He told his driver to wait for him, but as soon as he stepped in their home James knew that she had gone.
Her phone was there, her ring was there, everything was there—just not Leila.
He went to the drawer where she kept all her cash and passport and even without opening it he knew they’d be gone.
He asked his driver to take him to The Harrington and when they told him about their confidentiality policy, one look at his murderous expression and they reneged. ‘We haven’t had anyone by that name check in.’
‘By any other name?’ James said, and perhaps it was more his anguish than anger that produced a small shake of the receptionist’s head.
James called Manu and told her what had happened and asked her to park herself in The Harrington’s reception just in case Leila did arrive.
‘I will explain what happened to her if she arrives,’ Manu offered, and James thanked her.
She wouldn’t go there though, James knew it. Leila would surely know that it would be the first place he would look.
It was the worst evening that turned into the worst night ever.
His driver drove around for hours as James’s eyes scanned the busy streets but all to no avail. They went to the Middle Eastern restaurant where she had worked, but no, they hadn’t seen her either though they promised to let him know if she did show up.
James rang Spencer and asked him to be on the lookout.
He went to JFK airport where she had stood tasting snow on the night she had arrived here and he actually didn’t know what to do.
He had her phone and he even considered calling her parents, and asking them if he could be put through to Zayn, but James knew the pointlessness of that.
It had finally happened, James thought, when, like some drunk, he found himself calling out her name in the alley where Zayn and he had fought.
She’d made his wish come true because here he was at rock bottom and it looked as if he had lost them both.
Leila could well be on her way back to the cold of her family, to live a life of shame for the street bastard she had produced, and he thought then how her family would be with his daughter.
James looked up at the sky that might be carrying them both away now and there were no stars tonight. There would be no more stars without Leila, but then, as easily as that, he knew where she was.
He found her just a ten-minute walk from his door.
‘You shouldn’t be here at night on your own,’ James said, and he sat on a bench beside her. She could not bring herself to look at him so she looked at the park that she loved where she had for a little while believed she’d belonged.
‘The only thing that scares me about this night is that I’ll believe your lies and your excuses...’ She turned very briefly and it hurt too much to look at his cheating face so she turned away. ‘I see you’ve gone off blonde women since you met me,’ Leila sneered in disgust.
‘Well, was she worth it?’
‘Actually, no,’ James said, and he caught the hand that came to meet him. ‘It was Manu...’
‘I don’t need her name,’ Leila said, and she crumpled because even in their darkest row he sat patiently beside her.
‘She’s been trying to help me so that I can contact your brother, so I can ask him to speak with your family.’
‘In a hotel room?’ Leila challenged. ‘I heard you talking. I heard you laughing...’
‘In a business suite,’ James said. ‘Manu’s sitting parked at The Harrington in case you go there.’
‘You come home stinking of perfume...you are laughing with another woman behind closed doors...’
‘She was laughing at me, Leila,’ James said, and something in his voice made her turn around and she watched as he gritted his teeth and then made himself say it.
He took a breath, forced the words out.
‘Ana ata’allam al arabiyya.’
She didn’t laugh as he told her that he had been learning Arabic. She just stared and did not feel a fool for believing him.
‘You’ve been doing that for me?’
‘I was hoping that I might be able to speak with your father. I didn’t want to tell you because honestly, at times, Leila, I’m not sure if I am ever going to be able to speak it well enough. I didn’t want you to get your hopes up and I didn’t want you laughing at my attempts.’