Posts tagged “pain

Homecoming, Chapter 23

Posted on 08/03/2016

He had a tight fist around the money and around her. His unrelenting grip suffocated her; his beady eyes watching her every move. He analyzed every word of her broken Spanish whenever she requested some cash to buy groceries or goods to make their home cozier. He reprimanded her for lack of domestic sense, and rebuffed her whenever she asked for too much but never too little. Better yet, he preferred when she didn’t ask for money, quick to remind her of the overwhelming debt her family owed his.

She felt herself sinking under his forceful hand, felt her throat close up over the protests. If she spoke out of turn, which was more than he would’ve liked, she received a deserved punishment. Some days, it was a backhand slap, sometimes it was a shove. If she was lucky, he’d turn a cold shoulder and ignore her for days. She preferred his screaming to his silence, dreading the moment he would unleash all he’d held in all those days of quiet.

But this silence was different; he was in the house, safe behind the closed door of their bedroom with several men. She couldn’t hear a thing with the stone walls and most times, she didn’t care to. But now, she wanted to know something. She needed something to hold against him whenever he raised a hand to her, when he threatened to increase their interest rate of debt.

Tiptoeing to the door, body trembling with fear at the thought of him yanking the door open and catching her eavesdropping, Geraldine held her breath and tried to pick out the muffled tones in the bedroom. She imagined the bulky men in their greasy fishermen coveralls sitting on their bed, soiling the freshly-washed sheets she’d just brought in from the clothesline. It would take another day to wash them, all because her husband accused her of being lazy for wanting a washing machine.

Her limited understanding of Spanish infuriated her now more than whenever her husband lashed out at her for being ignorant. The men started talking calmly as her husband did; she could pick out his accented tenor anywhere, had trained herself to hear it even in half-sleep.

From what she could pick up, she heard the words widows and unclaimed land but frowned, as another man started up in a frantic tone.

Then her husband spoke in an attempt to calm the man down. His tenor sounded irregular like whenever he spoke to his parents over money and the “family” business.

She swallowed bile in her throat, disgusted with the unseemly business of living from others’ debt and desperation. Like her grandmothers, there were many naive seniors who invested in shady pyramid schemes, only to lose everything they owned and had to turn to her in-laws to bail them out. These naive seniors and their families had no choice, becoming the most destitute as the amount they earned from jobs arranged by her in-laws would be given as payment for their never-ending debt.

In the same way, her grandmother had worked herself to exhaustion and finally death. And now her mother worked in her place, as so many other children did for their elders. If only she’d been sentenced to manual labor rather than tied as a daughter but treated no better than the debt slaves.

She absentmindedly rubbed a healed scar across her forearm. There had to be a way out of this hell; all she needed was a piece of incriminating evidence to use as blackmail for her family’s freedom.

Her eyes widened as one of the aggravated men raised his voice and threatened her husband, daring to go to the police if he didn’t get his allotted funds.  A few others piped in and her husband sought their patience while he got his finances in order. At this, the group of men scoffed and she heard scuffling feet approaching the door. They wouldn’t be dissuaded this time.

The door flung open and she ducked around the corner, watching the disgruntled men exit the room, stomp down the stairs and slam the door on their way out.

A cold shiver skittered along her forearms and she wrapped her arms around her. She couldn’t hear her husband from where she hid behind the–

A hand clamped around her neck and she yelped at the force of his fingers tightening against her pulse. Her eyes sought her attacker, knowing the unrelenting hand too well.

“You rat!” He shoved her against the wall, eyes wild with rage.

She gagged when he tightened his hand and she could feel the blood draining from her.

“What did you hear?” he demanded, squeezing her throat.

She wanted to scream that she heard nothing but didn’t; it was a lie and he knew it. She dared not close her eyes. If this was to be her last minute, she would memorize the face of her killer and haunt him for eternity.

Something switched in his eyes when she didn’t blink though the blood vessels in her eyes must’ve freaked him out. He loosened his grip and she dropped to her knees, gasping for air.

Waiting until she’d caught her breath, he spat on the floor beside her and started to walk away.

“I want a divorce,” she rasped after him.

He stopped and turned, understanding what she’d said in English. “What?”

Her lips twitched and she dragged her eyes to his bearded face. “I want a divorce, and if you don’t want to get arrested, you’ll give it to me.”

His face morphed into anger as he rushed to her, grabbing her by her arm. “What did you say?” he roared in Spanish, shaking her.

She glared up at him. “You piece of trash. Messing with seniors wasn’t enough, now you want to mess around with widows and the government’s soldiers? You’re scum.” Then she spat into his face and awaited the punishment.

His jaw clenched tight as did the grip around her arm. Then he hoisted her into his arms, a surprising feat for a man a mere inch taller than her and more slender in frame.

She struggled free and started to run, smelling murder on him. She had no idea if he’d killed before, but she didn’t dare wait to find out. Moving toward the stairs, she sought the door and started for it.

His hands grabbed her shoulders and spun her around. Anger lit his wide eyes and she rolled her shoulders to brush his hands off. “Let me go!”

Then his lips twitched a cold smile that had Geraldine wishing to take back the words. His hands loosened and just before she could take a step back, his fingers nudged at her shoulder blades and teetered her balance backward.

A scream escaped her throat and Geraldine flailed to catch her balance, waking up in tangled sheets and arms holding her. At first she thought it was him, carrying her back to the stairs to throw her down a second time. She shoved her elbow in a precarious angle with what she hoped was his nose and silently rejoiced when she heard him yelp.

“Wake up, Geraldine!” a strong baritone shouted in her ear, not a weak and cowardly tenor.

Geraldine stiffened at first, fearing the sound, awaiting the fall.

“Open your eyes,” the voice beckoned her softer this time.

She squinted one eye open and came upon Bart’s face inches from hers. She gasped and drew back, afraid. Why was he in Peru? Was he going to hurt her also?

His hand moved toward her face and she flinched. Was he going to bloody her nose as she did his? His hand lowered to her shoulder and she trembled. Was he going to push her too? His hand cupped her shoulder. Geraldine whimpered.

Bart sighed and pulled her to him rather than away; the motion gentle and slow as though giving her time to pull away.

Trembling, Geraldine leaned into him, resting her cheek against his shoulder.

His other hand braced her back, rubbing gently. “You’re safe. You’re safe.”

A silent tear escaped her eye, slid down her cheek and onto his shoulder.

“That coward won’t hurt you anymore,” Bart vowed, holding her tighter. “You’re okay now.”

Geraldine choked on a sob or two, overwhelmed by the dark memories of her marriage and the fear that accompanied her long after her husband’s timely death.

Bart kept rubbing her back, muttering words she didn’t comprehend but appreciated instead of the daunting silence. “It’s okay,” he whispered when she whimpered and sniffled. “Cry it out. Once and for all, Geraldine, let it out.”

And she did, unloading on her friend every emotion she’d hidden in the nightmare of a marriage. She clung to Bart, weeping openly and shamelessly until there was nothing else to surrender.

When the sobs faded, Geraldine rested her face against his chest, spent.

Bart drew back and gave her a gentle smile when she mewed in protest. Brushing damp hair from her face, he tucked it behind her ear. “Do you know where you are?”

“Peru?”

He snorted, rubbing the curve of her ear. “No, Houston. An emergency clinic.”

Fighting a shiver at his touch, Geraldine drew back and gaped at him. Then looked over his shoulder at the pristine walls and the IV near the bed. Then her eyes widened. “Where’s my mom?”

Bart eyed her with warmth that made her cheeks tingle. “Outside with the family.”

She blinked. “The f-family?”

“Our family, Geraldine. Joselyn, your mom and my siblings.”

She squelched the hope that fluttered in her stomach and looked down, only for Bart to tip her chin with his thumb. The gentle look in his eyes only made her anxious. “W-what happened?”

His thumb brushed the skin of her chin, gaze unwavering. “You fainted. Dehydration, lack of sleep…” his brow furrowed slightly. “And lack of food.”

Geraldine bit her bottom lip and his gaze lowered to it. She released her lip and drew both in.

He snorted. “I’m not an insensitive goat to kiss you now, Geraldine.”

Her cheeks warmed. “I-I never said a-anything like that.”

One dark brow arched inquisitively. “Since when do you stutter?”

Her whole face ignited into flames and she drew away from him only for him to seize her by the waist and draw her into his chest. Her eyes were wide on him.

“Twin bed,” he said simply, loosening his hold. “One more move and you’d fall off.”

Just when she thought her face wouldn’t get any hotter, it did. Geraldine nudged his hand off her. “Why are you on my bed?”

“As your fiancé, with your mother’s permission, I’ve been on watch duty all night.”

Her eyes widened, imagining Bart witnessing a nightmare and staring at her. She swiped a hand over her mouth. “T-the whole night?”

Bart nodded solemnly. “Your mom had the first watch, and then Phoebe who stayed for a bit until Abe came to get her and bring the younglings.”

Geraldine lowered her heated face. “Why did y’all come? It wasn’t that big a deal.”

He cupped her chin and tipped it so she was looking up at him once more. “Anything that concerns any member of the Teka family is a big deal.”

She frowned. “But I’m not…”

“You will be.” Bart stroked her skin and smiled. “But first, you have to do me a favor.”

She wanted to ask what he meant by the first comment but couldn’t, too distracted by his kind smile. “What favor?”

“No more lies, no more secrets?”

Geraldine didn’t hesitate this time and nodded, warmed by the smile he gave her.

“Good girl.” He tweaked her chin and lowered his hand to seek hers. “Now, start from the beginning.”

She frowned. “That’ll take forever. How long can you stay?”

“You’re my number one priority right now.  Tell me everything.”

Suddenly overwhelmed, Geraldine blew out a breath. “I don’t know where to start.”

“Start from the widows and governmental soldier… you threatened him to give you a divorce.”

Her eyes widened. “My mom told you?”

“No, you did in your sleep… now start talking.”

<<Chapter 22 || Chapter 24>>

Homecoming, Chapter 15

Posted on 09/02/2016

Geraldine hesitated stepping out of the comfort of her bedroom. Last night, Joselyn’s night terrors had saved her from spending another awkward moment with her in-laws. She felt bad that her baby still cried through the night, but if it prevented her from watching her mother-in-law’s resentful glares or her father-in-law’s probing stares, she was relieved to retreat to her room to take care of Joselyn all night.

Now, her daughter and mother were on the other side of the door and she could hear stilted conversation in Spanish. She’d stalled as long as she could in her bed, contemplating what to do with her in-laws and Bart for a week! More so than her in-laws, Bart was becoming a challenge for her. He didn’t stick to the script and she needed him to stay focused.

When Joselyn giggled aloud, Geraldine shook out of her reverie, took a deep breath and pulled open the door. “Good morn…” her greeting died down when she spotted Bartimeus holding Joselyn at his hip, playing with her.

Behind him, her mother Yelena watched with gentle amusement while their in-laws looked as perturbed as she felt. Geraldine blinked and turned back to Bart. “What are you doing here?”

Bart looked up at the sound of her voice and grinned. “Good morning, love.”

His grin and the gently-spoken endearment hit her square in her gut. How could he say those words so freely? And why did he look so comfortable holding Joselyn? And why was Joselyn not squirming as she usually did with strangers?

Joselyn whimpered and wriggled in Bart’s arms and Geraldine sagged with relief. Good. She started toward him, hands out to take her daughter from him.

Then Bart made a funny face and her daughter giggled, causing Geraldine to freeze in her tracks.

Her mother moved from around Bart, a knowing twinkle in her eye. “Come help me with breakfast.” She turned to the in-laws, Geraldine having forgotten they were there in those few moments, and asked what they’d like to eat.

The mother-in-law didn’t say a word, her fierce glare directed at Bart’s back. The father-in-law entreated Yelena for coffee only and averted his eyes from Bart and Joselyn, as though unable to watch this strange man charm his dead son’s daughter.

Geraldine cleared her throat and stepped in close. “I should feed her,” she said pointedly, giving Bart a look that would tolerate his protest.

He merely smiled and placed a kiss on Joselyn’s cheek before relinquishing his hold of her. Joselyn came willingly into Geraldine’s arms and snuggled in her bosom. Bart slowly lifted his gentle gaze from Joselyn to Geraldine. “You slept okay?”

Geraldine refrained from rolling her eyes. Although it was a show for her in-laws, even she was getting as unsettled as they were. “Fine. You?”

“Yup, not bad at all.” His lips twitched a smirk. “Just thought I’d stop in and properly introduce myself to your in-laws.”

“We see you already yesterday,” her mother-in-law said in English. She ignored her husband’s nudge and frowned at Bart. “You live close here?”

Bart turned to face Geraldine’s mother-in-law. “Yes, in fact, we live a few blocks from each other. My family and I live in the same neighborhood.”

The older woman’s face darkened as his words dawned on her and she jerked her glare to Geraldine. Bart subtly moved so Geraldine was shielded from her glare.

“Actually, my other reason for coming was to invite you to dinner at my place tonight.”

Geraldine gaped at him. Yelena peered from the kitchen and the in-laws stared in silence.

Bart grinned. “My sister-in-law, Phoebe, loves to entertain. And since Geri and I haven’t yet celebrated our engagement,” he glanced over his shoulder at Geraldine. “They want to combine it into a night affair.”

A-affair?” the mother-in-law eked, eyes wide. The father-in-law frowned at the connotation.

Yelena laughed and quickly translated for the in-laws since Geraldine’s tongue was stuck to the roof of her mouth. Then she turned to Bart with a grateful smile over their heads. “Thank you, Bart. That is a wonderful idea, right?”

Geraldine blinked out of the daze and met Bart’s expectant gaze. She didn’t know whether to throttle him for going ahead of her or hug him for accepting responsibility for her.

He smiled. “Her silence means yes.”

She scowled. Throttling him was a better idea.

Yelena chuckled. “Geraldine, you better stop that before Joselyn picks it up too.”

Geraldine glanced down and saw that Joselyn was in fact mimicking her frown at Bart who mirrored her expression also! She choked a laugh and smoothed her daughter’s brow, her annoyance easing away. “Fine.”

“Not fine!” the mother-in-law barked, standing to her feet. She swung a seething look at Geraldine whose smile faded. Then she glared at Bart before storming off in a huff.

Her husband had the decency to look chagrined as he too stood. “Sorry. I speak to my wife,” he said in his awkward English and hurried after her.

Yelena clucked her tongue in disapproval, muttering something under her breath before she turned back to the kitchen.

Even Bart looked chagrined. “Too soon?”

Though she was annoyed by his presumption, Geraldine was grateful for his presence nonetheless. “She’ll be fine…”

“Your father-in-law seems nice.”

She shrugged. He’d been silent even though he knew about his son’s misgivings, while her mother-in-law directly accused her of making her son unhappy. Whether or not they seemed harmless to the rest of the world, Geraldine had suffered in their household and she was a long way from forgiving them.

“Geraldine…”

She looked up and met his dark eyes. Ignoring the hitch in her pulse, she raised both brows in silent question.

“Phoebe wants to have you guys over tonight. We all need a little cheering up after yesterday.” A flicker of pain crossed his features and Geraldine felt inclined to reach for his hand. He smiled when her fingers closed around his. “You’re not hesitant now, are you?”

She rolled her eyes and tugged his hand. “What happened after you got home?”

He winced. “Eli had an attack…”

Alarm gripped her insides. “Is he okay?” she eked out. Eleazar was prone to panic attacks when he was just a child, but she hadn’t been around in a while to know if it was still prevalent.

Bart dragged a hand over his face. “I would be lying if I said he was. The house feels so stifled, like the day we were altogether and without our parents…”

She swallowed hard, the memory of those days still painful. She’d been close to his parents; Yonas and Ester Teka were like her second parents–Yonas was the father she never had. He’d taken her under his wings, teaching her about interior and exterior design, encouraging her to hone her skills. He and Ester fostered her as their own whenever her mother had to travel overseas to be with her ailing mother. .Just remembering the kind couple brought tears to her eyes. She still missed them.

“Geraldine…”

She blinked the tears away and met his tender gaze. “I’m sorry.”

He smiled gently. “I forgot that you were close to them.”

She shrugged. “What will you do about the woman?”

His smile waned and he heaved a sigh. “No idea. I think for now, we’ve discouraged her from approaching us like that again… but who’s to say she won’t try to approach Eli alone?”

Fear tightened her gut and she gaped at him. “She wouldn’t dare.”

Bart’s expression turned fierce. “She better not.”

Joselyn whined then and both looked down to see the toddler attempting another frown. The two chuckled and Geraldine smoothed her brow once again.

“We better be careful around this one,” Bart said with a boyish smile.

Geraldine nodded and gave him a half smile. “If Phoebe doesn’t mind dealing with my cantankerous mother-in-law–”

“Trust me, with Eli and Phoebe, she has no choice but to loosen up.”

The two chuckled low, aware of the charms of certain members of the Teka family. Then Geraldine tilted her face in curiosity. “Is Junior really going to be a missionary?”

Bart rolled his eyes. “That’s what he said.”

“You don’t believe him?”

He eyed her warily. “I’m pretty sure missionaries get degrees first. Won’t they need to work if they go to another country to serve?”

“Not necessarily. The missionary pastor at my grandmother’s church didn’t have one.”

Bart’s wary expression morphed into disbelief. “Junior, a pastor?”

She smirked. “Wonders never cease.”

He grunted his reply.

“Barty,” Yelena spoke from behind them. “Are you staying for breakfast?”

Geraldine purposely avoided Bartimeus’ narrowed expression and fussed with Joselyn’s tangled curls.

“No but thanks, Mrs. Yelena… I’m late for work.”

“Ah okay, see you tonight then?”

Geraldine peered over her shoulder at her mother, who gave her a pointed look that said they would be going to Bart’s home for dinner.

Bart turned and smiled at Yelena. “Yup. I’ll let Phoebe know so she can prepare.” He then turned to Geraldine, his expression inscrutable.

She felt her heart flutter as he swept past her toward the door, her feet frozen. When he said his farewell and closed the door after him, she lowered herself to the nearby seat.

Yelena studied her daughter from the door and smirked knowingly before speaking. “Call your in-laws. Breakfast is ready.”

The directive jerked Geraldine from her confused thoughts of Bart and she nodded, standing slowly. “Yes Mama….” she dragged her feet toward the guest room where her mother-in-law was undoubtedly fuming and her father-in-law quietly watched.

The day ran so fast that Geraldine was breathless by the time they pulled up the driveway of the Teka home.

Yelena whistled in awe in the back seat. “You did a great job with this place, Geri.”

Geraldine smiled. “I had help…”

And the help opened the door and strode out onto the deck, looking quite handsome in a suit jacket that encased his broad shoulders and slim jeans that accentuated his strong legs. On Bart’s right stood Darah in a blue and pink summer dress.

Suddenly, Geraldine felt under-dressed in her slacks and muslin flower blouse. Feeling the heat from her mother-in-law’s fierce glare, Geraldine didn’t dare look into the rear-view mirror.

Yelena opened the door just as Bart and Darah stepped off the last stair onto the pavement.

Darah grinned at the sight of the toddler in Yelena’s arms. “How cute!” she gushed, opening her arms to receive the child.

To Geraldine’s surprise, Joselyn willingly went to Darah’s arms.

Bart’s gaze barely skimmed Geraldine and moved to greet Yelena and then her in-laws. But once he was done with his greetings, his gaze swung back to Geraldine.

She noticed over his shoulder that the rest of the Teka family had moved onto the porch. Bart moved into her line of vision and she tilted her head back, noting the same inscrutable look from earlier that morning.

“Hey…” she managed to say, not understanding why her tongue was stuck to the roof of her mouth for the second time that day.

He didn’t answer, moving even closer until her vision was filled with only his face.

Her heart slammed against her ribs as he leaned down, knowing he was about to kiss her. Funny thing was she didn’t lift her empty hands to stop him.

Bart’s mouth landed on hers and her eyes closed willingly, her face tilting back as he kissed her.

She barely heard the sharp intake of breath as Bart’s hand cupped the back of her head to guide the kiss, and she did nothing to stop him. Didn’t want to.

Until Bart’s lips lifted from hers and he stepped back. She blinked out of the daze and spotted Darah’s amused expression. Heat surged her face, realizing what they’d done and she jerked her eyes to her in-laws, seared by her mother-in-law’s enraged expression.

Then Clement laughed from the porch and Geraldine looked away. “That’s what I’m talking about. Now come in so the entire neighborhood doesn’t start cheering.”

Bart chuckled and draped an arm around Geraldine’s shoulder. He leaned in, pressing a kiss to her ear. “Warned you,” he muttered against her skin.

Suddenly, Geraldine recalled the warning he gave yesterday about her calling him Barty and fumed inwardly. But because their families were watching them intently, she only smiled and slid an arm around his narrow waist, letting him lead her inside. For now, she’d play along.

<<Chapter 14 || Chapter 16>>

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