“So,” my mom said, “what did I just say?”
Ocean’s eyes widened.
“That’s not how you teach someone a language,” I said, and rolled my eyes. “You can’t just teach him Farsi through osmosis.”
My mom waved me off. “He understands,” she said. She looked at Ocean. “You understand, don’t you? He understands,” she said to my dad.
My dad nodded like this was the most obvious thing in the world.
“He does not understand,” I said. “Stop being weird.”
“We’re not being weird,” my dad said, looking affronted. “Ocean likes Farsi. He wants to learn Farsi.” He looked at Ocean. “Don’t you, Ocean?”
Ocean said, “Sure.”
And my parents were thrilled.
“That reminds me,” my dad said, his eyes lighting up, “of this poem I was reading the other night—”
My dad jumped up from the table and ran off to get his glasses and his books.
“We’re going to be here all night,” I whispered to my mom. “Make him stop.”
My mom waved me down and said, “Harf nazan.” Be quiet.
And then she asked Ocean if he wanted more tea, and he said no, thank you, and she poured him more tea anyway, and my dad spent the rest of the night reading and translating really dense, old Persian poetry—Rumi, Hafez, Saadi—some of the absolute greats, and I wondered if Ocean would ever want to talk to me again. This particular ritual of my parents’ was actually a thing I loved; I’d spent many nights sitting at the kitchen table with my parents, moved to tears by a particularly powerful line of verse. The problem was just that it took forever to translate old-world Farsi into English. Even a simple poem would take ages to get through because my parents would spend ten minutes translating the old Farsi into modern Farsi, and then they’d ask me to help them translate the modern Farsi into English, and twenty minutes later they’d just throw up their hands and say, “It’s not the same. It’s just not the same in English. It doesn’t have the same flavor. You lose the heartbeat. You’re just going to have to learn Farsi,” they said to Ocean, who only looked at them and smiled.
It wasn’t long before they’d started defending him over me. Every time I’d tell them to back off, to cut this short, they’d turn to Ocean for support. He, of course, very politely took their side, insisting that he didn’t mind, and my mother asked him again if he wanted more tea and he said no, thank you, and she poured him more tea anyway, and she asked him if he wanted more food and he said no, thank you, and she filled four large Tupperware containers with leftovers and stacked them in front of him. But when he saw the food he seemed so genuinely grateful that by the end of the night my parents were half in love with him and perfectly ready to trade me in for a better model.
“He’s so polite,” my mother kept saying to me. “Why aren’t you polite? What did we do wrong?” She looked at Ocean. “Ocean, azizam,” she said, “please tell Shirin she should stop swearing so much.”
Ocean almost lost it for a second. I saw him about to laugh, hard, and he stifled it just in time.
I shot him a look.
My mom was still talking. She was saying, “It’s always asshole this, bullshit that. I say to her, Shirin joon, why are you so obsessed with shit? Why everything is shit?”
“Jesus Christ, Ma,” I said.
“Leave Jesus out of this,” she said, and pointed the wooden spoon at me before using it to hit me in the back of the head.
“Oh my God,” I said, waving her away. “Stop it.”
My mom sighed dramatically. “You see?” she said. She was talking to Ocean now. “No respect.”
Ocean only smiled. He looked like he was still failing to keep that smile from turning into a laugh. He pressed his lips together; cleared his throat. But his eyes gave him away.
Finally, Ocean sighed and stood up, stared at the stack of Tupperware containers set in front of him, and said he’d better call it a night. Somehow, it was almost midnight. I wasn’t kidding about those endless faucet videos.
But when Ocean started saying goodbye, he looked at me like he didn’t actually want to leave, like he was sorry he had to. I waved from across the room as he thanked my parents again, and, once I saw him walking toward the living room, I went upstairs. I didn’t want to stick around too long and make a whole production of the goodbye. My parents were too smart; I was pretty sure they’d figured out I had some kind of crush on this guy, but I didn’t want them to think I was obsessed with him. But then I heard a soft knock at my bedroom door, not a moment after I’d closed it, and I was stunned to discover Navid and Ocean standing there.
Navid said, “You have fifteen minutes. You’re welcome,” and nudged Ocean into my bedroom.
Ocean was smiling, shaking his head. He ran a hand through his hair and sighed and laughed at the same time. “Your family is funny,” he said. “Navid dragged me up here because he said he wanted to show me the bench press in his room. Is that even a real thing?”
I nodded. But I was kind of freaking out.
Ocean was standing in my bedroom and I had not been prepared for this. Not at all. I knew Navid was trying to do me a favor but I hadn’t had a chance to tidy up my room, to make sure I didn’t have any bras lying around or, to, like, I don’t know, make myself seem cooler than I actually was, and I felt suddenly concerned that I had no idea what it would be like to see my bedroom through someone else’s eyes.
But Ocean was staring.
My small, twin bed was in the right hand corner of the room. The comforter was mussed, the pillows stacked precariously. A few pieces of clothing had been thrown haphazardly on my bed—a tank top and shorts I’d worn to sleep. My phone was plugged into its charger, and it sat on the little bedside table. On the opposite wall was my desk, my computer perched on top, a stack of books sitting next to it. There was a dress form in another corner of the room, a half-finished pattern still pinned to the body. My sewing machine was on the floor nearby, and an open box full of all my other supplies—many spools of thread, pins and a pincushion, envelopes of needles—sat beside it.
In the middle of the floor was a small mess.
A handful of Sharpies were lying on the carpet next to an open sketch pad, an old boom box, and a pair of my dad’s even older headphones. There wasn’t much on the wall. Just a few charcoal pieces I’d done last year.
I’d scanned the whole space in a few seconds, and decided it would have to do. Ocean, on the other hand, was still staring; his assessment was taking a lot longer. I felt anxious.
“If I’d known you’d be coming in my room today,” I said, “I would’ve, um, made it nicer.”
But he didn’t seem to hear me. His eyes were locked onto my bed. “This is where you talk to me at night?” he said. “When you’re hiding under your covers?”
He walked over to my bed and sat down. Looked around. And then he noticed my pajamas, which seemed to baffle him for only a second before he said, “Oh, wow.” He looked up at me. “This is going to sound so stupid,” he said, “but it’s only just occurred to me that you must take your scarf off when you get home.”
“Um. Yeah,” I said. I laughed a little. “I don’t sleep like this.”
“So”—he frowned—“when you’re talking to me at night, you look totally different.”
“I mean, not totally different. But kind of. Yeah.”
“And this is what you’re wearing?” he said. He touched the tank top and shorts on my bed.
“It’s what I was wearing last night,” I said, feeling nervous. “Yeah.”
“Last night,” he said quietly, his eyebrows raised. And then he took a deep breath and looked away, picking up one of my pillows like it might’ve been made of glass.
We’d been on the phone for hours last night, talking about everything and nothing, and just the memory of our conversation sent a sudden thrill through my heart. I didn’t know exactly what time it was when we finally went to bed, but it was so late I remember only a weak attempt at shoving my phone under my pillow before happily dissolving into dreams.