Mirriam was conveniently too “sick” for school for two days after Kailee came to the gas station that night. When she decided she was “feeling better” she took moping to a new level. Two tubs of pistachio ice cream disappeared in as many days, and I refused to drive to an import store to buy it again.
Two weeks later, she sat on the back porch under the Texas sun in sweats, holding a hot cup of coffee. True, it got hotter back home, but not much hotter, and Mirriam had never sat outside in it. I needed to know what was wrong with my little sister, and every time I got close to asking she went silent and stormed off. If I found out this had something to do with that punk across the street, I’d rearrange his face. What he did to Kailee was bad enough, but I didn’t know her when it happened. When I met him, he seemed like a nice guy. But if he hurt my little sister, he wouldn’t live to tell about it.
I was worried about Mirriam, but I promised Kailee we would go to her cheap prom dress store in Dallas today. She had to dress those stupid mannequins. We were supposed to go last week, but I stalled because something was wrong with Mirriam. When I tried that today, she told me to bring Mirriam with me. Maybe it would be good for her to get out. I couldn’t tell Kailee I still hadn’t told my family about her, so I had to go and pretend everything was okay.
I stole another look at my pathetic sister on the back porch and grabbed the keys to head out the door and hit the Indian store—because there was no Mediterranean store—for more pistachio ice cream before leaving with Kailee. That punk limped into my yard, leaning on a golf club as I walked to the car. “Do you need something?”
“I need to talk to Mirriam about our project,” he said.
“You should have called. I don’t think you should be walking around. Are you okay? You look like shit.”
“Uh, I’m fine.”
Yeah, if I find out you’re what’s wrong with my little sister, you won’t be. “She’s in the back. Go through the gate. It’s closer.” The punk started for the gate, but I couldn’t leave it at that. “Caleb?”
“My little sister doesn’t date.”
Talking to this kid made me wonder if he was really trying something on Mirriam. I knew what happened with Kailee, still I trusted something about him. “It’s a warning, not an accusation.” I needed to lighten up on the kid. He did just get hit by a car. “I won’t be gone long. I’ll give you a ride home. You really shouldn’t be walking around.”
I went to the Indian store to replace Mirriam’s ice cream—something she’d never notice, much less appreciate—and headed home. The house was quiet and too free of zmals to be housing both Mirriam and a friend. It made me wonder what they were up to. I put the ice cream in the freezer then moved to the patio door and pulled the blinds open. They sat on the porch swing closer than I would have liked, but he wasn’t touching her. He said something about this project loud enough for me to know this was not what they had been talking about, but she almost smiled for the first time in two weeks. While the smile never spread to the corners of her mouth, I thought she was better off with him here than without him here. So Caleb Miller got to live, at least until I found out what happened to my sister.
I stepped away from the door and headed back for the car. I had to meet Kailee. Abrahem, you left your little sister alone with that punk. I hope you don’t regret this.
Four hours later, I stood inside an outlet Dillard’s watching Kailee hold up prom dresses. “What do you think?” she asked.
You look good in anything. “When is prom?”
“In a couple of weeks.”
“Do you want to go?”
Her cheeks filled with color and she smiled. “Are you asking me?”
“I can’t ask you. That’s the problem, but if you would like to go, I’m okay with it.” I couldn’t believe what I was about to say, but I fought past the burning in my throat and said it. “If you want to go with someone else, I won’t stop you. And I won’t hold it against you later.”
She dropped both dresses and formed her hands into fists at her sides. Her eyes grew wide. “Did—did you say it’s okay for me to date someone else?”
That was not what I meant. But the panic in her eyes set the fire in my heart at ease. I placed a hand on either side of that little blonde girl’s waist. “I don’t want to you go anywhere with someone who is not me. But I can’t do this for you, and I don’t want you to miss out on anything because you’re dating a freaking foreigner.” I shook my head. “I’ll bite the bullet and take you. I’m just going to have to take Mirriam, too.”
“She’s not allowed to date, and I can’t go to her prom and not let her go.”
Kailee set her hands on my chest. “Mirriam is dating Caleb, and I don’t think she would go to prom with you if she weren’t. But it doesn’t matter because I don’t want to go.”
“We’re shopping for prom dresses. And why do you think my sister is dating that punk?”
“Because she is. And the dresses are for my dummies. I love the dresses, but I don’t feel a need to be there this year. I’ve lost all my friends with everything that has happened since January, and I’m happier this way. I don’t feel a need to go stand behind Farrah and Lacey, so they can trash every other girl there. Besides, my favorite way to spend a weekend is with you.”
She was so open with her feelings. I never said things like this to her, and she deserved more. I cupped her chin with my hand, tilted her head back, and kissed her. I came so close to saying something I couldn’t take back it was ridiculous. “I I—care about you so much, Kailee.”
She bit her lip, moved her hands to her hips, and gave me the kind of half smile that let me know she knew exactly what I wanted to say. I was so close to saying it right here in the middle of this crowded department store.
“There is something I want to do other than prom,” she said, and I halfway thought she was throwing something at me to make me feel better about not taking her to her prom.
“What?” Because whatever it is, it’s done.
“I want to go line dancing.”
I didn’t see that one coming from my fashion blogger. “Line dancing?”
She crossed her arms in front of her chest and nodded. “You have to wear a cowboy hat.” She threw something at me all right.
“If I don’t?”
She sighed. “Then I’ll be the only girl there without a cowboy.”
I couldn’t help but laugh. “Kailee, you’re killing me.”
“Are we goin’ line dancing?” Her Texas twang was the thickest I had ever heard it.
I groaned. “Are you teaching me to dance?”
She grinned and the image of me in a Stetson was almost worth it.
After Kailee bought her dresses, we headed to a Turkish restaurant with Iraqi menu items for lunch. On the way her phone rang, and she answered.
“Hello?” Kailee was silent for a moment, but her face tightened. She opened her purse and pulled out a piece of paper. Rustling the paper over the phone, she said, “I’m sorry. I can’t hear you. You’re breaking up. Hello? Hello? Hello? Okay, I can’t hear you. Sorry.” She hung up.
I turned my head to see Kailee.
“You don’t want to know,” she said.
“I really do.”
“The police again. They’re calling daily now. They’re saying if I don’t pick up the phone, they’re coming to talk to me.”
“You’ve got to talk to Jackson. You have to find out what he did, and you’ve got to quit trying to cover for him. Kailee, please don’t get yourself in trouble. Please?” I couldn’t lose anyone else.
The next morning I texted Kailee on my way home from work like always. She usually wasn’t awake for my messages, but today she responded, “Good morning how was your night.”
“Good. Why are you up?”
“Blogging. What r u doing today?”
“Sleeping and church at some point.” But the sleeping part had to come first. Kailee hadn’t responded after a couple of minutes. She would at some point, but right now I was too tired to care. I’d worry about it when I got home.
Ommy had last night off, so when I got home she was up and making breakfast for Mirriam who sat in a chair at the table.
Ommy smiled at me. “How was your night?”
Miriam spared me a glance. She rarely smiled anymore. I sat down beside her. “Did you sleep last night?”
She gave a slight shake of her head.
“You want to talk about it sometime?”
“Talk about what?”
I shrugged. “Whatever you’re moping around about.”
She laughed. “You wouldn’t get it.”
Of course not. “Okay.”
Ommy comes to the table with a plate of hot bread. “I’ll get the yogurt.” “Abe, I think we should go for church in Austin today. They have an Assyrian church. They call it Maronite Catholic. But it’s Assyrian. It’s in Aramaic just like back home.”
“Ommy, I’m not driving all the way to Austin to go to church. We can go to a Catholic church here. I’m tired.”
“But we’re not Catholic.”
“If a Maronite Catholic church is the same as an Assyrian church, apparently we are.”
“We are not! They just call it that here.”
“We’re Catholic today.”
“Abrahem, I’m your mother.”
“Ommy—” I was seconds from telling her that she needed to quit ordering me around, because I was doing the best I could. It would have blown up into a huge argument, but Kailee saved me. My phone buzzed. “I could come to church with you.” Right. Except then you would know I still haven’t told my family about you. I typed “It’s in Austin and it’s in Aramaic. There is no point in you sitting through that. I don’t want to. I’ll see you later though.”
Ommy sat beside me. “What were you saying before you were preoccupied with that phone?”
I smiled at her. “We’re going to the Assyrian church today.”
She beamed. “You are such a good son. Thank you.”
I was tempted to ask her to write that first part down.