“Fatima,” he whispered. “This might all be my fault.”
Approximately five minutes later, Hassan had looked up Anaiya’s house in the directory and they were on the way there.
Hassan awkwardly tapped his foot from their propped-up position on the dashboard, and for once Fatima didn’t stop him. He zipped and unzipped her puffer jacket, unable to stop fidgeting. Fatima didn’t even look away from the windshield, and Hassan was too scared to say anything to her.
At last, she pulled into Anaiya’s driveway (which, Hassan noted, was a very ugly orange color). The house was dark except for one of the upstairs rooms, which he took to mean that Anaiya’s parents weren’t home. He hesitated before opening the car door, steeling himself. Why hadn’t he texted Shayan? Or even called Anaiya beforehand? What if Shayan wasn’t even here? Maybe something had actually happened… Suddenly, this seemed like a very bad idea. He pushed open the door with shaking hands but Fatima made no move to get out.
“Are… are you coming?” he asked tentatively.
She took a deep breath. “You made this mess. Now you’re fixing it,” she replied, drumming her nails on the steering wheel (it seemed like nervous tics ran in the family). Her phone chimed again, and she pulled it out of her messenger bag, not meeting Hassan’s gaze.
He bit his lip, and then, before he could change his mind, he slammed the car door and ran up the driveway to the door.
Anaiya opened the door thirty-seven seconds after he rang the doorbell for the second time. Not like he’d counted the seconds… oh wait, he had.
“What are you doing at my house at eight-forty-nine pm?” she snapped brusquely, looking at him scornfully.
He kept his eyes on his shoes. He’d worn his old Nikes in his rush to get here, he realized, not his Yeezys. “Is Shayan here?” he said quietly.
He played with his jacket’s zipper. This was stupid, so stupid. What was he even doing? There was no way Shayan was here… “Never mind. I… uh… whatever.” He turned around to leave, heavy with dismay.
He was halfway down the driveway when he heard it.
He whirled around to see Shayan standing in the doorway, next to Anaiya, that familiar red blush on his face.
“I’m sorry,” Hassan blurted. “I didn’t mean it. I didn’t tell you, but I canceled on Arushi. And I don’t like her. I think we’re going to break up. And I didn’t say anything to Samia Khala and Kanooz Uncle about Anaiya. I never would’ve, you know that, right? And I didn’t mean what I said at school, I promise I didn’t.” He shut his mouth abruptly when he realized he was blabbering.
Shayan was watching him with those seal eyes again, and Hassan felt the guilt gnaw at him again. “Do you wanna come inside?” Shayan said at last, and Hassan let out a breath he hadn’t realized he was holding.
“Okay.” He stepped into the house and slid off his Nikes, suddenly surprised as to how similar they looked to Shayan’s neon blue shoes that were placed neatly next to the wall.
Anaiya glared at him as he settled onto the couch. “You’d better not be lying about breaking up with Arushi.”
Hassan forced a nervous smile. “I’m not.” He dug his toes into the plushy carpet, studying Shayan’s reaction, but his cousin’s face gave away nothing.
“Why’d you come here?” Shayan asked after a pause. “I thought you were mad…” His voice trailed off.
He bit his lip. “Yeah, I was, but… you were right, I guess.”
Anaiya raised an eyebrow. “Right about what?” she questioned. Hassan resisted the urge to scowl at her, when she was obviously irking him on purpose.
He took a deep breath. “Right about me being kind of horrible,” he admitted.
“What should you say?” asked Anaiya in the sugary voice that teachers used on preschoolers.
“I’m sorry,” Hassan said reflexively, the way he had when Mr. Warner told him to apologize to Jenny. But this time he was a little surprised to find that he actually meant it.
Shayan, who had been standing behind Anaiya’s chosen couch for all this time, finally walked over and sat down beside him. After a moment, the corners of his lips quirked up in a smile. “Wanna play some Clash Royale?”
Hassan grinned too. “You ready to lose?
Fatima rang the doorbell about an hour later to come collect Hassan. She smiled at Anaiya and hugged Shayan, the image of the perfect sister. For a moment, Hassan thought that she wasn’t mad at him anymore. But once they were in the car, her prior nerves from the drive to Anaiya’s house seemed to be forgotten, and she turned on him angrily.
“What even were you thinking?” she shrieked, so loudly that Hassan was worried she would wake Anaiya’s neighbors.
He toyed with his jacket’s zipper and didn’t reply.
“I don’t care about your new cool friends!” she yelled in his face. “He’s your cousin, Hassan! You don’t just tell your cousin to go die in a hole!”
“Look, Fatima, I—”
She glared at him. “I don’t want to hear your excuses, you idiot. I’m telling Ammi and Abu about all of it.”
Hassan gaped at her in frustration. “They’re still mad at you, remember?”
“They won’t care,” she hissed. “Because they’ll be too busy putting you in trouble. And you deserve it, too.”
“That’s not even fair!” he exclaimed angrily. “I—” All of a sudden Hassan thought of Shayan’s shaking voice and red-rimmed eyes when they’d fought that day, and he shut his mouth abruptly. “Whatever.”
Fatima ignored him, turning on her Bollywood playlist and letting the sounds of “The Breakup Song” fill the silence.
Late that night, when Hassan was supposed to be asleep, he lay awake listening to his parents and sister downstairs. He heard the sounds of all of them yelling (and Fatima crying), but he couldn’t discern any words. Hassan flipped onto his side and began doing the one thing that always managed to help him fall asleep—he began making a list of all the things wrong with society in general. Yes, that calmed him down every single time.
People who went to the gym
People who didn’t like Clash Royale
People who didn’t play Clash Royale
By number eight, he was asleep.
Friday morning was officially off to a horrid start. Hassan woke up to the sound of his alarm screaming in his ear, and he hit snooze, groaning. Stupid school. Couldn’t they just have a snow day? It was still winter, after all. With that in mind, he groggily stumbled out of bed and ran a brush through his hair, not quite awake yet. After he’d changed his clothes and brushed his teeth, he made his way down to the breakfast table, rubbing his eyes to wake himself up. So far, it wasn’t working. He groaned to himself; had he played too much Clash Royale last night? Maybe that was why he felt so sleep-deprived…
Fatima was already sitting on the kitchen counter, her legs crossed with a math textbook propped up on her knees and a glass of dood in her hand. Her hair was up in a horribly messy bun (not the cute kind) and her eyes were streaked with red and awfully bloodshot. For once Fatima wasn’t wearing makeup, and Hassan had a feeling that she hadn’t slept too well either.
“I don’t want to go to school,” he grumbled as he poured himself a cup of dood.
Fatima scowled at him from her position perched on top of the counter. “Right, because every single other kid is just looking forward to school with all their hearts.”
“Shut up,” he snapped, plopping down onto a chair beside the kitchen table. He glanced at her suspiciously, wondering how long it would be until she finally spilled and told him what exactly had gone on yesterday evening between her, Abu, and Ammi.
But instead, Fatima studied her textbook in silence, occasionally stopping to write down some notes in her “aesthetically pleasing” notebook that she’d insisted on buying when they went back-to-school shopping. Hassan tapped his foot anxiously, waiting for her to speak, but she didn’t take the bait.
Fatima calmly sipped her dood, her face expressionless. At last, Hassan couldn’t take it any longer. “What happened last night?” he blurted.
She looked up from her book. “So now you want to know, hmm?”
Hassan scowled at her. “What happened?”
“Enjoy a month without your iCell starting tomorrow,” she replied, smirking. “And have fun getting picked up from detention.”
Hassan glared at her, resisting the urge to wail in misery. No iCell for a month? They might as well just take away his social life. He rested his forehead on his hand, leaning his elbow on the table. “Then why were you crying?”
Fatima took another sip of dood, stalling. Finally, she retorted, “Why should I tell you?”
Hassan raised an eyebrow. At last, his sister buried her face in her hands and began sobbing again. Hassan sighed, preparing himself for waterworks. “Did you finally get the lecture of all lectures about going to UI?”
Fatima shot him daggers with her eyes. “Yeah,” she admitted after a beat, her voice shaky. “They basically refused to pay my tuition.”
Hassan stared at her in surprise. Could Abu and Ammi really force her out of going to UI by refusing financial support? He felt a surge of sympathy before quickly pushing it down. “Come on,” he said brusquely instead. “Are you still dropping me to school or not?”
Shayan met Hassan at the front entrance of the school, grinning. “Hey,” he said, swiping his ID card over the scanner before opening the door.
“Hi,” replied Hassan, feeling inexplicably relieved that Shayan was talking to him. “I can’t wait to try out that new Clash Royale strategy that we talked about last night.”
Shayan beamed. “Same.” The boys walked into the building, and Hassan groaned at the sight of the Asian posse standing in front of his locker, again. He almost asked Shayan if they were picking that spot to hang out on purpose just to aggravate him, but at the last minute he changed his mind and clamped his mouth shut.
Instead, he strode up to them and pushed through to his lockers. Shayan followed behind him, casting awkward glances at Anaiya and shooting her a wide smile when she met his gaze. Hassan looked away, remembering his canceled date with Arushi. Would he have to ask her out again, to make up for it? He peered over in the direction of her locker and saw her joking around with one of her friends, her head thrown back with laughter. His stomach clenched with distaste, and a little bit of guilt. He couldn’t remember what he’d seen in her in the first place, although he didn’t realize why Anaiya was so very against her. Arushi wasn’t mean, was she? Annoying, yes, but not mean, right?
He shrugged and turned back to his locker. After the posse finally left, he smirked at Shayan. “She likes you,” he teased, wiggling his eyebrows.
Shayan blushed, red creeping up his neck and all the way to his ears, reminding Hassan of a beet. “I guess,” he replied, staring intently at his ugly neon Nike shoes.
Hassan laughed, before he was suddenly struck by a thought. What if… Arushi really did like him, more than just as friends? She seemed to actually be sad that their date had been cancelled, and sometimes he felt like she was watching him the same way Shayan watched Anaiya (yes, it was kind of creepy).“Shayan? How did you know if you liked Anaiya?”
“Haven’t we already been over this?” Shayan mumbled, complexion crimson-red.
“No, no, I actually need to know,” Hassan said urgently, the thought already making him feel a little bit sick. Arushi liked him? Now that he’d really taken the time to consider this as more than a passing thought, he realized that it might be possible. All the puzzle pieces seemed to finally be falling into place, into a very ugly puzzle.
Shayan drew circles on the carpet with the toe of his shoe. “I thought she was really smart,” he muttered, caving in to Hassan’s question. “And she’s more confident than I’ll ever be. This one time she slapped Charlie Leeper after he tried to steal her pencil…” His voice drifted off into an almost dreamy-ish tone and Hassan resisted the urge to roll his eyes.
However, he couldn’t stop himself from teasing Shayan just a little bit more. “Do you think she’s cute?” he asked with a sly grin.
Shayan flushed and didn’t reply. Finally, after Hassan fixated him with a look, Shayan nodded before fleeing to the relative safety of his locker. Hassan smiled to himself as he took his binder out of his locker. As much as he hated to admit it, it was good to have Shayan back.
When he saw Anaiya on the way to her class, he called out, “You want to know what Shayan said about you?”
She paused. “What?” she asked grudgingly, glancing at him with a mix of annoyance and curiosity.
Hassan smirked. “That you’re smart, a very good quality. And you’re cute, too. Really cute.” He waggled his eyebrows at her, laughing at the expression on her face that was halfway between elation, bewilderment, and horror. Hassan gave in to his innate need to make the situation more uncomfortable for his cousin’s girlfriend, making immature kissing noises (the kind that kindergarteners make when they think two kids have a crush) and gesturing at the classroom Shayan was in.
She opened her mouth to reply but at that moment Hassan heard a strangled sob coming from behind him. He whirled around to see Arushi’s silhouette running down the hallway, away from him.
Anaiya snorted. “Good job, Hassan. Now she thinks you’re cheating on her.” And then she too walked away, and he was left standing in the hallway alone, surveying the mess he’d made.