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Authors: Alyson Noel

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BOOK: Fated
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two

The light zooms toward me, bright and unexpected—prompting me to squint, to cover my face with my hands, only to find that I can’t raise my arms—and when I struggle to sit, I fall back again.

What the—?

My limbs lie useless, stretched out to either side, and after lifting my head, trying to get a grip on my predicament, that’s when I discover that someone’s restrained me by tying me up.

“She awakens!” a female voice shouts, bearing an accent so thick I can’t tell if her tone is one of fear or relief. “Miss Jennika—please, to come quickly! It is your daughter, Daire. She is up!”

Jennika! So my mom’s in on this?

I roll my head to the side, taking in blue color-washed walls, terra-cotta tiled floors, and the ornately painted octagonal table that serves as a convenient drop spot for my banged-up tin of Rosebud Salve, my silver iPod and earbuds, and the water-warped paperback I’ve been lugging around. Watching as an old woman wearing the traditional long, black, hooded
djellaba
rushes from the room that’s served as my home for over a month, returning with a frantic Jennika who drops down beside me, and brings her cool palm to my brow. Her familiar green eyes, nearly exact replicas of mine, appearing lost, set adrift, among her shock of bleached platinum hair and pale worried face.

“Oh, Daire! Daire—you okay? I’ve been so worried about you! Are you in pain? Are you thirsty? Is there anything I can get you—anything I can do? Just tell me, and it’s yours!” She veers closer, peers at me anxiously, as her hands fret at the pillows just under my head.

My lips are so cracked, throat so sore, tongue so parched, when I open my mouth to speak, direct the words at her, it comes out sounding garbled and senseless even to me.

“Take your time,” Jennika coos, patting my shoulder and indulging me with an encouraging look. “You’ve been through a lot. There’s no need to rush it. I’m not going anywhere. We’ll stay for as long as it takes for you to feel better.”

I swallow hard. Try my best to drum up some saliva to speed things along, but my supply is so depleted, my second attempt isn’t much better.

“Untie me,” I croak, yanking hard against my restraints, hoping the action will convey what words can’t.

But if Jennika understood, and I’m pretty sure that she did, she chooses to ignore it and reaches for a bottle of water instead.

“Here, drink this.” She shoves a long red straw into the bottle and wedges it deep between my lips. “You’ve been asleep for so long—you must be dehydrated by now.”

Despite my mounting frustration, despite wanting to turn away, deny myself the drink until she unties me, I can’t help but guzzle it greedily. My mouth locked around the straw, my cheeks sucked in as far as they’ll go, overcome with relief when the cool, welcome liquid washes over my tongue and soothes my dry, scratchy throat.

The moment the bottle’s drained, I nudge it away, my gaze narrowed on hers when I say, “Jennika, what the hell are you doing to me? Seriously!” My arms and legs flop crazily as I try in vain to break free.

Watching in frustration when she turns, abandons me for the other side of the room where she takes her sweet time consulting with the old Moroccan woman, murmuring something I can’t quite make out, then listening intently when the woman shakes her head and murmurs something back.

Finally returning to me, she takes great care to avoid my gaze when she says, “I’m sorry, Daire. I really, truly am, but I’m not allowed to do that.” She runs a nervous hand over the front of her black tank top—correction,
my
black tank top—and I don’t remember telling her she could wear it. “I’ve been given strict orders not to untie you, no matter how much you plead.”

“What?” I shake my head—sure I misunderstood. “By
who
? Who instructed you to bind me like this? Her?” I nod toward the old woman. With her plain black robes and matching headscarf that covers all of her hair and most of her face, she looks just like every other woman I’ve ever passed in the souk. She hardly looks official enough to lay down the law. “Seriously, Jennika, since when do you follow orders outside of work? Is this some kind of joke? ’Cause if so, I’m telling you right now, it’s not funny—not funny at all!”

Jennika frowns, fidgets with the silver etched ring she wears on her thumb—the one I gave her last Mother’s Day on location in Peru. “Do you have any idea how you got here?” she asks, the mattress shifting when she perches beside me. “Do you remember anything?” Her long, silk skirt swishing as she crosses her legs and her gaze pleads with mine.

I close my eyes and sigh, pretending to lose all my fight as I force my body to settle into the cocoon of pillows she’s placed all around me. I have no idea what she’s talking about—no idea what’s going on—how I ended up being held prisoner in my own hotel room, by my own mom. All I know is that I want it to stop. I want her to untie me. I want my freedom back. And I want it now.

“I have to use the bathroom.” I pop one eye open and sneak a quick peek, confident she’d never deny me such a simple courtesy. “You think you can untie me for that? Or would you prefer I go right here in this bed?” I open the other eye, shoot her a challenging look, only to watch her bite down on her lip, take a quick glance at the woman standing guard in the corner, then shake her head firmly, refusing to oblige me.

“I’m sorry, but I can’t do that. You can either hold it or use the bedpan,” she says, and I can hardly believe my own ears. “I’m not allowed to untie you until the doctor returns. But not to worry—it shouldn’t be much longer.” She nods toward the cruel-eyed sentinel in the corner. “Fatima called him just after you woke. He’s on his way.”

“Doctor? What the—?” I try to sit up, it’s a reflex, I can’t help it—but just like the last time, I slam back again.

So frustrated, so completely over this insane situation I find myself in, I’m gearing up to do something drastic, scream—cry—demand she untie me or else—when the memory ignites, and fragmented pieces spark in my mind.

Images of Vane—the square—the transvestite belly dancer—the incessant throb of the
gnaoua
drums … all of it coming in pulsating flashes—a dizzying flicker of snapshots that pop in and out of my head.

“Untie me,” I say, voice full of venom. “Untie me
right now,
or so help me, Jennika, I’ll—”

She bends toward me, the pink stripe in her hair falling onto my cheek as she presses a finger over my lips. Her gaze a warning, her voice betraying the full extent of her fear when she says, “You can’t afford to say things like that.” Her eyes dart toward Fatima as her tone drops to a whisper. “That’s exactly the kind of thing that landed you here. They’re convinced you’re a danger to yourself and others. They tried to admit you to the hospital, but I wouldn’t let ’em. Though if you insist on talking like that, I won’t have a choice. Please, Daire, if you want to get out of this place, you’re gonna have to learn how to contain yourself.”

Me? A danger? A menace to society?
I scoff, roll my eyes, sure I’m caught in some kind of nightmare—one that feels freakishly real.

“O—
kay…”
I drag the word out as my eyes meet hers. “And exactly what did I do to deserve such a verdict?”

But before she can reply, the rest of the memory flares. More flickering images of glowing people, thousands of crows, and a square crowded with severed, talking heads hanging on spikes …

One in particular …

And then Vane.

Something happened with Vane.

He grabbed me. Tried to convince me that all was okay. But he couldn’t see what I saw. Couldn’t begin to comprehend what I knew to be true. Insisted on calming me, subduing me—leaving me with no choice but to do whatever it took to break free, get as far from the scene as I possibly could …

“You really made a mess of things.” Jennika’s voice catches as she stifles a sob. “You scratched up Vane’s face and arms pretty good. They had to delay the rest of the shoot until he’s fully healed since there’s no way to hide the wounds with makeup—and believe me, I tried. Not to mention the harm you did to yourself.” She trails a gentle finger down the length of my arm until she reaches a spot where I can no longer feel it. And that’s when I realize I’m bandaged. From my elbows down, both of my arms are covered in gauze—the tips of my exposed fingers bearing only the faintest trace of my
mehndi
tattoo.

Just as I thought—he loves me not
.

I sink my head back onto the pillow, not wanting to see any more than I already have.

“Daire, you completely freaked,” she continues in typical Jennika fashion—her expression is sad, but she doesn’t mince words. “You had a meltdown, a total breakdown—a rift with reality, according to the doctor who treated you. It took a whole group of locals to intervene and pull you off Vane, and once they did, you went after them too. Luckily, no one’s pressing charges, and Vane’s publicist is working overtime trying to bury the incident and keep it out of the press. But you know how these things go in the age of the Internet.” Her shoulders lift, as her eyes tug down at the sides. “I’m afraid at this point damage control is the best we can hope for.” She lowers her voice until I can just barely hear, speaking to me like a fellow conspirator. “Vane claims there were no drugs or drinking involved, but, Daire, you know you can tell me the truth. You know our deal. You come clean with whatever you did, and I promise you won’t be in trouble.” She leans close. So close I can see the whites of her eyes are now shot with spidery lines of red—evidence of a recent crying jag. “Were you two partying? I mean, it was your birthday and all. Maybe you just wanted to celebrate in a really big way?”

Her voice lifts at the end, propelled by a sudden surge of hope. She’s looking for a fast and easy explanation—something solid to pin the blame on. An episode of teenage debauchery gone too far would be preferable to the horrible, hard to swallow truth: That after I attacked Vane, a host of innocent bystanders, and myself, I babbled like a crazy person, going on and on about crows, severed talking heads hanging on spikes, and a tribe of scary glowing people intent on capturing me for purposes unknown. Continuing to fight, kick, and scream until I was finally subdued, carried away, tied to this bed, and injected with something that burned and stung its way through my veins before it sunk me into a deep, dreamless sleep.

The memory now fully resurfaced. I remember it all.

My eyes slew toward Jennika’s, seeing the fear displayed on her face, begging me to give her what she wants, confess to something I didn’t—wouldn’t—do.

But I won’t. Can’t. She and I have a deal. She’ll trust me until I give her a reason not to, and so far I haven’t broken that trust. Vane’s the one who drank; I refused to touch it. And as far as drugs go, I’ve been offered plenty over the years, but I’ve always said no.

What I saw was no fantasy. I was totally sober. I wasn’t hallucinating. I need at least one other person to believe that—and if I can’t convince my own mom, then who?

I shake my head, voice small and tired when I say, “I wasn’t partying.” I shoot her a meaningful look, desperate to convince her of the truth. “I didn’t renege on our deal.”

She nods, presses her lips together until they turn white at the edges. And despite patting my arm in a way that’s meant to be comforting, I can tell she’s disappointed. She’d rather I’d broken our pact than deal with a truth she can’t comprehend.

The silence looming between us so heavy and fraught I’m just about to break it, desperate to find a way to convince her that the crazy things I saw really did exist—that they weren’t the imaginings of a freaked-out mind—when there’s a knock at the door, a muffled exchange of voices, and a thick-figured man looms in the archway that leads to my room, with the ever-present Fatima lurking behind.

My gaze glides the length of him, starting with his highly shined shoes, freshly pressed suit, starched white shirt, and boring blue tie. Noting the way his eyes fail to shine, the way his lips practically disappear into his skin, and how his tightly controlled curls seem to repel the bright light shining just overhead.

“Daire, nice to see you’re awake.” He turns to Fatima, motioning for her to grab the chair by the desk and drag it over to my bedside where he drops a heavy black leather bag to the floor and takes up residence. Nudging Jennika out of the way, he lifts a stethoscope from his neck, secures it in place, and tries to lower my sheet so he can get down to business and eavesdrop on the inside of my chest.

But before he can get very far, I squirm and buck and do what I can to push him away, glaring as I say, “Aren’t you at least going to introduce yourself first? I mean, it’s only polite, don’t you think?”

He leans back, his dark eyes meeting mine as an insincere flash of stretching lips and widening cheeks stand in for a smile. “My apologies,” he says. “You are most right. I have forgotten my manners. I am Dr. Ziati. I have been attending to you since the night of the … incident.”

“The
incident
? Is that what you call it?” My voice bears a sneer that matches the one on my face.

“Is there another name you’d prefer?” He crosses his legs, runs a manicured hand along the sharp crease in his pants, settling in as though he’d like nothing better than to sit around and debate this.

Jennika shakes her head in warning, urging me to let it go, to not push my luck. And while I choose to give her that, she can’t stop me from saying, “How come your English is so good?”

I eye him suspiciously, noting the way his sudden laugh causes the skin around his eyes to crinkle and fan, while his teeth flash straight and white in a way not often seen in these parts. A clue that leaves me not the least bit surprised when he says, “I studied medicine in the States—at the University of Pennsylvania, to be exact. Though the truth is, I was born right here in Marrakesh. So after several years of residency abroad, I returned home. I do hope this meets with your approval?” He nods, waits for my reply, but I just shrug and look away. “Is there anything else you’d like to know before I check all your vital signs?” He waves his stethoscope at me.

BOOK: Fated
8.78Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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