Both my brother and grandfather turned to me with identical looks of shock.
“Well,” I stuttered, backtracking. “If they agree, that is.”
Nana looked ridiculously pleased. “Of course they’ll agree,” he assured me jovially, pulling me into his arms. “Mubarak,” he added, pressing a kiss to my hair. “I’m so happy for you, Az.”
“Mom and Dad,” Rayyan said, seeming to come out of a state of shock. “We need to tell them.”
Nana looked up. “Of course,” he nodded. “Go and get them, Rayyan. And tell Hajra we’ll be celebrating tonight while you’re at it. We’ll go to your favourite restaurant,” he added to me.
“It’ll be great.”
Shattered was a good word, I decided.
It had started out so well, too.
I buried my head in my hands and sobbed for a moment, coughing with the force of it. Letting go of my emotions had been unexpectedly violent because of how hard I’d been biting back the tears.
Shame engulfed me, making me duck my head to hide my burning cheeks despite knowing that there was no one else in the room.
I was being selfish. I knew I was being selfish.
It didn’t make a difference.
I wanted them there, dammit! I wanted my parents around to celebrate with me – I’d just accepted a proposal for goodness’ sake.
Couldn’t it wait?
I knew better than to voice my rage, to shout the ugly words that kept making circuits within my mind.
But they were still there. I still resented the nameless dying people who were taking my parents from me just as much as I had when I was five and still able to own up to the selfishness that consumed me.
I wanted their attention on me. Just for once… Just once.
“Az? Come on, dear. Try to cheer up. I know you’re disappointed but don’t be petulant.”
“Sorry.” I twirled a forkful of pasta, loading it until the entire thing destabilized and began to slip back down onto my waiting still-full plate.
I did it again, my eyes glued to the utensil. How much longer until I could just go to my room?
Nana meant well by trying to salvage the evening.after first my mother and then my father had both left to answer calls and then come back with that identical apologetic yet uncaring look on their faces.
But the high that I’d been riding for most of the day had disappeared and I couldn’t hide the sour mood I was in any longer.
“Azraa,” The cajoling voice had turned stern now. “Come on. It’s my last night with you, don’t spoil it.”
My head jerked up at this unexpected announcement and I gaped at my grandfather. “You’re leaving too?”
He looked taken aback. “Yes. Did you forget?”
“You didn’t tell me!” I snapped, temper now completely frayed. “Why don’t any of you tell me things?”
My grandfather and brother both gaped at me. I lingered for a moment before losing patience and springing to my feet. “Never mind. It doesn’t matter anyway.”
Mirzaq – Zak, I corrected myself. He’d asked me sweetly to call him Zak and I had, of course, agreed immediately.
Zak had come through for me so wonderfully, I was still marveling at it. He’d been messaging me on and off all day, just little one liners that didn’t require much or even any response.
But he’d sensed that something was wrong when I’d sent him that first message unprompted and had responded by snaring my attention so thoroughly that I’d been too focused on him to continue to even feel angry.
I blushed hard thinking of how our conversation had ended.
“I can’t wait til you’re right next to me all the time,” he’d told me in a thick voice, clearly half-asleep.
“Time for bed,” I’d deflected. “Sweet dreams.”
“Of you,” he’d agreed. “Dream of me too?”
I’d learned the same lessons any other girl had about being overeager and playing hard to get.
But with Zak… I couldn’t say no to him.
I let out a snort, amused at myself. I was the Ice Queen.
And he was the Flame King, clearly, to be able to melt me this fast.
Nana had left without saying goodbye.
I’d been awake when he’d left, had come down for breakfast unsuspecting only to be met with the guiltiest look I’d ever seen on Rayyan’s face. He’d grimaced and pointed to the front door. “If you hurry, you can catch him.”
Instead, I’d walked to a window and watched my beloved grandfather drive away, just as I’d done countless times with my parents and brother.
It hurt, but distantly, as though it was being filtered somehow. Like I had a shield holding back the worst of the pain.
I wrapped my arms around myself.
It was a fitting punishment, I supposed. I’d left first by storming away.
I heard Rayyan’s footsteps behind me and felt a stab of fury go through me. Now he was leaving too?
I whirled around, prepared to unload some of the pain festering in me onto him.
But the words stuck in my throat when I saw his retreating back.
I sunk to the floor, pulling my knees up under my chin.
I hated being left.
I supposed that was why it kept happening.
My phone beeped in my pocket, startling me.
‘Hey, gorgeous,’ the screen read. ‘Are you in class already? Or do you have some time for me?’
Even as my mouth curved into a smile in response to the compliment, I simultaneously let out a groan. I didn’t want to go to class!
I didn’t want to force myself to listen to the drone of professors who were clearly not being paid well enough – they were like zombies for God sake!
I looked down at my phone.
‘I should be in class. Think you can convince me not to go?’
Zak didn’t bother using words to respond. His reply was a single photo.
I waited impatiently during the moment it took for it to load and immediately let out a coo when it finally had.
He was sitting at a desk, his head cocked to the side and propped up on his elbow. His lower lip poked out slightly in the hint of a pout and his eyes were wide.
‘Please?’ it was captioned.
This chapter very nearly made me shriek in fury. Also, a large portion of it was written between two and five in the morning on no sleep so mind the typos.