Posts tagged “anxiety

Lighthouse, Chapter 10

Posted on 12/05/2016

An hour after he left the house for the Obed Law Associates office downtown, J.R. had no viable solution for keeping his center. Begging Mrs. Ganesh was next to impossible after he’d laughed her out of his office, and the other two wouldn’t budge without his father’s consent. Getting married by the year’s end was ridiculous; who would marry him?

“Good morning, Mr. Obed.”

J.R. glanced up at the greeting and offered a half smile as he approached the young clerk standing on the opposite side of the front desk. “Good morning Devlin. Didn’t I tell you to call me J.R though?”

The freckle-faced intern beamed. “I tried to but Mrs. Edith said first-name basis was off-limits.”

J.R. shook his head, picturing his father’s secretary of twenty-odd years and recalled her lectures when he worked as an intern while in college. He glanced over his shoulder once before leaning in. “She’s a bit of a stickler, isn’t she?”

Devlin covered her mouth to hold a giggle.

“And this stickler has been waiting for an hour,” an accented voice drawled behind him.

Devlin’s face dropped and she ducked behind the computer. With nowhere to hide, J.R. turned with a sheepish smile and met Mrs. Edith Adebo’s stern expression. “Good morning, Mrs. Edith.”

Her hawkish black eyes swept over him in the same critical manner she used every morning. “You are late for your morning meeting, Mr. Obed.”

It felt weird that she addressed him so formally even though she’d known him since he was in grade school and her first son, Segun, was one of his childhood friends. He remembered her dragging both he and Segun by the ears when they were caught doing something naughty, recalled her sharp reprimands as she treated him equally as her sons.

When his mother passed, she’d been the one to hold him as he wept, mostly because he’d been playing Nintendo upstairs the afternoon his mother succumbed to her pain. Seeing Segun’s mother regard him through the lenses of professionalism, all because he was now her boss, made him squirm.

“Hello?”

He blinked from his reverie. “Pardon?”

“Morning meeting. Late.”

J.R. nodded, heat filling his face. “Right, of course. Lead the way.”

Mrs. Edith sniffed and strode past him. “Don’t get distracted, Devlin,” she said on her way.

“Yes Ma’am,” Devlin answered sheepishly.

J.R. met Devlin’s eye and mouthed ‘she’s a ninja’ which earned the girl’s giggle. He chuckled.

“Mr. Obed!”

“Coming,” he called back to Mrs. Edith and with a quick thumbs-up to Devlin, hurried to catch up with his father’s secretary. “How is your morning going, Mrs. Edith?”

“Back on schedule now that you’re here,” she responded, her sensible heels clicking as they walked in unison down the hallway. A junior attorney greeted them both as he strolled past, to which Mrs. Edith merely nodded her greeting.

J.R. wondered if she’d always been this unfriendly, or merely putting up a front because his father didn’t want J.R. making alliances at work. He thought of her stern expressions as she reprimanded Segun and his lips twitched a smirk. Nope, she’d always been stern—

“After your morning meeting, I have a few files I need you to review before I pass them along.”

He looked back at her. At six-feet-two, he was accustomed to peering down at his female colleagues but Mrs. Edith Adebo was only a few inches shorter and her heels put her at eye-level. He raised a quizzical brow. “Files?”

She rolled her dark eyes. “If you would pay attention to the happenings of the office, Mr. Obed, you would understand that our civic cases are piling up.”

He wondered if she’d spoken to his father this way, but nodded. “I apologize for the distraction.”

“Distraction is correct.” She gestured to the conference room where a few attorneys were present, discussing amongst themselves as they awaited his attendance. “After you, Mr. Obed.”

J.R. swallowed the anxiety that always crept in whenever he had to sit with his father’s executives, all older than him. Their aged gazes sized him up and found him inadequate, but what could they do but accept Lalana-Joel’s decision to hand the reins over to his son. Not that they trusted him, and J.R. was sure his father preferred it that way. It would keep him grounded, or rather apprehensive and watchful.

“Mr. Obed?” Mrs. Edith spoke through his thoughts and she arched a brow at him.

He squared his shoulders and nodded. “Yes, coming.”

Drawing in a breath, he released it slowly before entering the room. All eyes turned to the door and the conversations ceased as the older attorneys regarded him with open disapproval for his lateness. Donning a smile, J.R. took his seat at the head of the table. “Good morning, gentlemen. I apologize for my tardiness; had an important meeting with Obed Sr. that ran a little long. You know how he gets…”

He expected a chuckle or two, but only one snorted and another coughed while the others merely squinted at him. Humor was lost on these old coots.

“Bad joke,” J.R. muttered and turned to Mrs. Edith at his right. “Let us proceed.”

She dipped her head and began reading the minutes of the last meeting.

J.R. tamped a sigh and sat back in the chair; but not to relax. He quietly regarded each attorney and executive, taking note of their furrowed brows and pursed lips. They didn’t approve of his father’s decision but this was their livelihood, so biting back their protests was all they could do. Not that they made leading them easy for J.R.

His phone buzzed loud on the desk and all eyes turned to him. Face on fire, J.R. snatched the phone and lowered it to his lap.

The men sniffed and resumed their debate on the cases at hand. Since none cared to ask for his input, J.R. furtively turned to his phone. Two messages awaited his attention; the earliest from Darah and another from Geraldine. He opened Darah’s first.

“I need to talk to you. Let’s have dinner tonight, my treat.”

J.R.’s brow furrowed. After ignoring his calls for weeks, she suddenly wanted to have dinner with him? He tamped a sigh and opened Geraldine’s text.

“Be warned. Darah’s up to something.”

His heart skipped a beat as he reopened Darah’s text, looking for a hidden message. Finding none, he shrugged it off and quickly typed out a reply. “Okay.”

“Mr. Obed,” Mrs. Edith’s voice stopped him from sending it. Her brow was furrowed in disapproval.

He lowered the phone. “Yes…?”

An executive snorted, another chuckled. “You’ve got something more important to attend to?”

J.R. shook his head and turned the phone face down. “Nope, I’m all yours.”

She’d been so sure of herself after sending J.R. that message in the morning, but hours later and no response from him, she started to sweat. It didn’t help that neither Phoebe nor Geraldine took to her line of thinking.

“This is the craziest thing you’ve ever done,” Geraldine shouted. “And that’s saying a lot considering…” she gestured to Darah’s midsection.

Darah put a hand over her stomach. “How is it crazy? Did you and Bart almost get married that way? And besides, you’ve been trying to hook me up with J.R. for years. ”

“Not like this,” Phoebe insisted. “This doesn’t make any sense, Darah.”

“He needs to get married to get his dad off his back, and to support his center. What’s the issue?”

Geraldine snorted. “The issue, Joan of Arc, is if your brothers hear about this—”

Darah sniffed and looked away. “Trust me, my brothers will be relieved. They won’t have to bear the shame of having a single mother as a sister.”

Silence filled the room and Darah instantly regretted her words.

“So that’s what this is about?” Phoebe asked in disbelief.

Darah snuck a look and found her sisters-in-law gaping at her. She sighed and looked down at her silent phone. “Isn’t it true? They haven’t spoken to me since then.”

“How can anyone speak to you when you lock yourself up in Eli’s room?” Geraldine countered.

Phoebe sighed. “Not gonna lie, Abe’s pissed. But the reason he’s avoiding you is because I said he should.”

Darah frowned, more hurt by Phoebe’s admission than Geraldine’s sharp tongue. “Why would you do that?”

“Abe has hypertension, Darah.”

She sat up. “What?!”

Phoebe  exhaled a breath and rubbed the side of her face. “We’ve had it under control for years but—”

“Years?!” Darah’s head and heart began pounding. Abe, healthy and ever-present big brother, sick? Her chest tightened as fear gripped her. Would she lose another person she loved?

“Calm down, he’s fine,” Geraldine muttered, reading the look in Darah’s eyes. “We just have to stop causing trouble… starting with you and Eli.”

Darah scowled. “How can I calm down? For years, my brother was suffering from high blood pressure and no one told me. Does everyone but me know?”

The silence and lowered eyes made Darah’s stomach turn.

“I see,” she managed to say and stood to her feet. She had no one to blame but herself for choosing to stay on campus and avoid coming home so she wouldn’t feel left out as her siblings got on with their lives and built their families. But was it worth not knowing about her own brother’s condition?

“Where are you going?” Phoebe asked, trailing Darah to the staircase.

“I need to get ready for my dinner with J.R.” Darah’s tone was cold, detached; a sure sign she was angry, which she was. Well, more hurt than angry. More afraid than hurt. She hurried up the stairs to put distance between her and Phoebe, and reached Eli’s bedroom door before Phoebe could catch up with her.

“Darah–!” the door slammed behind Phoebe’s protest.

Tears started to fall as Darah fell facedown onto the mattress and she allowed herself to weep, blaming the pregnancy for her uncontrollable emotions.

A knock sounded on her door hours later. Darah stirred from sleep and peered up at the darkened window. She groaned and turned onto her stomach. Another day wasted.

Then she sat up. Her dinner with J.R.! Snatching up her phone, she peered down at it. Her frown deepened at the blank screen. No messages from J.R.

Another knock sounded on the door.

Darah sighed. “I’m sleeping!” she answered, settling back in bed and poising to call J.R. about their dinner.

“It’s me,” J.R.’s voice sounded on the other side.

She sat up again and stared at the door. Then down at her phone and back at the door again.

“Hello?”

Darah pushed to her feet and walked to the door, creaking it slightly open. She squinted at the man standing there. “Your phone doesn’t work?”

His dark eyes never wavered from hers, sensible enough not to dip his gaze to her nightshirt. “Better to talk face to face. Can I come in?”

His shoulders were too broad to see if Phoebe stood behind him. Giving in, Darah pulled open the door and light from the hallway spilled into the dark room. She folded her arms, making no move to welcome him in just yet. “Are we going out to dinner?”

“Not when there’s plenty of food here,” J.R. quipped, making no move to enter. “Can I come in or is this a conversation you want your siblings to be a part of?”

Darah rolled her eyes and stepped out of his path. Then she flicked on the light switch and moved to perch on the bed. She patted the spot beside her, knowing him well enough to decline but offering anyway. “Sit.”

True to form, J.R. ignored her offer and perching on the desk. “What’s up?”

His stubbornness knew no bounds. She wanted to stamp her feet. “I said we’d talk over dinner.”

“I already ate downstairs. We can ask Phoebe to bring you a plate—”

“Nevermind,” she snapped, gritting her teeth. “Can’t you just cooperate with me for once?”

J.R. eyed her warily, the same look he gave her when he thought she was being dramatic.

Darah blew out a breath and folded her arms. She hitched her chin and met his gaze. “I have a proposition to make, and I want you to think about it before you say no.”

His dark brows lifted in silent question.

She drew in another breath, calming her nerves. He always made her nervous, reminding her of that incident years ago when he stared at her like this before rejecting her. Nausea rolled in her stomach and she frowned. “I mean it, J.R. This is a serious proposition and I’m laying it all on the line here, so I want you to consider it seriously.”

J.R. frowned. “What is it, Darah?”

The gentle plea had her seeking his dark, kind eyes. This was a man that cared for her—maybe not loved her as she’d once loved him—but he liked her. Their friendship spanned a decade and could tolerate a few more. They knew each other fairly well, her family adored him; and most importantly, J.R. was kind and gentle and caring. He would be a good father to her child, and she would be the key to getting his father’s approval. Yes, he’d disappointed her in the past and he was stubborn as a he-goat, but he was a dependable man. They could have a good partnership.

“Darah.”

Gazing at his face, she smiled. This could really work. “Let’s get married, J.R.”

His eyes widened and like Geraldine and Phoebe before him, his mouth dropped open.

<<Chapter 9 || Chapter 11>>

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Lighthouse, Chapter 9

Posted on 10/05/2016

Another bites the dust, J.R. thought to himself as he stormed up the sidewalk to his father’s home hours later. True to his pessimistic prediction, another sponsor called just before closing to rescind his support of the immigration center. Mr. Earl Peters from Baton Rouge was not a part of the Southeast Coalition as Mrs. Ganesh or his father, but benefited from business connections with both in the past.

The battle between the older and younger Obed men must’ve made Mr. Peters squeamish about continuing his support of J.R.’s project.

“Family misunderstandings should be settled sooner than later. If family’s not in your corner, young buck, you’ve got no one,” Mr. Peters advised J.R. before ending the call.

But how could J.R. back down when he wasn’t the one at fault? How could he settle a matter that his father refused to let settle in the first place?

He heard laughter as he entered the house, the sound prickling his already-agitated nerves. He rounded the corner and came to a complete stop. In the family room where they hardly ever entertained sat his father beaming from ear to ear, and beside him a smiling Hana. A basket containing sparkling grape juice and fruit sat in the middle of the coffee table.

J.R’s brow furrowed darkly as he swung his glare to L.J. “What’s this?”

Hana’s smile waned at the sound of his voice and L.J.’s chuckling eased away.

“You’re late.” L.J. leaned into his chair; the leather squeaking under him, deafening the awkward silence.

“Had things to do,” J.R. replied offhandedly, catching the widening of Hana’s brown eyes. He couldn’t help but frown at the sight of her. What was she doing here?

She dipped her head slightly to acknowledge him. “Good to see you again, Bhaiyaa…”

Under normal circumstances, he would’ve been polite and said ‘likewise’ or something to that effect. However, his father’s smug expression and the pesky sight of the fruit had him return his accusing glare to L.J. “What happened to dinner?”

L.J.’s salt-and-pepper brows raised pointedly. “I couldn’t very starve while you finished the things you were doing. So Hana made me dinner. Butter chicken. Delicious, I might add.”

Hana dipped her head shyly. “Thank you, Babuji.”

He winked and patted her hand. To the normal eye, it was a harmless and kind gesture between the two, but all J.R. saw was the conspiring smile marking his father’s lips and he stood. “Good for you. I’ll take my leave then since you’ve got it covered.”

He heard the leather squeak behind him as he turned away.

Bhaiyaa, won’t you eat?”

He stiffened at the entreaty in Hana’s voice. She was a kind, innocent soul and didn’t deserve his anger but at that moment, she was siding with his enemy. “I’m not hungry.”

Hana’s silence made him hesitate. L.J. snorted. “Don’t mind him, he’s just sulking.”

J.R. started up the stairs, wise not to respond to his father’s goading as he used to as an adolescent.

“Did something happen?” Hana asked just before he closed his bedroom door.

There was no time to stew over his father’s underhanded methods to get him to yield. Bringing Hana over was the last straw and he would fight fire with fire. He just wasn’t sure what weapon to use. Flipping through an old rolodex on his desk, J.R. summoned memories of his father’s former business partners and acquaintances, all who either separated from L.J. because of his ruthless tactics or abrasive personality. Though L.J. had softened a lot from when J.R. was just a boy and had just lost his mother, J.R. had a feeling there were many who had yet to forgive L.J. for his harsh treatment of them while he was grieving.

Ignoring the niggling sense that this was dishonorable, J.R. flipped the pages while fueled on frustration and revenge. His phone rang in his pocket but he ignored it, intent on finding ammunition in whatever way possible to fight back against his father’s undermining tactics.

Then a knock sounded on his door. He paused and glanced once at the door, frowning that he didn’t lock it behind him. When the knock sounded again before the knob twisted, he pushed the rolodex behind him just as the door squeaked open. His brow furrowed as Hana stepped in, hesitation making her steps awkward. “Yes?” he asked, struggling to keep his voice even.

Hana gave him a faint smile, having the decency not to inspect his room as others would’ve done on first sight. Or maybe his father had already given her the grand tour without his permission. He fumed inwardly, knowing his father all too well. ‘That old—’

“You had a long day?”

J.R. stepped out of his rising irritation and met her eyes. “Pardon?”

Her smile widened and softened at the same time. She had this calm disposition that only troubled him, as though she knew something he didn’t.

“How old are you?”

Her brow arched in question. “Isn’t that rude to ask?”

“Is it?”

Her lips twitched. “You’re an odd one, Bhaiyaa…”

“So are you.”

She blinked but recovered quickly. “Oh?”

He folded his arms across his chest. “You seem old enough to hold your own, yet you allow my father to play games with—”

“It seems you’re the one that is odd…”

It was J.R.’s turn to raise his brows. “Oh?”

She dipped her head and her smile returned. “You think your father immature to play games and me foolish enough to let him lead me on.”

J.R. smirked. So she had a backbone. Good. He could speak more freely then. “I have no intentions of marrying you, Hana.”

Hana tilted her head slightly. “What makes you think I want you to, Raju?”

He paused, not expecting that response or the personal use of his name. His brow furrowed. “Then…”

She chuckled, her laugh soft and breathy. “You are certainly the odd one.” She started for the door.

“Wait,” he heard himself speak and grimaced when she turned expectantly. He had nothing to say.

Hana smirked knowingly. “Not many people can make butter chicken as good as me. I graciously brought you a plate before you had any regrets.”

J.R. choked a laugh. Her boldness was reminiscent of someone he knew. His smile waned as Darah’s face came to his mind’s eye, recalling the disappointment in her clear hazel eyes that night. He hadn’t spoken with her since that day, and he wondered when he ever would. Was she okay? Did she finally step out of her room to speak with her brothers? Did Abe and Bart make things worse–?

“So will you eat?”

He blinked from his thoughts and met Hana’s expectant gaze. Then he sighed, relenting. Butter chicken was his favorite meal and L.J. knew that all too well.

She didn’t wait for him to give a word, turning to the door. Within seconds, she returned with a tray of the scrumptious meal and J.R.’s traitorous stomach growled on cue.

He sheepishly accepted the tray, practically salivating. Only a few people knew how to make butter chicken the way he liked it, and L.J knew that too. He set the tray on his lap and forced his gaze back to her face. “Thanks for coming to make it.”

Hana shrugged a shoulder. “Not a problem. Goodnight.”

J.R. watched her exit the room and took a minute to ponder why he still felt unsettled even after she’d gone. Something seemed off about her being there, cooking in his house, and his father’s annoying smug smile. But his stomach growled and ached to taste his favorite meal, so he shoved the pesky feeling aside and dove in.

The next morning his stomach turned with vengeance, sending him out of his room and down the hall to the bathroom. The door was locked under his insistent nudging, and J.R. groaned. His father’s room was downstairs, which meant J.R. must’ve locked it by mistake. His stomach burned to expel the contents from last night, the guilty pleasure of a meal he should’ve been careful to eat. Reaching up the ledge of the doorframe to grab the key placed there, his hand stilled at the sound of flushing on the other side.

He frowned as the faucet ran and stopped. Then the door opened and J.R. stood frozen, mouth agape.

A bare-faced Hana with a towel turban over her dark locks stood on the other side of the door. His hand dropped and he took a step back. What was still she doing here? It hadn’t occurred to him until that moment that even though her parents had returned home, she would still be here.

Then she gave him a kind smile that only made his stomach clench tight. “Good morning, Raju.”

J.R.’s hand dropped to his side, too stunned for words.

A soft giggle escaped her throat as she edged around him. “The bathroom is all yours.” She peered over her shoulder at him before turning away.

J.R. didn’t enter the bathroom, instead storming down the stairs for his father’s room. The door was unlocked and his father stood in front of his closet, sorting a slew of ties he had long since retired. J.R.  plowed forward, not bothering to knock. “Father!”

L.J. dragged his eye to J.R.’s stormy expression in the mirror. “So you’re awake?”

“W-what is she doing h-here?”

“Who?”

“Hana!” he didn’t bother lowering his voice. “W-why d-did she come b-back?”

“Lower your voice.” L.J. hung another tie. “And I said we’d be hosting her for the duration of her stay.”

“H-how long i-is she s-staying?” J.R.’s brows slammed in a deep V, silently praying it wasn’t long.

“As long as she likes.”

J.R scowled. “Why?!”

L.J. huffed a sigh. “If you’d waited to hear the reason we were celebrating, you’d have known why—“

Babuji, please…” J.R. breathed in exasperation, weary of the back and forth.

“Hana matched her chosen residency for internal medicine.”

L.J.’s expression was akin to a cat that just swallowed a canary. The fire that burned J.R.’s stomach rose up his esophagus and he swallowed it down. “Let me guess… it’s in Houston.”

“Indeed.” L.J’s smile widened. “So be a good boy and congratulate her properly. You two should get along since she’ll be staying with us until she finds a place.”

Not sure whether to rant or just run of the house, J.R. stared at his father’s reflection. “Don’t you think you’re taking this a bit too far, Babu?” he marveled at his calm tone.

L.J. must’ve been surprised at his tame reaction because his dark eyes skittered over his, hands stilled over his ties. “Taking what too far, Beta? Can’t a father assist his son with his future?”

The gentle lilt of his father’s tone and the endearment almost caught him off guard. Almost.

J.R. shook his head. “Not if you’re taking the reins of my life completely.”

“I’m merely pushing you in the right direction.”

“That’s unnecessary since I know what I’m doing.”

L.J.’s brows lifted. “Do you?”

“Yes. Let go, Babu.”

“You remember what I said, don’t you?” L.J.’s gaze was unrelenting, hardening. “You have a year to fulfill my request or that center won’t happen.”

Ignoring the wave of panic, J.R. nodded. “Yes. Let go, Babu.”

L.J. smirked. “You won’t find someone by then. Just marry Hana and save yourself the trouble.”

J.R. smirked in return. “I will figure it out. Let go, Babu.”

L.J.’s smile waned and his brow furrowed slightly. “You have someone?”

“I might.” He didn’t. Not yet. But if he wouldn’t allow L.J. to win. Not this time. “Let go, Babu.”

L.J. squinted. “Who is she?”

“You’ll see in due time. Let go, Babu.”

“We’ll see.” L.J. rolled his eyes. “Fine. I’m letting go.”

J.R. watched his father step away from the closet, heard him murmur something under his breath as he disappeared into his bathroom. Although L.J. agreed begrudgingly to stop meddling, J.R. wasn’t taking any chances. He had to come up with something and fast. And he knew just where to start.

“That’s insane!” Phoebe protested, her voice carrying up the stairs. Darah could hear her and Geraldine talking, about her no doubt. The children were at school when Darah woke hours later, having ignored the breakfast and lunch taps at her door. Now her stomach turned with a fury that worried her and had Darah leaving her refuge to seek food downstairs.

At eight weeks, her breasts felt sore and the curves she’d coveted for years were starting to fill in. Instead of rejoicing, she panicked at the implications of becoming a single mother. Closing her eyes tight, she told herself to breathe. Being a mother was what she’d always wanted. Her hands moved to her stomach. Sure it didn’t come in the right order or in the right circumstance, but she was still going to be a mother. Preparing for it wouldn’t be easy but–

“Can his father really do that?” Phoebe continued, jerking Darah from her thoughts. “And I thought I was a meddler…”

“You are,” Geraldine answered. “But looks like Mr. Obed is a lot worse. Giving J.R. an ultimatum to get married or he won’t be able to build and operate his center is ridiculous.”

Darah paused at the stairs, recalling Clement’s words about J.R.’s father. She’d laughed it off earlier; J.R. was much too stubborn for matchmaking. But an ultimatum was different and no laughing matter.

“And J.R.’s desperate isn’t he?” Phoebe asked.

Darah frowned. Could J.R. be considered desperate? That man was the most composed, well-put-together person she’d ever known. Annoyingly sensible and could never do wrong by her except when he rejected her eighteen-year-old confession of love–

“This is his life’s dream, Phoebe. He’s always wanted this center and put his whole life’s saving into establishing it. If his father blocks every source of support, poor guy’s without a center.”

“Oh no.”

Her gut tightened, imagining J.R. stalwartly supporting her siblings during every trial they faced, supporting them in whatever way he could. He was family and the thought of him facing something troublesome troubled her.

“So he has no choice but to consider the girl his father picked?”

She shook her head as she took another step down and another. There was no way J.R. would agree to something so undermining. He was much too principled.

But then again, desperate times called for desperate measures. Could J.R. be convinced? Her heart fluttered as an idea sprang forth in her mind.

“I don’t see what other choice he has,” Geraldine answered.

“Of course he has a choice,” Darah spoke up as she got to the landing. Her sisters-in-law turned in their seats, brows raised as though surprised to see her standing there. She placed her hands on her hips. “And I’m gonna help him make it.”

Geraldine arched a brow. Phoebe blinked. “What choice is that?”

“The obvious choice. Me.”

Phoebe’s mouth dropped open in shock. Geraldine frowned. “Huh?”

Darah’s lips twitched. “J.R. and I will get married. Problem solved.”

Geraldine’s jaw slackened.

<<Chapter 8 || Chapter 10>>

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