Mohammed tried his best to keep out of my way, but it was difficult for him to accomplish this with two young children. He enrolled them in a local school, but while they were away during the day, they were home in the morning and nights, and always getting underfoot.
I liked his kids. Over the course of a week they slowly became more relaxed, and I got some insight into what Layla was like when she wasn't crying or whinging or pleading for her father's attention. She cooked dinner with Ben, and helped me with the dishes, and it was only when Mohammed tried to put her to sleep that the drama started up.
On Friday evening, I did the same as I had done the previous weekend and asked Mohammed if he wanted a drink. Ben was awake and I could see him raising his eyebrows at my offer, but he didn't comment, even when Mohammed accepted. Ben did, however, come and sit at the kitchen table with us.
'This has been one of the longest weeks of my life,' Mohammed commented wryly.
'Job-hunting is a bitch,' I agreed. 'Has anyone contacted you?'
'The council,' he replied. 'They called today. Apparently I'm the only qualified applicant, so they want to start the interview process on Tuesday.'
I'd suggested Mohammed apply for the council job I'd had before I was wrenched away. I'd had a feeling they'd have trouble filling the role – I was paid a decent wage only because I was a contractor; the permanent staff member they were now seeking was being offered twenty thousand a year less – and a quick check of their website had proven my assumption correct. I'd helped Mohammed do up his application and send it off on Tuesday evening, and I was pleased that they'd responded so quickly. Three days is a damn quick response time for this particular council.
'I'm sure you'll do well,' I said positively.
He shrugged. 'The pay is terrible. Maybe I don't really want this job.'
'The hours are suited to someone with young children,' I pointed out. 'They're also very understanding if you need to leave in a hurry. You'll need that when your kids get sick and need to be picked up from school.'
Mohammed paused. He clearly hadn't thought of this. 'I suppose so,' he agreed slowly. 'I'd rather earn less money and get to spend time with them.'
'Brett would rather earn money than spend time with me,' Ben commented.
'That's not true,' I retorted. 'You just seem to be labouring under the assumption that I have money spilling out of my pockets.'
'You do,' he argued. 'My mother was totally poor and I'm glad. I'm glad I could spend so much time with her before she died.'
'I'll remember this the next time you ask me for money,' I snapped. I was so hurt by what he was saying that I couldn't respond in a neutral tone. I couldn't believe what he was saying, the assumptions that he had.
Mohammed was unperturbed by the argument around him. 'Do you find it hard to manage financially?' he asked me.
'At times it's been extremely difficult. Once I started earning sixty thousand, it got a lot easier.'
'The council's paying seventy-three plus super,' Mohammed said. 'If I get this job, I'll have to buy a Toyota.'
'There are worse fates,' I suggested.
'You might remember that I had a really sweet Skyline,' Mohammed pointed out. 'You should have kept it when you won it. I ended up selling it before I moved to Qatar. It's not that I don't like Toyotas. My hire car is a Yaris.'
'I loved that Skyline,' Ben remarked.
'Well, maybe if you spend all your hours working instead of looking after your kids, you'll be able to afford one when you grow up,' I told him.
Ben sighed. 'All I meant to say was that you work a lot,' he said, before getting up and wandering back to the television.
Mohammed raised his eyebrows at me.
'You, too, will get the joy of a teenager in a few years,' I muttered.
'I can't wait. Layla as a teenager.' He shuddered, genuinely. 'I'm going to have to decide whether she needs to cover, and if she does, if she needs to cover like a Saudi or like an Aussie Muslim.'
'Maybe you could let her decide,' I suggested.
He nodded. 'That's a definite possibility.'
Mohammed sipped his drink. I sipped mine and peered surreptitiously over the rim of my glass at him. No matter how many times I looked at him, I never once saw him look less than amazingly handsome. He was so beautiful, and knew exactly how to dress.
'Brett,' he said cautiously. 'Does Michael come over very often?'
I coughed. I'd told Michael not to come around this week, but he'd insisted on coming around tomorrow. 'Yes. I just thought...it might be easier if we didn't have any guests for the first few days. Michael might be over... on the weekend.'
'I don't want to see him,' he said in rushed voice. 'Tell me when he's coming over and I'll... I'll take the kids to McDonalds or something.'
'He's coming over tomorrow.' I paused. I was pleased he'd offered to stay away. I wanted him to stay away. I didn't want Michael being tempted by my extraordinarily handsome houseguest. All the same, I didn't want to gloat. 'Ten o'clock.'
Mohammed nodded. 'I'll make sure I'm not here.'
Michael kissed the back of my neck and murmured that he loved me.
I grabbed his arms and pulled them around my waist, and leaned into him. His cock was hard, digging into me. I wasn't surprised, but I was turned on.
'Why do you have to go to a horse riding lesson?' I complained. 'You could just drop Teagan off and come back here and snuggle with me.'
He laughed huskily. 'Or you could come with us.'
'I don't look nearly as sexy in jodhpurs as you do,' I whinged. I hated horses and we both knew it. They were large, powerful uncontrollable beasts and it really baffled me that my boyfriend could enjoy being on top of one. 'Michael. I miss you.'
'If you miss me, then let me come around during the week.'
I paused and tried to think rationally about this. I tried to remember that Mohammed was nursing some relatively fresh wounds and didn't want to see the man who had rejected him. Unfortunately, my dick won the argument. 'Come around whenever you want,' I offered. 'Mohammed seems to be settled in.'
Michael leaned into my back. 'I can't believe you're letting him live with you.'
'Let me guess; you're thinking 'if you knew what he's said about you, you'd have kicked him out'.'
'How on earth do you know?'
'Iska told me,' I admitted.
Michael sighed. 'And this doesn't bother you?'
It was my turn to sigh. 'Mikey, I don't really like him, but I feel bad for him.'
'You feel bad because his cousins raped him?'
'Yes. How did you know about that?' I asked curiously.
'He tells everyone. Ten minutes after meeting him, wham, he's telling you about his childhood.'
I mulled this over. 'He sounded genuine to me.'
'I never knew whether to believe him or not,' Michael admitted. 'My guess is that it's exaggerated to a degree, but I could never figure out quite how much of an exaggeration it was.'
'Hmph,' I patted his crotch. 'Onto happier matters, I know you need to go but would you come around on Monday night and give me some loving?'
Michael laughed. 'Sure, Brett, of course.'
It wasn't very smart of me, but I didn't care. Well, I did care, but I justified it. I felt vindicated because this was my house, not Mohammed's, because Mohammed had said bad things about me, because Mohammed had shamelessly flaunted his relationship with Michael with no regard to my feelings, and finally, I assured myself that everyone had the right to be selfish once in a inside, though, I knew I was being an arse.
Monday evening rolled around and I received an unexpected visitor. It was Will. Just Will, no Wafiq, no Roman, just him standing at the door in his jeans and motorcycle jacket.
'I got bored with studying,' he explained unnecessarily, hesitantly. 'I thought I'd come around.'
'Of course, come in. Michael and Teagan will be here pretty soon and er, you know Mohammed,' I gestured in Mohammed's direction. I'd heard some rumours about Will snogging Mohammed while Will was dating someone else, rumours that Ben seemed fond of repeating whenever he was annoyed with Will and wanted to embarrass him, and I'd recently started to believe said gossip was very likely true. No one wants to think their child is a cheater, but I have to admit that sometimes Will's common sense takes a walk and he does some very dumb things. 'Have you met his kids, Layla and Mohammed?'
Will hadn't, but as I've mentioned before, Will is very good with children. It's often hard to imagine your teenage kids saying 'when I grow up I'm going to be...' because you can't imagine it. Knowing that next year, Will is going to be a primary school teacher, is different. I know he's going to be a stellar teacher.
'Have the dogs gone for a walk yet?' Will asked, eyeing up his canines, who in turn were eyeing up their owner through the glass door.
The dogs had also spent a lot of time staring at Mohammed through the glass door, but I tried not to draw too much attention to this. Mohammed had refused my persistent attempts to get him to 'make friends' with the canines and he often checked the door to make sure it was shut properly, and the animals couldn't come inside. Despite their father's fear, though, Layla and Mohammed loved the dogs. They petted and played with them until their father frantically yelled at them out of a window, demanding they come inside.
'No,' I admitted. 'Did you want to take them?'
'I'll go with you,' Ben offered him. 'We should wait until Mike and Teagan get here. Teagan might want to come, too.'
Mohammed watched the exchange carefully. He didn't say anything, but he started tapping his foot against the floor nervously.
'Can we come?' Layla inquired. 'Mohammed and me and Babba?'
'Sure,' Will agreed. 'We could get dinner at the fish and chip shop while we're out.'
'Gee, and I thought you'd come over to see me,' I teased.
Will grinned. 'You probably want to see Michael.'
Of all our foster children, I think Will is the only one that's truly happy that Mikey and I are together again. I suppose this is because he's the only one that was really raised by 'us' rather than 'predominantly Mike' or 'predominantly me'. Although he'll never know it, his support means a hell of a lot to me.
'I'll get you some money,' I offered.
'I'm broke enough to accept that offer,' Will agreed cheerfully.
I took him outside, so he could get the dogs' leads and we could have some privacy, while I retrieved a fifty from my wallet. When we were outside, and nobody was listening, I asked Will what he meant by 'broke'.
He looked startled. 'Oh, nothing.'
'Are you sure?' I prodded.
'I'm okay Brett, honestly.' He grinned self-consciously. 'I guess it's just that living with Wafiq and Roman I get a daily reminder that I'm poor. Wafiq's government gives their students a lot more money than the Australian one does.'
''Come around sometime this week. I'll give you some cash,' I pledged, voicing what I'd been planning. I'd spent a lot of time thinking about what to do with the insurance money. I'd decided that some of it would go to Will, some of it I'd give to Claire and Lee after their baby was born and the rest of it would go to the mortgage. Neither Ben nor Teagan was in any financial need, so I didn't see any pressing need to give either of them cash.
'I don't want to sound scabby, but I really appeciate that,' he replied gratefully. 'I know the guys don't mean to make me feel bad, but when they insist on taking me out and paying for everything because they have the cash and I don't, it really sucks.'
I fetched the dogs' leads from the shed and handed one to Will. 'You have great taste in friends and lousy taste in boyfriends.'
He went red. 'I know.'
'You need to find a gay version of one of your friends,' I added, all the while secretly hoping that Wafiq wasn't the 'gay version'. I wanted him to find somebody like Wafiq, only without the family and culture and devoutness.
'I know,' he concurred, laughing softly, awkwardly. 'I'd need to get someone with a pretty thick skin, too, because Roman is okay on his own, and Wafiq is okay on his own, but when you have the two of them together, they can get really... mean... about anyone I take home.'
I secretly thought that perhaps Roman and Wafiq were just better at recognising arseholes than Will, but I decided it was best not to continue the conversation. Rather, I helped Will clip the leads and muzzles on the dogs and take them out the front.
'You might want to know that Mohammed's terrified of the dogs,' I said as casually as I could, not wanting Will to suggest Mohammed stay behind.
Will shrugged. 'I'll sort it out.'
True to his word, Will did indeed sort it out. He did it with patience and skill and food and what I can only suggest is black magic, but within fifteen minutes, he had Mohammed patting the dogs, and the dogs in turn, accepted that Mohammed was higher in the pack than they were.
'See Babba, the dogs are nice,' Mohammed triumphantly told his father. 'You shouldn't be scared.'
'I wasn't scared,' Mohammed muttered, glancing at the newly-arrived Michael out of the corner of his eye.
'He definitely doesn't seem scared to me,' Will added kindly, despite the fact that just a quarter of an hour prior he'd basically had to drag Mohammed out of the house. 'We should get going. I'm starving.'
Michael and I waved them off and headed inside.
'Will's looking good,' he commented. 'Healthy.'
'Yes, he is,' I replied distractedly, pulling Michael near. 'Oh God, don't talk to me Michael, just come straight into bed with me.'
'How's Mohammed going?' Ramyar asked over our morning coffee-making.
I dumped a few heaped teaspoons of sugar into my Nescafe. 'He has an interview this afternoon. It's with the council I used to work at.'
'Doing your old job?' he confirmed.
I nodded. 'I thought the hours would suit him. He won't want to be doing overtime when he's got two young children.'
'He's not that bad with his kids,' Ramyar conceded. 'He and his ex-wife really did take great care of them. They were the only things they had in common, and they both made an effort to be good parents.'
'I've noticed he's markedly better than I'd suspected he would be,' I replied. I paused, considered what I was about to say. 'If you want to come around and visit at any time, feel free.'
'I don't know,' Ramyar hesitated 'I fucking flew off the handle at him, you know? It was like I was going to kill him. I've always known he's wanted to shag Iska, but when I found out he'd made a move...' he shrugged helplessly. 'I'm only now just starting to get over it.'
'Well, you have young children,' I said diplomatically. 'I know that my foster kids, even though they're a lot older than yours, still put a lot of strain on my relationship with Michael. You don't need any external pressure when you're trying to hold down a job and pay for eveything and keep your family together.'
'That's it,' he agreed, picking up his coffee and walking back to our offices. 'Just having the kids was such a shock to Iska and I. I didn't think it would be this hard, and I'd be so fucking tired all the time. At the same time, I don't know what I'd do without my boyfriend. Iska has pushed so much aside to help out. He changes nappies and soothes them when they're teething and screaming and I'm so tired I can't see straight, and because he's a nurse, it relieves a lot of the worry. He knows what's normal and what isn't, and if ever he isn't sure, he's got the contacts that he can ring in the middle of the night and ask.'
'I can understand why you don't want to risk that.'
'I might be better in a few weeks. I miss Mo, even when I hate him. I hope, when we're both a bit more settled, that we can sort this shit out.'
'As I've said, come over whenever you want.'
'Yeah, I'll remember that.' He gestured for me to come into his office, which I did, and he shut the door behind me. We had a teleconference scheduled in five minutes time and although I'd wanted to check my emails before it started, it seemed Ramyar wanted to talk. 'I appreciate what you've done for him, Brett. I really, really appreciate it. I know how hard it must be for you.'
I took a seat. 'Michael came over last night,' I admitted. 'Mohammed went out with my kids and his, but afterwards, when they got back home, I could see the way he looked at Mike. It can't be easy for Mohammed or Michael either.'
Ramyar sipped his tea carefully. 'Michael hasn't been very fair to Mohammed. He knew Mo fell head over heels for him, and still he kept stringing him along. I'm actually not that surprised Mo went and saw Mike when he arrived back in Australia. It wasn't as if Michael behaved honorably earlier in their relationship.'
His words put me on the defensive, even though I knew them to be true.
'Well it's not like Mohammed is a particularly honorable person,' I pointed out. 'He also didn't give Michael much of an option. He just went hard at him until Mike agreed. Actually, and I'm going to quote Michael here, he said the longer he was with Mohammed, the more he realised that Mohammed was lousy at judging what other people wanted. It was all about Mohammed, and what he wanted.'
'That's very true,' Ramyar agreed, and I understood he wasn't trying to make a fight, he'd just been trying to make a point about Mohammed and Michael's 'relationship'. He was still very loyal to his friend, no matter how angry he was at him.
I relaxed. I was becoming accustomed to Ramyar's statements, the way he thought he could and should say whatever came to mind. It drove me crazy, of course, but I was now identifying the patterns, identifying the causes – stress, discomfort – and trying not to take it too personally.
The phone rang. It was Dan from the Emirates, setting up his part of the teleconference.
'Brett, Ramyar,' he greeted. 'How is Brisbane?'
'Good,' I replied for both of us. 'How is the Emirates?'
'Hot and getting hotter. We've lost two staff already. There's a recession back home, and instead of sitting it out in Dubai, they run home.' He spoke with disdain, not understanding his British coworkers. 'Right. That's my complaint.'
I laughed. 'I heard you were following Omar to Austalia for the July Board Meeting. Sounds like you're doing a bit of 'escaping the heat' yourself'
There was a pause before a very Pommy-sounding 'shut-up'.
Ramyar and I laughed.
'Brett is having a couple of kids from Sharjah stay with him in July,' Ramyar said.
'Count on at least four coming,' Dan advised.
I sighed, hoping Dan wasn't right. 'They're staying two weeks. I've booked the second week off work. I'm hoping I'll be uncool and not worth hanging around.'
Dan laughed. 'Are you doing anything good?'
'Er, I was thinking of Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary and maybe a theme park or two. Ben mentioned something about doing a Christmas in July. I have no idea why this is so exciting and why the concept of 'Christmas in July' even exists. Christmas is expensive, time consuming and annoying when it occurs in December.'
'Is this Christmas in July a secular or religious event?' Omar asked curiously.
'Secular,' Ramyar replied, without missing a beat. Obviously he wasn't half as surprised as I was that Omar had been listening in. 'Do they do it in the UK?'
'Not when I was studying,' Omar replied. 'It sounds interesting.'
'It's a lot of fun,' Dan remarked. 'What date was it going to be held on?'
I told him the time and date.
'We'll be in Brisbane then,' Dan offered.
There was a pause, a big, pregnant pause. It was a pause where Ramyar, Dan and Omar waited for me to extend an invitation, and where I waited for the conversation to move on past my Christmas in July. Ramyar nudged me. I inwardly groaned. Why, oh why, had I opened my mouth?
'You guys are more than welcome to attend. Er, if you don't have anything better to do,' I offered. I glared at Ramyar, who was covering his mouth to prevent himself from laughing out loud. 'Ramyar will be coming along, so you'll have two familiar faces.'
Ramyar continued silently laughing, but he did find the ability to throw me the finger.
'We won't bother you. You'll be busy with your guests,' Omar replied.
I held my head in my hands. 'That's a shame. You'd both be welcome. We could have got some mince pies for Dan. I blame the British for those.'
'I was fooled into trying one of those, in England. An Australian tricked me. I'd only been away for home for a week.' Omar reminisced in a way that made me perfectly aware that he wasn't above blaming me for the actions of my countrymen. 'That was a long time ago.'
'You sure you don't want to repeat the experience?' I asked.
He paused. 'It's very generous of you to invite us.'
'Not really,' I lied. 'It would be nice to see you again.'
Omar and Dan were about to accept – I could tell by experience – but several other directors and branch managers came online. It was a very Asian and Middle Eastern meeting with, oddly, our South American representative thrown in for good measure. We were going to be discussing projects, who was doing what, which staff were wanted and where.
Ramyar also took the opportunity to invite everyone to my Christmas in July. I could have throttled him then and there, but I resisted the urge. Later, after the teleconference had ended, I asked him why he did it.
'Brett, all you need is Omar or Dan mentioning that they've been invited and straightaway you'll have offended everyone who didn't get an invite.' He stared at me appraisingly. 'I'm sorry. Iska and I will help you out, help with the costs, too.'
I sighed, aloud this time. 'Well, thanks. I'd appreciate any help I can get.'
Noting my miserable mood, he gave me a smile shining with positive energy. 'Brett, if you pull this off, it will be great for your career. Not many people in your position get several key executives in their home.'
It was always career, career, career with Ramyar.
'Woo hoo,' I muttered dismally.
I get home some days and just want peace and quiet. I don't want to cook. I don't want to clean. I don't want to play with children, listen to Ben's complaints, or fill in my credit card details on the stupid donation form Teagan left with me two weeks ago and now 'urgently' needed. The Catholic Church has survived thousands of years; I doubt waiting another week for a hundred bucks is going to be their downfall.
'They said they'd get back to me this week,' Mohammed said for the millionth time. 'I still don't know what to do. I think the interview went well today, but the job sounds boring. Would you take this job, Brett?'
'I used to do that job,' I pointed out grumpily. 'I liked it well enough. It paid the bills and the hours were good.'
'The pay worries me. I used to earn a lot more. I don't even know what things cost. Aaliyah used to tell me what she needed and I'd give her that.'
'How much did you give her?'
'Five hundred a week. That was for groceries and clothes for her and the kids. I bought my own clothes.'
'Five hundred a week? With you and the kids here Ben and I would take three weeks to spend that amount on food. What on earth were you eating?'
'Hmm, so you think if I spent two hunded a week on food that would be okay?' he guessed aloud.
'I think you should spend two thirds of that,' I corrected. 'What on earth was she spending the money on?'
'Clothes, perfume,' he shrugged nonchalently. 'Saudi women shop.'
'This didn't annoy you?'
Mohammed was unfazed. Amused, even. 'I slept with a lot of men.'
I rolled my eyes in disgust. Mohammed fucked around while his wife spent money on crap and now it had become my problem because Mohammed was divorced, a single parent, and totally incapable of looking after himself. The only good thing about him was that he took care of his kids and he even had problems in that regard as we realised only a few minutes later.
Dragana was over and she was admiring Layla's waist-length black hair. She ran her hands through it, only to realise that while the top layer of her hair was lovely, underneath it was a mass of knots and tangles.
'My Mama used to brush it,' Layla explained. 'My Daddy doesn't.'
'I told you to brush it,' Mohammed exclaimed, flabbergasted. 'What have you done Lay?'
'It's just a little knotted,' Dragana said, gently, to Layla. 'My hair used to knot. I'll get some conditioner and untangle it for you.'
I thought it was extremely nice of Dragana to not only make the offer, but spend the next half-hour coaxing the knots out of Layla's hair. When she could finally run a brush through the girl's hair without it getting caught in tangles, she helped her wash it, dry it, and finished off by braiding it.
'That's really pretty Layla,' Ben commented. 'Draggy did a pretty good job.'
'She did a great job,' I agreed. I glanced at Mohammed expectantly, but he didn't look away from the television screen. 'Layla, you just come to any of us in the morning and we'll make sure there aren't any knots in your hair.'
Over dinner I realised that Layla had been both aware of the state of her hair, and greatly troubled by it. Dragana hadn't done anything she wouldn't have done for anyone else – she's a good kid, and I like her most of the time – but Layla was thrilled and kept mentioning her hair, how nice it was, and how it would have to be brushed every morning.
'Brett said so,' she finished triumphantly.
I grinned, despite still being somewhat crabby. She could be whingey, and she cried at the drop of a hat, but Layla certainly had a personality.
On the negative side, Ben was getting very touchy-feely with Dragana, stroking her arm and finding excuses to touch her and patting her hair. There are certain things I don't like at the dinner table, and this sort of nonsense is one of them.
'What time did you need to be dropped off home, Dragana?' I questioned, as Ben played with her bracelet.
'Oh, I can stay over. My Mum has gone to stay with my Dad and brothers tonight. They're thinking of reuniting.'
I hesitated. I definitely didn't want Dragana staying over, not on a Tuesday evening. On the other hand, I didn't think it was entirely appropriate to send her home to an empty house.
'Do your parents know where you are?' I prodded.
'They think I'm at a friend's house,' she admitted guiltily.
'Would you like me to drop you off at this friend's house?' I offered.
'Um, I can't. There's no way her parents would let me stay. It's okay; I'll go home.'
'But there's no one at your house?' I questioned.
She shook her head. 'No.'
I sighed. 'You can stay. But don't do this again. If you want to stay over; ask in advance.'
She nodded, her face red with embarrassment. 'I'm sorry. I'll go home.'
I sighed, got up from the table. 'It doesn't matter Dragana. I'm sure this was as much Ben's idea as yours.'
Dragana and Ben exchanged guilty glances.
'Sorry,' Ben apologised.
'You'll be making this up on Saturday,' I warned him. 'You and I can do the yard when you get home from work.'
Ben groaned. The younger Mohammed asked Ben, in a loud whisper, if he was in trouble.
'Yes,' Ben and I replied simultaneously.
The younger Mohammed giggled. 'You're in trouble, you're in trouble,' he sing-songed.
'Yes I am,' Ben agreed pitifully. 'Lots of it.'
That was it; I'd had enough. There was nothing major, but the noise and bullshit had gotten to me and I needed to get away. I picked up my beer and my plate and said I'd be going to my bedroom to eat my tea and read my book.
'Are you kidding?' the older Mohammed asked, dumbfounded.
I didn't reply, but I did hear Ben say 'no, he's not kidding. This is what he's like when he sulks.'
On Thursday night Ben and I shamelessly escaped to Michael's apartment. It was kind of rude, because Mohammed had received notification that he'd scored my old job and wanted to celebrate, but both Ben and I were feeling a bit ovewhelmed by our houseguests. There was noise and mess and Layla's tears and the overriding fact that Ben and Mohammed were simply never destined to be friendly.
Michael's apartment was cool, clean and most of all, quiet. The only part that concerned me was what Teagan might or might not try to do with Ben. Ben assured me that he was confident that nothing would happen – the incidents were few and the most recent had occurred several months ago – but I was still wary. I think my concern was evident to the point that it annoyed Michael. There's no beating around the bush; he infinitely prefers Teagan to Ben, and I knew that this swayed his judgement, made him want to believe that things were not as serious as he'd previously confessed. In short, he was a bit in denial now that the initial shock had worn off.
We went to bed early; Teagan in her room, Ben on the sofa bed and me and Mikey in his room. It was only nine o'clock and it seemed far too early to sleep and my mind was too restless for sex to be an interesting prospect, so I grabbed Michael and held him in my arms, trying to think how best to express the jumble of thoughts in my mind.
'Are you worried about Ben?' I whispered.
'No,' he grumbled. 'Stop talking about this.'
I sighed and answered my own question. 'I am.'
'Why? Ben's perfectly capable of looking after himself. He's also sexually active so it's not as if he's the Virgin Mary.'
'Having sex with Dragana is different to having your foster sister hit on you.'
I retrieved my arms from his body. I wasn't going to cuddle him if he was going to be stupid. 'Don't be ridiculous, Mikey. I can tell by your voice you know why it's different.'
Michael sighed and rolled onto his back. 'I don't want to talk about this. I know you're concerned. Me? I'm terrified, Brett. I thought I did everything right. I helped her lose weight. I took her to a good school. I made sure she knew I'd always be here for her, and I always told her I loved her, and I thought that I'd also taught her how she should behave. Now I know I've failed. I've failed her, and you, and me and the boys. This is my fault and I accept it, and I'll deal with it, but I don't want to talk about it right now. Not tonight.'
'This isn't your fault,' I exclaimed. 'Michael, I'm not saying anything like that at all. You've done tremendous things for Teagan. I honestly admire what you've done for her, and how you've done it. You're asking too much of you, and her, if you're asking for perfection. She went through too much before you got her, before you took her in.'
He buried his head in my neck and whispered 'I'm so disappointed in her. I'm so angry at her I can't even talk to her about it.'
'You haven't spoken to her at all?' I asked gently.
'Do you want me to say something? I could speak to her counsellor and maybe together we could come up with some plan.' I pushed him out of my neck, not because I didn't love him and want to comfort him, but because it annoyed me to have him breathing on my neck. 'I'll help you out whatever way I can.'
He thought over what I had to say. 'I'll talk to her psychologist. Maybe he can suggest something.'
'Promise?' I asked, quite seriously.
'Yes, I promise,' he agreed. 'I'll do it tomorrow.'