With everyone gone, Ommy went on and on in Arabic about how she couldn’t believe we would do this to her. Her husband died, and she took care of both of us on her own, and we were supposed to behave while she worked. Not run around dating random people. White kids at that.
Kailee was not some random girl. And dating—it didn’t feel like the right word to describe our relationship. But telling Ommy that would only make matters worse. I turned up the TV so the English would drown her out. I couldn’t follow both languages at once. It was too much in my head. She knew what I was doing, so she switched to English.
“I’m not surprised about your sister. Mirriam has always been a handful, but I expect more out of you. If anyone finds out about this, how will I get you married?”
I wished Baba were here. He was more reasonable than Ommy when it came to things like this. But he wasn’t here, and my mom was way too conservative. I did the only thing left to do and turned it around on her. “Ommy, did you have an arranged marriage?”
She smiled. “Yes.”
“Right. Because Baba didn’t ask his baba to call yours and make the marriage after the two of you already decided to get married.”
“We were only friends before that.”
“Kailee is my friend.” I was tempted to tell her if she waited several years, she could call Kailee’s dad and arrange my marriage the same way, but he wouldn’t have the time to pick up the phone. And Ommy would want to talk to her mom, and that would start another line of questioning. Finally she would tell me Kailee was a waste of time, because her parents are divorced and her mom took off on her. That would be the day I disowned my mom. So while my smart ass comment would have been appropriate, I kept it to myself. “Ommy, I’m more worried about what to do with Mirriam. I need to figure out what to do with her, and you need to stop acting like a victim and help me.”
“Abrahem, I’m your mother. Don’t you dare speak to me that way. Of course, I cannot believe you would do this to me. If your father were here—”
“But he’s not. And I take care of things. I’m sorry you’re upset that I’ve found a life outside of you and Mirriam, but that’s not up for debate right now, okay?”
She sighed. “You’re right. It’s worse for Mirriam, but we’re not done with this conversation.”
Yes, we are.
“So how will we handle Mirriam?”
“I have no idea. That punk’s dad is the one that saved her. He’s probably guilting her.”
Ommy shook her head. “I do not think we can let her go off to college. If she cannot behave here, she cannot behave on her own.”
“We can’t keep her from school. Mirriam needs a way to be independent. She’s too rebellious to do anything else, and Baba planned for her to go to school.”
“I’m worried about this.” She turned off the TV and sat down beside me.
“About all of us. If those same men are here…”
“Ommy, it’s already on YouTube. If we’ve been okay so far, I don’t think we have anything to worry about.” I hoped. Because I wasn’t leaving until Kailee did.
She sighed. “I think we need to get her married.”
And now I realized Mirriam was not the most ridiculous woman I lived with. “She’s seventeen.”
Ommy shook her head. “I know. But are you going to follow her to school? Because, otherwise, I don’t know what to do with her. And kids here think they do not need to listen to their families after they are eighteen. After her birthday, it’s only going to get worse.”
“You can’t do this.”
“So you will follow her to school and take care of her?”
I sighed. No. I’m following Kailee. “Ommy—”
“You think that kid across the street is a good match for her then? He’ll take care of her, and you are going to encourage this?”
“No way in hell.”
“Watch your language. And if you do not support my decision to marry her to someone proper, who can take care of her, you are allowing the nonsense she’s already involved in.”
Oh God. She would have to put it like that. Mirriam is going to hate me. I shook my head. “I have a friend at John Hopkins. I’ll take care of it.”
“You’ll have to talk to his parents, and she’s seventeen.”
“I know. I’ll make it work.” I headed to my room to start making phone calls.
I turned to face my mom.
“I know you think because your father is gone, you don’t have to respect me, but you have to leave that white girl alone at least until Mirriam is married. You’ll never be able to get her married if his family finds out you’re dating.”
Then this was going to have to happen very soon. Kailee already thought I didn’t love her because I never told my family about her. How could I convince her I loved her while making sure she wasn’t around during my sister’s wedding? And I had to take care of Mirriam. She was my responsibility.
I went to my room, sat down at my desk, and prepared to beg before negotiating.
“Hello?” Rahim answered.
“Hey, what’s up?” Damn I sound lame.
“Not much. What’s wrong, Abrahem?”
Shit. Smooth. Real smooth. “What do you think about my little sister?”
“She’s cool, I guess.” He paused. “Did my mom put you up to this?”
His parents were trying to get him married then. I had that going for me. “No, she didn’t. But Mirriam is about to graduate, and I’m not going to be around to take care of her… ”
“And she’s always been a hellion.”
Right. This was not going well. “She’s just spirited.”
“How old is she?”
“Just so we’re clear. Are you asking me to marry your little sister?” he asked.
“I don’t want her in a dorm.”
“I’m eight years older than her.”
I grinned. “When you’re old, she’ll still be young.”
“She bloodied my nose.”
“You like feisty girls,” I said.
“Not really. And she’s not even through with high school,” Rahim said.
“She has money for college, and I can give you a reasonable wedding gift.”
“If I marry your sister, I’ll take care of her. Did you just offer me dowry?”
I didn’t answer.
“Abrahem, I’m going to kick your ass. How much trouble is she in?”
“Then why are we talking?”
I sighed. “She kissed a white guy that lives across the street, and I can’t follow her to college.”
“Is she still scrawny with knobby knees?”
“I don’t know! I don’t check my sister out.”
“Send me a picture.”
“Hang on.” I logged into my Google and sent him a picture of Mirriam.
“Hmm. She grew up fast.” He was happier about that than I would have liked.
“That is my sister!”
“You called me.”
My phone made an annoying noise to let me know I was getting another call. I held it away from my ear to see who it was. Kailee. I couldn’t take it right now though. “I know. So?”
“You’re going to have to call my baba. And if he doesn’t go for it right away tell him I asked you to call because she had another offer and I’ve had my eye on her for a while.”
“Thank you.” Kailee beeped in again. “Rahim, I’m getting a call I have to take.”
“Well, come back, because I want a wedding gift.” This couldn’t be good.
I swapped calls. “Sweetheart, I’m on the other line. Can I call you back?”
“Abe, I don’t know what to do—”
“Babe, I’m arranging Mirriam’s marriage. Can I call you back?”
“Oh my God! She’s eighteen! I thought girls weren’t objects?”
“Kailee, I won’t be around to take care of her forever—”
“You know what? Your sister doesn’t want an arranged marriage. She’s perfectly happy being Caleb’s arm candy, and it’s her decision. I need you right now. It can’t really wait. But I know where I rank, so you just go play matchmaker.” Dial tone.
That went well. This was going to involve groveling. I swapped the call back. “So the wedding gift?”
“I want a Willie Nelson autographed guitar.”
I exhaled. He had to be joking. “Are you serious?”
He laughed. “You’re not far from Austin.”
“If I can’t get it?”
“I’ll take care of Mirriam. Don’t worry about it, but have fun talking to my parents. They’re staying with Amira right now, so you’ll have to call her.” Rahim laughed again. “Don’t suppose you’d like to marry her?”
Oh God. I hope he’s not serious. “Uh—I’m not available.”
“Umm—I have—I’m committed.”
“Oh? I hadn’t heard. Who is she? And don’t you want to finish school first?”
“I intend to. Rahim, she’s American. My Ommy knows we’re dating, but not more than that. I haven’t proposed or anything, but I don’t plan on giving her up.”
He was quiet for a minute. “I wouldn’t mention it to my parents. You know how they feel about Americans.”
I sighed. “I wasn’t ready to mention it to mine. But you’re cool, right?”
“Yeah, man. But you owe me.” He was right. “Abrahem, before you get too caught up in this girl, you know it’s not like back home. Relationships are trends here.”
“I know, but I don’t think this is a trend for her.”
“It’s none of my business, but don’t get hurt.”
“Thanks. Rahim, are you sure about this? I know it’s a lot to ask.”
“My parents want to arrange my marriage. At least I know Mirriam.”
“Cool. Hey, I need to call your parents.” I hung up and dialed Amira’s number. His parents took some convincing, but Amira was ecstatic. They had been waiting to start looking for her until her brother was married. His mother made one demand. The wedding had to happen this week, while they were in the U.S. She wanted to be here to see it.
There was only one thing left to do, and I wasn’t looking forward to it. I went and knocked on Mirriam’s door.
The conversation started out as well as I’d expected. Mirriam took a few jabs at Kailee, before I made it clear I wasn’t going to tolerate that. I tried to reason with her, explain to her why she couldn’t date Caleb, but she refused to see logic. I picked a guy for her I knew would take care of her, and one she liked. She didn’t thank me for it, though. Instead, she said she hated me. I closed my eyes, and the words Kailee said the night we met echoed through my head. “In six months she’ll be burnt out and used up.” Mirriam could hate me if she wanted to, but I wouldn’t watch that happen to my little sister. Still, she was sobbing now, so I felt horrible.
“When?” she asked. “When are you going to steal my future and ruin my life?”
She was so melodramatic, I couldn’t help but laugh. “I’m not stealing your future or ruining your life. I did this to secure your future and keep you from ruining your life. We’ll have your wedding the day after graduation. You’ll be back in the northeast in a week’s time, and you can start college in the fall.”
“I’m going to hang myself.”
“Mirriam, shut up.”
“I will. I swear it.”
I didn’t really believe it, but Mirriam loved to do things just to show me she could, so I wasn’t willing to test it. “You talk like that again, and I’ll take your door off the hinges”
“I hate you! You’re such a tyrant.”
“But I take care of you.” I walked out of her room making sure to leave the door open. I turned back and looked at her. “If this door closes, I’ll take it off the hinges.”
She flipped me off. Something she never did before we came here, but whatever.