Zara Kennedy
October 17, 2015 6:00 am

“Oh…Salaam, baba…” I sheepishly smiled as my body began to emit heat from embarrassment.

It was just my luck that my dad would catch me. He stood in the doorway of our Tudor style house baffled at a sight he’s never seen – his daughter sneaking out.

“What are you doing out here?” My dad moved to America more than 40 years ago, and yet his Pakistani accent said otherwise.“After dark?”

I tried to see how far I could bend the truth. “I was..er..looking for…um…my calculator?” I wanted to smash my palm against my face. Calculator? Really Amal?

“Amal?” I heard my mom’s voice coming from inside the house. She walked up behind my dad to see what was going on. “Amal, beta, what’s wrong? I thought you were sleeping.” A look of anxiety overtook her face. My dad was still standing there with an expression that I couldn’t read.

“I was,” I lied again. It was starting to scare me how it was becoming easier and easier. Maybe this is why Sophia was so good at getting away with things? “But I remembered I have a math quiz tomorrow and I couldn’t find my calculator. I thought maybe I dropped it outside.”

“Oh no! You are so clumsy, Amal!” My mom shook her head as the palm of her hand rested on her forehead. She watched so many Pakistani soap operas it was easy to tell where her antics came from.

“You should have told Baba he would have come out here to look for it.” She held out her hand nervously waving for me to come inside. “Come, come, how many times do I have to tell you that the evil spirits are outside after the sun sets! That’s no place for a girl to be wandering by herself.”

“Mom,” I rolled my eyes. I don’t know how long my mom is planning on scaring me into not having a night life. I ducked my head as I passed my parents. I didn’t want them to see the makeup on my face. “I’m going to check my room again.” I shouted as I ran up the stairs.

I heard my parents mumbling to one another. I stood motionless at the top of the stairs as I tried to make out what they were saying.

“What’s gotten into her lately?” My dad asked my mom. “She’s been so anxious since coming back from Toronto.”

I heard my mom’s footsteps walking away. “Maybe she caught something while she was there.”

“Found it!” I yelled. The mumblings from downstairs quieted down to silence.

I went into my room and crawled back into bed. There was no way I was going to make it to the party now. I called Sophia and told her about my failed mission. I felt so horrible lying to my parents and that I would probably never master the kind of escape that she so gracefully seemed to pull off.

The next morning I headed over to Golden Coast Records earlier than usual.

The office was still empty, with the exception of the maintenance crew. I slipped into my cubicle and tried to get a head start on the overflowing piles of paperwork that covered my desk. I was starting to see why Oliver’s last assistant left without any notice.

“Amal, where were you last night?” I was startled as I heard Oliver’s voice behind me. I spun around to find him standing in the entrance of my cubicle. His hair wasn’t as perfect, but still swoon-worthy. He seemed a bit tired, and yet here he was early in the morning after a big party. Now that was commitment.

I smiled as if to greet him and tried to find a legitimate excuse as to why a sane person would miss an industry party.“Something came up last-minute.” Technically my dad catching me sneaking out of the house could qualify as something coming up.

“It was a pretty stellar party.” He raised his eyebrows as he walked in, unbuttoning his suit jacket before sitting on the edge of my desk. “I hate to rub it in, but you really missed out. Ariana Grande may or may not have been there. But I can’t confirm or deny with guests who didn’t attend,” he added with a twinkle in his eyes.

I laughed making it seem like it wasn’t a big deal to me. “I’ll be there for the next one.” Did he say Ariana Grande? OMG, need to figure out a better way to sneak out!

“Sure,” Oliver shook his head as a grin grew across his face. He held onto the desk on either side of him and began tapping his fingers. “So are you going to Senior Fall Fest?”

I had no idea what Oliver was talking about. “I can’t, I have class.”

He furrowed his brows and looked at me accusingly. “Class? Seniors have off that week.”

“I mean,” my face flushed red as I tried to back track. “I have a class I need to be studying for. There’s an exam the week after.”

The lies were coming so easily now.

“Wow,” Oliver sounded impressed. His hands trickled over my shoulders before he gently squeezed them. My body went into shock, covering my arms in goosebumps. “I knew you were a smart girl, but man are you a total nerd or what!” He laughed as he leaned off my desk and walked away. “Don’t forget, I need the reports before you leave today.”

“You got it, boss.” I sarcastically mumbled. I had only been struggling to go over these numbers for the last couple of days. The stacks of paper read nothing but gibberish to me. If it weren’t for the sample copy Oliver had given to me as a reference, I would have never finished on time.

That afternoon I ran into Chemistry just barely making it before the bell rang. I smiled as I made eye contact with Grayson, but he just tightened his lip and looked away.

I was too nervous to ask him what was wrong, so I tapped him on the shoulder and said, “Hey.” Grayson peered over his shoulder and forced a weak smile. He turned back toward the front of the class where our teacher had already started going over the periodic table. I pulled out my notebook and pens and began jotting down notes.

The skin between my brows creased as I tried to figure out what could have caused the cold draft from Grayson.

By the end of class, I finally worked up the nerve to stop him before he could leave. “Grayson,” I tugged on his arm, “Is everything okay?”

“Yeah,” he still couldn’t look at me directly in my eyes.

I held out my hands unsure of what was going on. “Why have you been ignoring me?”

He rubbed the back of his neck and finally let out a sigh,“You stood me up yesterday.”

The first place my mind went to was a date. And I knew for sure we didn’t have one. I would have been freaking out a lot more if we did and I surely wouldn’t have forgotten about it.

We stood in silence for a couple of seconds until it dawned on me. My hands covered my mouth as I gasped.“Oh my God, we were suppose to work on our project yesterday!”

His eyes widened as his lips curled in. “Yeah,” he mumbled. “I waited for a while, but then I went ahead and completed the first part when I realized you weren’t coming.”

When Oliver invited me to the party that night, my study session with Grayson had completely slipped my mind. I was so consumed with what I was going to wear, how I was going to act, who I was going to meet, that I forgot all prior commitments.

I lifted my fingers one-by-one away from my mouth.“I’m so sorry Grayson! I wasn’t feeling well after school yesterday, honest! I fell right asleep after dinner.” Another lie in today’s pile of deceit.

Grayson shrugged his shoulders. “That’s fine, I guess, but we really do need to work on this project.” We both pulled out our schedules and tried to find a better time that worked. It seemed like our weekends were pretty clear so we agreed to meet then.

I pushed through the crowded halls and headed to the cafeteria. Lane and Chloe were sitting at our usual spot, unwrapping their homemade lunches.

“You guys will never believe what happened.” I plopped down into the only other empty chair at the table. “I completely forgot about my study date with Grayson last night when I was trying to go to…” I abruptly stopped myself. Chloe and Lane didn’t know my secret. I so desperately wanted to tell them, but Sophia swore me to secrecy. Something about the less people who knew the better.

I don’t know if that was really the reason, or if it was more just that Sophia wasn’t too fond of Chloe and Lane. She would rag on me, like any older sibling would, about my friends being “super dorky,” and that they were probably the reason the popular kids weren’t friends with me. I didn’t pay attention to any of it. I love those two to Pluto and back. And that’s a lot of love considering Pluto is no longer enjoying planet status.

They both stopped in mid-bite waiting for me to finish my sentence. “Trying to go where?” Lane asked.

“Wait, you had a DATE with Grayson? The guy you were crushing on last year?” Chloe slapped her hands flat on the table. Leave it to the aspiring actress to bring the dramatics. “Did you know about this?” she gave Lane a stern look.

“She told me briefly between passing periods.” Lane shook her head at Chloe’s irrelevant question and turned back towards me.

I grunted, “Not a date, Chlo. He’s just my lab partner and we were suppose to get together last night and I completely forgot.”

“How could you forget?” She seemed completely baffled by the thought. “Wait, did your mom not let you go because of the evil spirits again?” She giggled to herself. Lane and I gave each other a look. We were all too familiar with Asian mothers and their weird superstitions that we would never live down.

“I…I didn’t forget per se…” I took in a deep breath hoping I wouldn’t crack. “I got really sick after dinner.”

Chloe and Lane sat quietly waiting for the rest of the story. When they realized I had nothing more to say Lane finally interrupted the silence.

“You know Amal you could tell us the truth. We aren’t going to judge you.” She pushed her silky black hair behind her ear and folded her arms over the table. Her soft-spoken voice made her sound so condescending even though I knew she wasn’t trying to be.

The way the two of them quietly sat there and watched me was starting to make me feel uneasy. I was never the center of attention. Chloe was always the talkative one. Lane and I were merely her audience.

I felt my hand shaking. I knew if I told one more lie today I was finally going to erupt. “I am telling you the truth! Why are you guys being so annoying?” I barked so loud that the people sitting near by turned to look towards us. I felt my neck receding into my shoulders. Did I really just snap at my friends?

They looked just as embarrassed as me.

“What’s gotten into you?” Chloe hissed. “You’ve totally changed this summer.”

They had no idea.

Read the last installment here.

Read the next installment here.

(Image via iStock.)

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