Love, Curry, and All Things in Between

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Chapter 8

Hassan stared after Anaiya. This was a disaster, in every sense of the word. His head began to throb. Did Arushi seriously think that he was with Anaiya? What if she told someone? Oh no, what if she told everyone? He ran his hands through his carefully-gelled hair, shoulders slumping, before heading to class.

By second block, the news had been passed around. When Hassan went over to sit down by Jason, the popular kids all shot him disgusted looks in unison. Arushi glared at him through bloodshot eyes full of pure loathing. He scrambled to find words but no sound came out.

“…Arushi, I can explain—”

“I can’t believe you would ditch Arushi for that nerd. Turns out you’re just like your geeky cousin,” Owen snapped at him. The others nodded.

“But I—” Hassan protested, jaw dropping in horror. They thought he was a nerd? A geek?

“Shut up,” Arushi snarled. “Leave me alone.” The others crowded around her, her friends making sympathetic crooning noises. All sending Hassan identical looks of hatred, they herded Arushi away and left him sitting by himself at the table.

He closed his eyes in frustration. It wasn’t that he wanted Arushi back—he didn’t. But now it seemed like along with her, he’d lost all his friends, too. He covered his face with his hands and moaned. Did they really think that he was like the gamers? That he was like Shayan, only good for cheating off of?

Wait. He suddenly realized something was out of place. Where was Shayan?

The moment the class ended, Hassan bolted to the door. He hadn’t been able to pay attention at all to the finer workings of ionic and covalent bonds (and of course he’d had to do the lab activity by himself, since no one wanted to be his partner), his mind spinning as he wondered where Shayan was. What if Shayan had heard the rumor too? What if he also thought that Hassan had stolen Anaiya from him? Hassan sighed bleakly as he walked towards English class, his stomach twisting. He slid into his usual desk, noticing the conspicuous way that Jason and Owen had purposely sat far away from him, as if they were scared of getting nerd cooties from him or something. He cast them a bitter look. Now, the gamers and co. hated him for being friends with the popular kids (even if that didn’t even seem to be true anymore) and the popular kids hated him for being friends with the nerds (and that was even bigger of a lie). He groaned to himself, setting resting his chin in his hands. Why had he given in to the impulse to talk to Anaiya this morning? Just a few hours ago everything had been perfectly fine, and now it was all falling apart. If only he hadn’t been so stupid and acted like a little kid, making kissy faces at Anaiya. He’d been teasing her about Shayan, but now it was all coming back to bite him. He frowned and studied the agenda for the day that the teacher had written on the board, wincing at the words partner activity. Scanning the room, he once again saw that empty desk beside him that should’ve been occupied by Shayan. Through the blurry fog that Hassan felt like he was walking around in, he blurrily heard Ms. Tanger ask where Shayan was, and Tommy replied that he’d gone home sick.

Hassan sagged in relief when Ms. Tanger announced that she would be picking partners. He used to hate those words, but today they seemed like such a blessing. He shot a furtive glance over at the popular kids, who sat in a huddled group of desks. Feeling awkwardly alone, he glanced over at Tommy, who was hunched over a book. Hassan peeked at the title and cringed. From Monkey to Man: The Evolution of Homo Sapiens. What sort of boring things did Tommy read in his free time? Hassan resisted the urge to roll his eyes and instead continued surveying the room. Jeremy sat with his friend Jack in a corner, and Hassan almost gasped in surprise at the sight of his shirt. It had a picture of one of the newest Clash Royale characters on it, and Hassan had secretly bought the same shirt on a recent excursion to Target. He hadn’t wanted to buy it—the color was nasty, thank you very much—but the character was his absolute favorite, so he had overlooked the other disgusting attributes of the shirt. He’d hidden it deep in the back of his closet (after all, if Fatima saw it, she would tease him to death) but sometimes he wished he was brave enough to wear it to school. He sighed and shook his head.

Up near the front of the room sat a couple of Anaiya’s Asian friends. They were shooting him looks that were halfway between smirks and glares, and Hassan wondered exactly how much of the situation Anaiya had told them. He shuddered at the thought of people thinking that he had a crush on her. He would never ever be able to honestly like someone who thought that neon Nike shoes were acceptable things for their boyfriend to wear in public.

He zoned out as the teacher began going on and on about what their project was. Hopefully he would get someone smart as his partner, because he had absolutely no idea what Ms. Tanger was going on about and he really didn’t care, either. All he could think about was whether or not Shayan believed the rumors, and if he was mad. Surely Anaiya had told him what had actually happened, right? Hassan cringed at the memory. He was such an idiot.

He only began paying attention when he heard the word “partner.” He looked up at Ms. Tanger, silently begging her not to assign him with one of the popular kids. He put on his best “pleading” face, wishing he was telepathic so he would know what she was planning to do.

“Hassan”—he noticed that even after nearly two weeks of school, she still couldn’t say his name right—“and Tommy will work together.”

He glanced over at Tommy, somewhat relieved. This wasn’t ideal (working with anyone who read books on evolution for fun wasn’t ideal), but it was better than being with Jason or Owen. Hassan awkwardly stood up and walked over to Tommy’s desk, a hesitant smile on his face, glad that at least being with the smart kid meant that they would be getting a good grade on the project. He heard a voice that sounded suspiciously like Owen’s whisper something about the Asian nerds uniting as he slid into a chair, and he groaned inwardly. This was just great.

“So, uh,” Hassan began awkwardly. “Do you know what we’re supposed to be doing?”

Tommy glared at him and kept on reading his book.

“Bruh,” groaned Hassan. “This is called a group project. And I have no idea what to do.”

Tommy shrugged and didn’t look up. “Well, maybe you should’ve been paying more attention to what the directions were instead of trying to steal Anaiya from Shayan.” Most of this was said in a flat monotone, but at the end Tommy’s voice had a sort of vehemence that Hassan hadn’t heard from him ever before. Feeling shaken, he took a deep breath.

“But… I didn’t. It’s all a stupid misunderstanding.”

Tommy ignored him, his voice inching up in volume as the other groups left the room to go work in the hallway and Ms. Tanger went to the bathroom. “You know, Shayan really, really wants to be your friend. And he looks up to you, too. Every single time we’re together all he can talk about is ‘Hassan this, Hassan that. Hassan said he likes Adidas better than Nike. Hassan said the curry at New Krishna is good.’” He paused for breath, and Hassan stared guiltily at the ground, at a loss for words. Then Tommy continued, “So why are you always so mean to him? He’s nice, Hassan. And a good friend. If you actually spent time with him instead of trying to kiss up to the popular kids then you would know this!”

“I do spend time with him,” Hassan snarled in indignation. “Shut up!”

Tommy slammed his book onto the table. “Well then why are you trying to steal his girlfriend?”

“I’m not!” Hassan yelled, fed up. “You don’t know anything about what’s going on so keep your ugly nose out of my business!”

“Why were you flirting with her?” Tommy yelled back. For such a seemingly introverted kid, he had a very loud voice.

Hassan fought the urge to scream. “I was not!”

“Then why were you saying she was cute? And making kissy faces at her?” Tommy shouted, his eyes practically bulging out of his face. Hassan shuddered at the recollection of that morning.

“I…I was just…” Suddenly, he didn’t quite know how to explain, and his voice dribbled to a standstill. Tommy glared at him and Hassan struggled to find words. Finally, he said quietly, “Do I look to you like the type to flirt by making kissy faces?”

Tommy dropped his pencil onto the desk with a clatter, taken aback. “What?”

Hassan forced himself to keep talking even as he felt the workings of a blush tinge his cheeks. “Look, I was just joking around with her, okay? I was the one who got her and Shayan together, so we’ve known each other for a while. I was teasing.” He didn’t mention the fact that Fatima had also helped. That was irrelevant.

Immediately the ire in Tommy’s eyes was gone. “You got them together?”

Hassan nodded, feeling a little bit satisfied at the slightly admiring look in Tommy’s eyes. “It’s a long story.”

“Tell me at lunch,” said Tommy offering him a small smile as a peace offering. “We should probably do the project first.”

Hassan stared at him in relief. “Okay. Well, I hope you were listening to Ms. Tanger.”

Tommy smirked. “Don’t worry, I was.”

Hassan spent the rest of the day hanging out with him. Hassan had to admit that Tommy was not as lame as he’d thought, and that gave him a mixture of relief and disappointment. Maybe he’d misjudged Tommy. Maybe he’d misjudged a lot of people at school.

Hassan filed into the office just as the bell rang to signify the end of the day. He shuddered at the thought of spending nearly three hours in detention, all by himself. He pulled out his phone as he suddenly wondered if Shayan was okay. Biting his lip, he opened his messaging app. This had all been a huge misunderstanding, but Hassan had a feeling that Shayan wouldn’t accept that answer, especially considering it had only been a day since their fight. What was he supposed to do if even Shayan wouldn’t forgive him? He studied the ugly paintings on the vomit-colored walls of the empty detention room. He really did have no friends at school now (unless you counted Tommy). Jason and Owen didn’t like him now that they thought he was nerdy for flirting with Anaiya, and they wouldn’t even hear him explain his side of the story. He felt a sudden lump in his throat, and he quickly swallowed it down even as he wondered if Jason and Owen had ever only liked him because he wore Vineyard Vines and Yeezys.

Wait… maybe Anaiya would help him. If she told Shayan what had happened, maybe Shayan would believe him. He sat up a little straighter as the idea began to take shape, and he quickly tapped on Anaiya’s number in his contacts and started composing a message.

Can u do me a favor?

Plz?????

He stared down at his screen, his palms sweaty as he waited for a response. And true to form, one came within minutes.

what is it

Hassan smiled nervously and sent a reply.

Can u tell Shayan what actually happened today

I think he’s mad @ me

Hassan watched as the little dots blinked on the iCell screen that meant that Anaiya was typing.

he’s not picking up my calls either

He took in a sharp breath. Of course. Shayan must feel doubly betrayed—he had to think that Anaiya was cheating on him with Hassan. Hassan buried his face in his hands, his shoulders slumping in defeat. What was he supposed to do now? Ask Tommy for help? He groaned, opening his messages and looking for Tommy’s number. Hassan resisted the urge to throw his phone across the room when he didn’t find Tommy’s name in his contacts. What if Shayan never spoke to him again? His stomach sank at the thought, and Hassan closed his eyes miserably. The truth was he really did miss Shayan. Not having his Indian-accented voice around to talk about Clash Royale and cricket felt so foreign and so wrong at the same time. With Shayan he never had to pretend. Never felt self-conscious, or worried about not being cool enough, unlike when he was with Jason or Owen or any of them. Hassan took a deep breath, surprised as he realized that he wanted to have Shayan back more than any of the popular kids.

Just then, his iCell chimed with a message. For a moment Hassan thought it was just Anaiya, but then he picked up his phone and his eyes widened in horror as he saw Fatima’s text.

I’m picking u up from detention in 10

We’re going to the hospital

The hospital? A million things that might’ve gone wrong flashed through Hassan’s head.

Why??

Fatima replied with one word.

Shayan

The world felt like it tipped sideways. Hassan clutched at his head, fighting the wave of dizziness and nausea. What had he done this time?

The rest was a blur. Fatima running in, loose strands of hair flying from her bun. Face streaked with tears as she begged the admin outside to let Hassan go early. He caught tidbits of her pleading, saying that a relative was in the hospital, please, could he go? Hassan drew his knees up to his chest as Fatima signed him out, and she pulled him roughly to his feet, dragging him into the car. He sat down numbly, staring out the window as she turned up the radio (not desi songs this time, he noticed) and he closed his eyes, not wanting see the accusatory looks that he knew Fatima would be throwing his way. At last, the car slowed, and he exited almost robotically, heart racing. He almost didn’t want to go in—didn’t want to see what had happened because he knew it was all his fault—but Fatima shoved him forward, glaring at him.

“Go!” she shrieked, and he complied, jogging through the automatic doors in a haze. What would he say? Was Shayan awake? How would he explain this to Samia Khala and Kanooz Uncle?

A nurse led them to Shayan’s room. She was saying something to them, and Fatima was replying, but Hassan could barely hear what their voices, almost like he was underwater. He suddenly thought about how horrible the music that Fatima had been playing in the car was, and how ugly the pin on the front of the nurse’s shirt was (it was the same shade of green as the walls in the detention room). He blinked, trying to clear his head.

And then the door opened.

“…a case of cardiomyopathy,” the doctor was saying. “Not too severe, so he should be able to recover within less than a month.”

Cardiomyopathy? Hassan stood just beside the doorway, all of a sudden too scared to go in.

Samia Khala was crying, her head resting on Kanooz Uncle’s shoulder, but when she heard these words she smiled a little.

“Thank you,” she said in a rush, her accent heavy. “Thank you.”

The doctor nodded. “We just need to do a few more tests.” Saying this, he and the nurse left the room quietly and headed down the hall.

“Of course,” Kanooz Uncle said. “Come, Samia, let’s go get something to eat, okay?” He ushered his wife out of the room gently, before they both froze at the sight of Fatima and Hassan.

Samia Khala’s face hardened but before she could say anything, Hassan turned tail and ran down the hallway, ducking into a room in sheer panic. Only when he lifted his head did he see the face of Shayan’s doctor.

“What are you doing in here, young man?” the doctor asked, not unkindly. Hassan blinked nervously, mouth scrambling to form excuses, and he noticed that his name tag said Dr. Ilu (What kind of a last name was Ilu?).

“I… I’m sorry, I…”

The doctor smiled. “Are you here to visit Shayan in room 106?”

Hassan nodded mutely.

“When he was nearly unconscious he was saying something about his cousin. About how he hoped it was a misunderstanding.” Dr. Ilu tilted his head. “You two look alike. You have the same nose.”

Hassan bit his lip, unsure how to react. At last, he blurted, “Is he okay? What’s cardiopathia?”

Dr. Ilu laughed a little. “Cardiomyopathy. Broken Heart Syndrome. It means that he went through something very shocking or stressful, and part of his heart stopped functioning properly. And it has a history in the family, so he was more prone to get it than, say, one of his classmates.”

Hassan’s shoulders slumped. Now it was official—it was all his fault. It really was. “Will he be alright?”

“Yes. We caught it just in time, luckily, so he’ll be fine.” Dr. Ilu nodded towards Shayan’s room. “He should be waking up soon. You can go see him, if you want.”

Hassan froze. “Oh, um…” Then he stood, palms slick with sweat, and walked to room 106.

Fatima was still standing outside the room, but Samia Khala and Kanooz Uncle were gone, thankfully. Hassan didn’t meet his sister’s gaze as he tentatively slipped in. Shayan was curled up in a hospital bed, suddenly looking very, very young. An IV drip was hanging on his arm, and a heart monitor beeped softly in the background. The whole room smelled too clean, like the nasty hand sanitizers in the big clear bottles that Ammi bought in bulk.

Hassan collapsed into a chair, resting his chin in his hands, examining Shayan’s eyes to see if they were barely open. “Look, bro, I’m sorry, okay? I wasn’t flirting with her—I was telling her how much you liked her!” Hassan took a deep breath. “And yeah, I guess I made fun of you guys a little, and I kinda teased her about it. But I didn’t mean it! And I wasn’t flirting with her, I swear! Besides, even if I was, she would never, ever be with me ’cause she likes you a lot, man.” Hassan studied Shayan for a reaction but found none. “Just wake up, okay? Please. I… I kinda miss you.” He stared out the window on the opposite wall, feeling silly.

“It’s okay,” Shayan whispered, smiling a little. Hassan jumped in his chair, startled. He met Shayan’s gaze, breathing in big gulps.

“Never scare me like that again, okay?”

Shayan laughed and changed the subject. “Did you bring all my homework?”

Hassan rolled his eyes. Here Shayan was, strapped to a hospital bed with an IV in his arm, and he was thinking about homework. “No, but Tommy probably did.”

This time, when Hassan said Tommy’s name, there was no contempt left in his voice, and Shayan grinned.

Fatima’s face had softened by the time Hassan walked out of Shayan’s room. Evidently having heard what he’d said, she simply opened up her arms for a hug and Hassan awkwardly stepped into her embrace, surprised (Fatima rarely handed out hugs). Pulling away, Fatima asked quietly, “You ready to go face Samia Khala? Because I think she wants an explanation.”

Hassan groaned, running a hand through his carefully-gelled hair. Between being broken out of detention and finding out about Shayan’s cardio-whatever-it-was-called, he probably already had a few gray hairs emerging. And now Fatima wanted him to go talk to his aunt, who reminded Hassan of a fierce mother tiger dressed in ostentatiously flamboyant saris? No thanks.

Too late. Samia Khala and Kanooz Uncle were just returning from their little excursion, Kanooz Uncle carrying a bag of Chinese takeout. As soon as she saw Hassan, Samia Khala looked somewhere between ready to bawl her eyes out and ready to scratch his eyes out with her long, manicured claws. Hassan flinched and bit his lip, staring at the tiles on the ground.

Samia Khala opened her mouth, poised to strike. Hassan closed his eyes and braced himself.

How could you—”

“Samia Khala, Kanooz Uncle,” Fatima interrupted. “Could we talk privately?” She shot Hassan a look, telling him to keep his mouth shut.

Samia Khala scowled. “I want an explanation,” she snapped in her thick Indian accent.

Fatima nodded hurriedly. “Of course. Of course.” She gestured for them to step into Shayan’s room, and Hassan lingered in the hallway as his aunt and uncle followed Fatima into the room. Was Fatima helping him here, or did she have some ulterior motive? Hassan frowned, wishing that he’d been a little nicer to his sister. He’d done his fair share of insulting and blackmailing, and as he stood outside the closed door of room 106 he hoped that Fatima was (for once, he thought to himself) being a good sister and doing him a favor.

The minutes ticked by. Hassan felt his heart racing in his chest—was he about to finally be put in big trouble? He’d really messed up this time; he knew he had. And yet, one could argue that the whole situation hadn’t even been his fault. Hassan moaned, tapping his foot on the tile as he waited. He heard voices from within the room, and what sounded suspiciously like Fatima crying, but the room was quite soundproof and Hassan couldn’t discern any words. He leaned against the wall and slid down to the floor until he was sitting with his knees pulled up against his chest. At least Shayan was okay, he thought to himself. Or else he really would be screwed.

He barely noticed a pair of overly-clean dress shoes walk down the hall towards him until they stopped in front of him. Hassan looked up to see Dr. Ilu’s apologetic face. Ammi and Abu followed a few moments later, Ammi wearing precariously high heels and Abu in shoes that were clean enough to rival Dr. Ilu’s. Hassan felt a headache throbbing at his temple as he noticed how much he could learn about someone by looking at their shoes. Jason wore Yeezys—subsequently, he was popular. Shayan wore those ugly blue Nikes—subsequently, he was not popular. Abu’s shoes were polished and ridiculously clean—he was a neat freak and obsessed with presentation. Hassan glanced down at his own shoes—his favorite pair of Yeezys. But somehow, he didn’t feel popular anymore, and the sight of his shoes didn’t give him the satisfaction that it used to. He thought back to his old dirty Nikes that he’d loved back in sixth grade, worn and torn and dirt-stained. They’d long gone out of fashion and were far past their glory days, but then he remembered Shayan lying on that hospital bed, and he decided that those were the shoes that he’d wear to school on Monday.

“What has happened?” Ammi cried, snapping Hassan out of his thoughts. “Beta, are you okay? Are you hurt?”

Hassan stood up numbly, shaking his head. “No.”

Abu moved to open the door of Shayan’s room, but Dr. Ilu stopped him. “Ah, Taimoor, I think Samia, Kanooz, and Fatima are talking.”

Hassan winced. Bad move. Had Dr. Ilu just implied that there was a conversation that Abu couldn’t be a part of? Had Dr. Ilu just implied that there was a secret? Hassan sighed, knowing what was going to come next.

“I have a right to know what is wrong with my nephew!” Abu snapped, twisting the doorknob and shoving his way into the room.

Ammi followed, shrugging and shooting Hassan a concerned look as her heels clicked against the floor. Dr. Ilu rubbed his face with his hands after they entered, looking exhausted. Hassan didn’t blame him. Frowning, he slid into room 106 and hoped to himself that Fatima had explained everything.

Fatima’s polished demeanor was gone. Her hair had completely fallen out of its messy bun and lay scattered over her shoulders. Her cheeks were streaked with mascara remnants, eyes red. “I’m telling you, it was an accident!” she screamed at Samia Khala and Kanooz Uncle. “I didn’t mean to!”

Wait. She didn’t mean to do what?

Samia Khala was pacing back and forth, face red with fury as she stared daggers at Fatima. “My son has Broken Heart Syndrome all because you couldn’t keep your mouth shut? Uloo ki pathi!”

Hassan watched in horror as something that he’d never ever seen before happened. All of a sudden the world fell into slow motion as Samia Khala pulled her hand back and then hit Fatima hard in the face with a resounding slap. Kanooz Uncle, Ammi, and Abu were all in an uproar trying to restrain her from further attacking Fatima as Hassan looked on, frozen, feeling like he’d already stepped out of his body and was watching from far away. Like this was all some cheesy desi movie where at this moment Shayan would wake up from his drug-induced sleep and beg them to stop. And then that one sad song would come on, the viewers would cry, and they’d all live happily ever after.

Unfortunately that wasn’t how real life worked.

Abu and Ammi dragged Fatima out of the room as Hassan trailed them, Samia Khala screaming at his sister all sorts of unsavory names. Hassan didn’t dare to make eye contact with Fatima, unsure if he was afraid that she would rat him out or if she would demand reimbursement of some kind. Maybe she really had just done this out of the goodness of her heart. Psh, he thought to himself, immediately dismissing that idea. Since when had Fatima ever done anything without wanting something in return?

The ride home was silent. Hassan could tell that Ammi desperately wanted to know exactly what had happened, while Abu was already mentally preparing a lecture for Fatima. As soon as the car pulled into their driveway, Hassan bolted out the door and sprinted to his room, locking the door. He peered out the window guiltily as he watched Abu emerge from the car, a face like thunder as he stared at Fatima. But clearly he wasn’t guilty enough just to go fess up, so Hassan opened up his iCell and began to play Clash Royale, remembering that his phone would be taken away the next day as a punishment. Groaning, he realized that there would probably be another punishment coming up. If Fatima ratted him out, that is.

He slumped onto his bed, studying the calendar that hung on the far wall when suddenly something marked in a red circle caught his eye. The next day, February sixth, was Fatima’s birthday. His sister was turning eighteen.

His first thought was that he hadn’t gotten her a present. Oh, she was going to kill him (as in literally murder). Closing his eyes, he asked himself in frustration how he’d managed to forget his sister’s birthday. Ugh. Maybe Ammi would take him to the mall later so they could find her something presentable.

Wait… normally Fatima made a huge fuss out of her birthday, demanding a big party and lots of gifts. But this year, he hadn’t heard her mention it even once. Now that he thought about it, something was very wrong. Why hadn’t Fatima even hinted at the fact that the next day was her birthday? Why hadn’t she asked for a party?

Something big was going on—Hassan knew it for a fact. But what bothered him was that he didn’t know what it was.

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