“Az, get up!” Rayyan called. “There’s something for you downstairs.”
I ignored him and cuddled my pillow closer, tucking it more securely under my chin. I planned to spend all of today under the covers – which he knew and despised. He’d left me alone to brood for all of yesterday, giving me the space I needed. But this morning, he’d barged in bright and early, demanding that I get up, get dressed and talk to him.
Through a mixture of taunting and outright demanding, Rayyan had gotten me to admit that I not only liked Mirzaq, I also wanted to see him again. I didn’t know why he’d been so adamant on knowing my feelings but seeing as admitting them had gotten him to leave me alone, I didn’t much care.
I knew he was confused. Even I couldn’t completely comprehend just why I was afraid. But I was. Even as I’d smiled and laughed at Zak’s antics yesterday, there had been moments where I’d been consumed with such intense terror that it nearly took my breath away.
I knew that wasn’t normal. But normal or not, it was what I felt and I couldn’t escape it.
It was no use trying to articulate all of that to my brother, however. Rayyan would shake me and tell me that fear was a part of life and letting it chain me was just stupid.
He’d never let fear trap him. Whether it was moving across the world to get an education or dealing with threats as a result of the humanitarian work he did, Rayyan shrugged it all off and just continued to keep going.
Nothing deterred him.
It was different, I argued feebly to myself. The things Rayyan did were good and noble. The things I was afraid of – I shied from them because I didn’t want to be awful any more. Didn’t that make a difference? I was a coward, but my intentions were good.
I knew that my love was toxic and I kept myself apart because I didn’t want to expose people. I would never be good. But I was trying to be less damaging.
I was trying.
That counted for something.
Mirzaq’s grey eyes flashed in my mind, playful and inviting. Play with me, he’d asked. He was full of mischief and fun. I couldn’t contaminate that.
“Azraa, what are you doing?” Rayyan demanded.
I lifted my head. I’d been so lost in thought that I’d completely forgotten he was still outside.
“I’m not coming out,” I mumbled. I’d stay inside my little nest where I couldn’t infect anyone.
“Azraa!” Rayyan pounded on the door.
I lifted my head. “I’m not coming out,” I called.
“Yes,” my brother countered. “You are.” I could see the stubborn set to his jaw in my mind’s eye. We were like a pair of mules, Zaakir’s mother had once commented.
“No,” I snapped, sitting up and enjoying the new found anger-fuelled energy coursing through my veins. “Go away.”
The door opened. “Up,” my brother demanded. “Now. Or I’ll pick you up.”
I stayed where I was, shaking my head. “No!” I stuck out my tongue.
Fast as a snake, he pounced, lifting me up blanket and all. “Rayyan!” I shrieked. “Put me down! Don’t you dare take me down in my pyjamas – I’ll kill you if you even think of it.”
One hand wrapped the tangled covers even more securely around me, covering me from chin to toes. “There, you’re decent.”
“Just what is downstairs that’s so important?” I demanded, smacking his shoulder. It stung my hand more than his skin, I was sure.
“You’ll see when we get there.”
“I’ll cry,” I warned.
I was jostled hard. “Don’t play dirty. I’ll drop you on the floor.”
“No, you won’t.”
“No,” he agreed as we went down the stairs. “I won’t. But we’re already here anyway.”
I was set down in the foyer and Rayyan tugged the blankets from me, eyeballing the sweats I wore. “It’ll do, I guess,” he sniffed. “Thank God you don’t wear those skimpy things.”
I did, in fact, wear those skimpy things. But it was better for Rayyan’s blood pressure if he remained unaware of that fact.
“So?” I crossed my arms. “Where’s this package?” It would be one of Rayyan’s friends, I knew. Most likely holding chocolate or a teddy bear that he’d gotten in an effort to cheer me up. Once upon a time, it would have been Zaakir holding out whatever they’d determined would make me smile.
Rayyan pointed at the door. “Go on,” he directed.
It wasn’t one of Rayyan’s friends. My mouth curved into an involuntary smile as I beheld Mirzaq Mahomed slouching outside my front door, his arms crossed over his chest. He straightened up when he saw me. “Hey.”
“What are you doing here? I thought your flight was this morning!”
“It was. I didn’t get on board.”
Mirzaq wrinkled his nose. “I never got that number.”
I made a face. “Your brother said you wanted to see me again,” he explained, sticking his hands in his pockets. “I wasn’t about to pass that up.”
“You’re ridiculous,” I scolded. And so, so sweet. He’d stayed. For me, he’d stayed.
Zak winced. “Yeah, kinda.” He peeked up at me over his fringe. “Is that bad?”
I hesitated, yes on the tip of my tongue. It would be better to disappoint him now. But looking at him standing there, bracing himself for my answer, the word stuck in my throat. “No,” I shook my head. “It’s not bad at all.”
Zak smiled. “I do have to go soon. I can’t stay very long.”
I frowned. “When’s soon?”
Zak made a show of checking his watch. “Five minutes.”
My face fell. “Oh.”
“Ago,” he added. “I’m sorry. I wish I could stay with you longer.”
Warmth curled in my belly at his words. He wanted to stay with me!
You’ll hurt him, I reminded myself. Let him go!
I stepped back. “You should go.”
Zak’s mouth twisted. “Right. So, goodbye.”
“Bye,” I said softly.
He turned to go.
He stopped and turned back to face me silently.
“Didn’t you want that number?” I managed to get out.