“Why are you calling me?” I ask without bothering to say hello when I answer the phone, my voice dazed and confused.
“You’ve seen the announcement then,” Zahir’s replies, his voice still overly precise, but more emotional than I remember. “I hoped to catch you before you did.”
“Why are you calling me?” I repeat, my own super unprecise voice shaking because I still don’t understand. He’s engaged now. Getting married to another woman!
“I am sorry. I am so very sorry you found out this way,” he says gloomily. “The sheikha’s family released the announcement without my consent.”
“And…so what? You were hoping you could leave it to Luca to handle just like he’s handled all your other loose ends? You’re disappointed you have to talk to me about this yourself?”
“No,” he answers. “I am never disappointed to talk to you, Prin. I’ve spent every day of the last six weeks wanting to talk to you. Wanting to hear about the twins. Wanting to hold you and speak to you of Rashid and the pain of losing Aisha.”
Here’s the thing. If he had called me even fifteen minutes ago, I could have suppressed my feelings. Put my hurt away and focused exclusively on him. “It’s okay, baby, let me do all the work.” Like I did during Ramadan.
But in an instant, the lawyer I lost in Jahwar returns with a vengeance. “You’re engaged. Is this true?” I ask, switching to the voice I used during law school mock trials.
A long moment of silence, then, “Yes, Prin, but…”
“That means our temporary marriage contract is now null and void, is that also true?”
“It is, but, habibti—”
And that’s when New Jersey reality show Prin decides to join the conversation. “Bitch, I am not your habibti if you are engaged to another woman!”
Then before he can protest, I say, “I started falling in love with you in Jahwar. But while I was falling for you, you were going to Ardu Wherever and arranging to marry another woman so you could void our engagement. While I was falling even more in love with you here in America, you knew the entire time that you already had someone else on deck!”
“No, Prin, no!” he says. “My family arranged the trip I took to Ardu Alzuhuwr. I was obligated to meet with the king and his granddaughter. I played along, because there were promises I had to make to keep you even for those short six months. But I had no plans to announce the marriage until the end of our time together.”
His voice becomes low and harsh as he says, “You have no idea how much I wanted our marriage. How long I have wanted you. From the very moment we met in that bedroom at Holt’s party. And for those eleven years after. I thought about our meeting, those fleeting five minutes, replaying it in my mind over and over.”
He expels a huge breath, “You know, Prin, I lied about only watching a couple of your shows. I watched every single episode you were in. I tried to convince myself the attraction wasn’t there. I knew I couldn’t be King of Jahwar and have you. But then that kiss happened…” his voice softens with the memory “…and suddenly, I saw a way. A way to finally have you, if only for a short while. So, I took it, Prin. But oh, Allah, you were beyond anything I expected. I thought our time together would cure my unnatural obsession, prove once and for all I had no business lusting after a woman who’d come into my room, looking for my brother—”
He breaks off with an angry breath. “If I had known how perfect you would be, how you would fit my soul in every way. How during our dinners with the twins, I would have such sweet imaginings of us doing the same with our own children… If I had known not having you permanently would hurt so much, I never would have risked it. I never would have signed that contract. But I did sign it. I was your husband. And you were my wife. And you must believe I meant every word I said to you in front of your mother’s wall.”
In front of my mother’s wall. But doesn’t he know my mother’s wall is gone? Knocked down and removed like the chairs at a table of a temporary wife who refuses to heel.
“Did you fall in love me like I fell in love with you, Sheikh Zahir?” I ask, forcibly going back to Prin the lawyer.
“Prin…” he says at the sound of his title falling from my lips for only the second time in our lives. “Do not…do not call me that.”
“I love you,” I say, steel laced throughout my tone. “With every fucking ounce of my soul. Do you love me, Sheikh Zahir?”
“Does it sound like I am in the position…that I am in any way permitted to love you like that?” he suddenly roars into the phone, his voice now filled with unchecked frustration and rage.
“No,” I answer, my case made. “It doesn’t.”
Then I hang up.
One moment he’s there, finally on the line like I’ve been wishing him to for the last two months. And the next moment, he’s gone, and I’m left breathing hard, like I’ve just run a marathon, rather than had a difficult but long overdue conversation.
I turn to see Kasha and Sasha at the kitchen counter. I’d completely forgotten they were still in the room. Or that I was in the kitchen. Of our damn near brand new house. With the pristine cherry wood floors and the heated swimming pool that now works and a room that no longer has my mother’s last words written on the wall.
Jersey Prin fades…Lawyer Prin disappears…and then…there’s just me.
A woman too broken to love or be loved. Who somehow mistook Happy for Now as the Happily Ever After she’d been wishing for since she left for boarding school.
“Prin…” a voice says again. This time it’s Sasha.
I say nothing, just go upstairs to the new master suite which is decorated Bedouin-style in silky, rich-hued fabrics. Another surprise for the sheikh when I thought I might be able to convince him to stay a couple of weeks more after Ramadan for the twins’ graduation.
I drop down onto my bed and I cry and I cry. The way you hear about in those romantic dramas, filled with tubs of ice cream.
Then I fall asleep. And when I wake…
My head is filled with lyrics.
When I look back on it, I don’t remember going to our new music library. But I’m there. For hours. Then days. At one point, food starts to appear. Bagels and sandwiches…sometimes pasta dishes from the little Italian eatery where Sasha took a summer job, despite or perhaps because her college tuition has already been magically paid for by yet another man she can no longer trust. I never see it appear, but when I wake on the couch where I’m filling up notebooks, or use the bathroom, or look up from my writing, suddenly starved, there’s always a plate.
And then one day I wake up.
Sub-space? the ghost of the person I used to be with Zahir asks.
And his ghost says…absolutely nothing.
He’s gone…I scrawl this across the last sheet of paper in a notebook I’ve filled up.
Then I take a deep breath and close it.
“Alexa, what day is it?” I ask the smart speaker I got the twins as a graduation gift.
”It’s Thursday, August 2nd.”
“Alexa, what time is it in Jahwar?”
“Hey Kadin, it’s Prin, wassup,” I say in response to Zahir’s London-born secretary’s long and ornate announcement of Zahir’s office and title.
“Prin! I mean…Ms. Jones. I have instructions to put you through to his highness right away.”
“No thanks. Don’t want to talk to him. But I do want to talk to you. Real quick. You probably want to have a talk with your in-house legal counsel because you should have had me sign a non-disclosure form.”
“A non-disclosure form?” he repeats. Then his voice dips to ask, “Are you calling to threaten the sheikh?”
“No…” I answer, offended. But then I think about it and say, “Okay, sort of—you got me there. But this doesn’t have to get ugly. You really, really need me to sign an NDA before the sheikh’s wedding. And I totally will…on one condition.”