Link to Previous Chapters
Shikhar was finishing some work in his study after dinner. Aashi had been exceptionally quiet and had briefly answered his questions when he had asked her about her day and how her first consultation with Om had gone. He thought about what may have transpired between them and felt a little nervous. The tension at the back of his mind showed on his face. He was so immersed in his work that he did not notice Aashi standing in his doorway observing him. Not until he heard, “Can we talk for a few minutes?”
Shikhar looked up at her.”Of course. Come. I am almost done anyway.”
She went and sat on the chair across the desk in front of him. “Aashi, without that padded shoe, you barely have a limp now. Does the foot still hurt?”
“At night. But otherwise it either doesn’t hurt or I don’t notice it in the course of my daily activities.”
They sat silent for a few seconds. Then Aashi broke the silence, “You have a good bodyguard to protect you from your formidable sister.”
Shikhar looked very surprised. “What!?Who?I mean what are you talking about?”
Aashi laughed pleasantly. A confused Shikhar was extremely endearing. “Om, reprimanded me today informing me that I did not have exclusive right over you and that no one can stop him from paying attention to you.That was just one of his warnings.”
Shikhar still looked puzzled.
“I know that he knows about our past. At first I was embarrassed and got very angry but then he made me see things in the true light.”
Shikhar recalled Om’s words over the phonecall when he had informed him about Aashi visiting the gallery for an overview ” Remember, I am Omkaara.” he had said, ” I think I can calm down Aishani’s wrath.” Shikhar felt a shiver down his spine.
“Aashi, he insisted and I thought he could be trusted…But I am so sorry if you feel that I betrayed you …Again.” Shikhar hung his head looking down.
Aashi stared at her brother with tears in her eyes. “How do you tolerate my tantrums? Why don’t you slap me to knock me out of my self-absorbed, self-serving, self-pitying behavior. You are saying sorry to ME for finally being able to share your misery with someone. I am here to say sorry to YOU. For being angry with a brother who became a mother,a father, a brother, a friend, a mentor all rolled in one and dared to pursue his own dreams for a while before running back to me, to nurture me all over again. I am so sorry Bhaiya for being such a selfish little brat. I am there for you. I will always be there for you. Look at me! I am happy, healed, and done with my past. You don’t have to worry about me anymore. It’s time you looked ahead and gave some thought to your own future. I’ll be right by your side to support you.”
Shikhar looked at her in stunned silence. “You dare say that you were selfish, when you said nothing about being abused so I could pursue my higher studies in the U.S.? When you went through hell but smiled so that I could leave in peace? I never saw any tantrums. Then how could I have stopped them? But your support means the world to me and this will be the most memorable moment of my life.”
Aashi smiled at him through her tears and got up to leave. It was the first time since the final touches had been given to this room, that she had fully entered it and had sat at his desk. As she turned around her eyes fell on the wall hidden next to the open door. A small gasp escaped her lips as she saw innumerable tokens of their childhood that defied all odds and rebelliously snatched moments of cheer and happiness in spite of the negativity surrounding them. She walked up to the wall and traced the pictures and opened the cards with trembling hands. “When did you do this?” she asked in a quivering voice.
Shikhar came to her and gently patted her head. “I started it about six months ago. It got completed bit by bit in about three months. I just found it to be a soothing and strengthening activity so…”
Aashi hugged him and cried into his arm. “I love you so much Bhaiya. I am so sorry.”
At Oberoi Mansion, done with his work in his study, Om walked towards his studio. He casually glanced towards a side corridor and saw Shivaay peeping into the frosted glass pane on the door to Priyanka’s room. Om quietly walked up to him. “You should trust your sister Shivaay. If you have any doubts, ask her openly.But spying on her like this? ” Om shook his head in mock disapproval.
Startled, Shivaay jerked sideways to look at Om.”Shut up Om. I am not spying on Prinku. It’s all four of them.”
“What’s going on?” Om asked extremely curious.
“They are planning something for Saahil, and they did not include me saying it’s for youngsters !”
Om laughed silently. “Rudra said that?”
“I can’t imagine Soumya or Prinku talking to you like that.” Om said thinking. Then he laughed out loud. “Anika said that!”
Shivaay turned to look at Om who was still laughing vigorously. “It looks like you did not get invited to this “youngsters” meeting either.” Shivaay said smirking.
Om stopped laughing but could not wipe the smile off his face. “They must have known I was busy. Otherwise they would have definitely included me.” Then he peered into the door as well. “What must they be discussing!”
“Bhabhi, you just give us the list of his very best friends from his old school who always supported him. Contacting their families will be your job.” Soumya said looking at Anika when she had a strange feeling that she had seen images on the door. She looked that way and saw two heads slide sideways.
Soumya looked at Anika and then gestured towards the door.All four exchanged a look and quietly walked towards it. As they got to the door, Shivaay had just resumed to peek in and looked directly at Soumya who looked at him in disbelief as she opened the door.
“What are you doing Bade bhaiya?” Then she saw Om. “You too?”
Om laughed. “Shivaay was very upset about not being included in a youngsters meeting.”
Anika looked at Shivaay in disgust while Rudra said in a very superior tone.”After this behavior, you are officially a youngster. We were discussing some surprise for Saahil to make it extra special for him.”
“It was Rudra’s original idea.” Soumya said excitedly.
Rudra looked at her with a side glance, a half smile playing on his lips as Soumya turned a bright pink.
“Anyway. Let’s keep this to ourselves. The two Papas could not care less. If we tell Mom then we will have to tell Choti Ma or she will feel bad. Once Choti Ma knows she will definitely land up saying something in front of Saahil. So it’s best to keep it a secret from elders, which…ahem..does not include these two anymore.” Rudra said gesturing at Shivaay and Om.
“Excellent idea Rudra. You are on a roll these days. So proud of you.” Om said smiling at his little brother and went to his studio. Soumya walked to her own room with Rudra following her. Anika and Shivaay went back to their room as well.
“Soumya.” Rudra called out. “Thanks for giving me credit back there.” he said catching up with her. “That was very nice of you.”
“I was only doing what was right.” Soumya said coolly. Then as Rudra started to walk back to Om’s room, she felt bad. “Rudra. It was very sweet of you to think of this idea. I really appreciate you for it.”
Rudra looked at her and grinned widely. Then he left from there.
As Anika walked back to her room she looked at Shivaay teasingly. ” My God! Such childish behavior from such a grown man.”
Shivaay gave her an irritated look as he closed the door behind him. “Do you think you are sweet sixteen or something?”
Anika smiled looking at his irritated face and hummed the tune of “main kyaa karoo raam mujhe buddhaa mil gayaa.”
Shivaay came and held her tightly. “I am a buddha? ”
“I didn’t say that.” Anika laughed. “You are being defensive.”
Shivaay smiled looking at her laughing with abandon. He pulled her down on the bed with him and kissed her. Anika sobered up. “Shivaay, I have noticed something that I want to mention. Promise you will keep it to yourself.”
Shivaay nodded caressing her back. ” Everything is going really well with Saahil’s adoption and it was very nice of Dadi to plan a party for him and of Rudra and others to plan this surprise for him. But I still want this to be low key. Don’t make a big deal in front of everyone of Saahil officially or legally being your son.”
Shivaay stopped caressing her and instead used his free hand to lift up her chin.”What’s going on Anika?”
“Please try to understand Shivaay. This family, especially Pinky Aunty, I mean mummyji , and Bade Papa have sacrificed a lot of their aspirations for the sake of your and Om’s happiness. Mummyji is very supportive but somewhere deep inside she probably wanted your first child to be your flesh and blood. It’s beautiful that everyone is accepting Saahil so warmly. Just don’t make a big deal of him being your first child in front of them. We know what he is to us. There is no need to show it off. We have to care about everyone’s sentiments.”
Shivaay looked at his wife with a full heart. ” You will never have full understanding of just how much I love you Paanika. I promise I’ll be sensitive about mom’s sentiments. Now if you will allow me, I need to give my wife proof of my youth. May I?” he said pulling her even closer.
“My pleasure.” Anika whispered, her eyes closing as she wrapped her arms around him.
Next morning Om was getting ready to go for an important meeting when Anika got there.”Om, Shivaay and I are going to finalize the Virani’s site we saw last week. Most likely the deal will be done today. Just wanted to let you know. What are your plans for the day?”
“That’s great! I have a meeting this morning that will be done by eleven-eleven thirty. Then I will be working in my office. Unless Aashi calls me for questions or for a meeting about the gallery interiors.”
Anika smiled, “Aashi?”
Om smiled sheepishly, “I mean Aishani.”
“No, Aashi is a beautiful name too.” Anika said smiling at the slight blush coming over Om’s face. She was very happy seeing him this happy.
“Have a nice day Om. I’ll tell you about the developments in the evening. Dadi wants to invite Shikhar and Aishani for Saahil’s party. Meet her before you leave.”
Om nodded and waved at Anika.
Om got a call from Aishani right after noon. He picked up his phone eagerly.
“Hi Om. How are you?” she asked in a soft voice.
“Good. How are you?” Om replied for some reason partially holding his breath. His heart was beating very hard and he was confused by the sensation.
“Good. Bhaiya said, the work on the exterior will start in full force Monday onwards and it won’t be practical for me to visit the gallery for the entire next week or so. I have a basic tentative plan for the structure of the interiors minus the seating and other details. I was thinking, if we can visit the place once then I will have plenty to work with for the next couple of weeks. Can you meet me there in about an hour?”
“Yes.” was all Om could say. Never had he felt so nervous.
When Om reached the gallery an hour later, he found her sitting at its doorstep, wearing a pair of casual khaki trousers and a white cotton top, her hair loose and blowing lightly in the gentle breeze. She was looking at a notepad in her hand and scribbling in it every now and then. She looked up as Om approached her, her breath getting caught as she took in his formal appearance. Dressed in formal deepest blue trousers, a light blue shirt still tucked in with sleeves rolled up, and a dark blue tie hanging loose around his open collar, he made her hormones go all haywire and she clutched the bottle of water by her side to take a sip from it.
“Hi!” he said looking at her with a faint smile.
“Hi Om. I am impressed by your punctuality ” she said smiling back at him.
Om chuckled remembering their last meeting here. “Not as much as I am impressed by yours. But I really hope you are impressed by more than my punctuality.”
Aishani laughed out loud.”Oh yes. I am already impressed due to several other reasons.” She extended her right hand at him. “Will you help me Om?”
Om felt his blood gushing through his veins. Yesterday she had seeked physical comfort from him for the first time and today she had asked him for help on her own. Pursuing his attraction towards her and connection with her had been thrilling. But he had never imagined that her responding to him like this would be so breathtaking and intoxicating. His impatience to be one with her started to overpower him and he had to take firm control of his emotions. He held her hand to pull her up and helped her stand.
Om unlocked the door in front of them and they entered the gallery together. She was holding a rolled up piece of large sheet along with her notepad. Once inside she unfurled the sheet to study it while she kept looking at the space around her periodically. Om leaned in to look at the sheet that had clear sections with neat markings and labels. While he was engrossed in trying to understand her drawing, he also kept noticing minute details about her profile, her hair, her skin and all of it became a heady mix.
“I am thinking of a basic three sections gallery at present. The front will be a medium sized lobby, lavishly decorated. Your purpose is to accommodate as many art pieces as possible so maximum space should be reserved for art display. We are fortunate to have that half upper level that we can remodel to give it a beautiful classic look and have extra space for art display. I recommend having a medium fully equipped kitchen and storage space at the back to cater to specialized parties. Your answers suggested that you plan to invite rich, upper- class patrons along for exclusive showings regularly to generate adequate revenue for your gallery to support and maximize income for your artists. In that case, this gallery will have to be a classy aesthetic experience for your patrons. Which is why I suggest lavish decor for the lobby and reception. The fully equipped kitchen will also ensure easy catering at such events. Look through the plan and let me know if you approve of it. This is your copy so you may keep it. Once you approve it, I will start working on the details.”
Om took the plan from her and went through it as they walked the entire floor envisaging where what would go according to her plan. It all seemed very well thought out but she insisted that he give it adequate thought for at least a day or two before finalizing it. “Sometimes we cannot remember important factors and they come to us when we have had time to reflect upon it. So take your time. Consult with Shivaay Bhaiya and Anika bhabhi as well. See if they have any valuable ideas to contribute.”
Om nodded agreeing with her.
“Well, we are done with this then , for today. Once you give me your final word I will proceed with the next step.” Aishani said looking thoughtfully at him.
“We are done? There is nothing else you want to talk about today? It’s OK if that’s the case.” Om said with a very serious look on his face.
Aishani suddenly lost all control she had mustered up to this point. She looked at the two comfortable chairs by the wall.
“Can we sit there Om. I can’t stand for too long.”
“Of course.” Om said putting his right arm around her gently holding her as they walked towards the chairs and sat down comfortably. She unstrapped her padded shoe and flexed her foot inside the anklet. “The doctor insists I wear this when I am outside but I think it’s making me more weary than helping me now.”
Om helped remove the shoe and removed her anklet gently massaging her ankle and foot. Aishani looked at him bending in front of her as he did that and before she realized it she had run her right hand through his hair. Om felt a shiver down his spine and goosebumps all over. He looked up at her sharply and the smokiness of her eyes made him breathless. He sat back up looking at her intensely.
Aishani looked flustered and at a loss for words. After a couple of deep breaths she put effort into speaking out her thoughts.
“It’s no secret Om that I am severely attracted to you. But as you said that day, physical attraction is a strong urge and can play with our minds. So I don’t know what to make of this. Personally, I have no experience of so called love and haven’t seen others going through it either. You know how my parents were. What I do understand is that our similar experiences intensify this attraction and we share this unspoken understanding and connection that makes us feel at peace in each other’s company.”
Om nodded at her wordlessly.
“I feel sad every time you leave and feel completely at peace after being with you for a while. I care deeply about you and have learned to be open and direct from you. But Om, I don’t understand love the way it’s romanticized. . . I know that you are the only person in this world who can give me comfort, peace, and satisfaction but I have no idea what to do with that knowledge. You have experience. You have seen normal or happy relationships. You had slightly more normal surroundings. And, you, yourself, have been in a serious relationship before. So tell me, what do you expect from me now that you know how I feel about you.”
Om stared at her for a while taking in everything she had said before responding.
“Then we try to be with each other as much as possible to avoid feeling lonely and to be with the person we love deeply.”
Aishani looked at him. “What if it’s just hormones? What if after we have satisfied all of our urges and healed each other in every sense, we grow weary of each other?”
“So you think this is just attraction and a phase and will pass.”
” I have no clue! Look Om. Your parents chose each other and actually love each other ; mine trusted their parents to do what was best and hated each other violently. Both relationships saw infidelity, pain, hurt. Maybe, the problem is in feeling tied to a person. Then after a while, one feels like running away from them. Plus, I have no sense of conventions. I don’t even know if I can fit into a normal family.”
Om stared at her. ” It is true that one gets the fruit of their actions, right here on earth. There is no other heaven or hell. So one commitment-phobe met an even greater commitment-phobe and fell in love with her!” he said shaking his head and laughing.
Aishani looked mortified. Om saw her expression and stopped laughing. “Sorry Aashi. I had forgotten just how young you are and that the only trustworthy relationship you have had or seen so far is the one with your brother. You are right. I have much more experience than you have and understand this whole confusion of “hormones” a lot better. We met three weeks ago and taking any decision now is a little preposterous. So how about this? Let’s accept our feelings, go with the flow, and see where life takes us. Once this gallery is built we will see where we are and figure out whether we are closer to any big decision at that point. If not, we can take some more time. Just relax, ok.”
Aishani looked like someone had lifted a huge burden from her chest. She smiled brightly. “Thanks Om!”
Om helped her put her shoe back on and they started to walk out of the gallery. “By the way, Dadi is keeping a sort of celebration next Saturday for Saahil’s legally becoming an Oberoi. She wants to invite Shikhar and you for it since you have your own little bond with Saahil. She will call you to talk about it.”
Aishani nodded swallowing back her tears.”Good thing I met you. Else I wouldn’t have known that people like Dadi and Shivaay Bhaiya exist.”
Om smiled, “And good thing I met Shikhar. Or I would have spent my life thinking that there is no other big brother like Shivaay. Now I know that there are two of them.”
Just as Aashi was about to go to her car Om stopped her. “By the way, this idea you have in your head, that once we have satisfied our “urges” we won’t be interested in each other anymore this intensely, I am thinking maybe we should get that hurdle out of the way so that when we come to the decision making point, that doubt does not raise its ugly head anymore.” Om said giving her a wink and a quick peck on her cheek.
Aishani tried to understand what he had said scratching her head a little as she got into her car. Om waved at her, laughing at her expression and walked towards his own car.
Thanks for reading Everyone. Once again I have drifted the way the psychology of the characters has driven me. No idea if it is entertaining. But here it is for you. Please comment if you can.?