Chapter 40, Bad Scenarios
[BY AMBER MARIGOLD JILTEN]
“I heard from the guides for the other, eh, high profile guests that the meeting won’t take more than twenty minutes. You could order something to eat if you’d like, but a minister is a busy man. He’s meeting with three more guests tonight,” our guide explains.
I can hear a bit of an accent from the short Arabic man, but for the most part, he’s quite clear in what he says and explains. When meeting Xavier and me at the airport, he was nothing short of a nervous wreck, but after introducing himself to us and us all getting into the limo, he’s relaxed somewhat.
“Nasir you said your name was?” Xavier asks to check.
“Yes, Sir,” he answers. I’m pretty sure Nasir is older than us by quite a few years, but when you’re meeting people in the line of work that my husband and I are in... Showing even a second of disrespect might mean certain death. No matter the age difference.
I go to lean a little against Xavier from where we’re sitting on the leather seats. “Tell me, Nasir, what kind of man is the Minister of Foreign affairs?” I ask.
Nasir looks a bit nervous for a moment - pulling at his collar as though to breathe a little better. He looks at the man accompanying him before going back to looking at us. “He’s a very strict man who gets straight to the point. He’s kind to most, but I suggest you let your husband talk when you meet with Mister Salah,” Nasir explains carefully.
Ah, he’s sexist. Got it.
“Missus Marigold Jilten is attending the meeting as the co-leader of our organization. She’s not attending because she’s my wife,” Xavier says blatantly.
I let my hand slide to his leg and give a quick reassuring squeeze. It’s okay, I tell him.
Xavier looks down at me and frowns. I don’t like these misunderstandings, he seems to think.
I give a light chuckle before I rest my head on his shoulder - loving the way it fits so nicely. With one sigh, I end the discussion. We have bigger things to worry about.
It’s hard to think that meeting with a minister from a foreign country at one of the largest hotels the capital has to offer is a small affair, but it really is when you think about what we have waiting for us tonight. There’s a casual introduction party later tonight at the gambling resort we’d be staying at according to Xavier. I wish he’d warn me sooner, but he’s too conniving for that really.
We don’t drive for too long before we show up at the Luxury hotel keeping watch of the beautiful Nile river. I leave Pollock with one of the guards and a lot of treats in the car when we get out. We get escorted all the way to the top floor where a grand copper themed restaurant has the perfect view of the city and river. Though the surrounding land seems rather dry, the city itself is green. Not quite what I pictured for the capital of Egypt, but gorgeous nonetheless.
Away from the other tables, we get led to a VIP room with glass windows all around and impressive decor. Plenty of exotic plants fill the space with a table in the center that can fit about eight people. Rare orchids adorn the table and sitting at the head with a glass of water in one hand and a newspaper in the other is the person I assume to be the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
When he notices us, the man stands and gives a small smile. He’s pretty tall with reddish-brown skin and black eyes - a contrast to the white suit he has on. Xavier and I walk up to him and he’s quick to extend his right hand to Xav.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you Mister Jilten. I’m Shu Salah, but you can just call me Mister Salah,” the man explains with a nice enough expression. He’s probably in his forties or fifties but it’s hard to tell because of his bald head hiding any grey hairs.
“It’s Mister Marigold Jilten,” Xavier corrects with a fake smile as he shakes the diplomat’s hand.
“Oh yes, I heard you recently had a wedding. I wasn’t aware you would change your last name,” Mister Salah explains.
“This is my co-leader, Missus Marigold Jilten.” Xavier turns to me with a proud look.
I extend my right hand, but I am not treated with a friendly gaze. Mister Salah looks at my hand unimpressed before giving a short look at my dress. Without saying a word, he nods before walking over to the table.
Did I do something wrong?
I’m not too familiar with foreign customs so I don’t get offended. Xavier takes my hand and walks over to the table with me. He goes to sit close to Mister Salah while I just stick to my husband. It seems Nasir was correct when he said I should just not say much.
We don’t speak business right off the bat. Mister Salah asks us if we’d like refreshments and Xavier says coffee would be nice. I also decide on coffee and the minister orders tea before leaning back in his expensive glass chair. He starts talking about Egypt. Expressing what a beautiful country it is. Xavier carries the conversation for the both of us, agreeing with the minister when he has to and politely smiling when he doesn’t.
I would be lying if I said I wasn’t really sure where we stood with a minister of a country. Were we on equal footing? Coming here I thought that as the leaders of a billion-dollar ‘organization’ as we call it in front of officials, we’d have an advantage, but the more I sit and listen, the more I start to doubt myself. Mister Salah has probably met with multiple illegal organizations and dangerous families through the week and yet, he doesn’t seem phased even the slightest. He stays curt and casual.
When our coffee arrives, we sit in silence for a minute. I take quiet sips, not wanting the Minister of Foreign Affairs to judge my outfit again. It’s not like it’s a short dress or anything, but perhaps I should’ve worn something more formal for this meeting? Xavier just had to shrug on a jacket and he looks like he’s signing a million-dollar deal. Even Mister Salah is wearing an expensive suit and though yes, it’s clear my dress is expensive, it’s not really a suit.
“I’ll be brief,” he starts, “Just as I said to the others who I met with. I’m not unaware of your status and ability to silence me if you so wished. All I ask is that no murder is to take place while you visit my country. As the minister of foreign affairs, I deal with all kinds of people, but it’s a first for us to have so many dangerous groups of people come together under one roof. You may have your gathering without the police getting involved under the condition that there is no killing to take place.”
Xavier nods. “The Internasional Gathering has a policy of no fighting. It’s serious business for us too,” he explains.
“As long as you understand,” Mister Salah explains. “I won’t hold the police back if you break my condition, Mister Jilten. Egypt doesn’t tolerate criminals too well as you might know.”
The rest of the meeting continues to be as curt as it started. Mister Salah doesn’t really have much to say except behave yourselves and I don’t have much to say, because I don’t want to create unneeded tension. I don’t have to impress some minister from I country I don’t stay at.
The people I have to impress are the ones I’m meeting tonight... This’ll be my first international gathering and if all goes well, I’ll have many more to come in the future. I have to set my foot down at tonight’s introductory party. The impression I leave on the other families will stay with me for a long time. I’m already at a disadvantage as it is. Everyone knows I used to be Sterling’s leader but got quickly put in my place. Now I’m just the co-leader of the North. A glorified trophy wife to Xavier in the eyes of the other families. I have to prove I’m not someone to underestimate.
I unintentionally sigh. It’s starting to feel like I’ve had to prove that my whole life by now.
When the meeting is over, Xavier greets the diplomat. I can see my husband isn’t as friendly as when he first met him - no doubt annoyed about the fact that I was basically told to just sit there and look pretty. I don’t mind it though. I hook my arm into my husband’s as we leave the room and follow our guide back to the limo waiting outside. It’s already night now and I’m not sure if it’s the plane ride or the activities I’ve partaken in this weekend, but I’m already tired.
“I’m sorry about what happened back there,” Xavier apologises when we get in the limo.
“It doesn’t really bother me. I have nothing to prove to some random minister,” I joke with Xav. Pollock jumps in my arms and I pet the excited dog a little.
My husband kisses me on the cheek and I melt a little at the gesture.
It’s a half an hour drive to get to the gambling resort where everyone at the international gathering will be staying. Located outside of the city, the resort functions as some sort of oasis in the desert. Palm trees and greenery surround the closed off resort with water features all around. We have to go through security at the gate to the resort. Though guns aren’t prohibited, we can only have a controlled amount. Xav and I wait as our dozen guards get checked as well. Things like bombs and poisons and anything that isn’t a form of defence is not allowed.
When we’re all cleared, we get back into the limo and pass through towards the resort. I gape at the main building, nearly sticking my head out of the window. It’s nothing short of a modern work of art, taken shape of a pyramid! I would really like to try and paint it some time... If only I had more of that. Time. I’d spend hours trying to find the right way the moonlight is reflecting on the glass of which most of the structure consists. There are a few other buildings around, easy enough to paint with its sandstone texture, but that glass... Reflection is tough but so so fun to paint.
“After we get back to Isabella’s I should really dedicate a studio for you to paint in,” Xavier says reading my mind.
“I could continue with our art lessons there,” I reply, getting my head back in the car like the adult I am.
“I would like that very much,” Xavier smiles.
We drive down the long road to the main building and once we’re there, Nasir politely helps us sign in at the front desk. I see one or two people walking around but for the most part, it sounds like most of the guests are already at the casino. Good, I think to myself. I still have to psych myself up to meet these snakes.
Xavier turns to our dozen guards and tells each one where to patrol. Markus, Hellen, and Moony patrol the lower half of the building - keeping an eye on the casino; Shmit is in charge of patrolling the bar area on the first floor as well; Sprints, Smiles, and Fry keep an eye on all the facilities on the second floor, including the pool area, gym, and restaurants; Tiaan watches the lower accommodation floors and Haku watches the upper floors. Timothy is entrusted with patrolling the corridor on which our suite is while Fluke and Tetsu stay as our personal guards.
I don’t really know much about Fluke except he might be a little crazy. Anyone with a braided mohawk must be at least a little unhinged. As for Tetsu, I’m not sure if he’s Japanese or Korean, but definitely something close to that. He’s a bit older, about thirty with black tied up hair, eyeliner, and a dragoon tattoo running up his next - peaking out from his suit. I’m not yet sure how I feel about him, but Xavier must have a reason for keeping him close.
We enter our suite and the first thing I do is go to the master bedroom and fall down on the bed. God, I’m already tired. I hear Xavier order the guards to set things up for Pollock, getting the golden ball of fluff water, a bed and with the patch of grass on the balcony he has a place to pee. When Xavier has all that settled, I hear him follow me to the room.
“Marigold, we have an introduction party to attend in two hours,” Xavier chuckles as he follows me to the bed. I feel the bed sink a bit as he sits next to me, but my eyes are already shut and I don’t want to open them.
“Ghurghhdjdjj,” I groan - do we have to go?
“Yes we do, Marigold,” Xavier says in an annoyingly amused tone.
“Ughhbhbcdcudhcjn,” - I want to sleep.
“You can’t already be that tired.”
“Gahgu tssssuhnj,” - It’s your fault my body is this tired.
“I’ll take responsibility then, Marigold,” Xavier says and I can feel him leaning over. “I know of other ways to wake you up, my little wife.”
Immediately, I sit up straight. “You know what? I’ve never felt more ready for a party. Are you ready? I’m ready. Wait, look at your hair, Xav! It’s too long. You can’t go to a party like that,” I say to change the subject.
“Will you give me a haircut then, Marigold?” Xav asks in a honeyed voice. He looks over at me with those emeralds eyes and I’m pretty sure with the way his hair falls across his face, his loosened shirt and the fact that he looks at me like I’m the only person worth looking at in the whole world... I would tell him yes, even if he asked me to set the world on fire for him right here and now.
“We don’t have any equipment,” I explain.
“I’m sure we could have Fluke find a scissor from somewhere, Marigold.”
I think about it for a second, even though I already have my answer. “Well fine. We can find a scissor,” I tell him.
Surprisingly, it actually doesn’t take long for Fluke to get a scissor. In fact, it takes about three seconds since the guy carries a pair in his back pocket. I didn’t bother asking why since I knew there wasn’t ever going to be an answer that made sense. Before we can get to the haircut though, I tell Xavier it would be best for his hair to be damp when I cut it. Xavier figures he might as well take a shower if that’s the case.
And of course, my husband insists on me joining him for it.
Does being married mean you share your showers forever now? Why was I not aware of this? Or is it just a sneaky Xavy thing? I’m not sure, but I get to see his abs so I’m not really complaining.
It’s been a bit of an unspoken fact that we both seem to love scorching hot showers. A perfect fit since we don’t have to make compromises on sizzling under the steamy water. I love the way my skin burns and I love the way Xavier can make it burn even hotter. My husband is kind enough to wash my back and other... fun places he wants all to himself. I’m nothing but a blushing mess whenever he trails his hands to sensitive areas and my breath always catches in my throat.
I forget how to breathe when I’m with this man. I forget how to exist entirely. I simply rely on instinct and cling to him hoping he could keep me on solid floor instead of drifting away to some unreachable peak.
We don’t have sex, but the water definitely isn’t the only steamy thing about or showers.
By the time we’re done, I put on the dark grey bathrobe that the suite has to offer - the words ‘Pyra Dice’ embroidered on my left shoulder. Xavier shrugs one on as well but doesn’t bother to close it - keeping most of himself exposed in a clear challenge to see if I’ll ever stop blushing. While Fluke and Tetsu are in the suite as well, Xav and I stay in our bedroom while I grab a chair for him to sit on as well as a towel for his shoulders.
I have Xavier facing the window - overlooking the green oasis of a resort. We’re pretty high up - enough to see the desert beyond those walls protecting the resort. With everything ready and the shady scissor Fluke handed me washed clean, I position myself behind Xavier. My husband already has dark auburn hair, but with it wet, it looks black. I’ve always liked darker hair in guys. I’m not sure if I like it long or short though. Right now Xavier’s hair easily covers his eyes if pushed forward and brushes the back of his collar. When I first met him it was much shorter. About a thumb’s length.
Deciding to go with nostalgia, I cut enough hair to have it be a thumb’s length again. I start at the back of his head, carefully cutting lock for lock. I’m no barber, but I remember my mom cutting my dad’s hair once while I watched. I sigh at the memory but keep the smile on my lips.
Once I have the back cut, I move to the front of him where I bend over a little to get to his fringe. Except for a mischievous smirk, Xavier gives no warning before he suddenly snatches me up, pulling me towards him and forcing me to straddle him while we’re on the chair.
“Hey, what are you doing?” I demand in a fit of giggles and protest.
“Isn’t it easier like this?” Xavier asks innocently - like a boy with no idea why drawing on the bedroom walls is a bad idea.
“Well, it’s not very practical with us both being naked, save for the bathrobes,” I explain, my cheeks turning redder than it already is.
“I like us touching like this,” Xavier grins.
Unable to take his stare, I order Xavier to close his eyes. He does so without a fight and I can finally try to focus on cutting his fringe. I’ll be lying if I say I’m not doing this slower than I have to. Every few seconds, my eyes dart to his lips and his chest and, whatever else of him is exposed under his bathrobe.
I cut the last lock of hair and a few strands fall onto Xavier’s cheek. Too tempted, I brush the falling hairs away, but my hand doesn’t leave his face. His eyes are still closed, making me feel a little more daring as I trace my hand to his eyes. I let my fingers softly glide over his eyelids before following the curve of his brow. I let my touch trace to the side of his face and then down along his jaw - feeling the short stubble of his beard. Finally, I get to his chin before I’m too tempted not to touch his lips.
“If you keep touching me like that, you’ll make me do things to you that’ll cause us to miss the party, Marigold,” Xavier says against my fingers. He opens his eyes and looks at me hungrily under his lashes.
I’m tempted to take the challenge but... We really can’t miss the party. “Come, let’s finish up,” I tell Xavier before giving him a quick kiss.
I feel my husband linger, but we both know we can’t afford to be too late for tonight. With Xavier’s hair cut, we quickly clean up before getting ready for the party. Our luggage arrives and Xavier helps me decide on what to wear. I go for a semi-formal long black dress with a big enough slit to let my legs get a bit of a breeze. The dress has pockets which are honestly my favorite part. When it comes to Xavier, I decide to let us match. We go for all black as his suit, shirt, tie, and even waistcoat is matte black. The only sign of color is the maroon watch that he puts on. Deciding to match him even more, I wear the silver watch that Nessa gave me for Christmas last year.
With everything in order, and one last goodbye kiss from Pollock, Xav and I join elbows again as we leave the suite. Tetsu and Fluke follow right behind us - the both of them in a suit as well.
I walk to the casino with many scenarios running through my mind. Nervous about everything, I try coming up with every possible bad outcome so that I can be prepared for the worst. Arriving at the loud, bright casino of the resort makes it very clear very quickly that I should really work on my creativity for bad scenarios.
“Is that... is that Blake who’s smiling next to Kyle and Myra?” I ask Xavier in shock.
“It would seem so,” My husband answers with a grim expression.