I never lose consciousness. Somewhere in my mind, I know Zahir is removing me from the bed. He raps on the table. Which must signal Nabida and Raima because food and water appear, once again delivered from Zahir’s hand. And if I’m not mistaken, he does this in the bath. “Eat…” he commands softly. “Drink…”
The water laps at my pussy as he commands me to “Chew. I will not have you choke.”
I’m there for all of this, but it feels like a coming to when I finally land back on earth. I look around and see I’m still in the bath, but this time I am sitting on a ledge between Zahir’s legs. He’s bathing me with a large body sponge.
“Hey,” I say breathlessly, turning to look up at him. I smile at how intense his dark and dangerous face looks as he runs the sponge over my now very sore body. As if this point of business is as serious as whatever took him to Ardu Alzuhuwr in the first place.
The sight of him makes me giggle and I feel irrepressibly giddy inside.
After what happened to my mother, I will not touch drugs. Not even weed. But I swear this must be what it feels like to be high. I’ve been angry for as long as I can remember. Angry that I was born to a set of reckless fools. Then angry about how my mom died. Then angry that the twins didn’t draw a better lot in life than me as their all we’ve got.
But what I feel now is the opposite of anger. All negative feelings have drained out of me and though I’m no longer caged under his body, the feeling of warmth and security is still there, enveloping me like a blanket.
I grin stupidly up at Zahir and tell him, “You’re pretty underneath all that intensity.”
“And you’re still in sub-space, I see.” This time his low grumbling laugh doesn’t sound quite so mirthless.
“Sub-space? Is that what this weird glowy feeling is?” I ask, and the water sloshes as I lift my hand to check for sure that I’m not, in fact, glowing, Bruce Leroy- style.”
“From what I’ve been given to understand, yes,” he answers.
“Does this happen often? Like, with your other women…or what are they called here? Concubines?”
He stills. “Who told you there were others?”
“Dude, c’mon! I guessed. I’ve seen Japanese love hotels that look less obvious than this place.”
Another grumbling laugh. “You’ve been to many Japanese love hotels, then?”
“No,” I admit, somewhat glumly. “But I saw a documentary once and thought they looked kind of fun.”
“I have a business trip to Asia scheduled for the end of this month. If you are good, I will take you with me.”
I sigh sadly. “I guess I won’t be going then. I think it’s obvious by now that ‘good’ is something I don’t do.”
“And perhaps you now understand that in my own way, I am ‘okay with that.’”
“Okay with that,” I repeat. “Even though I still haven’t unlocked Acceptable status like your other concubines?”
“You misuse the word ‘other,’ Prin. You are not a concubine. You are my wife.”
“For now,” I remind him with a snort.
“Now is where we’re at,” he answers, his voice as calm as that of a Buddhist monk—though obviously tonight has proven Zahir ain’t no monk.
“Do not give your mind to thoughts of other women while we are together. The ‘concubines’ as you call them were assigned to me. But you…” He grows quiet behind me and finally says, “The answer to your question is no, habitbi. I’ve never had a submissive respond to my…nature…quite like you.”
“Submissive…” I test the word out on my tongue and don’t find it entirely repulsive. “Does that make you a…what do they call it—a dominant, right?”
“Not formally,” he answers. “I never truly used the concubines in this manner, but I make regular trips to New York and while I’m there, Luca often provides women to my exact sexual preference. But I have never put a formal title on my preferences, and I believe Luca tells the women to role play. I cannot ever be sure if they’re naturally submissive or not. Either way, sub-space has never been an issue and soon after, they leave.”
I think of that old joke: I don’t pay prostitutes for sex, I pay them to leave. But… “I’m still here. And so are you, cleaning me up.”
He sets the body sponge aside with a stiff intake of air. “I know enough about the lifestyle to realize it is not safe to leave a submissive when she is in this state,” he answers, his voice casual. “The effects are similar to alcohol or drugs, and you could hurt yourself if you are not properly monitored until you come out of it.”
“Okay, but you are literally paying not one, but two women to attend to my every need,” I point out with a teasing smile. “But you’re still here with me. And do you normally take baths with your concubines?”
He shifts behind me with a heavy sigh. “What is this need you feel to push at me, Prin?” he asks, even as I feel him swell against my back.
“I dunno—probably the same need you feel to act like you hate me even though you’re here in this bath and I can feel how much you don’t hate me on my back.”
My tone is teasing, but his becomes solemn as he answers, “No, I don’t hate you. I have never hated you. That has always been, and I fear will remain, the problem.”
Now it’s my turn to still as another weird feeling comes over me. Not so drugged-out this time. It warms the pit of my stomach, loosening what I thought was a permanent knot of cynicism, betrayal, and know-better-now. The weird new feeling speeds up my heart. And though I can’t put a label on it, it makes me stand between his legs and turn around…
“Zahir…?” I ask, my voice low and husky as I place a hand on each of his shoulders.
“Hmmm?” he answers, his eyes falling to the breasts he so thoroughly cleaned.
“Am I your first?”
It’s a callback to our original breakfast conversation about orgasms, but he looks up at me in confusion as if he’s trying to decide whether to tell me what being a natural dominant entails.
I clarify. “Out on the balcony, at Sylvie’s and Holt’s wedding. Was I your first kiss?”
His shoulders stiffen under my hands, but then as if making a decision, he answers with one short nod.
And suddenly, I know what the feeling is. It is the opposite of contempt. The opposite of anger and resentment.
I like his answer, and I like him very much.
I am his first kiss, and here in the wee hours of Day Twenty-Five, I lean forward to become his second kiss, too.