In her self-imposed prison, Darah busied herself on her social media accounts while hiding out in Eleazar’s room. It’d been only a day since she’d told her brothers the news but it felt like weeks. Both Abe and Bart hadn’t spoken to her since, and both Phoebe and Geraldine left her to stew for as long as she needed, dropping off foodwith a light tap on the door.

The kids returned in the morning to get ready for school, and Darah found Phoebe’s shushing them more of a nuisance than the children’s chatter. It was as if they wanted to avoid her as much as she wanted to avoid them.

Annoyed at her family’s behavior, she ignored the lunch tap on the door and focused on the social media to distract herself from falling into utter despondency. Although social media showed how lame her life was by flaunting her peers’ impressive life updates.

Apart from Tess and a few socially-awkward peers, everyone was getting married. And she meant everyone; including cross-eyed Deborah from eight grade. So to avoid the depression of feeling left behind, she quickly skimmed through lengthy blog posts, overly-saturated photographs of someone’s engagement pictures and passive-aggressive memes before opening her inbox.

The unread messages were impersonal; updates from her high-school reunion committee, a summer pool party on campus and peers advertising subleases. Nothing for Jeremy.

She frowned and logged off the account. Of course Jeremy wouldn’t contact her and she wouldn’t want him to since there was nothing to say. The browser automatically switched to her profile, to a picture of her wearing a fitted black dress that accentuated her slim waist and narrow hips. It was only recently, after gaining some weight from late night pizza runs and cheap candy did she start to accept her slim frame, but that didn’t stop her from wishing she possessed the head-turning curves Geraldine had. Sticks for arms and legs made her self-conscious, especially when even Jeremy teased her about them.

She blinked from the thought and heaved a sigh. “Forget about him, idiot.”

But it seemed her mind always returned to the man that betrayed her, the man whose seed she carried. Her stomach churned and she put her hand there, consciously comparing her present self to what she would like in a few months.

A tremor coursed through her. Pregnant and single. She could imagine the rumor mill in social media, with even cross-eyed Deborah weighing in.

Darah closed her eyes and willed the anxious thought away. Having a child had always been her dream, for as long as she could remember. With a house full of nieces and nephews, she couldn’t imagine not being a mother.

“You’re a natural,” Phoebe had gushed once when she rocked a restless Isaac to sleep at the age of sixteen. “You’ll be a great mother one day, Dar…”

But never in her wildest dreams could she imagine being a single mother. Darah shook her head. What’s done is done. She closed the browser with her youthful smile and opened another, searching topics on first-time motherhood.

Clement’s caller-id flashed on her screen and Darah’s heart skipped a beat. No doubt Abe or Bart had tattled to their brother overseas, hoping he could talk some sense into her.

Drawing a breath, she tapped the answer button and put the phone to her ear. “Yeah?”

Static filled the air, typical for Clement’s international calls. Then a chuckle that Darah didn’t expect. “Still hiding out?”

She frowned. “Still? It’s not even been a day yet.”

“Everyone’s worried.”

Darah turned on her side and folded her legs to her chest. “Had to be if they’re calling you.”

“Wanna tell me what happened.”

“Not really.”

Clement was silent, the static deafening the silence.

Darah hesitated at the dilemma; Clement was close to her in age but he seemed wiser, more serious now that he was a pastor. Yet, there was a calm assurance about him now than when he was a teenager. She knew she could talk freely and be minimally reprimanded. Or so she believed. She sighed. “I made a mistake. I thought he would marry me but it seems I was duped.”

“What did he promise you?”

It wasn’t the question but the way Clement asked it that made Darah sit up. “I said he promised me marriage.”

“No need for the tone, Darah.”

Her frown darkened. “Who told you?”

“Who told me what? That my baby sister’s in trouble?”

“I’m not a baby, Junior.” Her heart thudded loud in her chest, anxiety proving her wrong.

“I know.”

Static spoke as the two siblings sat in silence, separated by a thousand miles.

“J.R.”

Darah blinked to attention at the mention of the name. “Pardon?”

“J.R. called me.”

Her heart thudded for a different reason. She licked her lips and shifted in her seat. “Why?”

“Because everyone is worried about you, me included.” Clement sighed. “What is your plan?”

Darah frowned, although she shouldn’t have been. If she’d allowed Bart and Abe a chance to more than reprimand her, that would be the next question. She avoided asking herself that same question because it made her head spin.

She blew out a breath. “What else did he say?”

Clement sighed in response. “We’ll get back to your plan. He updated me on his cases, and the immigration center… and complained about his meddling father.”

She raised a brow, unable to imagine mild-mannered J.R. speaking ill of anyone. “His father?”

“Uh-hmm. Found himself in an arranged marriage scheme.”

Darah sat up in alarm. “Say what?!”

J.R. gaped at the elderly woman sitting across his walnut-oak desk. “But we had a deal, Mrs. Ganesh.”

The woman nodded, her gaze barely meeting his. She’d come into his office unannounced, not with good news but the worst news possible. The eighty-year-old widow was one of his biggest sponsors for the immigration and refugee center, and was now pulling out.

“Isn’t there something we can do to—”

“I’m sorry, beta,” she said gently and J.R.’s shoulders sagged. It hurt more when she called him son, the disappointment of her withdrawal to support him feeling more like betrayal. Her fingers tightened on her alligator-skinned purse on the desk. “Circumstances have changed.”

J.R. refrained from shaking his head; Mrs. Ganesh had once told him that his calm disposition was the reason she supported him. The thought of losing her funding made his head spin. “I…”

“It might be a good idea to hold off on the construction…”

He looked up, his brow furrowed. “What do you mean?”

This time she looked him straight in the eye. “With the threat of policies limiting immigration nationwide, wouldn’t it be difficult if the government fails to recognize your organization?”

His frown deepened, her words sounding entirely too similar to his father’s rhetoric.

“Apart from the funds you’ve received for construction, do you have enough to actually run the center?” Genuine concern was in her voice but all J.R. could hear was his father talking. “Without government backing, will you—“

“Mrs. Ganesh.”

Her brows lifted in question at his interruption. “Yes, beta?”

“Did my father contact you?”

Her brows lowered, and something flickered in her eyes that made J.R. want to groan aloud. Her gaze narrowed, wrinkles deepening around her eyes and pursed lips. “And if he did?”

A wry smile crossed his lips and J.R. lowered his head. Then a laugh tickled his throat.

“What amuses you?”

He dragged a hand over his face and sighed. Then he met her disapproving gaze, knowing he’d lost favor with her. It didn’t matter any way. “Nothing about any of this is funny, Mrs. Ganesh. Nothing at all.”

Long after Mrs. Ganesh left his office in an affronted huff, J.R. stared at the accounting spreadsheet and the blinking cursor once he’d deleted the anticipated funds for the year.

Without the expected thousands from Mrs. Ganesh, there were only two other investors aside from Bart and Geri. Those two investors were also in the same league as his father.

Being a realist kept him grounded and he considered it one of his finer attributes, but along with realism came pessimism. If he was anything like his father, he knew to expect those calls to withdraw their sponsorship by the end of the week.

His phone rang and with a sigh, he answered on the second ring. “Obed Law Associates, J.R. speaking.”

“Raju.”

His blood boiled. “Babuji,” he clipped out.

“Preethi Ganesh just called me.”

J.R. smirked. No doubt she complained about his less-than-respectful attitude to her betrayal. “I see.”

“Keep a hold on your temper. Have you forgotten she’s one of our major sponsors?”

“She was mine too.” Anger swirled in his blood. “H-how could you do that?”

“Oh, so keeping contracts does mean something to you?”

The pointed response made J.R. scowl. “What?”

“You didn’t hesitate one minute before you broke my contract with Dabir—”

Babu, a-are you s-serious?” He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Over a silly matchmaking scheme, his father canceled a major source of funding for his center. “Please t-tell me this isn’t about th-that nonsense wedding plan.”

The silence only confirmed his fears and growing disappointment with his father.

“You only stutter when you’re angry.” His father’s voice was soft, thoughtful. He could picture the deep furrow in his father’s shiny forehead. “I made you angry, son?”

J.R. clenched his jaw and focused on taking a deep breath. Getting angry wasn’t the solution. He had to think rationally. “I am… disappointed, Babuji.”

L.J. chuckled, grating J.R.’s nerves. “Good, now you understand where I stand with your behavior.”

“That center was my dream.”

“And it can still be fulfilled… with my help.”

J.R. frowned, hearing the unspoken “but” in his sentence.

“You must do me one thing however.”

Babu, I am not getting married to Hana. I thought I made myself clear that night.”

L.J. snorted. “You made yourself and myself clear, son. We all know that ship has sailed.”

Unease slithered up his gut when his father didn’t say anything further. “So… what is it?”

“You must get married by the end of this year.”

J.R. scowled. “Babuji.”

“Get married by the end of this year and I’ll support your dream wholeheartedly.”

The finality in his father’s tone wasn’t as striking as the promise if J.R. did get married.

“The sooner the better, actually,” L.J. muttered begrudgingly. “I’m among the last of my peers who isn’t a grandfather.”

“Not so. What about Mr. Dabir?” J.R. smirked, unable to resist.

“Don’t make me change my mind,” L.J. groused. “Come home early tonight.”

J.R. arched a brow, wary of his father’s constant scheming. “Having more visitors?”

L.J. snorted. “Can’t I have dinner with my only son for a change?”

It had been a while since he and his father sat together for a meal. J.R smiled genuinely. “What time?”

“Six. Eating late’s bad for my gut.”

“That’s fine. I’ll cook, you’ll wash?”

“Of course.” And without another word, L.J disconnected the call.

J.R. slowly lowered the phone to his desk and stared at the empty chair Mrs. Ganesh had once occupied. Getting rid of a huge sponsor and then offering full support didn’t make sense as far as his father was concerned. Not to mention his pressing desire to become a grandfather…

Esquire Lalana-Joel Obed was up to something and J.R. planned on finding out what it was sooner than later.

<<Chapter 7 || Chapter 9>>

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