Chapter Seventy Seven
I’d been told time and again that falling in love meant fireworks, heart-stopping spectacles that would consume you.
I’d never felt that kind of love. With Mirzaq, I’d been swept away – but only because I’d been so determined to make him my lifeline.
Now, with Zaakir…
There was no mind numbing rush. I wasn’t dizzy; I didn’t struggle to catch my breath.
I just felt like I was beginning to fit. Like somehow, somehow, I’d found that home I’d spent so long searching desperately for.
If I’d had to pick between that and the fireworks… I’d grab onto that sense of belonging and never let it go. Not for anything.
We still had a lot to talk about but it was suddenly impossible to find time alone together. I knew that technically, according to propriety, we weren’t meant to be left without a ‘chaperone’ but I found it slightly absurd that after two decades of no one caring even the slightest bit when we were alone – after Zaakir driving me around for years – we’d begun to follow the rules.
Zaakir had just shrugged when I’d brought it to his attention. “You weren’t interested then.”
He wanted to be respectful, of course. And since we’d managed to have that one, vital conversation, I was willing to along with it.
I started to smile just thinking about it. He’d needed to pick up something, exam papers or essays or whatever, from his office at the university. They weren’t ready when he’d left to pick me up from the airport so he had to go back.
I only went with because I wanted a little more time to avoid my parents, but we’d ended up sitting in the little on-campus cafe for over an hour, talking about anything and everything that came into our heads.
I’d been so amused to watch Lecturer Zaakir in action. It seemed half the campus knew him and desperately needed to greet him, most of them pretty young first years who travelled in crowds and giggled when he returned their greetings.
It was a part of his life I’d never seen before. He’d started lecturing just a few months after I’d gotten married, starting the academic year that I should have been, for the fifth time, starting over after I’d dropped everything to run away with Mirzaq.
I’d eventually decided against even bothering to make the effort of studying while he’d gone on to teach.
And he was good at it, I knew that. Zaakir excelled at everything he put his mind to and he believed in doing things wholeheartedly. It was one of the things Rayyan had used to tease him about – lightly, of course. That he had blinkers on when it came to anything that mattered.
He’d sensed my mood when he returned and instead of leaving like we’d originally planned, he sat and distracted me with a story about one of his less gifted students.
Eventually, as it had to, the conversation turned to the future.
I’d resigned myself to a life lived in Stockholm but Zaakir surprised me.
“I’ve been considering online lecturing,” he revealed.
“That’s a thing?”
“A lucrative thing. I’ve received a few offers already – and I haven’t turned them down. All I’d need would be a decent internet connection and a good laptop.”
I’d always assumed he’d want to be with his mother. They were so close…
“I want to come back, and often. But I’ve never traveled much. I think I want to see what you love about it so much.”
I didn’t want him to compromise because of me.
“But you were willing to compromise for my sake,” Zaakir pointed out. “You’d hate being stuck in one place for good.”
I shrugged. “I could get used to it.”
“And if I can’t stand not being in one place, I might ask you to. But I want to do this. Okay?” He squeezed my fingers. “Take the win.”
“Okay.” I agreed reluctantly, still feeling wrong-footed. He wasn’t supposed to sacrifice things for me. “But are you su-“
“Azraa, I’m not a martyr,” Zaakir told me, laughing. “If I can’t handle it, I’ll tell you.”
“It still feels wrong,” I grumbled. “This is my job.”
“And mine too. We’re meant to share.” Zaakir pointed out.
That would be yet another thing to get used to – and I didn’t know how long it would take me to stop feeling like I was taking advantage by getting what I wanted. It was how I’d felt with Mirzaq – how he’d delighted in making me feel.
It infuriated me that the remnants of him and his actions could still have enough power to affect me and bleed into the way I interacted with Zaakir. I could feel myself flushing red and looking across the table, Zaakir’s worried expression told me that he’d noticed.
He didn’t know everything about my first marriage. I’d filled him in on the broad strokes just as I had my family, but I’d left out anything that wasn’t immediately relevant to keeping Azmiah safe, which was most of it.
I had neither the energy nor the bravery to do it in public, however.
“I can be patient,” was all Zaakir had to say on the subject.
We left soon after, but not before ironing out a few, more pressing details. Zaakir had been the one to ask, with a hint of apprehension in his tone, whether we’d be going the traditional route or if I wanted a more modern wedding, like I’d had the first time round.
I’d teased him a little, telling him that I’d already planned out a guest list in my head. I had – a guest list with a grand total of six people on it. So much money, effort and time had been spent on my first wedding and yet I could barely remember a moment of it.
I wanted this one to be different. I was determined for it to be.