Gold Medal Winner in the Florida Book Awards for Popular Fiction
Silver Medal Winner in the Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Awards for Thriller & Suspense
Torn between two cultures—allegiance to two families—a child in the middle
Nicole Nelson and Ahmed Masud are a dynamic, highly successful Philadelphia couple. They are partners in a thriving plastic surgery practice, are very much in love, and they adore their young son, Alex. But cracks are beginning to appear in their fairy-tale life: lingering post-9/11 prejudice against Arab men, accumulating malpractice lawsuits for Ahmed, and most recently, pressure from Ahmed’s wealthy family in Cairo for him to return to Egypt—permanently—with his son.
The Masud family pressure becomes a demand as the Hosni Mubarak regime is seriously threatened by protestors in Egypt. Ahmed’s family owes their control of the Egyptian cotton empire directly to Mubarak cronyism. If Mubarak goes down, the Masuds will surely lose their wealth, maybe even their lives. They need Ahmed back in Egypt to implement their plan to move their fortune and family out of Egypt and into South America.
Ahmed must make a decision—stay with Nicole in America or obey his father. And what about their son?
Tragic consequences, which Ahmed could have never foreseen, propel both the Masud family and the Nelson family on a path toward unspeakable tragedy.
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About the Author
Gussin’s first novel, Shadow of Death, was a finalist for Best First Novel by International Thriller Writers. Twisted Justice, The Test, And Then There Was One, Weapon of Choice, and After the Fall, winner of the Florida Book Award, followed. Come Home, Gussin’s seventh novel, won the 2017 Florida Book Award Gold Medal in Popular Fiction.
She lives in Sarasota, Florida, and in Amagansett, New York, with her husband, Dr. Robert Gussin, and together they co-authored What’s Next...For You?
Read an Excerpt
By Patricia Gussin
Oceanview PublishingCopyright © 2017 Patricia Gussin
All rights reserved.
Sunday, January 9, 2011
Today, at one p.m., as he did every Sunday, Ahmed Masud called his family at their home in Giza — Egypt's third largest city — yet mapped as part of metropolitan Cairo. This ritual had not changed since his arrival in the United States fifteen years ago as a surgical resident. His parents, now in their seventies, his older sister, older brother and his younger sister would be sitting around the travertine marble table in the library. Each was a distinctive voice on the speaker phone. His kid brother also could be clearly heard, conferenced in from his Brussels mansion, the European strategic outpost for Masud interests.
The call did not include any spouses of the five Masud siblings. The agenda, almost always strictly business — the family's textile mega conglomerate. Rarely would they digress to include a family milestone or accomplishment. Ahmed contributed little to these calls, and over the years, considered them an annoying intrusion into his thriving all-American life. But after the twin towers fell and Americans' casual curiosity about Arab men became noticeably hostile, he began to appreciate the weekly family connection. But he had no interest in Egyptian politics — today's main topic — nor the dreary financial details of the fabric industry. For him, the cushy niche of a prosperous Philadelphia plastic surgeon had been everything he'd dreamed — until recently.
Ahmed rolled his chair farther back from his custom-designed home-office desk, distancing the loud, angry voice of his elder brother, Jafari, their father's successor in all Masud business affairs — patriarch-to-be. Jafari's abrupt directive came in Arabic — "With or without your American wife — book your flight home. We need to consolidate family resources. We need you to help move assets out of Egypt before it's too late."
"Ahmed —" his older sister Merit broke in — gutsy for an Egyptian woman, even an upper class one —"How can you ignore what's going on! Forces are building against us. A full-on Mubarak rebellion is in play —"
His father interrupted, "If Mubarak goes down, we go with him."
"Father, you're being melodramatic," said Neema, Ahmed's younger sister.
"You shut up." Jafari shouted. "What do you know about what's going on in Egypt! All you do all day is read poetry. Do you even know what's happening in Tunisia? That bullshit story of the kid there who set himself on fire."
Ahmed had heard about Bouaziza, the twenty-six-year-old street vendor who'd set himself on fire to protest police brutality. Today's New York Times had a followup. Something about a major strike, demanding an end to police brutality — good luck with that. Followed by mass arrests of activists, bloggers, copy-cat protesters ... but that's Tunisia.
"That street vendor story is playing big in Europe," Ahmed's brother Seth put in from his Brussels vantage point. "International Federation for Human Rights in Paris — major pressure on Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Word here is, he'll resign."
Who —? Ben Ali must be the Tunisian President, Ahmed figured. He'd only skimmed the article.
"I understand about Mubarak, how tied-in the family is to him, but —"
Ahmed," his father's voice sounded much smaller than usual, "you said yourself you face discrimination in America. Now is the time. We need you back here, now. Bring your son. Leave your wife. Or bring her —"
"If you can keep her under control," Jafari added. "We have no time to waste on her. The climate in Egypt is getting ugly, and —"
"Ahmed, my dear child," his mother inserted, "please, bring little Wati to me soon. I want to see for myself that he's learning the Quran. And fluent in Arabic. Last time I talked to him, he understood so little —"
"What about Seth?" Ahmed objected. "Does he have to come home too?"
"No," said Seth, from his Brussels home, "I need to be here to make our investment moves and manage our European markets. The International Cotton Association is even more important now."
"So you're telling me to give up everything I've created? Is this right, Father?"
"Get back to Egypt," his father repeated, his voice stronger now. "With your son."
The call disconnected.
* * *
Sunday's dinner table discussion had become heated, confrontational. "Let's put this on hold," Nicole suggested.
"Since when do you tell me when and where I can speak?" Ahmed slammed down his glass, splashing water onto the table cloth. Why was her husband so upset? He'd been simmering ever since that afternoon family call.
Nicole saw Alex's little flinch. Just what she'd wanted to avoid.
"What's wrong, Daddy?" Alex was five-years-old. One of those kids who tried to avoid conflict, mediate differences. A peacemaker, not a troublemaker.
"Son, this is between your mother and me," Ahmed said, his tone slightly softer.
"But you are talking about me ... and my school. "Why are you so mad?" Alex put his slice of pizza back down on his plate.
"Yes. Your mother and I were discussing you," Ahmed said. "I was telling Mommy that you need to go to an Islamic school. You're a Muslim."
Nicole felt the acid rise up from her stomach. When she and the brilliant, handsome young Egyptian fell in love, and despite both their families' serious reservations, married, this was the direction they'd agreed never to take. She a less-than-devout Catholic; he, a Muslim of record, but who claimed no interest in religion.
But after Alex was born, Nicole and Ahmed had argued about the ethnicity of his name. She'd won that one — Alexander — conceding his second name to Arabic — Wati — which means rebel in Egyptian. Made sense, as Ahmed had been the rebel in his family. Ahmed had voiced no objection to Alexander Wati's ritual Catholic baptism, an affair attended by Nicole's large family. Adding up wins and losses, Nicole also had won on the maiden name front. Nicole remained Nicole Nelson, not Nicole Masud or even a hyphenated Nelson-Masud.
"Yes, Daddy. I know, but I'm a Catholic, too. Mommy says —"
"Enough of what your mother says. We're sending you to the mosque and that's final. Nicole, you set it up. You're the mother. That's it. Register him as Wati, not Alexander."
Nicole tried to gauge when this religious concern had surfaced. What had triggered it? Had she been so busy trying to balance her career and family she'd overlooked some kind of sea change in her husband? Or had she just been preoccupied by her son starting school? Public school, not the Catholic school she would have preferred.
"Archy, we can discuss this later." She tilted her head slightly in her son's direction. They needed to give it a rest, at least until Alex was out of earshot.
Ahmed's hospital ring tone undermined whatever retort he'd planned, but he did manage, "Do not. I repeat. Do not call me 'Archy'. I don't have to tolerate that ridiculous name your brothers stuck on me. My name is A-h-m-e-d — pronounced Ack-med."
For eight years now, she'd called him Archy. All his friends called him Arch. Why this revolution?
"Okay." Nicole said. "No more Archy." She'd have to process this later, but nor now ... let it go ...
"Dr. Masud," he answered, distracted, still sitting at the table, still glaring at her.
Nicole saw Ahmed's face twist in annoyance.
"Levaquin. 750 milligrams. IV. And get the patient up and moving. Keeping her in bed just invites pneumonia."
With clenched teeth, Ahmed listened impatiently.
"No. I can't come in. It's Sunday night. And before you ask, neither can Dr. Nelson. Once you get that antibiotic running, the patient will be fine."
Nicole raised her eyebrows, an invitation for her husband-partner to share the patient's status. This had to be the overweight woman he'd operated on Friday. The woman was a repeat customer; one with body-image dissatisfaction who couldn't survive a twenty-four-month period without "work" on her face. Against Nicole's advice, Ahmed had agreed to do yet another face lift, the patient's fourth. She'd make a great candidate for abdominal liposuction, but she was obsessed with facial sagging. And now, it seemed clear, she had pneumonia. Please, God, don't let this become another lawsuit.
Nicole and Ahmed had met during their year in cranio-facial surgical training at the University of Pennsylvania. Nicole's medical training and plastic surgery residency had been exclusively at the University of Pennsylvania; Ahmed had graduated from Cairo University's Kasr Al-Ainy Faculty of Medicine before moving to Philadelphia for plastic surgery training at Temple University. Then, to a coveted fellowship at Penn's cranio-facial program — where Nicole also was a fellow. Over the last nine years, eight as husband and wife, they'd been inseparable, enthusiastically sharing everything from their bed to their plastic surgery joint practice. Until now. What had happened to her affable, fun-loving husband? How was she to deal with this total stranger?
Ahmed focused intently on his poached salmon. Nicole let him chill out as she tried to fathom the cause of this hostility. Could there have been an ethnic slight? Nine years had passed since September 11th, 2001, but anti-Arab prejudice persisted. Ahmed had gone back to his dinner; Alex back to his pizza. But Nicole just pushed back her plate, sipped her sparkling water, endured the silence.
* * *
So much for their typical, relaxed Sunday evenings, watching TV, reading a book. She'd amassed a collection of mysteries; he preferred nonfiction, usually biographies of historical figures. But there'd be no such togetherness tonight. Ahmed took Alex upstairs to play with Legos while Nicole cleaned up the kitchen. On week nights, Anna, the Masuds' housekeeper/nanny would take over, but on weekends either they ate out or Nicole, despite her lack of culinary skills, managed dinner.
At seven thirty, Alex's bedtime, Nicole went upstairs to the playroom. She suggested that Alex take a bath, promised she would read to him, as she always did — and they were just getting to an exciting part of the latest Goosebumps story.
"Kiss Daddy goodnight —"
"I'll handle my son," Ahmed said. "I will put him to bed when I am ready. Alex, put more small pieces on that stack." Ahmed pointed to the edge of the design they were constructing.
"That's okay, Daddy. I have school tomorrow. I'll go to bed like Mommy says."
So like Alex. Craving peace and concord. Doing, saying what he thought would promote tranquility.
"Nicole, get the fuck out of here."
The venom in Ahmed's voice frightened her and would terrify Alex. Since day one, they had agreed never to raise their voices, never to use obscenities in front of their child.
Over the recent few months, she'd worried about Ahmed's reaction to the malpractice lawsuits that had been filed. An obvious attack on his professional competence, a blow to any surgeon's ego. Had they undermined his self-image? Reversed fifteen years of American-style confidence? Was that the cause of this outburst?
If so, what could she do? How should she react to this new confrontational attitude?
To his friends and colleagues, Ahmed was as Western as the next guy, but Nicole knew better. Her husband's ethnicity was imprinted on his soul. Before she married Ahmed, her parents had tried to tell her the cultural differences could recede — but would remain. Despite these well-intended warnings, she and Ahmed had sailed along on a sea of love and mutual respect. Their relationship had only strengthened after parenthood, deepened by dedication to their son.
Until now. Had she been in denial? Well, now she was alarmed.
Nicole left her son to his father. She did not want to escalate the tension. Ahmed was perfectly capable of putting Alex to bed. In their surgical partnership, she and her husband covered for each other at the hospital on a rotational schedule. If Nicole was called in, Ahmed took care of Alex. She waited in their bed, trying to read a novel. As the clock moved past ten, Nicole decided to check on them.
She found Alex curled up in his bed, in fresh pajamas, sound asleep. Should she look for Archy? Stop. Don't call him that, not even in your head. He used to love the Americanized nickname. Yes, something had definitely changed with Ahmed. Why had she ignored whatever had been festering in him?
Even though the lights were out, she poked her head in his office across the hall from their room. Ahmed was not there. She went back into her closet and pulled on a terrycloth robe before heading downstairs. The voice in her head said, "Leave him alone." But she couldn't. If she could just understand the problem ...
She found Ahmed sprawled on the sofa in the library, an alcove off the family room. Shoes off, still in the khakis and the long sleeve polo shirt he'd worn all day. The fire he'd made in the family room fireplace earlier still had warm embers, the pine-y scent wafting throughout the downstairs. No lights on. No music.
"Ahmed, can we talk?" Nicole asked softly.
Only a groan for an answer, but Ahmed did sit up, swept his jet-black hair off his forehead with slender, delicate fingers. He was trim, but muscular and well-toned; all the stereotypically masculine elements of his body contrasted with his hands. Hands as delicate as his were unusual, even for a plastic surgeon.
"Talk about what?" he said, leaning forward, shoulders hunched.
Nicole stepped into the room, crossed it, and tossed aside a decorative pillow so she could sit beside him. "About what's going on, Ahmed."
"Nothing. Go back to bed."
Nicole reached over to massage his shoulders, something she did when he was upset. "So why did you use the f-word in front of Alex. We've always said that we don't want him to hear that language while he's so young."
The tension in Ahmed's shoulder muscles seemed to diminish just slightly. He remained silent. Nothing unusual. Nicole attributed Ahmed's discomfort with touchy-feely conversations to the basic culture of Arab men. She envied her sister and her sister-in-law's uninhibited discussions of emotionally laden issues with their husbands. With Ahmed, there could be no introspection, no relationship topics. She loved him; he loved her. Secure in that reality, she'd never indulged in resentment, never challenged him.
To Ahmed, the world was black and white. They would do this or do that. To ask how he felt about a situation was a waste of breath. "What do you mean feel?" he'd ask. The question not sarcastic, but sincere. Arab men did not talk about feelings. Not so, their son though. Alex was a sensitive boy. So far, Ahmed had tolerated what he perceived as weak in the child, but ...
"Stop protecting the boy, Nicole. He must be raised as a man."
"But let's keep our language age-appropriate," Nicole said, inching her rhythmic masseuse squeezes up to his neck. "Okay?"
Maybe this is what they needed. Just the two of them sitting in the dim light, discussing their child. A married couple dealing with built-up tension.
"I'm serious about you enrolling him in the mosque school. The Foundation of Islamic Education in Villanova, to be specific. Wati will learn the Quran. He'll learn Arabic, begin to appreciate what it's like to be a Muslim."
"I know what you're going to say: I let him be baptized a Catholic. Well, he was a baby then. Now, he's in school. It's time."
Nicole's right hand had left Ahmed's neck to tightly clasp the left in her lap.
"Ahmed" — she'd almost said Archy — "remember what we said before we decided to have a child. How we'd never let our two religions drive a wedge between us. I really do appreciate that you agreed to Alex's baptism. But we did enroll him in the public school rather than the Catholic one."
"And now you're going to enroll him in the school at the mosque."
Nicole wasn't sure how to respond. She said nothing, just tightened the sash of her robe and stood. When she and Ahmed had married, she'd had nothing against Islam, but now that she'd spent time in Egypt and had seen first hand the denigration of women, the spreading fanaticism, she didn't want her son exposed to that radical ideology.
Ahmed reached for her hand, gave it a gentle tug, pulled her back to him. If she sat back down, he'd just keep pressing his agenda on her. She needed time to come up with a response that stood a chance of changing his mind. Spontaneously — she didn't plan it, a mere reflex — she pulled her arm away from him. She turned to leave. Best not to say anything inflammatory.
"Where do you think you're going?" Ahmed stood up fast, and grabbing her shoulders, twisted her around to face him. His eyes met hers — sending a dark message. "Tell me," he demanded, "tell me you will obey."
Excerpted from Come Home by Patricia Gussin. Copyright © 2017 Patricia Gussin. Excerpted by permission of Oceanview Publishing.
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