I used my spoon to make figure eights in my soup, trying to block out the conversation happening around me.
Rayyan had arrived with his usual fanfare – late and with his clothes in a mess. He’d walked straight into Zaakir who’d been helping serve our meal and then immediately demanded Zaakir stay and eat with us.
When Nana joined in, I knew it was hopeless. “Just sit,” I said sharply. “You need to eat, don’t you?”
Zaakir took the seat opposite me silently.
Rayyan drew him into conversation immediately. “Masters this year, right?”
Rayyan shook his head. “Braniac Zak. That’s what, your fourth degree? In four years.”
Nana looked impressed. “Well done, Zaakir. You didn’t mention that.”
Zaakir flushed. “It’s not anywhere near as impressive as it sounds. Some of my classes in high school qualified as university credits. I just got a faster start, is all.”
“He’s modest, Nana,” Rayyan warned. “He’s not telling you that he could have taken it easy. Instead, he took the heaviest course load possible and came away with a double undergrad in two years. Like I said, Braniac Zak.”
Zaakir turned the tables on Rayyan then, a glint in his eyes. “Didn’t you get an award recently? What was the name again?”
Rayyan looked like a deer in headlights. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” He turned to Nana.
“Rayyan,” Mom scolded. “Did you hide an award from us?”
“No! It was really hot today, maybe Zaakir has heat stroke.” Rayyan turned back to Zaakir and glared.
“Maybe you just can’t remember,” I joined in. “There was a ceremony…” I trailed off, grinning evilly.
‘Brat,’ Rayyan mouthed at me, before turning to face the music. “It was just a little thing,” he told Mom. “Really, it’s not a big deal.”
Mom pursed her lips. “I shouldn’t be surprised, you’ve always hated the spotlight.”
It was true. Rayyan despised attention. It had been a shock to us all when he’d started taking on the kind of high profile cases that got him in the news.
Dad frowned. “If he can bear to have it in the news, he can tell us about it.”
“I don’t have a choice about it being in the news,” Rayyan argued stubbornly.
“And neither do you have a choice about telling your family.”
Rayyan opened his mouth to retort and Dad cut him off. “I don’t want to hear it, Rayyan,” he said sternly. His hazel eyes, identical to Rayyan’s own, had darkened with anger.
I watched them riveted. My father had never spoken to me like that. If I’d argued about anything, he would have given in and let me do what I wanted.
But despite being half a decade older, Rayyan got yelled at.
It was ridiculous to feel envious – I had more freedom than my brother had ever gotten. Somehow, it didn’t feel particularly sweet.
Uncomfortable as it looked from the outside, a part of me wanted Dad to yell at me. It would mean that he’d been paying attention to what I was doing.
“Fine,” Rayyan said eventually. “I’ll tell you if I get another award.”
“If you’re in the news,” Mom corrected. “I’ve had quite enough of learning about articles you’re featured in only because my nurses are squealing about them.”
Rayyan groaned. “Mom, most of that has nothing to do with law.”
And everything to do with the fact that my brother was a young, handsome, wealthy man.
Nana laughed then. “It’ll fade, my boy. Your father used to complain to me about the exact same thing when he was younger. In fact, even I had my fair share of it.”
I shuddered. I’d overheard enough women whispering to know that Nana had his fair share of it even now, with his brown hair streaked grey and the laugh lines on his face growing more prominent by the day.
“And that reaction, Az?” Mom asked curiously.
I jumped. “I just don’t see how anyone can find Nana attractive. Or Dad. Or Rayyan.”
Mom chuckled. “Well, I don’t know about your Nana, but I happen to find Dad very attractive. And your brother is adorable.”
“Thanks, Mom,” Rayyan said drily.
“And don’t turn your nose up at the attention, Rayyan. After all, you need to get married eventually.”
“Mom, not this again.”
“Well, you do,” Mom said, sounding hurt. She turned to Zaakir. “Zaakir, I’m sure your mother says the same things to you? You’re not much younger than Rayyan, after all.”
Zaakir mumbled something indistinct. “Mom, he’s Azraa’s age,” Rayyan laughed. “They’re still babies.”
Mom turned to Dad. “Uzair, what do you think?”
“I agree with you,” Dad said immediately. “Rayyan, you’re older than I was when I got married and Azraa and Zaakir are only a little bit younger than your mother was. In fact, Mom was around their age when we got engaged.”
Rayyan made one last attempt to protest. “Then why am I the only one hearing it?” He gestured to me with his cutlery. “Don’t neglect them.”
Mom’s jaw set and she turned to Zaakir, beginning her interrogation. He gave Rayyan a filthy look over her head and began to answer her questions in a soft voice.
Dad turned to Rayyan. “Well, now there’s no escaping it.”
“I should have just kept my mouth shut,” my brother muttered ruefully, shaking his head.
I felt a tap on my shoulder. “I suppose you’ll have to settle for talking to me all night,” Nana joked.
“Not much settling then,” I said with a smile.
I waited for a moment. “You’re not gonna ask me?”
“Ask you what?”
“What Mom and Dad are asking them,” I gestured to Rayyan and Zaakir.
Nana’s hazel eyes widened. “Would you like me to?”
I shrugged. “It seems to be matchmaking time. I think Mom’s about to settle on Zaakir’s bride right here at the table.”
Nana chuckled. “I should have known,” he said to himself. “Well, go ahead. Tell me all about the kind of husband you want.”
Intelligent. Kind. Attentive.
Like most young girls, I’d daydreamed of marriage. But the blurry image I’d constructed in my head of Prince Charming wasn’t the man I described to Nana.
I didn’t know where some of the things I was saying were coming from but he seemed to get happier the more I spoke.
Finally, I ran out of words. I grabbed my water glass and drained it, my throat dry from all the talking. Everyone else had left during my long speech but I hadn’t even noticed, so absorbed in what I was saying.
Nana clapped his hands together. “I think I have a pretty good idea of who’ll suit you, Princess.” He got to his feet and dropped a kiss on the top of my head. “I’ll talk to your parents tomorrow, I think.”
The smile slipped from my face.
What had I just done?