Sorry for the delays.
'Medical tourism? Ben needs that. He can get plastic surgery on his nose,' Teagan smirked, as she browsed a travel brochure for Turkey.
Ben stomped on her foot. 'You need to get plastic surgery on your entire face.'
'No, I don't. My face is fine.'
'You have braces.'
'So? At least my teeth are being fixed. Your nose is just really, really big.'
Ben jumped on her foot, harder this time. Teagan squealed. Michael sighed.
'I don't have a big nose,' Ben repeated firmly.
'Ben, you have a big nose,' Brett interrupted. 'Stop arguing with Teagan. You're old enough to know better.'
Oh, home. How I was going to miss it.
Teagan squealed. 'Michael, Ben pinched me.'
'I did not,' Ben glared. 'You're such an idiot. Can't you shut up for five seconds?'
Brett leaned forward. 'If the two of you do not shut your mouths immediately I am going to walk over to security and tell them you've got a bomb. Ben won't be able to go to Turkey with Will, and Teagan won't be able to get away with murder while he's gone.'
It's testament to how ridiculously spoilt they are that they actually shut their mouths and returned their attention to their food. Michael was mortified. Several tourists had overheard us and were giving us flabbergasted looks.
Brett bit into his chicken burger and raised an eyebrow at Mike. Mike shook his head in disgust. They were being very good about my moving to Istanbul, and had even paid for my ticket, but I knew damn well they expected that I'd be returning to Australia in six months. I'd overheard them discussing the likelihood of my relationship with Ahmet being successful. Neither of them thought my boyfriend and I stood a chance.
'You should probably go through customs soon,' Michael announced regretfully.
'Cheer up, you're getting rid of us,' I told him.
'I'm not happy about it,' he admitted. 'Will, come for a walk. I want to give you something.'
'What are you giving him?' Teagan inquired.
Michael ignored her. I did, too. I was kind of nervous and curious about what Michael was going to give me.
He led me outside. There were smokers around us, many of them smoking their last fag before a long, international flight. Michael led me to a seat upwind of them and gestured for me to sit alongside him.
'Are you excited?' he asked.
'Yes. I'm kind of worried, too,' I admitted.
He half-smiled. 'You can always come home if things don't work out.'
I didn't say anything.
Michael reached over and touched my shoulder. 'Will? I'm not suggesting things won't work out. But if they don't, don't be too proud to come home. Don't feel you owe anybody anything, because you don't owe Ahmet or Brett or I a single cent or moment of your time. Anything you're given is a gift.'
I lowered my head. 'Okay.'
'We transferred some money into your account. Now, I know I just told you that anything we give you is a gift, and that holds. But I want to give you some advice; don't tell Ahmet about it. Keep it aside and if there's an emergency, use it. If you want to buy yourself a…car…don't you dare ride a motorcycle in Turkey…that's a good enough, too. But I would strongly suggest you keep the money aside.'
'How much did you transfer?' I asked anxiously.
'Oh my God,' I ran my hands through my hair. 'I'll transfer it back. That's way too much. I can't take it. Honestly, Mike, I can't.'
'Of course you can. It's a gift. And if you decide to enroll in university, and money is tight, send us the bill.'
He stood up. 'We need to go in. You and Ben need to go through customs.'
I thought I'd prepared myself for saying good-bye, but I hadn't. I'd wanted to be able to thank them for raising me, and for looking out for me for the past five years, but the words had always jammed in my throat, and I'd never intimated to them in any way that I was grateful for what they'd done. Lee had, on numerous occasions, and Teagan, who was tighter with money than anyone I'd ever seen, had spent more money on their father's day present than I'd ever spent on a gift, while Ben would sidle past them randomly and hug them.
I could neither say anything, nor even hug them. I hated being touched. I could fuck any number of men, and quite openly kiss them, but with my family I was entirely different. Frigid. God, that was the word. I stood like a statue as Brett and Mike and Teagan hugged me good-bye, and tried not to cry as I went through customs with Ben in tow.
'Just so you know, it's true that in lots of parts of the world, men kiss when they say hello,' Ben snickered. 'Why don't you like being hugged?'
'I'm aware of that custom,' I hissed. 'And I don't hate being hugged.'
'Will, my mum was half Italian and my father was an Arab. They hug. Trust me. You. Do. Not. Hug.'
'Fine, I don't hug and when I go to Turkey, I'm going to have to cope with it. I'm sure I'll get used to it.'
He shrugged. 'I find it weird because you're gay. You should be used to it.'
'You're right, I should.'
I wasn't angry with Ben, not at all. He was keeping me from crying, and we both knew it. There was no malice in his voice whatsoever. Hell, he'd even said 'gay' in front of people who would likely be on our flight, and believe me when I say Ben normally preferred that people were ignorant of my sexuality.
We passed through customs without any issues. I asked Ben if he had enough books to read on the plane. He did, but he was worried about his ears. He and Lee had flown to Sydney a few weeks beforehand, to see an art fair, and he'd ended up partially deaf.
'You can get earplugs for that.'
'How dorky,' he commented.
'I'll be sitting next to you. You can embarrass me all you like. I know Lee certainly enjoys it.'
'So does Ahmet. You're an easy target.'
We bought the earplugs, lollies and magazines and went to wait for our plane, but no sooner had we arrived at the gate than the boarding call was made.
'This is it,' I told myself. 'This is it.'
A sandstorm found us stranded at Sharjah for 'an estimated five hours'. The passengers on our flight who were aiming for Dubai, scored a free bus trip to the nearby emirate, while the rest of us got to wait while the airplane was refueled and flight plans adjusted.
Ben went to the bathroom and washed his face and hands before trotting off to catch up on some obligatory prayer. I was slightly weirded out, but religion always weirds me out, so I sat with our carry-on luggage in the men's section and waited for him to return.
'The airplane staff said we should be leaving in six hours,' Ben announced. 'I'm so tired. I'm going to sleep. Do you mind?'
I didn't mind at first, because there weren't many people around, and I'd actually managed to sleep on the plane. Ben, however, was exhausted. He lay down on the seats beside me, pulled a jacket over his body and closed his eyes.
The airport started to fill as more and more flights were delayed due to the sandstorms. An airport staff member approached and gave me a pillow and blanket for Ben, and helped me arrange the latter over my sleeping brother. Ben groaned and buried his head in the pillow. I was baffled. He couldn't sleep on the plane, but he could sleep in an airplane terminal half-lying on my lap and with a thin pillow under his head.
A man in the white outfit that you imagine traditional Arabs to wear came and sat next to me. A dishdasha, according to the complimentary travel brochures I'd picked up and read while waiting for Ben. I tried to shift over a bit. Ben mumbled something in his sleep.
'Sorry,' I muttered, to both of them.
Ben flung his forearm over his face. The man to my left gestured to say he wasn't put out, and opened a laptop.
After twenty minutes of bad Arab television (with no subtitles) I happened to again glance to the man at my left. He was using an online translation dictionary and looked rather confused.
He caught me staring and the faintest hint of a smile appeared on his face. 'Hello.'
'It's a very bad sandstorm. Were did you travel from?'
'Australia. I'm going to visit a…well, Ben and I are going to visit friends in Istanbul. Where are you travelling from?'
'I travel from Sharjah to Istanbul. I do it every month. Business.'
'What business do you do?' I inquired, feeling exceptionally guilty.
I wasn't quite sure how typical Arabs reacted to skinny white Westerners staring at them and engaging in awkward conversation, but thankfully, my companion seemed quite amenable to chatting.
'My family does many business,' he smiled, showing a mouthful of crowded teeth. 'In Istanbul we buy souveneirs for our travel business. We do desert tours.'
'The ones with camels?' I inquired, gesturing to my Sharjah tourist guide.
'The ones with camels,' he confirmed. 'Here is my card. If you come to Sharjah, call me.'
I took the card awkwardly. 'Thank-you.'
'My name is Wafiq,' my companion said.
I knew this, because it was on his business card. 'My name is Will.'
'It's very nice to meet you, Will.'
Wafiq smiled and gestured to his laptop. 'Excuse this. I've had so many tutors, but I keep forgetting how to translate things.'
'Do you need a hand with something?'
'Help,' I clarified. 'Do you want me to help you with something?'
He looked vaguely embarrassed. 'Would it be rude?'
'Nope. It would fill in my time.' I smiled.
He showed me his screen. I read the the email he had been composing and frowned. It wasn't too bad, but it definitely needed improvement.
There are certain things that I'm actually okay at doing. Writing letters and emails is one of them. Teaching is another. I made several suggestions to the man, clarified some of his phrases, and helped him break up the paragraphs. When he was done making the amendments, he read the letter aloud to me.
'That's good,' I said.
Wafiq smiled gratefully. 'Do you tutor?'
'When I go to Turkey each month, would you tutor me? I would pay you. I would also like to send you emails and letters for checking. Could you check letters?'
'Um, I guess,' I agreed. 'I'll give you my email address. If you're interested, just email me.'
'I will pay you, of course. How much do you want?'
'I don't know. What's the price of a tutor in Turkey?'
My companion was taken aback. 'The Turks are going to abuse you,' he warned. 'They bargain. You must ask your friends in Turkey. They will tell you a fair price and that is what you will charge me.'
Wafiq ended up on a late flight, but Ben and I ended up spending the night in Sharjah. We shared a hotel room with two Turkish cousins who had also been traveling from Australia, and whom were greatly irritated by the delay. There was no alcohol in Sharjah, and there was no nightlife that they could be possibly deemed as interesting. That is to say, there weren't skimpily dressed women.
Once in our hotel, Recep and Badr smoked like dragons while drinking English Breakfast tea. This seemed to improve their moods, and they seemed much happier when they asked us if we wanted to order room service. Ben and I agreed to the food. We wanted a decent meal, and there wasn't really anything we could do. We were crumpled and slightly smelly from sitting on the plane, and all of our clean clothes were in our checked luggage which, in turn, was still at Sharjah airport. Besides, the weather was atrocious.
Half an hour later the four of us were sitting in front of the television with towels around our waists, while our clothing was washed and dried in the hotel room machines. I felt extremely self conscious.
'Why do you have those scars?' Recep inquired, gesturing to my torso.
I stared down. Most of the scars had faded to silvery patterns by now, but they were still obvious. 'I was in a car accident. I had a lot of internal injuries.'
Recep showed me a scar of his own. 'I gave a kidney. I went to Australia so my brother could have it. My brother married an Australian. He moved to Australia for her. I tried to find an Australian girlfriend, but I had no luck.'
'Why would you want an Australian girlfriend?' Ben inquired, intrigued.
'To marry her and stay in Australia. In Australia you get more money for working,' Badr explained. 'Life is better. We would never have been on a plane if Recep's brother had not paid for us.'
'In Australia we can improve our English,' Recep added. 'If you have better English, you can get a better job in Turkey. That is also why we went.'
'Oooh,' Ben replied thoughtfully. 'Will's moving to Turkey. Some other guy asked him if he could help with his English. Will could help you, too.'
'Do you know any Australian girls?' Recep inquired.
'Will doesn't know any cute single girls,' Ben replied dodging the real question. 'But he could help you with your English.'
Believe it or not, we did eventually make it to Turkey.
It was midnight when we arrived. Ahmet was waiting for us, and when we dragged our suitcases into the main foyer, he grabbed me and kissed me very firmly on both cheeks. He repeated the process with Ben, who seemed entirely comfortable with the greeting.
'This place is freezing,' Ben commented. 'Sharjah was hot.'
Ahmet had a godawful French hatchback, the kind of car that no sane Australian would be caught dead in, but seemed to be quite popular in Turkey.
His driving hadn't improved since the last time I'd been in a car with him, but I was too tired to care. I stared out the window at the night sky and wondered if anyone else had ever done this; packed up and moved halfway across the world for a lover only to feel so….exhausted.
After an hour of driving we arrived at Ahmet's house. When he opened the front door, Cloudy stirred and came over to greet us. I leant down and petted him. My dog. I'd missed him, and was pleased to see that he recognized me.
Ahmet took Ben to his bedroom, and me to ours. I took off my shoes, unbuttoned my shirt and lay down. Christ, I needed to pee. I stood up and went to the bathroom. Oh God, foreign toilets. I'll never get accustomed to them. I peed, washed my hands, and went back to bed.
'Are you okay?' Ahmet asked gently.
'Yes. Just tired. Really tired.'
He kissed me on the mouth. 'Seni çok özledim.'
I wrapped my arms around him. He took this as a hint and crawled on top of me. His cock pressed into my leg and he kissed me again.
I doubt I've ever wanted sex less. I was so physically and emotionally drained that it was unbelievable. Still, I'd come this far for him. It seemed stupid to push him off and go to sleep.
'Have you gotten over your jet lag?' Brett inquired over the phone.
'Um, it hasn't had a chance to set in,' I admitted. 'We arrived in Istanbul at midnight. There was some problem at Dubai, so our plane went to Sharjah and we spent the night there with two Turkish guys. The airline paid for our room.'
'The airline made you share?'
'Yep. They were short on accommodation and we were all guys so they asked if we minded sharing.'
'How generous of them. Were the Turks nice?'
'Oh yes. They had come from Australia. They were telling us their thoughts about Australian women.'
'Was it funny?'
'Ben and I thought so.'
Brett laughed. 'How's Ahmet's house?'
'It's good. It has four bedrooms and two bathrooms. His housemate has one room, one's a study, one is Ahmet's and mine, and the last is the guest room. Ben's sleeping in there.'
'How is Ben?'
'Um, I don't know. Maybe he's in bed. I haven't seen him around.'
'What time is it in Turkey?'
'It's lunchtime,' I admitted.
Brett groaned with dread. 'Could you see if he's in his room?'
I walked past Ben's room. The door was open. I knocked and called his name. No answer. I knocked again. Still no answer. Carefully, I opened the door and peered in.
The room was empty.
Oh shit. I wasn't worried about Ben, because Ben is really personable and lots of people like him, but I was kind of worried about Brett's reaction.
I picked up the phone. 'I think he might have gone for a walk,' I explained. 'Oh, no, wait, he's just come in the door. I'll ask him where he went.' I held the phone against my chest. 'Ben, Brett is on the phone. Where were you?'
'I went to the mosque to pray, and then I went to one of their baths. It's freezing,' Ben explained simply. 'I got a massage. It was the shit. You've got to go. It's so gay it's gone beyond gay and is completely unsexual but you'll dig it.'
I rolled my eyes and held the phone to my ear. 'He went to a mosque and to a public bath.'
'He'll get another fungle infection in his toes. I've never come across anyone who gets Athletes foot as much as Ben does. And he's Muslim. How unfortunate is that combination?'
'I don't think you should tell him that. He's pretty sensitive about it.' I said hurriedly.
'Tell me what?' Ben inquired.
I thrust the receiver into my foster brother's hand. 'You speak to Brett.'
Ben adored Turkey. By the end of his second week he was right into the swing of things. In the mornings he'd wake up and head down to the local mosque, then he'd return home and go sightseeing with one of Ahmet's friends or family members. In the afternoon he hung out with Recep-of-the-Sharjah-adventure's younger brother. The two of them helped out in the family store and eyed up the cute girls.
'I love this country,' Ben announced. 'I'm going to uni here when I finish school. I've told Brett. He said it was okay. It's cheaper for me to go here than in Australia.'
'You can live with us,' Ahmet offered. 'That would make it less expensive.'
My stomach churned.
I have a confession to make; I like the USA. No, I'm not joking. I like the way Americans understand personal space and talk in loud, clear voices that I can understand, stock clothes in my size and do not haggle over the price of every single stupid thing. I may not like their government, but I genuinely appreciate their cultureless culture.
Turkey had me all cultured out. I was scared of having to live here for the rest of my life. It was cold and miserable and Ahmet kept speaking to me in Turkish in an attempt to teach me his language. When I complained it was cold outside, Ben told me to go to the baths with him and enjoy the heat. I refused. There was no way in hell I was going to get nearly-naked with straight men whose language I couldn't understand.
Ahmet didn't 'get' it. To him, Turkey was a much better place to live, and therefore, I should feel as at home in his country as he did.
'What if we're living in Australia in a few years?' I questioned Ahmet.
'Why would we live in Australia?' Ahmet frowned. 'You'll get used to Turkey. It's much better here.'
'Sorry to say it, Will, but he's right,' Ben agreed. 'I can't believe Recep's still looking for a foreign wife. He's nuts. He should stay here.'
Ben was, as per usual, driving me nuts. He hung off me in Australia, and now he was in bloody Turkey with me.
It wasn't all bad, though. Wafiq, the Arab businessman I'd met at the airport had held true to his offer of paying me for assistance with his English, and every day he'd email me with letters and emails and web updates he wanted checked. The work was from him and his colleagues and friends, and sometimes it was basic, and sometimes the jobs were horrendous. I made phone calls and had IM chats with people with terrible English to try and figure out what point they were trying to make, and they were always helpful and eager to correct their errors. Even better, the Turkish guys I helped taught me the basics of their language in a simple, easy-to-understand way that Ahmet couldn't seem to do.
'Put that away,' Ahmet wheedled over the breakfast table. 'You're here for me, not for them.'
'My breakfast is under the griller,' I replied vaguely, returning to my laptop. 'I'll be done in a sec.'
While I was concentrating, I entirely forgot about my breakfast, and it would have been charcoal had Ahmet not retrieved it from the griller and put it on a plate.
'What did I do?' he pleaded. 'Will, why are you angry with me?'
'I'm not angry.' I finished my work and switched off my laptop. 'I'm just…tired. Sick of being around people all the time. I know that's rude, but…God, I'm sorry.'
He kissed my forehead. 'I'm sorry. I hated Australia. I know it's different here. Do you hate it?
'I don't hate Turkey. I'm just weirded out by it. And cold.'
'Turn up the heat if you're cold. Take some time to yourself. I'll tell everyone that you want some time alone.'
'I'm really freaked out about offending people.'
'Don't worry. They expect you to be peculiar.'
I laughed. 'Thanks.'
'You're welcome.' Ahmet replied, fiddling with my hair. He leaned forward, wrapped his arms around me and kissed my cheek. 'I'm so glad you came. I worried that you'd decide you didn't love me. I worried that you'd be angry about the car accident.'
'I'm not angry,' I muttered, nuzzling him. I wasn't angry, and I hadn't fallen out of love with him. I was just kind of messed up about the enormity of my decision to move to Turkey. It hadn't seemed that big of a deal until I arrived here. 'I love you. I missed you so much while I was in Australia.'
'I would have stayed, but your family and my family refused to let me see you,' he replied regretfully. 'There were so many arguments. I can't believe they actually let you move to Istanbul.'
'Me neither,' I admitted. I kissed him on his cheek. He was bristly, but it looked good. 'I might come by today and see you. Is that okay?'
'That's wonderful.' He stood up and petted my hair. 'I should go to work. I love you.'
'Love you, too.'
After Ahmet left I did the dishes and wiped up. This, if I wanted to be honest with myself, was what I was scared of. Being Ahmet's pet. Not having a life or a job or a motorcycle or any kind of independence. My boyfriend left me money, on the bedside table, and he never questioned where it went, but the insinuation that came along with the monetary bequests made me uneasy. I didn't want to be a kept man. I would have no issues taking the money were I unable to work, but I could work and I could earn my own money.
'What's wrong with you?' Ben inquired as he walked in the front door. 'You're scowling.'
'I need a job.'
'Teach English. What's Wafiq paying you?'
'Fifteen dollars an hour. He asked for an invoice. I should ask Ahmet how to set that up.'
'We could ask Recep to help us. He would know.'
'I'm sure we can do without bothering Recep,' I groaned.
Ben shrugged. 'Nah. It's not the tourist season, so their business is really quiet.'
I felt rather guilty about abusing Recep's kindness, especially when I'd only just been complaining about not having a second to myself, but Recep seemed happy to help. He took us to the relevant government office and requested the required forms, before taking us to a dodgy little tea house and helping me fill in each section.
One of our waiters came and joined us when he finished his shift. Recep evidently knew him, because he greeted him warmly, and introduced him to us as Sarkan. Ben seemed nonplussed, while I very nearly had to wipe the drool off my chin. The man was hot. Tall, dark, handsome and muscular, he was just about the epitome of a wet dream.
'You do business?' Sarkan inquired, touching the papers.
'I hope so.'
He stared at me thoughtfully. 'How much do you want for teaching?'
'I don't know,' I confessed.
Recep groaned. 'You're heading to broke.'
Sarkan grinned. 'I won't rip off you. How much?'
I shrugged again. 'I don't know. Why don't you see if you like my style of teaching before you pay me? If you want to keep coming, we can agree on a price. If not, you don't have to pay anything.'
The deal was a sweet one to Sarkan and Recep. Ben was amused by their enthusiasm and invited them back to Ahmet's house. They promptly agreed, and half an hour later we were in a taxi on our way to my lover's home.
My eyes kept drifting over to Sarkan, who was squished in the middle of the back seat, in between Recep and I. Ben was in the front; he periodically suffered from motion sickness so he, like Recep remained ignorant of what I was doing. Sarkan didn't. He caught me gazing several times. On the fourth or fifth occasion he stared directly at me, daring me not to look away. I kept my eyes fixed on his black ones, noting the way they crinkled with amusement. I hadn't told Recep or Badr or Wafiq or anyone else that I was gay, and I knew Ben well enough to know he wouldn't have told anyone, either. But Sarkan knew. And better still – or worse, depending on how you looked at it – he was as queer as I was.
Neither Ahmet nor Umar were annoyed or put out by Recep and Sarkan's presence. Cloudy was thrilled to see them, and sidled up for a pat. My dog was an attention whore, through and through.
'What is your word to say he is fun?' Sarkan inquired.
'You could say he was amusing,' I suggested. 'That's probably more the word you were looking for.'
Sarkan grinned. 'He is an amusing dog. Very thin. He is like his owner.'
'Thanks,' I muttered. 'Um, what do you guys want for dinner?'
Recep wanted us to show Sarkan an Australian dish. He didn't particularly care what; he simply wanted to show his friend the sort of food his brother's wife served up. Ben pointed out that 'Australian' food was generally a bastardized version of another country's cuisine. Recep shrugged.
'Make a pie. I liked the pies,' he suggested.
Ben and I made a pie, much to our guests amusement. Recep, Sarkan, Umar and Ahmet hung around the kitchen and watched as we used lamb instead of beef, filo instead of puff pastry, and a medley of other ingredients to recreate the great Australian meat pie.
We all managed to get drunk while dinner was being made, all of us except Ben, that is. My foster brother merely stared peacefully at us as we drank, politely refraining from mentioning Islam's view of alcohol.
'Oh yay,' Ben muttered glumly, when I pointed out that he'd be leaving Turkey in two days. 'Twenty-eight hours on a plane, then another one in a taxi, where the driver will ask me when I'm planning on blowing myself up.'
I understood Ben's complaint about rampant islamophobia, but found it somewhat ironic coming from him, when he had made more than a few remarks about my sexuality.
'Maybe you could bond over a shared dislike of gays?' I suggested.
Ben wrinkled his nose in disdain. 'I don't dislike gays. I just think they make bad choices.'
I ground my teeth in frustration and wished like hell Brett and Michael had never agreed to let him study in Turkey. In a few years he'd been living with Ahmet and I, and I was already dreading it. I could just imagine how fun it would be having him glare at me whenever I dared kiss my boyfriend.
'You, for example, have your entire life on a platter. You get everything you want,' Ben informed me. 'And you throw it away. You could have gone to any university you wanted and gotten a scholarship, but you chose a stupid boring course at a stupid boring university and then you dropped out and move to Turkey! You could have had any girl you wanted, but you threw that away too.'
Ben's voice got louder and louder as he continued. 'You manage to get a really good job here before you even arrived! Wafiq pays you tons of money to do the most stupid shit for him and you don't even appreciate it. You don't appreciate anything anyone gives you. You don't appreciate the mosques or the halal food or the people heere. You didn't appreciate anything at home, either. You're the only male that Michael ever liked. He doesn't like Lee, and he doesn't like me. Mike and Brett were so upset when you decided to move to Istanbul. They went on and on and on and on about how they were going to miss you. When I rang and said I wanted to study here, they didn't care.'
'Shut-up, Will. You're so stupid it makes me want to hit you.'
I stared at him in shock. Where on earth had his outrage originated? Why did he hang off me all the fucking time if he hated me so much? Damn, when he'd heard I was going to Turkey he'd begged Brett to let him come with me. Brett had originally told him 'no', that I needed to settle in with Ahmet before we started entertaining, but still Ben had persisted until even I was sufficiently fed up to allow him to travel with me.
My foster brother went flying across the room. It me a second to realize that I was the one who had hit him. It took me one more to follow him across the room and pin him down.
I beat the living shit out of him. I was just so damn frustrated I couldn't control myself. What had I done to deserve his bullshit? What had I done to him to make him speak that way to me? Why did he hate me so much?
Ben tried to fight back, but it was a pretty futile effort on his part. I was older and, despite my low body weight, strong enough to keep him in cheque. He was nothing more than a slightly spoiled fourteen year old who'd bitten off more than he could chew.
'Oh my God,' Ahmet swore, opening the front door to find Ben beneath me on the tiled living room floor, with blood all over his face and chest. 'Will? Will? What are you doing to him?'
I stopped what I was doing. I got up and backed away, watching as Cloudy approached my foster sibling and licked his ear comfortingly.
'I hate him,' I spat, shocked by my own violence. 'I hate him. I hate his goddamn fucked-up religion, I hate the way he's always around me, I hate the way he speaks about gays. I'm booking him into a hotel room. If you ever let him under this roof again, I'll be going back to Australia.'
Ahmet stared at me regretfully. 'You'd leave me?'
My heart was thudding. 'Yes. I'm going to get his bags. Clean him up and call a taxi.'
Ahmet helped Ben into the bathroom and cleaned him up. I bought clean clothes to them, and Ben's asthma inhaler, all the while ignoring Ben's apologies. He could go to hell for all I cared. I'd had enough. I'd been pushed to my limit.
'Don't do this,' Ahmet hissed. 'He's your brother. He adores you.'
'He's not my brother and sorry to break it to you, but he doesn't adore me. Maybe in Turkey you consider his actions to be acceptable, but in Australia they're nothing of the sort.'
My lover stared at me pleadingly. I was cold, though, and refused to give in. I knew I could win this battle, because deep in my heart, I recognized that Ahmet wouldn't risk losing me. He was sufficiently scared I'd carry through on my threat and leave him to risk continuing to plead Ben's case.
'How will he survive? He doesn't have any money?' Ahmet said uncertainly.
'I'll give him money. Is a grand enough? Will that cover his hotel?' I asked bitterly. 'Fuck him. I can't believe you'd consider siding with him.'
Ahmet helped Ben change his clothes and wash his face one last time, while I opened my laptop and logged into my bank account. Tears started to blur the screen. I bit down on my bottom lip and selected the funds transfer option. I knew Ben's bank account. It was stored in my information, back from when I'd given him a hundred bucks for some stupid thing some stupid Muslim school was doing.
I transferred six grand, half of what Michael had given me, before wiping angrily at my face.
'Have you called the cab?' I called out to Ahmet. 'If you don't, I'm going to throw that goddamn bastard out onto the street.'
Neither Ahmet nor Umur understood why I'd done what I'd done. Cloudy didn't, either, and he skulked around me nervously, cowering in fear whenever I walked past.
'Please make peace with him,' Ahmet begged. 'He's leaving this afternoon. How can you let him fly back to Australia when there is so much unresolved?'
'So much to be resolved,' I corrected.
He gestured helplessly. 'What does it matter what I say if the meaning is clear? Will, I want you to go and see him. He's your brother. One day you'll realize how much he means to you.'
'I don't think that day will ever come,' I said.
But I was lying, lying to Ahmet and lying to myself. I hated myself for what I'd done. My guilt was stifling, and I lay awake at night hating myself for what I'd done. Why had I hit him? He was such a stupid fucking little shit, but he was constantly baiting Brett, and Brett never hit him. Brett yelled and swore and walked away, and occasionally he slammed a plate down so hard it cracked, or sent Ben to his room at six o'clock at night, but he never hit him. He never laid a finger on him in anger.
I was also dreading the inevitable phone call that would come when Brett and Mike saw Ben's beaten-up face and heard his story, and rang me for an explanation. God. My relationship with them was as good as dead.
I cried bucketloads over the whole ordeal, but still it wasn't enough for me to get up and grab Ahmet's car keys and drive to the hotel where Ben was staying. I was more afraid of him rejecting me, and then having Brett and Mike reject me, than I was of simply letting him go and waiting for my family to ostracise me.
Ahmet refused to be a source of support. He was happy to suggest I visit my brother, and he was happy to take me there, and support me during my visit, but it would be a cold day in hell before he'd watch me let Ben go, and then allow me to cry on his shoulder. Ahmet wanted me toact before it was too late, and when the time of Ben's flight came and went, he told me to email my brother, and then phone him the second he arrived back in Australia.
The fact that I was being such a 'wuss' – as Ahmet viewed it – over the matter, drove my lover and his housemate wild. When the phone rang, a day after Ben had left, I refused to answer it. I was scared that it was Brett or Michael, and I asked Umur to answer it.
Umur scowled and answered the phone. He and Ahmet had had conversations about my apparent mistreatment of Ben, and it was fair to say that Umur sympathized with my foster brother. 'It's Michael,' Umur announced. 'For you.'
'Tell him I'm out,' I pleaded.
Umur uncovered the speaker. 'Michael, Will would like to tell you he's out.'
Oh God, I could have strangled him. I frantically gestured, but Umur suddenly waved me aside, his face contracting with emotion as Michael spoke to him.
'Ben never got on the plane,' Umur stated, thrusting the phone into my hand. 'This is your fault. You talk to your family. You can tell them what you did.'
Ben wasn't at the hotel Ahmet had taken him to. Nor had he visited the local mosque or hamam, or been in contact with Recep or Badr or Sarkan or any of their families. Worse, his mobile phone was diverting to messagebank, and he wasn't returning my calls. Where he was, and what he was doing, remained an unknown.
I went through the motions of filing a police report and contacting the Australian embassy. The Turkish media picked up on the story, but to be honest, I had to wonder how much good it did. Ben could easily pass a Turk; his skin and hair were dark enough to blend into the local streetscape of pedestrians, and his blue eyes were not so rare as to make him noticeable.
Michael, Teagan and Brett arrived in Istanbul two days later. Tom and Lee arrived four hours later. Both had learned of what had happened and had been unable to stay away. I was oddly touched Tom had come, but not too surprised; he was a caring guy, and while we were dating, had seemed to quite like my younger sibling. Better still, he offered me emotional support at a time when nobody else seemed to give a damn.
'We should go for a run,' Tom suggested gently. 'Will?'
I picked at a hangnail. 'Yeah. Maybe. I haven't been running since before the car accident.'
He looked surprised. 'Did you bring your sweats to Istanbul?'
'Um, yeah. I did. I'll go put them on. Are you sure you want to go? I'm only going to hold you back.'
'I only arrived twenty-four hours ago. Well, not twenty-four, more like thirty. Still.' Tom grinned. 'I won't feel like running far with this jet lag.'
He was easy on me for the first two kilometers, before upping the speed and forcing me to keep up. I nearly died. I was so unfit it was ridiculous.
'Are you ready to stop?' he inquired.
'God, yes,' I panted. 'How did I let myself….get…so….unfit?'
'Who knows?' Tom grinned. 'It's so nice in Turkey. It's the perfect temperature to go running.'
'It's fifteen degrees.'
'Exactly!' Tom paused. 'If only Ben wasn't missing. That poor kid. I wonder if he's okay?'
I pulled at my sweaty shirt. 'Me too. I don't know why he didn't go home.'
'Maybe something happened to him,' Tom suggested nervously.
'I know. That's what I'm scared of. I keep thinking 'why hasn't anyone found him if he's staying in a hotel?' I asked Brett if the bank could trace his bank account. He said they'd done that, and Ben withdrew like, two grand the day before he was supposed to get on a flight. What if someone mugged him and killed him?'
'They'd have to hide his body,' Tom pointed out.
'Oh God. Don't say that. I don't want him to be dead. I just…God, I just wanted him to go. I was so sick of him. He was always hanging around me. He was always with me. I was so…' I gestured frantically. 'I was so angry with him. I was completely fucked off with Brett and Mike, too. I told them he was getting in the way. Brett would call me during Ramadan and remind me to wake him up before dawn and make him eat something. Why was it my responsibility?'
Tom shrugged. 'It wasn't. Maybe…well, maybe you could have been more understanding, but I know you're not religious.'
'What's that supposed to mean?' I asked defensively.
Tom glanced over cautiously. 'Will, having faith isn't like having a blue shirt or a red hat. It's like, it's part of who you are.'
'Well, in Ben's case, it's a pretty aggravating part.'
'You have no tolerance for religion.'
'You're right,' I agreed frankly. 'I don't. And to be honest, if that's what you're driving at, it's not something I'm prepared to discuss. He has a stupid religion, and he's continually saying and doing stupid things.'
Tom looked pained. 'Okay. If you don't want to discuss it, I won't.'
We went back to the hotel that he and Lee were staying at. They were sharing a double room in order to share costs, but Lee was out when we returned, so it was just Tom and I.
Tom went into the shower while I restlessly stalked around the room, mulling over our conversation. God, Tom would never understand. He was religious, too. He couldn't understand my frustration.
'Are you right?' Tom asked, drying his sunbleached hair with a towel.
'No. No I'm not alright. He's not my child. He was never my responsibility. I'm sick of being told to understand him. Why do I have to understand him, when he doesn't even attempt to understand me?'
Tom blanched. 'Will, you never made any attempt to understand him.'
'That's because I was fostered first.'
My ex laughed. 'You're jealous and insecure.'
I bit my lip. 'And worried.'
I barely paid attention to the man in the lift. I wouldn't have paid any attention to him, in fact, had he not been practically standing on my feet. I really wished Ahmet came from a country that placed more importance on personal space.
'Hi,' he said.
I glanced over and met his eye. 'Oh, Sarkan. Hi.'
'I saw you walking down the street,' he mentioned. 'I thought I would see you after. You did not…' he paused.
'Make me familiar.'
'Recognise you,' I repeated. 'No, sorry. I guess I'm not paying attention.'
He nodded. 'Is Ben found?'
The lift doors opened and I got out. Sarkan followed me. I – we – were going to Tom and Lee's room. We would spend the full time out, hunting for Ben. It wasn't going to be easy. Today was Friday, and that meant there would be lots of people about.
'I can help you find,' Sarkan offered. 'Yes?'
I hesitated. I didn't want to be rude. Unfortunately, I couldn't figure out if being rude meant accepting or declining his assistance.
'I will help,' Sarkan said firmly.
I knocked on the hotel door. Tom answered it, and glanced at Sarkan and I.
'He's going to help us look for Tom,' I explained. 'He's Turkish. He can probably help translate.'
Tom smiled nervously at Sarkan. 'Oh. Thank-you.'
Sarkan and I shuffled inside and sat down at the tiny kitchenette table where Lee was eating his breakfast. It was a distinctly Australian breakfast, I noted; cornflakes and orange juice.
Sarkan grabbed an ashtray and lit a cigarette. Lee was non-plussed, I was getting used to the stench of Turkish cigarettes, but Tom was floored. Tom didn't smoke. Tom didn't like smoke. If fact, Tom was one of those people who believed smoking should be completely banned, and where we in Australia, he would have definitely said something to Sarkan
'Your eyes,' our guest said, waving his cigarette in Tom's face. 'They are very nice.'
Tom flinched and blushed at the same time. Then he cast his gaze away so Sarkan couldn't see the 'very nice' eyes in question.
I shook my head in disgust. Tom really needed to learn how to take a compliment. I knew why Sarkan was intrigued; Tom had almost colourless irises that had only the slightest hint of blue-green. He wasn't albino; there was no redness, but there was still very little colour. It was intriguing even to people who came from countries where blue eyes were common.
Sarkan's gaze remained on my ex-boyfriend while he smoked his cigarette. 'Are you angry?' he asked Tom, as he stubbed out his smoke.
Tom glanced up, his face beet red. 'No. No, of course not.'
Lee snickered. 'Tom,' he explained to Sarkan, while gesturing to my embarrassed friend. 'Is gay. Homosexual. You know? But he can't stand it when men admire him. Funny, huh?'
'Funny,' Sarkan agreed, grinning.
I looked over at Tom, who was absolutely mortified.
'Maybe we should get going,' I suggested.
'I'm still eating,' Lee responded. 'Wait for me to finish.'
We sat quietly and watched Lee eat. Tom was still too embarrassed to talk, and Sarkan was…well, I don't know what Sarkan was thinking. Probably that we were very, very, odd people.
Sarkan's mobile phone beeped and he took it out of his pocket and read a text message. I watched him respond with lightning-fast speed. I've never managed to get the hang of SMS-ing quickly. I'd rather call. Roman is the same, though that's probably because his mother covers his phone bill, so he's never had to care about the trivialities of call costs.
'Sweet phone,' Lee remarked.
Sarkan nodded. 'My old boyfriend gave me it. He wanted me to call him. He was in England. I called, but he did not. He said to go.' Sarkan shrugged. 'I kept the phone.'
'Was your boyfriend from England or Turkey?' Lee inquired.
'England. I had boyfriend from England and boyfriend from Russia. The Russia boyfriend was married.'
'So what's wrong with Turkish guys?' Lee prodded curiously. 'Or do foreign men have more money?'
I kicked my foster brother under the table. He ignored me. Lee was never one to care for social conventions. Mind you, I wouldn't have been able to say with any certainty that Lee was actually breaking the rules. For all I knew, he was asking a reasonable question.
'Russia boyfriend had no money,' Sarkan laughed. 'I like foreign boys because they do not look like me. They are very pretty.'
'Nah, Turkish girls are prettier than English or Russian girls, so why would the men be any different?' Lee argued.
'Foreign men are more handsome,' Sarkan argued. 'You say 'Turkish girls are pretty', but that is because you are not used to looking at them. Turkish men say foreign boys and girls look pretty. They think they get a better deal with foreign women.'
Lee shook his head. 'Crazy.'
Sarkan's phone beeped again. He read the new message and replied with the same, swift, texting he'd displayed earlier.
'Did Ben have a mobile with him?' Tom asked.
I nodded. 'Yeah. I've tried calling him a few times. It goes to messagebank. I think the Turks are tracing his number.'
Tom frowned. 'It's still diverting to messagebank? Straightaway, or after ringing out?'
'After ringing out.'
'Will,' Tom said slowly. 'He'd been gone for nine days. His battery would have died by now if it had just been left somewhere.'
'Or someone stole it,' I argued.
'The phone wouldn't be ringing if someone stole it,' Tom argued. 'Besides, none of you have nice phones. They're all cheap Nokias.'
'I'm convinced,' Lee said. He pulled his mobile out of his pocket and dialed. I could hear the number ringing, and then Ben's message, and then, finally, the beep.
'Hey Benny, this is Lee. Gimme a ring. Will's shitting bricks, and Brett and Mike are gonna strangle him if you don't come back and admit you were stirring the shit out of him when he beat you up.'
'Wow,' Tom remarked. 'You didn't sound very welcoming.'
Lee shrugged. 'Ben knows my style. He knows the truth, too. He's gotta have been doing some serious stirring to get Will that pissed off.'
Tom nodded. 'I suppose.'
My ex-boyfriend glanced over at Sarkan in what I suspect he thought was a discreet way. I was amused. Tom thought Sarkan was cute.
Sarkan caught my friend's gaze and smiled at him. Tom returned the smile before sharply turning his head away.
'Well,' Tom coughed. 'We should get going.'
'Sounds good to me,' Lee shrugged. 'Hang on, I'll give Ben another call.'
Lee's second call was far more successful. This time, Ben answered.
I was so relieved 'it' was all over. I was glad Ben was back, glad that he admitted he hadn't intended to run away – he was simply scared of going back home after our fight, and glad that Mike and Brett had forgiven both of us. Well, kind of. Brett had forgiven us. Michael hadn't.
We were at Ahmet's house, mentally and physically tired. It was ten o'clock at night, and we'd spent the last twelve hours speaking to the Turkish police, the consulate, and the press. It had been really, really hard.
Michael lit a cigarette. He'd spent the last couple of days smoking, even though he'd quit a few years ago. 'Fuck you both. Fuck you.'
Ben and I glanced at each other.
'Sorry,' he muttered.
'Me too,' I agreed.
Michael sighed. 'I don't care. I should have known things were running too smoothly. Someone had to do something stupid.'
Ben and I remained silent. Brett tugged on Michael's arm and suggested he go to sleep.
'Why?' Mike inquired. 'So you can tell them that they're forgiven? I haven't forgiven them.'
'Mike, I'm going to bed with you,' Brett corrected. 'Ben's exhausted, and Will probably wants to sleep, too.'
'I won't run away,' Ben added.
'I will hunt you down and choke you if you even think about it,' Brett promised. 'Goodnight Ben, Will.'
'Goodnight,' I mumbled.
'Goodnight,' Ben added.
We watched them head upstairs to their room. Teagan was taking one of the spare rooms, Mike and Brett the other, which left Ben with the couch.
'Go to bed,' Ben told me tiredly. 'I've caused enough trouble for you.'
I hesitated. I was kind of thrown by his words. 'I'm sorry,' I apologized. 'Really, Ben. I shouldn't have lost my temper.
He shrugged. 'I guess I had it coming. All I wanted was for you to…'
'Something like that,' he admitted. 'Will, Ahmet is hafiz of Koran. You live here, in a country where everyone is Muslim. You have no idea how lucky you are.'
'Um, Ben, sorry to break it to you, but I'm not Muslim,' I pointed out. 'Turkey is to me what Australia probably is to you. I can't speak the language, I have no idea about Islam, and Ahmet is acting really weird. Yeah, it's fun. Stop being jealous. I'd kill to be in your place.'
Ben chewed on his lower lip. 'You have a good point.'
'Yes. Yes, I do. It's a pity we can't swap places. Maybe when you go to Uni here, I can go back to Australia for a few years.'
Ben grinned. 'You'd let me live with you if I went to Uni here?'
'Yeah. Yeah, I would. I think things get easier as you get to know people. Lee and I used to fight. Now we don't.'
'You fought with Lee?'
'Oh God, yes. Brett had to pull us apart, once.'
'Hmm.' Ben grabbed the blankets Umur had given him and laid them on the couch. 'I can't imagine that.'
'Well…yeah.' I shrugged. 'I'll go to bed. Do you need anything?'
'Oh no. I'm fine.'
'Okay. Let me know if you change your mind.'
'Okay. Good night.'
I went upstairs to my bedroom. Ahmet was in bed, asleep, when I stripped off and slid under the covers. He was half-snoring, and he grunted when I wrapped an arm around him.
I really missed the 'old' Ahmet. We'd only had sex once since I arrived, and that was on my first night in Istanbul. He didn't kiss me, and after Ben and I had had our fight, he'd been incredibly cold towards me. He blamed me for Ben's disappearance. He felt I was unfair to my family.
I kissed his shoulder and waited for a reaction. There wasn't one. I propped myself up on an elbow, touched his hair, and kissed his cheekbone.
'Will,' he mumbled. 'Go to sleep.'
I fell onto my back, heartbroken. This was hurting a lot.
'Do you want me to go back to Australia?' I asked, scared, in a whisper.
'Do you want me to go back to Australia?' I asked, my voice cracking. I started to cry. 'Why don't you love me anymore?'
Ahmet rolled over and hugged me. 'I don't want you to go back,' he protested firmly. 'Will… Seni çok seviyorum. Seninle kalmak istiyorum.'
My sobbing increased. I was bawling. 'I don't know what you're saying. I hate it here. I want to go home. Please, please, come back to Australia with me.'
Ahmet tried to brush the tears away, but I was crying too hard for that to work. I pushed his hand away and rolled over so that I could cry into his shoulder. It was pathetic, but it was the way it was.
'Will, you'll get used to it,'he offered gently. 'I'm so sorry I haven't helped you more. Maybe you're just in shock because of Ben?'
'It's nothing to do with Ben,' I sobbed. 'It's being here. I don't like it. I don't know anyone and it's cold and miserable and I can't understand the language. Don't you bulllshit me about this being how you felt in Australia. You knew Turks, and you could speak the language, and your family are in Australia. I don't have any of that. And Ben, when Ben goes on about how hard it is to be a Muslim in Australia, I want to kick him in the mouth. Boo-fucking-hoo. He can still speak the same language. He can still speak to other Muslims.'
Ahmet petted my back. 'It will get easier.'
I curled up in a ball. 'Don't say that.'
'Okay,' he agreed slowly. 'I will say what I feel in my heart. I feel very sorry for you. What I did to you was very unfair. My family said it would be cruel to you. Your family also said it would be cruel to you. But I wanted you. Now I feel bad, because you are sad, but I still want you here. Even though you are miserable, I still don't want to let you go.'
'You've barely touched me since I got here.'
He was embarrassed. 'I'm scared that perhaps I don't please you. You wanted Mohammed. Lots of men want Mohammed. He...men say favourable things about him.'
'I don't want Mohammed.' I wiped my eyes. 'I was stupid. Drunk. I thought you were angry at me. I don't like Mohammed, and I definitely don't like married men. Not now, not ever.'
'Oh. That is good,' he said, embracing me. 'I thought...I thought that maybe you were in love with me, but still wanted other men. I don't like that,' he admitted frankly. 'I don't want to share. I've waited a long time for someone to stay with me, permanently. I would prefer that you only go to bed with me.'
I rubbed my eyes and laughed. Goddamn, what a bloody mess. 'I'm so sorry.'
'Me too. I'm sorry, too.'
Ahmet woke me up early the next morning, fucked me stupid, and took me out for breakfast. I protested 'What about Ben? What if I'm needed?', but he told me they would call me if they needed me, and in the meantime, we should just enjoy being together.
It was like falling in love all over again. I was quite nervous, because he now knew how upset and frustrated I was, and Ahmet, too, seemed cautious, but I was also thrilled and happy and immensely relieved, because Ben had been found, and there were no more secrets between Ahmet and I.
He took me around town and showed me places; places that there were lots of gays, places where I could buy nice shirts, places where I could buy tea and sit in the sun without being ripped off or surrounded by tourists.
'I don't mind tourists,' I reminded him.
Ahmet grinned. 'In a year's time you will have changed your mind.'
I patted his arm affectionately. The ability to touch other men was something I really appreciated about living here. Who cared if onlookers assumed it was friendly touching and not loving touching? Not me. I was happy, however it was interpreted.
'If you go to the same shops over and over the shopkeepers will recognise you,' my lover continued. 'They won't charge you high prices.'
I pulled a face. 'Okay.'
'Okay?' Ahmet laughed. 'What is that supposed to mean?'
I smiled. 'Nothing.'
'Oh, nothing. You're a liar.'
See, when he smiled the way he was currently smiling, I was powerless to resist. This was what I'd come to Turkey for, and this was the reason why, no matter how difficult it currently was, I would stay.
Lee was in his hotel room with two Turkish prostitutes and a palette of paint.
'Oh my God,' I cringed. 'Where is Tom? He's going to flip when he sees those, um, girls.'
Lee laughed sardonically. 'Who Tom?'
'Yes, Tom,' I repeated firmly. 'You know what he's like about sex.'
Lee waved the paint brush around as he sat down in his chair, in front of a canvas. 'I do,' he agreed, inspecting the two naked women. 'I heard him and Sarkan going for it all last night.'
'Very funny, Lee.'
'It wasn't. Do you find these two hot?'
I glanced at the women. They were perched in dainty little positions amid a backdrop of flimsy satiny material. Lee was obviously taking the opportunity to do a few dirty portraits of foreign women. I supposed the women were okay.
'You never watched Brett and Mike's lesbian pornos, did you?' Lee prodded.
Ahmet laughed. 'You like watching two girls?'
'Of course,' Lee replied. 'It's hot. Anyway, back to the subject, Willy-boy, do you, or do you not, appreciate these two fine ladies?'
'I do not,' I admitted. 'I'm sure they're very nice, but...'
'Ah, ah, ahhh,' Lee interrupted. 'You do not. And I don't want to hear your ex-boyfriend shagging with some teenaged Turkish waiter. There are things I lie about, and things that I am too traumatised by to fake.'
I sat down next to Lee. Ahmet and I had come over to see if Tom wanted to check out a gay nightclub with us, but Lee's news had knocked me for six. Believe me, Tom doesn't sleep around.
'I doubt Tom actually slept with him,' I remarked.
'I don't,' Lee replied. He frowned. 'If you're going to stay, be quiet. I'm paying by the hour.'
I wanted to go, but Ahmet was intrigued by my younger brother's work, and wanted to stay for a while and watch. Theoretically, I understood Ahmet's point of view; Lee, despite is preferred subject matter, is an extremely talented artist and it's interesting watching him create his work, so I agreed to stay.
Personally, however, I wasn't particularly interested in observing either Lee's work, or the two naked girls, so I sat and mulled over the prospect of Tom banging a guy he'd known for less than twenty-four hours. İt was more shocking than I could explain. It was Tom we were talking about, Tom. I was his first lover. I was the one who'd taken his virginity, the one who knew how he felt about sex.
As I was mulling over the prospect, Tom and Sarkan arrived at the hotel. One look at time, and I knew. Oh my God. Guilt and happiness were written all over his face.
'Oh, hi Will,' Tom greeted meekly. 'I didn't know you were here.'
I shrugged and glanced at the girls. Tom looked over. His eyes widened.
'I'll get my bags and go,' my ex announced. 'I booked a separate room for the night. To, um, give Lee privacy. You know.'
It was the biggest lie I'd ever heard him tell. Tom didn't care about Lee's privacy. Tom cared about Tom's privacy, and we all knew it.
Sarkan helped Tom carry his bags out. Ahmet and I watched in amusement as they filed out, while Lee, ignoring the whole intrusion, continued to paint.
'I told you,' Lee informed me superiorily as the two men closed the door behind them.
'You did,' I agreed.
'If he's single, he should have fun while he's in Turkey,' Ahmet said.
I turned to my boyfriend and shook my head. 'No, this is bad. Tom doesn't have sex with strangers. I don't know why he's suddenly hooking up with Sarkan.'
'Sarkan probably 'fed him a line',' Ahmet shrugged. 'If Tom is naive like you say he is, then you should warn him to be careful. Not all Turkish men have good intentions. Some just want to get out of Turkey so badly they will take advantage of tourists. They make the tourists think they love them. You should warn Tom. Tell him to be careful.'
Ahmet had voiced my fears.
'I know,' I agreed. 'I just...I'm not looking forward to it. Tom is really, really, funny about sex.'
'Are you sure you don't want to come back to Australia?' Michael asked.
'Positive,' I replied. 'Really. Don't worry about me. I'm getting the hang of it.'
'I heard you crying the other night,' he pointed out.
I wanted to crawl behind the refrigerator and die. 'I'm fine. It was nothing. Ahmet and I needed to work some things out.'
I dislike 'hmmm' because it always precedes a horrible question or statement.
'Will?' Michael inquired. 'Can I ask you something personal?'
Shit, there it was.
'Okay,' I agreed.
'Are you taking any medication for your depression?'
'Oh, yes,' I replied. That was much less embarrassing then I'd thought. 'Yes. One of Ahmet's friends is a doctor. I can see her when my script runs out.'
'Do you feel suicidal?'
'No,' I replied honestly. 'I'm cold, I'm angry and I'm frustrated, but I'm not suicidal. I want to go home, but I want to be with Ahmet more, and I know there's no way he'll ever come back to Australia. He hated it more than I...more than I get annoyed by Turkey.'
'Do you hate Turkey?'
'Not really, no. It's just very different from what I expected. I don't think I'm friendly enough or aggressive enough to survive. I don't like haggling prices. I don't like having to rely on public transport. It's really frustrating not being able to speak the language.'
Michael played with a lighter. He hadn't smoked in two whole days, but you could see that he wanted to. 'Is there anything you like about being here?'
'Sure. I like the food and I like the way guys aren't so hung up about physical contact and everyone has been reaaallly good about my crappy Turkish.' I stared at the clock on the wall. 'I like this house, too.'
'It's an elite part of town,' Mike agreed.
'Is that a snub?'
'Oh no,' he assured me. 'It was merely a comment. I'm glad he has enough money to look after you. There's no fun in being poor.'
'Sorry.' I tipped my chair back and crossed my arms over my chest. Almost immediately, I realised what I was doing and clunked myself forward. Ahmet hated it when I tipped and rocked on my chair. 'Um... Can I ask you something?'
'Of course you can.'
'Are you and Brett still angry with me? About Ben? I mean, I know I shouldn't have hit him and I know I caused you lots of trouble and cost you lots of money and if I were you...' I trailed off miserably. 'I'm so sorry.'
Mike sighed. Hewent over to the kitchen cupboard, took out a pack of cigarettes, opened it, and stuck one in his mouth. He lit it, and inhaled deeply. 'Will, I'm going to be honest. I don't blame you at all. I know I've sworn at you, and been angry with you, but it's not really directed at you. I can't live with Ben. I haven't wanted him to live with us for quite some time. I don't think I ever wanted him, really. I only agreed to take him because I thought perhaps it would make Brett and I closer. İ was wrong. Then,with he and Brett started fighting,' Michael shrugged. 'I genuinely hoped Brett would send him back. We talked about it, you know. I didn't encourage Brett. I pretended I didn't care. But I did.'
Michael tapped his cigarette in the ashtray. 'I don't want to spend time with him, I don't want to spend any money on him, and I don't want Brett spending time or money on him. Is that petty? God, of course you'll think it's petty. You love him. He's your brother.'
I can be so jealous you'd think I'd have loved what I was hearing. But I didn't. I hated it. It was...fuck, how could he say that?
'He drives me crazy. He's always picking at Brett. It's always one thing or another, he always has to fight. I used to encourage him to go and visit you and Ahmet. I used to encourage him to stay with Lee. Now, unless I can convince Brett to send him back to social services, he's going to be with us twenty-four-seven.'
'Maybe you should try and get used to him,' I suggested, stupefied. 'You can't send him back. That would be... Michael, you can't send him back. It'll mess him up.'
'He's messed up enough as it is. He cuts himself. He has scars all over his leg and stomach. One got infected and I had to take him to the doctor. I said to him 'Don't you think it's time you went to the psychiatrist without Brett there to hold your hand? Don't you think that might stop you from doing this?', but he shook his head at me and refused to speak. I don't need that stress. I don't need him cutting too deeply and killing himself while he's under our care.'
I bit down on my lower lip. 'Is that how you felt about me? Is that why you ask if I'm suicidal? To make sure I don't kill myself while you're around?'
'God, Will, no. I love you.'
Michael spoke with sincerity. I knew it was the truth. He was terrified of me dying, of me being depressed, because he loved me. He disliked Ben, and though I doubt he wanted him to die, he mainly didn't want Ben to harm himself while under his care.
'Okay,' I agreed. 'Well, um, I hope this stuff gets sorted out. I need to go and see Lee, now. I said I'd go over and see him.'
'Will,' Michael called after me as I stood up to leave. 'Will, don't take this personally.'
I spun around. 'I'm not. I'm not taking it personally at all. I just feel bad for Ben.'
My foster father sighed. 'Do you honestly think I don't?'
Honestly? I don't think Michael cared in the slightest. It was brutal; but there it was.
Ahmet, Lee and I sat in a tea house drinking tea and mulling over a multitude of problems.
'Which is the better solution?' Ahmet asked frankly. 'Do you want Brett and Michael to split? Do you want Ben to stay or go?'
'I want all of them to stay together,' I answered honestly. 'If Michael doesn't like Ben, he can suck it up and deal with it. He's the one who agreed to take him. He can't just palm him off.'
'I reckon Brett should dump Mike,' Lee argued. 'You know, for a long time I really hoped they'd stay together, but I don't give a shit anymore. Mike's been treating Brett like crap. I know Brett does a lot of stupid crap, but if you look closely, you can always find out that Michael is equally to blame, he just lets Brett cop the shit when things blow up.'
'Michael isn't happy,' Ahmet pointed out astutely. 'Brett loves him, but Michael is... Michael is tired of the upheaval. I think he wants a nice, peaceful life. Brett thinks he wants a nice, peaceful, life, but he doesn't. He wants children and mess and travel and excitement.'
Lee and I met each other's eyes. We'd never considered what Ahmet was suggesting. We'd never considered the possibility of an amicable split.
'Maybe I'm wrong,' Ahmet shrugged. 'I would prefer to be wrong. Breakups are uncomfortable. They remind me that I've been there before, and know how it feels.'
I touched his arm. 'No, no, you might be right about Brett and Mike. Lee and I just never thought about that possibility. It's a bit of a shock.'
Lee stretched out, a thoughtful expression on his face. A waiter approached, whisked away his empty glass, and set a fresh tea in front of him.
'Whatever happens will happen,' my foster brother said diplomatically. 'The worst thing would be for Ben to get kicked out. Though I suppose he can live with us if that happens. Claire probably wouldn't mind. She likes Ben.'
Ahmet looked relieved. 'I'm glad he'll have place to go.'
Lee shrugged. 'It probably won't come to that. I doubt Brett would let Mike kick him out.'
My family and Tom flew back to Australia over the next few days. For the time being, Ben would be staying with Brett and Michael, but in the long term... in the long term, I had no idea what was going to happen.
I would have been stressing over it, had I not had bigger problems to deal with. These problems related to my small business, helping Wafiq and his colleagues. After a major kerfuffle with Turkish bureucracy, I had given up and registered my business as an Australian business. I was therefore an Australian businessman, with an Australian business, residing in Turkey. Does this sound tricky? Well, it isn't. Not when compared to the Turkish wheels of government.
Soon after I'd advised Wafiq of the set-up, I'd received an email, then a phone call, from one of his managers. They wanted to know what my qualifications were, and if I wanted to do more work for their company. I would have ummed and ahhed, but I was honestly too stupefied to say anything sensible. Two days later, I'd had an e-ticket to Sharjah emailed to me.
Fretting, I rang Brett for advice.
'Brett, how do I get myself out of this situation?' I pleaded. 'I don't know what to say, I don't know what to wear, I don't even want to do this!'
'If you don't want to do it, why on earth did you indicate that you did?' he inquired, mystified.
'Because I like working for Wafiq. I just don't... just don't want to meet any scary businessmen.'
'Why would they be scary? They've invited you over.'
'I don't know what to do,' I explained. 'Look, you've worked in the Emirates. What should I wear and say and do?'
'You should wear a suit, bring your resume, be honest, and be prepared to negotiate. Oh, and go to the toilet before you arrive. You have no idea how long the idle chit-chat can go on for.'
I cringed. Oh, this was very, very bad. I liked Wafiq. He and I IM-ed each other about random, everyday, stuff as well as work stuff, and he was really very nice. I think he had a clue about my relationship with Ahmet, too, even though I'd never actually come out and told him anything definite.
A week later I was on an Emirates flight to Sharjah, carrying two suits in a garment bag, and feeling distinctly uneasy. It really baffles me how I get myself into these situations. I don't like people standing in my personal space. I have extremely limited knowledge of Arabic – the little I knew had come from a crash course I'd downloaded off the net. I definitely don't like trying to have conversations with strangers, and worst still, I couldn't even tell you how an average Australian job interview proceeded because every job I'd had to date had been arranged by Brett.
A bored looking Pakistani taxi driver met me at the airport. He drove with one hand on the steering wheel of his old yellow sedan, listened to Eastern pop music and asked me where I was from, if I was married, and what I was doing in Sharjah.
We arrived at my hotel, and I paid him, tipped him, and checked in. There was a note for me at reception, asking me to call my interviewers after I'd freshened up, so I went to my room, showered, and put on the first of my two suits.
I assumed I was going to be interviewed, so I took a copy of my resume with me, but instead, my hosts took me out to dinner.
Ahmet traced my scars regretfully. He carried a lot of guilt about the accident, when in all honesty, it just wasn't worth the grief. It had happened, we'd both survived without permanent injuries, and it was time to move on.
I pushed Ahmet's hand lower. 'Touch something interesting,' I suggested salaciously.
He shook his head. 'I look at you and I remember what I did to you. I nearly killed you.'
'But you didn't.'
'I could have.'
I put his hand on my penis. 'Don't think about it. You die when you're meant to die. Inshallah, right?'
He shrugged, as if to say 'I don't agree, but won't argue', and positioned himself between my legs. I pushed my laptop aside and watched with great interest as he unbuttoned and unzipped my jeans. He pulled my rigid cock free, and I lifted my butt so he could pull my pants down and gain better access. Ahmet smoothed his hands over my hips before leaning forward and kissing my hard on.
I pushed him down onto his stomach. He glanced up and I shrugged. I was horny, had been all morning, and even whacking off in the shower hadn't satisfied me. Ahmet raised an eyebrow at me before lowering his head and taking me into his mouth.
'Oh God, stop,' I moaned, pushing him away. I flung off my jeans, and basically tore Ahmet's off, too.
'Slow down,' he murmured, as I lubricated him.
'No,' I argued, thrusting into him. I groaned and pushed into him. I thrust, thrust again, and climaxed. God, God, God I needed this.
'Are you done yet?' Ahmet inquired sardonically.
'Um, yes. Sorry.'
He shook his head at me. He wasn't mad, not really. This had happened to both of us a few times before.
We did a rough clean-up, and I laid him on his back and gave him head.
Ahmet, perhaps slightly vengefully, laid back and enjoyed it. My jaw was sore by the time I'd finished, and my lips were numb. Semen spilled out of my mouth and onto Ahmet and his sheets. Oops. They were nice sheets, the three-billion thread count kind that never pilled.
'Oh, Will,' he sighed, as he dabbed at his angry-looking penis with tissues. 'Everything is fixed with sex, isn't it?'
'Isn't it?' I replied blankly. What was it they said? The best way to get over a man is to get under another? That sex fixes everything? That men are only ever after sex or money?
Ahmet threw his dirty tissues at me. 'No. It's not.'
'Are you mad?'
'No,' he shook his head. He leaned over and kissed me. 'You're very funny.'
'Funny as in 'haha funny' or funny as in 'weird'?'
'Funny as in 'different'. You're very different to Turkish men.' He smiled. 'I love you. You forgive me when I shouldn't be forgiven. I got you in a car accident and nearly killed you. I took you from your family, your friends, your study, your job and your country. How can you love me still?'
'Oh, I love you,' I assured him.
We smiled at each other. There was an understanding between us. It was nice, cozy, welcoming.
I reached over and touched his softening cock. It wasn't as red and veiny and indignant as it was when it was hard. It looked soft and vulnerable and rather cute.
'I have a new job,' I said. 'I'm going to be going to Sharjah once a month now, and Wafiq will be in Istanbul frequently, too.'
'They gave you the job? What are they paying you?'
I told him. Ahmet nodded, his eyes closed.
'Is that too much?' I asked nervously.
'Of course it is. You know that. You don't even have a completed degree.'
'I will be going back to university, though,' I argued. 'Distance education. I'll do it part-time.'
'Humph. You'll do a terrible degree at a third-rate university.'
'Turks and Arabs won't know how bad the university is,' I argued. 'All they'll know is that I have a degree.'
Ahmet nodded, conceding my point. 'Yes. But that doesn't make you so special now, does it?'
'Well, no,' I agreed.
Ahmet crinkled his nose.
'What?' I asked. 'Ahmet, tell me. You're making me nervous.'
'I read your chat logs,' he admitted. 'Wafiq contacts you a lot.'
'Not that much,' I replied, upset. 'Not that you should know! Why are you reading my chat logs?'
'Because he's gay and he wants to have sex with you,' Ahmet replied defiantly. 'You never realise! Never!'
'Ahmet, he's not gay! And why did you go through my computer?' I asked, immensely hurt. Oh, of all the things he could have done. I hate having my privacy stolen away from me.
'I went through your chat logs because I wanted to see if you were cheating.'
'Oh my God.' I rolled onto my back. 'Ahmet, I'm not cheating. And please, please, please don't touch my laptop again. I hate people going through my stuff. İt's private.'
'I'm your lover,' he argued sullenly.
'Yeah, and I'm yours,' I replied forcefully. 'Don't do it. I hate it.'
He glared at me. 'I won't do it again. But he's gay, Will. And he likes you. You mark my words.'
Despite Ahmet's apprehensions, the next two months failed to reveal any sordid plans that Wafiq might harbour. If anything, I began to suspect that Wafiq was rather straight. He discreetly admired the Turkish women whenever he came to Istanbul, and chatted happily about the skimpy clothing that American and British and Australian women wore. He appreciated the view in a very heterosexual kind of way.
Ahmet remained jealous. Sometimes I suspected jealousy was just something that came naturally to Ahmet. He didn't like me being involved in any conversation, with any men – no matter how straight – for longer than he deemed suitable. He was very childish, actually.
'Sarkan isn't jealous,' Tom remarked, when I rang him to chat.
'What? Sarkan? That guy you banged in Turkey?'
Tom was silent.
'Tom? Exactly what is going on?'
'He came here a week ago,' Tom confessed. 'Am I stupid? I missed him. I kept calling him, and he called me... I bought him a ticket here. I love him.'
'Oh my God.'
'Will...I swear to God, you can't tell anyone what I'm about to tell you, so promise me. No one, not even Ahmet can find out.'
Um, okay. I promise.'
'Seventeen,' Tom replied, sounding petrified. 'I thought he was older, but he's only seventeen. He's three years younger than me. Is that bad?'
'Er, no, that's not bad,' I replied honestly. 'Ahmet's twenty-eight. We get on perfectly well.'
'You're twenty, though. You're at the age of consent.'
'So is Sarkan. Almost.'
'Almost.' Tom agreed.
I walked through the house with the phone. Cloudy followed me, as though sensing the drama. 'Um, Tom? I don't mean to be rude, but how long are you planning on keeping him in Australia? Because I don't mean to be rude, but Turkish men... the ones without a lot of money... well...'
'You think he's using me,' Tom guessed flatly.
'No, I'm worried he might be using you.'
Tom was silent for a while. 'I love him. I know you'll think this is really dumb, but the first day... when he and I went out, I just knew. He says the same thing, that he just knew, too. He took me to meet his family before I went back to Australia. He and his cousin live with their grandfather. His cousin is a wrestler.'
'Yeah? So, um, is Sarkan going to be going back, or staying with you?'
'He's staying with me,' Tom answered defiantly.
I leant down and petted Cloudy. 'I hope things work out.'
I did hope things worked out, honestly, I did. I was just more than a little skeptical. Ahmet, when I informed him that Tom had bought Sarkan over to Australia to be with him, agreed. Umur laughed humourlessly when he found out. He thought Tom was a bloody fool and spent the evening regaling me with stories of foreign men and women who had been stupid enough to take uneducated, lower class Turkish men home with them.
Umur's stories did nothing to make me feel comfortable. In fact, they petrified me. Tom was so sweet, and so very obviously in love, that Sarkan was in prime position to take advantage of him.
Less than four weeks later, the gay Australian media spotted Tom and his new boyfriend and before you could say 'boo' it was major news not only in the gay gossip columns, but in the mainstream media, too. Tom was something of a media darling in Australia. He was sufficiently aloof to make himself a target, but so polite and considerate and innocent that they always treated him with an degree of respect. He had a hot body, an honest nature, he was gay, and he was vocally Christian. Now, he had a cute teenaged Muslim boyfriend from the other side of the world, and you can bet your bottom dollar that the public was intrigued.
My levels of concern were quite high, and as Tom refused to respond to my emailed questions about his lover, I decided the best course of action was to call Lee. I figured that as well as asking my foster brother about Tom, I could find out what the score was with Ben and Brett and Mike.
'Duuuude,' Lee sighed. 'It's a fucking mess down here. I don't know what Brett and Mike will do. Ben's really fucked up about the whole thing. He knows Mike wants to get rid of him, and the pressure's on him to crawl up Mike's arse and make everything better but Mike's being really pissy and keeps threatening to take Teagan and go and live with his mother.'
'Mike's packed us up before,' I replied hesitantly. 'He's taken us away from Brett.'
'Yeah, for a night,' Lee agreed. 'And he took us. He took all of us. Now he's saying the only one he wants is Teagan. Man, I don't know what the fuck his problem with Ben is, but he can't stand the kid.'
'Ben has some pretty offensive views on homosexuality.'
'Ben has some pretty offensive views on my line of work, too,' Lee replied in a couldn't-care-less tone. 'You don't see me going off my tree. You know what I reckon Mike's problem is? He's jealous. He's jealous because Brett and Teagan fucking love Ben.'
I ummed and ahhed.
'Will? Who would you stick up for if they split? Brett or Mike?'
'I wouldn't 'stick up' for either of them,' I replied cautiously. I knew I was on sticky ground. Lee and Ben would obviously side with Brett, and Teagan would side with Mike, but me... I loved both of the men who had raised me. 'I would hope they'd maintain a decent relationship.'
Lee sighed. 'You always stand up for Mike.'
'Brett isn't an angel.'
'No, but he's a lot closer than Michael.'
'Well, I suppose that's a matter of opinion,' I replied diplomatically. 'Changing the subject, what do you think of Tom's new boyfriend?'
Lee was being surprisingly conflict averse today, and replied honestly 'Tom seems happy.'
'Yes, but do you think Sarkan might rip him off?'
'What? Oh, maybe. I don't know. Sarkan seems to like Tom. I noticed that in Turkey, as a matter of fact. Besides, if Sarkan was after a guy with money, he could have found a better target than Tom.'
'Tom earns a fair bit.'
'Gulf Arabs earn more than 'a fair bit', and I'm sure they would have been a better target.'
'Not all Gulf Arabs.'
'No, not all, but Sarkan only needs one. If he wants a sugar daddy, that is.'
'So you think he might be in Australia because he likes Tom?'
'You moved to Turkey for Ahmet,' Lee pointed out. 'Did you move because he's a dentist and lives in a swish house and can buy you whatever you want, or did you move their for more romantic reasons?'
'More romantic reasons,' I muttered.
Lee snickered. 'Have I ever told you how stupid you two look when you're standing next to each other?'
'You invited Wafiq here?' Ahmet asked jealously.
I mentally groaned. I'd already been – on Ahmet's advice, mind you – taking Wafiq and some of his colleagues out to dinner whenever they came to Istanbul, and I'd only invited Wafiq to physically stay with us because oh, Ahmet told it might be nice.
'I like Arabs. They're cute,' Umur said. 'Where is he from?'
'Sharjah,' I replied.
'He probably isn't. Most people living in the Emirates are from other countries,' Ahmet argued.
'Not Wafiq. He's Emirati.'
My boyfriend sulked. 'He's in love with you.'
Umur smiled, and said something lazily, casually to Ahmet in Turkish. I picked up only a few of the words, but knew instinctively that Umur was merely calling my lover out on his envy.
'Well, he's only staying a few days,' I added hurriedly. 'That's okay, isn't it?'
'Yes,' Umur agreed.
Ahmet scowled. 'Yes.'
'He's heterosexual,' I assured my boyfriend. 'And on that matter, I figure if I sleep in one of the spare rooms while he's here, then he won't have to realise we're lovers. We can pretend we're as straight as he is.'
I don't think there's really any nice way to tell a man he'll have to forego sex for a few days, and I don't think there's really any nice way a man can accept that, for reasons beyond his control, he won't be getting laid for three consecutive days. I was apologetic, and Ahmet was cranky, but we both knew the position we were in, and there was no way Ahmet woul fight with me in front of Umur.
Later that evening, I again apologised to Ahmet, while trying to reassure him that Wafiq wasn't trying to get down my pants. Ahmet sighed miserably and kissed my collarbone.
'It's in your best business interests to do this,' he agreed mournfully. 'But I'm very jealous.'
'I know,' I agreed.
Ahmet buried his head in my neck. 'I love you, Will.'
'I love you, too.' I tickled his armpit. 'Don't be jealous. I'm extremely nervous.'
'Why are you nervous with him?'
'I'm terrified of offending him. Really, really, terrified.'
'I don't know. If he was Australian, we'd probably be friends. We get on really well. Not in a loving way,' I added hurriedly. 'We get on in a mate-y kind of way.'
Ahmet shook his head. 'You won't have problems. If he looks uncomfortable, then think about your actions, or your words. But you've gone this far.'
We lay in bed, the blankets on our laps, each of us staring at the ceiling.
'You know, Brett, my foster father,' I started. 'He worked in Dubai for like, six months. I rang him before I had the business meeting with Wafiq. He didn't know anything about their business etiquette. When I think about the way he acts, and the way Wafiq acts, it makes me worried. Brett must have really offended people.'
Ahmet rolled over so he was facing me. 'Will, if you know that much, you know enough,' he said gently. 'If you can already see what Brett was doing wrong, then you have nothing to worry about.'
A few weeks later, I left for the airport to pick up Wafiq. It was very nerve-wrecking, but the moment I laid eyes on him I relaxed. He was just so easy to get along with it wasn't funny.
'How was your flight?' I inquired, as we made our way out to the car.
'Agreeable. What do you think of Etihad?'
'It depends who's on the plane and what my mood is.'
'Do you dislike certain countries? I hear theTurks get weary of Germans.'
'They have a reputation for not spending enough money. I don't think Turks are happy unless they're...' I was going to say 'ripping people off', but decided on a more tactful 'driving a bargain.'
'Who wearies Australians?'
'Nobody, really, as long as they remember to go home at the end of their holiday.'
Wafiq laughed. 'What about Arabs? What do Australians feel about them?'
'Well, most Australians welcome tourists.'
'Two of my sisters work with an Australian woman. They've been invited to visit.'
'Well, they shouldn't feel there's no reason for them not to go.'
'Is it safe?'
'Mostly. There are always idiots, but anyone who got caught hassling tourists would get hung out to dry.'
'Hung out to dry?'
'They would receive very vocal public disapproval. Australians have a hard time keeping their mouths shut, and we're not as gracious as Emirati's.'
'Are the men,' Wafiq gestured meaningfully.
'Yes, but if women ignore them, or glare at them, they get the idea.'
'Really? My brothers think that is a sign. When a Western woman glares, they try harder to gain her attention. Maybe that is why they are unsuccessful.'
'Probably,' I agreed.
'How, then, does a man gain a Western woman's good attention?'
'Um,' I bit my lip. 'I'm not really that good at gaining their attention.'
We got into Ahmet's car, which I had borrowed for the occasion. I hoped this would bring an end to Wafiq's line of questioning, but this was not to be.
'If you cannot get a woman, will your father find you a bride?' Wafiq questioned.
'Oh no. No, no, no. That's not how it works in Australia.'
'I thought not,' Wafiq agreed. 'Then, how are you going to find a bride? What will you say to the women?'
'I'm not too sure,' I replied vaguely. 'Whatever happens will happen.'
'You would remain unmarried?'
'No children? Do you want children?'
He was flabbergasted. 'You could marry a Moroccan woman. My cousin did. It was very cheap.'
'Well, they probably wouldn't be very keen on the idea of marring a non-Muslim.'
'You could convert.'
I hit the brakes to avoid hitting a pedestrian. Turkey's streets were deathly. The pedestrians were positively suicidal.
'Do I insult you?' Wafiq inquired carefully.
I touched his arm. 'No. Do I insult you?'
'You can ask whatever you want,' I added. 'I'm just... not really the best person to ask when it comes to women. Maybe you should ask another Australian guy. Most seem too know what to do.'
Wafiq leaned to the side of the car and stared at me appraisingly. I caught him gazing and looked over.
'There are certain things that are accepted in other parts of the world,' he said carefully. 'That are not mentionable in Emirati culture. Nobody would admit to being part of it, or wanting to experience it, because it would bring shame on their family.'
He'd realised my homosexuality. I blushed, embarrassed, but not really knowing why I was embarrassed.
'It exists, nonetheless, in our society,' he continued. 'I'm aware of what it is.'
'Um, yes. I guess. Do you find it distasteful?'
'It's very odd. I don't understand that desire.'
'Does it bother you?'
'Will it cause problems? For me or you?'
'In Arab culture, it is often now what you do, but what you get away with. If nobody knows, then nobody can be shamed.'
I glanced at him worriedly. Wafiq gave a little shrug and a small smile.
'Why do you move to Turkey?' he asked. 'Wouldn't it have been easier to stay in Australia?'
'I met somebody. A Turk. We lived together for a while, but Ahmet – that's his name – didn't like Australia. He moved to Turkey and asked me to come with him.'
'And you agreed?'
'What security is there for you?'
I bit my lip. 'None, really. I just hope that things work out between us.'
Wafiq nodded acceptingly. 'That's a very Western thing to do.'
Umur and Ahmet were home when Wafiq and I arrived.
I introduced everybody, took Wafiq's stuff to his room, and gave him a quick tour of the house. He was very gracious of my crappy hosting abilities, and not once during the next few days did he make me feel awkward or funny or anything. He didn't stop his touching or his kind words or his friendship. In short, he was great.
'You must come to my house sometime,' he informed me. 'You're coming to Sharjah next month, yes?'
'Stay with me for a few days. It will be my honour.'
And, given that the last few days had gone well, I agreed.
I kid you not when I say that twenty-five hours I was due to depart for Sharjah, I received a phone call from Ben, who was wandering where I was.
'In Turkey,' I replied blankly.
'I'm at the airport,' he said. 'I thought you were going to pick me up?'
'The airport? Ataturk airport?'
'That's the one.' Ben paused. 'Will? Didn't anyone tell you? Because Mike booked the flight and told Brett to organise it with you.'
Oh my God. This was just so insanely stupid I wanted to jump on a plane, go back to Australia, and throttle my foster parents.
'Um, well, it's fine,' I said brightly. 'Get in a taxi. I'll pay the driver when you get here. I'll get everything prepared for you.'
Ben agreed to the arrangement, and we hung up. I immediately started dialling another number. It was the middle of the night in Australia, but I didn't give a flying fuck. If Brett and Michael wanted to play stupid games, they could play them without me. I wasn't interested in being caught in the middle.
It was Brett who had the misfortune to pick up the phone. He picked up in and asked who it was in a sleepy, bleary tone.
'It's Will,' I said angrily. 'Ben just called me. He's at the airport.'
'Oh. Did he have a good flight?'
'I don't fucking know! I don't care, either. Why didn't you and Michael tell me he was coming? Why couldn't you have at least asked me?' I demanded furiously.
'What? I thought Michael told you he was coming.'
'Um, no,' I snapped. 'Do you think I'd be ringing you at whatever fucking goddamn hour it is if I'd known he was coming?'
'Will, Will, I'm sorry,' he apologised. 'I thought you knew.'
I was so spitting mad I hung up the phone. I couldn't even stand to speak to them, that's how angry the whole fiasco made me. I was Ben's brother, not his caretaker. I wasn't the one entrusted with keeping him safe. I was merely the one they palmed Ben off to whenever they got sick of him.
I was half-expecting the phone to ring, but it didn't. Cloudy, who sensed something was amiss, followed me around the house as I prepared the study for Ben's arrival. I took the opportunity to tell my dog all the reasons why my foster parents sucked, and how he, as a canine, was immeasurably more sane, mature, and likeable.
Ben's taxi arrived, and my foster brother got out, looking tired and defeated. I paid the taxi driver, and argued with said taxi driver, who was in his seventies and too old to be lifting Ben's bags, about who would carry my foster brother's stuff out. I won the argument, tipped the driver, and carried Ben's stuff inside.
'Michael rang me,' Ben said, following me in. 'He said he and Brett were really, really, sorry. They're going to ring you in a few hours to apologise.'
'Oh. I hung up on Brett. I thought he'd be pissed off.'
'If he rang now, would you hang up on him again?'
Ben winced. 'Will, I'm so sorry. Do you want me to go back?'
'No, it's okay if you stay. I'm going to Sharjah tomorrow. I guess you'll have to stay with Ahmet and Umur while I'm gone. God, what were Brett and Mike thinking? If they'd bothered to tell me, I would have been able to organise things for you.'
He pursed his lips. 'Will, do you speak to Lee often?'
'Sometimes. Not often, per se.'
'I'm living with him at the moment. Teagan moved in last week, too. Michael's cracking up. He's having a massive meltdown.'
I paused. 'Are you serious?'
He nodded 'He quit his job and just stays at home. He's like 'Oh, I'm thirty and I haven't done anything with my life'. Brett's taking him to see a shrink, and I think that's helping, but they said it will be a few weeks before the drugs and everything start working.'
I spun around and met my foster brother's eye. 'Woah. Why didn't they tell me?'
Ben shrugged. 'You know Brett. And Michael's not really in any position to be explaining anything. He's all fucked up.'
'Is it bad for you and Teagan?'
'Um,' he paused thoughtfully. 'When I was eleven, my mum had a breakdown. It was really hard. She stopped letting me go to the mosque and made me stay with her all the time. At nights she'd cry and say she was sorry for having me and that she'd messed up a child's life. It was all fucked up. But then, one night, our neighbours called the police and child safety and she got the drugs and counselling, and things eventually got better. I'm hoping Michael will be the same. İ don't hate him and I don't need him to love me, but I want to get to a stage where we accept each other.'
I thought that was extraordinarily mature of him and told him as much.
'Nah. It's probably very selfish,' he confessed. 'I really like you guys.'
'Well, we really like you, too,' I replied stiffly.
Ben was amused. 'Of course you do.'
Ben was right. I did like him in a brotherly kind of way. Certainly, now that I'd had 'a break' from him for a few months, I was more than happy to have him stay with me.
I was chatting to Wafiq that night (and making Ahmet, who refused despite all evidence to the contrary, to accept that Wafiq wasn't homosexual, jealous) and mentioned that my brother had unexpectedly arrived. He immediately offered to let Ben stay with him and his family, too. That made me hesitate.
'Ben,' I called out.
'Do you want to go to Sharjah with me? We're staying with a work friend of mine.'
'Is he gay?'
'No. He's a hetereosexual Muslim Emirati.'
'How old is he?'
'Works fo me.'
'So you want to go?'
'No, Will.' Ben grinned. 'Of course.'
I told Wafiq that Ben would definitely appreciate the gesture, to which I received a smiley face in return. Ahmet glared at the screen, and mentioned that at least now Wafiq would be chaperoned, and unlikely to try and have hot, sweaty sex with me. I kissed my boyfriend on the nose and told him there was nothing to worry about.
The next day, Ben and I left for Sharjah. Ben slept on the plane while I sat and quietly mulled over the phone call I'd received from Brett early this morning. He hadn't said anything about Michael's meltdown, and I hadn't questioned him about it, but he sounded extremely tired. I apologised for calling him in the middle of the night and yelling at him, and he had apologised for not asking me if it was okay if Ben visited me. Then, the only time I've ever done this while sober, I told him I loved him. I'd said all of the things that I'd meant to say when I left for Istanbul; that I was grateful to have him and Michael, and that I would work on being more responsible.
The plane started it's descent, and I woke Ben up.
'I'm so sore,' he complained as he stretched and fastened his seat belt. 'When we get back to Istanbul I'm getting a bath and a massage.'
The plane skidded onto the runway. Ben and I exited the plane and got our baggage and VISA's, before being spotting Wafiq and making our way over to him. It was midday on a Tuesday afternoon, but Wafiq's father owned the company he worked at, so such trifles as taking time off to pick up a business colleague were easily accepted.
Ben watched on in undisguised amusement as Wafiq and I exchanged the normal run of pleasantries. I could see his mind ticking over, and prepared myself for his inevitable interrogation and gloating about how I now actually let men stick their hands all over me. Worse, I returned said gestures with a level of practice I would have thought impossible six months earlier. Sometimes, I really wonder how I got to end up in a foster family with Lee and Ben, two guys who could never resist taking the piss out of me.
Wafiq drove us to his house in a shiny white Landcruiser with darkly tinted windows. Ben was fairly quiet during the journey, as Wafiq and I slipped into conversation, though this changed when we arrived at Wafiq's family's home.
Every house on the street belonged to one member or another of his extended family. Emirati government, Wafiq explained, gave free land to it's citizens and offered interest-free loans for the construction of buildings. His family had taken advantage of the offer, hence the current arrangement.
'You must have a big family,' Ben remarked.
'Yes, I do. Six brothers and eight sisters. I'm the fourth oldest.'
'Woah. That's a huge family by our standards. Even Arabs living in Australia don't have families that big.' Ben remarked.
'Are you an Arab?' Wafiq asked curiously, staring at Ben.
'Kinda,' Ben shrugged. 'My father was mostly Syrian, but he had a little Aboriginal blood in him. My mother was half Italian and half Russian.'
'Are you a Muslim?' Wafiq inquired.
'Uh-huh,' Ben nodded. 'You are too, right?'
Wafiq smiled. 'Yes. You should come to the mosque with us on Friday. Do you normally attend in Australia?'
'Not on Friday afternoon. I have school. Australians have Saturday and Sunday because most Christians go to church on Sunday.'
'Does this cause problems for Australian Muslims?'
'Absolutely. But, y'know, everyone deals with it. Some guys find jobs where they work the Australian weekend and have Friday's off. Others just miss going to mosque.'
'Are you actually required to go on Fridays?' I inquired, asking one of those questions that had been lurking in the back of my mind for some time.
Ben and Wafiq nodded.
'There you go. I never knew that,' I remarked.
'Australians don't tend to know very much about Islam,' Ben explained to Wafiq. 'A lot don't have any religion at all. Will doesn't. He doesn't understand it.'
'Thankfully for my soul, Ben is working on converting me,' I joked, messing up Ben's hair.
Ben pushed my hand away and rolled his eyes. 'Whatever.'
We stepped out of the SUV and into the stifling heat. Sweat beads formed on my back, melding my shirt to my back as went to the front door. Wafiq knocked, and yelled out. An older Arab man answered the door and ushered us in, telling us he would send one of the servants to bring in our bags.
Never having been in an Emirati home, I stood around, not quite sure what to do. Thankfully, Wafiq introduced us to the older Emirati who had let us in, and told us to take a seat.
There was no Western-style chair, just a big rug and lots of cushions, so I picked a cushion and sat.
'Not like that,' Ben hissed, yanking my leg. 'Will, you can't sit with the bottom of your feet facing people.'
'Sorry,' I mumbled.
Ben shook his head slightly in dismay as the older man did something weird with incense and poured us each a cup of coffee. I noted, with some dismay that neither of our hosts gave any intimation of how they felt about my obvious faux pas.
We must have looked more intriguing than I felt, because no sooner had we settled down than a group of males, ranging from ages two to thirty-two, decided to join us. Introductions took place (the boys were Wafiq's brothers, cousins, nephews and other assorted male relatives), coffee was poured and Wafiq met my gaze and smiled slightly, in a 'you're hanging in there and nobody is offended' way.
One of the (I kid you not) servants came and bought us pastries and more tea. Mahmoud, who was approximately seven years of age and had taken a poorly-thought out liking to me came and sat on my lap, pastry in hand. Little bits of filo and what appeared to be date filling dropped onto my legs and I picked them up and held them in the palm of one hand, paranoid about leaving a mess where I'd been sitting.
To provide some idea of what happened next, I need to first refer back to my ex-boyfriend, Tom. Tom, as a professional athlete and the wholesome face of several brands, was forever getting freebies and 'things to try'. One of his sponsors was a well known clothing company. During my relationship with Tom, I'd acquired quite a bit of their clothing, including several watches. I'm a one-watch kind of person, so I had one on my wrist, and kept another one in the front of my travel bag. The latter had been shoved there as something of an afterthought when I'd been packing to move to Turkey and had found the mint-condition sportswatch hiding amongst a stack of old textbooks.
Mahmoud was intrigued by my blue watch with fluoro yellow decorations and a number of features, including in-built games and a stopwatch. It wasn't a very expensive or prestigious watch, but Mahmoud was evidently greatly taken by it, and as they were only available in Australia, and I had a spare one in my bag, I thought I might perhaps go and get it and give it to him.
I glanced around anxiously, trying to figure out if it was going to be okay to give it to the kid and if so, if it was rude to exit the room to go and get it. One of the men noticed me fidgeting and gestured for a boy in his mid-teens to take me out of the room.
They thought I wanted a bathroom break. It wasn't the conclusion, but after several hours on the plane and in the car, I welcomed the chance to pee, and both disposed of the filo crumbs and the contents of my bladder.
'I need to get something out of my bag,' I told my teenaged bathroom-guide. 'Do you know where my bags would be?'
Bashar nodded. 'Yes.'
He took me to my room and watched me carefully as I fished out the watch. As I was digging it out, Mahmoud appeared at the door and grinned at me, showing a mouthful of missing baby teeth.
'Here,' I said to Mahmoud. 'It's yours.'
Mahmoud kissed my forehead and grabbed the watch. He held it up to his eye and his smile turned into one of triumph.
However, no sooner had Mahmoud taken possession of the watch, than Bashar neatly picked it out of the younger boys' hand and claimed it as his own. I seriously thought Bashar was teasing Mahmoud, but quickly realised the older boy was serious. The little shit was actually stealing the kid's watch.
Mahmoud argued furiously in Arabic, to which Bashar laughed. Tears started to creep into the corner of Mahmoud's eyes.
'Maybe you should give it back,' I suggested to Bashar.
'No. It's too good for him.' Bashar said disdainfully. 'And if you know what is good for you, you will shut up.'
I blinked in surprise. Then, slowly and carefully, I stood up and patted Mahmoud's back reassuringly. Bashar laughed and, having placed the watch somewhere in the folds of his dishdasha, trotted out into the hallway.
I took my hand from Mahmoud's shoulder and undid my watch. I took his hand and carefully buckled it onto his chubby wrist.
'Here,' I whispered, not wanting Bashar to hear us talking and return. 'It's yours.'
Mahmoud nodded conspiratorially and told me something, that to my ears seemed to be about Bashar, in Arabic.
'Can I help you?' a man asked in heavily accented English.
I spun around to see possibly the most beautiful man on the face of the earth. He hadn't been in the room with us, so I knew neither his name nor relation to Wafiq, but Mahmoud certainly knew the newcomer. He yelled out to his father and jumped in the man's arms joyfully, proudly showing off his new watch.
The man smiled faintly at me and introduced himself as Khaled. I introduced myself, before apologising for my gross rudeness, and mentioning I had no idea how to get back to the sitting room.
'How did you get here?' he asked, puzzled.
'Bashar took him!' Mahmoud exclaimed animatedly. 'And then Bashar stole the watch Will was giving me, and then Bashar...'
Mahmoud continued on airing his grievances, but his language turned to Arabic, and I couldn't determine precisely what was being said. Khaled seemed shocked by what he was hearing, and he questioned his son (in Arabic, unfortunately) several times. When their discussion ended, Khaled turned to me and asked if Bashar had indeed appropriated a gift intended for Mahmoud.
'Well, yes,' I admitted nervously.
Khaled looked deeply embarrassed.
'He may not have known it was intended for Mahmoud,' I added hurriedly, not wanting to create a shit storm over a hundred dollar watch. 'I mean, I should have checked with Wafiq before I gave it away. I apologise. I should have found out how things work before I started giving stuff away.'
'You didn't do anything wrong. There is nothing unacceptable in giving a child a gift. Did Bashar say why he stole it?'
'He told Will he would get him trouble if he told anyone!' Mahmoud answered ferociously.
'It's nothing,' I mumbled. 'The watch isn't worth much. It doesn't matter.'
Khaled again considered me carefully. 'You are very generous,' he said carefully. 'Thank-you.'
Mahmoud tried to speak, but his father shushed him. The conversation thus over, Khaled took me back to the room and, taking his son with him, left the house.
My heart was thudding, but no one knew what had occurred, and the matter was obviously finalised. Or so I thought...
Wafiq observed me solemnly as I paid for a new watch. He didn't say anything, though, and I didn't offer up an explanation. I was relieved. It had been nearly three days since the fateful Bashar incident, and the topic hadn't been raised, which I hoped meant that Khaled hadn't told anyone of Bashar's thievery.
Thursday night was Sharjah's equivilant of Australia's Friday night. After dinner and tea, Wafiq and I went out to their swimming pool and stripped down to our underwear. Sharjah was the one dry Emir, so there was no alcohol, but we had bottes of Pepsi and a bowl of candies which Wafiq had taken from the kitchen.
We lay on our floaties and stared at the sky in comfortable silence. Sharjah was a beautiful place, and it was quite surreal to be laying a state of the art salt water pool staring at a desert sky littered with stars. The warm water lapped at my skin and I glanced peacefully at my companion, and wondered if he was as enchanted as I was. A hundred years ago he and his family would have been Bedouins, fisherman, pearl divers, date farmers. All of this, all of the Emirates with their skyscrapers or – in Sharjah's case, because their Shaikh was an architect – beautifully designed buildings, the swarms of ex-pats and tourists and the Western takeaway franchises on every corner.
'On Saturday, we'll go to the desert,' Wafiq remarked. 'Do you have an objection to hunting?'
'Some people do. Animal...what do you call them?'
'Animal liberationists. I'm not one of them.'
Wafiq nodded and paddled over to the edge of the pool. He got out, water dripping off his plump,brown body, and lit a cigarette. 'Ben should come. The other boys will come if he does.'
Ben and the 'other boys' were getting on tremendously well. While Wafiq and I undertook official work together, Ben and Wafiq's male relatives, all of whom were on school break, got up to God knows' what. I had the unsettling impression they were trying to chat up foreign girls. Ben, undoubtedly, was showing them the tricks to winning the affections of the average Australian female.
Wafiq blew a long stream of smoke into the night air. 'Do you miss him? Ahmet?'
'Kind of,' I replied. 'It's good to have a break. Sometimes it gets too much.'
'I'm so sorry for questioning you,' he confessed. 'But I'm so curious. There are so many questions.'
'I'm very hard to offend. Most Australians are. As long as people aren't malicious, most questions are okay.'
'I do not...I do not understand why you don't get married.'
'Well, I'm not really interested in women,' I replied bluntly. 'They don't, you know, do anything for me.'
'You don't find them attractive?'
'Even the ones in little clothes, showing off their bodies?'
'Even those ones,' I assured him.
He shook his head disbelievingly. 'What about children?'
'I don't want children. Never have. Even if I wanted to marry a woman, I still wouldn't want any.'
This was something that was obviously considered extremely unnatural.
'Mahmoud loves you. Don't you want a son like him?'
Wafiq had a point when he said Mahmoud liked me – he did. He followed me around and always tried to have me sit next to his father, so he could sit in between us, and yesterday he had presented to me – with great pride – a picture he had drawn.
'I doubt any child of mine would turn out like Mahmoud.' I argued.
'You could marry an Emirati woman. Not a young one, but nobody would complain if you married a divorced woman, or one who was too old to marry an Emirati man. A woman in her early thirties could still give you a few children and wouldn't expect much from you. Second weddings aren't normally very expensive.'
I laughed. I simply couldn't imagine marrying a divorced Emirati woman and having children with her. Ben would probably love it if I did, because the union would undoubtedly require my conversion, but it would probably be sheer hell for me and the poor woman.
'Why aren't you married if it's so great?' I asked.
Wafiq stubbed out his cigarette and jumped onto his floatie. It skidded across the pool, sending up a spray of salty water. 'I'm getting married when my house is completely built. It should take another three months.'
'You have a fiance?'
'Not yet. My father will find me a bride.'
'Are you joking?'
The expression on his face told me he wasn't.
'Woah,' I remarked honestly. 'That's as weird to me as my being gay is to you.'
Wafiq reached out and took my hand. 'I'm very glad I met you.'
I met his dark brown eyes and smiled. 'Me too.'