Posts tagged “Future

Chasing Truth: Chapter 29

Posted on 10/01/2020

“When is he leaving?”

Mari sprawled out on her bed with the phone tucked against her shoulder. The day had been fun, but it had also been long. Exhaustion made her eyes heavy.

“In a day or two,” she told Tyler absently.

 “I didn’t expect him to leave so soon. Then again I didn’t expect him to come out here at all. Have you made any plans to stay in touch? Visit?”

She lifted her shoulders in a small shrug even though he couldn’t see it.

“Not really. Nothing solid anyway. I mean, I guess I assume we’ll talk on the phone at some point. This whole thing was just…a lot.”

There was silence from Tyler’s end for a moment. “I get that. Confirm with me once you know when he’s leaving for sure.”

Mari opened her eyes to stare at the ceiling. “Have you been doing…whatever it is you were planning on doing?”

“I thought we agreed you were going to let me worry about that?” he prodded gently.

“It was a simple question.”

“Then yes. Now will you let me know when he’s leaving for sure?”

Mari pinched the bridge of her nose and let her eyes close again. “Yeah.”

Before she could get comfortable and wrap up the call with Tyler, a knock sounded on the door. She sat up with a groan.

“I’ve gotta go. Somebody’s at the door.”

“Who is it?”

She pushed up from the bed and padded over to the door to look through the peephole. A smile tugged at her lips when she saw her father standing there.

“It’s Blake. I’ll talk to you later.”

Ending the call without waiting for a response, she opened the door. 

“I’m surprised you aren’t passed out,” she greeted with a tired smile.

“I was close,” he admitted. “I had something I wanted to discuss with you though.”

Curiosity raised her brow as she stepped back to let him inside. He sat down on the couch and she curled up on the opposite end with her elbow propped against the back. 

“What’s on your mind?” 

“I want Reese to stay here with you for a little while.”

Mari straightened immediately. “Why? He’s your bodyguard.”

“I would feel more comfortable if someone was here to keep an eye on things for a little while.”

She didn’t dig too deeply into that, instead choosing to focus on him. “If Reese is here with me, then who’s with you?”

“I have other people I can count on if I need to.”

“But Reese is the one you brought here, which means he’s the one you trust the most.”

Blake paused with his lips parted before he gathered himself. “I can see you’re planning to be difficult about this.”

“I’m bringing up valid points. If you want to call that difficult, then fine.”

He heaved a heavy sigh. “Yes, Reese is the one I trust the most, which is why I want him here with you for a few days. Just in case. I don’t expect any trouble, but I don’t want to take unnecessary chances with you either.”

She paused thoughtfully, turning over his words. He wasn’t expecting any problems. That was good and she couldn’t deny the relief filling her knowing that. This was just another part of him being careful.

“Okay, I’m not saying no to that. I’m saying I’m not sure Reese is the one who should be the one staying with me. And you said a few days. How long exactly are you planning for someone to stay here?”

“A week or so.”

“That’s a long time to be without your guy. Gage could just stay. People know him here, are used to him so there wouldn’t be anything to explain. If Reese stays, we have to explain who he is somehow.”

“Calling him a family friend should be enough. Gage has already been here for a while. He has some things he needs to see to.”

“Does Reese know this is your plan?” she asked curiously. “What does he think about it?”

“You know, when I pictured this conversation, I saw you bowing out to my expertise and accepting my already-made plans.”

“How on Earth did you come up with that scenario?” she asked, laughing in disbelief.

“I still can’t figure it out myself,” he admitted with a chuckle.

“I want to talk to him about it myself. Alone.” Because she had a feeling Reese wasn’t keen on the idea of letting Blake head back without him either. 

Blake considered her and she wondered what he was thinking, what he would say.

“I don’t want you any closer to this mess than you already are. I considered when I brought Reese that it might bring you in more than I wanted. It would be better if you let me keep as much distance between you and my life as I can.”

“It’s too late for that. At least with Reese. He’s been here this whole time. I know who he is. We’ve talked. Trying to go back now doesn’t make any sense and if he’s going to be staying here for another week, it’s definitely not avoidable. I want to talk to him.”

“You’re a very hard woman to argue with.”

“So don’t,” she suggested with a grin.

Shaking his head, he pushed to his feet. “I’d like to settle this tonight if possible. I’ll send Reese to you now if that works.”

“That’s fine.”

He turned for the door then hesitated. He turned back a moment later.

“May I have a hug?”

The quietness of the question, almost as if he feared her rejection, melted Mari. She unfolded from the couch and wordlessly wrapped her arms around him. He pulled her close. She thought she felt the gentle press of his lips to her thick curls. A soft sigh escaped him and he squeezed her before letting go.

“Thank you. I’ll send Reese over now.”

“You may want to give him a fair warning in case his expectations are anything like yours were,” she teased.

His laughter shook his body and widened her smile.

“I think I’ll do that.”

He walked out the door then, leaving Mari still smiling. She settled back down on the couch. Meeting her father and spending time with him hadn’t gone anything like she imagined. She hadn’t expected to like him, to joke and laugh with him. She wanted a chance to build a real relationship with him and yet Tyler’s accusations sat in the back of her mind. If Blake were the criminal Tyler suspected he was, that would change everything. There was an inch of worry, of doubt that maybe it wouldn’t, though. She wasn’t sure what to do with that. 

There was a rhythmic knock on the door before Reese let himself inside and pulled her from her thoughts.

“I’d prefer you keep this locked,” he said closing the door and tapping it.

She bit back a smile. “I’ll remember that.”

“Good. Blake said you wanted to talk.”

“Yeah. Has he run this little babysitting plan of his by you?”

Reese’s gaze went carefully blank as he came farther inside. “We’ve discussed me remaining here for a few days after he leaves. Precautions are smart.”

“I won’t deny that and I’m definitely not saying I’m able to handle anything that might come up, but I think I’d feel more comfortable if he didn’t break pattern by leaving his right hand guy behind.”

Reese blinked and she continued on.

“I suggested Gage stay on for a few days if he’s truly worried or he can send someone else to stay with me although I understand the less people who know about me, the better.”

He continued watching her with that steady gaze. “Do you have a problem with me staying?”

She waved the question away. “It’s not about you. It’s about who you are to him. You’re not just a bodyguard. I don’t have to know everything to see that much. To me, it just seems like maybe someone would want to take advantage if he was running around without his usual guy.”

He tipped his head to the side as he studied her.

“It would be nice to get to know him before something happened to him,” she mumbled looking down at her hands as she locked her fingers together.

“You care,” he acknowledged. “And that’s good. Blake knows how to be smart and careful. Gage will travel back with him most of the way to make sure there aren’t any issues.”

Mari frowned thoughtfully. She couldn’t find fault with that plan. There was no doubt that Gage could be trusted with his own brother’s safety.

“Well.”

He laughed. “Any other objections or concerns you want to share while I’m here?”

“This isn’t going to be a lockdown situation or anything like that, right? I still go to work, hang out with my friends, do all the stuff I normally do with no problems?”

“Right.  You just do all of those things with me.”

“And when my very nosy, super-in-my-business best friends ask me who you are? Or anyone else for that matter?”

“I’m a friend of the family visiting for a while. Stick to the truth.”

He was clearly a friend of Blake’s who was indeed her family so he was right. 

“We keep it simple then.”

“Simple’s best.”

She nodded and rubbed the palms of her hands over her thighs.

“Mari.” Reese waited until she looked at him. “There shouldn’t be any issues. If there are, I’ll be here to handle them.”

She blew out a breath. “Yeah, I’ll be counting on that.”

<< Chapter 28 Chapter 30 >>

Lighthouse, Chapter 20

Posted on 15/08/2016

At the sight of his son stepping into the room, Lalana-Joel’s smile only widened at the wake of Clement Teka’s anecdote of chasing wild pigs on the outskirts of Addis Adaba. His eyes swept over his only child’s handsome face, grateful he was alive to see it again.

He started to speak when J.R. stepped close and then he spotted the petite girl right behind his shoulder. Her eyes lit with joy when their gazes met and his smile waned. He quickly swung his gaze back to his son whose eyes danced with an identical expression, and L.J.’s brow furrowed slightly. What was it?

Babu,” J.R.’s voice trembled as he leaned in.

L.J. accepted the kiss to his forehead, warmed by the tenderness of his son’s greeting. When J.R. leaned back, he lifted his eyes back to his son. “Where were you?” he dared not look at the girl who had kept his son from being in the room when he opened his eyes.

Chagrin dimmed the light in his son’s eyes and he looked down, his hand seeking L.J.’s. “The chapel.”

The gentle whisper of his son’s words pierced him, and instantly a memory rushed into his heart. He remembered years ago—too long ago—scouring the hospital for his ten-year-old child, only to find him weeping at the foot of a cross over a mother who died in the emergency hall. He watched in silence as J.R.’s fingers curled around his and he dared not look at his son’s face, ashamed that he’d once again invoked a fear in his son.

Bhaiyaa,” Hana addressed J.R. over the tense silence. “You just missed the doctor earlier.”

J.R. sniffed back tears. “Oh yeah? What did he say?”

Unable to help himself, L.J. raised his head. His son faced Hana as she divested what the doctor shared already, but all L.J. noticed was Darah standing at his side with her arm around J.R’s waist. He arched a brow when her eyes met his and narrowed his eyes when she winked.

What a minx!

He sniffed and looked away, only to meet Clement’s amused expression. He frowned, wondering if these two were in cahoots. Perhaps this bearded missionary man had purposefully entertained with stories of his adventures while his little sister sedu–

Babu,” J.R.’s low baritone pulled L.J.’s attention back to him. His brow was furrowed. “Are you sure?”

For a moment, L.J. had no idea what he meant. His eyes bounced between J.R. and the minx behind him and wanted to shake his head, ready to deny whatever their relationship was. Instead he sought Hana’s guidance with a lift of a brow.

Her lips twitched a smile. “We’re discussing your request to return home.”

“Ah yes.” L.J. nodded and swung his gaze back to J.R. Then he sighed as his son’s brow furrowed deeper. “Don’t look at me like that. I will not spend the rest of my life in this hospital bed.”

“Babu,” J.R. shook his head. “Our only hope is the radiation.”

“And what good help that’s been so far.” L.J. grimaced when his son visibly flinched. “Beta, I know you mean well but this isn’t what I want. The time I have left, I want it to be with you.” His eyes cut to Darah who had the decency to keep her gaze lowered and he faced J.R. once more. “Let me spend the rest of my life preparing you.”

J.R. frowned. “Preparing me for what?”

L.J. hesitated answering, sensing his son was going to argue with the many plans he’d set in place once he was gone. Yet his throat tightened at the thought of leaving his son, and he swallowed hard.

Clement cleared his throat. “Ladies, why don’t we leave the two to talk?”

Thankfully, the two women agreed without protest and followed Clement out of the room. Once the door closed behind them, J.R. sagged into the chair by the bed with his hand still clutching L.J.’s.

“I’m not going anywhere, Beta.”

“Not yet,” J.R. muttered, tightening his hold on L.J.’s hand. When his father grimaced, J.R. quickly loosened his hold. “Does it hurt?”

“Raju…” The pain in his son’s face made him ache and L.J. put his other hand over his. When he spied a glimmer of tears in J.R.’s eyes, L.J. groaned. “None of this, please.”

J.R. sniffed back the tears and lowered his face. “Sorry…”

Chagrined, L.J. lifted his hand and rested it on J.R.’s ruffled mane. The touch broke the dam, and L.J. watched and listened helplessly as his grown-up son wept as though he was ten years old again.

Outside, Clement accepted a call from the house—Phoebe wanted updates, leaving Hana and Darah seated on the wall across L.J.’s hospital room. The women sat in silence, Clement’s voice echoing down the hall. Darah clasped her hands together, replaying the look on Lalana-Joel’s face when she caught his eye. She grimaced and scolded herself for winking at him. It was certainly not in good taste.

Hana chuckled softly. “He wears his emotions easily, doesn’t he?”

Darah peered up at the young woman beside her, not sure she was speaking to her. When she met Hana’s eye, she raised a brow. “Who, my brother?”

Hana shook her head and pointed her chin at the closed door. “Uncle L.J.”

Darah grimaced, causing Hana’s smile to widen. “I don’t think he likes me.” It took a lot for her to admit that; she rarely cared what people thought about her—but for some reason, the opinion of J.R’s father mattered. Her cheeks warmed as she replayed the tender kiss J.R. had given her earlier. Of course his father’s opinion of her mattered. If they got married, he’d—

“He’s really stingy with his heart.”

Frowning, Darah looked back at her. “What do you mean?”

Hana’s smile held secrets Darah needed to know. Leaning back, Hana crossed her arms. “J.R. is his everything, has been ever since he was born. I’m not sure he wants to share him.”

Well he’ll have to, was at the tip of Darah’s tongue but she curbed the remark, deciding to listen first.

“It’s a wonder that he agreed to let Bhaiyaa get married.”

Darah’s heart skipped a beat. “T-to you?”

Hana arched a brow when Darah’s voice squeaked. “Well, not anymore.” Her pointed gaze pierced Darah.

This time Darah didn’t look away. “I ruined his plans. No wonder he doesn’t like me…”

Hana chuckled dryly. “It’s not that he doesn’t like you. He just doesn’t know you.”

Darah shrugged. “Then he should get to know me. I’m a nice person.” It sounded quite silly in her ears but she meant every word. “And I… I love J.R.”

The smile on Hana’s lips faded, and her pointed gaze swept over Darah’s face. “How old are you?”

“Twenty-five,” Darah frowned. “I thought you knew.”

“Oh right… we’re almost age-mates.” Her smile was strained, as though that wasn’t a good thing.

Darah didn’t smile back. “So why does his father like you?”

Hana’s smile eased away, her expression turning cold. She was silent for a moment before answering monotonously. “He owes my father.”

The words were colder than her expression and Darah wrapped her arms around herself. “How?”

Hana’s gaze lifted to the closed door. “He stole my father’s first love and ruined her.”

Breath caught in her throat, Darah’s eyes widened.

When J.R.’s sobs eased away and only the hiss of the humidifier filled the silence, he let out a sigh. The hand that stroked his hair stilled and raised from his head.

“You okay now?”

J.R. smiled grimly. His father was always the worst at comforting, from his earlier years. Nodding, he wiped the stray tears from his cheeks before lifting his eyes to L.J.’s.

L.J. sighed with relief though concern etched lines in his brow. Leaning back against the propped pillow, he closed his eyes and sighed again. “I hate this.”

His strong and capable father looked frail in the flimsy hospital gown, his tanned skin a sharp contrast to all that white. The image of his pale mother encased in the cushioned coffin-bed crossed his mind and he shook it away, along with the cold shiver trickling down his spine. “Me too,” he croaked out, the tears pooling.

“I wish to go home,” L.J. confessed after a few moments of silence. “I hate hospitals.”

J.R.’s lips twitched a wry smirk. “Me too.”

L.J. opened his eyes to meet his son’s wary stare. “So sign the papers and let’s spend the rest of my life at home, Beta. I beg you.”

The desperation in his father’s eyes broke him. His father had never begged him for anything before, and the reality of his father’s frailty sobered him. J.R. swallowed the lump in his throat. “I don’t want to lose you, Babu.”

His father reached for his hand and squeezed it. “And I don’t want to leave you.”

The tremble in his father’s voice pulled J.R. from his chair. He reached for his father, gathering him in a tight hug.

“I’m sorry,” L.J.’s voice was muffled in J.R.’s shoulder, his hand rubbing J.R.’s back as the tears fell silently. “I’m so sorry.”

J.R. squeezed his eyes tight. They’d wasted too many years hiding their shared hurts and their affection toward each other. He’d been a fool for not forgiving his father, for silently fighting his father’s will for him. He sniffed back tears and tightened his hold around L.J. “I’m sorry too.”

Darah splashed water on her face, still jarring from Hana’s earlier revelation. J.R.’s mother had been the betrothed of Hana’s father. But then she met J.R.’s father in university and the two decided to elope without their families’ consent, causing an uproar. With Hana’s father swearing to avenge his family’s fragmented honor and for fear that he and his now-pregnant wife were in danger of being killed, L.J. relocated his new family to the United States as listed refugees.

Years after Hana’s father married another woman from their village and J.R. was born, the families at home reconciled without their children. Because of their refugee status, J.R.’s mother couldn’t return to her family and became increasingly homesick to the point of depression. Letters home weren’t enough to ease her growing anxiety and even her husband’s devoted love and attention wasn’t enough to heal her sickness. Then she sent letters to Hana’s father, seeking for ways to be connected with her family. At first, Hana’s father wished to forget his painful past and left the letters unanswered, but he read every note–each from J.R.’s mother more desperate and hopeless than the previous one.

Cold frisson skittered down Darah’s spine. The last letter revealed that J.R.’s mother hated her husband for taking her away from the home she longed for day and night. She admitted resenting her son whose impending birth had caused her husband to seek asylum in the United States. Tears pooled in her eyes, imagining a very young J.R. wishing for a mother’s love and aching from her abandonment.

Eyes on her reflection, Darah’s hand moved over her stomach as she wondered if she’d be a better mother to this unborn child than J.R.’s mother had been to him.

The toilet flushed and Darah quickly brushed away the thought as Hana stepped out of the stall. They exchanged strained smiles and Hana came to the sink beside her, turning on the faucet.

Darah lowered her hand from her stomach and turned off the faucet she’d left running.

“Can I ask you a personal question?” Hana asked, lathering her hands with soap.

Peering at the young woman’s bent head, Darah nodded though hesitant. “Sure.”

Hana peeked up at her reflection. “Is J.R. the father of your baby?”

Darah swallowed a gasp and maintained a straight face though her pulse was hammering in her throat. “What are you talking about?”

Hana stared at her dead-on. “I noticed how protective J.R. is with you, and how you sleep with your hand curved over your stomach.”

“Y-you were watching me sleep?”

“You were just touching your belly earlier.” The slow smile spread on Hana’s lips but didn’t reach her eyes. “I’m a doctor. It’s natural for me to be observant. You’re pregnant, aren’t you?”

Darah gaped at this woman who was L.J.’s choice for J.R.’s future, and knew she was in deep trouble.

J.R. gaped at his father. “What did you just say?”

Their hands still joined, L.J. sighed. “I said you have my blessing.”

He swallowed hard. “A-about what exactly?”

L.J. threw an exasperated glance to the ceiling. “You’re gonna make me say it?”

“I think you should.”

“You can have your refugee center.” He lowered his gaze to his son’s. “I won’t fight you any longer.”

J.R.’s shoulders sagged with relief at his father’s confirmation, though grieved that his father was giving in. “Why are you—”

“Raju, come on,” L.J. grumbled. “What good will my fighting you on your dream do? It’ll only drive us further apart when we need to be closer than ever. There isn’t much time.”

At J.R.’s silence, L.J. squeezed his hands. “I will have Preethi and the others support you once more.”

J.R.’s stomach turned, knowing his father’s friends would readily support him due to their friend’s impending departure. He squeezed his eyes tight, not looking forward to their piteous stares. “Babu…”

“And I’ll have a meeting with the partners. We’ll need to reorganize the—“

Babu, please… later.” J.R. felt sick to his stomach, afraid of the void his father would leave behind.

“Fine, later.” L.J. pinned his son with his pointed gaze. “Is this thing with that girl serious?”

J.R. blinked at the change of subject. “Who, Darah?”

L.J. nodded, his brow furrowing deeper with concern.

J.R. drew in a breath and squeezed his father’s hand. “Yes it is.” His lips twitched when his father narrowed his eyes at him. “I love her, Babuji.”

<<Chapter 19 || Chapter 21>>

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