Zaakir let out a sigh. “I’m sorry.” He gripped the steering wheel, knuckles turning white under the strain. “My feelings aren’t your problem.”
I felt a sting of guilt. I’d thought the very same thing often enough myself but hearing it from his lips made a lump form in my throat.
“Can’t-” My voice came out as a croak. “Can’t we just go back to the way we were?”
His mouth twisted and the car jumped forward. I let out a yelp and grabbed hold of the handle above my head. I cast a panicky look toward the speedometer and immediately shrieked, “Slow down!”
Zaakir immediately eased off the accelerator. He flicked the indicator and pulled over quickly, switching the car off.
“What are you doing?” I gasped. “Are you out of your mind?”
He opened his door. “You should drive.”
I craned my head to follow him as he walked around the car. “What? Why?”
Zaakir pulled open my door. “Me driving right now is a bad idea.” There was pink on his cheekbones and he was breathing unevenly.
He held out the keys to me.
I looked at them helplessly. I hated driving. Zaakir chauffeured me everywhere. Worse, I was out of practice. I was as liable to crash as Zaakir was.
Zaakir jingled the keys in front of my face. “Take them, Azraa.”
“Just take them!”
I gave in, letting Zaakir drop the car keys into my waiting hand and getting out to go to the driver’s seat.
Looking down at the pedals, I found a problem bigger than inexperience. “Zaakir…”
He looked up. “What?”
I cringed. “I can’t… I don’t know how to drive a car with a clutch.”
There was a sigh. Zaakir tilted his head back against the headrest with his eyes shut. “Give me a minute to calm down and I’ll take you home. If I drive like this, we’ll crash.”
I felt a surge of irritation. “Why can’t you just deal with this?” I snapped.
“Because I’m in love with you!” Zaakir cried. He covered his eyes with a hand. “Just… just stop talking, please.”
I crossed my arms and turned to look out the window. “Is it even safe for us to be pulled over like this for so long?”
Zaakir growled. “Fine. Fine.” He clicked his seatbelt. “Let’s just go.”
My phone beeped and I stuck my spoon in my mouth, reaching out a hand to grab it.
Zak had finally replied to my earlier message. ‘Do it.’
I smiled softly and put down the carton of ice cream I’d been eating from to type. ‘You don’t mind?’
‘Why would I? It’s not like I’m hurting for money, gorgeous.’
‘Hey, does this mean we can move up the wedding?’ he added before I could respond.
I hesitated. ‘I don’t know. I haven’t talked to my parents yet.’ I had no idea how they’d react to their daughter dropping out of university.
I felt terrible for ruining his excitement. ‘But we can move it up. We should.’
‘Yeah.’ I’d make my parents understand. ‘When do you want to move it to?’
‘How soon can you put together a wedding?’ Zak replied.
‘Finding it hard to live without me?’ I teased.
‘Yeah. I am.’ I felt a rush of warmth and clutched the phone to my chest.
‘I’ll see what I can do.’
‘I can’t wait. Thanks, gorgeous.’
“But what’s the rush, Azraa?” Mom asked distractedly. “We settled on six months from now – your Dad and I have already made it known that we won’t be available then. We cannot accommodate anything sooner.”
“You can’t spare a weekend for me?” I asked icily.
“A weekend?” The distraction was gone, replaced by shock. “Azraa, don’t be ridiculous. Weddings take time and effort. It’s not just about us attending your nikaah and walima. Try to understand, sweetheart. Just be patient.”
“No,” I snapped. “I won’t.”
“Azraa!” my mother cried, exasperated. “There’s no need to be petulant.”
I took a deep breath. “I want to plan things myself anyway. So let me do it all the way I want and you can just come back to be here.”
“Az… You can’t be serious. You’re going to plan everything yourself? You don’t even know what to do… Just take a deep breath and calm down. We’ll talk about this next week.”
“Wait!” I made a last ditch effort. “Let me try. If I mess up, you can have it your way.”
There was silence on the other end of the line. “Alright,” my mother said, suddenly sounding very tired. “Do as you like.”
She hung up then and I was left with the discomfort of knowing that I’d displeased her. I didn’t know why, exactly. But I’d heard it in her voice.
At least Mirzaq would be happy.
And anything that got me closer to being with him was worth it.
I was exhausted. It was just as well that I’d gone to my Dean the day after I’d talked to Zak – I would never have been able to get everything done with classes to go to on top of it all.
My parents must have known that I’d dropped out but I hadn’t heard anything about it from them. In fact, we had barely spoken at all in the month that had gone by while I was planning my wedding. I’d spoken to vendors more than all of my family combined.
But it was worth it. In just under two weeks, I would be getting married. I couldn’t wait. Zak’s excitement fuelled my own and I was eating, breathing and dreaming weddings.
Thankfully, I’d finalized all the arrangements. Now I had to concentrating on packing myself up to move cross-country.
And I’d done it all myself. I pressed my lips together tightly and ignored the sting regret had caused in my eyes.
Loneliness is a disease that affects people who are unsatisfied in some way.
I shook my head like I was trying to get rid of a persistent fly. I wouldn’t be lonely for much longer – I’d have Zak soon.