Chapter Seventy Six
I’d promised myself that if I got too anxious, I would simply hang up. I wasn’t counting on him to answer the phone after barely two rings.
“Hello?” a sleepy voice answered. “Azraa?”
“Hey,” I breathed. “Um… how are you?”
“…Fine. Are you sure you’re okay?” he pressed. “What made you call so late?”
I had no idea what time it was beyond after toddler bedtime. “I… I should let you get back to sleep. We’ll talk in the morning.”
Zaakir muffled a yawn. “Azraa, what’s going on?”
“It can wait ‘til morning.” I stalled.
“I can’t wait ‘til morning. Azraa, please,” Zaakir didn’t sound sleepy any more. “You’re starting to scare me.”
“I…” I covered the cellphone’s receiver with my hand. “This is so stupid,” I muttered to myself, scolding. “You are a grown woman,” I reminded myself. “You should not be this ridiculous.”
“Azraa, I can hear you,” Zaakir told me softly. “Please just talk to me.”
“Nothing bad is going on.” I should have started with that. Say it. Just say it. Just freaking say it. “I have something to tell you.”
“Okay.” Zaakir said softly. “I’m listening.”
I’m in love with you. I think you’re cute. Your hair’s fluffy.
This was absurd.
“Azraa, you’re killing me here.”
“Sorry,” I mumbled. “You should really just go to sleep.”
“I want to talk to you,” Zaakir countered. “If you’re not tired,” he added as an afterthought.
“Do you remember when we were little?”
Zaakir hummed. “I wouldn’t let you ignore me.”
I laughed. “I never liked you having anything I didn’t. And you were always so happy all the time. I couldn’t figure out why.”
“Better than being sad all the time,” he pointed out.
“Zaakir, do you remember what you kept saying to me?”
“I said a lot of things to you,” he hedged.
“You were so convinced we’d end up together,” I reminded him softly.
“Yeah, I was.” Zaakir’s voice was strained.
“And now?” I bit my lip, holding my breath.
“And now what?”
“What do you think now? Do you – Would you -” I sighed irritably, annoyed with myself. “Is that something you’d still… want?”
Nice going, Azraa. What a romantic proposal. He’ll fall at your feet after that!
“Are you kidding me?”
I winced. Ouch.
“I just thought… maybe… Forget about it.” I finished lamely, feeling my cheeks burn bright red.
“What? Azraa, no!” I’d only heard him so agitated a handful of times before. Zaakir took a deep breath. “What are you asking me?”
“I’m asking – I’m telling you that I love you. And the idea of ending up with you sounds pretty amazing right now.”
“I love you too.” Zaakir sounded delighted.
Fireworks exploded in my stomach.
Really? I wanted to ask. Promise?
One day, you’ll be mine, a boy’s voice declared confidently in my head.
You’re right, I told that boy silently. And one day, you will be mine.
“Say it!” I demanded. I’d been badgering Zaakir ever since I’d woken up. “Please say it?” I let myself sound sulky.
I could sense him wavering.
“Please, please, please.”
“Azraa, this is embarrassing,” he told me. “I can’t believe I used to go around telling you that.”
“I think it’s cute. Now say it. Please?” I pouted, not that he could see it.
He heaved a sigh. “One day, you’ll be mine,” he whispered in a low voice. “Happy now?”
“Very,” I assured him. A thought occurred to me and I groaned, pressing a hand to my aching eyes.
“What?” Zaakir demanded worriedly. “What happened?”
“Rayyan is going to be insufferable.”
“You’ve still time to change your mind,” Zaakir reminded me. I heard the underlying stress in his voice.
“I’m not going to change my mind. I know I sounded like an insane person.”
“You didn’t,” he tried to interject.
“But,” I kept talking. “I meant what I said.”
I was still worried – more than I wanted to admit, even to myself. Those worries would keep until I got back and we could speak face to face, though.
As usual – Zaakir had a different plan. “You’re packed already,” he pointed out. “There are things we should talk about sooner rather than later.”
“On the phone?” I protested weakly.
“It’s not ideal,” he acknowledged. “But there’s no way we’ll get any privacy once you’re back in Stockholm. Not once we tell our parents.”
I groaned. I’d forgotten about that lovely little detail.
“It won’t be so bad,” Zaakir tried to comfort me. “They’ll be happy for us.”
“Right.” I was unconvinced. I could just imagine what my mother would say. Jumping into another marriage – though this one would be entirely different to my first, if I had anything to say about it – was unlikely to win me any brownie points with her.
Zaakir was silent.
“I expect you to save me if I yell,” I instructed him, trying to lighten the mood.
“And I want chocolate waiting for me when we land,” I added.
“And you have to take me shopping.”
“Whatever you want.”
“And you can tell my parents.” Would he fall for it?
“Too far?” I wrinkled my nose.
“Just a little,” Zaakir told me, sounding amused. “I should go. I have to get to work.”
“Okay.” I couldn’t help sounding a little sad. We’d been talking on and off since six in the morning – I’d only fallen asleep at three, a full two hours after I’d woken him and babbled every thought that came into my head at him.
It felt like we’d been in a lovely little bubble that was about to pop and let all the world’s troubles back in.
“I’ll be there to pick you up,” Zaakir reminded me. “At three, right?”
A full eight hours from now. The earliest flight I’d managed to book this late. “Right,” I agreed. “See you at three.”
In the meantime, I needed to pack, get Azmiah up and, somehow, prepare for going back home – with nothing to wear.
Oh my God, it’s finally out!