Here's the last of it. Thank-you for reading :)
I've always held the stereotypical view that in large families, the parents – particularly the fathers – don't actually put much effort into raising their kids.
I can't comment on how the girls were raised, because in true Emirati style, the females in Wafiq's family were netiher seen nor introduced nor discussed, but all seven boys were well-cared for. The youngest, who was just a toddler, was strapped into a car seat while the eldest, in his late twenties, drove one of the three SUV's.
Wafiq and I travelled with his two and five year old brothers and his father. We had the relatively quiet vehicle and, judging by the other two Lancruiser's were bouncing over the dunes, the most sedate. I expected this was probably due to the two young children and the three cream coloured dogs that were our passengers.
'Normally the younger children stay at home,' Wafiq explained. 'We're expecting our family to grow today, so we're keeping them out of the way.'
'Are you getting a new brother or sister?' I asked.
'No, Inshallah, I'm getting a new nephew or niece.'
'Also, my sons enjoy tourists,' Wafiq's father added. 'You may already be aware of that.'
Oh, I was aware all right. Since the gift of my watch I had also given away a handful of Turkish currency, a few foreign lollies and an Australian soccer shirt which, like my watch, had come into my possession via Tom. I'd also played endless games with the kids, helped a few with their swimming and been woken up each morning with a child sitting on the bottom of my bed. By Western standards, the kids here were ridiculously spoiled, but to be entirely fair, I'll have to admit that everyone, children included, was being extremely tolerant and gracious towards me and my many, many, faux pas'.
We arrived at our destination which was, in reality, the main meeting 'office' of Wafiq's family's desert tours business. There was a group of tourists there, being helped off of obliging camels with the assistance of equally obliging 'bedouin' staff, when we arrived. They looked at us in surprise. I expected we made a weird picture; a large group of Emiratis' with three dogs, several caged falcons and two Westerners in two.
'They spent the night in the desert,' Wafiq murmured. 'They'll go dune bashing on their way back to town.'
First, though, we sat and ate lunch with the tourists. It was a long, lazy meal and it was filled with photo-taking. Eight of the ten tourists were women in their twenties. Weren't the little boys cute? They exclaimed. And the camels? And the dogs? Wasn't the desert just filled with adorable, cute things?
Finally, the group of tourists was on their way. I waited patiently while everyone – with the notable exception of one of the servants who was wearing a Christian cross around his neck – prayed, before we, too, were on our way.
The idea behind hunting was for the falcon to sight the animal, the dog to catch it, and the human to slaughter it. It was an intriguing sight to behold, though I had to look away when the animals had their throats slit.
'Do you like dogs?' Muhammed inquired.
I guiltily stopped petting one of the dogs. 'Yes. I have one. A greyhound.'
'Does he race?'
The question surprised me. I hadn't expected a twenty-year old Arab to be aware of foreign dog races.
'No, he was too slow. He was sold as a pet, and a friend bought him for me for my birthday.'
'What does he do now? Guard your house?'
'Greyhounds are lousy guarddogs. Cloudy will watch people come in, but he would never bite anyone. He just...hangs around the house, and comes jogging with me.'
'He's a pet?'
Muhammed stroked one of the dogs thoughtfully. 'My bitch had a litter a few months ago. The puppies are ready to go to homes. I'll take you to see them this afternoon. Maybe you would want one of them.'
In Turkey, this would mean 'I'm going to try my damndest to sell you one of my mutts'. I wasn't sure what it meant in Sharjah.
'What sort of dogs are they?' I inquired politely.
Muhammed gestured to the hunting dogs. 'Saluki's.'
I was about to question him on the breed, when, glancing around at my companions, I noticed that the person wearing Ben's clothing was not actually Ben. It appeared that the imposter was actually one of Wafiq's brothers.
Muhammed noticed my stare and nudged me. 'Your brother and mine swapped clothes. It appears they find this to be funny.'
He was right. Standing no more than three feet from the imposter was Ben, clad in a white dishdasha and gutra. Fabulous. I swear I wasn't half as immature when I was fourteen.
The day passed beautifully. I was enjoying Sharjah much more than I had anticipated. When evening started to fall, we packed the falcons, the dogs, and the slaughtered animals into the SUV's and made the drive back to depot. Wafiq, his father, the employees and I all ignored Ben and his cohort's antics. This amused the duo, because it seemed to be proof that none of us had noticed the switch, and they kept sniggering and making stupid comments.
Later, when we had showered and eaten, Muhammed reminded me of his promise to show his dogs. Wafiq came with us as we trotted out to the kennels to see the puppies.
'My father doesn't like dogs,' Muhammed explained.
'That's not true. He doesn't like you keeping them as pets,' Wafiq argued.
Muhammd shrugged. 'Either way.'
'It's not the same thing,' Wafiq pointed out.
Muhammed didn't argue. 'They're very nice. Very friendly. You can't be angry when you're with your dogs.'
The expression on Wafiq's face perfectly mirrored my reaction to some of Ben's statements. Brothers. I caught Wafiq's eye and smiled faintly. He returned the smile unhesitatingly.
Muhammed didn't notice the exchange. He was opening the kennels, and loudly greeting the animals. 'This is my bitch,' he announced, pointing to a kennel the size of a large courtyard.
I noticed the kennel joined onto a similar kennel, and was separated only be a two foot fence. Over the other side were several young pups.
'She can jump the fence to see her pups, but they can't jump the fence and bother her,' Muhammed explained. 'She's weaning them.'
'They're gorgeous,' I said.
Muhammed opened the door and gestured for Wafiq and I to enter, which we did. He closed the door behind us and kneeled next to his dog, patting her head affectionately. 'Do you let your dog inside? I have a friend, in New Zealand, and she lets her dogs sleep inside.'
A friend in New Zealand? A female friend in New Zealand? Interesting. It was a pity that Emirati's were so funny about being asked direct quesions about women, because I'd have loved to have known if the girl in question was a native Kiwi, or just living there.
'A lot of Australians and New Zealanders allow their dogs inside,' I replied carefully.
Muhammed nodded. 'Her father allowed their dogs inside. But they're Christian; not Muslim.'
Wafiq bent down and petted one of the pups. 'My brother met this girl online,' he explained to me. 'On a forum about dogs.'
Wafiq's tone was dismissive and regretful, as though there were something incredibly stupid and slightly shameful about what his sibling was doing.
'That's pretty cool,' I commented, picking up one of the puppies. I kissed the top of it's head. I'm a dork like that. 'What sort of dogs does she have?'
Muhammed smiled. 'Chihuahua's.'
Muhammed touched my hands, stroked the pup I was holding. 'You should have this one. Wafiq can get me one of his shirts so he gets used to your scent. I'll have him delivered to Turkey.'
I forced myself not to step back. 'Oh no, that's not necessary. Tell me what his price is.'
'There is no price. He's yours.'
'I can't take him.'
'You must. I insist.'
'No. I'll pay you. What does he cost?'
Muhammed's covered one of my hands with his. 'Would you offend me by refusing a gift?'
I stared at Wafiq helplessly.
Wafiq, I noticed, looked slightly disgusted. He clearly wasn't one of those men who kissed puppies heads. Not surprising, really.
'My brother is pleased you support his...attempts...with this woman. Take the dog.'
I was lying on our bed with my head in Ahmet's lap. He was stroking my hair and telling me how much he loved me and had missed me while I was away. God, he was being such a sook about me. I loved him. I would never leave him.
'You might cheat, though,' he argued. 'Mohammed...'
'Mohammed, Schmohammed. I can barely remember him. The only reason I even remember his name is because every second person in Sharjah seems to be named Mohammed.'
'I remember him.'
I reached up and touched his face. 'Don't. I feel so guilty. I really didn't mean to hurt you.'
Ahmet paused, reflected on what I'd said. 'I hated being in Australia. You were what made it bearable. You were the only reason I stayed as long as I did.'
'I'm so sorry.'
He leant down and kissed me. 'I'm terrified of the day where you will realise I'm old and ugly and will leave me.'
I burst into laughter. Very insensitive, I know. 'I like older men and you will never be ugly.'
'Umur says I look like a frog.'
'He means it very affectionately.'
'You agree!' he accused.
'Only when you're cross.' I stifled a laugh. 'Sorry.'
'Well, you look skinny like your dog!'
'You bought me the dog!'
Ahmet hesitated, before smiling involuntarily. He was trying to be cross, but he recognised the truth and humour in my words. 'I don't appreciate this, Will.'
I tickled his tummy. 'I love you.'
'I love you, too.'
I moved off his lap and rolled onto my stomach. Judging my lover to be in an acceptable mood, I told him some of the finer details about my journey. I included my interraction with Bashar-the-watch-stealer and Mahmoud-the-victim.
'That's very unusual,' Ahmet remarked. 'Very terrible for the family. They wouldn't want the story to be spread.'
'Well, I'm not planning on telling anyone other than you. I didn't even tell Ben. I wouldn't spread gossip, especially when the rest of them were so nice to me.' I got up and went to my bag. 'I have to show you something. Wafiq's grandfather gave me this just before I left. Ben said not to open it in front of them, so I waited until I was at the airport, and by then none of them were near and I couldn't refuse it.'
'What is it?'
'Here.' I guiltily handed over a watch that must have been worth several hundred times the value of the watch I had given Mahmoud.
Ahmet took the watch and inspected it. It was platinum and gold and very obviously hand crafted. 'It's very nice,' he commented.
'What? Is that all you're going to say?'
'What do you want me to say?'
'Um, that it's very expensive,' I suggested.
'Well, their kid stole your watch.'
'Stole Mahmoud's watch.'
'No, he stole your watch. You had to give away two watches instead of one. That would be stealing, would it not?'
'In a roundabout way, but I bought another one while I was in Sharjah. See,' I held out my wrist and had him view my duty-free watch.
Ahmet shook his head. 'Imagine if you hadn't given Mahmoud your second watch. He would have gone to the adults crying about what Bashar had done.'
'He told his father anyway!' I took the watch from Ahmet's hand. 'You're not even trying to understand.'
'I'm trying to explain.'
I was frustrated and embarrassed by the gift. I wished they could just be like Australians. Bashar could have returned my watch and I would have been perfectly happy. That was all I had wanted.
'Aww,' Ahmet kissed me. 'Will, don't get upset.'
'It's very hard not to,' I admitted.
He petted my hair. 'You have to let it go. Move on.'
I frowned. 'Right. Whatever.'
Ahmet positioned himself on top of me and smiled cheekily. 'Grizzly, grumpy. You say I worry, and then you worry!'
I smiled. 'Sorry.'
He moved my legs apart with one knee and held my arms down. 'This is better than arguing, yes?'
I flipped him onto his back. 'This is better.'
My lover struggled. It was going to be a fight for position. Awesome.
Ben gnawed his second simit hungrily as we walked through Istanbul's streets. I noticed how old he looked, how tall. He was almost as tall as Ahmet and yet still not quite fifteen. His face was looking more handsome, too; less brutal and fierce and more dignified and handsome.
'Do you have a girlfriend?' I asked curiously.
Ben smiled faintly. 'Yes.
'Really? What's her name?'
'No, Maryam. She's Persian.'
'Did you meet her at the mosque?'
Ben shook his head. 'No. I met her at a vegetarian restaurant that my friend's girlfriend made me go to. She's pretty nice. Maryam, that is.'
I stared at Ben. 'You always date nice girls. Why is that?'
'Because I'm a nice boy.' He grinned wolfishly. 'Their fathers never like me.'
'Why doesn't Maryam's father like you?'
'She gets hickeys really easy.'
That made me laugh like crazy.
'You can stop laughing now,' Ben said. 'Don't you want to talk to me about Brett and Mike before I go home?'
That wiped the smile off my face. 'Well, yes.'
He nodded sedately. 'Michael is really, really upset. I don't know how to say this,' he gestured hopelessly. 'He doesn't change his clothes in the morning. He stays in pajamas. That's weird for him, huh?'
Michael is normally one of thos immaculately turned-out men, with nary a wrinkle in his clothes or a hair out of place. I could never figure out how he achieved such physical perfection, given that he didn't seem to put a whole lot of effort into it, but I was frequently rather jealous of his abilities.
'I mean, from when did he even start wearing pajamas? He always used to sleep naked,' Ben continued.
'Exactly how do you know this?' I inquired, baffled and rather grossed out.
'I can just tell. I can't sleep in clothes, so I always have to get dressed before I get up to pee. If you knock on their bedroom door and ask to speak to Mike, he always used to spend a few minutes getting dressed before he opened the door. It kind of gives it away. Anyway, as I was saying, he's started wearing pajamas, and wears the same pair for days in a row. He did this for, like, three weeks before Brett organised for me and Teag to stay with Lee and his family.'
'But he's getting better, right? You said he was seeing a shrink and taking drugs?'
'Yeah, but...' Ben chewed his bottom lip thoughtfully. 'What made him like this? You must know, right?'
'Nope? In that case, do you at least know why he hates me?'
'He doesn't hate you.'
'Yes he does. After we got back from Turkey, when I ran off, I overheard him telling Brett he'd been hoping I'd been murdered. He said he wanted to cry with anger with I came back.' Ben stared at me, daring me to argue.
'He probably didn't mean it.'
Ben snorted disdainfully. 'Yeah, he did. I don't care. My Mum's boyfriends never liked me, and I got over that, so I can get over Michael. All I want to know is why this is going on, and if... if I'll ever live with Brett again.'
I stared at the ground hopelessly. I felt so, so awful for him. 'I don't know.'
He pulled a face. 'How fucked is this? I wish my Mum never died. I wish she'd met Brett, and they'd got married. That would have been excellent.'
I stared at him in surprise. What an obscure, obscure wish.
'What? Is that strange?' he asked.
'Um, no,' I replied truthfully. 'Just unusual.'
Ben shrugged and quickened his pace. 'I can't wait until I'm eighteen. I can't wait until all of this bullshit is over.'
Ben left two days later.
After seeing him off at the airport, I returned home and tried to concentrate on my work. It didn't happen. My mind was filled with too many questions, and my heart was filled with rage. I'd warned Mike not to let Ben know how he felt about him, I'd told him it would mess with the kid.
I went over to the phone and dialled. It rang a few times before being picked up, and Michael said 'hello'.
'Hi,' I said numbly. 'It's me, Will.'
'Oh, hi Will. How's Istanbul?'
'And Ben? How is he?'
'I just took him to the airport. He's on his way home?'
There was a pause. 'Already? Time goes quick.'
'Yes.' I hesitated. 'Mike, what's going on at home?'
'At home? Nothing.' His voice was bright, cheerful.
'Ben and Teagan are living with Lee. How can everything be alright?'
Michael was defensive. 'Brett and I can hardly provide a good home enviroment at the moment. Teagan will be coming back in a couple of weeks.'
'I don't know about Ben. He can come back when I'm a little less angry with him.'
'That's horrible,' I accused flatly. 'He's fourteen. He needs a stable home.'
'Will, you and I have always had a good relationship. I love and respect you, which is why I'm telling you that honestly, I don't have the patience for him right now.'
I ran my hands through my hair furiously. 'He doesn't need you to shaft him! You agreed to take him in!'
'Stop acting so spoiled.'
'Spoiled? Spoiled? You think I'm spoiled? I'm not the one who's kicking out a teenage boy because I'm too much of a pussy to cope with him.'
Michael didn't reply.
'How can you do this to him?' I continued. 'What on earth are you thinking?'
'I'm thinking that I'm tired and fed up and don't really care what you think,' Michael replied tiredly, sadly. 'Oh my God. How can you ever understand? Do you know what it's like trying to keep you kids out of trouble? How sick and tired of it I am? In the past six months we've paid for Dragana's abortion, paid for our car to be fixed when Ben decided to drive it to a friend's house while Brett and I were out and crashed it into our house, and paid for a trip to Turkey to retrieve him. When am I allowed to say 'I've had enough'? When, Will?'
I bit my bottom lip. 'Dragana had to have an abortion? And he crashed your car? When did all of this happen?'
'Dragana 'happened' when he started hanging around you, and the car accident occurred while you were in hospital. Brett and Teagan and I were with you, visiting.'
I reflected on this situation. Well, here were certainly a few pertinent facts Ben had neglected to mention.
Michael sighed tiredly. 'It doesn't matter though, does it? No matter what the reasons are, I'll always be the cruel one. Brett gives you kids anything you want, and I'm the one who takes it away.'
'That's not true at all.' I argued, surprised that this was how he felt. 'Never mind about what I said.'
'I do mind.'
'Well, you shouldn't. Look, maybe you should have a break. Come and visit me in Istanbul.'
'I was only there three months ago.'
'It would be fun this time. Please come. I have really big difficulties with Ahmet's friends. They're all really...um, they try and get down my pants. The only friend I have in this part of the world is Wafiq, and he lives in Sharjah.'
'Um, I don't know.'
'Just book a ticket. Really.'
Michael arrived a week later. Umur, Ahmet and I all went to the airport to pick him up, with Cloudy riding with us, and Stormy the Saluki pup sleeping in the middle back seat.
'You have a new dog,' Michael exclaimed.
'He got him by telling an Arab his girlfriend was not a whore.' Umur explained cheerfully. 'See his watch?' Umur showed Michael my arm. 'It was a gift from the same family.'
'Very nice,' Michael complimented.
'Very expensive,' I added. 'I prefer my dog. He came two days ago, so he's still a bit nervous. He doesn't like being left alone. He got tossed upside down in the plane.'
'Ouch. Poor thing. Can I pat him?'
'Sure.' I handed the dog into the front passenger seat.
Michael took the animal and patted him. 'Thanks Will. It just relieved itself.'
'Sorry.' I blushed and took my wayward dog. 'There are tissues in the glovebox.'
Ahmet laughed so hard he swerved dangerously over the road. Several other drivers beeped him angrily, which didn't seem to bother him, though he did try to stifle his laughter.
I glanced in the direction of the front passenger seat, where Michael was sitting. He was wearing nice pants, pants too good to be pissed on by a puppy. I hoped this was a good sign. I prayed it was an indication that he was slowly returning to normal.
'Do you want me to take Stormy?' I asked.
'He looks like he's already done his worst,' Michael replied diplomatically. He stroked the dog reassuringly. 'He's beautiful. Is he a type of greyhound?'
'He's a Saluki. I think they're fairly closely related to greyhounds. They're both sighthounds.'
'You'll have your hands full when they're Stormy grows up.'
'I know. I'm planning on taking Stormy out for a walk tomorrow, to get him used to the idea. You should come with me. I'll show you around.'
'That sounds great.'
We made our way home, and I showed Michael to his room. I'd been super-careful in preparing it. The sheets on the bed had been ironed, there were tissues and bottled water and mints beside the bed, and I'd left plenty of spare blankets and pillows. I was really worried about him. I should have noticed things were 'off' well before I'd been expressly told he was struggling.
'Um, let me know if you want anything,' I said. 'I won't wake you up tomorrow. I'll be working downstairs, probably at the kitchen table. Just come down whenever you're ready.'
I left Michael to his business and went downstairs to Ahmet and Umur. They were sitting on the floor playing backgammon over the coffee table. I sat next to Ahmet and leaned into him. He was way more affectionate around Umur than he had been back in Australia, around Mahir. I have no idea why, but I didn't care, either.
Ahmet kissed the top of my head. 'Is he settled?'
'Yes, I think so. I hope so.'
Michael wandered down to the kitchen a little after lunchtime. I had been working on my laptop, but I'd heard his footsteps and could sense him staring at me.
'Come in,' I said, gesturing to the table. 'Do you want something to eat?'
'Would it be too much trouble?'
'Oh no, not at all. Take a seat.'
I fixed him some lunch and poured each of us a drink. Michael took his gratefully and started eating, while I sipped at my drink and wondered what to say or do.
'What do you do?' Mike inquired, gesturing to my laptop.
'My work? I tidy up English. You know, for letters and website and advertising stuff. Like, tons of people in the Emirates and Turkey can speak pretty good English, but when you see it written down, it's kind of... funny.'
'And one company gives you enough work to keep you employed full time?'
'No, not really, one family gives me enough work,' I corrected. 'You have no idea how many brothers and cousins and second cousins and what-not there are. Plus, they send me stuff that isn't really translation stuff at all. I have to do a powerpoint presentation and create handouts this afternoon. They send me the notes, and I do the rest.'
'They're paying you to do a powerpoint presentation?'
'I like powerpoint. They don't, but they've pinched a stack of American graduates and now they need to train them.'
'Do they pay you well?'
'Well, I get paid in Australian dollars, as I'm technically a self-employed Australian who is 'travelling around', so I can tell you it's not that great in Aussie terms. It's really good in Turkey, though. I really need to give you and Brett back the money you gave me. I've saved tons in the past couple of months.'
'Oh no, the money's yours. Besides, didn't you give half of it to Ben?'
'Well, yes. But what if I gave you six thousand back?'
'There's no need for that.'
I sipped my drink and regarded Michael carefully. 'Are you and Brett going okay with money, with you not working?'
Michael smiled faintly. 'I'm on long service leave. I still have a job.'
'Oh. Ben said you'd quit.'
'I have utterly no idea where he got that idea from. Maybe he overheard me saying I'd had enough. I don't know. He's not the most reliable source of second hand information.'
Michael's reply was spoken so completely honestly that it dawned on me that perhaps Ben had... well, perhaps Ben had been kind of exaggerating the truth when he said Michael wished he was dead.
I fiddled with my laptop, saving my document and pushing the machine aside. My work could wait. 'Maybe it's because he's not at home.'
'Yes, I'm sure he and Lee are enjoying themselves discussing how terribly mean I am,' he replied wryly.
'Maybe you should ask Ben to come back home, then,' I suggested.
'Our 'home' is half demolished. When Ben crashed our car into it, he damaged the stumps. He did forty thousand dollars worth of damage. We're not covered by insurance because when he crashed the car, I foolishly decided not to press charges against him. I didn't want him to have a criminal record for stealing a car. Our house is a bloody mess. There's builders and their mess everywhere. I'm so angry with him I want to beat the death out of him, so for the time being, given the fact that our house isn't exactly habitable, and I'm so furious I don't trust myself around him, I think it's best he stays with Lee.'
'Are you kidding? The house was damaged?'
Michael looked surprised. 'Brett didn't tell you? I thought he would have. Yes, it's damaged and while the builders were doing the restumping they found more damage than we'd initially anticipated. We're pretty lucky it didn't cave in earlier.'
'I didn't even know Ben had been in a car accident until recently.' I pointed out.
'I can't believe no one told you,' Michael countered. 'Maybe it's because you seemed more important than a lousy car accident at the time. Besides, my car was barely damaged. It was fixed in a week and you can't tell by looking at it that it was rammed into a house stump.'
It was really very shocking to be finding out so much at once, but it was also such a huge, huge relief. Things were nowhere as bad as I'd imagined. Okay, that's not true, they were as bad, by the reasons, the explanations...they made me realise that there was a chance that everything would be 'fixed'.
'Does child welfare know about this?' I asked.
'Of course. They've told Teagan that she's being very good about it, and they've told Ben he's lucky to be walking after the trouble he's caused.'
'That's not what I heard from Ben,' I admitted.
'I'm not even slightly surprised to hear you say that, but as I've told Ben, Brett and social services, if Ben wants to leave us and find a new home, I'm not going to stand in his way.'
'I wonder why Ben stays.'
'Ben stays because he knows he's got it good.'
I reflected on this. 'That's probably true.'
'Of course it is.'
'Does it stress you out? I mean...' I paused, not exactly sure how to continue, but needing to press on nonetheless. There was still one more thing I needed to clear up. 'I hate people asking me about my mental state, so I know how horrible this is, but how are you coping? Like, have you had a breakdown?'
He leaned back into his chair and stared at the ceiling. 'I am so fucking angry at how my life is such a huge mess that I can barely function some days. Does that make sense? I'm thirty years old and every day I wake up and wonder 'What now? What else can possibly go wrong?'. I just want five minutes to myself where someone isn't demanding something of me. That's why I'm here.' He dropped his gaze so that he was meeting my eye. 'I needed a break from it all.'
I nodded. 'Are you on medication?'
'Are you depressed?'
'No, not as much as I was a month ago. I'm starting to...starting to 'see the light', so to speak.' Michael smiled cynically. 'And given that Brett and I had to remortgage the house to pay for repairs, I decided I may as well spend a little time overseas.'
'You're welcome to stay as long as you want.'
'Oh, I'm not going to overstay my welcome.'
'No, really,' I assured him. 'You can honestly stay as long as you want.'
'I never realised how many beautiful men there are in Turkey,' Michael remarked under his breath. 'Don't you think?'
It was a warm spring day and handsome men were standing here, there and everywhere. It was a typical evening in my neighbourhood, though with my new dog and my blond foster father with me, we were attracting a lot of curious glances. It was a good thing I'd finished my powerpoint and handouts before coming earlier this afternoon, because I could tell this was going to be one of those 'long' walks, where you don't actually traverse a great deal of ground, but instead spend a lot of time trying to cover two metres.
Turkish jogging lady, a woman whose name I didn't know, but who was familiar to me as the only other local who went jogging, waved cheerfully at me. I waved back.
'Well, yes, but I don't spend too much time considering it. Ahmet would get pissy.'
Michael noddded. 'He's extremely jealous. I suppose that's to be expected. You're a lot younger than him, and a lot better looking.'
I could feel my face heat up. 'I think he's better looking than me,' I said honestly.
'He's not,' Michael replied bluntly.
You'd be surprised how much hearing that hurt. I was really, seriously, terribly in love with my boyfriend and the thought that someone might not find him as attractive as I found him was really quite shocking.
'He's probably a great boyfriend,' Michael mused. 'And as long as you find him attractive, it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks, does it?'
Thankfully, a bunch of kids who normally spent their time yelling at me that I was too skinny to need to go jogging caught sight of my new dog and rushed over. I watched over my dog protectively and tried (successfully) to stop them picking him up. The dogs, for their part, took the attention well. Truthfully, I think Cloudy enjoyed Turkey. I was around more, he received a lot of pats from strangers, and he wasn't required to wear a muzzle. Plus, he and Stormy adored each other. The two dogs got on really, really well.
After a couple of minutes, we extricated ourselves from the kids and continued our walk. Michael spied the local bakery and decided he was hungry. It was a fortuitous move for Cloudy, because the staff always gave him bits of left over and overcooked breads and pastries, and this time, Stormy also enjoyed the free feed. I didn't think too much about what it must be doing to their stomachs.
'This is nice,' Michael commented, gesturing to his börek.
'What one is it?' I asked.
Michael had asked 'for something to eat', a vague desription that had, nonetheless, sufficed for the baker's oldest daughter.
'Potato? Cheese?' He guessed. 'There also seems to be some parsley.'
'That would be right. You should try their spinach ones next time.'
Michael raised his eyebrows slightly. 'Are you getting used to Turkey?'
'It's getting easier. I don't want to slag off Ahmet, but sometimes he's really good, and sometimes he's really awful about my moving here. I mean, he's always saying how happy he is I'm here, but he doesn't always help me. He didn't tell me not to sit down next to women. I must have been glared at ten times before I figured it out. Why couldn't he have taken the time to tell me that kind of stuff?'
We discussed Ahmet and his attitudes as we walked, being periodically interrupted by kids wanting to pat my dog. An hour or so later we finally walked in the front door. Our dogs rushed to their water bowls before retiring to the comfort of their dog beds. They slept in the same room as Ahmet and I. Most of the time it was okay, but if Ahmet and I were shagging, and Ahmet was 'on top', Cloudy had an awful habit of licking my lover's feet. It was quite bizarrre.
'How was it?' my lover inquired.
'There's so many gorgeous men,' Michael replied honestly.
Umur laughed. 'Come out with me tonight. We can see the really gorgeous men.'
I thought Michael might be too tired and jetlagged to want to go clubbing, but I thought wrong. Michael was as keen to go out as my housemate was. They invited Ahmet and I to go with them, but we both refused. I was grateful. I really, really dislike the thought of Mike flirting wtih men. Ew.
The four of us ate dinner together while Mike and Umur discussed where they were going to go, and what they were going to wear. I didn't pay much attention to them. Ahmet had one his legs hooked over mine under the table and kept gazing affectionately in my direction. My stomach was all fluttery. I loved him more than I would have imagined possible.
'So, this Kurd that went to Australia,' Umur said cheerfully to Michael. 'Do you see him?'
'The Kurd?' Michael asked. 'Do you mean Sarkan?'
'Yes, him. He is a Kurd, yes? Will tells me he went to Australia to stay with Tom.'
'Ahhh,' Michael replied. 'I don't see him per se, but he's in the tabloids fairly often, and at sports events where Tom is competing. He certainly seems to enjoy putting himself and Tom in the spotlight.'
Tom must be mortified, I figured. He hated publicity. I'd hated it, too, when we were together. The gay media were fucking lecherous and the mainstream media was forever 'creating' stories out of nothing. Neither had an ounce of shame. I'd hidden from it as much as possible.
'Do the Aussies like Sarkan?' Umur pondered.
Michael nodded vehemently. 'They adore him. Adore him. He plays up to the attention, but he's also very... very courteous, so that helps a lot.'
I made a mental note to call Tom later and discern how he felt about Sarkan's fame-whoring.
'Always be good to people,' Umur agreed. 'Most often the cute ones! Have you finished eating? We should get ready and go.'
Ahmet and I were left to do the washing up, something neither of us minded. My boyfriend kept throwing me long, heavy stares that were all but an offer of sex. I smiled at him, pleased, satisfied. Eager.
Things had definitely been improving all-round in Turkey.
'How is Ahmet? Ummm, Ahmet is good.'
Ahmet was actually in our bed and very much naked. He had a horrible rash all over his chest from where he'd had his chest hair removed, and his normally angry-looking penis was looking sweet and cute, but I nonetheless found him as sexy as ever.
'So why are you ringing?' Tom asked bluntly.
'Is this a bad time?'
He sighed. 'No. I'm just...fed up. I assume you know why.'
'Er, is it because Sarkan is a fame-whore?'
Tom sounded suprised. 'What?'
'Michael's in Turkey. He said Sarkan really enjoys the media attention.'
'Oh, that,' Tom said understandingly. 'Yes. He's not like us,' he laughed uncomfortably. 'It probably helps me, though.'
'That's good,' I said encouragingly, while wondering why Tom sounded so 'off'. He's not normally blunt or short with me. He's honestly one of the best friends I've ever had. 'Tom...have I done something to piss you offf?'
'Of course not,' he replied quickly, genuinely. 'Will... Sarkan and I went to Perth for a promotional thing. We stayed in a little villa for a few days. While we were there, someone, um, someone sat outside the window with a video recorder... Oh hell,' he swore, breaking down and starting to cry. 'Why can't everyone leave me alone?'
I bit my lip anxiously. I couldn't answer 'why can't they leave me alone?' because I didn't get why Tom was such a target. I didn't understand why Tom kissing a boyfriend, or Tom naked, or Tom...
'Wait, were you having sex?' I asked suddenly. 'Was that what was on this video?'
'Oh my God,' I exclaimed. 'Where is this video now? On th net?'
Tom sobbed. 'Yes.'
I guess I was just so shocked that I didn't know how to react properly, because my first instinct was to laugh. This was horrible. How could someone do this to my ex? Tom was extremely sweet and kind. He signed autographs. He visited sick kids. Shit, he'd made triathlons interesting and sexy, a pretty damn good feat if I said so myself.
'I'm so sorry,' I said. 'What sites?'
'I'm not going to even mention it. There's been to many.'
'God, Tom, I'm so, so, sorry.'
He sniffled. 'I am too. I've got to go, Will. My agent keeps calling me wanting to discuss this. I guss I'd better bite the bullet and organise a press release.'
'I hope it goes well,' I said sincerely. 'Tom, I hope everything works out.'
I returned from my morning jog to see Ahmet, Umur and Michael giving Umur's laptop their full attention. Noticing myself and Cloudy at the door, the three of them suddenly shut the laptop and tried their damndest not to look guilty.
They failed miserably.
'You were watching Tom's sex video,' I accused.
They denied this accusation strenuously. I rolled my eyes in irritation. Why had I told Ahmet about the sex tape? Hadn't I known at the time that my boyfriend would hunt down an online copy?
I went to the kitchen and poured myself a glass of water. As I was gulping it down, Ahmet came up behindd me and hugged me. I thought he might be here to apologise, but boy was I mistaken. He rubbed his hard-on into my side and stared at me imploringly.
'You're so revolting,' I hissed. 'Michael is my foster father. Do you have to watch porn with him?'
'It wasn't porn,' he argued hoarsely.
'It wasn't professional porn. It was still pornograpic. You always get this way when you've been watching it.'
He wrapped his arms around my neck and smiled faintly.
'Don't even think about it,' I warned him.
He rubbed my stomach, working his way down to my crotch. Woah. Subtle. Not.
I left my glass in the sink and went upstairs to shower. Ahmet tried to follow me, but I locked the door and took the opportunity to shower in peace. God, he was disturbingly aroused. Normally he gave me a good, wide berth when I came home sweaty and stinky.
Fifteen minutes later I went to the bedroom to get dressed and found Ahmet on our bed, cross legged and with my laptop in front of him.
'I have to show you,' he said determindly.
'I really don't want to watch it.'
'Only watch a little bit. It starts with kissing.'
I was just the teeniest bit curious. 'Okay,' I agreed relucantly.
It was a huge file, twenty-four minutes and thirteen seconds long, and on a Turkish gay website. I mentally groaned at that. Tom was never going to rid the web of his sexcapades if it had already gone international. Plus, there were seventy-two comments on the video. It was clearly very popular.
I sat uneasily next to Ahmet as he pressed play and waited for the movie to commence. It had always been very weird to see Tom in magazines, Tom on the television, Tom on the nightly news. He was a regular guy, for fuck's sake, not a mini celebrity.
As the file began to play, I realised Tom's celebrity – at least among queers – was about to skyrocket. This was hot. This was sex between two hot, young, guys who had no idea they were being observed, and, therefore, no inhibitions. Only it wasn't sex, not just yet, anyway. This was terribly intimate, sweet, foreplay filled with kissing and stroking and hard, proud, cocks. And, since they'd left the lights on, you could see everything.
Ahmet loosened the towel around my waist to reveal my own hard-on. I bit down on my bottom lip, not moving my eyes from the screen, and wrapped my boyfriend's hand around my erection.
Oh my God, why hadn't Tom warned me that that his and Sarkan's sex tape put the pro's to shame?
I'll admit that we downloaded and saved the file. I kind of wish I could say I had more morals, but the truth was, I didn't. Besides, you had to see this file to understand how awesome it was. Tom and Sarkan had a seriously kicking sex life.
Tom rang that night to confide in me how hurt and upset he was that someone had spied on him during such an intimate and private time. It was only then that I began to feel slightly bad. He was so bloody upset, so devastated that someone would breach his privacy when he was having a few, cherished moments with his boyfriend.
'Maybe you should look on the bright side,' I suggested uselessly.
'What bright side? My parents hate me. One of my sponsors has dropped me and another has given me a warning. My church is 'distancing themselves during this difficult time'. What bright side, Will? My press release is going to be on the news in half an hours' time, and after that, no one will want me.'
'If he doesn't kill somebody first.'
'Is he really angry?'
'Extremely. He's very sensitive about... um... you know, 'down there'.'
'He has size issues.'
'They're all in his head. I didn't think he was small, and I've seen a lot of guys naked. A lot.'
Tom didn't reply at first. He hesitated for a few seconds before saying; 'You downloaded it? The sex thing?'
'Then how do you know anything about his penis size?'
I winced. Oh, bugger. 'Sorry.'
'Will, you can't 'sorry' me! Why did you do it? It was private. I don't have sex with the intention of the whole world watching me.'
'Um, it was on a Turkish website. I kind of found it by accident.' I lied hurriedly.
'Yeah, right,' he replied, clearly very hurt. 'You mean to say 'I did a search and google directed me to where I wanted to go.' I don't care. I know it's on the Turkish sites. I've read their stupid comments about a Kurd being fucked.'
'I'm very sorry.'
'Yes, me too,' he admitted, suddenly sounding tired rather than pissed off. 'Everything I worked so hard for is either gone, or about to go. I have no future, no sponsors, no job, no nothing. I can't make rent on prize money alone, and Sarkan can't work until he gets residency which won't happen for at least another eight months. I don't know, Will. I just want to run away and never come back. How did everything get so messed up?'
The saddest part of the whole fiasco was that 'it' had happened because Tom was young and hot and gay. Middle-aged, average-looking and heterosexual? Then nobody cares. But Tom and Sarkan had been a pretty good target. They were the kind of couple that wet dreams were made of.
Later that night, after Tom and I had concluded our conversation, I went and viewed his press release. Watching it made me feel terrible. Tom was very quiet and withdrawn and gave single-syllable answers wherever possible. That was never a good sign. İt meant he was terribly, terribly, terribly upset.
I was mulling over the situation when my mobile rang. İt was Wafiq who, judging by his pensive tone, obviously had something important he wanted to talk about, but nonetheless preceded the reason behind his call with five solid minutes of idle chit chat. Sometimes, the way he goes on and on with junk without actually getting to the point really aggravates me. Tonight was one of those occasions.
'Is something wrong?' I asked in a hopefully-not-too-blunt tone.
Wafiq paused. 'My brother's online friend is here. The woman. The one from New Zealand.'
'Um, is this bad? I thought he kind of, er, liked her. I kind of got the impression that he had those kind of feelings for her.'
'Will, in the Emirates men do not invite unrelated, unchaperoned women from foreign countries to come and stay with them. Muhammed didn't even warn us she was coming. Mum wants to kill him, and Dad... He's so angry. Let's not go there.'
'I'm sorry,' I apologised. 'If it makes it any better, the girl wouldn't have known. It's reasonable – weird and very trusting, but reasonable – for us to invite friends to stay with us.'
'We determined that,' he said, in a slightly dry tone. 'T'hree more weeks of her. That's how long she's staying.'
'Maybe she'll realise she's not welcome and leave.'
'Oh no, of course not. We would never mean to make her feel awkward. This is Muhammed's fault, not hers.' Wafiq paused. 'I wish she'd wear more clothes that cover.'
'What's she wearing?'
'A very short skirt. Very, very, very short.'
'A lot of Australian and New Zealand men like those skirts.'
'So does my brother.'
I laughed. 'Sorry. Maybe you should, um, try and tell her politely to wear something a little less revealing.'
'I can't do that!'
'Of course you can. Just pull her aside and tell her you don't mean to offend her, but you're used to women wearing more clothing. I mean, she couldn't go to work wearing a slutty skirt, so I don't know why she's wearing one there. Do your sisters walk around dressed like that?'
I hadn't actually had a lot of contact with the women of Wafiq's family. I think it's one of those cultural things.
'Around the home? They wear what they want. But Jody isn't at her home. She's at ours.'
Wafiq sounded so aggrieved it made me want to weep with laughter. I guess I'm not a very sensitive person. Tom's sex tape made me laugh. Muhammed's Kiwi girlfirend's dress style made me giggle. It was a good thing some of these onversations took place on the phone, and not face to face.
'Wafiq, I really don't mean to be rude, but if she's wearing things that are that inappropriate, you really should speak to her.'
'Of course you can.'
'Well, I would give her gentle hints.'
'You could come here and visit me and give her gentle hints.'
'I can't. One of my foster fathers is here. Does your family really want a gay man, and his bisexual foster father as guests just so they can tell a Kiwi that her skirts are too short?'
What did you know, Wafiq really was desperate enough to have a gay man, and his bisexual foster father as guests.
'Nice plane,' Michael murmured as we took our seats.
'Flights are cheaper here than in Australia. I don't understand it.'
'Rising oil prices probably don't affect Arab airlines.'
'You're probably right,' I agreed, strapping myself in.
We were sitting in the very back row of the airplane. I know a lot of people hate the back row, because they can't recline their seats, but I love it. It's more private, and privacy is a great feature especially when, five minutes after the plane is in the air, your foster father announces he's been banging Umur since his second night in Turkey.
I wanted to crawl under the seat and die. Seriously, when was this crap going to end? When, fucking when, were my friends and family going to sort our their own shit? When were they going to take some personal responsibility and keep their windows drawn, their invitations extended only to people from the same culture, and their legs together.
I glanced down at the window and mentally gave in. Michael (I wasn't even going to begin with Ben, Wafiq and Tom) was never going to comprehend that I wasn't his friend. I didn't want to hear this. I didn't need one half of my foster parents telling me he was screwing around on the other. Nonetheless, we were stuck on a plane, and I was just so fucking tired of the crap, that I took a deep breath and asked him why.
'I don't know why. Maybe I just wanted a change. Do you ever feel that way? Bored?'
'No. Well, yes. But I don't cheat on my boyfriend.'
'That surprises me, in a way. You used to be so promiscuous.' Michael regarded me carefully 'None of Ahmet's friends can believe you're faithful.'
'You discussed my relationship with Ahmet's friends?'
'Yes, when I went out with Umur.'
'Oh my God.' I bit at a hangnai l anxiously. 'What did they say about me?'
'They think you're gorgeous and can't believe you're so shy. They believe you're an idiot for staying with Ahmet when you could do so much better. Oh, and you're flawed only because you're friends with an Arab.'
'Oh my God,' I repeated. 'You talked about me.'
'I frequently talk about you, Will. Don't assume it's negative.'
'You talk about me and you're cheating on Brett.'
Michael unbuckled his seatbelt and shut his eyes. 'You're so accusing.'
I chewed at my hangnail. My hands were revolting. I was a nervous person. 'Do you still love him?'
'Of course I still love him. Whatever gives you the idea I don't?'
'You're sleeping with Umur.'
'Umur's cute, and I want a change. A break. A holiday. A holiday isn't a holiday when you're celibate.'
'Wafiq and I went to Dubai for a week together, for a holiday, and we managed to keep our pants on.'
'Wafiq's straight, isn't he?'
'Yes, but that has nothing to do with it. Besides, I think he's a virgin.'
'How old is he?'
Michael laughed cynically. 'No he's not.'
A few hours later we were in Sharjah where we were met by Wafiq, Muhammed and Jody-the-short-skirted Kiwi. Wafiq hadn't been lying; Mohammed's girlfriend had those tiny little skirts that were more the size of a belt than a skirt. With it, she wore a tiny little spaghetti-string top and glittery silver sandals and it appeared Muhammed had given her a horribly clunky gold bracelet, because aroun her wrist was the kind of chunky gold ornament that would have been considered terribly tastless in New Zealand. At least her hair and make-up were subtle I thought, as I surveyed the twenty-something year old's attire.
Introductions were made and I noted, with quite a degree of surprise, that Wafiq and Michael were taken aback by each other. I wondered what mental pictures the two had orchestrated of each other. I'd talked about them both to the other, but hadn't ever really given physical descriptions or shown pictures. I had tons of shots, too, downloaded from my camera onto my computer.
'Sorry we're late,' I apologised. 'We were delayed at Istanbul.'
'We should have lunch on the way back,' Wafiq replied, dismissing my apology entirely. 'It's a nice day.'
The weird thing with Wafiq is that when he's around, I find it very hard to talk to other people. I only want to talk to him and he, similarly, only seems to want to talk to me. Moreover, we don't talk about the kind of things I talk about with Roman. We just seem to float along on a coinciding wavelengths, and like to discuss, quietly and discreetly, the kind of things that you normally don't discuss in polite company; love as opposed to sex, politics as opposed to popular opinion, and which places are nice places to visit, rather than which places are hip to be seen at.
Sometimes, I wondered if perhaps I had 'more than friend' feelings for him. I thought about him a lot. Sometimes, I even thought about sex with him. Mostly, though, I knew and accepted that I didn't love him, didn't have 'those' feelings for him. İt was just an incredibly close relationship, and Emirati guys were just extremely affectionate – by Western standards – with their friends.
I guess Michael thought there was something going on between us, though, because he kept giving me very pointed looks. I ignored my foster father's obvious curiosity. I'd tell him later, when it was just the two of us, and Wafiq wasn't around to be offended.
We went to a nice, mid-range restaurant for lunch. There were other tourists here, and ex-pat workers and Arab men, but was dark and cool and quiet, and the smells emanating from the kitchen were delicious. I loved the food both in the Emirates and in Turkey. İt had been one of the easiest adjustments to make, and it was rare that I came across something I didn't like. It was seriously a cultural smorgasboard off pure, authetentic cooking; a blessing for someone who came from a country where processed food was so damn common you couldn't avoid it.
There was no menu here, you just ate whatever the chefs were cooking that day. Today, it was bread and lentils and tea and fruit. Well, it was more exotic than that, and a lot nicer, too, but you get the point. Afterwards, there was coffee and sweets and dates, and it was here that we lingered. I found myself glancing from Muhammed to Wafiq and back again, puzzling at they were each respectively dealing with Jody's presence.
Muhammed adored her, loved her. He looked how I felt when I fell in love for the first time, giddy and amazed and nervous about doing the wrong thing. I wish I could say Jody didn't seem to return his feelings, because it would have been so much easier if this was nothing but a fling, but she seemed as pleased to be here as Muhammed was to have her.
Wafiq was... he was angry, I realised. I don't even think he was angry at Jody's clothing; he was angry at the fact that his younger brother had dared to do what something he knew he shoulndn't have. It was the rebellion, rather than the girl in question, which pissed him off. It was an interesting revellation.
I wondered if maybe Wafiq was pissed off because he was tired of waiting to be married and truly enter the 'adult' Emirati world. He was doing all the 'right' things in the right order; degree, career, saving for adowry and house, and then, finally, a bride. Muhammed had, what, only just finished his undergraduate degree and was already down some girls' pants? Yeah, that would probably sting. Plus, I knew Wafiq well enough to know he preferred tradition for himself and his family.
Wafiq signalled for the bill. We all fought over it, for God knows what reason, but we let Wafiq pay it in the end. Then, we made our way out of the restaurant into the hot, humid, weather as we walked to the car.
'We should go to Dubai tomorrow,' Muhammed told Mike.
Muhammed, Mike and Jody had been conversing amongst themselves while Wafiq and I chatted. They appeared to get on fairly well together. I was grateful for the good relations, but hesitant about the trio going out without my supervision. I had serious questions about how much Muhammed knew of Michael and I, and, in turn, how well he'd react when he found out.
'Are you sure that wouldn't be a problem?' Michael asked.
'Of course not. I want to go skiing. Jody said she'd teach me. Can you ski?'
'No, but I'm happy to learn.'
They were going skiing at an indoor centre in the middle of a country where the temperature was currently hotter than it sometimes seemed possible; a girl in a tiny skirt, a bisexual Australian and an ugly Arab guy who was sweeter than ninety-nine percent of the men I'd ever come across. Wafiq, who was driving, scowled viciously.
I smiled faintly at my friend's expression. He was more composed than his brother normally, much more handsome, and far more accomplished, yet here he was pulling a childish face.
We arrived at Wafiq's family home, where two Filipino servants came and took our bags for us. One of them was in his early twenties and gorgeous and very, very gay, and in a very, very casual way, he and Michael exchanged that look. I cringed and glanced at Wafiq and Muhammed and Jody to see if they'd noticed, but they were oblivious. Of course they were. It probably hadn't even occurred to them the the former two's servant might be homosexual.
'Most of my family will be out of the house,' Wafiq explained to my foster father. 'Also, you should be aware that there's a fairly rigid separation of men and women, which is more enforced when visitors are present. Some of the women – notably the older ones – won't have much to do with you. Other members of our women are in business. They are more modern, but they will probably choose to avoid you. There are not as many women as men in the Emirates, and this can cause frustrations for men who are used to having easy access to women.'
'That's perfectly understandable,' Michael agreed. 'I have a daughter.'
Wafiq certainly hadn't given me this speech. I doubt he would have given it to Mike, either, had Jody not been present. Likely, he was giving it now only because he wanted to give the girl a massive hint.
Jody didn't appear to understand. The expression on her face told us she thought Wafiq old, staid, chauvenistic. Segregate the genders? Why? That ruined all the fun.
Wafiq's teenaged relatives wanted to know only one thing when they arrived home that afternoon; if I was I here, where was Ali?
'Ben?' I confirmed. Ali was Ben's real name. Ben was what his mother had called him when his father had passed away, to help him integrate into a society that wasn't particularly keen on olive-skinned Muslim boys with peculiar names. Still, it was funny to hear him being called by his real name, when we were accustomed to his Hebrew alternative.
'Bennah,' the boy elucidated, smiling. 'Did he come?'
'No, he's in Australia. He's at school.' Michael replied.
'He will come next time, yes?'
'Maybe,' Michael replied carefully. 'Maybe he'll come with Will. I think he was planning on going to Turkey to see Will in six months.'
This was news to me. It seemed that Michael was arranging Ben's schedule to his own desires again. Lovely. God, if it wasn't Ben being an ass, it was Mike. I really needed to talk to Brett about this.
'You're more than welcome to come to Istanbul when he arrives,' I told the boys. 'Our house isn't anywhere near as big as yours, but you're more than welcome to come and stay.'
The invitation went down well. Too well, perhaps. It now seemed as though I would have somewhere between four and six teenaged houseguests, on top of my foster brother. Thank God Ahmet was so nice about heterosexual houseguests.
Ali/Ben's identity having been established, and a further opportunity for getting up to dubious activities arranged, the boys decided to share the photos from Ben's last visit with us. One of them whipped out his was what had initially struck me as being so unexpected about the Emirates; men and women dressed in traditional clothing yet armed with the latest technology. Phones, cameras, laptops, you name it; Wafiq and his brothers and cousins had the best, newest and quickest of everything.
We – me, Mike, Wafiq, the younger guys,and Khaled-who-you-may-remember-as-the-most-beautiful-man-in-the-world – sat and watched as the photo album loaded. It was a good thing that there was nobody more senior around, too, because some of the photos that we browsed were really not things that young kids should be taking photographic evidence of.
'That woman looks like she's having the time of her life,' Michael remarked dryly, observing a woman in her mid-thirties squished in the back of a SUV with Ben and two of his friends surrounding her.
'She's probably getting paid for the appearance,' I replied quickly, hoping to avoid having to say anything more obvious.
'I gathered that,' Mike replied.
I was admittedly kind of surprised at some of the things Ben had gotten up to when he was off with the guys. I'd sort of thought they were a bit more innocent. I suppose it comes from Ben not drinking. Most of the stupid things I did either involved alcohol, or were a direct result of drinking too much alcohol, so I'd (incorrectly) assumed Ben didn't do anything too stupid. Well, you'd be surprised what the average non-drinker can actually get up to.
Later that evening, when Mike and I were preparing for bed, he commented on Ben's proclivities.
'A hooker,' he said, sounding lost. 'They would have all done the same woman. Isn't that a horrible thought?'
I remembed some of the things I'd done in the past, involving more than one man. I thought about being shit-faced drunk and being screwed stupid by two guys who'd picked me up. Honestly, who the hell was I to pass judgment?
Michael read my expression, and sighed in understanding. 'We were all like that. We are still all like that.'
'I'm not,' I replied hopefully. 'Not with Ahmet. It's just the two of us.'
Mike sighed again. 'I wish I could be that optimistic again.' He walked over and went to shut my bedroom door. 'The Filipino man is coming around tonight. Don't blab to Wafiq. I don't want him to get in trouble.'
Muhammed, Jody and Mike went to Dubai the next day. Mike left me a note, telling me not to expect the trio for another couple of days. They'd booked hotel rooms.
Wafiq and I went to work. It was nice to work in direct contact with Wafiq, rather than communicating electronically. It was even better to meet some of my colleagues face-to-face for the first time, and learn more about their skills and aims and shortcomings. İt was very different to how I perceived business to be in Australia. There was none of the 'this is your fault' or 'you're doing this wrong'; instead, we all had a chat and figured out how to be more consistent, and more helpful to each other.
After work, Wafiq and I made our way home together. He asked me if I wanted to go swimming with him. He would organise for food to be sent to the pool, so we wouldn't miss dinner.
I agreed, and when we arrived home, we grabbed our togs and headed to the pool. It was vacant and dark. Wafiq switched the lights, and the whole area was suddenly illuminated, the water shimmering tauntingly in the hot air. It was an Emirati summer and today the sun had been out in force. Just walking from the car to the office, and back again in the afternoon, had made me sweat.
I was standing at the end of the pool, at the deep end, when Wafiq came and put his arms around me. İ turned and stared at him, slightly puzzled. I thought that perhaps he might be about to kiss me. I also thought that if he did, I probably wouldn't stop him.
Instead, he smiled at me and pulled me into the water. We fell against the water, shattering my pervy thoughts. God, what was wrong with me? I had a boyfriend who loved me, and who I loved. Plus, I saw what Michael's cheating did to his relationship. I was thoroughly aware of the tension it caused. Was it really worth a few minutes' pleasure to fuck up my relationship?
'I'm getting married in two months,' Wafiq announced.
'Seriously? To who? Do you know her?'
'Yes, seriously,' Wafiq grinned, splashing water at me. 'I know her brother. She's been in Britain for school for the past six years, but my mother has met her and thinks she's suitable.'
'What's she like?'
'My mother says she's very intelligent.'
'Does she want kids?'
'I would assume so.'
'You do,' I replied, trying not sound too glum. Truthfully, I didn't want Wafiq to get married and have kids. 'Are you going to start trying straight away?'
'I hope so,' he admitted.
I pushed my wet hair out of my face. 'Cool. That's really awesome, Wafiq.'
He rolled onto his back and stared at the night sky. He kicked with his feet to stay afloat, but didn't say anything. İ wondered what he was thinking. I wondered if maybe I looked sad, not glad, at his good news. I mean, he would have been expecting me to be enthusiastic. I was his friend, and I knew how long he'd been waiting for this.
I swam over to the edge of the pool and pulled myself up on the edge. I surveyed my friend carefully, and when he inevitably found himself floating over to me, I reached out and touched his arm. He stopped floating, and hopped out of the pool. He sat beside me, facing me.
'I'm really happy for you,' I told him. 'I know you want this. I'd really like to come to your wedding, too, if that's okay. I mean, I don't know if you're allowed to invite non-Muslims, but if you are, I'd love to come.'
'Non-Muslims can come.' He seemed amused by the question. 'I'd love for you to come. Ali...Ben...he can come, too. Why do you call him Ben? That's a strange name for an Muslim, yes? It confused me, when we first met.'
'Ben is a more acceptable name. Ali is used as a girls' name and besides, I really don't mean this in a rude way, but he was raised by a poor, single mother and I think she wanted to pass him off as 'Australian' as possible. Just to make things easier.'
Wafiq nodded slowly. 'My brother will not be accepted in New Zealand, will he?'
I didn't really know what to say. 'I haven't been to New Zealand,' I replied vaguely. 'Maybe he won't go, either. I don't know how much Jody likes him.'
'He likes her,' Wafiq corrected. 'He's going to study in New Zealand a few months. This is also why our father is so angry. Muhammed said he wanted to go to New Zealand because they have a good university. He wants to be a vet. My father agreed. He didn't want to, but he agreed because my brother was so adamant. Then, a month later, he brings this girl here. There is no surprise why Muhammed wants to go to New Zealand.'
I splashed my feet in the water. I felt rather guilty. 'I went to Turkey for Ahmet.'
'That is very different.'
'Because you are a Westerner. Muhammed isn't. He tries to act like one, but he will be an Arab until he dies.'
This wasn't the impression I got of Muhammed at all. He struck me as being acutely aware of the world around him, and very keen on Jody, but he didn't seem to dislike his heritage. He just wasn't as proud of it as Wafiq was.
'He must be very smart to get into veterinary science,' I remarked.
Wafiq rolled his eyes. 'Yes, yes. He is clever. He got a girl, didn't he? She goes to bed with him like this,' he gestured to intimate she was easy. 'He decided to go to New Zealand to get more from her. Yes, you could consider him clever.'
Again, I had to disagree with my friend. I really got the impression that Muhammed quite liked Jody. I had to hand it to the couple, too. If Muhammed could respect a girl wearing less clothing than any respectable Emirati girl, and Jody could love a boy who had been beaten with the ugly stick and wore what – to Kiwi standards – would be considered a dress, then more power to them.
'Most men will go to extraordinary lengths to get laid,' I said simply.
This was just one of those topics that really pissed Wafiq off. He hated what his brother was doing, and there was nothing I could do or say to change that.
On the last day of the working week, Wafiq and I were exhausted. Michael , Muhammed and Jody were supposed to be coming back tonight, so we felt kind of obligated to stay awake unti l they arrived, but it was hard keeping our eyes open.
'We could watch a movie,' Wafiq suggested.
'Sounds good to me.'
'We'll go to my room and choose one,' he offered off-handedly.
It might sound silly, but I'd never seen Wafiq's bedroom before. I'd always stayed in the guest quarters, away from the main living areas and was thus extremely curious. Roman's room was really swish, and knee deep in dirty clothes and text books. Mine had always been plain, basic, and relatively tidy.
Wafiq's room was extremely comfortable. Marble, white walls with a massive plasma screen mounted on one of the walls, and a massive bed with red and white linen. His desk was solid and heavy and there was a gorgeous rug on the floor.
'What do you want to see?' he asked, gesturing to one of his bookcases, half of which was filled with DVD's.
'Anything in English,' I mumbled, noting that most of the titles where in Arabic. My Turkish and Arabic were still pathetically limited.
Wafiq's eyes crinkled with amusement. Unlike Ahmet, he didn't give a flying shit if I couldn't speak his native language. He'd taught me – at my request – the basics, but he didn't press the issue. We could communicate well enough.
Exhausted, I sat on the edge of the bed and watched him flick through the DVD's.
'This?' he asked, holding up a title.
'Anything's fine,' I yawned.
'You're tired,' he acknowledged. 'You should sleep.'
'No, I have to wait for Michael.'
Wafiq didn't argue. He stuffed around with his computer adn the DVD and a minute or so later, the TV came to life.
'We can watch the movie in here,' he said. 'You rest. I'll tell the servants to tell us when Michael arrives.'
A few minutes later we were all settled in. It was nice, really nice. Wafiq's bed smelled like him; cologne – which was very good - ' and Wafiq himself looked relaxed. He was in white pants and a blue shirt and his thick, black hair was falling across his forehead. He was a bit overweight, and had the undefined muscles off someone whose only exercise was swimming, but God, he was gorgeous all the same.
Wafiq glanced at me. 'You look uncomfortable.'
'Oh no, I'm not,' I reassured him, loosening my tie. 'I'm just very...very worried about making mistakes.'
My friend was amused. 'What mistakes? It's only you and me.'
'I don't know.'
He leaned over and unbuttoned my shirt. 'Never worry, Will. I will always look out for you.'
'Thank-you. And, you know, you too. If I can ever find any way to thank-you properly, I'll do it in a flash.'
'I'll really want you at my wedding.'
'I'm really looking forward to it,' I lied.
Wafiq sat up. 'I am aware that you say that you are scared of making social mistakes in the Emirates? Well, I'm scared of being married.'
He did look rather scared, actually. Petrified might be a better word. It was such a change from his normal, either-snooty-or-friendly demeanour it shocked me.
'I was scared when I first moved out of home.' I offered.
'I'm scared of my wife,' he admitted. 'What if she's smarter than me? She's from a better tribe, which is bad enough. What if I disappoint her?'
'Some guys just end up with partners who are smarter than them. I mean, my brother Lee? His girlfriend isn't that smart, but she's definitely smarter than him.'
'Does she respect him?'
'Yes. She loves him a lot, from what I see.'
'Maybe she pities him.'
I smiled at the thought. 'No.'
'My wife might think I'm ugly.' He added worriedly.
God, where was this insecurity coming from?
'You're not ugly.' I told him.
'You don't know that.'
'Yes, I do.' I sat up so that I was facing him directly. 'I don't want to make you uncomfortable or embarrass you, so don't take this the wrong way. I'm gay. I know when men are cute. You're cute, okay? You have nothing to worry about. If I was married off to some guy, and found out it was you, I'd be really happy.'
I laughed uncomfortably. 'I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that.'
Wafiq shook his head. 'No, it was very nice.'
Michael arrived home a few hours later. He seemed surprised I had waited up, though not too surprised to refrain from making a statement about my hanging out in Wafiq's bedroom
'We were watching a movie,' I replied tiredly, shortly.
Michael didn't believe me, but he knew damn well it was fruitless to push the issue. 'You should have come to Dubai with us. You wouldn't have believed the things we did. İt was crazy. And the men. God, the men.'
'I've seen the men.'
Michael raised his eyebrows. 'Why are you being so snooty?'
'You're telling me about cheating on Brett. I don't want to hear it! I don't want to know anything about your sex life, but if you have to tell me, I'd rather it be about your partner than some stupid man you picked up in Dubai.'
Michael touched my arm. 'Will..'
'Not tonight,' I warned him. 'Not tonight.'
'Well,' he started diplomatically. 'If it helps you, Jody is dressing more conservatively now. She was warned by the police.'
'What a wonderful ending,' I snapped.
Michael gave up trying to be friendly and shook his head. 'I'm going to sleep. I'll see you tomorrow.'
I watched him – gladly – go to his room and shut the door. Seriously, I could have throttled him for being so blase about cheating on Brett. Why would anyone even think of telling their foster son that kind of thing, anyway?
As I was standing in the middle of our apartment and stewing, my mobile phone rang. It was Ahmet, who was bored and angsty in Istanbul.
'How is Wafiq?' Ahmet inquired jealously over the phone. 'Hitting on you? Trying his luck?'
I rolled my eyes. God, as if it wasn't bad enough copping the suspcious questions from Mike. 'No, he's panicking about getting married.'
'Probably because he's gay and in love with you.'
'No, because she's from a better family, and she's been studying in Britain.'
'An arranged marriage. How uncivilised.'
'Wafiq asked his father to arrange the marriage.'
'Because he can't find a woman on his own. I bet he doesn't even want a wife. He wants a man. You.'
'Are you going to be this pissy all night?'
Ahmet sulked. 'I miss you.'
'Oh my God, Ahmet! You're being so ridiculous. Three and a half weeks out of every four I'm at home all day, every day while you're at work. If I wanted to cheat on you, I wouldn't need to go to the UAE to do it.'
He paused. When he spoke again he sounded genuine, repentent. 'I'm sorry. Wafiq is extremely good to you, and I'm sure he doesn't want anything...anything more than friendship.'
'Well, he is pretty attractive,' I admitted. 'If it was you visiting him all the time, I'd probably be jealous.'
'It's just so odd; a man from Sharjah and an Australian man, being friends the way you two are friends.'
'I know, but I swear there's nothing funny going on, Ahmet. I mean, it drives me crazy that Michael cheats. I hate it. I know Brett isn't perfect, but I'm gay enough to know a good deal when I see one, and you know, Brett's a pretty good deal.'
Ahmet reflected on what I'd said. 'I understand what you're saying. You're right; I know you would never cheat again, and you're right to be angry with Michael. Maybe, though, it is best if you force yourself not to be angry. It won't help you.'
'I can't help being angry.'
'When you are angry, you lose weight. That's not very healthy,' he reprimanded gently. 'You are very, very thin.'
'I'm just made that way.'
'Umur is a doctor and he agrees,' Ahmet argued. 'You need to eat.'
I glanced around the apartment. Wafiq, who I swear would die without being the perfect host, had stocked the kitchenette fridge, and there was fresh bread on the bench.
'I'll make a sandwich,' I offered, opening the cupboards and retrieving a knife and cutting board. 'Is that good?'
I half-smiled. 'I love you.'
'I love you too,' he replied in a heartwrending tone. 'I'll stop whining. You have fun in Sharjah.'
My smile widened. 'Be good in Istanbul.'
My boyfriend burst into laughter. 'I'm always very good. I do it for you.'
We said our good-byes and ended the call. I finished making my sandwich and thought about how and why Ahmet was always so jealous. Until Michael had informed me, I hadn't been aware my partner's friends expected me to be unfaithful. I didn't know that Ahmet had probably heard them talking, heard their doubts.
I turned around. Michael was standing in the doorway, dressed in a pair of jeans and no shirt. He looked keen to talk. I didn't want to talk. I was tired and wanted to go to bed.
'What?' I asked. 'I'm just having a sandwich and going to bed.'
'Can we talk?'
He sighed and crossed his arms over his chest. He was pretty cute, I'll give him that. I could see, maybe, why Brett put up with him. I could see why the men in Dubai would have loved him. Natural blondes were rare around these parts. Most of the expats were South-East Asian and – at any rate – kind of looked down upon. Yes, Mike definitely would have had a ball in Dubai.
'Will, I'm not going to bed until we've talked.'
I threw my sandwich down. 'Fine! You want to talk? How about this; I wanted you to come to Turkey because I felt sorry for you. I was worried about you. I wanted you to have a break and feel better about things. I didn't want you to start fucking my housemate, fucking my friend's servant and fucking every faggot in Dubai.'
I was yelling by the time I finished. I was literally shaking with rage. It was just such a massive, massive betrayal I couldn't bear to deal with it anymore.
'Will,' Michael pleaded, touching my hand. 'Why can't we be friends, the way we used to be?'
'We. Were. Never. Friends,' I enunciated furiously. 'You don't get it, do you? You really can't see what's wrong with this.'
I guess I must have grabbed the knife and stabbed him, because the next thing I knew there was blood everywhere and Michael was yelling at me to put the knife down and calm down.
I dropped the knife on the floor. Shit, that was me, I had stabbed him. İt was surreal. It was like I was half-watching myself, and half-present and actually doing the stabbing. I stared at Michael in shock. He was bleeding and he had one hand over his chest trying to stop the flow of blood.
'Are you okay?' I asked.
The expression on his face told me he wasn't. I heard an odd, strangled sort of cry and realised it came from me. I put my hand on my mouth to stop myself from making any more odd noises and ran towards the door. I need help, fast.
I ran outside, over the sand, and towards the main house. As I ran, I saw someone in white, coming out of the house and started yelling, screaming for help.
The man came up and asked me what was wrong. I don't know what I said. It sounded all odd and garbled coming out of my mouth, but he took one look at my hands, which were covered in blood, and yelled for someone to come outside.
Everything happened so fast. The next thing I knew I was back in the apartment with Michael and a group of Wafiq's family members. I was sobbing and crying and apologising. Michael, white-faced and still bleeding, told me it was okay, it was alright, everything would work out. Wafiq's family, who had somehow gotten the impressio that I'd thought Michael was an intruder and had stabbed him out of instinct, watched the whole affair solemnly while Wafiq's father told us a nurse from a nearby family would come and make an asssessment.
The nurse arrived, took one look at Michael, and announced we were going to hospital. While someone got a car organised, she washed away the blood and asked him questions and inspected his wounds and checked his blood pressure and did all the routine things you see nurses do. I kneeled on the other side of Michael, sobbing, and asked if he was going to die.
'Not in the immediate future,' she replied with dry humour. 'He's very lucky. The wounds are deep, but they don't seem to be serious. Still, he needs to go to hospital for stitches and for antibiotics. He won't want to get an infection.'
Wafiq took my hand. 'Will, you're dirty. Come and get clean and we can go to hospital with him.'
I swear, I'd never before been so woeful while sober. I sniffled and hiccuped and apologised profusely while Wafiq led me to the bathroom and cleaned me up. We were barely done, when the nurses chaperone (also her mother) told us that everyone was ready to leave, and if we wanted to come along, we'd need to leave now.
I hurriedly pulled on a shirt and pants and tie and – bizarrely – running shoes, and Wafiq exchanged his blood-stained wet dishdasha for a nice clean one that someone had thoughtfully bought to the apartment for him. Then, without another second's hesitation, we went outside to the car.
Wafiq ended up driving. I sat in the passenger seat, and Michael, the nurse and her mother sat in the back. Travelling in a second care was one of Wafiq's uncles and a man whose relationship to the group I wasn't aware of. I didn't know it at the time, but everyone was just super-super worried about Mike. It was drama of the sort that they weren't accustomed to. Worse, they were worried about their family's reputation because the nurse was from a different family and might be tempted to gossip about what had occurred.
'We're almost at the hospital,' Wafiq announced. 'Michael, how do you feel?'
'Thirsty,' he replied apologetically.
'It's the blood loss,' the nurse informed him. 'They'll give you fluids.'
'I'm so sorry,' I apologised, chewing at my nails. 'Mike, I'm so, so sorry.'
'Will, stop apologising. I'll be fine.'
They were the first words that Michael had spoken to me since I stabbed him. God, I was grateful. Pathetically, pathetically grateful.
Wafiq pulled up outside the hospital and the nurse, her mother, Wafiq and I took Michael inside. Thankfully – oh my God, thankfully – the hospital wasn't like an Australian one. There was no massive queue in the waiting room, and we went straight in to a consulting room. Well, the nurse and her mother and Michael went to a consulting room – Wafiq and I were told to pay the bill.
Hospitals are very expensive places to end up. This particular hospital, even though it took Michael's travel insurance, didn't actually trust us enough to claim on the insurance. This sucked badly, because my bank was not inclined to allow me to pay the full amount in one transaction on one day, and the hospital refused to take part payments.
'Will,' Wafiq whispered, handing his credit card to the receptionist. 'Don't worry.'
I could have died of embarrassment. 'I'm so sorry.'
Wafiq shook his head slightly. 'How were you to know?'
It was all so, so bad. What on earth had I done? I'd stabbed Mike, embarrassed Wafiq, dragged some poor girl and her mother out of bed at an ungodly hour, and was now significantly in debt to one of my best friends.
Wafiq and I took our seats with the two guys who'd travelled to the hospital with us, and waited for the news. Wafiq chatted to his companions in Arabic, but for once, he didn't bother translating for me. Still, I picked up bits and pieces. Not enough to fully understand what they were saying, but enough to make me exceedinly curious, despite the fact that I was guilty as hell about fucking over so many people.
After perhaps forty-five minutes, I noticed a black girl in a nurses uniform standing at reception and eyeing us off in a very indiscreet manner. I caught her eye curiously. She bit down on her bottom lip to stop herself from laughing and looked away. Puzzled and wondering why I was obviously the subject of amusement, I stared down at my sneakers. Surely my odd choice of footwear wasn't sufficient to gain her disdain?
'We should see if there is news about Michael,' Wafiq suggested, touching my hand. 'Come on.'
He marched up to reception and the laughing nurse, and asked, carefully, if there was news.
'He's doing great. Asma took good care of him. She's a terrific nurse.' The woman said with a strong British accent. 'Right?'
'Yes,' Wafiq agreed.
'She's not just a pretty face.'
Wafiq and I exchanged glances.
'She seemed extremely competent,' I suggested nervously. 'Um, when is Mike going to be released?'
'Well, the doctor's in with him now,' she replied. 'I'll see what he says.'
She went to the consulting rooms, to return a few minutes later with the news that he would be staying overnight. Asma and her mother were just finishing a cup of tea in the staff room, we were informed, and would be out shortly.
'Thank-you,' I said gratefully.
'Yes, thank-you,' Wafiq echoed.
We returned to our seats and told our companions the news. Pleased, they told us they would go outside so they could make phone calls to everyone waiting at home. This left Wafiq and I on the cold, hard plastic seats, alone in the waiting area. As we were waiting, I noticed that Asma and the black nurse were now together at the reception desk, and staring at us.
'That nurses here are so weird,' I murmured to Wafiq. 'Don't you think?'
'Women are always weird.'
'I agree, but these girls are really weird. They keep staring at us. I mean, Asma didn't start until we got here, but the black girl's been doing it all night.'
Wafiq closed his eyes and leaned back. 'Will?'
'Yeah?' I asked anxiously, fearing he was going to question me on the stabbing.
'That's my bride. Asma.'
'Are you kidding?'
'She's very pretty.' I offered. This was true. She was one of those fat girls with a very pretty face.
Wafiq didn't reply. I glanced over to see him frowning.
'What?' I asked.
'That's a very strange thing to say about someone else's future wife.'
'Sorry,' I apologised sincerely.
He shrugged. 'It's okay. I know it's not rude where you are from. Also, I commented on Jodie.'
I didn't say anything else. I was just all 'woah-ed' out. Exhausted. Yes, I was mentally and physically exhausted.
Two days later, Michael flew home. Not just 'home' to my home in Istanbul, but his home, in Brisbane. I stayed in Sharjah, anxious and deeply regretful about what had happenned.
When I'd hit Ben, I'd been scared of being disowned. Now, I just accepted and expected it. It was devastating, of course, but I wasn't going to fight my punishment. It was what I deserved.
Wafiq misunderstood my gloom. To he and his family, what I'd done had been a horrible accident. They genuinely believed that I'd been temporarily scared, and had knifed my foster father – whom most believed to be my cousin – in error. Wafiq and his family merely thought I was regretful about an accident, and tried to cheer me up with stories of similar mishaps. I didn't correct their errors. If I'd tried to, the cultural chasm would have prevented me, anyway.
After a week, Ahmet – who was none the wiser as to what had occurred – rang and pleaded for me to come home. He was lonely and jealous and horny. I agreed to return, and made my arrangments to fly back. That night while in my apartment, realising it might be my last chance to speak to Michael and Brett in privacy, I picked up the phone and called them.
The home phone rang out, so I tried Michael's mobile. He answered quickly, and suddenly, I realised I had no idea what I was going to say.
'Hi,' I mumbled. 'It's Will.'
'Um, yes.' I cleared my throat. 'I rang to tell you I'msorry. About, um, stabbing you. I'm really, really sorry.'
He didn't reply immediately. 'It's...it's fine. I'll live. I'm more worried about you. Are you going to see a counsellor?'
I was surprised. 'Why?'
Michael was equally surprised at my answer. 'It hasn't occurred to you that you're becoming increasingly violent? And I don't mean just actions, Will, it's the way you talk and act and drive, too. I've noticed for a while, but I thought... I wasn't thinking about you. I'm sorry for that. I let myself get wrapped up in my own misery, and that's not your fault. I made a commitment to raise you and I've let you down.'
I fiddled uneasily. 'I don't need a counsellor. I'm not getting more angry, really. I guess...um... I've been a bit stressed out lately. I'll work on it.'
'If finances are an issue...'
'...they're not,' I interrupted. 'Really. I promise. I'm really going to work on not being stressed. I don't want anything like that to happen again, ever. Or, um, what I did to Ben. I really regret that, too.'
Michael paused. 'You're a grown-up now, and I can't force you, but please consider what I'm saying. And if it is simply stress, as you're saying, get help for it. I've spent the last year of my life messing things up for everyone because I was unhappy. It wasn't fair. If I could go back in time, I'd have left Brett twelve months ago, and avoided all the trouble I've caused. Will, you don't want those sort of regrets.'
My legs felt weak. I sat down on the floor. 'You're leaving Brett?'
'I already have,' he replied gently.
I started to cry. 'Why? He loves you.'
'I love him too, but not in the way you have to love your partner. Please don't be upset. We'll never stop loving you. You know Brett, he has trouble letting things go, but even he agrees. If we continue on, we'll only mess up Ben and Teagan even more. İt's not fair to any of us to keep on pretending.'
'Oh my God,' I sobbed. 'This is your fault. You never should have slept with Umur.'
'Will, this has nothing to do with that. Umur was a symptom, not the cause.'
'You arsehole. You're a slut. You're a goddamn dirty slut and you'd let anyone fuck you, and you're the kind of whore that everone here looks down on because the only reason you come is to be fucked by some stereotypical Arab who...'
Michael hung up on me. I was so angry, I tried calling again and again,and when he didn't answer, I filled his messagebank with dozens of furious, angry tirades.
Eventually, when I was crying so hard I couldn't spit out one more insult, I slammed the phone down, ran to my bed, and threw myself onto it. I spent the night sobbing and hating Michael, mentally listing all the' reasons I hated him. It was the early hours of the morning before I fell asleep, and even then, I dreamed of my foster father. How could he have done this? How could he have pulled apart the only family I had ever known?
Ahmet bought home baklava and imported chocolates, the fancy ones that I liked best.
'I missed you sooo much,' he said, ruffling my hair. 'I'm sorry I'm so jealous.'
I was engrossed in my work and only nodded. 'I love you, too.'
Ahmed sat besides me and observed me typing. He didn't understand how I could do the work I did. He declared it boring and 'below me' – although admitted I was well paid – and was increasing suggesting I find myself something 'more challenging'. I figured it was only jealousy that led him to make these hints, and ignored him. I liked my work. Besides, I was studying on top of working and it was hard work to keep work and study in balance as it was. The last thing I needed was 'challenge'.
'I didn't realise Michael would be returning to Australia,' Ahmet remarked. 'He left some of his belongings here. We should post them to him.'
'Um, yes. That would be great if I actually knew where to send his stuff.' I saved my document and pushed my computer away. 'He's left Brett.'
Ahmet nodded slowly. 'I'm sorry.'
I bit at a hangnail. 'I stabbed Michael.'
His jaw dropped. 'Are you kidding?'
I exhaled and shook my head. 'No. I stabbed him. I was angry with him. I knew he was going to leave Brett, so I stabbed him. It didn't change a thing. Mike still left him.'
'Oh my God.'
'I know. I know, okay?' I fiddled anxiously. 'I'm messing everything up. I'm messing up everything. At any moment things are going to come crashin down and it's like, I can't stop myself.'
'Are you joking? Will, things already are crashing down. What are you doing? Why would you stab Michael? Why would you stab anyone?' He leant his head forward into his hands. 'I should have known something was very wrong when you hit Ben. Nobody hits a family member that badly. This is my fault. I should have known.'
It was like listening to Michael all over again.
'Look, it's not that bad,' I said. 'I can fix things. I just need to... just need to stop myself from doing these things. İ'm sure I can manage it.'
'Are you crazy?' he cried out. 'You need a shrink.'
That stung. I wasn't crazy. I wasn't out of control. I could still figure this out on my own, without anyone interfering. Fuck it, I hated medication. I'd hated my depression. There was always those prying questions; how was I feeling, was I suicidal, did I want to talk about my past? No, goddamnit, I didn't want to take drugs and I certainly didn't fucking want to talk about my past.
'No,' I argued defiantly. 'No shrinks. If I do it again, I'll get a shrink.'
'You might end up in jail next time.'
'I won't. There won't be a next time. I promise.'
Ahmet wrung his hands. 'Please.'
'No! Just no, okay Ahmet? Forget I said anything. I'll work on it. I'll make things okay.'
'Oh my God, Will. I love you.'
'I love you, too.' I grabbed his hands. 'Seni...
He wanted to argue, but couldn't. He loved me. He loved me that much, I realised. So much he'd forgive me beating up my foster brother and stabbing my foster father. I didn't know if that was a good thing, but I told myself it was. İt had to be. This couldn't happen again.
My lover's dark brown eyes fixed on mine. 'You can always trust me. Always.'
I hugged him. 'I know. And you, too. You can always trust me.'
I'll race though what happened ove the next couple of months, because although many things happened, it didn't happen until some three months later, and it's the it that truly changed my life forever.
For the next couple months, things were okay. In the Emirates, Muhammed packed up and moved to New Zealand, I got a three dollar an hour pay rise, and Wafiq bluntly and quickly backed out of negotiations to marry him to Asma.
I never quite understood why he didn't want Asma. She'd seemed okay to me, but Wafiq had a ton of excuses. She was too old and she wanted to keep working and – or so he'd heard – she only wanted two children. Wafiq swore he needed to have at least six. I told him six was a litter, not the amount you could reasonably expect a woman to bear, but he thought I was jok,ing and laughed. In the end, Asma ended up marrying his cousin and Wafiq remained single and eligible.
İn Australia, Brett and Michael sold their house and split custody of their Ben and Teagan, the former living with Brett and the latter with Mike. This was no surprise, not in the slightest. Besides, Brett was living with Mahir, and Ben got on really well with Mahir.
İt was so weird to think of Brett and Ben living in my old house. Weirder still, when Ahmet told me Brett had offered to buy his half of the house.
'What if we go back to Australia?' I asked.
He kissed me. 'We won't. At least not permanently.' He smiled at me, happy. 'I'm so glad he's buying it. I never wanted it in the first place. It was all Mahir's idea.'
'And how does Mahir feel about Brett and Ben owning half the house?'
Ahmet looked at me oddly. 'He's very happy. He loves Brett. He's loved him for years. Maybe now he finally has a chance to be his lover.'
'Please tell me you're joking.'
Ahmet frowned. 'I'm not.'
'That's so sick. Mahir is...' I stopped and fumbled for the words. There was a lot negative about Mahir, I just needed to find something sufficiently negative to make my point.
'Mahir is what?' Ahmet demanded.
'Mahir isn't right for Brett. And it's revolting to go chasing after someone who's just been dumped.'
'He isn't chasing after anyone at all. He's going to be patient and see if Brett feels the same way.'
'That's fucked up. What choice will Brett have? He'll be stuck living there. It'll be uncomfortable.'
'Mahir would never do that to him.'
'Oh my God, would you shut up?' I yelled. 'I could kill him. You, too. How can you sit by and let Mahir do this? Brett is my foster father. He would never hurt anyone.'
'Mahir is not going to hurt him,' Ahmet huffed.
I slapped him. 'You arsehole.'
Ahmet touched his cheek. 'You hit me.'
'Look at what your'e doing! You deserve it.'
He stared at me for a second. Then, without another second's hesitation,he grabbed a vase and clocked me over the head with it.
I could have been angy with Ahmet for knocking me unconscious. I wasn't, though. Truthfully, I was grateful.
My arse found itself in a dodgy Turkish hospital with a dodgy Turkish doctor with dodgy, broken English. Ahmet came to visit me the next day. He sat by the bedside and told me he couldn't deal with being hit. It had happened before to him; a previous boyfriend had vebally and physically abused him, and he wasn't prepared to go down that road again.
'I love you,' he said, crying. 'But you have to go back to Australia. I can't deal with this again. I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry, Will.'
I stared at him, wanting nothing more than to touch his face and tell him how much I loved him. 'I'm sorry.'
'No you don't,' I whispered, tears dripping down my cheeks. 'I know I have to go back. I won't argue.'
He leant over and gave me a quick, harsh, hug. 'Maybe one day we can try again?'
'Maybe,' I said. But I didn't believe it, and I don't think Ahmet did, either.
It was winter when I returned home. The weather was freezing, and I felt tired and exposed. Before I'd left Turkey, when I'd been finalising my business in the Emirates, I'd emailed Brett and Mike and come clean about eveything. About Ben and Mike and, finally, Ahmet.
'Will's here,' Teagan announced loudly. 'I see him. I see him!'
Oh my God, I thought as I laid eyes on my family, they're here to see me. Even after my confession they were still going to give me a chance.
'Hey Will,' Tom greeted, hugging me. 'It's been a while.'
'Tom,' I said, surprised, staring into his pale blue eyes. 'How are you going?'
'Wonderful,' he admitted. 'I'm managing a chain of gyms. I'm making way more than I did as a pro.'
'Really? Do you still compete in triathlons?'
'All the time. And I kick arse.'
I smiled, pleased, and let Mike take hold of me.
'You're so skinny,' he said.
'I know. How are you doing?'
'Better. So much better,' he replied in a clear, confident voice. 'I'm so glad you don't hate me.'
'I would never hate you. Never.'
Mike let go of me and slightly pushed me in Brett's direction. I stared at him, searching his face for some kind of sign. He didn't look anything other than his usual self. He didn't look devastated at being single, or pissed off with me, or stressed from being a single parent. I kept staring at him, though, and trying to figure out why I ever got angry at Ahmet for admitting that Mahir had a thing for him. What did it matter? Brett was old enough to deal with a (maybe) unwanted crush.
I hugged him. 'Thank-you for coming.'
Brett, who was thoroughly shocked at my display of affection, told me not to worry. 'I'm sorry,' he added. 'About Ahmet.'
'Me too,' I admitted.
He squeezed me. 'Maybe some day you'll get back with him.'
I shook my head. 'No,' I said with the certainty of someone who knows the score. 'I fucked that up. But that's my fault, and I'm not going to whinge about it.'
'That's a very responsible appoach,' he responded.
'It happens, occasionally,' Lee butted in.
I glared at him, as I realised and Ben and Teagan had been listening in.
Oh God, why was I even surprised? Welcome back to Brisbane, Will, I thought to myself. You've fucked up over a lot of people and now have no privacy.
The only thing left to do was to make up for my mistakes and take my loss of privacy with a smile. Which was precisely what I intended to do.