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The dinner table had been set. While everyone was getting ready to sit for dinner Anika wanted to be excused for some time.
“Saahil looks exhausted and he has already eaten so much. I’ll get him to sleep, then I’ll eat. All of you please start.” she said as she took Saahil with her.
“I’ll do that. You stay here.” Shivaay interrupted her. But Anika was adamant.
“Please Shivaay. You tuck him in every night. Let me do it today. Please.”
Shivaay saw the pleading in her voice and the immense sadness in her eyes. He realized, she needed this time for herself.
“OK. I’ll just take him up the stairs. You can do the rest.” he said and they left.
Rudra came back after having dropped off Saahil’s friends and went to the dining room. He looked around for a place to sit. There was an empty chair next to Aashi and also next to Soumya. Rudra went and sat next to Soumya. Aashi who was sitting directly opposite where Soumya was, looked at the two and a slightly worried look clouded her eyes. “These two are still not fine.” she thought to herself.
As Shivaay took Saahil upstairs,he looked at Anika looking very somber.
“What’s going on? Will you tell me or have you decided not to “nag” me and rather let me get acidity by seeing you so tensed?”
Anika jerked her head up at his question and a smile escaped her lips. “I am ashamed of myself Shivaay and I am thinking how to get over it.”
By the time they were at the top of the stairs and Shivaay tried to set Saahil on his feet, they realized that he had nodded off. He had been excited all day, hadn’t taken a nap in the afternoon, and had played to the hilt in the evening. His body it seems had given up and he was fast asleep.
“You can’t carry him when he is like this. Let me help you put him to bed.”
“But downstairs everyone is at the dinner table. You should be there. Otherwise it will look like both of us avoided dinner together.”
Shivaay shifted Saahil in his arms so that his head rested on Shivaay’s other shoulder now. He continued to walk towards Saahil’s room with Anika by his side.
“Looks like one dose of Om’s lecture was not enough. I’ll send him upstairs again to pound some sense into you.”
Anika looked almost frightened. “No. I promised him that I’ll focus on what’s “more right” and not worry too much about public opinion. He will come and take another class of mine. You help me put Saahil to bed.”
Shivaay laughed silently. ” You are actually scared of him! It’s so amazing to see you like this.”
Anika shot him a glance of mock anger.
“I am not scared of him. I just trust his opinion a lot”
They had reached Saahil’s room. Together they took him to the restroom and cleaned his face and his grubby hands much to his irritation. They managed to brush his teeth while he kept his eyes closed the entire time, defiantly asleep. They could not help laughing at how funny he looked doing that. Together they managed to change him into his night clothes and finally tucked him into bed. As Anika got up to go out Shivaay pulled her back down on the floor where he was sitting next to the bed.
“Just a couple minutes of peace before we go back downstairs. Please?”
Anika saw the pleading in his eyes and melted. “OK.Just a couple minutes. ”
Shivaay pulled her towards himself as she sat down and together they sat and looked at the bed for a couple of seconds. Suddenly Shivaay felt a drop on his hand where it was around her waist. He leaned forward to peep from behind her back to see her face and found it wet.
“OK! If you are that hungry, let’s go!”
Anika gave a short laugh. “Shut up Shivaay. I am so sorry I hurt you. I just wasn’t looking at how much love you have for Saahil and how much Dadi was trying to do for him. I just became obsessed with looking good in the eyes of my in-laws. I ignored Saahil’s interests. If Dadi had not taken the matter into her hands, I would have done so much wrong with him. How could I of all people do it to my Saahil, Shivaay? What has happened to me?” she sobbed silently.
Shivaay made her turn and wiped her cheeks. ” Nothing has happened to you. You are just a human being trying to balance the various new roles that have come into your life. And your family’s job is to help you. So Dadi did what was best. Om helped you see what was right. And I am here to love you eternally and be right behind you to support you. Like, literally!!” He laughed.
Anika laughed with him through her tears.
“I love you so much.” She said as she hugged him tightly.
“I have been simmering since this morning. Now you are about to make me boil off. Let’s get dinner so that we can go to our room before I am completely burnt.”
Anika pulled back laughing and they got up to leave the room. Anika kissed Saahil’s forehead before Shivaay held her hand and led her out of the room.
Once dinner was over some gathered in the living room to chat casually while Aashi hung around with Soumya, Anika and Priyanka in the dining area. Being around a normal family with regular family activities was a new experience for her and it filled her with a deep sense of deprivation as well as longing. She felt like she was in a dream like state watching this enchanting world of casual and comfortable domesticity. ” It feels so secure and… settled.” she thought to herself.
“Aashi di,” Priyanka interrupted her thoughts. “When will you come again? Will you wait for another party or occasion? You meet Om bhaiya for work but what about the rest of us? ”
Aishani felt her heart melt at Priyanka’s innocent face and her not so innocent question. Aashi sighed thinking about what she thought was going on within Priyanka’s mind. ” I promise Priyanka. I will not wait for an invitation this time. I’ll just come. I cannot stay long without meeting you guys now. Besides, I have told Shivaay Bhaiya that my workload will decrease next week onward and I can start working on making Anika Bhabhi’s study inside his study. So I’ll be around.”
Priyanka nodded, a faint smile on her lips.
By the the time they got to the living area, there were just Om, Shikhar, and Shivaay sitting there.
“Everyone else retired for the evening.” Shivaay informed.
“We should get going too.” Aishani said looking at Shikhar.
“No. I hardly got to talk to him this evening. Sit for some time. It’s Saturday.”
Om interjected looking at her.
“I agree Aashi.” Shikhar agreed. “We were so busy with other stuff that I haven’t talked to him. What’s the hurry? It’s not even that late.”
Aishani looked helplessly at Anika who laughed. “Let them talk. We can talk too.”
As they went to sit Soumya noticed a pair of glasses. “Aren’t these Dadi’s?” she asked.
“Oh! Dadi left them behind.” Shivaay said.”Soumya, can you go, give them to her. She might need it.”
Soumya took the glasses and left. As she entered Dadi’s room she saw Rudra sitting next to her on the bed. They were deep into conversation and didn’t notice her.
“I am so proud of you beta. How well you organized and handled Saahil’s party. And you have become so mature. Deciding to join your brother’s in the office, and asking me to call Ranjana …I always knew my Rudra was the best.”
“Dadi, you say the same to O, bhaiya, and Prinku.”
Dadi laughed heartily. “Because each one of my grandchildren is best. Much better than my children. Which is why I love my daughter- in-laws so much. It was their extra goodness that they gave me such good grandchildren.”
“Dadi, O told me all about why you called the media. I promise Dadi, Saahil will never feel like an outsider here. We will love him so much. ”
Dadi patted his cheek. “I have no worry there. I have full confidence in all three of you. Now go rest. You look exhausted.”
Rudra nodded and got up to leave. As he turned toward the door, he saw Soumya standing there, tears rolling down her cheeks. She slowly walked forward and handed Dadi her glasses with trembling hands. “Dadi, you forgot these in the hall. Shivaay Bhaiya asked me to give them back to you.”
Dadi took the glasses from Soumya and looked at Rudra. He just looked at her and walked out of the room.
“Soumya, beta he did not let me tell you because he did not want discussion about what he did to overshadow your moment of happiness.Don’t be upset.”
Soumya wiped her tears. “Dadi, I am not so conceited or ungrateful that I’ll be angry for this. You take rest.”
Dadi nodded smiling and looked on as Soumya left the room.
Instinct told Soumya that he had not gone back to the living area, but to his room to be alone. She rushed in that direction.
As Rudra was about to reach his room he heard Soumya call him out. He turned around to see her rushing toward him.
“Rudra! Please wait. I need to speak with you.”
Rudra waited for her at his doorstep looking at her tensed face. Once she reached him they looked at each other quietly for a few moments.
“Can we go inside?” She asked anxiously.
Rudra opened the door to his room and she followed him inside.
“Can we sit?” she asked again.
Rudra walked over to a couch and quietly sat there.
Soumya sat down next to him.
“Thanks for asking Dadi to call my Aai. I really appreciate it and can see that you are trying hard to make up for what happened.”
“I wasn’t trying to make up for what happened.” Rudra said in a calm voice. “You are my friend. I care about you. I saw you upset looking at your Aai’s picture. That very day Dadi had asked me if I wanted to suggest calling anyone for Saahil’s party. I thought about you missing her and thought why not call your Aai too. As it is, considering your relationship with O and Bhaiya, your Aai should have been invited. So I asked Dadi. It’s that simple. But if you still want to thank me, then you are welcome.”
Soumya looked stunned at Rudra. How had he changed so much? Or was he always this emotional , sensitive, childlike guy who hid behind his goofiness and pranks. She realized that he hadn’t been spoilt by the love and care of his brothers. Rather, he had been sheltered and had an innocence in spite of his flashy demeanor. ” Rudra, I am sorry for all the rudeness I have directed at you in the past few days. You are right. It was one instance of bad judgment and not a certificate of your character. You are a duffer who sometimes does not know when to say what but I have never known a guy as nice as you except Om bhaiya. I trust you. I know you would never hurt me. And I will give serious thought to withdrawing my transfer application.”
Rudra was completely shocked as he turned to look at her.
“You are right. I came here to build my future so I could support my Aai. And I am letting such nonsense affect me and I am ignoring all the support I am lucky to have from you and your family. My family. I insult Om bhaiya’s love for me every time I exclude myself from this family. I know you will help me work toward my goals. And I know that we will both be successful. You have valued our friendship much more than I have. I will try to be a better friend here on. Will you forgive me and go back to being a duffer? And I am ready to go back to being Sumo.” she said tearfully.
Rudra was unable to speak. He did not have the guts to tell her that he had moved beyond friendship, for the fear of scaring her again. He realized that he had really grown up and that there was no looking back now. Finally he managed to gather up enough courage to speak.
“I will always be your friend and will support you in all you do.”
Soumya gave him a radiant smile that made her face glow even more.”Goodnight duffer. See you tomorrow morning then.”
Rudra smiled at her. “Goodnight Soumya.” he said and watched her leave his room. Then he held his head with both hands and closed his eyes trying to calm down his overactive brain.
In the living room Aishani saw the tired faces of Shivaay and Anika. Then she looked at Om and Shikhar chattering away like kids. Priyanka sat by her side quietly. “Oh God! These two are so clueless.” she thought looking at her brother and Om.
“Bhaiya, I really think we should get going now. It’s been an eventful evening. Everyone needs to rest.”
Shivaay smiled at Aishani. “This girl is really very wise.” he thought gratefully.
“Om, I think Aashi is right. I’ll see you at the gallery next week. We will talk then.”
Finally Aashi and Shikhar got up to leave. They bid goodbye to Shivaay and Anika in the hall.
Shikhar walked up to Priyanka. “I had a great time talking to you Priyanka. We’ll catch up again some time soon.” he said smiling at her.
She nodded at him and he realized that she was not anxious or nervous at all. Instead her face held a strange new charm. Unable to decipher the look, Shikhar turned around to leave.
As they walked outside on the driveway illuminated mildly by garden lamps, Om held Aashi’s hand . She was taken aback at his act in presence of Shikhar who was walking on her other side.
“I’ll see Shikhar on Monday at the gallery. When can I see you again?” he asked simply.
“I’ll have some designs ready by Tuesday or Wednesday. If you want you can look at them although they will make more sense once we have access to the gallery again.” she said glancing nervously at Shikhar who was deep into his own thoughts completely oblivious to them.
“OK. I’ll see you on Tuesday then if not before. I’ll call you to set the time and place, unless I drop by unannounced.”
“OK.” Aashi squeaked hoping he would stop now as she tried to tug her hand free from his. He refused to let go.
She gave him an incredulous look but he looked straight ahead ignoring her. Once near their car, Shikhar said bye to Om and went around to the driver’s seat.
Aashi jerked her hand one more time and he let her go.
“Goodnight Aashi” he said opening the car-door for her.
“Good night.” she said forcing herself to get into the car wishing he was still holding her hand and realizing how conflicted her thinking was. As they drove away, it suddenly dawned on her, what Shivaay had said to her. “Oh!!” she thought. “Now I get it. I AM a complete goner!”
Thanks for reading Everyone. Please comment if you can ?