Handsome by Victoria Pinder

1

Cyrus

Once again, I stood outside the beach house of our childhood in Virgin Cove and saw the lights were on in the dining room. Last time I had patient calls when I arrived for the weekend, so I took the limo.

This time I parked my Aston Martin, the sleek, low-slung beauty that always made me wish I was more of a James Bond than a heart surgeon.

As soon as I heard laughter, I headed to the door and let myself in to avoid having the butler announce me. He saw me and directed the staff to get my numerous bags, which was why I was late.

Unlike the others, who only intended to stay the weekend, I was here for an indefinite stay.

As I entered the dining room, I saw my eleven brothers, along with the wives of two of them, and Arman’s new stepdaughter who he’d claimed as his own, just as Maman and Pedar had claimed all of us as theirs, even if half my brothers were adopted.

We all looked different, but on the inside, this group of men, along with Maman andPedar, were my rock.

Tonight my brother Arman practically glowed, his happiness reflected in everyone. He’d always been the golden son.

I walked over to him, squeezed his shoulder, and asked, “So, when’s the wedding?”

He jumped to his feet and hugged me while my mother beamed, and for the first time all week, my soul was at ease.

So far, all attempts to get Leah to speak to me about our infant son had failed, but now I’d cleared my schedule at the hospital, and I would not leave Virgin Cove without having that discussion and holding my son.

Arman’s fiancée and soon-to-be bride, Maddie, answered my wedding question. “Well, first we have Joel and Kendal’s formal New York wedding, which I’m planning. And Arman and I want our wedding here, at the beach.”

Joel and Kendal had privately eloped months ago now, and now would have their formal wedding this month.

Arman asked, “So, Maman, can we host it at the house?”

I glanced at Maddie, who probably believed she’d be able to manage something low-key, but in the Norouzi family, our celebrations of birthdays, accomplishments, and now weddings made the world stop and take notice.

Maman said quickly, “Whatever you want. We might have some guest yacht parking problems, but we’ll figure it out.”

“We will,” Arman said, and hugged his soon-to-be bride.

Maddie then addressed us like she was already part of the family, telling us to sit as she said, “And I want to do as much of the planning as I can. I need to have three weddings in my portfolio to get my wedding planner certificate.”

As soon as Pedar—Parvis Norouzi to the rest of the world—and Maman—Roxanne—scooted their chairs in, the servers brought in our champagne and salads. I took my seat opposite Arman and beside Warren, though we still filled only a fraction of the dining room my mother was determined to fill with family.

Maman held up her glass and said, “Maybe Cyrus will be next.”

My face heated as I said, “Let’s not discuss me. Isn’t Warren’s birthday coming up? Does it have to be weddings?”

Maddie’s eyes twinkled when she reminded me, “I need to plan three weddings to get my certificate.”

I glanced at her. As a girl she’d been like the sister I never had, and now she’d been with joined to Arman for a few years, it seemed she wanted to be my sister again——by teasing me mercilessly.

Warren shook his head and said, “Don’t make a big deal of my birthday.”

I laughed and held my glass up to toast. “Warren, everything in your life is a big deal.”

He rolled his eyes like he was annoyed, and adrenaline rushed at the confirmation that I’d hit my goal. Then Warren said, “No, but Cyrus, don’t be so serious all the time.”

Score one for him. Overthinking had always been one of my negative traits.

Pedarlifted his glass and said, “To Maddie, for rejoining us, and to Kendal, for sticking with Joel.”

“Finally!” Kir called from the middle of the table, while Charles and Jeff laughed. Kir, Charles and Jeff competed about almost everything, always claiming it was their way of breaking out of the middle together.

We lifted our glasses and sipped our champagne.

Then my phone beeped. Leah had returned the gift I sent to her apartment along with my note requesting a time to talk in person.

Now I was in town, it was time to knock on her door. I put my napkin on the table and said, “With that, I have to go.”

Maman asked, “Is everything okay?”

I’d told them about my plan to stay in the house once everyone departed, since Maman and Pedar planned to yacht to the Panama Canal for their second honeymoon.

I put my napkin back in my lap and picked up my fork to finish eating as I said, “I just have to… y’know.”

Once I finished, staff took our plates, and other staff put the Persian eggplant stew, khoresh bademjan, in front of us.

I glanced at Joel and his new wife, who’d never eaten our food before, and she reminded me of some of my brothers when they first moved in with us. Joel was showing her the correct spoon.

Hopefully at least my son would grow up eating delicious meals, even if Leah never wanted to see me again. I needed to find a way to mend the gaping wound in my heart.

We ate, and for a few minutes no one spoke to me. And as the food filled my belly, I began to hope that soon I’d have the answers I needed.

Pedar asked, “Can any of us help?”

They did not need to cancel their second honeymoon trip to help me work things out with Leah about my son. I finished my wine now and said, “I don’t know what I can do to get her to open her door and talk to me. Even though she moved here, a small town, knowing it's our family home.”

Maman added, “At least she told you. Your son is still quite small.”

The plates were cleared out and dessert was being served when I said, “If she talks to me, maybe I can figure out what to do.”

Pedar then said, “Well, let’s finish our cake first.”

Bon voyage dinner, wedding announcement, and the beginning of my campaign to be a father to my son. My family certainly knew how to party efficiently.

Pedar then said, “Cyrus, everything will work out. No woman in her right mind is going to keep her son away from your inheritance.”

Fair enough. I tasted the strawberry vanilla cake and sighed. Then I gave Warren, who seemed pensive, a gentle nudge with my elbow as I asked, “You’re quiet tonight. What’s going on with you?”

He kept his voice low, so no one could hear him but me, and said, “I was adopted. Maman and Pedar love me, and I love them, and all of you, but inside I feel like a huge fraud.”

Warren was the one I went to when I needed to know the right thing to do. I shook my head and said, “You’re not. Unlike me, right now you’re the perfect one.”

He laughed, and we both glanced across the table as he said, “I thought that was Arman.”

We spoke louder now as I said, “True, he’s perfect, and now he's even getting married.”

Warren winked and asked, “Does it count, though? It’s Maddie, after all. It’s not like the rest of us have broken hearts we’ve worn on our sleeves for twenty years.”

Maddie pressed her hand to her heart and grinned.

I then said, “True, but now Maman is going to have two less sons to stress about.”

Gerard piped in, saying, “Makes me want to get out of town for a while.”

Not a surprise, since wanderlust was part of Gerard's charm. I picked up my fork again and said, “You always say that.” We ate and then drank black tea.

Once we were done, I nodded and said, “Maman, I’m leaving for real this time.”

“Good luck,” she said, and I met her gaze.

She wanted all her children to be happy. She never judged, and only pushed for us to have the happiness she found with our dad.

It took me a half an hour to get out of the house, and the moon was high in the sky when I finally escaped.

My son needs to know I love him, and that he belongs here, with us.

I’ll do anything.

I pointed my Aston Martin toward Leah's apartment in town.

Leah was a doctor who worked with my brother Elon to start East Coast centers for his gynecological practice. I met her at an OB/GYN conference, mostly so I could see Elon, another of my brothers, who's only a year younger than me.

As I approached her street, I saw an older blue car bump into a woman on a bicycle.

She fell in the bushes next to the sidewalk, and I was stunned when the car drove away fast.

I jerked my silver Aston Martin to the curb, put it in park, and crossed the street. She was already on her feet and wiping her knees when I asked, “Are you okay?”

She was out of breath as she pointed down the street. “The car didn’t stop, but I think I'm okay.”

At least she was wearing a helmet. I didn’t want to touch her without permission, so I said, “I’m a doctor, and perhaps I can help. Can I see you bend your knees and walk?”

She pointed to the obvious cuts on both her knees as she said, “I’m fine.” She directed my attention down as she said, “It’s this.”

The bicycle wheel was smashed, though I only said, “It looks broken.”

We both turned when a bus at the corner revved its engine and continued on its way.

Her eyes wide, she said, “Fuck! I just missed the ferry back to New York.”

The bus was the cheap way to go to Manhattan. I swallowed and decided a few hours of helping someone would probably be good for my soul.

Besides, the woman’s dark eyes captured my attention, and for some reason adrenaline rushed through me. I was drawn toward her. So I said, “I’m on my way to Manhattan if you want a ride.”

She glanced at me and then my car as she asked, “Are you Cyrus Norouzi?”

“Yes, do I know you?”

She shook her head. “No. I’m just a waitress in a diner. Anyhow, thank you for the offer, but I’ll stay at my sister’s and catch the bus tomorrow.”

Something about this woman made me notice that she kept her head down when I asked, “You sure?”

“Thank you. Goodbye.” She waved me off.

A freer version of myself would have asked her more questions, like her name. However, right now my son took precedence over everything else.