Home 16-III

A Place Where There Isn’t Any Trouble.

Sabah’s room was at the very top of the house; not quite an attic, more of a loft. On the way up the rickety wooden stairs, I passed Nadia again, sitting on the second floor landing, nose buried in her book. As I gingerly stepped past her, she made another swat at my leg with the heavy hardback, and I yelped and jumped out of the way. “Nadia!” I scolded. “If I'd fallen, you could've really hurt me!”

“Sorry,” she said, not sounding very apologetic as she reopened her book. I glanced down at the open pages, and…

“Are you reading that upside down?” I asked her incredulously.

She groaned, like I'd asked something stupid. “Duhhhhhh.”

“That… just seems like you’re making more work for yourself?”

“If I have to concentrate on reading it,” she said like it was the most obvious thing in the world, “I learn it better.” Remember, this is a six-year-old.

“...okay then. I’ll, uh, leave you to it,” I said awkwardly as I stepped past her onto the landing. She huffed dramatically and turned her attention back to her upside-down calculus book. I dreaded the time when she’d become a teenager; no matter which way she went, she was gonna be a terror.

On the landing were two doors, one open and one closed. The closed one, on the left, had some art on sheets of paper, flowers and statues and other miscellaneous stuff, and the name 'Nabil’ in fancy cursive. The other door sat half-open, revealing an extremely messy bedroom, with a half-open window letting in a chill wind. Sitting on the bed was a girl with the same olive complexion as the other kids, but long, kinky blonde hair the color of straw, doing up the laces on a pair of heavy boots and dressed in a hockey uniform. Hanan looked up at me, gave a quick nod of acknowledgement, which I reciprocated, then returned her attention to the laces. Hanan was cool. We didn't talk much, and I think we were both happy with the situation as it stood.

The ceiling at the top of the stairwell was low enough that I had to duck down to avoid hitting my head. I'd been doing it for a few years, now, though, so I barely noticed. It didn't bother Sabi, that's for sure. Apart from the attic hatch above me, the door to her room was the only thing on the level; the landing was so small it was practically a square. I knocked lightly on the door.

“Sabi?” I called out. “You still being weird, or can I come in?”

After a second, I got a muffled reply. “Yeah, come in.”

The door squeaked as I twisted the handle and pushed it open. Her room wasn't meticulous, but it was tidy, with only a few bits and pieces laying around. A bed sat on the far side, below a super old-style circular window, through which I could see the patchy clouds in the sky. The roof was angled, moving up from left to right, so as long as I stayed on that side, I could actually stand up straight. A desk sat on the left, books and pens scattered across it, and posters of various heroes were pinned to the wall above it. A small pot, with some leafless brown plant in it, held a position of prominence, in the very centre. That was new.  On a shelf, just behind it, sat various pieces of memorabilia. I noticed with some satisfaction that the napkin signed by Awestruck held a prominent position.

Sabah was sitting on the edge of the bed, staring down at her phone as she awkwardly finished pulling a black sweater over her head. She was wearing the gloves again, like she had been yesterday and hadn't been just downstairs. Okay, something was up with her hands. Had they been injured or something? But no, she'd said her absence was a family thing. Maybe it was nothing.

“What was that about?” I asked, cutting straight to the point as I leant against the doorframe, arms folded.

“I wasn't expecting you,” she said, irritated, slipping her other arm through the sleeve. “And I almost blurted out something.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Really?” That didn’t seem like her.

“I'm tired, okay?” And she did have fairly heavy bags under eyes.

“Yeah, your mom said. What happened yesterday, that you're so exhausted?”

“Stuff,” she said, glancing to the side. She was… embarrassed? Sad? Angry? Maybe all of them, maybe none.

I sighed, walking over to the bed and dropping down next to her, slinging an arm over her shoulder. And she flinched. She flinched. “Sabi,” I said hesitantly, “what's going on? Really.”

She tensed, then sighed. “I can't tell you, Hanners. I'm sorry, I… can't.”

“We,” I said, trying very hard to not snap, “have been friends since we were wearing diapers. Why and or how can you not tell me?”

“Because I can't,” she snapped at me. “Hannah, I promise I want to tell you, I really do. But I. Can. Not.” She was staring at me now, and there was fire in her eyes. “Do you think I’m doing this as a goof? You think I’m enjoying it?!”

“N-no,” I stammered, taken aback.

“This is not fun for me, you get that?” she continued, running over me straight for me. “But I have to.”

“Okay, okay,” I said, mollified. “But… you know I’m here for you, right? If you need to talk.”

She sighed again, not looking at me. “That’d be the day.” With no idea what to do, I just squeezed the hug a little tighter, but her posture remained stiff, her arm & shoulder solid. Really solid. I gave it a bit of a squeeze, and found absolutely no give.

“Have you been working out?” I asked incredulously.

She laughed nervously, and pushed my hand off. “Something like that.”

I whistled, surprised. I’d been trying to get her to do something, anything physical, for years now. Gymnastics with me had been out after the first time she broke a set of parallel bars, and from there we’d gone through pretty much every sport there was. I winced as I remembered the Football Debacle. I’d liked that field. “Well, congrats. What finally lit the fire under your butt?”

She shrugged. “Looming specter of reality?"

“You’re 16, not 60,” I chuckled, “I don’t think you get to be that morbid.”

She waved a hand dismissively. “I’ll be as morbid as I like. Enough about me, though; you’re obviously chomping at the bit to tell me something.”

“You bet your butt I am,” I said. “Oh, hold on.” I sprang up, and closed the door, flicking the lock down. “Just to be safe.” I returned to the bed and plopped myself down. “Now,” I began, “you would not believe the day I had yesterday.”

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