I was the second of four boys. It was amazing we made it through childhood without our mother killing us. She was a tough lady but she had to be. My older brother, Kahlil, was born in Iran. Mom was pregnant with me but didn’t know it when she and Dad left the tiny desert village they had been living in. We didn’t have much growing up. Dad was rarely home because he worked so much. Idris was two years younger than me and the baby of the family, Taj, was five years younger than me.
When I got out of bed Wednesday morning both of my younger brothers were in the kitchen. Idris was making egg whites and Taj looked like he was going to hurl. I didn’t remember him drinking that much the night before.
“Why are you so white?” I asked my brother. “Too many Jaeger shots?” Idris liked that shit. Despite the fact that he was about to turn thirty, he was still partying like it was his senior year of high school.
“Nah,” he shook his head. “I just got off the phone with Lilah. She said she’s late.”
“So she called you? You’re never on time,” Idris snickered.
“No, fucker, late. Her period is late. She took a test and it looks like you two fuckers are going to be uncles.”
“Mom is going to kill you,” I said. Our parents were pretty traditional. They didn’t really approve of our bachelor lifestyles. As far as they were concerned, all three of us should have been married and having kids already.
“I think Mom is the least of his worries,” Idris said. “That poor kid might look like him.”
“That would be the lucky part,” Taj snickered. “I’m not ready to be a dad, though.”
No, he definitely wasn’t. Taj had a good job and a decent place to live, but he was still a kid mentally. Lilah, on the other hand, was the grown-up in their relationship. She’d get his ass in line.
“Looks like you better get ready,” I said. I didn’t see Lilah having an abortion.
“Don’t listen to him. You don’t have to be involved,” Idris said, earning him a punch on his shoulder from me.
“That’s from Dad,” I said.
“I’m not going to skirt my responsibility, asshole. I also don’t know if I want to be with Lilah for the rest of my life. Fuck.”
“She’s pretty hot, bro,” Idris said.
Of course he’d think that was grounds to keep her around. Idris was an idiot.
“She’s not going to be hot forever, number one. She’s a cool chick, but I don’t love her yet,” he sighed. “I used protection every time.”
“You’re sure it’s yours?” Lilah seemed pretty cool, but I didn’t know her well enough to know if she was the faithful type or if she had a side dude.
“I’m pretty sure. She’s not the cheating kind. Hell, she’s probably too good for me.”
“Maybe you’ll get lucky and she’ll miscarry,” Idris shrugged. I slugged him again. “Ras, seriously!”
“Stop being a dumbass,” I said, shaking my head.
“You need to keep out of this conversation, Idris,” Taj snapped. “This is serious shit and you’re being a fucking idiot.”
“I’m an idiot for saying the truth? You don’t want a kid. She obviously doesn’t either if you were using protection. I just have the balls to say it out loud.”
“It’s not fucking helpful, Idris,” Taj said. “Please, just stop helping.”
“Fine. Fuck up your life. See if I care.” Idris slid his egg whites onto a plate and walked out of the kitchen to take a seat outside on the deck.
I shook my head and poured myself some coffee. Taj rubbed his eyes at the table and asked me, “What am I going to do, Ras?”
As the older brother who didn’t just say whatever was on my mind, it was up to me to help him either see the bright side or at least find a way to be at peace with what was happening. The sad thing was, Idris might have had a point but it wasn’t productive. If Taj started praying for a miscarriage and then Lilah had one he would feel like a murderer. He wouldn’t be able to live with himself if that happened.
“I know it’s a blanket, generic answer, but wait until she’s been to the doctor. Make sure there’s something to freak out about before you start trying to figure out the next twenty years of your life. Did she say how late she is?”
“No. I know she’s on the pill, though so she’s supposed to get her period like clockwork,” he told me.
“I’m no expert on periods but maybe she’s got work stress or something throwing her off,” I suggested. I knew from previous girlfriends that it wasn’t impossible for stress to throw off a girl’s cycle. The whole thing was pretty complicated. I hoped someday I’d have all boys. That I understood.
“No offense, but why couldn’t this happen to you? At least you’re ready to settle down with someone,” Taj said.
“It’s not my time, bro. Maybe this is God’s way of saying it’s time to settle your wild ass down,” I said. “Maybe Lilah is the one and you just don’t know it yet.”
“Once her parents find out it won’t matter. They’re very devout Muslims. A baby outside of marriage won’t work for them.”
“Want me to help you relocate and change your identity?” I offered.
Taj rolled his eyes.
“It’s a viable option. Look, Taj, if you are going to be a dad it’s not the worst thing. There’s way worse stuff you could have to deal with than being a father. Try not to look at this as your life being over. You’re being blessed here,” I pointed out.
“It’s just a lot to process. I wasn’t planning on this happening now. I like Lilah. I’m pretty sure she’ll be a good mother. We’re like four years too soon on having a kid,” he said.
There was nothing I could really say to make things better and we both knew it. As long as I wasn’t a dumbass like Idris, it was all good.
I got up from the table to make myself something to eat and found my phone on the counter with a text message from Suzi. She’d come out to the boat on Saturday, as planned, and spent some time hanging out. I couldn’t tell if she was really interested or if she just wanted to be friends. I was definitely attracted to her but I was trying not to be too pushy. Easier said than done.
Suzi: Hi. Just checking to see how your morning is going 🙂
It was a simple message but it made me smile.
Me: So far so good. Haven’t been up long. How’s your day going?
Suzi: Working. Not great but texting you makes it a little better. It definitely keeps me from doing things I should be doing lol.
Me: Is that a good thing?
It was hard to tell. Why would she text me if she didn’t want to be interrupted or distracted?
Suzi: it’s a I gave myself deadlines and I am doing everything not to meet them thing.
Me: If you haven’t eaten we could meet for breakfast…
That was better than hanging out with one brother who was ready to kill himself and the other who was going to be murdered for being a dumbass.
Suzi: I have eaten but I haven’t had enough coffee yet…
Me: I can meet you at Goblins.
It was my favorite coffee/café in town.
Suzi: I can be there in 30 minutes?
Me: Perfect. I’ll see you then.
I was still smiling when I set my phone down, and of course Taj noticed.
“You swallow a happy pill?”
“I’m going to meet Suzi.”
“Ahhh, the blonde with the legs. I’m surprised Idris didn’t scare her off,” I chuckled.
“She seems to be able to handle herself.” It was necessary with Idris around.
“That’s a good thing. Between Idris and Eric, if she ever meets him, she could be in a lot of trouble.”
“If either of those assholes hits on her, I’m kicking everybody’s ass,” I said seriously.
“They’d just fuck with her. I highly doubt either one of them would seriously hit on your lady, man.”
Eric wouldn’t. Idris… he was a toss-up.
“I’m going to go shower up. You sticking around or going to see your baby mama?”
“I’m going to go see Lilah. She shouldn’t be alone during all this,” he sighed.
“It’s going to be okay, Taj. However it works out, it’s going to be okay. I can tell you there’s a lot worse in the world than a baby.” I’d seen a lot of nasty, gnarly shit in my life. A baby would be a welcome change.
“I know,” Taj agreed. “I’m sure it’ll all work out.”
“You know where to find me if shit goes sideways.” I took my phone with me when I left the room just in case Suzi sent another text.
I hoped my brother would figure things out. Hopefully he and Idris wouldn’t kill each other either. If they did… well, I didn’t want to have to be the one to explain to our mother what happened.
I got to Goblins before Suzi. Since I didn’t know what kind of coffee she liked so I didn’t order her anything. Girly as it might have been, I liked mocha lattes, so that was what I got myself along with a spinach and egg white omelet. I was waiting for the food when Suzi walked in wearing a short sundress with her hair pulled back. She looked gorgeous.
“Good morning,” I said when she approached my table. “You look beautiful.”
“Thank you,” she smiled. When she reached me, she leaned over to kiss my cheek. “I’m glad you’re getting me out of the house for a while.”
“I’m glad you were willing to come out. After the way Idris behaved I’m surprised you want to see me again,” I chuckled.
“You are not your brother,” she laughed as she took a seat across from me. “I can handle guys like him. I used to be a waitress at a truck stop when I was in college.”
“Brave woman. What did you study?” I handed her a menu that lived behind the napkin dispenser.
“I was an English major. I’m a writer,” she answered.
“What kind of writer?”
“Romance,” she informed me.
“Novelist?” Romance novels weren’t my thing so I’d definitely never read anything she wrote.
“Yes, sir,” she smiled. “My grandmother used to read them when she was alive. It’s kind of a nod to her. She’d probably roll over in her grave if she read some of the stuff I write, though.”
“What kind of stuff do you write?”
“Probably not stuff I should talk about in public,” she laughed. “I tend to be very descriptive in the love scenes.”
“There’s nothing wrong with that. That’s part of what gets your audience off, right?” I took a drink of my latte. A waitress approached with my omelet and hash browns.
“May I please get a coffee?” Suzi ordered.
“Sure, I’ll be right back with it. Anything else?” the waitress asked.
“No thank you.” The waitress walked away to get Suzi’s coffee. She looked over at me and replied, “Yes it is, I suppose.”
“That’s good for sales.” I shook some hot sauce onto my eggs and some salt and pepper onto my potatoes.
“Right now I’m working on a new plot. I have a little bit of it outlined, I am just not sure how I want it to end,” she told me.
“What’s it about?” I cut into the omelet and took a bite.
“I don’t have it fully worked out yet. The story is going to be told in first person point of view. It’s about a girl that meets two very opposite, but equally great guys at the same time. She gets into a bit of a relationship with both of them, but that’s as far as I’ve gotten in the outline. I have a lot of her backstory fleshed out, but so far that’s it.”
“That’s an awkward situation waiting to happen,” I smiled. “But I can see how it could be tricky if both guys are giving her what she needs. Eventually someone will have to make a decision, though. I don’t think I could share my girl with someone. If I have feelings for a woman, sharing isn’t an option.”
“It makes for good, graphic love scenes for the readers,” she said. “I am trying to decide still if feelings start to grow for the guys. I think she’s going to end up having equal feelings for both of them. I may have to write a sequel. Readers love sequels,” she giggled as her coffee was delivered.
“You don’t know who she’ll end up with? It would be really interesting if the guys didn’t care and she stayed with both of them. With each of them knowing about the other. I don’t think I’m mature enough for that,” I chuckled.
“My readers would love that,” she said. “Have you ever heard of slash? And not the guitar player from Guns ‘N Roses”
“Uh, no, I don’t think so.”
“It’s male on male action,” she informed me.
“Not my thing,” I smiled. “But hey, if there’s a niche for it, why not get after it?”
“It’s not my thing either,” she smiled. “It gets me paid, though.”
“That’s all that matters, right?” I took another bite of my breakfast. The waitress brought Suzi a giant ass cup of coffee. The mugs at Goblins were ridiculous.
“It does. So, how hungover were your brothers on Sunday? They got pretty smashed.”
“Idris was in bed until the afternoon. Taj is a freak of nature and doesn’t get hangovers,” I laughed. I didn’t want to say anything about the baby until Taj knew for sure. Plus, I didn’t know if he wanted anyone to know about it aside from Idris and me. “I’m getting too old to drink like those two.”
“I haven’t drank like that since I was twenty-five,” she laughed. “That’s when I considered myself too old.”
“I drank kinda heavily for a while when I first got out of the Army. Some messed up stuff was doing its best to haunt me. Me and vodka got a little too close for a while,” I confessed. If it wasn’t for Eric, I might have gone over the deep end.
“How long were you in the Army?”
“Eight years. I enlisted after 9/11.”
“Thank you for your service,” Suzi smiled.
“I don’t think I could have just sat back and watched, you know? I could see the smoke across the river that day. It was… man, I’ll never forget it,” I said. Watching the mass murder of thousands of people, good and innocent people, didn’t sit well with me.
“I don’t think it’s something anyone will forget. I was thirteen at the time and there was a huge fundraiser that we all participated in.”
“Sounds pretty typical for the time,” I nodded. I remembered lots of those for the widows and families of firefighters and other first responders who were killed or injured. “I think just about everyone felt helpless and just wanted to do something. Taj almost wanted to drop out of school. He was the same age as you and other kids kept calling him a terrorist.”
“Man, I couldn’t imagine that,” she frowned.
“It didn’t matter that he was born here, only that he spoke Arabic and had brown skin,” I said. “Now for me, speaking Arabic came in handy overseas. They needed translators.”
“Makes perfect sense,” she nodded before taking a drink of her coffee.
“It was an interesting eight years, that’s for sure.” That was a gross oversimplification of my time in the Army, but I wasn’t in the mood to go through it all. “So what else are you doing today?”
“Grocery shopping this afternoon. I’m not very fun at all,” she laughed.
“A lady’s gotta eat.” I was tempted to invite her to the fights the next night, but I was going to be working so it wasn’t like I’d be able to watch them with her. Besides, she didn’t look like the type to be into MMA fights.
“Very true. Do you have any big plans later?”
“Nope. I’ll be going to work at some point today. The bonus to being a salaried employee is occasionally showing up when I feel like it,” I smirked. Quinn was a good boss. For special events I had to be at a certain place at a certain time, but for day to day stuff, it was more like a show up when I felt like it kind of thing. I appreciated that. Quinn knew I’d get shit done. There was no need to micromanage me.
“Do you want to hang out a little longer after breakfast?”
“Yeah, I’d like to that,” I agreed. She was easy to talk to. It wasn’t that I wasn’t a friendly person, but going off to war changed me. I’d become more of the observant type than the center of attention type. Life of the party Rasul was long gone.
“Great,” she grinned. “It’ll allow me to procrastinate a little longer.”
“It’s too nice of a day to be stuck in the house anyway. This is a perfect boat day.” There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and it was supposed to get into the low eighties for the high.
“Indeed it is. I wouldn’t mind going out on the boat. I don’t have my bikini with me.”
“You don’t need one. We can just sit on the water,” I shrugged. “I love going out to the middle of the lake and just sitting there in the quiet. It’s about as far away from an Iraqi desert as I can get.”
“I bet. Sitting a while would be nice. We could get to know each other a little better too.”
“Yeah, I’d like that too.” I liked what I knew about her so far. She was the creative type, which was good since I dealt with facts all the time. I used them to track people from place to place or to assess risks. Plus, I had long ago snapped out of the jump right into bed with a woman phase. My brother wasn’t wrong when he said I was the one most prepared for a kid. That’s not to say I wanted to be a dad immediately, but if I was in Taj’s shoes I wouldn’t be panicking either. I knew I’d be able to handle it.
I finished my breakfast a few minutes later and paid the check, even though Suzi offered to split it with me. We walked out of Goblins hand in hand, which felt good. It wasn’t a huge step, but it was a step in the right direction.