A sports car sat at the curb in front of my house. Ommy worked nights and I was driving her car, so someone was at the house with Mirriam. I sighed. At least, it wasn’t that punk across the street. He didn’t drive a sports car, and he would have just crossed the street. I prepared to take care of whoever was at the house alone with my little sister, but the beams of white the headlights poured in front of me revealed three dark figures in my driveway. I couldn’t even see the backs of their heads because they wore hoodies. It was only April, but it was Texas. They weren’t wearing hoodies to stay warm. They didn’t want to be seen, and Mirriam was in that house alone. If something happens to my little sister…
Two houses away from home, I called Mirriam. She answered on the first ring, and I knew something was wrong. Talking to me was never at the top of her priorities.
“What’s wrong?” she asked. An unusual way to answer the phone, but there was too much background noise for her to be at home. Thank God.
“Where are you? I’m coming to get you.” I was glad she wasn’t home for this group of thugs, but I didn’t want her out alone either.
“At the hospital.”
My chest tightened. I was too late. Something had already happened. “Oh my God. Are you okay? Mirriam, tell me you’re okay?”
“I’m fine. What happened?”
“Why are you at the hospital?”
“Caleb got hit by a car, and I was with him.”
“Thank God.” I sighed realizing I said I was glad that punk got hit by a car. I didn’t mean that, he was a good kid. But my sister was safe. “Is he okay?”
“What is going on? Tell me what happened?”
“Have you heard from Ommy?” She was supposed to be at work. If she was, Mirriam would know. If not, God I hoped she was all right.
“She’s here. She’s working. What’s going on?”
“Don’t worry about it.” I hit “end and pulled up close to the rear end of the pink car parked in front of my house.
I grabbed the baseball bat I tucked under the passenger seat, in case I ever needed it. I still couldn’t believe she moved us to a military town. It was like being Jewish and moving into the middle of a Nazi clan. Two of the three guys in my driveway ran in opposite directions. The third dropped something, and turned to face the car.
My garage door now read, “Ragheads Go Home!” in metallic pink letters the same shade as the car at the curb. The exclamation mark was dotted with a heart. This was the strangest group of vandals I’d ever seen. My jaw clenched as I looked at the piece of shit who did this. I was ready to kick his ass. Ommy and Mirriam would be terrified. But he looked up at me, made eye contact for the first time. He was a girl, and she was crying.
“I’m sorry,” she sobbed. “I’ve never done anything like this before.”
“Uh—” I stammered not knowing what to say. I refused to tell her it was okay. Nothing about this was okay. Still, she looked so fragile as she hugged herself now. She must have fallen at some point, because that red clay mud was caked on her jeans, and something about a small, crying girl with red goo clinging to her reminded me of the day my sister came home after surviving a terrorist attack. I should have been furious, but I only wanted her to stop crying.
“Are you friends with the girl that lives here?”
I didn’t miss that last phrase—the girl that lives here. Something told me this had more to do with Mirriam than with us being Iraqi. I was tempted to ask what she’d done now, but I couldn’t imagine Mirriam doing anything to warrant this. “Sometimes.”
“I’ll—I’ll pay for the door. Just please don’t call the police. My daddy will kill me, and he already hates me.” She cried harder. “I’m really sorry. I’ve never done anything like this before, but that little raghead chick stole my boyfriend.”
There was that word again. The same one staring me in the face from my garage door. But I couldn’t tell her how angry it made me, or that we weren’t even Muslim, because all I could think about was how ridiculous this was. I laughed.
The girl’s head darted up from the oil stain on the driveway she’d been staring at.
“My sister doesn’t date. She definitely doesn’t date white kids, especially not white kids in a military town.” It was all true. I wasn’t stupid. Mirriam would have dated a couple of times, if things were different back home. She went for good guys though, and good guys wouldn’t date a girl. And if I was ever worried about it, I would have just caught the guy alone and taken care of it before the problem ever started. But my sister hated having to be here more than I did. No way did she steal this girl’s boyfriend, and the girl vandalized our house over it.
She wiped tears from her face and stared me straight in the eye. Her jaw clenched and her muscles tightened. No longer the pathetic crying girl after being caught, she was pissed. “She’s with him now.”
“She’s at the hospital with her friend,” I said.
The girl’s jaw dropped and her eyes grew wide. “Caleb’s hurt?”
Now I laughed harder.
“What? It’s not funny—”
“Mirriam hates that kid. She’s not dating him. They have a project together.”
“If Caleb Miller takes you out, he’s not looking for tutoring. But whatever you think.”
He walked around with a swagger, and his driveway was always full of other punks’ cars. She was probably right.
She attempted to walk past me but fell to her knees. Before I could kneel down to help her up, she was crying again. “It wasn’t supposed to go like this. He was supposed to love me.”
There was more to this than what she said. I knew it. I can’t believe I’m feeling sorry for the girl who tagged my garage. I knelt down to offer her my hand. She took it and pulled herself up, but then collapsed onto the grass again. “I lost my keys!” she screamed as she crawled around in the grass, her hands outstretched in front of her.
Her hand almost touched the keys twice. Somehow she kept missing them. I bent down and picked up the keys. “Have you been drinking?”
“Not that much.”
“You don’t need to be driving. I’ll take you home.”
“If I come home without my car, my daddy will kill me. He’ll know I was drinking. And if Mirriam sees the car, she’ll call the police on me.”
I sighed. She was wrong. Mirriam wouldn’t call the police. She’d drag her out of her house and kick her ass. “I’ll take care of Mirriam.”
“I can’t leave my car here.”
“You’re not going to make it home if you drive.”
She got to her feet and stared up at me. “I don’t know what to do.”
She sounded like a lost little girl. I couldn’t believe I was doing this. “I’ll drive your car home and walk back.” How far could it really be? Killeen wasn’t that big.
“That’s ridiculous. I’ll pay for your cab.”
I laughed. No way in hell would I let a girl pay for my cab. “I’ll get a cab.” I took her arm, and she gasped. She was right. I shouldn’t have touched her or I should’ve at least asked first. Geez. I’d been here too long. I let go of her wrist and backed slowly away from her. “I’m sorry. I wasn’t sure you could make it back to your car without slapping the ground again.”
“You caught me taggin’ your house. Why are you being so nice to me?”
That was a good question. “You look like you’ve had a bad day. Can I help you to the car?”
She nodded. “Thank you.”
I took her hand in mine and led her to her car.