Clement blinked, not quite sure he heard her correctly. She couldn’t have interrupted his sleep to interrogate him about personal matters. “What?”
“A woman named Karen called asking for you.”
“You went through my phone?”
“I did not. Meko was playing with it when she called. Who is Karen?”
Clement stared at her for a moment and then shook his head. “We’re no longer in a relationship, which means I don’t have to answer that question. What else do you want to talk about?”
Her frown deepened. “You’re dating her?”
“Priscilla, I’m tired and my head hurts. Either say something relevant or go to your room.”
“So she’s irrelevant?”
“Oh my God,” Clement groaned, covering his eyes.
“I’ll take that as a yes.” There was a lilt in her tone. “Okay, next subject. How did it go?”
He uncovered one eye and regarded her warily. “Thought you didn’t care.”
“Of course I care,” Priscilla countered. “How come it’s different when Wubit gets mad about Dula’s involvement but I get crucified when I do it with you?”
“She’s his wife. It’s her right to be concerned.”
“Wow, Clement. That was low.”
He tamped a sigh, not in the mood for conversation. “On second thought, I don’t want to do this now. Please close the door on your way out.”
“You’re such a jerk when you’re mad.”
Clement arched a brow. “Who isn’t a jerk when they’re mad? You cursed me out and broke up with me on the same night.”
“I was worried for your safety!” Priscilla insisted. “Do you have any idea what I went through—?”
“Priscilla, enough already. We’ve been through this too many times to rehash it again.” He pinned a hard look at her. “I understand this isn’t what you expected coming back for the third time. But not everything can go your way just because you want it.”
“You broke up with me twice and I’ve finally moved on. So if you’re here to stay, let it be clear the only relationship between us is for the children’s benefit, not yours.”
Her eyes glistened with unshed tears. “Are you being serious right now?”
“Very serious. Since we need a doctor and the children are used to you, it’ll be better than having to hire a stranger. So feel free to stay.”
Priscilla sniffed noisily, tears pooling.
He rubbed at his weary eyes. “If that’s all, I’d like to get some sleep.”
Wordlessly, she stood from the bed and shuffled to the door.
Clement sighed deeply. “Wait. Priscilla.”
She turned to face him, hope plain in her eyes.
“My phone, please.”
Her lips thinned. Shuffling back to the bed, Priscilla fished in her pocket for the phone and dropped it in his open hand.
Clement waited until she left the room before dropping his head back on the pillow. So much for a peaceful night.
His eyes opened, realizing Karen Wells had called. Curiosity trumped sleep, and Clement held the phone up to his face.
A smile formed as he recalled Karen planting a kiss to his cheek before hurrying away. In all honesty, that kiss had stayed on his mind and distracted him for the rest of the day. It was only the shocker of Eleazar’s absence that knocked him back to his senses.
Karen was a smart and beautiful woman, just like Priscilla. From what he knew about her, she had a gentle spirit that was necessary to take care of patients including Darah’s cranky father-in-law. Unlike Priscilla, her bedside manners extended outside the hospital; she was friendly and graceful with everyone.
Clement’s smile froze, realizing the direction of his thoughts. That wasn’t a fair comparison.
Priscilla was sweet when in the mood for it. However, her stubbornness often clashed with his. After many years of arguing and restarting their relationship again and again, Clement couldn’t imagine a future with someone as stubborn and hard-headed as he was.
Although his brother Bart and sister-in-law Geraldine had similar temperaments, one of them often deferred to the other… Priscilla deferred to no one.
He shook his head, feeling a headache creep up his temples. His five-year relationship with Priscilla was finally over, and he could move on with his life. Besides, there were far too many pressures other than relationships to consider.
Reminding himself that Karen was just a friend of the family and her spontaneous kiss was due to gratitude for his support, Clement dialed her international number and waited for an answer. He looked forward to talking with Karen, even if it was just for a minute or two. She was always a breath of fresh air and managed to draw a laugh out of him.
He’d readily forfeit an hour of sleep to chase away the troubles from his mind.
Karen struggled to stay awake, her body unable to take another minute of the grueling 12-hour seminar. It was one workshop after another all day, discussing everything from child slavery to HIV prevention. Some were informative and thought-provoking, while some felt like review sessions in nursing school.
This particular session focused on wound care and Karen instantly tuned out the presenter. She could treat wounds in her sleep.
Blinking weary and dry eyes, Karen reached for her cup of coffee only to find it empty. The groan escaped her lips and the volunteer beside her snickered. Karen propped up her elbow, resting her cheek there. The makeshift pillow only weakened her resolve to stay awake, and her eyes started to close.
“Karen,” a voice called out, followed by a nudge on her arm.
She jolted awake, earning chuckles and giggles all around. Karen blinked sleepy eyes. “Huh?”
The presenter smiled patiently. “For those with little first-aid experience, could you explain the difference between CAT and SOFT tourniquets?”
She refrained from rolling her eyes and glanced over to where Jennifer sat on another row. After the first workshop on illegal adoptions, Jennifer steered clear of her. It made no difference to Karen either way. Glancing once at the stapled papers, Karen shrugged. “One is hard and the other soft?”
Her cavalier response invoked laughter all around, and even the presenter chuckled. “Final answer?”
“Maybe…” Karen paused as her phone lit up on the table. The +251 number was unlisted but she recognized it after contemplating whether to save it or not. Clement Teka’s phone number. Without hesitation, she snatched it off the desk and stood. “Excuse me. Call.”
Not waiting for a response, Karen made her way out of the classroom, relieved for the distraction. Tapping the green call button, she held the phone to her ear. “Hello?”
Against her better judgment, Karen’s stomach did a somersault. Clement’s baritone tickled her ears, a pleasant sensation that she didn’t mind one bit. Realizing herself, she frowned. “Hey.”
“… Is this a bad time? Did I wake you?”
Her lips twitched a wry smile. “Sorta.”
“Oh sorry. I can call back—”
“It’s fine, I’m awake now.” Karen attempted sounding as casual as possible, not an easy task with butterflies quivering in her belly. “What’s up?”
There was a slight pause and Karen feared he’d hung up. Then he let out a deep yawn that had Karen’s brows lift in surprise. “My bad. Long…” he paused to yawn again. “… day. Sorry.”
“Probably not as long as mine,” she said, a smile forming against her resolve. He was so stinking adorable.
“Oh yeah? What was your day like?”
“Workshops since morning. Attempting to stay awake but losing the battle before you called.”
Clement’s low chuckle felt like a warm blanket. “Hopefully you’ll get to rest soon.”
“Yeah, hopefully,” Karen replied, leaning against the wall. “So what’s up?”
“I forgot my phone at home and missed your call. Sorry about that. Everything good?”
‘At home’ was all it took for Karen to recall his girlfriend, and her smile faded instantly. “It’s all good.”
“I’d like to hear about your adventures but I might fall sleep on you and miss all the good stories. So can I call you tomorrow?”
Karen frowned as her unruly heart skipped a beat. “Your girl cool with that?”
“… my girl?”
She rolled her eyes. “Your whole girlfriend, Clement. Remember her?”
Clement choked on a laugh. “Not sure what you mean.”
“Your girlfriend. Y’know, the one who answered your phone while you were gone.”
“Karen…” he sighed. “I don’t have a girlfriend.”
“Uh-huh.” She frowned, ignoring the fluttering in her gut. “Say listen, I gotta head back to this workshop so… yeah.”
“Sure. I can call you tomorrow.”
Karen rolled her eyes. “There’s no need. We’ll have plenty of time to catch up once I get to Addis Ababa.”
He paused briefly and then sighed again. “Okay. When do you get here?”
“In a few days. I’ll call you.”
“…okay. Take care.”
“Goodbye,” she said and quickly disconnected the call.
He must’ve thought she was that gullible. And it was her fault for making it a bigger deal that it needed to be. She was thirty-three, for goodness’ sake, not some teenage girl crushing hard on a guy. There were plenty of available men out there, if she was interested, but she had no time for drama. Relationships were more than she could deal with currently, and she had her travel adventures to occupy her time and mind space.
Still, it sucked that even a man of God attempted to pull the wool over her eyes.
Annoyed with Clement but mostly herself, Karen shoved the phone into her pocket and returned to the classroom.