In the car, Aabirah turned to Daaem apologetically. “I’m sorry about tonight,” she said sheepishly. “We left early because of me.”
Daaem shook his head. “I can’t blame you for feeling uncomfortable,” he said lightly. “I was uncomfortable and I’ve had twenty-four years of experience dealing with it.”
Aabirah shook her head. “I meant for starting the whole fight in the first place.”
“You didn’t start anything,” Daaem said bemused. “My father started it and I rose to it. You had nothing to do with it all.”
“I’m the one who brought up the wedding,” Aabirah protested, feeling slightly ridiculous. Was she really fighting for a share of the blame?
“Aabirah,” Daaem said slowly. “It was obvious that you didn’t mean to say anything. You went so red I thought you were gonna faint.”
“I didn’t! It was a complete accident.”
“Right,” Daaem said, amused. “Like I said. Anyway, it would have been a disaster even if you hadn’t said anything. We’ve never gotten along.”
“But…” Aabirah still couldn’t let it go. Why was Daaem being so nice? She knew that she wasn’t blameless. Was he really just going to let it go?
It seemed he was.
They drove in silence, Aabirah too lost in her thoughts to make conversation. Daaem let her be.
By the time they got home, Aabirah had resolved to stop questioning and just appreciate the unexpected kindness.
Before Daaem could go off to his own bedroom, she stopped him.
“I figured I probably won’t see you in the morning before I leave. So, goodbye,” With an awkward wave, Aabirah ducked into her room.
If she’d turned around, she would have seen a little smile quirk its way across Daaem’s face.
“You know Mondays are hard enough without me having to see you,” Daaem said as he walked into his office.
“You don’t seem surprised to see me,” Ameer looked disappointed. “How did you convince Security to alert you?”
“I didn’t. Their loyalty lies with you more than me, it would be pointless to try to change that. But Emma has never worked for you.”
“I see. Good strategy.”
“What do you want?” Daaem asked, crossing his arms. “I haven’t done anything worthy of a visit in the past seventy two hours.” Deliberately, he slouched and looked off to the side as he spoke.
Ameer visibly restrained himself. “I wanted to apologize, actually.”
“What? You’re apologizing to me?” Daaem felt off-balance.
“Don’t be ridiculous. I wanted to apologize to Aabirah. She didn’t deserve to get in the middle of one of our fights.”
“Right,” Daaem felt absurdly disappointed. “That makes a hell of a lot more sense.”
“Don’t swear!” Ameer snapped.
Daaem swallowed the torrent of foul language that had automatically sprung to his tongue. “I’ll tell Aabirah. Anything else?”
“You will not. Apologies by proxy are worthless, Daaem, you know that.”
“Well, she’s not here.” Daaem shrugged, shoving his hands in his pockets. “Sorry.”
“What do you mean?” There was actual concern on Ameer’s face, Daaem realized with a start.
“Aabirah doesn’t live here in the city. She lives on the estate.”
“That’s none of your business,” Daaem said flatly.
“Are the two of you having problems?” Ameer continued, ignoring his son.
“Again, it’s none of your business.”
“Daaem, don’t be stubborn. I’m trying to help you!”
“I don’t want your help!” Daaem exploded. “And why the hell do you suddenly want to help me now anyway? There’s no scandal that you need to fix.”
“That’s not fair. I have always tried to help you. It is not my fault that you refuse to take good advice.”
“You never gave me any advice. All you did was give me a long list of things I couldn’t do because it would be shameful if people saw me doing them.”
Daaem had asked for advice, more than once when he was younger and had gotten nothing but more admonishments for his efforts. He’d thought he’d gotten over it but apparently not.
Ameer looked at him pityingly. “Of course. That’s all you remember, that I didn’t let you do everything you wanted. I don’t have time to fight with you about this for the umpteenth time. All I wanted was a way to speak to Aabirah. I suppose I will simply have to call her.”
“Don’t interfere! Why do you always do this, it has nothing to do with you!”
“If it’s that important to you,” Ameer said, getting to his feet, “I won’t say anything about you. In fact, I’ll actively avoid mentioning you. But I will not ignore my daughter in law because you feel like being possessive.”
“Fine,” Daaem bit out. “Do what you want.”
Aabirah accepted the cordless phone from Holly with an inquiring look. “Who is it?” she asked curiously. It couldn’t be Emma – Daaem’s secretary had taken to calling her on her cellphone when she needed to reach Aabirah.
“Mr. Shaik,” Holly said with a smile.
Daaem? Why hadn’t he just called on her cellphone?
“Hello?” she said. “Daaem?”
“Not quite,” came the amused answer.
“Oh! I’m so sorry,” Aabirah apologized. “Holly said it was Mr. Shaik so I assumed…”
“That’s alright, sweetheart. How are you today?” Ameer asked politely.
“Good,” Aabirah smiled. “How’s your day going?”
She made polite conversation with Daaem’s father for fifteen minutes, all the while wondering what on earth he’d called her for.
“It’s been lovely but I need to go now, dear. I just wanted to apologize about the unpleasantness on Friday. I really did want us to have a nice, uncomplicated night.” Ameer sounded truly regretful.
“Family is rarely uncomplicated,” Aabirah pointed out. Unwillingly, she thought of her own father. She hadn’t spoken to him in over half a year. The second he’d married her off, she’d ceased to be a part of his life, it seemed.
Aabirah couldn’t deny that she preferred it that way. She had few good memories of her father. Most of their interactions had resulted in her fighting either tears or screams of frustration at being forced to obey him blindly.
She couldn’t help but compare Mehmood to Ameer. Daaem’s father was just as ridiculously powerful as her own but Mehmood would never have tolerated his children speaking to him the way that Daaem spoke to Ameer.
Any criticism would be silenced, no matter how valid. Mehmood was a dictator and by contrast, he made Ameer seem ridiculously lenient.
She ended her call a few moments later, after passing along her cellphone number and sat pondering the men in her life.