Decree of Hope

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Kailee

For the first time, I saw Caleb’s bloody face. I put my hand on Abe’s bicep, and he stiffened. My chest tightened. This was different. Usually, he leaned into my touch. “Sweetheart, be nice to your sister’s friend.”

The only answer he offered was a nod.

Caleb’s eyes flickered to me. This was the most uncomfortable situation I’d ever been in. The only boy I’d ever truly loved was in the same room with the only boy I’d ever had sex with. This had to be a recipe for disaster. Every eye in the room was on me. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and leaned into Abe, expecting a strong arm to circle me, support me. Instead, he moved slightly back.

“Sweetheart? So this has been going on for a while!” Mirriam glared at Abe.

A switch flipped in my head. The joke was on the dumb blonde. All of a sudden, I knew why he was so hesitant to touch me today, and why he was acting so strange. It was no longer awkward to be in the same room with both him and Caleb, because they were the same guy. Abe’s betrayal somehow stabbed deeper than what Caleb had done. “You—you never even mentioned me. Not even casually. That’s why my name echoed through the room earlier. You—”

He tried to grab me, but I pushed down the bile rising in my throat and ran for the door.

“Kailee, wait!” He followed after me, but there was nothing to wait for.

Hands clasped around my waist as I was about to cross the threshold. He couldn’t let me escape into the night, hop in my car, and drive away. That would be too easy.

“Sweetheart—”

“Abrahem, let me go, please.”

But he didn’t. He pulled me into him and those strong arms closed around me.

“Why are you holding her so close?” The accent was way too thick. It wasn’t Mirriam. I looked up to see who said that, an older woman. She had to be their mom. He pulled away.

I smiled at him with tears in my eyes. “I’m not a girl you take home to mama, am I?”

“Kailee—”

“It’s okay. I’m leaving.”

As I headed to my car, I heard shouting in Arabic. I stopped at the curb for a moment to blink tears out of my eyes. I knew I couldn’t drive like this. I buried my head in my hands and sobbed. Something gripped my waist, and the next thing I knew my body crashed into his. He was holding me.

“It’s not what it seems like.”

“What? That I’m your dirty little secret?”

The Arabic shouting continued. He sighed and pressed his lips to my hair. “She wants me to come in, but we’ll talk before I go to bed tonight. I promise.”

“She seems—really nice… ”

“Kailee, arranged marriages are still common back home. She found out both of her kids are dating and dating Americans, in the same night. And what Mirriam did—it’s enough to ruin her for life.”

“But you’re not in Iraq anymore.” I laughed. “American girl. I’ve been called worse.” Then I processed his words. “Arranged marriages are still common. Were you planning on telling me that?” I kicked myself. All of the research I’d been doing for the government project, I should have known. But I focused on politics not culture. “You—you asked me to go off to college with you. But you usually wouldn’t make decisions around someone your family doesn’t even know about. Was—was anything you said to me true?” Hot tears spilled down my cheeks.

“Kailee, I love you. I am going to college with you.”

“Why is this the first time you’ve said it? And when were you going to tell your family about me?”

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