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Om was taken aback by her complete abandon of her inhibitions and it played havoc on his senses. He realized that they were on a downward spiral of control and he felt unable to stop himself from going down on it. But he suddenly felt Aashi pulling back. Instinctively, he tried to stop her from doing so but she persisted and reluctantly he pulled away too setting her back on her feet. She looked at him as she fought to normalize her breathing and saw him do the same.
“You said my brother needed rescuing.Besides, we don’t want someone to stumble upon us doing…this” she waved her right hand in between them and averted his eyes.”that would be really embarrassing.” she added.
Om nodded as his heartbeat became more subdued ” Yes, your brother needs to be rescued. But that’s the only reason, as far as I am concerned, that we are getting out of here.” he said as he put his arm around her back and led her out of the room.
“What do you mean the only reason?” She said baffled. “You won’t be embarassed if someone caught us…doing…you know…doing what we were doing?”
“It’s called kissing and making out. It’s not a disease or horror that can’t be named. I’ll answer your question if you say its name correctly.” Om said enjoying her consternation as they walked slowly. For the first time he was thankful for the excuse of her foot so that they could take their time walking.
Aashi looked at him in disbelief but realized that he had meant what he had said. “Fine! Won’t you be embarassed if someone caught us you know…kissing and making out?”
Om smiled triumphantly. ” No. I won’t be embarassed. I am not saying I wouldn’t stop. I would because it is a private activity but I wouldn’t be embarassed because we are both adults, we like each other, and there is nothing wrong with it.”
Aishani thought about that. “Well, this is your home and you are a guy so maybe yes. For me, as a girl, it would be embarassing.”
“You have a right to be embarassed. I understand what you just said. Each of us has a right to feel the way they feel.”
Om regretfully noticed that they had reached the living area and their conversation had to be postponed until the next opportunity.
He walked towards where Shikhar was sitting while Aishani looked on thoughtfully thinking about what he had just said. She felt a strange sense of peace and confidence shroud her mental space.
“Shikhar” Om said as he interrupted what Tej was explaining to him. ” Can you come with me? We were going over to look at the kids party. ”
“Sure” Shikhar said as he took leave from Tej. “I’d love to discuss that some more with you once I am back uncle.”
Tej nodded appreciatively. He had been enjoying talking to him and looked regretful that he had to leave.
“So all OK! I couldn’t help noticing some confusion as the media got here. So I decided to just sit back and let it all settle down.” Shikhar asked as they walked towards where Aishani was standing.
“Yes. It was unexpected as Dadi hadn’t told us about it. But it’s all settled now. ” Om said as they joined Aishani again and together they walked towards the pool area.
Once they got there a brilliant sight met them. The four kids were going berserk. Rudra had arranged for a face-painting guy, a balloon artist, and a small bouncy house. There was an array of toys that they could play with. And a large screen TV had a cartoon movie on it. A long table had pizza, cookies, juice and chips with some fruits thrown in to keep it in the healthy range. The children were unrecognizable because one’s face was painted like a tiger, another seemed to have a batman mask, the third was a monster, and the fourth had butterfly wings on each cheek and antennas on the forehead with the nose painted like the body of the insect.
“You guys missed the magician.” Rudra said gleefully. “He just left.”
“Wow Rudra!” Om said looking around. “You sure are the master of party , irrespective of age.”
“As long as it’s in the youngsters category.” Rudra said with some pride.” But I had help from Soumya and Prinku.” he added hastily looking at Soumya who was sitting with a little girl helping fix her dress.
Aishani smiled looking at Rudra’s innocent face.
“You really are the best Rudra.” she said affectionately.
” Thanks Aishani di. By the way, you are free to eat from the kids’ table. This area has no restrictions. Only pool is off limits, but that’s just for the kids.”
“Umm…I’ll skip the pool for now.” Aashi said looking uncertainly at it while Om looked at her with a very amused smile.
“Yeah me too.” Shikhar said as if he had considered the idea for a few seconds.
Aishani laughed at his expression and went to talk to Soumya. Rudra looked curiously at Om with many questions in his eyes. Sensing their need for privacy Shikhar walked over to where Priyanka stood by a little boy who was getting his fifth balloon art made. She was so focused on the activity that she did not realize when Shikhar came and stood by her.
“O , what happened back there? Did you or Bhaiya know that media people were coming? Is Bhabhi very upset?”
Om held Rudra’s hand to make him sit by the pool and sat down next to him. Then he started to explain all that had happened.
“Wow!! A sword.” said Shikhar completely startling Priyanka. She had been feeling sad that she could not be in the area where everyone else, including Shikhar, was. To distract herself she had been playing actively with kids. Hearing Shikhar’s voice right next to her ear sent her heart in an overdrive and she felt like she had lost her voice. She simply looked nervously at him and nodded.
“That is so cool!” He said.” Are you a pirate or a warrior?” He asked the little boy.
“Warrior” he announced importantly making Shikhar chuckle.
“Priyanka, you are with Soumya in college, right?” he asked pleasantly.
Priyanka simply nodded completely crushing her dupatta with her hands.
“I talked to you a bit last time I was here but we haven’t gotten to talk much. Usually, as soon as I get here, you are off to call someone or get something, or find out what someone is saying. You know, Om is such a good friend of mine; I’d really like to get to know you.”
“Ok. That would be nice.” Priyanka managed to say in a barely audible voice.
Shikhar looked at her curiously for a few seconds. She was the youngest child of one of the biggest business families in the city, and in the country. She was the only and the baby sister of three obviously doting brothers. Everyone he had met in Om’s home clearly adored her. She had all the imaginable wealth, social status, and pampering at her disposal. According to Shikhar’s understanding, girls who had all of that displayed a certain mannerism and presented themselves in a certain manner. It was natural and he did not think there was anything wrong with that. But fact of the matter was, that Priyanka displayed none of that mannerisms, attitude, or a general overall aura. In fact she seemed extremely anxious. That got to him. He glanced at Soumya who exuded confidence and self-assuredness. Priyanka’s demeanor was in sharp contrast.
He had dealt with another anxious twenty year old girl he cared about more than his own life. The fact that Priyanka reminded him of that nervous anxiety, piqued his interest and he felt compelled to talk to her more. Without meaning to be so, Shikhar had become a consummate rescuer by sheer practice.
He walked towards a small round table near by and sat on one of the chairs around it. Feeling that it was expected of her, Priyanka went and sat on the chair opposite him. They looked at the entire scene before them quietly for a couple of seconds.
“So Priyanka, Soumya was telling me the other day that she is into research and might want to go for her masters and then maybe even PhD. What are your interests? ”
Priyanka was at a loss for words. She had never given much thought to her “interests”. She simply lived one day at a time enjoying the shelter of Dadi and her three brothers. Some of her time was taken up in working on her social anxiety with the help of a professional. Other than that, she studied whatever was required so that she could do reasonably well in college. She had never thought about what all that studying would lead to. Now she felt mortified because she was afraid she was about to make a fool of herself in front of a man who was sitting across her looking devastatingly handsome in his light green shirt open at his throat, his eyes reflecting a kindness that she had seen before only in her middle brother’s eyes, and his face holding the most charming smile she had ever seen.
“Uhh…I have not thought about it. I am just studying aimlessly at the moment I guess.”
Shikhar’s heart skipped a beat at the stark innocence and self-deprecation in her voice. This was the most he had ever heard her speak in one go and he found his attention unwavering despite the simplicity of her answer.
“Well! Better to be aimless for a while and think about your goal rather than decide too hastily and make the wrong decision. I think it’s a good thing that you have not thought about it as yet. One should sometimes just enjoy the process rather than running after an ambition one may not even like at the end.”
Priyanka looked at him surprised. She also felt her nervousness diminish a little. “You really think that?”
“Absolutely! And there are many more ways to figure out what we want from life than to just focus on academics. Our hobbies for example. See what Om has done with what he loved to do. I admire that so much. Has the art bug bitten you as well?”
Priyanka laughed at that and Shikhar noticed how warm and beautiful her face looked when she did that. For the time-being, her nervousness had disappeared. “No, no. Om Bhaiya is the only artistic one in this house. I like reading, talking to my Dadi and my brothers, and Bhabhi and Soumya too now, and I like Indian clothes. That’s the extent of my hobbies.”
At the mention of clothes, Shikhar noticed her dress. It was a beautiful orange color and enhanced her light complexion. “Hmm. I can tell now. That dress is very pretty indeed. So you specifically like Indian clothes?”
” Yes. They are my favorite. I rarely buy ready-made though, even if it’s designer. I mostly choose my own fabric and give my tailor my own designs.” Suddenly Priyanka realized she was chattering about her clothes to a grown, mature man. Embarassed she became quiet.
Shikhar smiled looking at her with a twinkle in his eyes.”Well! Clearly that’s your passion then. And passion for something, as long as it is positive,is important.”
Priyanka felt that they had talked only about her so far. She recalled her social anxiety therapy sessions and remembered that she should ask the other person questions about their interests as well. “Really! What is your passion?What are you passionate about?” she asked earnestly and innocently.
Shikhar felt his jaw drop and he had no idea why his heart beat a little faster at her question. He thought for a few seconds and said, ” Architecture…I guess.”
“That makes sense.” Priyanka said thoughtfully, unaware that Shikhar was looking at her while deep in thought.
Both sat quietly for a couple of minutes until Om arrived there. ” Shikhar, I am going over to the other side.Want to come with me?”
“Sure.” said Shikhar a little reluctantly looking at Priyanka who had also got up.
“Prinku, Anika might need your help with dinner. She had unexpected load of guests this evening. Can you come along? Soumya and Rudra are going to wrap up here. It’s almost time for the kids to go back home. ”
Priyanka nodded happily and went with them.
“Soumya can I help you with anything?” Aashi asked.
“No Aashi di.” Soumya assured “The staff will clean up. We just need to make sure Saahil’s friends have all their stuff and are left at the car safely. One of the trusted staff member from here is going to escort them back to their home.You go ahead and join others. We will be there in a few minutes too.”
Aashi nodded and walked towards Om, Shikhar, and Priyanka. Om noticed her coming towards them and slowed down. Once she had caught up with him, he walked alongside her quietly, his hands firmly inside his trouser pockets.
Left alone, Rudra and Soumya looked uncomfortably at each other. They ensured that all the kids had eaten and had all the stuff they had gathered from the activities. Saahil wanted to play more but he looked utterly exhausted. Eventually he agreed to say bye to his friends.
“I promise Saahil. You will get to play with them again soon. Either they can come here, or you can go to their house.” Rudra said gently patting Saahil’s head.
“That’s nice Rudra.” Soumya said appreciatively.
“I understand how it feels when you can’t be with a good friend anymore. I would not want him to go through that.” he said pointedly as they walked behind the still chattering children, carrying some of their things.
“Don’t start again Rudra.” Soumya said wearily.
“What don’t start again? I have apologized. You know that it was one instance of bad judgment on my part and I would never hurt you. Coming here and studying for a better future was your dream. And yet you are throwing it all away. I am not even going to be in college in a few months. We will only see each other at meal times at night maybe. Still you think you can’t stay. And your Aai? She is so happy to see you living here and has no clue you have applied for…” Rudra looked away completely frustrated.
Soumya walked with her head bowed, holding back her tears.
Just then Anika joined them. “Sorry Saahil, I could not stay with you guys for long.” she said apologetically. “I got busy managing food and other stuff for all the other people who came. Did all of you have fun?” She asked looking at Saahil’s friends. They nodded with excitement.
“Didi, it was super fun. And you know what, it was so cool that all those people took my pictures with Jeeju and you and what Dadi said. I felt really important and good.” Saahil said happily.
Anika was taken aback at his words and thought of what Om had told her earlier in the evening. She clutched Saahil’s shoulder and resisted the urge to pick him up and hug him tightly. “That’s nice Saahil.” she said weakly. ” Dadi is the coolest one.”
As Rudra took Saahil’s friends to drop them off to the car, he went to take the little bags of the knick-knacks the kids had collected from various activities from Soumya.Their fingers touched as the bags were transferred. Rudra, held the tip of her fingers for a few seconds looking at her with sad eyes. Then he let go and walked out with the kids as Soumya looked on.
Thanks for reading Everyone. Another chapter out ? May I be able to see this safely through its end which is now in sight. A few more chapters to go. I am keeping up the faith and hope you will too. Please comment if you can ?
P.S. I have a theme song for Om and Aashi as I think it suits them. Listen to it if you have the time. Hope some of you will like it as much as I liked it. It’s called “Siyaah Raatein”