Posts tagged “rejection

Sanctuary, Chapter 25

Posted on 02/08/2017

“I don’t like her,” Priscilla announced, hands propped at her hips.

Dula and Wubit glanced once at each other before watching the agitated doctor grow even more unsettled. Clement had still not yet returned from settling his friend Karen in his room, deciding to bunk with Ejigu in one of the small rooms near the back of the church building.

“I should’ve known she’d be trouble,” Priscilla continued, pacing the small space in the kitchen. She came to a stop and faced her friends. “Did you see the way she looked at him? Like he was some piece of meat!”

“I remember you looking at him like that,” Dula reminded her, earning a dig in his side from Wubit. Eddie who stood by the stove, dishing out the meal into small bowls, muffled a giggle.

Priscilla scowled at him. “Of course I did because he was my boyfriend!”

“Even before that…” Dula swallowed the rest and held up both hands. “I’ll go see where he is.” He stepped off the stool and hurried out of the kitchen in search for Clement. He slowed to a stop, finding Clement and his lady companion strolling toward them. Planting a smile, he narrowed the distance between them. “Hello.”

Karen looked rueful as she bowed again. “Salam.”

“You can speak English,” Clement said gently. “He understands well.”

Dula smiled for good measure. “With an accent, of course, but my college insisted we learn.”

He’d meant to assure her but the pained look on her face proved otherwise. “I didn’t mean to sound like an arrogant foreigner thinking no one else knows English besides Americans or the British. I’m sorry.”

“That’s okay, Ms.…”

“Please call me Karen.” She offered Dula a genuine smile. “You must be Dula, Clement’s oldest friend.”

“Old as in age and duration, yes,” he joked, pleased when she giggled. So she had a sense of humor. Good. “Please, come. My wife has made you some dinner.”

Karen grinned openly. “I’ve been dreaming of Ethiopian cuisine for weeks.”

With a smile, he gestured for her to go ahead and then clapped a hand over his friend’s shoulder. “Good job,” he whispered in his native tongue.

Clement’s smile froze and he turned from watching Karen to giving Dula a quizzical stare. “What?”

Dula wriggled his brows. “I thought you’d never move on from Priscilla but…”

“Hey calm down,” Clement protested half-heartedly. “We’re just friends.”

“Uh-huh,” Dula slung an arm over Clement’s shoulder and when Karen paused in step to look over her shoulder, he grinned and waved. “Let’s not keep the ladies waiting.”

Priscilla’s scowl was a bit distracting but Karen focused her attention on Eddie’s bright smile and Wubit’s warm expression. Wiping her mouth, she set her fork down. “So how long have you all worked with Clement?”

“We were at this orphanage before Brother Clement joined us in 2004.” Wubit tossed Clement a grin. “I remember he was such a know-it-all.”

Clement scoffed but continued eating.

“I can see that,” Karen teased, winking at him. “He does act like he knows everything.”

Wubit and even Eddie nodded, surprised that she could relate with their struggles. Clement shook his head. “No, I was excited about my new assignment and they wanted to stay in the past.”

Dula grunted in disagreement. “No, you were a know-it-all.”

Wubit, Karen and Eddie giggled when Clement growled. Priscilla rolled her eyes and crossed her arms.

Karen peeked at her once and then spoke. “You must be the one I talked to on the phone earlier right?”

Wubit and Dula exchanged questioning glances. Clement lifted the glass of water to his lips, gaze volleying between the two women. Priscilla arched a shapely brow. “Pardon?”

“Yeah, I think it was you… You said you were Clement’s girlfriend,” Karen merely blinked when Clement choked on his water. “Was there a reason for the lies?”

Priscilla frowned in Clement’s direction. “You told her I was lying?”

Karen noted the wrinkle in Clement’s brow. “Wait… it isn’t a lie?”

Clement swallowed the water and looked chagrined as he turned to Karen. “I can explain.”

Karen choked on an incredulous laugh and lowered the fork to the plate. Then she gave Wubit and Dula a smile. “It was nice meeting you and thank you for the delicious meal. I think I need to go to bed now.”

Dula and Wubit nodded, their smiles strained. “Goodnight,” Wubit said gently.

“Karen.”

Ignoring Clement, she also gave Eddie a smile before standing to her feet.

Clement rose with her, placing a hand on her shoulder.

“Clement,” she said in a falsely-calm tone. “I don’t want to embarrass you or myself in front of your lovely friends. So kindly let me get some rest.”

“But…”

“Brother,” Dula interjected gently and when Clement glanced his way, he shook his head imperceptibly. Wubit also nodded, silently willing him to let Karen go for tonight.

Reluctantly, Clement released Karen’s arm and she hightailed out of the kitchen and down the hall to his bedroom for the night. Heaving a deep sigh, Clement dragged a hand over his face.

“You were wrong for that, Priscilla,” Wubit berated her friend softly.

“She provoked me first.”

Clement scowled in Priscilla’s direction and stormed out in the other direction, to the small room he and Ejigu would have to share for the evening. He didn’t understand why he was so frustrated with how Priscilla behaved and Karen’s reaction, but he dropped on the bed exhausted and annoyed. Even though he was beyond exhausted, Clement tossed and turned on the cot until Ejigu dragged himself inside hours later.

“You’re still awake, Brother?”

“Hmm,” Clement muttered, tucking one hand under his head. He stared up at the ceiling, sleepless.

Ejigu chuckled, shrugging off his backpack. “Priscilla is such a pain.”

“You heard?”

“Uh-hmm. I also heard your lady friend is a fireball.”

“Firecracker,” Clement corrected softly and sighed heavily. “And yeah, looks that way.”

Though exhausted, Karen couldn’t sleep for long. She’d spent the night drifting out of sleep and tossing in bed. So after a few hours of trying to stay asleep, she gave up and left the room. The chapel was empty, so Karen claimed the first pew. An oak podium mounted the altar and a stained glass cross etched on the wall behind. Imagining Clement standing there with light casting a halo around his head made Karen smile.

The smile quickly eased away and Karen sighed deeply. “What am I doing here?”

She was a long way from home, with no way to reach her family. No doubt her family worried after not hearing from her for so long. She needed to call them soon.

Then her thoughts shifted to the children whose parents were undergoing the same turmoil or worse. She imagined their bitter and despondent cries, and wished she could do more to help.

Closing her eyes, Karen bowed her head and folded her hands. “Lord, I don’t know what else to do. I’m just one person and the bad guys are… they’re out there, doing really bad things to innocent people. But I know you are much bigger than any of them put together. Even when the wicked is mighty, you’re mightier.” She sighed deeply. “And please protect these children. Help us get them back safely to their families. Let us not lose any child to the wicked…”

Her brow furrowed. “And protect Clement also. He’s got a lot on his plate, serving as a pastor here and now having to go undercover as if he’s some James Bond…” She sighed. “I guess I did the same, so yeah. Forgive us for putting up pretenses to save the children. It’ll be great if you could provide a better way, one that we can safely bring them home and not have to sin against you.”

“Amen.”

Karen’s eyes snapped open and she jerked about to see a man sitting in the shadowed pew a few rows hers. She spun about, ignoring the quick jump in her pulse and closed her eyes. “Anyway, Father, please help me be able to locate Ashon so I can get back my passport. And keep him safe also. Oh, and help him find his daughter. In your precious name I pray. Amen.”

“Amen.”

She frowned and glanced over her shoulder at him. “It’s rude to eavesdrop on someone’s prayer.”

“Sorry.” He draped his arms around the back of the pew. “One of your prayers has been answered.”

Karen merely gave him a hairy stare and Clement chuckled in the shadows. “I see you’re still mad at me, but for the life of me, I can’t understand why.”

“Which request, Clement?”

“Ashon.”

Karen sat up. “Really?” She left her seat and walked down toward him, perching at his side. “Is he okay?”

“Hold on,” he answered with amusement in his tone. “My friend Ejigu, you’ll meet him at breakfast, he was able to get in touch with the cab your friend works for. Apparently, the day he picked you up was his last day. He no longer works for them.”

Karen frowned. “Okay, but did they have his contact information?”

“That’s why it’s a prayer answered.” Clement shifted, pulling out a sheet of paper from his pocket. “Here.”

She snatched the paper and unfolded it, although she couldn’t read it legibly.

“It’s his phone number. I doubt he’ll be awake now so let’s wait until sun-up to call him.”

“Yeah okay.” She folded and tucked the paper in her shirt pocket.

“Hmm.” Clement gestured to her. “We’ll need to get you a change of clothes.”

Karen glanced down. “No wonder your girlfriend made such a fuss. I’m still wearing your shirt.”

He heaved a sigh. “For the umpteenth time, she’s not my girlfriend.”

“Whatever.” Karen started to stand when Clement grabbed her hand. She sighed. “How many times do I have to tell you not to grab my hand whenever you like, without permission? Let go.”

“Not until you tell me what’s wrong.”

“Nothing’s wrong.” Karen lowered back onto the seat. “Let me use your phone.”

“You can’t call your friend, Karen. It’s late—”

“I need to call my family. Hand it over please…”

“Bossy woman.” Holding her with one hand, the other held out his phone. “I have an app that allows you to call without a calling card.”

“Yeah, I had one for mine. Let go, Clement.” She yanked her hand from his the minute he loosened his grip. Then standing, she relocated to her original seat and dialed her sister’s number first.

Samina picked on the second ring. “Finally! My goodness, Karen, where have you been?”

“I’m sorry, sis. It’s been a hectic week.”

“Are you okay?”

“Better than okay.” Karen dragged one foot on the cement floor. “How are you?”

“Nu-unh. You don’t get to divert attention to me when you’re the one whose been missing for a week.”

“I recall someone going off the grid for a week also, for surgery no less…”

Her sister cleared her throat. “That’s different. I was still in Houston, not some foreign place doing God knows what. Are you alright? What was hectic about your week?”

“I’ll give you details when I get home. Is Mom okay?”

“She’s pissed but that’s normal. I’ll tell her you called. Actually, it’ll be better for you to call her yourself.”

“And risk getting my ear bitten off? Nah, I’ll let you relay the news.”

Samina snorted derisively. “Anyway, when are you coming back? You’re still set for next week?”

Karen frowned, realizing that her trip was drawing to a close a little too soon. “Um, about that…”

Clement had abandoned his shadowy post to perch beside Karen. He smirked when she scooted an inch from him and found himself narrowing the gap between them. Something about her made him want to tease her, and he couldn’t figure out what or why he didn’t want to stop.

Karen scooted an inch more, teeth dragging against her bottom lip. “I might have to extend my trip.”

“What… Karen, you’ve been gone for a month and a half!”

“Yeah, I know but…” Karen sighed in exasperation as Clement scooted close, his thighs brushing hers. She tossed him a warning look which he responded with an innocent smile. She scowled. “What are you doing?”

Clement maintained his innocence and shrugged, refusing to budge.

“What am I doing?” Samina replied. “You’re the one being vague. Why do you need to extend your trip?”

“Just because…” Karen’s hip bumped into the wooden edge of the pew. She couldn’t move another inch away, pinned between Clement and the end of the pew.

“From your itinerary, I’m guessing you’re now in Ethiopia, correct?”

“Yeah, so?” Karen gestured for Clement to move. She scowled when he merely crossed his ankles and draped an arm behind her shoulders.

“You’re with that pastor guy, aren’t you? He’s the reason you’re staying, isn’t he?”

Karen stiffened and snuck a glance at Clement. He stared her down, one brow arched in silent question. She fought a grimace at Samina’s loud voice. There was little doubt in her mind he’d heard every word.

“Hey Sam, let me call you back.” She disconnected the call over her sister’s protests. “Did you hear her?”

“Not if you don’t want me to.” He drew back the arm draped behind her and eased back an inch.

“It’s fine. I have nothing to hide.” Karen lifted her chin, staring at him straight on. “Well it’s true. I like you. It’s the reason why I was pissed off last night.”

Clement remained silent, merely staring at her. It took everything in Karen to keep from not looking away. She continued. “I think it must’ve started at your sister’s wedding or maybe before that… It doesn’t matter when it happened. All I know is that I like you, Clement Teka.”

“Hey!” Clement exclaimed, rubbing the sore spot Dula had smacked him. “What was that for?”

“For being a fool.”

“I agree,” Ejigu said, folding his arms across his chest. “A woman tells you she likes you and you say what? That you’re a celibate priest?”

Clement frowned as both his friends muttered their disapproval. “Would you have preferred I led her on?”

“Admitting your feelings is not leading someone on. Don’t you like her?”

“This isn’t about liking her,” Clement countered, still rubbing the back of his head. “I already told you how difficult it is to be in a serious relationship right now. She’s saying she likes me now but she’ll be like Priscilla after a few months and end up resenting me.”

“That sounds like an excuse,” Dula groused. “A terrible one at that.”

“Not everyone is like Priscilla,” Ejigu refuted. “I haven’t met your lady yet but from what I heard, she seems very different. You’re always preaching about giving people a fair chance and not to discriminate, but you’re putting her in the same category as your ex-girlfriend. How fair is that?”

Clement regarded his friends warily. “Why are you all so invested in my love life?”

“Because you deserve to be happy,” Dula replied easily. “Marriage will do you good.”

He rolled his eyes and gestured to Ejigu. “Get him married first then. I’m fine—” He scowled when Dula smacked him upside the head. “Will you stop that?”

“Not until I knock sense back into you.” Dula shook his head and turned to Ejigu. “Never mind with him. Let’s get you married first. Maybe we can introduce you to Ms. Karen today at breakfast.”

Ejigu nodded, sneaking a peek at the frown forming on Clement’s face. He hid a smirk. “What a brilliant idea. Is she a beauty?”

“She’s beautiful.” Dula draped an arm about Ejigu’s shoulders. “Maybe you could teach her Amharic.”

“Hold on a minute,” Clement interjected. “Ejigu’s too young for her.”

“Age isn’t but a number. Besides, I like older ladies,” Ejigu tossed over his shoulder and flashed his friend a cheeky smile. Then turned to Dula. “Come introduce me to the beautiful Ms. Karen.”

The two smiling friends strolled out of Clement’s room and upon hearing the telltale growl behind the closed door, gave each other a fist bump before walking toward the kitchen.

<<Chapter 24 || Chapter 26>>

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Sanctuary, Chapter 6

Posted on 21/06/2017

For as long as Clement had been a pastor and a servant of God, he had come to the realization that God’s way of doing things and answering prayers was never his way. Sitting in the emergency waiting room with distraught members of Reginald Browser’s family was not Clement’s idea of an answered prayer. But indeed it was. After Reginald fainted, the officers were forced to end their search of the van and Ejigu gratefully directed the van toward the nearest hospital in Addis Ababa.

Since Ejigu had identified Clement as a pastor, Reginald’s wife insisted that he stay with them until the doctor gave word about her husband’s condition. Clement couldn’t refuse, not with a good conscience. After all, God had answered his prayer. They hadn’t gotten caught and the weapons were safely secure in the trunk of Ejigu’s tourist van.

A door opened and everyone but Clement stood to their feet. Belatedly, he realized that the doctor just entered the room and quickly stood also.

“Please tell me he’s alright,” the distraught wife pleaded with the solemn-faced man. She held back a whimper and her female friend drew her close. “Is my husband alright?”

The doctor nodded and Clement released a breath of relief as did the others. He could not afford a casualty because of his prayer.

Then the doctor’s solemn expression gave way to a gentle smile meant to comfort. “He was under duress because of heat exhaustion and dehydration. We’ve put him on fluids but will have to keep him for another night.”

“It’s just dehydration, Doctor?” the other male American asked, hesitance in his tone. “She mentioned that he had chest pains earlier.”

“We’re going to observe him tonight and find out what we can.” He gave the wife one last fleeting look before stepping back into the room.

“Should we trust his words?” the other woman spoke, worry etched in her brow. She rubbed her friend’s back while looking over at her own husband. “Maybe an American doctor would be better. You never know with these quack—”

“Mom!” her daughter hissed, mortification in her expression as she snuck a look at Clement.

Her father looked penitent as he turned to Clement. “Please don’t mind my wife. She’s… tired.”

Clement begged to differ that fatigue or jetlag was the woman’s only problem but he managed to rein his words and merely nodded. “It’s been a long day for us all.” And the sooner he could leave them and go about his scheduled program, the better. Patience with ignorant people was never his forte, and what he had left of it was rapidly running thin.

“Brother!” Etigu called and Clement gratefully turned away before he said something he’d regret. A burly man with a thick beard that covered half of his face and a wide smile walked behind Etigu toward them.

Clement grinned in welcome. “Dula,” He quickly stepped away from the tourists and caught the newcomer in a firm hug. “You are well*.”

What he really meant was gratitude that Dula was alive! His friend and brother had returned safely from the borders and from what he could see, without scratches or injuries. Pulling back, Clement studied Dula’s weathered features. “Please tell me you have come to rescue me,” he said in Amharic, earning a chuckle from both Ejigu and Dula.

“That I have,” Dula said, clasping his friend’s arm once before releasing him.

Satisfied and relieved, Clement faced the curious Americans. “I must leave you now. It was… a pleasure meeting you.”

Reginald’s wife smiled gratefully. “Thank you for helping us.”

“It is the work of God,” Clement said easily and turned to Ejigu, clapping his free hand over the man’s skinny shoulders. “I leave you in my brother’s care and hope you have a great stay in Addis Ababa.”

“Hopefully we’ll see you again,” the American man said, one arm draped over his daughter’s shoulder.

Clement only smiled. “Goodbye.” Then he patted Ejigu’s shoulder, shared a pointed look that promised they’d see again in the nearest future, before leading the way out with Dula following closely behind.

The moment they exited the building, the sky was dark and the streets relatively quiet. Clement stopped in his tracks and turned to Dula. The bearded man chuckled and pocketed his hands. “Everything is fine. It was a safe transfer from the van to my truck. The rest is easy from here.”

Clement blew out a breath and passed a hand over his shorn locks. One obstacle down, a million and one to go. His eyes noted Dula’s on him. “What?”

“You look different without a beard. Younger.” Dula wore a perturbed frown. “Will they recognize you?”

“I am young,” Clement countered with a smirk. “And they will, don’t worry. It grows back fast enough.”

“Well you behave like an old man.”

“My brother, you mistaken wisdom for age… something you’ve got lit—”

“Don’t even…” Dula growled. Clement burst out laughing and Dula joined in, their laughter filling the empty parking lot. Dula had stashed Clement’s duffel bag and the guns in his old and dusty jeep, and with night to aid and conceal them from watchful eyes, Clement relaxed in his seat as Dula maneuvered the jeep out of the parking lot and into the night.

The ride to Bichena would be long but relatively peaceful, especially since Dula knew all the back roads void of police surveillance. Clement rolled down the window and smiled as the warm breeze caressed his bare face. He would soon grow out his beard, so he relished this time of bare skin to air.

“Sister Priscilla has returned,” Dula said after a few moments of silence.

Clement’s eyes dragged open and he stared at the open road ahead. Priscilla James was the resident doctor at the church and his ex-girlfriend. She’d also resigned from her position shortly after their breakup months ago, and Clement didn’t think he would hear from her again. The news of her return was surprising but he merely released a breath. “When?”

Dula glanced over at him before returning his eyes to the road. “Two days ago. She asked about you.”

A vague memory of Priscilla came to Clement’s mind with her angrily forbidding him to even breathe her name before she stormed out of his office. Clement merely closed his eyes. “She’ll see me soon.”

A long stretch of silence followed and then Dula snorted. “Just when you think the drama is ov—”

“Leave it,” Clement said gently.

Another stretch of silence before Dula cleared his throat and shifted noisily in his seat. “On second thought, I’ve been driving for almost a day. Let’s switch places.”

Clement opened his eyes as Dula pulled the jeep to the side of the road. He dragged his gaze to his friend’s face and cocked a brow. “I just got to town… Jetlag, remember?”

“Spare me,” Dula shot back, not the least bit concerned for Clement’s plight. “You’re the same guy who drove a straight trip of eighteen hours north. You’ve got a mind of steel.” He put the car in park and pushed open the door. “Five hours is nothing for you.”

Groaning, Clement practically rolled out of the car and shuffled past a grinning Dula to the driver’s seat. “If we get in an accident, it’s your fault.”

“We won’t,” Dula said confidently. “But just in case…” he added with a glint in his eye as he strapped on his seatbelt.

Clement scoffed as he put the car in drive and eased onto the road. In truth, he wasn’t as physically tired as he was mentally. Mounting worry of Eleazar’s whereabouts and state of mind was doing a number on him. He had a feeling that his long absence from home strained their otherwise close relationship, and that was his only regret for becoming a missionary pastor to East Africa.

Dula’s snoring pervaded Clement’s musing and Clement glanced over at his friend who had his head dropped back, mouth open. No doubt he’d run himself ragged doing a two-person job while Clement was visiting his family in Houston.

Deciding he was responsible for his friend’s fatigue, Clement focused his attention on the road. He kept his thoughts from conjuring memories of Priscilla or he’d drive them off a cliff. Getting them safely to the church home was of most importance, for the sake of Dula’s wife and the children that couldn’t wait to see him. Even if Priscilla would also be waiting, Clement sped up on the empty highway to Bichena.

“Hey Karen,” Shonda said between bites of her burrito. “Your sister’s Samina Chance, right?”

Under the afternoon sun, the volunteer team and the children took a much-needed break in the open veranda of a local school in Kibera to eat their lunch. Some of the local children ate their rice and beans lunch under a tree while some playing a makeshift soccer game with a few volunteers. The other volunteers, including Karen and her roommates, sat on benches to eat their lunch.

At the unexpected question about her sister, Karen paused at scooping beef stew into her mouth and arched a questioning brow at Shonda. “Yeah, why?”

“I kinda stalked your profile and saw you were tagged in some of her pictures.”

Karen and Jennifer exchanged glances before Karen returned her attention to Shonda. “…okay?”

Shonda laughed and waved off her concern. “I’m not a creep.”

“Right,” Jennifer muttered and ducked away when Shonda tossed a glare at her. “You just admitted to stalking the woman’s profile…”

“Oh come on, like you don’t do that.”

Karen had definitely checked out a couple of profiles in her day, but never admitted—

“Anyway, about your sister…” Shonda’s eyes widened slightly as it did when curious about a particular gossip subject. “How’d she get to be Operating Director at House of Hope?”

Subconsciously, Karen’s shoulders drooped slightly. She eyed Shonda warily. “Providence.”

Shonda’s thick brows raised. “… what does that even mean?”

As much as she loved her sister, Karen didn’t particularly like talking about her with strangers. She sighed. “She got laid off from her job as an art teacher, decided to work as a volunteer at House of Hope. They gave her a part-time position after a few months of volunteering. Then a full-time. Then after the sitting director resigned, she was referred for the position.”

Jennifer whistled in awe. “Wow. That’s awesome.”

Shonda nodded with a grin. “Yeah. She’s lucky.”

Karen frowned. “You haven’t answered why you’re asking about my sister.”

“Oh,” Shonda started to lean back, realized that the bench was backless and quickly righted herself. “I applied for an intern position to work under your sister.”

“So you’re moving to Houston?” Jennifer asked before gulping down her coconut water.

“I have to pass the interview first but yeah, hopefully.” Her eyes skimmed Karen’s face.

“So you’re asking me instead of doing research on your own,” Karen drawled, returning her attention to the beef stew that was no longer appetizing. She couldn’t count how many people approached her just to get close to some member of her family. Being a middle child was the absolute worst.

“Don’t be offended,” Shonda said in a placating tone. “I didn’t mean to make it sound like I’m using you.”

Thankfully for Shonda, the whistle blew to signal the end of lunchtime. Karen swallowed her retort and quickly stood from the bench. There was no need making a fuss about a job Shonda might not even get.

“It doesn’’t hurt to use her as a resource,” Jennifer offered, grating Karen’s nerves.

“Yeah well…” Shonda paused and then chuckled. “Uh-oh, look who’s coming this way. Karen’s not-so-secret admirer.”

Against her better judgment, Karen glanced over her shoulder and immediately groaned. A wiry man with caramel skin, a bright smile, and a spring in his step sauntered toward them. He waved at Karen who turned away with a scowl.

Jennifer giggled. “You can’t avoid him for much longer, Karen… Might as well deal with it once and for all.”

The man came to stand near her and Karen sighed, turning back around. “Yes Reed?”

As if his smile couldn’t get any wider, he grinned fully. “Hey you.”

Karen’s stomach turned at his flirtatious tone. “Can I help you?”

“In a sec.” His eyes shifted over to Jennifer and Shonda both wearing amused expressions. “Hey ladies, enjoying your lunch?”

“Hey Reed,” Shonda said, mirth clear in her tone. “Saw you playing soccer. You’re pretty good.”

“Yeah thanks.” He swiped the sweat on his forehead. Then he returned his attention to Karen and smiled. “So can we talk?”

Not returning his smile, Karen folded her arms across her chest. “Sure. Talk.”

Shonda cleared her throat. “Uh, we’ll let you guys talk. C’mon Jen.”

Karen gritted her teeth as Shonda grabbed Jennifer’s arm and dragged her away. “What is it Reed?”

A slight wrinkle appeared between his brows and uncertainty flitted his features. He lifted a hand to the back of his head. “Am I making you uncomfortable?”

She refrained from rolling her eyes. “Not much makes me uncomfortable. Go ahead, talk. How can I help you?”

His smile returned. “That’s why I like you. You’re so down-to-earth and friendly.”

Not for long. “Thanks. Now what is it?” From the corner of her eye, she noticed both Shonda and Jennifer giving her thumbs-up. She wanted to throw something at them, shameless traitors.

He nodded, lowering his hand to his pockets. “So I know in two days, you’re heading to Kampala. Time went by so fast, right?”

It was no secret that Karen’s stay in Kenya was drawing to a close. She and Jennifer were traveling together, and the younger nurse had planned a going-away dinner at their hotel room tomorrow night. Exhaling a breath, she nodded. “Yeah, so?”

“So… I was wondering if I could get your phone number? Y’know so we can keep in touch after you leave.”

Karen couldn’t help the short laugh that escaped her lips. “I thought I said no the first time, Reed… or did you not hear me?”

“You said that but I was hoping you’d change your mind,” Reed said with a boyish smile that did absolutely nothing for Karen.

Her sister often spoke of her husband’s dogged persistence in courting her, and how it drew her to him in the end. But Karen always retorted that Topher’s good looks and charming personality won Samina’s heart, not his persistence. In fact, Karen did not prescribe to the notion that a woman could be won by just any man’s consistent pursuit. If anything, it made a woman want to run in the other direction or be more blatant in her rejection.

“Well I didn’t,” Karen answered. “No is no, Reed. Plain and simple.”

His smile eased away, followed by a frown. “How old are you again? 34?”

Karen snorted. “33 and I won’t even begin to explain why what you’re about to say is problematic.” She glanced over his shoulder, noting that the volunteers and children were walking toward the school.

“Well it’s true,” he continued. “How long you think you’ve got playing hard to get?”

She jerked her attention back to him. “If I was playing hard to get, even you’ll see that. But I’m not the slightest bit interested in you. Now if you’ll excuse—” she paused as he grabbed her arm. Karen glared at him. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

“Just hear me out first,” he said as firmly as his grip on her arm.

“Let go of my arm, Reed.” Her eyes hardened on his face. “My brother is twice your size and I’ve knocked him to his senses many times. Let go while I’m being civil.”

His expression darkened. “Why are you trippin’? Can’t someone just talk to you?”

“Well you’re doing more than talking. And I haven’t started to trip but you’re about to taste my fist if you don’t let go.” Karen jerked her hand from his loosened grip and glared at him. “I’ll say this since you’re confused and obviously don’t know any better. When a woman says she’s not interested, leave her alone. There’s nothing else you can do but mind your business. And obviously, keep your hands to yourself. Understand?”

“Just watch.” He eyed her warily. “You’re gonna end up a single, bitter old lady.”

Karen neither blinked nor flinched. “And you’re gonna end up in jail or in the hospital if you don’t take my advice. Keep your hands to yourself.” Then brushing past him, she sauntered off into the school.

Just outside the open door of the classroom, her roommates waited for her. Jennifer stared with mouth agape. Shonda wore an amused smirk and clapped dramatically.

Karen frowned, slowing to a stop. “What?”

That was beyond brilliant,” Shonda said. “That putdown was Oscar-worthy and oh-so-necessary.”

“Was it though?” Jennifer asked, just now recovering. Her brow furrowed slightly. “He didn’t mean any harm.”

“Being a bugaboo is harmful,” Shonda countered with a laugh. Then tossed over her shoulder to the open classroom. “Ain’t no one mess with Karen. She a firecracker!”

Karen refrained from rolling her eyes and moved past the two of them to enter the classroom. She needed to calm down and rearrange her expressions before she scared the innocent and sweet children of Kibera. They didn’t deserve the annoyance she felt for certain members of the volunteer team, and they were the main reason she’d come all the way from Houston… not to get involved in unnecessary drama and unwarranted romance. She didn’t have time for any of that.

“Miss Karen!” one of the children called out and Karen plastered a smile as she made her way to them.

<<Chapter 5 || Chapter 7>>

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