Chapter 18>>Phoebe and Geraldine quietly watched Darah pace in front of the fireplace while she gnawed on her thumbnail, her brow furrowed in deep thought. The two sisters-in-law glanced worriedly at each other before facing Darah. “You’ll wear out the carpet that way, Darah,” Geraldine cautioned.

“And the dizziness barely stopped,” Phoebe added, reaching out a hand to the frazzled girl. “How about you sit—”

Darah edged around Phoebe’s hand and started for the door. The women hurried after her, Geraldine grabbing her shoulders while Phoebe barred the path to the exit. Darah wriggled under Geraldine’s hold. “Let me go! They’ll kill him if I don’t do something.”

“Do they have reason to?” Phoebe queried, noting the frantic glint in Darah’s eyes.

“Besides,” Geraldine grunted when Darah’s skinny elbow jutted her side. She gripped her shoulders. “J.R.’s there with them—stand still.”

“That’s the problem,” Darah persisted, struggling in Geraldine’s arms. “One look at his face and they’ll figure out who Jeremy is.” She looked to Phoebe with pleading eyes. “Please help me.”

“Who is this Jeremy guy anyway?” Brows furrowed in concern, Phoebe parked her hands to her hips.. “The father?”

Darah froze and Geraldine gaped at Phoebe. “Seriously?”

Phoebe nudged her chin towards Darah. “Look at her face and tell me who else it’ll be.”

With a dry scoff, Geraldine immediately released Darah. “Well then, we better go or else we’ll have to bail out three men tonight.”

“What about the kids?” Phoebe glanced over their heads at the staircase.

“It’s fine, I’ll go by myself,” Darah pushed away from them and hurried to the door, flinging it open. But she came to a stop at the sight of three shadows standing in the doorway. Her feet inched backwards as the shadows stepped forward.

Phoebe and Geraldine came to stand on either side of a frightened Darah as bedraggled Abe, Bart and J.R. stepped into the house, their hooded stares on Darah.

Instantly, Phoebe put a hand on Darah’s shoulder as though pre-empting her response. “What happened?” she asked her husband gently.

Face unreadable, Abe shifted his hooded gaze to his wife and pursed his lips, not saying a word.

Geraldine sighed and attempted with Bart. “Where is he?”

“He’s outside,” J.R. muttered, face hard as stone and his dark eyes remained on Darah, expression unreadable. “He wants to speak with you.”

Darah didn’t dare move; a relief to both Phoebe and Geraldine. “Can I go?”

Phoebe tamped a sigh as Abe and Bart clenched their jaw simultaneously. She squeezed Darah’s shoulder and released her. “You have ten minutes.”

“Five,” Abe and Bart said in unison.

Darah nodded and edged around J.R. to exit the house, careful not to meet J.R.’s gaze. She only released the breath she’d been holding once the door closed behind her. Her eyes sought Jeremy’s shadow and found him standing in the driveway. She hurried down the steps to meet him.

He turned at the sound of her hasty footfall and reached out a hand when she tripped over an uneven stone in the driveway. When she veered from his touch, he drew his hand behind his back and eyed her shrouded features. “Careful…”

Folding arms across her chest, she sniffed dismissively. “What are you doing here?”

“I came to see you.”

Heart skipped a beat at his softly-spoken words and Darah clinked her teeth at the unsolicited response. “Rubbish.”

Jeremy gave pause, the night’s refrain filling the silence. Then he sighed. “I see you’re still angry.”

Her lips curled in a sardonic smile. “Not at all.”

“You must’ve told your brothers about me,” he continued. “Why else would they threaten me?”

She arched a brow. “Is that all they did? Disappointing.”

Jeremy kissed his teeth. “You’re terrible.”

“And you’re trash. What do you want?”

He blew out a frustrated breath. “Just when I think we can have an adult conversa—”

“What do you want, Jeremy?” She snapped, tightening fingers against her arms. It was bad enough that she had to live with the memories of him for a lifetime through a child she wasn’t ready for, but having to see him so shortly after their breakup was pure torture. “And how on earth did you know where I live? You a stalker now?”

“Get over yourself.” Jeremy heaved out a sigh. “Tess told me.”

Darah started in shock. “Excuse me, what?!”

“Dumb fool has no idea,” Bart groused from the window, watching his sister and her ex-boyfriend speaking. “Lucky J.R. was there to prevent his untimely death.”

Geraldine patted J.R.’s shoulder. “I owe you one.”

J.R. nodded distractedly, watching Darah’s shadow and growing agitated by the moment. He wondered what they were saying, and why she stood with arms around herself. Was she threatened or nervous around the man she’d once loved or still loved? His brow furrowed deep at the thought and he curled his hands into fists in his pockets.

“What did you say to him?” Phoebe asked Abe, her hand tucked under his arm.

“Nothing,” Abe muttered, frowning out the window. “Just wanted to put his lights out.”

“Isn’t five minutes over yet?” Bart growled over Phoebe’s gasp. “What are they talking about?”

“Maybe she’s telling him he’s a father…” Phoebe noticed J.R.’s shoulders stiffen and trailed off in thought.

“Or he’s telling her the reason he’s here,” Geraldine mumbled, rubbing tension from Bart’s neck. “Calm down or I’ll deal with you if you have to take hypertension meds like Abe.”

The brothers scoffed, her threat ineffective in their frustration.

“Easier said than done, when this girl’s determined to send me to an early grave,” Bart gritted through clenched teeth.

“Over my dead body,” Geraldine countered, kneading his tense muscles.

“No one’s dying today or any day,” Phoebe said firmly. “Right, J.R.?”

All eyes shifted to J.R. standing there with a storm etched on his face.

“Buddy,” Abe said, nudging J.R. on the arm.

As though stepping from a trance, J.R. shifted his attention to the couples staring at him. He raised both brows. “Hm?”

“You alright?”

J.R. didn’t answer for a moment and the couples exchanged curious glances before he nodded. “Yeah.”

Darah gaped in silence at Jeremy for a brief moment before she choked out a laugh. “Of all people…”

Jeremy scuffed his feet against the stones lining the driveway. “I know you’re shocked.”

“Actually, nothing shocks me these days…” She shook her head. “I don’t even want to ask when you two met each other because it’s none of my business and I could care less.”

“Okay…”

Darah shook her head incredulously. Despite her bravado, she couldn’t begin to wrap her head around the thought of her friend and ex-boyfriend together. She huffed a shaky breath and met his face. “It seems I was right all along. You are scum.”

Jeremy sighed. “Can we stop with the name-calling?”

“Sure, scum. We can do that when you stop being scum, Scum,” Darah said breezily.

He snorted. “You’re still very much a child, I see.”

Darah’s lips twitched a crooked smile. “And you’re still very much pure, unadulterated trash. So what did you come here for? To inform me that you and my former best friend are engaged?”

“I already told you it’s complicated—”

“Actually save the details for someone who cares.” Darah fought the tears that threatened; not tears of sadness but mounting indignation. “What do you want?”

Jeremy dragged a hand over his face. “Look, you have something that belongs to me and I want it back.”

Alarmed, she took a step back in alarm as a cold shiver skittered down her spine. “W-what thing?” Her hands instinctively wrapped around her front. “What did that wench tell you?”

“Ugh, enough with the dramatics already!” Jeremy snapped. “I know you took it, so give it back.”

Her eyes widened, shielding her stomach. “What are you, a monster? How can I give this back?”

Jeremy inched forward. “Darah, I’m trying to be patient here but you’re trying my last nerves. Stop your games.” He grabbed her arm before she could turn away. “Give it to me!”

Heart in her throat, she attempted yanking her arm from his tightening grip. “Let me go!”

“Not until you give it to me,” he insisted, his voice hardening as the hold on her arm.

She whimpered as he hovered dangerously too close, his grip unrelenting. “Let me go!”

“Not until–!” A force hit Jeremy from the side and with a grunt, he released Darah’s hand.

Cradling her hand, she gaped as two bodies rolled in the grass. The smaller of the two scrambled on top the other; fighting with merciless fists, and eliciting pain-wrought grunts from the one on the bottom. Her eyes widened in recognition and she stood upright. “Eli!”

The front door opened, all five adults hurrying down to where Eleazar and Jeremy tousled in the grass.

At first, Phoebe and Geraldine crowded Darah while the three men rushed to Eleazar’s side. Then Bart jumped into the fray, followed by Abe. Screaming at their husbands, the women left Darah’s side and hurried to help J.R. break up the fight.

Eleazar flinched as the metal doors slid close, while Bart sat cross-legged and stone-faced on one corner of their holding cell. The seasoned police officer clucked his tongue in disappointment as he locked the cell door. “If your parents could see you now… may their souls rest in peace.”

“They’re at peace, Officer Holden,” Abe drawled with his arms folded. “Thanks for your concern though.”

“I’d expected you’d outgrown such behavior.”

“Aren’t there criminals to arrest?” Bart countered, eying the older gentleman only a few years younger than his late parents. “Or you’ve got nothing else to do than eat donuts and harass innocent citizens?”

“Innocent my butt. I’ve got criminals sitting right here,” Officer Holden replied breezily, moving to the edge of the cell. “You’ve gotta be careful, since you’ve got a record. Aren’t you a father now?”

Eleazar gaped at Bart. “You do?”

Bart’s expression turned rueful but he remained silent.

Officer Holden turned to the youngest Teka male with a mock grave expression. “Yeah, misdemeanor when he was about your age. And it seems you’ll have one too.”

“Not on my watch,” a voice drawled behind him and all eyes turned to see J.R. stroll into the office.

The officer arched a brow. “And you are?”

“Our family lawyer,” Abe answered, standing from the bench. “Are we clear?”

J.R. nodded solemnly. “He won’t press charges. But we’ll have to bail you out tomorrow.”

Puzzled, the three men frowned.

“Why tomorrow?” Bart asked, standing also.

“Phoebe and Geri said to let you stay here for the night.” J.R. shrugged. “They don’t want to see you right now.”

Officer Holden chuckled and all the puzzled gazes shifted back to him. “It’s true that hell hath no fury than a wife’s anger… or something like that.” He smirked. “In any case, it’s a more suitable punishment for you boys.” Whistling, he walked away jauntily, leaving the men reeling in silence.

Abe recovered first and met J.R.’s solemn stare. “What did he say? Why’d he do that to Darah?”

J.R. sighed. “He alleged Darah stole a file from him.”

“Alleged. That piece of trash!” Bart sneered, gripping the cell bars.

“I should punch him again,” Eleazar added, scowling.

Abe frowned. “What file?”

J.R. shrugged. “The details aren’t clear, but it seems Darah knows what he’s talking about.”

“Did she take it?”

The brothers waited for J.R.’s response, but in that pause, they realized the truth.

Bart groaned and turned away. Frustrated, Abe dragged a hand over his face and Eleazar just stared past J.R., all four believing Darah was guilty as charged.

<<Chapter 16 || Chapter 18>>

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