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As Rudra came back to his senses he realized what he was doing and how out of context it could be taken. He also remembered the last time he had done this three years ago and what had followed. Stung by the memory of that incident he slowly broke his contact with Soumya and stood apart looking at the ground, trying to regain his equilibrium. Soumya saw the strain on his face and felt mortified.
” What just happened?” she thought as numerous other thoughts started to bombard her brain. ” Did I make the first move? Couldn’t have been him! Was it him? That recurring dream, getting lost in the maze, rushing to him , and him kissing me. That is the culprit. And this isolated, breezy place went to my head. Oh God! Now what do I do!” her inner voice talked incessantly making her head spin. She turned sideways to leave when Rudra stopped her.
“Wait. Don’t go. This time I don’t want any misunderstanding. I did not want to intimidate you or cause any confusion. It’s just that everything has been piling up and…what the hell…I am not an immature kid anymore and after all you are my…”
“I get it.” Soumya talked over his last few words, understanding that he was undergoing a similar case of uncontrollable talking like her own except that his was out loud. ” It happens, and you are probably all charged up after the events of today. I understand. I am also not an immature child anymore and won’t start shouting and accusing you just because of an impulsive kiss. I have lived some life and seen stuff since then.” she said starting to walk away.
“Wait, so many things you just said are confusing me. We need to discuss this.” Rudra said suspecting that she had some grossly wrong impressions in her mind.
” It’s late. We should sleep. We’ll talk later.” Soumya replied looking over her shoulder, praying that her wobbly knees would support her till she got to her bed.
” But daytime we hardly get any privacy and…”
“We’ll find a time.” Soumya said continuing to walk away.
“We need to discuss our relationship. That marriage, it is still there.” Rudra spoke in a slightly louder voice. ” I have some important things to tell you about my feelings.”
Soumya was already at the threshold leading out of the verandah when she heard the word “marriage” and froze up. Rudra walked swiftly to stand right behind her. She stood frozen to the spot thinking, “Relationship. Marriage. I cannot stay in denial anymore ; it is still on his mind as well. It is still a topic to be discussed and not a forgotten dream.” Out loud she said, ” ok. We’ll talk. But now is not the time. Later.”she said starting to walk again.
Rudra saw her unsteady gait and a couple wobbly movements and understood that she was shaken up. He walked up to her side and held her hand. ” Ok fine.” he said very quietly. “We will talk later but we can still walk together.”
Soumya nodded without looking at him and they walked back to her room together. At the door step Rudra held her hand for a moment longer. ” I have agreed that now is not the time for a discussion. But we have to sit and discuss some things some time soon. You have to understand why I did what I did. I really did not …”
“Ok. We will talk . I agree.” Soumya said anxiously.
Rudra saw the tearful look on her face and let go of her hand. Every time he became his grown up version she seemed to get nervous. “Fine bhatakti aatma. Go rest in your bed. Goodnight.” he said softly and turned around to leave.
Soumya looked on feeling dizzy. Then she turned around to walk up to her bed. Her mother was still sleeping soundly. “What a mess I am. I have to get my act together.” she thought as a teardrop rolled down from each of her eye. She wiped them slowly, got in bed, covered herself completely with a comforter, and tried hard to sleep. As sheer tiredness overpowered her, she entered the world of dreams and started to navigate that maze yet another time. Yet again, she saw the figure standing at a distance, his face crystal clear now. Unlike other times, neither did the dream go away, nor did she wake-up. Instead, she stayed trapped in that world of agonizing pleasure, where the same person was a source of both confusion and comfort.
Next morning, Priyanka got ready to go to her boutique. With three more days to the opening, there was a tight schedule to get all merchandise on the floor while following the display plans. She smoothed down her emerald green cotton kurti worn over comfortable beige stretch slacks. ” This should be comfortable to work in all day.” she thought to herself. She gave one final brush to her hair, wore her scrunchy hairband like a bracelet so that she could tie her hair as needed, picked up her handbag and left the room. On her way downstairs, she was joined by Simran who looked absolutely fresh and beautiful in skinny dark denims and a faded blue, loose, peasant top with minimal colorful patchwork on the end of the short sleeves. Her hair held up in a ponytail, accentuated her high cheekbones even more. This morning, she had left behind even the kaajal. Except for a hint of pink on her lips, her well-moisturized face was entirely bereft of any make-up.
“Good morning Priyanka. You look vibrant in that green. Did you design it yourself? I love the plain look.” Simran said appreciatively.
Priyanka smiled pleasantly. ” Thanks Simran. Yes it is my own design. I love your top too. Your own?”
Simran laughed, “Yes, design and stitching both done by me. I like subdued shades of all colors but am loving the vibrance of yours. Anyway, I was hoping to assist you with the opening for the next few days to understand what’s involved in it.”
“Of course.” Priyanka said as they walked towards the dining room.”Are you planning to startup a business in Mumbai?”
“No” Simran said resolutely. “I understand the market in Delhi and that’s where I want to be. Close to my father. He travels to Delhi often for business. He can still be nearby if I start in Delhi. Maybe if someday my work is well known, I’ll think about exploring Mumbai.”
Priyanka nodded as they reached the dining room. Anika and Shivaay were already there with Anya.
“Did you sleep well Simran ? I will get your breakfast.” Anika said starting to get up.
“I slept very well Anika Bhabhi.” Simran replied while smiling at Anya’s wide doe eyes looking at her in excitement. ” And I can get my breakfast myself. Priyanka will show me.” she said going close to Anya and bending down to her level. “Good morning boss. How’re you doing? Well?”
Anya liked the sound of that greeting. “Well. Boss. How you doin’ ” she replied.
Simran cracked up.” Wow! That’s one smart kid. You really are the boss.”. She said ruffling Anya soft curls. ” Did you get her hair made with silk yarn?” she asked still looking at the big blue eyes.
“Yes, we had her hair imported but eyes are completely desi.” Shivaay joked. ” The smartness is paternal inheritance. The wise-cracks maternal.”
” Wow! With such wit around her it’s no wonder she is such firecracker.” Simran joked back.
“You have just seen the tip of the iceberg. There is an army of smart-alecks here, training her to be a stand-up comic.” Shivaay said sipping on his coffee casually.
Priyanka and Simran laughed and went to the kitchen.Once finished with breakfast they started to leave for the boutique.
“Byee buaa. Byee Sim Run” Anya chirped.
Simran shook with laughter and, to Anya’s delight, pretended to run. Just as they had reached the door Aashi, who had just come downstairs with Om by her side, called, “Prinku, I’ll drop by for some time around lunch.”
“Sure bhabhi. See you.” Priyanka called back and left.
Om looked keenly at the two girls leaving. “Don’t strain yourself when you go to see Prinku.” he said sliding his arm around Aashi’s waist. “Give her tips and opinions but stay away from heavy physical work.”
Aashi looked around hastily. “We don’t even know yet Om. Are you going to turn into a typical paranoid husband now? ”
Om smiled as he walked with her, his hand tighter around her. ” A little? Maybe?I am human; I am allowed. Anyway, we will find out tonight. And no I won’t suffocate you or go crazy on you.”
Just as they were reaching the dining area, Aashi turned towards him quickly and tiptoed to kiss him briefly on the side of his neck. “Actually, I don’t mind you going a little crazy on me. I am looking forward to it.”
” What did you do that for when you are about to leave for work.” he said glaring at her. ” Anyway, ask Shikhar to stay for the weekend after the opening. Or wait…I’ll talk to him myself.” They saw Anika in the dining room and smiled looking at Anya sitting in her high chair.
“Good morning Aanoo.” Om said picking up his niece from her chair.
” Good mawning O ” Anya replied putting her little chubby arms around his neck.
” Om, she has not finished her breakfast” Anika interrupted.
“She will finish it with me.” Om said sitting down and placing Anya in his lap.” Ok Anika Bhabhi?” he said mischievously.
Anya followed the cue. ” Ok Nika bhabhi?” she mimicked. Then turning to Aashi she said twisting her palms in inquiry, ” Oody not heeyar? Somamasi where? Naaniii, Mom, Buddy ma…”
“Everyone will come soon Aanoo. You finish your breakfast with O.” Aashi said soothingly. That pacified her and she went back to picking apple slices from her plate which Anika had now slid in front of her.
Upstairs, as Rudra walked out of his room, thoughts from the previous night kept him preoccupied. “I have to discuss things with her before some new misunderstanding crops up. But when! I have to go to work right now…” Deep in his thought he involuntarily stopped in front of Soumya’s door. He stood there for a few seconds and knocked. “Yes?” he heard Soumya’s voice. Rudra took a deep breath and entered the room.
“Rudra?” Soumya said looking taken aback at seeing him there. “Leaving for work?” Then looking hastily at the bathroom door she added, ” Aai is almost done with her shower. I’ll come downstairs with her.”
Rudra understood her hint to not mention anything sensitive. Wearing a straight-cut, knee-length, white and blue floral motif shift dress, that highlighted her curves, she looked enchanting.Rudra took in the softness of her entire appearance and smiled meaningfully. ” I am sure aunty won’t mind if you came with me. Let’s go.”
Soumya looked briefly at the bathroom door again. Then thinking something she nodded and accompanied Rudra.
“That dress suits you. Did you join a gym in the U.S. ”
” What rubbish. Having to walk around campus and nearby grocery stores was my gym. I agree though that it did me some good. I have more stamina now…But at that time it was such a headache… from dorm to classes to work, to errands, then back to dorm…walk, walk, walk…”
Rudra smiled. He had successfully diverted her attention and had put her at her usual ease. He listened to her talking about her life and routine in the past year and a half.
“Meet me at the lawn tonight after everyone has gone to bed. I need to talk to you urgently. Come, else I will come and get you.” Rudra said out of the blue just before they reached the dining area, leaving her shocked. He went and grabbed an apple from the table. “Bye, all. Have to get going. See you in the evening. Enjoy your day.” he said as he went to kiss Anya. ” Love you Angel.” he said and left for work.
“Oody gone.” Anya said mournfully and hugged Om who laughed looking at Shivaay shaking his head.
“Daily drama. Baaya gone, Oody gone.” Shivaay said with a sigh.
It was around noon when Priyanka decided it was time to take a break. Simran had been working tirelessly and had accomplished the job of two workers all by herself. Priyanka looked at her admiringly. ” You are very hard working Simran. And you have great stamina too. My goal will be to become as strong as you. Any tips?”
Simran smiled. ” My Papa taught me the importance of hard work and strength. If you are strong and willing to put in hard work, nobody can pull you down. He kept me away from all nonsense, gave me freedom to grow, and nurtured my natural talents defying all stereotypical expectations from me. He also gave me an earful whenever he thought I was getting sucked into any kind of negative behavior. But physically speaking, once I turned fourteen, he started taking me to gym to harness my hyper-energy. The stamina comes from there I guess. It also kept me from going insane like my mother and sister…” Simran suddenly became quiet realizing she had said too much. ” You are dangerous Priyanka. You have this aura of quiet comfort and trustworthiness…I have never talked this much to someone I have known less than a day!”
“You are very close to your dad aren’t you?” Priyanka asked as she smiled and dressed a mannequin with Simran’s help.
” He is my friend, philosopher, and guide. If that means I am close to him, then I guess, yes. He is a unique person. The only man I have met who can nurture the strength of a woman with such passion. He built his business from scratch at a very young age, supported the education of his sister after my grandfather’s untimely death, made her, my Bua, financially independent and then got her married as per her wish. He is positive, firm, and disciplined but soft natured. Such men are rare. Sorry, I talk too much on this topic, so I’ll stop here.”
Priyanka smiled. ” No need to say sorry. I talk too much about my brothers just like you do about your father. I agree, such men are rare. But they are there.”
“Really?” Simran asked incredulously. ” I haven’t seen another. Although my focus is just my career, if I see a man like that, I’ll hold on to him.”
Priyanka was about to say something when Aashi walked into the store with Shikhar.
” Wow!” Aashi said looking around. ” So much progress in a single day? This place will be all set by day after tomorrow. Good going ladies …and gentlemen…” she added looking towards the workers helping Priyanka. They smiled back at her.
“Well, the credit for this progress goes to superwoman Simran. She is power-packed.” Priyanka said looking at Simran who stood their quietly looking at Shikhar and Aashi. “Oh! Sorry!” Priyanka said softly, “Shikhar, this is Simran, Choti ma’s friend’s daughter. She is a fashion designer too. And Simran, this is Shikhar, Aashi bhabhi’s elder brother, Om bhaiya’s best friend, and my mentor in many ways. My brothers, bhabhis, and Shikhar are the reason I was able to set off on this journey.”
Simran gazed at Shikhar. For the first time in her entire life, she felt a little tongue tied.
Shikhar looked at Priyanka with the usual twinkle in his eyes. “Two more days to go. I might prepone it.” he thought. Looking away, he extended his hand towards Simran.” Hi Simran. Nice to meet you.” he said with his customary charming smile.
“H…Hi, nice to meet you too.” Simran replied shaking hands with him.
“Let’s get some lunch.” Aashi said. “We will have it delivered here for all of you, she told the workers who looked extremely happy at the announcement.
“But take a break as you please. Priyanka and Simran will be back in an hour.” she said as all of them stepped out of the store.
Thanks for reading Everyone. The story is one step closer to its climax. Hope I’ll be able to pull it off. Hope you will like this update. Do comment if you can ☺