Loneliness is a state of mind. You can be in a crowded room, surrounded by hundreds of people and still feel so completely isolated that it makes you want to scream.
Loneliness is a disease that affects people who are unsatisfied in some way. People who are unfulfilled.
I felt a twinge of annoyance. No, I thought grumpily, it isn’t. Stupid, condescending professor. Loneliness affects people whose families are nowhere to be seen.
Was I bitter over being left yet again? Yes. Was it childish? Also yes. Did I care? Not in the least.
I would continue to ‘sulk’, as Rayyan and my grandfather called it, for the foreseeable future. Or at least until I stopped feeling quite so lonely.
Loneliness is a disease, my professor said smugly in my mind and I scowled immediately. Condescending bastard.
I had, for once in my life, opened my mouth in a lecture only to be immediately reminded just why I preferred to keep quiet and let the whole thing wash over me – if I even attended a lecture at all.
I’d been worked up enough to storm out of the lecture by the end of it, something that I was sure would be getting passed on to my parents via whichever poor assistant the university managed to get hold of and badger.
It wouldn’t make a difference. It hadn’t made a difference when I’d failed out of my first year, or when I’d abruptly decided to completely switch fields of study two years in and more than halfway through a degree.
I felt a wave of exhaustion hit me. Why was I even trying? My family was rich enough that I never needed to work a day in my life if I didn’t want to and it was hardly as though getting a bachelor’s degree was any kind of achievement. Getting it wouldn’t make anyone bat an eye.
A course of action occurred to me and I felt a weight lift from my shoulders. I got to my feet, ready to go to the Dean’s office and immediately sat back down.
Zak. I needed to check with him first.
I sat there on the stone bench outside the library patiently, waiting for him to respond, playing a game to while away the time.
It began to rain and I jumped, caught off guard by the icy downpour. The library had closed for lunch while I’d been sitting outside and now I was stuck. The closest open building was a ten minute walk away in my impractical heels.
Great. Well, at least it hadn’t been an especially good hair day. The wind lashed my face and I grimaced, spitting out a mouthful of rainwater. Yuck.
I stepped out from under the inadequate protection the ledges had been offering me. Might as well get completely wet rather than halfway.
I shivered for a moment then began to make the long trek to shelter. Halfway there, I’d completely ruined my shoes and my ankles were screaming after having had all of my weight put on them exactly wrong as I’d slipped and slid across the street.
I should have just waited the storm out outside the library.
I finally made it to the student cafeteria and limped in, leaving puddles all over the floor. No sooner had I settled myself in the closest seat to the door and bent to undo the pretty silver buckles that had kept my stilettos on my feet than I felt a shadow fall over me.
A jacket settled itself over my shoulders and I caught the scent of the soap Zaakir used. “Thanks,” I said gratefully, appreciating the warmth. I looked up to see Zaakir already walking away and my stomach twisted.
Suddenly, the jacket didn’t feel as warm. I pushed my arms through the sleeves anyway, pausing to roll them up so I could still use my hands before going back to my shoes. The buckles were so small that my numb fingers couldn’t work them properly.
“Here.” A cup of coffee was thrust under my nose. I curled my hands around it and took a sip, sighing happily.
Zaakir crouched down beside me, eyeing my shoes. “I’m surprised you didn’t break an ankle,” he said reproachfully. “Why didn’t you take them off?”
He didn’t wait for an answer before taking my nearest foot in his hands and quickly undoing the buckles, easing it off my foot. I wiggled my toes experimentally and winced.
“Does it hurt?” was the immediate question.
“A little,” I admitted.
Zaakir frowned heavily and I added, “But it’s not that bad. I didn’t hurt myself or anything.”
I was treated to a disbelieving look. “You were limping,” Zaakir said flatly, getting to his feet with my filthy shoes in one hand.
I shrugged. “Heels hurt.” I held my hand out. “Here, give them to me.”
Zaakir pulled the shoes back. “You’re not gonna put them back on?”
I shuddered. “God, no. I’ll put them in my bag.”
He bent and did it for me, lifting the bag. “Come on,” he jerked his head toward the door. “The rain’s stopped.”
I looked at the floor and made I face. “I don’t have shoes.”
“You can’t put those death traps back on.”
I knew that but… I drew my feet up. “The floor’s dirty.”
“Azraa,” Zaakir sighed, in that familiar exasperated tone. “Come on. It’s just a little dirt, it’ll wash off.”
I shook my head obstinately. “I’ll just put my shoes on again.” I held out an expectant hand.
Zaakir looked between the bag and me. “You’ll hurt yourself.”
“I’ll risk it. I’m not moving without my shoes.”
He rolled his eyes. “Fine then.” Zaakir shouldered his backpack and then mine, bending forward. “If you won’t move…”
A hand hooked under my knees while a second snaked behind my back to steady me. “Then I’ll have to move you,” Zaakir finished, seemingly unfazed by my weight.
I blinked up at him stunned, my throat working as I tried to find my voice. “You-you… Put me down, you maniac!”
Zaakir ignored me. I was carried all the way to the parking lot and put in the passenger seat of the car without my feet once touching the ground.
He shut the door carefully then went to stow our bags before getting in the driver’s seat.
“Okay,” he said, once he’d buckled his seatbelt, “let me have it.”
“Why did you do that?” I demanded immediately. I’m heavy.”
Zaakir shrugged. “You would’ve hurt yourself.”
“What do you care?” I demanded, frustrated. He wouldn’t even look at me any more but he’d carry me so I didn’t hurt my feet?
He did look at me then. “I care a lot more than you want to know,” he said softly.
I turned away.