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By the time they reached her home, Aishani had gotten over her anger and had realized how she had behaved. Her misery knew no bounds and she sat mortified. The main gate had to be opened as no one was home. She started to get down to open it when Om held her hand to stop her and got down himself. Aishani looked at him in disbelief as she tried hard to figure out what to say next.
Om parked his car on the side leaving space for her car to go through when her driver brought it back. Before he could get down he heard her say, “Sorry” in a very small voice.
Om turned to look at her and found her looking utterly miserable. He took a deep breath and said, ” Get down Aishani. Let’s go inside.”
He offered to help her climb the few steps to the entrance and she didn’t refuse. Once inside he took their packed lunch to the kitchen and Aishani followed slowly. As Om found some plates in a cabinet to take out their food, Aishani took out a couple of cups and a saucepan.
“What are you doing?” he asked
She looked at him sheepishly. “We could not get the coffee packed. I’ll make coffee.”
Om could not help smiling. “Make it by the simple version. No need for saucepan. Just add some sugar and more milk to mine.”
Aishani nodded and continued.
A few minutes later they were sitting at the table eating quietly, each with a mug of coffee in front of them. When they were done eating, they sat there sipping on their coffee thoughtfully.
“How are you feeling now?” Om asked.
“Do you want to talk about what happened back there and why you were sorry by the time we got home?” Om said in a very soft voice.
Aishani breathed deeply,” I am sorry because I said nasty things to you in the car. It was out of my own complex and insecurity and I was very rude and unfair to you. Back there, I was very embarrassed that bhaiya had told you the worst part of our lives as so far other than the two of us, no one else knew. I was ashamed and that made me angry.”
“You haven’t told me the whole truth but that is a good start. Why were you ashamed? What have you done to be ashamed? On the contrary, you stood strong when most would buckle under such pressure.” Om said.
Aishani looked at him startled. He just sat there looking back at her and thinking something.
“You won’t understand Om what it’s like to have someone know the worst that you went through. And it makes you feel pitied which is not a good feeling.”
“Aishani…actually…would it be ok if I called you Aashi ?”
She stared at him for a few seconds blinking back tears then nodded her yes wordlessly.
“Good. Aashi, as far as not understanding what you went through, how about this? My dad had a series of affairs when I was a teenager. My mom became an alcoholic due to it and lost count of days and nights, forget about her children. When sober though, she did shower us with love and tried to take care of us before falling right back into her depression. Unable to stand the turmoil I took refuge in drugs, unlike you who went no further than bitter coffee. Shivaay was there for me constantly and he is the reason I came out of my addiction, found refuge in my art, and made something worthwhile of my life. He gave me a new life and brought me back from a near death experience all the while giving up on his childhood and taking way too much responsibility on his young shoulders. He has been a father to me and Rudra through our childhood and adulthood.
I also had Dadi showering motherly affection on me. I had a lot of support and yet I turned to drugs. You lost the only support you had for a good four years during the most tumultuous time in your life and yet, you stayed strong and emerged successful. Who the hell am I to pity you Aashi? I am in awe of you. I feel connected to you. I feel a complete sense of understanding and being understood around you. I feel at peace when I am near you and have no need to pretend when I am with you. Shikhar simply noticed this ease in us around each other and when I persisted he thought he could share your story with me.”
Aishani looked at him stunned. She could not believe how parallel the paths of their lives had been. That is why he had such a keen understanding of how her mind was working. She imagined his childhood and it broke her heart. She thought of Shivaay and had newfound respect for him that went way beyond what she had felt before. And then she thought of Shikhar’s lost childhood that was spent in caring for her and shielding her and she lost it and broke down. How could she be angry with him. He who had given up his childhood so she could have at least some of hers. Aashi wept as she thought of her brother, Shivaay, and Om, Rudra, and Priyanka’s childhood. Everything mixed together became very overwhelming for her.
Om got up and went around to her. Then he made her get up and took her to sit comfortably on a couch in the living room. He let her weep for sometime as he sat next to her holding her hand and passing her tissue. When she had calmed down a little he tried to talk again.
“Shikhar found a friend to share his misery with. He knew he could trust me and that I could understand. He knew that your past was safe with me because I told him in clear words that cared deeply about you. And by the way, I accept your apology. After what you have been through, it’s a miracle that you are not constantly angry. You are allowed these instances of letting go of your perpetual control on your emotions. Also for such an intelligent person, I am amazed that you can be such a fool”
Aishani looked at him hurt.
“Couldn’t you tell that he was exaggerating stories about girls running after me to entertain the ladies at my home! And even bigger idiocy than not understanding that, couldn’t you tell who the girl with long hair, lovely eyes, beautiful face, with a name starting with A was?”
Aishani looked shocked and was very red in the face. “I am so embarrassed. He assumes too much. I thought he was hinting at me but didn’t know you understood. He loves me a lot and is trying to fix things to make me happy. Please don’t pay attention to him.”
Om held her free hand and turned her towards him and looked directly in her eyes.”First, you don’t have exclusive right over him so don’t tell me not to pay attention to my friend. Second, saying that he “loves you a lot” is the worst understatement I have ever heard, and third, he assumed nothing. I clearly told him that I loved you the previous day. He was just teasing me about that.”
Aishani did not know what to do or where to look. It was just too much for her to handle. She stared at him with a stunned face and an open mouth.
Om looked at her state.”There is a limit to self-control” he said under his breath. He leaned forward pulling her closer to himself with his left hand around her waist and slid down the hair band holding her ponytail with his right. Then slipping his hand in her open hair he pulled her face closer to his and kissed her.
When Soumya reached the college gate she found Rudra there waiting patiently.
” Oh hi! You are also done with your class? Me too. Let Prinku come back. Then we can go home together.” Rudra tried to look cool.
Soumya looked at him with narrowed eyes. “You wait here for Priyanka. I am done. I’ll get going.”
Rudra panicked.” Arrey, when we all have to go to the same place why go separately? And you call ME duffer!”
“I said sorry for that Rudra. You are very intelligent especially in this new studious avatar of yours. I am done so I’ll go. I don’t need a car to commute.”
“Come on Soumya. Wait for five more minutes. Then we will go together.”
“Then tell me the truth. Why are you suddenly waiting here for us. You never did it earlier?” Soumya asked blankly.
“I am doing a lot of other good things for the first time these days. So I thought I’ll do this as well. Besides, at home, you hardly talk to me anymore. Life has become boring without your intellectual nonsense and bad jokes about my intelligence. In short, I miss my friend.”
Soumya’s eyes got a soft look. “Rudra, sometimes things happen in life and we change. It can’t be helped. I am not angry with you. But I can’t joke around with you like before.”
“O bete ki! Soumya we are thinking alike now. I told the same dialogue to O last night. That I did not make changes in life, life made changes in me. I am getting to your level.”
“You are already at a great level Rudra. ” Soumya said looking away. She looked sad and Rudra found that depressing. S he changed the topic. “I was actually thinking of planning some surprise for Saahil for his celebration next week. Will you help me plan that?”
Soumya’s beautiful face came alive and he saw her old spark back in her eyes. “Wow Rudra! What a great idea. Yes, let’s plan something he will really like rather than just a party for adults where he has no kiddie stuff to do. Let Priyanka get here too. Then we can discuss that.” She said sitting happily on a nearby bench.
Rudra looked at her excited face as he sat next to her and felt a nice warm feeling spread all over him.
_______________________________________________Thanks for reading Everyone. Please comment if you can ?