to treat her like a welcomed guest.” Then Clement’s frown eased a bit. “Most importantly, Eli’s not ready.”
“Ready for what?”
All three brothers spun around at the sound of Eleazar’s voice and groaned inwardly at the three standing in the doorway to the kitchen.
Geraldine wore a chagrined look. “Sorry…”
Abe focused on his youngest sibling. “How much did you hear?”
Eleazar frowned. “Is someone’s here to see me?”
Bart and Clement shared worried glances, knowing time had run out.
Then the door sprang open and Phoebe rushed in. “Abe!”
Abe turned at the frantic sound of his wife’s voice. He noted her troubled expression and reached for her hand. “What is it?”
Phoebe peered around him at Eleazar who stared past her to the woman in the doorway. Then she heard a gasp and turned to see tears pooling in the woman’s hazel eyes. She faced her husband and his siblings. “Abe…”
He frowned, concern tightening his features. “What is it?”
Phoebe hated to see pain and alarm in his eyes. They had all been through so much after the tragic loss of their parents, and didn’t deserve more pain… yet there was more.
“That’s him!” Mrs. Crane exclaimed, eyes wild as she gaped at Eleazar.
Stricken, Eleazar shuffled behind Clement and his brother placed a firm hand on his back to hold him there.
Mrs. Crane glared up at Clement. “You have no right to keep him hidden from me!”
Clement scowled. “And you have no right–”
“Quiet,” Abe and Bart said together.
Clement’s face darkened, lips tight.
Bart focused on Phoebe who looked as stricken as Eleazar. “What did she say?”
Phoebe hesitated, mindful of the youngest Teka siblings. Oh how she wished someone would take Eleazar and Darah to another room. She sought out Geraldine.
“Phoebe,” Abe said firmly, coaxing her to speak.
Dragging her gaze back to her husband, Phoebe started to speak. “She–”
“Someone stole Caleb from my daughter’s arms and I want him back now!” Mrs. Crane demanded, her eyes flashing with unbridled frustration.
“Nonsense!” Clement seethed. “Lies.”
Darah frowned. “Who’s Caleb?”
Phoebe sighed, gaze seeking Eleazar from behind Clement. “That’s Eli’s birth name…”
Darah glanced down at her youngest brother who cowered visibly, and turned her frown on Mrs. Crane. “She’s lying. His name is Eleazar.”
Phoebe tamped down another sigh. Of course it would be hard to comprehend–even she was still trying to wrap her head around the whole situation… but the story seemed true.
Abe cleared his throat. “Mrs. Crane, why don’t you come inside first?” His eyes skittered over Phoebe’s face and gave her a weak smile.
Phoebe fought tears–even now Abe was attempting to comfort her when it was he and his siblings that would need it so much more. She looked to Eleazar who stared at the unfamiliar woman that was his real family. Her heart ached for him; the Teka siblings were the only family he’d ever known. No doubt he was confused.
Abe’s voice made Phoebe glance back at Mrs. Crane.
Mascara streaked her pale cheeks, her fierce expression crumbling with each tear that slid down. “He looks just like her… He looks just like his mother. My poor daughter.” Then she dissolved into inconsolable sobbing.
Phoebe hurried at once, catching the woman swaying forward. Abe came to her and helped lead Mrs. Crane inside.
The Teka siblings cringed as the woman grew all the more despondent.
Eleazar trembled at Clement’s side; tears always unsettled him, more so now after what he’d just heard.
Geraldine glanced once at Bart who looked to be in pain. She wondered whether to go to him when she felt the weight of Darah’s back against her shoulder. Quickly averting her attention to the girl who sagged against her, Geraldine pulled Darah close. Then sighed deeply.
So much for a quiet dinner.