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Aishani woke up with a sudden jerk. She looked around and saw that it was already very dark and that they had reached Oberoi Mansion. Soumya was getting out of the car and Om was walking towards the trunk. Before Aishani could move, Om came with her crutches and opened the door for her. He passed one of the crutches to Soumya. As Aishani started to set her left foot forward to get down Om forwarded a hand to her. She looked up at him and held his hand. Soumya held her from the other side. She placed one of the crutches under her left arm and Om put the other one under her right arm. It was harder than she had imagined, to walk using crutches. She almost lost balance twice as they went to the entrance especially on the main entrance that had steps leading up to it. But with Om’s and Soumya’s help, she managed it.
As soon as she got inside the living room entrance, she saw Priyanka and a handsome, tall boy whom she had seen at the reception. She guessed that he must be Om’s younger brother. Both came to her to welcome her and Rudra introduced himself.
“Hi, Aishani di. I am Rudra. I hope you are feeling better now.”
Aishani smiled at his pleasant face. “Hi Rudra. Yes, I am so much better than I was this afternoon but a little out due to medicines. So forgive any odd stuff I do or say.”
“Oh. Odd is never a problem with Rudra. No worries there. And anyway, odd is the new normal…If you know what I mean.” said Rudra with a very stylish expression. Everyone looked clueless but Aishani chuckled.
“Rudra, only you know what you mean. Will you let her enter the room properly, meet other people, and sit. She is not used to the crutches as yet.” said Soumya. Rudra made a face at her but moved aside.
“Come in Aishani di. I should have called you “di to begin with but I’ll correct my mistake now.” Soumya said. Aishani just smiled at her and went forward to enter the room.
As she went inside, she saw Anika and Shivaay and recognized both from reception party. Shivaay smiled at her and said ‘hi’ and Anika came and hugged her warmly. As she walked further in, she saw a little boy with crutches, standing near one of the couches.He smiled and waved at her, “Hello Aishani Didi. I am Saahil and I will help you learn all about walking with crutches. I have seven years of experience.”
Anika laughed, “Why! Have you been walking since birth?”
“Arrey Didi, ek saal aagey peeche chaltaa hai. Aishani Didi, in three weeks you and I both will walk without support. I will get my leg surgery done, and your foot will heal by then.” said Saahil in his usual cool manner.
Aishani couldn’t help laughing at his adorable face and voice.Soumya helped Aishani get to the couch and sit there. The crutches were kept to one side. Everyone came and sat there. Soumya had already informed everyone about the accident so they talked about the hospital details and other general stuff until tea was brought. Aishani took the tea and held it in her hand when Shivaay said, “Did anyone even ask her if she likes tea or coffee. She seems like a coffee person to me.”
Anika rolled her eyes, ” My God! You can tell by looking at people whether they are tea people or coffee people! ?”
“Yes” boasted Shivaay. “As of now, she is a coffee person, black coffee , in particular. One week or so with us might turn her into a tea/coffee person. Aishani, be honest,it’s a matter of my pride and respect.”
“Arrey! You are literally forcing her to agree with you.” said Anika.
“I am not forcing her. I am asking her to be honest.Be honest Aishani.”
“Umm…I do like black coffee better than tea.” said Aishani looking at Anika a little apologetically. “as of now I mean…but tea is good too!”
“I knew it! I’ll make a cup of perfect coffee for you.” said Shivaay. ” I mostly drink tea now but I still remember the art.”
Anika shook her head at Shivaay’s theatrics.
” No, no! Please don’t take the trouble. I like tea too.” Aishani said hurriedly.
But Shivaay had already left for the kitchen. Embarassed, Aishani looked at Om. He was sitting there laughing.She felt very comfortable and awkward at the same time, which confused her. In her confusion, she tried to make small talk and asked Rudra, “So which year of college are you in Rudra?”
“In final year.” said Rudra.
“Achcha, so you are a couple years older than Soumya. ”
Rudra smiled and said , ” yes.” Then he looked alarmed and cried, ” She is not my sister! Only Prinku is my sister. Soumya is O’s and Bhaiya’s sister. True that I am their brother but I am not Soumya’s brother.” he was a little out of breath by then and looked at everyone. They were staring at him with raised eyebrows and Saahil,Priyanka and Anika even had their mouths open. Soumya was looking at him like she was about to murder him. He got nervous and said, “Aishani di, how did you meet O for the first time?”
It was Aishani’s turn to be flustered.”I…I mean at the reception, he was walking and I didn’t see him and bumped into him and he accidentally spilled water on me.”
Om looked surprised at her modification of truth.”It was actually me who was rushing to get water to Anika, and I was preoccupied and I did not pay attention. I bumped into her. It was my fault.”
Now everyone looked at them with raised eyebrows smiling and nodding. Just as Aishani started to feel very uncomfortable, Shivaay brought coffee for her and took her tea from her. She was so relieved that before she could think she had blurted out, “Oh thank you! You are my favorite person in this world!”
Shivaay looked proud of himself and everyone burst out laughing. Aishani looked down and sipped her coffee. The pain was kicking back in. She asked Soumya if she could have her medicines. Before Soumya could get to it, Om was already walking towards Aishani with the bag of medicines and prescription in his hands. He carefully went through her prescription and gave her pain medication to her. Anika observed the two closely and smiled thoughtfully.
Soon, Jhanvi, Pinky, Tej, Shakti, and Dadi joined them. Aishani was introduced to everyone. She felt overwhelmed with the number of people she had met that evening and how welcoming every one was.
“Which room will she stay in? She can use one of the study rooms downstairs if staircase is a problem” said Tej.
“She can stay with me or with Priyanka. What if she needs help at night?”said Soumya. “Om bhaiya and I can help her get upstairs.”
Everyone thought that was a good idea. “Stay downstairs till dinner” said Dadi. “Then you can go upstairs.” Aishani nodded. Jhanvi came up to her and touched her face gently and said, “I love your name. It is so beautiful. Just like you.” Uncertain how to react, Aishani smiled and bowed her head.
Everyone chatted as they waited for dinner. Aishani felt drowsy from the strong painkiller.Looking at the brothers and sisters chatting she also felt a little lonely. She realized that she was missing Shikhar. For the past three years, Shikhar had been by her side every single evening, except a few here and there when he had an important meeting. She was used to his comforting presence even if she refused to accept it.She stared at her phone that Om had handed to her earlier on. She found his number from the contact list. Absentmindedly, she started to edit the entry and changed the name from ‘Shikhar’ to ‘Bhaiya’. Just as the change was saved, her phone rang.Startled out of her stupor, she looked at her phone. It showed, “Bhaiya calling.”
Aishani looked at her phone surprised and let it ring a couple of times. Om noticed this and said, “Aishani, your phone.” She looked up and he saw the turmoil in her eyes. Then with shaking hands she took the call.
“Hello…Yes I am here with Soumya and Om and the entire family…Yes , I am better now…No, I am on painkillers so the pain is not bothering me…Yes…OK, I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Om stared at her noting her slight drowsiness and desolation. Then, in a childlike tone that she was unable to control due to her medicated state, she asked, “What time will you get here tomorrow, bhaiya?” Om looked on stunned and imagined Shikhar’s reaction. He saw Aishani dab her shirt sleeve at her eyes and realized that she was overwhelmed and needed to be by herself.
“I think the medicines have made her drowsy. Maybe Aishani should rest for some time.” said Om. Everyone looked at Aishani and agreed.
“Om, take her upstairs to Soumya’s room. I’ll bring her dinner upstairs after some time.” said Anika.
Om got up and gave her, her crutches. Priyanka came to help Om support Aishani. Together they managed to get halfway up the staircase. Then frustrated, Om just picked her up and took her up the rest of the steps while a very amused Priyanka carried the crutches. He set her down at the top of the stairs fully aware that she was hot with embarassment. He himself felt pretty warm but it was neither from embarassment nor from tiredness.
Priyanka helped her settle down in Soumya’s room while Om went to get her bag upstairs. Priyanka sat next to Aishani. In her soft, halting manner, Priyanka said, “I know it got overwhelming for you downstairs. But every one really liked you so they were so interactive. I know our family can sometimes get a little loud. It makes me happy because we only recently became this happy. But I understand that it could have been uncomfortable for you. You will have some privacy here.”
“Oh no Priyanka! It’s not that. I am very grateful for the warm welcome. It’s just that I haven’t been around so many nice people being so good to me. I got a little awkward.” said Aishani feeling terrible.
“I get it. I am recovering from social anxiety myself. And anyway, most people thought you were tired and sleepy due to your accident and medicines which you are. Just relax and do whatever makes you comfortable. I’ll let you be by yourself. Call me or Soumya if you need help. You have Soumya’s phone number right?”
“Yes, thanks ” said Aishani, genuinely grateful for Priyanka’s quiet, soft manner. “She is a lot like Om. So is Soumya which is surprising considering they are not related by blood.” she thought. Alone, she felt very comfortable. The room was familiar to her from her visit here on reception day. She leaned back and rested her head against the pillows and cushions and thought about the entire day. Her mind was completely boggled by how much had happened in a single day. “How did I land up here for a night stay!! Why do I agree to him? I know I am attracted to someone in the real sense for the very first time but I can’t let him overpower me like this. I’ll get hurt.”
Exhausted, she closed her eyes.
Om came to the room with her bag and found her leaning on the pillows with her eyes closed. He was not sure if she was asleep or not but he entered quietly and kept her bag on a settee next to the window. Then he switched off the bright lights and switched on the dim lights. He was about to leave but on second thought he turned around to look at her again. She was still in the same position with her eyes closed.Om walked up to her and stood next to the bed just looking at her. He felt bothered by his restlessness as he could not figure it out. Just then Anika came in with a tray of food and saw Om gazing at Aishani. She took a deep breath. “Is she asleep already?”
Startled out of his reverie, Om looked at Anika, “I am not sure.” His lack of embarassment at being caught gazing at Aishani told Anika that he either had no awareness of his attraction towards her or he was comfortable with his feelings.
Anika kept the tray on a table and went near her. Om looked at the two of them and quietly left the room. Anika gently touched Aishani’s forehead and shook her a little but she was fast asleep. She left a few dry snacks covered in a plate on a table in the room and took the rest of the food tray back downstairs.
After dinner every one went to his or her room. Om was feeling restless and he went to his studio to work on an unfinished sculpture. Shivaay tucked Saahil in and went to his room to find Anika sitting on the bed, deep in thought.
He changed into his night clothes, sat next to her , and pulled her close. “Your loan got passed, you did it all on your own, soon you will be looking for the site for your restaurant, we will be Saahil’s parents in less than three weeks, and Saahil will probably be free of crutches forever in a month. Now what has put you in such deep thought? I thought you would pick up another gift for me for tonight.” said Shivaay nuzzling his face against her neck.
Anika smiled, ” I got success today.You should have gotten a gift for me.”
” Good point.Come, I have a palang-tod gift for you.” he said hugging her tightly and pulling her on top of him.Anika started laughing hysterically. She tried to get away but he flipped over and held her tight against the bed under him, and started kissing her. She kissed him back and he lost himself. Once his grip had loosened, she started tickling him. Shivaay raised his head with a jerk trying to hold her hands and she slid out from under him laughing. Shivaay sat on the bed feigning hurt feelings.”I always honor and use your gifts and you rejected mine.”
Anika turned back and came and sat next to him hugging him. “Me, reject your gift? Never. You wait and see how well I use your palang-tod gift tonight.” She laughed and kissed him hard on his lips. He held her tight and started to lose himself again but Anika pulled back. “Before we have no sense of anyone other than you and me, I want to tell you why I was so deep in thought.”
“Later” said Shivaay.
“It’s about Om.”
That got his attention. “Is he OK? What happened to him?”
Anika smiled,” Shivaay I think he is better than OK. What do you think about Aishani?”
“She is a very sweet girl. I don’t know why she is so reserved. Like she is on her guard all the time. But I like her proper mannerisms and attitude. Very polished.”
Anika laughed. “Like you? She sets her hair like you running her right hand through it all the time.”
Shivaay laughed.” I like her but I thought we halted our very important activity because you wanted to tell me something about Om.”
“I did. Shivaay, Om seems completely at peace when he is around her.She on the other hand seems to have complete faith in him in spite of her guarded mannerisms. Although both seem completely unaware of their bond with each other, they seem to have some kind of a shared sensibility and just blend together comfortably. It’s really amazing when you think that they have known each other for less than a week and met for the second time today. I think Om really cares about her but isn’t fully aware of the full implication of his feelings.”
Shivaay was serious. “Yes. That’s how it starts. I couldn’t stand to think anything happening to you but did not know I was falling for you.”
“Oh, in your case you were stuck on my being from middle class and having no khoon khaandaan and all that road trash stuff that was going on in your head. Aishani is from high class and anyway Om has no such reservations.” said Anika analysing and thinking practically. She turned to look at Shivaay and realized what she had said. Shivaay’s face was strained and his eyes were full of pain.
“I was not taunting you Shivaay. I was talking about Om and Aishani. I am sorry if my words hurt your feelings.”
Shivaay shook his head sadly, ” I know. But that fact will never change. How I tormented you and put you through hell is set in your memory. It will always pop up.”
“Yes Shivaay. That is our past and I am proud of what our love overcame. I don’t feel hurt thinking of it anymore because of the love you have given me.”
“And I feel hurt thinking about it because I was the one giving the pain. But you rightly mentioned that love overcame everything. Can I get some now so I don’t feel hurt anymore?”
“Wow!! You sure know how to hold on to your own interest. ”
“Yes, principal, interest, compound interest, I know how to hold on to everything. And I will hope for the same for my brother. Now about that gift…” Shivaay said smiling as his eyes twinkled.
Anika laughed and hugged him.
Rudra sat in Om’s room checking his messages. Suddenly he felt hungry. He got up to get a snack from the kitchen. Soumya was there getting a bottle of water for Aishani. She saw Rudra and rolled her eyes .
“I saw that. Why did you do that?” asked Rudra angrily.
“Because I remembered what a duffer you were earlier this evening.”
“What do you mean duffer! I thought she was thinking we are all brothers and sisters! I had to correct her.”
“The day of the reception she thought Priyanka and I were twins or cousins or something since we were in the same class. So we cleared the confusion of my not being related by blood to Om bhaiya and badey bhaiya. She was just asking casually and you started blabbering all sort of nonsense. What if someone suspected something fishy from your behavior?”
“How was I supposed to know that she knew and what you guys talked about at the reception.I don’t have Antardhyaani powers.”
“Oh God! You mean Antaryaami!”
“Yes. Same to same. So I clarified. What’s the big deal. How could I let her think you are my sister?”
“So what if she had thought I am your sister? Big deal. How does it matter?” said Soumya angrily.
Rudra looked at her in disbelief.”How does it matter? HOW DOES IT MATTER? Are you nuts? Someone thinks you are my sister and it does not matter?”
Soumya felt her anger escalating but she was unable to stop herself.”Why? Are you ashamed of even your sister being overweight? Even your sister must be size 2 or under ?”
Rudra was beginning to get very angry now, ” It’s not that Soumya. You are arguing about unrelated things and bringing in your own complex about your weight. I cannot let someone call us brother and sister because of what happened between us. How could I let her think that?”
“Oh shut up Rudra!” said Soumya.”First of all, I don’t have any complex. And second, what happened between us was an accident; we were not in our senses, and it had no meaning. Nobody knows about it, and next raksha bandhan I will tie rakhi to you too and put an end to that nightmare.” She started to walk off but Rudra held her by her shoulder and turned her around with a jerk.
She was taken aback by the dead serious look on his face. It was so unlike Rudra.”Enough of your nonsense Soumya. So that was not enough to not let anyone think we are brother and sister? And you will tie rakhi to me next raksha bandhan? OK, then let me give you enough reason to not even imagine that.” Saying that he pulled her close, and kissed her fully on her mouth, holding her tight. Soumya struggled to free herself but he was much stronger and his grip was firm. After about a minute, he let her go with a jerk and said looking her directly in the eyes” Is that enough reason? If not, I can go a little further. Although I prefer it, I don’t need size 2 or under for that.” He looked at her scornfully from top to bottom, “You will do. Just because I am always joking, kidding , and clowning around does not mean you can disrespect me. At least I am better than you in understanding the sacredness of rakhi and how it should not be thrown around without the right feeling. I may not be very smart but at least I am not an arrogant idiot like you. Remember tonight next time you feel like tying rakhi to me.” He said in a low menacing voice and walked off.
Soumya stood there stunned for a minute. Then she clutched the water bottle, blinked back her tears, and walked slowly to her room.
Thanks Everyone, for reading. A new saga gets added to the story today. I am working hard to weave the individual stories together so they seem like one cohesive piece of work. I am nervous about the story here onwards as I am still figuring out the plot. By and large, I am putting myself in the minds of the characters and going with the flow. Praying to God that I won’t disappoint. Please bear with me and comment if you can.?