Hello my dearies,
Thank you for all the love. This is the final part of the short story ‘Lost Time’, and I really hope that I’ve done justice to my story.
Do let me know how you find it.
Thanks in advance,
Hugs and kisses,
P.S. The first part is here, though it has some highly frustrating spacing errors between paragraphs. So I decided to post this on the computer.
A speeding car was approaching them. Ragini clutched the child to her bosom. Her pulse rang in her ears. Paralyzed with fear, she couldn't command her feet to run. Rooted to the ground, she shielded the child and braced herself in horrific anticipation.
The skidding of tires was followed by the loss of her sense of touch.
Yet another night saw her awaken in a cold sweat. A faceless apology was the last thing that she remembered, 'Sorry, you've lost your baby.' She sat up on the bed and placed a hand over her furiously beating heart. Her breaths were coming out in short bursts. She looked around in confusion unable to comprehend her whereabouts.
Lakshya was sleeping soundly next to her. The steady movement of his chest calmed her enough to realize that she'd just had a nightmare. The imagery and sounds were etched into her mind this time around. She was stuck with the vivid screeching of tires and the feel of the child against her body.
What did it mean? Who was that person who had apologized??
She screwed her eyes shut, a hand still clutching her chest, trying to concentrate on the voice. Was it real?? Or just a figment of her imagination?
Her head throbbed in pain at the effort. Tears welled up in her eyes at the memory of the child and ran down her face like rivulets.
She turned to the bedside table and poured herself a glass of water, wiping her tears. After she downed it, Ragini lay back down and stared at the ceiling, unable to sleep again that night.
'Papa.. Please don't worry.'
Shekhar couldn't stop feeling helpless after sending his heart, his Ragini away.
'I'll do something, beta. You'll not have to stay there for long', he promised.
'But I'm really fine here. Everyone takes care of me. And Lakshya..', she stopped herself, suddenly realizing what she was about to say. Shekhar felt his heart wrench at her words.
They bade their goodbyes and Shekhar wiped his tears. His baby girl was starting to trust him again, that untrustworthy brat. He would protect his child from Lakshya Maheshwari!
‘Would you allow me to stay with you and Maa?’, she had asked him tearfully.
Shekhar never asked her anything that night. He waited for her to come to him when she felt ready to speak.
And speak she did, ‘It was a mistake. Please forgive me, Papa. I need your help, to set my life right’. He hugged her and promised his support.
Two days later at breakfast Ragini announced that she wanted to seek divorce. At his questioning gaze, she looked away. But it wasn’t before he noticed the coldness in her eyes, almost like a grave, void of any light.
At that harsh memory, he felt his blood surging in anger towards the man who had caused this plight and strengthened Shekhar’s resolve to protect Ragini.
Lakshya had been in charge of the latest project of Maheshwari Group of Companies, which owned hotels, hospitals and resorts all over the country. That evening, they were hosting an after party following the resort’s inauguration, accompanied by a felicitation event for their hospital staff.
Lakshya sensed her presence as she entered the hall. He turned around to the entrance and saw her. Ragini looked positively breathtaking even with the cast on her arm.
Ragini scanned the room for him, involuntarily. Her timid eyes met his and Lakshya felt as though time froze!
His feet made their way towards Ragini on their own accord. His eyes never left her hazel orbs, almost as if he was afraid that if he looked away she would disappear.
'You look.. good', he said tongue-tied.
'Good?? Really? Is that all I could come up with! Ugh..', he cursed himself
She looked like an angel gliding across the room. And all he could say was good! He felt horrible.
'Thank you', Ragini smiled demurely with butterflies in her stomach.
The evening progressed without a glitch. Ragini excused herself to the restroom as her head was starting to hurt. It’s probably the loud music, she dismissed her pains, massaging her head.
A child burst into the restroom and Ragini flinched in shock.
‘Riya.. How many times have I told you not to run around?’, a lady chided behind her. Riya gave her a toothy grin and Ragini smiled at them, ‘She is adorable.’
‘Thank you’, the lady looked up, but her smile froze seeing Ragini. She quickly collected her thoughts and gave a faint smile.
Ragini chose to ignore the awkwardness and bent down to ruffle Riya’s hair gently, ‘Hi baby’, she said.
‘Hi Ragini aunty!’, Riya clasped her little arms around Ragini’s neck in a hug. The toddler broke then away and pouted, ‘Why didn’t you come home? You broke your promise. I’ll not talk to you.’
Ragini was at a loss for words. She raised her gaze towards the lady in confusion.
‘Riya.. You said that you wanted to make a pee-pee. Do you want mama to help you?’, the lady asked.
‘No.. I’m a big girl!’, Riya ran into the toilet.
Ragini stood up, ‘I’m sorry. Do I know you? I just can’t seem to remember.’
‘I know. That’s alright. I’m Kavya Sahni, my husband’s a doctor at your hospital. He had told me about your accident’, she said, with a genuine smile this time.
‘But that’s not how you know Riya. She had wandered off on to the road while playing and you saved her from an oncoming vehicle! And you’ve been fast friends since’, Kavya said fondly.
Ragini heard the screeching tires once again in her head, but this time she picked Riya and moved towards the pavement swiftly. A chill ran through her spine when she saw the little kid bounce back. She said a mental prayer for being able to save that little dumpling.
‘Sorry Riya, I’ll definitely come next time’, she said.
‘That’s fine, Daddy told me that you were sick again. So I forgive you’, Riya kissed her cheek.
Kavya stiffened and pulled her back. ‘Sorry. We need to go now’, she said abruptly and left carrying Riya.
‘How was the party?’, Lakshya repeated. They were driving home from the party.
Ragini looked preoccupied and jumped at his voice. ‘How many miles away were you right now?, he teased looking at the road with a smirk.
‘Huh? I was right here’, she answered blankly.
‘Then how did you not hear me ask you about the party?’, he asked swerving the car to the road.
The party. That’s exactly what she had been thinking about. The reason Kavya sped out the restroom with Riya. Her manner suggested shock, fear even. But why?
‘You seem to be lost again’, he remarked.
‘Sorry. I was thinking about the resort’, she lied looking out the window. Lakshya looked exhausted, driving beside her. She didn’t want to bother him with her trivial doubts.
‘I had made all the last minute changes that you’d asked. So I hope that you were happy with how the resort turned out’, he smiled.
‘I asked you for changes in the plan?’, she asked wide-eyed.
‘Yes ma’am! Who else do you think is the brain behind all my successful projects? Did you seriously think that I was bluffing at the party when I credited you? Don’t you know that my wife is a rock star??’, he looked at Ragini incredulously.
She felt uneasy under his gaze and lowered her eyes self-consciously. Her heart flipped a beat as she noticed his hand mere centimeters away from her. His tie had been loosened and she saw that the first two buttons of his shirt were open. She gulped as her eyes travelled to his chiseled jaw.
‘Stop it Ragini!’, she berated herself, clenching her fist.
She turned on the car radio to distract her wayward mind.
‘Ang laga de re..’
Her breath stopped and she cringed at the song. Her cheeks felt hot as blood rushed to her face. She peeked at Lakshya through her lashes and he seemed unaffected.
‘Should I turn it off or change the song? It’ll be super embarrassing if he notices! Aargh.. What the heck do I do now?’
She sat ramrod straight trying to breathe in and out evenly.
‘Raat banjar si hai, kaale khanjar si hai..
Tere seene ki lau, mere andar bhi hai..’
‘How does he manage to be so aloof? Is it just my mind that’s in the gutter?’
‘No way! It’s just a natural reaction right. Anybody can feel that way in the presence of a good looking guy, right? Then how does he.. Wait a sec! Doesn’t he find me attractive?’, she turned her head to the window horrified.
Lakshya clenched his teeth, ‘Isn’t there like a law against promoting such kind of songs.. At night..’
He gripped the steering wheel tight as he saw her profile. Ragini’s hair was let loose in waves and they caressed her pale neck. His breath grew rigid as he tried to keep his face passive and looked back at the road.
‘Tu hawa de isey, toh mera tann jale..
Jala de re sang jala de re, mohe ang laga de re..’
‘Let’s turn up the AC! Oh.. the things one does’, he mused.
The music went off and he realized that he had turned the radio knob instead of the AC.
‘Shucks! Now she’s going to think that you’re a pervert to get affected by a son! Lucky.. What have you done!!’, he looked appalled.
Ragini turned towards him. ‘I was trying to turn up the AC, I’ll just turn on the music’, he said apologetically.
‘No, that’s alright. We’re almost there’, she shot back swiftly.
‘Eeks.. He probably saw me blush. How embarrassing is that!! Yuck.. now he may be thinking that I’m some man-thirsty woman!!’, she cowered in shame.
‘Wow! She totally thinks I’m a pervert! What an impression you’ve created, Lucky!’, he thought with gritted teeth.
Ragini rushed to wash up early next morning. She wanted to leave the room before he got up. She draped her sari at high-speed despite the sling on her arm.
Lakshya woke up with a jerk and looked around, ’I’ll get dressed and go downstairs before she comes up to call me for breakfast’, he decided and jumped out of bed.
As she opened the bathroom door, she saw Lakshya with one arm stretched out to grab the door handle and the other holding the t-shirt that he’d been wearing the previous night. She stumbled back, having lost her footing, as the taut skin of his abdomen came in to her line of sight.
His quick reflexes were to be grateful for as she was against him instantly. Her palms pressed to his chest, Ragini could feel his overpowering musky scent surrounding her. She sensed the flashes of moments that they had spent together, run before her eyes swiftly. And the blurring pain had her in a swoon.
Lakshya placed her on the bed gently.
‘Ragini..’, he called out in worry and sprinkled a few drops of water on her face.
She opened her eyes gingerly and saw him close to tears. Her heart melted at his concern.
He shut his eyes grateful for her being alright. He calmed himself and looked at her.
Ragini saw his eyes wiped off of emotions yet again.
‘Why do you do that? Why are you always hiding from me?’, her innocent question broke his heart. So she had noticed his passiveness.
‘I wasn’t trying to hide anything from you’, he said holding her face in his hands, ‘my feelings needed to be hidden away from me. Because I can’t survive if you leave me again.’
Tears ran down the sides of her face. ‘I’ll not leave you again, Lakshya. Whatever may have been the reason for my decision to desert you, I don’t care. Please be yourself with me’, she reassured.
‘I love you’, he promised.
She hugged him close to her side and closed her eyes in gratitude. How could anyone ever be so lucky to have found true love twice?? She couldn’t believe herself.
‘Ragini must never know about this. Or else..’
Lakshya’s menacing voice rang in her mind.
Ragini’s eyes shot open.
Lakshya?? No. That wasn’t real. It couldn’t be a memory. It probably was just her mind playing tricks.
She shut her eyes in dismissal.
It was past 11 that night when Lakshya reached home. He found Ragini asleep by the dining table and smiled. She woke up as he caressed her hair.
‘Lakshya.. You must be hungry, I’ll serve you dinner in a minute’, she got up and turned towards the kitchen.
‘Arrey!’, he caught her arm and pulled her towards him, ‘Who said I’m hungry for dinner?’
‘Lakshya!!’, she exclaimed, blushing. ‘Leave me!’, she pleaded as he kissed her neck.
‘Never’, he breathed.
‘Lakshya I’m hungry. I was waiting for you to have dinner. Please..’, she blurted out.
He tilted her head upwards and kissed her deeply.
‘You don’t seem to know the consequences of making me wait, Mrs. Lakshya Maheshwari. But we’ll change that today, won’t we?’, he smirked as he broke away from her.
His eyes were hooked on to her even as he was slurping on his soup. She looked down into her bowl bashfully. His hand moved on to hold hers. She tried to pull it back, but he held on firmly, his thumb rubbing the back of her palm sensuously in anticipation.
Ragini felt his gaze whenever they were in the same room, his eyes full of longing. She smiled as she got out the car with Annapurna.
Lakshya had meetings the whole day, so she hadn't informed him about their health checkup.
They were escorted separately by the doctors themselves. Normally, she would have objected to the preferential treatment but that day she was just too happy to notice.
She was hit by a wave of déjà vu as she stepped out into the third floor. She had been here before!
Her heart started pounding as she saw the 'Gynecology and Diagnostic Imaging' board.
'This way, Ma'am, we'll take an X-ray of your arm first', he said leading her.
'Just a minute please', she dismissed him and moved to the left.
Why was she going there? She had no answer. Just a feeling of familiarity, that was all. As she progressed, she saw a gold embossed door 'VIP Suite'. Her hand remained on the door for a few seconds till she gathered the courage to open it.
She turned the knob once and pushed the door agape.
It was almost as if Ragini had teleported to an alternate reality. She saw the scene unfolding before her with skepticism.
Ragini was lying on a sterile bed clutching the sheets ridden with anxiety. A man in scrubs approached her in a genteel manner, 'Mrs. Maheshwari.. Sorry, you've lost your baby.' He patted her shoulder in consolation and left the room, head bowed down.
Her brows scrunched in confusion as though he had just spoken in some foreign language.
'Baby? No.. my baby.. our baby is fine', she murmured, wiping her eyes furiously.
'Lakshya..', she remembered looking around.
She threw aside the sheets and pulled out the IV drips from the back of her hand, sitting up. Her feet met the cold floor gingerly. And she grasped the bed for support, gritting her teeth.
'Lakshya will make everything fine. He’ll explain to them..', she thought aloud.
She tottered about, ignoring the shooting pains from her abdomen, to the door that was slightly ajar.
'Ragini must never know about this. Or else..'
'But.. But Mr. Maheshwari..', the man stammered.
'Think about your family, Dr. Sahni. Don't you love them? I don't want Ragini to know that I had her abort this child. This pregnancy could have been fatal to her. So have no guilt.
Apart from that, don't get any ideas. You do know what I'm capable of. So please don't force me', Lakshya said.
Ragini's steps faltered as the meaning behind his words finally sunk in.
Her face ashen, she hobbled back to the bed. And the light from her eyes slowly dimmed.
She sat on her bed. That morning's events playing in her mind on a roll.
Ragini was oddly calm, unusually calm, when he entered the room.
'Ragini..', he called out.
Her lips stretched into a tight smile, 'Have you eaten?'
Lakshya crossed the room and placed his phone on the bedside table. 'Yes love', he kissed her head.
She tugged at his hand and motioned him to sit beside her. Ragini placed her head on his shoulder as he hugged her.
'Lakshya.. May I ask you something?', she probed.
He kissed her fingertips in approval.
'If I were ever in danger, what would you do?', she asked.
He stiffened, 'I wouldn’t let you be in any situation like that', he said fiercely.
'But what if..?', she persisted.
‘I would give my life for you!', he said tightening his hold on her.
Ragini brought her gaze to his eyes, 'Would you take someone's life??'
'I wouldn’t blink', he said sincerely looking into her eyes.
'Even our child?', tears welled up in her eyes as she posed the question.
Lakshya looked away, unable to meet her eyes. He had done it because he couldn't part with her.
'I did it for you', he replied quietly after a while, eyes downcast.
Ragini pushed away from him, 'Without my knowledge?', she screamed.
'Why would you, Lakshya? Why would you..', she shook his shoulders violently and crumpled to the floor in a mess. It was the first time she had let her emotions out after that fateful incident. Ragini was crouched on all fours, palms pressed to the floor, crying her heart out. She had hoped against hope, that it wouldn’t be true.
It was painful for Lakshya to see her like this. All he could do was to embrace her and let the torrent of her tears to soak through his shirt. He could feel her clench her fists, not knowing whether to be mad or to give up hope all together. He could almost hear her silently screaming, suffocating with each breath she took to hold on to her sanity. He ran his fingers through her hair, time and time again, in an attempt to calm the silent war within her mind.
'I need you to promise me that no harm would ever come to Riya or her family', Ragini said.
‘I wouldn’t’, he said shocked that she would even think that of him.
It had been three days since she spoke to him. But he was relieved as she chose not to leave.
'Will you.. ever forgive me?', he asked apprehensive.
'I.. I don't have anything against you', she said wiping her eyes.
He pulled her towards him, 'Please forget what happened. I apologize for everything! I'll do whatever you ask. Just.. Please don't be sad. I love you. I just can't take it anymore.'
She stared at him, 'You love me but you decided to take that decision all by yourself! You made that choice for me. Why? Didn't you care about my feelings then?'
Lakshya loosened his grip on her. She left the room.
'I'm sorry. I can't live without you. The last time you left me, I hoped that you would be back and that kept me going. But today, that you're with me, I can't see you in pain like this. I knew that you would be hurt. But I didn't know that it would hurt me so. I promise I'll do as you say. Please just don't be like this. I know that I have sinned but my love was always pure and will be, even after I pass on.
Lakshya', his note read.
He'd left it on his pillow sometime when she was asleep. Now, it was tear-stained and crumpled in her hands.
'You broke my heart. You broke my trust. And now you ask me?', she mused.
How could he ask her to be fine? After all of this?
Her phone rang. It was Swara. They spoke for long but Ragini couldn't allow herself to speak of Lakshya.
'Could I ask you a hypothetical question?'
'What would you do if someone hurt you?'
'Umm.. Well I would communicate with him.. Or her.. about the incident and see whether he feels repentant.'
'What if he does?', asked Ragini tentatively.
'Then you should set boundaries for the future and forgive Lakshya!'
'Swara.. It's not about..'
'Forgive him Ragini. You've probably heard that with great power comes great responsibility. If he has given you the power to make a judgment, then please be responsible. You need to think from his perspective as well', Swara interrupted.
'It really hurts Swara', Ragini broke down.
'I know that you have already forgiven him. The real question is whether or not you're going to stop holding yourself responsible for whatever happened.'
Ragini was lost. She knew that Swara was right. But how could she stop feeling responsible for it. It was her baby.
It was his baby too, she heard a little voice in her head.
‘Ragini, wait a minute, Maa wants to speak to you’, Swara handed over the phone.
‘Ragini.. How are you beta?', Sharmistha asked.
‘Maa, I’m good. Why didn’t you call me back yesterday?’, she asked, rubbing her eyes.
‘Sorry. Swara took me out with her to shop’, Sharmistha informed.
'So you love her more than me?', Ragini teased.
'No, beta. I love you more!', she laughed at Ragini’s childishness.
'And love has no measure; it is selfless in all forms. Though, it often makes us choose one over another. We make that choice because we wish to do so, love doesn’t force us', she explained.
'Is it.. is it really possible to love someone else more than your child?', Ragini asked curiously.
‘There are no rules. No right or wrong. It’s always up to you, Ragini. We do have a choice even when it comes to love!’
Her words stirred a chord in her heart, ‘Do I have a choice?’, Ragini thought.
She fretted over him. ‘Why can’t you be a little careful?’, she complained pointedly.
‘I’m alright’, he pulled away his hand.
‘No you’re not! Just wait here’, she pushed him to the couch and hurried to get the first aid box.
Ragini blew on his finger gently as she applied the ointment. ‘Now don’t touch anything, I’ll light the candles’, she asserted.
‘Why do you care, Ragini? Don’t you.. hate me?’, he asked dejectedly.
‘Lakshya.. I..’, she turned back to him in shock.
‘Do you want me to hand myself over to the police?? I just wanted you to be safe, but if that would make you happy, I’ll even remove myself from your life! Please just tell me if that’s what you want’, he interrupted.
‘Please Lakshya!’, she fumed, ‘Please don’t.. don’t do this.. don’t put me in this situation.’
‘It pains me to see you like this, why don’t you get it?’, he asked cupping her face in his hands. ‘I don’t want you to.. Do you know how helpless I feel?’, he broke off and turned away, eyes brimming with tears.
Ragini wrapped her arms around him and rested her head on his back. She loved him back just as much as he did. If he was ever in danger, she knew that she would do whatever was up to her, just to get him back. That night she made a choice, to move on.
Lakshya saw an angel that morning. She was clasping her anklet on. He sneaked up behind her and she dashed into him when she stepped back. He snaked his arms through her sari and held her close.
Ragini stuck out her tongue at the mirror playfully.
He looked at her in mock horror, ‘Is this how you wish your husband, Mrs. Lakshya Maheshwari? I’ll have to tell Mom to find someone else.’ He loosened his arms and turned to leave.
Ragini threw her arms around him.
‘Are you going to leave me?’, she whispered into his neck.
He ruffled her hair and kissed her, ‘I guess I’ll just tell Mom that I got everything that I’ve ever wanted. And I’ll treasure it forever.’
She smiled into his embrace with a silent promise to make up for lost time.
P.P.S. I changed this story at least three times. Cliché queen here, though! So you may have seen this coming. Forgive me for the delay. I feel like I wrapped up the story too fast or if it seems too draggy, do let me know! All love!