Dan put his arm over Mark’s shoulder and kissed his cheek.They stood in front of a sprawling low-slung, white stucco house sited on the edge of the Mediterranean Sea. The children stood in front of them, and Mark reached down to touch their shoulders.Erin was standing to the side, watching her new family.It had really happened – they had left Hillsborough and were now at their new home in Algiers.Mark was both delighted and frightened at the same time.For a fleeting moment, he wondered if he should run.Dan could sense Mark’s hesitation, so he tightened his grip on Mark’s shoulder and then said he would like to show him their new home.Just at that moment, the front door burst open and a handsome young man came out to greet them.He bowed with his hands in a prayerful mode.He was speaking in Arabic, so Mark didn’t understand what he was saying.Dan answered him and then introduced Mark, the children, and Erin to Sufiyan, who bowed after each introduction.Sufiyan kissed Belinda’s hand and spoke to her in French.Belinda smiled and responded in kind.Her French lessons had paid off as she and Sufiyan were able to communicate.He bowed to Erin and called her wise grandmother.Sufiyan then started gathering the luggage to take inside.
They walked into a foyer that was crisp and clean.The white walls and brown tile floors were immaculate.In a niche in the wall was a large pot holding bougainvillea that was cascading down the wall.There was a round wooden table in the center of the foyer with a glass top.Dan dropped his hat on the table, sat in a side chair, removed his shoes, and then wiggled his toes.The others followed his lead.Dan then walked them through the house, showing them each room.When they walked into his mother’s room, Belinda’s eyes lit up and she asked if this could be her bedroom.Dan said he was so glad that she had picked the room and told her it was created especially for her.Robert picked out a bedroom after they had surveyed the entire house.He was deliberate in his choice – it wasn’t the best room, but it was beside Belinda’s room as he needed to be close to his sister. When asked which room she wanted, Erin said she would take whatever was convenient.Sufiyan suggested she might like the guest house as it would provide her some privacy.She said that sounded splendid, and, in fact, she needed a nap to recover from the boat trip.She looked exhausted, and Dan was concerned about her health.
The rest walked onto a patio overlooking the bay and beyond to the Mediterranean Sea.Dan started pulling off his clothes.
“The last one in is a rotten chicken.”
“Rotten egg, Daddy Dan.”
“Yes, a rotten rhinoceros.”
They were all laughing as they dropped their clothes and ran into the warm water.It felt so good after journeying from Barcelona.Their spirits and energy revived; Robert said he wanted to play chicken.Robert and Dan were against Mark and Belinda.
“Whoever wins is the rotten raccoon who eats the rotten eggs.”
They all laughed at Robert.Robert thought he was almost too large to climb onto Dan’s shoulders, but Dan’s wiry frame was deceiving.The man was a powerhouse.Belinda easily climbed onto her daddy’s shoulders.
Belinda and Robert were fierce competitors.Mark and Dan were both sturdy beasts that were being ridden by seasoned avians.Finally, as Belinda thought she had knocked Robert off his stride, Robert grabbed his sister, and they both went down together.They decided it call a truce as they could see Cecelia putting out food and drinks on the patio table.The four trudged through the water toward the shore.None put on any clothes.When they walked on the patio, Cecelia looked at Belinda, said something under her breath, and ran into the house.A few minutes later, a flustered Sufiyan came onto the patio, looked at Belinda, and then turned around and went back into the house.
Belinda very quietly gathered her clothes and was putting them on when Dan stopped her.She was crying as Dan wrapped her in his arms.He picked her up and handed her to Mark.He kissed her cheek.
“I will be right back.”
Dan disappeared into the house, and Mark could hear an intense conversation.When he reappeared, Mark could sense that Dan was angry for the second time that day.Dan feigned happiness and jollity while they ate the food and drank apricot juice.After finishing the food, Dan suggested they shower and nap.He said they would eat dinner at sunset when the heat of the day was retreating.Dan was quiet when he and Mark went to their suite of rooms.After the door had closed, he turned and grabbed Mark and held onto him.Mark knew that Dan needed comforting.
“Let’s shower, nap, and then talk.You don’t have to carry this burden alone.We are husbands and we share the load.”
Dan nodded his head and walked into the shower room.Dan said that freshwater was sometimes at a premium, but they should enjoy the shower.They gently touched each other while washing.Dan slumped against Mark and said he needed to sleep.Mark grabbed a Turkish towel and dried Dan before leading him to a large bed where they stretched out.
When they awoke, Dan and Mark were wrapped around each other.Dan’s earlier countenance of anger and hurt had disappeared and he smiled at his husband.Dan started by kissing Mark on the mouth, then on the throat, and he turned his body so they were worshiping each other.They did not want to move after the last splash of life had been expelled by each of them.Dan put his head in Mark’s crotch, chuckled, and said he found where he wanted to live.Mark flipped Dan’s body so he was lying on top.Mark reveled in the weight of Dan pressing down on him.He put his arms around Dan’s pelvis and pulled him in close.He smelled the essence of who Dan was.They fell asleep again.
A knock at the door awakened them.
“Monsieur Doctor, the time is it for dinner.”
Dan awoke but was groggy.He had a grin on his face as he twisted his body and kissed Mark.
“I think a quick rinse in the shower before we dress.Yes?”
Mark allowed himself to be led again into the shower room where Dan soaped Mark’s chest and put his ear against the chest cavity.
“What are you doing?”
“I know you have a big heart that is filled with love.I was just listening to it.I have to make sure it is ticking tocking and still filled with love.”
Mark grinned because he knew that Dan’s English was impeccable but he was now using pigeon English for some reason.
“My husband, you are the reason it is so filled with love.Let’s go find the children.”
Mark was opening his suitcase when Dan stopped him.Dan opened a closet door and pulled out cotton trousers that tied at the waist and a loose cotton shirt that hung to his knees.There were sandals for their feet.Their toenails had bits of red nail polish left on them.
They held each other’s hands when they walked onto the patio.They were greeted by Erin, the children, Sufiyan, and Cecelia.Mark could smell meat cooking on the outside grill.A beautifully laid table was awaiting them.Candles were glowing that had been placed around the patio.The patio was oriented to the northeast to protect it from the heat of the noonday sun, so they couldn’t see the sunset but were astounded by its reflective beauty on the water of the bay, trees, and the growing shadows of the house.The entire patio had a rose-colored reflection.Sufiyan carved the meat at the grill while Cecelia loaded the plates with vegetables.Carafes of wine were at the table.When Mark suggested that the children were too young to drink wine, Dan said that they were in Algiers and would live like Algerians.
“Their wine is not too strong.Just enough to kill any bacteria in the liquid.It is also sweeter.Sweet youth, sweet wine.Our wine is much stronger.”
Cecelia paid particular homage to Belinda and bowed to her each time she approached the table.Dan tried to pretend that he did not notice, but a smile crept across his face.Sufiyan deferred to Belinda and asked her if he could clear the table.Belinda responded in French and with a nod of her head.The message was clear:Belinda was the woman of the house to whom all answered.
After dinner, Sufiyan came to the patio to tell Dan that his uncle was on the telephone.When Dan returned, he asked Mark of his plans for the next day.Mark laughed and said he had nothing to do.
“Good, good.You can help prepare for a family visit tomorrow afternoon.I need to go to the hospital in the morning and will arrive before the aunts arrive.”
“Your aunts are coming tomorrow?”
“Yes.The word is out that we are here.They want to visit their defiled nephew and the people he brought with him to Algiers.This should be fun. Sufiyan will help Belinda learn the proper protocol tomorrow morning.You will make sure that you use your best southern manners.They can be intimidating, but remember, you are a lion.Find the icon that Sean painted at Christmas and I want it mounted in the foyer.They will understand the symbolism.You are to be the man of the house during the visit.Mark was unsettled by the comments but decided to do as Dan had asked.
The next morning came too soon for all of them.Belinda and Robert had found their closets filled with summer clothes that Algerian children typically wore.Sufiyan had removed their western clothes during the night for cleaning and storing.The clothes would only be needed when they traveled to Europe.
Dan was in his hospital whites as he finished a cup of expresso and kissed Mark good-bye.
“I will see you this afternoon.Remember, you are the lion.They all speak English but often swear that they don’t.French is a native language to them.Robert and Belinda will be able to interpret.Don’t pretend to understand them when they speak French; make them speak English.If they start to speak Ladino, you are on your own.”Dan laughed as he hugged Mark and walked to the front door.Mark heard a motorcycle start and leave the drive.
Belinda, Robert, and Erin finished breakfast and were lounging on the patio.Sufiyan appeared and asked to speak to Mademoiselle Belinda.The two of them went into the house where they remained ensconced all morning.Mark decided to email his boss, Mike, at Duke, to let him know that he was in Algiers and ready to start work at any time.He didn’t expect an answer so soon, but Mike said he was at the office early because of a problem in Venice.Mike let Mark know from that point forward the emails would be coming directly to him to handle.Mike wrote that he was so glad that Mark was now available to handle these problems eight time zones ahead.It would make their work more much more efficient.
Robert appeared and said that lunch was ready.Cecelia had prepared them a lunch of fresh fruits with different breads and dips.Belinda explained what each item was and how to eat it.She also poured them a thick sweet tea and passed around small cakes.This was a prelude to what she would do during the visit of the aunts.She was impeccably prepared and functioned way above her tender years.When they finished, Belinda put her hands in the air and clapped twice.Both Sufiyan and Cecelia appeared, bowed to Belinda, and took away the plates and glasses.
“Well done, my darling daughter.You are a fast learner.”Belinda practically purred from her father’s praise.
A nap was ordered during the heat of the day.Each person repaired to separate rooms where fans stirred the hot air.There was no central air conditioning, so they would learn to live like the native Algerians.Late in the afternoon, Mark took a shower and dressed in the outfit that Sufiyan had laid out.It was a mix of Western and Algerian clothes.Mark decided it was comfortable and handsome.He went onto the patio where Belinda and Robert were painting their toenails.Belinda insisted she paint Mark’s also.Erin wandered onto the patio and ended up with painted nails.Dan would be the only one without painted nails.Belinda asked everyone if they were ready because it was almost time for the visitation.They nodded and Mark was once again, astounded by her calm presence.
Mark was sent to the front gathering room.It was a handsome room that was rectangular with a fireplace at one end.The furniture was modern and covered in brightly covered cushions.The tables had glass tops.There was little in the way of decorative items.It reflected the modernist, brutalist style that was popular in the last midcentury.
The sound of tire crunching on the pea gravel announced the rival of the aunts.Mark tensed up and reminded himself that he was the alpha lion of the pride.Erin entered the room and sat to the side.She deliberately chose the chair so Mark assumed she sat where instructed.Mark could hear voices from the foyer.Robert was speaking in French to introduce his sister.There was a smattering of voices; then, Mark heard a sharp intake of breath.Several other people had intakes of breath also.They were looking at the icon.
Robert led the contingent into the gathering room and introduced his father to the ladies.They were dressed in high Paris fashion and glittered with jewels.Mark thought they were gaudy but acknowledged that he didn’t know Paris fashion. There was one elderly gentleman dressed in black who stood in the back.He was cleaning his glasses.Mark knew him to be the beloved uncle, Samuel.Mark asked the ladies to sit and then went up to the man and bowed.A slow smile crept across the man’s face, and he grabbed Mark’s two hands together, leaned forward, and kissed him on both cheeks.Mark pointed to his chair and asked the uncle to sit.The man deferred.
“That is the chair of the lion.Dan has chosen rightly.”
Mark apologized that Dan was running late at the hospital, but it was his first day back at work, and his time was in high demand.Belinda clapped her hands and food appeared.Belinda knew precisely what to do.She prepared plates for each of the aunts and the uncle.Robert poured them drinks.Neither said a word while doing these tasks.Mark looked on with a passive smile.When his children finished, he thanked them for showing hospitality to their aunts and uncle.
“I am pleased to meet the family of Dan and now the family of myself and my children.It is so good of you to come to our home.My children’s grandmama is here with us, and I thank her for her loving kindness to our family.”
Just as one of the aunts was going to speak, the front door opened, and Dan walked in.He was still in his hospital scrubs.
“I see that my husband has everything in hand. Forgive me for running late.Please give me five minutes while I shower and change.It is so good that you are joining us this afternoon.”
The look of shock on the aunts’ faces was priceless.Mark, remembering that he was the focus of their curiosity, told them about the family’s journey from Hillsborough to Algiers.He gave a high-level, though humorous recounting of their pilgrimage, the same as he would do at work. When he invoked humor, the women tittered.The uncle sat chuckling at Mark’s telling of their journey.
Dan appeared in the doorway, dressed much like Mark.All of the women wanted a hug, and Uncle Samuel grabbed Dan’s hands and then kissed both of his cheeks.When Dan was seated, Belinda prepared him a plate of food, and Robert poured him a drink.
“This is for you, papa.”Robert smiled when he handed the plate and glass to Dan.He then leaned over and kissed Dan on the cheek.Dan glowed with pride.
“My children love both of their fathers.We are so fortunate that Dan found us and invited us into his life.”
“My husband, it is you who chose me.One night after a wonderful musical performance, you told me that you chose me.It was a special night in my life for which I am eternally grateful.We are together and are making this a Jewish home.”
Erin drew in a loud breath.All eyes turned to her as she coughed to cover up her faux pas.Mark smiled and looked at Erin and then the aunts.Dan had made clear that Mark was the head of the house, so Mark took the plunge.
“I have been talking, and I know that you have many questions, so we would like for you to ask them so we can get to know each other better.”They were hesitant at first, but then there was an onslaught of questions and statements.Mark, Dan, and the children handled each question gracefully.Erin also answered questions about her life and how she ended up being a grandmother to the children.There was much commiserating about the death of her husband.
“These two men were heroic, trying to save his life.Mark was like a lion as he continued to push air into my husband’s chest. Even after Dr. Daniel said there was nothing more to be done, it was Mark who continued.He was fearless and then his tears flowed when my husband died.No one could have done more.I can only imagine he will be like that when protecting his family.He is the son I always imagined having.”There were tears in Erin’s eyes, and one of the aunts came and sat beside her, held her hand, and offered up her French perfumed handkerchief.Another of the aunts turned to look at Dan.
“What about your mother’s jewels?What will happen to those?”
Dan was caught off-guard by the sheer audacity of his aunt’s question.She was the greedy aunt.Dan looked at Mark with a look of hopelessness at the tactless inquiry.
“The jewels of Dan’s mother are to be revered and protected.When Belinda comes of age, Dan will decide whether she receives them.Perhaps there will be other children. Who knows?At the time of Belinda’s marriage, they could be a present to her.Perhaps.But at such a young age, we must find something more appropriate for Belinda.She is young and needs less expensive jewelry that will suit when she is in public.Perhaps you can take her to a jewelry store and help her pick something right for young girls.She should start to build her own collection.She should not presume to be an heiress to the L’Oranise family jewels. That is a gift that may be bestowed only if she is found to be worthy.”
The aunts nodded at Mark’s wisdom.They were thankful that he wasn’t after the family money and would protect the family heritage.
Mark noticed that one of the aunts was looking at his feet.He wiggled his toes and smiled.The aunt then looked at the toes of the children. She then looked at Dan’s toes and saw the same color red.Dan laughed and said that he and Belinda had conspired that they all needed pedicures and painted nails to celebrate finishing the walk across Spain.
Mark knew that the aunts were scandalized at their behavior but he didn’t care.He now understood the pecking order of the family, and he and Dan ranked above all of them, including Uncle Samuel.They could paint their toenails any color they chose and nothing would be said against them.
After a few moments of quiet, Belinda clapped her hands twice, and Cecelia and Sufiyan came to collect the dishes.This was the signal that the gathering was finished.
Mark stood and everyone followed his lead.
“Please know that our home is open to you at any time.If you need anything, you are to let me know.Dan is very busy at the hospitals both here and in Paris, so please reach out to me.His work is so important as he saves lives.We don’t want to disturb him with family troubles.I will confer with him, of course.I will also be traveling throughout Europe quite a bit this fall, but family always comes first.”
One by one, the aunts bowed to Mark.His munificence was more than they had hoped for.He was indeed the leader of the family.They just had to conspire to make him and the children Jewish.They decided he had a Jewish soul, and if he had been born anywhere else except America, he would have been Jewish.
There were kisses on cheeks as the aunts and uncle left.The uncle grinned at Mark and told him that he wanted to meet with him soon.
“I know you are a busy and important man, so I beg your indulgence to spare some time to review some family issues.I need your wisdom.”
“I will always have time for you, Uncle Samuel.You are my family now.”
Everyone left, and Sufiyan closed the front door.The family then burst into laughter.They had passed the test and were relieved.
Cecelia appeared at the doorway and asked Belinda a question.Belinda thought for a moment and then answered.Mark was at a complete loss at what had just been said.Dan smiled and said it was the perfect choice.Everyone in the room spoke French, except Mark.He decided right then that as the alpha lion of the pride, he needed to know the language, and he was going to learn French.
They went to their rooms and donned loose-fitting garments and met on the patio. A breeze was blowing off the sea.Belinda had asked Cecelia to fix finger foods for dinner.They sat in the twilight and deconstructed the afternoon’s conversation.They decided that Erin deserved a special award for her comments about Dan and Mark’s efforts.Her special reward was kisses on each cheek.
Night was falling as the weary travelers realized they had not fully recovered from the journey.They found their way to their bedrooms.Sufiyan and Cecelia sat on the beach and discussed their first two days with their new masters and the children.Neither could explain how Belinda, who was a young girl, had a boy’s appendage.Sufiyan said it was no ordinary appendage and that she must be a desert goddess who had been sent to their home.Both Sufiyan and Cecilia decided to build an altar in the garden for Belinda; it would bring good luck to the house.They swore they would protect their new goddess from all danger.