And so the end arrives. This is the 'Where Are They Now' chapter that no melodramatic piece of fanfiction could possibly do without. Tariq's wife, Ciara, is the creation of fellow FF member Navycorpsman. More of Ciara can be found in Navy's story "The Homecoming." All standard disclaimers still apply. Drumroll PLEASE!
Epilogue - Ann Arbor, MI - 20 Years Later
Ten hours in a car made pulling into the Nassiri driveway feel like mooring La Niña in the Bahamas after five weeks at sea. For Silas and Jamila, the day had started much earlier, with a nonstop flight from Anchorage that ended four hours short of its intended destination. December's first snowstorm was fast approaching, and rather than waiting it out in Minneapolis, as the airline suggested, they'd rented a Suburban, and finished the trip by land. When Jamila started for the porch, the first few flakes were beginning to fall.
"You're finally here! I was about to send a search party," Tariq's wife said throwing open the front door before her guests had a chance to knock.
"Come on in, aren't you guys cold?" she asked rubbing her hands together. Silas and Jamila's clothes were more Southern California than Winter in Ann Arbor, but a decade of living in Alaska had built up their tolerance to the cold. "What am I talking about? This is probably as warm as it gets up there in the summer, right?"
"It was pretty warm in August," Silas said shedding a knit beanie. At 56, his hair was more salt than pepper, and cropped very short to disguise this fact. "It got up to seventy, right, baby?"
"Tariq is in the library with Smoke, Chris," Ciara said. "You should go rescue Smoke before Tariq breaks out the vacation slides."
MSgt. Christopher Silas (Retired) looked at her with a hint of relief. While his social graces had come a very long way with Jamila's influence, he was like most men in a similar situation: as communicative as a rock.
"Come on back here, I've got the girls holed up in the den," Ciara said to Jamila, leading the way down a long hallway that doubled as a family portrait gallery.
Tariq and Ciara were on first; as kids in Detroit. She was holding a large lizard in front of Tariq's nose, his eyes crossed as they focused on the squirming creature. Prom pictures, Army pictures, wedding pictures, baby pictures, school plays, ski vacations. They passed a large kitchen, the smell of dinner lingering around it, and came upon more photos. Tariq and Ciara in India; on an elephant with the Jumma Mosque in the background. Ciara shopping in Jerusalem. Tariq five years earlier, visiting a Baghdad bazaar looking every inch the Middle Eastern Studies professor that he was, accompanied by his first graduate class.
They ran out of walls and stopped. The den was the largest room in the house, divided into functional thirds with a TV area, a cozy reading nook on the opposite end, and a collection of sofas in the middle that didn't match a central theme, but fit seamlessly anyway. Vanessa stood up first, reaching Jamila at the halfway point. They hugged tightly.
"Welcome to civilization!" Vanessa said laughing.
Both women took a step back to look at each other. Despite their close friendship, Vanessa hadn't been in the United States for eleven years. Jamila untied the knot keeping her headscarf in place. Even at 46, her hair was a rich chestnut brown, but then she never missed an appointment at the salon. Vanessa wasn't as religious in that aspect. Her hair had grayed evenly at the crown, which now matched the red in equal parts.
"I'm sorry about Frank," Jamila whispered to her friend.
"Thank you." They hugged again. "For the flowers and for your help with Monster in Law. Without you, I'd never have been able to bury him in peace."
"I kept hoping you'd reconsider and let me feed her to the wolves."
"What did the wolves ever do to you?" Vanessa asked laughing.
Five months earlier, Jamila had been busy trying to cook a chicken without actually touching it –Chris did all most of the cooking in their house- when Vanessa's collect call from Iraq interrupted her best efforts. Frank had died unexpectedly, felled by a heart attack on his 46th birthday. Without Jamila's help, Frank's mother would succeed in claiming the body and taking her son from his life's work in the Dohuk village in Northern Iraq where he taught primary school; just to be buried in a meaningless slot of earth where the rest of the Dumphys were interred.
Vanessa and Frank had divorced years earlier, and even though their relationship was better than in its married days, she had no power to stop the process. With Eddy's help, Jamila had changed Celia Dumphy's mind.
"I'd get up to hug you, but Ciara sent away the tow truck," Brenda said from her spot on one of the couches. She was pregnant with her seventh child, and four days overdue.
"Sweetheart," Jamila said bending over to greet her, "I think Vanessa's gonna have to explain the laws of probability to you again. This is your sixth girl. If you and Maurice want a boy, you're going to have to trade Sergio and Esmeralda for one of theirs."
"I just want this thing out of me," Brenda whined. "I haven't seen my feet in so long, I'm pretty sure I have three of them now."
"Where are the Del Rios anyway?" Jamila sat down by Brenda. "I know Bo and Terry are stuck in Texas preparing The Aggies for the Cotton Bowl, but Sergio has no excuse. I'm starving."
"Esmeralda won't be able to make it either. There was an issue with one of the new drills in the platform and she had to fly back to Singapore," said Brenda.
Brenda and Esmeralda lived in adjacent houses in Richmond. When Esmeralda wasn't jetting off to train a client on one of the drills she designed and sold to every oil company drilling in the South China Sea, they shared a backyard pool and tried to keep track of the large number of children each woman had borne through the years.
To widespread surprise among the group, after failed marriages to other people, Maurice 'Smoke' Williams, and Brenda 'Mrs. B' Mitchell had married the day after she retired from the military. The construction firm they ran together in Virginia handled over eighty million dollars in contracts every year. Brenda had successfully outgrown her nickname, while Maurice had simply managed to change the meaning of his.
Ciara reappeared in the den holding a six-pack of juice boxes, still encased in hard, plastic shrink-wrap.
"I just talked to Avery and Laura," she said referring to Avery 'Angel' King, and his wife. "They weren't as lucky as Chris and Jamila who got to spend all that quality time on the road together, and they got snowed-in in Alexandria."
"Then let's drink in their honor!" Vanessa said holding out a hand to catch the grape juice that Ciara threw in her direction. "Oh this is a great vintage," she said turning over the box in her hand.
"Actually I have some news that we need to toast," Ciara continued, handing out the rest of the juice. She cleared her throat. "As you all know, my 45th birthday is coming up in a week." She smiled. "I was a little depressed about getting older, so Tariq did his best to cheer me up, and it worked 'cause I'm pregnant. We're gonna have baby number three!"
Ciara's laughter joined a chorus of hoots, and congratulations. "You know what this means, right?" she asked looking at Brenda, picking up the thread of an earlier conversation. "Unless Vanessa or Jamila can top my news, I get the thirteenth brownie."
"Oh, no you don't!" Brenda cut in. "My nipples look like plates, and I have six new stretch marks in my butt. If anyone deserves the thirteenth brownie, it's me."
"Wait, wait," Jamila said raising her hand. "I have some news too, and I think you'll all agree, that brownie is in the bag."
"You are pregnant with sextuplets?" Vanessa asked trying to keep a straight face.
"No, it's even rarer." Jamila set down her empty juice box. "My lovely Aisha actually managed to convince her father that finishing university in Anchorage is going to hurt her career, and that she needs to transfer to the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor."
"Indeed," Ciara piped in. "Chris and Jamila are staying a couple extra days to tour the campus with my renowned husband, the tenured professor."
"Chris was a little reluctant at first," Jamila continued. "His little girl is going to be 4,000 miles away! But she went to work on convincing Dad, and he was hopeless. She's even convinced Chris and Adam to help her move in."
"Obviously, Aisha deserves the thirteenth brownie," Vanessa said. "Just tell her to make sure Daddy doesn't rewire the doorbell to shock her dates!" she added.
The smell of roast turkey had taken over the back of the house, but it's true reach became apparent as Tariq, Silas and Maurice appeared at the foot of the stairs, following the scent like a Garfield comic strip. The oven timer dinged from the kitchen.
"Food!" seven voices cried in unison.