Chapter Seventy Five
The insistent chime of my phone aroused me from my sleep. I groped for it, praying silently that Azmiah wouldn’t wake and start crying. Who on Earth was calling me in the middle of the night?
I squinted at the screen and suddenly, was wide awake. Rayyan? Had something happened to Amira, or worse, to Rayyan himself?
“What’s wrong?” I demanded, sitting up in bed.
“Mom called,” my brother informed me.
I groaned. “Goodbye.” I was in no mood to get interrogated about my sins.
“It went that bad?”
“She called you, didn’t she?” I pointed out grumpily.
“Are you doing okay?”
“Yeah, Ray.” I winced guiltily, now regretting the uncharitable things I’d been thinking. “I’m fine. I’m also tired,” I hinted, none too subtly.
“Alright, alright. I just wanted to check you weren’t working yourself up. Don’t worry about Mom, okay? She’s not herself right now.” There was an odd quality in his voice that made me frown.
“Did you guys have a fight?”
He dodged the question. “Are you sure you’re okay? Don’t get upset.”
“I’m not, Ray. I’m tired of being upset.”
“Well, good.” My brother sounded relieved. “Enjoy the vacation. Take lots of photos.”
“I will,” I promised. “Love you.”
“Love you too.”
“But you can’t distract me. Did you two fight?”
Rayyan was silent. I could hear the rhythmic tapping of his fingers, something he only did when he was upset. “She’s not getting over it,” he said softly. “Dad’s still grieving but he’s living. He’s healing. Mom… It’s like she wants to grieve forever. And I get it, I do – he was her father too. But it’s not healthy, the way she’s freezing everything out.”
“What happened?” I prompted him gently.
“I told her she needed to go and see someone, talk about it. And she just blew up on me,” I could hear the bewildered hurt in his voice. “I’m really worried about her, Az. About what she’s gonna do to herself.”
Despite everything, worry made my stomach tie itself in a knot. “Have you talked to Dad?”
“Dad knows. He’s trying to get through to her too.”
My throat was tight.
“I really miss him,” Rayyan said quietly, his voice choked with grief. “All I keep thinking is, if he were here, everything would be fine.”
I missed our grandfather too. It was like a healing wound – you got used to it but every now and then, it ached.
I yawned involuntarily and Rayyan laughed. “Go back to bed,” he ordered.
“’Kay,” I agreed sleepily. “Night.”
Landing in Athens felt like being embraced by an old friend. And yet, parts of it were new. I was seeing things through my grandfather’s eyes, remembering the way he’d described the places I slowly made my way through.
I found myself shedding tears often those first few days, mourning lost opportunities. The journals I had in my possession became infinitely more precious however – they were all that was left of him and, though they were never going to be as good as having my grandfather with me in person, they were a true comfort.
As I explained this to Rayyan over video call, I suddenly felt unreasonably selfish.
“I should have shared them with you a long time ago.”
“You wanted to have something that was just him and you. I get it.”
I didn’t need that any more. “I’ll make you a copy of the first few. And… maybe you could share them with Mom?”
He made a face. “Maybe. We’ll see.”
I leaned back against my pillows. “Tell me something happy,” I instructed.
Rayyan’s cheeks turned red. “I… Um, well – I think I might like Amira.”
I couldn’t help it. I burst out laughing. “Do you?” I giggled.
“Shut up,” he mumbled, covering his face. “It’s not funny. I made a complete fool of myself in front of her.”
“How is it,” I asked curiously, “that you could ask her to move to a different continent with you and not realize?”
Rayyan’s eyes widened comically. “I didn’t asked her to move with me. I handed her straight over to one of my colleagues and they got her an apartment. I barely even see her!”
He frowned hard. “Did you really think I’d just take her off with me just like that?”
“No, Ray. I know you better than that.” Rayyan would never be so bold.
“Good,” he sniffed.
I started giggling again.
“It’s not funny!” he scolded. “Don’t make fun of me.”
“I can’t help it.” And I really couldn’t. Self-assured, confident Rayyan was stumbling around like a newborn fawn. “How could it take you so long to realize?”
“You’re one to talk,” he retorted irritably. “What about you and Zaakir?”
My mirth drained away. “That’s different.”
Rayyan rolled his eyes. “Right,” he agreed sarcastically. “Because you don’t love him and he’s just an annoyance. No one’s buying that, Az.”
“I didn’t say that.”
I winced, automatically glancing to Azmiah. “Not so loud!” I hissed.
“Why aren’t you doing anything about it?” Rayyan continued, waving his arms around in agitation so that the screen blurred sickeningly.
“I’m scared.” I admitted in a tiny voice. “What if…”
That’s what had stopped me.
What if something happened?
What if, once again, I rushed into something and had it blow up in my face?
What if he’d moved on?
What if, as she grew, Azmiah decided that she didn’t like Zaakir?
What if? What if? What if?
“Azraa, come on. You can’t think that he’d hurt you.”
What if I hurt him?
Rayyan had no patience for my worries. “Don’t you think you should at least try? He’s a good person, Az. He loves Azmiah and you know Hajra – she’s been taking care of us since forever. You have nothing to lose, Azraa. Nothing except that loneliness that you’ve been carrying for so long.”
“And if I hurt him?”
Rayyan tugged on his hair. “You might,” he conceded. “You probably will, actually. And he’ll hurt you. But that’s life, Azraa! That’s relationships. Sometimes, we do dumb things.”
He looked me in the eyes. “You know this. You know you do.”
“And you’re gonna let that stop you?”
“Can you just be sympathetic, please?” I asked crossly.
Rayyan smiled. “I’m right. And you’re starting to accept it, aren’t you?”
“No,” I said sullenly.
“Azraa!” he laughed. “Come on, little sis. Just do it. Just trust him – and trust me – and do it. Fall in love and get married and make me a nephew.” He paused, looking vaguely nauseous. “Actually, don’t. That’s gross.”
“Did you never think about where your niece came from?”
“I tried not to think about Mirzaq in general. The guy was a tool.”
“But Zaakir,” Rayyan added. “Zaakir’s a good person.”
“You’re biased,” I pointed out. “He’s your best friend.”
“You,” Rayyan emphasized. “Are looking for excuses. And besides, I’m far more biased towards you – you’re my baby sister.”
I was all out of excuses. “Okay.”
“Okay, I’ll talk to Zaakir.” I held up a hand before he could get too excited. “Only talk!”
Rayyan grinned so widely I could count his teeth.
“And only if you talk to Amira,” I added.
The grin disappeared. “No way.”
I was insistent. “If you don’t, I won’t.”
Rayyan argued at length, but eventually, he gave in, muttering complaints under his breath. “You’re still five years old.”
Anxiety gripped me again. “Ray?”
“What?” he answered distractedly.
“It’s gonna be okay, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, Az,” Rayyan told me gently. “We’re gonna be okay.”