Chapter Forty One
Iman stared at the beautiful house, unable to move. It had been almost a fortnight since she’d last stepped foot in it and she could hardly believe that she was about to do so again. A part of her shrieked that she didn’t owe her mother a single thing, that Aasia had never been there for her and there was no reason Iman shouldn’t return the favour.
But the thought of leaving Aasia to her grief made her stomach clench. She’d called herself ten types of fool on the drive but had kept going anyway.
No one knew where she was. Adam had left early that morning, unable to put his stepfather off any longer, and Iman was only expected at her grandfather’s in two hours. Misleading them both had made her feel almost as guilty as abandoning her mother and she’d spent the morning anxious and miserable.
Iman looked at herself in the rear-view mirror. She looked just as bad as she had during those long, awful days when she’d been lucky to catch an hour or two of sleep in between nightmares, before they’d figured out that talking to Adam until she dozed off seemed to help keep the night terrors at a manageable level.
She still hadn’t managed a single night’s worth of unbroken sleep but she was at least now getting enough rest that she could function.
There was a knock on her car window and Iman started. A guard was crouched in front of the door, indicating that she should roll the window down.
“What is it?”
“I just wanted to know if everything was alright, Ma’am? You’ve been in your car for the last fifteen minutes. Are you coming inside?”
“Yes. Yes, I am. You can call the house and let my mother know I’m here.”
The man’s eyes widened. “Oh, I’m so sorry, Ma’am! I didn’t know, I didn’t mean to rush you at all! Really, I’m just new, I didn’t mean to offend!”
Iman cut him off when it looked like he wasn’t going to stop. “It’s alright. Please just let my mother know that I’ll be coming up in a few minutes.”
He nodded eagerly and scurried off.
Iman sighed, wondering at the man’s solicitousness. Had he simply been thoroughly warned about the tantrums that Aasia and her friends would throw at the drop of a hat or had he been unfortunate enough to have already experienced one for himself?
Speaking of tantrums… If Aasia thought she’d been kept waiting, there’d be hell to pay. It was too late now to back out, she just had to get out of the car and brave the house.
Iman took a deep breath and tried to ignore the dread that had begun creeping up on her.
It can’t be as bad as last time.
Or maybe it could.
She didn’t know what she’d expected to see when she walked inside but it hadn’t been this. Aasia looked less like she was mourning and more like she was celebrating.
Iman watched silently as her mother danced around a huge table, every inch of which was covered with vases of gorgeous flowers. She’d search for the card, add it to the stack already in her hand without bothering to read it and then move on to the next one, a satisfied grin growing larger on her face with every new card.
Iman cleared her throat and Aasia immediately assumed a distraught expression, tucking the cards behind her back. Her eyes found Iman. “Oh, it’s just you.” She dropped the sad expression immediately.
“I came to see if you were alright,” Iman explained, wanting to give her the benefit of the doubt. “How are you feeling?”
“Terrible,” Aasia said immediately. “It’s awful.”
“I’m sorry, it must be hard to have lost him.” The words tasted like ash in her mouth. She doesn’t know, Iman reminded herself. She has no idea.
“What? No, don’t be silly. I’m talking about having to stay at home like this. It’s such a bore. If people wouldn’t talk, I’d be out right now, enjoying myself. Ugh, it’s so ridiculous that I have to be cooped up like this.”
Iman couldn’t believe her ears. “Your husband is dead,” she reminded Aasia. Her husband whose misdeeds she had no idea about. “Shouldn’t you be mourning?” That she even had to ask the question was shocking. How could someone be so shallow?
Aasia rolled her eyes. “I see you still haven’t learned anything of substance. This is an investment that has just matured. There’s nothing to be sad about. I can now live my life just the way I want without any interference. No more problems. I’ll even have a better time with the staff now that he’s not around to play with the girls. They’re so sensitive,” Aasia huffed. “Quitting over a few pats and kisses.”
Iman felt ill. “What?” she croaked. “What did you just say about the staff?”
“Hm?” Aasia was counting her condolence cards. “Oh, your stepfather liked to play with the staff. Especially the young girls.”
“Don’t look so horrified,” she added. “They’re just staff.”
“You knew?” Rage was beginning to make Iman’s voice shake.
“Of course I knew. The stupid things would come to me to complain about it. Honestly, can you believe it?”
“You’re despicable. And so was he!” Iman screamed. “You knew he was attacking women and you did nothing? What the Hell is wrong with you?”
Aasia took a step back. “Don’t you take that tone with me! How dare you yell at me! Have some respect, I’m your mother!”
“You are not a mother. You let him hurt people. You let him hurt me! How could you?”
Aasia froze. “Your stepfather… You?” She began to look horrified.
“Yes,” Iman felt a moment’s hope.
That hope shattered a moment later when Aasia shrieked and lunged for her. “How could you?” she howled. “You tried to steal my husband from me?! You selfish little bitch!”
Iman shoved her away, breathing hard. “Did you not listen to a word I said? He forced himself on me.”
Aasia wobbled, trying to regain her balance. “You led him on. You must have. You just wanted him because he was mine, didn’t you? Well, you didn’t get him in the end. He was mine, do you understand? And every single last penny of his is mine.”
It felt like she was finally seeing Aasia clearly. “You’re sick,” Iman breathed. “You’re – something is wrong with you. You’re broken.” It hit her then. “It wasn’t me. I didn’t do anything wrong, you’re just broken. You didn’t love me because you’re broken not because there was something wrong with me.”
Aasia shrieked in fury. “There is nothing wrong with me! It’s you! You, you ungrateful little parasite. You should never have been born. I didn’t even want you,” she said viciously, intending to wound. She panted, waiting for Iman to break.
But something had happened. It felt like there was a shield around her. She heard every word but it no longer hurt. Iman smiled. Her mother’s venom had lost its power to hurt her.
“Your beloved grandfather had to pay me to keep you and it wasn’t even worth it in the end. You just got everything, you took everything and it was MINE!” Aasia was beginning to look deranged. “Stop smiling! Stop smiling at me like that, wipe that smug look off your face! You did not win, do you understand me? You got your father and your grandfather but I won. Me!”
Iman felt like she was watching a train wreck. “I’m going to go,” she said calmly. “I’m sorry that you’re so unhappy.” She got two steps away before she felt a tug on her hair holding her back.
“Don’t you dare walk away from me!”