By the next morning, I’m back to square one. No clothes, no daily phone calls, and no second chair. My room has pretty much been stripped of nearly everything but the bed sheets.
It’s obvious Zahir plans to teach me a serious lesson this time. And I wouldn’t be surprised if he really does make me sit by his legs like a dog, as he threatened to do after the Holt call.
I don’t care.
Darius Ross…he is the only thing on my mind. Not Zahir. Not the mother he refuses to talk about. Not even myself.
Which is why I drop to my knees into a full-on kowtow as soon as I come out of the bathroom and find him waiting for me at the breakfast table. Lowering not just my eyes and head, but my whole damn body. I prostrate myself with my bound wrists out as I say, “Oh great, sheikh, please hear my plea.”
He doesn’t answer, and though I can’t see him, I can feel his confusion. This wasn’t what he was expecting from his prideful consort. That’s easy to guess. And I don’t care how it makes me look. That I’m begging again before he’s even truly started my punishment.
Darius Ross…the name crackles in my ears like ominous thunder.
I want so badly to look up, to start making my case in a rush of desperate words. But the stakes are too high. Darius Ross… fuck… I force myself to wait Zahir out, to keep my body bent over and my mouth closed as long as it takes.
“Stand up,” he says after many, many moments.
I immediately do. Careful to keep my eyes lowered.
And he comes to an irritated stand before asking, “What is this about?”
“I know you’re scheduled to leave for Asia tomorrow, but I need your permission to leave before you do. I have to return home to New Jersey. The twins need me.”
“The twins…” he repeats. “You are speaking of the half-sisters you were tasked with raising after your father’s death?”
I bite back my first response. That they’re my sisters. Period. And he shouldn’t talk about them like they’re burdens I’ve been required to carry. Instead I repeat, “They need me.”
“What has happened to require this need?” he asks, glancing at his watch.
I breathe hard, swallowing back the panic that still rises in my throat at the thought of his name. “There’s this rapper, who decided to become a producer, and he wants to meet with them and possibly sign them to his record label. The twins are thrilled. But he’s…he’s a predator and they cannot be alone with him.”
“He’s a predator, so you must rush from your punishment here to deal with him yourself back in New Jersey where my rule does not extend?” Zahir repeats, his voice laced with hard suspicion.
“You’re going to Asia anyway, right? Just let me go while you’re away on business. I’ll come back as soon as you do, I promise.”
“You promise,” he repeats, as if he’s chewing on my vow and it tastes like poison. “You would like to go to New Jersey where my rule does not extend for a week or two to deal with a man you believe might be a predator?”
“I know he’s a predator,” I correct, my throat constricting.
He shakes his head at me. “But how do you know this?”
“I know,” I repeat, nothing but conviction in my voice.
“You may look at me, Prin,” he says.
I raise my eyes and immediately wish I’d kept them down. His face is cold, disconnected, like nothing I’ve said has registered at all.
“That was not my question,” he says, his dark eyes hard as beads. “I asked how you know.”
And this time it’s my turn to whisper, “Cal-Mart” not because I’m being stubborn or prideful, but because I honestly don’t think I can tell him this story. I’m still not capable of speaking it out loud. Even after all these years.
“But I’ll do anything,” I tell him. “Anything you want. Just please let me go home while you’re in Asia. Please.”
He stares at me for a very long time, his face as expressionless as mine is emotional. Then he says, “No” and walks out without a further word.
I sink back onto the floor in his wake. Trying to decide what to do.
Act good? Be docile? Prove I’ve changed, and I really will come back if he lets me go?
But he’s leaving for Asia tomorrow. That means almost three weeks before I can plead with him again, and who knows how long I’ll have before Darius decides to strike? I could try to convince someone to give me a phone, so I can call the twins and try to convince them to turn down a meeting with one of the biggest names in the music business. But yeah, right on both fronts. I’ve grown to care for Nabida and Raima, but they’ve already proven a few damn times over that they’re straight up soldiers when it comes to following Zahir’s orders. And as for the twins, it’s hard to convince two teenagers with stars in their eyes not to be blinded by a huge name.
I stay on the floor. Trying to think, trying to come up with a plan.
Raima eventually comes in and unbinds my hands. “Is fruit acceptable for breakfast?” she asks, her voice much gentler than usual. “If you would you like, Nabida can warm up something else.”
“Leave me alone,” I mumble, unable to move off the floor.
She does. And I stay where I am, staring dully into the distance.
Eventually, a new tray is brought in and uncovered, and the scent of sfeeha fills the air. Nabida bends down in front of me. “Lunch is ready for you,” she tells me. “And you have permission to eat.”
“Leave me alone,” I answer, barely moving my lips.
“You should eat,” she says.
“Leave me alone,” I answer again.
“But it is your favorite, sfeeha and dates. And who knows what they’ll be serving on the plane to New York.”
“Leave me alo—” I start to answer, only to cut off and say, “Wait…what?”