Rayyan grinned at me broadly. “I was right,” he crowed. “You and Zak make an adorable couple.”
“Yes, we do,” I heard myself say. I could hardly recognize my own voice, it was so filled with pleasure. “I’ve never been this happy, Rayyan. Never. I almost can’t believe it’s even possible to be this happy.”
“You’re smitten, baby sis.”
I was. I was completely, utterly smitten. He was perfect.
My Zak. Just the thought of him sent a thrill through me. He was gorgeous, intelligent, sweet. And he was all mine.
We had to get through the whole business of actually getting married first.
I had no doubt that the days would fly by.
Nana had been so right. He truly was exactly the right guy for me.
I woke up gasping. The happiness that had wrapped itself around my soul in my dream abruptly fled as I realized just what I’d been dreaming about.
It had felt so real. I’d truly believed that I was in love with Zaakir. I could still feel the last remnants of the impatience and excitement from the dream.
My stomach churned. It was just a dream.
It didn’t mean anything.
But even as I flipped my pillow over and shut my eyes decisively, I knew that I was lying to myself. I’d been a frequent dreamer all my life. But what I’d just experienced? That had been different.
The henna on my hands was exquisite, wrapping its way around my skin like an intricate, beautiful set of gloves. I’d compromised for him by instructing the artist to stop at my wrists and leaving my feet completely bare.
Several people had already remarked at it, including Mom. Even she knew how much I adored it. Everyone had expected me to adorn myself as much as I could on this one occasion where I practically had permission to cover myself in the paste.
But I’d held back. He didn’t like the scent in the least and I didn’t mind compromising for him. A better sacrifice would have been to leave the henna off completely but I couldn’t bring myself to be quite that sweet.
I was still a selfish girl at heart.
But I was trying to be better. And he loved me just the way I was, flaws and all.
A smile spread itself across my face. I didn’t deserve him. Truly, I didn’t.
Strong arms wrapped themselves around me. It was pitch black but I wasn’t afraid. I’d know his touch anywhere.
I settled myself against my husband’s muscled shoulder, feeling his hand come up to cradle the back of my head. Even now that we’d left the so-called newly-wed phase, he was still my favourite pillow.
I felt certain that he always would be. “Love you most, Zak.” I whispered to him.
I woke again, now feeling truly unnerved. What was going on?
I could still feel a phantom hand on the back of my head, holding me tightly. Why was I having these dreams? They weren’t random. They couldn’t be. In the darkness of the night, they felt almost sinister. Like a warning.
The love in those dreams had been powerful and all-consuming. Heady and dizzying, almost like a drug.
I’d felt love like that before. It had ruined me.
Was this my destiny? To be destroyed by love, yet again? Or would it be different this time?
I’d been a child then. Innocent and unknowing, I’d let myself love my family so much it filled me and threatened to overflow. And when I’d finally understood that that love was unwelcome, it had festered within me like an infection, rotting my insides and poisoning my soul.
It wasn’t their fault, I knew. They hadn’t asked me to love them. I’d just been unable to help myself. And not getting back what I wanted from them had turned me bitter.
No matter how much I reminded myself that they were busy, that they meant well, that festering infection inside me had still raged against them for not being there for me, for not knowing me.
My poisoned love didn’t care that my family members were sacrificing themselves to help other people. All it cared about was the fact that they weren’t there when I wanted them to be.
They were too busy, too needed. And I couldn’t stand it. I almost began to hate them for daring to help other people instead of tending to me. It had been a gradual thing, worsening as Rayyan grew and could no longer dote on me and coming to a head when he graduated high school and left for university.
I hated him with all my heart the day he left. And that’s when I realized that the only love I had to give was toxic.
I resolved right then and there that I wouldn’t attach myself to anyone else like that ever again. I could do nothing about the love that was already there inside me but I would subject no one else to it.
I withdrew, isolating myself from friends, acquaintances, everyone. Even Zaakir. Almost overnight, we went from best friends to employer and employee.
But Zaakir was just as stubborn as I was. And he refused to completely let me go.
I’d grown complacent, no longer holding him at such a distance as I should have. And somehow, he’d fallen in love with me.
I knew myself well enough to know that I would be no less toxic for Zaakir than I had been for my family. And I refused to do that again.
I refused to hate myself even more than I already did whenever I was around my family.
Zaakir had said that it was taqdeer. He was right. Our partners were chosen for us right from the start.
I didn’t care. I would not marry Zaakir.
I would resist.
And I would win.
I didn’t have any other choice.