She could see it in her peripheral vision. It was there, out in the open. The muted moonlight filtering through the high windows gave it a sinister gleam. But how could she take it? There were so many people around... too many witnesses. Keeping it in sight, she moved forward nonchalantly, hands tucked into the pockets of her dark robes. Her pulse increased as she neared it and slowly, casually she stretched her hand out, almost reaching it. People around her began to notice so she extended her outstretched hand, just a little more but–
Zehra woke up with a start. She lay in bed with her eyes wide open in the dark, breathing heavily. As usual, she tried to remember what the object in the dream was. What had she been reaching out for? The dreams always ended in the same place, abruptly. It was making her nervous; strange recurring dreams just weren’t her cup of tea.
Breathe in, breathe out.
“Zea!” her mother yelled from the kitchen. “Zea, wake up! You have school!”
Breathe in, breathe out.
“Zea... are you up?”
She heard footsteps on the staircase and seconds later her door flew open.
“Astaghfirullah! Why are you still in bed? Come on now, up! Chop chop!”
Zehra rolled her eyes and got out of bed.
“There’s no need to be so dramatic, Mama,”
“Now now, young lady, watch your mouth and get your lazy self into the shower and down for breakfast in ten minutes! Surra!"
Westbrooke high wasn’t exactly all that it claimed to be; an unbiased, secular and social ground that provided opportunities for its students to spread their wings and soar high and what not. It was slightly elitist and a bit racist. Zehra knew it from experience; being a brown Muslim girl in Westbrooke High was no easy task.
As Zehra opened her locker she saw, in the reflection of her locker mirror, a cheerleader approach Nora. Zehra shut her locker and adjusted her headscarf before approaching them.
Nora Williams, like Zehra and their friend Ivanka Schneider, was a typical outcast at this typical school. She was a quiet, studious girl with extraordinary brain power who was adopted at a young age from a gypsy clan. She was a very calm person and wasn’t in the least affected by bullying.
Zehra could hear the cheerleader Alexia taunt Nora.
“–because after all, you’re just an abandoned gypsy! Ooh look who’s here, it’s the terrorist,”
Zehra rolled her eyes and tried not to let it get to her as she grabbed Nora’s arm and walked away from the despicable bully. She looked into Nora’s clear green eyes.
“Are you okay?” Zehra asked.
“Yes, I assure you, I’m quite unperturbed,” Nora said with a smile.
Zehra laughed as they joined Ivanka at her locker. Ivanka’s usually pale face was flushed and angry as she slammed her locker shut and turned to them with blazing eyes.
“What in the world does she think of herself?!” she demanded.
Zehra raised a brow. “Let me guess… Svetlana Johnson?”
“Yes!” Ivanka yelled, drawing curious glances. “That mo-”
Zehra clapped a hand over Ivanka’s mouth. “Alright, no swearing. What happened?”
“What happened? I was here minding my own damn business and then she goes all “someone call 911, those shoes are definitely from the museum,” like, why the hell does she care what kind of shoes I wear?” Ivanka said and threw her hands up in frustration.
“Why don’t you just ignore her?” Nora asked.
“Okay, listen miss,” Ivanka turned to Nora. “I do not have the kind of calm emotional balance and self defense mechanisms that you have. I am not well-practiced in karate and taekwondo, like you. It’s easy for you to say.”
Nora shrugged. “Touché,”
Hugo appeared out of nowhere. “You know martial arts?”
Nora shrugged again. “Yeah. I’m not an expert or anything, but I know it.”
“She’s amazing at it!” Zehra added.
“Damn that’s cool,” Hugo said, impressed.
Hugo was Ivanka’s half-brother. They were like twins in all physical aspects except their hair and eyes. Ivanka had her mother’s blond hair and blue eyes while Hugo had his mother’s black hair and grey eyes. But their personalities could not be more different. Hugo was popular and well liked by everyone in the school but hardly anyone knew about Ivanka and even if they did, it was as the quiet, nerdy sister of Hugo Schneider.
The lunch bell rang and Zehra, Nora and Ivanka rushed outside. Lunch at school was a tedious affair and they preferred to eat out. Why suffer condescending glares and snide remarks when they could just relax for an hour elsewhere?
The three of them got into Ivanka’s Volkswagen and drove to the nearest McDonald’s. The three of them placed their orders and sat in their usual corner.
“I wonder how many calories are there in these,” Ivanka speculated when the food arrived.
“I wonder how you’re not one of Alexia’s minions,” said Zehra. “I mean, with a popular brother in the school team and blonde-”
“I’m not their kind of blond. I have this stupid frizzy light yellow hair that makes my pale face look paler. I mean, if I had your beautiful brown hair or Nora’s lush red hair-”
Both Zehra and Nora rolled their eyes.
“-and either yours or Nora’s complexion-”
“Okay, shut up,” Nora intervened. “I’m literally a Black girl with red hair. There couldn’t be a worse combination,”
Zehra laughed. “How did that happen anyway?”
“My mother had red hair and my father was Black so here I am,” Nora explained.
Ivanka threw her hands up, sending a fry flying. “I was just stating facts! And anyway, you both know these stuff are unhealthy.”
“No, it’s not.” Zehra said. Ivanka and Nora raised their eyebrows at her and she smiled. “Well, there’s the bread, it’s carbohydrates, totally good for our body. And lettuce, it’s a veggie! And the tomato, its-”
She was cut off as two crumpled paper napkin come flying at her and she laughed.
Nora closed the medicine cabinet with a sigh. The pills were nearly over. She sat on her bed and thought about how far she’d come. She had early memories of travelling all around the world with her gypsy parents. The carnivals, circuses, parades. Endless nights in the Sahara Desert and the pure, unadulterated joy of seeing the pyramids. Travelling by ship to India and seeing the grand splendor of Taj Mahal. The journey that was worth the exhaustion when they saw Machu Pichu. Those had been good days. But soon, too soon, trouble had arrived. Their happy little gypsy community turned in on itself. And that wretched, fateful night when a drunken brawl led to the death of her beloved father and later, her mother...Nora had been trying to forget her terrible past for years now, but it still appeared when she least expected it. Sometimes it still haunted her, the vivid images of her father’s death and the day she heard that her mother plummeted to death f
The two people sat next to each other on the worn-out couch. The only source of illumination in the dark, dank basement was the laptop in front of them. They were wearing identical black hoodies and black jeans, with a metallic mask covering the lower half of their face. It distorted their voices, which was convenient because they weren’t supposed to know each other’s identity.“We need code names,” one said to the other, typing away on the laptop.“Alright, I’ll be Star One,”“I guess that makes me Star Two?”“Yes, of course.”“Ha ha. Not happening. If you’re Star One, I’m Alpha Star.”“That’s not–”“Deal?”Star One sighed. “Deal.”"I'm assuming you're a guy...?" asked Alpha Star.Star One rolled their eyes. "Assume whatever you want,""Okay bas
After dinner Zehra had wandered off while Nora had gone to the washroom. She wondered where Zehra was, and remembered that Zehra had wanted to check out Nora’s grand piano. Nora was not musically inclined but her adoptive parents loved music and had a music room where they kept all their instruments and speakers.Nora walked into the music room and found Zehra at the piano. She knew that Zehra liked to play the piano but she wasn’t aware the Zehra was this good at it. Nora stood at the doorway as Zehra sang softly.“And you can’t see my covered hair, so you sit there and you stare, and you judge me with your eyes, you’re sure I’m in despair! But are you not aware... under the scarf that I wear, I have feelings, and I do care...”Nora smiled, and sat beside Zehra. She nodded at Nora and continued to sing. The words flowed out of her and Nora was reminded of what a beautiful voice Zehra had.<
“I shouldn’t have gone to the stupid party!” Ivanka shouted, tears streaming down her face.She was finally home; she’d hunted Hugo down and got home as soon as possible. She felt uncomfortably cold, even after having taken a warm bath and wearing warm clothes. Hurt and anger stirred in her chest and she felt awful. Humiliation filled her as she remembered the raucous laughter of the jocks who'd been in the pool when she fell. The water and loose dress combined with the mascara on her face had made her look like a total idiot. Ivanka squeezed her eyes shut, willing the embarrassing images to go away. What was it it about her that was so disastrous? How did she always land in such situations and wind up embarrassing herself? Why had she gone to the stupid party in the first place?!“It was your decision. I didn’t force you to come,” Hugo bit back. "In fact, you persuaded me to take you along with you,"
Nora and Zehra picked up a sleepy Ivanka from her house and headed to school in Nora’s car. Ivanka immediately fell asleep in the backseat but jolted awake when they stopped abruptly at a red light.“Didn’t sleep well yesterday?” Zehra asked.Ivanka shook her head. “Party at Shay Chris'.”The light turned green but neither Nora nor Zehra moved as they gaped at Ivanka. The car behind them honked and Zehra finally found her voice. “You. Ivanka Anne Schneider. Went. To. A cheerleader party?!”Ivanka ran a hand through her hair. “Just start the damn car, we’re causing a block.”Nora started driving and Zehra turned to Ivanka.“Seriously, what’s wrong with you? Shay Chris' party? Were you high!”“There could’ve been consequences,&rdquo
Alpha Star and Star One sat in the dark basement in front of the laptop.“I sent the voice clippings to MRO.” said Star One.“Good. They’ll like that,” Alpha Star said.“Yes. And I’ve heard a new organization has cropped up. They call themselves SRO. Kinda like an anti-MRO programme.”“SRO? What does that stand for?”“No idea.”“Hmm...” Alpha star said absentmindedly.“Listen... don't you think this is all–”“No,”“What?”“No. I know what you’re about to ask and I’ve asked it to myself a hell lot of times, and the answer is no.”Star One sighed. “Fine, what’s our next move?”
Svetlana Johnson sat across from Hugo Schneider as he ate his hamburger and she picked at her salad.“Does Lucas know?”“Yes. He wasn't happy,”Svetlana pursed her lips. “I'm not surprised.”“Does your sister know about us?”He shook his head. “No. Hardly anyone knows,”“Ivanka would be livid if she found out,”Hugo was quiet for some time. “Why do you torture her like that?”Svetlana shifted uncomfortably. “It’s not under my control, Hugo. You have to get that. I... I must do it. I must do as Alicia says or I’m...”“You’re what?”Svetlana swallowed and took her time. “Alicia knows a lot of stuff about me.”“What stuff?”
Zehra did get selected for the songbird contest. She squealed and hugged Nora and Ivanka, jumping up and down. Despite all her pretence and modesty, Zehra really did love singing. Seema Singh came up to them.“Congrats, Zehra. I heard you sing, it was amazing.”“Thanks!”“Hey Seema, you okay now?” Ivanka asked. Seema looked confused.“What?”“You know, you were sick and everything...”Seema rolled her eyes and ran a hand down her face. “Listen, I’m S-I-K-H, okay? You’re Jewish, Zehra’s a Muslim and I’m Sikh. Get it?”“Oh.” Ivanka looked dumbstruck. “Sorry...”“It’s fine, I get it all the time. Anyways, gotta run see you around!” Seema said and ran off.Zehra’s p