At twenty past six, Michael and Mohammed still hadn't arrived. Ben was prowling around the house, bored and restless. We were supposed to be going for a jog and we couldn't leave until the car had been picked up. Will and Wafiq were God knows where, so I could hardly leave the keys with them.
'I'll send Mike a text message,' I sighed.
Michael responded within a minute, apologising and saying they'd be around at seven.
'That's it, we're going,' Ben grizzled.
'I think that's probably a good idea.'
It's Will who forces us to exercise. Ben has asthma and his lungs need strengthening, he says. I'm inclined to shitty food and no exercise, he adds. And I swear to God, he just looks at us in a way that makes it easier to exercise than to protest.
Ben and I are slow joggers. Other people frequently overtake us. Middle aged women frequently overtake us. I don't particularly care. I hate running. My build is too solid and I weigh too much for it to be comfortable, and I sweat like a pig. Weights I like. Weights are something both Ben and I can do, and something both of us enjoy. It's the cardio that kills.
Mohammed and Michael were waiting for us when we returned. We were sweaty and panting. It was exactly the great impression I wanted to make on my ex-boyfriend. All men like red-faced hairy guys who struggle to run a few kilometres and wear daggy old Asics shoes and faded t-shirts.
Mohammed eyed me up suspiciously as handed over the car keys and registration transfer forms. 'Why are you doing this?'
I shrugged. 'Because I wasn't serious.'
'Everyone seems to think you were.'
'I wasn't.' I glanced at Michael, who was watching me carefully. 'Besides, you were the one who offered your car.'
Mohammed checked over the keys and papers carefully. 'I would have taken your motorcycle if you'd bet that.'
'So Michael says,' I agreed. 'Lucky we're pretty different people.'
I would have said a bit more, but Teagan was around and there are certain bitchy comments that aren't suitable for thirteen year old girls.
'You'd still have Michael if you were like me,' Mohammed gloated.
I ignored him completely and turned to Teagan. 'Did you want a drink?'
'No, I'm fine thank-you,' she replied.
Michael stepped in. 'We should get going,' he said, gazing at Mohammed and then Teagan.
They were like his perfect little family. Mohammed was preened and good-looking, and Teagan was preened and little-girl pretty and on the vast majority of occasions actually listened when Michael spoke . Honestly, at times like these I wondered why I even started things with Michael. There was no way I was ever going to hold onto someone who could achieve a level of picture-perfectness that I could only dream of.
I waved good-bye and went inside. Ben was in the shower and I could hear the washing machine reaching the end of the cycle. The answering machine's red button glowed, signalling that there were new messages. I pressed the button to listen and waited for the first message.
'Brett, this is Mahir. You should have come to Turkey with me. It's cold and all the men are out and you'd love it, I promise you. Anyway, I come back to Brisbane on Friday night. Please pick me up at the international airport at seven-thirty. Miss you and Ben!'
I saved the message and went to attend to the washing. There always seemed to be a mountain of washing in the laundry and I had no sooner hung out the wet load than I was putting another load through the washing machine. Ben poked his head in the laundry as I was setting the cycle and asked if I wanted him to cook dinner.
'Go for you life,' I said. 'You want a hand?'
'If you want,' he shrugged.
Ben was pretty much the household cook. Four or five nights a week he made dinner, and the food was always yummy. A lot of it was vegetarian, involving lentils and chickpeas and eggplant and rice, which sounds absolutely revolting, but it was still great food. It was also cheap. His mother – before she passed away – had never had much money and he could cook on a budget. I liked this aspect because, as is frequently pointed out, I'm a cheap bastard.
Will and Wafiq arrived home, with Will's friend Roman as our guest, in time to set the table. I realised our 'dinner for four' probably wouldn't stretch to feed five, and threw some bake at home rolls in the oven and put a tub of butter on the table. Dessert would be ice-cream, preferably served in cones rather than bowls to reduce the amount of washing up that had to be done afterwards.
'We got approved for the apartment at West End,' Will told me. 'We've moving in in seven weeks.'
'You're all moving in?' I confirmed.
'Yup,' Roman grinned. 'You should see this place, Brett. We never thought we'd get it, but the estate agent said most people thought it was too old-fashioned to be worth the rent.'
'And you're not moving in for another seven weeks?' I prodded.
'There's a shortage of rentals,' Roman replied breezily.
'Oh,' I said. 'So I've heard. I didn't realise it had come to this.'
'I'll show you pictures,' Will added, pulling out a sheaf of papers.
I glanced at the real estate agent's photos of the apartment. It was an older style building, large and sprawling and rendered white, but it was clean and the gardens were low-maintenance and well-designed. The apartment itself was two levels, half-renovated, with an old polished wooden staircase, great carpet and a large, upstairs, living room.
'The design is a bit odd, but it looks nice,' I admitted.
'It's dark in the kitchen,' Will added. 'It's a great location and the rent is okay. Anyway, um, could you, um, maybe help us move in?'
'Of course. I'll hire a truck and we can do the move ourselves. I assume we can pick up everything Roman needs from his mother's house?'
'Brett, I would love you if you could do that,' Roman agreed excitedly. 'I do not want to organise a moving truck.'
Secretly, I was a bit pleased Will and Wafiq were moving out. The house was getting a bit crowded, especially when Mahir was around, and I suspected that Will tended to behave irresponsibly because he knew I was his fall back. If I was firmer about what I expected from him, he was more likely to put some effort into keeping himself out of trouble and taking responsibility for himself.
'How many bedrooms does this place have?' Ben asked as he served up the pilaf.
'Three,' Will replied quickly, knowing what Ben was insinuating. 'I'll take the smallest one.'
'How are you going to cope financially?' I questioned, knowing that Will would only be working one day a week when university started again in a few weeks.
'Um, Austudy and my job I guess,' he replied. 'I also have some money saved up.'
'I thought you wanted to use that to buy a motorcycle?' I prodded.
'I think that'll have to wait,' he replied.
I nodded. 'We'll talk about this later tonight. We can work something out.'
'You're giving him money?' Ben prodded.
We ignored Ben. I was glad to see Wafiq was catching on and looking less uncomfortable around the guys. When he first arrived, six weeks ago, he was like a lamb to the slaughter. He didn't understand why people were doing and saying the things they did, and in an effort to make a good impression, found himself in some uneasy situations. Of course, now that he'd survived the worst of it without losing his temper or showing any outward signs of frustration, he'd gained a lot of respect. As soon as he'd learnt how to laugh at himself, he'd be set.
I stared at dark-haired, dark-eyed Wafiq and wondered for possibly the millionth time if he was Will's lover. I wasn't alone in my curiosity; just about everyone questioned their relationship. Everyone thought it peculiar that they would draw each other into their lives so deeply and thoroughly, and have so much trust in each other, if they were simply friends. Besides, I've worked in the Emirates – the same place Wafiq is from – and I can count on one hand the number of white western men who were friends with the Emiratis. It was baffling that Will and Wafiq could only be friends.
Later that night, when Will and I were alone in the study, I asked him, quite directly, what his relationship was with Wafiq.
'Why are you asking?' he questioned, his cheeks flaming.
'Well, because if you are in a relationship with him I would imagine it could get quite difficult. You're from entirely different cultures. You probably both would have different expectations. I'm not saying I could necessarily help you, but I'd always be here if you needed to talk.'
'Brett, when I met Wafiq I was on my way to Turkey to meet up with Ahmet. I loved Ahmet.'
'But you're not with Ahmet any more.'
Will twisted his hands nervously. 'It doesn't matter. I'm not having sex with Wafiq. He's not my boyfriend. If you even suggested this to him, he'd be really embarrassed.'
'He seems to know you're gay,' I pointed out mildly.
'He's known for ages.' Will leant on the computer table and groaned. 'Brett, please don't ask me about this. You always know when I'm with someone.'
'Only because I ask you, or you're caught out.'
He shook his head. 'That's not it. I... I don't know. Wafiq's straight. If I ever find a boyfriend again, I'll take him straight home to you, even if just to prove I'm not having it off with my friends.'
I touched his arm. He didn't flinch, which was a nice change from 'Will before he went overseas'. I was glad he could now let you touch him without jumping a mile. 'Never mind, Will. It's your business and your business only. My only concern is that you don't feel like you're all alone.'
'I know I'm not,' he said, flashing a smile. 'Really.'
'That's good,' I agreed. 'Now, onto you moving out. Have you spoken to Michael about this?'
Will nodded. 'He said he'd pay for my registration and insurance on my motorcycle.'
'Fair enough. I'll pay for your motorcycle – one we choose together, mind you,' I qualified, remembered that what Will thought he could safely ride was not necessarily indicative of his skills. 'I'm not sponsoring you financially, though. I'll pay for your course and textbooks but you can use your wages and Austudy to pay for food and any day to day living can pay for any emergencies out of your savings.'
He looked slightly disappointed and I knew he wanted more, but damned if he was going to get it. He was going to graduate university debt free and as far as I was concerned, that was enough of a bonus. I wasn't going to short change myself so he didn't have to think about how much each beer cost him.
'Okay. Thanks for that.'
'You're welcome.' I replied, standing up. 'Good night, Will. I've had enough of today and I'm going to bed.'
I left work at early in the afternoon on Friday so I'd have a chance to go home and shower before I went to the airport to pick up Mahir.
Will was working, but Wafiq was at home studying his textbooks in preparation for his upcoming course. I showered and changed and by the time I was done Ben was home from school, with one of his friends in tow.
I peered at Ben's scones, which the trio were eating with jam and whipped cream. I thought it looked pretty good and, knowing that Ben had cooked them at school in his home economics class, asked him what grade they'd earned him.
'B,' he replied simply.
I picked one up and bit it. It tasted good; not too floury and slightly sweeter than usual due to the dates he'd mixed in. 'Why didn't you get an A?'
'The teacher bit into one. He bit a date seed.'
'I thought the dates we bought were pitted?' I questioned.
'Me too,' he agreed. 'Most of them are. Just not the one that the teacher bit.'
Wafiq and Ben's mate laughed. Wafiq thought it was very odd – he had remarked upon it several times this week alone – that Ben's all-boys school would offer a home economics course and moreover, that thirty boys would elect to take it. Still, he was very accepting of western peculiarities, and Ben, in turn, more or less respected him. I realised I would probably miss these moments when Will and Wafiq moved out, these little exchanges and the continual, mostly friendly, company.
'It doesn't matter,' Ben said. 'Today was the last day of school before holidays, so although I only got a B, it wasn't an official grade.'
'So you're on holidays for six weeks now?' I prodded. I was lousy at keeping track of school terms.
'Uh-huh. I'm going to be working for a lot of it, but if I get desperate I'll hang out with Will and Wafiq,' he grinned.
I laughed. 'I'm heading off,' I said, grabbing one more scone and layering jam and cream on it. 'Are you guys going to be alright?'
'We'll be fine,' Ben assured me. 'Pete was going to stay over tonight. I'll make up the trundle bed and we'll cook dinner. What time will you and Mahir be back?'
'His flight's due in at eight, so at the very earliest we'll be back around ten.'
I grabbed Mahir's car keys and made my way out the door. Mahir had made me promise to collect him in his car rather than my little runabout. He was Turkish; he had pride, he proclaimed. My twenty-five year old hatchback that I'd bought from a family member for a hundred bucks was far too embarrassing to be seen in. It was fit more for the junkyard than the freeway, where it was inevitably overtaken by every other vehicle.
The drive to the airport was relatively painless. I parked, went inside, realised I had an hour before his flight was due in (a whole ten minutes ahead of schedule) and bought a magazine and a coffee. The funny thing was, I was kind of looking forward to Mahir's return. He was incredibly, painfully annoying at times and he made me want to pull my hair out in frustration, but he was also a ton of fun. He made me laugh. He invited his ten million crazy friends over and insisted on feeding them until they swore they could fit no more, and then he offered them dessert. He regularly hosted what non-Turks called 'Turkey night', an event in celebration of what he referred to as the 'only country better than Australia'. No matter what he was doing, he tried to make it fun and he did his best to make everyone feel included.
He was a little shorter than me, with dark hair and hazel eyes and a nice, happy face. Mahir wasn't handsome, but he did know how to dress, and I was often surprised that he didn't have men chasing him down. I remarked upon this sometimes, but I never got a straight answer. Mostly, I was just teased, asked why I didn't ask Mahir out on a date if I thought he was that special.
I hung back from the other waiting families, but peered out waiting for Mahir to appear, more eager than any of them. When I saw him I called out and waved my arms, pushing through the crowds. He was carrying more bags than I thought humanly possible and the second he saw me he dropped them and hugged me.
'It's good to see you,' I muttered. 'I hope you had a good time.'
'Brett, I had a great time,' he grinned, his accent stronger than usual. 'I bought you gifts. Here,' he said, proferring one of the bags. 'All for you.'
I was touched. 'Thanks.'
'I got you sour cherry jam and a new shirt. Well, four shirts,' he corrected.
There are rumours that Mahir 'likes' me. I never know what to make of them. In some ways, I'm flattered but I largely hope they're an exaggeration or misconception of something Mahir's once said. I don't want to pack up and move once more, and besides that, I would last approximately one week in a relationship with Mahir. He earns a hunded and sixty k a year but is always broke by payday. He fails to pay essential bills, resulting in delightful experiences such as when our gas was cut off and we had no hot water and no way to cook for two days. On top of this, he can't stand physical imperfections and I, by nature, get a really hairy back. I don't think I could maintain the type of dedication to waxing that would be necessary if I dated someone like Mahir. I figure a couple of waxes a year is good enough, something Michael was very good about tolerating.
'Did you meet any nice men?' I inquired.
'Brett, it was Turkey. You sit in a bar and all the foreign tourists come in and stare at you and buy you drinks.'
I knew the latter was a sure fire way to win Mahir's affections. 'How many men bought you drinks?'
He pulled an expression of mock outrage. 'Brett! Only a few. One was an Aussie. I made him buy me six drinks.' He smiled smugly. A lot of local Aussies wouldn't go near him once they learnt he was a Turkish muslim. Turks were nice to fuck in Turkey, but not so great to date in Brisbane. 'He said 'I live on the Gold Coast, I will call you when we both return to Australia after Christmas'. I said he was a liar and he laughed at me.'
'Did you give him your number?'
Mahir shrugged. 'He won't call.'
'He might. What's he like?'
'His name is Kevin and he is just out of university. Far too young.' Mahir laughed. 'He has no job yet, no money.'