A few days later, I lay on my bed working on the group project that neither Lacey nor Farrah had bothered to ask about when Jackson burst through my door.
“Gade’s dead. I guess you’re happy now. My dumbass jarhead won’t bother you anymore.”
Jackson shrugged. “Caleb Miller couldn’t leave shit alone. That’s what happened. They say not to talk about shit that happens over there for a reason.”
“What does Caleb have to do with Gade’s death?”
He rocked back and forth from his place inside my door way, shook his head and said, “Just watch it on YouTube. Everyone else is.”
“Jackson, have you been drinking?”
“That’s not funny.” He stormed out of my room.
I closed the book on my bed and moved to my laptop. I typed Gade into Google and the first suggested search was “Gade’s Suicide.” Jackson wasn’t exaggerating. This video had had a lot of hits. An image of Gade popped up, and I clicked play. By the time he was through talking, I didn’t know what to think. He killed another soldier in Iraq—Caleb’s dad—because the other soldier protected a girl Gade was ordered to shoot. The girl escaped. At least there was that. The whole thing made me sick. But the thing that made me sickest of all was that before I met Abrahem, I probably would have thought Michael Miller was a traitor for protecting one of them. Abe once told me a soldier pointed a gun at his little sister. Mirriam was abrasive, but I couldn’t imagine her ever doing anything to get in trouble for. She couldn’t have deserved to have a gun pointed at her.
My phone rang, and I grabbed it. I told Abe to call me when he got here, so I could make sure I got the door before Jackson. With what happened to Gade today, I was worried about what Jackson might do.
“I’m at your door,” Abe said.
I ran downstairs, swung the front door open, and crashed into his chest.
He closed his arms around me. “Someone’s happy to see me. What’s wrong?”
He moved a hand up to my hair, taking a strand of it between his fingers. “Sweetheart, what’s wrong?”
“Can I show you something?”
I moved away from him and slid the phone from my pocket. I opened the YouTube app and showed him the video. Before the video began to play, he asked, “Is he harassing you?”
I shook my head.
“Don’t watch this shit.”
“Watch it, please?”
His eyes narrowed, but he nodded. He watched it to the end then handed the phone back to me. “Don’t watch that again. You don’t need to see it, and, Kailee, you can’t ask me to feel sorry for that guy.”
That wasn’t exactly the response I expected. Abrahem had always been so caring. I couldn’t believe he could watch someone die and not care at all. “He’s dead, Abe.”
Abrahem shrugged. “I don’t care, Kailee. The night he put his hands on you, I wanted to—” His body tensed, and he balled his hands into fists. “He’s lucky throwing him into the wall was all I did.”
My mouth dropped.
“I—I didn’t mean to upset you, but that is so close to what happened to my dad and little sister that I can’t be sorry the bastard’s gone.”
“What did happen to your dad and sister? You never talk about it.”
“Do you really want to know?”
I nodded. Abrahem took my hand, led me to the front porch step, and we sat. “When things got too dangerous in Baghdad, my baba sent us and the maids to his village.”
The word “maids” surprised me. I had always thought people in other countries were poor.
“After a while, it got harder for Baba to get back to the village to see us, so Mirriam snuck out and hitched a ride with workers into the city.”
The more I found out about Mirriam, the more sure I became that she was a basket case.
“So the day she snuck out his hospital got attacked. I wasn’t there to see it, but Mirriam says Baba tried to help a dying man and was shot for it. American soldiers called her a terrorist and tried to shoot at her, but another solider protected her. The only thing I really know is that Mirriam came home covered in blood, and I never saw Baba again.” Tears rolled down his cheeks, and I didn’t know what to do. The guy I watched take out two soldiers and an ROTC brat in the pool hall was crying, and I was helpless.
I leaned forward and wiped the tears off his face. He surprised me when he pulled me into his lap, buried his head in my hair, and sobbed. “Don’t move, Kailee. Please?”
“I’m not going anywhere,” I whispered, but if Jackson walked outside and caught us like this, I wasn’t sure what he would do. That thought pissed me off a little bit, because if one of his friends were wrapped around me like this, he wouldn’t care. He wasn’t protecting me the way Abrahem did Mirriam. He was controlling me.
A couple of minutes later, Abe lifted his face and wiped his eyes. “I’m sorry,” he said.
“Why are you sorry?”
He shook his head. “I should go.”
I didn’t want him to, but Jackson was home. His friend killed himself today because of something that happened in Iraq, and while I thought what happened really was Gade’s fault, I was sure Jackson would blame the “ragheads.”
“Can I come?” That way I would know Abe was okay, but I wouldn’t have to worry about Jackson.
“No, but why don’t you walk to the car with me?” My chest tightened. The only time Abe had ever turned down an opportunity to spend time with me was when he was working. He only went to work this early if someone called in, but if that had happened, he wouldn’t be here.
My face contorted into a wince, and I shook the scowl off my features before he could see it. I followed him to his car, never mentioning that something had changed.
He opened the car door and handed me a manila folder. What is this? I opened it up to find college applications. “Abe?”
“Every school in Texas that accepts late applications. The schools that have fashion design are marked with a Post-it.”
“Thank you.” My heart skipped a beat. He’d put time into this.
“Kailee, I need you to decide where you’re applying soon, so I can fill out my own application.”
“We’re—we’re—” Moving off together? Serious? Planning a future together? My voice caught in the back of my throat, and I didn’t know how to ask what I wanted to know. What I needed to know.
His easy smile came back, though his eyes were still misty. “Not staying here forever.” That answer was enough.
I smiled. “I wonder if I’ve missed cheer tryouts.”
His smile faded. “You can’t cheer.”
What? Why would he say that? “Oh?”
He picked me up and set me on top of the Toyota. “I know what I’m asking you is unreasonable here—”
“At least you know.”
“Let me finish. I know for the U.S. it’s unreasonable, but I’m sorry. I can’t be okay with you jumping around barely dressed.”
I wanted to kick him, but he continued so I figured I’d save it for the end.
“I know you Americans fault Eastern cultures for asking women to cover their hair, and I think you’re right to. But I also know the reason my girlfriend has a blog she doesn’t want anyone to know about and waited until her senior year to take chemistry is because of the amount of skin women show here. You’re not an object, Kailee, and for everyone else to realize that, you have to.”
I wanted to be mad. I knew I was supposed to be angry, but that was the sweetest thing anyone had ever said to me. “Would you break up with me if I cheered?”
He shook his head. “Probably not. I care about you. But I have to be honest with you. I’m not sure I’d be okay with it. We’d probably fight about it a lot.”
“If you would have given me an ultimatum, I would have just done it.”
“I would never give you an ultimatum. I respect your decisions, but it doesn’t mean I have to agree with them or even be okay with them.”
“I know, which is why I won’t cheer. But you suck.”
This time when he smiled, it did touch his eyes. “I can live with that. After school starts in the fall, you’ll be too busy to care. And if you aren’t busy enough, I can keep you preoccupied.”
“Like this.” He leaned in and kissed me, but he pulled away too soon. “I really should go.”
As I watched him drive away, my head spun. I had no idea what to think about Abe’s visit. He was acting strange, but he wanted to go away to college together. I flipped through the half dozen stapled applications in the folder he’d given me. There was a Post-it for every school that had fashion design, like he’d said, but two Post-its for schools with fashion design and pre-med. I saw the application for UNT. It had a pink ballpoint pen taped to it, but only one Post-it. I looked through the offered majors, and there was no pre-med option. But there was a hand drawn arrow pointing up where the premed option should have been. A few more arrows led to a circle around biology.
I closed my eyes and sighed, hoping—praying I read too much into his not wanting me with him today, because I was in love. Not infatuated. Not in lust. In love.