The Sheikh's Accidental Bride, Page 10Holly Rayner
They met in front of the elevator, at 7:30 on the dot. Dressing for Rudy’s had been much easier for Nadya, as she already knew what she was getting herself into. For Salman, it hadn’t been so easy. She opened her mouth to speak, but he put his finger to his lips to quiet her, and jerked his head toward the elevator doors.
When they were safely inside, headed down to the lobby, he spoke. “So what is it?”
She reached over and held his tie up in front of his eyes. “It’s this.”
He held the tie as well, and his fingertips grazed hers. Even though they’d touched casually many times today, the accidental touch still made her blush.
“It’s Armani. What’s wrong with it? It’s a good tie!”
“It’s a tie,” she said, reaching over and beginning to loosen it for him. “There are no ties at Rudy’s. Unless, weirdly, you’re a girl. Or you’re not wearing a shirt.”
He let her take his tie off. “Well, I’ll keep my shirt on. And I’m not a woman.”
“Thank you for clarifying,” Nadya said with over exaggerated relief, drawing a chuckle from him. “Better take your jacket off, too. Where we’re going, we don’t need jackets.”
He obliged, as the elevator reached the ground floor, and they made their way through the bustling lobby. The clientele of the hotel was a spectacle in and of itself. Nadya felt out of place in the clothes she’d chosen. It was a Friday night, and the rich and famous were out in force, heading for the great stage for debauchery and performed indulgence that was New York City on a weekend.
She felt Salman give her hand a squeeze, as if to reassure her. She tried to seem as though she was more at ease. The other Nadya – his Nadya, she must remind herself – wouldn’t be so overwhelmed by it all. They left the jacket and tie with a very confused receptionist, along with very clear instructions not to send it back up to their room.
As they left the lobby, the smell of New York in the summer hit Nadya like a racing train. She’d been so sheltered from it the last couple days, and she’d forgotten what a misery it could be.
“So, where to now, captain?” Salman asked her.
She liked the joy in his face. He had such an openness – so different than she’d ever imagined a man in his position. It was like he was a boy, heading out on an adventure with an imaginary friend and a toothbrush, never intending to return.
“Can we walk to where you have in mind?”
Nadya chuckled. “Not if we want to get there anytime soon.”
“So, a taxi?”
“No,” Nadya said, feeling bold and ready for the entertainment. “We’re going to take the subway.”
They walked a block and a half to the station, and the way he slowed as they descended the stairs confirmed Nadya’s suspicion: he’d never ridden the subway before.
“Don’t worry,” she reassured him, “It’ll be cooler on the train.”
He still held her hand, she noticed. She was amazed at how normal and how strange it felt, all at the same time. Only a day together, and they’d settled in. She felt closer to him now than she ever had her last boyfriend, though there had been a time she’d really thought that he might be her future.
They didn’t have to wait long before Nadya could feel the breeze from the train they’d be taking. At the first stirring of the air and vibration beneath her feet, Nadya snuck a sly look at Salman. She wished she could feel it again for the first time, the way he was now; the surprise at the strength of the rush of the air, and the relief that the train had come and the cool that it would bring them.
The train was crowded, and there was only room for one of them to sit. Salman gave it to Nadya, and leaned against the post next to her. She should tell him it was bad etiquette, she knew, but she was too enjoying the feeling of having him near her, leaning just close enough that she could feel the heat coming off of him in the cool, dry air of the car.
They didn’t speak. Instead, Nadya looked around at their fellow passengers. She barely looked at other passengers in the subway anymore. She hadn’t for years, not since she’d gotten to the point where she felt like she’d seen them all, or versions of them all before. Looking at them now, she saw them through his eyes.
It embarrassed her. The crowd in the lobby of the hotel had been his people and, though he didn’t know it, this crowd was hers. They were tired, or guilelessly excited. They were buzzed, disheartened, euphoric. She looked at him, expecting to see disgust. But she shouldn’t have – she realized it immediately, when she saw the wonder on his face. She followed his gaze, and saw who he was watching.
It was a middle-aged Hispanic woman, wearing a plain dress and flip flops. She was studying a book that Nadya recognized to be a study guide for the citizenship test. She was with a little girl who couldn’t have been more than five or six, and who looked to be her granddaughter from the similarity in their faces. She was leaning on her grandmother, mouth gaping open, staring at the study guide. Her lips moved just a tiny bit, now and then, as she must have been seeing words she recognized.
When they got off at Jay Street to transfer, they found the platforms packed as much with partygoers headed into the city as with working people leaving it. He kept close to her, his arm around her back as though to shield her from the ceaseless movement around them.
The evening felt bright but a little bit cooler when they were finally above ground again.
“So, this is Brooklyn,” he said, to Nadya’s surprise.
“You’ve never been to Brooklyn?”
He shrugged off her shock. “Not exactly my side of town.”
She guided them towards the club, avoiding rushed pedestrians and broken pavement.
“So, oh great date-planning one, what are your dinner plans for us?”
Nadya cursed under her breath, forgetting the squeaky clean image she’d been maintaining for him. She’d forgotten food. But before she could answer him, she smelled the scent of the kabab cart nearby that must have prompted the question. He raised his eyebrows, as if reading her mind, and they wordlessly drifted towards it.
After they paid, they wandered towards Prospect Park, kebabs and water bottles in hand. Nadya didn’t have a hand free to hold Salman’s anymore, and she missed it.
They sat on the library steps, watching the people go by. It reminded Nadya a little of the entrance to his house. She’d chosen it just for that reason. But here there were throngs of people, all milling about. The steps weren’t nearly as beautiful, and they could feel the grandness of the gold-decorated columns and bombastic engravings at their backs. They were mostly quiet, enjoying their food. But when they had finished, Salman turned to her.
“Right. We’re out on a date. We’ve broken the rules together. We’ve explored together. When do we have the awkward conversation about our future?” he asked.
He had a grin on. But it was a grin of his that she’d seen before – it looked like it had something beneath it. Nadya wanted to dig under it, but she was too afraid.
“We only have two days left. Let’s not waste it on the bad bits.”
“Agreed,” he said, reaching out his hand for a handshake.
The handshake lingered. Neither wanting to let go. They played with their fingers, like high schoolers nearing the end of summer vacation before heading away to college, both wanting to hold on, but fearing the future wouldn’t let them.
Here, in the waning sunshine, Nadya felt butterflies rising up. Her own fears and anxieties about the situation began to rise up to meet them, but she fought them down. She’d tell him later. Until then…
It was too early, still, to go to Rudy’s, so they headed into the park. Nadya hadn’t been there since she was a child, and she didn’t remember it all too well. They got lost, wandering down paths. They went further than intended, and ended up at the lake.
“It reminds me of our lake,” Nadya said, leaning on his shoulder as they looked out across the surface.
It didn’t, really. The lake by Salman’s house was
private, and still felt a little bit wild. This one felt like it was owned by everyone, like every square foot of it had been planned by a little army of park planners. But she wanted to say the words “our lake”. She wanted to live in it.
Their stomachs full, Salman and Nadya finally headed to Rudy’s.
“I’m not much for punk,” he had to shout, at they showed the bouncer their IDs, Nadya hoping to hell that Salman didn’t catch a glimpse of hers.
“Don’t worry,” she shouted back. “This place isn’t much, either.”
It had changed some since she’d been a regular, as the checking of IDs attested. It had made her sad that a piece of her past was gone. At the same time, though, she was relieved, since it meant that no one still hanging out here would recognize her.
The place had been overrun with hipsters. Just like the rest of Brooklyn, Nadya remarked drily to Salman. Were he the man Nadya first imagined, when she saw him standing by the impeccably set table, he might have asked what she meant. But instead he nodded, and looked around, and subtly raised an eyebrow at a man with the most absurdly pronounced handlebar mustache Nadya had ever seen.
She laughed a little too loudly, the sound spilling into the sudden silence as the song ended. It drew stares from the people around them, all of them dressed in flannel and fluorescents. Nadya looked to Salman in her embarrassment, and he playfully pretended to slyly distance himself from her, only the grin on his face giving him away.
Nadya laughed again, louder this time, as the music began again. It was a remix of a remix of a mashup, with a throbbing beat that seemed to be carried in every molecule of the club, and as Nadya reached out to hit him with her small, ineffective fists, they found themselves dancing instead.
He was a good dancer, but Nadya hardly noticed the skill. She was more focused on the feeling. She noticed the joy. She noticed the freedom. The beat went on and on, and so did they.
They paused only to sit on the sidelines and catch their breath, drinking some needlessly fruity concoction that she’d dared Salman to try with her. They didn’t speak much; they wouldn’t have been able to hear each other, anyway. It was a relief for Nadya. She didn’t have to censor her words, or check them against how she thought Other Nadya was supposed to act, or think.
Instead, she could just be with him. They pointed out people who were dancing wildly, or joyfully; who looked absurd or beautiful. And the shared observation was enough – when he drew her attention to someone, she knew just what he meant by it.
As the night wore on, the place refused to empty. If anything, it grew more crowded, and eventually, both felt they needed some fresh air. Nadya pulled him out roughly by the arm, buzzing from the adrenaline and the alcohol. The air wasn’t really cleaner out here, as it was smoky from the cigarette breaks being taken by people laughing and talking too loudly for the quiet night. But it was cooler, and to Nadya it would always feel magic.
There were three smokers out here, now, and Nadya and Salman didn’t speak so long as they were there. They just leaned against the dirty old brick wall, not caring about their clothes. Salman got her attention, and wordlessly motioned to the moon, to direct her attention to it as though they were still inside and couldn’t speak. Nadya smiled. The moon was full and bright, with just a tinge of orange and no clouds wandering across it. It was a storybook moon – the kind you see in children’s illustrations.
When the smokers went back inside, Nadya had an idea. “Here,” she said, taking his arm, and guiding him across the alley. It had been a long time, but she still remembered.
“What are you doing?” he asked, but she ignored him.
“Just to your left, just one step.” He did so. “Perfect,” she said, smiling and looking up at him.
“Right here, right exactly where we’re standing, is where I had my first kiss.”
It was a foolish thing to say. She didn’t imagine that Other Nadya had been here. She didn’t know how traditional her family was, and if she was supposed to have kissed boys in alleys behind now-gentrified punk venues. But right now, in this moment, she didn’t care.
He looked at her as though he had something to say, right on the tip of his tongue, but didn’t know how to say it.
She should tell him now, Nadya thought. She had to. This had gone on far too long already, and if there was the slightest chance that he might ever forgive her, even enough to think of her kindly one day, after he’d gone on and married other Nadya, it was now, here, beneath this moon, with lingering smoke still hanging in the air like there’d been gunfire.
She opened her mouth to speak. “I…” But she couldn’t continue.
Salman didn’t speak. Instead, he leaned in towards her, his hands touching her arms on either side gently. He tilted his head, moving his lips forward and down so that they could reach hers.
Tell him or kiss him. She couldn’t do both.
“Let’s go back inside!”
She pulled back before he could reach her, and then turned, grabbing his hand and pulling him behind her. She didn’t want to see the look on his face. She only wanted to dance.