Link to previous chapters
As Shikhar drove, he started talking about a couple of issues regarding his NGO.
“I am wondering if Aashi and you could demonstrate a little bit of the beginning level sessions. It might help spread the message.”
“Yes.” Priyanka agreed.” That sounds like a good idea. Once my opening is over, I’ll prepare for it. What are the documents you wanted me to look at?”
Shikhar was silent for a couple seconds. ” Did you text Soumya that she should come to the boutique with Simran?”
“I forgot. I’ll do it now.” Priyanka said looking at her phone.
Priyanka sent a quick message to Soumya. “Done. Now will you tell me what documents you were talking about?”
Shikhar stared at the street ahead of him. “Priyanka, don’t get upset, but there are no documents. I have nothing to show or discuss. In fact I came up with that demonstration idea randomly, but I am glad cos’ it’s kind of nice.”
Priyanka felt her heartbeat quicken. “Ok. Then why did you say there were documents to discuss? Is there something else that you want to talk about that you did not want to mention at the time?”
“Yes.” Shikhar said simply, giving no indication of his own rapid heartbeat. “Should I say it all now?” He thought to himself. He was clueless about the answer to that question. “I was noticing some things about your behavior this morning and I wanted to talk to you about that.” He said out loud.
Priyanka felt a chill run down her spine. “Ok. Go ahead.” she said bracing herself.
“Why were you so jumpy and nervous this morning? Everything with the boutique is going great. You seemed to be in excellent mood when Aashi and I came to visit you for lunch yesterday. You seemed confident and pleased with your progress. What happened between then and this morning to change your demeanor so much?” Shikhar paused for a couple of seconds. “I need to know and I felt that somehow, without really saying it, you have given me the right to ask. Correct me if I am wrong.”
Priyanka stared at her hands, swallowing back the lump in her throat. Three years of incessantly growing affection for this man struck her with full force.”What do I tell him?” she thought. ” That I have been living in a make-believe world? That I have grown pathetically attached to him? That the possibility of him paying special attention to any other girl sends me in a strange panic mode? Or should I make up a story. Tell him a lie?” She took a deep breath. ” It was just jitters. Although I have come this far, I suddenly felt nervous about the opening day.” she said feeling horrible about lying.
” Ok. But why today? You have an army of people setting things up today. I would have understood if you got the jitters tomorrow night, thinking of the opening. But today you are still riding on the excitement of getting ready. The jitters don’t make sense today. Don’t make up another story please. Tell me the truth. What’s going on?”
Each of Shikhar’s sentence worked up her emotions a little more. By the end of his speech she was at the end of her patience. “I got insecure.” she blurted out.
Shikhar looked at her dumbfounded. She suddenly looked exactly like how he had seen her the first few times he had met her before Aashi’s wedding. Unsure, anxious, and seemingly embarrassed for no reason.”This is not good two days before the opening.” He thought. Seeming to come to a decision, Shikhar drove on quietly.
Priyanka sat looking outside the window, swallowing back tears of mortification. Preoccupied with her own thoughts, she did not think about why he hadn’t said a word after she had blurted out her reason. When the car halted, she came out of her reverie. “Thanks.” she said getting ready to step out, when she realized that they were not at her boutique. She turned around sharply to face him with a questioning look.
“Get down Priyanka. We need to talk.” Shikhar said with a resoluteness, that she had never heard from him before.
Priyanka stepped out gingerly and looked around. They were at the entrance of a park. She walked around the car and stepped through the main gate with Shikhar walking by her side. The low- walled park was fairly large and mostly deserted at that time of the morning. There was just a random person here and there walking, jogging or sitting on one of the benches that were placed at regular intervals along the boundary wall. Each bench was flanked by trees on both sides making the seating naturally shaded. Shikhar led the way to one of the benches nearby and gestured to her to sit. Priyanka nodded and sat down.
Shikhar sat next to her leaving a few inches between them. Lacing his fingers together he rested his hands in his lap. “This place is just twenty minutes away from my office as well as from your boutique. As you can see, it is nicely shaded and also has a decent walking and jogging track. Before Om stepped into Aashi’s and my life, I used to come here in between work; when I couldn’t take the stress.” He laughed softly. “I haven’t been here for the past couple of years and the last time I came it was just for some exercise; not to blow off tension.”
The breeze that blew was warm but pleasant at that time of the morning. His brown hair, that matched Aashi’s in both color and shade, fluttered softly. When he turned to look at Priyanka, she noticed for the hundredth time, that the color of his hair, matched that of his eyes, precisely. “Just like Aashi bhabhi.” she thought.
“How do you blow off tension?” He asked bringing Priyanka back to her senses. “I know you have had your share of stress. What do you do to ease it off? Do you have any special place?”
“No.” Priyanka muttered. “Only special people. And a couple of special activities.”
Shikhar’s lips curved into a faint smile. He felt his heart all warmed up and a strange sense of euphoria started to bubble up inside him. In that moment, he knew for sure. The question he had asked himself a little while ago in the car was answered by his own self. “Yes, the whole truth. Today. Now is the time.” He thought. ” Will you tell me about them?” he asked looking directly into her eyes, feeling utterly at ease.
“It’s remarkable, how different your looks are from Aashi bhabhi’s, and yet, how much the two of you resemble each other. The exact same twinkling eyes. Both breathtaking.” Priyanka said as if talking to herself. She was half aware of what she was doing, but in that moment, at that place, gazing into his eyes, and compelled by her recent agitation, she had entered some sort of a trance. ” To answer your question,” she continued in her daze, ” Initially it used to be Daadi. At every indication of an anxiety or panic attack, I used to rush to her. She used to envelope me in her arms, tell me some story or other, and make things better. Later, Shivaay bhaiya shared this job with her. All I had to do was be in the same room as him, and suddenly I would feel safe. As I found sketching and designing as a hobby, that activity became a stress buster. Walking around in Om bhaiya’s studio, looking at his paintings and sculpture also releases tension. Then there are Rudra Bhaiya’s jokes. That makes me forget, what I was worried about in the first place ”
Shikhar chuckled at the mention of Rudra’s jokes. He had sampled a few and just thinking about them was a stress buster. ” That’s an awesome list. You are fortunate to have had such a bunch of people to go to, when stressed. I used to have my gym and this park.” Shikhar said reminiscing the excruciating days from his far away past, when Aashi refused to call him bhaiya and talked to him only when necessary. His eyes stung at the very memory of those times.
“My list was not complete. Three and a half years ago, my fortune grew two times.” Priyanka said still gazing at him, noticing the hint of moisture in his eyes.
” I met you. And talked to you. And meeting you, talking to you, being around you became another one of my anxiety reliever. One of the biggest ones actually.” Priyanka added the last sentence as an afterthought.
Shikhar took a very deep breath. ” Why were you insecure today? You were surrounded by all the people who make you feel secure. What caused your insecurity and about what?”
“About you.” Priyanka said looking down, as her heart raced at a maddening pace. She knew in that moment that the moment of complete truth had arrived, that God had destined it by bringing Shikhar to Oberoi Mansion that morning.
“Me?” Shikhar said astounded.
Priyanka knew that there was no looking back now and summoning all the courage she had gathered in the past few years, she went on talking. “Since yesterday, I have watched you interact with Simran, who is a stunning and beautiful person inside out, and insanely charismatic and glamorous. Watching her notice you, take interest in you, and seeing you respond to her gave me a bad feeling. And feeling like that about a nice girl like her made me feel even more crappy.”
Shikhar listened to her with quiet rapture. Was she saying what he thought she was saying? “Priyanka, how much do you know about Aashi’s and my past and our relationship until four years ago.” He asked looking at her again.
Priyanka shifted a little uncomfortably in her spot. ” I know what bhabhi chose to tell me. I know that she considers you to be the reason why she is alive and Om bhaiya the reason why she reconnected with her life, you, and started to live again.”
“Then you know that I have spent most of my life controlling my emotions and it is almost second nature to me to not express myself. That has been changing in the past couple of years though.”
Priyanka just listened feeling afraid even to breathe.
” Aashi has always been my reason to live. I always thought that if I didn’t live and did not become strong, then she would meet a terrible fate. That was my reason to live and fight against all odds against her. After I had lost her for a while, Om brought her back to me. I became much happier than before. But I was still this overly controlled person who did not know what to do if he was not taking care of his little sister. Until, you, Priyanka, you reconnected me with my passion, my life. The reason why I haven’t been to this place in the past two years is because one, with Aashi happy with the best guy I could imagine for her, I am not that stressed anymore. And two, because when I did feel stressed due to work, or loneliness, I preferred to talk to you, and discuss my organization and your career, with you. It’s my fault for being so pathetic at expressing myself, that you landed up being insecure about a girl I met yesterday and have known for some ten hours as of now. ” Taking a deep breath, Shikhar continued, ” So, I don’t want any more confusion. I am not particularly good at this so I will just say it flatly. I am not interested in any other stunning, beautiful, charismatic, glamorous, and what-not girl, other than you. I cannot imagine anyone else with whom I am at such perfect ease, than you. There is no one who would understand my past struggles and will let me be me, other than you. There is no girl who would understand and respect Aashi’s place in my life, other than you. And if I have horribly mistaken your words and you have not been considering spending your life with me as I am thinking, please consider it now. I promise I will not disappoint you.”
Priyanka stared at him with her mouth open. He was breathing heavily because he had spoken all of that in about two breaths, as if afraid that the moment would pass and that he would not be able to express all that he wanted.
In complete shock and unaware of herself Priyanka took his hand in hers. “You are not mistaken. I have not only been considering, but imagining it, what you just said, spending my life with you, for the past three years. I thought I was being foolish. But now that you have said what you have said , I say yes to everything you asked of me, before you can change your mind.”
Shikhar looked at her hands holding his, then he saw her shocked pale face, her glazed eyes and burst out laughing. He closed the gap between them and put his left arm around her. “We must be the oddest couple around? Who confesses feelings like this?”
Priyanka suddenly felt all tension leave her. She smiled and rested her head on his shoulder. ” We do. It’s not odd. It’s just us. It’s unique.”
Shikhar felt his heart swell and then break out of some imaginary fetters.
“I love you Priyanka. I always will.” he said as he brushed his lips on her hair softly.
They sat like that for a few minutes. Priyanka was the first one to come back to reality. She sat up with a jerk. “They must be wondering where I got lost! Shikhar, we have to get going. I have to help them finish my work!”
Reluctantly Shikhar got up from the bench pulling her up by her right hand.
“As soon as your opening is done, we tell everyone. But Om and Aashi have to know right away. Tonight maybe?”
Priyanka nodded, ” Ok. And my other two brothers and Anika Bhabhi too. It’s one for all, all for one. Can’t break that code.”
Shikhar laughed out loud as he held her hand and walked out of the park and towards his car. ” My God! You guys are like the mafia. Can’t break the code.” he said opening the car-door for her. Then as he got into his seat, and started to drive, he looked at her again. The sun shone on her hair giving it a reddish glow. Her face beamed with happiness. Her delicate lips could barely hold back her grin and her eyes reflected her pure heart. Shikhar’s own eyes softened. “Ok. One for all, all for one.” he said as he drove towards her boutique.
Thanks for reading Everyone. I am sorry I couldn’t post earlier. But I did not want to post in a haste. These two needed quiet and patient attention so that I could make their words and actions suit their temperament. Thanks for being patient and for inquiring ?I really, truly, thoroughly appreciate it. Please comment if you can ☺