Posts tagged “meddling

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>>

Lighthouse, Chapter 5

Posted on 20/04/2016

In silence, Bart and J.R. watched the construction workers standing in front of the overpass, Geraldine gesticulating as she instructed them on the new changes.

When a couple of the construction workers saluted Geraldine before turning back to their duties, Bart smirked. “Glad I didn’t make the mistake of demanding that she become a housewife. This is what she does best, bossing folks around.”

“You two have a good partnership,” J.R. agreed, watching Geraldine pause to speak with another construction worker.

“Not to mention she looks good in jeans.” Bart nudged J.R.’s shoulder. “It’s all thanks to you.”

J.R. glanced at his friend, wishing Bart would stop referring to the past. Any lawyer could’ve helped Geraldine escape her wicked ex in-laws; his involvement wasn’t all that special. He shrugged. “It’s nothing. Just did my job.”

“I meant this. She’s kept me awake every night, going over the blueprints.” Bart grunted. “There are three occasions a man’s woman looks the most beautiful. The wedding day, the day she gives birth and when she’s doing what she loves. I thank you, my friend.”

J.R. smirked. “I wouldn’t know about all that…”

“You would if you stopped chickening out. You’re the only brother-in-law we’d accept.”

J.R. refrained from rolling his eyes. “Don’t start with this. Besides, doesn’t she have five years left?”

“If you’d make your decision soon enough, we’ll decrease her sentence.”

J.R. snorted but didn’t get to respond when Geraldine joined them on the top floor. He smiled in greeting since she’d been too busy earlier on. “Everything going well?”

“Yep.” Geraldine flashed him a grin. “We should be done with the lobby and kitchen by next week.”

Bart clapped a hand over J.R.’s shoulder. “That’s not an issue. Everything cool on your end?”

J.R.’s smile waned. “Yep, fine.”

“You say one thing yet your face says another, my friend.”

Geraldine’s brow furrowed in concern. “You haven’t told your dad, have you?”

J.R. sighed. “No.”

Bart shook his head and removed his hand. “He’s bound to find out that his only son’s building an immigration and refugee center. Better to tell him sooner than later.”

“Indeed.” Geraldine parked her hands at her hips. “What’s the worst that could happen?”

J.R. didn’t answer, predicting how badly his father would react if he caught wind of what his son was using his hard-earned money on.

Immigration was a sticky subject for his father who steered clear from the issue after several incidents involving their firm in the past, some explicitly noted and some not. After a few federal government investigations were done on his establishment, L.J. rejected any immigration cases from that day forth and began planning out J.R.’s career as an attorney and finally director of the law firm, hoping his son would be too busy with civil cases to feed his compassion for refugees or ‘illegal immigrants’.

“By the way, Darah’s home,” Geraldine’s voice pulled J.R. from his thoughts.

“For the weekend?” Bart drawled, scrolling through his phone.

Geraldine snuck a glance at J.R.’s face before smirking. “Nope, the summer and maybe even longer.”

Bart looked up in alarm. “Something happen?”

Thankfully Geraldine looked away before reading his expression. J.R. grew weary of maintaining nonchalance whenever Darah was mentioned, especially when he too worried about her.

“We’ll probably find out at dinner.” Geraldine’s gaze swung back to J.R. and he gave her a blank stare. Her lips twitched in amusement. “As always, you’re invited to come.”

As much as he wanted to see Darah, he shook his head. “Can’t.”

“Running away again?” Bart muttered beside him.

J.R. sighed. “Have to play host at home. My father’s got visitors from back home.”

Geraldine’s brows raised. “Oh really?”

J.R. nodded. “Maybe next time. But tell her I said hello.”

Bart snorted and Geraldine rolled her eyes. “Or you could tell her yourself. Call her.”

“She changed her number,” J.R. mumbled, though admittedly he’d only texted her once after their misunderstanding years ago.

“I’ll give the new number to you.”

J.R. tamped a sigh, wishing Geraldine would leave well enough alone. “Doubt she wants to talk to me.”

“You won’t know until you try calling her.” Geraldine nudged her husband. “Give him the number. Let me go check on the guys in the backyard.” She walked away before Bart could respond.

“I was like you once,” Bart remarked, his eyes watching Geraldine sashay across the open field. “Battled a boatload of conflicted feelings about that woman, and because I didn’t face them, face her, I lost her for a while.” His gaze shifted to J.R. “Don’t make the same mistake I made.”

J.R. frowned. “Why do you insist on me? What if she wants someone else?”

“You’re the best man for her.” Then Bart smiled and clapped a hand over his shoulder. “And if Darah doesn’t pick you, she’ll have to wait five more years before she has permission to marry someone else.”

J.R. watched in silence as Bart ambled in the same direction as his wife Geraldine, and his shoulders slumped. He didn’t deserve Bart’s confidence, not when he was too much of a coward to be with someone as brave and bold as Darah.

Hours later and J.R. wished he’d accepted Geraldine’s invitation to join them for dinner. He would rather face an irritated Darah and her meddlesome sisters-in-law than his own father.

Seated on a cushioned chair that felt like he sat atop rocks, J.R. maintained a pleasant expression in front of his father and guests; Dabir and his wife Jaswinder, and their only daughter Hana.

“So Raju,” Mr. Dabir finally spoke, the leather of the chair squeaking as he shifted in his seat. His dark eyes studied J.R. as if he was on an examining table. “Lalana tells me you are a director at the law firm.”

“Yes,” J.R. simply answered, feeling the weight of the women’s stares. He preferred Phoebe and Geraldine—at least he knew what was on their minds.

“It is my hope he will be able to take up my role,” L.J. interjected.

“But of course,” Dabir chuckled. “Although I’m still shocked that you retired.”

Bhaiyaa, you are too young to retire,” cooed Jaswinder.

Lalana’s eyes danced with mischief. “I can’t keep up with this generation. It’s time to step down and let them get the chance to lead.”

J.R. wondered at the truth of his father’s words, when dictating every aspect of his son’s life was his full-time job after retiring the law firm.

“I hear Hana is graduating top of her class,” L.J. continued, turning to the quiet girl seated between her parents. He gave her a gentle smile only reserved for her. “Have you decided what you will study?”

Hana dipped her head, the thick plaited ponytail sliding along her shoulder. “Internal medicine, Babuji.”

J.R. frowned at the endearment of her calling his father hers, saw the warmth of his father’s smile grow and Hana’s parents sneak a glance at each other. He stifled a groan.

And as if Hana heard him, her light-brown eyes peeked at him through thick lashes.

He stood abruptly, alerting the adults. “Can I get you tea?”

“Thank you, Beta…” said Dabir, referring to J.R. as his son.

J.R. nodded stiffly and rounded the couch for the kitchen without hearing what kind of tea they wanted. Closing the microwave door and tapping the start button, J.R. leaned against the counter and breathed out a shaky sigh.

What happened to letting him pick who he wanted to marry? Why couldn’t he dream of having a partnership like Bart and Geri or Abe and Phoebe? Could he really let his father pick a bride for him like he did a career?

The sound of shuffling feet behind him had J.R. look over his shoulder. Hana stood there, her hands folded in front of her. J.R. stifled yet another groan and arched his brows. “Did you need something?”

Her caramel eyes skittered from his face to the microwave behind him. Then her lips twitched as if holding back a smile. “Do you need help?”

J.R. shook his head. “Nope. I can make tea.”

“Uncle Lalana said I should help you.” Hana rounded the counter toward him.

‘Of course he did.’ He held back the thought, instead replying. “It’s fine. I’ve got it covered.”

“Oh?” She cocked her head slightly. “Do you know what type of tea my parents like?”

J.R. blinked. “I assumed they’d like the same as my dad.”

A slow smile lifted her lips and she shook her head. “That’s why I came to help. Relax, Bhaiyaa.”

Bhaiyaa was a term to mean ‘older brother’, and her off-handed use of the word should’ve set J.R.’s mind at ease. But that smile on her heart-shaped face and the knowing gleam in her caramel eyes made his stomach roll with apprehension.

Darah groaned over the toilet bowl after expelling what was left of the night’s dinner. She winced when Phoebe pounded her back. “Hold on…”

Phoebe’s hand stayed on her back, stroking in a soothing motion. “This is your third time tonight. What did you eat?”

“I only ate what you gave me.”

“No one else is sick—”

Darah dry-heaved into the toilet before letting out a wrought moan.

“This won’t do. We need to go to the hospital.”

Spent and disoriented, Darah sagged against the toilet. “Maybe it’s a delayed reaction. I did have some suspect burrito on campus days ago.”

Phoebe grunted as she handed Darah a cup of water to swish her mouth. “It doesn’t matter. You can get dehydrated while hurling your guts all night long. Get dressed.”

“It’s three o’clock in the morning, Phoebe,” Darah protested before gargling the water. She spat into the toilet and then flushed the contents. “I’ll try to sleep it off.”

When Phoebe didn’t answer, Darah snuck a glance at her and the deep frown on Phoebe’s face made her sigh. “Don’t worry. I’m sure it’s just food poisoning.”

“Well if this continues through the night, we’re going to the hospital. Got it?”

Darah nodded begrudgingly.

Phoebe sighed and held out a hand to help Darah stand. “I don’t know why you are like your brothers about hospitals.”

Darah didn’t answer, following her sister-in-law out of the bathroom. It was best she didn’t know why any of them hated hospitals. “Goodnight, Phoebe.”

“First thing in the morning, we’re going to the hospital. No protesting, got it?”

“That’s if I still feel badly,” Darah insisted, waving over her shoulder at her. “Goodnight.”

“… Goodnight.”

Entering Eleazar’s room, Darah leaned against the door. Her stomach was a jumbled mess and her throat felt raw from vomiting. She rubbed her belly and trudged to the twin bed. Even though he’d taken most of his clothes to his grandmother’s place, Eleazar’s scent lingered and made her miss him.

“At least call home, jerk…” she mumbled, climbing into his narrow bed.

At dinner, Abe seemed more subdued and his eyes drifted occasionally to Eleazar’s empty chair. Apparently J.R.’s presence was to detract Eleazar’s absence but even J.R. flaked, making the dinner a most awkward affair.

Darah’s lips twitched derisively. “Of course he’d flake… Jerk.”

To distract Abe and Bart from getting upset about Eleazar’s absence, Phoebe and Geraldine interrogated Darah about her sudden change of heart to live at home.

Her stomach turned violently and Darah shot off the bed and out the bedroom. She met Phoebe standing in the hallway with her arms folded.

Phoebe arched a brow. “First thing tomorrow.”

Nausea pushed up her throat and Darah slapped a hand over her mouth, nodding at her sister-in-law. Phoebe then stepped aside, clicking her tongue in disapproval as Darah rushed into the bathroom.

<<Chapter 4 || Chapter 6>>

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