Aabirah felt a weight lift off her shoulders as she watched Daaem’s car leave from her window. The past week had been draining in ways that she could never have imagined. It had been harder than she’d expected to tiptoe around Daaem and she’d found herself longing for the day when she would finally be left alone.
Aabirah had never really been alone before and she was oddly eager to experience the solitude. Before… everything, there had always been someone – a guard or a maid or Qasim. She’d always been watched by someone or the other.
Here, there were guards stationed at the main gates only and the staff kept away unless they needed to ask her something. Their behaviour made sense when she thought about what Daaem had told her about valuing privacy. It was oddly freeing to have so much privacy and she’d laughed almost hysterically at the thought that she was freer here, with strangers, than she had been with her family.
Still, she deeply missed having a good conversation. She’d only spoken to two people the entire week – Daaem and the maid who brought her meals every day. It was strange to have no one to talk to – and not in a good way.
She turned away from the window and picked up her phone. For the tenth time, she highlighted Qasim’s number. Despite everything, she missed him. She wanted to talk to him, to complain about all her problems and demand that he fix everything the way he’d used to when she’d been little.
But Qasim had helped create this problem.
He’d helped their father deliver her into Daaem’s hands. He’d even made sure she was docile and confused enough to not resist. Even more than comfort and help, she wanted answers. She wanted Qasim to explain what she’d done to make him betray her that way.
She deserved answers, Aabirah realized. And she was going to get them.
It was late enough in the day that Qasim picked up immediately.
“Hey, Aabirah, what’s up?” he said.
“Hey,” she said huskily. She cleared her throat. “Are you busy?”
“No, I’m free. We can talk,” Qasim assured her. She pictured him leaning back in his chair and nodding at the phone.
“Good,” Aabirah said. “Because I’ve been really needing to talk to you.”
“Okay…” Qasim’s voice turned guarded. “You’re not going to ask me to come spirit you away, are you?”
Aabirah laughed bitterly. “No, I know better than that.”
“Good,” Qasim sounded relieved. “I’m glad you’ve seen sense.”
“I’ve seen a lot,” Aabirah admitted. ‘I’ve seen you more clearly than ever before,’ she thought privately.
“So what did you want to talk about?”
“I just wanted to ask you something.”
“Why did you help?”
“Help when?” Qasim asked, confusedly.
“At -” At my wedding. The words clogged in her throat. “On Friday,” she choked out.
“At the wedding?” Qasim clarified.
“Yeah. Why did you help?”
“I had to help, Aabirah. Dad couldn’t do it all on his own.” Qasim sounded puzzled.
“But why did you help at all?” Aabirah cried. “Why would you help do that to me?”
Qasim sighed. “Don’t be over-dramatic. You were going to have to marry someone in the end. Just because I suggested Daaem –”
“What do you mean?” Aabirah cut in. “Suggested Daaem?”
“I told Dad Daaem would be a good fit for you.”
“Why?” Aabirah was beside herself.
“I was helping you. I saw that you liked him so I told Dad to concentrate on him instead of the others.”
“What others?” Aabirah was completely lost.
“The other applications, Aabirah.”
Applications? “How long was this going on?” Aabirah demanded.
“A few months. It really dragged.”
“And you didn’t think you should maybe give me a heads up about all this?!”
“I knew you’d freak out,” Qasim defended himself. “It was easier to not get you worked up. Look, you’re blowing all of this out of proportion. And you’re being pretty ungrateful, you know! I’m the one who stopped Dad from just picking the first guy who was interested. Even though it’s delayed my marriage.”
“What?! What are you even talking about?” Qasim’s marriage?
“Dad insisted that we had to get you sorted out before I could make any plans with my girlfriend. I’ve had to keep her waiting a really long time because of you. You could be a little grateful – it wasn’t easy, you know!”
“Grateful! You helped force me into this! I never wanted to get married! And you want me to thank you because you chose the attractive guy? You’re insane!”
Aabirah was in shock. Qasim seemed to have completely lost his senses. He’d never been this self-centerd before.
Even as the thought flitted through her head, memories began to contradict it. Times when Qasim had twisted events to make himself sound sweet and self-sacrificing despite having actually made the least effort possible to help.
Aabirah sniffed, swiping at her wet cheeks. Qasim was still talking but she couldn’t bear to hear any more. She ended the call and threw the phone as far away from herself as possible, fighting an urge to throw it straight out the window.
It began to ring again almost immediately and Aabirah groaned. Qasim would keep calling until he got an answer from her – even blocking his number wouldn’t work. He’d just use another phone.
The window caught her eye and she stared down at the garden. The renewed ringing of her phone made up her mind for her. She needed to get away from it and she’d been itching to go explore the gardens all week.
Without another thought, she hurried down to the foyer, pausing only to detour into the kitchen and ask for a little picnic basket to be sent out to her in an hour.
She’d spend as much time outside as she possibly could, Aabirah decided. The gardens were more than interesting enough to keep her mind from dwelling on anything unpleasant.