Chapter Sixty Five
My entire being ached with the urge to pick up and run and just keep going until my very legs gave out. I had a newfound appreciation for mouth guards. Without one, I was sure I’d have worn my teeth down to stubs. As it was, I woke every morning with my jaw aching from the force with which I’d been grinding my teeth in my sleep.
I knew that I was heading for some kind of head-on collision but I’d chosen to consciously ignore it. Instead, I’d elected to simply turn my brain off. I spent hours playing pretend with my toddler and still more time re-reading my grandfather’s journals over and over again.
It was a strange kind of self-inflicted torture, learning about all those beautiful, strange places whilst I was confined to this familiar and painful, familiarly painful one.
I’d done a poor job of concealing how much I wanted to leave – not that I’d tried particularly hard. I wouldn’t leave, not now that Shamima had been miraculously cleared of all charges and written off as a confused old lady.
The violence Amira had been subject to had somehow been overlooked entirely. I’d hit the roof when I found out but it was too late; the doddering Mrs. Mahomed had been whisked off back to New York, presumably so she and her husband could begin plotting anew while I remained stuck in my childhood home jumping at shadows.
It was infuriating to be caged like this but I didn’t know what else to do. There was nothing to do. Nothing legal, at least. Besides, as much as I may have deeply wished for the Mahomeds to keel over and die, murdering them was never going to be an option outside of my imagination.
If only it were.
I heaved a sigh, thinking of Amira. She’d still barely spoken about her ordeals to me but I knew she’d confided in Rayyan. The distant expression he’d worn every night for the past week when I caught him in the kitchen in the middle of the night told me that whatever she’d said continued to weigh on his mind.
Speaking of which… I glanced at the time and swung my legs out of bed. He’d be out of his room soon. We both pretended that we slept better than we did so Rayyan would stay holed up in his bedroom with dry Law textbooks and I would lie in bed, too weary to stop my mind from working overtime until one of us cracked.
It was stupid, to keep pretending, but bizarrely, I found it comforting. It reminded me of when we’d been little and Rayyan would come up with the most outlandish things to entertain or appease me.
I scanned the many jars and tins of powder, trying to figure out what I wanted to drink. I’d grown tired of honeyed milk and I’d been devotedly avoiding anything caffeinated. I didn’t want the sleeping problems to continue, I’d simply grown used to them like everything else I simply didn’t have the power to change.
Hot chocolate. Almond milk. Protein powder – yuck. That godawful juice concentrate thing my father liked. I wrinkled my nose. None of that sounded good at all.
“Green tea,” Rayyan suggested from behind me, opening the cupboard directly to my right and above my head.
“Cocoa? With cinnamon.”
“And hazelnut nibs,” I agreed, grabbing a saucepan and beginning to gather the few ingredients I needed.
Rayyan hummed in agreement.
“I wonder what would happen if we put this much effort into actually staying asleep?” he commented.
“You’d be drooling and I’d be bored.” I handed him his drink and accepted a plate laden with goodies.
“Rude,” he complained.
“I’m sleep deprived.”
You’re crabby, little sister. Don’t pass that on to Azmiah, please.”
I glared at him. “My daughter is a delight.”
“Yeah,” Rayyan agreed. “She is. I’m gonna miss her.”
I lifted my head. “What do you mean?”
“Never mind.” He wouldn’t look me in the eyes.
“No, Rayyan, what?”
I grabbed his face. “What’s going on?”
My brother shut his eyes, pulling away. “Nothing, just yet. My leave of absence is coming to an end soon.”
“Oh.” I didn’t know what to say. “I had no idea. I thought you were working remotely.”
“I was, but I can only do that for so long. I need to be in meetings, appear at court… I can’t work effectively without being at work.”
“So when are you leaving then?” I tried to keep my tone casual.
“I don’t know.” Rayyan pinched the bridge of his nose. “I might not go.”
“But you want to,” I guessed.
“Yeah. I do. I love my job. I miss it.” He shook his head. “But with everything here still so crazy…” he trailed off. “I don’t know if it’s such a good idea.”
“Yes, it is. I know how much you love your job. You can’t quit.”
“So, what, I just leave you all?” Frustration coated my brother’s tone.
“Ray, we’re not babies. We’ll be fine. And… you’re not going somewhere without phones and the internet, right?” I teased lightly, shoving aside the worry pooling in my gut.
“Az, don’t.” Rayyan looked miserable.
“Don’t put on that fake brave face.”
“Okay,” I admitted. “I’m gonna miss you a ton. But that doesn’t make a difference. You love your job. You can’t abandon it.”
“Yeah, I do.” Rayyan’s eyes softened as he thought about it. “I really, really do. I get to help people, Azraa. I can do something to help them. It doesn’t always work but a lot of the tim it does and it’s so amazing. I wish you could see it.”
His joy was infectious. “I’m happy for you,” I murmured, hugging him.
“Thanks, little sis. I appreciate you listening.” He tugged at my hair.
“And kicking your butt?”
“And that,” he acknowledged with a laugh. Then, straightening up, he sobered. “I’m gonna hate telling Mom and Dad, aren’t I?”
I winced. “Yep.” There were going to be fireworks in the morning.