“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,"
“I thought I would be fine because I was with you! They're friends of yours! Why can’t you just tell them to back off?!”
Hugo sighed and ran a hand through his hair.
“It's not like that. You don’t underst–”
“Oh of course, silly me. I don’t understand. After all, I’m just a low level outcast. How would I understand the workings of the upper echelons of popularity. I, a mere commoner, wouldn’t understand how hard it is to have a lame wimp as a sister! I, a loser, wouldn’t understand how humiliating–”
“No! No, Hugo, I won’t stop! You– you’re the one who doesn’t understand!” she yelled and ran out of his room sobbing. She made sure to slam the door so hard it rattled.
Hugo sighed and ran a hand through his hair in frustration. His eyes fell on the framed photo of the two of them when they were little. They looked so happy. They had always been together, joined at the hip like siamese twins. But then, they’d started high school and everything had changed. He joined the football team and things escalated pretty quickly for him. Meanwhile, his introverted sister focused on studies and made few friends. Hugo still loved his sister dearly but they’d grown apart. She hated him for being popular, like it was something he had control over. She hated his friends and his status. He, on the other hand, couldn’t understand why she wouldn’t even try to get along with his friends. Sure, some of the girls picked on her, but it was because she kept giving them reasons to! Hanging out with the lamest, quietest people at school… what did she expect?
Hugo sighed in annoyance and grabbed his phone. There were a bunch of missed calls and text messages asking where he'd disappeared to. He switched it off and threw it on his bed, running a hand down his tired face. He hated it when Ivanka did this, couldn't she see how annoying it was? Not only was it embarassing, but it also killed his mood a d ruined his good times. It was like she wanted to rain on his parade, all the time. He knew taking her to Shay's party hadn't exactly been the best of ideas, but she'd insisted and she usually never went to parties so he'd agreed. Hugo shook his head. Never again.
Knowing that her mother would realize if something was up and would be disappointed in him if she found out the truth, Hugo went to check on Ivanka. Her door was ajar and the room was empty. He went downstairs and saw his stepmother working at the computer.
“Hey, have you seen Ivanka?”
“She stormed out a few minutes ago. What happened?”
He shrugged and went back upstairs. Whatever. If she wanted to be a whiny baby and act up, that was fine by him. He was done looking out for her.
“And I don’t think Anonymous is wrong,” Zehra was saying. “I feel like maybe there’s more to it. Sure, Trump is a vile swine but maybe he’s just a puppet to dark underground faces that we have no idea about, you know? He might be the face to keep us distracted from the real danger,”
She was sitting with Nora on her window-sofa, relaxing in the cool night breeze. The night was calm and quiet, and the gentle breeze made up for the lack of moonlight. A bowl of Doritos and two mugs of hot chocolate sat between them. Zehra's long hair was in a messy bun and the sleeves of her sweatshirt reached her fingertips. She hugged her knees to her chest and took a sip of hot chocolate.
“Interesting theory,” said Nora. “So you spend your free time studying this stuff?”
“Yeah. I’ve only just begun, but I plan to research more intensively on this.”
“Oh. What sparked your interest in this?”
Zehra shrugged. “Dan Brown books and Anonymous, I guess. So, what’s your take on all of this?”
“I suppose there is some truth in this but I can’t say for sure because I haven’t done any studies on it. But I bid you to be careful. You can trust me, but if anyone else gets to know you’re doing research on such a shady subject, you could be in trouble, especially if they realize you’re not some amateur and you’re serious about it. I’m sure there are powers out there to silence those who stumble across such information.”
“I don't know... plenty of people do this,"
"Yeah, for like, two days and then they quit because some other new trend caught their attention. But you're not like that, you're dedicated to it and like you said, being a Muslim puts a higher risk on it. If I were you, I wouldn't tell many people about this,"
"It's okay, I won't. I'll be careful,"
Neither of them noticed as Star One sat outside, below the open window, and recorded the crystal clear conversation.
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
Zehra entered home and locked the door behind her.“Assalamu Alaykum, Mama,” she called out.“Wa alaykum salam, Zea,” her mother replied, emerging from the kitchen.Zehra put her sneakers away and was about to head upstairs to her room, when she noticed that something was off. She turned at the foot of the stairs and saw her mom watching her with a distant expression.“What’s up. Mama?”Her mother shrugged. “Nothing. Go and take a shower.”Zehra put her backpack down and removed her scarf. “Alright, tell me.”Her mom glared at her. “Go take a shower and pray ‘Asr, Zea,”“Not till you tell me what’s going on,” Zehra said and sat on the bottom stair, knowing that this would take some persuasion. Brown parents
Lucas plopped onto the seat next to Zehra's. She was agitated."Sup. Zehra.""Hey, Luke," she said absentmindedly."What's wrong?""Huh? Nothing. Nothing's wrong.""What happened? Another email!?Zehra sighed and shook her head. And then she told him everything. Lucas felt his blood boil as his jaw tightened and his fist curled."That son of a..." He got up suddenly walked out of the classroom. She sat confused, till she heard a commotion and rushed outside.Lucas was punching the living daylights out of Hugo.Zehra's hand flew to her mouth as they pounded at each other. Lucas' eyes had darkened and he was furious."How dare you, you conniving traitor!"Punch."I can't believe you were my friend!Punch."I trusted you!!"Kick.It took three minutes for four of their teammates to pull them apart. Ivanka rushed to Hugo and
Zehra opened her eyes and saw Nora curled up into a ball next to her, sleeping contentedly. She rubbed her eyes and looked at the time. 4:50 am.The previous night, Nora and Ivanka had refused to let Zehra return home alone. So Ivanka had gone home while Nora had accompanied Zehra and slept over at hers.Zehra brushed her teeth, took ablution and prayed. Nora woke up at 5:00 am.“Morning, sleepyhead.”Nora looked at the clock. “Five?! It’s not morning, it’s night!”She yawned and pulled the covers over her head. Zehra chuckled and waited, counting in her head.Three.Nora turned to the right.Two.She curled into a ball and then stretched out.One.Nora groaned and sat up. “My sleep ditched me!”<
“And you went?!” asked Lucas incredulously. “Are you out of your mind?!”Zehra rolled her eyes. “What was I supposed to do, sit at home like a coward?”“He could’ve harmed you. You could’ve been killed!”“Come on. Stop being so dramatic.”They were sitting on one of the benches in Central Park. She’d jogged out of the woods and run into Lucas.“Next time, please don’t be so reckless. Don’t…” he swallowed and gritted his teeth. “Don’t let your anger get the better of you.”Zehra looked at him. He’d suddenly tensed and looked agitated. “Are you okay?”He was silent for a while and then got up.“Come on,” he said. “I want you to meet someone.”Th