Bzzz. Bzzz. Bzzz.
The female rolled her face into a well-used pillow, pulling the soft, white down alternative duvet over her head in hopes of drowning out the source of that obnoxious noise. It could be her annoying teammates playing a prank or her alarm malfunction. It could be a million and one things, but her half-sleep brain couldn’t be sure. The one thing she knew for certain was that anyone bothering to call her after eleven pm and before six am knew damned well not to expect an answer.
Not before she could shower and brush her teeth, and certainly not before First Cup. Anyone stupid enough to approach her before the sweetness of chamomile tea touched her lips invited serious scorn.
She rolled over with a sigh of relief, her room divinely silent once again.
Bzzz. Bzzz. Bzzz.
The phone. That goddamn cellular phone. The same goddamn phone she constantly reminded her handler she neither wanted nor needed. Telepathy made technological solutions like cell phones obsolete for people like her.
Throwing the covers off her head with a curse, the female snatched the infernal device off the nightstand, “This is Talat.”
“Layla, it’s Yaya.I need your help.”
Layla Talat shot up in the bed, the fear in the voice on the other end of the line snapping her to razor sharp alertness even as her heart constricted in unease. Not just from the fear that was almost tangible to Layla’s empathic senses, even though the phone, but because she and Atiya Talat had not spoken in nearly four years.
Ever since Layla’s younger sister began dating that cheating dog of a man.
“Yaya, slow down, take a breath,” Words spoken in a calm rooted in a well of serenity deep inside that required constant maintenance achieved through hours of mediation every morning. Today that pool of tranquility rippled, the storm of Atiya emotions an undeniable force. “What’s wrong? Has something happened to mom?”
She hated asking that, wished she hadn’t needed to, but worry was as a part of her as an arm or leg, and when it concerned her family, it was downright irrational.
She should have never left home, not with her siblings scattered to the winds, her mother left to pick up all the broken pieces left behind. Regret a lump in her throat, Layla forced herself to allow her sister to speak.
“No, mom is fine,” A hurried, almost impatient response. Unsurprising considering Atiya’s strained relationship with their mother. “It’s John-Paul.”
Layla’s fingers tightened on the small device in her hand, her lip curling even as she resisted the urge to hurl it across the room in frustration. Of course she’d called about that no good bastard. Why else would her little sister contact her after four years of the cold shoulder, of shutting out Layla’s every attempt to reconcile their differences? God forbid Atiya be an adult and actually address the real issues. Layla loved her sister but, for all her patience, the urge to choke her mother’s youngest child remained tempting.
Wanting the best for you baby sister wasn’t a crime. Being as stubborn as a mule just to avoid being wrong should be.
Layla kept her tone neutral, managed to keep the distaste she felt simply talking about the bastard from coloring her attitude. Atiya was no empath, but she possessed a degree of sensitivity, could hear the minutest shift in emotional nuances in the voices of others. “What has he done now?”
“It’s not his fault, it’s mine.”
Layla rolled her eyes as her sister did what she did best. No self-appreciating woman would ever make excuses for a man. Let alone a man who continually and blatantly stepped out on her multiple times. More importantly, no man worth claiming would allow his woman to take blame belonging solely to him. “Tell me.”
“I’m pregnant, khahar.”
The phone dropped unceremoniously from Layla’s hold. Sitting there in the tangle of white linens in only a t-shirt clearly meant for a man far larger than she, her long, ebony hair a wild mane, Layla stared blankly into space, her mind attempting to make sense of the declaration. Joy and love, anger and annoyance, a firestorm of emotions devastating the calm she’d managed to hold thus far.
God, she wanted to scream, to cry. It was a cruel irony that Atiya would receive the one thing Layla ever wanted and yet always denied.
“I’m happy for you, Yaya,” Empty, forced words as Layla returned the phone to her ear. And she was, truly. Jealous? Yes, positively, but happy nonetheless. If she couldn’t have children of her own, she would at least have a niece or nephew to spoil. “But what does that have to do with John-Paul?”
Silence from her sister, a thousand things going unspoken.
Here it comes, Layla thought bitterly. I was right, he screwed up again.
And wasn’t that absolutely fucked up? That she wanted to be right, to hope that John-Paul stupid ass finally showed Atiya the dog he really is? The betrayal would break Atiya’s tender heart, destroy her sweet innocence, but rather sooner than later. Before the child was born, before it was too late for Atiya to start over and still find love with a real man.
“John-Paul wants…” A sharp exhale, the sound of sniffling, of tears. “He doesn’t want the baby. He says he already has enough on his plate, that he can’t afford more children. Layla, he has a family.”
Fury an incandescent flame in her veins, Layla switched on the visual for the comm device and waited for Atiya to accept the request. The distressed face that appeared a moment later splashed winter cold water on her temper, a worried big sister left in its wake, helplessness a heavy weight on her chest.
“He’s a man, Yaya. A stupid fucking man.” Unforgiving truth swathed in a velvet soft tone, because, while Atiya put on a good front, she didn’t take reprimand, or any form of rejection, very well. And the next words she spoke came from a place of sorrow and regret, a place another woman once faced the same problem, though she’d been given no choice.
“What do you want, Atiya?” The question a courtesy no one extended to Layla in her younger years, one she would allow no one to take from her baby sister.
Layla cut her off harshly, her tone unforgiving even as her empathic instincts reached out, ached to soothe, to comfort. “No, the time for indecision has come and gone. You are pregnant by a dog that calls himself a man, and you need to do what is best for that child you are carrying.”
Atiya bit her lower lip, a nervous habit that’d carried from childhood. Good, Layla thought, her sister should be nervous. Motherhood wasn’t all smiles and giggles and baby’s first step. Sacrifice and more sacrifice- that was the cost of being parenthood. That experience evaded Layla, but Atiya stood on the cusp, needed to be ready.
Finally, she said, “I want to keep the baby, but I know it will be so hard.” A pause, contemplation heavy in the air between them. “Will you help me? I can’t do it alone.”
Layla released a heavy breath she hadn’t been aware of holding, soothing waters of calm washing over her mind, bubbles of joy in her veins at the prospect of seeing his baby sister again. “Yes,” Immeasurable excitement in that single word. “I will be there every step of the way, Atiya. I promise.”