Hani and Ishu's Guide to Fake Dating(6)

Ammu won’t be happy about that at all.

“When did we get this fancy coffee machine?” Nik exclaims from the kitchen.

I sigh, slipping inside to see Nik admiring the coffee machine I convinced Ammu and Abbu to get by insisting that I needed it if I was going to ace my Leaving Cert. I’m pretty sure Ammu and Abbu would buy me an army of unicorns if I told them it would help me ace my Leaving Cert.

“Like two months ago,” I tell Nik.

“Wow, Ammu and Abbu have really been spoiling you, huh? Their babu.”

I roll my eyes. Babu is a nickname that Bengalis sometimes give to the youngest child in their family; it literally translates to baby. But I used to throw a fit whenever anybody called me that, so it never really stuck. Only Nik uses it, to tease me. Like Ammu and Abbu haven’t been doting on her, their perfect, favorite child, for our entire lives.

“Why are you here?”

Nik halts her excited examination of the coffee machine and eyes me with some disdain.

“I’m not allowed to come back to my own house without having to explain myself?” Her voice is huffy.

“You haven’t been back here in more than a year,” I say. “You barely even call.”

“Doesn’t change anything,” Nik says. “I just wanted to see you guys. See Ammu and Abbu …” She trails off for a moment, before adding, “Well, I have something to tell them as well.”

“So you couldn’t tell them that you were coming?” I ask.

“It’s a surprise, like I said. They’ll be happy to see me unexpectedly.” Nik smiles as she says this, and everything clicks into place.

Nik doesn’t just have a surprise for Ammu and Abbu—she has a bad surprise that will make them mad. But if they’re delighted to suddenly see Nik back home, will they let their anger get in the way? That must be what Nik is banking on—their happiness overriding their anger.

The news must be pretty bad for her to fly all the way here to tell it to them.

“Well, they probably won’t be back for a few hours still, just so you know.”

“That’s okay. I can catch up with you, right? How’s school? Got a boyfriend?”

I sigh. “I have to go study.”

“Seriously? I haven’t seen you in a year.”

I want to say, And whose fault is that? She’s the older sister. She’s supposed to come visit. She’s supposed to spend Christmas and New Year’s with us. She’s supposed to call and text to let us know what’s going on with her life. But she never has.

It’s not like we were ever close anyway, but ever since Nik left, it’s like an emptiness has opened up in our house. The lack of her presence has always pressed on us.

“Your surprise visit isn’t going to stop my teachers from giving me tests.”

“It’s Friday,” Nik insists. Like she didn’t use to spend her Fridays locked up in her room, studying for the Leaving Cert. You don’t get into UCL by taking time off studying whenever you feel like it.

I sigh. “You know what will make Ammu and Abbu even happier to see you?”

Nik’s face brightens at the question. “What?”

“If they come home to a home-cooked meal prepared by their two daughters.”

By the time Abbu and Ammu arrive home, Nik and I have managed to cook a pot of biryani. Neither of us are exactly skilled chefs, but with the help of a packet of Shan Masala we managed to make something halfway decent. Something Ammu and Abbu will definitely appreciate.

When the click of the door sounds, a shadow passes over Nik’s face. It’s only there for a moment, and then she’s pasting the kind of smile on her face that she reserves for our parents—the one that tells them she’s the star daughter. I finish setting the table while Nik goes to greet my parents.

While I set the plates and pour the water, I can hear the squeals of delight Ammu and Abbu let out at the sight of Nik.

“What are you doing here?” Ammu’s voice is brighter than I’ve heard it in a long time. “You didn’t call!”

“It was a surprise …” Nik is unexpectedly stoic in her responses. “Come in the kitchen, Ishu and I cooked you dinner.”

Abbu catches my eye as soon as he steps into the kitchen. “Ishu, you knew Nikhita was coming? And you didn’t say?”

I shrug. “She just called me yesterday … she said she wanted to surprise you.” For a moment, I’m afraid they’re going to reprimand me for keeping the secret. Instead, Abbu and Ammu both break out into smiles—which grow wider when they spot the table laid out and the bowl of biryani in the middle.

“You made this?” Ammu breathes in the aroma as she sits down, eyes wide. Abbu takes the seat opposite her, already piling biryani onto his plate.

“Ishu helped.” Nik gives my shoulder a little nudge, like I’m supposed to be grateful that she’s given me some credit. Even though I didn’t “help” her—we made it together.

In fact, it was my idea to make it in the first place. So if anything, she helped me. But whatever.

“It’s so good,” Abbu says between mouthfuls. Even Ammu seems to be enjoying it. I have a feeling they would say it was amazing even if it tasted like shit, just because their favorite daughter, Queen Nikhita, made it.

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