She didn’t hear from Lita until Friday, and for those three days Monica had thrown herself back in time to her freshman year. She’d had a 3.83 that first year, when all she did was go to class or hide in the basement of the library. She’d taken a class on Asian history, outside her major and on a lark, and she still smiled when she thought how the professor reacted to her obsessive studying. Where’d you get that, he’d ask after she’d quote some obscure fact. She’d dutifully respond that it was in the old Soviet People’s History of China and Mongolia in the 19th Century or the 1963 Oxford Review of Politics. Where’d you find that, Professor Gill would always ask. Down the hall from basecamp, she’d want to respond. But he wouldn’t have got the joke, so she just told him it was in the school library.
Then she made friends, mostly her sister’s friends, but still. And her grades slipped, then they tumbled, until she’d managed a solid three point oh, cumulative. It wasn’t that she was partying, or dating, that’s for sure. She just never found herself back at basecamp anymore, never seemed to have the time to go study more than she had to, but now she did. There was no reception in the basement of the library, so she didn’t know if she missed anybody’s attempts to get ahold of her, unless they left a message, which they didn’t.
But she’d already made plans to study with Lita on Friday. She wrote up an E-mail, told Lita she wouldn’t be able to make it, because, her, sister was coming into town next week. Then she deleted it—it sounded so fake. Still, heading over to Lita’s place seemed weird, at least until she’d had a chance to think about things, so instead she sent,
I have to head home after school and take care of some errands. :( You know how traffic is, so I don’t think I can make it back up to study. I’m sorry!! I know it’s a hassle but if u want, u could drive down here. Sorry!!!
She sent it in the morning and then went to the library, until Physics. It was a beautiful day—only 3 o’clock—but she headed home, anyway. Her mother tried to put her to work, but Monica claimed she had a mid-term and needed to study. The master spy curled up with Harry Potter and the Wizard of Azkhaban. She’d avoided her E-mail, hadn’t even looked at her phone, but at 5:12, she opened Hotmail, and there were three messages in her inbox, one from James and a pair from Lita.
Stupid, she thought, when she read James’ offer of sushi and ice cream, if she was free that afternoon. Lita’s first E-mail made her feel even less intelligent, but relieved. No worries, Lita wrote, I’ll head by if you’re done early, but otherwise, let’s just try for some other time. Monica went back to James’ E-mail, and reread his quirky prose, and berated herself for being so silly. She composed a dramatic, though not quite truthful, response, telling him she’d needed sushi all day, and ice cream for the last three hours.
She ended the E-mail by typing, If you could find it in your heart to I’ll make it up to you. She sent it, quickly, and then asked herself, what was she implying? She’d made flirty remarks before, and he knew that they weren’t serious. Maybe, though, maybe the thing with Lita was a sign, that it was time she’d started being a little more open. They could at least kiss, right?
Then she opened Lita’s second E-mail.
It turned out she was going to be down there, anyway, driving a friend to the airport, so she’d stop by around 6, to see if Monica was back. She shut down her computer, and stood up, and looked around, and thought about telling her mother that she was going out, when there was a knock on her door.
“Monica.” It was her father.
“Yes, Daddy?” She turned around, and saw his broad, short frame standing in her doorway, a sour look on his face.
“Where were you Tuesday?”
She wasn’t really a master spy, and she knew it, because she couldn’t lie. She was a great sneak, a brilliant planner of sneaky things, a great implementer of sneakiness, but a terrible liar. All she could do was respond, “Why?”
“Your brother called me at work,” he paused, maybe hoping for a denial, “he said you missed your class because you’d gone out with a boy.”
The conversation went downhill very quickly. Monica denied it, she had to, she couldn’t even lie about being bad, and it enraged her father. He understood, he said, that she’d want to date, expected it. Look how he was with Aja, he told her. What he couldn’t stand was the idea that she was sneaking around with this boy, what did she have to hide?
She sounded so guilty when she argued that she could only expect him to not believe her, and she kept saying that. He was a good man, she loved him, but how could she explain, without saying anything. Monica never mentioned Lita, never mentioned Riki talking about cumming in girl’s mouths with that bastard Dubai. She wanted to, wanted to yell about both of them, but instead she just blithered about Ben being okay and how she wasn’t interested in him, and sounded as guilty as Judas.
Then her father began issuing ultimatums, and with each, he’d thrust a finger into the air or into Monica’s face. He grew bright red, and loud, and Monica tried to tell him that she was out with Lita, tried to tell him three times that they went shopping. But each time, before she could even get out more than three words, her father would cut her off and return to his raging gesticulation.
And then it was 5:53 and the doorbell rang.
“Daddy, I’m sorry,” Monica said quickly, “I’d invited Lita over to study tonight. I’ll tell her something came up, don’t worry.”
His face softened at this and he said gently, in Arabic, “I want you to come straight home from school until the end of the month. And I want you to understand that you are being punished, but not for spending time with a boy. It’s because you didn’t let your parents know, and we deserve to know.”
The entire time, even though she’d been flustered, she hadn’t thought to cry, but now, she could feel everything coming out, “I’m sorry, Daddy. But—Lita.”
“You can still study with her. Actually, you can have people over.” He stopped, a long while, “Even this boy, as long as we know.” And then he smiled that bountiful smile of his, that had saved him countless times in Iran, helped him build enough of a fortune to move his wife and infant daughter to America, “Till the end of the month. Any longer and you’d go stir-crazy and beat your poor father to death with your school books.”
They walked downstairs, where Monica’s mother was entertaining Lita with stories of life in Iran before and after the Shah.
Lita smiled, “Hey stranger! My day’s been so damn,” She stopped herself, a smiling look of shame on her face, Monica’s parents only laughed, and she continued, “So crazy. I’ve been up and down that stupid highway. Some moron almost rear-ended me—I thought I’d deleted my paper for Sykes. Crazy.” Monica’s parents loved Lita, and her presence had brought smiles out of both.
Lita headed up the stairs to Monica’s room, dramatically dropping her backpack and long coat on the floor and, with an enormous sigh, collapsing backward onto the bed.
Monica closed the door, “You have to tell my father I was out with you!”
Lita’s head came up, her face confused and a little angry, “Why, so he can be pissed at me for making you ditch class?”
“He’s not just pissed,” Monica’s face twisted into a clumsy, but effective, pout, “I’m grounded.”
Lita stared at her and started laughing. She tried to form words, but they were beaten down by the absurdity of Monica’s statement. Finally, she managed, “But you’re twenty-two!” More laughter killed what seemed to be a snide comment.
“I live here!” Monica’s volume dropped as she said it, to a conspiratorial whisper, “Those are the rules!”
“Monica,” Lita put her hand on Monica’s. She’d done it before, many times, but now Monica felt differently about it. “I know people who live at their parents’ place while they go to college, and they’ve never been grounded. Not one.”
“Well, they don’t have my mom and dad.” Monica thought to continue, but didn’t.
“No, they don’t,” and Lita laughed again, “Or any of the crazy stuff you’ve had drilled into you.”
Monica smiled, but she hated that statement. She grew up in a conservative Muslim household, she knew that, and it had strict rules, and her religion had strict rules. But she agreed with them. She wasn’t brainwashed, she’d thought about it and it seemed fine. She agreed with her father’s punishment, after all, why shouldn’t she talk to and trust her own father?
But she wasn’t some Bhurka-wearing robot. She was surreptitiously seeing a professor at college, and she was very fashionable, even while maintaining her own and her family’s dignity by keeping her arms and legs covered. And even though she’d done nothing with the professor, it was because she’d chosen not to, not because she couldn’t overcome her social engineering.
“But he thought I was sneaking around with Ben!” Monica waited for Lita to respond, and when she didn’t, went on, “If he knew I was just…”
“Just? Just what? That I was just fingerbanging you in the changing room at Victoria’s Secret while your brother and his friends stood outside?”
“No!” She felt the blood rush out of her face. “No,” she whispered, “No, no, no, no. You just have to tell him we were hanging out. That we—”
Lita was just staring up at the ceiling, now, “Did you like it?”
Lita looked up, toward the foot of the bed and Monica, “When I was fingering you, did you like it.” She dropped her head back down on the pillow. “You came, you must’ve liked it.”
Normally, Monica planned out conversations well in advance. But here, she’d tried to avoid thinking of what she’d say. “Actually, I mean,” what did she mean? “I just don’t feel that way about you.”
“No, really.” That was a response she could deal with, this turned it into an argument, and she always won arguments, “I mean, I guess I’m glad I tried it, but, I just don’t—”
“Fuck you!” Lita whispered, “You know what, let’s ask your dad,” Monica was flailing her arms in panic, “let’s ask him if when you rub a girl’s clit and she cums all over your hand, if that means she liked it.”
Monica was about to speak when Lita yelled, “Mr. Ijrah!!!”
Her world was collapsing, she couldn’t catch her breath, and then the door opened. Her father, her protector, smiling because he didn’t know yet what his most beloved daughter had done. Smiling, so sure of her goodness.
“Yes, Lita, what is it.”
“Well, Monica was saying you wouldn’t like it,” And she looked over at Monica, a crooked smile on her face, “But I was wondering if I could spend the night.”
“Monica, don’t be so silly,” He then turned to Lita, “Of course you can, whenever you’d like. You’re welcome here whenever you’d like! Is that it?”
Monica looked at him, half-relieved, half in fear, “Yes, Ddaddy, that’s it.”
“Silly girls,” and then, as he closed the door, continued, “So silly. Dinner should be ready in an hour.”
Monica looked at Lita, “Thank you. Oh God, I was so scared.”
Lita smiled at her, “Don’t think you’re getting out of it that easy. You owe me.” And then she stood up and began to unbutton Monica’s pants.
“Lita, don’t,” She thought to push her away but she was too afraid of her father coming back. “Don’t, I don’t want to.”
Lita pulled the pants down a bit, then turned Monica around and gently pushed her down on the bed, “Of course you want to, you just don’t realize it.” She tugged the pants off by the cuffs, “because of your crazy background. You came, Monica, that means you liked it and that means you want it.”
Lita looked down at the newly exposed underwear, conservative but stylish. She smiled, her head cocked to the side, and for a second Monica thought that’s all she wanted, content just to look at her. Lita ran her fingers along the top seam, gently.
“You are so beautiful, Monica, more beautiful than any model,” and then with a sudden, animalistic motion, she pulled the thin cotton toward her, Monica’s hips, thighs, calves and feet raising with the motion. Lita grinned, and threw the underwear aside.
Monica opened the shower door and shrieked.
In shock, Aja crashed into the sink, knocking toothpaste and exfoliant and lipstick onto the floor. “What’s wrong with you?!” She yelled after recovering, “You get weirder every day!”
That’s right, Monica thought, reaching quickly for a towel. Her sister had arrived two days earlier, and she’d been jumpy around her the entire time.
“Yeah, it’s just different now. You know, because you don’t live here. Oh, Aja, I wish you still lived here.”
“Me, too.” She started brushing her teeth. “The food sucks in Dayton. Grad school sucks, too.” Spit. “And the boys in Dayton, God, I thought they were bad here!” Aja spat, “But at least you still have Riki.”
“Riki.” Monica said derisively. “He’s still living in the dorms, and I only see him long enough to get ogled by his friends.”
Aja laughed and started to brush her teeth. Monica picked up the hair dryer when her sister looked over and said, “Hey, what happened?”
Monica followed her stare down to the scab on her thigh. Lita, she wanted to say, she scratched me pulling off my underwear, but I didn’t notice until after she ate me out. Lita, she wished she could say, and I have been messing around and I think I want to stop but I don’t know how, but it’s only a couple months till graduation, and you’ll be here for a week, and I can just avoid her, it’s only seven weeks, right?
“Cut myself shaving.”
Aja looked, shrugged, “Oh. You should wax. Grown-ups wax.”