"In the Middle East, nothing has ever been simple," Avi says.
"Right," Tarik agrees. "We are both strong people in our beliefs."
I shift uncomfortably on the pillow. "If you saw Avi on the battlefield, would you kill him?"
Tarik looks straight at Avi and says in a bold voice, "Yes. And I would expect no less from him."
Avi leans forward and takes my hand in his. "I brought you here to show you we're not all filled with hatred and here you are asking if two friends would kill each other. Way to make this meeting turn around, sweetheart. Listen, we both do what we have to do to survive. It's our way of life."
We stay at Tarik's house for a little while longer, the guys laughing about school and their families and asking me about my friends back home. They stopped the political discussion; it seems like they know their limits in talking about it. It feels good to discuss stuff without feeling like I have to act a certain way or answer a certain way to fit in.
I like Tarik. And I have newfound respect for Avi because I know he puts aside his political beliefs and befriends Tarik because he's a guy with a good heart and mind. The news makes it look so different from the reality; I think news programs should show the positive sides of people instead of focusing on the negative.
When we're ready to leave, Tarik gives me a hug goodbye and says, "Take care of my friend."
God, I feel like a weight is on my shoulders now. Life in Israel is hard compared to the teenage life in America. Our biggest worries back home are what movie to go see or what outfit we're going to buy. And after high school, we obsess about what college we'll get into. September Eleventh changed our lives, but we still have it easier than the people in the Middle East.
Israelis don't even go to college after high school. They have to put their lives on the line and enter the army. Take care of my friend, Tarik just said.
It's not as easy as one might think, especially when that statement comes from a guy who is on the other side.
My own life and the way I've pushed Ron away flashes before my eyes and I feel a little sick. I do have a family here in Israel, maybe I should act like I care about them. If Avi and Tarik can care about each other, maybe I can find a little piece of my heart to love Ron. And Safta. And, dare I even think it, Snotty.
I mean, Osnat.
But what if they disappoint me?
I watch as Avi and Tarik shake hands and slap each other on the back. A smile crosses my face. Because I know, even if they don't, they would protect each other with all of their power even if face to face on the battlefield. Both of these guys have pure, true spirits.
Peace between the Israelis and Palestinians? Who knows? Anything is possible. Maybe, just maybe, the friendship between these two strong-willed guys is a sign of hope for the future.
There's a lot to learn by venturing off the beaten path.
"How did you meet Tarik?" I ask as we're driving back to the hotel.
"Let's just say I helped him when he needed a friend, and he did the same."
"I'm glad you took me to meet him," I say.
"And I'm glad you're here with me," he says, then adds, "I knew you wouldn't believe me if I told you not all Israelis hate Palestinians. You're the kind of girl who needs proof. You shouldn't rely on television so much."
"I don't trust people in general."
"I bet if you did it would open your eyes to a more colorful world out there."
"Probably. But at least I don't get let down too often because I already expect people are going to disappoint me."
He slows the car and stops it on the side of the road. Then he turns to me. "I want to thank you."
Suddenly my mouth is dry. "For what?"
"For making me remember there's a world out here worth living."
"How did I do that?" I ask.
"You're the first person to make the pain of my brother's death bearable." He kisses me, right here in the car on the side of the barren desert road. "When I'm with you, I'm whole again."
I smile, inside and out. But I'm embarrassed so I look down and finger the heavy silver chain hanging from his wrist.
"You want it?" he asks.
"If you want to give it to me," I say back shyly.
He takes it off and fastens it to my wrist.
"It's like you're telling everyone you're mine," he says. "At least for now."
I lean toward Avi and recapture his lips with mine. Like before, his kisses are drugging me and I'm feeling dreamy and lightheaded.
Before I realize it, I'm lying on top of him. I can feel his hard body under me, the warmth and strength of his muscles beneath mine.
"We should stop," he says.
I nibble on his ear and say, "Uh huh."
He throws his head back and moans. "I mean it, Amy. We're in a rental car on the side of the road."
This time I lick a path from his earlobe to his mouth. "Uh huh."
"You want to wear me down, don't you?"
I like the way I make him feel when we're together. I also really like the wild sensations running through my body right now, too, as I move my body against his.
When I feel him start to give in to my hands and mouth, I stop and sit up. I mean, we're in public and anyone could just peek in the window. Would the windows steam up if we continued? I didn't think it could get hotter in the car than outside, but I'm feeling pretty toasty even though the air conditioning is on.
He licks his lips slowly and opens his eyes. "I can't move."
I laugh. "Did I make you forget to be angry all the time?"
"Good. I can do this forever if it'll make you happy."
His fingers move to my shoulder and he slides the strap on my tank down. "I wish ..." he says, leaning his head forward and lightly kissing my shoulder.
I know what he wants to say. I want him to say it, but then I remember our little agreement. No getting too involved.
Too bad, I'm already so into him it's scary.
But I know he would regret it if we did go too far. And we are, in fact, parked on the side of a road. "If you don't stop kissing me like that, I'm going to rip all your clothes off," I say.
A little moan escapes from his mouth and he leans back. "I'm crazy about you."
"Good. Remember that when some pretty Israeli girl hits on you after I'm gone. Now let's get back to the others, or I really am going to follow through with my threat."
A half hour later, when we turn onto the road leading to the hotel, Avi says, "So what's the story with your parents?"
He asks me this loaded question and I turn toward the window. "I don't want to talk about it."
"Why not? Lots of parents get divorced."
Yeah, only my parents were never married to begin with. Try telling that story to your peers at school. I always feel they think my mom just slept with a random guy in college and got pregnant. And the sucky part about it is, it's not far from the truth.
"Tell me about your parents," I counter. "I never hear much about them from Ron or my aunt and uncle."
"There's not much to tell. My mom works as a teacher on the moshav and my father is your uncle's partner. Okay, your turn."
I take a deep breath. "My parents were never married and I should never have been born. I was, shall we say, a mistake. A very big sixteen-year-old mistake."
There, I said it. My face is hot and my eyes are watery. I'm holding myself together as best I can under the circumstances. I've thought about my life and what a mistake it is about a million times. I've never actually voiced it aloud before.
We arrive at the hotel and Avi parks the car in the parking lot. "I'm not a very religious guy," he says, "but I know there's a very important reason you were born."
"You sound like a rabbi," I say.
"No, I'm just a sheep farmer."
"Avi, you are SO much more than that and you know it," I lean back in the passenger seat and sigh. "I don't want today to end."
He flashes me one of his dazzling smiles. "Me either."
I look into his eyes and he holds my gaze for a long minute. We don't say anything more, there's no words that can say what I want to say to him. Or are there? "Avi--"
"Shh," he whispers, covering my lips with his fingers. "I know."
I reluctantly get out of the car and head for the lobby of the hotel.
The rest of the gang is waiting for us.
When I spot Snotty ...make that Osnat ...sitting alone in the corner, I go up to her. "I'm sorry I said you wear short shirts, tight pants, and have a sorry excuse for breasts."
Osnat shakes her head in confusion.
I shift my feet and look at the ground. "I mean, you do wear tight pants ...and your breasts are smaller than mine. But they're lovely breasts. And I'm sure it's the style in Israel to have tight pants."
Her eyebrows are raised as she says, "Are you trying to apologize to me? If you are, you're doing a lousy job."
I open my arms out wide and say, "Give me a break here, I'm not used to being all gushy and apologetic."
Osnat stands up and says, "I'm sorry I said your breasts sag. Your sagging breasts aren't bad, either." Then she holds her hand out for me to shake it. "Truce?"
Wait just one itty-bitty second.
"You never told me my breasts sag!" I say, ignoring her fake truce.
"Not to your face, I didn't," she admits.
I guess I deserved the insult. And I'll keep to myself I've called her Snotty almost since I met her.
We both start laughing hysterically and everybody else is looking at us like we're mashed potatoes. Two mashed potato cousins.
"Can we go for a walk?" she asks, bure.
We exit the hotel and start walking aimlessly in the parking lot.
I kick a rock down the road as I walk. "I didn't want to come to Israel this summer," I say. "And I didn't want to like anyone here."
She kicks the same rock, continuing its journey down the road. "And I was shocked Ron had a secret daughter. I guess in some way I was jealous of you."
Me? A secret daughter? Being thought of as a secret sure beats being thought of as illegitimate. "Believe me, you have nothing to be jealous about. At least you have parents who love each other."
"But Ron has the best job ever. You must be so proud of him."
Okay, so you're probably wondering what Ron does for a living. All I know is he's in the security business.
"It's no big deal," I say. After all, everybody's in the security business these days.
Osnat pulls my shoulder back and stops me from walking. "Are you kidding?" she says. "My mom told me he's been hired as a consultant to the Director of Homeland Security in the U.S."
What? I didn't know that. I guess I never even asked him. I've been too busy being pissed off at him for not being Superdad.
"Yeah, well, he doesn't talk about it much."
"He probably can't because it's classified."
I'm having a hard time thinking of Ron as a super-security consultant hired by the U.S. government. After all, I'm used to thinking of him as the Sperm Donor.
Osnat turns to me and says, "You didn't know what he did until I told you, right?"