Clement rolled his eyes as Bart’s laugh carried on longer than appropriate. He cast him a quelling glare that had his older brother finally ease off the laughter. “You done?” he drawled, not the least bit amused.
Bart dropped a hand on Clement’s shoulder and flashed a cavalier smile. “Not even close.”
Clement tossed an exasperated glance to the flight listings. “I don’t even know why I invited you here.”
“I just think it’s funny how you gave me such a hard time about Geri and you think I’m gonna let you off the hook now.” He nudged his younger brother. “Besides who else would keep you company on this drive?”
“I’ve driven to the airport by myself many times.” He glanced at Bart askance. “Can’t I greet my woman alone? Is that too much to ask?”
“Not at all… but then I distinctly recall saying the same thing and everyone ignoring me to go escort my woman from the airport while I was forced to stay at home.”
“To prepare for your proposal. And it was only a few months. I haven’t seen Karen in six months.”
“I could argue that’s your fault for sending her away.”
Clement sighed deeply, acknowledging his part to play in the prolonged separation. Bart patted his brother’s shoulder. “Your waiting is over. Does she have any idea what you’re planning?”
He didn’t answer, focused on the group of passengers exiting the arrival gates. Spotting Karen right away, a grin formed and he waved, moving toward her. She looked like sunshine in her yellow sundress and braids swinging as she rushed to meet him.
Catching her by the waist, Clement lifted her in his arms. A smiling Bart hung back, watching his brother and his girlfriend openly express how much they’d missed each other. Karen showered Clement’s face with kisses and Bart chuckled, marveling that this brother had once professed to remain a bachelor for life.
Love certainly had a way of changing a man’s plans. A good thing, in his opinion. His gaze shifted to the couple standing behind Karen and he smiled, stepping forward with a hand out. “You must be Mr. Wells. I’m Bart, Clement’s older brother.”
The man dragged his stare from his daughter to the man standing before him. A wistful smile twitched his lips as he returned the handshake. “Nice to meet you. Call me Gabriel. And this is my wife, Deidre.”
“Good to meet you both,” Bart said, giving Karen’s mother a smile. “I assure you, he’s not always this rude.” He cleared his throat and patted Clement’s back. “Junior, ease up.”
Clement lowered Karen to her feet and glanced over, realizing belatedly that her parents accompanied her. Releasing Karen’s waist, he moved to her parents. “I’m sorry about…that.”
Deidre looked more amused than her husband and tugged Clement into a hug. “Any man that greets his woman like that’s a winner in my eyes. Maybe Gabriel can learn a thing or two.”
“Dee…” Gabriel tossed his wife a warning look she ignored.
Bart gave Karen a hug. “Welcome back to Ethiopia.”
Karen acknowledged Clement’s older brother with a beaming smile. “Thanks Bart. You weren’t jetlagged?”
“Not really. We’ve been busy getting acquainted with everyone at the church.” He turned back to Karen’s parents. “I can assure you Karen’s in good hands. Junior and the guys have prepared a nice suite for you.”
Gabriel and Deidre smiled, albeit strained. They still battled over their second daughter being so far away from home. Gabriel draped an arm around his wife’s shoulders.
“I can’t wait!” Karen exclaimed, tucking an arm under Clement’s. Her parents glanced once at each other. It was plain to see what made their daughter overjoyed and excited for the first time in a long time. This man and this place were the source of her joyful smiles and longing sighs.
“Also, Karen, allow me this opportunity to thank you for saving my bro from bachelor—” Bart grunted when Clement ribbed him in the side. “Okay, yeah… l’ll go get your bags.”
Gabriel exchanged a look with Clement before steering his wife in the same direction as Bart’s, leaving the couple alone. Karen giggled as Bart gave Clement a thumbs-up before he ushered her parents toward the baggage claim. “I forgot how funny he was.” She gazed up at Clement. “I’m excited to see everyone. Not more than you, of course.” She lifted a hand to his cheek. “I missed you like crazy, you have no idea.”
“I think I do,” Clement brushed a kiss on her palm. “Only Abe, Geri and Bart are here. The children stayed behind with the rest.” Clement steered her toward the baggage claim. “How are your siblings?”
“Bummed they couldn’t come. Sammy kept whining about it until we had to board the flight.”
He smirked. “Same with Darah. She made us swear to let her visit once she weans Anwar.”
“We’ll have a vacation for everyone once we’re settled…” She paused, sneaking a look at him. Her boyfriend’s expression was distant as if his attention was on anything but what she just said. Karen didn’t complain, content to finally be with him again. Six months was too long a separation, even if it was necessary.
After the first few calls from Clement and some groundwork on her part, her parents grew supportive about her move to Ethiopia. The months flew by, and her time with family and friends seemed too short. Clement was supportive and understanding, allowing her to cry and whine throughout the grueling process of breaking her lease and moving her things back up. Tying up loose ends would’ve been more painful than it was, and having Clement in her ear and on her mind made it easier. Their prayers late at night and early in the mornings were something she looked forward to. His love and respect for God strengthened hers also.
Overcome with love for her man, Karen squeezed his hand. “You shaved again. Did you miss me?”
Clement glanced down with a smile, showing he was listening after all. “That’s not even a question.” His gaze shifted and Karen turned to see Bart dragging two suitcases. Her parents trailed behind with theirs.
“Is this all you’ve got?” Bart asked, a furrow in his brow. “Your entire life fit in two bags?”
“Mom’s got one of my bags. Besides, a missionary doesn’t need much. Right Babe?”
“Right,” Clement echoed, a proud smile on his face.
Bart snorted. “Alright, Mrs. Missionary. Let’s get going. Everyone’s waiting to see you.”
She watched as Clement relieved her parents of their luggage and followed his brother outside. Giving her parents an assured smile, Karen tucked her arms under theirs and walked with them outside. She was happy.
Thanks to both Darah and Samina, she had imagined Clement waiting for her at the arrivals gate on bended knee, holding a diamond ring. Seeing him with Bart was not exactly how she’d envisioned their reunion after six months but just the sight and the feel of him was enough to dispel the initial disappointment.
A day later, Karen stared gobsmacked at Clement kneeling before her. She barely register the ring box. Tears pooled in her eyes and her tongue was stuck to the roof of her mouth.
Clement took her shocked silence in stride and reached for her hand. “I love you, Karen, and I don’t want to be parted again. Be my partner in life and service. Marry me?”
“Say yes!” Geri and Wubit called out, and laughed together. The Bichena orphans chanted the same words.
Karen laughed shakily as she looked with blurry eyes at her parents, Clement’s brothers and sister-in-law, and even the Bichena church community. Abe and Bart waved their phones, revealing that the proposal was livestreaming to the rest of the family overseas. She squinted at one screen, spotting a beaming Samina. The other was of Darah and Phoebe, cheering silently.
Clement tugged on her hand to get her attention. “So will you?”
“Of course,” Karen said easily and watched as he stood. She let him embrace her and the tears fell.
He leaned back and wiped her tears. “Today?”
Karen paused. “What?”
“Will you marry me today?”
Her mouth dropped open and she really looked at him, realizing only now that he was wearing a navy suit and she a white floral tea-length dress. She gasped and smacked a hand to her mouth. Everyone cheered.
Karen sought her parents, gaze settling on her teary-eyed mother and smiling father. “Guys…”
Gabriel stepped forward, looking dashing in his formal attire. “Ready to get married, my Princess?”
“Daddy…” Karen burst into tears, realizing that it’d all been planned. Her heart soared with joy amid the cheering and jubilating. She was getting married today!
Clement encircled her waist. “Ready?”
“Been ready six months ago,” Karen said, earning laughs and giggles from their family and friends. She only had eyes for Clement. “I can’t believe you planned this behind my back. I love you.”
“I love you too.”
“Let the festivities begin!” Bart called out and everyone cheered as the couple embraced once again.
Dula presided over the ceremony, giving a brief message on the blessed gift of marriage from God to man. She felt the gentle squeeze of Clement’s hand around hers and marveled at how blessed she was to have met and fallen in love with such a man.
“If there be any among us who doesn’t think these two be wed, speak now or forever hold your peace…” Dula smiled at the worried look on Karen’s face. “Priscilla sends her congratulations.”
Karen let out an audible sigh of relief and could’ve sworn Clement choked on a laugh. She pinched his hand but kept her face forward.
“Keep going, Pastor!” Geri called behind them and both Clement and Karen chuckled along with their guests.
Dula nodded. “By the power vested in me by the constitution of the Federal Democratic Repub…” He paused when Clement cleared his throat and smirked. “Under God our Father and Creator, I now pronounce you man and wife. Mr. Clement Teka, you may now kiss your bride.”
Their family and friends, both present and via Wi-Fi, cheered as Clement gathered Karen in his arms.
Five months later.
Eleazar set his bags on the stone floor and scanned the humble furnishings of his older brother’s living room. Noticing the wedding frame propped on the cabinet, he studied it closely.
Half the family attended the impromptu wedding ceremony. He couldn’t since his passport hadn’t processed by then. Eleazar suspected Abe purposefully delayed finding his birth certificate in time.
The door opened and a bearded stranger stepped inside with a welcoming smile. “You must be Eli, the little brother.”
Travel-worn and hungry, Eleazar merely arched a brow.
“I’m Dula,” the man continued. “A good friend of Brother Clement. Did you enjoy the ride over here?”
“It was decent,” Eleazar answered, looking past him at the open doorway. “Where is my brother?”
Eleazar arched a brow at the slight hesitation. “When is he coming back?”
It was already suspicious that Clement had sent another bearded stranger to meet him at the airport, and even that one named Ejigu, gave him a roundabout answer of his brother’s absence.
He squinted when Dula silently shrugged in response. “And you don’t know when he’s coming back?”
“It’s… hard to say. It’s been two days, but that’s normal.”
“Okay…” Eleazar frowned. “What about my sister-in-law?”
“She’s… out also.”
Just then, a girl stepped around Dula, carrying a bottle of cold water and a bowl of popcorn.
“This is Eddie,” Dula gestured to the girl. “She lives and works with us here at the church.”
She flashed Eleazar a welcoming smile and approached the table in front of him. Eleazar watched as she set down the refreshments, flashed him another smile and retreated from the room. Dula eyed him openly.
Face burning, Eleazar feigned nonchalance. “So are they together at least?”
“Your brother and sister-in-law? Oh yes, they’re always together when they go out.”
His brow furrowed. “And you don’t know where they are or when they’ll be back?”
“Nope.” Dula gestured to the snacks. “Why don’t you refresh yourself while my wife makes your dinner? Hopefully they will be home this evening.”
Eleazar warily eyed the man before lowering to his seat and reaching for the bottle of water. Gulping down the refreshing liquid, he continued his open perusal of the bungalow.
“We expanded the living quarters before your brother got married,” Dula said as Eleazar attempted to read the Amharic print on one of the snack bags. “Then we built this left wing for him and Sister Karen just a few months ago. And then he told us you were coming to visit for a month or so.”
Eleazar paused at opening the snacks. Although he’d agreed to stay just a month, he hoped Clement would let him stay longer. He couldn’t go back home now, not when—
A door slammed outside and Dula smirked wryly. “That must be your brother now.”
Eleazar shot to his feet as his brother and wife stepped inside and beside Dula, both covered in dirt and grass with their clothes disheveled and frayed. He gaped openly at them, not knowing what to say first.
Unfazed, Clement smiled in welcome. “You’re here.”
“Hi Eli.” Karen grinned through the grime on her face. “Welcome to our humble abode. Salam, Dula.”
“Salam,” Dula answered, amusement clear in his tone. “Although I think you scared the boy to silence.”
“Oh right. Eli, we’ll chat later. Uh, Dula, could you help me and Ejigu with something outside…”
“How many do you bring this time?” Dula asked, following her out through the door.
Once the two exited the room, Eleazar turned to Clement with a frown. “Did you go mud sliding?”
Clement chuckled. “You don’t know the half of it.” He gestured for his brother to sit. “How was your flight?”
“Decent,” Eleazar sat down and noticed the glint of Clement’s wedding ring. “Congratulations again.”
“Thanks,” Clement perched on a chair, regarding Eleazar openly. “What’s the plan for your month here?”
Eleazar shrugged, reluctant to divulge his plans just yet. “Not much. Maybe chill and relax. See the sights.”
“Sights? Chill?” Clement smirked, not buying it one bit. “Hate to break it to you but Bichena is not a chill-and-relax type of place. And you forget I know you better than anyone else. What’s really going on?”
“I’m serious. It’s just for a break.” Eleazar shoved popcorn into his mouth.
Deciding he had time to figure out why his youngest brother sought refuge a thousand miles from home, Clement nodded. “Fine.” He smacked his palms on his thighs and stood. “Let’s get you settled in first.”
“Aren’t you gonna take a shower first? You smell horrible.”
“After we eat. I’m starved.” He slung an arm around his brother’s neck and tugged him toward the exit.
Eleazar wrinkled his nose but let his big brother lead him out to the adjoined living area where Karen, Dula and the tour guide Ejigu awaited them. They turned toward him and Clement froze. Eleazar stopped also, noting of their worried expressions. Karen looked especially conflicted as her eyes darted between Clement to Eleazar. Taking a hint, Eleazar turned to Dula. “Mind showing me the kitchen? I’m starved.”
“Okay!” Dula said with a bright smile. His gaze flitted over the couple and back at Eleazar. “Let’s go eat.”
They waited until both exited the room. Then Ejigu turned to Clement. “Ashon just called, he needs backup.”
Clement’s stomach flipped. They just came back. “Where?”
“East of Debre,” Karen replied. “He sighted someone resembling Petra at another auction. But Eli just got here. How do we explain leaving again?”
He frowned down at her flat stomach. “We are not leaving. You’re staying and I’m—”
“You got to be kidding me.” She scowled. “I already told you I’m not leaving you—”
“I’ll go,” Ejigu smiled when they looked at him. “Sister can’t go in her condition—”
“So I’m the last one to know my wife is pregnant?” Clement frowned at Ejigu. “What were you thinking not telling me about this? You knew and kept quiet, knowing it was dangerous.”
Ejigu held up both hands. “I was sworn to secrecy.”
“Way to go throwing me under the bus, Ejigu.” Karen rolled her eyes. “Relax. I was careful.”
“Careful is staying home and taking care of yourself and our baby.”
Ejigu cleared his throat, uncomfortable as always when they argued in front of him. “I’ll tell Brother Ashon that I am coming. We will take care of it. You two stay low and spend time with your brother.”
Karen placed a hand on Clement’s arm, silencing his protest. “Let them do it this time. They can handle it.”
“And you’ll be careful,” Clement said firmly to Ejigu. “Don’t do anything stupid this time.”
Something akin to regret flashed in Ejigu’s eyes and he nodded solemnly. Clement warily eyed his friend’s barely-healed arm from the gunshot and nodded. “When will you leave?”
“As soon as I get two servings of Wubit’s porridge,” Ejigu grinned and walked out to join the others.
Karen turned Clement to face her and framed his face between her hands. “Don’t worry. They’ll be fine.”
“I know.” His eyes moved over her face, his expression remorseful. “Sorry for freaking out earlier.”
She smiled, love shining in her eyes. “It’s my fault. I should’ve told you even if you’d make me stay behind.”
“At least you know.” He brushed a thumb over her mouth, silencing her protest. “You’ve made me a happy man, Karen.” He pulled her into his arms. “Happy and blessed.”
“You and me both, Babe,” Karen said as she leaned into him, content in his embrace.
– The End –