We had sex and Ramyar got his curls cut off, and a few hours later we found ourselves at the bowling alley with Mahir and one of Brett's foster kids.
'This is Ben,' Mahir told me, pointedly ignoring Ramyar. 'He's here because Ramyar was an idiot and gave out our home phone number to our PNG client. Our PNG client called last night and said there were some errors in the final materials. He's getting Brett to fix them.'
Ramyar's eyes widened. 'Oh God, Mahir, I didn't realise anyone would keep your phone number.'
Mahir rolled his eyes. 'I spent all last night helping Brett.'
'Why didn't you call me? I was out to dinner with the guys. We could have figured something out.'
'I called Greg,' Mahir said evenly. 'Don't worry, I didn't tell him how our client got our number. All I said was that he had rung us directly.'
'What did Greg say?'
'He said 'we're in the middle of dinner. If you're concerned about Brett, you can help him'. So I did,' Mahir said snootily. 'I'm not doing this again. Next time there's an emergency you can find someone else.'
'I didn't intend for anyone to call you guys at home. You should have called me.'
Mahir threw his hands up. 'Whatever.'
'Don't 'whatever' me,' Ramyar replied coolly. 'If you have a problem, tell me. You could have called me last night. I would have done the damn work for you. Nobody forced you or Brett to do anything.'
'The client called us at our home.'
'Because he had you number. That's my fault. I fully accept responsibility. Don't sit here and say 'we had to do work', though, because you didn't.'
Mahir shrugged. 'We were helping.'
Ramyar gave up. You could see he wasn't in the frame of mind to push the issue with someone who clearly wasn't going to listen to reason. 'Right. You were helping. I appreciate it. How about I take care of the costs here?'
Mahir agreed readily. I glanced at Ben to see what his reaction was. The kid caught me looking at him and grinned. His reaction was one of amused indifference, probably due to the fact that he lived with Mahir and was accustomed to his quirks.
'Can you bowl?' I asked the teenager quietly.
'Of course. Can't you?' He looked surprised by my answer.
I shook my head. 'No. I guess you just aim the ball at the pins?'
'That's it,' he grinned.
He had a nice smile; great teeth. His skin was as crappy as mine, though, and I wondered if this bothered him. It didn't seem to. He struck me as being very confident.
Mahir was so thoroughly appeased by Ramyar's paying for the game that he didn't mention 'Brett' or 'work' again, save for one occasion where he wondered aloud if he should call his housemate. Ben and Ramyar replied in the negative. If Brett was indeed still working, he wouldn't want an interruption.
'You wouldn't believe what Mohammed told me this morning,' Mahir said as he knocked over eight pins.
'He forgot Wednesday was his wedding anniversary?' Ramyar suggested. 'He emailed me on Thursday and asked what he should get his wife.'
'No, not that.' Mahir shook his head. 'He bought her a bracelet. He said 'Mahir, I'm so glad I met Mike. If I hadn't met that guy, I would have been down Iska's pants in a second.''
'And what do you hope to gain by telling me this?' Ramyar asked.
'I thought you might find it interesting.'
Ramyar picked up his ball. 'He's a whore. I know that. What else is new?'
Mahir, Ben and I exchanged pointed looks as my boyfriend went up to bowl.
'Why do you start shit all the time?' Ben whispered to Mahir.
'Because his best friend wants to fuck his boyfriend,' Mahir hissed. 'I was letting him know to be careful.'
'Mohammed is the most disease-ridden piece of shit on the face of the planet,' Ben retorted viciously. The anger in his voice was real. 'I've known Iska for ten minutes and already I know he wouldn't touch Mohammed.'
Ramyar sauntered over and waited for his ball to return. The three of us stared at him silently. Ramyar stared back, appraising us carefully.
'Is this about Mohammed?' Ramyar asked. We must have looked guilty, because Ramyar sighed. 'Fine,' he said. 'Mahir, I don't care what Mohammed says. I don't even care if he tries it on with Iska. Well, I do, but it won't be the end of the world.'
With that, he picked up his ball and made his way back to the lane. He lined himself up, and bowled the ball, knocking down the remaining four pins.
'You really need to learn when to keep quiet,' Ben said.
'Oh, that's nice, coming from you!' Mahir retorted. 'You annoy Brett all the time.'
'Everyone annoys Brett,' Ben argued. 'Brett wouldn't know what to do if he wasn't cranky.'
The two of them grinned at each other conspiratorially. I found myself wondering whether Ben knew of Mahir's crush on his foster father and if so, if he cared. Even more, I wondered if Brett knew Mahir wanted him. It seemed impossible that he wouldn't have clued on by now.
'Your turn Mahir,' Ramyar said, flopping into his chair. He picked up his lemonade and took a sip. 'I don't want to hear Mohammed's name one more time. Got it?'
Mahir picked up his ball. 'Got it.'
Ramyar won the first game of bowling, Mahir the second. Ben scored reasonably. I made an utter fool of myself, earning myself scores of twenty-eight and thirty-one. I needed the bumpers up. I seriously, seriously needed the damn bumpers up.
Fun and games aside, though, I was annoyed with Mahir for making the comment about Mohammed. I really doubted I could be tempted away from Ramyar, even by someone really good-looking. In fact, I was so confident of my ability to stay monogamous that I commented on it to Ramyar while we were getting ready to go to his parents house.
'Yeah, well, I only just met you, you haven't had any real temptation, and I was only gone a month,' Ramyar said diplomatically. 'It'll be different if I ever go overseas for three or six months or more, and you start getting lonely and one of the guys starts throwing themselves into your lap.'
I dipped my fingers in his hair gel. 'Would you seriously go overseas for that long?'
'If it was needed. In my current role, it won't be, but if I'm promoted again...' Ramyar shrugged. 'I can't rule it out.'
'So, um, where will your kids be?'
'With my parents.'
I gelled my hair but refrained from commenting. I don't think Ramyar really wanted to hear what I was thinking.
Ramyar leaned against the bathroom counter. 'You think I'm going to be a shitty father.'
'No, I just really wonder...well, why are you having them?'
'Because I want children and my parents are going to help out.'
'Looking after them for six months while their father is overseas is a little more than 'helping out' I argued.
Ramyar sighed. 'Don't worry about it. My Dad travelled for work and I was fine. What about kids whose parents are in the army? You reckon they're necessarily messed up?'
I paused. 'No.'
'Well,' he said. 'In that case, don't worry about mine.'
I finished fixing my hair and rinsed the excess gel off my hands. 'You're really different to my parents. My mother never had a job. She got married when she was seventeen.'
'You and I are very different people,' Ramyar countered. 'You don't care about the future. You don't care much about your work.'
'I care about my work,' I argued.
He nodded. 'I phrased that badly. You don't want a career. Iska, I really do,' he said earnestly. 'I really, really have this deep need to succeed. I need to be successful.'
'You have succeeded. Take a few years off, look after your kids.' I paused, met his eye. 'You don't even talk to me about them.'
'Probably because today we actually are talking about them, and you've managed to criticise me twice so far. Firstly, you assumed I'd reject my daughter on the basis of her gender and secondly, you're under the impression that because I give a fucking damn about the career I've worked so hard for, I'm going to be a lousy parent.'
I sighed. I wasn't interested in an argument. 'Why is this so bad? Everything was great before you left, and ever since you got back, we've been arguing and stupid shit keeps coming up and... I don't know.'
Ramyar paused, taking stock of what I'd said, then slowly nodded his agreement. 'You're right. This weekend has been a disaster.'
'Maybe we just had time to think about things while we were apart.'
My boyfriend stared at the floor. 'You know what it feels like to me?'
I shrugged. 'What?'
'It's as if everything has changed while I'm gone. I get back and you're suddenly drop dead gorgeous and I hear that one of my best friends wants to fuck you. Mahir's pissed off, you think I'm a lousy father, and I have a week ahead of me that makes me want to chuck myself out of the window but I can't tell you that because you don't even want to understand. I don't get it, Iska. I tried to so hard to be supportive of you, and it's like, it's like you don't even want to see my side of things.'
I had to think over my reply a bit. I didn't want this to escalate into a fight, but I didn't want him to think I was belittling him, either, because it was rapidly becoming apparent that despite the cool exterior he could be as nervous and self-conscious as I was.
'This is how I see it,' I replied. 'There's no way in hell I'd shag any of your mates. Maybe in certain gay circles its an okay thing to do, but I grew up with my thirty-two heterosexual male cousins and brothers and there is no way in hell you screw someone else's girlfriend...well,in this case, boyfriend. It's a quick way to death, and besides that, it's massively disrespectful. So don't worry; if things ever get that bad, I'll get on a plane and come to you.'
I took a deep breath and continued. 'On the other hand, Mahir probably has a right to be annoyed. Yes, he could have called you last night, but you already admitted to sending him a ton of work. Why would he think this was any different?'
Ramyar went to speak. I shushed him.
'You can be really bossy,' I informed him. 'You're like 'boss, boss, boss' and then you ask permission for something really simple.'
'I do not,' he argued.
I kissed him. 'You do.'
He kissed my nose. 'Fuck you.'
I ignored his move towards light-heartedness. He was the one complaining that I didn't listen, so he could listen to my explanation before we started mucking around. 'You seem to think that anyone who doesn't spend a minimum of sixty hours at work doesn't have any commitment. That's not true. I don't want to be a doctor; that doesn't mean I'm lazy. Mahir doesn't want clients calling him at home on a Satuday night. That, too, is perfectly normal. So, while I don't care if you want to bitch about work, I have a hard time taking it seriously when you seem physically incapable of relaxing.'
Ramyar removed his glasses and wiped them with the bottom of his shirt. 'Is that really how you see me? As a bossy workaholic who's worrying unnecessarily about you?'
'I don't think I'm a workaholic.'
I hugged him. 'You are. In an agreeable way.'
He wriggled out of my arms. 'Am I making you want to run away?'
'No. God, why do you keep saying that?'
'I'm thirty-one next Sunday. That's one week.'
'So you'll be old. Good on you. It's not like it won't happen to me one day.'
He pretended to choke me. 'You're not very funny Iskander Beshara.'
I barely saw Ramyar the following week, despite the fact that we were living together. Opposing shifts and his long days meant we didn't spend more than a couple of hours in each other's company. When we were together, though, he fretted and worried and drove me crazy.
Then his thirty-first birthday came and went and he calmed down. Just like that, all the insecurity went away and he was back to being funny and smart and confident. I honestly laughed at the stupidity of it.
He and I started to settle into a rhythm. When we were free at compatible times we hung out, screwed each other stupid, and talked about what was going on in our lives. Little changes occurred in our relationship. It had been obvious from the start that I had more time than he did, and he earned a stack more than I ever would, so rather than fighting these differences, we worked with them.
I learned to cook and, more slowly, how to keep a house clean. I got interested in keeping my weight low and ate healthy stuff and made sure I exercised. When Ramyar was working and I had nothing to do, I went and visited Samir and Ramazan or Brett and Mahir. I visited the former for Samir, and the latter for Brett. Sam would never stop being my best mate, and I found Brett quite a handy person to know. Brett wasn't prone to bitchiness and back-stabbing in the way that Mahir was, and besides that, had two kids still living at home and gave me a hell of a lot of hints on how to make my money stretch further.
Ramyar worked and worked and worked. He gave me money for our groceries and was always bringing home gifts; a kitchen table for my little flat, chocolate, cologne, and nice, expensive, clothes. I accepted his offerings without negativity or any real sense of embarrassment. I asked for nothing but his love, and while I didn't need his gifts, I understood that receiving them was part and parcel of being loved by him and that it was thoroughly irrelevant that I was quite capable of paying my own way.
Summer approached and Ramyar made a suggestion I hadn't expected. His twins were due early February and he wanted to go on holidays with me before they arrived. He wanted to take me to his 'home' – Mumbai – and spend a week with me before he went on to the USA to pick up his babies, spend a few weeks with them while finalising the adoption, and then fly home.
'It'll be nice,' he offered. 'I'm taking three months paternity leave. Let me spend just one week of that with you.'
He shrugged. 'We could go somewhere else if you preferred.'
'No, I guess, ah, India's fine. I'll have to get a passport. I've never been out of Australia before.'
'My family is very liberal, but to make sure you don't feel uncomfortable, I'll organise a hotel,' Ramyar promised.
'Well, I guess that sounds alright.'
He flung his arm around my shoulders, hugged me. 'I really want to show you where I'm from. I lived there until I was ten. All of my early memories are there. I want to show you things and take you around.'
Despite his assurances, I still felt a bit weird about going to India with him. Still, when I told people about the trip, they were extremely positive. My workmates encouraged me to the point that they actually downloaded a leave application form from the work intranet for me. Sam looked wistful and said one day, he'd like to go overseas with me. Mohammed laughed at the news. He told me to enjoy the curry, which in turn made Ramyar roll his eyes.
On the topic of Mohammed, he showed up one Friday afternoon at around six. Ramyar had been staying with me for a couple of days, so it was understandable Mohammed would come here to see his friend, but I found his lack of forewarning slightly annoying. I was preparing dinner when Mohammed showed up and the first words out of his mouth weren't 'sorry about imposing', but 'where's Ramyar?'
'Probably still at work,' I replied. 'Do you want me to call him?'
Mohammed nodded. 'Thanks,' he said, as he cut himself some of the vegetable lasagne I'd made myself for our tea. 'Do you have any forks?'
I removed some cutlery from the drawer while I rang my boyfriend. Ramyar said he was on his way home and should be here in a couple of minutes. I communicated this to Mohammed, and suggested he actually hold off eating the lasagne until Ramyar arrived. From the expression on his face, this was not something he was frequently told to do. In fact, he fiddled with his fork until Ramyar opened the front door while commenting on how hungry he was. I held firm. This was my home, not his.
'Something smells good,' Ramyar announced.
'Lasagne,' I said, handing him a plate. 'Your timing is perfect.'
We rarely ate together, but tonight the three of us sat down together. I felt a bit daggy next to the guys in their nice pants and shirts, but hell, I'd been planning on going to bed before eight. I had to start work at four in the morning.
'Guess what?' Mohammed asked Ramyar.
Ramyar shook his head. 'What?'
'Aaliyah's father came over last week.'
'Who is Aaliyah?' I inquired.
'My wife,' Mohammed replied matter-of-factly.
I didn't know this. Mohammed didn't speak about his wife or kids much. Come to think of it, he never spoke of his wife and sometimes talked about his kids.
'Or,' Mohammed continued. 'My soon to be ex-wife. Her father was all like 'Mohammed, you're a loser, you don't spend any time at home, you have too many strange friends, I know you're having sex with men again, you're no good, my daughter deserves better'.' Mohammed paused. 'I don't hold it against him. He has a point. I'm not that good to her.'
Ramyar chewed his dinner carefully. 'Is he taking her back to Saudi Arabia?'
'Yes. Her and the children.'
A flicker of something I didn't recognise flashed across Ramyar's face. 'Why is she getting the children? I've always been told it's the men who get the kids.'
'Only when they're a certain age.' Mohammed argued. 'Layla's only six and Mohammed's four. Aaliyah can keep them for a while. Maybe for forever. Once my father finds out what Saeed's saying, he'll offer to take them if Aaliyah remarries. Which, you know, she probably will. She's pretty and all.'
'She covers her face, Mo,' Ramyar pointed out. 'How am I supposed to know if she's pretty?'
'I think I've told you before.'
My boyfriend rolled his eyes. 'Okay. So, you're not even going to ask if you can keep your kids?'
'They'll be better off without me.'
'Maybe you could see them during school holidays,' I suggested. 'You could go back to Saudi Arabia to make it easier.'
'Wild horses couldn't drag me back to Saudi Arabia,' Mohammed snapped. 'It's a shithole. Everyone knows I like men, Iska. You want to go to Saudi fucking Arabia with that goddamn information public knowledge? My cousins have been screwing me for as long as I can remember, even when I was a kid. At least here I get to choose who I do it with.' He sighed impatiently, as though thoroughly sick of me. 'Ramyar, do me a fucking favour and tell him sometime.'
Ramyar nodded. 'Yeah, Mo, no worries. Iska was only trying to be helpful. You know.'
Mohammed buried his head in his hands. 'This is so fucked. Why can't she just stay in Australia?'
To be honest, maybe, just a little bit, I could understand why Mohammed's father-in-law would take his daughter and grandchildren back home. Mohammed really didn't seem to give that much of a damn about his family. He didn't seem to care how his wife felt about her husband's homosexuality and his regular outings with people - men - she'd never even met. My family wasn't 'Saudi conservative', but they were certainly more conservative than mainstream Australians, and I could imagine how my mother would have suffered if my father had behaved like Mohammed.
After everyone had eaten, I washed up the dishes and went to bed. Ramyar came into the bedroom with me to say thank-you and good-night. I unbuttoned his shirt and slipped it off his shoulders.
'It's okay,' I told him. 'He can stay over if he wants. The spare blanket and my crappy pillows are in the linen cupboard.'
'Mmm,' he murmured, kissing me. 'I wanted some time alone with you tonight.'
'He's drunk. He'll probably drink a lot more.'
'Are you going to be alright with him?'
'Well, he's one of my best friends,' Ramyar said reprimandingly, but also very kindly. 'Even if he does want to shag my boyfriend, I'll always be there for him.'
I took off his belt. At least now he looked a little more comfortable. 'I love you.'
He kissed me. 'I love you, too. Good night.'
I crawled into bed, wishing he was climbing in between the sheets with me, and pretty much dropped off to sleep immediately. My alarm went off at two thirty in the morning and I stumbled out of bed to find Ramyar and Mohammed in the living room. They were still awake and watching television together.
'What sort of stupid hours do you work?' Mohammed asked sullenly.
He seemed to have shifted from shocked to pissed off during my six and a half hours of sleep. I thought it was a hell of an attitude to have while he was in someone else's house, but it was too early to argue. Besides, Ramyar was giving me such an extremely apologetic look that I would have been hard pressed to tell Mohammed where to shove it.
'Are you going?' Ramyar asked, after I had dressed and was preparing to leave.
Ho nodded. 'Mahir and his buddies are doing a Turkey night tonight. I forgot to mention it, but you're invited.'
'It sounds kind of ominous,' I joked, smiling cautiously at Mohammed.
Mohammed sulked. Ramyar, however, returned my smile.
'It's very, very weird,' my boyfriend agreed. 'They'll try and convince you that Turkey is far better than Australia. Just go along with it.'
'Turkey,' Mohammed said viciously. 'Is the biggest shithole on the face of the planet.'
'I think I'll go now,' I said. 'What time should I go to Mahir's house?'
'I was told anytime after five,' Ramyar replied. 'Love you.'
'Love you, too.'