I arrived at Mahir's house at a little after seven. I'd gone to sleep after work and had slept a little longer than I intended.
'Come in,' Will said, answering the door.
I saw Will around occassionally, but we never really spoke. It wasn't uncomfortable, just that he and I didn't have the time and interest to strike up regular conversations. There was also the Brett factor. It didn't take much intelligence to realise the guy didn't like his foster kid screwing around at the rate that he reportedly did, and he kept a very close eye on whatever it was Will was up to.
'Iska!' Samir yelled out. 'Come here.'
Sam was sitting with Ramazan, who I assumed was probably the person who invited him along.
'Hey,' I said, sitting next to him. 'How is it?'
'Pretty awesome, buddy. You should get something to eat.'
I happily ate the food that was offered. A lot of it was very similar to the food my mother had given me, food I hadn't eaten since I was booted out of home. There was also plenty of alcohol, plenty of tea and coffee, plenty of dvds of Turkish sports and television shows and plenty of straight guys. I'd learnt soon after Samir moved in with him that Ramazan 'liked ladies' but I hadn't expected Mahir to know this many Turkish people.
Ramyar came and sat with us, bringing with him his sarcasm and piss-taking nature. He made me laugh a lot, made a lot of people laugh a lot, actually. When he was in the right mood he could be thoroughly engaging.
As the night wore on, a lot of the non-Turks left. I wondered aloud if Ramyar and I should go, but Brett told us to stay if we wanted. After all, neither he nor Will nor Ben were Turkish, and they were all staying.
'That's because you have nowhere else to go,' Mohammed said sulkily.
I have no idea why Mohammed had shown up. He was clearly so pissy and wanting attention that I don't think he particularly deserved, and even Ramyar was getting tired of his attitude. Mahir refused to get within three feet of his friend. He was having a good evening, he proclaimed, and it would be in Mohammed's best interests to forget his sorrows for a night and smile.
'I could follow in Michael's footsteps and go home with you,' Brett offered dryly. 'Sound good?'
'I can't think of much worse than fucking you,' Mohammed sneered.
'I can't think of much worse than this conversation,' Ben argued. 'Can we please remember there's a fifteen year old here?'
'Don't you need to do something Islamic to prove how good a Muslim you are?' Mohammed snapped at him.
'I don't need to prove anything. I'm not the one whose father-in-law had to come over to rescue his daughter because his daughter's husband is a feral pig who fucks anything that moves.' Ben replied, rolling his eyes. 'You deserve everything you get, arsehole.'
'Ben,' Brett said. 'I thought we had an agreement that you and I would 'think but not say'?'
Ben picked up his glass of lemonade. 'Okay, okay. I know.'
The mini crisis would have been averted if Mohammed had just been able to keep his mouth shut. But, being rather inebriated by now, he couldn't.
'What the fuck are you talking about 'getting what I deserve'? Your mother died. You deserved that.'
'Oh Christ, Mohammed, shut-up,' Ramyar said wearily. 'Let's go.'
It truly was in Mohammed's best interests that Ramyar was taking him home. Had he stayed, I fully believe someone – probably Ben – would have got up and tried to take him down.
I watched the pair leave together. I probably could have left with them, but I'd rather catch a taxi than spend any more time with Mohammed.
'I can't believe I'm doing this voluntarily,' I muttered to myself.
Three weeks after Mohammed had outdone himself at Mahir's 'Turkey night' – a phrase that made me laugh, actually – I had volunteered to spend my Saturday afternoon helping Mohammed clean up and reorganise his house following his wife and children's departure.
'Are you ready?' Ramyar asked, knocking on the bathroom door.
'Yes,' I replied, opening the door. 'You?'
'You don't look very excited.'
'You don't have to come.'
'I do. I can't leave you alone with Mohammed.'
Ramyar laughed. 'He's a lot better. He only sulked for the first week.'
'I don't know whether that's better or worse,' I replied honestly. 'His kids are gone.'
'He didn't really want any, if you bring it down to basics,' Ramyar said diplomatically. 'He was pretty much forced into marriage, and the kids were the result. It's not their fault. It's better that they're with people who love them.'
'They're with the people who raped their father,' I said bluntly.
'No' Ramyar argued. 'Mohammed has reason to believe the same thing would never happen to his kids. At any rate, custody ended up going to Aaliyah's brother- who Aaliyah will be living with - and he had nothing to do with what happened to Mohammed.'
I sighed. 'Doesn't this make you uneasy?'
'Yes, but I'm not a Saudi, and I'm not Mohammed. To each their own.'
'I don't know how you can think that way.'
'Well, we can't all be Lebanese mummies boys',' he grinned cheekily.
'I was never that.'
My boyfriend laughed loudly in a clear indication that that was, indeed, how he saw me. Or, more correctly, how he used to see me. My parents still hadn't made contact, despite my attempt at a reconciliation a few weeks earlier. I'd called them and my mother had answered. She'd handed the phone directly to my father who, after a few terse minutes, made his excuses and hung up.
We made out way to Mohammed's house and when we arrived, I let Ramyar lead the way. I'd never been to Mohammed's place before, and know that we were here, I was wonderign what we were actually doing there. Other than a ridiculously unkempt yard, the place was spotless. Aaliyah had obviously cleaned up before she left.
Mahir and Mohammed were inside, sitting at the kitchen and drinking Cokes.
'You guys are so hard at work,' Ramyar teased dramatically. 'I can see the sweat pouring off you.'
'We're waiting for Brett. He's gone back to our house to get the lawnmower,' Mahir replied primly.
Ramyar and I took a seat at the table. Mahir pushed two cans of soft drink in our direction. Ramyar cracked open his, I ignored mine. I was trying to avoid full sugar soft drink in an effort to maintain my weight.
'How's Michael?' I asked Mohammed.
He looked quizzical, but not sulky. Certainly, he didn't seem as pissy and sulky as he had a few weeks ago. 'You always ask me that. Don't you have anything better to ask?'
'Not really,' I admitted.
Mohammed half-smiled. 'He's coming around soon. He's just taking his daughter to her friend's house.'
'That's nice,' I said politely.
'I always knew he liked me. I can always tell.' Mohammed swigged his Coke. 'I can't believe he was ever with Brett. He must have been bored shitless.'
'Brett is going to be mowing your lawn,' Ramyar pointed out.
Mahir glowered. 'Brett's not boring.'
'Says you,' Mohammed argued, ignoring Ramyar's very pertinent point. 'The host of Turkey night.'
'Everyone likes Turkey night,' Mahir argued.
'Turkey night is an insult to the Australians who let you Turks in,' Mohammed replied. 'You don't see me running around invitating thirty Saudi's around to celebrate KSA night.'
'It's not my fault Turkey is worth celebrating and Saudi Arabia isn't,' Mahir retorted, rounding up his argument with a classic tongue-poking.
'I've always liked Turkey night,' Ramyar shrugged. 'And anyway, it sounds like boring Brett has arrived with his lawnmower. Time to get to work.'
The reality of the afternoon was that Brett and Ramyar did the gardening, Mahir and I cleaned out the garden shed, and Mohammed fucked Michael in the spare bedroom. We learned about the latter when Ramyar went inside to take a leak and, as he put it, walked in on the sort of scene that made kittens cry.
After a couple of hours the yard looked presentable and the shed was neat and tidy. Unwilling to walk in on anything that might involve Mo and Mike naked, the four of us got a drink from the garden hose and lay down on the grass.
Mahir yelped and sat up. 'Ow. I got bitten by an ant,' he said, removing his sweaty shirt and trying to find the offender. He glared at the little black creature when he found it, and flicked it away. He stared at the grass, trying to find an ant nest. Satisfied that there was none nearby, and that the ant was just a stray anomaly, he lay back down, with his shirt under his head.
'Are you right?' Brett inquired, running his eyes over Mahir's torso.
'Yes. I'm fine.'
Brett nodded. 'Okay.'
Mahir rubbed his chest absently. 'There are so many biting things in Australia, yes, Ramyar?'
'Yes,' Ramyar agreed. 'Fucking tons of the little bastards.'
'Will has his Arab friend over,' Mahir continued. 'They're at the Coast this week. Wafiq, the Arab man, got stung by some jellyfish.'
'He must've been loving that,' Ramyar commented.
'Will said he took it very well. He had big marks all over his legs, so bad the lifesavers made him go to a doctor to get checked out, but he still went swimming the next day.' Mahir paused, sighed. 'So many horrible creatures in the ocean, in the garden.'
'Do you regret immigrating?' I asked, more curious than anything.
Mahir looked thoroughly surprised I would ask. 'Of course not. I love Australia, I love Turkey. Some things are better Turkey; people are more friendly and food and clothes are very cheap. But the gay clubs, the petrol, are more expensive and the jobs don't pay as much.'
'Are there gay clubs in Turkey?'
Mahir laughed. 'It's a very modern country. Istanbul, Izmir, Ankara, very nice places to live. There are some places with Kurds, rebels, but only peasants live that far out.'
'It's actually not a bad place,' Brett agreed. 'I wouldn't mind going back, once Ben's an adult and can look after himself for a few months.'
'I'll be your tour guide,' Mahir promised.
Brett rolled his eyes. 'How much are you going to charge me?'
Ramyar and I laughed. Mahir certainly had a reputation.
'I would never charge you,' Mahir protested. 'I came here today for free.'
'Mohammed's probably sucked your dick,' Ramyar corrected.
'Not since he's been with Michael.' Mahir corrected.
'The situation gets desperate,' Ramyar yawned. 'Maybe you should shag Brett.'
Mahir glared, but Brett chuckled.
'He came into my bed once,' Brett informed us. 'Drunk as a skunk. It was actually extremely tempting but then I thought 'tomorrow he'll realise what he's done' and figured it wasn't a good idea.'
'I wouldn't have minded,' Mahir argued.
Brett knocked his arm lightly. 'I find it very hard to believe that you would have trouble getting sex.'
Mahir raised his eyebrows. 'I truly would not have minded, Brett.'
Brett looked embarrassed. 'I'll keep that in mind next time you climb into my bed.'
Ramyar and I exchanged glances. I knew what he was thinking; that maybe something would 'happen' between the two shortly. There was obviously a good level of friendship, and they were sexually attracted to each other, so theoretically it should only be a matter of time. All Mahir needed was for Brett to wise up to the hints that he was being given.
'We should be off,' Ramyar said, sitting up. 'Iska and I are going out to dinner tonight. You two want to come?'
'Actually, I wouldn't mind if Mahir's coming,' Brett said. 'Will's at the Coast, as Mahir said, and Ben will be right by himself.'
'Ben might want to come,' Mahir said. 'Where are we going?'
As Ramyar and Mahir discussed the finer details of the night, I wondered to myself why Mahir suggested inviting Ben. The kid was fifteen; old enough to be left home alone. Besides, Mahir should have been using this as a bit of time to get closer to Brett, maybe throw him a few more hints or even make a – sober – move.
I suggested this to Ramyar as we were getting ready that night. Ramyar was very nonchalant about the issue, though.
'Mahir has totally given up,' he said. 'I know he flirts a lot with Brett, but he's past expecting to have any success.'
'That's funny. I could have sworn Brett was interested.'
'He's probably horny.'
'Is he screwing anyone?'
'No. I don't think he's the 'type' that many guys we know go for. He's too big, too hairy.'
'He's not ugly.'
'No, he's not,' Ramyar agreed. 'But what I'm saying is that he's a really masculine man, and if you're the type that likes being routinely fucked by someone big and hairy and strong, he's your guy. Mahir really likes that. Mahir won't fuck anyone. He can't. He loses his hard-on trying and believe me, even convincing him to try is hard work.'
'They sound ideally suited to each other.'
'Fuck yeah. They live together, they earn pretty much the same amount and they'd suit each other really well, sexually speaking. Mahir's a little less serious than Brett, but that's a good thing, and Brett's quite frugal, which is definitely a bonus because Mahir is always broke before payday.'
'Maybe they just need a little nudge,' I suggested. 'You know, like Mahir did with us.'
'That kind of thing can backfire really, really badly,' Ramyar argued. 'I was so humiliated when he told you how I felt. It was painful enough admitting to Mahir that I...well, liked you.'
I kissed him. 'I love you.'
He touched my hair, smiled. 'Mm. I know. I love you, too.'
I thought about touching him, kissing his spine, nibbling the back of his neck. I loved his body, loved the fact that I knew it so well and could evoke the kind of responses I wanted.
'You're getting hard,' he teased. 'What's on your mind?'
I glanced down. 'You know you have really fine, soft black hair on the base of your spine?'
'Is my hairy spine what's getting you hot?'
'More or less.'
'No accounting for taste,' he grinned, taking my hand. 'Come on, that sounds like they're here. Ever noticed how shit our security is in this community?'
'What do you pay in body corporate fees?'
'A few thousand a year.'
I laughed. 'For those fees, you should swim in the pools a little more often.'
'Oh hell no,' he said, as we made our way down the stairs. 'There are tons of kids living here. They're always in the pools. It'd be like swimming in piss. Besides, I can't swim.'
Ramyar opened the front door, ushered me out. 'The pools are full of kids' wee and I can't swim.'
'You can't swim?'
Ramyar locked the door. 'I can't swim.'
We climbed into the back of Mahir's Corolla. It had an evil eye talisman hanging from the rear vision mirror and it smelled like cinnamon.
'Where's Ben?' Ramyar asked.
'He chose to have a few hours uninterrupted at home to download porn,' Mahir said cheerfully. 'He likes girls.'
Ramyar's jaw dropped. 'There are men who like women?'
'Yes, and you know what he looks at?' Mahir asked. 'Girls in uniforms. Doctors. Policewomen.'
'Why do you know this?' I asked.
'My computer died and I had to borrow his,' Mahir shrugged. 'I checked his files.'
'You better not let him learn about that,' Brett warned. 'He won't be impressed if he finds out you're snooping.'
Mahir held his finger to his lips. 'His secret is safe with me. I don't even say anything when he says 'if you were a good Muslim' and complains to me. I tell him 'God forgives'. His porn means that he agrees. But, because I'm a nice person, I never say 'you have porn', just 'God forgives'.'
'Is that supposed to make sense?' Ramyar asked.
Mahir looked surprised that anyone would question the sense of his statement. 'Yes.'
It was destined to be a good night, and it was. We were all happy and slightly sunburnt from our yardwork, and the restaurant we went to was good and relatively inexpensive and large enough for us to have a good table all to ourselves.
Sometime during the meal we got to talking about men, boyfriends, lovers and pick ups. Mahir confessed to having cheated on his first proper boyfriend and this turned the conversation to 'have you ever cheated or been cheated on?'
'Yes,' said Ramyar. 'I walked in on my ex blowing someone else.'
'What did you do?' Mahir asked.
'Walked out and pretended I didn't see anything. I didn't want to lose him. I suck at finding boyfriends.'
'I ignored Michael's cheating,' Brett said thoughtfully. 'In hindsight, when guys stop hiding what they're doing, it's over.'
'Indeed,' Ramyar agreed. 'If something happens with someone else, it happens. If it repeatedly happens right in front of you because your boyfriend doesn't care, it's very different.'
'My ex, Damon, made this big confession to me about how he cheated,' Brett said. 'I thought 'shut up'. I don't want to hear who you shagged. I don't care if it was good or not. Just shut the fuck up and let me pretend it never happened.'
Mahir laughed. 'You always say that. You always, always tell everyone about his confessing. He was probably feeling guilty.'
'I'm not a priest.'
Mahir rolled his eyes. 'I have no idea why everyone says about priests and confessing.'
'Because Catholics confess their sins to a priest,' I explained. 'Traditionally, you had to confess each time you took communion. That's your wine and wafer.'
'So you have to see the priest to get your wine?' Mahir clarified.
'More or less. Not so much nowadays. I think my church is getting a bit lax.'
'That's very interesting.' Mahir nodded. 'I would love to see this sometime.'
'You're allowed to go and sit in,' I pointed out. 'There are very few churches – any denomination – that wouldn't want you there. You just can't take the wine.'
'Are you thinking of converting?' Ramyar asked.
'Nope.' Mahir moved back as the waitress arrived with our dessert. 'It's interesting, that's all.'
Brett snorted. 'I was actually making a point there.'
'Yes, that you're upset because you date men who stop loving you but feel so bad about it they tell you in great detail,' Mahir said. 'Maybe you should be grateful that they still like you even when they don't love you.'
'Huh. I'll tell you the same thing the next time you get dumped,' his housemate replied.
'Michael dumped you six months ago. You need to get over it.'
'What, so I can go and find someone else who'll stop loving me but, and this is the big bonus, will keep liking me?'
'You're being unreasonable.' Mahir argued. 'It won't happen three times in a row. You can't stay at home and pretend you like being alone forever.'
'Yeah, maybe you should date Mahir,' I suggested sardonically to Brett.
Brett glanced at Mahir. 'Maybe I should. Maybe then he'll got off my back.'
'And you can get on his,' Ramyar added. 'I'd do it.'
'You have,' Mahir said.
'Why so I have,' Ramyar agreed. 'It wasn't bad. You should let Brett take a ride.'
The conversation died a little while we ate our desserts. I glanced up at Ramyar, who arched his eyebrows at me. I grinned at him, amused at the way he could blatantly admit to fucking Mahir without making it sound like he neither particularly disliked or enjoyed it.
Without warning, Mahir burst into laughter. We looked at him quizzically, not understanding the source of his amusement.
'I'm going to climb into bed with Brett again tonight,' he explained.
'Don't,' Brett warned darkly.
Mahir looked at him, surprised at the vehemence. 'Why not?'
Brett shrugged. 'Don't. It's not funny anymore. The joke is over.'
'We have a new couch,' Sam said brightly. 'We're now ready to start inviting lady friends over.'
'Do you have any lady friends?' I asked curiously.
'No,' he replied, dejected. 'Sadly, I do not.'
Despite their lack of 'lady friends', Sam and Ramazan were compatible housemates. They drank a lot, but not too much, and they chased women hard, but not to the point of creepiness. I was happy for them. Sam wouldn't have enjoyed living with me, especially not now I was with Ramyar. He needed a straight guy to hang around with. He needed someone to understand the parts of him that I couldn't hope to comprehend.
Ramyar was having a get-together that night, and I asked Samir and Ramazan if they wanted to come. They declined, but were polite in their reasoning. They liked my boyfriend but honestly, they'd rather look at girls than hang out with gay men.
I wasn't offended. Ramyar had invited a few guys around and included in the guests were Brett, Mohammed and Michael.
We'd drank and joked and someone pulled out a deck of cards and suggested a game of poker. Most of us were fairly incompetent at the game, with the exception of Michael, who was a brilliant player, and Mohammed, who didn't even know the rules.
We bet with the last six pack of premium beers left before we'd have to switch to fourex, and we bet with Ramyar's stash of mini chocolate bars and then, when we were drunk enough to be open to the idea, bet with our clothes.
Ramyar refused to paticipate in anything that involved him possibly removing his shirt. He had his scars and he didn't want to have anyone say 'ew'. The rest of us were more or less okay with getting at least some of our gear off and we slowly started losing a shoe or a sock or our belt. Mohammed, however, well and truly outdid everyone by managing to get down to his undies in less than half an hour.
'I raise you,' one of the guys said. 'Mohammed's undies.'
Mohammed held his head in his hands. 'I'm going to be naked.'
It was an accurate prediction on Mohammed's part. He soon dropped his undies and sat back down, defeated.
'You can still play, Mo,' of the guys suggested. 'We'll give you your jocks back if you win, and you have to take a cold shower if you lose.'
'Fully cold?' Mohammed confirmed.
'Fully cold,' the man confirmed.
Mohammed paused. He was happy to get naked, but not so happy to take a cold shower.
'You can bet with my clothes, if you want,' offered his fully-dressed boyfriend.
Mohammed kissed him. 'I won't lose. I don't want anyone seeing your booty.'
It was a noble statement, but not one that Mohammed could follow through on. Losing his clothes hadn't made him a better poker player, and Michael's situation was worsened when due to a bad hand, he lost another hand. I tried to avoid looking at the duo anymore than I needed to. They were the kind of guys who looked hot naked, and knew it, and perving on them would have been a bad move on several levels.
'I'm out,' one of the guys announced, after having lost his jeans. 'I need some dignity.'
'You're wearing Tweety boxers,' Ramyar teased his friend.
They laughed, and put their chairs together as they got ready to watch the rest of us lose our clothes. Personally, my feelings were similar to the guy who just dropped out. I had only my jeans, shirt and undies left, and planned on leaving the game the minute I lost my shirt. There was only so much I was willing to lose.
The other guys were pretty much the same, and after either losing most of their clothes, or all of them – and being unprepared to risk a cold shower to stay in the game – they dropped out. Soon it was just Brett and Mike and Mohammed at the table, the former in jeans and a shirt, Michael in his undies, and Mohammed butt naked.
Then Michael lost his undies due to Mohammed's foolishness and a cheer went up, everyone convinced that this was the end of the game. We all reached for our clothes and started dressing, before Mohammed called out that he was willing to go further. He was willing to risk the cold shower if it meant getting Brett naked.
I'll admit I was really surprised when Brett agreed. He didn't have much left to lose, and Michael was the strongest player in the group. A couple of wins and he could be naked. Even Michael seemed shocked and asked Brett if he was truly prepared to go further.
'Mike, I'm so convinced I'll kick Mo's arse, I'll bet not only my shirt but my jeans,' Brett replied. 'But if I win, you both take a cold shower.'
'You haven't been dealt you cards,' Michael pointed out.
Mohammed snorted. 'I want to see you bet every damn item you're wearing.'
'Oh really? And what will you be offering me?' Brett inquired.
Mohammed glanced at his boyfriend. He bit his lip. 'Michael. You can have you ex back for the night.'
Brett looked over his ex. There was a lot to look at, and it was all good. Mike was definitely attractive and you could tell that Brett was considering what was on offer. Truthfully, the way Brett was staring at his ex made me a bit nervous.
'What do you say, Brett?' Michael prodded confidently. 'We'll make it a game of twenty-one, to make it easy. Do we have a deal?'
'We have a deal,' Brett agreed.
The cards were dealt. Mohammed asked for another, and then groaned. He was out at twenty-three. Michael grinned. He had two jacks.
Brett grinned and turned over his cards. He had an Ace and a Queen. 'I win.'
Michael laughed and threw his cards at him. 'You arsehole. I so wanted to see you get naked.'
'Never, Mike. Not in a blue moon.'
Mohammed didn't say anything. He was extremely edgy and, I think, regretful. Michael obviously meant something more to him than I'd realised and knowing that he'd be screwing his ex was a terrible blow.
'Once more,' Mohammed said. 'Me and Brett. Twenty-one. Brett wins, he gets my car, but he has to forfeit Mike. If I win, Brett takes his clothes off.'
'Come on,' Mohammed taunted. 'You're always acting like you're a real man, come and prove it.'
Brett fell for the taunt. 'You're on.'
'Ramyar deals,' Mohammed added.
'Fine with me,' Brett agreed.
Ramyar picked up the cards and shuffled. You could feel the tension in the room as he shuffled. Everyone knew this was going to far, had in fact pushed past the boundaries the moment Michael had been put up as collateral. Of all of us, though, only Ramyar had the balls to say something.
'Are you guys sure?' he asked as he prepared to deal. 'Mo?'
Brett nodded, as did Mohammed.
'Deal the cards, Ramyar,' Mohammed ordered. 'You have nothing to worry about.'
Ramyar dealt the cards and waited as the pair decided whether they wanted another hit. Mohammed declined, but Brett, after hesitating, asked for another.
'Is that it?' Ramyar asked Brett. 'You want anymore?'
'No.' Brett replied. 'I've got seventeen. Guess that means it's time to take my clothes off.'
Mohammed went white. 'Fourteen.' He said, laying down a nine and a five.
The one thing I will say for Mohammed is that he was pretty true to his word. On Sunday morning, while Brett was out, he took his car around and left it there.
Brett arrived home that night to find Mohammed's silver Skyline in his driveway and the keys under his doormat. He was amused, he told us, to see the car, and opened it up to have a look. He drove it around the neighbourhood, giving it a good test drive, before returning home and ringing Michael.
I don't know exactly what was said, because I wasn't privy to the conversation – only it's retelling – but I was given a good rundown. Brett told Michael to pass on his thanks for the test drive, and then asked Mike exactly when Mohammed would be returning to collect his vehicle.
'I told him Mohammed was honouring his bet,' Michael would later tell us. 'I honestly thought Brett was serious, you know, about taking me for the night, and then about Mohammed's car. I had no idea he thought it was just a joke.'
Ramyar and I laughed at the story. It wasn't just humourous laughter, we were relieved, too. Ramyar had been extremely uncomfortable with the thought of Mohammed losing his car in a drunken bet, and was pleased to find out we'd just misread the situation.
We never told Brett that we'd thought he was serious. We all let him think that everything – including Michael's seriousness when he rang after finding Mohammed's car in his driveway – was as equally light and humourous to us as it was to him.
We told Mahir about the bet when he returned from Turkey. He was floored that we would think Brett would accept a car 'won' in such dubious circumstances.
'You really don't know Brett,' he sniffed disdainfully.
'Clearly I don't,' Ramyar admitted.
'You can't tell him you thought he was serious,' Mahir warned. 'Ever. You'll hurt his feelings.'
'I figured that,' Ramyar agreed.
Mahir looked satisfied with Ramyar's assurances. 'He's very sweet. He said he missed me while I was in Turkey.'
Mohammed looked up from the TV guide he'd been reading and rolled his eyes. 'He wants to get laid.'
Mahir smiled. 'You're just jealous because you got beaten at cards. Besides, I'm over Brett. I met someone in Turkey. An Aussie man.' He smirked in Mohammed's direction. 'He's even fairer than Michael.'
Mohammed snorted. 'In your dreams.'
It's fair to say I was happy with Ramyar. Things were changing as our relationship developed, but they were changing in a nice way. I was less nervous around him, and more comfortable, comfortable enough to tell him when I'd had a shitty day, or if a patient I particularly liked had passed away, and ask for a hug.
We went out for dinner one Thursday night. I'd worked the last few weekends, and Ramyar had been busy at work, so it was really just an occasion for us to unwind and spend a little time together. I loved being with him, and loved that he felt the same way about me.
He'd come straight from work but he'd removed his tie and rolled his shirt sleeves up. We were at a bistro, not a snooty restaurant, so no one looked twice at his outfit. No one, that is, except for a man with the same thick, coarse black hair and olive skin and brown eyes as me. It was Russell, my oldest brother and the one who'd take over as head of the family when my father passed.
Russell had noticed us, and I had noticed Russell, and soon Ramyar noticed that Russell and I were exchanging looks, and stared curiously at my brother.
'Are you related to that man?' my boyfriend asked.
I nodded. 'He's one of my brothers.'
'Are you going to say hello?'
'No. He can make the first move.'
Ramyar frowned. 'Oh. What if he doesn't?'
'I don't know.' I stared down at my dinner. It was fish and salad. No chips, no garlic bread, and dessert would be fruit and ice-cream. I couldn't eat too much crap without gaining weight, and stuffed if I was going to allow myself to get as heavy as I once was. 'Maybe I should go and say hello.'
I half-grinned. 'You want me to say 'hello', don't you?'
'Fuck yes, Iska. You can't hold a grudge against your own family.'
I wanted to say 'but you family loves you', but refrained. He only wanted what was best for me. He wasn't to know exactly how stubborn they could be, how determined to save their reputation.
Russell watched me make my way over. He half-stood when I arrived, shook my hand, and asked what I was doing here.
'I was having dinner with Ramyar,' I said, gesturing to where my partner was sitting.
Russell glanced over at my lover. 'Is he the engineer?'
I followed his gaze, and nodded. 'Yes. Are you here with anyone?'
'No, not yet. One of my workmates is going to meet me, but he just rang to say he's caught in traffic.'
'There's a crash on the motorway,' I replied.
'So he said.'
'You can come and sit with us, if you want. No one's really met him. Ramyar. The engineer.' I smiled nervously. 'You could be the first.'
Russell sighed. 'Sit down Iska.'
I sat down. 'Why are you and Mum and Dad and everyone acting this way?' I asked.
'Because...' He gestured, stared around helplessly, as though I were an imbecile. 'You are having it off with a man. An Indian man.'
It wasn't surprising that race came into it. In my family's eyes, any potential match must be Lebanese, and a Maronite at that. Lebanese Muslims were thoroughly unacceptable.
'That doesn't matter.' I leaned forward, met his gaze. 'It's always been like this for me. It didn't bother you when you didn't know, so it shouldn't bother you now that you do.'
Russell didn't reply. He didn't even look at me. A waitress delivered a coffee and he tooked it, thanked her, and continued to pretend I wasn't sitting opposite him.
I glanced over at Ramyar. He must have sensed what was going on, because he was looking pretty worried. Poor guy, he wasn't to know what Russell was like. I glanced at my boyfriend again before deciding to take one last shot at Russell.
'Is this it?' I asked harshly. 'You want me to go away and leave you to wait for your mate alone?'
Russell reached into his pocket, and pushed a pen and napkin my way. 'Write down your address?'
'Because Mum has your wedding money. She wants to give it to you.'
This was it. If Mum was going to give me my wedding money – money that she'd deducted from my pay ever since I first started working so I could start my married life debt free – then it was pretty damn clear that my family didn't want to keep in contact. I was being banished. Outcast. Kicked out of their lives once and for all.
I wrote down my address. 'Russ?'
He took the napkin, folded it, and put it in his pocket. 'What?'
He looked shocked but didn't say anything. Or, if he did, I didn't hear it as I brushed past the other tables and other patrons and made my way back to my table. Ramyar gave me a concerned look and immediately asked me what happened.
'I'll tell you later,' I said. 'Can we go?'
He nodded. 'I'm sorry.'
'Don't be. Don't be angry at all.'
It doesn't take a genius to figure out how my catch-up with my brother affected me. I was really miserable about it, really fucking down in the dumps now that I realised just how effectively and easily my family had cut me out.
Maybe deep down I'd always known it would come to this. My parents and extended family aren't tolerant people. They're not the sort of people who can excuse breaks from tradition and alternate lifestyles. My father can't stand loud women, so of course he wouldn't like my loud, gay, boyfriend, even if they did happen to meet.
Christmas was just a few days away and I was really feeling bad about it. I figured Ramyar wouldn't understand; he wasn't Christian and nor was he from a predominantly Christian family. Samir wouldn't even twig that something was amiss. It just wasn't something he'd have cause to realise, and regardless, there was no way I would intervene in his families secular, consumerist version of the holiday. Thankfully, though – and I really mean 'thankfully', because I truly was grateful – Mahir invited Ramyar and I to come around to his and Brett's version of Christmas.
'Why is Mahir celebrating Christmas?' I asked Ramyar. 'He's Muslim. I thought Ben was, too.'
'They are.' Ramyar shrugged. 'It's for Brett and Will and Wafiq's sake. Wafiq wanted to see what Christmas was like.'
'Right,' I grinned. 'Of course. Hasn't it struck you that that guy has been staying with them a while?'
'I think he was staying for a few months, during Will's summer holidays,' Ramyar replied vaguely. 'There are a lot of rumours, though.'
'That he is 'more than Will's friend',' Ramyar replied.
'Don't say anything about it,' Ramyar added hastily. 'Mahir says it would offend Wafiq, even if it was true.'
I understood 'maybe gay, maybe not' Wafiq's position perfectly. I knew how much someone coming from a conservative family had to lose. I knew what actually losing it felt like. We weren't all like Mohammed; guys who were okay with being excommunicated by an abusive family. Some of us had more normal families who simply couldn't accept homosexuality. Some of us were scared of being kicked out of the family group who until now, had supported us.
'Anything else?' I asked.
He nodded. 'It's secret Santa. I already accepted for us and luck you, you scored Ben.'
'Can I swap?'
'No. I've got Mahir and he's already told me what he wants.'
'That's okay, I'll pay for it. You can pay for Ben's present.'
He laughed. 'There is no way in hell I'm going to find a present suitable for a fifteen year old.'
I sighed. 'Fine.'
It was a small price to pay. Besides, a quick call to Brett yielded dividends. He knew of a pair of jeans Ben had been eyeing off but was not in a position to afford, and I picked them up the next day after work.
I worked Christmas morning – four am to twelve – went home for a few hours sleep, then Ramyar and I headed to Brett and Mahir's for Chistmas tea. To tell the truth, I was pretty nervous, but that all changed the moment we arrived.
'Come and look at our tree,' Mahir told us, ushering us in. 'Brett and I made it.'
The tree was a plastic affair covered in tinsel, lights, baubles and candy canes. I thought it was quite nice and expressed my appreciation.
'I've always wanted a Christmas tree,' Mahir admitted. 'There's no reason for me not to have one. Jesus is our prophet, too. God wouldn't want the Christians to hog them all.'
Ramyar was wearing the expression he tended to wear on occasions where Mahir said something so left-field it was almost beyond comprehension. Brett was less subtle and laughed, as did Will. Mahir glanced at the two with affection and shrugged.
'While you're admiring that tree, here are some things to chuck under it,' Ramyar said, handing him a bag.
After a few discussions with Brett, we'd bought not only our secret santa presents, but bits and pieces for everyone else, all neatly wrapped and labled. It turned out to be a good move, because everyone else had done the same.
'There are so many presents we need to start opening them,' Ben said firmly.
'You can wait until after dinner,' Brett corrected. 'You're a muslim, this isn't even your holiday.'
'I go to a Catholic school, prophet hog,' Ben sulked.
'I want presents, too,' Mahir admitted guiltily.
Brett bit back a smile. 'Do whatever you want, Mahir. I was only trying to stick to what we planned.'
Before we'd arrived, I'd been told to check our Will's 'arab friend'. During the present opening, I took the opportunity to discreetly look the guy over. He was around my age, tall – six foot two, possibly an inch more – dark, and very cautious. When I smiled at him, he glanced at Will to gauge his reaction before returning my smile. He wasn't shy, I was fairly certain of that, but he was most certainly unsure of how he was expected to behave.
After we'd opened our presents and had sat down to dinner, I resumed my inspection of the guy. I noticed he was more comfortable now, as though he'd sat through more than a few dinners in Australia and knew what was expected of him, but he was still firmly at Will's side. Did this mean the guy was gay? I couldn't tell. All I knew was that he was certainly from an extremely different culture but had the balls to travel a damn far way from home and stay with a bunch of guys who lived a very different lifestyle, and with his personality, I couldn't imagine him doing it unless Will was something to him.
Later that night, when it was just Brett and Mahir and Ramyar and I sitting outside, we discussed Will and Wafiq.
'He's Will's boyfriend,' Mahir said firmly.
'I would buy that, except that they met at Sharjah airport. Ask Will or Ben about it. They both tell the same story; they were sitting at the airport and Will struck up a conversation with the guy.'
'That means nothing,' Mahir said. 'Will was probably cruising him. Will always looks for men.'
'He does not,' Brett said irritably.
Ramyar took the moment to tell a few home truths. 'Brett, I truly respect you, which is why I'm telling you this. Your kid is a slut.'
'He's not that bad.'
'Brett,' Mahir said firmly. 'I asked him 'how many men have you been with? More than a hundred or less?' and you know what he said? He said 'maybe around seventy or eighty. Do you know how many men I have been with? Either eighteen or nineteen or twenty. Once or twice I was a bit drunk. But Will has been with four times as many and he's six years younger than me.'
'Fine,' Brett said irritably. 'He sleeps around.'
'Don't get angry with me,' Mahir warned. 'I'm only saying the truth.'
Brett glanced at his housemate, very clearly embarrassed. 'Sorry.'
Mahir had a massive level of control over Brett and Ben. I'd noticed it on a few occasions; the way he could bring them down to a level of rationality before things started getting of control.
'Back to the subject,' Mahir said. 'What do you think, Ramyar?'
'About Will? He's a hoe. About Wafiq? He loves the hoe.'
'Iska?' Mahir asked.
'I can't tell,' I admitted. 'I can't imagine why Wafiq would come here if not for Will, though. He looked pretty uncomfortable while everyone was giving presents.'
'He's not normally like that,' Mahir said. 'But you have a good point. There was no reason for Wafiq to come here at this time of year. It's the wrong time of year for Arabs to go on holiday. He came here now because Will is on university holidays and has lots of time to spend with him.'
The back sliding door opened and Will came out, followed by Wafiq.
'It's so hot out here,' Will said. 'How do you stand it?'
We shrugged. It was a lot better than saying 'we were talking about you'.
A couple of weeks later I was on my way to India. It was very nerve-wracking, but Ramyar was absolutely awesome. In fact, for the entire time I was there, he did everything I could have possibly asked for to ensure my stay was comfortable and free from hassle.
Did I enjoy myself? Absolutely. Some of his relatives knew precisely who I was, and others were told I was just a friend, but everyone was super nice to me. So nice that I agreed I would return again with Ramyar and his babies.
With India behind us, it left something more daunting looming. The babies. Two, tiny, vulnerable little creatures that were going to be entirely dependent on my boyfriend. I was woried about what this would mean to us, what it would do to our relationship.
Ramyar and his mother were ridiculously excited. From the moment we hit California it was baby-baby-baby without a break.
'Two days until the c-section,' Ramyar said, during our first night in California. We were lying in bed and he twisted his fingers in mine and smiled at me. 'I'm so glad you came.'
I smiled. 'Are you nervous?'
'Yes,' he admitted. 'It still doesn't seem real.'
'It'll seem real when you're making the final payment tomorrow,' I remarked.
Ramyar laughed. The money was irrelevant to him. 'No. I don't think it will be real until they're actually born.'
I reached under the covers and laid my hand on his stomach. We were staying in a furnished apartment and the sheets were stiff and cold but my boyfriend's torso was warm and firm. I rubbed him absently, wondering if sex was out of the question.
He rolled over onto his side and grinned. 'The lube's probably in the bottom of our suitcases.'
I pulled him on top of me, stared at him. I probably should have said something romantic, but instead I asked 'I can't be bothered finding it. Can you give me head?'
'Sure.' He replied,shuffling under the covers.
Ramyar kissed my chest, my stomach, my cock. He played with me and sucked on me, and when I was about to come, I pulled him away, scared that I would make a noise.
'What?' he whispered.
'I'm going to come.'
'I thought that was the idea.'
'Your mum's in the next room.'
Ramyar wriggled up next to me. 'So you want me to stop?'
'Um,yes. No. You know.'
He laughed and ducked back under the covers. This time, I couldn't have stopped him if I wanted to. He was determined to make me come. I did, too, and I shoved my hands in the mouth so I wouldn't moan, and when he came up for air, I lightly hit him.
My boyfriend grabbed my hand and put it on his hard-on. I wrapped my hand around him and raised my eyebrows.
'Iska,' he complained. 'Come on.'
I stroked him until he came. Afterwards, I helped him clean up and we snuggled together.
'I love you,' he said. 'I'll always love you.'
'I'll always love you, too,' I admitted. I was scared because it was true.
Veema squeezed my hand. 'I'm so happy you came to support my son.'
'It's okay,' I mumbled.
'He's been so different since he met you. He's a lot more confident in himself, and he's more successful at work than ever.'
'He told me he got a bonus.'
'He gives it all to charity,' she said proudly.
This was true. Ramyar gave money to charities and homeless people and anyone who seemed to be in need. He bought fundraising chocolate without complaint, Big Issue magazines that he never read because he wasn't enough of a left-winger to enjoy the articles and even gave money to Mahir to pass along when he heard the uninsured home of a Muslim family burnt down.
A short, rotound lawyer opened his door and waved good-bye to Ramyar, who made his way out.
'All done?' I asked.
'For another week,' Ramyar grinned. 'Hold on a sec, I just need to pay.'
I always thought Australian solicitors were skilled at financially raping their clients, but Ramyar's surrogacy lawyer truly took things to a new level. As I peered over Ramyar's shoulder at the bill, I just about died.
'Now we're done,' Ramyar said, as he signed his credit card slip.
The receptionist didn't even check the signature. I didn't want to think too hard about this, so I didn't say anything at all until we were in the lift, and only then, I tried to raise the topic of cost tactfully.
'Iska, Americans are very litigious. Ramyar needs a good lawyer to make sure everything is in order and no one tries to take the babies back.'
'I doubt that will happen,' Ramyar added. 'But she's right. The firm was recommended to me, and I've heard they're very good.'
'Do many surrogates decide they want to keep the baby?' I asked.
Ramyar shrugged. 'Yeah, but Maria's done this a few times before. I speak to her every couple of weeks. I can't see there being any problems. Actually,' he said. 'I want to get her something, to say thank-you. What do you reckon I should get?'
I hadn't a clue, but Veema suggested a nice piece of jewellery, and maybe something small for Maria's two, biological, children. I thought it was a good idea, and Ramyar agreed, so we headed to a local mall and went shopping.
Jewellery styles really do vary by culture and Ramyar and Veema spent a good hour poring over designs before settling for a necklace that we all deemed 'safe'. The shop assistant had wrapped it up, and my boyfriend had paid the bill, when his mobile rang. It was the surrogacy agency ringing to tell us that Maria had gone into labour an hour ago and delivered the babies so quickly there hadn't been time for a caesarean. There hadn't even been time to get to the hospital she was supposed to go to; instead, she was at a poorer, smaller hospital closer to where she lived.
'We must go,' Veema said.
Ramyar and I didn't argue. We followed Veema outside, hailed a taxi, and made our way to the hospital.
'This is a nice surprise,' I said.
Veema nodded. 'Caesareans cause undue risk to the baby.'
Ramyar took off his glasses and stared at them. 'Not with twins.'
'It would be very bad for Maria,' Veema added. 'My sister had a caesarean.'
'Twenty years ago.' Ramyar argued. 'In India.'
'American hospitals are no better than Indian hospitals.' Veema retorted.
Ramyar laughed. 'Yeah, I was forgetting what great reputations Indian doctors were building for themselves in Australia.'
I laughed, then caught sight of Veema's expression and bit my tongue. 'Sorry,' I apologised.
We made it to the hospital without any more small talk. I was honestly pretty happy that the babies had been born, and were safe and healthy. This way, Ramyar had less time to think and was going to be forced to react. He was going to see his children for the first time and I was praying he'd see his daughter and fall in love with her. Somewhere inside me I was still a little scared he'd be frightened of her.
When we reached the hospital Ramyar insisted on visiting Maria before the babies. I thought this was extremely odd, and evidently Maria felt the same, because she remarked on it the second we sat down in her room.
'I don't want you to think I don't appreciate what you've done,' Ramyar said awkwardly. 'I don't want you to think that I'm going to forget about you. When we first met, I promised you that wouldn't happen.'
She paused. 'You're very kind.'
Ramyar handed her the gift-wrapped necklace. 'Here. I want you to have it.'
Maria took the present slowly but made no move to open it. She peered at Ramyar with blue eyes, trying to establish his motives.
'I'm scared,' he said suddenly, so honestly it made my heart stop. 'I wasn't ready.'
'Were you going to be ready tomorrow?' Maria prodded.
'No. But I would have had a chance to plan what I was going to say to you. I probably could have...' Ramyar shrugged. 'I don't know.'
Veema took her son's hand. 'We should all see the babies together.'
Ramyar didn't take his eyes away from the woman who'd given birth to his children. 'Have you seen them yet?'
Maria shook her head. 'No.'
A representative from the surrogacy agency, one of their lawyers and a doctor arrived before we could make any arrangements to visit the nursery. In combination they managed to hold us up for an hour, poking and prodding and making Ramyar sign that he wouldn't sue because the babies were born naturally instead of by caesarean, before they finally let us go to the nursery.
'Fuck, fuck, fuck,' Ramyar swore. 'I can't go in.'
'I can,' I said, walking into the nursery.
We must have been expected because almost immediately two nurses wheeled over two plastic little cribs, each containing a tiny little baby with dark hair and crinkled skin. I stared at them, trying to find resemblances between the children and their father. They had the same hair and his son had the same nose, but they were very fair skinned.
'Can I pick one up?' I asked Ramyar.
He shrugged. 'If you want.'
I picked up his son. Rajinder, that was going to be his name, and his daughter would be called Jetta. I cradled Rajinder in my arms, thinking of my time at university in the maternity ward. The child didn't wake up, didn't respond other than to move his tiny little arm.
Ramyar cautiously tried to pick up his daughter, decided it was too difficult, and withdrew. Veema made a motherly noise and plucked the little girl from her cot and placed her in her son's arms.
'Man, they're white,' Ramyar said.
I glanced at Ramyar. He was laughing. He was also crying, tears trickling down his face, and I knew it was because he'd wanted this far more than he'd ever let on.
I also knew that for Ramyar and I, things would turn out okay.
'Are you going to live with him?' Samir asked.
'The twins,' I said bluntly. 'I don't want to live with two babies and I doubt he wants me living with him, either.'
'Are you ever going to live with him?'
I looked up from my pasta. 'Maybe. Not at this point in time, though. I'm really not ready to be involved with kids. Hey, I just opened up my first proper savings account you know? I'm not where he is in life. I need a bit more time to myself.'
'Yeah, but man, you went to America with him to pick up the kids.'
'I wanted to support him.'
Samir twirled a spaghetti around his fork. This was his dinner, something he'd made. It was pretty good, too, for someone who hadn't had to cook at home.
I took a sip of my Coke. 'You know how you always used to say you wanted to move out?'
He nodded. 'Yeah.'
'Do you regret it?'
'Damn no, Iska. Ramazan's a breeze to live with.''
'Yeah, I thought that,' I agreed. 'But, y'know, with Ramazan; imagine he's your boyfriend and he suddenly brings home two kids. What would you do?'
Samir understood my point. 'I'd probably move out.'
'That's, you know, how it is with Ramyar. I really like him and all, but I don't want to be anyone's father just yet. I'm not sure if I'll ever want that, but with Ramyar, I think it'll be okay. We had a talk. He knows where I stand on the issue.'
'If you don't want to be anyone's father – and I by don't hold this against you at all – it's better off if you live in your own flat. You can be the cool uncle sort, who comes over and plays with the kids and then goes home.'
'Exactly,' I said. 'At the beginning Ramyar and I were like 'we both want to live together at some stage' but now we've sort of changed. I do shift work and he works crazy hours and has the kids.'
'You still want to stay with him?'
'Shit yes. I don't like people as easily as you like people. I don't think I'd ever find a guy I get on with as much as Ramyar. I mean, I wish he didn't have the kids and I wish he didn't work so many hours, but he's still pretty much it.'
'He's pretty cool.' Samir scraped the last bolognaise out of his bowl. 'You have it good with him and he's got it good with him. You're right, too, about living apart from him. It's like you actually thought this out. That's really good.'
'I, you know, don't want to fuck anyone around.'
Sam grinned. 'You never did that, Iska. You just dated some fucking losers before Ramyar.'
I accepted his point. 'Enough of this shit. You seeing anyone?'
'Nah. Ramazan's sister asked me out but I figured that was a bad idea.'
I cracked up laughing. 'You reckon?'
'Yeah,' he laughed. 'I reckon.'