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Soumya woke up early. She looked at Aishani who was sleeping peacefully. Soumya recalled the previous night and felt very agitated. She did not want to face Rudra as yet. She got up and went to get ready. Half an hour later, she had showered and dressed. She went to check on Aishani and saw that she was stirring. Aishani opened her eyes and smiled as she saw Soumya’s comforting face.
” Good morning Aishani di. How are you feeling this morning. Is your foot hurting?” asked Soumya.
” It is a little bit but I don’t need painkillers right now. Are you going somewhere?” Aishani was surprised to see Soumya fully ready this early.
“I’ll help you get ready then I’ll go to college. I have some work there. ” Soumya said avoiding looking directly at her.
Aishani nodded and got up. She used her crutches to get through her morning routine and Soumya waited in the room just in case she needed any help. Aishani was ready soon. Soumya had brought a cup of coffee and some toast for her to take her medicines. Aishani took a few bites and took her medicines with the coffee. Soumya gave her a few books and magazines, assured her that Priyanka would be there soon, gave her a quick hug and left the house hurriedly.
Aishani sat on the bed reading a book when all of a sudden the events of the previous night came rushing into her mind. She felt terrified at the idea of facing Om again. ” I behaved in a shameful manner. The only way to get through this is to stay aloof and business like and completely ignore what happened and stay away from him for a while till I can get a hold on my feelings.” She sat there planning and resolving.
Om woke up to find Rudra still sleeping. Slowly, visions from the studio the previous night started swimming in front of his eyes. He got up with a jerk. Shikhar would be here in a few hours and before that he wanted to talk to her and sort out things between them.He got up and went to get ready so that he could check on her.
When Om got to Soumya’s room he saw Aishani sitting on the bed deep in thought. She looked fresh, dressed in a pair of soft parallel cream trousers and a soft, turquoise, long sleeve top. Her hair hung loose around her shoulders. Om took a deep breath and said, “Good morning! You are ready early.”
Aishani’s heart skipped a couple beats at the sound of his voice. With steely resolve she looked up casually and said, “Yes, I woke up early and Soumya had to go to college so she helped me get ready.”
Om noted her blank expression and rigid stance. She seemed to be on a mission and back to the mode she had been in the first time he had met her. “How is your foot?”
“Good. The swelling is really down and the pain is also not so bad. I am good to go.”
Om stared at her matter of fact manner and understood that she had decided to ignore and not acknowledge what had happened last night. “Let’s go downstairs.” He said, going to get her crutches but she grabbed it hastily and got up on her own. He noticed that she had packed all of her medicines and her bag was all zipped up. Om walked quietly by her side. His hands itched to hold her by her shoulder as she walked but he knew that that would send her in a defensive mode even further.
As they approached the staircase, Aishani felt nervous. She did not want to take any help from him. Just then she heard Priyanka. “Good morning Aishani di. Sorry I got late getting ready. How are you this morning?”
Aishani looked relieved to see Priyanka and Om was well aware of this. “Good morning Priyanka. I am doing great. Could you give me a little support down the stairs please?”
“Sure. Here, I’ll hold you from the right side and Om bhaiya will hold you from the left side.” said Priyanka.
“No” said Aishani. “I’ll hold the banister on the left as that will help me get a much better balance.” Aishani slowly hopped on to the left railing.
Priyanka looked from Om to Aishani and back to Om. Om nodded at her and signalled her to go to Aishani. Priyanka went over to hold her. “Give me your left crutch, so that you can hold the banister.” said Om.
Aishani gave him the left crutch and Om saw that her hand trembled as she did that. He sensed the inner stress she was going through. He wished she would talk to him but he had a gut feeling that to make her do that, he would have to understand the demons she was constantly fighting. Om walked a step behind her as she went one step at a time. She stumbled a couple of times and Om held her shoulders to steady her. Each time he felt a shiver go through her and a stiffening in her back following that.
Eventually they got downstairs and went to the dining room. Breakfast was still being set. Gradually every one got there and asked Aishani how she was doing. She answered cordially and altogether avoided looking at Om. He just stared at her now and then, observing her undercurrents. Rudra got to the dining room late. Once there he scanned the place and then looked worried.
“Where is Soumya?” he asked Priyanka.
“She went to college early. She had to work on some assignments.”
Rudra suddenly lost all his appetite. He took a few bites of toast, drank a glass of juice and left for college.
“Aishani, what time is your brother getting here?” asked Dadi.
“OK. We will have lunch together. I want to ask him if you can stay here another 3-4 days, till you need bed-rest. What will you do alone when he has gone to work?” asked Dadi. “Here, someone or the other is always home. You are Om’s friend’s sister; you are like family. Stay here.”
Aishani felt anxious at this line of conversation and started to refuse the offer when Jhanvi broke in, ” Mummy ji is right Aishani. I don’t see why you would want to go until you need bed rest. I haven’t even gotten to talk to you as yet. Just stay beta.”
“I agree.” said Tej, exchanging a meaningful look with Jhanvi. “I hardly work from home. Use my study if you want to work while here and if getting up the staircase is an issue, there is a spare room next to the study that can be arranged as a bedroom for you. It will take half a day to set that up.”
Om looked surprised at the three. It looked like they had memorized some script. He looked at Aishani who looked flabbergasted at this onslaught of coercion. Just as she was beginning to speak, Anika chimed in ” Yes. If you stay, we can also discuss a few plans for my restaurant. Obviously you and Shikhar will be handling the design and decoration. How much discount do you think you can give me for being friend or family?” Anika laughed happily at her own joke.
Aishani was altogether dumbstruck by now and Om chuckled at Anika’s Anikaisms. The finishing touch came from Shivaay, “Aishani, you and I are so similar in our high taste and sophisticated manner. I will get to spend some time talking to you if you stay.” He looked at Anika to check if he had done well and got a favorable nod from her.
Aishani recovered and spoke politely, “I have already imposed enough. My injury is really minor and it’s already so much better. I am used to managing on my own. Besides, I can keep a nurse if I need help. My office at home is set up with all of my things and tools. I’ll be able to finish a lot of my pending work if I stay at my own house. I promise to ask for help if I need it.”
Everyone looked disappointed. Anika looked at Om’s face anxiously watching his reaction. Om was composed, ” Although it would be nice if she could stay, I think Aishani should stay wherever she is most comfortable. Shikhar will be back today so maybe she is right. Maybe her home, where she is familiar with her surroundings, is the best place for her right now.”
Aishani felt a little hurt as she heard Om . “Just as I thought, he is glad to have me out of his vicinity.” She swallowed back as she looked down at her plate and pushed her food around. Om observed her carefully and made mental notes.
After breakfast, Om went to his study to finish some work before Shikhar got there. Aishani sat with Jhanvi and Pinky. Priyanka was skipping college that day so she sat with them too. Aishani felt a sense of peace. She found Jhanvi very comforting and just listening to Pinky was a total stress buster. Aishani could not remember the last time she had laughed so much. Every now and then her eyes looked towards Om’s study. Then she recalled his aloof words and suppressed all her emotions as she was used to doing.
At college, Rudra tried to find Soumya all over. Eventually he went to the library and once inside, he looked around the room. Then , by a large window in one corner, sitting at a large study table all by herself, he saw her sitting with a notebook and a pen in her hand. Sun’s rays shone on her hair and gave it a reddish brown highlight. Her soft peaches and cream skin glowed in sunlight. Rudra’s breath got caught in his throat for a second. She looked like an angel deep in thought. Rudra walked to her table very quietly. One of the empty chairs at that table was already pulled out. Rudra went and sat in that chair as quietly as he could. She noticed him once he sat down and her face showed shock and nervousness at suddenly finding him in front of her. They looked at each other quietly for a few moments.
“You came to college very early today.” said Rudra, trying to start a conversation normally.
“I had work.” said Soumya looking around avoiding direct eye-contact with him.
“I need to talk to you about yesterday. Can you come with me somewhere we can talk ?” Rudra felt hurt looking at the pain on her face. Her eyes looked swollen and it was clear that she had been crying.
“I have to finish an assignment for my next class. I can’t come with you. I have nothing to say to you. I don’t want to hear anything from you. Please leave me alone.” said Soumya sternly.
Rudra felt panic at her refusal to even look at him, leave alone talk to him.”Soumya, look at me, I need to talk to you about it. How can you just stop talking to me? I can’t stop talking to you. Please Soumya.” Rudra’s voice was very loud by the end and a couple of people studying in the library looked at him angrily.
Soumya looked embarrassed. She realized that Rudra was capable of making a scene if he did not get what he wanted. She thought quickly and said, “I have to finish this assignment for next class which is in an hour . It ends at quarter to twelve. I’ll meet you then at the canteen. Now please leave me alone.”
Rudra gave her a piercing look. Then he got up and left. Soumya heaved a sigh of relief. But her relief did not last long. In about five minutes, he came back with a book in his hand and sat at her table right in front of her. She looked at him in disbelief.
“What?” he whispered. “This is the college library. Anyone can study here. And don’t try to go to another table. I’ll follow you.” Then he opened his book and started reading.
Soumya wrote down her thoughts in her diary. She had completed her assignment a couple of days ago. The only reason she was at the library was because she did not want to be at home facing Rudra. She wrote for some time looking at Rudra every now and then. Every time she looked at him, he looked up to look at her too. She somehow spent the next forty five minutes and then got up to leave.To her horror, Rudra got up too. As she started to walk out of the library, Rudra walked along by her side.
“Where are you going? Why are you walking with me?”she asked frustrated.
“Till your classroom! I am just accompanying you.”he said innocently.
“Why? Go do your work.”
“That’s what I am doing.” he said continuing to walk with her.
Frustrated, she walked quietly to her classroom. Once there, Rudra saw her go in , stood there watching her for a few minutes then left. Soumya looked at him with a worried expression. “I am not ready to talk to him or discuss anything with him as yet. I need time to think properly. But he will throw a tantrum if I don’t talk to him. Spoilt brat!!”
The instructor came in a few minutes.Soumya got up with her bag on her shoulder and her assignment in her hand and went to talk to him, “Sir, I have completed my assignment and it is ready for submission. I am not feeling very well. Can I please skip class today. I will find out what I have missed and will complete any work you give for next class.”
The instructor took one look at her face and could tell that she was not doing very well. She was one of the brightest students in class, always punctual, and proactive not to mention courteous. He immediately handed her the assignment and handouts he had brought for that day and asked her to take care. Soumya thanked him gratefully and left. Outside she looked around to ensure Rudra wasn’t around and rushed to the main entrance. She needn’t have worried. Rudra had gone back to the library to wait until the end of her class period.
Around quarter to twelve, Rudra went to Soumya’s classroom to wait for her. Gradually everyone from the class came out but Soumya wasn’t one of them. He stopped one of the girls and asked her where Soumya was. “She wasn’t feeling well so she left at the beginning of class.”
Rudra felt very upset and walked off.
It was around noon when Om finished his work. He came back to the living room and saw Priyanka and Aishani deep in some conversation. With hands tucked inside the pockets of his khakis and the hem of his light-blue shirt casually touching his wrists , Om quietly walked over to the sofa and sat next to Aishani. Startled she looked around and stared directly into his eyes . She felt her heart sink to the the pit of her stomach and her mouth felt very dry. She turned back to look at Priyanka. Priyanka looked at the two of them, talked for some more time, then offered to make coffee for everyone and left for the kitchen. Aishani looked after her as a child looks at a parent who has left her at a new school for the first time.
Om had left a decent distance between them when he sat down. He looked at her face turned down as she stared at her left palm and traced the lines on it with her right index finger.
“Earlier today everyone was asking you to stay and I thought you were getting overwhelmed by it. So I supported you. But fact of the matter is that I want you to stay back a couple more days too. ”
Om said observing her expression. She was breathing rapidly, had a stiff pose, but a blank expression.
“I promise not to put you in any difficult situations again. So don’t let that affect your decision. Please stay.”
Aishani felt her heart beating hard, ” There is no reason to stay. In fact it would be absurd. It’s not as if I am seriously ill. I can easily manage on my own. But I am very grateful for your and your family’s hospitality.Who does so much for a stranger.”
In spite of his level headedness, Om felt a surge of agitation at her aloof words. He put his left arm on the sofa back and turning fully towards her, said, “I’d hardly call you a stranger Aishani. So, are we pretending last night never happened or will we acknowledge it and talk about it?”
“I need to go home once Shikhar is back.”
is all she said. “As soon as his work is done, I will start working on your gallery.”
Om calmed himself and said, “That’s good. I look forward to that.Since you are refusing to address “us” let me say what I want to say.I should have controlled myself better last night since I knew you were under the effect of medicines. I don’t know why I lose each and every inhibition when I am around you.
I don’t want to give my feelings any high flying name too hastily because physical attraction is a strong urge and can play with our brains. I want to take some time to understand exactly what we are going through. But one thing is crystal clear in my head and I want you to know it. It is that I do not regret what happened last night. We are attracted to each other and there is no shame in expressing ourselves as long as we are honest with each other. I want you to talk to me about how and what you are feeling, but take your time. I am not going anywhere and sooner or later we will have a two way discussion.” He watched the conflict between her mind and body. She had kept her head high and chin up to show strength and defiance and yet blushed a deep crimson as he mentioned the previous night. He experienced the now familiar fluttering in his chest.
Aishani listened to him with baited breath. She had refused to look bashful or subdued as he talked but had felt moved nonetheless. It was the first time she was interacting with someone who spoke so directly and openly without being offensive. It was this honesty and directness, apart from the meds probably, that had been her undoing the previous night. Every time she built a wall around herself he shattered it. She did not know how to handle this guy because he disproved all her assumptions about herself, life, men, and people in general. He also created conflicting emotions in her. So although she felt tongue-tied in that moment, she was also inspired by his directness.
“I don’t know how to handle all this and it is very unnerving for me.” she said haltingly. ” You are a great guy but I would never repeat last night. It takes two to tango and control was lost on two sides so I am as responsible as you are for whatever happened. My thoughts differ from yours. I think it was a mistake or a weak moment and should be forgotten. I don’t have much to give anyone except my professional expertise. So let’s keep our interactions professional here onward.” her voice quivered as she spoke the last few sentences. Om was beginning to say something when he saw Shikhar walk in through the front entrance.
“Don’t try to turn back an arrow that’s already been shot Aishani. There walks in my friend and the only guy besides my brothers about whom I care so deeply. Our relationship will never be strictly professional. Sorry about that.” Om gave one last look to the staggered expression on her face and got up to receive Shikhar.
Thanks for reading Everyone. I am out of things to say as I am quite at the mercy of God’s of Creativity ?So I’ll just say, please comment if you can ?