“You handled this badly,” Rayyan hissed in my ear. “Very badly.” He stepped back from the hug I’d drawn him into and glared at me, a fake smile playing on his lips.
I licked my lips. “Good to know.” I spared him a fake grin of my own, before turning to the guests who were waiting patiently behind him.
“Thank you so much for coming!” I cooed at them, every inch the ecstatic newlywed. I didn’t even recognize my own voice, it was so syrupy.
How and when I’d become this demure, diplomatic bride was unknown, even to me. But become her, I had. And people seemed to like her a hell of a lot more than they liked me.
A friend of my mother’s drew me into conversation, asking eagerly about Mirzaq. No one had seen him yet as he and his father had gone straight to the mosque and I’d been inundated with questions about him all morning.
I’d wanted to be there myself – wanted to hear us declared married with my own ears. But the demands of being hostess took precedence and with my own mother not talking to me, I’d been unable to even ask her help with the guests.
At least I wouldn’t have to wait much longer to see him. My husband.
A thrill ran through me. I had a husband. Mirzaq Mahomed was my husband.
“Why such a rush?” someone asked loudly. “I mean who ever heard of a wedding less than three months after meeting?”
I spun around to look for the source, my cheeks flushing hot. The voice had sounded vaguely familiar.
“I’m terribly sorry we didn’t wait long enough to appease you, Firdaus.” My mother’s cool voice was pitched perfectly to carry, but not seem overly loud.
Firdaus, a dumpy woman Dad was somehow distantly related to, began to stammer excuses, clearly shocked to be called out. “I was just wondering,” she exclaimed, sounding aggrieved.
“And yet you didn’t ask anyone who actually had the knowledge to answer your questions.” Mom didn’t relent. “Why is that?” She paused as though actually interested in hearing an answer, looking expectantly at her opponent who, by the look on her face, was clearly outclassed.
Firdaus had begun to sputter like a dying candle.
“I have no time for people who are here only to find the juicy story. If you are unable to support us – or even find it within yourself to pretend to be civil for a few hours – then kindly leave.” Mom pointed to the door. Her back was ramrod straight and her eyes were flashing.
Firdaus put a hand to her chest. “I have never been spoken to so rudely,” she gasped. “But I’m not surprised. You were always stuck up, Sumaira.”
Mom pointed a dainty hand at the door. “You might find better company out there,” she hinted, her eyes blazing.
Arms slipped around my waist, distracting me from the spectacle and I glanced over my shoulder to find Zak grinning down at me. “Hey, you.”
I turned in his embrace. “Hey.” I kept my eyes on his chest, shy. “You look really nice.” I ran a hand over the lapel on his jacket, stopping when I reached his grey pocket square. “I like the tux.”
“I don’t.” Mirzaq fingered the collar. “It’s pretty uncomfortable.”
He looked me over and smirked. “This dress, on the other hand… This, I like.”
I grimaced. I didn’t like the dress. It was exquisite, ivory lace that had cost a fortune, but I’d never wanted a ball gown and I kept fretting that I would trip over the yards of fabric and make a fool of myself.
Mirzaq raised a questioning eyebrow. “What?”
“I feel like a cake topper,” I admitted.
“You do look like a doll. Part of me wants to pick you up and put you on a shelf so you don’t get messed up.”
I cocked my head to the side. “And the rest?” I asked innocently.
Zak grinned mischievously. “We don’t talk about that in public,” he whispered, then lifted his head to glance over my shoulder. “Besides, we’re getting stared at already.”
We were. I’d been too absorbed with Zak to notice it before but every eye in the room was focused on us. Firdaus was long gone and Mom had disappeared as well.
I blushed and stepped back, right into Rayyan.
“If the two of you are quite finished,” he said tightly, leading me away without waiting for an answer.
“Rayyan!” I exclaimed, pulling my hand out of his. “Give us a minute.”
“You’ve had more than long enough.” My brother’s jaw was clenched. He took hold of my arm again, gentle despite the thundercloud that had settled over him.
“At least let me tell Zak where to go.”
“He’s a big boy, he’ll figure it out. Now, let’s go. We’ve made enough of a scene.” And with that, he towed me away and up the stairs to his bedroom.
“Sit,” he directed, turning to close and lock the door.
Worry began to stir in me. Why had he drawn me aside? “Ray…” I could hardly say it. “Are you okay? Is something wrong?”
“Yes. Not like that,” Rayyan added. “Nothing’s wrong with me. But something is wrong, Az. And you’re the only one with the answer as to why. So you tell me – is something wrong?”
I put my face in my hands and groaned in frustration. “No! Nothing is wrong. I’m just tired of waiting, is all. I don’t know why none of you can let this go.”
Rayyan pulled his desk chair out and sat in front of me, his elbows on his knees. “Because, Az… This doesn’t feel right. Mirzaq – he’s –” My brother shook his head. “I know you’re infatuated with him, okay? You were smitten right from the beginning.
“But that’s the problem, Az! You barely even know this guy and you’re willing to uproot your life for him? Move across the world? Hell, you even gave up your dream wedding just so that you could be with him faster! Don’t you think that should worry you? At least a little?”
“No!” I got to my feet, incensed. “No, I don’t. And for your information, I have thought about this. And I’m happier than I’ve ever been. The life I’m uprooting isn’t that great anyway.”
I was breathing hard and two seconds away from ruining my make up. I wanted to throw something at Rayyan. All I was giving up was loneliness and abandonment.
I looked away from him, the concern on his face making me sick. Now, he cared. Now, he had time. Well, now it was too late.
I went to the door and wrenched it open. “You don’t have to be happy for me. You don’t even have to come down there. But you don’t get to ruin today for me.”
He sighed behind me. “I wish I could be happy for you. But I am terrified that you’re making a mistake. When I think of how you were with Zaakir-”
“I was never with Zaakir!” I shouted, spinning around. “And I never wanted to be either.” I took a deep breath. “I’m sorry, okay? I’m sorry that I didn’t pick him. I’m sorry that he ever fell in love with me – I never asked him to and I never wanted him to. But it’s not my problem. And I am sick of hearing about it!” I slammed the door behind me.
“Azraa!” Rayyan called after me, exasperated.