"So, do you love her?" Zoya asked him when she took a seat next to him on the bench in the garden.
Asad smiled to himself, still looking down. Only Ms Farooqui could be so direct. Even his Ammi hadn't asked him this yet.
Zoya had been a guest in Asad's home for about 3 months now. He'd disliked her from the very first moment she stepped foot into his home. She dressed inappropriately and had no brain to mouth filter, but he'd learned to be civil with her.
He couldn't deny that she was beautiful... mesmerizing even. But that didn't matter to Asad. He lived for his Ammi and Najma and would do whatever made them happy. Girls just didn't interest him, the way they did other guys his age.
Zoya felt similarly towards Asad in the beginning, thinking of him as arrogant, rude and boring. But then he'd helped her when she was in trouble, not once, but twice, when she'd been harassed by some goons due to being out late at night, which went against Asad's rules.
Her opinion of him changed after that. Of course, she'd found him totally gorgeous right from the get go, but his personality did nothing for his looks. As time wore on, she found herself growing fonder of Mr. Khan. She'd found a softer side to him, especially seeing how he interacted with his mother and sister, and she liked it.
Zoya nudged him when she didn't get an answer. Asad was wondering why she was out here talking to him anyway. They never "talked". In fact, now that he thought about it, he hadn't seen her at all this past week, except for dinner on Sunday night after Tanveer arrived, and breakfast on Monday morning.
"Where have you been all week?" he asked, confusion all over his face. "Oh my God, did he actually notice I wasn't around?" she thought to herself.
"I've been here Mr. Khan, and you don't answer a question with another question!" she laughed softly. She was speaking so softly, that Asad momentarily thought he may be imagining the entire thing. "But why in the world would I imagine Ms Farooqui?!" he thought, confused at his thoughts again.
"Mr. Khan. You're so excited about your engagement that you can't keep up a normal conversation?" Zoya whispered, her eyes widened in awe at him.
Asad was suddenly drawn in by her eyes. "She really is beautiful", he thought to himself.
He smiled a small smile at her. "A man like me doesn't marry for love, Ms Farooqui. I will do what Ammi wants me to. Love doesn't form part of the equation", he said, not really sure why he was even opening up to her.
"Does Tanveer know that?" she asked him. "Yes, she knows me very well, and she understands my feelings on love and marriage", he answered. "I'm sure she's hoping you change your feelings in time..." Zoya murmured.
Asad looked dumbfounded at her. "What do you mean?" he blurted out. Zoya couldn't believe she was sitting here, having a normal conversation with Asad. Well, if you could call it normal. "Mr. Khan, every girl dreams of being in love... being loved back. I'm sure Tanveer is no different", she answered, looking directly at him.
Asad didn't like the spotlight on him, so decided to turn the tables on her. Besides, he was actually enjoying speaking to her like this. "Have you ever been in love Ms Farooqui?" he asked her quietly, not entirely sure why he felt like he needed to know the answer suddenly.
Zoya clasped her hands in front of her, not sure how to answer. "Yes..." she whispered. Still am", she smiled. Asad didn't like what he heard but again, he was unsure as to why.
He tried to make light of the situation. "Let me guess: a tattooed young man with unruly hair and body piercings?" he asked with a smirk. Zoya's eyes widened up at him. "God, that smirk is so sexy..." she thought to herself.
"No Mr. Khan. He's quiet, an introvert, intense, but caring to those around him, and loyal. Oh and he is neither pierced, nor tattooed, and he has short hair. He's... ", she trailed off, not knowing what to say next. In fact, she had perhaps said too much.
Asad was shocked at what he heard. "He sounds like-", Asad blurted out, then stopped. "Not your type", he finished off quietly. "Oh and I suppose you think my type is what you described?!" she asked him. "I... woh... actually..." he stuttered.
He didn't know what to say. Ms Farooqui was in love... and the guy she described seemed to be like him... but. No. That was impossible. Still, he wanted to know more. "And how long have you been together?" he asked. "We're not. He hates me", she whispered.
"Overdramatic girl. Sure he loves her too, whoever he is", Asad thought to himself, almost spitefully.
"Ms Farooqui... for all your bad habits-", he smiled, letting her know he wasn't insulting her, "- and your sometimes bad judgments, I can honestly say it is impossible to hate you", he said quietly, and then, not sure of what possessed him to do so, he took her hand in his.
Zoya had tears in her eyes. So he didn't hate her? "Anyway, Mr. Khan. It's getting late", she said, getting up and taking her hand with her. She couldn't be this close to him, with him being so sweet to her. When he'd taken her hand, she felt a jolt of electricity run through her, and she was close to doing something stupid, like hug him with all her might.
Asad wasn't sure what just happened when he took her hand in his; that current he felt course through him had shaken him to his core. He also didn't understand why he had felt the need to comfort her. Another thing he didn't understand: wanting to keep talking to her, all night.
And why her walking away from him suddenly made his heart constrict.
He was confused about something else too. If she was here all week, why hadn't he seen her? "Ms Farooqui?" he called out to her as she reached the door. When she turned back, he could see she was already crying.
Without thinking further, he walked over to her and enveloped her in a bone crushing hug. She held onto him, crying. He managed to walk her inside to her bedroom like that. Asad didn't understand what was happening. He was suddenly feeling something other than irritation at Zoya, and it scared him.
His marriage had just been fixed with Tanveer. He laid her down in her bed and tried to get up, but she held onto his collar. "Thank you, Mr. Khan", she whispered, and let go of him.
He sat on the edge of her bed. She needed to be alone, he knew, but he was being selfish, and wasn't ready to leave her just yet."Ms Farooqui, if you were here all week, why didn't I see you?" he asked quietly. "Have you been out a lot? With him?" he whispered.
"God! Why did you just ask her that?! Get a grip man!" he thought to himself. "Allah Miya Mr. Khan, what's wrong with you? Didn't I just tell you that he hates me?" she almost shouted through her tears.
"And she's back", he thought, smiling inwardly. "So where were you then?" he continued, as if she didn't just scold him.
"Avoiding everyone", she muttered under her breath, and turned away from him in her bed, knowing he wouldn't have heard her. "But why?" he asked stupidly. Oh God, he heard! "Mr. Khan, please just forget I said anything. Forget we spoke at all. Thank you for earlier, but I'm really tired now", she said, effectively dismissing a very confused Asad Ahmed Khan from her bedroom.
He reluctantly got up and walked towards her door. "Goodnight", he whispered, and Zoya smiled to herself, despite her despair. Thank God she was leaving in a couple days and wouldn't have to watch him get married to Tanveer.
Asad couldn't sleep. Zoya was in love with someone. Someone like him. "What the HELL Asad? Why are you even thinking about this?" he chastised himself while tossing and turning. "Wait. Why was she avoiding everyone?" he thought again later, when he realized he couldn't sleep at all.
He was getting a headache so decided to go get a drink of water from the kitchen. He noticed Zoya's light still on. "Strange, it was off when I left earlier", he thought, and decided to peek in.
Zoya was sobbing quietly into her pillow. Asad couldn't bear it, and yet still, he didn't understand why. He couldn't go in and comfort her. Couldn't bring himself to. He was already angry with himself for feeling whatever it was he was feeling towards this girl.
And it had come out of nowhere. He had even held her while she cried. This was not like him at all. He turned and walked back to his room with a heavy heart.
At breakfast, Asad was waiting for Zoya to make an appearance, just to see if she was ok, or so he told himself, but she didn't come. Tanveer served him, and asked him if he was alright. "Fine. I'm fine. Ammi, where is Ms Farooqui this morning? Eating leftover pizza in bed?" he asked, just a hint of irritation in his voice.
Dilshad was surprised as to why Asad was asking after the guest he couldn't stand. "Actually beta, she left early this morning to the travel agent. She says that she needs to go back to New York in a couple of days. I really don't understand. Last week, we were making arrangements to go on a road trip for Najma's vacation, and then suddenly on Monday morning, she said she would need to leave", Dilshad said sadly.
"I'm not sure what could've possibly changed her mind. I was so looking forward to her helping me with your wedding preparations", she sighed.
Asad's eyes widened. The only thing that changed from last week to Monday had been his Ammi and Tanveer's parents fixing their alliance. Could it... Is she...? Could I be...? Asad was lost in these thoughts, and abruptly got up for the table, scraping his chair back noisily, leaving the 3 ladies at the table gaping after him.
He went to his room to think. He replayed everything that Zoya had said last night. The more he thought about it, the more he realized that he could be the reason she was leaving. Well, not him, but the sudden news of his engagement. "But no... She doesn't think of me like that, surely?" he said out loud to himself, shaking his head in confusion.
He grabbed his keys and ran out the front door. "Asad! Your bag!" Dilshad called after him, but he was already nearly out of the driveway in his SUV. "Asad, this is crazy! What exactly are you planning to do?" he thought to himself. He didn't even know where he was going.
Dejected, he made a U-turn and headed back home. While driving, he realized something. He realized why he felt what he felt when Zoya told him she loved someone. He suddenly realized he had a name for what he felt for her. How could he have been so closed-minded for the past 3 months? So... ignorant of his own feelings.
More than ever, he was ashamed of being so rigid in his thinking that he closed himself off from perhaps the one person who has managed to change his views.
He decided that he couldn't marry Tanveer. Not now. Not ever. He would never feel about her the way he felt when he thought of a certain Ms Farooqui. Yes, she made his blood boil, but she also made him feel alive. He knew now that even if it wasn't him she spoke about, and he couldn't have her, he wouldn't be happy with anyone else either.
He had to speak to Tanveer.
He walked into his house and found Najma, Dilshad and Tanveer talking at the table. He decided to speak to Tanveer immediately. "Tanu, please can I speak to you? In private?" he asked. "Sure Asad", she said smiling, completely unaware of what was coming her way.
Dilshad and Najma were confused. Asad looked pained, depressed even. They discreetly excused themselves for the kitchen. "What's wrong, Asad?" Tanveer asked, her voice laced with concern for her husband-to-be. "Tanu, I'm so sorry... but I can't marry you", he let out all in one nervous breath.
Tanveer's hands flew to her mouth. "But... you said yes... my parents... I Asad?" she sputtered out. He took her hands in his. "I'm really very sorry. I will call on your Abbu myself to tell-", he started but cut off when Tanveer pulled her hands from him, and walked off.
Asad went after her. She had already started packing her things. "What are you doing Tanu?" he asked softly. She didn't look at him, just kept folding her clothes and adding them to her suitcase.
"A... a friend once told me that every girl wants to love and be loved in return... Tanu... I can't give you that. I'll never be able to give you that", Asad said softly. "Your friend was right. Its ok Asad, I'm not upset with you. But... is there someone? Someone you love?" she asked him. He hesitated, and then sat down on her bed.
"It's a long story..."
When Zoya got into the house later that night, she planned on going straighten to bed. Just a couple more days of leaving the house really early every morning, and then coming in at way past Jahapanah's curfew. "Not like anyone has even noticed, not even Mr. Rules himself", she muttered, tip-toeing through the living room.
"Ms Farooqui". Zoya topped dead in her tracks. The lights were off, so she failed to notice Asad on the couch, presumably waiting to give her a lecture on being out late at night. "So this is how you've been avoiding us? Leaving early, getting home late", he spoke through the darkness.
He switched on the light, to find Zoya watching him from a few steps away. "You agreed to forget about last night Mr. Khan. I'm really tired. Can I please go to bed now?" she asked, sad that the caring Asad from last night seemed to have disappeared.
He got up off the couch and walked towards her. She was scared that he was going to shout at her, but as he approached her, she noticed the look in his eyes. It wasn't anger, nor irritation... it was... she couldn't make the emotion out.
"WHY have you been avoiding us? WHY are you suddenly leaving back to New York in a few days, when you were supposed to stay here for 6 months? WHY?" he whispered the last sentence standing right in front of her.
She looked up at him, an unfathomable look in her eyes. An even more unfathomable look in his.
"Why were you crying last night? Why does it seem like you want to cry now?" he asked.
He knew he was asking too much of her, without giving her anything in return, but his fear of rejection was stopping him from saying what he wanted to.
"Last night? Zoya's been avoiding us? Ya Allah, what are these 2 going on about now? It seems serious. I'd better wait here in case Asad shouts at her too much", thought Dilshad as she watched the scene from the top of the staircase.
"Mr. Khan, please. Let me go to my room. I'm sorry I'm late. It won't happen again", she said. She was pleading. Her tears were threatening again, and she couldn't afford to break down in front of him again. She didn't think she'd be able to keep her feelings in.
Asad stepped in front of her, effectively blocking her way. "Please...?" she whispered, her beautiful brown eyes begging him.
"What's his name?" Asad whispered menacingly. "W-what-w-w-who...?" she questioned under Asad's intense gaze.
"What are they talking about?" Dilshad thought, exasperated at the cryptic conversation Asad and Zoya were having.
"Him. The one you love", Asad said, in almost a normal tone of voice. This got Zoya mad. "I already told you, Mr. Khan. He hates me! I'm all wrong for him".
Asad took a step closer. "Why do you keep saying I hate you?" he whispered. Zoya's eyes widened. "Woh... actually... When... did I say... you... you hate me?" Zoya stammered. His proximity was making her feel all flustered.
"What's his name?" Asad asked again. Zoya decided to feign ignorance. "I don't know what you're talking about", she lied. "What's with all the questions Mr. Khan? It's late. I'm tired. Please let me sleep?" she pleaded once again.
"What's his name?" Asad asked again, in a dangerously low voice. "What do you care anyway? You're going to be married to Tanveer soon. She's the marrying type!" Zoya spat out.
"I broke off the alliance. Tanveer is gone back home", he said. Zoya's hands flew to her mouth. "Why...?" she whispered. He took another step closer. "First, tell me his name. I asked first", he added in, with a slight smirk. "That goddamn smirk!" she thought.
"Why why WHY?!" she asked, exasperated at this cat and mouse game he was playing with her.
Asad grabbed her by her shoulders. "Because I want it to be 'Asad' damn it!" Zoya's eyes widened. "What?" she whispered, taking a step even closer to him, looking into his intense eyes, full of emotion.
He snaked his arms around her waist. "Say it's me?" he whispered. "So you don't hate me?" she whispered back.
"Quite the opposite, Ms Farooqui".
Dilshad was in shock. Good shock. "This is my cue to stop eavesdropping", she thought to herself, and went back to her room smiling, and eagerly awaiting breakfast.
She'd been in bad shock earlier when Asad told her he was taking Tanveer back to her parents, and explaining to them why they'd decided to not get married after all. At least now she knew the real reason.
"H-how? When...?" Zoya stuttered out, to a very smug Asad. "Well, there was last night, of course. The way you described 'him'. Then you suddenly decided to leave after the alliance was fixed, and you've been avoiding everyone..." he whispered, his voice laced with anguish and guilt.
"And none of us noticed this, but Tanveer did. You snuck out of the living room when her parents mentioned marriage to Ammi. I'm sorry. So, so sorry..." he whispered into her hair, after pulling her into a tight hug.
No retort from her. Zoya was in tears. Asad felt his shirt get wet and pulled her back to look at her. "Crying again?" he asked smiling. She smiled back at him through her tears, but then started hitting at his chest.
"So many questions! All for what? Couldn't you just tell me?" she cried. "Same goes for you Ms Farooqui. I'm surprised you managed to keep it in for so long", he teased. She smacked him lightly and he chuckled and brought her back in for a hug.
"Will you answer my question now please?" he asked. She smiled into his chest.
"His name is Asad", she whispered.
"And Asad loves Zoya", he whispered back.