"Come here," the prince said quietly, motioning to a bench on the balcony. Zahra sat tentatively, hoping the prince wouldn't sit next to her.
As though sensing and respecting Zahra's privacy, Alexander chose to stand beside the bench, leaning back against the railing of the balcony and lifting his face to the stars.
For a moment, Zahra tried to hold back her tears, but for crying out loud! she'd already begun. So she allowed herself to cry, knowing that she deserved to let out her feelings.
"Sara," Alexander said softly, "do you need to talk?"
"I'm supposed to hate you," Zahra said, sobbing, "and I think I do. So I have no right to tell you why I'm crying."
"And I respect that, Sara. You don't need to talk if you don't want to."
Sniffing, Zahra wiped her nose on her sleeve, not caring about the rudeness of the action. "I miss my family," she finally wept. "I miss them so much. I'm so worried about my younger sisters. They don't know how to survive on their own. I've failed them."
The prince remained silent, but he turned and sat on the very edge of the bench.
"And I just...I don't know, I just..." Breaking down completely, Zahra hunched over and buried her face in her hands.
Heart thudding with pain, Zahra rocked back and forth, trying to contain herself but failing miserably. Finally, she took a deep breath and managed to say, "I'm sorry. I hate it when people cry."
"For what it's worth," the prince said slowly, "I don't think any less of you for crying."
Zahra snorted, though Alexander's words secretly buoyed her spirits just a bit. "I don't care what you think of me," she said. "I've lost all respect for you. I hope you realize that."
To his credit, Alexander did not return the jab.
"I'm sorry. There I go again, insulting you," Zahra said, instantly regretting her words. "I'm so sorry, Alexander. I'm so sorry. I don't know why I talk to you like that."
"I know what you mean," Alexander said, his voice devoid of emotion. "I think you're trying to make others feel as miserable as you feel inside."
Zahra hadn't thought about it that way. "You're probably right," she sniffed. "You're probably right..."
"Listen, I...I know I'm not exactly your favorite person right now, but I'm willing to listen if you need to talk."