Yo peeps, Bela is back.
Thank you for the amazing response to the prologue. I seriously underestimated the number of people who remembered me ???
Please note that the character sketch is only to establish the base. People who have read my previous works know that I tend to show many more characteristics of the characters as I write POVs. So do not think that anyone is acting OOC.
Link to the prologue, if anyone missed it:
Let us start the first part……….
I stood in front of the large white building, proudly adorned with a signboard with ‘Lucky’s Caffe’ printed on it. The building was surrounded by green lawns with short trees cut in the shape of various crockery related to coffee and tea. The narrow path from the gate leading to the glass door was made up of stone. There were large glass windows which gave a clear view of the activities inside. I could see a young school-going couple sitting on a round table with books and coffee mugs. Behind them stood large bookshelves filled with books concerning every subject.
Lucky’s Caffe is an upmarket book cafe, where people hang out for coffee, tea, snacks while reading a book. Non-readers have the option of either sifting through a magazine or watching a DVD in a personal screen which has been fitted in only some tables. The customers wanting that specific service have to pay according to the hour. I admit, it was a good decision to meet here for two young people on a blind date. I took a shaky breath.
At that time, in front of my parents, it seemed very easy to just go, say hello, have some coffee, reject and come back. But now as I stood outside the place, my stomach was creating weird sensations which I usually felt when I had to give an exam for which I had not studied. It was an unpleasant feeling. I pushed open the door with a shaky hand and went inside.
The aroma of coffee and potato bites instantly surrounded me. The place was far warmer than I had thought it would be, it was chilling outside in the January cold. I sniffed happily as I walked forwards. The décor of this place is elegant and classy. While one part is made up earthily with brick patterns on the wall, ahead, I knew by my previous visits here, it was painted in vibrant colours. It is well ventilated and well lighted. Removing my lilac overcoat, I went to the counter and saw a well groomed girl of about 20 standing there, dressed in a red polo T-shirt and blue jeans with a black apron. A badge pinned on her left br*ast gleamed. I narrowed my eyes to read what was written.
“Good evening ma’am. My name is Tara. How may I help you?” she asked pleasantly. I smiled back.
“My name is Ragini. I am here to meet someone today. A table has been booked for two here, perhaps.” I replied. Suddenly, I felt foolish. Maa had said something about being escorted to special chambers but I hadn’t paid much attention. I wish I had.
“One minute please ma’am. Ragini……?”
Her head shot up and her eyes widened as she looked at me closely. I suddenly felt self conscious. I was dressed in a white shirt tucked inside a pair of blue skintight jeans. I had on my classic leather black shoes and my hair was styled in loose waves, framing my face while a large chunk of it hung down my back. My black purse was clutched in my right hand while a Pier Cardin watch adorned my left wrist, over which I had hung my overcoat. I didn’t want to feel overdressed. As heiress of India’s leading fashion house, I had to be dressed and styled impeccably. It was also my own wish to be well dressed. It adds to your personality and creates a good first impression, not that I wanted to make one on anybody here.
“You are here to meet Mr. Maheshwari?”
I nodded to her. She obviously already knew I was coming and was expecting me but I liked the fact that she still cross checked like a true professional. She signed someone behind me and I heard a soft voice addressing me.
“Ma’am? Mr. Maheshwari has already arrived. He is waiting for you in the private room.”
I turned back to find another girl dressed similarly like Tara. She introduced herself as Sonali and then escorted me towards the private room. I felt as though I was being taken to a courtroom where soon I would be sentenced to death!
As I walked upstairs and through a deserted corridor filled with paintings, I looked around curiously. I had never been here. It was a ‘Staff Only’ place and apparently, upstairs, was the owner’s private room. And inside it was my blind date for this evening. Lakshya Durgaprasad Maheshwari.
Sonali knocked on a large mahogany door and waited. There was no response. She gingerly opened the door and peeked inside. Then she opened it fully and allowed me in. I smiled at her.
“Sir told me to allow you in even if he was not inside. Otherwise, I would have never……..” She stuttered. I chuckled softly and patted her on her shoulder and gave her a warm smile. She returned it. “Sir must be coming. Please make yourself comfortable. I have already laid out the table if you wish for refreshments. If you require anything else, please use the intercom.” She said before leaving.
As she closed the door behind her, I let out a huge breath and looked around. It was a comfy room. It was decorated tastefully with paintings and the walls were painted in neutral shades, displaying its owner’s personality and choice. A whole wall had been replaced with glass which overlooked the best part of the lawn outside. Two armchairs faced each other before it, with a small table between them. A large sofa was placed to the other side such that occupants of all this setting could face the glass window. Towards one wall was a large desk while the wall opposite to it had doors, perhaps leading to to the washroom. I went over to the sofa and found the table laden with food, as promised. My stomach rumbled in happiness.
I placed my overcoat and purse on the armchair and sat on the cushiony sofa comfortably. I took out my phone to pass my time while he came.
Five minutes later, I kept my phone down. I was hungry and nervous and that was not a good combination. I have no idea why I am nervous though. Maybe because I am meeting him after so many years. Or maybe because I want to make a good impression. Lately, as Papa had started giving hints that he would be handing over the business to me, I had become very concerned about my image. It was suddenly very important for me to look good, speak well, smile appropriately and hang out with the right people. I was preparing myself for the future. It was important to have the right connections to the right people and even though I planned to turn down this proposal, I still had to be proper. Who knows, how helpful he could be in the future?
I sighed as I leaned back. This was the problem. It was tough being who you weren’t. I could dress well because I had a natural flair for it, I could speak well because I was well educated and well informed, I could smile less, I could hang out with the ‘right’ sort and I could even forge the right relationships but I was who I was. If I had to break this relationship, I had to give a good answer. And for that, I would have to be honest. And while I, personally, like honesty in a person, I wasn’t sure how Lakshya Maheshwari would react.
I looked at the table in front of me, laden with stuff. They were kept in casseroles and so would not get cold easily. Seeing potato chips, my stomach rumbled yet again. I had had lunch four hours ago. It was too long a time for me to stay hungry. But how could I eat until he came? Maybe if I ate just a handful and replaced the lid, he wouldn’t notice.
Out of its own free will, my hand reached out to open a container. Delicious smell of French fries reached my nose and I took a whiff happily. I moved closer to smell the food……………..
I froze as I heard the deep voice behind me. I looked behind me slowly and there stood before me a tall man. He was fashionably dressed in a black shirt and denim jeans with his hands in his pockets. I had to admit, he was gorgeous.
His hair was tousled carelessly and combined with his stubble, it gave him a ruggish look. His eyes were twinkling as he looked down at me with a half sarcastic smile. I shut my jaw and quickly replaced the lid. I stood up, red due to embarrassment.
I looked up and saw him smiling sarcastically at me with raised eyebrows. Remembering my mission of being the worthy heiress, I straightened my back, looked him square in the eye and replied confidently, “Yes. And you must be Lakshya Maheshwari?”
He nodded and extended his hand. I shook it well. It seemed as if it was a test of power. This handshake was our first physical contact in so many years and it seemed that we both were judging the other’s strength and power through this handshake. Years ago, he had been a careless and slow boy while I had been an awkward and hyper girl. Today, changed so much, we were trying to see the reflection of those little kids in the other.
“Pleasure to meet you. I am so sorry to have kept you waiting. It was an urgent call from my father.” He said in that deep baritone voice. I shook my head gently to indicate it was not an issue. To be honest, I was used to be kept waiting. Sanskaar did it a lot. He would ask me to meet him and then go around with some girl, leaving me to wait for him even for hours sometimes. Five minutes was peanuts’ worth of time in front of it.
“So, you were hungry?”
“I AM hungry.”
He smirked at that. He released my hand and folded his arms in front of his chest.
“Good. Because I am starving!”
We were quietly eating, making small conversation. So fifteen minutes after meeting her, I knew that her name was Ragini Shekhar Gadodia, she was 24, she was learning her business under her father, she liked this place, the food was good, the décor was classy, the service was glitch-free, and she had lunch four hours ago. Enough to know about a person, I guess.
Okay fine, I admit I was bored. She is beautiful and I had been waiting to know her better but she seemed a bit off. Somehow, we weren’t hitting it off. I admit I was not trying hard, not wanting to engage her when I had already decided to reject her but we could be friends. We were anyways going to see each other frequently, now that my family and I had shifted base here. Out fathers are friends and I know I would be seeing her a lot. So it was reasonable that we become more than acquaintances. But the idea seemed a far fetched reality right now.
“Umm, Lakshya? You know, I like this concept of a book cafe. I mean….it is really innovative and cool. I personally like reading and having a cup of good coffee and a sandwich with a book sounds like a great idea to me. It is possible to do so at home too but it gets too…………….” Ragini trailed.
“Lonely?” I asked gently, understanding the expression on her face too easily. Not because she was easy to read, she was expressive but it was still tough to make her out. I understood because I myself felt this way. Lonely. Mom and Dad were out quite a lot of time for work or some other engagements and it left me alone with not much to do. Books were my comfort, along with cooking which acted as my stress buster.
Ragini nodded a bit uncomfortably and smiled a little. I smiled back. Maybe it wouldn’t be so hard to be friends after all.
Lakshya and I had been talking for about an hour now, about our goals, our childhood, and of course, having the usual Delhi v/s Mumbai debate.
“The idea of a book cafe occurred to me one day when I was reading a book while having a cup of coffee. I found that it was tough reading because I was sitting in my bedroom in an empty house, save for a few staff members downstairs. I realised I wanted people around me. A few murmurs here and there, some clanking of stuff, anything. That silence in my room was eerie. And the smell of lavender was too familiar. I wanted a warm, comfy smell, something which made me happy. The smell of paper makes me happy, the smell of fresh lawns make me happy, the smell of coffee and fried potato make me happy. Combining all these, I realised that a book cafe was what I needed. And I thought that there must be people like me out there, looking for a haven. So, after talking to Dad, I opened Lucky’s Caffe. Lucky is what my friends call me, if you haven’t already guessed.” He said.
I nodded in understanding. I felt similar to him in this respect. Dad went on several business trips and sometimes Mom accompanied him. And when she didn’t, there were times she had to go for an emergency surgery. Those were the times I felt lonely. I tried to overcome them by meeting friends, having dinner outside, watching TV and stuff. But how long could you be with friends, especially with those like Sanskaar who was on a date almost every evening? How much TV could I watch? I was into music but even then, I felt restless. Finally, it was books where I found my solace. The sound of the turning of pages cut through the silence around me, the words printed seemed to be spoken to me, the stories made my imagination run wild and I felt that I was actually there, seeing it all happen with my own eyes. Soon, I even started writing. It gave me a sense of contentment nothing else in the world did.
I looked at Lakshya who was staring into space, probably wondering like I am. With each passing second, I am realising that even though we have two very different personalities, we are quite similar. I know this is a paradox, but it is true. There is something which is captivating about this young man, something which attracts me to him. Not romantically, but spiritually. Soulfully. I smiled as I ate the Pasta Shot, an exclusive Lucky’s Caffe innovation and my favourite recipe here.
“I really love these Pasta Shots. It is amazing, with that creamy white pasta in a tequila shot, topped with cheese and herbs. And that crisp served with it is amazing.” I said with a huge grin as I smacked my lips. Damn etiquettes, I love this thing!
Lakshya smirked at me. “I guess I should say thank you, since this is my own recipe.”
My eyes widened. What? He knows how to cook?
Interpreting my thoughts accurately, Lakshya gave a bark of laughter. “I know how to cook and I love cooking. It is a sort of stress buster for me when I am not reading. And I love experimenting with food.”
My respect for him grew. “I just know how to turn on the coffee machine and the kettle which boils water.” I replied sheepishly. Hearing me, he started laughing harder.
“Darn, you are funny! I guess you must never have had an occasion to cook. With me, I learnt how to cook because my girlfriend………..” Lakshya stopped, feeling awkward.
“There was something special that you felt like giving to her?” I asked him quietly. He nodded abruptly, the smile wiped off his face. I felt bad.
“You don’t want to marry me, right?” I asked him again. He looked up at me and our eyes met.
“Listen Ragini, it is nothing personal……….”
“It is okay. I would anyways not expect to marry someone who is not yet over his previous girlfriend. And to be honest, even I am not too keen on this. I…….already like someone.”
Lakshya raised an eyebrow. “And does he like you back?” He asked.
“Good question. But no comments.”
“Of course he doesn’t! If he did, I wouldn’t be sitting here with you. I would have been downstairs with him!” I replied, irritated to the core.
Lakshya sighed. “I know how it feels like. I mean, I spent months chasing Kavya. Even today, I feel that I was much more emotionally involved in that relationship than she ever was. But what to do? It is hard to move on when you know you have a chance.”
“I don’t know if I have a chance or not. I just know that it is possible.” I replied.
“Means you are hoping. It is okay, everyone has hopes. If yours have the possibility of turning into reality, then it is no harm in continuing to hope.” He said with a smile.
I smiled back. “So now that we have established that we both are not interested, I think it is safe to say that I would love to be your friend. What say?” I asked him, feeling lighter.
“Done.” He replied, the lines on his face visible no more.
I extended my hand towards him. “Hi. I am Ragini. Ragini Gadodia.”
He looked at my extended hand, then looked into my eyes and smiled softly. He placed his large hand on mine and gave a soft shake. “Lakshya. Lakshya Maheshwari.”
“I promise that I would be your friend from now on and would help you whenever and wherever you may need me.” I said, continuing to shake.
“I promise that I would be a really good friend who supports you in whatever you choose to do, with your best interest in my heart.” He replied smilingly.
I broke our handshake and then wiped my hand on a tissue paper. “Did you really have to touch me with those oily hands? You just ate French fries with it!” I said with a pout.
“Your hands were dry. I just moisturised them, like a true friend!” he replied with a smirk. I mock glared at him and slapped his shoulder while he glared back and slapped mine. I opened my mouth in shock and screamed at him, “How dare you spoil my white shirt with your dirty oily hands?”
Lakshya blinked at me and then burst out laughing. I frowned as I saw him clutch his sides as he laughed. A few minutes later he said, “You have not changed much, I see. Before meeting you today, the only memory I had of you was when you used to scream at me to not spoil your dress. And even today, you are doing the same!”
I gave him a small smile as I recalled how prickly a girl I used to be. Then I joined him in his laughter.
We plopped down on the sofa and stretched. I turned towards him. “So Kavya, did you say? Back in Mumbai?” I asked him. He nodded smilingly.
“Kavya Kapoor. Daughter of liquid baron Kewal Kapoor. She is a model and is trying to enter Bollywood.” He replied.
Kavya Kapoor. Daughter of Kewal Kapoor. Of course, everyone knew about her father. With his stocks spiralling and his own drinking problem, he was on the verge of ruin. I tried not to judge Kavya though. It was unfair to do so, solely based on her dad’s reputation.
“I have seen her pictures in the Page 3. She is gorgeous. I cannot even imagine how much hard work must go into attaining that fit figure.” I replied. Lakshya gave a grin.
“I know. She is very conscious about what she eats and the calories and stuff. I love French fries and pasta but she would never have it. So I experimented with the traditional recipes of these two items to make something which was significantly healthier. It didn’t work out though but I ended up discovering what you know today as Pasta Shots and Cheese Potato fries.” He said.
Two of my favourite items from Lucky’s Caffe’s menu were actually accidental inventions? I tried not to think about what would have happened if it wasn’t for Lakshya’s sweet attitude towards Kavya. I guess I would always remain grateful to her!
“Call me Lucky. All my friends do.”
“Fine then. Call me Rags. All my friends do.”
He tapped his chin thoughtfully. “Umm…..no. I would call you PSL. Pasta Shots Lover!” He said and burst into laughter. I clapped my hands sarcastically and replied, “Fine then. I will call you FFL. French fries Lover.”
“Deal. What were you going to ask, by the way?” he asked.
“I don’t understand why you and I are here on a ‘date’ together if you are already in a relationship.”
Lakshya breathed a deep sigh. “Kavya and I are complicated. We are in an on-off relationship. Dad wants me to get serious and he just doesn’t like Kavya, he thinks she is after my money.”
Even I think so. NO! I don’t. That is wrong of me.
“You get it PSL?”
“I do FFL!”
We talked about a lot of things for an hour or more and then, I realised that it was already 8 pm. I stood up to leave and Lakshya came with me, ready to go home as well.
As I sat in my car and rolled down the windows to say bye, he leaned down. “Strange isn’t it, how time just flew by? Why am I getting the feeling that you and I are going to be best friends in the future?” he asked.
“Because we are already halfway down that path. We have nicknames for each other, we already know quite a lot about each other, I know about your girlfriend, you know I have a crush on someone- his name is Sanskaar, by the way, and we will probably be meeting more now, since our fathers are best friends. I guess this sums it up.” I replied. Lakshya saluted me respectfully while I smiled at his antics.
“I don’t have your mobile number Miss PSL.” He said with a smirk.
I smiled and took out my mobile phone. I dialled his number and he picked it up. He saved it in his contacts and then turned to me.
“How did you get my number? Were you stalking me?”
He laughed deeply and waved me a goodbye while I did the same. As my car drove through the jam-packed streets of Delhi, I smiled as I thought of how strange life is. I had gone to reject a potential suitor i.e. a threat but ended up making a friend who I knew would be one for life.
How was it? Hain? Tell, phataphat se. Only in the comment box. Okay? Bye.