AS LONG AS POSSIBLE
When she was a little girl, before her life had really begun, Ila asked her father to be with her forever. She can imagine being nowhere else but with him. When she is a woman - after college, her car accident, the revelation of her father's musician alter-ego - Idris attempts to reconcile his inescapable mortality with his desire to be the only man in Ila's life.
Giving the gift of a conventional wedding to his daughter is out of the question - but giving her a ceremony of sorts, no matter how subtle, doesn't have to be.
This is a work of fiction intended for adult audiences only.
"Mnn?" Idris looked up from the book in his lap toward the living room entry, his cheek resting on his knuckles.
Ila stood at the bottom of the stairs half swallowed in darkness. One tiny fist rubbed at her eyes and her favorite, floppy plush ram dangled from the other, her PJs and hair disheveled. Idris made another noise and motioned for her to come to him, closing the book and setting it aside.
She padded into the warm glow from the side table lamp, and attempted to haul her smaller-than-average five year old body up onto the taller-than-average couch. Idris leaned down and scooped her up in one arm, settling her in his lap where the book had been.
"Habibti," he smoothed his knuckles over her white hair, "why are you awake?"
"Bad dreams," she mumbled, nestling against his torso with her floppy toy pressed between them. He adjusted his glasses and checked the timepiece on his wrist. It was past midnight; he'd put her to bed three hours ago.
She sniffed and Idris's hand immediately found her back, the whole width of it just about covered the entirety of her ribs. He stroked a firm pressure against her pajama shirt with his palm, a quiet hum vibrating in his chest. Her tiny body quivered.
"Ma'lesh habibti, tell baba," he hushed her when she whimpered, muffled by his shirt, "tell baba."
"I was a-alone," she wiped her face on his black button-up, and he ran his fingers through her messy, shoulder-length white hair, "it was d-dark."
She shook her head against him, another whimper escaping.
Idris tilted her head up and pulled a tissue out of its box on the side table, wiping at her face with practiced care. She sniffed a few more times and coughed, and he frowned. In the stronger - but still low - light of the lamp, he could see that her face was much redder than if she'd just started crying in his lap. His thumb pad brushed her cheek; her skin felt tacky and hot to the touch.
"How long have you been awake, Ila?"
Lilac eyes flicked away from his dark stare, and a fresh wave of tears began trekking down her face. He caught those with a tissue too, waiting for her reply. it took her a bit to compose herself.
"I - I'm a b-big girl," she sniffed again, face scrunching, "I'm s'pose to n-not need baba anymore."
Idris's forehead wrinkled as his graying brows lifted in surprise. His voice was a gentle roll in his throat. "Who told you that?"
"C-Cala did." Another sniff, then a very forceful exhale from a very tired girl, her fingers picking at the black faux fur on her ram plush. "Cause I'm gonna... um. S-start... School like her."
Idris rubbed at his tiny daughter's shoulders and wiped at her sticky face again, pensive. Cala was the next-door neighbor's daughter; she was a year older than Ila and liked to remind her of that fact often, in the way children their age were want to do. This wasn't the first time Ila had been reduced to tears because of something Cala put in her head.
His jaw clenched, and he made a mental note to talk to Cala's father Nihad in the morning. In the here and now, he swept his thumb over Ila's cheek as she coughed again, catching an errant tear that threatened to fall.
"Cala is wrong, habibti. Baba is still here." He settled her against him, stroking over the side of her head and down her back in a steady, rhythmic motion.
After a few moments of petting, Ila was limp on his abdomen, breathing soft and even. Idris picked her up in one arm, supporting her butt with the crook of his elbow and the back of her neck with his hand, turned off the lamp and TV, and carried her toward the stairs. She became a little more alert at his handling and made a noise of protest. Her instinctive grip tightened around his neck.
At the top, he didn't veer to the left to where her room was off the landing like she expected - instead, he went right into a small hallway and ducked below the threshold into the master bedroom. Ila sniffed and wiggled in his sturdy arm, pulling back to look behind herself, her soft, floppy ram clutched in sudden white-knuckles. So much for almost being asleep.
"Baba, w-why -"
"You do not want to be alone." Idris leaned down and plopped her onto the black, silky sheets with their gold trim. "You are going to sleep here tonight."
"Oh." She relaxed, the grip on her toy loosening as she moved to pet its fur instead, similar to how he had been petting her before.
Idris grabbed a tanktop and a pair of sweatpants out of the top drawer of his dresser and went into the bathroom - keeping the door ajar with the light on. When he came back out, changed, teeth brushed, and hair pulled out of its low bun and flowing down to the small of his back, Ila stared up at him from where the pillows were. She moved, and was now in the midst of wiggling under the comforter.
He turned off the light switch by the door, shushed her whimper in the near pitch black of the room, and opened the blackout curtain enough for light from the yellow street lamps to filter in. Ila immediately quieted at the sight of the hazy orange slash across the floor and sheets.
She settled even further once Idris pulled back the blanket and slid into bed beside her, facing the window and maneuvering her tiny body to lay back to his front. He smoothed his fingers through her hair and dropped a kiss on the crown of her head, his sinewy, tattooed arm carefully draped over her - the one she liked to call his coloring book arm.
"S'pose to be big like Cala," she mumbled after he'd settled, playing her fingers over the hair on his forearm.
He huffed a very quiet laugh. "Hmh, sometimes big girls need baba. Cala needs her baba too."
A small stretch of silence, where Idris could almost feel the gears turning in Ila's skull. It made the corner of his lip twitch up.
"Do you get bad dreams baba?"
Another kiss, his arm cradling her head. "Everyone has bad dreams."
"Do you get good ones?"
"Mhm. You will have good dreams now," his breath huffed over her hair, "as you are not alone anymore."
Her face scrunched in the dark, eyes flicking to the sliver of light coming in from the window. Silence reigned for several long moments, broken only by the scarce passing of cars on the street below. The soft sounds of coming and going lulled Idris to breathe deep and even behind Ila.
No immediate answer, so Ila papped his forearm with her tiny palm. He stirred next to her as she whispered, again, "Papa?"
"Mhh?" Idris's voice was gruff, edged with hoarseness of encroaching sleep interrupted.
It took Ila a puzzling amount of time to say whatever she meant to, and Idris nearly fell asleep again. When she finally did speak, her voice was a conspiratorial whisper in the otherwise unbroken quiet.
It took Idris a few seconds to comprehend what she was asking. It took him a few seconds more to pull words out from the mud of his mind. On reflex, he switched to Arabic without any loss of understanding from Ila - he'd done this since she'd been born, much to her absent mother's indignation at hearing him speak his first language.
"What do you mean?"
"Um, Cala said her brother married. She said it's a party."
She shifted in the dark and rolled over to look at Idris's face. The light of the window reflected dim and distant in his heavy-lidded, pitch black eyes. He blinked slow, pushing the pillow down and out of the way of his mouth to speak.
"Mm. When two people love each other, they get married. It can be like a party, with lots of people - and means they will be together a long time."
Her face scrunched in thought. "Forever?"
Idris's eyes slid shut, he heaved a tired huff, and then yawned.
Silence, again. He could still feel her eyes on him, and felt her tiny hands fidget with her soft, fuzzy plush that had ended up half mushed against his armpit at some point in the past five minutes. He didn't mind.
"Can I married you?" She asked just above a whisper, her fidgets increasing.
Idris's eyelids fluttered open to stare right into Ila's wide lilac eyes. He swallowed, then exhaled through flared nostrils; he had been tired, he had been on the cusp of sleep. Now, it seemed as though sleeping were a distant memory. An ache settled behind his eyes, his voice thick with an emotion that he couldn't place.
He was tired - that was all. He was just so... Tired.
"Darling, that is for grown ups."
"When I'm grown up, can I married you?" She was insistant, her pale eyes searched his face in the dark, the half-light from the curtain casting a faded glow to the bottom planes of his gaunt, angular features.
"Marry," he corrected her without thinking, swapping back to English, "you would marry me."
"Oh." Ila bit at her lip, scrubbing her face with the heel of one hand. "You said people who love each other do it..."
We can't do that was on the tip of his tongue. A statement that betrayed the emotion that beat so suddenly in his blood, the emotion that he could not - would not - give a proper name.
At the same time, he didn't want to quash her feelings if this gave her even an ounce of comfort. Her mother had left only a year and a half before, and she still asked him about her sometimes; though the questions had become less when will mama be back, and more, why did she leave.
Her nightmares were getting worse, in this growing awareness of an absence he could not put words to - not until she was older. For now, she didn't know the intricacies of what she was asking; how was there harm in indulging her, in giving her a gentle security in whatever childish fantasy she had about marriage? She would grow out of it, and he would too. He was certain of that.
"I love you," he placed a kiss on her forehead, and she made a noise at his more salt than pepper beard tickling her face, "if that is what you want, inshallah, yes. I can marry you."
Silence reigned again for several minutes, Ila's head nestled beneath his scruffy chin. She yawned and stretched her tiny body, mumbling so quietly he had to strain to hear her.
"Can I stay forever?"
Idris blinked, and a tear slid over the bridge of his nose. He coughed to hide his sudden sniff, moved to kiss her forehead again, and replied with gravel in his throat, "You can stay with baba for as long as you want, habibti."
Her fidgeting ceased, and Idris laid awake in the dark long after Ila's eyes closed and her breathing evened out, subsumed by the stillness of sleep.
"You do not remember that night?"
Ila blushed bright red, tucked a lock of white hair behind her ear, and stabbed at the hashbrowns piled haphazardly on her plate.
"I, um... what I remember, was telling Cala that I was going to get married the next day, after you dropped me off with her mom to go to work..."
She glanced back up at her father, sitting opposite her in the booth. They decided on going to their local diner haunt for a late breakfast before running some errands that day - and god only knows how they ended up talking about this. Ila searched his face, tapping the salt shaker in an absent-minded attempt at keeping her hand busy.
Idris raised a gray brow, staring at her above the rim of his glasses and sipping at his cold coffee. Ila took a deep breath.
"And when she asked to who in that snotty way of hers," Ila huffed out her breath, dipping a piece of toast into her coffee cup, "I told her, my baba. She was so grossed out that I never wanted to say anything about it again - to anyone."
She crunched on the coffee-saturated toast, picked up her fork, then stabbed at her food again with an incoherent grumble, probably about Cala.
Idris took a bite of his eggs, staring off above her head. When his gaze refocused on her, thoughtful, his nails tapped on the tabletop in a rhythm he couldn't place.
"Thought it was something you wanted to... To listen to that night. You were very frightened."
"Hear, papa. Wanted to hear." Ila shoved a forkful of egg and potato into her mouth, and Idris puzzled for a full minute over the different words that, to his mind, roughly meant the same damn thing, before he acknowledged her with a soft grunt and nothing else.
The din of the restaurant enveloped the both of them, and silence resumed at their table for as long as it took to finish their meals and be given drive-by drink refills by the singular, frazzled waitress. The murmurs of dozens of conversations insulated Ila when she spoke next with conspiratorial care, fork discarded on her empty plate in favor of clicking her nails on the hot ceramic mug between her hands.
"I never... Stopped wanting that, to be honest with you."
Idris paused in the midst of picking up his phone, setting it aside to look down at her instead. "To get married?"
Ila brought the plain white mug to her lips, lilac eyes flicking away from the suddenness of his dark, penetrating stare aimed directly at her. "I... I always knew it wasn't going to happen, y'know, after Cala laughed at me and I grew up and realized the... The full extent."
Her face got even redder, and she mumbled into the steaming coffee as if it would keep her secrets safe.
"I wanted it even more after knowing what marriage really was, and I stuffed it into a box just like I stuffed everything else into a box, but -"
She plonked the cup down after a hearty swallow, returning her father's gaze. "But it's nice to... To think about sometimes."
After a few minutes more, Idris flagged down the waitress for the check. Once it was set down, both of them pulled out their wallets and immediately glared daggers at the other. Their stare-off only lasted for a few seconds, before with a huff and a frown, Idris let Ila pay for the meal. This time.
That day and those errands came and went, as did the following week in a haze of relative normalcy. Until Idris opened bleary eyes one particular morning to a wide-eyed Ila laying beside him in the early hours just before dawn, the sky barely beginning to brighten to a light gray. It took close to a minute for him to fully register the way she was looking at him - and close to two for him to speak, voice thick with sleep.
"... How long have -"
"It's your birthday in a few days."
His lips parted, then his teeth clicked shut. He smoothed the pads of his fingers over the furrow in her pale brow.
"Seventy... two now, I think."
Her eyes never blinked and her brow never smoothed, despite Idris's incessant, firm massaging with rough fingertips. She reached for his face, cupping his jaw in both hands, thumbs brushing over the black and gray stubble that had grown in overnight.
His fingers stilled, he dropped his hand, and he sighed, theatrical in how he put his whole body into acting out the single exhale.
"Habibti, I am fine -"
"Have you made a doctor's appointment?"
Idris frowned. He couldn't remember the last time he'd been to his physician - maybe he was due. He propped his head up on his knuckles, his wavy mane of hair favoring one side and spilling over his arm and half of his face.
"It will make you happy?" He asked. His fingertips moving again to trail from her face, to her neck, down her arm.
Ila responded by pushing herself up and leaning forward, kissing him. Her nude body pressed in close to his, and he huffed into her mouth. His hands gripped at her with a suddenness that startled him, and when they broke apart he pulled her to sit astride his hips, hands splayed over and kneading at her thighs. She went without complaint, though it was her turn to sigh such a heavy sigh, supporting herself with her palms on his broad chest.
"I just want you to be healthy, that's all papa -"
Idris pushed himself up on his elbows, grasping her jaw in one huge hand and pressing their foreheads together, silencing her. His thumb brushed her cheek, and he planted a soft kiss to her lips. Their gazes locked, his eyes half-lidded with a need-not-be-spoken intent, and she smiled.
"I am strong as a bull; you will do well to remember that, little fawn," he murmured, then kissed her again, teeth catching her lower lip and clicking on the piercing there.
Ila insisted on taking him out for his birthday. He wanted a quiet day at home with her, but she hadn't relented in wanting to do something nice for him. Her stubbornness was what eventually charmed him into acceptance, though he would only fully acquiesce to her demands if she let him pay for the meal.
Which, she argued, completely went against the point of her taking him out for his birthday; he pointed out that she hadn't let him pay for what felt like a damn thing in weeks, and that was the gift. Ila shut her mouth after that and stomped off to get ready.
Now, Idris sat on his bed with his head tilted up, motionless while Ila closed the top button of his dress shirt. She smoothed her hands over the crisp white material just as he pulled his head level again. He leaned in to steal a peck on her cheek when her eyes were focused elsewhere, fussing with the placement of a seam on his pinstriped vest.
"Where are you taking me when home is good enough, Ila?" He asked against her ear in a low rumble, his cheek pressed against her temple.
He felt her fidget with his shirt collar, then smooth her palms over his broad shoulders. She leaned her head against his cheek, and her added weight did nothing to make him move even an inch.
"Somewhere nice. Please don't try to stop me again -"
Idris slid a hand over the swell of her hip, pulling her in closer between his legs. She yelped at the momentary loss of balance, and he caught her effortlessly with both hands.
"You are nice," he said with a purr in his chest, his grin lopsided and mischievous.
Ila swatted at his shoulder with a huff. He kissed her temple and righted her, kneading at the muscles in her back before smoothing out the wrinkles he'd caused in her black dress.
"You've been cooped up at home for weeks papa - I'm going to symbolically take you to dinner, just so you can pay for it because you're a stubborn ass, and then we can do whatever you like. Including -"
Idris opened his mouth to speak, but Ila pulled back and set her hands on his face, her expression hard. His lips pursed, and he waited.
"- come home and watch reruns of Sex In The City. Again."
She trailed her hands over his gaunt cheeks and kissed him before he could reply, though the way his eyes had lit up was not lost on her.
She lingered for several seconds, seconds spent unmoving, and when they broke apart her gaze flicked between his lips and his eyes. The air shifted; the previous charge dissipating as though a bucket of ice water had been thrown over the both of them. Ila blew out a slow breath, her lips parting. She looked like she wanted to kiss him again, her nails scraping over the stubble on his cheek.
Instead, she swept her hand over his pulled back hair to smooth out any fuzz, adjusted his glasses without meeting his gaze, then took a step back. She had been determined to take him out; the reservation had already been made, but the weight of the roles they had to craft and play with such care covered her like a sudden, leaden shroud. He'd grown quiet and still, not meeting her eyes either, and she knew he felt it too.
With that, she wandered into the bathroom to finish getting ready, and Idris went downstairs to wait for her. He kept twisting the rings on his right hand, idly tapping through his phone, checking and re-checking his pockets. It only took her a few minutes more to get ready, but tonight it felt like hours.
When she came down, heavy coat in hand and small purse strung over her shoulder, she made a beeline for the door and unlocked it -
Ila stopped, her hand on the doorknob. Idris pocketed his phone, stood with his coat in the crook of his arm, and rummaged in his remaining pockets. He made an exasperated sound when he didn't find whatever he'd been looking for - until he checked his vest pocket that was intended mainly for his silver pocket watch. He carefully extracted whatever it was in a closed fist.
"I want to give you something."
Ila raised an eyebrow with a noticeable exhale, jaw clenching. "You've been doing your damnedest to do that all night. Won't let me pay proper for dinner, won't even let me give you a gift - shouldn't I be giving you something on your birthday?"
Idris shook his head with a heavy sigh of his own, holding out his fist. It had only been a few minutes, and both of them were already on edge - maybe even beyond frustrated - not a great way to start off the night.
Ila let go of the handle and walked closer, placing her comparatively much smaller hand over his.
"It is as much a gift to me as it is to you," he said, voice a rough growl, then opened his hand.
On the drive to the restaurant, Ila inspected the plain silver band in her palm before pocketing it. As soon as Idris had given it to her, he leaned down as if to kiss her, thought better of it and righted himself, then led her to the car without another word.
She thought to ask about it, but then thought better when the silence was such a tense cloak around them. This wasn't so unexpected a side effect - she'd just hoped, maybe naively, that she could sidestep both of their agitated confusion about being in public, in a place more stereotypically meant for romantic couples, if the night had been some kind of gift. When they entered the restaurant, Ila mentioned the name for the reservation and the both of them were whisked away to a more private section of the dining room.
After their drink orders had been dropped off - water for him, wine for her, and a gruff wave of his hand saying that he'd have his drink after they got home - Ila pulled the silver band from the front pocket in her purse. She attempted to put it on her right ring finger, with little success. The corner of Idris's lip twitched for the first time in what felt like hours, though Ila hadn't noticed.
"Try the other hand, habibti."
Lo and behold, it fit perfectly on her left hand. She outstretched her fingers and ran her thumb over the plain face of it, thankful he hadn't gotten something with even small stones; they always fell out, no matter what she tried or how careful she was.
Ila fidgeted in the resumed silence and sipped at her wine, glancing between her dinner partner, the menu, and the ring. She couldn't take it anymore once he closed his menu and glanced up at her, catching her eye.
"Are you going to tell me what this is, or do I have to guess?"
Idris paused with his water glass to his lips. He took a sip, about to speak -
"How are we doing tonight, can I get you both started with anything?"
The waitress was back, notepad and pen in hand. Idris slid the menu to the edge of the cloth covered table and set his drink aside. Ila looked down at her still open menu, flicking over a page.
"Yes, can I have the -"
"Is that a ring?"
The waitress's eyes shifted between Ila and Idris as she picked up his menu, and a broad, giddy grin split her freckled face in two. "I can't believe I missed you proposing! That's what I get for being busy in another section, dang it - you're the third proposal tonight!"
Her voice was loud enough to catch the attention of the diners closest to them. Idris paled, though his face remained unchanging, and Ila's jaw dropped open, eyes flickering between Idris and the waitress. It took several seconds for anyone to speak above the hush of voices overlapping in the dining room, and in that time the waitress's smile gradually faded as those interested eyes from other tables began to shift away.
"I - I'm sorry, that was probably rude of me -"
"Ah, n-no, that's fine, it's -?" Ila looked across the table at Idris, fumbling for an explanation. She sure didn't know why Idris gave her the ring.
"Mm - that ring was my mother's. She," he gestured at Ila with a wince and a shudder; an action that carried with it a sudden, resounding sting as if he'd struck her instead of spoken, "is my daughter."
Idris cleared his throat and smoothed a gnarled hand over his vest, his eyes meeting neither woman's gaze after he stopped speaking. The waitress's expression fell into one of shocked embarrassment, her face scarlet.
"Oh. Oh goodness I am so sorry - you both look different, and I just assumed since it's on your left -"
Idris's apologetic glace above the waitress's shoulder did little to soothe the fury that sparked and boiled over in Ila's blood. She waved a hand - the one with the ring - and stuffed down the urge to cry with a dry laugh instead, slapping the menu closed. "It's fine. This happens to us way more than you'd believe it does. We're used to it."
The vocal emphasis was not lost on Idris, as Ila covertly glared daggers at him. The waitress let out a nervous laugh, and seemed to only start relaxing again while taking their orders.
The rest of the meal came and went in a tense quiet, and Ila kept looking between the ring on her hand and her very silent father across the table, a palpable ache in her chest. She barely tasted the pork tenderloin and potatoes, the wine did little to relax the lump in her throat, and she didn't attempt to counter Idris paying for the meal even halfheartedly.
To add insult to invisible injury, the waitress apologized again when she came and got the check. Idris spoke that time, assuring her that they didn't mind, really. As they left the restaurant, shrugging on their coats and gloves, she wondered if maybe staying home had been the best course of action - it was what Idris initially wanted, after all. Probably for this very reason, to avoid the minefield of navigating social norms that had them both caught in a limbo that could not be helped.
Idris veered them away from the car, instead taking a detour to walk in the park across from the restaurant. The night was still young enough for other people to be taking their own walks, chattering and laughing amongst themselves, but late enough that a hush settled around them in the cold, quiet dark. He kept his hand on her back, partway obscured from view by the heavy coat and dark gloves. His thumb rubbed circles through the material of her coat, and she understood it was another silent apology. She didn't react.
Several more moments passed before either of them spoke. It was Ila who did so first; her voice at once raspy and firm as she attempted to wipe at her eyes with a degree of dignity. At least their height difference made it a little easier for her to hide that she'd been fighting angry tears for the last ten minutes.
"I, um, didn't know you had anything of grandma's to pass down to me."
Another hollow laugh masked her rising urge to cry, sarcasm thick on her tongue as leaves crunched underfoot. "Didn't think you'd plan so far ahead like that. Thirty years in the making for a f-fucking ring."
They came upon a park bench and sat without another word, Ila beneath Idris's arm. The wind rustled the dry, colorful leaves along the winding smooth-stone path. It took him a long time to reply, and in that silence Ila wiped intermittently at her eyes, no longer caring if he knew she was upset. It's not like any other part of her was subtle.
"Sorry," she blurted, then sniffed. "You - w-we have to act when we go out, and," she gestured in the air, "a-and fuck that hurt, and I... I'm sorry. We should have stayed home -"
Ila stopped at his quiet rumble, her hands hanging in the air in front of her before they dropped into her lap. She craned her neck to look at his face, blinking.
Idris combed a hand through his silver slicked-back hair, frazzling the shorter hairs that fell out of the loose bun at the back of his head, glancing sidelong at her. His exhale steamed in the frigid air as he turned to face her on the bench, his knees pressed against hers. Without another word, he pulled off the fabric gloves he slipped on as they left the restaurant; his right hand was unremarkable - the rings on his knobby middle and pinky fingers a constant.
When he removed the glove on his left, though, Ila blinked at the very new addition of a plain silver band on his ring finger, a matched mate to hers. Shaking hands reached out to touch it, then she all but tore off her left glove to look between them, her heart hammering against her sternum.
Several moments ticked by with only the wind whispering through half-bare tree branches for conversation. They were moments where Ila dared not utter a sound, moments where her mind was a field of white noise. She couldn't ask, she couldn't guess, she couldn't hope. Her breath escaped in a puff of steam; a tear streaked down her cheek that she didn't bother to dash away. She couldn't, wouldn't speak -
Idris's voice was gruff when he gathered her shaking, silent body against his side, his right hand rubbing her arm while she clutched his left for dear life. His fingers squeezed hers, gentle, and a single, shuddering sob passed her lips when she touched the ring on his hand again. She pressed his knuckles against her cheek as his free hand smoothed over her hair.
"I... Cannot proposition -"
"P-propose." Ila corrected on reflex, her eyes squeezed shut.
"- yes. I cannot do that... I. Mmh."
He cleared his throat, opting for Arabic instead of fumbling through English. "I cannot give you a wedding," Ila shook her head, a laugh huffed from between clenched teeth, tears dripping onto his gnarled hand, "and I cannot call you my wife..."
"But, my dear," he tilted her face up to meet his gaze, wiping under her pale eyes with a thumb, "I can give you a ring. Where is the harm in an old man giving a ring to his only daughter?"
There was an edge of sarcasm in his voice despite how rough with emotion it was. It made a genuine laugh rise in her throat through her tears for the first time that night, and she used her coat sleeve to wipe off the rest of her face.
Idris's thumb stroked lazy circles on the top of her hand. He was looking at her, waiting for a response when she looked up at him. What bred animosity between them when they stepped into their theatrical roles as they stepped outside was discarded outright, when she cupped his face in her hands. She leaned up and pulled him down to press a chaste, lingering kiss to his mouth. He didn't move away like she expected he might, and he leaned forward to hold the back of her neck in one palm, his other smoothing back loose hair from her face.
Not long after, they walked back to the car and made their way home. Once inside, the silence was broken by Ila clearing her throat, mumbling about taking a shower, and making her way upstairs to the master bedroom.
Idris, left alone in the kitchen, poured himself a glass of rum on the rocks. He leaned against the black tile countertop, nursing it while he listened to the shower turn on, the pipes rattling through the wall. What happened had not gone according to the way he'd envisioned, and at that point he wasn't sure quite how he thought it could have gone any different in a public setting. He sucked on his teeth and downed the rest of the glass, the alcohol fluttering through his head and burning the back of his tongue.
After standing in the quiet with only the rumbling of the pipes for company, Idris went to the sink and rinsed his glass, setting it on the counter before making his way upstairs. He ducked into the master bedroom, hesitant, then sat on the bed after smoothing out the wrinkles in his black, pinstriped slacks. He stared through the open bathroom door for a few minutes more, then called over the sound of the water.
Ila poked her head out from behind the curtain. Their eyes met, and Idris wasn't certain he understood what he saw in her expression.
"May I...?" He glanced down at the floor, then gestured toward the shower. The silence punctuated by the running water stretched for longer than was comfortable, for either of them.
Finally, Ila sucked in a breath. "I think I want to be alone right now."
Idris fidgeted with his hands, nodded, then got up to leave the room.
Her voice was soft, but it was enough to give him pause and look toward her with a puzzled expression.
"I um... You can stay here," she gestured to the bedroom, flinging droplets of water, "but I'd prefer to shower alone tonight."
Without another word, Idris sat back down on the bed as Ila returned to her shower. He divested himself of his vest, shirt, belt, and socks, pulling his phone from his pocket to poke at the internet as a distraction. He stopped short when he spotted the ring on his left hand. He extended his long fingers and flexed them, watching the silver glint in the low light of the room. He contemplated it long after the water stopped running.
Idris flinched when Ila touched his shoulder, and looked between her and the phone held limply in his hand. He never actually looked at it; hadn't even turned the screen on.
"Ila, I -"
She put a hand on his neck and leaned up to kiss him. His hand instinctively settled on her waist, though he hesitated when he felt the dampened towel beneath his palm and not a whole lot more.
When they broke apart, they both said I'm sorry within a second of the other, their voices overlapping. Both of their brows knit in a near identical expression of confusion. Ila rested her forehead on his hooked nose with a sigh, and his hand rubbed over her towel-clad hip.
"You first," she mumbled.
"I want to apologize for what I had to say at dinner... How I said it."
He winced, and this time it was genuine. "And for the ring. I had it planned. Taking me to dinner was good cover, but..."
He sighed, his hands gripped and all but swallowed her shoulders. His thumbs brushed the column of her throat, wicking away water that still beaded on her clavicle.
"I did not think that would happen. Lying. I hurt you, I am sorry. I know how - how important this is for you."
She sniffed and pressed in close between his legs, wrapping her arms around his ribs without reply. He hesitated again, then settled his hands on her head and back, pulling her flush against him, both of them wrapped up in silence. Eventually, Ila moved from his embrace to hang her bath towel over the shower curtain rod, turn off the light, and slip into bed under the sheets.
Idris didn't bother changing out of his slacks, letting her curl up halfway on his chest while he laid on his back, staring at the ceiling. It might have been the rum, or how long the day felt, but his eyes grew heavy and he was near ready to succumb to the impulse to sleep -
"I'm sorry papa."
"Mmh?" Idris blinked out of his trance, tilting his head up to look at Ila, whose wide, pale eyes were trained on his face. She smoothed her hand over his sinewy chest, fingers trailing through dense, wiry silver hair.
"For getting upset and taking it out on you... For making you go out to dinner with me." She sniffed and waved a hand, her voice a whisper. "Putting you in that position at all."
"Habibti, it is okay," he mumbled, rolling onto his side and shimmying under the sheets with her.
She curled up against his chest, her head tucked under his chin. His hand smoothed down her bare back a few times, coming to rest over her hip, and she kissed his bobbing Adam's apple when he swallowed.
"Thank you for the ring."
His arm folded over her back, and his head tilted to rub his nose into her hair. She smelled like warm cedar and lavender, a mix of both of their soaps, and he felt himself relax in ways he hadn't realized he'd been tense before.
"There is a matching inscription inside each ring." A kiss to the crown of her head. "It is in Arabic -"
"I can't read Arabic, baba." Ila huffed against his skin.
"You know what it says already, habibti."
His hand snared in her hair then, a soft vice, and he tucked her head further against him to murmur in her ear. "When you were very small, you asked to marry me; asked how long you could stay with your papa... Remember?"
She went still against him, her breath puffing on his neck. He kissed her temple, letting go and running his fingers through her colorless hair.
"I... I-Idris -"
"I was going to... Mmh, be poetic." He gestured with his hand, while she took a shaky breath. "Simple is bet -"
Ila wiggled up from her scrunched position against her father, interrupting him. He watched her, then blinked when she kissed him. What had been chaste before grew desperate now, her nails biting at the bare skin of his shoulder, her fingers snaring in his soft silver hair in the same manner his just had to hers.
They pulled away long enough for Idris to roll onto his elbows above her and groan; huge, hot hands grasping her wherever they fell. On the side of her head and neck, on her ribs - the press of his lips sending sparks zipping through her skin. He fell to the opposite side of her from where he started, looping one arm around her back to cradle her against his chest, the other trailing down between her legs.
He pressed a kiss to her cheek, then butted his nose against the same spot, his hand splayed just above the patch of white curls on her groin, fingertips playing over where the soft hair started.
"Don't tease," she whimpered, parting her thighs and grabbing his wrist to guide his hand down. He wouldn't budge, tapping his fingers on her skin.
Instead of doing as she demanded, his hand laid flat on her stomach, his nose and lips grazing over her temple and cheek. A laugh carried on a hard exhale as she attempted to push his hand again, and his fingers gripped her flesh in defiance.
Another brush of his lips, then he mumbled against the side of her head, "I saw the physician yesterday."
Ila's effort paused, and she leaned back to stare up at what of Idris's face she could see in the pitch dark of their bedroom. Her heart skipped, her lips parting to speak - to ask, are you okay?
He leaned down and captured her lips in his in a slow, gentle caress, trailing his fingers low enough to sweep a feather-light touch on her clit. Her breath hitched as he pulled away, the arm cradling her tightening.
"Healthy and strong as a bull."
His breath was hot on her cheek, and both of their faces split into near-identical grins, foreheads pressed together.
"I cannot promise forever," he rubbed his nose against hers, the hand between her legs gripping and kneading her thigh, "but I will promise as long as I am here."
Ila cupped his jaw, sighing when his fingertips fluttered over her clit again. Her cheek rubbed against his rough one, and she kissed where his neck began. "You sound like you're rehearsing vows."
He laughed, his hand cupping her mound and fingers sliding between the silky folds of her vulva.
"How do those go... to have and hold?"
Ila snorted and fell back against the pillow as Idris followed to press feather-light kisses to her throat. "Well, you are currently doing at least one of those, so - oh!"
"In sickness, and health...?" His tongue glided over her skin, just as two of his fingers sunk into her, thumb brushing her clitoris in slow side-to-side strokes. She whimpered, her hips bucked up, her hand gripping the black sheets.
He pumped his long fingers with a slow, steady care, hooking them up as his teeth grazed her small breast. "Until death do we part?"
His voice rattled against her skin and Ila panted at the edge of a groan, one of her arms looped around his neck. "A-as romantic a sentiment that is, you're n-not dying any time soon, old man."
He grinned enough to crinkle his crows feet, his tongue darting out to lap at her nipple and pull a sharp, short gasp from her lips. He rumbled and did it again just as he twisted his fingers inside her, growling when her hand fisted in his hair and a whine crested in her throat.
"No, I am not... But I can give small deaths. Is it not my duty to please my wife?"
Ila stilled. Idris's fingers slowed, then pulled out of her. His hand rested on her middle while he looked at her reaction with a dawning confusion.
"You said you... Couldn't call me that, in the park," she mumbled.
His crooked nose buried into her hair, his breath fluttering loose strands of it.
"Not in public... We are alone?" Another kiss to her hair. "Prefer I do not...?"
Ila wiggled in his arm, rolled onto her side, and wrapped both of her arms around his neck again, rubbing her face against his. He grumbled something that probably wasn't words, and definitely wasn't English.
"I knew what you... What you did when I saw your ring, but I didn't - couldn't think of you or me, as..."
She pulled back and found his face in the dark. What little light existed in the room flickered off the pitch black of his eyes. His thumb swept over her cheek, his palm engulfing the side of her neck. There were only quiet breaths between them for several moments more before Idris spoke again in a rolling, throaty whisper.
"In my heart of hearts you are my daughter and my wife, will always be mine. The ring," he found her left hand, pulling it up to press his lips to her knuckles, gaze boring into hers, "is to show you how I feel, in spite of how we are seen by others."
"Can mine do that for you, my dear?" He asked, splaying his left hand over the side of her head, his ring grazing her skin; reminding her, grounding her.
Ila sniffed. She held his gnarled, veined hand in both of hers and squeezed, blinking rapidly in the dark as though doing so would stop her tears.
Ila attempted to swallow past the lump in her throat, but the attempt was thwarted by her father's lips finding hers. A long-held sob suddenly left her, her body locking in a single, sustained shiver. Idris made a soft noise in the back of his throat.
"Ma'lesh habibti." He kissed her forehead, maneuvering to cradle her nude body in one lanky, sinewy arm again.
The comfort in both his voice and physicality made her press in close, at once a girl confused by her need and a woman desperate to fulfill it. Both halves sought softness from the man who raised her, the man all too willing to give it before she could ever ask.
Ila inhaled, sharp and fragmented, and croaked against his neck, "I've w-wanted to be able to call you my h-husband since... S-since I was a girl."
Her hands balled into fists against his chest, his free hand stroking down the curve of her back. Tears streaked over the bridge of her nose, dripped onto the pillow below her head, the silence punctuated by her sniffing and the whisper of the sheets.
"I cannot give a wedding, or... Proposal," Ila snorted a small laugh despite herself at Idris's self-correction, "but I can give a ring, as ceremony. I can promise all that I have left to give you."
"I promise too," she whispered, shuddering as his hand smoothed down her back.
Eventually, Ila's balled-up hands relaxed; her fingers tentative in exploring the planes of his chest. She sniffed a few more times, but found that she quickly ran dry of tears this time. All she wanted was closeness right then - and Idris gave that in spades, his body curled around hers without prompt.
They both shifted in the other's embrace after another long stretch of still silence, Idris pressing kisses against her hair and murmuring nonsense words, his fingertips stroking over her pale skin. Ila's hand trailed up to his cheek, and she tilted his head down to face her upturned one, kissing him before he could say anything of substance in Arabic or English.
His hand stilled, then dropped down to rest over her upper arm. His kiss was a slow, lazy response to hers - a question in the rumble at the back of his tongue.
Ila pushed on his chest, asking without words for him to roll onto his back - but Idris did the opposite, rolling her onto her back and hovering above her. They broke apart, and she searched his face with a tiny frown, barely perceptible in the dark.
His fingers stroked over her neck, up the side of her head, tangling in her white hair as he pressed his forehead to hers, breath puffing across her face as he mumbled in Arabic, "Is it not my duty to please my new wife?"
Her lips formed an 'o', her nails scratching their way up his flexed biceps. She pulled one of her legs up between his, brushing against his half-hard cock in his slacks. The tiniest hitch in his inhaled breath gave away his ignored need, his head dipping next to hers. She felt him pulse against her leg, and it prompted her to bite her lip, shy but invigorated.
"You should probably take those off," Ila murmured, pressing a kiss to his ear. She brushed her leg against the inside of his thigh, smiling when he muffled an already quiet moan against her neck.
"Want to please you first," he growled, kissing her chest. Ila stopped him with a hand on his shoulder, fingers slipping down to tilt his chin up to look at her. Her lip was between her teeth again when she caught his eye.
"Later, please, I... Want to be close to you. C-close to my husband." The word felt foreign on her tongue, transgressive; a leap beyond anything she'd ever hoped for in her wildest fantasies, ever hoped to utter aloud.
They both stilled that time. Idris swallowed as her hand pet his jaw, then he moved back up to kiss her again - and this time, it was his turn to flood her senses with a desperate desire. She felt more than saw him shuck off what clothing remained, felt him press flush against her, hands hot and seeking everywhere they touched her. She felt the planes of an angular body so familiar to her that it made her skin ache, made her heart thud so hard she was sure he could hear it in the spaces between their bodies.
So familiar, yet that night's context made both of their explorations of the other urgent, yet unhurried; desperate and effortless. By its end, Ila was certain she mapped every vein, bone and muscle beneath her father's dark flesh - mapped the sharp creases of weathered skin so thoroughly she need only touch him to understand him. By its end, Idris knew the arch of her ribs and spine, the twitch of her muscles, the beat of her blood and the scratch of her nails so clearly that he need never see her again to know her touch.
Throughout it all, they both found their left hands brushing together; lingering, mirroring, and finding the least awkward ways possible to entwine, even if only briefly. Their identical silver bands clicked together in those fleeting moments, and each perceived click and touch of warm metal made them both laugh, sigh, moan, sob. In disbelief, in recognition, in joy and in grief for a connection only just flourishing with so little time left.
The rings said forever in secret; what they meant aloud - what they promised from a father to his daughter - was as long as possible. Enveloped in the heat of the other; in the muffled cries against seeking lips and growls into salty, slick flesh; in the knowing of one another, as long as possible could feel like forever.
As long as possible, then, became more than enough for them both.
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