Nile knows something’s different when she doesn’t smell breakfast cooking. Released from the strictures of regimented military life, she’s gone back to her old schedule of rising late. Joe and Nicky are morning people, so they’re responsible for breakfast. Nile takes care of lunch, and they switch off preparing dinner or get take-out. (Nobody lets Andy cook because there’s nothing more embarrassing than collectively dying of food poisoning. Which apparently happened. Twice.)
There’s a note on the stove. “Out. Back at sunset. J+N.” Okay. A little out of the ordinary, but nothing, like, concerning.
Andy wanders into the kitchen. Her feet are bare, and somehow that makes her look younger. She shuffles up next to Nile and also reads the note.
It’s not like they’re going to starve without Joe and Nicky to feed them, so Nile gets some yogurt from the fridge and dumps granola she found in the cabinet on it. She looks at Andy, hefting her bowl in question. Andy shakes her head. She can be trusted with making coffee, so Nile watches as she pokes the incredibly fancy coffee grinder and boils water for the French press. When it’s done she passes a giant mug to Nile and sits across the table.
They sit and drink in silence for a bit. Andy frowns, as if she’s just remembered something.
“What month is it?”
Nile looks at her watch. “April.”
Andy looks like she’s calculating something in her head. “Ah. It’s that time of year again.”
NIle racks her head. It’s too late for Easter, but then she remembers how Yasmin and Latifah’s schedules changed right around this time, put on lighter duty to keep them safe from dehydration in the fierce desert sun; the way people traded off hosting them for dinner after sunset. “Ramadan? I didn’t think either of them were religious still.”
Andy shrugs, a twitch of her shoulders. “I don’t think it’s a religious thing anymore, not really. You can ask them about it.”
She gets up, rinses her mug out and puts it next to the sink. “I saw a horse in the field a couple miles down. Think I’ll see if it wants to make friends.” There’s a quirk of a smile, a minute relaxation in her shoulders when she talks about it. Nile doesn’t know much about Scythians, but she has gathered they were nomadic, so it makes sense she feels the most comfortable around horses.
“Have fun, I guess?” Nile isn’t really sure what one says in situations like this, but she supposes that’s appropriate enough.
Andy finishes lacing up her shoes. “I’ll be back for dinner,” she calls over her shoulder as she heads out the door. Nile wonders if she should grab a pizza. Maybe three or four, since Joe and Nicky will be starving.
An idea occurs to her and she pours herself another cup of coffee, opens the cupboards. There’s an honest to god pantry here, and she inspects the sacks of rice, beans, and lentils to make sure they haven’t gone bad.
She grabs the laptop from its usual spot on the coffee table in front of the TV, does some internet searches. She’s not an amazing cook, but most of it is either soupy or roasty. There’s only so much you can fuck that up, right?
The chicken needs to marinate the longest, so she starts on that first. Thankfully, the one in the fridge has already been chopped up. It’s not like she probably couldn’t figure out how to carve one up with the help of a Food Network video or something, but it’s one less thing to worry about.
Once the chicken is back in the fridge she takes a walk outside. She thinks she saw some strawberries around the edge of the house, and wonders who planted them. They are riotous in their growth, weighing down the spindly little vines with fruit. Nile makes a container of her t-shirt, gently depositing her spoils into the cradle she’s made.
The last strawberry is hers alone, and she bites into it. It floods her mouth with rich sweetness and she closes her eyes, trying to commit the taste to memory. She wonders if she’ll be able to recall this fifty, two hundred years into the future, and decides since she’s here now, she’ll enjoy it to the best of her capability.
She works steadily until her stomach rumbles, and pauses to have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a glass of milk. She hasn’t had this particular meal in years. And certainly it’s not the same as when she was a little kid—the bread is thick and rustic instead of the squishy soft stuff from the supermarket; and the jelly, or preserves rather (Joe explained the difference to her once, but she doesn’t remember what it is), are from their next-door neighbor, made with fruit from trees she can just glimpse from the window. But it is similar enough that she does feel comfort and familiarity in the act.
The timer on the oven goes off, and she pulls out the chicken. It smells amazing, and she’s relieved a dutch oven can substitute for a tagine in a pinch. The stew is simmering, and the bread has been warmed and tucked into a basket.
The door opens, giving her a glimpse of the painted sky. Nicky sniffs the air and stops, and Joe runs into him. They both look at Nile.
“There’s a huge pitcher of water in the fridge. Should be cold, since it’s been in there all day. I don’t think there’s any dates within a thousand miles of here, but I picked strawberries this morning.”
They just keep staring at her, and it’s starting to make her feel weird. “What? Do I have something on my face?”
NIcky comes over and envelops her into a big hug. She can feel Joe on her other side, doing the same. It’s a too-warm kind of awkward situation, but she takes it in the spirit it’s being given.
“You didn’t have to do all this.” Joe gestures at all the food on the stove, the bowl of strawberries on the table.
“I know. But I wanted to.”
“Why?” Nicky asks. There’s only curiosity in his tone, the question communicated in the tilt of his head.
“Well, Andy said this is a thing you do, so I thought it might be nice for you guys to come back to some food after a day of fasting.”
Nicky kisses her on the forehead: softly, fondly. “Thank you, bambolina. It was a kind and thoughtful thing to do.”
Joe squeezes her shoulder before opening the fridge. He and Nicky gulp water like thirsty camels, sighing in pleasure. (Or at least how she thinks they’d probably drink. She’s never seen a camel in real life, and was vaguely disappointed to realize they don’t come near military bases in Afghanistan.)
She watches Joe and Nicky feed each other strawberries for a few minutes before her hunger reasserts itself. But something doesn’t feel quite right.
Andy comes in, dirt smeared on her face and a grin a mile wide. She sniffs the air appreciatively.
“Did you make friends with the horse?” Nile asks.
“It was a bit of a rocky start, but we figured it out eventually.” She sits down at the table, where Joe and Nicky have ferried food from the stove.
Nile doesn’t know if she’s supposed to say a prayer or blessing or what. She doesn’t even know if she should since it’s not really a religious thing for them. But she figures there’s no harm in giving thanks to God, Allah, or whoever for people who care about her, and who she loves in return.