Her office should’ve been swarming with students. It was finals week, which meant the seniors who had procrastinated their college prep appointments would choose this last week to meet with her and the other counselors. But not a person darkened the door of her office. Phoebe was bored out of her mind.
She played tic-tac-toe against herself, doodled with her multicolored pens and counted the ceiling tiles three times. And this was her fourth round. “Seventy-two, seventy-three…” she continued, head leaning against the leather seat.
Even as she counted, her mind wandered to Clement and his family. He had one more year before graduating. She wondered if he’d had enough time to study. Did Abe and Bart help him prepare for his finals? Did they help Darah too? Was Eleazar off for the rest of the semester? Were they eating well? Did Clement have the proper diet to prepare for finals?
A knock sounded on the door and dispelled her thoughts. Phoebe looked down at her aide. “Hmm?”
“You have a visitor,” the young girl answered. “He said it’s urgent.”
Phoebe nodded, grateful for the distraction. “Please send him in.” She started to stand when a man stepped around her aide. She dropped onto her seat, gaping at Abe.
Alarm shot through her, realizing he was standing in her doorway and her aide had mentioned it was urgent. She stood quickly, heart in her throat. “What’s wrong? I-Is it the children? Junior?”
Shaking his head, Abe gave her a gentle smile, his dark eyes warming her all over.
Knees weak under her, she lowered onto her chair. As an afterthought, she gestured wordlessly to the chair opposite hers.
Abe nodded, pulled the chair back and sat down. The aide quietly closed the door behind them and Phoebe felt the air leave the room.
Silence drew out as Abe took in her office, his expression calm yet revealing none of his intentions for being here.
Phoebe swallowed hard as she took him in. He’d cut his hair, the curls lying close to his scalp. Her fingers itched to touch them and she curled them into her palms. She had no right to him. Tamping a sigh, she looked back at his face. “Is there a reason for your visit, Mr. Teka?”
His gaze jerked to hers, his thick brows arched at her formal address. “We’re back on last name basis now?”
She shrugged a shoulder and looked down. “It’s better that way…”
“Better for who?”
Phoebe didn’t dare look up. “For everyone… I almost got you guys separated for good. I acted recklessly. I should’ve stayed away.”
His silence was the last nail on the coffin of her dreams to be with him, to be with his family. Tears rushed to the surface and she willed them back, telling herself not to cry.
“You should’ve told me about your former job,” he finally said in a calm voice. “Although I should’ve been suspicious since you knew quite a bit about the process. Like you’d done it before.”
Phoebe sniffed, risking a glance at him. “I didn’t set out to be dishonest. It just never crossed my mind that my uncle would be the one conducting the visit.”
Abe just stared, his expression still calm and unreadable. “I know.”
She nodded and looked away again. “Okay.”
“That’s not why I’m here though, to scold you about what you did and didn’t do.”
“Then why are you here?” She wished he hadn’t come, his presence reminding her of what she wouldn’t have. “Clement doesn’t attend counseling anymore so you can find himself somewhere else.”
“I’ll see him at home.”
Phoebe nodded. “Okay.”
“Look at me, Phoebe.”
She closed her eyes. “No.”
“I don’t want to.”
“Because it’s hard,” she hiccuped, tears flowing free. “Because if I do, I won’t want to forget all of you.”
She frowned, looking at him now. “What?”
Abe smiled now and she blinked at the sight of it. “Don’t forget us. Don’t stay away.” He stood to his feet and moved around the desk to her. “Phoebe, I miss you. We miss you.”
Phoebe blinked twice, sure she was dreaming. Then he took her hand and she blinked again.
He tugged her hand, willing her to stand with him. When she did, he reached for her other hand. “I admit I was scared.”
She frowned. “Scared?”
Abe smiled patiently. “Of you.”
Her eyes widened. “Me? Why?”
“I was in a serious relationship in Chicago, one that came to an end because she got bored. Or whatever.” He shrugged. “The thing is I didn’t have time to really think about it since I’d just found out about my parents.”
Phoebe bit her bottom lip. “I’m sorry…”
He shook his head, eyes sweeping over her face. “She was a nice person, really kind and sweet.”
Phoebe couldn’t help a pout.
“No need to do that. She’s probably planning her wedding right now.”
Phoebe scowled. “How horrible.”
“No.” He laughed. “It was the best decision for both of us. I wouldn’t have been able to step away from Chicago and come home. She would’ve hated Houston.”
Her lips twitched wryly. “Not many can handle Houston.”
“Indeed.” His thumbs brushed the back of her hands. “Most importantly, I wouldn’t have met you.”
A warm shiver trickled down her spine, her cheeks aflame.
“I’m almost thirty and I’ve already got a family I’m responsible for. I admit the thought of adding another person to it terrified me.”
Smile wane, Phoebe gently squeezed his hands. “You’re good for them, Abe.”
He smiled. “See? There you go comforting me, assuring me I can do it.”
“You can and you will.”
His smile turned wry. “There you go again.”
Phoebe ducked her head, feeling shy.
He sighed. “I hesitated bringing baggage into a relationship. Didn’t want to freak you out.”
She looked up. “Your siblings are not baggage, Abraham.”
“I know.” Abe regarded her warmly. “That’s why you’re special.”
Phoebe smiled back. “You’re special too. I admire your courage and your love for your family. I have no doubt you all will thrive together. You must know I pray for you guys every day.”
“Thank you.” His gaze turned imploring. “But how about you pray with us from now on.”
Phoebe gaped at him, unsure she heard correctly. “Pardon me?”
“And then she said yes!” Darah gushed into the phone on her conversation with Geraldine. “Even if it’s just to them dating again, I can’t wait for them to get married.”
Amused, Bart watched Darah bounce on the sofa as she recanted Abe’s wooing of Phoebe, though his smile waned at the thought of Geraldine’s reaction to the news. No doubt her shoulders were slumped, her expression grieved at the news of Abe and Phoebe getting back together.
He ignored the pang of annoyance that prickled his gut, deciding it was none of his business who Geraldine liked.
“So when are you coming home, Geri? I miss you.”
He sat alert, ears perked as though he could hear Geraldine’s muted reply.
Darah’s bouncing stopped. “You’re not?”
“Oh.” Darah sighed. “I understand… Family comes first.”
He listened as Darah mumbled her goodbye, and feigned nonchalance when she replaced the phone on its cradle. “What’s going on?”
Darah turned a scowl to him. “Great going, Bart.”
He blinked, still unaccustomed to her mood swings. “What’d I do now?”
“You’re always in trouble,” Clement muttered from across the room, frowning over his study books.
Bart clicked his tongue in annoyance and turned to Darah’s stormy expression.
“If you’d stopped being mean to Geri, maybe she’d come back.”
Her accusation stung more than he’d have liked to admit. Bart scowled in return. “Don’t be ridiculous. It’s just a family vacation. Of course she’s coming back.”
“She said she’s not.” Darah put her hands to her hips. “And it’s all your fault! Good going, Bart!”
Mouth agape, Bart watched Darah stomp upstairs and slam the door, undoubtedly locking it behind her.
Flipping a page of his book, Clement shook his head. “Women.”
Bart’s frown darkened and he leaned back into the sofa, disconcerted over Darah’s words. She’s not coming back?
Please stay tuned for the next installment of the ‘Heart of a Home’ Series, ‘Homecoming’.