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Om walked back inside thinking of all that had taken place that evening. His mind inadvertently went back to what he had heard as he had gone to call Shivaay and Aishani for tea, “I promise I will never do anything that’s bad for your family.” What did she mean by that?It was hard for him to digest that all of a sudden, in between Shikhar’s stories, Shivaay wanted to consult his office decor with her. Why had he taken her away?
Once he went inside he saw noone in the living area. Everyone seemed to have gone to their rooms. Om walked slowly to his study. He wanted to finish all of his business obligations for next week by Tuesday so that he could keep his days free for the gallery. Om opened his laptop and started working but found it hard to concentrate. He kept recalling visions of Aishani’s face and what Shikhar had told him about her past. When he put the two together, he was overcome by the strength, character, and beauty of this woman. He felt very restless about the fact that physically she was out of his reach at that moment.The unfulfilled urge to hold her filled him with an intense craving. He got up to get himself some water to clear his head.
Aishani kept glancing at Shikhar every now and then while he drove quietly. Once home Shikhar got out and came around to help her. His face was very strained while he waited patiently for her to get down. Slowly they walked to the entrance. Aishani could sense the storm raging in him but she knew better than to poke him at that moment.
The maid opened the door to let them in. Once inside, Aishani went to her study to change and get ready for bed. Once done she found a book and sat in the recliner to read for some time to quiet down her hyperactive brain. Shikhar came back after half an hour or so. “Aashi, can I help you with anything? You walked a lot today. Do you need a painkiller?”
Aishani took one look at him and knew that the storm inside him was gone. She knew that he had gone and cried, washed his face, and then had come back. She felt her old protective instinct kicking in. “Yes, I have only a dull ache but I’ll take a dose. Or this will turn into a throbbing pain and will keep me awake at night.”
Shikhar walked in and gave her medicine along with a glass of water. He stood patiently as she downed the pill. Then as she handed the glass back to him she said casually, “Thanks bhaiya.”
Shikhar stopped turning around. “So this is a confirmed change then. It’s not like you will call me bhaiya in public and go back to Shikhar in private.”
“You want it in writing?” she asked laughing. When they were kids, on the rare occasions when they did argue and when one had to agree with the other, they did it in writing with an official signature of the conceding party. That document was usually lost by the next argument. Aishani laughed remembering that Shikhar had signed way more “documents” than she had.
Shikhar couldn’t help laughing at that reference. He set the glass on the nearby table and sat down on the floor next to the recliner.” Yes, can I have it in writing that you will always call me bhaiya here onwards. And we are not kids anymore. I’ll keep this document in a bank safe-box.”
Both laughed together. Then Aishani said seriously, “My issues are not gone. I will still get angry thinking of the past sometimes. I might snap at you still. But for the record, I don’t hate you, I am not really angry with you, and I will always call you bhaiya here onwards. If I am angry thinking of what happened I’ll talk to you about it and maybe fight with you. OK?”
Shikhar nodded. “Aashi, about Om…I just felt that you two had a good equation. I really was busy last week and he really did want to get started with the gallery immediately. I did not manipulate the situation. I just took advantage of an opportunity.”
Aashi nodded uncomfortably. Her mind went back to the kiss when she was leaving his home that night and his expression when the car had pulled away. That brought back the urge she had controlled at that time, to hold him.
“Aashi.Don’t go by any preconceived notions about him. He really…”
“Good night, BHAIYA!” Aishani said. “I am really tired and my foot really is sore. Please let me sleep. I didn’t lie about having work tomorrow. The entire Oberoi family has given their interior design and decor work to me. While I am thrilled about getting so much work, I really do need to speed up my pending projects. I want to start early tomorrow morning.”
Shikhar knew that that was the end of that discussion. He got up to leave.
“Good night” he said before he left her study.
Aishani kept the open book on her chest and looked outside the window hugging herself. She closed her eyes and tried to imagine that the arms that hugged her at that moment belonged to someone else.
After spending about an hour in the study Om got up to leave. He was finally sleepy. He decided to go to his studio for just a few minutes. He went up the stairs and to his studio. The Ganesha statue was complete and ready for delivery. He went over to his new project and ran his hand over it. It had started to take shape. He worked on the statue for sometime adding another piece to the form before he was exhausted and sure that if he went and lay down he would definitely fall asleep.
The following morning after breakfast Rudra went to Dadi who was sitting discussing a small celebration they were planning for the day of Saahil’s formal adoption which was just a week and a half away. It was going to be a small family affair. “I want to include anyone who is personally involved with Anika and Saahil.” she said.
“Then let’s invite Aishani and Shikhar.” Jhanvi said.
“Obviously, I had already assumed that. Aishani is clearly very fond of Saahil and the two share their own little bond.” Then Dadi saw Rudra standing there listening to them. “You have any ideas Rudra. Should we ask anyone else to come?”
Rudra shook his head. “No Dadi. I think just us and Aishani di and Shikhar bhaiya are perfect. Umm…Dadi, actually I came for another matter.”
“What is it?” Jhanvi asked.
Rudra went and sat next to Dadi. ” Dadi, I need a room to study properly. I wasn’t joking the other day. It has hit me that my college life is almost over. I haven’t talked to bhaiya as yet but I want to go to office after my exams to learn something. All my friends are planning something for their future. I don’t want to feel worthless. But before that I need to study well for my finals. Can I have the empty room near O’s studio as my new room? I have officially handed over my room to Soumya.”
Jhanvi looked at Rudra with part pride and part surprise. He really had changed! What had happened to him? But this was a good change so she was happy.
“Yes puttar. I’ll get that room arranged for you.By the end of this week, you will have your new room.Let me know what all you want there.” Dadi said smiling and patting his cheek.
Rudra smiled feeling happy and left as the ladies looked at him a little surprised.
In his study Om finished yet another task on his to-do list. As he went on to the next issue at hand he realized that he had to discuss it with Shivaay. He went over to his study.
Shivaay looked up from his laptop as Om entered. “Hey Shivaay, I needed to discuss something with you about the current status of that resort deal. Do you have time now?”
Shivaay nodded and asked him to come in. As they discussed the details of the deal both couldn’t help reminiscing what had happened at the resort and how Shivaay had finally found Anika again. They sat silently for a few minutes remembering. Then Om suddenly asked, ” Shivaay, can I ask you something?”
” Since when do you ask permission to ask me stuff?” Shivaay said surprised.
Om smiled. “Shivaay, it’s hard for me to believe that last evening, while everyone was sitting and listening to Shikhar’s tall tales and having a merry time at it, you suddenly thought of your office decor. Why did you take Aishani from there? And let me be honest, when I came to call you guys for tea, I couldn’t help hearing her say that she would never do anything that was bad for our family! What was that all about?”
Shivaay looked at Om and smiled. He had the same desperation in his eyes that Shivaay remembered feeling when he wasn’t sure whether his relationship with Anika was going to be sorted out. He took a deep breath and said, “Close the door Om. It’s best that what I will say is not overheard by anyone as of now. It would be premature.”
Once Om had done that and sat down again Shivaay said, ” While Shikhar was telling his merry stories I saw Aishani getting extremely uncomfortable. I was not sure why but she was clearly not enjoying listening to what Shikhar was saying. There was no way to stop Shikhar without making it look odd and unpleasant, besides the danger of mom, Dadi, and Badi ma attacking the person interfering. So I thought about what to do. Anika and I had talked about making an office space in here for her the previous day. She will soon need an office of her own. So I thought why not ask for Aishani’s opinion. Even though I was running the risk of the poor girl thinking we are a bunch of weirdos thinking of various jobs for our guest to do, I asked her to come and see my study. Once here I told her about the project and what Anika and I wanted. Once she started to respond, there was something about her genuineness and her , I don’t know how to put it, a pure vibe maybe? But I asked her frankly why she had been so uncomfortable outside.”
Om listened to Shivaay very seriously twirling the pen in his right hand and staring at it. “What did she say?” he asked softly.
” Nothing. She just looked down saying nothing so I let it go. I was not there to interrogate her. Just to find out what had troubled her. But I want to tell you Om, although I had found her a little high- strung the first time I met her, I really like her. She is genuine, incredibly smart and professional, and there is this sense of integrity and quiet strength about her that is very admirable. Do you have any clue why she could have been that uncomfortable listening to the stories of how many girls were after you and what a great catch you would be for any single woman?” Shivaay looked closely at Om.
Om’s head shot up and his face had complete shock. “Oh my God!” he said recalling her tears the night he had taken her back from the studio after coming close to losing every last shred of control. Then he recalled the accusations Shikhar had said his dad had hurled at her the night Shikhar had found her terrified and beaten upon his return from the U.S .
“What happened Om? And by the way, I was as clueless as you when she said that she would never do anything to harm our family. If you heard her, you must have heard me saying that I had no idea what she was talking about.”
Om nodded feeling a little overwhelmed. Then he got up to leave. “Thanks Shivaay. You are the best. I’ll see you later.”
Shivaay was a little worried looking at his brother. “What’s going on Om? I know everyone here has been acting cute lately about you and Aishani but I don’t like random conjectures. Do you like her and by like I mean how I had liked Anika once? Because what I feel for her now is way past “like”.”
Om stopped to look at Shivaay. ” I have never hidden anything from you Shivaay. You are witness to my best and my worst and the reason why I could go on. So I’ll tell you. But as you said, it is premature, so keep it to yourself. I really like her a lot. We have had similar life experiences. When I am with her I feel completely understood and can be myself one hundred percent. We don’t feel the need to talk constantly and yet we land up talking a lot. I feel like making her smile and laugh. And I feel a little lonely every time she leaves. Umm…That’s about it…as far as my feelings are concerned. So I don’t want to be too hasty and give it a name only to realize that oops! I read too much but this is not really what I want”
Shivaay smiled shaking his head. “You are a complete goner bro, but don’t take my word for it. By all means confirm it for yourself.”
Om chuckled and left the study.
Rudra walked happily to Om’s room thinking about his new room. He passed by his old room and could not help the urge to peek in. He saw Soumya studying at her table. He walked in to say hi knowing that she might not like it. Soumya was engrossed and did not notice his entering the room. Once he reached her table she suddenly realized he was there and was taken aback. Rudra involuntarily looked at her book and saw that it had a picture of a lady in it that she had been staring at. Soumya’s eyes looked a little damp and Rudra felt a little twist in his chest.
“Who is she? ” he asked softly
“My Aai.” Soumya said. “I just felt like seeing her so I was looking at her picture instead. Did you want something from me?”
Rudra stared at her feeling both lost and at a loss for words. “I talked to Dadi. I will have a new room by the end of this week. So after that I won’t come here to disturb you when I can’t concentrate in O’s room. I want us both to do well in our exams. Your doing well matters to me as well.”
Soumya looked at the earnestness on his face then smiled slightly. ” Thanks Rudra. I appreciate that. Best of luck to both of us.”
Rudra felt warmed up by her smile. He nodded, looked at the picture in her book one more time, then left the room leaving Soumya feeling a little perplexed.
The entire day was busy. If not in office work then in discussing the adoption day celebration.As Shivaay walked back to his room at night he thought about his conversation with Om. He smiled shaking his head and feeling very happy. Then all of a sudden his mind went to their conversation about finding Anika and Saahil at the resort in Ooty. The very memory of that time brought up intense emotions in him. He walked in to find Anika taking something out of the closet. He walked up to her and hugged her tightly. She was startled. “Arrey, what happened to you? I am looking for something.”
“Even I remembered the time I was desperately looking for something and thought I would never find it. It was scary so I needed to hug you.”
Anika squeezed around in the tight circle of his arms to face him. She was about to make a wisecrack when she saw the vulnerability in his eyes. She gently touched his face and caressed his hair.
“Achcha, you are scared. Ok. Then I’ll find my stuff later. Right now we will focus on your problem. Let’s get rid of this scary memory by something pleasant?”
Shivaay smiled and looked at her beautiful face. “You are going to make one helluva business woman. You know how to prioritize tasks by order of importance.” He laughed lightly before he tipped up her chin with his right hand while still holding her around her waist with his left. Then he leaned in and kissed her and as if miraculously, all his fear and scary memories did vanish into thin air and what was left in its place was extremely pleasant indeed.
Thanks for reading Everyone. Please comment if you can ☺