The sheikhs secret love.., p.41
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       The Sheikh's Secret Love Child, p.41

         Part #2 of The Sheikh's Baby Surprise series by Holly Rayner
“Drink up!”

  Saturday nights were meant for partying. For university students, at least. Neither of these sentences applied to Sophie Smith. She wasn’t a party girl, and she liked it that way.

  Since as far back as she could remember, Sophie’s mother had known she was an introvert. Of course, in proper mother fashion, she always mentioned this in the gentlest way possible. In fact, her mother would often call Sophie her “Little Genius” or her “Little Librarian”. She loved these terms as a child and still loved them as a 24-year-old woman.

  But then, she loved all the memories she had of her mother. Since her death, just two years ago, she felt like she was in a constant state of scooping up every memory she could before they escaped her. In her mind, she would imagine she was locking them all away in a box that was for her eyes only.

  She’d known her mother for 22 years, but no memory, photo, recording, letter—none of it was good enough.

  Nights in Al-Duyan were hot, and not in a fun way. Sophie had been in the Middle East for four months now. She felt bad leaving her father after such a monumental change in both their lives, but in a selfish way, it also felt good to leave. It felt good to be somewhere where nobody cast sad eyes her way, knowing that a piece of her was missing.

  She would graduate Yale in two years’ time. Another accomplishment her mother wouldn’t get to see. After graduation, she’d been able to select a two-year research program abroad, and studying for a niche PhD in the history of Al-Duyan had demanded that she end up in the Middle East.

  Sophie spent most of her days happily researching the university archives on history, sociocultural anthropology and linguistics. On an average night, this tended to keep her busy. A night of learning without anyone invading her personal space seemed pretty ideal. She’d just spent so much in the archives this week, she’d almost forgotten what real life felt like.

  This was the same point her father kept bringing up.

  He would call her from Indiana every Sunday night like clockwork, and by the end of each phone call he would inevitably be giving her a paternal lecture about the importance of making friends in her new city.

  Still, he was probably right. Dads usually were about this type of thing.

  So, for tonight, she would try and be social.

  She’d hit the main market square in the city center. Al-Duyan’s markets were a hotspot for activity. This was the capital, after all. The city was laced with string lights as part of one of the annual cultural festivals. Local musicians were showing off their talents while vendors lined the streets, ready with all kinds of drink and hot food.

  “Drink up!” repeated the male server at the stand Sophie was at. The pop-up booth was serving cheap alcoholic beverages in an attempt to get patrons into a new club that had just opened. It was beyond Sophie why anyone would want to start drinking at 6PM, yet here she was.

  She’d headed out with two of her colleagues from the university.

  Ariella smiled at the server and waved him off. She was a beautiful 25-year-old researcher who specialized in Al-Duyan history, much like Sophie, and she’d traveled from Buffalo around the same time Sophie flew in from New Haven. Ariella had chestnut brown hair and big doe eyes that made her look almost unreal. She was stunning and hilarious to be around, so it didn’t surprise Sophie in the least when it took her new American friend all but two days to scoop up her new beau abroad.

  The two had been going strong for four months now. If four months could, indeed, be considered going strong.

  Samir, Ariella’s boyfriend, was a local museum worker. He was younger than Ariella and sported a goatee and charming blue eyes. His mother was American and his father was Middle-Eastern, and the mix gave him chiseled features and jacked arms. He was one of those fabulously cute guys Sophie would never have approached in a zillion years on account of how intimidated she would feel.

  Until she got to know him, that is. In the end, he was just a big dork like everybody else.

  Ariella was always joking about how Samir was younger than her and this made him easier to mold. The three of them had become close in the past couple of months and if she were ever feigning interest in social activities, these were the people Sophie wanted to be with.

  “I need something stronger than this watered down whiskey,” Samir said with a hilarious slur as he grabbed another shot from the server.

  Ariella rolled her eyes playfully at Sophie and leaned into her ear, “Samir has a friend coming to visit next Friday night if you want to go to a club or something.”

  “I have a deadline,” Sophie shrugged, hoping that would be a reasonable enough excuse to decline a potential date. It wasn’t that she disliked blind dates.

  Okay, it was.

  “You always have a deadline,” Ariella scolded. “Have some fun, for once.”

  “I need something more than watered down whiskey!” Samir repeated drunkenly.

  “Your boyfriend is drunk,” Sophie scoffed.

  “Yes I see that.”

  Catching onto his friends’ annoyance with him Samir laughed and began to loudly repeat, “I need whiskey!”

  “Yes!” Ariella said firmly, hushing him as she grabbed him by the shoulders. “We get it. You’re drinking.”

  “I’m drinking piss in a whiskey dress,” he slurred jovially. “Can’t get drunk on piss.”

  “Can’t kiss your girlfriend if you’ve ingested urine, either,” Sophie said with a laugh. “Just sayin’.”

  He wrapped his arms around Ariella and tapped his nose to Sophie, joking, “All the more reason to find the good stuff.”

  The three of them laughed and Sophie wondered if Ariella only did so out of embarrassment. Boyfriend drunk before dinner time? Rather her than me, Sophie thought. Still, she couldn’t say she wasn’t jealous of them. She shrugged suddenly, noticing Ariella staring at her.

  Ariella made a horrified face and with her best whine asked, “You’re not done with us already, are you?”

  “Yeah, I still have a ton of work to do and…” she giggled. “Well, it looks like you’ll have to get this one home to bed any minute now.”

  “Aw, Soph! Don’t go. Come on, there’s a Ferris wheel just around the corner. I thought we were going to ride it together?”

  “Yeah, come on, Soph!” Samir reiterated.

  Sophie sighed inwardly. She knew her friends were just trying to be nice, but did everything have to be over-offered? Her associates would kick up such a fuss when she declined to go on outings or to come over for the night.

  What could she say? She liked being alone. Especially on nights like tonight.

  “Ah, let her go,” Samir finally relented with a wave of his hand. His arms were still clasped around his girlfriend as he began marching her backward in an over-exaggerated fashion. “She wants to go read!”

  “Shut up,” Ariella joked, half concerned. “You sure you want to leave, honey? I mean…”

  Sophie knew exactly what she meant. Tonight marked the two-year anniversary of her mother’s death. She’d made the mistake of sharing that information with Ariella and her well-meaning co-worker hadn’t let her forget ever since. She’d kindly insisted they take her out so Sophie wouldn’t have to sit at home and wallow, but really, that’s exactly what she wanted to do.

  What was so bad about curling up alone with a pint of ice cream and a good book, anyway?

  “Yes, yes, it’s fine!” she said in her most upbeat voice. “You guys go, have fun. I’m going to head back and… I’ll call you later, okay?”

  “Soph,” Ariella tsked and grabbed Sophie’s shoulder. “You call me later, okay?”

  Sophie smiled. “I promise.”

  The two made a show of their goodbye to her and before long Sophie was heading back to her apartment. To her surprise, however, no sooner had they parted ways, she kind of missed her friends. She didn’t really know why she’d left.

  Maybe they were right. Maybe she shouldn’t have been alone tonight. The silence that fo
llowed her down the pathways back to her new home only soothed her for a moment before memories of her mother began flooding back to her. She cherished the rush for just a minute before she became overwhelmed with bittersweet emotions.

  She took a sharp left before reaching her neighborhood and ended back up in the town square. It hadn’t taken her long after moving here to get to know the intricacies of the streets, shortcuts back to the town center or the quickest route to her apartment. She thought about trying to find her friends once more, but dealing with a slurring, drunken Samir didn’t seem ideal, as funny as it sounded in theory.

  Dusk had settled on the beautiful city, and though the night sky was now taking over, the air was still humid and muggy as she walked.

  Without meaning to, she began walking down into a tiny backstreet she’d visited a handful of times before. While she adored the local landmarks, archeology, history, and local museums of the city, this street contained one of Sophie’s favorite attractions: The Palais.

  She would come to this tiny theater whenever she felt homesick, which was quite often. The cinema played American movies frequently and reminded her of when she and her parents used to do Friday Family Night at the movies and treat her to an unhealthy amount of popcorn. Nothing like plastering your child with sugar and carbs to make a great childhood memory.

  Sophie looked up at the bright red, old-school marquee that lit up in the night and noticed that they were showing a full night of American Westerns. She approached the cashier at the stand and unzipped her purse. “One for Rio Bravo, please.”

  “John Wayne fan?” the man asked with a smile.

  “Just of air conditioning,” she grinned.

  With a nod, the man tapped a few times on the digital screen in front of him. “Um. It’s already halfway through,” the cute attendant said, raising his brows as if to ask if she were still interested.

  “That’s fine,” she said, handing him exact change for the ticket. She made her way through the double doors after grabbing a large soft drink from the concession stand and walked into the cinema. More than anything she was just glad to be out of the heat.

  Somewhere she didn’t have to think.

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