Link to previous Chapters
By the time Shikhar arrived, it was early evening. Aishani, Soumya, Priyanka, and Anika were sitting and talking in the living room while others were occupied with other activities. Anika noticed Shikhar come in and got up to say hi. Shikhar said hi to everyone. Priyanka too got up as soon as she saw him. “Hi, I’ll go and call everyone else.” she said as she hastily left. Aishani’s eyes twinkled as she saw the confusion on Shikhar’s face. He sat next to Aishani and touched her head gently, “You OK Aashi?” he asked.
Aishani nodded as she thought, “I am better than I thought I would ever be!”
When Om and Shivaay came back with Priyanka, Shikhar was sitting and talking to Anika about her restaurant plans. Both were deep into conversation as Aishani and Soumya looked on. Shikhar got up when he saw them. He went to shake hands with Shivaay who once again shook his hand briefly then gave him a quick hug.
“Would you like tea or coffee?” asked Priyanka.
“Anything, it doesn’t matter. Whatever everyone wants.” Shikhar said pleasantly.
“He is not being formal. He really doesn’t mind. If you will wait for his preference, you will be waiting for a long time Priyanka.” Aishani said with some amusement.
Shikhar grinned, “Yeah! I am not really fussy about food. As long as I am getting something to eat and drink and it’s not burnt, I am cool. ”
“Then you are the ideal man for most women!” Jhanvi chuckled.
They turned to see Dadi, Jhanvi and Pinky arrive. “Prinku, ask for tea for everyone” Pinky said.
Priyanka nodded and left and Soumya joined her to help her.
“So Shikhar, if you are done discussing the restaurant with Anika can we get to the main reason we wanted you here?” Dadi said.
Shikhar looked startled while Om laughed shaking his head. “There are no secrets Dadi. He has nothing to tell so he will make up stories.”
Shikhar understood what Dadi meant.”Oh no! I won’t make up stories. Tell me what you want to know. I’ll reveal it all today.”
Dadi, Jhanvi, and Pinky, all looked very excited while Om and Shivaay could not stop laughing. Aishani looked on at everyone plainly but her heart was beating very fast. “What is he going to tell? Reality or stories?” she thought.
“Was he quiet in class or did he talk a little?” Dadi asked.
” He was the intense silent types. Very quiet. He smiled every now and then at a couple of us. Since he said hi to me and sometimes talked to me I got a lot of respect and prestige as I was thought to be the closest to being his friend.”
Om laughed hard.”He is exaggerating. The honor and prestige came from him being one of the top students and being very active in cultural activities. I found him friendly and non-judgemental so I talked to him sometimes. Most of the time I was awkward around others because of the way they behaved with me.”
“Girls like silent types. Shikhar betaa, tell please, how many girls rans after him. Did he like anyone?” Pinky asked very excitedly.
“Arrey aunty! Girls were crazy about him. In fact a couple girls gave me importance because I was seen as his friend. There were at least five or six at any given time trying to sit near him, talk to him, get him to look at them or get him to make a sketch of them. He never paid attention to any of them and that made them even more crazy.”
“No one? So you don’t know any girl he was interested in?” Pinky said with disappointment.
Shikhar’s eyes twinkled much like Aishani’s, one of the few physical similarities between them. He was beginning to really enjoy this. It was like being on stage in his school days which he missed terribly. He went in full storytelling mode. “Actually aunty I do know about one girl.” he turned to look mischievously at Om whose eyes became very wide with shock. “He is making up fantasies Choti maa.”
“Chupp kar!” all three women chided him as Priyanka and Soumya who were back by now laughed at the scenario.
“You tell Shikhar” said Pinky
“Oh, not much to tell except this girl had a beautiful face, long hair, lovely eyes, and was sensitive just like him, and kind of silent like him too. I think he was interested in her as he would smile and joke with her like he did with no one else.”
“What was her name?” asked Jhanvi very eagerly.
“I don’t remember clearly, but I am pretty sure her name starts with A, I mean started, but since I am pretty sure she is still living somewhere, I say, starts with A.”
By now, Om’s face was red with embarassment and continuous laughing. “He is exaggerating mom! He is trying to entertain by misleading. And there is so much spicing in his description.”
But the ladies were enjoying the entertainment as was Shikhar. “Notice aunty, he says exaggerating, not lying. So all those things did happen. There really was a girl with long hair and lovely eyes and beautiful face. And what’s exaggeration for one person may be flat truth for another. Right?” All three women agreed. “I mean imagine, good looking, intense, artistic, sensitive, quiet, and an Oberoi. Obviously girls had huge crushes on him! Who wouldn’t be after him!” Shikhar continued to regale everyone with his well garnished tales and Om laughed looking on.
Shivaay laughed too and as he turned his head slightly he accidentally glanced at Aishani who was sitting on a couch adjacent to where Dadi, Pinky, and Jhanvi were sitting. He noticed the seriousness on her face. She looked uncomfortable and very deep into some thought. Shivaay looked at her for sometime then he said, “Continue the entertainment Shikhar. I was thinking of showing Aishani my study. I have been thinking of renovating it a little bit and would like her opinion since she is here. Do you think you can walk till there Aishani? It’s just a few steps from here.”
Shivaay noticed the relief on her face as she immediately got up. Anika looked at Shivaay and Aishani curiously, then with an understanding dawning on her, she nodded at Shivaay. Om looked on after them as they left.
Once in the study, Shivaay showed her around. “This is a huge study so I would like to create an office space for Anika in here. That way she and I can work together. Also, I am bored with the dark colors everywhere and the straight harsh decor. I want more colors, within limit of course, and slightly more interesting decor. No major renovation or anything, just readjusting and adding things and removing what’s not needed.”
Aishani smiled looking at him. “I like your basic ideas. I will think about it.”
Shivaay became serious. ” If you don’t mind, can I ask you something Aishani?”
Aishani was startled “Yes?”
” You were getting very uncomfortable listening to Shikhar’s stories. Can I know why? I am sorry if you think I am being rude.”
Aishani was very quiet. “OK” Shivaay said. “Then, let’s just sit here for a while until the entertainment show is over. Then we can go back out. Tell me, which colors you think will brighten up the room but not make it outrightly feminine. I mean I still do want masculinity reflected in the decor. Or neutrality at the very least.” He walked her to a soft seated chair as he spoke and had her sit down. Then he went and sat in his own office chair nearby.
Aishani mustered up her entire courage and looked up. Looking around, she said, “I would suggest blues, and greens. Extremely pale shades of yellow also brighten up rooms. They reflect sunshine beautifully during daytime and give a cheery, upbeat effect in the evenings.” Then she looked around and saw all the bookshelves embedded in the walls all around. “You are right, this room is huge. It really doesn’t need all those embedded bookshelves. We can easily, with next to no breaking or demolition, take a couple out of the walls and create a lovely office space for Anika bhabhi. We can add some beautiful solid, standalone, bookcases to the room to make up for the ones we will take out. We may also be able to create a reading nook flanked by bookshelves. The decor, I can show samples for decoration and upholstery and suggest some based on your and Anika bhabhi’s taste. As far as …”
Shivaay was stunned. “I just told you about this project and you have already suggested ten ideas that I really, really like. You are a thorough professional Aishani and I have so much respect for you. Wow! I am not trying to self praise but I can get to business in an instant and I deeply admire that quality in another person.”
Aishani felt a sense of pride and her chin went up a little. ” This is the best expressed praise I have ever received for my ideas. You acknowledged my professionalism without caring that I am a woman. I deeply respect you for that.”
Shivaay looked very confused.” Woman?! Where did that topic come from? I was talking about your commitment to your profession. How does it matter whether you are a man or a woman?”
Aishani chuckled, ” You are going to be Saahil’s dad in a few weeks, you openly praise professionalism without noticing gender, the elders in your family treat me like they have known me since my childhood, the youngsters give me respect of an older sister, and Om…” Aishani stopped as all of a sudden she was at a loss for words.” I mean, ever since I have stepped into your home, all of my theories and preconceived notions about life and people are getting slaughtered one by one.”
Shivaay looked surprised at her sudden expressiveness. “Aishani, you know, even I had so many preconceived notions about life and people. Then Anika came into my life and all of them got slaughtered one by one. It looks like ever since Om dumped that glass of water on you, your theories started getting slaughtered as well. You do know that first time Anika met me she dumped a glass of water on me right? So what do you think, is the magic in water or in those two?” Shivaay smiled.
Aishani burst out laughing. “You are a very good person Shivaay bhaiya. I promise I will never do anything that is not good for your family.”
Shivaay was again very confused. “What are you talking about? Again you brought a topic that is making no sense to me.”
“Are you two done with your consultation?” Om said as he stood in the doorway of Shivaay’s study looking curiously at the two of them.
“Oh Yes!” said Shivaay. “Thanks for bringing this gem to us Om. Within a few minutes she suggested so many great ideas for this room. And all non invasive, so no construction or demolition needed. Amazing!”
Om looked at Aishani with pride. “I know, she is pretty amazing isn’t she! She did the same for my gallery. Tea is ready.”
Shivaay got up and walked towards the door. Then he said, “Oops! Sorry I didn’t ask Aishani if she needed help. Om will you help her.”
Om smiled shaking his head at Shivaay’s lame trick.”Of course. If she needs any that is.” he said as both saw her walking slowly on her own. Shivaay looked at her with admiration. For some reason all of his doubts about her were all gone now.
Shikhar saw her coming back to the living room with Om and Shivaay strolling by her side. He felt a strange sense of sadness that he tried to dismiss. As they got near the couch, Shivaay extended his hand to help her sit. Aishani took his help and as she sat down, she smiled and said, “Thanks Shivaay Bhaiya.”
Shivaay smiled and nodded at her while Shikhar looked stung. He stared at her for a couple of seconds, looked around at others who were talking casually, then faking a smile he tried to walk away with his tea and get some privacy. Aishani saw him walking away with his shoulders slouched and she felt strange. Then it dawned on her. “Did he think I did it on purpose to hurt him!?” Aishani felt terrible. She got up again and started to go after him.
“You just walked? Where are you going now?” Om asked worrying.
Aishani looked at him and he saw the desperation on her face. “Where do you want to go?”
Aishani looked in the direction where Shikhar was headed.
“I am just going to show Shikhar around a little and Aishani wants to join us.” he informed everyone.
They headed towards Shikhar who was walking towards a balcony. Since Aishani was walking slowly with Om’s support by the time they got there Shikhar was already standing by the railing staring at the beautifully lit up lawn.
Aishani stood by him looking ahead as well. Om had told everyone that he was showing Shikhar around so he could not go back there. “I’ll be nearby. We will go back together.” he informed them and left.
“Did you think I did that on purpose?” Aishani asked looking at him apprehensively.
” I don’t know what you are talking about.” Shikhar said.
“I thought you were done hiding things from me.” Aishani said knowing fully well how that would affect him and feeling a little guilty about using it to get his response.
Shikhar looked at her with a deep pain in his eyes. “I don’t think you did it on purpose. I am not upset. Just sad thinking of what used to be and how I lost it and I don’t know if I will ever get it back.”
Aishani breathed a sigh of relief. ” I was just being respectful there because that’s what propriety demanded. But what you and I share is beyond my anger and willingness or unwillingness to address you in a certain manner. Who am I to break or insult a relationship that God forged for me right from my birth to ensure that I had at least one person who loved me. What I call you shows my mindset. It is not a test of our relationship. And no matter how upset I am with you, I will never insult you in front of others. You know, how one may bash up a sibling in private but will bash up the person who even lays a finger on the very same sibling.” She had a faint smile on her lips and laughter mixed with tears in her eyes.
Shikhar laughed brushing off tears threatening to roll from his own eyes and shook his head. ” Aashi, you always knew how to get me out of any bad mood.”
” I got training from a good baby-crying stopper.” Aishani smiled, then said “Let’s go back. Om is sitting alone so that no one would find it odd that he went back without us.”
“Isn’t that guy something!” Shikhar said
” Yes, he is. That’s what you have been trying to get me to see since the day you sent me to his gallery right?”
Shikhar was stunned as he looked at Aishani’s face.
Aishani laughed out loud, ” When will you learn that you cannot hide things from me when you are around me. You have to be seven seas away to get away with that.”
Then sobering up she said, ” Thanks for what you tried to do. But you can stop trying now. Mission accomplished. I feel much better. Leave the poor guy alone now. You are enough support for me.”
” But Aashi. You don’t know how he…”
“I know enough. I know that he is a great guy and deserves only the best. Let’s leave it at that please. ” Aishani said firmly.
Shikhar looked at her helplessly, “She can make me quiet but I have complete faith in Om.” he thought.
They went to find Om and saw him sitting in a small sitting area near the balcony looking at his phone. “Ready to go back?” he said as he saw them.
Together, the three of them strolled back to where everyone was sitting. They saw Priyanka walking towards them with two cups of tea. “Where did the three of you go? Bhaiya, Aishani di, you did not take your tea” she said handing Om his cup.
” I will carry yours till the living room.” She told Aishani.
Then as she saw Shikhar carrying his empty cup she said, ” if you are done with yours I’ll take the cup from you.”
Shikhar was puzzled, “Why?” he asked
“Umm…I’ll keep it back?” Priyanka said softly.
“But I can keep it back too. You are already carrying Aashi’s cup. ”
“Yeah, but I can manage carrying two.”
Priyanka said feeling flustered.
Shikhar chuckled, “Then I can manage at least one.”
Aishani shook her head at her utterly clueless brother as they all walked back.
Since Shikhar was talking to Priyanka he walked with her a little faster than Om who was walking alongside Aishani.
“Thanks for helping me out earlier.” Aishani said. “I mean when I needed to come and see Shikhar. It was important.”
“You are welcome.” To save her from awkwardness Om changed the topic, “Shikhar told me that he will start the design of the facade of the gallery next week while the building is being inspected. The exterior construction work will take about 2-3 weeks. Will you be working on the interior design side by side? Hesaid, you will be doing the majority of the work most likely. Just like you said.”
“Yes. I’ll visit the gallery a few times as I start working on the interior design. It will have to be in consultation with you so we will have to work out the dates. ”
“I’ll be ready for any date, whenever you are free. All I need is twenty-four hours heads up. The gallery is top priority for me right now. I am anxious to open it as soon as possible. Business obligations will never end. If I let the gallery take a backseat, it will be one one of those never-ending projects. So you set the date and I’ll be there.” Om looked at her to see any changes in her expression but she was completely absorbed in her thoughts.
“OK. I’ll do that. I must say, your passion for art makes it hard to believe that you are also a businessman.”
“It’s hard for me to believe that as well. I have been a businessman for less than six months. I have been a professional artist for the majority of my adult life.”
“How did you get into business then.” Aishani could not hold back her curiosity.
“If you can take out some time from your schedule then maybe I will be able to tell you that story. Maybe on one of our dates?”
“What!?” Aishani stopped and looked at him.
Om laughed lightly at her expression. He had finally managed to jolt her out of her
false pretense that there was nothing between them. “I meant one of these visits to the gallery. Maybe we can go for a coffee or something after that and I’d be able to share my story with you.”
“I don’t know about that. I’m inundated with work right now.”
“No problem. I’ll just come over for dinner some evening.” Om said keeping a straight face.
Aishani looked at him with a worried expression and started to walk again. Then seeming to change her mind she said, “I do want to hear your story one of these days.”
After a pleasant dinner and some more chatting, Aishani looked at the time. Then she looked at Shikhar who was talking to Priyanka in his usual pleasant manner without any awareness of the awe in Priyanka’s eyes. “We should get going. It’s getting late.” she said.
Shikhar turned to look at her. “Yes, Aashi is right. We should make a move. This was a wonderful evening.”
“Then stay beta. Tomorrow is Sunday anyway. You can go tomorrow morning.” Dadi said looking hopefully at Aashi and Shikhar.
Aishani’s heart skipped a beat. Knowing Shikhar very well she quickly chimed in,
“No Dadi.That’s very sweet of you but we can’t stay. Both Bhaiya and I have to get to work early tomorrow.” It was out of her mouth before she could even think concious what she was going to say. Shikhar looked at her with an expression that could not be expressed in words and Om felt his breath get caught in his throat.
Aishani recovered quickly lest someone notice any awkwardness. “We will come again to see you, very soon I promise.” she said hastily looking at Shikhar whose face was pale and eyes filled with tears.
She had to get him out of here soon before his waterworks started. This was the guy who had once cried because he had yelled at her for bugging the hell out of him. She did not want any drama in front of this entire family. She looked at Om with pleading eyes, instinctively knowing that he understood what had happened there.
Om found his voice again and quickly said, “Yes. She is right. It’s not practical for them to stay tonight. Maybe another time.”
“Why do you always take her side especially when she refuses to stay back?” Dadi asked teasingly.
“Because she is always right about the reasons.” Om said unabashedly smiling back at Dadi.
Shikhar and Aishani said goodbye to everyone except Om who as usual accompanied them to their car. Shikhar was quiet. Aishani gave him nervous glances. He said bye to Om and walked over to the car while Aishani limped slowly towards it.
“Thanks again Om. This is getting repetitive. You helping me out when I really need it and then me saying thanks.”
“I won’t stop being there for you. So I guess you should just stop saying thanks. That’s the only solution I can think of.”
Aishani laughed wiping tears that were about to creep out of the corners of her eyes. “Goodnight” she said almost whispering.
Om breathed in the night air deeply. It was all he could do to control the urge to hold her in his arms. Then looking at Shikhar getting into the driver’s seat, he quickly leaned sideways and kissed her softly on her forehead.
Aishani drew in a sharp breath. Without daring to look at him, she walked to her car and got into the front seat. Then she looked up at Om who was looking at her with an expression she remembered from their time in his studio. It made her insides melt so she looked away.
Shikhar rolled down the windows and said “Bye Om. See you at the gallery on Monday” as he started the car and drove off. Om waved at them as they left, then said softly, “So far, so good.” and walked back inside.
Thanks for reading Everyone. Please comment if you can ?