Darah fought a shiver as her older brothers, Abe and Bart, studied her in the wake of announcing her unexpected pregnancy. For the last hour, Abe remained silent with a stony expression while Bart continued his display of unabashed anger.
“I just don’t get it.” Bart glared at her. “What possessed you to do this?”
Abe’s jaw tightened, his unreadable expression more frightening than Bart’s.
“Bart…” Phoebe cautioned softly, her eyes volleying between Abe and Darah.
“So not only did you completely disregarded our rules about not dating till thirty, but you got pregnant also?” Bart scoffed incredulously.
“You know that rule didn’t make any sense,” Darah mumbled, careful not to look at Abe.
“Darah,” Geraldine said through clenched teeth. “I’d stop talking, if I were you.”
“Who is he?”
All eyes turned to Abe, for this was the only thing he’d said since the announcement.
Darah trembled at her brother’s unreadable expression and unable to hold eye contact, she dropped her gaze. “I don’t know…”
Someone gasped, probably Phoebe. Geraldine groaned into her hands.
“One night stand?”
Darah squeezed her eyes shut, feeling nauseated all over again. “No.”
“Don’t lie to me. Who is he, Darah?”
She peered up at Abe’s face and swallowed at his expression darkening in impatience. “I…”
“Did you have a boyfriend?” Phoebe asked gently, her eyes pleading with Darah to cooperate.
“Don’t know which is worse. Having a boyfriend she’s not allowed to have or a one-night stand.” Bart muttered an expletive and dragged a hand over his face.
Phoebe sighed in exasperation. “Bart, please…”
“I’m twenty-five,” Darah groused, angry that her brothers’ stupid rule had caused her this problem. “If I had the freedom to date like normal people, this wouldn’t have happened.”
The room went silent, all eyes on her. Phoebe looked disappointed, Geraldine exasperated, Bart furious, and Abe… Abe stood slowly.
Phoebe jerked her attention back to her husband. “Abe…”
Abe’s eyes never left his sister’s face. “Twenty-five years old and you still refuse to own up to your mistakes. This is disappointing, Darah. Very disappointing.”
Darah watched her eldest brother stalk around the coffee table and toward the stairs. He ignored Phoebe’s entreaty, his heavy footsteps on the stairs making Darah’s heart pound faster. Those words hurt more than Bart’s fury.
“Is Abe okay?” Geraldine asked, tugging at Bart’s arm.
“Besides his baby sister breaking his heart?” Phoebe exhaled a breath. “Just give him time.”
“Who is he, Darah?” Bart demanded, losing what little restraint he had on his anger.
Geraldine clutched his shoulder. “You need to calm down… Getting angry won’t change what’s happened. Calm down.”
His stare remained fixed on Darah. “I asked who the low-life is that made you this way.”
“No.” She tightened her jaw. Telling any of them about Jeremy would be a bigger mistake; she couldn’t have any of her brothers go to jail for killing the fool. “He doesn’t matter.”
Bart’s scowl darkened. “Don’t make me angry, Darah.”
“You’re already angry, Bart.”
The doorbell rang before Bart could answer in kind and all three women relaxed visibly.
Geraldine shot to her feet and hurried to the door. “That better be J.R. He’s the only one that can talk some sense into you.” She pulled open the door with her free hand. “Good, you’re here.”
Bart let out a bitter laugh as he stood. “I have half the mind to punch you.”
The stoic J.R. blinked. “And why would you do that?”
If this wasn’t a dire situation with her life on the line, Darah would’ve laughed at J.R.’s stiff formality. His stoic personality could be off-putting at times but reassuring when it counted. She hadn’t realized how calming his presence was until now.
“If you’d married this girl when we asked you to,” Bart groused. “We wouldn’t be having this problem.”
Darah stood scowling. “Stop with that foolishness. J.R. has nothing to do with this.”
“Then why did you text him?” Geraldine asked, giving Darah a pointed look.
“Because…” Darah floundered, eying J.R.’s quizzical expression. “Because…”
J.R.’s frown deepened. “What’s going on?”
Bart glared at his sister. “You want to act like you’re so independent and don’t need anyone’s input, yet call for backup instead of taking responsibility for your mess. Real mature, Darah.” He shrugged off Geraldine’s hand and pushed past J.R. out the front door.
All three women flinched when Bart slammed the door and J.R. started after his friend.
“Wait a minute,” Darah’s voice made him pause.
He turned back around, brows raised quizzically.
“Why are you going after him when I called you?”
Geraldine scoffed in disgust. Phoebe rolled her eyes. “Seriously, Darah…”
“Never mind. Goodnight.” Darah walked around the sofa and up the stairs to her temporary bedroom.
Both Phoebe and Geraldine shook their heads when Darah slammed the bedroom door behind her.
“What a mess.” Geraldine clucked her tongue in disapproval and folded her arms over her chest.
“You think your mom can keep the kids for the night?” Phoebe asked, gnawing at her bottom lip. “We’re not done with this conversation and I don’t want them to worry.”
Geraldine sighed. “They probably just think it’s one big sleepover and could care less where we are. I’ll call her after Bart calms down… God knows how long that’ll take.”
J.R. frowned. “Where’s Abe? What’s going on?”
“Darah’s pregnant and the whole family is in a state of emergency. Abe’s fighting to keep his blood pressure down, Bart could face death row if he doesn’t calm down and I’m about to lose it myself.” She blew out a shaky breath. “Not sure why Darah thought getting you involved would do her any good, but now you know. Got any suggestions?”
Flabbergasted, J.R. merely stared at the two women; for he had nothing to say.
“So what did they say?” Tess asked over the phone a few minutes after Darah locked herself in Eleazar’s bedroom. She’d called her best friend shortly after changing to her pajamas and was curled up in bed, coloring in one of Karla’s paint-by-number sets. “Did Bart flip out?”
Darah snorted, picking up another coloring pencil. “Obviously.”
“What about Abe?”
Her fingers stilled over the pencil as she recalled Abe’s stormy expression and the only words he’d said all night. No doubt he was as furious as Bart, but for some reason, his anger hurt Darah more.
“He was pissed?”
“Hmm.” Darah swallowed the lump in her throat. She nudged the coloring set aside and rolled onto her back. Her eyes stung with unshed tears and she blinked them away.
“Well they have a right to, I guess,” Tess continued. “You’re their baby sister.”
Darah sighed heavily and turned on her side, facing Eleazar’s desk. She replayed Abe’s words of disappointment and felt a tear slide down her cheek.
“Ugh, not this chick again.”
Darah blinked out of her reverie. “What?”
“This girl only ever hits me up when she wants something.”
She frowned, sitting up. “Who?”
“Some girl in my creative writing class.” Tess snorted. “Like she won’t hit me up until she’s bored or has nothing better to do. Never once does she call to find out how I’m doing or just chat because. Anyway, I’m done with her fake friendship. Hold on, let me text her back real quick.”
Darah’s frown deepened as she listened to the telltale taps of Tess typing a message to her ‘fake friend’, all the while feeling sad. Aside from Tess’ texts, her phone lay silent. What was more disconcerting was she didn’t even know her best friend was in a creative writing class.
“Okay back,” Tess spoke after a long pause. “Chick wants me to read her stuff, like I don’t have anything better to do.”
“Yeah, I’m talking to you.”
Darah managed a smile and rested her cheek against the pillow. “Thanks…”
“Of course.” Then Tess sighed heavily. “But let me go read this girl’s stuff before she blows up my phone all night. Sorry babe.”
“It’s okay,” Darah answered half-heartedly. “I shouldn’t be on the phone anyway…”
“Because the walls are thin and my family thinks I’m too distraught to have a conversation, much less use the phone.” She stared at the ceiling, watching the fan blades turn.
Tears filled her eyes, blurring the whirling fan blades. Getting pregnant as a single woman wasn’t part of the plan. After her parents’ passing, twelve-year-old Darah had planned out her life, avowing never to be surprised by life again. Getting married and then having children was the plan and Jeremy ascribed to it perfectly. He charmed her with promises of marriage and a family with him. And like an immature fool, she’d surrendered to what she believed was love but what turned out to be a lie.
“Hmm?” Her hand moved to her flat stomach, feeling nauseous all over again. Even though she’d watched both Phoebe and Geraldine have children of her own, she didn’t know the first thing of being a mother. And her family would most likely disown her after this. Dread choked her lungs, forcing her to draw in a shaky breath.
“Are you scared?”
Darah willed away the tears and her disturbing thoughts. At least until Tess got off the phone. “Go read your fake friend’s writing. We’ll talk later.”
Tess sighed. “You’ll figure it out, Darah. You’re a smart girl.”
She managed a smile and after wishing her best friend a good night, disconnected the call. “Being smart is not going to fix this…”
Tears dropped onto the phone screen and Darah began to weep openly.
Dazed, J.R. stepped into his house an hour later with Bart’s words replaying in his head.
“If you’d stopped being a coward,” Bart shouted. “We wouldn’t be in this mess!”
Throat clogged with words unspoken, J.R. walked past the three adults sitting in the family room without a word of greeting and started for his room.
“Raju,” L.J. spoke up just as J.R. reached the stairs.
J.R. turned, gaze listless. “Yes Father?”
L.J. frowned from where he sat. “Don’t you see we have guests you’ve kept waiting all night?”
Not taking another step forward, J.R. sighed. “Look, it’s been a long day and I’m not in the mood.”
L.J. squinted at his son. “Not in the mood…?”
“Lalana,” Dabir said quietly, putting a hand over his friend’s shoulder. “It’s okay.”
J.R. could care less that his father felt embarrassed in front of his company. All he wanted to do was go to his room and punch whatever he could get his hands on. “If you’ll excuse me…”
“Stop right there.”
J.R. held back a groan and turned to face his father that now stood akimbo. “What is it?”
The exasperated response made Dabir exchange wary glances with his wife, and irritated L.J. “Where have you been all night? I called you several times.”
Choosing not to point out it wasn’t even eleven p.m., J.R. sighed. “I was busy.”
“Busy,” L.J. echoed incredulously, his dark eyes narrowed at his son. “Did you forget we had an appointment with your uncle and aunty?”
J.R. bit back the response that he barely knew this couple. Instead, he arched a brow at his father. “No Father, I didn’t forget you had an appointment.”
L.J.’s jaw tightened. “What?”
Sighing, J.R. turned to the wide-eyed couple. “I’m sorry Mr. and Mrs. Sharma, but I am not interested in having a conversation about marriage with either of you.”