Aabirah attended three events with Daaem without a hitch but the night of the fourth, everything started to go wrong. She woke up that morning with a sinking feeling in her stomach that she couldn’t explain and the day only worsened from there.
Her flight was delayed because of terrible weather and when they finally did get up in the air, she was subjected to so much turbulence it felt uncannily like being on a roller coaster ride.
Daaem was in a foul mood when she arrived at his office, annoyed by having to wait, she assumed, and they spent the drive in icy silence. He abandoned her within five minutes of their arrival, walking off without a second glance and leaving her to deal with a crowd mad up largely of inquisitive, conniving people.
Aabirah tried valiantly to deal with the throng but she was soon overwhelmed and gave up to hide in the bathrooms.
But she could only linger there for so long without providing a juicy new item of gossip for the waiting crowd. Eventually, she was forced to leave and trail around the large ballroom in search of her husband like a lost puppy.
When she found Daaem, her hold on her temper was gossamer-thin and seeing him with a crowd of beautiful women hanging onto his every word did not help it any.
She had known that he was not celibate. It would be ridiculous to expect that of him – she refused to share his bed and she was under no illusions that he would deny himself as a result of that. Even men with willing wives often cheated simply because they were bored and could. Daaem, at least, had some sort of excuse.
Most men, however, had the decency to be ashamed of their ways and did not let women openly hang onto them in public. At least not while their wives were in the same room.
Aabirah walked up to where Daaem was holding court, waiting with crossed arms and a tapping foot for him to notice her. When he finally did, he made no move to disentangle himself.
“Aabirah. Did you need something?”
“Yes,” she bit out. “Could I speak with you privately?”
“Sure,” Daaem agreed, watching her with narrowed eyes. He reached out and took her arm, towing her over to a secluded little alcove.
“So?” he looked at her expectantly, leaning against a pillar.
Aabirah took a moment to collect her thoughts. She felt small and insignificant and she knew that it wasn’t entirely Daaem’s fault. She itched to blame him for everything, to rage at him for dragging her to a veritable shark tank and abandoning her, but she knew she had no right to expect better from him.
Their marriage was a sham, after all.
But the women hanging over him were a different story. He did not have to do that while she was with him.
“Could you please stop your little fan club from salivating?” she requested, poisonously sweet.
Daaem looked puzzled for a moment. Then it clicked.
“You have a problem with women being attracted to me?” he sounded incredulous.
“I have a problem with women making it clear they’d like to climb you like a tree while I’m in the same room. It’s crass. And you letting them do it is no better.”
“If you have such a problem with it, you know what to do,” Daaem hinted.
Aabirah flushed crimson in anger and embarrassment. “I am not going to sleep with you,” she hissed at him. “Could you just stop? Stop hinting, stop asking, just… just stop!”
“I meant you could tell them yourself,” Daaem clipped out. “And don’t make it sound like I’ve been jumping on you! I haven’t gone near you since you had your first little freak out.”
“I shouldn’t have to tell them myself!” Aabirah hissed. “Most men have the basic decency to keep their indiscretions private.”
“Most men have a guilty conscience and overcompensate in front of their wives. My conscience is clean.”
Aabirah threw up her hands in frustration. “All I’m asking is that you be a little discreet. Is that so hard?”
“Maybe it is,” Daaem pushed away from his pillar and leaned over her. “And you lost the right to comment on the way I behave when you decided you didn’t want to sleep with me yourself. If you hadn’t pulled that little move, you’d have nothing to be complaining about right now.”
“I don’t want to sleep with you!” Aabirah’s voice rose unintentionally.
Daaem scowled. “Keep your voice down,” he hissed, glancing around furtively.
Aabirah blinked. “There’s no one close enough to hear us.”
“You’d be surprised,” Daaem said curtly. “Your father may pay off every journalist who gets wind of anything about his family but I don’t have the same policy. So it would be nice if you could be a little more discreet.”
Aabirah gaped at him. “You’re unbelievable,” she said quietly, shaking her head. “You’re just… unbelievable.”
“Are you done?”
“Yeah,” Aabirah whispered, suddenly exhausted. “I’m done.”
She couldn’t remember why she’d even cared in the first place. Yes, people would gossip but surely they already did that? She lived several hours away from Daaem, after all. Anyone with eyes could see that there was something very wrong in their marriage.
So why even try to pretend otherwise?
Was that what Daaem’s reasoning was?
If so, Aabirah couldn’t blame him. It made sense. The truth was all but known and denying it was pointless. In the end, no matter how much they fought against it, it was plain as day for all to see.
She was better off just accepting it as fact and ignoring the little twinges she felt every time another gorgeous woman draped herself over Daaem and flirted brazenly.
“You’re right,” she said suddenly, looking up at Daaem.
He frowned at her. “What?”
“Women are going to throw themselves at you some time or the other. It makes no difference whether or not they try to hide it when I’m around. Not really anyway.”