One thing about home schooling yourself and trying to baby sit a dozen ankle biters is that there isn't much time for sleep. The only real productive time I have for studying was at night. Sadie thinks I should just quit school and become a full time nanny/runner of Brooklyn house. That won't be happening.
But that's how I end up in the library until the wee hours of the night almost every night. Even Cleo's gone by now. I stifled a yawn and checked the time. Ten to one. Fantastic. Perfect time for a snack. And maybe some coffee.
I tried to move silently from the library to the kitchen. I could get there in the dark no problem at this point. There have been many midnight snack escapades in the last few months.
I got to the kitchen and opened the fridge, blinking from the light.
"Couldn't sleep either?" I jump back and slammed into the open fridge door, making bottles and jars rattle together. "Shh! If one of those toddlers wakes up you're putting them back to sleep."
I looked at Zia who was sitting on the counter next to the fridge, eating what looked like a pudding cup. She looked tired and annoyed.
"Sorry, you just scared me." I told her, flicking on the small light above the counter. I grabbed some pudding and a spoon and hopped up next to her. The dim light made her skin look like bronze. "I was up studying," I told her, answering her original question. "Why? Are you having trouble sleeping?" I asked hastily.
She looked down and laughed a little. Something about it felt forced.
"Don't worry, it's just one of those restless nights, you know?" I could tell by her tone that she was hiding something.
"You're hiding something and I can tell." That came out more good cop/bad cop as opposed to the 'caring boyfriend wants to make sure you're okay' I was aiming for. To compensate, I moved a little closer to her and did that middle school thing where I put my hand in between us, hoping that she would take it. She didn't.
"There really isn't a problem, Carter." That just sounded defensive.
"I just want to make sure you're okay."
"That's sweet and I appreciate it, but trust me I'm fine." Not only was that even more defensive, but she didn't look me in the eye the whole time. She didn't even look up. I could have left it there and gotten up and just gone back to the library, but I couldn't. I felt like this was my first real test as a boyfriend. Zia and I had been dating for almost two month now, but I think was obvious that I still had no idea what I was doing. (I don't think she knew either.)
I grabbed her hand and she looked up at me, looking me in the eye for the first time. "Zia if there is something wrong, I want to know. No matter how stupid you think it is." That might have been the dorkiest thing I've ever said to her. Based on the look she gave me, she thought so, too.
She exhaled and looked back down at the pudding, like a fly had just landed in it. "Have you ever heard of Ondine?" she asked, still seemingly fascinated with her pudding.
That sounded like a name I should have known, but I couldn't place it with any myth or current event, so I shook my head.
"He's a character from Greek mythology," Oh, that's why, "who cheated on a water nymph and she cursed him." She paused.
"Is this your way of telling me that you cheated on a water nymph and are cursed now? Because that's not what I was expecting."
She laughed which made me feel like I was doing something right.
"No there's no curse, no nymphs, and no cheating." She said looking at me and smiling. She was absolutely gorgeous. Then the smile faded and she looked down again.
"No, he was cursed so that every time he fell asleep he would forget how to breath." She said this so quietly that if I wasn't sitting about 4 inches away from her I wouldn't have heard her.
"Wait! Are you forgetting to breath when you fall asleep? Because that's dangerous and you should have told somebody sooner! Zia do you know –"
"Carter! Calm down! I swear you're showing signs of bipolar disorder. I'm not forgetting how to breath. It's just, sometimes I have nightmares…" Her voice was barely a whisper, "I feel like I'm drowning and I stop breathing and I wake up an-n-nd when I do I still can't breath. It only last for a few seconds but it feels like hours. I feel like I'm drowning, I can't get breath, my chest burns, my vision blurs… and it's terrifying." She sounded absolutely terrified, almost helpless. She was shaking and she looked like she was going to cry. I had never seen her like this before.
I closed the space between us and wrapped one arm around her shoulders. She rested her head on my shoulder and we stayed that way until she calmed down and stopped trembling.
She picked her head up off my shoulder, but I kept my arm around her. "Thank you." She murmured.
"You know, if you're still scared, you could sleep in my room." I offered. She raised an eyebrow at me an I realized what I said might have been more suggestive than I though. "No… I mean… I just want to make sure… I don't want you to…. I'll sleep on the floor if you want." I finally finished, out of breath and probably blushing. She smiled.
"I think I will, thanks." She smiled at me.
"Well then," I said jumping from the counter and offering my hand to her, "Miss. Rashid, are you ready for bed?" She took my hand and jumped down, then flicked off the light, so that we were standing in total darkness. She still had my hand. Zia said, quietly and close to my ear, "After you, Mr. Kane." Oh my god, I am officially the luckiest person on the planet. "Oh and Carter? You don't have to sleep on the floor."
We made our way to my room. I quickly realized that my normal sleeping attire of boxer shorts wouldn't do. So I grabbed an old tee shirt and some cotton pant and walked to the bathroom.
When I came back, Zia was standing in my room awkwardly, which I thought was cute. "I wasn't sure which side of the bed you slept on." She said simply.
"It doesn't matter you pick."
By chance she picked the right, I always slept on the left. I email back and forth with this kid Leo. We met on a website for homeschooled kids (yes, they exist. The websites not the homeschooled kids) and we've been talking for a while. He would have said that this was fate or destiny. I thought it was a nice coincidence.
I turned off the light and climbed in next to her. Then I tried my luck a little more. I moved right up against her and put my arm around her. By some miracle she didn't punch me, yell at me, or just flat out get up and leave. She actually moved closer.
There is one thing people never mention about spooning (or maybe I was just doing it wrong) but it's really uncomfortable for the spooner. You're one arm is up at an uncomfortable angle and you have nowhere to put the other one. You're basically left with three places you could put the arm: You could lay on it, rest you head on it, or curl it up in the small space between you and the spoon-e. None of these are comfortable. Not to mention the hair issue. Zia's hair smelled nice, like jasmine, but it was still itchy on my face. All in all, it wasn't what I had been expecting.
Once I was sure Zia was asleep I rolled back over to my side and slept like I was dead.
I woke up and rolled over. Zia must have already been awake because she did the same. "Hi." She said smiling.
"Good morning. No night mares?"
"Nope." She said biting her lip.
Then there was a knock at my door. "Come in!" I yelled.
Zia's smile was gone instantly. "Carter you idiot…!" She didn't get to finish her thought before Sadie walked in, noticing Zia instantly. I sat up.
"Um… I was going to ask if you had seen my copy of A Midsummer's Nights Dream, but now I want to know why there is a pretty Egyptian girl in your bed." She asked accusingly.
"Oh… um…" great I hesitated, now she'll think I'm lying, "Zia was having nightmares, so I told her she could spend the night in my room."
"Yeah and I have a pen that turns into a sword." That actually seemed like a pretty practical weapon. Well, until you lost the pen. Sadie left, slamming the door behind her.
I turned to Zia, who looked like she wanted to kill me. "Great. Fantastic. Now she's going to go downstairs and tell everybody at breakfast that I, oh what would she say, that I 'shagged her brother'." She put on a fake british accent for the last part and I suddenly understood why everyone in America was obsessed with them.
She flopped back down on the bed, strategically missing the stone pillow. "I think it's really going to happen this time. I'm actually going to kill you." Then she sat up again and left. And I may or may not have stared as she walked away.
It was around noon and I hadn't seen Zia all day. I had just finished putting all the little ones down for a nap. On a good day that's like World War II Germany vs World War II England. On a bad bay it's World War II Germany vs. World War II France. Today was a good day.
I was back in the library, looking over where I left off last night. I grabbed my Ancient World History textbook and flopped down on the couch as the door opened.
Zia walked in wearing an oversized brown sweatshirt and short cotton shorts, which were almost covered by the sweatshirt.
"Hi." She said, sitting down next to me. She didn't sound mad anymore. Which was good. I could stop fearing for my life.
"Where have you been all day?" I asked.
"Teaching some of the older ones basic addition, although I still don't think Kelly understands why two plus two doesn't equal twenty-two." I laughed. "I never thanked you for letting me stay with you last night. It was really sweet." She said, moving closer to me and pulling her legs up under her. I recognized the sweatshirt as mine; I had lent it to her a few weeks ago. She could keep it. She could definitely keep it.
"Hey, ya know it was… nothin'… you know? Any time." Oh damnit I wanted to be cool. Why could I be cool?
"Are all of them asleep?" She asked.
She answered my question by pressing her lips to mine, tangling one hand in my hair. I kissed back and heard my textbook drop to the floor. I couldn't help but wonder why little kids always resented naptime.