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"We're home," he says, just as the driver pulls up the car into the driveway.
It's the early break of dawn, and she stares at the canvas of orange and yellow slowly penetrating the dark of the night, she sleepily smiles at the sight. She steps out of her door a little hesitantly, stumbling a little from sitting in the car for over an hour, but catches his warm smile, saying everything from welcome to don't worry. Hers, as an immediately response, grows wider.
Before she can even look around her surroundings, have a feel of where she's standing at five fifteen in the morning, Zareen comes barreling into her, almost knocking them both to the ground. And they would've, too, had Ashar not put a strong arm behind Khirad to support her flailing form, perhaps as a sort of assurance that he wouldn't let her fall. Still, she finds herself mildly stunned at the contact as she hugs Zareen back, and just like that, like it was a figment of her overactive imagination all along, his hand drops.
Zareen is all wide eyes and excitement, perhaps even more so than Khirad remembers from their meeting five months ago, and she instantly feels the fatigue wash away, replaced instead by an exciting rush of happiness. Zareen's stuck to her like an octopus, whispering over and over again that you're my best friend, K. I missed you so much. Thank you for coming, and she's so overwhelmed she thinks it's not her fault if a couple of tears leak out. She's still not used to Zareen's wholehearted affection, she realizes.
Ashar clears his throat after a few moments, clearly awkward and painfully conscious of the fact that he's currently unwanted. He smirks when Zareen breaks away from her best friend and looks at him once, then twice, before colliding into his chest, too, a little teary from seeing Khirad, and he runs a hand through her hair affectionately, resting his chin atop her head.
Khirad watches this sight with a slight smile, feels a little like a part of family love. She's an only child, so these displays of untarnished love are always a pleasure to watch. For a second, she feels like she's rudely interrupting the moment just by being there, but it's almost immediately, Ashar looks at her with a half-smile for a second too long, and it's reassurance enough.
She's not unwanted.
They walk back to the house in a sort of rhythm, with Zareen interlocking both her arms with each of theirs and leading them into a pattern of steps that follows a beat Khirad cannot recognize, but Zareen's smiling and talking to them about their flight and for a second, she catches Ashar's barely concealed smirk as he looks her way.
"The flight was alright," he says. "Barely had time to sleep, though."
With that out in the open, she knows it was a dig at her sleeping habits, but she cannot find it in herself to be offended. She had slept on his shoulder, and no amount of arguing would change that. So she laughs a secretive laugh and watches Zareen launch into another story that falls off her lips like a song.
Khirad, as they walk, catches sight of a large swing set in the garden, and she almost pulls Zareen along to sit there and talk for the remainder of the night when she realizes just how tired she is, so she makes a mental note to mention that later. In her two seconds of silence, Zareen senses something wrong, so she raises an inquisitive eyebrow, as she follows Khirad's line of vision. Almost immediately, her face brightens.
"I knew you'd love them!" She grins, already changing her direction and heading for the swings instead. Khirad, endeared by her excitement, doesn't have the heart to tug her hand away.
"Zareen, jab Allah aqal baant rahe the tou aap kahan theen?" He asks the youngest one among them, smiling in a way that screams sarcasm.
Zareen juts her lower lip out, then grins. "Mein aap ko bulaney gayi thi. Sad afsos aap time pe na aa sakey."
If he heard her retort, he doesn't fight back. "Yaar, we just got back. We've been travelling all night. Don't you think it's better if we actually go and get some rest?"
Now that Khirad looks at him, he does look kind of tired, thick black frames barely hiding his sleepy eyes; upon their collective gaze, he gives them a tired sort of smile. As if suddenly, Khirad recalls sleeping almost half the time away and feels a fierce sort of guilt. She looks at him apologetically.
"He's right, Zee," she says softly, avoiding the amused smile that she's sure he's throwing her way. "We'll go tomorrow, yeah?"
"Early morning?" Zareen says, like it's an order instead of a question.
Ashar fake-coughs, and Khirad knows it's coming before he even says it. "Zareen, your early morning is twelve. Please."
Zareen looks at him incredulously. "You're not invited," she says simply. "Me and Khirad are chilling out without you now." For an extra effect, the younger Hussain pokes out her tongue.
Ashar laughs at her childishness, but doesn't prod her further, and Khirad just watches Zareen link her arms back into theirs and follow that same beat as they walk towards their house.
Their house is nothing she wouldn't expect from the stories Zareen has shared with her over the years, but she still is sort of stunned when she finally sees it.
If she were feeling particularly descriptive, perhaps she would've commented on the Persian rugs and the artworks framing the walls at their walk up the stairs, but her eyes are stuck on the family pictures, each evolving and showing a different face of the two people with her. She smiles wider with every moment in time that hangs on the wall, every picture telling a different tale, painting a different view of Zareen and Ashar.
She looks at them momentarily, and they're engrossed in a conversation about their cousins and Khirad only catches the mention of their Khala coming to see them the next morning, mentions something about the fact that they think that he's so busy to come see them even though they live in the same city, and Ashar looks apologetic.
"Yeah, I do have to apologize for that," he says solemnly. "I promised her I'd see her before I left for Lahore."
Khirad goes back to being blissfully unaware of their little chat, and as they near the top of the stairs, the pictures seem to become fewer, and her eyes grow too tired to catch up with them. Zareen nudges her lightly and takes her hand, dragging her to what Khirad assumes is the guest room.
Ashar's following close behind, and Khirad doesn't think to wonder why. They walk through to a hallway where she sees two rooms facing each other. Zareen takes a step forward and opens one door.
"Here's your room, K," she informs, stepping in with her and making sure everything's okay. It's not typical, though, nothing about Zareen ever is. The bedside tables have around three or four different frames, a couple with pictures of Khirad's parents, and one of them together in University. Khirad smiles at her thoughtfulness.
"If you need anything, this is my room." Zareen says, taking her by the hand to a room at the end of the hall, and Khirad instantly recognizes Zareen's interior designing skills. The large photograph of herself on Zareen's wall momentarily stuns her. "I know it's late, is liye I can't show you around the room and the house, but kal, yeah?"
Khirad smiles and nods, and she's about to walk away, when the thought of the room facing hers strikes her thoughts; It crosses her mind for the first time that they might have other guests, too.
"Zee, if this is your room, then is the one opposite mine another guest room?"
She doesn't mean to sound inquisitive and over curious, just merely wants to be aware of the presence of other guests, if there are any.
"Woh wala?" Zareen points with a small smile. "Nah, that's Bhai's. Let him know if you need anything, okay?"
Khirad doesn't even react to that. Of course it's Ashar's, a voice in her head mocks, why else would he be following them to the room and then disappear straight after?
She doesn't have an answer to that, of course, so she just takes a pair of pajamas from Zareen, mentally promises herself to begin unpacking the next morning, and heads to her room with soft steps. Right before she closes the door, she sees a sleepy Ashar walk up to his door to close it, too, and only watches him grin as he waves lightly.
She smiles back.
Opening her eyes the next morning, the first thing she thinks is that the noise needs to stop.
Khirad's very fond of her sleep, and interruptions are never welcome, but she rubs her eyes sleepily when she realizes that she's not in her bedroom, if the yellow comforter and red cushions are any indication, and when her eyes fall on the pictures by the bed, she recalls everything from the night before.
As if that's all the push she needs, she's out of her bed in a heartbeat, following the sound of the knocking to the door. She opens it apprehensively, having just literally rolled out of bed, but she automatically smiles when her eyes fall on Zareen's winning smile.
"Good Morning, K!" She says cheerfully, and Khirad wonders if it's past twelve, considering Zareen looks like she's been up for a while. "Chalo, jaldi se take a shower and get ready, Ammi and Abbu are up and asking about you."
Khirad suddenly realizes that she hadn't seen Uncle and Aunty because of how late they arrived the night before, and tells Zareen to give her twenty minutes to freshen up. When Zareen nods and leaves brightly, Khirad runs to her bag and pulls out the first decent kurta she sees that doesn't need ironing, and then makes her way to the bathroom.
She hops out with wet hair fifteen minutes later, changes hurriedly while she tries to dry her hair, and it doesn't slip past her notice that her mum would be laughing wholeheartedly if she saw her like this: rushing and hasty and absolutely creating a havoc in the entire room. She doesn't really bother much with the hair, just dries it until the water stops dripping with every step she takes, and runs out the door into Zareen's room.
"You're here!" The younger girl says with a smile, giving her a tight hug and playing with her wet hair. "Good morning!"
"Morning," she replies hurriedly, hugging her back. "Let's go see Uncle and Aunty, I feel so bad for not waking up earlier."
"Oh shut up," Zareen dismisses. "I was going to wake you up around an hour back, but Mum warned me to not disturb you. She knows how tired you are, don't worry. Chalo ab!"
And just like that, Khirad feels tons lighter, the guilt suddenly dissipating into the bounce in her steps.
Uncle and Aunty are lovely, she thinks.
She walks up to them hesitantly, but uncle looks at her with a warm smile before inquiring about how she's been and tells her about how much Zareen has mentioned her around the house, especially with the whole wedding fiasco. Upon her genuine smile, he asks her to sit next to him on the couch and, with a lot of interest, talks to her about her education plans now. Aunty, after giving her a tight hug, insists on making her a little breakfast and promises her that she'll be out in a few minutes, so they can talk then, and instructs her to sit with Baseerat and give him company.
She talks to him about it with so much conviction that Ashar, who is just about to walk out of the kitchen with his cup of tea, leans against the doorway and watches her explain away the details with the extensive motion of her hands wildly trying to prove their point. Her hair is at a stage between wet and dry, and he watches her occasionally run her hand through her strands to tame them as she speaks.
He doesn't expect it from her, but he guesses he should've seen it coming, when she actively engages in a political discussion with his father, honestly expressing views and opinions with a comfort that makes it seems as though she's known his father for years now. He catches the way his dad laughs at a few things she says innocently. He doesn't think he can blame his dad much; he's pretty much grinning at her words, too.
Farida walks out of the kitchen after him, and, upon watching his still form by the door, joins him.
"She's a breath of fresh air," Farida says to no one in particular, but Ashar feels the corner of his mouth curve upwards.
Watching her now, there's no way he can deny it.
She really, really is.
I hope nothing was too fast in this chapter. Also, I hope nice!Farida wasn't too hard to digest. I cannot make her evil, or that would be treading the same path as the TV show we're all so fond of.
Hopefully, the new chapter will include the introductions of other characters, and make the story interesting! But anyway, here it is, another installment in the lives of Khirad and Ashar! :D
Liked it? Hated it? Let me know how to make it better!
Hopefully, I'll be updating soon! xx
Thank you for reading.
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