“I thought you’d never return,” a sultry young voice startled Mark from the shadows near the locked door to his suite. The Princess of Nimrah stepped into the light of the hallway wearing a much more casual, and revealing, dress than the night before. “I’ve been waiting for-ev-er.”
She sounded like such a little girl. Then Mark realized she was a little girl. He was afraid to open his door for fear she’d try to come into his suite and he’d never get her back out. Thankfully, Alex leaned against the doorframe, the key to the suite still concealed within the pocket of his slacks.
“Why, Princess, what a pleasure to see you,” Mark said, maintaining a formal stance and trying to hold a neutral face so as not to convey his annoyance at having her interrupt his day. “To what do we owe the honor?”
“I was so worried about you last night when you didn’t come back to the dance.” Nimrah came closer and placed her hand on his chest.
Mark took an involuntary step back. “I had a headache.”
“Are you feeling better now?” She stalked forward again and seemed to stick out her chest.
If Mark chose to, he’d be able to look down her shirt. He turned his head to the side and gave Alex his best ‘help me!’ look but Alex laughed. He actually laughed! That jerk!
“Princess, look, we can’t… I mean, we shouldn’t get involved when you’re so young, and I haven’t finished school, and, and… I’m going back to America in a day or two.”
“Well, at least we have tonight,” she said, lifting onto her toes and whispering near his ear. “If you can ditch your bodyguard.”
“I’m not ditching my body—eh, my advisor,” Mark said. “He is the only person staying with me tonight.” Mark backed up another step and nearly tripped. Alex was close enough that he practically caught Mark when he fell.
“Ohhhhh…” Nimrah said with a gleam in her eye. “So that’s how it is with you two. Gotcha.” She winked at them conspiratorially.
“No, that’s not what he meant,” Alex said, pushing Mark to a standing position.
“It’s okay, Alex,” Mark said, taking Alex’s hand. “She’ll keep our secret. Won’t you, princess?”
Alex tried to pull his hand away, but Mark held it firmly, trying to convey the message that this charade would free him from the advances of the beautiful temptress who had been undressing Mark with her eyes.
“Of course, I’ll keep your secret,” she said without backing down. She put a hand on each of their arms. “We could still have some fun, ya know, the three of us.”
“No!” Mark cried out, fumbling in Alex’s pocket for the key to his suite. He turned and managed to unlock the door, pushing it open just far enough to slip through the opening, pulling Alex with him and pushing the heavy door closed before Nimrah could follow. He locked the door and backed away as if she could reach right through the wood and grasp hold of him again.
“Dang, what the heck, man?”
“I had to get away from her,” Mark hissed, hurrying away from the door and waving Alex into the bathroom. “She’s probably listening through the door right now!”
“So instead of saying, ‘Hey, princess, I’m not interested,’ or ‘I have a girlfriend,’ you tell her you’re gay?”
“And she’s so evil, she still came after me!” Mark said, closing the bathroom door so that there were now two doors in between the temptress and their conversation. “That says something about a person.”
“What’s your point?” Alex crossed his arms.
“Don’t you get it?” Mark pointed in the direction of the hallway. “That is who is running my country.”
“Your great-grandfather is still in charge,” Alex said.
“For now,” Mark said. “Mark my words; that woman will destroy my kingdom if she gets any more power.”
“You seriously care that much about this tiny piece of arid land in the middle of flippin’ nowhere enough that you’re getting this emotional about a girl hitting on you? You’ve been here a whopping two days. You can’t possibly love this country that much in such a short period of time.”
“I have loved this country my whole life,” Mark said, lifting his chin. “I have dreamed about this land for as long as I can remember. I’ve studied the geography, the topography, the people, the royal family, the natural resources, the history that dates back fifteen-hundred years. The sand that blows across the desert and the water that springs forth from the artesian well are part of my blood. I love Mada’in Saleh.” Mark’s breathing was heavy after pouring his heart out and saying things he’s wanted to say for years.
“Why didn’t you ever tell me this, man?”
“I didn’t think you’d understand.” Mark shuffled his foot and kicked lightly at the clawfoot tub. “I don’t think anyone understands.”
“I think your great-grandfather understands,” Alex said softly.
“Yeah, you’re probably right.”
“Hey, you should probably ask him to show you the artesian well,” Alex said. “You promised your grandpa.”
“Yeah, I guess I did,” Mark said. “We’ll ask him about that at lunch.”
“Good, I’m starving.” Alex opened the door to the bathroom.
“You don’t think she’s still waiting outside our door, do you?” Mark asked in a panicked voice.
“I don’t care if she is, I am not holding your hand again,” Alex said. He confidently strode to the door and peeked outside. “You coming Your Highness? Let’s go eat some food that may or not be poisoned to kill us, buy some linen robes that I’ll never wear, drink some water that bubbles up from the desert, and hope no princesses follow us home. I promise to walk just slightly behind you and not speak out of turn again.”
“Very funny,” Mark grumbled but realized there was some merit to each statement Alex had made.