Chapter 2
Ignoring the series of pings that kept coming from Artie's texts, she walked around for a while before realising that not even in fairy tales do people make dumb decisions like the one she just made. She didn't know his name, where he was, who he was, or even what he looked like. She was so desperate to find that peace that she had just jumped at a false opportunity. She sat down as the realisation dawned on her, and finally looked at his texts. Ignoring the ones that ranged from 'where are you' all the way to 'good fucking god woman if you don't text me back I'm filing a missing person's report', she came to a stop at the second to last text, 'look in your bag'. After rummaging through and even dumping out her bag, she finally found two loose Polaroids. She pulled one out, and almost couldn't recognise herself. Artie always talked about how stressed she looked even asleep, but in this picture she looked at peace, happy even. His face was obscured by a lock of hair that flopped on his face, but the look of content still shone through. It was as though the polaroid captured a world without troubles, one free of judgement, of fear and anger. It was a world she wanted. She looked up, and mentally calculated how much she had left. Calculated with excess, she could stretch her money to a week. Which meant she had exactly one week to get her life together. It was going to be a tough week, but she had had tougher. She took a deep breath, and suddenly she wanted to go somewhere. She didn't want to be sitting around, calculating materialistic needs. Walking around until she found wifi, she looked up where she was. She groaned softly, once again realising how dumb it was to have gotten off without even realising where she was. She had arrived in Maryland, which by the looks of, was nothing like Oklahoma. For her, that was perfect. Looking at images of Maryland, she suddenly knew where she wanted to go. Grabbing some cash and carefully stashing the rest, she picked up the phone and called a cab.

She didn't have enough to go directly, but he was sweet enough to drop her off close by. Walking the rest of the way, she breathed in the air deeply. The harbour was beautiful. It was getting decorated for an annual Light City show, and lights shone at every corner. Water clung to the air in the form of humidity as the sky promised more rain. It smelled like the water, and she could practically taste the salt. She passed by a Ferris wheel, and her heart thudded as she looked up to the giant wheel. She had never been a fan of heights, but she wondered if today was going to be change after change. Looking up while walking, she didn't notice the little boy until she walked right into his caramel apple, which clung to her dress like a drowning woman on a life raft. After apologising profusely to the frustrated and tired mother, and buying the son both cotton candy and another caramel apple, she sat down to assess the damage. She hadn't planned on damaging her dress, it was the only one she had packed. Honestly, it was the only one she even owned. She started to cry. She didn't mean to, and it certainly wasn't about the dress, but she couldn't help it. She had left everything behind. She had left everyone behind. Granted, her father locking her up didn't garner her friends, but James and Artie would still be far, even if it was only New York. She didn't even have her mother's grave to cry upon. Noticing that people were giving her odd looks, she got up, blinking furiously so as to disperse the tears. She walked around, staring at the ground, allowing her hair to shadow her face, and make it harder to see if she was crying. Suppressing her tears made her worse, and she felt as though she was suffocating. Her eyesight blurred and she drew in a breath. The noise around her suddenly was deafening, and she could feel her heart race. The world spun as she fought to get out of the crowd. She bumped against someone, and pushed past when suddenly she heard the person let out an audible gasp.


But she was blind. The world swam, and her stomach dry heaved, the noise enveloping her entire body. Warm hands came around her, and she fought them, afraid that they would strangle her too. She was afraid and she was cold and hot at the same time. She couldn't breathe. However, the hands did not leave her, instead holding her gently. They carried her, and she was suddenly sat on something solid; a bench.


A voice commanded, and she complied. Her nausea cleared a little, and she realised someone was talking to her softly.


She obliged. The noise subsided, and she could hear the person clearly.


She breathed much easily now, and realised the person was holding her hands, but it couldn't have been Artie and it wasn't James. She had clamped her eyes shut, and now she opened them slowly, sensitive to the dying light. The light highlighted his soft brown curls as he looked up at her from his crouched position in front of her. She breathed out a hello.

"Hi, welcome back."

She realised he was still holding her hands, and she withdrew them.


She whispered softly. He smiled, his brown eyes crinkled, and sat down next to her. She kept her eyes on her hands, concentrating on keeping her breath even. She saw him motion to someone out of the corner her eye, and then turn back to her.

"You okay?"

"Yeah, sorry."

"Actually, let me rephrase that. How are you feeling now?"

She looked up, his light brown eyes were concerned and she was captured.

"I- much better. It's easier to breathe, and I can see again."

He waited.

"I've never had anything like this happen."

He nodded, listening.

"I guess I've had anxiety attacks, but this was panic and anxiety rolled all in one."

He smiled.

"Good thing I was here then."

It was an open statement, a reply that wasn't there to interrupt. He looked at her expectantly.

"I- I followed you. Off the bus. Ok I know it sounds bad. But I swear, not like a stalker kind of way. I just-"

She took a deep breath, and he patiently waited.

"I- uh- okay, well since recently, I had a bit of a family issue, and it's been getting harder and harder for me to fall asleep. And when I do-"

The words suddenly all poured out.

"-it feels like I've been sleeping with one eye open, and I feel just as exhausted. The few hours that I truly sleep I have nightmares- well the one but with variations- and it's exhausting."

She took another breath, attempting to pace her words. She was blurting it all out to a stranger. Her stranger.

"But with you, I slept. Like actually slept. I don't remember any dreams, or nightmares, and I actually woke up feeling- feeling like I slept."

She deflated, and started biting her lips. Maybe she had said too much, taken a stranger's kindness to a whole new level. Maybe she was a stalker. Maybe she was becoming obsessed. Gathering her courage she looked up but he was now looking out to the harbour. The sun had gone down and the light city was in full swing. Lights flashed in the sky as performers entertained the people walking by. He was stiff when he spoke.

"Do you want my autograph?"


She was disappointed and struggled to not let it show. Of course, she also confided in a crazy narcissistic stranger. As she debated running, he looked back at her, and barked out a laugh at her expression.

"You really don't. You legitimately don't."

"Sorry, no?"

"So you've never seen me before."

"It was nice meeting you-"

"Okay sorry sorry I just wanted to make sure. Have you ever watched the show 'Analysing Criminal Behaviour'?"

She paused, and suddenly her eyes widened. He grinned, and winked, which made her heart shimmy in a way that must have been an anatomical anomaly.

"But you're so different?"

He laughed, crossing his legs, his demeanour relaxed once more.

"It's just a character I play, I'm actually weirder than that."

"Oh. Sorry if I didn't recognise you then."

He glanced at her sideways, smiling.

"I like that. Usually, I'm not sure if a person is trying to get close to me because they're confusing me with my character or because I'm famous or both.

So I'm glad that you met me as the real Michael Grey rather than fictional character Dr. Reese."
She laughed, and it was freeing.

"Well, I'm glad too. I'm Aysha-"

She hesitated a beat before finishing her name, and if he noticed he didn't show.

"-Mahmud. I'm really glad I met you."

She smiled, extending her hand. He shook her hand, and she didn't fail to notice that he didn't let go.

"Aysha Mahmud-"

Her name in his mouth was awkward but every syllable sounded perfect in his soft baritone.

"-doesn't seem very American in origin. Where are you from?"

"America, duh."

He knew I was teasing, but was too respectful to pry.

"Sorry, I didn't mean to offend you."

She laughed again, a little lightheaded from the high of meeting a crush.

"No, I'm kidding. I've been here long enough and have the papers but you're right. My parents are actually South Asian, and I was brought up in the Middle East. Have you ever heard of Dubai?"

His eyes widened.

"Heard of? More like dreamt of everyday! Don't tell me you lived there."

"Until I was ten actually."

Her throat caught, and she swallowed to get rid of the lump that suddenly appeared. It had been ten years already, but the dreams kept it fresh in her mind. It was a small sound, but he caught it nonetheless. As though hearing her silent plea to not ask, he continued without hesitating.

"So where do you live now?"

"Well, I used to live in Oklahoma, but I decided to find a place in New York."

"Wow, that's far. Even from here."

There was a question implied, and she playfully elbowed him.

"Well, I decided since I'm making dumb decisions it wouldn't hurt to make another one. So I got off right after you."

She looked around, and took another deep breath. Her heart rate had returned to normal, albeit a bit faster.

"I am rethinking New York though. It's nicer here, less crowded. Cheaper too. Whatever I had would have only gotten me a week with me mooching my room and food from my friends, but here? I can go a whole week and then some if I really stretch it."

He chuckled, and unconsciously she smiled.

"So you're staying in a hotel? Or are you renting a flat?"

She paused, and realised she actually never thought about it. She certainly had enough to pay down payment for a flat, but that meant she would have no choice but to get a job or get kicked out and maybe arrested for not being able to pay the lease. However, a motel would only last so long, and felt like the more wasteful decision. She sighed.

"Honestly, I didn't think about it. I just had to get away, and now, I realise I don't know any of this. I don't know. I just-" Her heart began to race again and she instinctively reached for his hand. Without thinking he held hers, applying a reassuring pressure, a reminder that she wasn't alone.

"Shh, it's ok, breathe."

She gulped in air and her heart rate steadied again.

"Listen, if it's not being too forward, want to stay at my place? Until you get a job, and can stand on your own two feet."

She was stunned. Not because she almost had a panic attack but because this man that she had literally met hours ago was providing her with food and shelter. Not to mention, this was Aysha. The sleeps with one eye open Aysha. The paranoid that any and every man will find her and bring her back to him Aysha. Today, she was 'actually thinking about it' Aysha.

Hello my beloved BlueBells, I know you're tired of seeing this asterisked area already, but please please please leave me comments and reviews, it really honestly helps. And if you guys ever want to get in touch, please send me a pm!