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"So," Zareen says simply once Khirad answers the phone. "Should I tell Bhai now?"
Khirad rolls her eyes at Zareen's persistence. This had been the fourth time she'd called in the past three hours just to convince Khirad, who was still a little appalled by the idea of staying at her best friend's house for more than two weeks.
"Zareen," Khirad tries to explain softly. "I don't want to be an added headache in an already tense household. Why don't I just come a couple of days before your wedding?"
Zareen scoffs immediately. "Oh, sure. Come like a guest, why don't you? You know what, Khirad, you really don't get it. I want to spend time with you, okay? I don't know how many times I'll be able to visit you after the wedding, so I want to make the most of it now, when, according to Ashar Bhai, I'm a free bird."
Khirad knows Zareen's only acting out the melodramatic bit, but she does have a point. She stays silent for a few moments before she hears the latter clearing her throat.
"Ab itna kafi hai ya aur drama karoon?" Zareen asks confusedly. Khirad bubbles into laughter.
She knows that there's no other way out of this. When Zareen Hussain sets her mind on something, she'll go to all extents to make it happen her way. Khirad didn't understand, even in these five years of friendship, if that was the result of her personality or of always having gotten everything she'd wanted. After all, it was no secret that her family had spoilt her silly, especially her older brother, who'd never refrained from sending gifts and chocolates to her even during university.
Speaking of whom, Khirad found her mind turning to Ashar Hussain. With barely an idea of what he looked like, she wasn't entirely anticipating conducting a search for him at the airport. But still, she'd long realized that arguing with Zareen was like fighting a lost battle.
"Alright," Khirad sighed. "Tell your brother that we'll come together, or whatever you've been plotting in your head."
Zareen erupts into giggles. "Khirad, he's my brother. He doesn't bite," she laughs. "But, I'm more than willing to pass on the message."
Khirad Ihsan only smiles at her antics.
"Good Morning, Zareen Haider," Ashar laughs the second he answers. "Are you feeling well?"
Zareen grows concerned. "Why're you asking?"
"Nahin, I was just wondering. Abhi to sirf do baje hain. Itni jaldi aapki subah ho gayi?" Ashar explains humorously.
"Bhai!" She yells over the phone. "Stop being mean. Acha sunein, ek kaam hai aapse," the younger one adds softly after a few seconds.
"Bolo," he says, taking another sip of his sugar-free coffee.
"You know my best friend from university, right? Khirad Ihsan, if you remember," Zareen asks immediately, and Ashar raises an eyebrow curiously.
"Zaru, you really don't expect me to remember your friends by their names, do you? Have I met her before?" He asks, setting the cup on the table before him.
"Uff, bhai. She's the one in Lahore, yaar! You've never met her, I think, but there's this huge picture of me and her in my room. The one with the long, black hair and brown eyes?"
Ashar laughs at her descriptive skills. "No offence, but almost all the girls in Pakistan have long, black hair and brown eyes. Kuch khaas yaad rakhne jaisi cheez nahin hai. But yeah, I remember the photograph. Tou?"
"She's coming to Karachi for my wedding." Zareen says cheerfully.
"Congratulations?" Ashar says, his statement sounding more like a question than he intends.
"Thank you," Zareen replies, ignoring his sarcasm. "But, here's the fun part. She's coming with you on the twenty third."
She anticipates his reaction for a couple of moments, expecting a little annoyance on his part, hopes to coax it before it gets worse, but he only stays silent.
A few seconds later, she hears his voice over the line. "Is she cute?" He laughs.
Zareen can't help but giggle at his statement. Every time she forgot that he was, at the end of the day, a guy, he was more than willing to remind her. "She's absolutely gorgeous," Zareen gushes, "But don't even think about it."
Ashar smirks at her immediate warning - little sisters would always remain cautious about their brothers messing about, but Zareen knew well enough that Ashar was only teasing.
"Uff," he says in feign disappointment. "It's okay, I'll survive. But why is she coming with me, though?"
Back to business, Zareen thinks with a smile, before answering. "Yaar, she's barely ever been to Karachi. In fact, she's never even come home. Mum and I thought it'd be better if she had someone she knew around, you know?"
"Except," Ashar countered. "I don't even know the first thing about her. But sure, totally, I completely get your point," he teases.
"Shut up, Bhai. But on a serious note, you don't have a problem, right?"
"Will it matter if I do?" He asks, amused.
"Not really," she replies honestly. "I just asked for formality purposes."
Ashar laughs, the mirth shining in his chocolate eyes. "That's what I thought."
Two weeks fly like seconds, she remarks, as she turns to face her packed bags.
Finally, she'd gotten around to shopping and actually found things she loved in the process. Dressing up at weddings had always entranced Khirad, who normally didn't even see the point in wearing make-up, finding it to be too much of a hassle to paint your face with colors in order to pass of as pretty, like a lot of girls her age defined make-up.
But, she realized, weddings were different. It wasn't about dressing up entirely; it was about celebrating one of the most important days in a person's life. For Khirad, Zareen's wedding was as important to her as her own, and she wasn't going to pass out on any opportunity in making it the best day in both of their lives.
Breaking out of her revelries, she gives her mum a kiss on the forehead as she heads out the door where the driver awaits.
"Love you, Mum," she says softly. "I'll see you soon."
She makes it to the airport in half an hour, which is a record time for her. Without any idea of how she's going to find Ashar Hussain in the midst of the crowded airport, she just focuses of the music that's blaring in the car. Zareen had called her earlier, sent her a picture of her brother and her at some vacation. Quite honestly, Khirad hadn't even bothered opening the picture and glancing at the stranger that she would spend the majority of her time with. She wasn't entirely bothered to.
The driver unloads her luggage onto the trolley and gives her a small smile. "Khuda Hafiz, Madam."
"Khuda Hafiz," she replies politely. "Aap apna khayal rakhye ga."
As she steers her trolley in the direction of the nearest entrance gate, she turns to her phone to open the picture Zareen had sent her. Before she can view it, though, she hears someone clearing their throat behind her. Alarmed, she turns to see a man clad in a black shirt and dark washed jeans standing only a few feet behind her.
"Khirrat?" He asks after a few moments. She takes in his clean shaven look and casual attire slowly, left eyebrow rising in curiosity.
"It's Khirad," she clarifies strictly. "Have we met before?"
A warm smile breaks over his face and with the soft crinkles by his eyes he immediately reminds her of someone she knows like the back of her hand. "Ashar?" She asks for confirmation.
"Absolutely," he nods.
She takes one look behind him. Amongst the not so crowded area, she can't help but wonder how he even knew what she looked like. As if sensing her unspoken question, he holds his phone to her view. On his iPhone screen, Khirad sees an old picture of herself having ice cream with Zareen with both their tongues poking out as they laugh. Despite herself, she grows slightly annoyed at his sister for picking out that picture. With ice-cream rolling down her chin, it wasn't exactly the kind of first impression Khirad would like to leave on anybody, much less her brother.
"It's nice to meet you," she says hesitantly. He only gives her a wider smile in return.
"Shall we?" He asks, pointing to the gate before him.
She takes one look at him and nods immediately. Still a little nervous, he remarks, as he glances at her long, purple shirt and black tights. Her hair, loosely falling until a few inches below her shoulder, are undoubtedly thick and long, like Zareen had described. She turns to him, then, and he catches this light in her brown eyes. Perhaps, he thinks, going back to his conversation with Zareen about striking features, he could actually grow to remember this face.
'You were right,' he texts Zareen when they sit in anticipation of the boarding to begin. 'She is cute. ;)'
She is, he admits, but he only sends the text to see how his younger sibling will reply. Barely a minute later, she replies with a 'Don't you dare, bhai -___-' which makes him break into a silent laugh. Khirad looks at him, confused, but he decides to let this joke remain only between Zareen and himself.
They've barely spoken, he remarks, and her silence is unnerving in a way because while he's getting bored, she's too busy reading a book. While he, too, was an avid reader of all forms of literature, he never let it hide him away from socializing, like he was sure Khirad was doing.
"Can I say something, Khirrat?" He stresses on the mispronunciation of her name just to see her fists clench slightly.
She gifts him another glare; he smirks, finding her expressiveness amusing. "Khirad. It's a D."
"Yeah, whatever," he says like it's not important. "The main guy dies in the book."
He's expecting another glare, a huff and an eye-roll, but she just looks at him calmly. "I know," she says.
"Wait, what?" He asks incredulously. "Aren't you in the middle of the book?" He glances at the hundredth page that she was holding between her fingers. She can't help but let out a soft giggle at his confusion.
"I always read the ending first," she says proudly. His eyes widen in surprise.
"You're kidding," he says with finality. "No one reads the ending beforehand," he states. She gives him a pointed look.
"I don't like depressing books, especially when I'm not anticipating it," she mumbles more to herself than him. He smiles at her honesty.
He wants to say something, wants add a little humor in his words because she's refreshing to be around, but the flight announcement informs the beginning of the boarding, so he decides to keep to himself whatever humor he possesses.
He turns to her with a smile, pulling his laptop bag to his shoulder.
She nods politely, wonders despite herself why they're still hanging around each other when they could just meet back up in Karachi, but doesn't voice her question in fear of sounding rude. He takes the lead after she's picked her bag off the chair beside her, and she takes one look at his black button down shirt, dark washed jeans and a gray suit jacket that carelessly rests in his hand. Even in that simple attire, she can't help but notice how different he looks from all the other guys around her - polished yet casual.
She realizes that if there's one thing the brother and sister share, it's their class of style.
She waves him goodbye once they enter the flight, heading to two separate seats.
She's 25D, a window seat, she thinks thankfully, while he's two rows ahead of her. Once she's settled in her seat, she pulls her book out and leans her head against the window, staring out to catch the sight of various flights lined out the ground, and breathes a sigh of relief.
She's calmer now, she thinks, when she's by herself and not constantly hit by awkwardness that the older Hussain managed to instill in her. She's not entirely bubbly with the people that she doesn't know, she muses, but he'd been genuinely polite in his attempts to resolve the silence that settled over them in those moments. Shaking off all thoughts of him, she turns to continue the classic she's reading.
A few minutes later, a movement around her startles her from her serenity when she turns to face a middle-aged man stuffing his handbag in the compartment above. She can't help but squirm on the inside, grows a little weary and sits straight abruptly, unconsciously. She's more obvious than she realized, she figures, when he turns to her and gives her a wide smile. Even though she's absolutely cool and confident to anyone who looks at her at that particular moment, she feels uncomfortable.
He seats himself next to her comfortably, already adjusting his seat to his comfort, and she notices his hand draped on her arm rest, dangerously close to her kurta, and pulls herself to the side, creating an inch of space between them.
She knows she's probably hyperventilating – scolds herself mentally for being so narrow minded – but she doesn't hesitate in keeping to herself. He turns to her with another smile; she tries to appear unnerved.
Ashar gets up from his seat to wear his suit jacket over his shirt when he's struck by the thought of Khirad, seated just a little further behind him. He smirks at the memory of the girl who'd kept to herself throughout the waiting time, only answering his questions simply. Instinctively, he turns to find her. Amongst the numerous people, he's surprised when he catches sight of her face almost immediately. She's not looking at him, though, he registers; instead, she looks a bit uncomfortable and shrunken into her seat.
He takes notice of the man seated next to her, turned to her for something. He laughs at her predictability at her discomfort with the stranger, but finds his steps leading him to the airhostess instead.
"You're from Karachi?" Her seat-neighbor asks, his thick voice laced with curiosity. Khirad cringes on the inside each time he speaks. He'd been asking her questions ever since he sat down five minutes ago, and she was honestly starting to lose her temper.
"No," she answers simply. His hand spreads over the armrest as he shifts in his seat to face her.
"Lahore, then?" He smiles victoriously. She gives him a weak nod.
"Are you in university?" He inquires with something that she can't decipher gleaming in his eyes. She doesn't want to answer his question in the slightest, but doesn't know what else to do. With frantic confusion, she turns to him, thinking of an answer to permanently shut him up.
"Um," A voice breaks her out of her revelries, and the man next to her, too. "Excuse me?"
She looks up to see Ashar Hussain, in all his glory, addressing her seat-neighbor. Wearing his jacket, he looks even classier now, and the man looks at him in confusion.
"Yes?" He asks after a moment of hesitation. Ashar gives him a small smile.
"I'm seated around two rows ahead from here. But I was wondering if we could swap?"
Khirad looks at him, alarmed at his bluntness, before composing her face. She wonders, if it was enough for him to spot her discomfort, how loud her expressions were. For the first time, she's embarrassed at her expressiveness.
The man, Khirad notices, looks at the newest addition to their conversation strangely, contemplating his suggestion. Ashar senses it too, she guesses, because he immediately looks at her.
"The thing is, my wife suffers from motion sickness," he explains, pointing to Khirad. She already hates aeroplanes, but I forced her to travel. So, if it's not an issue with you, will you be fine with shifting to my seat? I've already talked to the airhostess; she says it's fine if you agree."
Khirad is appalled. In one sentence and ten seconds, he gave her a sickness she'd never possessed and named her his wife. She looks at him accusingly.
"She's your wife?" The man asks with wide eyes, voicing Khirad's inner thoughts. Ashar nods solemnly.
The man, she then registers, seems to realize that she's both married and prone to vomiting. As if one look between them is all the confirmation he needs, Ashar gleefully steps out of his way as the man moves to the seat Ashar points at while he escorts him there, returning with his laptop bag and a large smile.
He settles into his seat comfortably, throwing a smile her way. Sternly, she looks at him.
"What was that?" She manages to question in a reasonably threatening voice. He looks thoroughly humored at her attempt.
"That?" He says like it's no big deal. "Consider it your birthday gift. You're very welcome." He adds a grin at the end of his sentence, which only spites her further. She might have been uneasy with that stranger but she didn't need him stepping in to save the day.
"I didn't ask you to do this," she states simply. "I have nothing to thank you for."
Ashar inwardly applauds her confidence and her wit, both of which seem to have come out of nowhere.
"You might not have said anything, but you looked like you were being tortured," he explains.
"You didn't have to pretend to be my husband," she states.
"Creepy men don't move without reason, Khirrat. Plus, I didn't have a choice; ours was a forced wedding, in case you don't remember."
She wants to argue back to his humor and his mispronunciation of her name, but lets the case rest between them when her face involuntarily breaks into a small smile. After a few moments of silence, Ashar chuckles softly.
"Well, at least you're sitting in your seat properly now," he says with a laugh.
She looks down at her posture. As opposed to her stiff shoulders and shrunken body pressed to the wall, she now sat at ease with both her arms on the arm rest, book in her lap and back comfortably against the back-rest. She doesn't notice that until he points it out, and mutely ponders over her body's own reflex once seated by someone she only remotely knew.
In all her embarrassment, the blood rushes to her check and she pretends that her book is the most interesting thing in the world.
Thankfully, he doesn't turn to her.
She doesn't know when it happens, but she guesses that sometime after the lights dimmed she'd found her eyes drooping. Maybe, she'd shifted in her position a few times, tried to find a comfortable spot, before she lost consciousness completely. Either way, she wakes up to a surprise.
She opens her groggy eyes to the sight of their entwined fingers. The armrest that she'd claimed as her own now supports his right arm slightly, her hand tightly holding on to his. Almost immediately, she's struck by the realization that her head, very comfortably so, rests on his shoulder, the gray of his jacket soft under her cheeks. His head, she senses, leans against the seat, and she's about to pull away gently when a seemingly young airhostess makes her way to them, glaring at the sight of the sleeping, apparently 'married', couple.
She holds a paper bag in the hand, Khirad figures, when she stands abruptly before them. Ashar is a light sleeper, she realizes, because just the shadow looming over his face is enough to wake him up. Almost immediately after sensing his movement, Khirad pulls away from him completely with her flushed cheeks.
She avoids his eyes and knots her fingers together, praying desperately that he doesn't bring this up or realizes that this matter is better left unsaid. Sleep was a state of unconsciousness, she reasons, and that will be her reply.
She realizes that the airhostess is still around, and looks up questioningly.
"A gentleman in front informed me that you suffer from motion sickness. I thought you might not have any paper bags around, so I got this," she says lamely. The sentence is undoubtedly meant for Khirad, but the airhostess' eyes are set on Ashar.
"Oh," Khirad voices, holding out a hand for the paper bag. The airhostess gives her a terribly disguised look of disapproval then turns away swiftly.
Ashar grins when Khirad doesn't even look at him once, finding the sleeves of her kurta all too interesting for any conversation. He turns in his seat to face her.
"Good morning," he says. It would've been a normal wish, she thinks, but she catches the hint of amusement in his tone. "Neend achi ayi?" He asks lightly.
She neither nods nor faces him. She doesn't catch the wide smile on his already too-handsome-for-his-own-good face.
"Waise," he adds after a few seconds. "I'd woken up a while back to a head on my shoulder." The pink on her cheek only grows, she realizes. "In fact, I even tried separating my hand from yours in fear of your incessant blushing, like now precisely, but I must say, you've got a tight grip."
She doesn't look up; her face grows hotter with each second, she doesn't want him teasing her even more. She can't even argue back, she realizes, because she'd always had a knack for sleeping on her dad's shoulder during flights. Either that or she'd have something to hold on to tightly. With Ashar, unfortunately, she'd done both.
"But I must say," she hears him whisper softly. "I bet no one doubts that we're married now. We even gave them proof."
She doesn't find his lame attempt at humor funny. She just prays that she's slept through the majority of the journey.
Karachi, she thinks desperately, where are you?
When he looks at her a while later after silently contemplating if he should tease her even further, he's greeted by the sight of her head resting against the window, with her eyes closed and hands tightly holding on to the book. There's a light smile on her face, he notes, and she finally seems relaxed. He takes in the soft features of a face for a minute, her porcelain cheeks still tainted with a light pink, before he turns back to the magazine he'd begun reading with a smile.
Well, he admits, she isn't that bad to be around.
So that was chapter two! Hope you guys enjoyed their interactions! I'd love to read your thoughts on this. :)
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