Iman’s eyes widened. “What?!” she gasped, reeling.
“There are certain… codes that we follow,” Ibrahim explained. “As a child, they protected you from being used against me. But as you grew, that protection began to evaporate. I had no choice but to distance myself if I wanted to keep my enemies from using you against me.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?” was all Iman could think to ask.
Ibrahim pinched the bridge of his nose, looking pained. “I didn’t want to scare you.” He met Iman’s eyes. “I’m so sorry.”
Iman looked away, swallowing hard. “You should have told me.”
Her grandfather nodded. “Yes, I should have. I should have told you a lot of things. Will you let me tell them to you now?”
A small, petty part of Iman wanted to get to her feet and refuse. The sting from the numerous times her grandfather had refused to listen to her still lingered and she was tempted to let him feel the way she had whenever he’d denied her the chance to speak.
She fought down the urge and gave a jerky nod. “Tell me.”
He did. Ibrahim told her everything. Every sordid little detail, including many that she wished he’d kept to himself.
“So there’s no way out?” Iman asked once he’d finally finished, reading the answer in her grandfather’s slumped shoulders.
“I haven’t found one,” he admitted reluctantly. “But,” he added when Iman’s face fell, “that doesn’t mean that there isn’t one. We just need to keep looking.”
“Right,” Iman didn’t bother to hide her doubt.”The thirty fourth time’s the charm.”
“It may well be,” Ibrahim insisted. “You’ve spent time with your mother recently, you’ll know far more about her current weak spots than I do.”
Iman shrugged her shoulders. Aasia Rahman’s weak spot was the same as it had always been – vanity. She said as much and Ibrahim nodded, frowning thoughtfully.
“It would be easy enough for you to leave by yourself – you’re not a minor any more. But I cannot let you live on your own, Iman. It’s far too dangerous and I don’t have the people to spare to keep a proper watch on you.”
Iman scowled as pieces of a puzzle fit into place. “You sabotaged my job interviews!” she cried, outraged.
“I couldn’t let you find a way to leave.”
“All this time, I just thought I was incompetent,” Iman muttered, shaking her head. “But I’m not.”
“Of course you’re not,” Ibrahim’s eyes narrowed. “Who told you such a thing?”
“It doesn’t matter.”
Ibrahim reached for her hand, rubbing it soothingly. “Of course it does.”
Iman pulled her hand away. “I don’t understand why my mother won’t let me leave,” she said miserably. “She’s never happy when I’m around.”
“Your mother is a very… vindictive woman,” Ibrahim explained. “The chance to make me miserable is too good to pass up.”
“And me,” Iman whispered. “She gets to make me miserable too.”
Iman knew that, more than the money Ibrahim paid her, more than anything else, was what motivated Aasia to keep her around.
‘Back to the dragon’s den,’ Iman thought grumpily as she parked her car. Despite sitting together for the better part of two days, neither she nor her grandfather had managed to come up with any kind of plan and returning to her mother’s home had felt an awful lot like giving up.
She sat there in her car until her thighs went numb, dreading the moment she’d have to go inside and deal with Aasia. Maybe she could just sleep in the car. She’d be inside the gates and within the guard patrol’s perimeter…
Before she could further consider the wild idea, there was a screech that made her jump and drove all thoughts of sleeping out of her mind.
“What are you doing sitting there?” Aasia demanded, her manicured nails tapping on the glass. “Are you mentally sub-normal? Get out and go to your room!”
She yanked on the door hard. It didn’t open. “Hurry up!” Aasia snapped.
Iman nodded dumbly, waiting for her mother to move out of the way.
Aasia just looked at her. “What are you waiting for?”
“You’re in the way,” Iman said simply, motioning to indicate that Aasia needed to move back.
“Open the door! Stupid girl.” Aasia tugged on the handle again ineffectively.
Iman’s eyes narrowed. She hated being called stupid. Well, Aasia had asked her to open the door. So open it, Iman would.
She pulled on the handle, letting Aasia’s tugging do the rest of the work. There was a high-pitched squeal and her mother wobbled, her arms wind-milling as she tried to regain her balance.
“You did that on purpose!” the blond shrieked.
“You were in the way,” Iman repeated, grabbing her backpack from the back seat.
Long nails closed around her arm, biting deep and Iman winced.
“My friends are coming over,” Aasia told her in a sugary sweet voice. “And I don’t want to have to deal with the shame of having to admit to who you are. So just stay upstairs and don’t come down until they’re gone.”
“What if I need something?” Iman knew it was stupid to rile Aasia in this mood. But she couldn’t help it.
Aasia’s beautiful grey eyes had hardened into chips of ice. “Don’t,” she hissed. “Don’t you dare come down those stairs unless you want me to start locking you in your room.”
She squeezed Iman’s arm harder for a moment, digging deep enough to draw blood.
Despite herself, Iman winced. “I’ll stay upstairs,” she promised.
“Good,” Aasia hissed, unceremoniously shoving her away.
Up in her bedroom, with the door locked on the inside, Iman dropped her duffel bag to the floor and retrieved her first aid kit from the bottom drawer of her closet.
She cleaned the scrapes on her arms with practised hands, eyeing the surprisingly deep little marks with pursed lips. Another set to add to her already large collection, Iman thought with a sigh.