chapter three

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There is an experience more awkward than bursting into a silent lecture hall in the middle of class and having everyone's nosy eyes turn to you.

It's called leaving a restaurant after a breakup.

Jeffrey and I walked out of that snobfest each looking in different directions and clearing our throats every few minutes. I made sure to keep a fair distance between us as we made it to the parking lot because one, I had to salvage my dignity somehow after being dumped and two, if I slipped on black ice again, I didn't want him to play hero by catching me.

I already had Ben trying to take that role.

"Samar," Jeffrey began, shoving his hands into his gray slacks and tapping his foot ever so slightly against the concrete. He looked freezing, his cheeks already turning pink and his body slightly shaking from his lack of a coat or hat. I figured his "journey to med school" would have taught him something about how quickly the human body could lose heat in below-freezing weather. "We can still be friends."

"But do we really have to." This was more of an uncontrollable response, but I didn't particularly regret it.

He cocked his head to the side. "Only if you don't want to, I guess...?"

I sighed, looking at the time on my phone and realizing my parents would probably begin to wonder where I was by now. I told them I'd be home between nine and ten, and it was nearing ten-thirty. I couldn't wait to drive in the middle of the night on icy roads in a town with the worst drivers in all of New York. "I guess we should just try to be civil then." I met his eyes and added, "I kind of really have to go now..." I didn't want to spend another awkward moment avoiding eye contact and making meaningless small talk. If there was one thing I wanted, it was for him to have mentioned his thoughts about breaking up before, instead of last month mentioning the idea of us getting married in the future.

"Wait, can I ask you one thing?" I decided I had one last question for him before we parted ways until next semester.

"Yeah, what?"

"Did your parents have any factor in you wanting to break up with me? It doesn't take a genius to notice that this whole idea is quite sudden."

He glanced up from staring at a patch of snow on the grass. "My parents? Why are you asking?"

"I don't know," I began, digging my hands into the pockets of my soft coat even harder. Although, I did know... "Maybe there are things they say when I'm not around." I was beginning to hint at subtler reasons, ones that wouldn't have crossed my mind earlier.

"Are you talking about our ethnic backgrounds? Because I can assure you, Samar, I don't come from a family of racists." He seemed slightly angered by this, from the way his dark eyebrows furrowed together. I knew it was a little harsh of me to assume—though, I hadn't technically assumed. Just implied, considering his mother had some pretty strong opinions about the Middle East last time I visited their house.

I nodded. "Well, then, I guess we should probably get going."

"Hope you have a safe trip back home." He cleared his throat for the tenth time since dinner started and took a step towards me. He gave me a quick and painfully awkward hug before turning in the direction of his gleaming Range Rover. His steps were deft, but the way his shoulders slightly slumped made me wonder if somewhere in the back of his mind he regretted his decision.

And I was stuck wondering if he had done me a distracting disservice or a liberating favor.


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