I stuffed half a slice of in my mouth, chasing it with the last of my coffee. “Gotta go, love you,” I said through a mouthful of food, grabbing my messenger bag and hurrying to the door.
“Azraa? Hold on a minute please, I need to talk to you about something,” Nana called.
I rested my forehead against the doorway and groaned internally. “Yes, Nana?” I replied, not turning around.
“Come sit with me,” Nana said patiently.
I looked over my shoulder. “Nana, I really shouldn’t be late for class.”
“It will only take a minute. Come, Azraa.”
There was no hope for it.
I turned around reluctantly and sat myself back at the table opposite my grandfather. “What is it, Nana?”
“I’ve been trying to get a chance to talk to you for almost a week now,” Nana began, looking reproachfully at me. “But you’ve been rushing around so much, it’s been impossible.”
I mumbled something indistinct about classes. “Sorry, Nana.”
The truth was that I’d been avoiding my grandfather. The past few days had been easy enough, with my parents and Rayyan there to distract him and unintentionally run interference for me. But now that they’d all three of them been summoned back to work due to whatever crises and disasters had come up, it had gotten a lot harder.
Now that it was just me and Nana – with Zaakir conspicuously, mercifully absent – I’d been caught.
I braced myself, already reviewing arguments in my head.
There was only one thing Nana could want to talk to me alone about – and I had no idea how I was going to convince him that his ideal choice of groom was, in fact, the worst possible choice he could ever have made.
“Azraa, are you listening to me?”
I jumped guiltily. “Sorry, Nana.”
“It’s alright. I know you’re a bit nervous. That’s normal.”
I smiled uneasily and said nothing. What was better? To head Nana off before Zaakir’s name was even mentioned or to wait for him to announce his choice before I turned it down?
“I’ve spoken to your parents, Az, and they agree with me fully. This is wonderful timing, actually, because both your Mom and Dad can clear out some time in their schedules next week and Rayyan is about to wrap up a big case so he’ll have some flexibility as well.”
I hid a grimace with my hand. Next week? What on Earth? Had they started planning a wedding already?
“What do you think? Is next week alright?”
Nana looked at my horrified expression and laughed. “Don’t look so worried, dear! It’s just a meeting. You don’t have to commit to marrying this boy right here and now. Just meet him next week and we’ll take it from there, hmm?”
“Meet who?” It sounded like Nana had a complete stranger in mind as a grandson-in-law. But Rayyan had said Nana’d picked Zaakir for me.
Had he been mistaken?
Nana spoke then, confirming my suspicions. “The grandson of a friend of mine. He’s a lovely boy. So, will you meet him then?”
Relief made me grin. “Of course, Nana.” At that moment, I would have agreed to just about anything, I was so happy that it wasn’t Zaakir he was talking about.
Later, sitting in a class filled with students, I swore out loud as the implications finally hit home. Maybe it wasn’t Zaakir, but it was someone. And unless he was truly unpleasant, I was stuck in just about the same situation as I had been before.
The only difference was that this man would be a complete stranger whereas Zaakir was all too familiar.
What was I going to do?
I’d really dropped myself in it this time, opening my big mouth. If I’d just kept quiet and left Rayyan to be fussed over, I wouldn’t be dealing with this headache.
My dress itched. It was gorgeous, a floor length black lace thing that made even my meagre assets look decent, but it was so uncomfortable I wanted to yank it off and toss it in a fire.
I leaned forward and finished carefully outlining my eyes with a black pencil. I shared the hazel eyes Rayyan had inherited from Nana and when I lined my eyes like this, they looked almost green.
I picked up a tube of lipstick and lifted it to my face, then dropped it back down. Why was I doing this?
I was planning to reject the poor guy anyway. Wouldn’t it be easier if I went down to meet him looking like a wild animal?
But my vanity wouldn’t stand for it.
I lifted the tube back to my lips and applied it quickly.
I would never be a model but I at least looked nice.
There was a rap at the door. “Ready yet?” Rayyan called from the other side.
I went to the door. “Ready,” I confirmed softly.
My brother’s eyes widened at the sight of me. “Yikes. Not pulling any punches, are you, sis?”
I ignored him and made my way down to the small sitting room we usually received guests in. I didn’t know why, but I was nervous. It felt like I was suspended in midair, trapped in that panicky space between making a jump and landing and still unsure whether or not I was about to fall flat on my face.
My eyes went first to my parents, seated next to each other and facing the doorway I was walking through. Mom stood up as I came near, a soft smile on her face. I looked at Dad as she put her arm around my shoulder, squeezing it and then introducing me. He looked… proud. It had been such a long time since I’d been the one to put that expression on his face that I only recognized it from how often Dad wore it around Rayyan.
That familiar old jealousy began to burn my eyes and throat and I wrenched my gaze away, desperate to stave off the ugly feelings.
My eyes met his and every thought was abruptly driven out of my head.