I swallow, staring at the tiny bottle of silver glitter and the pink sheet of paper. I wish I was six years old again and it was perfectly fine to write out Valentines for all my classmates. The princess ones for the girls and the superhero ones for the boys.
"Oh, just do it already," Anum says in a bored way. She taps her foot impatiently while I swirl a marker in my hand.
"Don't," Farah disagrees. "He'll find out."
My eyes widen in worry. There is no way I want him to find out. It would be so embarrassing!
"Silly, he's not going to find out," Laila chimes in. It was her idea in the first place, so of course she would say that.
"You can just write a friendly message instead of a romantic one," the girl sitting at the table encourages me. The sale is a fundraiser for some cancer group. It seems like a good cause and I finally make my decision. I write with my left hand to disguise my writing, but it appears to be so illegible that I switch back to my right hand.
I won't start by saying that roses are red, or that violets are blue, because you already know that (besides, I think violets are actually violet, not blue). What you don't know is that I really care a lot about you. I like the way you smile and your ever so sweet personality. I'm not sure when this started happening, but I secretly like you, and hope that one day you'll notice me too.
Your Secret Admirer
After about five minutes of having the correct wording, I decorate the card, jot down Tariq's full name and hand it to the girl. I slip in a five dollar bill along with it and hope that someone recovers from cancer.
My body feels all tingly and warm and I'm dying to see the expression on his face when he opens it. But I will not be able to because he's not in my homeroom.
"Here's what we'll do. Text me and we can ask both our homeroom teachers for a bathroom break. I think Tariq's in Room 306 and we can sneak up there to see what he thinks.
"No way," I refuse immediately. "Could we make it any more obvious?"
"Hey, you're the one who wants to see his reaction."
"Yeah, but I'm not gonna risk have him see me peeking at him like an idiot. No way."
I tune out Laila and reminisce the time last week when I had realized that Tariq was on the footsteps of my home, standing adjacent to my father.
"Let's go inside," Abu had said when Tariq and I were staring at each other in surprise. His skin appeared to be all red from the cold. I had quickly looked away out of embarrassment; I didn't want Abu to think I had no manners.
I walked into the house first, unsure of what else to do or say in front of Tariq and my father. I went straight into the kitchen, just in time to catch Humza red-handed.
"Hey!" I yelled at him. He wiped the crumbs on his mouth with the back of his hand and gave me a wide smile.
"It's delicious, Baji," he complimented me, but I wasn't satisfied. I was actually very nervous. I couldn't seem to make up mind about whether I should tell my family that Tariq and I knew each other from school, or continue pretending like we didn't.
Ammi forgot about the fight before Abu had left and took great care of Tariq. I stayed out of the way. Tariq refused to eat dinner with us and kept calling someone. He seemed uncomfortable to be staying over at our house, and if things didn't work out, he would have to sleep over.
"Don't you worry, beta. We have plenty of room. The roads are completely blocked," Abu comforted Tariq. Abu loved helping other people, even if it was his friend's relative's son.
"You're so nice, Uncle. I'm so sorry about all of this," Tariq said. I sneaked a look at him and I felt touched at how he was so mature in his behavior towards my parents.
"No apology," Ammi insisted, though I knew she was still a little annoyed.
When Tariq accompanied Abu outside to help him shovel, my respect for him grew even more. He was such a gentleman!
Ammi fixed dinner for us and I wondered if Tariq would sit down to eat with us.
"I'll have him eat in the room so he doesn't feel embarrassed in front of us," Ammi answered, reading my mind. I wanted to disagree but I didn't want Ammi to feel suspicious.
We had a spare guest room and that was where Ammi made Tariq's bed. I couldn't describe how I was feeling. Tariq sleeping over at my house? How unimaginable!
We hadn't exchanged a single word since he arrived, nor had I removed my hijab. I felt envious when Humza talked to him and I too wanted to join them in their Wii game. But, I couldn't do that in front of my parents.
At eleven at night, when everyone seemed to be sleeping, I went to the kitchen and observed the scene outside our window. It was pitch dark outside, but I could distinguish the hills of snow caved towards our fences and the narrow path that Abu had shoveled.
I turned around when I heard a sound and found myself face to face with Tariq. I opened my mouth to speak but couldn't. He looked so fair in the dim light of the kitchen, his black hair contrasting his skin. His eyes were warm and as I continued to observe him, I felt an uneasy feeling settle in my stomach.
"Sorry, Iman. Could I get a glass of water?" he asked politely. I stood awkwardly for a second before I registered his words and then I quickly grabbed a glass from the cabinet to give him water. When he took it from me, our hands brushed ever so slightly. I glanced nervously towards the hallway and hoped that both my parents were in deep sleep.
"What a small world huh?" I managed to say to Tariq. He drank the water in a long sip and licked his lips. He handed me the glass back and gave me a smile.
"I was so stupid to go out. I didn't believe everyone. We've never had this much snow before."
I nodded, looking at his dark blue jeans and wondered if he would be comfortable in sleeping in them. "Do you...um, need pajamas or something? I could give you Humza's even though they would be small for you."
He laughed softly and shook his head. "No, no I'll be fine really. Your family is awesome, man."
Did he think I was awesome too? I wanted to keep talking to him but I knew it wasn't right. My parents were doing him a favor to keep him here for the night, not so that their daughter could secretly converse with him.
I said goodnight to him and slipped under my warm blanket. It took me very long to fall asleep that night. I replayed the conversation over and over again in my head. He was so near, just two rooms away, and yet we were so far.
He left immediately in the morning, before I even woke up. We didn't have school in the morning either, so I couldn't look forward to seeing him there either.
At school, Tariq was more open and thanked me for my family's hospitality. I liked the way he looked in the dark gray sweatshirt.
When Laila saw the both of us talking to each other, her eyes grew in excitement. She couldn't believe Tariq had slept over.
"Iman, do you like him?" Anum had asked me later that day.
I took my time to reply to the question. I already knew the answer and it would be a lie if I said otherwise. So, very shyly, I smiled and nodded, only to hear a shriek of giggles from Laila. I rolled my eyes at her and I too felt excited. This was a new feeling and it felt terrific.
And here I was today, a Valentine already on its way. Would Tariq find out it was me? I certainly didn't hope so. I liked liking him secretly because that's all that I could do. This was just another crush.
And I knew that before the beginning of anything, I would have to somehow get rid of it, before it ended up crushing me.