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Secrets

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“Did you see the latest BrisketB shoot in Topp?” Vilde asked excitedly during lunch.

Sana internally grimaced. She hated it when the girls started talking about BrisketB. It was an all too common occurrence in her life. She usually just kept her head down and her lips sealed when this topic came up. She really didn’t want to contribute or encourage it any more than necessary.

“Yes! I was so grateful they had Elias go topless for it,” Eva replied dreamily.

“I want to lick those abs of his,” Vilde added. “How come we never bump into them? Oslo is small and they aren't on tour at the moment.”

Cos they are usually holed up in my flat to avoid horny teens like you, Sana thought a little viciously.

It wasn't even the girls’ fault because they didn't know that Elias - lead singer and main heartthrob of Norway’s biggest boy band - was her brother because she deliberately kept that information quiet.

“I don't know. I like Mutta the best,” Chris said, a goofy expression on her face as she sucked on her yoghurt spoon. “He’s so cute and those facial expressions are practically a meme.”

“What about you, Sana. Which member do you prefer?”             

Yousef floated into her mind smiling broadly at her last night as she sat doing her biology homework in the kitchen and he’d come to grab some snacks. They always seemed to have interactions like that these days and she hated how she struggled to get words out around him now. Before, when she had just looked at him as any of Elias’ other friends, she’d been quick with the banter and wit. Now, she would find herself staring a little too hard at him and getting flustered when he caught her.

“None of them. They all look immature.”

Vilde rolled her eyes. “C’mon you must like one. They’re Muslim, too, so doesn't that make them extra attractive for you?”

“What are you trying to say? That I can only find Muslim guys cute?”

“But…no...I thought...you seem to…you never show any interest in Norwegian guys!” Vilde stuttered out finally, her face flushed.

A blistering retort was on Sana’s tongue so it was probably a good thing Noora slid into the seat opposite with her packed lunch and asked, “What are we talking about?”

“The BrisketB shoot in Topp. Did you see it?” Eva replied.            

“Yeah,” Noora said. “That Yousef is so handsome.”

Sana’s jaw clenched. Of course Noora would have a thing for Yousef. She’d rather listen to Vilde talking about licking Elias’ abs than have Noora list off all the ways Yousef was the hottest of them all.

“He’s so sweet and soft. You wouldn’t think he was a big heartthrob with how adorable he is. I mean, he seems so unsuited to it and always comes across as a little dorky in their interviews like he’s not really prepared for this level of fame. Imagine how loveable he must be in real life.

Unfortunately, Sana didn’t need to imagine it because he was all those things that Noora said and it kept her awake at night. Her crush on him was becoming a huge problem, really. She didn’t want to have all these feelings for a boy whom she couldn’t escape because he was always at her house and when she wasn’t at home she had to listen to her friends wax lyrically about him.

“What you talking about?” Magnus asked, sitting down and pulling his chair so close to Vilde’s that she was almost in his lap.

“BrisketB,” Chris said, not seeing the wide eyed pleading of Vilde and small shake of her head.

“Ugh I hate those guys,” Magnus replied. “That Elias is so full himself.”

Quickly putting her hands under her table as they curled naturally into fists at Magnus’ words. It would do no good trying to pretend that BrisketB meant nothing to her if she ended up planting a fist in Magnus’ face for his words about Elias, who was not full of himself.

“Who’s full of themselves?” Jonas asked coming up with Mahdi, Isak and Even. He and Mahdi pulled another table over so they could all sit together, which happened regularly now that Vilde and Magnus were dating. “The Penetrators? Cos yes they are.”

Sana smirked and looked down at the little look Jonas sent Eva’s way. How her friend hadn't noticed how jealous her ex was of her hook-ups with Penetrator Chris was beyond her.

“No, Elias from BrisketB.”

“He doesn't look full of himself,” Even piped up sitting down. “Just outgoing.”

He shot Sana a discrete wink and she smiled fondly at him. She knew she could count on him to have her back.

“Yeah, if anyone looks full of themselves it's that Mikael,” Isak said with a frown.

“That was one text I sent you, Isak, before we were dating. You don't need to be jealous of him.”

“You have a crush on Mikael?” Noora asked. “Eskild says he and Adam are definitely gay.”

“He had a crush and he knew him,” Isak said sulkily.

“You knew BrisketB?” Eva asked impressed.

“Yeah they graduated from Bakka last year.”

“97 Bakka boys are smoking,” Chris said. “I should have gone to Bakka. 97 Nissen boys are so lame in comparison.”

“97 Bakka boys are the hottest,” Isak said with a smirk towards Even and Chris hi-fived him.       

“All I know is that those boys are making it harder for the rest of us so I don’t like them on principal,” Mahdi said. “Every girl seems to talk about them these days.”

“Not Sana,” Vilde remarked. “She hates it when we talk about them. Ooh, maybe you and Sana should date. It would be nice if more of us were couples!”

“No, Vilde,” Sana said whilst Mahdi just looked freaked out.

“But you’re Muslim right, Mahdi?”

Sana closed her eyes in agony. Nothing about this conversation was going well and now Vilde was trying to set her up with the only other non-white person in the group as if that meant they would somehow be perfect for each other.

“Actually, I’m Catholic. I just have an Arabic name.”

“Oh!” Vilde said. “But still-”

“No, Vilde,” Sana said a little more forcefully this time.

------------

When she got home later that night, Sana could hear the boys in the book-room as usual. It had become their main hangout place these days as they couldn’t walk through Oslo without getting mobbed. She knew Elias had liked the attention at first, but after a month of such extreme attention, it had rapidly turned overwhelming and just stressful, so now, when they weren’t at the studio, they generally could be found at the Bakkoush house.

There was a crash, the sound of something breaking and Elias and Mutta breaking out into laughter. Yousef then saying something soothing came to her ears and she guessed that they were practising some dance routine or other. Something usually broke when that happened and it was usually Adam’s fault.

Peeking around the door, Sana watched as Yousef went through the sequence he was obviously trying to teach the rest. She loved it when she caught glimpses of Yousef like this. He was so fluid when he danced; natural and smooth, which kind of made his dorky persona more of a surprise when it descended on you in all its glory. Not that she didn’t love his dorkiness. She certainly did. Then again, it was getting to the point where she couldn’t name one thing she hated about Yousef.

“What you doing?” Sana asked once Yousef had finished and Adam was attempting to recreate what he’d been shown.

At the sound of her voice, Yousef looked over from where he was watching Adam critically and gave her a wide smile. Biting her lip to keep from grinning back at him, she looked away and down. Having a crush on her brother’s best friend was inadvisable at the best of times, but having a crush on your brother’s best friend who also happened to be a teenage heartthrob was even dumber.

“We’re shooting the new video in a couple of days,” Elias said.

“What did Adam break this time?”

“Hey!” Adam complained. “Who said I broke anything.”

She snorted. “It happens every time.”

The rest of the boys laughed at her words and she couldn’t help but smirk at little.

“Want to say anything to the camera, Sana?” Mikael asked and then she noticed that he was standing a little way back because he was filming. He tended to produce the little BTS clips that went out on their official YouTube page sporadically. It appeared he was going to be doing a BTS for their latest video.

“Turn that thing away from me,” she snapped.

“Aww sorry, folks, I guess Elias’ sister doesn’t have any words to share with you.”

“You better edit that out,” she warned.

He rolled his eyes and said, “Relax! I’ll edit it out.”

Warning Elias to put the ceramics their mum liked to collect from Morocco away before doing any more dance practice, Sana went into the kitchen to make a snack. Both their parents were working late shifts at the hospital tonight and she knew she could count on Elias to spring for a take-out at some point but it wouldn’t be until later that he and boys would remember to eat and order something for her, too. She needed something to eat now.

Halfway through making herself a sandwich, Yousef called out a soft, “Hi,” to her as he grabbed a glass out of the cupboard.

“Hello,” she replied with a small smile only allowing herself to briefly look up at him before turning her eyes back down the bread. Her heart pounded heavily in her chest and if she didn’t know it was impossible, she would worry that he could hear it.

He passed close behind her and she held her breath as she felt the shift of air from his body pressing so close to hers before he reached the fridge and poured some juice into his glass.

“Hungry?” he asked, leaning against the fridge door and watching her.

“Yeah. Want a sandwich?”

“No thanks. The label put out a big lunch at the studio.”

Before her crush she would have thought of something witty to reply to that, but now she could barely get the most mundane sentences out around him.

A small awkward pause fell between them. She finished making the sandwich and kind of stood there fussing with it so she didn’t have to leave straight away. She rarely got alone time with Yousef and he didn’t look in much of a rush to leave either as he slowly sipped his drink and watched her actions.

“How’s school?” he asked.

“Good.”

“Still managing to keep Elias a secret?”

She laughed then. “Yep. There’s no way I’m opening myself up to the stress of people knowing I’m related to one of the BrisketB boys.”

“I’m not sure how to feel about being your secret,” Yousef said with a teasing smile.

Grinning, she looked down, internally reflecting on how Yousef was a secret in more than one way. She hid the fact that she knew him and she also hid how deeply she felt for him. He wasn’t one of the boys to her, he was much more, but she wasn’t sure she wanted him to know that just yet – if ever!

“Get used to it and think of how I’m protecting you. All my friends would want to come to my house if they knew BrisketB used it as a sanctuary.”

“Thank you for your selfless act.”

She huffed out a small sound of amusement at his wry response, enjoying how they were relaxing into a conversation.  But before any more could be said, Elias called out for Yousef from the room. Demanding that he came to settle who was right about a move in the dance sequence they were rehearsing.

“Duty calls,” he said with a small shrug. “Enjoy your sandwich.”

“Yeah,” she said a little sadly to his retreating back.

-----------

“So if you had to fuck, marry or kill anyone in BrisketB, who would it be?” Vilde asked.

“Seriously?” Sana responded. “What kind of question is that?”

But no one listened, too busy leaning forward getting ready to play the game.

“Hmm,” Eva pondered. “That's hard. Like I don't particularly want to kill any of them but I guess if I did then...Mutta?!”

“Hey!” Chris protested.

“Sorry but, you know, I’d definitely fuck Elias. He looks like he’d be so good in bed. And marry Yousef because that boy is husband material. Mutta is probably my least favourite. Adam is kind of adorably dumb and Mikael makes sure we have all those awesome behind the scenes footage.”

“Well, to counter that,” Chris said with a glare at Eva. “I would definitely marry Mutta, fuck Yousef and kill Mikael.”

“Yeah no, I’m with Eva,” Vilde said. “Except I would kill Adam not Mutta. Then you and Mutta and me and Yousef could have a joint wedding. It would be so cute. Elias would be my fling before settling down because he’d give you at least 3 orgasms and I bet he’d go down on you.”

“Seriously?!” Sana exclaimed, wanting to die at this whole conversation. She never wanted to hear the words Elias and orgasms in the same sentence ever again. That her friends were thinking of how good her brother was in bed was disturbing on all levels let alone with the kind of details Vilde was throwing in for good measure.

“What about you, Noora?” Chris asked.

Noora would be good to shut this conversation down, she was sure of it. Noora hated stuff like this - objectifying people sexually.

“Marrying someone like Yousef is kind of the dream. He’s so sweet and soft,” she said with a goofy expression on her face. “And again, I’d agree that Elias would be the one to sleep with. I can't decide who to kill because I don't like it.”

Ignoring how her stomach twisted with how they all - barring Chris - wanted to marry Yousef, Sana focused on the one thing she felt able to control her emotions on. The last thing she wanted was for the girls to pick up on her crush on real life Yousef and apply it to boyband Yousef and call her a hypocrite. “Don't you think you’re being a little gross reducing Elias to nothing but a good sexual encounter?”

She grimaced at the words, not even wanting to go down this route but she always hated how everyone reduced Elias down to nothing but a good time boy as if he didn't have layers or wasn't sensitive. Her brother was both of those things, yet he was also extroverted. You didn't have to be one or the other. That's what Sana hated most about the whole boyband thing, it reduced people to caricatures and Elias was the bubbly, outgoing lead singer that most girls focused their sexual frustration on.

“But that's the game,” Vilde said. “Why do you always get upset when we talk about BrisketB?”

“I don't get upset.”

“You kind of do,” Eva said.

“I don't!” She huffed. “I just don't get the obsession with them.”

“They’re cool and they seem like genuinely nice boys,” Vilde said.

She couldn't really argue with that because they were nice boys and she was proud of their success even if it did lead to uncomfortable moments with her friends.

“That's fine but why does everything have to be reduced to sex when talking about them?”

“Because everyone knows boybands are a safe outlet for teenage girls to explore their feelings about sex,” Noora said.

“But you lot are hardly young teens discovering sex,” Sana complained. “You’ve all had sex and boyfriends.”

“Why are you always uncomfortable when we do discuss BrisketB?” Chris countered.

She floundered there. She couldn't give a proper answer without letting out that she actually knew who they are and she didn't want to that. She had no desire for that connection to get out. She'd have girls constantly bugging her for their numbers and stuff.

“I just think it's boring.”

“We can't all talk about science like you,” Eva said teasingly. “Some of us are reduced to dumb conversation like the BrisketB boys.”

Sighing, she resigned herself to having to deal with more of this. The PR machine around the boys was going into overdrive as they were about to drop the first single from their second album. They were Scandinavia’s hottest group at the moment and the label was hoping to bring them wider fame across Europe with this album.

“Did you see how cute Yousef’s answer was when asked about who his celebrity crush was?” Eva said. “That boy is so pure.”

“He never talks about girls,” Noora said thoughtfully. “He always side-steps that question. Do you think he’s dating someone and is not allowed to mention it but doesn’t want to hurt his girlfriend’s feelings?”

Sana’s stomach swooped a little at that. She knew Yousef wasn’t seeing anyone, but she had noticed how he never spoke about any girls in his interviews. She had always had a slight hope it was because he had a crush on her, too, but didn’t dare get her hopes up. It wasn’t realistic really to think he would keep quiet about celebrity crushes because he had feelings for the unknown and very ordinary sister of his best friend but it wasn’t as if anything about her emotions around him was rational anymore.

“Maybe he’s gay,” Vilde said.

“No, Eskild says his gaydar is only picking up on Adam and Mikael and he reckons they’re dating.”

It was scary how accurate Eskild was about two strangers he’d never met, but Adam and Mikael were dating and the studio was definitely keen on keeping that quiet, which was stupid really. Not that she understood how the music industry worked.

“Whatever the reason is, it’s sweet,” Eva said.

Keen to get off the subject of Yousef Acar, Sana asked Chris a question about German and successfully managed to divert the conversation.

--------

Sana subscribed to the boys’ official YouTube channel - of course she did. But, to be honest, she never paid attention to the notifications she got when they uploaded a new video and so hadn't watched the latest one. This meant she wasn't prepared for the barrage of texts on the group chat when it dropped.

Eva: oh my god!

Eva: so much makes sense now

Eva: I can't believe you, Sana!!!

Vilde: !!!!!!!!!!   

Chris: you’ve been holding out, girl

Sana: huh?!

Noora: the latest BrisketB BTS video dropped and you might want to watch it

Vilde: you got some explaining to do

Eva: so much explaining

Chris: SO MUCH EXPLAINING!!!!

Noora: smh

Chris: you are busted!

With a horrible sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach, Sana put down her mathematics book and pulled her laptop towards her. Bringing up the BrisketB channel, she watched in horror as she made a brief but unmistakable cameo laughing at Adam’s dance moves. Fortunately, Mikael hadn't been filming her as she stared longingly at Yousef but her secret was out and there was no pretending that she had no clue who the boys were.

“MIKAEL!!!” She yelled, yanking open her bedroom door and storming down the hallway to the book room.

“Ooh Mikael, what did you do?” Adam teased as Sana appeared in the door and glared ferociously at him.

“Ah!” Mikael said, his mouth turning down in a guilty manner. “I tried to edit it out, Sana, but the label demanded it was left in. They thought it would appeal to the fans. You know cute family moments.”

“You could’ve edit it before you showed them,” she snapped.

“Chill, Sana, you can't kill Mikael, we need him,” Elias said.

“Do you? Do you really?” she asked a little savagely.

“I’m sorry,” Mikael said, a contrite expression on his face. “I meant to tell you, honestly, but I forgot.”

“But what am I going to do now?” She all but wailed.

“Do?” Mutta asked confused. “Why do you need to do anything?”

“Because now I can't pretend to know nothing about you. Now everyone knows I’m Elias’ sister and I’m going to be hounded about this at school. My friends are already bombarding me with messages,” she said waving her phone.

“Hey! Think how popular you'll be now!” Adam said breezily.

“Yeah because a bunch of girls pretending to be my friends so they can get to you is exactly what I need.”

Out corner of her eye, she caught Yousef’s expression. He was the only one who was looking at her sympathetically. The rest seemed not to think it was that much of a big deal.

“Relax,” Elias said. “It’ll be fine.”

“It better!” she snapped back before storming back to room. Looking down at the groupchat, she considered what she could write but ended up just throwing her phone on her bed and burying her face in her pillows.

 

Chapter Text

It’s not often that Sana wanted her brother to be right but this was definitely one of those moments were she’d been rooting for Elias. However, as usual, she was the one proven right. The next day as she stepped into the schoolyard, she was surrounded by girls in a couple of seconds.

“Hey can you get them to sign this for me?”

“Please can I have your brother’s phone number? He’s so hot!”

“Oh my God, how do you survive in their presence? I would faint, I’m sure.”

Sighing, Sana pushed through the crowd of girls and stalked across the yard and into the school with a scowl on her face and made her way to the Biology classroom.

Just as she entered, she was waylaid by Sara and Ingrid from Pepsi Max. “Sana,” Sara said with a sickly sweet smile. “You look really nice today. That colour…lipstick looks great on you.”

Rolling her eyes at how blatant the pause had been whilst Sara had tried to find something nice to say about her appearance, Sana tilted her head and asked in an unimpressed tone, “What do you want?”

“A space has opened up on our bus and we were discussing who we should invite on last night and your name was overwhelmingly brought up. You’re so cool and would fit in perfectly with us.”

Plastering a fake smile on her face, Sana said, “That’s so kind of you, but I already have a bus, thanks.”

Sara paused. “So that’s a no?”

“Yeah, that’s a no,” she replied, not waiting for any further response and walking to her table.

“The price of fame, huh?” Isak asked from where he’d been watching at the window.

“Don’t even try and be funny about this.”

Isak held his hands up in surrender. “Hey, I’m pretty sure I’m one of the only people treating you the same today.”

Sana groaned and put her head down in the desk. She felt him move his chair out from next to her and sit down.

“So you’re related to ever so sexy Elias from BrisketB.”

Turning her head to the side, she opened her eyes and glared at him.

“I’m teasing! I’m teasing!” he said, but then his face grew sombre and he added, “How come you didn’t tell me you knew Even from before?

Sana sat up then and raised her eyebrows. So Even had finally told Isak. “It wasn’t my place to tell you. It Even’s story not mine.”

Isak pursed his lips a little at that as if he wanted to disagree but then nodded his head. “You’re a good friend, do you know that?”

She rolled her eyes. Compliments from Isak were rare and if she was truly honest then she preferred them teasing each other over grades. Pairing up with Isak had been a good thing for her. The competition with him pushed her to study harder and she knew it was the same for him. She did better with that than kind remarks about her friendship skills – mainly because she wasn’t used to compliments and was never quite sure how to react.

Luckily, the teacher arrived then and she didn’t need to find a response as the lesson started.

---------

Lunchtime saw her hiding out in an empty classroom rather than braving the cafeteria. She was hungry but so far her school day had been a disaster of people crowding around her, invading her personal space and trying to be her best friend. There was nothing quite like becoming the popular kid because everyone had a crush on your brother and his friends.

Her phone pinged and she pulled it out.

Chris: Hey girl? Where you at?

She debated about not replying but to be honest she couldn’t ignore the girls forever. It would be better to just get this over and done with and maybe everything could go back to normal – this time without endless conversations about BrisketB because there might be an actual filter now they knew Elias was her brother.

Then again, she was friends with Vilde.

Sana: In the German classroom.

Chris: Hiding out?

Sana: You know it

Chris: Need food?

Sana: Please!!!

Ten minutes later and Chris showed up with the rest of the girls in tow.

“You won’t believe how many detours we just had to take,” Chris said, wiping a hand over her brow. “These bitches be crazy.”

“You’re being hounded, too?”

“Oh yeah,” Chris said, opening her bag and handing Sana a sandwich – vegetarian because Chris was generally the only one of her friends who paid attention to what Sana could and couldn’t eat. “Apparently we might be able to get them access to the Holy Grail, too.”

“Ugh, I could kill Mikael,” Sana said, biting into her sandwich aggressively to help stem her annoyance.

“I can’t believe you didn’t tell us though,” Vilde said, when they were all perched on desks in a circle. “You’re BrisketB Elias’ sister.”

“Er…maybe that’s why she didn’t tell us,” Noora said wryly.

“What? Why?” Vilde asked, a little clueless as always.

Eva shot Sana an amused look. “Because we all act as thirsty as fuck when we mention BrisketB.”

“Can you blame us?” Vilde said. “Elias is-”

“Finish that sentence and I will throw this bottle at you,” Sana said.

“I was just going to say that he’s-”

“Don’t!” Sana said raising the bottle of water threateningly. “I’ve heard more than enough about my brother and your sexual fantasies.”

“When you put it like that,” Eva said with a grimace. “I’m sorry! I promise never to talk about Elias and his abs again.”

“Thank you,” she replied gratefully.

“What about the rest of them though?” Vilde asked.

Yousef flashed into Sana’s mind. As much as she hated having an inconvenient crush on him and wished that it would dissipate so she would stop feeling so awkward and self-conscious in his presence, she knew this was her opportunity to get the rest of the girls to stop talking about him, too. She hated hearing about how attractive they all found him. For one, her jealousy rose and secondly, she felt like every other teenager in Norway with a crush on him, which wasn’t fair considering she’d liked him before BrisketB had even been formed.

“I’d rather you didn’t,” she said. “It’s just I know them. Have known them for years and it’s weird to hear you talk about them as these big sex symbols.”

“Yeah,” Noora said scrunching her nose up. “You’re probably like their little sister. I can see how strange that would be. Eskild freaks me out enough as it is with his sex life and he’s as close as I get to a sibling.”

She wanted to snap at that because she knew the boys saw her as an extra sibling, which she didn’t mind for most of them but Yousef viewing her like that was salt in the wounds. Unrequited crushes sucked.

“So when are we going to meet them?” Chris asked.

“Er…you’re not,” Sana replied.

“C’mon, we just saved you from the rabid pack of teenagers wanting to meet their idols in the cafeteria. Our sacrifice deserves a reward and Mutta is obviously desperate to meet me.”

Laughing at her friend’s argument, Sana still shook her head. “The boys hide themselves away to avoid these kinds of meetings.”

“We’re not going to jump them or anything,” Eva said.

Surprisingly Vilde had remained quiet. Possibly because she recognised that if she opened her mouth and said the wrong thing then there would be no persuading Sana to do anything. Her shoulders slumped a little as she looked around at her friends’ eager faces. It would be hard to keep them separate now they knew her big secret, but she wasn’t keen on the idea of mixing her friends with her brother.

“I don’t know,” She said, scrunching her nose up. “I would need to check with them.”

The girls’ nodded and thankfully let the topic drop, instead moving on to talk about parties happening that weekend.

---------

There was just the noise of the TV when she made it home later that day. She was exhausted after a day of avoiding crowds of people who were claiming to be her new best friend. Toeing off her shoes and dumping her bag and coat by the door, she peeked into the front room. The boys were camped out in front of the flat screen watching Lord of the Rings with bowls of snacks and drinks scattered around the place.

She could go into her bedroom or the kitchen and study, but her brain felt like mush so she decided to the join the boys in their film marathon.

Spotting her, Mutta paused the film and asked, “How did it go?”

“I survived.”

“Survived?” Elias asked.

“Hang on,” she said and nipped back to the front door to get her bag. Unzipping it, she pulled her school books and personal belongings out and turned the bag upside down onto Elias lap. Dozens of scraps of paper fluttered out onto his legs.

“What’s that?” Adam asked, craning his neck up from where he was sitting on the floor with Mikael.

“Numbers. Lots and lots of numbers for you. I’m not even sure your names are on most of them. Apparently, teenagers don’t have a particular preference and just want one of you to call them.”

“Did they give these to you?” Yousef asked with a small amount of concern in his voice.

Looking over to where he sat lodged into the corner of the sofa, she couldn’t suppress the small smile for him when she saw his furrowed brow and general air of worry before turning her attention back to the pile of paper. “Nope. These were stuffed into my locker. You think I was crazy enough to actually be in a place long enough for people to give me these?”

“So it was bad then?” Mikael asked.

“Just say alhamdulillah that you’re still alive,” she said, her eyes narrowing menacingly at him.

“Wow,” Mutta said, rising from where he sat in the middle of the sofa. “Sounds like you had a bad day. Come and chill out with us.”

“Thanks,” Sana said as she flopped down on the sofa, making sure she sat closer to Elias than Yousef. She wasn’t sure her crush would last through an entire film sat too close to him. He was too warm and tempting and gorgeous.

“Give me,” she said, her hand reaching out towards’ Elias bowl of popcorn.

He scowled, held the bowl out of reach and shoved her. “No, get your own!”

Now, thanks to her brother, she was closer to Yousef than was safe with just a small sliver of air between them. However, he didn’t seem to mind and he smelt so good that she just huffed at her brother and sat back, allowing herself to settle almost against him.

“Here,” he said softly and passed her his bowl.

“Thanks,” she said with a smile, placing the bowl so it rested on both their legs and allowed him access too.

Zoning out, she allowed herself to focus on the warmth she could feel radiating from him and languidly watched the film, occasionally grabbing some popcorn and trying to steady her heartbeat and breathing when their fingers would brush against each other, causing tingles to radiate up her arm. It was nice just relaxing with him like this. She had been such a bundle of nerves around him recently that just leaning into being in his presence and not overthinking it was a welcome relief. Crushes were exhausting and she was already too tired to overanalyse every word or movement in body language right now. So instead, she slowly released the tension she’d been holding onto all day and sleepily watched the adventures of the Fellowship on the screen.

It wasn’t until she heard the front door bang that she woke.

“You can wake her,” she heard Elias say quietly.

“It’s okay,” Yousef replied. “She’s tired. Let her sleep.”

“She’s pining you to the sofa.”

“It’s not like I have to be anywhere.”

She heard her brother give a small laugh and say, “You’re so transparent.”

“Shut up.”

Sana was now awake enough to realise that she was both hearing and feeling Yousef’s words. They were a rumble against her ear. Slowly opening her eyes, she blinked a few times as she gathered that she was sleeping on his chest, her head tucked into the crook of his neck. His arm had come around her at some point to tether her so she was more comfortable.

Her heart sped up as the reality of the situation dawned on her. She was sleeping in Yousef’s arms like they were a couple. She turned her face up towards his just as he became aware that she was awake, which led to their lips being mere millimetres apart. Her breath hitched as her gaze dropped to his lips. Temptation to close the gap, to press her mouth against his and see if they were as soft and warm as they looked nearly overtook her, but at the last minute she came to her senses and pulled back, sitting up a little.

“Sorry,” she said a little thickly, still staring at him. “What time is it?”

“Just gone 8pm.”

“Wow. How long have I been asleep?”

“A couple of hours. We made it through half of The Two Towers before the others had to go.”

Aware that his arm still rested comfortably around her waist, keeping her tucked into his side Sana couldn’t help but smile at him. “At least I didn’t drool on your shirt.”

Yousef laughed then. “There is that.”

“Oh good, you’re awake,” Elias said. “Mama is staying at khalto’s tonight. Samira has gone into labour and she needs to look after the other kids whilst khalto goes with Samira into hospital. Can you make food? I don’t want another take away.”

“I’m tired. I don’t want to cook.”

“Pleeeeaaasssse,” Elias said with a stupid little pout on his face.

Her stubborn streak came out. There was no reason why Elias couldn’t learn to cook for himself. “No!”

“I can cook,” Yousef said, jumping in before a famous Bakkoush sibling stand-off could develop.

“Better use of your time than flirting with my sister,” Elias said, gesturing to where Yousef’s arm was still slung around her.

Reddening, Yousef quickly removed it with a quick apology and stood up. It shouldn’t have been a loss but it totally was. She missed the weight of his arm around her and the warmth of his body pressed up against hers. For a brief moment, she’d been able to fantasise that he was actually hers and not just being kind to his best friend’s little sister.

Disappointed at having Elias interrupt her moment of alone time with Yousef, she muttered something about homework and prayers and fled to her room.

-----------

However, the sensation of being snuggled up to Yousef wouldn’t leave her mind. Her mind kept coming back to it and she would relive just how amazing it had felt being pressed up to his chest with his arm tight around her. She shouldn’t have given in to the temptation to hang out with the boys because now she was in deeper than ever when it came to Yousef.

“Earth to Sana,” Chris said, waving a hand in front of her face as their German lesson started to wind down.

Blinking rapidly, Sana shook her head and said, “Sorry.”

“Late night?”

It had been but mainly because she’d lain awake staring at her ceiling and thinking of Yousef, which had been her problem for the past couple of nights ever since she’d fallen asleep against him. “I couldn’t get to sleep.”

“So did you speak to the boys?”

“Huh?!”

“Sanaaaa,” her friend whined. “You were meant to ask if we could meet them.”

She’d deliberately blocked that whole idea out of her head and grimaced at the memory of it. “Eh, I’m not sure that’s a good idea.”

“Come on,” Chris said unimpressed. “How else am I meant to meet my future husband if you don’t introduce us?”

“Future husband?”

“Yeah. You’re standing in the way of true love! Mutta and me; it was written in the stars.”

Sana couldn’t help her snort of amusement. “You’re going to be so disappointed when you actually meet him. They’re a bunch of dorks.”

“Well that’s good because we’re a bunch of losers.”

The look on Chris’ face was pathetically pouting and Sana heaved a sigh and capitulated. “Okay, I’ll see if they don’t mind but only because you asked me.”

“Yeah! My girl coming through,” Chris said giving her an enthusiastic high five.

The bell went then and Chris flew out of her seat. “Thank fuck! I’m so hungry. I overslept and didn’t have time to eat this morning.”

“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day,” Sana said in a holier-than-thou accent.

Chris snorted. “Says the girl who drinks coffee for breakfast.”

“Still counts as a foodstuff.”

“And fuels your bitter heart.”

“How else do I manage to get everyone to back the fuck off?”

“That’s a point,” Chris said with a nod. “Are you braving the cafeteria today?”

“I guess. I’m kind of fed up of trying to find classrooms to hide out in.”

“And you’ve managed to shut the school down.”

The fact that she had managed to stop being crowded by fans desperate to meet BrisketB was something Sana was proud of. It had only been four days since her secret had gotten out, but being abrasive and rude as fuck had managed to convince everyone at Nissen that it was pointless trying to be her new best friend to get to the boys.

So walking into the cafeteria, whispers and nudges followed her, but no one was jumping up to greet her. She could cope with people talking and staring; she’d put up with that for most of her life, especially once she’d put on the hijab.

Grabbing some food, Sana and Chris made their way over to where the rest of the girls were sitting.

“What you up to?” Chris asked as they approached.

Noora, Eva and Vilde all jumped, startled, and gave Sana a guilty look as Vilde scrambled to stuff a magazine hastily out of sight into her bag.

Rolling her eyes, Sana said, “It’s okay. You can discuss the latest interview. I’ll survive. However, if you take it down a sexual route I will get up and leave.”

The marketing around the boys was gearing up as they got closer to the release date of the first single off their new album so Sana couldn’t exactly expect to be able to avoid them.

“Have you read it?” Eva asked as Vilde got her magazine back out and spread it across the table for everyone to see.

“Nope,” Sana replied, popping her p.

“So does Yousef have a girlfriend?” Vilde asked, leaning forward eagerly.

Her heart skipped a beat at the question and her stomach sank. “What? Why?”

Noora pointed to a paragraph. “It’s just here the interviewer asks about crushes and the boys all laugh and Elias says, ‘hmmm you’d have to ask Yousef about that.’ Yousef side-steps the question but the interviewer notes that he seems embarrassed and shy.”

Peering over Chris’ shoulder, Sana read the paragraph in question and her stomach tied itself into anxious knots as she read her brother’s teasing. She could imagine the tone in which he said the words and the way Mikael and Mutta would snicker in the background. Did Yousef have a crush on someone? It was more than possible. It wasn’t as if he was going to stay single to ease her pining heart and she was just going to have deal with the fact that he didn’t like her and get over him.

Then the remembrance of Elias’ words when she was asleep on his chest come back. Her brother had called Yousef ‘transparent’. What did that mean? She had been snuggling into him at the time and he hadn’t seem to mind. Anticipation fizzled through her veins at the thought that maybe – just maybe she was the girl he had a crush on before the practical side of her brain shut it down. She was being ridiculous. He had seen the kind of stressful day she’d had and had been kind. Just like Mutta had when he’d given up his place on the sofa for Sana to sit there.

“I don’t know,” Sana said. “I don’t really talk about girls with them.”

Sometimes being the only one with brothers was a disadvantage. Only Chris had a sibling, but that was a sister and it seemed to make a difference. Whenever they went to Chris’ house, her sister would sit with them and happily gossip about boys, but Sana had never done that with either of her brothers. It would be awkward.

Picking up on Sana’s subdued tone, Chris directed the conversation into a different direction. “Sana said she’d talk to the guys about meeting us though.”

Vilde squealed and clapped her hands. “Really? Oh my God, that would be so exciting!”

“Only if you calm down though,” Sana said in a suppressive tone.

“I will,” Vilde promised.

Snorting a little, Sana wasn’t sure she believed her. Vilde was prone to get too excited about things and be incapable of shutting up or filtering her actions.

----------

“Sana?” Elias called out once she got home. The house was quiet for once which meant it was just her brother at home.

“Yeah,” she said, walking through into the book room where Elias was stretched out on the sofa with his MacBook on his lap. “Boys not here?”

“Nope. We needed a break from each other. Well, Mikael and Adam are probably together. You know having romance time or something. Making out in private at least instead of in front of us.”

Sana pulled the pins out of her hijab, unwinding the scarf and throwing it at Elias before pulling her hair cap off. She released her hair from the bun she’d put it in and ran her hands through the tresses as they streamed down her back.

“When is the label going to let them date openly? It would be so good for other LGBT teens to see two of their idols being openly gay.”

Elias rolled his eyes. “Who knows? Apparently they are worried about putting teen girls off.”

“They need to get with the times.”

“Pfft!” Elias said with a snort. “They only just let us keep our actual names – figuring we were too brown to try and hide our ethnicity. But speaking of the label, I have a favour to ask you.”

“Yeah?”

“They want us to shoot a video with some ‘normal’ girls – their words not mine – and I was hoping you’d know some suitable girls.”

“How normal? Like actually normal or celebrity normal?”

“Actually normal. I’m taking them at their word. They want us to come across as really accessible in our next music video. Something about letting the girl on the street think we are available to date them.”

Sana let out a small laugh. “Wow! Are you sure that’s a good idea?”

“No. But we did stop them from running this as a competition. They were really keen on that idea but we pointed out time constraints and I said I could find us some normal girls. Can you help?”

Hesitating, Sana thought through the pros and cons of putting forward her friends for this. On the negative side, this would pull her friends into the limelight, which they might not want or might be awkward afterwards. But would her friends ever forgive her if she turned down this opportunity on their behalf?

“My friends might do it, but I have to check with them.”

“Yeah? That would awesome.”

Pulling her phone out of her pocket, she opened the group chat.

Sana: Do you want to be in a music video?

Eva: ????

Sana: BrisketB are shooting a video and the label wants ‘normal’ girls to be in it. Elias asked if I knew anyone.

Vilde: OMG

Vilde: You’re kidding right?!?

Vilde: Please tell me you’re not kidding!!

Sana: Not kidding.

Noora: I don’t know…

Noora: That’s going to be a lot to deal with

Vilde: Don’t you dare say no, Noora.

Vilde: I will never talk to you again if you do

Eva: Yeah, we get to appear in a fucking music video!!!

Chris: Can I be Mutta’s love interest.

Chris: We’re going to be love interests right?

Chris: I want Mutta.

Sana: I presume you’re going to be love interests

Vilde: I think I’m going to pass out

Vilde: Noora, c’mon! When are you going to get to do something like this again?!?

Noora: If Eva’s in then I’m in

Eva: Are you crazy??!

Eva: Of course I’m in!

Noora: Guess I’m in too then

Vilde: YAAAAAYYYYY!

Chris: Yes, bitches! Fame here we come

“The girls are in,” she said. “Four isn’t too many is it?”

“Don’t you mean five?”

“What?”

“Five including you.”

Sana snorted. “Yeah, no. I’m not taking part.”

“But we need five! There’s five of us.”

“Nope, not happening.”

“Don’t be like that. Take one for the team.”

“The team?”

“The Bakkoush team!”

“Elias, there’s no way the studio wants you to appear in a music video with your sister!”

He bit his lip then. “Actually, they really like you.”

“Like me?”

“Yeah the BTS video with you in it was really popular. Fans really liked seeing us being more normal.”

“Normal? You’re a bunch of dorks in all those videos.”

Elias sighed then and shot her an unimpressed look. “Anyway, the whole point of the label wanting us to shoot this video with actual girls off the street rather than models was because of you in that video so I doubt if they are going to mind if you’re one of the girls. We need five girls not four and if we don’t get five then the label will probably just shoot a video with models. You don’t want your friends to miss out, do you?”

Sana narrowed her eyes at him. “You’re not being serious?”

Looking angelically innocent, Elias put his hand over his heart and said, “I am.”

“Ugh,” she said moodily and then looked down at her phone. The group chat was melting down into incoherency and she really didn’t want to pull the plug on her friends’ excitement. “Okay. I’ll do it.”

Elias grinned at her and said, “You won’t regret it!”

“They better not be creepy and partner me up with you.”

He rolled his eyes. “We’re not shooting a Game of Thrones homage.”

Chapter Text

However, a week later, she was definitely regretting it. First there had been the awed reaction of her friends to meeting Elias and the way he’d lapped it up. Sana had stood back and rolled her eyes as Elias pretended he was even a little bit smooth and the girls somehow fell for it.

Secondly, she had kind of hoped that once she’d turned up that studio would laugh at the thought of her being in a music video and just kind of wave her away and send her back home. Or let her watch from the side-lines. But Elias was right, they really did like her. The executive who oversaw BrisketB had lit up at the sight of her and clapped Elias on the back.

“You got your sister to come?”

“Yeah,” her brother replied. “These are her friends, too.”

“Perfect!” the label executive said before putting his hand out for the girls to shake. “Hey, I’m Ole.”

They introduced themselves one by one and Ole observed them all closely. “Hmm,” he said. “Shame everyone already knows that Sana is your sister because she would have been perfect for the main.”

Sana’s eyes popped out and she shook her head. “No,” she said. “I don’t want a big part.”

“We’ll see,” Ole remarked. “We need to check chemistry and how natural you all look together on screen. But I think at the moment we’ll try Eva with Elias, Noora with Yousef, Vilde with Mutta, Chris with Mikael, and Sana with Adam.”

Tamping down the disappointment and jealousy that arose from Noora being paired with Yousef, Sana put a positive spin on the outcome. She wouldn’t be hideously awkward with Adam. She’d be able to relax and tease him and have fun.

Chris put her hand up in the air and said, “Actually, I think I would work better with Mutta.”

Suppressing her smirk, Sana backed her best friend up. “Yeah, Chris definitely would have the best chemistry with Mutta.”

Ole raised his eyebrows and looked at Elias who shrugged. “Yeah sure, okay, we’ll switch you and Vilde around and see how it goes.”

Sana winked at Chris who looked delighted.

“Okay, so we’ll get you to hair and make-up to check out outfits and then start going through some scenes.”

Choosing what to wear was fun. To her surprise, the label had put a whole rack out for her rather than the one or two choices she thought she’d get. The rack was filled with bright coloured clothing that she normally wouldn’t wear outside of Eid. She was fingering a beautiful green dress when a voice behind her said, “That’s really pretty but maybe the pink. I thought you’d look great in this video in pink.”

Turning, Sana saw a hijabi in her late twenties. “Assalamu wa’alaikum,” she said, a little surprised.

Wa’alaikum assalam. You’re Sana, right? Elias’ sister.”

“Yeah.”

“I’m Rasha. I run the costuming department for the label.”

“I did wonder why there were so many choices for me.”

Rasha laughed. “Yeah, it’s nice to get a fellow hijabi for a change. I got to order all these beautiful dresses and kaftans.”

“So you think pink?”

“Yeah. They’re going for a romantic vibe in this video and you would look so good in pink.”

Sana scrunched her nose up. She rarely wore colours let alone the soft pink dress that Rasha was holding out to her. “Go on,” the woman encouraged. “Just try it one. If you don’t like it you don’t have to wear it.”

It looked good. There was no way she could deny that the colour and the cut suited her. She was unsure though as she pulled the curtain back and walked out into the large dressing room. She looked softer than she was used to and felt a little vulnerable as a result.

There was a long low whistle as she walked out and she looked up to see the girls standing slack jawed as they stared at her.

“It’s horrible?” she queried, worried by how still they looked.

“Wow,” Eva breathed out.

“You look so beautiful, Sana,” Vilde added.

“You definitely should wear colours more often,” Noora said.

“You’re one to talk,” Sana said teasingly and tugging at the sleeve of the navy blue blazer than Noora had matched with beautifully cut white trousers that hugged her slim figure in her usual chic no nonsense fashion sense. “There are more colours than blue and white!”

Looking around, Sana had never seen the girls looking so good and all had managed somehow to find clothes that fitted their unique personality. Vilde looked like a flower girl, all soft lines and romantic draping. Eva had channelled fun party girl with depths. Chris was a unique mix of colours and styles that screamed how she was her own person and didn’t give a damn about what society expected from her. Sana looked at herself again and realised that she, too, was dressed in an aspect of her personality that she liked to keep hidden. The tender hearted girl who loved so deeply and was hurt by society’s reactions to her.

“We look so hot,” Eva said with a grin.

“You do,” Rasha said. “Now go get those boys.”

Chris and Eva whooped and Vilde giggled. Sana and Noora shared a look that was part exasperation at this whole venture and part excitement at doing some so unique.

The set they were shooting on looked like something out a rom-com movie. It was divided up into different sections Sana supposed for each band member with an overarching theme of balloons. In fact there were balloons everywhere and she couldn’t help but roll her eyes at how excessive it was.

“I see that look, aziza,” Elias called out and she jumped when she realised the boys were walking towards them, each carrying a single balloon.

The boys all looked better than she was used to seeing them. All styled and chic with their boyband good looks fully on show. It was a quite a sight and if she could stop staring then she was sure she would see that the girls would be looking the same. However, she couldn’t pull her eyes away from Yousef in particular and he seemed to have noticed as his eyes sought hers out. There was a look in them that she couldn’t decipher but it had her heart pounding heavily in her chest. Adam then entered her line of vision with a cheesy grin on his face.

“Seriously?” Sana asked, unimpressed when Adam handed her his balloon. Looking around, she noticed she was the only one who wasn’t smiling widely at the gesture.

“Yeah,” Adam said. “It’s meant to be romantic.”

“If you’re twelve.”

That got a snort of amusement and she looked over to wear Yousef was standing next to Noora, but looking at her with a grin. She shrugged her shoulders as if to say ‘what can you do?’ but her dimples peeped out before she caught herself staring for a little too long once more and dropped her gaze to the floor.

“Right!” Ole said clapping his hands with far too much pep. “Let’s get this video on the road. Boys, if you can go to your zones with the ladies then we’ll shoot some footage and see what we have.”

“Er,” Noora said, putting her hand up. “Shouldn’t we have an idea for what we’re doing?”

“Not right now,” Ole replied. “I want to get idea if everyone sparks off one another well. Once we have the chemistry figured out we can move onto the storyboard with the director.”

“Chemistry,” Sana mouthed sardonically to Chris who gave her two thumbs up.

“So what do we do?” Noora asked, always the one to need to know in advance.

“Just inhabit the space, chat with each other and mess about. Get a feel for the vibe.”

Sana could do that with Adam. There was no embarrassment around him. She could act normally, mock him a lot and enjoy herself. She still couldn’t help but glance over at Yousef and Noora, who were talking and smiling. Her stomach sank as she saw just how comfortable they were around each other already. It looked like Noora was making a big impression on him and she looked away, disappointed and angry at herself for feeling that way. He wasn’t hers, she didn’t get to dictate his interactions with other girls. She had to suck it up and deal with it.

Following Adam over to his zone, Sana couldn’t help but ask, “What’s this? A disco nightmare theme?”

He huffed. “No, it’s a retro disco feel. You know, kind of The Get Down-esque.”

Sana looked up at the sparkly disco ball and then down at her outfit. “I’m not sure I fit too well here.”

“Yeah,” Adam said. “You look really cute and romantic though.”

Narrowing her eyes at him, she said, “Cute? Are you seriously calling me cute?”

“It’s not my fault you look adorable in pink.”

“Adorable? Do you want me to remind you that I kicked your ass in basketball just the other day?”

“No, no, I remember and I’m pretty sure you’re meant to be looking enamoured with me, not like you want to punch me.”

That got a laugh out of Sana. “This is going to bad, right? So bad.”

“Hey, don’t underestimate just how well we can act.”

Sana snorted but straightened her face and concentrated. “We can do this!”

“Totally. We can act in love,” Adam said, going to put his arm around her.

“Arm’s length, bro, arm’s length!” Elias called out from across the studio causing Adam to jump away from Sana.

“Okay!” Ole called out, disappointment lacing his tone and gesturing for them to come around him in a semi-circle. “This isn’t working. Let’s review these pairings. Chris and Mutta, you were great. That was some good stuff you had going on.”

Looking over at her friend, Sana looked impressed when she saw that Mutta was staring at Chris like she’d hung the moon and Chris definitely had stars in her eyes. It seemed that they had hit it off and Chris hadn’t been exaggerating when she’d told Sana that she just needed to meet him and he’d be hers.

“Vilde and Mikael, that was cute. Believable,” Ole continued before his face grew more serious. “We need to break down what’s happening with you six, though. Elias, you can’t have one eye on your sister half the time or call out instructions regarding how she is touched. I’m pretty sure she can gauge what is right or not.”

“It’s not that-” Elias started to say before breaking off and shooting a quick glance over towards Yousef. “You’re right. I’ll focus on what I’m doing and let Sana handle herself.”

“Good!” Ole said. “Now, Yousef, is there something else you need to be doing?”

Yousef looked startled for a moment. “No.”

“Then maybe concentrate on Noora instead of continuously looking around. I thought you wanted the romantic water theme? Did you not want that? We can’t really do two disco themes.”

There was a hint of colour in Yousef’s cheeks but he shook his head and said, “No. No, I don’t want a club style theme.”

“Well, then stop staring so enviously across at the disco set and pay attention to Noora. Hmm although not Noora because the vibe was all wrong. Plus Sana doesn’t look right in Adam’s disco theme in that dress and the pair of you give off such a sibling vibe.”

“Told you,” Sana said, smugly.

“Not sure being right here is something to be proud of,” Adam replied.

“Pretty sure it’s always good to be right.”

“Yeah, that’s not going to work at all,” Ole said before narrowing his eyes and looking between them all. “Eva, you have a great disco look going on there. You pair up with Adam. Noora, you go with Elias, which leaves Sana and Yousef.”

He pointed at them all during the switch around and gesticulated for them to move next to their new partners before leaning back a little on his heels and observing them all closely. Sana tried not to stare up at Yousef as she walked over to his side. She could feel his eyes on her, but she didn’t want to look up and for him to see the happy little smile on her face. She shouldn’t want to be partnered up with him, it was dicing with danger, but at the same time she craved spending all the time she could in his company.

Ole clapped his hands and then smiled. “Yes, that should work.”

Silently, Sana and Yousef walked over to the romantically lit water area. There was a cute iron wrought bridge set over a small stream that ran into a pond that was framed by plants and flowers, looking as if actually was out in the middle of the countryside and not in a studio, and she couldn’t help but think that her dress was much more suited to this environment. The soft lighting was lifted by lights within the water, fairy lights in the fake trees, and silver balloons that were strung around reflecting everything back. The only non-romantic thing in the whole area was the awkward silence that was dragging on, making her chest tighten anxiously.

“They should have a swan on this little pond,” Sana remarked, more out of something to say than anything else.

“Fuck no!” Yousef exclaimed vehemently.

Her head whipped up to his with raised brows and he rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly. “I’m scared of swans.”

Sana broke out into a peel of laughs. “Really?”

“Yeah. Have you seen them? They are vicious birds. Their beaks could easy take a finger.”

“Did you know that a swan’s wing can break your arm?”

“Seriously?” Yousef asked, interested curiosity lightning up his face.

“Yeah.”

“Next time someone laughs at me, I’m going to tell them that, too.”

“It probably won’t work. I knew that and I still laughed.”

“Yeah, but no one is as tough as Sana Bakkoush. I could probably cope with a swan with you standing by my side.”

“I’ll go and suggest it to Ole then,” she teased, making as if to turn back to the label executive.

Yousef reached out and grabbed her hand, his fingers tangling with hers and causing tingles to radiate up her arm and her breath to hitch. His hands were warm and felt right against hers as if she should only ever hold hands with him.

“Don’t!” he said, tugging her back towards his side.

“No swans? Even with me here?”

“No swans at all. Not even with you to protect me.”

They continued to walk slowly around the set but with their hands entwined. She wasn’t going to pull away when he wasn’t. Instead, she was going to hold onto the feeling of his hand engulfing hers and pretend that this was all real and not something staged for a music video.

“So are we actually meant to be doing anything?” Sana asked. “Other than this?”

“I don’t know.”

“I thought you played a big role in all the videos?”

“I only do the choreography and they only just let me take that over when they realised I was improving on all the dance routines we were given and there was no point for them to pay a choreographer. But I don’t get a say in the videos – well, nothing more than the other boys either.”

“And you filmed the dance scenes already, right?”

“Yeah,” Yousef said. “This is the last part of the video. It was really great of you and your friends to agree to do this.”

“I think my friends would have killed me if I’d said no,” Sana replied wryly.

He stopped them then and leaned back against the railings half facing where she was looking over the still water of the pond. “You’re okay with doing this though?” Yousef asked, concern lacing his tone as he turned to face her.

She looked up at him, her breath hitching at how good he looked in the soft lighting with his wavy hair falling into his face and worried eyes focused on her. Ducking her head, overwhelmed at being the centre of all his attention, she said, “Yeah, I wouldn’t do it if I really didn’t want to. But Elias asked and you know my brother when he wants to get his own way.”

“Elias has a unique way of making things happen at times. He pushed for us to get more control over this second album and actually got it for us, which surprised me, especially as they want to launch us across Europe with it.”

Sana smiled softly. She was so glad her brother had found success doing this. He’d never had any academic plans – no desire to follow their parents into medicine unlike her and Ahmed. She wasn’t sure what he would be doing this year if this unexpected music success hadn’t happened. But once it had it suited Elias perfectly.

“Is it true that Elias even got to write some of the tracks? Or was he just bullshitting me?”

“It is,” Yousef said proudly. “He and Adam have knocked out some amazing tracks that the label were impressed with.”

“I’m really proud of all of you,” Sana said, looking back up at him then.

“Really?”

“Yeah.”

“I thought we were nothing but a nuisance – making you lead a double life and all?”

She frowned a little then, unsure if he was serious or not. Then he grinned cheekily and she couldn’t help but laugh. “The double life is worth it if Elias has found his place in the world.”

“The ride-or-die Bakkoush siblings,” Yousef commented.

“You know it!”

Their eyes caught and couldn’t move on from each other. It was as if the world had stopped around them. The noise from the others faded into silence and Sana could see nothing but Yousef and the way his eyes refused to leave hers. Her breathing slowed and her mouth dried out as the intensity of his gaze didn’t waver. She had the urge to close the distance between them, throw her arms around his neck and press her lips against his. She had never quite understood the temptation of physically being with a boy until this moment. Sure, she had found boys attractive before, had let her eyes linger on them in the street. However, only Yousef made her lose sense of what was important. Made her want to throw it all to the wind and find out what it was like to kiss him. She wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or not. It was dangerous, she knew that much, but did it say something else that only this boy made her feel that way.

Almost as if sensing her inner needs, he stepped closer to her and leaned his head a little closer. The tension was so thick between them that she could almost taste it. The need to get closer to him was tangible and her eyes dropped down to his lips and she wondered just what it would feel like to kiss him.

“Yousef! Sana!” Ole called over, clapping his hands loudly to get their attention.

Shaking her head as if coming out of a daze, Sana looked over to where everyone was already crowded around the label executive, watching them with various degrees of bemusement or wicked delight.

Heat rushed into her cheeks and she stepped back, throwing a shy look up at Yousef and noticing that he looked just as confounded as she felt. Hyper aware of everything around her, Sana walked back towards the group, keeping a measured distance between her and Yousef. She couldn’t meet anyone’s eyes, aware of just how caught out they had been.

“Great!” Ole said. “Now everyone’s here, I think we can wrap up today. That last round of pairings worked out well…very well in some cases.” He gave Yousef and Sana a pointed look and she was sure her cheeks were scarlet by now. “The majority of filming should get finished tomorrow. There’s going to be several camera crews on set so it’s going to be busy and stressful so make sure you go home and get a good night’s sleep. I’ll meet you all here bright and early tomorrow where the director will brief you on what he wants you all to do.”

With a wave of his hands, he dismissed them all back to the dressing rooms.

“I think Sana’s been holding out on us,” Eva said with a waggle of her eyebrows as soon as the door was closed to the girls’ dressing area. “What was that about not having a crush on any of BrisketB?”

“I don’t!” she denied vehemently.

Chris snorted. “Girl, it looked like you and Yousef were about to make out at the end there.”

“And when you were with Adam he couldn’t stop staring over at you. Funny how he didn’t have that problem once it was Eva and Adam,” Noora pointed out.

“Oh my God,” Vilde squealed. “What if Sana is the girl the boys were teasing Yousef about in that magazine.”

“No, Vilde,” Sana said repressively. “Besides, Elias would tell me if that was the case.”

“Would he?” Eva asked. “I don’t have a sibling but would he tell you if one of his best friend’s had a crush on you?”

Sana couldn’t answer that. Elias’ words from the other day when she’d fallen asleep on Yousef flooded back into her mind. Just what had he meant when he called Yousef transparent? Had he been referring to Yousef having feelings for her? Her heart sped up at the notion that her crush might not be as one-sided as she had always thought. They had definitely had a moment today – one that made her heart pound heavily when she remembered it.

Then reality set in and she rolled her eyes. It was stupid to think that Yousef could have any feelings for her. He was a heartthrob and could have almost any Norwegian girl he wanted. It’s not as if Sana Bakkoush would be high on his list.

“You’re being ridiculous.”

“Yeah, we’re being ridiculous,” Noora said dryly.

“I think I know Yousef better than any of you and he’s not interested.”

“Okay,” Eva said with a roll of her eyes.

“I’ll get it out of Mutta,” Chris commented.

Sana grabbed onto the lifeline with both hands. “Yeah, what’s happening between you and Mutta?”

“We’re going to get ice-cream now.”

The girls all shrieked excitedly.

“Really?” Vilde asked.

“Yep. Unlike other people here, I don’t wallow and pine from afar. I get what I want.”

Ignoring the meaningful look Chris was throwing her way because there was nothing she could do about unrequited feelings, Sana said, “Make sure you treat Mutta well. That boy is too pure for this world.”

“Purer even than Yousef?” Noora asked slyly.

“Stop,” Sana groaned. “It’s complicated.”

“Only if you make it,” Chris said.

Fortunately, Rasha came in then to supervise the clothes being returned and stored for tomorrow. Sana shot the rest of the girls a fierce look to keep their mouths shut.

---------

The next day, Sana was a ball of nerves. The way that she and Yousef had lost themselves in their conversation and how tension filled it had become between them had played on her mind all night and her sleep had been patchy and filled with anxious dreams that had her stomach twisting up each time she had woken up. She wanted to believe the girls when they said that Yousef had a crush on her. Had day-dreamed about such a thing more times than she could count, but she shied away in giving in to such thoughts. What if it turned out to be nothing more than her imagination? That she had built up an interaction between them into something it wasn’t.

What about the sofa incident though? a voice in her head asked.

It couldn’t mean anything, could it?

Staring at herself in the mirror as she wound her hijab around her head and placed the material carefully, she vowed to put all these questions out of her mind and just concentrate on shooting the video and making it through the day. There was no point on dwelling on something so unlikely and it would just make her miserable.

However, when she was with Yousef again, listening the Director’s instructions for their segment of the video, she couldn’t help but focus on everything that had happened yesterday. It made her stiff, she knew it did, but she struggled to let it go.

“Everything okay?” Yousef asked as he leaned against a fake tree as directed. She was standing in front of him and Yousef was cradling her hand tenderly in his as instructed.

“Yeah. Why?”

Yousef jiggled her limp hand which rested awkwardly in his and raised his eyebrows. “You seem tense?”

“I’m not,” she snapped before realising that she was overreacting and moderated her voice. “I just didn’t sleep well.”

“Nervous?”

“What?”

“About the video?”

“Oh yeah,” she said. “Yeah, nervous about the video.”

Sana adverted her face from his searching eyes.

“You sure? Because I don’t want to have upset you?”

The question had her looking back at him. “Upset me? Why would you have upset me?”

“It got a little intense yesterday at the end. I hope I didn’t overstep any boundaries.”

“No. It was just acting right? Getting it right for the shoot today.”

An expression crossed his face that she thought could be disappointment but she wasn’t sure. He didn’t want her to be upset with him, did he? Maybe he was upset with her? Maybe she’d made him uncomfortable. Oh God, had he picked up on her crush and was mortified at the idea of his best friend’s little sister having feelings for him but didn’t know how to approach her about it?

“I hope I didn’t make you uncomfortable?” she got out in a rush, her breath coming too fast for her to talk easily. “It must be awkward pretending to have feelings for me when I’m Elias’ little sister.”

“Yeah,” he said quietly. “Yeah.”

“He didn’t give you a hard time or anything, did he?”

“No, Elias knows this is just a shoot.”

Sana smiled at him then, wide and bright, determined not to let anyone know just how much confirmation of her unrequited feelings hurt. “So did Mutta say anything about Chris? I need to make sure he’s going to treat my best friend well.”

The slightly melancholic look on Yousef’s face remained for a brief second before he returned her smile, squeezed her hand slightly and started talking about how Mutta had raved over how amazing Chris was.

Suppressing her own bruised feelings, Sana concentrated on talking about their friends and how adorable they were. She had always known that Yousef couldn’t feel anything for her, that he thought of her the same as all her other brother’s friends; an honorary little sister who they liked to tease and joke about with. It wasn’t his fault she had gone and developed a stupid crush on him.

 

Chapter Text

“Oh my God,” Vilde said, flopping down on the bench next to Sana and throwing a glare up at Magnus, who hovered looking miserable and unsure above her. “Please tell him, Sana, that nothing weird went on at the video shoot.”

However, before Sana can open her mouth, Chris piped up, “Well…I got to date the man of my dreams.”

“What?” Magnus asked confused.

“Ooh who?” Even asked, coming over and slinging an arm around Magnus’ shoulders.

“Mutta,” Chris said with a goofy grin.

“Mutta is such a good guy,” Even said, a pleased smile on his face.

Sana narrowed her eyes and observed Even. When he had first turned up at Nissen she had been confused but he had caught her early on in a deserted classroom and begged her to pretend that she didn’t know him. So she had respected his wishes and followed his lead. However, she still wasn’t too sure just why Even couldn’t be found hanging around at her house anymore. He spoke so fondly of the boys still. She knew something went down the previous spring because Even had suddenly just stopped coming around and Elias had worn a worried expression for weeks. But then BrisketB’s first album had dropped and overnight success had followed and Elias and the rest of the boys had been whipped away in a swirl of PR, interviews and a three month tour of Scandinavia. When Elias had returned, he no longer clutched his phone in his hand and looked as soon as he got a notification ping clearly hoping it would be Even. Then there was the weird state of affairs where Even spoke so warmly of the boys but yet hadn’t asked Sana anything about them one-on-one. She did wonder whether she should just tell Elias that Even was at Nissen and dating her friend. But Even had been so emphatic about her keeping quiet to everyone, so she had.

“He is,” Chris said happily. “We’re going out again this week.”

“So that’s the only hook up that went down?” Magnus asked.

“Well…”Chris said with a suggestive look towards Sana, who glared at her best friend.

“Elias made a move on Vilde didn’t he? I knew this would happen. I shouldn’t have let you be part of this,” Magnus said.

With her temper rising, Sana stood up and snapped, “First off, my brother is not a lecherous creep who needs to make a move on girls who already have boyfriends and secondly, Vilde didn’t need your permission to film the video. You’re her boyfriend not her parent. Get over yourself!”

Not sparing another glance towards Magnus, Sana hitched her bag up on her shoulder and waved her hand at the girls and said, “I have class. Catch you all later.”

“Sana! Wait up!” Even called out. “I’m going your way.”

Stopping and turning, she waited for him.

“I think Magnus is going to feel that burn for weeks to come,” Even said as he fell in step with her.

“Good. He should stop being so insecure.”

“How are the boys? How are they really? Not all the fame related stuff.”

“Why don’t you phone Elias and find out,” she said pointedly.

She scrunched up her nose as his face fell and felt the sting of regret at her words. Being harsh with Even always felt like kicking a puppy when it was down.

“Look, I don’t really understand what went down last year,” Sana said. “But I know that the boys miss you and it seems like you miss them so why don’t you reach out?”

Sneaking a look up at him out the corner of her eye, she could see him worrying at his bottom lip with his teeth. “They miss me?”

“Duh! Of course they do. Elias carried his phone around for weeks last spring waiting for some kind of communication from you.” Somehow, her words made him look even sadder and she frowned, not understanding. “Did something terrible happen? You can tell me without judgement, Even, you know that, right?”

“Yeah, I do,” he said with a smile towards her.

“Want to skip?”

“I didn’t really have class anyway. But can you skip?”

She rolled her eyes and said, “It’s maths. I can solve the sums they give us in my sleep. Ahmed sends me his math class notes for when I’m bored.”

He laughed. “You are the smartest Bakkoush of them all.”

“I am.”

“Come on. Let’s get out of here.”

Even didn’t open up until they are sitting across each other with coffees in front of them. Sana is nibbling on a cookie whilst Even crumbles a muffin between his fingers, clearly nervous.

“Has Elias told you anything about what happened last spring?” He finally asked.

“No. Just one minute you were at the house as usual and the next he’s holding whispered phone conversations with Sonja.”

“I had a pretty big episode last spring. It was mixed up in coming to terms with my sexuality and I kind went off the rails for a while. The boys tried to help, but I couldn’t face them anymore. So I pushed them away. Distanced myself and refused to answer their calls or messages. I had Sonja play gatekeeper.”

“Why? You know the boys wouldn’t judge. They are all family and you were part of that.”

He looked a little conflicted then and she knew that there must be even more behind it.

“You probably picked up on this the other week thanks to Isak, but I had a crush on Mikael. I make light of it now, but it was a really big deal. It was the first time I’d been sexual attraction towards a boy where I was aware that it was sexual. I tried to kiss him and he pushed me away. I assumed at the time that it was because he was Muslim and not because he only saw me as a friend. So I spiralled trying to understand him and threw myself into reading up on Islam and it’s views on homosexuality. I ended up reading the Qur’an and posting the parts where it spoke about homosexuals going to hell in our group chat. It made Mikael withdraw from me and I didn’t understand why.”

Sana winced. She could imagine how seeing those quotes would cause Mikael pain when he was dealing with his own problems coming out as a gay Muslim. However, it was not her place to talk to Even about Mikael’s struggles.

“It made me even more manic, I took myself off my medication, became even worse and I ended up trying to commit suicide. When I was back on medication, I felt embarrassed by how I had acted. I thought the boys would be better off without such a crazy friend in their lives so I dropped out of Bakka and cut them off.”

Reaching across the table, Sana stilled his anxious fingers with her hand and smiled warmly at him. “They miss you. If you told them this, they would understand and I know they would welcome you back.”

“You think?” he asked nervously.

“Yeah. Just text Elias or Mikael or whoever. I guarantee that they will respond positively. You don’t have to do it now, but maybe you should just rip the plaster off and go for it.”

Even looked unsure and she knew not to push. He would have to do this in his own time.

“Or you can wait and think about it and run a text or a phone call passed me.”

“Yeah?”

“Of course.”

“Does Elias know I’m at Nissen?”

“No. You told me not to tell anyone so I didn’t.”

“Maybe you could talk to him. Let him know I’m at Nissen.”

She squeezed his hand again. “Yeah, of course I can if you want me to.”

“Sana?” a voice queried from just behind Even.

Looking up, her eyes widened as she recognised Yousef even if he had disguised him as much as possible in a snapback with sunglasses and his hoodie up. He carried a tray of coffees in his hand, clearly out on a coffee run for the boys. Her heart thudded heavily at the sight of him. She’d carefully kept her distance over the past week or so, aware that she had crossed boundaries during the video shoot and made him uncomfortable.

Even turned round and paled at the sight of his former friend.

“Even?!” Yousef exclaimed, clearly confused. His eyes caught on how Sana’s rested over Even’s and a frown furrowed his brow. “Sorry, am I interrupting?”

Embarrassed by how obviously he thought they were on a date, Sana’s cheeks heated up and she stumbled a little over her words, in her rush to make sure he knew this wasn’t a date. “I…this…No, no!” she exclaimed hurriedly. “We were just talking about you, actually.”

“Me?”

“Well, you and the boys,” Sana explained.

Even looked at her curiously and she was aware that she was being awkward, something she usually never was.

“Oh,” Yousef said, shifting a little on his feet and tapping a finger on a lid of one of the coffees.

“Yeah. Why don’t you come and sit down,” Sana said, scraping her chair loudly across the floor and wincing at the sound as she stood. “I need to get back to school anyway.”

“You don’t have to leav-” Yousef started to say but Sana had already picked her bag up and was on her way to door.

“Catch you both later,” she said more cheerfully than she meant to as she pulled open the door and exited the coffee shop.

It wasn’t until she around the corner from Nissen that she stopped to lean against the wall and close her eyes a little. Why had she been so weird? Instead of facilitating a reunion, she had all but bolted, panicked by Yousef clearly thinking she was on a date with Even and left her friend to deal with facing his old friend with no support.

Her breathing calmer now, she pulled out her phone and pulled up her text thread with Even.

Sana: Sorry to rush off like that.

Sana: Hope everything is okay.

Then she turned her phone onto silent and stuffed it back in her bag and made her way to Biology. She wasn’t sure she could deal with any questions about just why she had run off right now. Not until she had managed to craft a believable response for her weird behaviour.

----------

The house was noisy when she got in later that day. However, she didn’t stop as usual to greet the boys in the book room. Instead, going straight into the kitchen where her mum was preparing food with a smile on her face.

Assalamu wa’alaykum Mama,” Sana said, dropping her bag on a chair by the table. “You look happy.”

Wa’alaykum assalam habiba,” her mum said, dropping a kiss on Sana’s head as she stood next to her at the counter and poked around the pots that were cooking away on the kitchen.

“What are you cooking?”

“Even is here. So I thought I would make his favourite dish, the merquez tagine.”

She stopped then. “Even is here?”

When she had checked her phone after Biology there had been a message from Even telling her not to worry and that he was fine, but nothing else. She hadn’t felt up to texting him back to see just what had happened and he hadn’t returned to school that day.

“Yeah, he came back earlier with Yousef. It’s nice to see him around once more. The boys weren’t quite the same without Even.”

“And he always helps you with the washing up without moaning,” Sana teased.

“He does. Always so sweet.”

“So everyone’s staying for dinner?”

“Yeah. That’s not a problem is it? You know we have an open house here.”

“No,” she said a little quickly. She didn’t want to complain now, not when she never had in the past. Her embarrassment at earlier that day wasn’t really a good reason to start questioning her parents on their hospitality. They always took that part of their heritage so seriously. Hospitality was a way of life in the Arab world and you offered it freely and generously.

“Good. You know, you never bring your friends around. They are always welcome, too. It doesn’t just have to be Elias and his friends.”

Sana grimaced a little. She knew it was strange to keep her home life and her friends so separate but she did. Perhaps it was a hang up from Urra where she thought that maybe if the girls didn’t see her at home, among the mish-mash of Moroccan and Norwegian things they housed then they wouldn’t see Sana as quite so different. Or not more different than they already did. There were some differences she couldn’t escape, indeed didn’t want to escape. She was proud to be Muslim.

“Yeah, maybe one day,” she muttered less than enthusiastically.

Her mum turned to look at her closely but didn’t say anything for which Sana was grateful. Her mum always knew when to push for answers and when to back off.

“I’m going to be in my room. Got to study.”

“Okay, habiba. I’ll call you when it’s time to eat.”

While she did sit in her room, it would be a stretch to say that she actually studied. Her books were open, however, she did nothing but stare at her blue walls with a pen stuck between her teeth and relive the embarrassment of earlier that day. She was meant to be making things less awkward with Yousef, not behaving in a peculiar manner and then running off.

There was a soft knock at her door and she got up to answer it, grimacing at the stiffness of her legs from sitting so still for so long.

She pulled her door open to find Even standing there, an amused smile on his face. “Khalto told me to come and get you.”

It was always weird hearing the Moroccan accent in Even’s voice. He had picked up some Arabic from the boys and had also picked up their accent.

“Thanks,” she said, coming out into the corridor. “Sorry about earlier. I shouldn’t have abandoned you.”

“It was okay. Yousef and I actually talked and I’m here.”

“Yeah,” she said, smiling widely. “It’s good to see you back here. Mama missed you, too.”

“She promised me some chebakia.”

“Wow,” Sana said impressed. “She really missed you.”

“I missed her, too. I missed being here.”

“The boys are okay? Treating you well? I will kick their asses if they’re not.”

He laughed. “They are.”

“And it went well this morning?”

“It did. You know, it’s Yousef. He’s always been good at listening.”

“Yeah,” she said quietly.

Even gave her a knowing look. “So, Yousef. What’s going on there?”

Internally, she winced. It was unfortunately how observant Even was. He picked up on things that other people missed and she had known her weird reaction to Yousef this morning wasn’t going to be missed by him.

It didn’t stop her from trying to feign ignorance though.

“What about him?” she asked with studied nonchalance.

Looking unimpressed, he said, “How long has that been going on?”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Okay, play it that way, but you’re not fooling anyone. I cleared up the misunderstanding of why we were there, by the way.”

“Since when did you start talking in riddles,” she commented, refusing to acknowledge that she knew anything about what he was getting at and starting off down the corridor towards the dining room.

By the time they got to the table, there were only two seats left. One next to Yousef and other in between Mutta and Mikael. With a smug smile towards Even, she slipped into the latter seat. It wasn’t until she was sitting down that she realised her mistake. She was sitting directly opposite Yousef. Next to him she might have to deal with him being temptingly close but wouldn’t actually have to look at him. But now, she was immediately snared by his dark eyes and it was a couple of seconds too long for a casual look before she dropped her eyes to her plate.

“How’s Chris?” Mutta asked her once food had been served.

“You probably know better than me.”

He nodded his head in acknowledgement with a smirk. “She’s great. How come it took you so long to introduce us?”

“He’s smitten,” Mikael added. “It’s embarrassing.”

“You’re one to talk. You and Adam are sickening.”

“Sickeningly cute, bro.”

Smiling at the banter between the two friends, Sana looked up and caught eyes with Yousef again, who appeared to only be listening to half an ear to whatever Elias was telling both him and Even and was paying more attention to what was happening across the table. As before, she was mesmerised by his deep brown eyes and the small warm smile that flashed across his face towards her. As always, her heart sped up a little and the butterflies erupted in her stomach as she drank him in and drowned in the depths of his beautiful eyes.

“That’s not the only thing that sickening,” Mikael muttered

The words had Sana whipping her head towards Mikael, who was looking between her and Yousef with a smirk on his face.

“Huh?!”

“Nothing,” he said but amusement laced his tone.

Shit, she mentally berated herself as she felt colour flood her cheeks. She was making her crush on Yousef so obvious. First to Even that morning and now to Mikael. After the video shoot, she had told herself to hide it better. Yousef had all but told her that he saw her as nothing but his best friend’s little sister and here she was, just over a week later, unable to keep her eyes away from him and embarrassing him in front of his friends. If there was one thing Sana hated then it was to appear pathetic and right now that was precisely what was happening. Well, she could control herself. It was just a crush; just some inconvenient feelings that would dissipate at some point and she could go back to seeing Yousef as just another one of Elias’ friends.

Determined to stop making such a fool out of herself, Sana turned her attention to Mutta and, for the rest of the meal, grilled him about Chris. After all, she owed it to Chris to be a good friend and make sure that Mutta was as besotted with her as she was with him. She almost managed to keep her eyes away from Yousef, too. She snuck a couple of glances over, unable to ignore him completely, but overall she was proud of the self-control she possessed for that meal. She would conquer this crush and afterwards everything could go back to normal.

----------

The next morning, still basking in just how steely she could be at times, Sana sipped at her coffee as she walked into the schoolyard at Nissen.

“Poor Yousef,” Even whispered in her ear, startling her and causing her to jump out of her skin.

“What the fuck?!?” Sana asked, sucking spilt coffee up from the lid of her take away cup.

“Sorry! Didn’t mean to scare you.”

“Didn’t anyone ever tell you that creeping up on people was a sure fire way to do that?”

“I seem to have skipped that class.”

Exasperated, she looked up at him and then couldn’t help but smile softly at just how happy he looked. Peaceful. It had been a while since she had seen Even without the slightly haunted look in his eyes.

“You look good,” she said. “Happy.”

“I am,” he said blissfully.

“You got all your boys back,” she commented.

Even slung an arm around her shoulder and said, “I have – all thanks to you.”

“I didn’t do anything!”

“You made me talk out my feelings and then ran away when you saw Yousef, forcing me to get over my fears and talk the poor boy out of a crisis.”

“Huh?!” she asked confused.

“Which, I had to do again late last night, by the way. So maybe I shouldn’t be thanking you.”

Frustrated, she said, “I don’t understand.”

“That much is more than clear.”

“Even!” she snapped. “It’s too early in the morning to deal with your cryptic utterances.”

He rolled his eyes. “For someone so smart, you really are being dumb about this, Sana Bakkoush.”

Her annoyance rising at the smug expression on his face and the way he was looking at her as if she was something he wanted to dissect in a laboratory, she scowled at him and said, “I don’t get what you mean.”

“To be honest, that’s what makes this even more fun. However, in light of how you helped me yesterday, I’m going to help you back: Stop running away from your feelings and own up to them.”

Removing his arm from around her shoulders, he sped up, his long legs moving too quick for her now.

“That makes no sense, Even!” she called out to him.

Turning around and walking backwards, he gave her a shit eating grin and said, “Think about it.”

Coming to a complete standstill, Sana watched as he waggled his eyebrows and then spun back round just in time to disappear into the school building. Think about what? Her feelings? Well, she thought about them too much at the moment and they’d led her into being completely obvious about her crush. And what did he mean that he had to talk Yousef out of a crisis? A crisis about what? About her crush on him?

Oh God, was Even trying to tell her to chill out a little and hide her emotions better? Did she have to own up to the fact that she was causing Yousef too much embarrassment? He said that he’d had to talk Yousef out of a couple of crises. Did that mean she was being so full on about how she liked him that Yousef was stressing out about it?

The thought of her behaviour upsetting Yousef so much that he had turned to Even for advice unnerved her. She hated knowing that he was so distressed by her feelings towards him and that others knew, too. Why did she have to go and get a crush on someone so involved in her life and so unavailable at the same time? She’d rather have a crush on someone afar who wasn’t so intertwined with her family and who she could avoid a lot better.

Sadness at how badly this whole situation was playing out washed over her, causing tears to prick at her eyes. Sana could give in to feeling sorry for herself for liking a boy who only saw her as a little sister. It was a tempting proposition; to go and cry her eyes out. Maybe rail at Chris and the girls about how much it sucked having unrequited feelings for someone. Yet that had never been her. She had learnt the hard way that she didn’t get to have soft emotions or show her vulnerabilities. If she did that then someone would always take advantage of the knowledge. Time and attitudes had helped her cultivate her hard exterior, had taught her to hide her feelings away. If there was one thing she was good at then it was hiding away her feelings, pushing down those tenderer emotions that made her weak and vulnerable and instead putting a stoic façade up that made her seem bitter and harsh but was better for everyone around her. The world didn’t allow her to show her softer side, she knew this by now so why she thought this would play out any differently was beyond her.

Therefore, she would not give in to the temptation to wallow in her hurt feelings. So he didn’t like her and was embarrassed by his best friend’s little sister having a crush on him. It wasn’t the end of the world. She had suffered from worse things before and she would shrug the sting of his rejection off and bounce back stronger.

Chapter Text

Sana didn’t realise just how much time she had started to spend with the boys until she actively stopped. She had become used to joining them in whatever stupid games they were cooking up in the book room or kicking their arses at basketball on the small hoop they had in the garden. 

Now, when she was keen to put distance between herself and Yousef and defeat her inconvenient feelings, she was feeling the effects of no longer being able to unwind with the boys in the same way. They were the outlet for her at times. She could completely be herself around them and they didn’t judge, just happy to laugh at her dry wit, especially as it was often levelled Elias’ way.

However, now she would raise her hand in greeting and hurry off to her room instead and the routine was getting a little wearing. Especially as she couldn’t even focus on studying the way she wanted. She should be so far ahead in her classes considering how much time she spent with her books. Yet she found herself staring at her walls more often than not, thinking about a certain boy and wishing she could get over this crush.

A knock came at her door. She called whoever it was to come in and quickly flipped her books open so she at least looked like she was studying and not pining away like an idiot.

Elias peeked his head around the door and then came in. He flopped down on her bed, causing her books to fly up a little and she threw him an unimpressed stare.

“How come you’re in here all the time now? You don’t even come out to laugh at Adam’s dance moves anymore.”

“School,” she replied.

“It’s your second year,” he said with a roll of his eyes.

“And if I want to get into the medicine programme at the University of Oslo then I need to make sure my grades don’t slip at all. It’s the best in Norway and really competitive.”

“Okay, okay, super brain,” he said. “But you need to come out on Friday.”

“What? Why?”

“Because the label is ‘premiering’ the music video. There’s going to be journalists and shit there and they want you and the girls available to give some interviews about what it was like being plucked off the streets to film with the amazing BrisketB.”

“Ugh,” she grimaced. “I don’t want to be interviewed.”

Elias sighed. “Just hang about in the back then and let your friends answer. But you have to be at the event.”

“Why did I agree to do this whole stupid thing again?”

“Because you love me and you’re a good friend.”

“A sucker more like.”

Elias gave her an assessing look. “Everything is good at school, right?”

“Yeah,” she said nonplussed. “Why wouldn’t it be?”

“No one’s giving you a hard time about us?”

It was her turn to roll her eyes. “I fixed all of that. No one dares even ask me for your number anymore.”

“That’s my badass sister,” he said with a grin. “So how come you never smile anymore and just hide yourself away in here? No one’s said anything to you, have they?”

She thought about Mikael and Even’s words and how they had all but hinted that she was making Yousef uncomfortable as nicely as they could. She couldn’t tell her brother that she was sad because she was drowning in unrequited feelings for his best friend. It would be really awkward for him and this situation was uncomfortable enough as it was.

“No. Everything’s fine.”

“That’s good because when you’re sad, I’m sad,” he said with a pathetic pout.

Shoving at his shoulder, she pushed him off her bed and said, “Get out of here. Some of us have actual work to do!”

“Okay, I’m going. Don’t eat in here tonight though. Mama is starting to get worried and school work is only going to fly as an excuse for so long.”

“Alright. Stop nagging.”

“I have to look out for the baby Bakkoush.”

“You’re going to have to look out for this book in your face in a minute.”

But there was no sting to Sana’s words. She and Elias always had each other’s backs and she knew this was just as much about checking in on her as it was telling her about the video launch party on Friday.

Fortunately for Sana when she ventured out of her room the rest of the boys had cleared off home for once. She could sit at the table without the stress of trying to keep her eyes away from Yousef and pretend that everything was okay.

-----------

“I can’t wait for Friday,” Vilde squealed excitedly at lunch the next day.

Ever since Sana had mentioned the party in the group chat the night before, it had been all the girls could talk about.

“We can bring our boyfriends right?” Vilde asked a little anxiously.

“Yeah, I’m sure you can bring Magnus. Elias invited Even and Isak so I don’t think numbers are going to be tight or anything.”

“Perfect,” Vilde said, standing up and pulling her phone out. “I’m just going to call Magnus and tell him.”

“Does that mean Eskild can come because he’s been freaking out ever since he heard I was in a BrisketB music video?” Noora asked.

“As long as you realise that you’ll be responsible for him,” Sana said. “So if he does anything outrageous it’s going to be on you.”

“I think I can keep him in line,” Noora said, faltering a little at the end of the sentence. “Eva, you’ll help me right? All the others will be busy with their boyfriends.”

“Er…all the others?” Sana asked. “Only Chris and Vilde have boyfriends.”

Noora looked at her confused. “Do you mean to say that you haven’t turned that music video into dating Yousef?”

With an unimpressed tilt of her head, Sana said, “How many times do I have to tell you? Yousef doesn’t like me. He made that really clear the next day.”

“Are you serious?” Eva asked.

“Yes. We had a whole conversation about how uncomfortable I made him feel.”

“And he said it like that?” Eva asked not even trying to keep the scepticism out of her tone.

“Well, not quite like that. He was trying not to hurt my feelings.”

Eva looked at Noora and then back at Sana. “So he said that he had no feelings for you?”

“Pretty much. He apologised for crossing boundaries and when I checked that Elias was being fine with him he said that it was just a video shoot.”

“Oh my God, Sana,” Noora said in an exasperated tone.

Eva just shook her head and put her head in her hands.

“What?” Sana asked defensively.

“That doesn’t mean he doesn’t like you!” Noora said emphatically.

Bristling at this whole conversation, Sana snapped, “I think I know Yousef better than either of you. I’ve known him since I was eight. You met him twice.”

“Hey,” Chris said, sitting down at the table. “Man, I thought my History teacher was never going to let us leave.”

“Maybe Chris can shed some clarity here,” Eva said.

“Clarity on what?” Chris asked thickly from where she was munching on the salad Vilde had abandoned.

“Yousef and Sana.”

Chris started laughing. “Oh yeah, Mutta said-”

“Enough!” Sana interrupted, slashing her hand through the air and pushing her chair back. “I don’t need you to relay Mutta’s words. I had dinner with them all a week ago and they all made it clear that they knew about my crush and found it hilarious. No wonder Yousef felt he had to say something.”

“Hang on-,” Chris started to say once more, but Sana wasn’t interested in listening.

Glaring at them all for interfering in things they had no clue about, she stomped away to find some solace in the quiet of the library where her friends rarely ventured and she could mope about her unrequited feelings in peace.

-----------

For once time didn’t drag and before Sana was ready, it was Friday and she was scouring her wardrobe, pursing her lips and looking a little depressed at what was available for her to wear. Sadly, the choices weren’t great.

There was a knock on her door and she distractedly called out for whoever to enter.

“You’re not dressed yet?” Elias asked, standing on the threshold, his hands behind his back.

The ball of panic that sat heavily in the pit of her stomach stirred at his words. What exactly was she going to wear? She couldn’t see anything that would work this kind of party. Her old Eid clothes felt all wrong. Slightly too bright and gaudy for her current depressed mood.

“Obviously not, Einstein,” she said derisively.

“Then you’re going to love me,” he said, coming into her room and whipping out a covered hanger from behind his back.

“What’s that?”

“Something for you to wear.”

Sana narrowed her eyes and eyed the bag with an amount of trepidation. “And you picked it out for me?”

Elias snorted in amusement. “Don’t be stupid. No, Rasha at the label grabbed me and sent this over.”

“Rasha from the costuming department?”

“Yeah. She said she had the perfect dress for you.”

Relief washed through Sana at his words. Going by the choices that Rasha had put out for her at the video shoot then her clothing dilemma was solved.

“Hand it over,” she demanded with outstretched hands.

“Eager much?”

“Don’t mess with me, Elias. I have nothing to wear and have been staring at my clothes for over an hour now.”

“Okay, chill,” he said passing her the hanger.

She unzipped the cloth bag covering the padded hanger and smiled widely when she saw the dark navy blue dress inside. It was beautifully cut and saved from being too severe from the flash of silver the belt provided and the matching silver hijab. It was perfect.

“Ooh that will look great,” Elias said approvingly.

“What do you know? Do you even wear anything that isn’t Adidas branded?”

“Ha ha ha!” he said sarcastically and added, “All I know is that You-”

He broke off, looking stupidly guilty as if he had said something that he shouldn’t have.

“All you know is that I…what?”

“You’re going to knock everyone dead,” he said.

“Hmm,” she replied, unconvinced. “Hopefully not totally dead because you’re going to need the media to hype this album up.”

Elias grinned and back out the door with a brief wave of his hand. Sana rolled her eyes. Sometimes her brother was idiotic to the point of incoherency.

-----------

If Sana needed reminding of just what a big deal her brother was these days than an event like this provided it. She had never accompanied Elias to any of his events as she never sought the limelight herself. If it hadn’t been for the unedited video of Mikael’s then she would happily still be leading a double life pretending that she had no idea who BrisketB were. However, that BTS video had been released and somehow she and her friends had been sucked up into the madness that surrounded the boyband and she was at the launch of their latest video and it was as crazy as she had feared.

First it had been how the label insisted that Sana and the girls be brought out down stairs and introduced officially to the media attending. Then it was the fact that there were journalists everywhere, sticking microphones in people’s faces with cameras or photographer in tow. Luckily, the video hadn’t been shown yet so none of the journalists were showing too much interest in them, instead flocking to the boys who had been brought out just after they were and were individually encircled by a seething mass of ever changing media looking for soundbites and footage to get their ratings and click hits up.

Then Ole was there, hushing everyone and ushering them into the cinema they had hired for the launch. Sana still found it amusing that somehow this many people were actually interested in what her brother and his friends were doing. That they had somehow managed to turn being complete dorks into a raging success. However, it had to be any group of boys then she would rather it was them than some of the cretinous creeps who inhabited her school.

The girls had seats reserved at the front, next to the boys and as she’d been in the lead when Ole had herded them into the screening room she was closest to the boys. Her eyes widened as she realised that this put her in a seat next to Yousef. She’d only seen him from afar that night, unable to keep her eyes completely away from him. She wasn’t sure if her self-imposed exile away from his company over the past week or so was a good thing or a bad thing. It had done nothing to ease her crush and her eyes were naturally drawn to him as if they need to drink him in to make up for lost time.

All this added up to make her hyper aware of him as she slid into the seat next to his with a small, remote smile on her face. He nodded at her with a similar small smile and she longed for the days when he would flash her his wide smile and make her feel the centre of the universe. However, her inconvenient feelings had gotten in the way and this was the punishment; to be treated as an acquaintance.

Unfortunately, Eva was next to her and she elbowed Sana when she realised just who she was sitting next to and gave her a meaningful look that just made Sana feel even more awkward about the whole situation. Her friends hadn’t let up on how apparently Sana was misinterpreting Yousef’s words but from the stiff way he was holding his body and just how taunt his shoulders were, she didn’t think she was. He was uncomfortable being this close his best friend’s little sister who had a crush on him, which in turn made her feel really awkward.

They didn’t have to wait long for the video to start up, the upbeat music blaring out of the speakers as the boys did some kind of complicated dance routine on the screen. Sana was impressed that Yousef had managed to get them all so in sync and in time – even Adam with his clumsy lack of rhythm. Then montages from the segments filled with the girls started to flash up interspersed and Sana was amazed by how much of it was taken up by her and Yousef. Elias was usually the main in the all the videos as he was the main singer, but the shots of him and Noora were definitely far less than her and Yousef.

She could feel herself slumping a little in her seat as she realised just how much her crush on Yousef was showing up on screen. She looked deeply in love with him and knew that in reality she felt that strongly. She had no interest in other boys because all she could see was Yousef. To make matters worse, he was acting really well, appearing to be all heart-eyes in such a way that had her heart thumping heavily in her chest despite the fact that she knew it was all fake. She couldn’t help but sneak looks at him out the corner of her eyes, to see how well he was taking it. He had his shoulders hunched too, as if he was also embarrassed. She wondered just how bad this was for him; to see her wearing her heart on her sleeve in such a manner. It must be obvious to everyone just how head over heels she was for him. Her cheeks burned at the thought. How this video was going to be played on TV and watched millions of times on YouTube and everyone would be able to see just how in love she was with Yousef Acar.

Her face was set in the misery of knowing this when the showing finally finished. Not happy with watching it through once, the label had made them sit through three consecutive showings. It was impossible to avoid how she and Yousef were somehow the stars of the video either. She had not wanted anything like this; hoping instead to blend into the background. However that wasn’t the case. She was somehow the star along with Yousef.

Just how much unwelcome attention was on her was made apparent as they filtered back out into the lobby and bar area where the reception was taking place. The journalists now focused their attention on the ‘lucky’ girls who had been plucked out of obscurity to star in the video and much to Sana’s horror, they wanted her at the centre of their interviews.

“Sana, you are Elias’ sister right? How has fame changed your brother?” one journalist asked as she and the girls were lined up in the front of the cameras.

“It hasn’t,” she said with a fond smile. “Elias remains as level headed as before and as much of a dork as he was before.”

Her reply was greeted with laughter.

“How were you chosen to take part?”

Chris took point on that for which Sana was grateful, managing to come up with a witty story of finding out Sana’s big bad secret that didn’t make her look bad. She could always count on Chris to obscure the more salubrious parts of the story and concentrate instead on the lighter aspects, hugely entertaining the journalists and making them laugh.

Then questions were fired at them rapidly, causing Sana’s head to whirl. It felt like being at the epicentre of a feeding frenzy where she was the prey. She struggled to make sense of all the questions, most of them going in one ear and out the other. She managed to answer the ones directed to her and was able to breathe a sigh of relief when her friends fielded the others, allowing her space to gather her thoughts once more.

“And Yousef?” a journalist towards the back called out with piercing clarity and looking directly at Sana. “That was some amazing chemistry between the two of you on the video. He’s famous for avoiding all talk of girls in his interviews, is it because you are dating?”

It was the one question that she had been dreading since watching the video through the first time. Her feelings for Yousef had been displayed so clearly for the audience that she wasn’t even sure she could laugh it off with a response about acting and how he was her brother’s oldest and best friend and so it had been easy to feign those feelings for him.

However, before she could even attempt to formulate a response, Ole was there with a pleasant smile on his face and his position as a label executive clear.

“And that’s enough questions for now,” he said with a clap of his hands. “Let’s not overwhelm the girls with all this attention.”

Sana frowned at how Ole didn’t allow her to negate the question. It was simple enough for her to quash those rumours now. Sensing her look, he turned towards her, bent his head slightly towards her ear and said, “The rumours around you and Yousef are going to swirl and get this video even more publicity. It’s best to allow that kind of speculation grow.”

Before she could reply, he was up and off, leading the journalists over to interview the boys once more and Sana was left staring after him feeling uneasy about her emotions being stage controlled for PR purposes. She didn’t want to be used as a marketing pawn and she definitely didn’t want her very real feelings to be manipulated like that. It was sordid and left her with the feeling of needing a shower to remove the taint of having her crush manoeuvred in such a way.

“What was that?”  Chris asked, coming to stand next to her.

Sana shrugged. “Apparently shutting down rumours that Yousef and I are dating would get the videos less hits.”

Chris grimaced. “That seems shady.”

“Yeah,” she replied unhappily. “I don’t like anything about this situation.”

“It’s only rumours right?”

“Yeah, but still.”

“Talk to Yousef about it,” Chris advised. “If you both present a united front the label is going to have to listen to you.”

“I guess,” she said quietly, her stomach sinking at the thought of having to talk to Yousef about something so awkward. It had been bad enough last time.

“It would probably be good for you both anyway,” Chris continued.

Sana shot her friend a piercing look. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Just that you’re unhappy with things to do with him right now.”

“No I’m not!” she denied hotly.

However, Chris shot her an unimpressed look. “Don’t try and deny it! You snap at any mention any of us make about it, refuse to even entertain the possibility that he might like you, too, and basically stomp around in a bad mood because you don’t want to confront your feelings about him.”

“I have confronted my feelings and I’ve come to the conclusion that unrequited crushes suck.”

“Come on, Sana, you have to do better than that.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Just that you seem to have had one sort of conversation about this with Yousef where, from what I can figure out, nothing conclusive was said, and have come to the conclusion that he cannot like you. Did you watch that video?”

“We all did. Three times.”

“You keep saying that you know Yousef better than any of us so it’s time to actually use that knowledge. You know he’s not that good an actor.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Talk to him!” Chris said, as she walked over to where Mutta was beckoning to her.

Frustrated at how everyone kept telling her to confront her feelings and talk to him but not actually telling her anything new, she sighed and sat down on a window seat that was conveniently sheltered behind a large display of flowers. She didn’t want to have to talk to Yousef about this. It was mortifying and yet no one else seemed to get that. They all just presumed that somehow talking to him was going to clear everything up rather than just be embarrassing and cause her never to be able to face him again. Which would be an unfortunate side effect considering he was always at her house and best friends with her brother.

However, if only to get the girls off her back, she was going to have to do it. She just needed to psych herself up first and if that meant hiding from the scrutiny of a room full of her friends, family and the media then she would definitely do it.

It took longer than expected for her to tamp the knot of anxiety that sat low in her stomach and when she finally came out of hiding and the room was emptying. However, luckily for her the boys had to be there until the bitter end and so Yousef was still around, chatting to Even and Isak in the corner.

With a pounding heart and blood rushing in her ears, she made her way over towards him.

“Hey,” Isak said, spotting her first. “Nice job on being a music video superstar.”

“Ha ha!” she said, trying her hardest to appear normal and look at both Isak and Even and not just stare at Yousef. She wasn’t sure she was entirely successful from the amused smile that played around Even’s lips.

“It’s a great video,” Even said. “Definitely my favourite of the BrisketB videos so far.”

That made Yousef laugh and he said, “That’s because Adam wanted a The Get Down homage in there.”

“It did make it all the more special,” Even said with a grin.

An awkward pause fell between them all and Sana wracked her brain trying to think of something to say but failing miserably because all she could think about was how she had to have a conversation with Yousef and how Isak and Even were in the way.

“Oh look! Mikael is calling me over,” Even said with a distressing lack of subtly that even had Isak snorting with how bad it was.

Without waiting for a response, Even dragged his boyfriend away, leaving both Sana and Yousef standing self-consciously together. Getting the courage to look up at him, Sana saw that he was gazing at her with an almost wistful expression.

Titling her head, she asked, “Everything okay?”

“Yeah,” he replied. “You’re okay, too, right? I’ve hardly seen you recently.”

Sana shrugged and lied, “I’ve had lots of school work. Need to make sure I come top in all of my classes.”

The wide smile she had missed so much came back then. “You’re still on course to beat Ahmed and Elias then with your exam results?”

“I don’t consider it a success until I’ve managed to do that. Not that topping Elias’ results is much of a challenge.”

He laughed, warm and fond and her heart pounded even harder at how much she loved drawing the sound from him. If she had her way then it would always be like this between them. Unfortunately, things weren’t so easy.

Drawing a deep breath, she took the plunge. “Did Ole talk to you about the video?”

Yousef frowned. “No. Why? What’s he said to you?”

“It’s just one of the journalists asked about us. You know, to ask if we were dating and before I could shut that line of questioning down, Ole wrapped up the question and answer session. He said something about the rumours getting more publicity.”

“Oh,” he said with something akin to horror in his voice. “Oh Sana, I’m so sorry. I’ll sort this out. I don’t want you dragged into any of the madness that surrounds us.”

“Do you mind?” she asked a little hesitantly. “It all feels a little too much.”

“Yeah, no, of course I don’t mind. There’s no need for you to be subjugated to this. Elias will help out. There’s no way he’ll stand for this. Don’t worry, I’ll fix it.”

It was stupid how disappointed she felt at his vehemence to get this straightened out. She didn’t want to have anything to do with marketing subterfuge or having her feelings dissected in the wider world and had come to him for this very reason. But part of her, a really small but stubborn part of her, wanted him to maybe suggest they go ahead with it so that she could pretend even for the smallest amount of time that this was real. It was irrational, she knew that, but if she’d learnt anything over the past months it was that emotions often didn’t make sense.

Smiling broadly to cover her nonsensical reaction, she said, “Thanks, Yousef.”

“Anything for you, girl.”

Her heart thumped at his words and she wished that he meant that in the way she wanted to hear. For the millionth time that month, she cursed how much unrequited feelings hurt.

 

Chapter Text

Over the weekend, things went almost went back to normal. Sana stopped hiding out in her room and started interacting with the boys again. There was no point in locking herself away to try and get over her crush and it only made her more miserable. So she would stop by the book room, laughed at the stupid antics the boys were getting up to and tried not to stare too hard at Yousef. She wasn’t sure she was too successful at the last one, but no one made any comments so she accepted the situation as it was.

Then the new single and the video dropped on Monday.

Sana thought the school had gotten used to her relationship with BrisketB but a group of ‘00s came up to the girls as they were sitting on the benches outside. Vilde was scrolling through social media reactions to the video and the reading the best and/or funniest comments aloud. There was a lot of envy towards the girls for being in the video, which included some of the general nastiness that you got online towards girls doing something awesome. But they were brushing past them and concentrating on the nice things.

“I just wanted to say that the video is so cool and I think it’s great that a group from Nissen got to be in it,” one of the ’00 girls said.

“Aww thanks,” Vilde replied with a big smile.

“Also you and Yousef are so cute,” another one said with a giggle to Sana. “It’s so sweet how you are dating.”

“Huh?!” she replied, confused.

“They are adorable, aren’t they?” Noora said with a smug look towards Sana.

“It’s like something out of a teen film,” the ’00 continued to say. “Falling in love with your brother’s best friend who is also a music star.”

“Hang on,” Sana started to say. “We’re not-”

But Eva cut across her and said, “They really are like a rom-com.”

The younger girls all giggled again before waving and walking away. Glaring at her friends, Sana snapped, “What the hell was that?”

“There’s no point in denying it,” Noora said calmly. “No one is going to believe you anyway.”

Clenching her jaw in frustration because she had wanted to avoid this and now her friends were acting as if she and Yousef were an actual couple to fans.

“Yousef and Elias had a whole conversation with the label about not pretending we were dating.”

Chris scoffed. “That was to stop Ole and the PR team from trying to promote it that way. These are girls at the school. What are they going to say?”

“Besides,” Vilde said, staring intently at her phone. “The speculation pieces have started already.”

“What?” Sana exclaimed.

Vilde passed her phone over to her and Sana stared in some disbelief at the latest article on the Topp website. It was a speculation piece about how Yousef was head over heels in love with her complete with close sources stating that Elias was very happy for his best friend and his sister. It was horrifying to read in print.

“What? Close sources? What close sources?”

“Journalist speak for social media rumours,” Noora said dismissively, looking up from where she was reading the article on her own phone.

“They can’t print this, can they?” Sana asked, her shoulders taut with anxious tension. The thought of what Yousef would think if he read this had her stomach churning with nerves.

Noora shrugged. “It’s standard gossip mill about a popular celebrity that will get them lots of hits.”

“The comment section is already blowing up,” Eva stated.

Sana went to scroll down before Vilde snatched the phone back out of her hands. “Don’t read the comment section. That’s a recipe for disaster. You know it will be full of nasty comments about you.”

“Although surprisingly, most are really supportive. People are really loving the idea of you and Yousef,” Eva said.

“That’s because they have eyes and watched the music video,” Chris remarked.

Groaning, Sana said, “We’ve been through this. It’s a music video! It’s meant to look as if we are actually dating, but there’s nothing there.”

“Insert Sure Jan gif,” Chris said with a roll of her eyes.

“You guys are meant to support me not side with the crazies.”

“And it’s because we love you that we think you and Yousef actually need to sit down and talk about this,” Noora said. “It’s obvious you both have a crush on each other but are convinced that it’s unrequited.”

“How many times-,” Sana started to say.

“No, it’s time to listen,” Chris said firmly, effectively shutting Sana up with how unusual it was. “It’s insane how much you are in denial about this and how you won’t allow anyone to finish their actual sentences when they try and talk to you about this. He likes you as much as you like him. Everyone but you is aware of this. Well, except him but that’s the other way around. Talk to him. Confess your feelings. It will go well, I promise you.”

“You can’t promise me that.”

“I can because I’m dating Mutta and we’ve had conversations about how infuriating you are both being.”

Chris’ words effectively dried up the objection on her lips and all she could do was sit in slightly stunned silence and look around at her friends, who were a mixture of exasperated and encouraging.

Could they be right? Could Yousef really have feelings for her, too? Her whole body automatically wanted to reject the idea, but everyone around her was so insistent that she was being blind about this.

“But Elias-”

“Come on, Sana,” Chris said. “If you were in Elias’ shoes would you get involved? If he liked one of us and was being stupid about it, would you start meddling? No! You would roll your eyes and try to pretend that none of it was happening.”

Chris had a point. In fact, Sana had gone through a version of this with Ahmed and Jamilla where she and Elias had laughed and whined about how dumb the pair were being when they danced around each other for months at Arabic school. Sana might have been closest to Jamilla, but she had not touched the situation with a barge pole. Instead, letting it play out and then teasing both Ahmed and Jamilla when they finally got together about how dumb they had been.

“So you think he likes me, too?” she asked in a subdued tone, not wanting to place too much on their words in case they turned out to be wrong.

“The only way he could more obvious is if he hired a skywriting plane to write his confession over Nissen,” Eva said.

Hope rose in Sana as she looked around her group of friends who were all smiling at her in encouragement. She had never dared allow herself to believe that he could reciprocate her feelings. It felt too much like a fairy tale and girls like her never got to exist in fairy tales. She had always just assumed that she would never get her happy ever after. The thought that she would actually get the boy had never crossed her mind.

“Okay, I will talk to him.”

The girls all threw their hands in the air and cheered.

-----------

Of course, that was when things started to conspire against her. When Sana had been avoiding Yousef he had appeared to be at her house all the time. And now when she wanted nothing more than to talk to him, to finally put her feelings out there and herself on the line, he had disappeared and not been at their house for three days straight despite the fact that she couldn’t remember the last time that had happened.

It wasn’t even as if she had his number to text him and she was too embarrassed to ask Elias for it. It felt like a step too far. Neither were they Facebook friends. She was beginning to wonder if this was a sign. One that was telling her that it was not meant to be and protecting her from making a massive mistake by telling him about her crush and potentially making things so awkward between them that they could never recover.

Chris: He still not there?

Sana: Nope

Vilde: Ugh, Yossi! Why are you so lame?

Noora: Can’t you message him?

Sana: Don’t have his number.

Eva: Seriously?

Noora: Facebook?

Sana: We’re not friends on Facebook.

Noora: Really? Just add him

Sana: It feels weird

Chris: Girl!

Chris: Put some effort in

Her friends had a point. It was a simple matter to send him a Facebook friend request. It was innocuous really and not something to read a lot into. However, she couldn’t help but worry that somehow her friends were wrong. That they had built this up into something it wasn’t. The fear that this was all misinterpretation on their end was paralysing her when it came to acting.

This anxiety wasn’t helped by the flurry of speculative articles around her and Yousef that continued to be published. It seemed like every magazine in Scandinavia was dissecting their every move in that video and jumping to a million conclusions. Added all together it felt too much. The pressure of dealing with her feelings and how to open up to Yousef alongside the publicity their role in the video had created was weighing down on her, making her mind slow and lethargic so when she would try and think of a way through the morass she would get nowhere.

The constant layers of complications had her ready to give up. She was a firm believer in that things happened for a reason and since she had decided to confess her crush to Yousef, she hadn’t even seen him. That had to be a sign, right? That this wasn’t right and she should just ignore it and continue on as she had before. If she was meant to tell Yousef how she felt then surely it shouldn’t be this hard.

Her phone pinged again and she glanced curiously at it, expecting another message from the group chat. However, it wasn’t. Her heart sped up as she grabbed her phone and blinked a couple of times to make sure she wasn’t imagining things. It was a Facebook friend request from Yousef.

Or well, from Yousef’s fake account because the one that had his actual name on it was run for BrisketB publicity appearances. All the boys had separate Facebook accounts with codenames and no pictures that could be traced back to them. Sana had helped set them up and choose the codenames a year ago, which was why she knew this was Yousef.

Her breath shuddered in her chest as anticipation fizzled through her veins. Just as she had been prepared to give up, he had sent her a friend request. That had to be fate.

Swiping across her phone to unlock it and tapping on the notification, she stared at the nondescript Facebook page, hovering over the friend button before pressing it. Almost immediately there was another ping as the message icon appeared in the corner. Clicking on it, she saw that Yousef had messaged her.

Yousef: Hey

Yousef: Hope you don’t mind the request.

Yousef: How you hanging in?

Yousef: I was wondering if we could meet?

Yousef: Not sure if you know but we’ve been doing rounds of interviews and it might be a good idea if we talk about some of the stuff that is going to come up in those interviews.

The messages weren’t exactly the stuff of dreams and were definitely business related, but she had wanted an opportunity to talk to him and here it was.

Sana: Hi

Sana: Yeah, sure.

Sana: Where do you want to meet?

Yousef: The basketball court? The one in the park near your house.

Sana: Okay.

Sana: What time?

Yousef: Is today good for you?

Yousef: In two hours?

Sana: That works.

Sana: Bring a ball ;)

Yousef: <3

Sana stared at the heart emoji for a long time. Her heart raced with the implications of what it could mean. Waiting two hours to find out both felt impossibly long and way too short at the same time. Could her friends actually be right about all of this? Had she been tormenting herself for weeks now about her unrequited feelings for no reason whatsoever? She wanted to laugh at the prospect of them being at cross purposes for so long; convinced that the other could not feel the same way. It would make that conversation they had on the day of the video shot both amusing and stupidly frustrating.

Pulling in a deep breath, Sana attempted to calm her nerves and regulate her breathing. In two hours she would have all the answers, which was both scary and liberating.

---------

Yousef was already at the basketball court when she got there, standing on the three point line and practising his shots. He wasn’t actually bad and she knew from years of playing with the boys that he moved around the court with the fluid grace of a dancer.

As he set himself to shoot, she came up quietly behind him, jumped up and knocked the ball out of his hand, grabbing it as he stood still in shock, dribbling it to the basket and shooting. Catching the ball as it slid out of the netting, she turned and smiled smugly, the ball tucked under her arm.

“Oh it’s going to be like that is it?” he asked with a smile.

“Yep. Can’t rest on your laurels around me.”

“Bring it on, Bakkoush!”

Positioning the ball under her hand once more, she dribbled out towards him, watching as he twirled around her and took a defensive stance between her and the basket. She made to dribble one way and gave a gleeful coo as he took the bait and she made it around his other side and landed the ball into the basket once more.

“Guess my moves are too slick for you,” she said.

“Just giving you a little head start. Make sure the game is competitive.”

She laughed and then narrowed her eyes as he batted the ball out of her hand and held it up out of her reach as he slotted it into the basket.

“Game on,” he said with a wide smile.

Sana had never played one-on-one with Yousef before. It had always been games with all the boys where they’d split into teams of three. The games had tended to be dominated by her and Elias’ sibling rivalry to get the better of each other. Playing with Yousef alone had a much more intimate and flirty feel. She couldn’t help but double over laughing as he used dorky dance moves to try and confuse her and crowded closely into her when she was in possession of the ball.

They played until the court started to lose too much light. In the murky twilight, she stumbled over a loose pebble and he’d reached out his hands to catch her shoulders and hold her upright. Lifting her head to say thanks, she got caught in his eyes and her breath hitched in her throat at the intense look in his eyes. She wanted to be able to say something but all she could do was stare longingly at him and wish that she could do this all day.

Then an anxious look crept onto his face and her brows furrowed a little at its appearance.

“What is it?” she asked, her voice coming out a little breathlessly.

“Come and sit down,” he said, leading the way over to the side of the court where they could sit. The park was on a hill and the basketball court was at the very top, leaving them with a magnificent view of Oslo spread out before them as the sun began to set. However, she couldn’t focus on that, instead more interested in looking at him.

“What’s wrong, Yousef?”

“So as you know this week has been rounds of interviews for radio and TV. Nothing live yet. Those come towards the end of the week.”

“Yeah, Elias has mentioned how gruelling it’s been.”

“Well, I needed to talk to you because I’m sure you’re aware of the gossip articles that have come out since the video’s release.”

She nodded and scrunched her face up in disgust at the articles that kept coming.

He drew in a breath then, clearly nervous. “It’s come up in these interviews, too. Lots of questions regarding us and if we’re dating. Obviously, I made it very clear to the label that I would not put you through being coy and non-committal about us to fuel gossip and gain more publicity, so I’ve dispelled the rumours, but not very well.

“What do you mean?” Sana asked with a frown.

“Just that it’s pretty clear that I have a massive crush on you and the boys didn’t exactly squash any of the rumours with how much they teased me on air.”

His words came out in a hurried rush meaning that it took Sana moment to decipher them and digest them. However, even when she’d done that, she still didn’t fully understand them. His crush on her?

“What?!” she said bewildered.

“I’m really sorry. I know this is awkward for you and you’ve made it really clear that you have no feelings for me beyond being your brother’s friend and I tried to be plain that nothing was happening. I’m just not the best at pretending that I feel nothing for you because I do.”

His voice went quiet at the end and with slumped shoulders he looked down to the floor with a morose expression.

Puzzled at these unexpected turn of events, she swallowed hard as she tried to get her thoughts in order.

“Hang on, I’m confused,” she ended up saying. “You like me?”

It was his turn to frown. “Well, yeah. We had a whole conversation about it during the video shoot, remember? You made it really obvious that you didn’t feel the same way.”

Unable to believe what she was hearing, Sana started to laugh then. “I’m sorry,” she managed to splutter a second or two later. “It’s just I thought we were talking about my crush on you.”

“Wait what?”

“I’ve liked for you ages now and I thought you were embarrassed by how obvious I was being about it.”

He stared at her in shock and then his shoulders lifted and the tenderest smile blossomed on his face.

“You like me too?”

“Yeah,” she replied, feeling a little shy under just how reverent his gaze was. “I have done since before BrisketB.”

Letting out a puff of laughter, Yousef said, “I can’t believe this. I’ve had a thing for you since the summer before you started Nissen. I just didn’t think I would stand a chance.”

“Why?” she asked confused.

“Because you’re amazing, Sana. So beautiful and clever and witty and you’ve run rings round all us boys since you were a kid. Why would you look at me?”

His words had her heart swelling in affection and moisture pooled in her eyes at how emotional hearing them made her. “I could say the same about you. You’re kind, sweet, loyal and stupidly handsome. You could have any girl in Oslo so why would you look at me?”

His hand reached out then and he intertwined his fingers with hers and raised their joined hands so he could press a kiss on the back of her hand. “Why would I look at anyone else when I have Sana Bakkoush in front of me? What kind of idiot would that make me?”

She shook her head in disbelief. The last ten minutes felt like a dream and she was sure she was going to wake up any second and find herself tucked up in her bed.

“I can’t believe we’ve been at such cross purposes,” she said. “My friends kept telling me that my crush was reciprocated and Even told me to stop running from my feelings. I thought he was saying about how I needed to get over my crush and stop making you so uncomfortable.”

Yousef gave a soft laugh. “Well, you made me uncomfortable but not in the way you thought. When I stumbled into that coffee shop and saw you and Even there, I thought it was a date. And then you rushed off and I was convinced it was because I had interrupted and embarrassed you. I was certain, too, that you were going to hate me after these interviews came out. It made me really miserable.”

“Is that why you’ve not been at the house recently?”

“Yeah, I couldn’t face seeing you. Everything about this situation was making me sad.”

Her heart broke a little at his confession. The realisation that they had both been despondent because they were convinced their feelings were unrequited felt both simultaneously ridiculous and depressing. They could have been together for these past weeks instead of unhappy.

“If it’s any consolation, I was miserable, too. And the girls have been teasing me for weeks.”

Yousef smile at that. “The guys have, too. Even Elias who tries to pretend that none of this is happening most of the time. He’s taken to calling me out in interviews in the hope that it would make me do something. Even Even’s got in on the act and has been teasing me ever since we reconnected.”

“He’s also been teasing me as well if makes you feel better.”

“It does, yeah,” he said and then looked a little nervously down at where their hands were still linked. “So, do you want to act on these feelings? Can I take you on a date?”

“I must admit I’m curious to see just where one of Norway’s hottest stars takes girls on a date.”

Smiling widely at her, Yousef said, “Not sure I can help you with that. I haven’t been on a date since I fell for you.”

“That’s almost two years,” she said surprised.

He shrugged. “What is the point of dating someone if they aren’t you? I would just be leading them on because all I can think about is you.”

Eyes meeting once more, Sana blushed at how dotingly he was looking at her. She had never been on the end of such adoration and it made the butterflies in her stomach flutter with how amazing it felt. She wanted nothing more than to move in closer to him, to rest her head upon his shoulder and bask in the sheer delight of the moment.

Then it was shattered with a flash of blinding light. Half blinded, Sana blinked rapidly to try and dispel the multi-coloured spots of light that now obscured her vision.

With a frustrated grunt at the intrusion, Yousef stood up and gently tugged her up with him. “We need to go,” he said irritated.

“What is it?”

“A perk of dating of me: the paparazzi.”

“Seriously!” she exclaimed and once more used to the darkness of the basketball court, she looked around and spotted a photographer lurking in the bushes just past the court. His camera went off again as he got shots of them leaving the basketball court, Yousef still holding her hand.

“Yeah,” Yousef said disgruntled as they hurried out of the park towards her home. “I’m sorry but this is definitely going to be construed as a date by the media.”

“I don’t mind,” she said simply.

“You sure? I can still deny that there’s anything going on between us if you want to back out.”

With a reassuring smile up at him, she said, “But I don’t.”

His arm came out then and wrapped itself around her shoulder, pulling her into his side. Breathing out a sigh at how right it felt to be tucked against his side, Sana snuggled closer into him. Her own arm going around his waist. She felt him kiss the top of her hijab and smiled into his chest.

“So I can say you’re my girlfriend?”

Hearing him call her that had her heart pounding at how perfect it sounded. Even at her most optimistic she had not really expected to come out of this actually dating Yousef Acar. It had felt too much like she was reaching for the moon and would always fall short. Things like that didn’t happen outside of films and yet here she was, wrapped in his arms and listening to him call her his girlfriend.

“Yeah, that sounds good,” she said, unable to keep the grin off her face.

She was never going to live this down with the girls, but she also didn’t care. She would put up with all the teasing they could throw at her if it meant that she got to be this happy.

 

Chapter Text

It was amazing how much more equipped Sana felt to deal with all the gossip items being published about her and Yousef now she actually knew he returned her feelings. There was no longer a sick feeling in her stomach when she saw another article published speculating about them nor was there the anxious tightening in her chest of how he would receive such gossip instead she was able to roll her eyes and click passed it.

Of course, the photos taken that night a week ago on the basketball court dominated the tabloids and magazines for a couple of days. The story had been exacerbated when the interviews dropped. Yousef hadn’t been lying when he said that he had been obvious. Now they had both confessed their feelings and Sana was no longer trapped in the labyrinth of denial and insecurity that she had created around her own crush on him, she was able to see just what everyone else; how incapable he was at hiding his own feelings. The obviousness of his own crush on her had left her red cheeked and grinning when she had watched them, which had made the girls hoot in amusement. However, seeing how transparent he was concerning her had increased her own confidence in the fledging relationship they had.

Which wasn’t necessarily easy.

There had been some nasty notes left anonymously in her locker and someone had remarked the sharmuta that still marred her locker door so it was thick and black once more. She had even overheard some of the Pepsi Max girls talking about her in the toilets, insisting that Yousef was using her as a cover and that he was really dating Elias. They had then gone on to talk ignorantly about Islam, claiming that is she really did have a boyfriend then she was disrespecting her religion especially because she was dating whilst wearing the hijab. Of course, there had been no mention of Yousef disrespecting Islam by dating because the envy in the girls’ voices was palpable. Had Yousef asked either of them on a date they would have jumped at the opportunity because their naked jealousy towards her had been so openly on display. However, so sure was she in Yousef’s feelings towards her that their words hadn’t brought up any of her old insecurities.  It had made her briefly think of Urra and the bullying she had undergone there, but now she had a tightknit group of friends, a boyfriend who openly adored her and Elias who had her back in any situation. She was in a good place and knew she was in a good place.

Therefore, instead of dwelling on their nasty words and stressing, Sana had gone home and joked with Yousef about them thinking he would find the hypocrisy as amusing as she did. However, judging by the fact that he was now waiting for her outside Nissen made her realise that he had been upset on her behalf.

It was a good job that half the school was afraid of Sana and the other half appeared to be struck dumb by the appearance of a boyband star leaning against the railings because it meant he was spared the ordeal of being surrounding by adoring fans demanding selfies and autographs.

“Wow,” Chris said as the girls left the building. “He’s got it bad.”

“He’s waiting for you!” Vilde gushed. “That’s so romantic.”

“And brave,” Eva added.

“Or stupid,” Sana said but the affection in her voice was unmistakable.

“Yeah, you’re fooling no one,” Eva said.

She wanted to be able to glare at her friends and remind them that she was intimidating and scary but the unfortunate side effect of Yousef being there was that her dimples were on show. They always were whenever he was around and she couldn’t help it.

“Aww, look how happy you are he’s here,” Noora cooed.

“Shut up,” she snapped with no heat and accelerated towards her boyfriend, keen to escape the good natured teasing of her friends. She knew they were happy for her.

“Hey,” she said as she approached him. “You’re taking a risk.”

Yousef reached out and threaded his fingers through hers, tugging her so she was only millimetres away from him. With his free hand, he cupped her jaw tenderly and leaned down to press a kiss onto her forehead. The action made her want to melt. It was so soft and affectionate and caused her heart to swell with how loved he made her feel.

“I missed you.”

“You saw me last night.”

“Yeah, but not today.”

Sana could feel how wide her smile was. She would never get fed up of hearing how he wanted to see her all time. Not when she had spent months wallowing in her own emotions sure that he could never like her back.

Dipping his finger into one of her dimples, he laughed and said, “See! You missed me, too.”

“Or I’m incapable of not laughing at your dorky ways.”

“You love my dorky ways.”

Unable to deny it, she said, “I do. They are ridiculous.”

“But adorable.”

“Insanely adorable,” she admitted.

“Aww the pair of you are insanely adorable,” Noora said.

Turning around, Sana saw that her friends were standing behind them, clearly listening to everything they were saying and grinning.

“Privacy – ever heard of it?” Sana asked.

“Nope,” Chris said shamelessly before turning her attention to Yousef. “I take it Mutta isn’t out of the photoshoot?”

Wrapping his arms around Sana’s waist and tugging her back so she rested against his chest, Yousef rested his chin on the top of Sana’s head and said, “Yeah, no. He’s scheduled last this time.”

“Photoshoot?” Vilde asked, insatiable as always when it came to details about what BrisketB were up to.

“Yeah, some individual shots Topp wanted to do for a series of posters they are going to run over the next couple of issues,” Yousef said.

“It must be so weird knowing your boyfriends are plastered up on teenage walls all over Scandinavia,” Eva said.

Sana agreed with her. It was weird, which was why she tried not to think too much about it. That could be harder at times than others and now was one of those times considering the crowd of people who were gathered in the schoolyard and gawping at her boyfriend.

“I love it,” Chris said. “They can put Mutta’s poster up but that boy is all mine.”

Yousef’s chest rumbled with laughter behind her and she looked up at him, causing him to lean down and kiss the tip of her nose.

“Hey Yousef!” a voice called out over the crowd of people gathered around them.

Even pushed his way through the crowd and Yousef freed one of his hands from around Sana’s waist to greet his friend. “Hey.”

“Word of warning: you might want to get out of here. The crowd is getting bolder and soon you’re going to be inundated.”

“Thanks for the heads up,” Yousef said and then turned to Sana to ask, “Shall we head home?”

“Yeah,” she replied.

“You coming?” he asked Even.

“What and crash your date?”

“Because it’s not like Elias won’t,” Sana said in exasperation. “Or the rest of the boys for that matter.”

“Nah,” Even said smiling. “I’m waiting for Isak.”

Yousef clapped Even’s hand goodbye and then waved towards the girls and said, “Nice seeing you all again.” They all smiled cutely and waved back.

Rolling her eyes at the antics of her friends, Sana said, “Talk to you later.”

“Have fun,” Eva said with a grin.

“Don’t do anything we wouldn’t,” Chris added mischievously.

“So basically that means do anything?” Sana quipped back.

“Hey!” Vilde objected.

“It’s kind of fair though,” Eva said.

Chris grimaced. “Yeah, we’ve all sat through far too many conversations where you’ve told us in great detail about your sex life with Magnus. We all know you have no boundaries.”

“Oh my God,” Sana said, twisting out of Yousef’s arms and grabbing his hand. “I’m going before this gets bad.”

“Run whilst you can,” Noora called out at their departing figures.

Once a couple of streets separated them from Nissen and they’d lost the last of those students who had been following them, Sana said knowingly, “So you missed me that much that you risked a mob of hundreds of school kids to see me?”

“I can’t get anything past you, can I?”

“Nope.”

“I didn’t like those girls talking shit about you and us,” he confessed. “I thought it was a good idea to show them just how much I adore you.”

“Aww,” she said.

“Don’t aww me. You know how awkward it makes me.”

“I can’t help it, especially when you go and do cute stuff like this.”

“So you don’t mind?” he asked. “I didn’t want to step over any boundaries.”

“No. I mean, I have no problems dealing with those girls and I’m not worried about what they think and you shouldn’t worry that their words will affect me. But I will never mind you coming to surprise me after school.”

“I know you can deal with them,” he said, kissing the top of her hijab. “I guess I was feeling petty and wanted to show them that not everyone is blind as they are when it comes to how amazing you are.”

“You? Petty? You’ve been spending too much time with me and Elias!”

“Ha ha! I’m not sure I’m going to get petty too often though.”

“Too intense?” she asked.

“Definitely. I took them by surprise today but if I show up too often at your school then no doubt I will be mobbed.”

“You’re such a heartthrob!” Sana gushed, fluttering her eyelashes teasingly at him.

Yousef rolled his eyes, but his arm tightened where it rested around her and he said, “I only care about being your heartthrob.”

She leaned up to kiss his cheek. “You are.”

He grinned widely and she couldn’t help but smile back, grateful that none of her friends were around to see. Yousef brought out the softest side to her and she delighted being in his company because she could relax and be herself completely. He would always do what no one else would; take the time to listen to her no matter how long it would take for her to get her words out. He was so patient and she responded by being more open with him than with anyone else. It made moments like this when they were alone so precious.

---------

Later that night, Sana sat in her bedroom to work on her homework. She’d had to drag herself away from Yousef to actually study, but there was no way she was going to follow in the footsteps of Isak and spend all her time mooning over her boyfriend instead of doing her school work. Isak was now paying the price as his grades had slumped from 6s to 5s and she was debating whether or not to take pity on his sorry ass and tutor him or not. She was definitely going to let him stew on it for a couple of days anyway. Tough love might get him to pull his finger out and study.

Just as she was putting the finishing touches on her Norwegian essay, her phone started to blow up.

Vilde: Oh my God

Vilde: Have you guys been on twitter tonight?

Chris: YEESSSSS

Noora: No. What’s happening?

Chris: Our girl Sana is trending

Eva: What?

Eva: Also you couldn’t have waited another twenty minutes to send this? I’m so close to finishing my Spanish homework.

Eva: I really need to get my grades up.

Noora: I can help

Eva: Thanks <3

Sana: Yousef’s appearance at Nissen?

Vilde: Yeah but it’s not Yousef who’s trending.

Vilde: It’s both of you.

Chris: Yousana has risen.

Sana: Huh?!

Chris: That’s what they’re calling you.

Noora: I don’t get it.

Vilde: It’s their shipping name.

Noora: Shipping?

Vilde: OMG, Noora! Get a tumblr or something.

Noora: ???

Eva: It’s when you smush the names of two people together to form their couple name.

Eva: Sana + Yousef = Yousana

Sana: That sounds horrible.

Chris: Better than Chrismutta

Sana: Chrismutta?

Sana: Yikes

Noora: What’s wrong with saying Sana and Yousef?

Eva: Doesn’t make a good hashtag

Vilde: And Yousana is trending #3 in Norway on Twitter!

Vilde: So many cute videos of them taken at Nissen and walking home have been uploaded.

Sana: Dare I look?

Chris: Yeah

Chris: Not too many nasty comments

Chris: Everyone has sense and ships you.

Noora: Ships?

Vilde: OMG, Noora!

Vilde: Google is your friend.

Saving her document and deciding that now was a good time for a break, Sana arranged her hijab around her head, touched up her make-up, and headed towards the kitchen to make tea.

The book room was fairly quiet. Just some murmuring from the boys as the football game commentary bleared out. She was sure it would get noisy at some point. It always did when they watched football.

Sticking her head into the book room, she smiled as she saw them all spread out. Mikael was laying on Adam’s lap whilst Adam played with his hair, Mutta was half on his phone and half watching the game whilst Elias and Yousef sitting together as always, this time in front of the sofa as they watched the game.

“Sana!” Adam greeted her enthusiastically.

The boys all looked up then, smiles on their faces, which she returned. However, her biggest smile was saved for Yousef as always, who was grinning back at her.

“You coming to join us?” Mutta asked.

She walked into the room, checked the score of the game and said, “I was actually wondering if anyone wanted tea?”

Elias narrowed his eyes at her. “You’re volunteering to make us tea?”

Shrugging, Sana said, “I was making some for myself so I thought I would ask.”

“You never offer to make us tea!” Elias protested. “I always have to beg you.”

“Maybe I’m in a good mood.”

“Shut up, Elias!” Adam protested. “You’re going to ruin this for all of us and she’ll never make us tea. Sana makes the best mint tea.”

“Pfft…she doesn’t make it better than me,” Elias said clearly offended.

Raising her eyebrows in disbelief, Sana said, “Please! Even makes better mint tea than you!”

The boys all broke out in laughter as Elias looked outraged and she couldn’t help but smile smugly. It had been too long since she’d felt comfortable enough to rip Elias in front of them all.

“Even said don’t bring him into this,” Mikael remarked once the noise had died down. “And of course he makes better mint tea than Elias, who can’t even manage to not burn water.”

“You texted him?” Yousef asked with a laugh.

“Of course.”

“You all suck,” Elias sulked.

“Aww don’t be mad, big brother,” Sana said with a teasing pout. “It’s not your fault you’re not as awesome as me.”

“She has a point,” Mutta said.

“You’re meant to be my friends not hers. I can’t believe you stole my friends, Sana!”

“What can I say? They know which Bakkoush is the best.”

Elias chucked a cushion her way. “Just because you’re trending on twitter, it doesn’t mean you’re as amazing as me.”

“Yeah, have you seen that?” Adam asked.

“The girls told me.”

Mutta held up his phone and said, “Chris says there are fan tumblrs for the pair of you now.”

“Does that mean I’m also BrisketB’s fans favourite Bakkoush, too?” Sana asked with a wink to Elias.

He ignored her, instead leaning back and looking at the phone that Mutta was now brandishing in his face. “I can’t believe you actually went to pick Sana up from school, Yousef. And that the fans actually left you alone – well, sort of alone.”

“I know,” Yousef replied. “It was totally a fluke. But worth the hassle to go and meet Sana.”

Mikael makes a whipped sound and she rolled her eyes. “Anyway, do you all want tea?”

There was enthusiastic consenting sounds from all the boys.

“I’ll help you make the tea,” Yousef said, getting to his feet.

There was an outraged gasp of betrayal from Elias. “Et tu, Yousef. You’re leaving me for Sana, now, too?”

Yousef nudged his head with his hand as he passed by and said, “Stop being melodramatic.”

“Yeah, let the poor boy spend some time with his girlfriend,” Mutta said.

“Some time? He spent all afternoon with her! Football is meant to be us time.”

“I’m going to the next room to help her make tea,” Yousef said. “That’s hardly bailing on you.”

Sana waited until Yousef was in the kitchen before she popped her head back around the door and said, “But you know he totally would if I asked.”

Elias made a disgruntled face but didn’t object, which meant he knew that Yousef definitely would, too. Adam grinned and winked at her as all the boys continued to tease Elias.

Yousef had already put the kettle on and was pulling the fresh mint out of the fridge when Sana turned her attention back to him.

“Finished teasing Elias?”

“For now,” she said with a shrug.

“You know he’ll do something in the next interview now to get his own back on you?”

“Probably. Sorry,” Sana said, realising that it was Yousef who would have to deal with that.

“I’m used to it by now. He’s got that ruthless Bakkoush streak.”

She thought back to that interview the boys had done a couple of weeks ago, when Elias had told the interviewer to ask Yousef about crushes. She had wondered at the time if it could be about her, had hoped that it was, but had dismissed it as being too implausible. Obviously now, she knew it had been about her and queried just how many times Elias had sneakily handed a question like that off to Yousef, forcing him to side-step it where she just hadn’t noticed.

“Does Elias do that a lot?” she asked, curious. “Use interviews to call you out?”

“Nah, not always. I mean he would always laugh when we got asked about girls because he knew I had the biggest crush on you. But the last couple of weeks is the most he’s ever done to try and force me to actually do something about it.”

“Thank goodness he didn’t team up with the girls. That would have been a nightmare,” Sana said with a shudder, thinking about how terrible that would have been. Her brother and her friends could all meddle with the best of them.

“Oh, I think that was the plan if we’d continued to deny our feelings for much longer. Or so I understand from Mutta.”

“We dodged a bullet,” Sana said.

“Yeah, it would not have been pretty.”

The kettle boiled, clicking itself off and causing Sana to realise that she hadn’t even prepared the teapot. Hurriedly getting the Moroccan tea set together, she got Yousef to bring out the tea glasses as she poured the water into the teapot and placed it on the tray that Yousef was carrying to take back into the book room.

“Do you have to go back into your room to study?” he asked.

“No, I got my paper for Norwegian finished.”

“Come and hang out with us.”

“Well…” she mused. “It will annoy Elias if I do that.”

Her brother looked up from the game and asked, “What will annoy me?”

“If I come and watch the game with you.”

Elias gave a comical high pitched whine but patted the floor next to him for Mutta to get up off the sofa and sit with him.

After pouring out the tea and handing it around, Sana squeezed herself into the corner of the sofa next to Yousef, with Adam and Mikael on his other side. Yousef put his arm around her shoulders to help make more space and so she could tuck herself into his side.

“All we need now is Lord of the Rings,” she whispered into his ear.

He laughed and said in quiet voice, “That evening was torture. You were so tired and curled up against me so easily and the boys kept looking over and snickering at me. I suffered endless taunting about that for days.”

“You are extremely comfortable,” she said, feeling her body relaxing into him and the sofa already.

“Have a nap,” he said. “I don’t mind.”

“And miss snuggling into you? I don’t think so. You’re not having all the fun this time.”

Yousef laughed again, tightened his arm around her and kissed the top of her head. “I’m not sure I would call the last time fun.”

Sana looked up at him then with an unimpressed expression, knowing what he had meant but wanting to tease him. He hastily backtracked. “I didn’t mean the snuggling, obviously. But listening to the boys go on and on about it for hours was painful.”

“Yeah, I’m not sure the mocking is going to end any time soon.”

“I’m pretty sure they will work in a way to tease me into their wedding speeches.”

“Wedding speeches? Are we getting married? I don’t remember you proposing.”

Rolling his eyes, Yousef said, “As if either of us would be dating each other if it wasn’t with the intention of getting married.”

Of course she had known this, but hearing it out of his mouth was also good. There was no way Sana would casually be into dating anyone, especially Yousef. And even if she had been pretty sure about his intentions, it was still nice to have confirmation.

“In fact, I was thinking about approaching our parents to talk about an engagement this summer,” he said, his tone a little unsure.

“Really?” she said.

It was something she had thought about. She had never been opposed to getting married early. In fact, she liked the way Ahmed and Jamilla had gone about it. Having the kebt kitab over the Christmas break of Jamilla’s last year at Nissen, but not planning to actually have the wedding reception or move in together until Jamilla had her first year of university under her belt. The wedding reception was going ahead for the summer coming up.

“Engagement western style or kebt kitab?” she asked apprehensively. She didn’t want a western style engagement as it held no weight Islamically. She hoped Yousef was on the same page.

Kebt kitab. I want to do this as properly as we can.”

“Oh my God, we all know you guys are going to have the kebt kitab this summer,” Elias said irritably. “Mama’s already talking to Esma teyze about it. Now shut up! I want to watch the game.”

She and Yousef looked at each other and she could see he was as taken aback as she was that their families were already planning the next step between them. But then Yousef shrugged his shoulders and said, “Saves us having a potentially uncomfortable conversation and having to persuade them.”

It was true and she couldn’t actually get upset because she had been thinking along the same lines. Plus she knew their families would never push them into anything, so if they both said they wanted to date for a little longer, it would be fine. Her mum knew her well enough to realise that she wouldn’t want to just date casually and was already thinking ahead for her.

So Sana settled for kicking her brother in the back for being so grumpy. Then she grinned up at Yousef, and settled down to watch the game. There had been times over the past week where she had wanted to pinch herself to make sure this wasn’t all an incredibly realistic dream. However, it wasn’t and she truly did get to sit on the sofa and snuggle up to her amazing boyfriend and plan their marriage.

Dreams really did come true.