Posts tagged “conflict

Lighthouse, Chapter 23

Posted on 24/08/2016

J.R. gritted his teeth as Darah’s monotonous voice message played for the fifth time, this time he didn’t wait and disconnected the call. Then he blew out a breath.

“What, she’s not answering?”

Glancing once at Hana beside him, J.R. shook his head and started re-dialing.

Bhaiyaa, I really don’t think harassing—”

“I’ll be back,” he answered curtly and stood. Putting the phone to his ear, J.R. exited the room without hearing her response.

Though acutely aware of his brusque attitude with Hana, his growing frustration with Darah’s evasiveness left no room for patience. Three days had passed since he’d last seen Darah; terrified and trembling in front of his father’s hospital room. And since not even Clement was gracious enough to tell him what happened, he had to play phone tag until someone picked up—

“Teka House, may I know who’s speaking?”

J.R.’s face lit up at the sound of Abe and Phoebe’s eldest child. “Isaac, hey. It’s Uncle J.R.”

When there was a pause on the other line, J.R.’s brow furrowed. “Hello?”

“Uh, yeah… Uncle J.R., hello.”

Pausing, J.R. imagined what or who could cause awkwardness in his reply. “She’s there, isn’t she?”

Isaac peeked once at Darah gesturing wildly for him to keep her presence unknown. His eleven-year-old mind didn’t understand why telling a lie was right, no matter how many times his aunty reassured him. More troubling was why she didn’t want to talk to Uncle J.R. “Um….”

J.R. would’ve laughed if he wasn’t ridden with anxiety. This woman would be the death of him; that much was for sure. Dragging a hand over his face, he exhaled a breath. “Okay, don’t say anything but yes or no. Is your aunt sitting next to you right now?”

Again, Isaac peered over at his aunt who shook her head as though reading his mind. He worried his bottom lip, very much like his mother did when unsure. “Yes.”

“Is she okay?”

The pre-teen arched a brow when his aunty kept gesticulating wildly, as if he contemplated whether or not she was in her right mind. He sighed again and nodded. “Yes.”

J.R. breathed out a sigh of relief. “Okay, good… That’s good.”

“What’s he saying?” she mouthed to her nephew who merely shrugged, his brow knotted in confusion.

Deciding it was much easier hiding out in the room than making the kids lie on her behalf, she headed for the stairs. Upon descent, her legs were like jelly and tingled with every step. She had to hold the banister to guide her. Topping the last step, she heard Phoebe clucking her tongue in disapproval by Eli’s bedroom door.

“When will you stop playing phone tag with this poor man?” Phoebe came to stand before her, arms folded. “And it’s not cool to have the kids do your dirty work, Darah.”

“If he’d stop calling, I won’t need to do that.” She moved around her to enter the room. “I don’t have anything to say to him.”

“Yeah right. Weren’t you the one just begging Clement to take you to him? I don’t buy it.” Phoebe perched beside her. “What happened at the hospital?”

“I don’t have anything to say about that either.” She quickly turned away so her sister-in-law couldn’t read her face. The tingling sensation still remained, traveling up her legs to her hips. Instinctively, she wrapped a hand over her stomach and closed her eyes.

“In any case,” Phoebe spoke after a moment of silence. “The next time he calls my phone I’ll answer. If you won’t give me a reason for why we have to avoid him, I’ll have to do what is necessary.”

“Please don’t meddle.” Darah winced as the tingle morphed into a piercing pain across her stomach. She pressed fingers against her lower abdomen.

Phoebe scoffed. “When you’ve got the kids involved, how could I not?”

Darah didn’t respond at first, her body taut until the wave of pain eased off. She drew in a breath and released it, grateful for the reprieve. The painful pangs only came once in a while, and could easily be solved by eating. Realizing both breakfast and lunch had been forgotten today, she pushed herself up on her elbow. “Hey, is there any food?”

“So now you’re ready to eat without me begging?”

She ignored the derisive tone, well aware of the fact that Phoebe almost force-fed her for three straight days. She rolled her eyes. “My appetite is back. Look if there’s nothing, I’ll go get it myself.”

Phoebe smirked. “Okay then. What are you craving?”

As another twinge of pain squeezed her stomach, she stifled a grimace. The urgency to eat something couldn’t wait for Phoebe’s meticulous cooking. “Actually, never mind. I need some fresh air, so I’ll get something from the store.”

“Hope not fast food,” Phoebe said, following her out the door. “You’ve got to be careful about greasy stuff now, okay?”

“Got it,” Darah answered without exasperation, slightly distracted by the tingling in her stomach. Reaching the bottom of the step, she passed Isaac still on the phone. “Hang up the phone, Isaac!” she called over her shoulder, grabbing the car keys from the console table on her way to the door.

“Where’s she going?” Isaac asked his mother who placed a hand over his shoulder. He gladly relinquished the phone to her when she held out a hand and hurried back upstairs to play video games before it was time for homework.

“Hey J.R.,” Phoebe spoke into the phone, watching from the window as Darah climbed down the porch steps to the driveway. “How are you?”

Grimacing fully now, she rubbed her belly and walked up to the minivan. “What’s wrong, baby? I’m about to feed you so—”

“Darah?”

At the familiar voice, her face darkened and she turned to see Tess standing in the driveway.

With a sheepish expression, Tess waved. “Hey.”

Darah’s scowl darkened and she folded her arms across her chest. “What do you want? I’m busy.”

Her smile slipped off her face and Tess lowered her hand, tucking it behind her. “Can we talk?”

With the tingling in her legs resuming, Darah readied herself to reject the request. She didn’t have time for unpleasant chats with traitor ex-best friends.

“Maybe a café somewhere near. It’s on me.” Her expression turned plaintive. “Please?”

On cue, Darah’s stomach growled and Tess’s eyes dropped to it. Darah pursed her lips in thought. As much as she didn’t want to talk with Tess, it would be foolish of her to pass up free food. She cleared her throat and tilted her chin as haughtily as she could. “Where to?”

A ghost of a smile twitched Tess’s lips but faded quickly. “Uh, how about the Thai café you like, the one across the library?”

Apparently the baby wanted Thai food as much as she did, her stomach twisting and turning violently and loudly too. She cleared her throat to mask the gurgling sounds and shrugged. “I guess.”

“Uh, okay…” Tess paused, noting Darah’s legs trembled visibly. “Are you okay?”

“Yup.” Darah placed hands on her hips, adopting a casual air in spite of her wobbly legs. “Go ahead, I’ll meet you there.”

“You sure? We could drive together if—”

“That won’t be happening.” She threw Tess a withering look that brooked no argument. “Go on ahead.”

Tess nodded, her eyes volleying between Darah’s flat stomach and face. “Guess I’ll see you there then.”

“Right,” Darah answered curtly, keeping her face void of emotion until Tess finally turned away. Leaning back against the car door, she glared at the car blocking her passage. “Annoying wench.”

Her suspicion was confirmed moments later when Darah glanced at the rearview mirror and spotted Tess’ car trailing hers. In a moment of pettiness that would disapprove Phoebe, Darah suddenly braked hard and despite the niggling ache in her stomach, she grinned when brakes screeched loud behind her.

Then a car bleated impatiently behind Tess’s car and Darah’s smile disappeared. She immediately stepped off the brakes, deciding to hear Tess once she’d filled her restless belly.

Minutes later with an unsettled stomach, Darah wished she’d ignored Tess altogether. Even with an appealing plate of pad Thai before her, the smell of curry and peanut made her mouth water for a different reason. She pushed the nausea down and nudged the plate away.

“Don’t you have anything to ask me?” Tess took a sip of her water before reaching for her spoon. “I mean, I’m sure you have plenty questions about Jeremy and I.”

Darah dragged her eyes to the middle of Tess’s forehead. “I actually don’t.”

Tess didn’t look convinced. “You seriously don’t want to know how it happened?”

“Not really. Look, I’m not in the mood for small talk if that’s why you lured me here.”

Tess frowned at Darah’s untouched plate. “Isn’t Pad Thai your favorite, or do you want something else?” She turned her head and signaled for the waiter.

“Don’t bother with the fake courtesy either,” Darah replied, rubbing the tension in her stomach. “And don’t look at me like that. We have no reason to sit together and eat like we’re friends or something.”

One brow arched, Tess snorted. Then she lowered her gaze to her green curry dish and giggled.

Darah scowled. “And what’s so funny?”

“Everything…” Tess placed her fork down and folded her arms across her chest. She looked up at Darah, eyes dancing with mocking laughter. “It still boggles my mind how we ended up here, like this.”

If they weren’t in a public place, Darah would’ve tossed her cold water in her face. Instead, she bunched her free hand into a fist under the table.

“All these years I thought we’d be friends forever,” Tess continued, leaning back in her chair. “That we’d each get married to the loves of our lives, have children who’d be friends and we’d grow old together, sharing memories…”

“What nonsense. How could you even dream that up when you’d so easily betray my trust in you?” Just the mention of the betrayal made her stomach turn.

The wistful smile on Tess’s face disappeared. “I was only relevant when you needed to vent to someone, or needed advice that you didn’t want your family knowing about. Admit it Darah, you used me.”

Darah rolled her eyes. “How typical of you, acting like the victim.”

Tess gaped at her. “I’m the victim when you’re the one always mentioning your hard-knock life with meddlesome brothers and no parents—?”

“Shut your mouth!” she snapped angrily. “Shut your dirty mouth, you backstabber.”

“Oh, calm down…” Tess paused when the waiter suddenly appeared at their table, refilling their water glasses. She sighed in exasperation. “Could you come back later?”

“No actually, please pack this up for me,” Darah said, nudging the plate aside.

“Sure thing,” the waiter answered, reaching for the plate. “Will this be on the same order or—”

“Separate checks please!” Tess answered.

Darah laughed incredulously, unfazed. “Someone’s petty.”

“… I’ll be right back,” the waiter said awkwardly and hurried away.

“How funny, I thought you agreed to foot the bill.”

“I changed my mind.” The gleam in Tess’s eyes made Darah bristle. “Since I only pay for my friends.”

“Of course you—” Darah gasped inwardly as a sharper pain sluiced through her stomach, down to the spot between her legs. The hand on her belly clenched her shirt, and she pressed the heels of her feet against the chair legs. It took longer than a second to catch her breath.

“Well, I’ll just tell you that it was an honest mistake,” Tess sniffed, picking at invisible dust on her shoulder. “I certainly wasn’t expecting to fall for anyone while in grad school, but it happened. We saw each other and hit it off. I only found out he was with you after I saw a picture of you together. It would’ve been good if you’d told me about him beforehand.”

Darah ignored her, the sudden urge to use the toilet compelling her to leave the table. Plus, she wasn’t in the mood to hear any lame excuses for Tess’s betrayal. Except that her feet tingled, and she imagined herself falling on her face in front of Tess.

Then the waiter returned with the takeout box, and Tess turned to ask him about ordering another dish for her fiancé.

Using this chance to escape, Darah pressed her palms against the arms of the chair and pushed to stand. Suddenly, warm liquid gushed down her leg. Freezing to a stop, Darah’s eyes widened in astonishment. Then dread. Her heart started to race in panic as she looked down at her light-colored joggers.

Tess looked at Darah suspended between standing and sitting, noting her wide-eyed expression. “What’s the matter with you?”

Petrified, Darah dropped to her seat, her tingling legs and the spinning room knocking her off balance.

“Oh my God, is she bleeding?” someone behind her whispered, confirming what she’d seen.

“Is she okay?” another called out to their table.

“Darah!” Tess’ voice rang loud in echoes. She quickly pushed away from the table to reach for Darah whose body drooped forward.

The sounds of panicked voices drowned the violent thumping of her pulse. Once the waiter caught her head from landing in the plate of warm pad Thai, everything faded to black.

<<Chapter 22 || Chapter 24>>

Lighthouse, Chapter 15

Posted on 06/07/2016

Once his sobs subsided, J.R.’s body tensed up. Darah slowly opened her eyes though she made no move to release him. She liked holding him like this, feeling the unsteady beat of his heart against her palm. Matching the rhythm of her breathing to his, she closed her eyes again. This was where she’d always wanted to be. When he exhaled a deep breath, she did too with a smile twitching her lips. If he would only see they fit perfectly.

“Darah…”

His timbre of his low tone reverberated through her, and she fluttered her eyes open. “Hmm?”

He didn’t say anything but she noted the mood had shifted. Her body tensed instantly, her fingers loosening its grip on the cotton of his shirt. Then his hand cupped hers, pausing the movement. Warmth pooled in her belly at the intimate touch and she raised her head, staring at the wide breadth of his shoulders, wishing she could see his face.

Then his fingers curled around her palm and lifted her hand from his chest. She held her breath, waiting to be pulled to his front and… then J.R. applied pressure on her hand, lowering it away and letting go. Pain pierced her chest as her abandoned hand fell empty from him. Robbed of speech, she watched him take a step from her, his broad back barring her from stepping close.

He then turned around slowly, shadows sharpening his angular features. Darah felt her heartbeat pounding hard and painfully in her chest as she waited for his words but wishing he wouldn’t say a word. His actions spoke loud enough.

When he sighed, Darah closed her eyes briefly and exhaled harshly. “I’ll go.”

“I’ll take you.”

She opened her eyes again, meeting the shadowed face of the man who would never accept her. The pain was more unbearable now that she’d had a taste of what he would feel like in her arms. She needed to go home now.

“No thanks,” she said as casually as possible and shoved empty hands behind her back to clutch her trembling fingers. “I’ll take a cab.”

J.R. was silent as Darah started around him. Then he started to follow her.

Darah grimaced at the sound of his even footsteps behind her. “You need to be with your father. I’ll take a cab.” She swallowed a growl when he grabbed her arm but maintained a straight face. “Let go, J.R.”

“You’re my responsibility,” J.R. answered whilst holding her arm.

“Responsibility?” Darah angled her face to his, wishing they stood near the streetlamp so she could read him. He was infuriating. “Is that all it is, your responsibility?”

J.R. stared at her in silence, grip loosening.

Darah tightened her lips. “Are you only tolerating me because of your ties to my brothers?”

When he didn’t answer, she yanked her arm from his loosened hold and plowed forward. “Don’t follow me!” she barked at the sound of his footfall, and quickened her steps toward the crosswalk.

Then she stopped hearing it and slowed her steps against her will. Unbelievable—he’d listened and stopped following. She dared not look over her shoulder or she would do a lot worse than curse him out. Body trembling with rising rage, she plowed on, crossing the street toward the parking lot.

The hot tears pooled in her eyes, blurring her vision. Frustrated and angry at herself, Darah swiped a forceful palm over her face and quickened her pace. Blinded by the insistent tears, she stumbled forward when her right foot caught the median. Darah put her palms out to break her fall, her knees scraping the cement.

Then she heard pounding feet approaching her. “Don’t!” she screamed at him sightlessly.

J.R. reached her within seconds and grabbed her elbow. “Be careful,” he said evenly, helping her to stand.

Darah yanked her arm from his and glared through tear-filled eyes. “Leave me alone!”

He clucked his tongue, moving the unwelcomed hand to her back and bending to sweep her off her feet.

She inhaled a sharp breath as he upended her balance and lifted her from the ground. Lightheaded wasn’t descriptive enough as she found herself cradled against his chest. Even though anger coursed through her body, Darah remained stiff and frozen in his arms. Her heart was the only thing unfrozen, pounding rebelliously against her chest. She stared ahead, mouth parted in shock.

J.R. grunted. “Your stubbornness knows no bounds.” He shifted his feet in the direction of his parked car near the front of the hospital, his hand tightened around her legs. Once reaching his car, he lowered Darah to her feet but kept the hand bracing her back. Opening the door, he angled his head to the passenger seat and waited for Darah to sit down.

She stiffly moved her legs inside and flinched when he swooped down and over her. Darah held her breath and kept her gaze lowered as J.R. secured the seatbelt across her lap and into its lock. She only released the breath when he ducked out and closed the door.

“Jerk,” she muttered as her rebellious heart tripped over his proximity and she gripped her fingers tight to keep from fanning away the heat of her frustration.

He opened his door and ducked inside. Darah shifted to face the window, not baring to be any inch closer than he already was, all the while trying to calm her racing heart.

Every movement of his arm, him shifting gears, brought him too close for her liking and she edged further away. Her blurry gaze remained on the scenes zipping past them, her throat tight with words unspoken.

“How far along are you?”

Darah stiffened at the unexpected question. “I don’t see how that’s any of your business.” And when he didn’t counter, she frowned. “First answer my question and I’ll answer yours.”

He exhaled loudly. “I’ll just ask Phoebe.”

She gritted her teeth and glared out the window. “Why do you treat me like this?”

“Like what?”

Scowling, she scooted to face him with eyes flashing from tears unshed. His casual disregard unleashed pent-up frustration and hurt. “That letter I gave you at graduation…”

Her eyes clocked the tightening of his knuckles around the steering wheel and realized he’d read it. There was no way he hadn’t… although the knowledge hurt more than the possibility of him never reading it. He’d cleanly rejected her.

Staring at his striking profile, her lips twitched a wry smirk. “It must’ve been really burdensome for you… so burdensome that you couldn’t bring yourself to tell me you read it.” Tears fell without her permission, sliding down her cheeks. She drew in a breath and averted her face to scrub away the evidence. “Embarrassing,” she mumbled, scolding herself.

“Are you hurt?” J.R. spoke up, concern plain in his voice.

Darah opened her mouth to curse him for taunting her when his hand touched hers. Ire sparked as the forbidden reaction to his touch, and Darah flung his hand aside. “Don’t touch me.” Her words were even harsh in her ears and the tears spilled freely down her face.

“Have you eaten?”

Darah sniffed noisily. “Stop it.”

“You’re my respo—”

“Say that rubbish one more time and I’ll walk home.” She jerked around. “Why? Why bother caring about me if you’re gonna disregard me the next second.” Her facial muscles twitched, betraying she was quickly losing control of her emotions. “Why not just hold me at arm’s length all the time and not when it’s convenient, you jerk.” She choked on a sob as she remembered him holding her hand firmly and introducing her as his fiancée.

“Darah…”

“Shut up!” Darah snapped and spun away. “Just shut up and take me home. I don’t want to hear any of your useless excuses. You’ve said more than enough.”

J.R. tamped a sigh as Darah turned away from him. He glanced her way, catching the telltale shake of her shoulders as she fought a cry. Gritting his teeth, he deciding to respect her decision to stay quiet and faced the road once more. Nothing he could say would change a thing.

They arrived at her family home and before J.R. could put the car in park, Darah was yanking the seatbelt off. In a desperate attempt he didn’t know was in him, J.R. pressed the lock button to keep her inside the car.

Darah growled when the door handle wouldn’t budge and jerked around to glare at him. He stared right back, unintimidated by her fierce eyes trained on him.

“Hear me out,” he said simply, hand hovering the lock just in case she tried to manually unlock the door.

She narrowed her eyes at him. “So now you want to talk. Well, tough because I’m done with you.”

“And what of the father? You’re done with him too?” J.R. grimaced as soon as the words left his mouth and reached his ears. He sighed in frustration. “Wait, I didn’t mean—”

“Yes you did.” Darah’s fingers lowered from the door handle. “You meant every word.”

J.R. stared in silence at her profile, suddenly at a loss for words.

“I get it,” she said, her voice sounding strange. “I must seem like a loose woman, throwing myself over you when I’m…” her voice shook and she swallowed hard, the sound clear in the silence of his car. “When I’m pregnant… and I’m sorry.”

His throat tightening as a lone tear slid down Darah’s cheek, and his fingers curled into his palm to keep from reaching up to wipe it away.

“Maybe I’ll only ever be an immature, ill-tempered, impulsive kid in your eyes…” Darah slowly turned to face him and he caught his breath as her dark eyes glistened with tears pooled there. “But I’ve always been sincere toward you, then and now.”

He sat frozen, watching her open the door and step out of the car. His eyes followed her as she rounded the front of the car and head for the stairs of her family home. She stumbled up the stairs and it took everything in him to keep from going after her.

Darah caught a sob when August crashed into her legs as soon as she stepped into the house. She quickly blinked away the tears before Karla reached her. Bending at the knees, she caught them in a bear hug and buried her face against their joined shoulders. “My babies,” she said, her voice shaky.

“You’re back?” Phoebe drawled, walking up to meet them.

Composing herself, Darah rubbed her cheek against August’s shoulder before raising her eyes to Phoebe’s face. “Hmm.” She managed a wobbly smile that didn’t go unnoticed.

Phoebe arched a questioning brow and peered over her head at the closed door.

“He’s gone,” Darah mumbled, pressing a kiss on both August and Karla before releasing them. They giggled and hurried around Phoebe to return to their TV program. Darah slowly stood to her feet, though she didn’t meet Phoebe’s searching gaze. “Sleepover?” she asked casually.

“Nope. Family emergency.”

Darah jerked her attention to Phoebe, just now realizing the tension around her sister-in-law’s eyes and pursed lips. Her heart skipped a beat, thoughts of J.R. pushed to the side. “I-Is it Junior? Eli?”

Phoebe heaved a sigh and put her hands to her hips. “Worse.”

Darah’s heart went into overdrive, remembering the moment news of her parents’ fatal accident reached her while she and Eleazar were in school. Her eyes widened. “Abe?!”

Phoebe cringed visibly. “I think it’s time you start talking, Darah… Who is Jeremy?”

Her eyes widened even further, heartbeat picking speed. Her head started to spin, the sensation from earlier in the hospital returning with full-force. Her breathing quickened. “H-How?”

“Geri spotted a guy lurking around the house. When he asked to speak to you, we knew something was fishy.” Phoebe’s features tightened. “We didn’t get a chance to field him since your brothers came home at the same time. The minute they saw him—”

“Where are they?” Darah peered around Phoebe’s shoulders for her brothers, her racing heart in her throat. She started for the kitchen when Phoebe grabbed her hand to stop her.

“They’re at Bart’s place while everyone’s here. Darah, is this Jeremy guy—”

Darah’s knees gave way under her just as the front door swung open.

Flat on her back, Darah’s haggard breathing deafened the frantic sounds of her niece, nephew and Phoebe calling out in alarm.

One hand reaching for Darah, Phoebe jerked her gaze to the door, to an alarmed J.R. standing in the doorway. “Quick, help me!”

J.R. rushed forward, gently nudging the frantic nephew and niece aside so he could reach Darah. Her eyes were open but unfocused as she lay there shell-shocked. He gritted his teeth and lifted her into his arms, hedging around the young children while he carted Darah to the couch. “What happened?” he called over his shoulder.

“Aunty fell down!” August and Karla said in unison.

Grateful the older kids were upstairs doing homework under Nana Yelena’s firm tutelage, Phoebe quietly hushed the youngest Teka kids and gently herded them to the living room where J.R. lowered Darah onto the sofa. “Abe and Bart are playing big scary brothers right now.”

Concerned, J.R. looked down at Darah’s frozen features. “Where are they?” he asked, his hands still around her tense body.

“The other house,” Phoebe answered stiffly. “I think you should go to them, J.R.”

J.R. nodded and started to stand when Darah grabbed his sleeve. He looked down at her, the sight of unbridled terror in her eyes a sucker punch to his midsection. He quickly put a hand over hers and squeezed it gently. “Everything will be fine.”

Darah shook her head adamantly, tears pooling in her fear-filled eyes. “Help me. Please.”

The break in her voice was his undoing, J.R. realizing in that very moment what a big fool he’d been.

<<Chapter 14 || Chapter 16>>

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