I was exhausted from everything that had happened and working twelve hours last night, not that I could complain. I needed to make up some hours from all those days I spent trying to get Kailee out of jail, but when she asked me to come over I couldn’t say no. I needed every chance I could get.
Two hours later, I was at Kailee’s house. She opened the door in fitted black capris and a tank top that I really hoped she didn’t wear outside without a jacket. My instinct was to grab her and hug her, but since she freaked out on me I’d been following her lead. I settled for, “You look nice,” which was stupid because Kailee knew she was beautiful.
She smiled. “Thank you.”
“What am I here for?”
I nodded and walked past her to the couch. She sat down beside me. “What’s going on?” I asked.
She shrugged. “I’m not exactly sure, but when Jackson gets here we’ll find out.”
“Kailee, this is a bad idea.” Rana held Wayne in the armchair beside the couch. She had been so quiet until now I hadn’t noticed she was there.
Ten minutes later, Jackson walked through the door. “Thanks for bustin’ me out, baby sister.” His eyes landed on Rana’s face. “What the hell is Benedict Arnold doing here?”
Rana’s face fell. “What’s a benedict?” she whispered.
Her guess was as good as mine.
His eyes fixated on Rana. “Get out.”
She stood up with the baby in her arms. “Jackson, we have to talk.”
“After what you did, we have nothing to talk about. You’re lucky I didn’t shoot you.”
Tears rolled down Rana’s face. “You’ll wake the baby,” she whispered.
What could have happened? This guy is star struck and she came across the world to find him, so what could be so bad?
His eyes landed on the baby. “You had a baby?”
“I don’t even know you anymore. Is it—Is the baby—”
Rana’s mouth dropped. She handed the baby to Kailee. “You stupid American. You did not ask me that! I hate you!” She jumped over the couch and stood under Jackson’s nose. “How dare you say that to me?”
“Rana, you killed my friend. You’re a traitor. Excuse me if I’m not sure I was your only boyfriend.”
She slapped him so hard it rung. His eyes went wild like he wanted to kill her, and I flew across the room between them. “Rana, go sit down.”
“Now!” I growled. I was harsher with her than I should have been, but I was trying to keep Jackson from killing her.
She moved back to the armchair and sat. Jackson tried to follow her, but I blocked him. “Stay here.”
He glared at me. “It’s my house.”
“And I’m keeping you out of jail.”
“I didn’t ask you to.”
He spun around and put his fist through the door. Rana shrieked, Kailee made some high pitched sound, and the baby wailed. This was insane. This wasn’t my family, yet I was the one holding the room together.
“Jackson, you’re a man. You have to keep it together. You’re scaring the girls and the baby—your baby. You don’t want to be like your parents.” It was low. Kailee was in the room, and I didn’t know what she would think about it, but I didn’t know what else to do.
He did the one thing I had no idea how to respond to. The one thing I didn’t see coming. He turned away from the door to face me, and he cried. He cried so hard he leaned to the side, and I grabbed his arm to steady him. “She killed my friend. I loved her, man. Loved her. And she killed my friend. I couldn’t even take her in. I had the terrorist and I let her go, because she got to me. I knew what they did to terrorists, and I couldn’t let it happen.” He fell to his knees sobbing.
When Rana stood up, she was sobbing, too. She took a step forward, but I shook my head at her. “Stay there.”
“He had a gun! He had a gun, and he was in my territory.” Territory? Was this girl a rebel? “What was I supposed to do? Wait for him to kill me? Would that have been better, Jackson?”
Jackson pulled himself to his feet. “You’re a murderer.”
She wiped her eyes. “And what are you? How many ragheads did you kill?”
The baby screamed so loud nothing else could be heard. I looked at Kailee. The tension in this room wouldn’t ease anytime soon, and that kid was terrified. She nodded at me and took the baby through the house. She stopped before leaving the room and looked back, “You two can cremate each other. I don’t care. Anyone who touches the Iraqi answers to me.”
Jackson gritted his teeth. “It was kill or be killed.”
“You might not know this, BUT I WAS LIVING IN A WARZONE TOO!”
I looked at Jackson. “Take a deep breath.” I didn’t expect him to, but he did it. “I don’t mean to get in the middle of anything, but she’s right. You do things in a warzone that you wouldn’t usually do. You said it yourself, ‘kill or be killed’. And if Kailee shot my friend for waving a loaded gun at her, I’d say good job. She saved me the trouble.”
Jackson shook his head. “He wouldn’t have shot her.”
Rana crossed her arms. “He said he’d shoot me!”
Jackson looked at Rana. “No he didn’t. Your English needs work.”
“He said it in Pashto. I think I know Pashto. I think you are worthless. If we didn’t have a son, I wouldn’t even talk to you.”
“Jackson, he had a gun! You don’t even care. I thought if you knew… ” She exploded into tears.
Jackson started for Rana, but I grabbed him. He pushed me away. “I’m cool.” He moved to Rana and took her hand. When she tried to jerk it away from him he locked his arms around her body. He was almost coddling her. “Don’t do that. I protected you every chance I could, even when I found you over his body, I protected you. I don’t believe he would have shot at you, but don’t act like I don’t care.”
This girl had been ready to kill him seconds ago. I waited for her to punch him, or head butt him, but she buried her head in his chest and sobbed. “He said he would shoot me. I didn’t know what to do, but you know they killed my whole family. I closed my eyes and squeezed. I squeezed until I thought he was dead. It was the worst thing I ever saw. Worse than watching them slaughter my family. He called me a terrorist, and I am now.” Her sobs shook both of them.
“Shh, shh. It’s over, baby. You’re safe.”
“You said it. I’m a murderer! Our son has a murderer for a mom.”
He shook his head. “Our son has a strong mother who can protect herself and him. I’m a jackass. Don’t listen to anything I’ve said before now.”
Rana kept sobbing how sorry she was, and Jackson kept saying, “It’s okay.” He moved her to the couch and sat her down. “How old is he?”
“Three months,” she said. “His name is Wayne.”
He closed his eyes. “After the way I left you … ”
She nodded. “Yes.”
I went to find Kailee, partly because these two needed a minute and partly because I thought Wayne should be here. She was on the back porch with the baby in her arms, swaying him back and forth and making comforting sounds. She looked at me, and her smile faded.
“I think it’s going to be okay.” I sighed. “They’re both messed up, and they have a baby.”
“Jackson’s violent. Things set him off and sometimes I don’t even know what.”
“We should bring the baby in.”
She handed me the baby. “You go ahead. I’ll be right there.”
I wasn’t a baby holding kind of guy. The little guy was kind of cute, but I was afraid I would break him.
I took the baby in, and when I entered the room the hushed whispers Jackson and Rana spoke in ended.
Jackson held out his arms but looked at Rana. “Can I hold the baby?”
She smiled “Of course.”
I handed him his child. He looked down at the baby, and I had never seen this expression on his face before. Happiness. I smiled at him, because I knew that like me he found hope in a pair of blue eyes.
Kailee came in, moving her cellphone away from her ear. She smiled at her brother before coming to stand beside me.
The doorknob rattled. Jackson’s brows shot up. “Who could that be?”
“Daddy,” Kaile beamed. “I told him there was a reporter here to talk about his profile case.”
Mr. Hill walked through the door. “What’s going on, Kailee?”
“Loads of fun, Ddad. You’re the attorney, so I’m sure you heard Jackson got out of jail.”
“Yeah, some young Muslim girl accidentally knocked over a lamp. I don’t know how you two got blamed for it.”
Kailee pointed to Rana. “Meet the young Muslim girl. Jackson promised to marry her in Afghanistan. No one can know. He’ll go to the brigs. Fraternizing with the enemy. Isn’t it terribly romantic? Yeah, that baby—he’s your grandson. Rana won’t go to jail because it was an accident. But the mosque is going to sue if someone doesn’t pay restitution, and since that baby has a rich grandpa I really hope someone pays restitution.”
“Uh—” Mr. Hill stammered.
“Not done, Dad. Not done. Don’t interrupt. Jackson you want to be a dad, no?”
“I am,” he said.
“Okay, you need rehab. Like serious rehab cause you can’t go all psycho on that baby like you did me the day I made mac instead of ravioli.” She looked back to her dad. “And it’s not enough to pay for it. You have to make sure he goes. You have to, because I won’t be here.”
Mr. Hill’s jaw hung open. He didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know what to say, and I thought I knew this girl. “Rana needs a place to stay with the baby, and you’re going to need a maid. Because my days of packing leftovers and cleaning house are about done.” She looked to Rana. “Can you cook and pack up the food?”
“Great. You can stay in Jackson’s room, or I’ll get you a guest room ready.”
Kailee turned to face her dad head on. “I’m not majoring in law. I lied. Fashion design, yeah that’s me. I’ve had a blog for two years. I would have told you, but you wouldn’t have found the time to look. Doesn’t really matter. The only thing that does is, Dad, I need a seat deposit.” She held out her hand. “Check please?”
I couldn’t help it. I laughed so hard I almost fell over.
“I am so proud of you,” Rex said. “I’ve never seen either one of you show this kind of initiative.”
White people are crazy. If I talked to Ommy like this she’d slap me in the mouth.
“I’m more than a cheerleader.”
I’d never wanted to kiss this girl so badly.
Rex shook his head. “But the reporter?”
“It got you here. Initiative, remember?”