We were sitting next to each other at Starbucks, Al-Corniche branch, a couple of months ago. At that time, we were only a week short of completing five months together. Her coffee was getting cold as she barely recognized it was even there on the table. She pretended to listen to me but I could tell her mind was somewhere else. She was visibly nervous. It showed in how she kept playing with my fingers in an agitated way rather than the comfortable way I have grown accustomed to and loved.
She had called me the night before asking me to pick her up from her house the next day around 8:30. “There’s something I need to talk to you about,” she had said. I could not sleep well that night wondering what is so important that she felt she should tell it to me in person rather on the phone. Exactly 8 o’clock, I got up from bed, took a long shower and got dressed. I arrived at her house ten minutes early but she was ready and waiting for me. “Good morning,” she said as she got into the car. She did not say anything else for the rest of the ride to Starbucks except for a mumbled “Nothing” when I asked her, “What’s wrong, dear?” I kept glancing sideways to her while trying to keep my eyes on the road. It was clear she was lost in her own thoughts.
When we got there, I ordered a Caramel Macchiato for her and a bottle of water for myself. The place was empty to our relief, which meant we could sit without anyone disturbing us. We sat next to each other in one of the stalls. I decided that I would not ask her about what is occupying her mind. I thought it was better if I just kept on talking normally and she would bring it up when she feels comfortable enough.
I was taking a sip of water when she untangled her fingers from mine. I put the bottle down. She looked up into my eyes and said, “I have a confession to make. You probably wouldn’t like what I’m going to tell you but please don’t get upset over it. It’s something from the past but I feel like you should know it. It’s not going to affect us in anyway. Just please listen to me till the end, ok?” I nodded my head and then she said, “I’ve been in love once before.” For the course of the following three hours, she told me the story of Rami.
“His name was Rami. We had met in the summer that followed our graduation from high school. Back then, my friends and I were young and wild. We went to many parties to celebrate and have fun. We went out for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We were just very happy that we were done with school and finally going to college. Well, in some of these outings… and in some of those parties… I regret to tell you that there were guys present. Not most of the times, but on occasions, there will be a couple or more if we’re simply going out to some restaurant or nearly a dozen if it was a party at someone’s place. I met him at a surprise birthday party we had arranged for our friend Dania at her house.” I interrupted her asking, “You mean Dania as in the one that came along with us to Friday’s last week?”
“Yes, that’s her. I’ve never been to a mixed party before because I thought the idea of going to some stranger’s house or even to a friend’s house while guys were present was too much for me. I didn’t mind if guys came along in public places. It was fine by me. The other girls went to these parties. I usually refused to go, well, at least until this one. Dania had met this group of guys that she had become good friends with during the last year of school. She even had a crush on one of them called Ahmad. We had gone out with them before so we knew each other. So when it was time to plan Dania’s birthday party, they had to be included. When the night had come, one of us took Dania out to Jamaloky beauty saloon. We had told her it was an early birthday present.
They were due to come back at 10 so we had almost three hours to get the place ready. A few minutes after they had left, we were in front of her house ringing the doorbell. Fifteen minutes later, we were saying goodbye to her parents whom we managed to convince to leave the house empty for us. They were going to Makkah and weren’t coming back until the day after. Around 8, the doorbell rang. I pressed the intercom button and asked, “Who is it?” “It’s us! We have brought all the good stuff” Ahmad replied. We were nine girls inside the house then, adding Dania and Rana, who took Dania out, would bring us to a total of eleven girls that will be present at the party. We didn’t know how many guys were coming though. Ahmad and three of his friends were coming for sure. We had asked them to bring along a couple of more friends, too. When I got down and opened the door, I counted six.
I recognized five of them including Ahmad but the sixth one wasn’t familiar. I welcomed them in and they started loading stuff off the GMC they came in. A large stereo with two big speakers, a bag filled with CDs, some festive decorations we requested, drinks, chips and many other additional things. We had asked them to come in one car because more than one parked in front of the house would look suspicious. We had started decorating the house by then. They came in and started hooking the stereo and helping around with the decorations. We mostly just sat around and gave orders while they did the rest of the work! While they were putting up this big banner with Happy Birthday Dania written on it, I took Ahmad aside and asked him, “Who’s the new guy?” “Who are you talking about?” he looked puzzled. “The one with the long hair! The one wearing a red t-shirt.” “Ah, you mean Rami?” he said.
He continued, “I forgot you’ve never met him before. We’ve been friends for a long time. He just had to leave last year to study in Madinah after his parents got divorced and he went to live with his dad there. He’s back in Jeddah now. He’ll be studying at Azzoz like the rest of us. Don’t worry. He’s a good guy.” I left and went to check on the birthday cake in the fridge. Rana had sent us an SMS by then telling us to be prepared because they would get back home in five minutes. We turned off the lights of the main saloon where the party was going to happen and took our positions. We heard the keys getting into the lock of the door and turning it. Dania stepped in with Rana behind her, closed the door and the moment she turned on the lights, we all screamed “Surprise!”
What a poor girl! She almost fainted! She came and hugged every one of us all teary eyed. We put on the music and the fun begun. We were having a good time and when it was finally midnight, everyone screamed “Cake!” We turned off the lights again and brought out the cake, which had a picture of Dania when she was five years old drawn on the top. It had eighteen lit candles. We demanded, “Wish! Wish! Wish!” She wished something then blew out the candles while we sang Happy Birthday. We turned on the lights and after we were done with the cake, Ahmad said, “Now it’s time for the presents!” We spent an hour as Dania unwrapped her presents taking pictures with each one and the person who had brought it. I had gotten her the red Gucci sunglasses you saw in the pictures of that birthday, if you remember.” I interrupted her again saying, “Oh yeah right! But there weren’t any guys present in the pictures.” I was confused. “Well, we showed you the parents’ version; the one that didn’t include any of the guys. We had to take pictures to show Dania’s parents and ours that we indeed had a birthday party, so we figured we’d take two sets pf pictures; a private one and a parents’ version.” “Ok, continue please,” I said.
“We decided we’d finish the night with a movie. The guys had brought a big collection of DVDs with them and we settled on Road Trip even though some of us had watched it. Everyone went up to the second floor because the big screen TV and DVD player were upstairs in the living room. I hated to leave the saloon in such a chaos and I knew very well that we’d be too tired at the end of the night to do anything so I stayed behind to clean up a little bit. As Rami was climbing up the stairs, he turned around and asked, “Aren’t you coming?” “I’ll just tidy here a little bit and I’ll be up in a minute,” I replied. To my surprise, he came down and offered his help. The saloon was still a mess when we left it but not as bad as it was a couple of minutes earlier. Upstairs, everyone had taken their place in front of the screen that there wasn’t any space vacant on the sofas or chairs. We ended up sitting on the floor not too far from each other. After the movie ended, we all cleaned up the place then it was time for the guys to leave since us girls we’re going to sleep over. Dania hugged each one of them and thanked them for what they’ve done today and for the presents. We all jammed ourselves in Dania’s room. We kissed her, hugged her, said Happy Birthday, said Goodnight and went to sleep.
A couple of days later, Dania called all giggly and excited saying, “I was just on the phone with Ahmad and guess what? Somebody likes you.” “Ahmad? He’s obviously interested in you, not me,” I said. “No, you silly! Rami likes you. You know, the one with the red shirt,” she informed me. “I remember him but are you sure? Because I wouldn’t be able to tell” “He just asked Ahmad for your phone number but Ahmad said he’ll have to ask you first. What do you think?” “Why not? Let him have my number,” I said. A week later, he called to say Hi.
It became customary for us to go out with Ahmad and Rami. Sometimes the other guys came along too. Rami and I got used to talking to each other. Slowly, the ten minutes calls increased until they became hours. He was very nice to me. It didn’t take me long to like him more. I wanted to talk to him and be around him all the time. One night, he told me he loved me and I told him I loved him, too. We started going out alone. Sometimes we went out with the others but we preferred to go out just the two of us.
We’ve been together for almost a year when I started hearing rumors he was going out with someone else. Of course, I refused to believe anything I heard. He denied it with fierce conviction when I questioned him about it and I believed him. A month after the rumors started, Rana called me and said, “I’m so sorry to tell you this but Rami just parked his car next to mine and went into Java with some girl. He was holding her hand.” “Are you sure it’s him?” I asked, my voice trembling. “Yes I am,” she said. I was on my way home from college when she called so I asked her to stay there and told the driver to go to Java. My eyes were starting to tear up as I stood in front of Java’s entrance but I still refused to believe until I saw him with my own eyes.
I went in with Rana and found them snuggled in a corner in the second floor. I screamed at him. I cursed him. I tore the necklace I was wearing which he had gotten me as a gift on our three months anniversary and threw it at him. I blew up in tears sobbing and shaking as Rana was taking me outside. He tried to come speak to me and I heard him call my name but Rana slapped him when he came close and ordered him to leave us alone. We got into her car. She told my driver to go home and took me to her house.
I loved Rami. I really did. I honestly thought he was the one. He broke my heart into pieces. I was a complete mess for the rest of the year. I’m going to spare you the details. I was so hurt and so confused. I avoided him for a week and called him the next. I told him I loved him in one call and told him I hated him in the next. I knew he was still going out with that girl but I couldn’t keep myself away from him. If not for my friends, I’d have done more dramatic things. I cried and cried and cried. I begged him way too many times to come back to me but he didn’t want to. He didn’t care. He kept telling me he loved me but that the love we shared had faded away. Have you ever heard something as lame as that? What kind of an excuse is that? Faded away? It was never there in his heart in the first place for it to fade away. I almost failed 2nd year because of that bastard.
Anyhow, one day I woke up and just decided that I won’t call him anymore. I’ve had enough. He kept torturing me, I kept torturing myself and it was all for nothing. In the summer, I went with my family to Spain and then to Egypt which helped me wash away some of the memories and pain. I came back refreshed and a lot stronger. I didn’t hear from him ever since, other than that he’s actually still going out with the same girl until now.
I’m sorry I didn’t tell you any of this sooner but I didn’t want you to get the wrong idea, or think that I’m not a good person. I was stupid and I didn’t know any better. I meant to tell you before but I thought I’d wait for the right moment to come. Yesterday I was cleaning my wardrobe and found a blouse he had given me once, which I must’ve forgotten to throw because I got rid of everything he’d ever gotten me a long time ago. That’s why I called you. I needed to get this part of my past over with. I know I told you I hadn’t fallen in love before. I’m sorry for that. I never meant to lie to you. We had just started going out together and I preferred to void this subject. Therefore, by saying I hadn’t, I prevented any further questions about it. I didn’t want you to know I came with such history and baggage. I didn’t want you to feel like I’m still hung up on him or anything. I also wanted to make sure that I have moved on myself. I swear to you, you’re nothing like him. You’re so much better. You don’t have to believe me now. I’ll prove it to you day by day. I love you”
I remained silent for a couple of minutes because I did not know what to say. She reached for my hand and held it in between hers. She tried to look into my eyes but I kept looking away. I was trying to comprehend everything that I have heard. I had so many questions to ask. I felt like I needed to ask for more details about him and their relationship. I was confused. Then I thought; I know I love her. She knows I love her. I know she loves me. Why should anything else matter? When that realization came, I took a quick look around the place and saw that it was empty except for us. I gazed into her deep hazel eyes. I rested both of my palms on her soft cheeks holding her beautiful face in my hands. “It doesn’t matter. It’s all in the past now. I love you, Layla,” I said. Then I kissed her lips for the very first time.
I snapped back to reality by the ringing of my own mobile. I was still sitting on the edge of the bed in my underwear clutching her mobile hard in my hand. Its screen was still showing the dreadful message. I took my mobile from the nightstand and saw it was a friend of mine calling, probably wondering why I did not come to college yet. I silenced it and did not bother to answer. I sat frozen looking at the purple-painted wall facing me. I did not know what to think. A million thoughts were running wild inside of my head and were colliding with each other. I felt like I wanted to scream. I bit my lower lip so hard I cut it and tasted blood.
I got up, went to the bathroom, and washed my face. I stared at my reflection in the mirror. I could not tell how I felt. I went back to her room and looked at her peacefully sleeping so unaware of the storm inside of me. “God, she is beautiful,” I could not help thinking. I was surprised by the outward calmness I was portraying. I felt like I was watching myself move around the room but it was not me.
Should I wake her up and ask her about their talk last night? Should I call him and ask him about their talk? Should I just ignore the whole thing and pretend it never happened? Should I scream and shout at her? I needed an explanation I thought. I need to understand before I can judge. But what explanation is there? What reason would there be for them to talk? How long did they talk? Was it ten minutes? Or was it an hour or two? Was it more? What did they talk about? Why did she answer him in the first place? Why was he calling to begin with? Was this the first time they talked? Or wasn’t? What if they were talking on regular basis? What would that mean? Are they getting back together? Where do I fit in the picture? Did she tell him about me? Or did she fail to mention me? Too many questions were on my mind. I did not know where to begin or where to end.
I decided I could not deal with any of this now. I needed to clear my mind first. It was such a task getting dressed. I collected her clothes from the floor, folded them, and put them on the desk. I put the alarm in her mobile on 2 o’clock so she has some time to get dressed before her sister comes home. I also left the message showing on the mobile’s screen and I placed it on the side of the bed that I slept on so when she wakes up, she can know that I had read the message. I inspected the room one last time to make sure I did not leave anything behind. I took one last look at her and fought the urge to kiss her before I leave. It was 1:14 when I was driving away from her house. I could not go to college or home. I did not want to, to be more accurate. I kept driving around Jeddah. The weather was hot but I felt cold inside of my own skin. Just after 2 o’clock, I heard the intro to Lifehouse’s song [Hanging by a Moment] coming from my mobile phone. It was the ring tone I had assigned to her number. I looked at the mobile’s screen. [Layla is calling you] it informed me.