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Priyanka finished all her work at Sheetal Designs and said her goodbyes. She felt more than ready to set up her own business now especially with the confidence of having her brothers and sister-in-laws right behind her, not to mention,
Shikhar for whom her feelings had gone way beyond her initial infatuation with his soft nature, good humor, and uncommon good looks. With time she had fully understood the extent of his goodness by gaining some knowledge, through Aashi herself, of exactly what he had been in Aashi’s life. She had discussed her future and ambitions a few times with him and had been captivated by his strong support and advice that she stand on her own two feet. The more she got to know him, the more her regard for him grew. Priyanka did not know now whether that was a good thing or a bad thing. The good was that she had gradually understood just how close to perfection he was. His deep friendship with Om endeared him even more to her. The bad was that it was terrifying to be so deeply in love with someone that no one else would ever seem good enough to share your life with.
In the two years that she had spent at her fashion institute, she had learned the technicalities of fashion design in addition to honing her artistic skills. Having gone in as a diamond in the rough, she had emerged as a highly polished, fine cut jewel as far as her craft was considered. But one of her instructors, having noticed her soft and reticent nature had recommended that she work as an intern at a fashion house to understand the challenges of running a business and other nitty-gritty of the fashion industry. It had been precious advice that had been highly supported by Shikhar and Om, both of whom felt that in spite of all the support she would have from her family, she should be, at the very least, be familiar with the potential challenges of her chosen field. Whenever two of the most important men in her life agreed to an opinion, Priyanka followed it to the tee. And here she was, as prepared as she would ever be to put all that she had learned into action. On her way to Shikhar’s office now,
she reflected upon her journey. As her car drew closer to her destination her heart beat faster. It was the strangest feeling ever for her. She felt completely at ease in Shikhar’s presence and yet her heart always beat faster whenever she found herself alone with him. She took a deep breath as her car halted in front of the Ascent Creatives’, Shikhar and Aashi’s company, building.
“You may go back to Oberoi Mansion. I will go back home with Om bhaiya.” Priyanka gently informed her driver. Then she turned around, squared her shoulders, and walked up the entrance steps with a confident gait that had been learned laboriously through years of social anxiety therapy and personality development sessions.
“Yes, I will send an associate to supervise the construction work for tomorrow. I will be there for an overview…” Shikhar was about to wrap up the call when he heard a knock at the door.
“Come in.” he said briefly covering the speaker of his phone and went back to his call.
Priyanka opened the door and entered his office gingerly. She had met him at Oberoi Mansion, at his home with Om and Aashi among others, on some outings with Om, Aashi, Rudra, Shivaay, and Anika, but coincidentally, in all of these three years she had never met him for a one on one meeting in a confined space. She stepped in with both curiosity and a hint of excitement bordering on nervous energy. Shikhar looked up and saw her standing in front of him. She still wore the same white tights matched with a soft lavender kurti but her look had a novelty that caught his breath. For a couple of seconds he forgot that he was still on a conference call.
“Mr. Saxena, will that be all for today? Mr. Saxena?” said the voice from the speaker.
” Yes. Yes. That’s about it. We will go further after this overview has been done. Thanks. Yeah, have a nice day.” Shikhar wrapped up hastily and hung up.
“Have a seat Priyanka” he said getting up himself, and without any hint of the tiny storm that was beginning to uncoil in his chest. He had spent almost his entire conscious life controlling his own agitations and excitements for his sister’s sake. This self-control had become second nature to him so that he did not even have to try to exercise it anymore. It was involuntary.He did not even fully acknowledge the root of his excitement to himself so letting it manifest to anyone else was out of question.
“Sorry, I am a little early I think. My work was finished so I thought I’ll just come. I went to Aashi bhabhi’s cabin but…”
“Yeah, she had an on-site meeting so she isn’t here.” Shikhar interjected. ” Sit Priyanka. The realtor who will show us the site won’t be there for another half an hour and the place is barely ten minutes from here. We will leave in about fifteen minutes.”
“Ok. Thanks.” Priyanka said as she sat down in a chair right opposite his.
” Would you like something to drink” he asked politely.
” Just some water. Thanks.”
Shikhar walked over to a mini refrigerator in a corner and got out a bottle of water from it and a paper-cup from the stack of cups above it.
“Here.” He said as he handed her the things in his hands.
There fingers touched in the exchange sending a shiver through Priyanka’s being and she kept her focus on the bottle to avoid giving it away.
“Thanks.” she said softly.
Shikhar watched her for a moment as she kept the cup on the table and drank straight from the bottle. He felt something uncoil inside his chest again and he ran his hands through his, short and neat, luxuriant hair that matched in color and shade with his sister’s.
“How was your last day?” he said going back to his chair.
“It was good. I said bye to my close associates and ensured I had all the important contact information. Cleaned up my desk and…That was about it.”
Shikhar smiled at her simple statement of facts. It was her simplicity in spite of her lofty heritage that had first caught his attention and it was this unwavering simplicity in spite of her self-assuredness that maintained his attention. This was through an through a quality identical to Om’s probably genetically inherited from their mother, he thought.
“If I am not considered too presumptuous and forward in saying so I want to say that I am so proud of what you have achieved. It’s really amazing ”
Priyanka looked at him with a hint of dampness in her eyes. “Presumptuous. You, who first of all got me thinking that I had a passion that I could go after; you would be presumptuous in saying you are proud of me?”
“You are giving me too much credit. And it cuts both ways. In another couple months my foundation will be all set to start helping young girls and women get out of any kind of abusive, unfortunate, suppressive, or crippling situations they find themselves in. All of this happened because you asked one simple question three years ago. “What is your passion? ” I thought and thought and although it took me a while to figure it out I have eventually found my passion! ”
Priyanka smiled listening to him. ” Everyone at home is so proud of you for this initiative. Especially Aashi bhabhi. Have you finally decided a name for the NGO? ”
“No.” Shikhar said smiling at the thought of Aashi being proud of him. ” I have a few ideas but none of them satisfy me. Do you have any ideas?”
“Actually I do.” Priyanka said hesitantly. ” I know Aashi bhabhi is the inspiration for this NGO. I thought Aasha both resembles her name and has a relevant meaning.”
Shikhar gazed at her spellbound. ” That’s perfect. Almost as perfect as you.” he blurted out before he could stop himself. His own momentary loss of control surprised him.
They recovered from the awkward moment quickly though.
“Thanks Priyanka. That’s a brilliant idea. Aasha it will be. I’ll inform my lawyer who is getting all the legal documents of the organization filed and processed. Shall we leave. I don’t want Om to be waiting there alone.”
They got up to leave. Just as they had reached the door, Priyanka stopped. ” I have one question for you if you don’t mind. I have been meaning to ask this for a long time but didn’t get a chance to do so earlier.”
“Yes?” Shikhar stopped and turned towards her. They were almost as close as they had been that morning right after Priyanka had collided with him.
Priyanka swallowed back taking in his appearance. His soft cream shirt was tucked into his beige formal pants and had sleeves rolled to three quarters length. She sensed her breath become warmer as she felt the impact of her attraction to him sink in even deeper.
“Does it offend you if I call you by your first name?”
“What?” Shikhar asked completely thrown off.
“You see…” Priyanka swallowed again to gather courage and express herself without holding back anymore. ” I have an equation with you as your friends much younger sister and your baby sister’s younger sister-in-law. But considering the consequential conversations we have had over the years and how they have made a good difference in our lives, I feel that I also have an independent equation with you. So based on that, I want to call you by your first name but I am not sure if you might find that offensive.”
Shikhar looked very amazed and at a loss for words. Did anyone else know that this girl could feel like this and express herself so clearly? Or did he have that sole privilege!
” Yes. Of course you can. We do have an individual equation and no I …”he took a deep breath and then continued, ” I don’t find it offensive if you call me by my first name. Call me Shikhar. Wow, over three years we have known each other. We sure took a lot of time to get on first name basis mutually!”
“That’s ok.” Priyanka smiled faintly.” Slow and steady wins the race.”
Shikhar laughed as they stepped out of his cabin together. “We are running a race?” he asked with the now familiar twinkle in his eyes.
“No.” Priyanka said looking at him pleasantly. “We are not running any race. Our individual equation is with all other equations that we have ”
Shikhar was completely taken aback by her answer. He looked at her soft hair cascading down her shoulders, her creamy complexion, and her delicate, pink lips. He felt yet another fetter break somewhere inside him and yet another uncoiling of some dormant emotion. Not trusting himself anymore, he shoved his hands deep into his trouser pockets and walked quietly as he led Priyanka out of his building and toward his car.
Thanks for reading Everyone. This chapter is long, slow, highly narrative , and short Aon real action. But this is in a way my expression unfettered because I wrote in a style that is most natural to me ignoring the fact that it may be extremely slow. I thought it was necessary to make a shift in Priyanka and Shikhar’s story. Consider it a filler if you may. I’ll try to write a more interesting chapter next time. Thanks again and please do comment if you can.☺