It was Monday and Layla was supposed to return from Egypt after two days. I kept trying to call her that day and the night before but her mobile was turned off for some reason. I was watching TV in my room in the afternoon when my sister, Noor, came in and asked me if I wanted to go to Starbucks. I had nothing else to do so I said, “Sure.” I changed my clothes and we headed to Starbucks Ice Land.
When our orders were ready, we went upstairs. I almost dropped the Caramel Macchiato I was carrying when I saw Layla sitting there on the big black sofa at the far end. I could not believe my eyes. “Layla! You little devil! Why didn’t you tell me you were back?” I nearly shouted. I put the beverage on the counter and headed towards her and she jumped on me. We hugged and we turned around a couple of times then we just stood there staring into each other’s eyes. A few seconds later, my sister cleared her throat in attempt to draw our attention that she was still there but we were well aware of her presence otherwise we would have kissed since the place was empty at that time.
“When did you get back?” I asked. “Last night. I didn’t know if I should tell you beforehand or not. I had found out only a week ago that I’d be coming back three days earlier than I told you but after some thinking, I decided I’d surprise you and here I am.” “It’s probably the most wonderful surprise I ever got my whole life,” I said then I turned to Noor and asked her, “And you were a part of her scheme! Since when did you know about this?” I then mimicked her voice, “I’m bored. How about we go to Starbucks and have coffee!” Then I continued, “I had no idea! You both had me fooled! Good job I must say. I was wondering why your mobile was turned off since last night,” I said. “Well, now you know,” Layla said.
We stayed there for two hours talking and exchanging stories that happened in each other’s absence, not that there was much to share since we chatted online almost every day and called each other every couple of days. Layla had to leave since she had a family gathering to attend. Saying goodbye was very hard though. I had missed her so much I was not even close to being satisfied with these short two hours we just spent together. I craved more time with her but she was leaving to Makkah the next day and staying there until Friday night. We were holding hands the entire time we were there and letting go of her warm small delicate hand that day was the hardest thing I had to do in a while.
Sunday of the following week we met at Stake & Bake early in the morning and spent a wonderful five hours together of which we were alone for two before some of our friends joined us. That was enough to keep me going until Wednesday. The new school year was going to start on Saturday. We were going to spend the weekend before that at Al-Durra, her and me. Friday was going to be September 7, the anniversary of the first time we met.
[Rima is calling you] I looked at my mobile phone’s screen while it played “All the Small Things.” It was Wednesday last summer and I was on my way back home form Jarir after purchasing some books. Rima is my favorite cousin. She is four years younger than I am but we always got along really well. “Helloooo,” I replied cheerfully. “Where are you, Dr. Dangerous?” she asked. She keeps coming up with similar names to call me all the time. “I’m on my way home. Why are you asking?” “Because I see you! I mean I see your car. We’re two cars behind you.” “Where are you going?” “I’m going to Second Cup with Lama and her sister. Want to come along? I’m sure they won’t mind.” I thought about it a little. I had met Lama many times before since she was one of my cousins’ best friends but I had never met her older sister, Layla.
I had nothing better to do so I agreed and we met there. They had already gotten in while I took some time as I parked my car and headed upstairs. I cannot deny that I was speechless when I saw Layla for the first time. She was very beautiful. Her dark long hair scattered around her face in endless waves. She had the largest hazel eyes I have ever had the pleasure of looking into. She had small lips that astounded me. She also had the small figure I always preferred in a girl. The girls you could fit in your pocket as my sister liked to call them. I had the strange sensation that I had seen her somewhere before but I could not pin where and when exactly so I put that thought aside for the time being.
“You must be Khalid. I’ve heard so much about you. It’s nice to finally meet you,” she said and extended her hand towards me. I stood there trying to figure out what to do. Even the simple act of extending my hand and shaking hers was hard to make. After a couple of seconds, I said, “Sorry,” and shook her hand. “Yeah, you too,” was all I managed to add.
After we ordered and sat down, I relaxed and used my strongest weapon and defense mechanism; humor. I was nervous and in order not to show that I made many jokes not to mention my sudden desperate need to impress this beautiful stranger. Every time I made her laugh, I relaxed more and tried to steal more glances her way. I was still a shy guy and I could not make direct eye contact so I directed my gaze toward Rima or Lama every time I noticed Layla looking at me. After a couple of hours when we were standing up to leave, I told Layla it was a pleasure to meet her. She said she felt the same and that we all should go out together again. I said sure and left with a big smile on my face
The Wednesday of the first week of school, I took my cousin and her friend from school and Layla met us later at Apple Bee’s where we had lunch. I could not stop thinking about her the entire week before that. She took over my mind by a storm. Her laugh and sweet voice was all I kept hearing in my head. I had resisted the urge to ask Rima for Layla’s number because I thought that would be inappropriate. However, I called Rima during that week once just to ask some random questions about Layla. “You like her!” she yelled. “No, I was just wondering about some things that’s all.” “Then why did you ask me if she was single or not?” “Because most girls these days have boyfriends, not that it matters if she has one or not.” “You know you can’t fool anyone! You obviously like her. Anyhow, she had mentioned you were good looking and very funny.” “Really?” I almost jumped in my place. “Yup. That’s why I don’t think she would mind if I suggested we go have lunch this Wednesday. What do you say?” “I love you, have I ever told you that? And I’m paying!” “Since you offered! I’ll call you later and tell you what we decide.” I thanked her and hung up.
“You used to walk in Al-Mamsha behind the Hilton! You dyed your hair blonde for a month or so too!” I was telling a story when Layla interrupted me with her revelation of where we had seen each other before. “Ever since I saw you that day I’ve been wondering where I have seen you before and now I just remembered! My friend and I used to think you were cute! After you dyed your hair black again that is.” I looked at her and then I remembered too. “Yeah! I remember you now too. I’ve been wondering myself where have I seen you before but I didn’t recognize you without the sunglasses and Tarha,” I said. “I had to cover my hair. You know how some guys there act and I didn’t want to get harassed more than I had to.” “You know there were a couple of times when I walked behind you and your friend staring in the eyes of anyone giving you a dirty look or throwing a stupid remark.” “That’s sweet of you. Too bad we didn’t’ notice.” “What happened then? You suddenly stopped coming to Al-Mamsha.” “”Well I first started going there to accompany my friend who wanted to lose some weight and after she did, we didn’t feel the need to go there anymore. What about you? Do you still go?” “Yeah sometimes, not as often though. It hasn’t been the same ever since you stopped coming.” Just then, somebody kicked my leg underneath the table and I figured it was probably Rima since she had a funny grin on her face when I looked at her.
When the bill came, I volunteered to pay it like I promised and after reluctance, they agreed to let me pay this time on the condition that the next time they would pay. I do not think I could have hoped for a better result or a better time that day.
A month passed before I saw Layla for the third time. My sister came along too and we went to Benihana and had a great time. Just as we were leaving, I managed to muster enough courage to ask Layla for her number. I did not know what to expect but I prepared myself for rejection anyhow. I was very pleased though when she looked at me and said sure with a smile. I called her a couple of days later and we talked for an hour before we went to sleep. We started talking almost daily since then.
Five weeks later, I asked her out on our first official date where it would be just the two of us. I had seen her once during these weeks with my cousin and Lama but now we wanted to be alone. On a Saturday, I picked her up from college and we headed for Black & White. We were both somewhat nervous at the beginning as she got into my car for the first time but the presence of Winnie the Pooh hanging form the rearview mirror alongside The Incredibles figures I had scattered around the car gave us a good topic to waste time on until we reached the restaurant. After a perfect meal and perfect three hours together, it was time for me to take her back home.
On our way back when we were ten minutes away from her house, I turned down the radio and said, “Layla, I just want to say that I had an amazing time today. Probably one of the best days of my life and if you don’t mind, I want to make it even more perfect than it already is.” She looked at me with a questioning look in her eyes. “By doing this,” I said as I extended my right hand, took hers, and held it in mine. She did not resist. After a couple of minutes when I tried to withdraw my hand, she put her second hand on it too and said, “No, please don’t. Keep it here.” Then she paused before saying, “I don’t have to go home right now. We could be late maybe half an hour more. Drive around please.”
For this half hour, we did not speak much. We just drove around aimlessly with the stereo playing music faintly. However, our racing heartbeats were more beautiful than any song could ever be. Sweet silence prevailed. Whatever words or thoughts we needed to share with one another then were being transmitted through our palms and intertwining fingers. Her hand fit perfectly in mine like God has created it for this purpose. I did not want to claim my hand back for now it belonged to hers but I had to when we approached her house finally. “Thank you for an absolutely wonderful day,” I said. We said goodbye and she got out of the car and into her house. A couple of minutes later, we were talking on the phone. “You know, I still feel your hand in mine,” I told her.