The butterflies in Aabirah’s stomach seemed to have been joined by a troop of bees. She was nauseous and her stomach felt like it was filled with acid. She wanted to turn around and flee but that was out of the question.
She’d attended dozens of events bigger than this one but that knowledge didn’t seem to make her any less nervous. Aabirah closed her eyes and began to count her breathing. It wouldn’t do to puke all over herself. Not tonight.
At least she would be among strangers, she thought gratefully. Somehow, the first event Daaem had picked for her to attend was completely absent of anyone she knew. It was incredibly comforting to know that she wouldn’t be expected to behave a certain way or pretend to catch up with people who had abandoned her without a second thought half a year ago.
“Are you ready?” Daaem asked her brusquely.
“Yes,” Aabirah said immediately. She was more than ready to get the whole night over with.
She waited for her door to be opened, took a final deep breath, and smoothed down her dress. Then she pasted a smile on her face and exited the low-slung sports car, gratefully accepting Daaem’s hand and using it as leverage to get herself upright.
The night passed in a blur. Aabirah was introduced to dozens of people, none of whom she would be able to recognize again and was kept at Daaem’s side all night like just another accessory.
It was exhausting to keep the smile on her face all night and she breathed a sigh of relief when they were allowed to finally leave. Back in the car, she immediately dropped the smile she’d been holding all night and winced as her jaw muscles twinged.
“Yeah, I don’t much like all of this either,” Daaem told her.
Aabirah opened her eyes and turned to stare at her husband. “It didn’t show,” she said frankly.
And it hadn’t.
Daaem had seemed perfectly at ease all evening, easily able to recall people’s names and find something or the other to talk about with every person he spoke to.
“Thanks,” he said, sounding pleased.
Aabirah yawned suddenly and she lifted her hand to her mouth belatedly. “Sorry about that,” she apologized. “I guess I’m out of practice staying up late.”
“You did that before too,” Daaem told her.
“Before?” she furrowed her brow in confusion.
“On our wedding day. You fell asleep like two minutes after you got in the car.”
Because she’d been sedated. Because Qasim had ordered a doctor to over-sedate her so she wouldn’t make a scene.
Aabirah could feel herself tensing up, feel the smile slipping from her face.
She hated Daaem at that moment, more than she ever had before. They’d been having a good night. Why had he had to ruin it by reminding her?
“I’m tired now too,” she said brusquely, turning away from him and pillowing her head on the seat.
Aabirah’s abrupt dismissal made Daaem blink. She’d shut down like some sort of machine as soon as he’d mentioned their wedding.
He shrugged and turned his attention back to the road. The night had gone better than he’d ever expected it to – Aabirah hadn’t said anything objectionable and she’d been well-received to boot.
Daaem wasn’t fool enough to think that they were out of the woods yet but the hardest part was over. They’d made a good first impression together and that went a long way.
He glanced over at Aabirah as he pulled into his parking space. She looked fast asleep. Again, he thought ruefully.
He toyed with the thought of carrying her inside again before dismissing it. Better to just wake her.
He reached over and shook her lightly, calling her name. It only took a few minutes for her to rouse, blinking and shifting around.
“We’re home,” he told her.
He could see the moment she realized where she was. Her shoulders stiffened and she sat herself back up properly at once.
“You fell asleep,” he said pointlessly.
She blushed. “I always fall asleep in cars,” she muttered, unbuckling her seat belt and opening her door.
Daaem copied her, pleased that she seemed to have gotten over whatever strange mood she’d been in earlier.
He shrugged to himself. Maybe she’d just been tired?
It wasn’t like he knew how she behaved normally. The amount of time they’d spent together was minuscule – it probably didn’t even fill up a day all together.
Aabirah trailed behind Daaem, admiring the apartment as she went. She was so focused on an exceptionally pretty vase that she walked straight into Daaem.
“Oof.” Automatically, she braced her hands against his back, trying to get back her balance.
“Sorry, I wasn’t looking where I was going.” Aabirah snatched her hands back quickly.
“That’s okay,” Daaem said, turning around. “Are you planning to spend the night with me?” he asked with a sudden smile.
What? Aabirah stared in horror. “No! Why would you -?”
The smile dropped from Daaem’s face instantly. He glowered at her. “Well, this is my bedroom,” he said pointedly.
“I didn’t realize,” Aabirah stuttered out before turning and fleeing.
She’d recognized the room. It was the one she’d slept in before. Did that mean that she’d been put in Daaem’s bedroom?
It took her a few minutes of opening doors to find a bedroom that she could spend the night in.
Finally, she found what was definitely a guest room and immediately dropped onto the bed. She was exhausted. And, she realized uncomfortably, she had no idea where her clothes had been put.
It was a manageable irritation – her dress was made of silk and it was comfortable enough to suffice despite being more tight-fitting than she preferred her sleepwear.
She was on the brink of sleep when she realized that she hadn’t locked the door. She didn’t even know if it could lock.
But she knew she wouldn’t be able to sleep unless she’d secured the door. A few moments later, it was locked, with a chair wedged underneath it for good measure and Aabirah finally dropped off to sleep.