Chapter Sixty Six
Rayyan’s eyes were wild when he stormed into my bedroom.
Wordlessly, I lifted up Azmiah from where we’d been playing on her playmat and handed her to him. He snuggled her close, burying his head in her fluffy hair.
“I’m using a baby to soothe myself. I’ve hit a new low.”
I rolled my eyes. “Don’t be over dramatic. Even if we come by it honestly.”
He lifted his head to look at me. “You heard the show?”
“The dead heard the show, Ray. Mom was, uh, not too pleased?”
My brother made a face. “That’s an understatement. She would’ve been less mad if I’d told her I was a murderer.” He frowned sadly. “She’s never been mad at me like that before.”
No, Rayyan had always been Mommy’s Little Boy. Unlike me, the little demon child who’d gotten on both parents’ last nerve constantly. I’d been such a sickly, miserable little kid that I’d clung to them and driven them nuts.
“Tell her you’re ready to have her find your perfect match and everything will be forgiven,” I suggested, not in the least bit bitter.
Well, okay, maybe a little bitter.
Rayyan blew a raspberry on Azmiah’s tummy. She squealed and kicked out happily.
I giggled and reached up to poke the underside of her foot.
“I’m sorry,” I got to my feet and embraced Rayyan. “They’ll get over it though, I promise.”
Rayyan blew out a breath. “Yeah. It’s just strange, her not talking to me.”
“You’re not gonna change your mind, are you?”
He shook his head, pursing his lips. “No. I’d need a much better reason to do that. I won’t abandon this just because Mom’s not happy. And I’ll fly up and down as much as I can. I’m not abandoning you guys.”
A troubled look crossed Rayyan’s face. “Do you think Mom’ll calm down by the time I leave?”
“She’s not going to let you leave without saying goodbye.” I assured him. “You’re her precious baby.”
A light flush covered my brother’s cheeks. “Can you not say it like that?”
“Nope.” I took Azmiah from him and held her up to his face. “Can you say ‘nope’?” I asked her. “Can you tell Uncle Rayyan ‘nope’?”
She babbled and smacked at his nose.
“Good enough,” I laughed, setting her down when she squirmed.
“Your Momma’s a horrible influence,” Rayyan told Azmiah in a sing-song voice. “A horrible, terrible, no-good influence.”
“On a more serious note,” he turned nervous. “I haven’t told Amira that I’m leaving yet.”
I grimaced. “You’re on your own with that one.”
“Azzzz,” he drew my name out. “Don’t be cruel.”
“Raaay,” I mimicked him.
Rayyan made a sad face.
I screwed my eyes shut. “You’re so annoying!”
He grinned. “Thank you, Azraa. Now.”
I glared. “Please,” he added, tilting his head to the side.
“You’re not a puppy, that’s not cute.” It was a little cute. A very little.
“Come on,” I held out a hand. “Let’s go.”
We made a detour to hand Azmiah over to her grandparents. My mother gave me a strained half-smile as she bent down to greet her granddaughter. We’d spoken barely a handful of words to one another since the funeral and it still made me antsy to leave Azmiah in her care. I only ever did it if I knew my father would be right there.
To his credit, Dad agreed with me fully and never strayed from Azmiah’s side if I wasn’t in the room with them.
It was enough. I could live with that.
We just went on, not addressing, not fixing. It was easier that way. Or so we told ourselves so we could still live with it.
And now still wasn’t the time. Rayyan needed my help right now.
I fidgeted with my hair, trying not to feel like an eavesdropper as Rayyan slowly, carefully began to explain everything to Amira. When he was done, he paused expectantly, twisting his fingers together.
“You probably have a lot of people to help you,” she said slowly.
“There are a ton of people who work and even more who donate their time,” he agreed. “But we’re always in need of more. Any help we can get, really.”
Amira bit her lip. “Is there any way that I could help?”
Rayyan’s mouth dropped open.
He looked at her with so much awe and respect it took my breath away. Something tugged in my chest as I looked between them and slowly began to understand.
I knew Amira’d made an impression on Rayyan. But this was more than that. While I hadn’t been paying attention, my brother had begun to fall for her.
My brother visibly pulled himself together. “Of course. I’ll talk to my boss.”
Amira dimpled a sweet little smile at him.
I looked away, feeling like I was intruding on a private moment.
Rayyan abruptly seemed to remember my presence and cleared his throat uncomfortably. “Anyway, I’m meant to leave next week. I have to go.” He darted off, a flush covering his cheeks.
“Take Azmiah!” I called after him.
He popped his head back around the door. “I can’t, I’m meeting Zaakir. Leave her with Mom and Dad.”
And then he was gone again.
“Is everything alright?” Amira asked, sounding vaguely alarmed.
“Everything’s fine. He’s just…” Lovelorn. “Stressed.”
Time to change the subject. At least until I could talk to Ray.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t even think that you’d probably want something else to do. I haven’t really been paying much attention, have I?”
“Azraa, no! You’ve been so kind.” Tears filled her eyes. “You and Rayyan both. Your whole family, while I just lumped myself onto you.” She sniffled.
“I love having you here. You saved my daughter, Amira. I’ll never be able to repay you for that.”
I squeezed her fingers. “You’ll always be welcome here.”
I changed the subject then. “Do you want pancakes? I want pancakes. Let’s go make some pancakes.”