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The next morning, Anika got ready for her appointment at the bank. She had all her paperwork ready and she went through it to ensure she could explain all her plans properly. Shivaay kissed her head as he started to leave for work. “Best of luck sweetheart. I am sure you will do great. I’ll see you in the afternoon.” Anika got up and hugged him. “Thanks. I am a little nervous but I should be OK. I’ll wait for you.”
Working from his home office, Om finished his work by 11 am. He didn’t want to keep Aishani waiting. He reached the gallery site by quarter to twelve and sat at the doorstep checking his notes. That is how Aishani found him when she reached there at twelve noon sharp. She was impressed by his punctuality as she had been kept waiting by rich, hot-shot clients in the past. But more than that, she looked on mesmerized at his captivating form sitting at the doorstep. Casually dressed in light linen khakis and an untucked white cotton shirt, going through the contents of a small notebook, his medium length hair softly fanning his forehead in the gentle breeze, he looked insanely attractive. She took a deep breath and reminded herself,
“He is out of reach and off-limits so control yourself.” Armed with this resolve and dressed professionally in a knee-length, black pencil skirt, a bottle green, silk shirt tucked neatly inside the narrow waistband of her skirt, and with a pair of two-inch heeled, beige leather pumps providing her a couple inches of extra confidence, she walked up to him. Her hair was partially tied in a ponytail that kept her looking neat but half her hair hung loose over her shoulders giving her a soft, appealing look. Her routine light maroon lipstick, applied in moderation enhanced her beautifully shaped full lips, and thinly applied kaajal accentuated her magnetic eyes. “Good afternoon.” she said briefly.
Om looked up from his notes and his heart skipped a beat as he saw her standing there. ‘Hi!” he replied.”Wow! I am impressed by your punctuality.”
“Not as much as I am impressed by yours. And I hope I’ll give you more reasons to be impressed than just being punctual.”
“Oh! I am already impressed due to several other reasons” said Om, without realizing that he had looked her over from head to toe.
Aishani blushed fiercely but replied in a steely voice, ” I meant by my work. Speaking of work, can we go inside now so I can get an overview.”
Om got up casually. “Yeah sure.” He was surprised at how comfortable and at peace he felt in her company. Together they stepped inside the building. Om started to show her around. “This used to be a clothing store. It has two levels.”
Aishani looked around the place. A spiral wooden staircase to the upper level was on one side of the massive hall. The upper level had just half a floor with a balcony style railing overlooking the lower level. There were shelves all over the walls on the lower level. Aishani guessed that it must be the same on the upper level as well. The space was sparkling clean and the floor was covered in soft, decent carpets in patches. A couple of clean, comfortable, cushioned chairs lay on one side of the room. “Did they sell the place to you like this? I mean so well cleaned and …carpeted?”
“No. I have had it cleaned by professional cleaners regularly since I acquired it. The carpet is used but cleaned and was brought from our warehouse. I intended to visit this place often and spend time here so I thought I’ll at least make it decent until I could figure out a plan for it.”
“It’s in great shape Mr. Oberoi! I seriously doubt that it will need complete demolition but I’ll leave the final verdict to my accomplished brother. It’s good that you had it cleaned so well. Otherwise I may not have been able to visualize its potential this clearly and effectively.”
“Seriously?” said Om looking at her incredulously.
“Yes! The cleaning and furnishings have really helped.”
” No I meant ‘Mr. Oberoi?’ Really Aishani? I thought after all that water throwing, name-calling, bickering, and a few jokes here and there, we’d be on first name basis.”
Aishani felt a fit of laughter rising up in her chest at his remark but she fought it hard to keep a poker face, “That was a social gathering to which I was accompanying my business partner, Shikhar, owing to his business interactions with your older brother.This is a professional workspace so I am just being polite and maintaining appropriate decorum.”
Om listened to her little speech with amusement. What she did not know was that he could see through her poker face, and the laughter she had stifled in her chest had been detected by him. He maintained an equally serious expression, bowed in front of her, and said, “Very well Ms. Saxena. I shall maintain an appropriate and professional decorum as well. Would you be kind enough to pardon my careless and casual attire and appearance ma’am? My sincerest apologies for the same.”
Aishani took a deep breath and looked away as she fought another fit of laughter. ” Let me take some notes and fill a few forms.”
“Absolutely Ms. Saxena. Please go ahead.”
Aishani ignored his comment and opened her folder to write down necessary details. She walked around the place taking everything in minutely.
Om walked literally two-steps behind her pointing to things and continuously asking questions like, ” What do you think about these shelves Ms. Saxena?”, “What about the placing of the windows Ms. Saxena? I want ample daylight in the gallery if needed.”, “Ms. Saxena, will that structure need to be demolished?”, “Ms. Saxena, I want the exterior of the gallery to look good too. How will you approach that, Ms. Saxena?”
Finally Aishani was fed up. She shut her folder with a loud clap, turned around sharply, and landed up standing an inch from him. “If you call me Ms. Saxena one more time, I’ll find some water to throw on you!” she exclaimed looking up at him.
“But I am just maintaining professional decorum…Ms. Saxena!” said Om innocently.
“Om!” she said in exasperation.
“Yes ma’am?” Om said softly leaning in to her and looking directly at her upturned face.
Aishani felt her insides melting. This close, she could smell his cologne and it seemed to her that she could feel the heat radiating from his body. Or was it radiating from her own body? She felt very confused; her palms felt clammy, and a bead of sweat trickled down from the base of her neck vertically along the center of her back .
“I’ll call you Om.” she said weakly. “Please call me Aishani.”
“OK Aishani. As you wish.” said Om with a roguish smile.
Aishani turned back and walked away from him as swiftly as she could trying to regain her composure. She continued surveying the place and taking notes. “The shelves will have to be taken down and the wall will have to be stripped, re-plastered, primed and painted for the gallery. The exterior will need remodeling and/or construction. We will also have to decide whether you want to stick to the half upper level plan, which actually might turn out to be quite stunning, or transform the place to two full floors with maybe a staircase and/or transparent elevators. But to begin with, the most important thing is to inspect the wiring and ceiling of this place. If those two are intact then it’s possible that no demolition will be needed. Why tear down a perfectly good structure if just a little remodeling can make it as good as new?” Om listened to her attentively and nodded in agreement.
“I will send a government licensed electrician to inspect the wiring and a licenced mason to inspect the ceiling. We will have to work out a match between your schedule and theirs. But looking at this place, my first guess is that you will need my services more than my brother’s.”
“Oh that’s great!” said Om with a smile, ” I’ll be so glad to have your services. Can’t wait!”
Aishani blushed again and stepped away looking at the flooring. Om wondered what was up with him. Since when did he flirt with women! ” I have to stay away from Rudra for a while.” he thought. “Must be some infection I caught from him.”
To avoid the awkwardness Om let her walk away and looked at a section of the wall ripped by a broken shelf. Aishani in her muddled state of mind started to walk up the staircase to inspect the upper level. By the time Om heard a creaking from the stairs she was already on the fourth step. He turned around alarmed and right in front of him her right foot went through the wood of the step it was on and she sank down on the stairs crouching in pain.
Completely aghast, Om ran to her.
“Don’t step on the stairs” she said in a calm voice. “It may give in under your feet. It was idiotic of me to step on them without testing each step first. Stay there. I’ll pull out my foot and come downstairs.”
Om stared at her in disbelief. She had not so much as screamed or whimpered.How could she be so calm in what must be immense pain.He tested each step by tapping his foot hard on them and went up till he could access her. Together, they gently pulled out her foot from the broken step. Her right foot was red from bleeding. Several thin wood splinters were embedded in her skin and there was one big gash and several tiny cuts all over her foot, ankle and just above the ankle which looked horribly twisted .Om winced at the state of her leg. She on the other hand cursed herself. “What a freakin’ mess! That will set me back by at least a couple of days. I can’t believe I was so careless and foolish!”
“Will you SHUT UP and stop blaming yourself!!?” shouted Om. Startled, Aishani looked at him. Then suddenly the magnitude of her pain hit her with full force. She squeezed her eyes shut and bit hard on her lower lip. Om looked at her worriedly as he saw a drop of blood appear where she had bitten her own lip. He started to get her to stand up. She kept her eyes closed and tried. “Don’t let your right foot touch the step.” he instructed.She stood up gingerly on one foot and with Om’s help, she managed to come down the steps without any further accident. Once downstairs, without any warning, Om picked her up in his arms.
“I can manage Om. You don’t have to.” she said painfully.
He ignored her completely and walked toward the entrance door. Outside , he set her down carefully making her lean against the wall while he locked the place. Then he picked her up again.
“OK fine. Leave me at my car. I’ll go to the hospital.”
Again, he ignored her comments and walked to his own car.
” Om, I have a driver. I won’t be driving on my own.”
“Good to know.” he said briefly. Then he set her down again letting her lean against his car as he opened the door to the passenger seat in front.
“Om! I said I have a driver. He can assist me to the hospital.”
“So can I.” Om said as he picked her up again and carefully placed her in the front seat. She looked at him in shock as he put on her seatbelt, closed the door, and locked it. Then he went over to her car, informed the driver and asked him to leave.
Aishani felt warm tears roll down her cheeks as the rapidly increasing swelling and throbbing in her foot and her entire right leg began to overwhelm her. The intense pain made her dizzy and nauseous. She saw Om get into the driver’s seat and vaguely noticed the tension on his face. Then she passed out.
Thanks for reading Everyone. Please comment if you can. I would really appreciate it.☺