I’d refused to budge until every inch of Zak’s car had left my sight, making Rayyan sigh and shake his head before heading back into the house, calling over his shoulder that he’d be in his room and to come find him when I was done being dramatic.
I headed up the stairs, that ridiculous smile still on my face and set my mind to making plans for how to thank him. A mule he was but he’d also done the sweetest thing for me anyone ever had.
The door to his bedroom was slightly ajar and I felt a spark of mischief take hold of me. Rayyan would be at his desk working – his back would be to the wall. I began to ease it open further, careful to make no noise. It had been years since I’d jumped on him like this – not since before he’d left for university and I decided I was too old to be doing such childish things.
Halfway inside the room, I froze and began to back away. Rayyan was at his desk, just as I’d thought he’d be. But he wasn’t alone. Zaakir sat on the corner of his bed, biting the skin on the edge of his thumb.
My brother’s back was to me and I could see nothing of his expression. But the frustration on Zaakir’s face was clear.
“I couldn’t help it.” Rayyan raked a hand through his hair. “She looked so miserable… And she’s happy when she’s with him.” He sighed and turned to face Zaakir fully. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t,” Zaakir began heatedly.
I backed away hurriedly and yanked the door behind me, letting it muffle Zaakir’s words. I didn’t want to hear this. In my haste, I pulled it completely shut and the click of the latch echoed loudly.
For a moment, I thought they’d been too absorbed to hear me. But then Rayyan’s voice called, “Who’s there?” from inside and I knew I’d been caught.
I waited, bracing myself.
Sure enough, a moment later Zaakir poked his head out. “I was just leaving,” he said blandly.
I winced at the blatant lie. The Zaakir I knew despised lying. Then again, the Zaakir I knew didn’t lose his temper like I’d just seen either. “I can come back,” I said feebly.
He shook his head. “Rayyan and I are done.” Stepping away, he added. “He wants to talk to you, anyway.”
As if on cue, my brother’s voice called. “Az, come in.” He didn’t sound happy.
Rayyan had turned his chair to face the door and his arms were crossed over his chest. He frowned at me. “Why were you eavesdropping?”
Rayyan didn’t look convinced.
“I wasn’t eavesdropping,” I insisted. “I wanted to play with you a little, is all.”
“Play with me?” Rayyan got to his feet and tugged me away from the door to sit on a chair. “What does that mean?”
I shrugged. “Like when we were little. I used to jump on you, remember?”
A nostalgic smile crossed his face. “Yeah, I remember. What brought that on?”
“I dunno. I was happy.” I’d been very happy. And playful.
“Because of Mirzaq?” my brother asked shrewdly.
I blushed and looked away. “No.”
Rayyan grinned so widely I could count his teeth. “Yes, it is. You’re smitten, baby sis.”
I lifted my head, shocked. “What did you say?” I whispered.
“I said that you’re smitten. And you are, don’t try to deny it.”
The dreams. The dreams I’d had about a man whose face I’d never been able to see. I’d thought they were about Zaakir.
But I’d never called him Zak. Not once.
Could it be? Had I been dreaming about Mirzaq?
I hadn’t even met him then. How was this possible?
Taqdeer, a voice whispered deep inside me. It’s possible because it’s taqdeer.
“I am smitten,” I agreed, giddy.
Rayyan’s face fell slightly. I knew what he was thinking of without it having to be said. Zaakir.
I felt a surge of irritation. “Can you not do that?”
Rayyan looked taken aback at my sudden mood shift.
“I know that you’re friends,” I added. “But you’re my brother. You’re supposed to be happy for me.”
“I am -”
I spoke over Rayyan. “But you’re not completely happy. You’re sad for Zaakir. I can see it in your face Rayyan!”
“And if I am?” Rayyan demanded irritably. “So what? He’s my best friend, Azraa. And he’s been in love with you for years!”
“That’s not my fault!” I shouted, springing to my feet. My breath caught and I sniffed. “It’s not my fault.”
Rayyan hugged me, looking contrite. “No, it’s not,” he agreed.
The knot of guilt that had taken up residence in my throat began to loosen. “I didn’t make him,” I cried into Rayyan’s shoulder. “I didn’t tell him to love me.”
A large hand came up to stroke my hair. “I know. I know you didn’t.”
Rayyan let me cry myself out, taking my weight when I stumbled. Finally cried out, I pulled back a little and he immediately let me go, turning away to grab me some tissues.
“Here,” he handed them over.
“He’s been so awful lately too,” I complained, dabbing at my eyes.
I was just looking for sympathy now and I knew it.
Rayyan didn’t let me have it. “Has Zaakir been rude to you?” he asked seriously.
“No,” I had to admit. “But he’s so distant!”
“Az,” my brother said patiently. “You can’t have it both ways. He’s just trying to get over you. You need to let him do that.”
“No, he’s not,” I mumbled rebelliously. “What about today?”
Rayyan looked confused. “Today’s a prime example of that.” He was prevented from continuing by a knock on the door followed by Nana asking if he’d seen me.
Rayyan looked at me for permission before calling that I was with him.
Our grandfather opened the door and immediately crossed the room to give me a hug. “What’s this?” he asked gently. “Why are you crying, dear?”
“I -” I looked helplessly at Rayyan.
“Zak issues,” he answered, winking at me. It wasn’t a lie – ‘Zak’ was the issue. Just not the Zak Nana assumed we were talking about.
Nana made a soft noise of understanding. “Well, the two of you certainly hit it off fast,” he commented. “Are we planning a wedding then?”
I blurted out a knee-jerk answer without stopping to think.