Sunday, 27 June 2021

part 16 : Forbidden Love

1 month later


"I LOVE YOU ARMAAN!!!!!!!"

Her soft voice rang in his head over and over again. Armaan took a deep breath to calm his mind. He was in his study, trying to focus on the files that he had brought home from work. But no matter how much he tried, all he could think of was her. Her shocked face swam in front of his eyes. He had been an utter idiot and a coward. But when she had first said those words to him, all he could feel was panic. Panic and guilt. He had lain awake that whole night after their lovemaking, his restless thoughts giving him no peace. On one hand was Riddhima's love for him and the other hand was betrayal of Nikki. And he had let the guilt overtake his senses, which was why he had not contacted her the whole day.

He knew she must've woken up expecting to see him, expecting the same love that she had bestowed upon him. But the coward he had been, he could not have face her. So he had run from her and ignored her for the rest of the day, though the memories of the previous evening had not left his brain. And when he had come home, his senses had almost left him seeing her in that red saree. She had looked absolutely stunning. When she had impulsively hugged him, he had wanted to hold her tight and never let her go. But when he had gone inside and seen the surprise she had planned for him, it had been like a punch to the gut. The desire to have her waiting for him to come home everyday for the rest of their lives had scared him witless.


He had never meant to break her heart like that. Just blurting out 'I don't love you' wasn't how he was planning it to happen. But the surprise she had given him had totally put him on the defensive and he had said whatever that had come to his mind. He had known his responsibilty to her, which had been why he'd offered to marry her. But she had kept her dignity intact by rejecting him. He had of course been disappointed at her refusal. Maybe there had been a part deep inside of him that had been jubilant because their lovemaking had given him an opportunity to make her his without professing love. But she had poured water over all that with her refusal. And when she had run to her room with her wounded pride intact, all he'd wanted to do was take her in his arms and make her feel better. For someone who'd never said no to him for anything, it jolted him out of his comfort zone to know that Riddhima did not want him. And when he'd heard her loud sobs, it had been heartbreaking for him. He'd never intended for things to end up that way.
The next morning he had woken up after another restless night, hoping to make her change her mind. The realization that she wasn't there hadn't sunk in for a couple of minutes. He had scourged the house looking for her. And finally, when he had realized that missing clothes could only point out to one thing, he had called her parents. This was the only place that he could think of where she'd go seeking refuge. And indeed she had been home but had refused to come to the phone. Not wanting to give Padma and Shashank cause for concern, he had mentioned he was just calling to see if she'd reached home safely. He had no idea what excuse she had given them, but whatever it had been, it wasn't that he'd slept with her and didn't love her.

HA! Didn't love her. That was the joke of the century. Because he did. He loved her so very much. Riddhima was engraved in his heart and mind. He loved her smile, her intellect, her personality, her figure but most of all he loved her pure heart. He'd realized that at the moment he'd known that she'd left him. A loneliness like nothing before had gripped his heart with her absence. But along with the knowledge of love had come an additional guilt complex. Nikita. It had been one thing to share his body with another woman, but to share his heart and soul, it had felt like the ultimate betrayal to him. And he was helpless as to what he should do about it. He couldn't talk to his best friend since she was the sole cause of this. And his family, well he had no family left anymore. At least not in this house. Sunita had refused to acknowledge him after she'd found out Riddhima had left home. He still remembered how an excited Sunny and Sunita had come back from their picnic.
"Riddhima!! Riddhima!!" Sunita had called out as she had come into the living room with Sunny intow, who was also screaming for his Riddhi. Armaan had been inside his study and had come out after all their yelling. He hadn't the heart to tell them that Riddhima wasn't home and he was responsible for that.

"Beta, where is Riddhima? I've been hurting my throat calling out for her. Gosh I am so excited." Sunita had blurted after hugs been exchanged between mother and son and father and son. He hadn't known that it was going to be his last hug from her.

"Yes Papa, where is Riddhi? I wanna show her all the drawings that I did at the picnic. I drew a picture of our family too." Sunny had said holding out a sketch that contained stickfigures of who he had guessed as Sunita, Armaan, Sunny and Riddhima. Armaan had gulped down to clear a sudden knot in his throat. His family. Suddenly the significance of Riddhima in his son's life dawned upon him. Gosh, what had he done?

"Mom..umm..Riddhima's not home."

"Oh, where'd she go?" Sunita had asked disappointedly. She had been so looking forward to coming home and embracing her new daughter-in-law-to-be.

"She went to Pune," Armaan had been able to blurt out. He had been dreading the moment when he had to tell them the truth.

"Oh is everything ok? Nothing has happened to Padma and Shashank?" Sunit had asked worriedly.

"No no, nothing like that."

"Oh thank god. Then why did she go? I was hoping she'd use these 3 days wisely." Sunita had given a sparkling smile at him. "When is she coming back?"

And the dreaded part had come. There was nothing he could do except tell the truth. "I don't know Mom. She took..she took all her clothes with her."

Sunita had gotten quiet, her senses had screamed that something was terribly wrong. "Sunny beta, why don't you go to your room and put these away. I will come up there soon."

"But where is Riddhi dadi? I wanna talk to her!" Sunny had pouted. He had been looking forward to seeing his favourite person in the world.

"Riddhi has gone to meet her family darling. We will call her soon. I promise. Now go." She had waited until Sunny was well out of the way before she had turned her evil eye on Armaan. Something was wrong and she wanted to get to the bottom of this.

"Armaan what happened? The last time I talked to her, saturday morning, she was so happy thinking that you loved her after the night before. What happened from then till now?" she had questioned. Armaan had shot up in shock to know that Riddhima had discussed their night with Sunita.

Unable to contain himself, he had blurted out, "Riddhima told you we slept together??" And the silence that followed this question had been deafening.

"you did WHAT?????" shock didn't begin to cover what Sunita had been feeling. She had sat down to process the news. "Beta, tell me exactly what happened!" she said trying to calm herself down from yelling at her eldest son. "How could you have been so irresponsible?"

Armaan could only kick himself for his big mouth. Riddhima hadn't told his mother anything. It was him, with his big mouth who had dug his own grave. And going by the look that his mother had been giving, he couldn't have done anything except tell the truth. He felt like an utter bas**** for what he'd done to Riddhima. But he'd tried to do the right thing, Armaan defended himself. He had offered marriage. Yea, offered marriage in a way that she could do nothing but refuse him, his mind answered back sarcastically. He told Sunita in the most basic words what had transpired during the party and at home. Then he had mentioned that he'd gone to work the next day.

"What happened when you came back home Armaan?" Sunita said in an all too calm voice. To Armaan, it felt like the calm before the storm.

"I asked her to marry me," Armaan noticed the sudden twinkle in his mother's eyes after his statement. But felt like a heel having to break the heart of yet another woman he loved. "But she said no."

"WHAT????" she had yelled. "But why? She was so looking forward to you confessing!" she had said confused. Then looking at the guilty expression on Armaan's face, she had just known that her son had messed everything up so badly. "Armaan..." she had said with a raised brow.

Armaan had looked down ashamed. "I told her I didn't love her." And had waited for the axe to fall. And it hadn't taken much time.

"You idiot! What have you done? That girl loves you like crazy and you had the audacity to tell her you don't love her AFTER sleeping with her??? chi.. I am ashamed to call you my son..." And she had continued a long tirade of name calling and blaming him. And he hadn't said one word to defend himself because he had known that he had deserved all that she had said and more. At the end of all her yelling, he had just said but one word.

"Mom, Nikita.." that had shut her up but only for a second.

"What about nikita? If Nikita had been alive, she would've been ashamed of you. And even now I'm sure she's looking down hanging her head in shame. How could you do it beta? How could you break her heart?" Sunita had teared up. "Tell me how you could not be in love with an angel like Riddhima?"

And he hadn't been able to tell the truth. The guilty coward he had been, he hadn't told his mother that he had realized his love for Riddhima. Misunderstanding his silence, Sunita had run to call Riddhima. But whatever Riddhima's reply had been, from that day on he had lost his mother. Sunita had refused to talk to him, look at him or stay in his company.

Bringing his mind to the present, Armaan breathed deeply. He felt like a stranger in his own house. Only Sunny talked to him. But even he was very depressed without Riddhima, Armaan could tell. Armaan knew that Riddhima still kept in contact with Sunita and Sunny , which was the only time when Sunny brightened up again. Armaan knew that no one had told Sunny what had really happened. That was probably why his son still loved him. If Sunny ever found out the reason for Riddhima's absence was his father, that would be the end of that relationship. But not only his son, even Armaan missed Riddhima like crazy. He had never realized that she was his sunshine in life. When life was dark and gloomy, she was the only ray of hope. And when he had realized it, it had been too late. She had left him. He had tried ringing her a couple of times, but she had not picked up his phone. He knew three little words, I love you, probably would've brought her back. But the burden of guilt of having betrayed Nikita refused to give him the courage to confess his love for Riddhima. He berated himself for like the millionth time for being a chicken.

Armaan stopped all pretence of work. He would get no peace here. It was almost midnight. Armaan went out of his study towards his bedroom. Once there, he took a towel from the closet, heading towards the bathroom. He wasn't paying attention on where he was going, still immersed in the thoughts of Riddhima.

Suddenly, Armaan stumbled on to the bookshelf that contained Nikita's books. Some books fell to the floor with a thud as a result of the impact. After straightening himself, he bent down to pick up the books off the floor when his eyes fell on one that said 'Personal Diary.'

Armaan had known that Nikita kept a diary but had never pried, respecting her privacy. Now the curiosity to feel her thoughts drove him to open diary. He read a couple of entries, feeling a sense of nostalgia at her writing.

Armaan is the best husband ever! Do you know dear diary, he surprised me at work today, bringing a shop full of flowers. Everyone at the hospital was clapping and saying how lucky I was....

Another entry.

Oh diary, I love my family. I am so blessed. Armaan and Sunny surprised me with a picnic today...
Armaan kept on reading his wife's diary. Throughout her entries, he could feel her happiness and smile pouring out of her words. A sense of peace engulfed him, maybe answering a question that he had asked himself after she had passed away. Yes, she had led a happy life. Armaan had been able to give her all the happiness that she had wanted. Finally knowing this, Armaan laid a ghost to rest. Then his eyes  fell to the last entry in the diary, dated two days before her accident. The first sentence shocked him and kept him hooked on.

Riddhima Loves Armaan! Yes, I know diary, shocking isn't it? But Riddhima loves Armaan. How do I know? Well, as a woman who's very much in love with the same guy, don't you think I would've noticed the symptoms? Though she tries so hard to hide it, her eyes pour out her love for him. I feel very sorry for the poor girl. Why isn't life fair? She had fallen in love with a guy that can never be hers. Dear Diary, you are probably wondering why I am calmly accepting her love and feeling sorry for her instead of getting worked up about it. You see, its very simple. I trust her. If she had wanted to break my marriage, she would've tried long before. But a girl, who becomes a kid when she plays with my son, who becomes a daughter when she helps out mommiji, who becomes a friend when I or Armaan need her, she could never harm anyone. God, if you are listening, please if anything ever happened to me, please make sure that Riddhima will be the one to take care of my family. To take care of my Armaan.

After reading, Armaan could feel a sense of relief spread over his whole body. He could feel all the puzzle pieces fall in right places. He had no cause to feel guilty, he thought relieved. Nikita herself would've wanted him to fall in love with Riddhima. To have Armaan spend the rest of his life with her. Armaan felt a huge burden leaving him and the single thought that came to his mind was, now he could tell Riddhima he loved her. YES! Now he could finally offer his love and life to Riddhima and spend eternity in her arms.

Armaan got up excitedly. Flinging the diary on to the bed, he ransacked the closet for clothes to get ready to go and get her. Looking at the mess he'd made, Armaan grinned happily. Now, once again, Riddhima could yell at him for behaving like a baby. And this time, he would pull her close to him and silence her with his kisses. Armaan got dressed quickly, weaving dreams of a happily ever after with Riddhima. He couldn't wait to tell her he loved her. Armaan could just imagine the the happiness flowing out of her face. She'd be soo happy. Armaan exited the room and came down the stairs, his feet skipping down the steps in excitement.

Armaan suddenly stopped at the final step to see a shocked Sunita in the living room directing a look of loathing towards the phone she held in her hand.

"Mom whats wrong?" Armaan asked with a feeling of dread. Why was his mother looking like that.

Armaan's voice brought her back to the reality. "Armaan..Armaan..Riddhima.."

Armaan's breathing stopped at her addition. What? What had happened to Riddhima? Armaan ran to his mother and shook her by her shoulders. "Mom, what happened to Riddhima?"

"Armaan, she is getting married...Tomorrow. Anjali called to invite us there."

Armaan felt like he was punched in the gut. No! God please no! He couldn't be that unlucky. He couldn't lose his love a second time around! His breathing ceased to give him relief. No, this couldn't be happening. Riddhima getting married?

"Mom, who's she marrying?" Armaan asked in a whisper. He couldn't believe the news he had just received.

"Rahul..she's marrying Rahul..."

Hiranya

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