Link to Previous Chapters
All Parts Here
After dinner Om went to his studio to work on his sculpture. He wanted to complete it in time for the gallery opening. The way things were going he had a feeling that that might happen in a little over two to three months. He made a mental note of getting prepared to meet Aishani on Thursday. He would have to decide what all he wanted in the gallery. He felt like he was going for an interview for a job. That made him laugh as did the memory of her expression when he had fibbed to tease her about her inviting him for dinner. But she had not protested then or when he had kissed her in the kitchen. He could clearly see that she was unwinding slowly and was getting more and more comfortable around him. Based on what Shikhar had told him, that was a big deal.
“I love being with her. An hour or so here and there of being together is becoming unbearable as is keeping my hands off her. I want her with me for a long time and I want to be able to hold her without reservations. I want to talk to her, be around her, be sure of her presence. I need to know that I can see her and feel her whenever I want. I want to know when she is upset or insecure and I want to be able to soothe her sadness, anger, fear or any other pain. Most of all I want her to trust me. That won’t be easy since her trust has been broken one time too many. How does one trust after having been let down by the very people who are supposed to care for you. And on top of that, that accusation from her father.That will be a tough one to overcome if her mind is set on it.” Om’s thoughts were on a marathon as he continuously worked on his sculpture. Finally, exhausted he stopped. “Shivaay is right. I am a complete goner. I don’t just love her, I am completely in love with her. Now how do I convince her of that!?” He wrapped up his work, washed his hands and went to his room.
Om entered quietly for the fear of waking up Rudra. He needn’t have worried. Rudra was awake, sitting on the bed and reading a book. Om was surprised to see him like that at that time of the night. At first he had thought that this being serious was Rudra’s latest stunt. But this seriousness business was actually serious. Om felt guilty. I am so wrapped up in the thrill of my newfound love I haven’t paid attention to my brother. He went and sat next to Rudra. “Studying huh! You really have turned a new leaf!”
Rudra looked at Om. “Which leaf? I didn’t do anything.”
Om rolled his eyes. ” I meant all this studying. You have really made some serious changes in your life.”
Rudra looked like sudden understanding had dawned on him.”Oh! That? I didn’t make any serious changes in my life. Life made some serious changes in me.”
Om was completely flabbergasted. He touched Rudra’s forehead to check his temperature. That was too heavy coming from his little brother and it scared Om. “Rudra! What has happened to you? Someone hurt you or said something bad to you?”
Rudra laughed at Om’s worried expression.”I am fine O. No one hurt me other than myself. So I had to think about how I was leading my life. And this studying stuff is kind of addictive. I found out I am pretty good at it except that I am out of habit. Actually it’s a lot like going to the gym and staying fit. Like at the gym, I don’t give up when my muscles start to hurt and push myself just a little more, here too if I just push myself a little I get through problems and understand. I already have discipline when it comes to exercising and eating. I am just transferring that discipline to studying. And I like not wandering aimlessly all day. I get to talk more to Mom and Dadi and it’s so much better and be home with Bhabhi, Prinku, Saahil. I feel at peace.”
Om looked on at Rudra. Then he ruffled his hair. “Go to sleep now. It’s late.”
“One more thing O.” Rudra said. “I want my own space so Dadi is getting the room near your studio ready for me. I am excited as it is a huge room. Might put some exercise equipment in there. So by next week I will shift there. Then you will have this room all to yourself.” Rudra gave Om an exaggerated wink, kept his book aside, lay down covering his face and slept. Om looked at him puzzled. “This boy goes from philosophical to goofy so fast that it can make a person feel like they are going crazy.” Then he laughed and went to change for the night.
Next morning Rudra looked at Soumya eating her breakfast. He tried to ascertain her mood. It seemed neutral.
“I am leaving for college. Prinku, are you ready? I can take you too.”
Priyanka nodded.”Yes, I’ll just grab my bag and be right back.Soumya, do you want me to get your bag too?”
Soumya looked at the two of them. Priyanka waited for her answer and Rudra sat there with a poker face. “OK. Thanks”, she said. Then she picked up her empty plate and went to keep it in the sink. Rudra looked up and touched his right index finger to his forehead and then to his chest silently thanking God.
Om spent the next couple of days finishing up his pending business projects to clear up his week Thursday onwards. He also visited a couple of sites for Anika’s restaurant with Shivaay and Anika. Eventually he was going to be helping Anika regularly so she wanted him there on these visits if possible.
Thursday morning Om called Aishani. She sat in her office preparing some questionnaires for him when her phone rang. Aishani felt her mouth involuntarily curve into a smile and there was absolutely nothing she could do about it.
“Hello, Mr. Oberoi.” she said teasing him.”How are you doing this morning?”
Om grinned widely as he spoke. “Very well Ms. Saxena. How about you?”
“Good. Good. Is this about our appointment for today?”
“Yes Ms. Saxena, I was wondering if I was going to have the privilege of visiting your esteemed office or would you condescend to visit my humble workplace? Or shall we meet on some other neutral grounds?”
“OK. That’s enough Om.” Aishani said giving up. “Any more formality will make me sick. I was thinking, why don’t you come to my office. I have all my things here and who knows, after our discussion I may be able to come up with a starting point. Besides , you have never visited here before.”
“I’ll be there at 12. Text me the address.” Om said briefly feeling very happy.
“OK. See you then.” Aishani said hanging up.
When Om got to her office building at five minutes to twelve, he saw her standing at the entrance door at the top of the steps. Dressed in a beige pencil skirt, a black silk shirt tucked in neatly, her black padded shoe on one foot and a black sneaker on the other,and her hair neatly held back in a ponytail, she was the picture of strength and perfection. She had been looking at her phone but noticed him walking towards the entrance and waved lightly.
“What are you doing standing here?” Om asked.
” I thought I’d receive you. It’s your first visit here so I wanted to welcome you. You are not just a client after all.”
Om placed his right hand lightly around her waist.”Oh! What else am I then?”
“Why, you are the CEO’s best friend.” she said innocently.
Om smiled tightening his grip for a brief second then he let go. “Treat me well then, and I’ll make you very happy.”
They entered the double doors into a lobby area and walked across to the gleaming elevators. Once inside the elevator Om looked at her beautiful form and shoved his hands in his trouser pockets to control them. But his eyes worked on their own accord and roamed appreciatively all over her. “How’s the foot?” he asked to dispel the tension in the air.
“It feels great actually but my doctor insists I keep the shoe on when not at home. At home now I can wear the tight anklet without the shoe to walk around.”
Om maintained his distance from her and nodded. Her office was on the third floor. When they got out of the elevator they landed in another lobby area with another reception desk, this one specifically for “Ascent Creatives” , Shikhar and Aishani’s company. The lady at the reception briefly greeted both of them as they entered another set of double doors. As they walked slowly to her cabin, Om admired the sleek interiors of the office space. They walked through a wide passage flanked by open modernistic workstations with some associates at their jobs. All the way at the back were a few cabins. Aishani took him to the one in the right corner.
Once inside , Aishani asked him to take a seat and went to get some papers. Om looked at the spacious office that was neat but full with a design station, her office desk,a filing cabinet, a couple of bookshelves, and another cabinet that had office supplies visible on the top shelf. The wall right in front of him had four large framed pictures of rooms with beautiful interiors, clearly samples of her work. Om felt a sense of admiration and pride looking at this space. Then he looked at her and the admiration arose for another reason. She looked very captivating and he breathed a little rapidly as he looked at her.
“Here are the questionnaires I want you to fill out. They are standard. I have a hand written, personalized one for you that I will fill out as you answer my questions. Start with the standard one.” she said as she gave him the forms.
Om went through the entire thing then started filling out the fields. It took him about ten minutes to complete that. She sat perfectly quiet and unmoving during that time. Once done filling them, he handed the forms to her.
“Now I have a set of personalized questions. They will ascertain your particular needs. For example, how big you want the reception area to be, how many sections you want in the gallery, how many different categories you are planning to accommodate to begin with, for example paintings, sculpture, photography, and anything else. Do you want sub-sections within categories. What kind of seating arrangement would you like. The possibility of a catering or kitchen area hidden at the back with a separate entrance. Think about all of those things for a few minutes while looking at the sheet.”
Om nodded and followed her instructions. Then he proceeded to give detailed answers to each and every question she asked. It took them about forty five minutes to complete that step. Om was exhausted by the end. “You made me talk a lot and I am tired. I am the CEO’s best friend. Take me somewhere for coffee.” he demanded.
Aishani smiled shaking her head at his cheesy joke. “Bhaiya is at a site overseeing some work.”
“So!? You take me somewhere.You said you were free lunch onwards and then all of Friday. Come with me to grab a coffee someplace nearby.” Om decided to hold his ground and not give up.
Aishani gave it some thought, then agreed.
Om found the trip back in the elevator pure torture. But again he stood away from her maintaining his distance.Soon they were seated in his car and drove off to a nearby restaurant.
They found a small cafe that did not look too crowded and sat in a small airy cubicle with a window overlooking a tiny lawn. They looked through the menu card and ordered a couple of wraps and coffee. Once done Om sat back looking directly at her.
Aishani felt a little awkward at first. She hadn’t been out for a meal except business lunches and dinners in a long,long time. Even when she had gone out, it had been with a couple of friends. This was a new experience for her and she felt a little nervous. Om noticed this on her face.
“Is this awkward for you because of me or is there some other reason?” he asked sipping on a glass of water?
She looked at him startled. How could he just say things like that so easily! And then he said he was not a compulsive flirt and hadn’t had too much experience with women.
“If you are wondering how I can ask such direct questions, I only do this with Shivaay and you. I am not sure when the two of you fell in the same category although I assure you I have no brotherly feelings for you. So back to my question.Is this awkward for you because of me or is there some other reason?”
Aishani looked at her glass and as usual the fierceness in her rose to the challenge. “Both.” she said briefly.
“Please elaborate.” Om said still looking at her.”I am all ears and would love to hear how I am making you look like you want to sprint out of this place in your one sneaker and one padded shoe.”
Aishani could not help laughing at the image of herself running out half limping and just like that her nervousness went down several notches. She sobered up after a few seconds and cleared her throat. “I have never been out with anyone except for business meals in the recent past and with a couple of friends back when I was in college. That too was on rare occasions of a birthday treat or something. So this casual lunch with someone, one on one, is new for me.”
Om listened to her, as a fresh wave of affection drenched him all over. “Hmm. So that’s the other reason. You said both. Now throw some light on how I am responsible.”
“You make me nervous Om. And yet, you get rid of that nervousness too. I feel nervous around you but pretty soon I also get very comfortable with you. It confuses me. You are a strange creature.” She said laughing at his expression. “Strange in a good way, I mean.” That made him give an even funnier expression. She laughed hard at that, a couple tears trickling out of the corners of her eyes. Om couldn’t laugh anymore. He remembered everything she had been through as he watched her smile and laugh and his own eyes became slightly wet.
Once she had stopped laughing she became serious again “Om, I started calling Shikhar, bhaiya and you showed no surprise. Why is that? By now I know you are sensitive enough to notice such changes and direct enough, at least with me, to ask questions. What do you know?”
It was Om’s turn to feel nervous. He did not want her to be angry with Shikhar again. He thought carefully then said, ” I know about Shikhar’s guilt and regret. We were talking, he got very emotional, and told me about all he regretted and felt guilty about. So I sort of know some of your history. Please don’t be angry with him again.”
Aishani looked at him with a sudden flash of anger in her eyes but then calmed down looking sad “Yes. He did go through a lot too and I guess the past three years must have been hard on him too because he had no one to talk to.”
“He did not volunteer to talk to me Aishani. I coaxed him to tell me why you had such high tolerance for pain. It had bothered me the day your foot went through that step and you sat their without a single scream or whimper, cursing yourself. I had found it very disturbing and wanted to know. I asked him a few times…”
“And he spilled the beans about our sorry past. And then you felt really bad for me so you have been trying to make me smile. You really are a kind and admirable person” she said a little coldly.
Om looked at the shift in her mood. The waiter brought their meal just then. “Can you please pack this. We need to leave. Sorry about that.” Om said. ” And please bring the bill.”
“Good idea. Drop me at my office. I’ll see you tomorrow if I have any questions. Otherwise I’ll call you as soon as the first layout is ready.”
Om looked at her angrily. In a few minutes, the waiter brought their food and they went back to the car. Aishani looked straight ahead, her chin up, lips quivering, and a hard expression on her face. “Why did bhaiya share our personal life with him. Now he pities me. I was enjoying our… whatever it was! I thought he liked me. Now I know he feels sorry for me.” she thought miserably.
Twenty minutes into their car-ride, Aishani came out of her reverie and felt like they should have reached her office by now. She looked out. “This isn’t the way to my office!” she thought. “Om! Where are you going?”
” I am taking you to your home to eat lunch. You said you were done with your work for today.”
Aishani’s temper flew high. The last three years, she had been in complete control of her own life and a little bit of Shikhar’s life too, through his guilt. He never said no to her and never talked back or opposed her in anything at all. She was now in a habit of being in absolute control. Her control being snatched away so easily made her panic. “How can you decide that for me! My car is still at my office.”
Om glanced sideways, took her phone from her, set his car on cruise for a couple of minutes and searched contacts. He found “Mahesh” at the second number right after “Bhaiya”. He dialled the number as Aishani looked at him astounded.
Put his right hand back on the steering wheel he talked to Aishani’s driver. “Yes, Mahesh ji? This is Omkaara, we have talked before. Yes. We had to go home for some work. Please bring the car home and park it where it belongs. Thanks.” Om said hanging up as he handed her phone back to her.
“This is not done Om!” She said livid and shaking.
“Yes it is. It just got done.” Om said calmly.
“I am not one of those girls bhaiya was talking about who will obviously run after you because of your name or fame. And I think you are heavily mistaken due to what happened in the studio. You think I tried to attract you to get close to you and now you can do what you please!”
Om sighed. “So I was right. That is on her mind.” he thought as he completely refused to get involved in a fight with her and continued to drive. Not knowing what to do next Aishani sat quietly raising her hand every now and then to wipe angry tears from her cheeks.
Thanks for reading Everyone. I am trying to get back to my old schedule of posting updates. I hope I can catch up soon. I was unsure about this one but I went with my gut and hopefully it won’t seem too odd to you as you read it. Remember Om knows that they have similar life experiences but Aishani has no inkling how closely his experiences match hers and why he feels such connection with her, and she with him. So just trying my best to stay true to each characterization while also making them move forward. Rudra’s story will move forward to but the development has to be organic and natural so I request Rumya fans to bear with me. Alright, I’ll stop my analysis now.??
Pardon any typos(a couple always slip in no matter how closely I read !) Please comment if you can.?