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July 15, 2024

The Bolter

By Lameese Hassen

Summer was in full swing in Greenwich.

The expansive homes and well-paved streets were met with the chaos of youth. Bikes and scooters whirred along the streets and sidewalks. Children chased after each other and played hide and seek throughout the neighborhood. Laughter and squeals filled the air, along with charcoal and firewood at night. And during the day, salt air and the crash of waves. On one of those summer days, in one of the biggest homes in Greenwich, an immense, spacious yard of green occupied Amal and her three best friends. The yard met and overlooked the Atlantic, and the four of them ran along the coast, kicking water at one another.

Amal scampered from the water and settled into the grass, perching herself on her elbows. Sadie sprinted over and rested next to her. Her milk skin and auburn waves were a stark contrast to Amal’s olive tone and dark waves. They didn’t differ in their green eyes. Amal and Sadie had been inseparable since second grade when they were placed in the same class. They bonded over their love of Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary and fancied games of checkers.

Vivi whined as Dae continued sprinkling water on her as they approached Amal and Sadie. They settled onto the ground next to them. As they listened to the waves, they chattered and snickered over the neighborhood gossip: the housewives pushing pills, the divorcees, and those moving out. Dae settled in closer to Amal. Her skin tingled, and her cheeks failed her as they turned pink. But she shoved aside any feelings she had at that moment. It was the fourth grade when the twins entered Amal and Sadie’s classroom. The sad reality was that Greenwich's money wasn’t colorful, so she gravitated towards the twins when she saw them playing checkers during indoor recess. Amal and Sadie joined them as they battled for days as the rain badgered on. From that day on, the four of them were inseparable.

“Hey,” Dae nudged Amal as Sadie and Vivi treaded back into the water. “I learned this new thing in Korean.” It started when they were kids. They would share each other’s language. Amal didn’t know a lick of Arabic in the fourth grade but egged on her siblings to learn so she could share with Dae. It was something the two of them only did. “Won-sung-ee-do-na-mu-ae-seo-ddeol-o-jin-da. It means…” he stared with a grin and proceeded to drum roll onto his thighs. She joined along and laughed. “Even monkeys fall from trees.”

So profound, Dae.” Amal rolled her eyes. Her favorite was “go-saeng kkeut-e nag-i on-da.” At the end of hardship comes happiness. She didn’t necessarily believe it, but she liked that Dae did.

He nudged at her.

“Come on. What’ve you got for me?”

Amal sighed happily and stared at Vivi and Sadie giggling in the water. “El-gannah bedūn nās mā tendās.”

“What does it mean?”

“A paradise without people is not worth stepping foot in.” Amal leaned on this one often. There were a few things she was certain about in life. One of them is that good company can often remedy a heavy heart. Dae beamed at her. She focused back on Vivi and Sadie, who were swimming back to shore. In part, her reluctance to love was Muslim guilt. But it was mostly herself that got in her way. She garnered a reputation in the halls that she didn’t like at first. The bolter. The second any boy thought of coming in her direction, she was already bolting the other way. But she and her friends made light of it, and having it be their inside joke made it feel easier.

“I am starving,” Sadie groaned as she and Vivi reached them. She dragged Amal up, and they sprinted from the yard to the glass doors and into the kitchen. They rummaged through the cabinets and fridge. It was decided: PB&J with bars of chocolate. They grabbed plates, utensils, and the ingredients and scurried back to the yard. They sat at the wooden table. Amal lathered her bread with peanut butter and a schmear of jelly.

“That’s criminal, Amal.” Sadie joked. She bit into her sandwich, and jelly oozed out. “The jelly is the best part,” she said between bites. Amal smelled the sweetness. She smiled as Dae devoured a bar of chocolate. Vivi was in deep thought as she nibbled into her PB&J.

“I’m perplexed,” started Vivi. Her eyebrows wriggled.

“What perplexes the great Vivi?” Amal laughed.

“My hands,” Vivi stuck both out. “One looks larger than the other.”

Sadie, Amal, and Dae all stared at each other and then burst into laughter.

“It’s not funny!” Vivi said.

“You’re always complaining about some body part,” Sadie said. “You are the better-looking twin, Vivi.” Sadie targeted her wicked smile towards Dae.

“Yeah, Dae’s got nothing on you.” Amal grinned. “You’re brains and beauty.”

“My face is disproportionate by a couple of centimeters! It's bothersome. My eyes are not equidistant –” She screeched as Dae sprayed her with a water gun.

“Just shut up about it, Viv,” Dae said.

“You’re such an ass, Dae!” Vivi shouted.

“What the hell, man,” Sadie said with disdain.

“That’s your sister,” Amal muttered. “You could be a little nicer.” Dae groaned. Amal knew it was the bane of his existence when the three of them ganged up on him. It was a frequent complaint those days. She eased up, rose, leaned over to the table, and grinned. “The last one to the coast has to clean up!” She darted towards the water, and to none of their surprise, Dae was last. They ran along, splashing and kicking water at one another for a few minutes until Sadie declared, “I need another sandwich.”

“I’ll join you, my lady.” They linked arms and climbed the stairs back up to the table. Amal and Dae stood in silence and listened as the waves crashed. Amal liked the way the sun felt on her face. Dae had a devilish smile as he scooted closer to her.

“Don’t you dare,” Amal said sternly. But she broke out into a grin as he threw her over his shoulder. He climbed back into the water and swung her a foot away. She quickly reached him and dunked his head into the water. She made it back to shore, and he followed after her. Amal and Dae stood as the sun beamed down at them. Amal lifted her arm, covering the sun from her face. Dae stared at her for a minute longer than she liked. She scrunched her face.

“What is it?” Amal asked. She wiped at her face, thinking remnants of chocolate or PB&J sat on her face. A strand of her hair blew into her face from the ocean breeze. She loved the smell of the ocean. The salt tingled in her nostrils, and it felt like fresh air. That feeling went away as Dae tucked the strand behind her ear. Sadie and Vivi halted a couple of feet away, eyes wide. They couldn’t get the words out. Amal’s eyes went wide as he leaned in, reached for her lips, and put his hand on her face. She jumped backward and then charged forward and shoved him into the water.

Amal did what she knew best.

She bolted.

She ran past Sadie and Vivi through the vast yard and into her home.

“There goes the bolter,” Sadie laughed to herself. She shook her head at Dae. “You should have known better than to do that. You know what she’s like, Dae.”

Vivi pushed Dae. “God, you’re such an idiot.”

“I don’t even know why I bother hanging out with you guys. All you do is call me an idiot or talk about your cycles.” Dae groaned. He mumbled to himself, “I need to hang out with more guys.”

Sadie rolled her eyes. “Don’t be such a misogynist, Dae. It doesn’t bode well on you.”

Amal sprinted out the front door of the twenty thousand square foot mansion she, her brother, and her sister-in-law lived in. She darted across the gravel through the large black gates. She caught her breath and then sprinted to the expansive house right next door. It’s where her older sister, Hana, lived. She pulled the key from the bracelet on her wrist and unlocked the front gate. She walked over the cobblestones that led to the front door and slipped in her key.

“Hana!” Amal bellowed as she wandered in. She went straight to the kitchen, where her sister had been spending most days lately. She approached the open fridge and saw her sister’s legs. Hana swung the door closed and looked down at her pregnant belly. She was due any day, but it felt like her belly was ready to explode more and more each time Amal saw her. She was biting into a date and closed her eyes. She relished in the sweetness.

“What is it, Amal?” Hana sighed.

“Don’t do that. Don’t act like I annoy you.” Amal said.

“You’re always complaining about something these days.”

“Pregnancy has really made you a bitch.”

“Thanks,” Hana said, unbothered, and continued eating her dates. “What can I do for you?” She plopped down onto a dining chair. Amal dragged herself and sat in front of Hana. She groaned and slid down.

“Dae.” Amal groaned. Hana couldn’t help but smile. “What, Hana?”

“He’s a nice kid.” Hana shrugged and smiled.

“That nice kid tried to kiss me!” Amal exclaimed and rose from her seat.

“And what’s so bad about that?” Hana asked, sighing as she looked at her younger sister.

“He’s my best friend, Hana.” Amal glared.

“That boy loves you. He worships the ground you walk on.”

Amal squirmed in her seat and closed her eyes at the thought.

“And you love him,” added Hana quietly. She reached out and squeezed Amal’s hand. “It’s okay to love people, Amal.” Amal couldn’t meet her sister’s eyes. “Tell me. I promise I won’t tell a soul.”

“People you love can disappear,” Amal whispered.

“They can,” Hana frowned. But that doesn’t mean we stop experiencing life in fear.” Hana shrugged. “I’m scared of that, too,” she admitted.

Really?” Amal gaped. “But … you’re married. You’re having a baby.”

“Because I don’t let fear stop me from living my life. I can be scared and do the scary thing. Both of these things can be true.” Hana bit into another date. She offered Amal one. She reluctantly bit into it. She looked down.

“I… do like Dae,” Amal admitted quietly. She groaned as she closed her eyes.

“That is a beautiful thing, Amal. It’s not a bad thing.” Hana assured her. “Tell him that. Don’t live in fear.” Amal stood and sighed. She hated it when her siblings were right. Her face told Hana as much as she smirked. Hana reached out and squeezed her hand. “Go. And then tell me all about it.”

Amal squeezed her sister’s hand back and rushed back to her home.

Amal wandered back into her yard and slipped off her shoes. She felt the warm pavement on the soles of her feet and spotted Sadie and Vivi at the table. Dae wasn’t in sight.

“Where’s Dae?” Amal looked around.

“He went home. We told him he was being an ass.” Vivi said and bit into a piece of chocolate. “Sorry about that.” Amal looked down sheepishly. Sadie looked at Amal wide-eyed and grinned.

Amal Asfour, do you like Dae back?” Sadie squealed. Amal just grinned and didn’t utter a word.

“I approve. Even though I think you can do better!” Vivi sighed.

To their surprise, Dae was storming back and turned red as he saw Amal. He rubbed the back of his head and couldn’t quite meet her eyes. “I forgot my –”

“Just kiss me!” Amal said and closed her eyes. Vivi and Sadie erupted into laughter. Dae shook his head and said, “What?

“It’s now or never,” Amal said as she kept her eyes closed.

“I’m not kissing you in front of my sister and our friend!” Sadie and Vivi laughed as they ran into the house. Dae sighed. “Open your eyes, Amal. They’re gone.” She slowly opened them, and her face scrunched in embarrassment.

“Where does ‘the bolter’ come from?” Dae asked. She was surprised at the question.

“Because of the story.”

“What story?”

Amal smirked. “Wait, you really don’t know where the nickname ‘the bolter’ comes from?”

He shrugged and blushed. “I thought our class just made it up.”

“She was a real person!” Amal exclaimed. He blushed, and she placed her hand on his arm, which only made him blush more. “It’s okay.” She dragged him into his chair and sat across from him.

“Dumb it down for me?”

“You’re not dumb. We just like giving you a hard time.” Amal assured him. “So, Lady Myra Idina Sackville. She was a socialite in Edwardian times. She got married five times, had three kids in one of those marriages, and then set off for a life in Kenya. Nancy Mitford wrote a novel called Pursuit of Love in 1945. She nicknamed her character ‘The Bolter,’ based on Lady Idina.”

“I still don’t get it.”

What don’t you get, Dae?”

“You’re not some serial dater. You push people away.”

“I don’t push people away.” Amal defended.

“You do.” And it finally clicked for Dae. “You… bolt. I guess you two do have that in common.”

“Hearing you call me the bolter doesn’t feel as funny.”

“Why do you bolt?”

“I don’t feel like getting into it.”

“That’s fine.”


He grinned and stood. He went over to Amal and reached his hand out to hers. He dragged her up, and she stood. “Do you actually want me to kiss you?”

Amal blushed and reluctantly said, “Yes.”

He grabbed her chin and tilted her face a bit, and his lips met hers. She could taste the chocolate and salt water as their lips locked. She was a bit stiff. He pulled apart and laughed. “Maybe kiss me like someone isn’t holding a gun to your head?” She shoved him and laughed. But then she grabbed him and really kissed him. Her fingers ran through his thick black hair, and she felt his hands grasping her face. They turned beet red and quickly pulled apart when they heard the cheers and clapping of Sadie and Vivi.

“Look at that. Amal gets coupled up,” Sadie whistled.

“He locked down ‘the bolter’!” Vivi laughed.

They all clapped. Dae clasped his hand into Amal’s. She took a bow.

“Last one to the coast buys ice cream!” This time, Amal and Dae ran hand in hand, with Sadie and Vivi chasing behind. They ran into the water again, splashing at each other. As they treaded and settled into the swaying waves, Dae said to Amal, “Naega sarangi mwonji andamyeon dangsin deokbunimda.”

“What does it mean?” Amal asked.

“If I know what love is, it is because of you.”

Article © Lameese Hassen. All rights reserved.
Published on 2024-07-08
Image(s) are public domain.
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