True Calling

"Have you ever wondered why things don't go the way you want them to?" Zinia Rathore is a fourteen year old science prodigy, with a family of three to take care of. The talent competition is around the corner, and she's geared with her mind-blowing -you guessed it- science project. For participating, everyone is paired up. Neither they can swap nor back out. For Zinia, a newcomer partner seems well and good. Except, he's got the charms. And, the additional responsibility of being the class representative isn't helping, while her handsome firangi partner plays with the strings of her heart. Amidst the craziness and chaos, Zinia learns to live life and discovers her 'true calling'. Cover Credits - @seanarturo from Wattpad

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5. Chapter Three

I sneaked to my bedroom and freshened up. My phone buzzed with a text from Father.

"We have guests coming with me, be prepared. Sorry sweetie, I forgot to inform you before."

I sighed in frustration, Father seemed to forget everything! There wasn't any proper snack in our home, for goodness's sake.

"Zubin! I'm going grocery shopping, want something?" I shouted while slipping on a jacket and taking my purse. Zubin opened his door and stared at me blankly for a moment.

"Today isn't grocery shopping day..?" His statement came out as a question.

"No, we have guests coming."

He mumbled something close to a curse under his breath. He said, "Cold drink and chips. I'll pay you later." I rolled my eyes, of course he would forget to pay me for his shopping.

I walked to the coffee shop, and joined the line. I could feel the piercing stares of strangers ogling at my body. When my turn to order came, I was greeted by Akira.

"Hi doll! It's great to see you today, what would you like?"

"Hmm, eight pastries, five chocolate and three vanilla. And one hot chocolate on the go." She nodded and typed the bill. I paid her and took my order.

"You sure you'll be able to carry that? My shift's almost over," she offered and I shrugged.

"I'll be fine."

"I'll call you later then!" she chirped and I left the cafe, my footsteps directed towards another destination, the grocery shop.

I greeted a few people as I walked along the pavement. My gaze was cast downwards and I bumped into someone.

"You?" I shouted at the same time Ayaan said, "Hi?

The fragrance of the roses in his hand filled my nostrils as I scowled in disgust, "What are you doing here?" In a stubborn stance, I put my free hand on my waist.

"Visiting a..," he paused for a moment as both of us ignored each other's irises, "soon to be very close friend." He stared at me intently, searching my face for something, "Seems like you're busy, lemme help ya with that."

"No thank you," it rolled of my tongue as I moved forward. My shoe got stuck on a broken tile and gravity pulled me in. I closed my eyes and braced myself for a fall but didn't feel anything. A hand had a grabbed me by the waist and I heard Ayaan chuckle.

"S-Shut up!" I stuttered as the hear rose up my cheeks.

"Now that's a damsel in distress," he spoke as he helped me up, "I want a pastry treat for that heroic deed. That rhymes!"

I looked at him in confusion, "Yeah, that does. Thank you and no!" I clicked my shoes and turned to leave.

My hands felt light as I raised them. Wait, where was the pastry box?

I saw Ayaan smirking and playing with a packet in his hands. I growled, trying to control my anger, "Fine, come!"

He followed me like a lost puppy and I grabbed my box. As we walked together, I took long strides to irritate him. He copied my actions with the same expressions I was wearing and I bit my cheek from laughing. Minutes later, I couldn't control myself and burst out; much to the annoyance and surprise of the passerbys.

"Were you always like this?" I asked him as he lowered down the roses which hid his face.

He winked, "Only for you babe."

"Ayaan.. look, we can be friends. I hate flirting, so please don't make any more attempts. You'll just be broken when you are rejected."

He shrugged, "Suits me, I have a thousand more options. You're too bossy."

I snorted, "Arrogant idiot."

He smirked as we entered the store. A cool blast of air conditioning hit my face and I looked around the shop. It was overcrowded and I had to dodge a lady with a pram twice. Stupid people.

At the food stall, my gaze lingered on the various snacks available. I saw Ayaan staring at an advertisement, and I poked him on his shoulder.

"What?" his voice was raspy, and I peeked to look at the ad.

I wished I hadn't. The memory is etched deep inside, scarring me for life.

Melodramatic.

I took a few steps away from him and went to buy some more snacks.

"Sorry about that," he whispered in my ear and I jerked back.

I didn't respond and continued my shopping.

"If you want something, just add it in the cart," I spoke surveying the dates of the frozen French Fries.

Expired. How about that?

I carefully sorted through the packets and got a good one. I pushed my cart and it didn't budge. When I checked it out, I saw it was filled chocolates, chips and cold drinks.

"Which one, coke party can or normal can?" Ayaan took both of them in his hands and weighed them.

"Whichever you want," I rolled my eyes and browsed through the bakery section.

"Just take care of the cart, will you?" I left it with Ayaan as he nodded and got various breads. Looking through the dairy products, I took cheese, yogurt, icecream and a few other things.

I returned back and gasped. The cart was almost empty except for my items and a few of his. And, Ayaan was leaning against the counter flirting with the female cashier. The cashier wasn't less, she twirled the loose strands of her hair. She blinked frequently and giggled, as Ayaan smirked in triumph.

What the.. fruitcakes?

I grabbed an ice pack. Huffing, I went to the cash counter, shoving Ayaan on purpose.

"Whoosh," he winced and held his stomach, "Shoot man.." He moved aside and sat down on a chair. The female cashier glared at me and I smiled sweetly. I would give him the ice pack I bought later, I guessed he would require it.

I bought the shopping and paid for both of us. Ayaan was still sitting, groaning in pain. I handed him the ice pack. He took it, ignoring me.

"What?" I asked, picking up the bags along with the pastries and hot chocolate.

He mumbled a curse, and took his flowers. His eyes were glassy and as we walked outside, we were silent. Minutes later, he froze and started hyperventilating. Needlessly speaking, I panicked.

My hands were full and I couldn't do anything to assure him. I spotted a bench nearby and pulled him along to sit. I kept my bags aside and stared at Ayaan who was breathing frantically.

"Calm down, calm down," I whispered and patted his back. "Breathe in slowly.. breathe out. Come on Ayaan, you can do it."

I spoke as if in a trance and Ayaan started following my instructions, feeling more and more relaxed by the second. He gripped my hand tightly and to reassure him, I stroked his thumb. His body had stopped shaking, and he closed his eyes in instant relief.

"Are you.. okay?" I asked him as he leaned his back against the bench. He nodded. My hand was still intertwined with his. "Ayaan..?" I gestured towards my hand but he was lost in his own world. "Look, I'm sorry. Do you need to go to the hospital?"

Panic struck him, "No!" He pulled away his hand. His breathing was still ragged, I had to be careful.

"Shall I drop you home then?" I offered, checking my phone. It was five p.m. and Father would be home by six. I needed to hurry.

"Nobody's at home," he groaned, holding himself. He coughed and I patted him again.

I sighed, "Would you like to come with me?"

He raised an eyebrow, "Sorry.. what did you say?" And the old Ayaan was back.

"I said it once, I won't insist," I got up to leave.

"Fine. I hate you though," he snarled, making me grin.

"I've been known to be torturous."

"Biscuit."

"Idiot."

"You're one tough cookie," he ruffled his hair and I helped him up.

"Only for you," I winked.

We hailed a rickshaw and I instructed the directions. I was sitting close to Ayaan, feeling uncomfortable but he scooted even closer to me. My phone vibrated and I checked out a message from Zubin.

"Dad will be home early, hurry!"

"Shoot", I murmured. Ayaan was sitting with his eyes closed, his hand close to mine making me feel ticklish. The ride was bumpy, and our heads would frequently collide. A speed breaker occurred and I held Ayaan's hand for support. He grinned and I pulled away. Arrogant firangi.

We reached my house and I paid the rickshaw wala. My wallet was almost empty from the shopping done today.

I spotted Father's car in the driveway. I was so dead. Ayaan began to walk to the door but I stopped him.

"What?" Ayaan shouted, his voice still raspy.

"Father's inside!" I whispered, gesturing him to lower his volume. "We need to go through the back."

"You have a back door too?"

"Oh no, we just have a window," I stated, texting Zubin to open the back window. Then I grabbed Ayaan and we walked towards my house's position in the back street. Zubin peeked through the window, smirking as his hands were folded across his chest.

I held the bags up. Zubin stared at them, "So?"

"Help us out!" I commanded, dumping all the bags on him. "Ayaan, you go first."

"No, you first." I put my hands on my hips and pouted. "Fine!" he snarled.

I helped him squeeze through the window. It was actually a spare room, so there was no problem of any mess. He collapsed after getting inside. He got up and brushed himself, before walking away.

"Hey, what about me?"

"What's the magic word?"

"Huh?" I thought for some time, "Please..?" It came out as sarcastic and I sounded like a stuck-up snob. He stretched out his hand.

"Please don't let me fall," I pleaded.

"I will never let you go," he replied, staring straight into my eyes before pulling me up. I tore apart our gazes and looked down. The bags were open, and Zubin's shopping had vanished.

But that wasn't important.

"Go to my room," I said and picked up the bags.

Tiptoeing to the kitchen, I pulled out the groceries and tidied up. Just as I was about to finish, Father entered.

"Zinia?"

"Yes Father?"

"When did you come here?"

"I was inside my room, Father. Brainstorming for the talent search with Ayaan," I replied, mixing the ingredients for pasta and simultaneously pouring out the cold drinks.

"Who's Ayaan?"

"He's my partner.." I placed the glasses on the tray with care, and handed it to him, "There you go!"

"He?" Father paused, "We'll talk about this later," he left the kitchen and I sighed.

Whew, it had been a close call. I boiled the water for tea, and the oil for the smilies. Serving the pasta in plates, I cleaned up the empty glasses from the living room and also served the dry fruits.

Almost an hour later, the guests left; their stomachs filled with red pasta, french fries, smilies (a type of snack), potato bites, fruits, dry fruits and pastries. I had also sneaked up a few snacks for Zubin and Ayaan. I cleaned up the room as Father bid them off.

As I was doing the dishes, I heard Father storm in.

"Why were you so late?" he roared, startling me for a second that I froze.

"I- I had gone grocery shopping," and then I explained each detail of what had happened and the part of sneaking in through the window. Father frowned and grew silent.

"You lied to me before Zinia! And alone, with a guy you just met? That is unacceptable! I never expected this from you," he shouted, "You're grounded."

"But Father-"

"Nothing more on the matter. You should've asked Zubin to come with you."

"As if! He doesn't listen to you, why would he listen to me?" I bit my tongue. The taste of sickly, sweet blood filled my mouth. Father glared at me before storming out of the kitchen.

I heard shouts and saw Father dragging Ayaan out of the house. I rushed outside as Father sent Ayaan away and closed the door.

"Father, I'm sorry.."

Father ignored me, and tears prickled my eyes. I wiped them before anyone could see anything.

I watched Ayaan walking through the street, his hands stuffed in his pockets. He looked back and winked at me. I tried to smile, but couldn't. The atmosphere had become too quiet.

Father had locked his room and Zubin too. My heart felt heavy as I sat in my room, my head buried inside a pillow. I found a napkin kept near the typewriter.

"Here's my number. I know your house now, I can stalk you. ;) Write a book someday, you might be the next big thing. - A.W.

PS. You're dad is like Hitler

PPS. What are we going to do about the Talent Search?

PPPS. Why are you still reading this? You know you like me ;)"

I grinned as I read it, it lightened my awful mood. Collapsing on the bed, I thought about the Talent Search.

I could do a science project on Human Behaviour or Psychology.... Or maybe I could do a project on The Periodic Table.. Or something on Chemistry?

My head ached, thinking about the possibilities and today's left to do list. I had to complete my homework, make the dinner, research for the Talent Search and start writing. My body screamed for rest but I propped myself upright.

A bright red peeked through the typewriter. Confused, I moved it and found the bouquet of roses that Ayaan was carrying, another note attached to it.

You found it! Had to hide it from Hitler or else he wouldn't have believed you. Don't forget to bring my shopping to school! - A.

I smiled as I picked the roses up, their sweet fragrance enchanting me. It was a small bouquet, yet I appreciated the gesture. He owed me for coping up with him today, anyway. Putting the flowers in a handmade vase, a sigh escape my lips. I kept both of the notes secure in my journal.

I did some of my homework and researched. Two more things to do, I thought as I shuffled to the kitchen. How tragic, my life started at the kitchen and also ended there. After preparing the dinner, I served it to Father and Zubin in their hideouts.

I grabbed an apple and went back to my room, my appetite gone. I had to clean the dishes and set up the house too. As I studied for school, it was almost eight pm.

My eyes drooped and I stifled a yawn. After thoroughly going through everything, I got up and saw Zubin cleaning the dishes, but failing at it miserably.

"I'll do it," I said, wearing the transparent gloves and taking the plates and the scrubber from him.

"Can I help you?"

"Oh no, I'm good," I snapped and started scrubbing the dishes. Few minutes later, I was done. Zubin was still standing there, watching me work in astonishment. "What?"

"Nothing, I just should've gone with you," he replied, ruffling through his hair.

"No, thanks. You've never done it before and you shouldn't do it now. It is my responsibility," I emphasised, scowling.

"Geez, what is wrong with you? I'm only trying to help."

I softened, "I know. I'm tired, okay? Cope up with me." I handed him dishes, "Dry and keep them."

"So Zinny, what's up with you and Ayaan?" he asked, scooping a handful of utensils.

"Nothing," I shrugged as I washed the dirty dishes.

"It doesn't look like it," Zubin splashed some water on my face, disturbing my vision for a moment.

"Are you crazy?" I shouted, "And no. I'm not interested."

"Geez, fine. That time of the month?"

I froze as heat rose to my cheeks.

"You're dead," With this, I rubbed all the soap in his face. The dishes were done, so I ran to my room and locked the door. Heaving a sigh of relief, I giggled and collapsed on the bed.

Oh, how I despised him! My crazy little brother.

Thinking about today's events, I laughed. I laughed and laughed until my stomach hurt and tear of joy poured out of my eyes. I held myself, as my voice vibrated in room. My lips curved into a huge cheshire grin while I wiped face with my hands. It was the motivation I needed to carry on, to not give up.

This was the best laugh I had in years.

When my laughter died, I embraced the silence. My hand immediately reached for my pendant, feeling its cool metallic touch.

I took out my journal and began doodling idly, making images and graphics.

D.J.

I simply cannot tell you how much I enjoyed today. It may be normal for some people, but these little things were the ones that mattered the most. A bit upset because I am grounded now, but the roses made my day. Even if they were not meant for me.. or if they are?

I stopped writing, clutching the pen tighter and fiddling with it. Ayaan's behaviour had been confusing, he was sending mixed signals. I decided not to reciprocate his advances; I had enough in my platter to think about. I uncapped the pen again.

"The first thing I will do tomorrow is to return his roses and give him his shopping. What we have is entirely professional, and I have to work for the Talent Search. You know how much it means to me, the satisfaction and the acclamation. I have been ignored and judged by many, and I want to change that. You know how I always says that if my family and my teachers love me, it is enough. But, to be honest, some support from the masses is well appreciated. It would be nice to see them shocked by my little 'rebellion'.

So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye!

Z

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