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Shikhar happily hung up the phone and handed it back to Aashi. Om’s Dadi had personally called Aashi to invite them for next Saturday and had insisted on speaking with him as well. He felt excited about visiting them again. AS Aashi started to leave his study, the sound of the doorbell startled both of them. “I’ll go see who is there.” Aashi said.
The maid had already opened the door by the time Aashi got there. She looked taken aback at the sight in front of her.
“Surely you remember that you invited me for dinner tonight!?” Om said casually strolling in a pair of blue jeans and one of his favourite faded black and white plaid shirt untucked. “Shikhar is in his study?” he said almost ignoring her and walking past her to go to Shikhar’s study.
“What have you made for dinner?” Aashi asked her maid in a lowered voice.
The rest of the evening was spent in Aashi supervising dinner preparation in between working on her assignments, catching a random TV show here and there, and peeping into Shikhar’s study a couple times only to find the two men deep into some conversation, mostly about the gallery but also about their school days. Other than an amicable nod here and a vague smile there, she did not manage to make any dent in their engrossed conversation. It threw her off completely and by dinner time she had no idea what to expect so she sat at the table eating quietly.
She was included in the dinner table conversation and they talked about random topics, business, art, construction and design issues. By the time it was time for Om to leave Aashi had started wondering if in her desperation for him she had imagined the afternoons on the previous day and that day.
” See you next Saturday Aashi” Om said pleasantly putting one arm around her lightly for a second. Then turning to Shikhar he said, “I’ll be seeing you at the construction site almost every day this week. See you then.”
As if in a daze, Aashi looked at him get into his car and wave at both her and Shikhar as he drove off. Her head swam a little as she walked back inside. She barely noticed Shikhar giving her a peck on her head as he said goodnight and went to his room. Absentmindedly she got ready for bed, switched off the light, and lay down staring at the starlit sky outside her window as she waited for sleep to free her from the confusion in her brain.
The next week was a flurry of activity in Oberoi Mansion. Since the upcoming party was a family affair except for Shikhar and Aishani there weren’t that many preparations. Yet, Dadi made a big fuss over decorations and menu as Anika looked nervously at Pinky’s strained smiles. She did not know what to say to Dadi and she couldn’t tolerate her racing heartbeat everytime Dadi started her party discussions. Amidst all this she had to take care of the wrap-up of her restaurant site deal and the ensuing paperwork and other formalities. On top of everything else Saahil’s physio sessions had become more rigorous as his leg-surgery was approaching in addition to a few pre-surgery visits to the doctor’s office. When she looked particularly scatterbrained, Jhanvi, who understood everything, would come and comfort her. That helped except that later she felt guilty about being much closer to Jhanvi than to Pinky. Om tried to help her out with everything as well but a lot of his time was taken up by being closely involved in the construction work at his gallery site. Shivaay had devoted a lot of his time to her restaurant deal the previous week so work-wise, this week was extra busy for him. Anika was a nervous wreck by the second half of the week that she hid well during the day, but the strain showed on her face by night-time.
Thursday night, after having wrapped up her work downstairs, Anika absentmindedly went to her room and got ready for bed. Shivaay noticed her walk to the bed preoccupied. She had been like this all week and it worried him.
He put his right arm around her as she sat next to him and automatically she rested her head on his chest. He gently ran his right hand through her hair, ” What’s going on with you this week? ”
“What? Nothing.” Anika lied startled by his question.
Shivaay took a deep breath and made her sit upright and face him. “Share your stress with me!” he said firmly.
Anika looked at him with worry in her eyes, ” I don’t want to annoy you by being a nagging wife.”
Shivaay sighed exasperatedly, “I am happily married Anika! I expect to be nagged by my wife when she is stressed and not have an eternally smiling, laughing doll by my side.”
Anika stared at him.
“Speak what’s bothering you or be punished.” he said with an exaggerated sinister expression.
She couldn’t help smiling. “Nothing. Work, adoption, doctor’s visits, upcoming surgery…”
“Dadi’s zealous preparations and mom’s trying hard to look as happy as everyone else and you trying to balance all of it on your two strong shoulders.” Shivaay completed for her.
She looked at him amazed.
“See!!” He said pointing to himself ” Man but not a nincompoop. ”
Anika burst out laughing. “Such a funny word. What does it mean?”
“Complete fool.” he said relieved at her usual laughter.
“Everything will be OK if you just keep sharing your stress with me. As long as we are together no problem is too big. Get that in your head. Now lie down on your belly.”
“What!??” Anika shouted.
Shivaay rolled his eyes. “You are truly a one track mind. Just lie down and trust me.”
Anika followed his instructions. “Of course I trust you…” she had just finished saying when the lights in the room dimmed making her heart beat faster.
A few seconds later, she felt two hands massaging her neck, shoulders, and back. She felt all of her stress melt away slowly as her brain felt almost drunk with utter relaxation. Soon she was groggy with intense sleepiness, a residual effect of the last few nights of broken sleep.
“I love you Shivaay.” she said huskily.
“I know.” he said. “This moment gets deposited in my bank of good behavior. I will withdraw it’s payback with interest when the time comes for it.” he said as he lay down next to her lightly patting her hair. “There’s no free lunch lady!”
She gave a throaty laugh as she said, “Now what does that mean?” and the next moment was fast asleep.
“I’ll make sure you know pretty soon.” Shivaay whispered and slept off lying on his belly with his right hand still buried through her hair.
Friday afternoon Soumya and Priyanka walked towards their car after college.
Soumya walked deep in thought. “Where did Rudra have to go that he is not going home with us?”
“No idea,” Priyanka said as they got into the car. She was unusually excited and jittery.
“What’s up with you Priyanka?” Soumya asked. “You are very high strung today.”
“Uhh…Nothing. Just hoping all of our surprises for Saahil will work out fine. Bhabhi has asked us to keep it low-key so we have to manage that too.” Priyanka crossed her fingers as she spoke the white lie. She was jittery for the party tomorrow but not on account of Saahil’s surprise.
Once home, they went to the kitchen for a snack and brought it to the dining table. Just as they were finishing up Rudra came in looking excited. “Soumya, we have a guest. Can you bring out a glass of water to the living area please.”
“OK.” Soumya said curiously.
She got a small tray with a glass of water in it to the living room with Priyanka walking casually by her side. She was beginning to smile as she saw a lady sitting on the sofa, but as she got closer Soumya’s heart skipped a couple beats and the tray dropped from her hands.
“Aai!?” she said her mouth open and eyes wide with shock.
Soumya’s mom smiled affectionately at her as she walked to her and hugged her tightly.
Thanks for reading Everyone. Please comment if you can ?