Posts tagged “wife

Sanctuary, Chapter 32

Posted on 17/08/2017

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?”

“He’s… out.”

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 –

<<Chapter 31 || Story Page>>

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Lighthouse, Chapter 24

Posted on 30/08/2016

In the two-room suite of Bart and Geraldine’s office, the first three Teka siblings sat in companionable silence. Bart sat behind the executive desk, Abe on the opposite chair, and Clement perched on the window sill; all three wearing pensive expressions. Although they were not biological brothers, these three reacted quite similarly in perplexing situations—initially, at least. Astonishment… and then the rest depended on their different temperaments.

“Maybe I didn’t pay that much attention during that guardianship class,” Bart finally spoke up. “But what the Sam’s hill is emancipation?”

Using profanity was one of Bart’s vices, especially when things bothered him greatly. Being a dad of four impressionable children meant he had to employ milder terms in expressing his irritation.

Abe remained silent. Though his slow-to-anger attitude made him the more approachable brother, he bottled too much inside. The only way any of his family members could tell was by the pain in his eyes. Though this time, he kept his head bent, still reeling from the letter he’d found in Eleazar’s room hours ago.

“Well, it doesn’t matter now,” Clement spoke up, crossing one ankle over the other. “The letter was dated three years ago and since we knew nothing about it, he probably changed his mind. Although I don’t see why he couldn’t wait two more years to be legally independent and leave. This emancipation nonsense, who taught him that?”

“Not even Darah, with all her teenage dramatics, mentioned such rubbish.” Bart’s brows bent in a deep V. “But seriously, was that really in the orientation because I never learned about it. Back when Mom and Dad used to really drive us insane, did any of you consider it?”

Clement shook his head and scratched his chin. “Did we have a choice? Heck, their discipline and nagging sure beat living in a different hellhole every other six months.”

Out of the three, Clement had been through the horrible foster system and bore deep scars from it. His deeply-rooted bitterness stemmed from being moved from one bad foster home to another, and though it had shaped his life mission as an overseas orphanage chaplain, it had also hardened him. Even though he’d “found God” through his job, he was still battling demons from the past.

“Maybe that’s why…”

Bart and Clement looked up at the sound of Abe’s voice. He kept his head bent.

“Maybe he thought the alternative was better.” He put a shaky hand to his forehead, missing the worried look his brothers exchanged. “Even now, he thinks we’re… stifling him too much.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Bart groused. “We’re not nearly as stern as Mom and Dad were with us.”

“Yeah well I told you we shouldn’t have let him meet that woman,” Clement pushed off the sill and walked over to Abe, placing a hand on his shoulder. He frowned at Bart. “The minute I saw her, I knew she was bad news. I bet she was the one that put that silly idea in his head. Emancipation, my foot.”

Bart arched a brow. “Mrs. Crane? Pshaw! The kid’s old enough to know better. Since he turned eighteen, he’s acting like a punk but wants to be treated like a man.”

“Weren’t we all like that once?” Abe countered gently.

“Not if Mr. and Mrs. Teka had anything to say about it,” Bart quipped, irritation forgotten for a brief moment as he thought of their late parents. “Dad didn’t hesitate putting us in check, and don’t let Mom get a hold of your ear…”

All three brothers grimaced, Clement rubbing his ear absentmindedly.

Then Abe shrugged off Bart’s hand and reached in his pocket. His brothers curiously eyed the device he pulled out.

“What’s that funny looking thing?” Clement asked, watching Abe strap it on. “A watch?”

“A fitness something-or-other,” Bart answered, leaning back in his chair. “Darah persuaded Phoebe to buy Abe one, and now Geraldine keeps threatening to get me one.”

Clement chuckled and peered over Abe’s shoulder as he fiddled with it. “Looks like a prison bracelet. What is it, a tracking device?”

“Maybe so.” Bart crossed his arms over his head. “All Abe needs to know is it monitors his blood press…” he paused at the frown wrinkling Abe’s forehead. “Is it high? Bro, we’ll figure Eli’s situation out. Stop stressing yourself—“

“No, Phoebe called a gazillion times,” Clement said. “You’re in trouble?”

“Or maybe she saw the letter. Where did you leave it—?”

The front door of the suite flung open, startling the three men. A wild-eyed Geraldine stormed in, holding a wailing Augustus on her hip. “Where in Sam’s hill are your phones?! We’ve been calling you clowns and you were just here chilling?!”

The three men shot to their feet, Bart coming around the desk. When Augustus whined for him, he plucked his last born from Geraldine and kissed the tears away. “What happened? Why is he crying?”

Clement smoothed Augustus’ ruffled curls. “Poor guy.”

A now-docile Augustus propped his tear-stained cheek against Bart’s shoulder and Geraldine ran fingers through her disheveled mane. “He saw me crying, and started… been crying since we left daycare.”

Alarmed, Bart turned to his wife. “You were crying? Why?”

“What happened?” Abe asked gently, concern etched in his features.

“Especially you, with the call feature on your tracker, should’ve known we called a million times.”

“So it is a tracker,” Clement muttered, shaking his head.

Abe frowned. “I just turned it on, what happened?”

Geraldine rolled her eyes. “You’re supposed to wear it at all times, Abe. Look, if Phoebe finds out—”

“What happened?!”

She and Augustus flinched when the three Teka men snapped in irritation. Then she sighed. “You three need to get down to the hospital, ASAP.”

Their eyes widened. “What for now?” Clement asked, articulating their unease.

Geraldine’s face fell and her lips started to quiver. Bart shifted his son out of view. “Babe, what is it?”

“Darah was taken to the emergency. It’s the baby. Phoebe’s with her…”

Clement muttered an expletive and no one had time to call him out for it. They all remembered the times Phoebe had been rushed to emergency, only to miscarry the babies she’d carried. The thought of Darah facing the same fate, propelled Abe and Clement for the door, almost tripping over each other to exit the office suite.

Bart stalled, watching Geraldine wipe stray tears from her cheeks. He didn’t dare ask what happened, the look in her eyes revealed all and chilled him to the bone.

She then nodded, confirming his fears, and opened her arms to carry Augustus. “You head down first.”

“No, let’s go together,” Bart grabbed her hand instead, knowing Geraldine needed to be there as much as any of them. As far as he was concerned, she and Phoebe had become Darah’s sisters the moment they married into the family.

Geraldine let her husband lead her down to where Abe and Clement had pulled up in front of the building. Clement rolled down the window, his grave expression matching Abe’s. “You coming?”

Bart nodded. “We’ll drop off August with Mama first.”

“No,” Geraldine protested with a shaky voice. “Go with them, I’ll meet you—”

“C’mon, let’s go!” Abe barked from the driver’s seat.

Geraldine plucked Augustus from her husband. “I’ll meet you. Go.”

Bart nodded and kissed his family before climbing in the seat behind Clement. As Abe drove away, Augustus started to whine and Geraldine jostled him against her hip. “You have to be a big brave boy for Mommy and Daddy, okay?” Her eyes watered, walking across the lot to the minivan. “No crying, okay?”

—-

L.J. stirred awake, the sound of the beeping EKG greeting him in an empty room. He groaned and closed his eyes, groggy but without the searing pain. Thank God. Now if someone could do something about the cumbersome mask around his mouth. He reached for it just as the door swung open.

“Don’t think about it, Uncle,” Hana berated in a stern tone, carrying in a flask and a book. She nudged the door to close with her hip and continued her trip to his bedside. “You need to keep it on for now.”

He frowned in disapproval, watching her pour out a cup of coffee. Although it wasn’t his favorite kind, his mouth watered for a taste.

“I promise I’ll brew you your favorite once we get out of here…” she took a sip and faked a grimace, though a telltale dimple in her right cheek gave her away.

L.J. sighed forlornly. What a nice girl… if only J.R. would change his mind. The mention of his son had him scanning the room. He frowned and swung his gaze to Hana enjoying her coffee.

“J.R. stepped out for a bit.” She lowered the cup and folded her hands on the bed railing. “Uncle… there’s something you should know.”

The wrinkle between her brow and the conflict in her eyes made the hair on his forearms stand up. L.J. had a sinking feeling he wouldn’t like what she was about to tell him.

J.R. couldn’t keep his eyes off her. He gazed at the curtain of thick lashes laid flat, her parched lips parted in sleep, tendrils of dark curly hair laying against her pixyish face. His fingers itched to touch her, to hover over the rounded tip of her nose and feel her breathing. He needed reassuring that she’d be fine, that she wouldn’t suffer like his mother had in her last moments. Cold frisson rushed through him, sending tremors along his back as it had when Phoebe finally called him back with the dreadful news.

He drew in a breath and it caught in his throat. He choked on it and immediately felt a hand on his back. Phoebe, the only other person in the room. He’d been allowed entry to the room only because the staff believed he was her fiancé. J.R. closed his eyes tight, scolding himself. He should’ve proposed sooner and made her happy with his love. Why did he waste so much time until it was too late.

Phoebe squeezed his shoulder. “It’s a blessing they could save the baby… It’s a relief.”

He just stared at Darah’s peaceful face. For now, she could rest in peace but the blood-chilling fear when Phoebe first informed him of Darah’s condition made him shiver once more. He could’ve lost them both. The thought made his eyes water. His foolish reaction of Darah’s first child not being his and his begrudging the baby’s father for causing a lifetime of drama had caused this fiasco. If she’d lost the baby, Darah would’ve been crushed and he wouldn’t be able to forgive himself.

“Maybe this is a second chance,” Phoebe spoke through J.R.’s musing and she wore a pained expression. “Not many get that chance… Darah is a lucky woman. I pray she knows that and accepts her place as a mother now.” Her eyes glistened with tears as she gazed down at Darah. “My silly, lucky sister…”

The door opened and Darah’s three older brothers stumbled into the room. Phoebe quickly wiped her eyes, but not before Abe saw her. “It’s about time—” the rest of her words were muffled in Abe’s chest as he pulled her to him and held her tight.

“Is she alright?” Bart asked, standing by J.R.’s shoulder. He and Clement frowned at Darah’s still form.

“She’s asleep,” J.R. answered listlessly, returning his eyes to her. How he wished she would open those pretty eyes of hers and melt away the fear that gripped his heart.

“What happened?” Clement muttered. “She was fine when we left her at home.”

Phoebe sniffed back tears invoked by Abe’s touch. “I should’ve insisted she eat and rest. All that running around, the sleepless nights, the stress… it was too much.”

Guilt pricked J.R., as he recalled the night Darah slept on the stiff-backed sofa in his father’s room.

“And why wasn’t she at home?”

“She insisted on going out,” Phoebe mumbled against Abe’s shoulder. “She must’ve met up with her friend, Tess. Thank God the girl was with her or else she would’ve… w-would’ve lost…”

“Friend, my foot.” Bart snorted. “No telling if she wasn’t the one that caused it.”

“No one caused anything,” Abe countered firmly. “Like Phoebe said, thank God she was there… and Darah is fine.” He stroked his wife’s hair while staring at his sister’s sleeping face. “She’ll be fine.”

Clement took the seat Phoebe abandoned for her husband’s arms, and reached for Darah’s hand. Bending his head, he began to pray silently and the family followed suit.

“What’s with the moment of silence?” a feeble voice drew them out of their musing. As they lifted their heads and opened their eyes to Darah laying there staring at them, she gave them a weak smile. “I’m not dead… yet.”

“Oh dear!” Phoebe stepped away from Abe and hurried to Darah’s side, embracing her.

Darah closed her eyes and let herself be hugged tightly. Once Phoebe released her to perch on the bed beside her, she gave her sister-in-law a more convincing smile. “I’m fine.”

“You better be fine,” Bart groused, folding arms across his chest. “You almost gave Abe a heart attack.”

“Sorry about that.” Her gaze skimmed over her brothers, then settled on J.R, smile dimming. “It won’t happen again.”

“It better not,” Clement muttered, squeezing her hand before releasing it.

J.R. swallowed hard as relief swept over him like a rushing wave, stealing his breath and his words. He’d almost lost her, all because of his foolhardiness.

Her eyes searched his face and her features tensed visibly. “Guys, can you leave us alone for a minute?”

The brothers didn’t say a word, didn’t move a step. Phoebe glanced from Darah to J.R. whose gazes were locked with such intensity, and stood to her feet. “Sure, we can do that. C’mon, boys.” She patted Clement’s shoulder, hooked an arm under Bart’s and Abe’s, and tugged them towards the door.

Clement quietly stood and followed after them, closing the door behind him.

With only the hiss of the humidifier and the faint sounds of her siblings talking outside, Darah and J.R. just stared at each other for what seemed like forever. Then Darah released a sigh and lowered her gaze. “I want you to do me a favor, J.R.”

Her gently-spoken words unlocked something in him and he reached for her hand, cradling it between his. “Anything.” In fact, he was willing to die for her if the need presented itself–his love for her was that strong, that overwhelming.

Her lashes fluttered against her cheek. “I want you to forget me. I want you to move on.”

These words pierced him like a sharp dagger. His jaw slackened and he gaped at her. What on earth was she saying?

At his stunned silence, Darah raised her head and pinned her tear-filled eyes on him. “I want you to leave me alone and go away.”

<<Chapter 23 || Chapter 25>>

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