I’ve shared the prologue and first chapter in previous posts. Now here’s a look at one of the many twists in the story line:
Ethan held the door as I slid onto the leather seats. Very soft and plush. Most definitely he couldn’t have afforded this level of quality if it weren’t in an old, pink Cadillac.
The biggest negative was the smell. No matter what the dealer used to simulate a new car smell, the previous owner’s smoking habit tainted the inside of the car. And something else. Perfume? Hopefully both odors would fade with time. I had never ridden with Ethan driving before. So many firsts in our relationship. He was a careful driver. Of course, we had to go only about ten blocks, probably less than a mile, to his house.
“My dad went back to the office,” he said. “Maybe he’ll be done there before I have to take you home.” Ethan pulled into the driveway of a split‑level home in an older section of the city.
“Will your brother be here?”
“No. Jamail has lived in Albany since he went to Albany State after he left the Marines.”
“Jamail is an unusual name.”
“Mom is from Saudi Arabia. Jamail’s father was fighting with the Americans against the Iraq invasion of Kuwait. She said Saudi Arabia is kind of tough on women, and she didn’t want to raise a baby under her brothers’ thumbs. So she immigrated to America, and Jamail was born here. She’s been in this country so long now, she hardly has an accent.”
“My dad fought in that war. I’m glad they were on the same side. He was based in Kuwait. He said all he could think about the whole time he was there was getting back in one piece and marrying Mom.”
At their back entrance, Ethan paused, his hand on the doorknob.
“I probably should warn you so you’re not too surprised. My mother wears a hijab. She’s not an actively practicing Muslim—she doesn’t go to the mosque or anything like that—but some of the modesty expectations of women were too entrenched for her to let go. She told me once that taking off her hijab in public or when entertaining guests would, for her, be like an American woman wearing very revealing clothes.”
“Wow. How could you not think to tell me this before?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know. It’s not a big deal to me. It’s like saying your hair is brown. It’s just part of who she is.” He let go of the doorknob. “Is that a problem?”
His question was a challenge.
“No!” I insisted. “I’m just surprised. You said you were Catholic. How could I not be surprised that your mother is Muslim?”
“Oh, yeah, when you put it that way. By the way, all the girlfriends she has over are Muslims also.”
“And just so I’m up to speed, is your brother Muslim or Catholic?”
“Jamail was raised Catholic, but when he went into the Marines and spent two tours in the Middle East, he converted to Islam. He said he felt like it was in his genes. He attends a mosque in Albany.”
I exhaled a lungful of air.
“Just when I was beginning to think we knew everything about each other. Seems like we haven’t even gotten started.”
“That’s part of the fun of a new relationship, isn’t it?” He drew me into his arms and blew warm breath on the top of my head. “I already know I love you. I want to know everything about you and the things you love and the people who are important to you—besides me, of course.” He chuckled. “And I want you to know everything about me. We’re just getting started. There are bound to be surprises on both sides.”
Pulling back and kissing my forehead, he added, “So are we okay? You ready to meet my mother, and maybe later, my father?” He smiled that melting smile.
I briefly wondered if his mother noticed the split in his bottom lip and if she would disapprove of me if she knew why it refused to heal. Nodding, I said, “Let’s do this.”
The back door entered into a family room, and then there were three steps up to a large, rectangular kitchen. A platter on a table at the far end was laden with assorted fruits and fresh vegetables and cheeses. Another plate held small, round cookies that looked to be rolled in powdered sugar. Four women, three wearing hijabs, sat around the table. One stood and came toward us, smiling, when we arrived.
“As‑salāmu ʿalaykum,” she said in a softly modulated voice, taking both my hands in hers. She followed in near‑perfect English with “Peace be upon you,” and explained, “That is the traditional Muslim greeting. I’m very pleased to meet you,
Olivia. Ethan can’t stop talking about you.”
She grinned and winked at Ethan. Her eyes gleamed like Ethan’s did when he was teasing me. She was very attractive and looked too young to have a twenty‑six‑year‑old son.
“Thank you, Mrs. Alexander.” “Oh, please, that makes me sound like an old lady.” She winked at me. “Please call me Samar. And let me take your coat,” she added.
I smiled. Samar was not at all what I’d envisioned when Ethan shared the reve‑ lation about her outside the back door. I couldn’t say what I’d expected; I’d never met a Muslim. She had olive skin, but Ethan had inherited her full lips. I knew that even without meeting his father. And contrary to the dark eyes I’d expected, there were Ethan’s heavenly eyes, looking even more striking against her darker skin.
I also revisited my father’s reaction to Ethan’s last name. Could his aversion possi‑ bly be because Ethan’s mother was Muslim? No, I couldn’t believe that. How would he even know? And I couldn’t recall a single instance of his showing intolerance of any kind. Certainly it wasn’t the way I was raised.
“Please,” she said, sweeping her arm toward the table, “join us for a little bit. We’re just catching up and doing a little gossiping.” She giggled, sounding like a young girl.
How could I—how could anyone—not like her?
Ethan dragged two stools from the breakfast bar to the table, and we hovered over the women on our high perches. Samar filled two small plates with assorted goodies and placed them in front of us.
“Where are my manners?” Samar said after serving us. “I must introduce you to my friends.”
She gestured to the woman at her right. “This is Zuwaiten.” The woman nodded and smiled. The woman opposite Samar was introduced as Aalimah. “She is our token heathen,” Samar teased. “She does not wear the hijab.”
“I am American!” Aalimah said.
But I could tell it was lighthearted banter among friends.
“And”—she pointed to the third woman—“here is Badeeah.”
Each of the women smiled and nodded greetings. “They aren’t usually so silent,” Samar joked.
“Give them time,” Ethan warned me. “I’ve been around them enough to know there isn’t a shy one among them.” He smiled fondly at each of the women.
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