The constant beeping of the EKG machine cut through the silence in Lalana-Joel Obed’s room, with both J.R. and Hana watching him sleep from opposite sides of the bed. J.R. gazed at his father’s relaxed features while Hana watched J.R.
Then she shifted in the chair, the leather squeaking as she leaned forward with elbows to her knees. “How did this happen?”
J.R. stiffened as though just remembering that he wasn’t alone with his father. Then he exhaled a breath. “You tell me. You were the one who found him…” he swallowed hard. “Face down on the kitchen floor.”
Hana didn’t answer right away, hesitant to say anything. She’d been alarmed to find the older man facedown, but years of medical training pushed her through the initial panic. Telling J.R. though was a different story altogether; she’d stuttered through it, not knowing what good way to alert him of his father’s dire condition.
His fingers gripped the side rail. “I had no idea he was even sick.”
“Pancreatic cancer isn’t detectable to others…” she answered weakly, watching his knuckles grow white. No doubt he was still reeling from the doctor’s grave prognosis.
“Except he knew…”
Hana looked up at the hardness in J.R.’s voice. His features were taut, his angular face revealing an emotion she hadn’t seen before. Was it anger or worry?
“He knew all along.” J.R. turned his head to look down at his father’s face. “Keeping this to himself, going to appointments on his own.” His jaw tightened. “While I lived my life… thinking he’d live forever.”
Hana watched him warily, noting his voice break at the end of the sentence. “No one lives forever, Bhaiyaa,” she said softly.
His lips twitched in a wry smirk, remembering his mother who left too young. “I know that all too well…”
The two sat in silence, allowing the EKG machine to beep on. Hana fiddled with her hands, not knowing what to do for him. No doubt he was mulling through his father’s condition, estimating how long he had to live and wondering how he could change things for the better. She wished she could help him, give him some sort of comforting word but she too had no idea what would happen next.
Struggling with words to give him, Hana then cleared her throat. “So… looks like you’re engaged.” She winced when the words came out. That wasn’t at all what she’d meant to say.
J.R. didn’t glance up. “Looks that way.”
Hana frowned at his casual tone. “That’s… weird.”
She nodded though he couldn’t see it. “Just four weeks ago, you were hell-bent on being single forever.”
“Never said anything about being single forever.”
Hana tamped a sigh. “Okay, so just hell-bent about not getting married to me then?”
His silence was enough and Hana ignored the sharp twinge in her chest. She folded her arms. “Does Uncle know about her?”
J.R. shrugged. “He will.”
Hana frowned. His cryptic response was suspect. “Where and when did you meet her?”
J.R. let out an incredulous laugh that seemed out of place considering where they were. His dark gaze slid over to her, brows crooked in question. “Are we really discussing this now?”
It was a sly reprimand and if Hana was in her right mind, she would’ve let it go. But she shrugged. “As part-caretaker of Uncle L.J., I’m concerned what this sudden news would do to him.”
J.R. snorted a laugh. “Part-caretaker?”
Hana tilted her chin. “When and where?”
He rolled his eyes and looked back at his unconscious father. “I’ve known her for ten years.”
Hana’s chin dropped as her shoulders did. “Ten…years?” Her eyes darted to L.J.’s face. “And your dad?”
J.R. sighed. “I’ve known her family for long. It just happened.”
Hana wanted to scoff aloud. Instead she curled her fingers into fists on her lap. “I see.”
A knock sounded on the door and both turned as it opened. Darah stuck her head in and Hana stiffened as the girl sought J.R. first.
“What is it, Darah?” J.R. sounded exasperated.
Hana arched an inquisitive brow when the girl pouted.
“Could you step out for a moment?” Her gaze shifted past him to L.J.’s form before returning to J.R.
Hana watched J.R.’s brow furrow deep, not liking the girl’s request. She bit back a smile. “It’s alright, Bhaiyaa. I’ll keep watch.”
Darah glanced once at Hana for the first time since she interrupted and gave her a quick smile that didn’t reach her eyes. Then she turned back to J.R. “Come.”
Hana frowned as J.R. stood without a word of protest, answering the girl’s beck-and-call. She waited until J.R. trudged out of the room and closed the door before letting out an unseemly scoff.
J.R. put his hands to his narrow hips once he closed the door. “What is it, Darah?”
She rolled her eyes. “Try not to sound like I’m pestering you.” She grabbed his arm and tugged hard.
He heaved a sigh but let her drag him away from the door. “Can we make this quick—“
“Why’d you say I was your fiancée?” Darah paused in step and turned to catch his reaction before he could answer. He didn’t have time to fix his expression. “Was it because of her?”
J.R. fought a groan and tugged his hand free from her hold. “Because of who? Nurse Wells?”
Darah punched his arm, a scowl marring her features. “The girl manhandling you earlier on.”
J.R. would’ve laughed if his heart wasn’t already in pieces over his father. “The only one manhandling me right now is you.”
She started to say something but clamped her mouth shut, and put her offending hand behind her back. Then she sighed. “Why’d you say I was your fiancée?”
He refrained from grimacing. Maybe introducing Darah as a very-distant cousin like Hana would’ve been a better idea. He huffed a breath. “’Cause you wouldn’t be allowed to stay with me otherwise.”
Her hazel eyes swept over him, searching for lies in his response. Then she sniffed and glanced over his shoulder. “Who is she though? Your cousin, for real?”
He shook his head, growing weary of the conversation. He glanced over his shoulder at the door separating him from his father.
“Oh wait…” Darah’s breathy voice had him turn around. Her eyes were wide. “She’s the girl your dad wants you to marry?”
With a sigh, J.R. pinched the bridge of his nose and looked over her head. “Darah, can we discuss this later…” he trailed off as Nurse Karen Wells walked up to them. His pulse quickened with alarm, dreading what she had to say.
“Sorry to interrupt but I was just informed that you have visitors wanting to speak with you.” When J.R. and Darah pointed to themselves, Karen nodded. “Both of you.”
Both exchanged glances, then Darah stepped away. “It’s probably Abe and Bart. Let me handle them. I’ll be back.”
He watched her hurry down the hallway to meet her brothers before exhaling a breath and turning to a very-amused Nurse Wells. His brows arched in silent question.
She gave him a wan smile. “Is there anything you’ll need before Doctor Yancey leaves for the night?”
J.R. felt his shoulders drooping, discomfited that the doctor who diagnosed his father was taking leave for the day while his father remained unconscious. “I have no idea…”
Nurse Wells nodded understandably. “I’ll be a call away. Just press the button and I’ll come over.”
He couldn’t muster a smile and just nodded. “Thank you.”
“Here,” Bart held out the overnight duffel and a lunch bag.
Darah wordlessly accepted the offering, draping the duffel strap over her shoulder and tucking the lunch bag under her arm. She could feel Abe’s gaze on her but didn’t lift her eyes to his.
“How is he?” Bart asked quietly.
She shrugged. “The best he can be considering.”
Abe’s sigh tugged her gaze upwards. His brows were bent in a deep V. “What are they saying?”
Darah shook her head. “I didn’t get the details, just that his father’s terminal…”
“Pancreatic cancer,” J.R.’s voice spoke up behind her.
All turned as J.R. strolled toward them, hands in his pockets. Instantly, she shuffled to stand behind him and away from Abe’s scrutinizing gaze.
“Sorry to hear that, Jay.” Abe’s brow furrowed in concern. “Has he woken up yet?”
J.R. heaved a sigh. “Not yet.”
Darah squeezed the strap of the bag to keep from placing her hand on his bowed shoulder. Not with her brothers’ hawk-eye stares on her.
“Give us your keys,” Bart spoke up, holding out a hand. “We’ll bring your car over and take Darah’s back home. You’ll get your car towed where you left it.”
J.R. nodded and fished the car keys from his back pocket. “Thanks.”
“No problem,” Bart answered, accepting the keys. His gaze skimmed over his sister before settling on J.R. “Heard there are congratulations in order.”
She swallowed a groan. “Bart, please…”
“Imagine our surprise when your nurse graciously informed us that Darah was your fiancée.”
“Astonishing,” Abe said dryly.
J.R. moved into Abe’s line of sight on Darah. “That’s my fault, not hers.”
“Hey man, it’s all good,” Bart said, amusement in his voice. “Anyway, Phoebe’s packed your fiancée here an overnight bag and dinner for you both.”
“Thanks,” J.R. mumbled, hands in his pockets.
Bart smirked. “No worries.”
Abe stared past J.R. at Darah. “We’ll come get you tomorrow morning.”
She didn’t dare protest and nodded silently. The sooner her brothers left, the sooner she could breathe easy. She’d deal with their scrutiny and probing questions later.
Bart clamped a hand over J.R.’s shoulder. “Stay strong, man.”
J.R. nodded, unable to say a word.
“He’ll make it,” Abe said gently, extending a hand out to J.R.
Darah watched her eldest brother pull J.R. into a quick manly hug and a soft smile crossed her lips. For as long as J.R. was introduced to their family, she enjoyed witnessing her brothers accept him as their own. It warmed her heart even at the tender age of fifteen. More so now when he needed it the most.
She blinked at the soft entreaty and met J.R.’s quizzical stare. She looked past him, and found neither Abe nor Bart. She looked back at him and found him staring. Her cheeks warmed, realizing she’d been caught daydreaming. “H-huh?”
His gaze swept over her face before settling back on her eyes. “Ready to go back?”
Darah nodded but searched his weary features. “You okay?”
J.R. nodded and took her hand. “Come on.”
Her pulse tripped as he tugged her toward the hallway. Though there was no one watching them, J.R. kept up the ruse of their engagement. Not that she was complaining. Still, she couldn’t let him know what his touch did to her. “You need to get sleep.”
J.R.’s lips twitched wryly. “Is that your way of saying I look dead on my feet?”
“I merely said you needed sleep.” She shrugged. “Take it however you want it.”
He snorted as they entered the Oncology unit. “You’re a handful.”
Darah tightened her hold on his hand and stifled a giggle as one of the nurses strolled past.
After dishing out Phoebe’s delicious pot-roast and coaxing J.R. to take a break from watching his father to eat, Darah begrudgingly offered a portion to Hana. The young woman accepted with an amused expression and ate with gusto.
Nurse Karen Wells brought in a small cot at midnight; and J.R. placed it near the window, insisting Darah sleep first while he and Hana kept watch. Though J.R. was careful not to point out her pregnancy in front of both Hana and Nurse Wells, his consideration didn’t sit well with her. It meant Hana would be the one sitting with him through the night while she slept.
Fighting a yawn, she pouted on her way to the cot. Fuming when Hana chuckled and called her ‘cute’, she turned so her back faced them and succumbed to sleep minutes later.
Hours later, her stomach turned violently and she woke with a groan. Turning onto her other side, Darah spotted J.R. and Hana sleeping on the couch. Her jaw tightened at the sight of Hana’s head resting against J.R.’s shoulder.
She quickly pushed aside the blanket and scooted off the cot. Tiptoeing to the couch, she parked her hands on her hips and watched Hana’s head loll on J.R.’s shoulder. Then she snorted. “Don’t think for a minute that’s going to work, Missy.”
“Who are you?”
Darah jerked around, caught the narrowed glare of J.R.’s father on her and froze.