Twelve years later they meet again, with the threat of war hanging once more over their heads. This time, he wouldn’t let her go.
(Yeah, yeah, I know, it needs a better synopsis... working on it!)
FireStorm by Allie McCormack
©2019 by Allie McCormack
Jubail, Saudi Arabia. February, 1991.
A young girl was crying softly nearby. She was American, a couple years younger than he... maybe fourteen or so, her jeans and loose shirt identifying her as one of the group of students from the Jubail School who’d come to help. Ugly black oil streaked her long blonde hair and her face, the filthy stuff completely covering the dead cormorant she cradled in her arms. He rose from where he sat and went to her.
“I’ll take it,” Faisal told her, his voice rough from lack of sleep. “You okay?”
She hugged the bird close, her head bent over its limp body.
“I couldn’t save it,” she whispered. “I haven’t been able to save even one.”
That was no surprise. He fought down the bitterness and rage that rose within his chest, threatening to choke him. Few of the birds lived; even fewer would ever make it back into the wild. The girl sitting cross-legged on the ground looked up at him, her drenched eyes as blue as the desert sky.
“How?” she asked him. “How could they do it?”
“The Iraqi soldiers are animals. They destroy everything they touch.” Including his own cousin, his brother-in-law. The soldiers had tortured him, that much Khalid, the oldest of the Al Mansour brothers, had been able to discover, but Saiid’s body had never been found.
He took the dead bird from the girl and put it aside.
“Come work with me,” he invited, holding his hand out to her. “I think the one I have will make it, but I could use some help with it.”
She took his hand, wiping her face with her other arm, smearing the grime further. She was as tired as he, although her grip was firm as she allowed him to pull her to her feet. Faisal led the way back to his own area. At sixteen, he’d shot up in height this last year, and his long limbs felt awkward beside the girl’s graceful movements.
“Where are you from?” she asked as she settled beside him.
A glimmer of amusement at the girl’s astonished expression found its way through the blackness that had filled his soul these last six months since the war started. One of seven children, he was the one most like their mother in coloring, with her fair skin, honey blond hair and green eyes. He lifted the listless bird, letting the girl hold it still in her lap while he began cleaning oil off the long slender neck.
“My mother is American,” he explained. “I take after her.”
She nodded. “That explains why you don’t have an accent. I’m American too. My parents are doctors, working at the hospital here.”
“I’m from Riyadh. My oldest brother is part of the convoy that left for Kuwait last night with relief supplies.”
Khalid wouldn’t allow him to go with them. Faisal understood that; the older ones always looked out for the younger, but he hated being left behind. His cousins, his family, were under attack, and he burned to do what he could to help. Then he’d heard about this place, the effort to save the oil-soaked water birds. The plight of thousands of birds was desperate. At least he felt of some use here.
A shattering boom shook the ground beneath them, the very air itself shuddering, quickly followed by the sound of a second explosion. There was absolute silence for several heartbeats before the loud blaring of sirens warned belatedly of an incoming missile.
The girl’s face drained of all color, starkly white beneath the grime. Her hands shook, but Faisal noted that she kept her grip on the bird steady.
“Hey.” Faisal dropped the cloth he’d been using to clean the bird and put his arm around her shoulders. Her slender body was trembling, and he pulled her closer.
“It’s okay. It didn’t hit us.”
She buried her face in his shoulder, her voice quivering slightly. “I hate this. I hate war.”
Rage flashed through him, harsh and ugly. “Me too.”
“Aren’t you scared?”
“Sure.” He shrugged, wanting to reassure her when no reassurance was possible. What were her parents thinking, to remain here and put their daughter at risk? Jubail was so close to Kuwait, and a major target because of all the Coalition forces based here. “But we’re still here, so what’s the point in worrying about it? If the SCUD had hit us, we’d be dead and wouldn’t know about it anyway.”
Her color changed from white to a little bit on the green side, and he changed tactics.
“Hey, what do you call a dead SCUD?”
Her head tilted as she looked up at him. “What?
Faisal grinned. “An ex-Patriot.”
Her laughter was like nothing he’d heard before, washing over him like raindrops on a hot summer’s evening. He really looked at her for the first time. Her blue eyes were bright with humor in a piquant face, heart-shaped, a wide mouth with curving lips and a pointed chin. Something shifted inside him as he looked at her, unexpectedly wrenching at his gut.
Without thought he leaned down to touch his lips to hers. Even as he realized what he’d done, her lips softened in shy response. For a moment they clung together, and then he drew back, her taste still singing through him. The startled awareness in her wide eyes, the flush on her cheeks, touched him as nothing ever had before.
“I’m sorry,” he said, his arms dropping away from her. “I didn’t mean to do that. I shouldn’t have.”
She nodded, accepting, but the color in her cheeks deepened. The bird she was holding stirred in her grasp, distracting them. Faisal was grateful. He didn’t know what had gotten into him... he’d never done such a thing in his life. Not that he couldn’t have kissed a girl before if he’d wanted to, even here in super-strict Saudia. But he’d never been interested. He liked sports... polo and soccer with his brothers and friends, going hawking with the elders of the tribe. He didn’t have time for girls, and none of the girls he’d known made him feel the way this one did. None of them made him want to kiss them. He could still taste her, sweet and fresh. Innocent.
He didn’t even know her name.
This page was created on 5/14/2019