Dead. Khalil’s parents were dead. Mina attempted to process Khalil’s curt words, a shocked and gaping stare on her face.
“Dead?” she repeated for the hundredth time, still willing for Khalil to shake his head with a small shy smile, but the voice inside her head kept telling her that this wasn’t a joke. No one joked about their parents dying. All those jokes that students at school had made, all those lies about him being spread, Mina’s stomach curdled with guilt. She should have never even thought about indulging them in the first place.
“I’m so sorry Khalil. I-I d-didn’t know.” Mina shook her head as she stuttered. She felt sick to her stomach.
“Yeah, well it’s not something I usually go around telling the whole world.” Mina cringed under his harsh words. She should have left well enough alone and just trusted that if Khalil had wanted her to know his whole life story then he would have told her, instead she had forced it out of him and possibly ruined yet another of her friendships. She wished she could melt into the floor and disappear, to save herself from the embarrassment that rolling over her in waves.
“I’m sorry” Mina whispered this time, watching as the dangerous dark look Khalil had sported the first day of school returned with haste. She would give anything for a time machine at this moment.
“They died in a fire.”
“You-you don’t have to explain anything to me Khalil. It-it wasn’t my place to-.” Mina sputtered out flustered, but she was cut short by Khalil’s curt and emotionless voice. With one sentence she had turned him into zombie.
“I was four” he continued on in his explanation as if Mina hadn’t said a word, and she sat there quietly and intently listened to his story without another interruption. She owed him silence at least.
“I don’t remember much from that night, except the lights and the ambulance. I w-watched my mom’s body be rolled away on a stretcher. It-it all happened so fast. I-” he choked off unable to finish and Mina could feel her heart palpating from his words.
“I’m so sorry Khalil. I’m so sorry.”
“Could you stop apologizing!” Khalil exclaimed, shaking his head annoyed and Mina stiffened at his unfamiliar attitude. She wondered what had happened to the shy boy from before, the boy who had seemed to be afraid of his own shadow.
“I’m sor-” she began to apologize once more, but stopped mid sentence at the exasperated look on Khalil’s face in front of her. “Ok” she nodded quietly, her eyes flickering to the tiled floor beneath her.
“I’m sorry” Now Khalil was the one spouting apologies, the regret from his words sinking in. He must have sensed her tense figure and now timid behavior, because his face immediately softened, his words now soft and comforting, though his eyes were still dark as the night sky.
“I didn’t mean to yell.” Now he was running his hands through his hair, his elbows pressed firmly against the light granite.“It’s-It’s just” he paused.
“I hate -I hate it when people pity me.” he spoke through gritted teeth. “I don’t-” he sighed frustrated, as if the words he wanted to speak kept getting stuck in his throat somehow.
“I don’t want your pity. Mina. I don’t want you to pity me.” Mina nodded silently, absorbing his words with earnest. She took the silence as an opportunity to move from her spot at the counter in front of Khalil to occupy the white cushioned stool beside him. The squeak of the chair twisting was the only sound that enveloped them.
“I don’t” she shook her head, her hands clasped on the counter in front of him. “But I also don’t want you to feel like you have to hide things from me either.” This time she looked up at him beside her. “I’m not everybody else Khalil. I’m not going to make fun of you or think any less of you-” She paused. “Or leave you.”
He finally looked down at her at these words and Mina swore she saw his eyes flicker with an emotion she couldn’t decipher, but she couldn’t deny the now obviously brighter tone of his eyes. The dark hadn’t completely dissipated, but it was slowly ebbing away with her words.
“You don’t have to tell me anything you don’t want to, but I want you to know that the option is there.” The room was starting to become uncomfortable again, this time from the sheer proximity of their two figures, leaning into one another with each word that was spoken. She couldn’t take her eyes from his and it seemed that Khalil was having the same problem behind her. His hands had left his shaggy brow hair and were instead inching closer to her over the counter, his finger itching for contact. He managed to lift the corners of his lips in a mock smile and Mina mimicked the gesture back now usually all the willpower she possessed to restrain herself from reaching out to comfort him, but as much as she wanted to touch him, sly thoughts of Asher in the back of her mind kept her hands rooted to the granite counter.
She was the first to break their stare, clearing her throat awkwardly, frantically searching for anything to draw attention away from her clammy hands and rapid heartbeat. She told herself it was just nerves.
“Your pendent.” she pointed to the metal around his neck. “Is that from your parents?” Khalil gave her another small shy smile, though the confusion that flashed across his face was evident. “I just noticed you play with it a lot.”
“My dad’s” He grabbed the metal once more, biting his lip in thought, as if he were remembering an old memory. “It’s the only thing I have of his. All of the rest of his belongings got thrown away when CPS came and took me.” he twisted the pendent between his fingers anxiously. “I didn’t have time to pack a lot of things, so I - I took what I could.”
“What’s that?” Mina pointed once again to Khalil’s chest. She had suddenly noticed another charm on the chain besides the metal, a small golden flower hidden behind the pendent that you wouldn’t have noticed unless you looked extremely closely.
“Oh” Khalil looked down at Mina’s words, as if noticing the small flower for the first time. “A Dahlia. I remember that we had a garden of them outside our kitchen window. I-uh-I think that they were my mom’s favorite, but I’m not sure. Too young to remember.”
If Mina wasn’t in tears before she was on the verge of them now. She had been mad at her parents plenty of times, and plenty of times she had wished them dead, but sitting here and listening to the story of how Khalil’s life fell a part was suddenly make her grateful for the life that she lived. Sure her parents weren’t always around, but at least they were alive.
She looked up, her eyes stinging and threatening to betray her at any moment.
“Mhmmm” she hummed.
“There is something I do want to tell you.”
“What is it?” She hadn’t meant to get closer, but she had, their knees pushing gently against one another.
“You said I could tell you anything.” He began slowly, and with those words alone Mina ’s hands began to become clammy all over again. “You said I could tell you anything and that you wouldn’t be angry.” She remembered saying that, but she wondered if she was going to regret it.
She nodded her head slowly, drawling out her words. “Yeah”
“Noah was right. I did lie to you that night of the party.”
Mina didn’t know what to say, what to thing, what to do. She was frozen to the seat of her stool, intrigued at the words of the lanky boy in front of her.
“About what?” she crooned.
“My-past” he stuttered. “Chris wasn’t lying. I did go to juvie for a while.”
Mina immediately opened her mouth, shocked, trying to formulate a reply, though of course Khalil didn’t give her a chance to relay any type of emotion before he was trying to explain himself once more.
“But not for anything bad!”
“I don’t think you go to juvie for anything good!” she exclaimed
“You promised you wouldn’t get mad!”
“I-” she paused, her voice becoming lighter the second time around. “I’m not mad.” she shook her head.
“Good, because I’m not sure what I would do if you were.” Whatever confusion or hostility she was harboring completely disappeared at these gentle words and she found herself pasting on a small smile. She wasn’t sure if she even believed that Khalil was capable of doing anything worthy of a juvenile detention center, but she listened to him nonetheless.
“So what’d you do?” she joked. “Were you caught stealing candy from a store or something.” He let out a curt laugh, and she found herself glad that she had lightened the mood once more, the Khalil she recognized fully coming back to her. She had missed him.
“Not quit. It’s really not even an interesting story. I was new to the foster system” he sighed “And his name was Beau. I didn’t know what the rules were or how things worked and I let him make all my decisions for me, and he chose to make bad ones and when it came down to getting caught he made sure that he threw me under the bus before anybody could suspect him.” he shrugged his shoulders nonchalantly. “That’s all there is to it.”
Thick silence hung through the air of the kitchen once more as Khalil finished recounting his story and, once again, Mina was caught with the intensity of his light brown eyes. She couldn’t help herself now, and before she could think better of his decision the uncurled her fingers and began to reach over the counter to close the distance between the two of them, eager for any type of physical touch, but before she could grab him, suddenly, Khalil hopped down from his stool in haste. His trainers slapped loudly against the tiles of the kitchen floor.
“Um- where’s your bathroom.” He wanted to know where the bathroom was? How had they gone from stories of his terrible childhood to the restroom?
“Oh-um” Mina stuttered, caught off guard by Khalil’s sudden change in demeanor yet again. It seemed as if when she just started to figure him out something changed again, he put up a wall and pushed her further away. Two steps forward and one step back. “Down the hall” she pointed to a narrow carpeted hallway adjacent to the kitchen.
“The powder room is the second door on your left.” As soon as the words had left her mouth Khalil’s trainers were slapping the floors, and it was only a moment before his mop of brown hair had disappeared from her line of vision entirely.
She couldn’t understand what was going on with him. Maybe she had pushed him to much, maybe talking about his traumatic childhood had taken a toll on him. Mina wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt, anything was better than the realization that he was shutting her out.
Maybe he got lost.
Maybe he wasn’t coming back.
He definitely wasn’t coming back.
The sound of metal scraping against tile reverberated throughout the kitchen as Mina rose from her stool in haste, only the most terrible thoughts plaguing her mind.
“Khalil?” she called out, but there was no response, only the familiar silence that always seemed to float off the walls of the house. “Khalil?” she called again, louder this time. She wondered if it would be weird if she ambushed him in the bathroom. Probably. She was becoming anxious now, though she thought she had good reason since he seemed anxious himself when he had hastily run out. She wondered if she had run him off with all her questions.
Her feet seemed to have already decided what to do before she had, and suddenly she was staring at the narrow blood red walls of the hallway she had sent Khalil down.
The bathroom door was open and the light was turned off. The house was big enough for him to leave without her noticing, but she would have liked to believe that he wouldn’t leave without a goodbye. She would like to believe that they were friends, but at this point she couldn’t get her hopes to high.
“Khalil?” Mina squinted her eyes at something in the far distance of the hallway, a figure in the shadows seemed to have moved. Either that or she was being robbed, she hoped it was the former and not the latter, and as she grew closer and closer to the shadowed figure, she realized that she had been staring straight at Khalil’s lanky figure the entire time.
“Khalil? What are you doing?” He jumped at the sound of her voice, dropping the red phone that he had been holding in the palm of his hand to the ground in surprise. Mina laughed at his uncoordinated figure, she expected nothing less.
“Sorry” she smiled. “I didn’t meant to scare you.” She bent down and picked up the phone he had dropped, and suddenly she was even more confused than before. The phone was still open, and lit up on the screen was a picture that had just been taken moments ago, a picture of her parent’s priceless Greek sculpture that they were both standing in front of right now.
“What’s this?” the question was rhetorical, but her growing confusion was real. “Why do you have a picture of my parent’s statue on your phone?”
Khalil opened his mouth to respond, but she never got to hear the words that spilled from his mouth next, because he was interrupted by the deafening sound of the front door slide open and then shut once more. Keys clanged on a table, and the muffled sound of footsteps could be heard.
Mina froze in her place, suddenly becoming as speechless as Khalil.
Her parents were home.