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Om was at the gallery by noon on Monday. He waited patiently for the inspection people to arrive. While the inspection was underway Shikhar arrived as well. He just wanted to be present to oversee the process a little bit and give a few specific pointers. The entire job took about three to four hours. Once it was all over, Shikhar invited Om to come with him for tea. Om agreed.They drove their respective cars and reached Shikhar’s home by early evening.
As they entered the bungalow, Om was reminded of the last time he was here. Once inside the house, Shikhar asked the maid to bring in tea for them. Then they went to Shikhar’s study to discuss the plan for the gallery.
“This is a beautiful home Shikhar. Did you and Aishani design it?Soumya thought so when we came to pick up Aishani’s stuff the day of her accident.”
Shikhar nodded with pride. “Yes, this home is Aishani’s and my teamwork. I wanted to build a home that was perfect for her and completely different from our childhood home. So I kept in mind practicality, simplicity, efficiency, strength, and elegance when I designed it. In short, Aashi’s essence.She did an amazing job with the interiors. It’s completely her design and decor in here.”
Om looked around appreciatively thinking about her. By now she pervaded everything he saw,did, and felt consciously or unconsciously. He remembered what Shivaay had said to him the previous day and smiled.
“Coming to the gallery,” Shikhar continued “the inspectors almost gave us a clean chit but we will have a detailed report and certification in about a week. While that is getting done I will start the basic design.” Shikhar continued explaining the plan to Om who listened intently.
At Oberoi Mansion, Rudra walked to Dadi’s room deep in thought. He found her sitting on her bed going through some papers. “Dadi, can I talk to you for some time?”
Dadi was surprised to see Rudra there at that time. “Yes beta. Come , sit.”
Rudra went and sat down on the bed and talked about general things for a while. Then, he said “Dadi, remember you were talking about calling people for Saahil’s adoption celebration. I was thinking of that.”
Dadi looked lovingly at her youngest grandson and the clear shift in his demeanor. She was experienced enough to know that such shifts did not happen without a reason. She listened to him patiently.
Aishani reached home and saw Om’s car in the driveway. She immediately recognized it and her heart started beating fast. Wow! This guy was true to his word. Had he really come over for dinner? Then she remembered that Shikhar and he were supposed to meet today for the inspection. She got down from the car and asked her driver to park the car in the garage behind the house and bring her things inside as she could not manage to do it herself because of her limping leg.
Once inside she carefully walked in expecting Om and Shikhar to be in the living room. But no one was in there. Her apprehension and caution were replaced by disappointment. Deep inside she had been excited that she was going to get to see him again. The memory of their last meeting warmed up her entire being. She looked for Sushila, her maid. She was nowhere to be seen either. “Where the heck did everyone go?” She said under her breath as she walked towards the study. Her study was empty. She went on to Shikhar’s and found Om sitting in a chair, reading a book.
Om sensed her standing in the doorway and looked up.
“Hi!” he said as he got up closing the book.
“Hi! Where is Sh… Bhaiya?” Om was the only one from Oberoi family who had heard her calling Shikhar by name. Yet, she saw no surprise on his face.
“He got an urgent call. He is taking the call in his room upstairs.”
“Oh. Yeah he has some of his work stuff upstairs too. Did you guys have something, like tea or coffee?” Aishani said walking out of the study as Om followed her.
“Yes. The maid, Sushila is it?”
“Yeah. She got tea for us. Then she went home. Said she will be back in an hour to stay overnight.”
“Oh, OK. Yeah, she does that sometimes if she has some work.”
Just then the driver came with her things and took it to her study. “Thanks Mahesh ji.” she told the driver as he left. She desperately needed some coffee.
Aishani limped over to the kitchen.
“Why don’t you sit?” Om asked. You must be tired.
“I need coffee.” She said finding a humongous mug, and a jar of instant coffee.
“I’ll make it for you. Give me instructions for how you like it.” Om pulled a chair from the dinette and made her sit on it
“Ok. We will do the simple version.”Aishani said. “Two spoons of coffee. Fill the mug three fourth with water. Milk is in a carafe in the fridge. Fill the rest of the mug with milk. Microwave for one and a half minute. Stir. Microwave for another twenty seconds.”
Om made a face. “That’s how you make coffee!?”
“That’s the simplest version and I like it like that.”
“Well, if that’s what you like then that’s what you will get.” Om said looking unsure about her recipe which he followed nonetheless.
Aishani sat at the table looking at him amused. In about three minutes, he walked towards her with the huge mug in his hand. He kept it in front of her looking alarmed at the color of the liquid in the mug.
“Seriously! You will drink that without any sugar?”
“I like it like that. Slightly bitter.” she said in a matter of fact manner.
Om stared at her tired face and her oceanic eyes. Feeling overpowered by his strong emotions he bent down, and before she knew what was happening, he had smacked a quick, impassioned kiss on her lips. It was was over before her brain could register it. Then he drew out another chair and sat next to her.
” I thought I’ll give you a taste of some sweetness. Now drink your coffee. You seriously look like you need it.” Om said scrolling his thumb on his phone and going through its contents.
Aishani looked at him incredulously and was about to say something. But he looked engrossed in his phone as if this was something he did everyday and it was no big deal to make coffee for her, kiss her, and then sit next to her poring over his phone. She changed her mind about saying anything. “At least the coffee is familiar. Let me take refuge in that.” she thought and took a sip. The liquid eased up her tension and she sat back relaxed, relishing the hot bitterness that went straight to her head and her spine and seemed to cut through any tension. That was the beauty of bitter taste. It was overpowering enough to make the brain shift focus and forget momentarily about any emotional disturbance.
They sat like that quietly for about ten minutes. Her mug was still half full. She got up to warm it up again.
“What do you need?” Om asked.
“Nothing. I will just warm up the rest of my coffee and drink it while sitting on the couch.” She put her mug back in the microwave, heated it for another forty seconds, then proceeded with it to the living room. Om shook his head looking at her and following her.
“How many times do you re-heat that already bitter liquid?” he asked her as she sat on a couch.
“As many times as I need. I like to enjoy it for a long time so I drink it slowly.”
Om sat next to her startling her a bit. He refused to get up or even budge a single inch to increase the space between them.
“That I do understand. Taking it slow does help in relishing it better and prolongs the overall experience.” he said casually while leaning back against the couch and going back to his phone.
Aishani looked at him to check signs of double meaning but there were none. She gave up and went back to her coffee.
When Shikhar came back in another ten minutes that is how he found them sitting side by side. Om was still staring at his phone while Aishani sat upright with her mug in her hand and her head thrown back on the oversized cushion. Her eyes were closed. This was her standard practice after work every day. He was glad that now she had someone sitting besides her while she let go of her stress. Someone who loved her. Shikhar took a deep breath, said his favorite prayer in his mind, and walked towards them.
“Sorry about that Om. There was some conflict at one of my sites. I had to explain a few things to the supervisor before the start of work tomorrow morning. Good that Aashi is back. She can give you a date for consultation.”
Om nodded and turned to look at her. A few minutes ago he had seen her with her eyes closed and head back with her mug which seemed more like a security blanket than a drink, in her hand. He had wondered if she was asleep but had not wanted to disturb her. He had stared at her for a few seconds letting his urges run all over his body and then calm down and had gone back to his phone letting out a soft breath of frustration. Now he looked at her again as she sat with her head back up, listening to Shikhar. So she hadn’t been asleep.
“I will need to ask you a few questions about your needs for the gallery and ascertain your vision and expectations before I can start planning the layout. I can meet you for that on Thursday. Noon onwards will be good. Friday is completely free for me so we can do a follow up if needed. Once I have a tentative layout done, I will need to visit the gallery again to see if the layout makes sense. It will be helpful if you are present at that time to ensure that my understanding, implementation, and your expectations are all in sync. The further we go up the process, the harder it will be to make changes. So it’s better to to establish complete understanding at the outset and as we go at each step.”
Again Om listened to her spellbound. He remembered what Shivaay had said about her professionalism and his admiration of it. Om smiled and nodded. “Sounds good. I’ll see you on Thursday and then on Friday. And we will go from there.” He got up to take his leave and Aishani’s heart sank. She had felt so comfortable and at peace sitting next to him. The idea of him leaving made her feel depressed but she controlled herself.
“Stay for dinner Om.” Shikhar said.
“Not today. Aishani had suggested dinner after one of our consultation when we were at Oberoi Mansion last. I agreed to her gracious offer. So maybe on Friday.” Om looked at her open mouthed surprised face. He laughed with a twinkle in his eyes. “I’ll let you guys rest. See you soon.” He said walking out with Shikhar accompanying him.
Aishani looked at them leave. She tried to understand all that had happened. Then unable to stop herself she grinned as she sipped on her now lukewarm coffee.
At Oberoi Mansion, still sitting in her room, Dadi thought about what Rudra had said to her that evening. A light smile played on her lips. She ensured that the door to her room was closed properly,picked up her phone, found a number, and dialled it.
Thanks for reading Everyone. Sorry about the wait. Things got a little hectic over the weekend and I wanted to write this one carefully. Hope you will like it.Please comment if you can.?