Sorry, I've been slack:(
Mahir and I were having lunch together. It was Friday, and we were both relaxed, happy. We would have been drinking, but that was against company policy, so instead we nibbled at our prawn cocktails and sipped our juices.
'Living with Kevin is a breeze,' Mahir remaked airily.
'Yes. No noise or mess and I can invite my friends over whenever I want.'
I paused, on guard. 'Are you suggesting that you don't want to live with Ben and I anymore?'
He shrugged, but didn't meet my eye. 'That might be a possibility.'
'Oh. I see.' I laid my fork down, my good mood gone.
'It's mainly because of Kevin,' he offered hurriedly. 'Maybe if I had a different boyfriend I would feel differently.'
'It's okay. You don't need to explain anything Mahir,' I forced myself to smile at him, to pretend I wasn't offended, hurt or worried even though I was really all of these things. 'What, um, what were you proposing we do about the house?'
He casually picked at his salad and I could tell he'd been thinking about this for some time, certainly much longer than the couple of weeks he'd been living with his lover.
'Maybe you could buy my half from me,' he remarked nonchalently.
'I see. How much would you be wanting?'
'Only what I owe,' he said. 'Kevin's father is a mortgage broker. He said it wouldn't be fair to ask any more of you, because you would have to pay some fees.'
He went on to outline what he owed – less than I expected, to be honest – and the fees that Kevin's father predicted would be payable – which were higher than I expected. Overall, though, I would be able to manage, quite easily. My new position saw to that. If I'd still been working at the council I would have been up shit creek without a paddle and for the first time since I'd started my new role, I mentally thanked Ramyar.
'Okay,' I agreed. 'When did you want to organise this?'
His eyes told me 'as soon as possible', so even when his mouth said 'maybe later', I suggested an earlier date. I also asked about the possibility of Kevin's father organising the transaction, to which Mahir advised that the man had already offered his services.
I thought this would make Mahir happy and I think he expected to be happy, but now that everything was set to proceed, he looked glum.
'Is something the matter?' I asked.
He met my gaze. 'Most of the time, I love Kevin. And sometimes, it makes me sad. My brothers and sisters love children. They love family. I love my family,' he said emphatically. 'Kevin complains about them. He complains about the children, about my nieces and nephews, and he doesn't like them visiting.'
I nodded. 'You'll have to visit them at their houses.'
'They always used to visit me, visit us.' He seemed mournful, regretful that his lover didn't understand what his family meant to him. Then, suddenly, he snapped himself out of it. 'Australians,' he said, as though this explained everything.
I picked up my fork and stabbed the last of my prawns. The enormity of what was going on was slowly sinking in and I wanted to distract myself from reality as much as possible.
'Well,' I said, as I chewed my prawn. 'I suppose that means Mohammed's definitely going to have to move out. I only ever allowed him to stay because of you. If it's going to be my house, he's going to have to get his act together.'
'Well, yes,' Mahir agreed.
He went slightly pink, though, and I knew he was about to spring something on me. I was right.
'But if I'm not there, Mohammed and his children can stay a little longer,' he added. 'That would be nice for everyone.'
'Nice for everyone?' I repeated disbelievingly. I'm a sucker, but I'm not enough of one to agree to Mohammed staying on longer than we'd planned. 'Do you not remember how Ben feels about him?'
'You told Ramyar everything was fine,' Mahir protested.
'It is. It's fine because there's an end in sight. Mohammed's taking care of his kids, and he's got a job, so he should be able to organise somewhere else to live this weekend.'
Mahir sighed. 'He has no furniture.'
'We can sort that out.'
'He will die without your help. He'll spend all his money.'
'He's an adult. He'll figure out that you need to spend less than you earn.'
'I can't believe you're doing this!'
'Doing what? Helping him be a responsible adult?'
Mahir sighed again. 'Whatever.'
Over the weekend Mohammed not only found and leased a small villa, but procured a houseful of furniture for the total cost of two hundred dollars, which was given as a donation to the Heart Foundation.
He had Will's friend Roman to thank for the latter. One of Roman's distant Aunts – a philanthropist, unlike her living kin - had passed away recently and the family felt awkward about selling the furniture. How could they sell their dead aunt's property when the aunt herself would have insisted it be given away? And her relatives would have given it away, but none of the charity organisations were willing to come and collect the furniture, so instead the items had stayed in someone's garage, covered in dust and spiderwebs.
We moved the furniture in on Sunday, and Mohammed and I returned on Monday night to clean it up while Ben babysat Mo's kids. Everything was filthy, but underneath the grime was extremely well made, designer furniture.
'If this was Saudi Arabia, this furniture would have gone to the tip,' Mohammed remarked as he scrubbed a table.
'I hope you're joking,' I said very sincerely. 'This is worth a fortune. You could sell this stuff for at least ten grand.'
'It's humiliating,' he said shortly.
'No, humiliating is letting your housemate see you naked,' I replied, rankled both at his lack of gratitude and the fact that yesterday he'd walked into the laundry, fresh from the shower, and gotten dressed in clean clothes while I was trying to scrub a wine stain out of one of my business shirts.
He rolled his eyes. 'You wanna know how many men have seen Will naked?'
'We're not talking about Will,' I snapped. 'We're talking about your attitude towards a houseful of furniture and the fact that I do not want to see your penis.'
Mohammed sighed. 'It's only a dick.'
'I didn't need to see it.'
'I'm sorry. I didn't mean it to be offensive or anything.'
I relented slightly. 'I'm a bit prudish.'
'You are. It's funny that you raised Will, because he's a lot of fun.'
Just the way he said it made me really uncomfortable. 'Are you trying to tell me something?'
He glanced cautiously in my direction. 'I slept with him on Saturday night.'
'I don't care. God, Mohammed, just end this conversation right now.'
He was silent for a couple of minutes before adding 'He started it.'
'I thought I said I didn't want to talk about it?'
'I want to tell you. I don't want you blaming me. He wanted it as much as I did.'
'Listen to me; I don't fucking care.'
'But you do,' he argued restlessly. 'Brett, before I moved in with you, I didn't like you and I didn't respect you and I would have slept with him to spite you. But you've been really good to me. Forgiven me for...everthing. It would kill me if you thought I did this to annoy you.'
I threw down my cloth. 'You know what's annoying me?'
He shook his head.
'The fact that you're talking about having sex with one of my kids,' I exploded. 'If someone slept with Layla, would you want to hear about it? Would you want some idiot telling you that she seduced him, and that they both enjoyed it?'
A smile tugged at the corner of his lips. 'I'd kill him. I'd tear his eyes out, even if he was married to her.'
I gestured to him as if to say 'well there you go'. Mohammed's smile widened and he returned to his cleaning with new vigour.
I shook my head in disgust. I may not have hated Mohammed as much as I once did, but I certainly couldn't imagine voluntarily being friends with him. Still, I figured that now that we'd crossed the boundary-which-no-parent-wishes-to-cross, I'd grill him a bit on something that was bothering me.
'Could I ask you a question?' I asked. 'And could you promise not to tell anyone I asked you?'
I thought the second part might be a bit of a stretch, but Mohammed nodded.
'Ask away,' he said.
'You know Will's mate from the Emirates?'
'The weird guy?'
I paused. 'Why do you think he's weird?'
He shrugged. 'He's religious. Guys like him normally go into training to be an Imam.'
'Wafiq's always worked for his family business.'
'As I said; odd. There's a lot of prestige in having an Imam in the family. At least where I come from there is,' he shrugged.
'Do you think maybe he's not an Imam because he's gay?'
He shook his head but didn't say anything. At least, he didn't verbally speak, although the expression on his face told me he thought I was demented.
'Is it obvious?' I asked.
Mohammed rolled his eyes. 'He's not gay, Brett. He's normal. Sexually normal, but not mentally like an Arab.'
'I actually think he's quite nice,' I argued.
'He is. As I said; not like an Arab. Not like a westerner, either. He reminds me of Ramyar's mum. Have you met her? She's pretty cool. More open-minded than Wafiq, but still the same sort of desire to be good.'
I nodded, accepted this. I'd met Ramyar's mother, and could see the familiar link between her and Wafiq; the accepting nature, the way they put on a smile and made you feel welcome even when they were in a difficult or uncomfortable situation.
Suddenly, Mohammed laughed. 'You think Will's banging him,huh?' He pissed himself laughing. 'You really think that, don't you? Man, you Australians read everything into nothing and miss the fucking obvious. If Wafiq was gay, Will wouldn't be his mate. Will can't be friends with poofters because he'd try and shag them. That's why his friends are straight. That's why, Brett, because the only way Will knows the boundaries is when the boundary is laid out in front of him, clear as day.'
'So this is now your house and your house only,' Michael remarked, looking around. 'How does it feel?'
'Empty,' I admitted. 'It's just me and Ben.' I paused, coughed. 'Maybe, one day, you and Teag could consider moving back in.'
Michael strummed his fingers on the dining table. 'I can't,' he admitted. 'Now with Teagan, not just yet. I spoke to her psychiatrist...'
'And she said?'
'We spoke to Teagan. Tried to tell her what the boundaries are. That's a hard thing to do. How do you tell someone 'don't hit on men' when, really, flirting with boys is what teenage girls do? I feel like I'm setting us up for trouble.' He gestured helplessly. 'I'm tired, Brett. I'm sick and tired of this.'
I reached out across the table and held his hand. I was disappointed, but I'd kind of expected a rejection. I knew what the deal was, and I was grown up enough to suck it up and ask about the teenaged girl who was currently staying with her maternal, biological grandparents for the weekend. 'You're doing a good job, Mikey. No one could ask more from you.'
He laughed nervously. 'I'm still mad at her.'
'Tha'ts okay,' I said encouragingly, stroking his fingers. 'You put a lot of effort in.'
Ben wandered into the room, a can of soft drink in his hand. He sat and the table and looked at us expectantly.
'Were you talking about me?' he asked suspiciously, noting our awkward silence.
'We were talking about Teagan,' Michael corrected calmly, coolly, but not unkindly. 'We were talking about how it might be best if Teagan and I stay in our apartment for a while.'
'Oh.' Ben nodded, lifted the tab off his Pasito and took a swig. 'Right.'
Michael and I raised our eyebrows at each other. Ben noticed our expressions and demanded to know their meaning. Again, Michael and I exchanged looks.
'What?' Ben demanded.
'You always make me feel so welcome,' Mikey remarked to him. 'Which is funny when you remember that it was me that agreed to take you in.'
'That's because you hadn't met me,' Ben replied.
At precisely the same moment in time, the dark humour of Ben's comment struck us. We laughed, all of us, mainly because we knew what Ben said was true but we certainly didn't regret him being around.
Ben pushed his hair back out of his face. It was getting too long, and I hated it long. It was thick and coarse and looked messy, and every few months the school – who obviously agreed with my sentiments – emailed me asking if I could find the time to take him to a barber.
'How is your cat going?' Michael inquired as the feline in question padded across the room and wound herself around Ben's legs.
'Oh, she's good,' Ben grinned, patting her. He was thrilled, absolutely thrilled, that Mizzy was okay. 'She doesn't need tablets any more. My puncture wounds from her teeth and claws are starting to heal.'
'Is she any friendlier?' Mikey asked.
'Not to Brett,' Ben laughed. 'I told her the other night that she had to be nice to him because she cost a bomb. She didn't listen.'
Mizzy loved Ben. She let him pat her and play with her and she didn't bat an eyelid when he kissed her, which he did quite frequently. Needless to say, she only rarely tolerated my affection and probably would have bolted had I tried to kiss her, something which I can assure you I wouldn't do in a blue moon.
'I'd be happy if she just stopped scratching things,' I pointed out. 'I bought her a scratching post.'
Ben grinned, stood up, his cat in his arms. 'I bet her scratching post is worth more than the curtains. Maybe you should have just bought more curtains.'
This wasn't true at all. I'd checked the price of curtains and they were extremely expensive for two flaps of material that hung down from a piece of dowling. It actually made me consider investing in the curtain manufacture industry.
Nonetheless, Ben had had enough of the conversation – I'm guessing he realised we weren't discussing anything that would have negative repercussions for him – and with that, had had enough of Michael and I.
'Are you going to foster any more kids?' Michael asked curiously.
I shook my head. 'I don't think so. You?'
'No. Not a chance.' He smiled, met my eye. 'If you were straight, or had married a woman, would you have wanted kids?'
'Would you have married someone who didn't want them?' he prodded.
That made me think. 'Maybe,' I admitted. 'I probably wouldn't have been happy, but if it had been a female version of you... then I would have agreed not to have any.'
He nodded faintly. 'You offer to give up so much, but when I'm with you, all I want is the small stuff.'
I took the hint. 'What do you want?'
Michael shrugged. 'I want to know what you're planning on doing, career wise.'
'That would be up Ramyar,' I admitted.
'How can it be 'up to Ramyar'?' he questioned, annoyed. 'Why can't you tell him you want to stay in Australia?'
'Business trips overseas are part of my role,' I argued. 'You know that.'
'If you know that, then say it. If you know you'll be gone for six months, tell me that, too.'
'I don't know that, and I can't promise that, either,' I replied, ruffled. 'I like my job. I like working. It's not a personal affront to you or Ben, although you both seem to think it is.'
'Maybe we miss you,' he replied, in a taunting voice.
I drummed my fingers on the table. I knew he was itching for an argument. 'Mikey, don't fight with me.'
'Yes, you are,' I exploded. 'I'm tired of this shit. You, Ramyar, Mohammed, Ben, you all have a go at me and keep pissing me off until I'm angry. There's no need for this. Say what you're thinking or ask me your question in a normal tone. I'm not inhuman. You get angry; I'll get angry and you know it, you want it. Stop driving me crazy because you want to work out your frustration with a fight.'
He stared at me, eyes wide.
'Don't,' I warned. 'Don't go there.'
He nodded, withdrew from the fight. 'I'm sorry.'
'Me too, Mikey. Me too.'
We lay in bed together, naked and cold.
'Where's the blanket?' Michael whispered.
I got out of bed and retrieved it from the floor. I fluffed it up and threw it over the bed, over Mike. Then I crawled on top of him, over the blanket, and lay own with my body pressed against his, separated only by the doona. I kissed and he kindly obliged me, which was a bit unusual because after sex he's not normally interested in much affection. It's generally orgasm, a quick clean up and a peck, then sleep.
He even hugged me. He stroked my back and my butt and I distractedly rubbed the same to check out how hairy I currently was. The situation was acceptable; my back was fine and my butt wasn't spikey.
'I love you even when you're as hairy as a gorilla,' he whispered, guessing at what I was doing.
I smiled, kissed his chin. 'Good. I love you even though you're lacking the body hair you need to be considered a real man.'
He lightly smacked me on the rear. 'I grow it and you know it. I just don't keep it.'
'Sure, whatever you reckon.'
He laughed, then wriggled out from underneath me. He held out the blanket, inviting me to join him under it, and I scooted underneath. God, winter sucked and it hadn't even officially started.
Michael held me against him. We lay on our sides and he moved so close to me our faces were almost touching. I thought he might be about to say something romantic, but instead he asked 'what was it like when you were sleeping with Eleanor?'
'What was it like?' I repeated, puzzed. 'You know what's it's like.'
His reply sounds mean, and it is a bit, but I knew he didn't mean to be terribly insulting. 'I've never fucked a fat girl,' he said.
'In which case, I stand corrected; you don't know what it's like. If you weren't with me, I'd suggest you go and try it. It's like being with the opposite of you; you're hard, they're soft, you're rough; they're smooth. Then there's the tits. Ellie has terrific tits.'
He sighed wearily. I didn't say anything, just cuddled him and thought about sex with my ex-girlfriend.
'You're getting a boner thinking about her,' Michael accused.
'Mmm,' I nuzzled his neck. 'You would too, if you'd been where I've been.'
He sat up, pushed me off. 'You've never spoken about anyone that way before.'
'You speak about men that way all the time.'
'That's different.' He lay against the bedhead. 'Oh God,' he said, laughing at himself. 'This is stupid. I'm so jealous of her. I never used to be, not when she was with whatever-his-name-was. I barely even noticed her.'
'You didn't even notice her boobs?' I joked.
'No!' Michael laughed awkwardly, embarrassed. 'I had no idea how many men found her attractive. I always though of her as being an ordinary, overweight woman.'
'So who thinks she's attractive besides Ramazan and me?' I pestered, curious.
He shook his head. 'So many of Mahir's rellies. All the guys, the Turks.'
'It's obviously a preference thing,' I shrugged. 'Unlike Mohammed, whom everyone know is gorgeous.'
'Were you jealous?' Michael asked hopefully.
'Extremely,' I confirmed. 'Extremely.'
He grinned. 'Good, because you still have a hard-on and it annoys me to realise that it's the thought of shagging Eleanor that's causing it.'
'Well,' I started hopefully, laying on top of him. 'If you like, you can be the one that gets rid of it.'
'What an honor.'
'Are you up for it?'
'Sure,' he said. 'Why not?'
Why not indeed, I thought, as I busied myself with the fantasy that it was actually my ex-girlfriend I was fucking. I knew Michael knew what I was thinking, but I knew damn well he'd also forgive me for it.