( c) Annika Sood, 2016
Zaid was alone. Well, not completely. There was a couple sitting at the bar in the back, and a group of teenagers sticky with hairspray and half-melted stage makeup had commandeered the five booths closest to the cashier. The waitress, a greying woman in her sixties named Evangeline, knew him, and she had smiled when he walked in the door. He had waved back, but he was pretty sure she could tell his heart wasn’t in it. She had taken his order, asked if he wanted the usual (he didn’t) and then left him alone.
He flexed his fingers and looked out the window. The paper snowflakes plastered across the glass were backlit by the real ones falling outside. People shuffled along outside wrapped in hats and coats and scarves. He didn’t recognize any of them.
Heaving a sigh, Zaid shifted back in his seat and pulled his left hand through his hair. His ring got caught on a curl and, slightly chagrined, he detangled it gently. He pulled his phone out of his back pocket and started scrolling through his text messages aimlessly. A terse update from his mother. Well wishes from his sisters. His last conversation with Samir.
Zaid: Are you sure you want to go there afterwards?
Samir: No matter what the news is I’m going to need a milkshake, so yeah
Zaid: I can totally bring you a milkshake. To our apartment. Where you don’t have to be out in the snow
Samir: I’m fine Z. Really.
Zaid: you always say that but somehow I don’t believe you
Samir: I’m offended
Zaid: no you’re not. you love me
Evangeline brought Zaid his soup and he smiled at her. She ruffled his hair in response before going off to tend to the people at the bar. He knew them; Vita and Zoe had spent as many late nights at Westway as he and Samir had.
Samir: Can I ask you something?
Zaid: technically you just did
One of the teenagers was standing on her table now, and she was belting “Defying Gravity.” Her friends whooped and threw straw wrappers at her to show support. Sweat left clean tracks through the makeup covering her face.
Samir: If you had known seven years ago that we’d have to go through all this would you have come back?
Zaid: I don’t think that there’s anything that would have stopped me from coming back once I got past my pride. Not even your blood problems.
Samir: I have so many blood problems
Zaid: and I married you anyway
Samir: technically it was my idea
Zaid: it was a mutual agreement
Vita and Zoe pulled on their coats and headed for the door. They smiled at Zaid as they went, and Vita put a reassuring hand on his shoulder before they disappeared out into the snow. Zaid shook his head and ate his soup.
Samir: tbh I’m just glad that I didn’t lose all my hair with the chemo
Zaid: I’d love you either way. With or without eyebrows.
“Bev says she misses you.”
Samir sat down across from Zaid, breathless. Evangeline looked over from where she was wiping down the bar and beamed at him.
“Bev knows where to find me,” Zaid said. He reached across the table and pulled off Samir’s mittens. He rubbed Samir’s fingers between his hands to warm them. “She can visit the apartment if she’s feeling deprived.”
Samir laughed. He looked tired, but relaxed. Zaid couldn’t read how he was feeling, but whatever the news was, it looked like he was at peace with it.
“You just missed Vita and Zoe.” Zaid jerked his head towards the door. Samir shook his head.
“I blame the subway.” Samir pulled his hands away from Zaid to unbutton his coat. Evangeline swung past their table and placed a chocolate milkshake in front of him, only hesitating long enough to pat his arm.
Zaid took a deep breath. He didn’t want to do this. He wanted to avoid it. He wanted to talk about Bev, or Vita, or the subway. Anything else. But that wouldn’t change it.
“What did Bev say?” he asked quietly. He placed one hand face up on the table. Samir, who had been drinking his milkshake, looked surprised. Maybe a little proud.
“I,” he said slowly as he grasped the hand Zaid had left on the table. “am officially cancer free.”
Samir grinned. Zaid didn’t know what to say. It was probably the first time in sixteen years that anything had gone their way.
“That’s … that’s one hell of a birthday present.”
Samir laughed. He lifted Zaid’s hand in both of his and kissed it.
“That’s all you’re gonna say?”
“It’s kind of all I can say.”
“How about ‘I love you and I’m so glad that we get to spend a long happy life together where I tell bad jokes and you paint amazing portraits of me forever and ever?’”
“That works too.”
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Annika Sood is half Indian and her last name means “victor of enemies.” Her other ancestors were Vikings. She hopes she made them all proud.
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