Saturday, 27 April 2019

Part 11 : Unleashing What Remained Unsaid

She frowned her breathing shallow, a consequence of the impulsive sprint from moments ago. It did not stop her look from hardening at his audacity. How could he dare be stalking me again she thought  incredulously. There was not much solace in realizing additionally that he was either oblivious to facts or simply unnerved by her silence as she looked away with an indifferent air about her, indicating explicitly how unwelcome his presence was. Instead she found a new expression staring back as she finally confronted his persistent gaze; Ridhima was uncertain in coming to a conclusion about the look in his eyes and what it could imply.

As moments passed, his silence seemed to insist an expectence for a response more elaborate and agreeable and her indignant disbelief of the situation begun fading into an unexplained discomfort, the question about his presence transformed from 'how' to 'why'. The uneasiness starting to peak inside mentally, was only heightened by her physical attempt at breathing deeper than short rapid gasps. The wind chill however was considerably below freezing, the hastily drawn in air went slicing through her throat which was suddenly painfully parched. She blamed it in her head to the extreme cold trying hence subconsciously to dismiss that it may at least partially have been a consequence of the sense of rising anticipation within.



Turning off the ignition he got out of his black Infiniti G35 and came up to face her. The smile stuck but up close she was taken aback by how it appeared almost warm. Nevertheless, looking into his eyes she tried to maintain a steady gaze without blinking, as she desperately searched them to reveal at least a streak of his mysterious intentions.

"Hi..."

She heard the greeting repeated closer and softer this time and even though the urgency in the frequency of her breaths was diminishing with passing seconds she felt far more out of breath in that second and those that were following than she had just moments ago from the running; for then he had maintained the distance and she had not been not forced to inhale wisps of his engulfing cologne. I will not inhale it she thought in aversion with the last remaining streak of force in her which had survived her mounting apprehension, shoving away in the attempt his overbearing presence. It was then that she realized that she already was holding onto her breath, when exactly she had abandoned her attempt to catch her breath back she was unsure. She let it out slowly trying hard to not make it obvious. Then abruptly she turned and started to walk away from him.

"Ridhima..."

Whatever it had taken her to resolve to not be intimidated by the impending when she turned around to walk out on him disappeared right then, as hearing her name she stopped in her tracks. Just the way he had expected. How did he know her name she thought as the comprehension gripped her in the onset of rising panic. Stalking, buying drinks, stalking again after several days of the first encounter, and now he knew her name; Much as she wished she could, there was no control she had over her thoughts which concluded only to the worst of possibilities as her eyes widened reflexively hovering in all directions of visibility lingering in each for any likely help that could present itself, she licked her lips nervously not turning around to face him lest he saw through her rapidly dissolving confidence.

"Ridhima..."

He repeated and she sensed him closer again, but this time she did not flinch at the sound of it, perhaps her worst shock had been past. For a fleeting second in contrast she felt almost irked by why he assumed she was incapable of single time understanding. Before another of her weakening thoughts could overtake she reeled around this time to face him but moved a step backward almost instantaneously, he had been barely inches away. But as the cologne tickled her nose again she wanted to rid herself of any essence of this man before her, with an almost violent repulsion now and in that instant any uncertainities which previously invaded her were driven away by the feeling of repugnanace.

She could not and would not let a man so random affect her in anyway she thought vehemently. Somehow the thought of treating him cordially as one would a fellow stranger did not once cross her mind, perhaps that oppurtunity had been lost the first time their paths had crossed, he himself had made his moves too fast to allow a chance like that to present itself. When she looked him in the eye now she had a no nonsense look about her, backed with much greater conviction and his smile, though still persistent, this time spelt more an offer for explanation, and so she waited for him to go on. He spoke indeed, the next moment as he was assured of her complete attention.

"Ridhima, I mean Miss Gupta..." He paused almost as if he harbored the impossible hope that she would ask him to address her by the first name to establish the familiarity betwen them, not strangely she showed no reaction except a slight tilt as if in approval of latter addressing. He lowered his eyes for less than a second before looking back up and resuming,

"I...er...Ritu mentioned your name that evening, after you...your unexpected exit I mean."

If he had expected her to soften at this, her look offered him no such redemption. It was equally evident from her curt voice as she replied,

"I'm sure she did. Did she also mention how much I would approve your act of stalking me a week later on lonely roads?"  He was taken aback by her direct accusation, whatever he had expected her to react like, this definitely had not been it.

"I wasn't stalk..." He started to clarify her misunderstanding but then paused shaking his head at himself more than her, "You think I was stalking you?" He asked instead, perhaps incredulous, bu his tone did not question only expected her to disagree.

She did not comply, instead arched her brows at the need for him to even iterate this question after she made her opinion crystal clear. It was at that moment she realized that his look all along had been of one politely seeking aquaintence, all along until then that is, she thought as he now frowned, definitely not pleased. Her fists clecnhed reflexively without a noticable movement, giving her the courage to maintain her stand. He ain't going to do nothing she told herself in her mind, he can do nothing that can...

Her thoughts were cut off as he stepped forward closing in the distance between them, and contrary to her inetrrupted thought her mind now panicked, WHAT THE HELL WAS HE DOING? He did possess an intimidating aura she admitted reluctantly, wishing she could shut him out of her vision, and then it occured to her, why was she not attempting to just get away from here, from him. Unbelievably she stood her spot anyways, even continued to look him back in the eye as the inside of her was feeling an undeniable spread of fear taking over. Part of her wanted to stand bold, turning a blind eye to obvious indications of what all of this was leading to, the other half, the better half of her head, was trying in vain to make her believe the gravity of the trouble she was headed towards.

"Ridhima..."

He stated it this time, not requesting any approvals, but miraculously despite the on going battle between her two minds, with a burst of courage she assumed to have been latent even to her until that moment she spoke back with a calm, the strain underneath which she believed only she could sense,

"Ms.Gupta if you will please," she stated back, his look remianed unaltered.

"I certainly would, that and everything else you would expect a well bred gentleman to do. But since you've alreday placed a doubt over my claim of the latter I wonder if its worth bothering myself with the subtlties of obligations further on. I know your name Ridhima, yes, from Ritu as I said before. There is and was no stalking involved anywhere here. The evening a week ago I was taken by not just a pretty face but by the whole person you presented and by offering to buy drinks I only just put forth in gesture my regards for the same. After you left the table, rather unceremoniously I'm afraid I have to say I just decided it had been a bad move, worth no more thought. That until you came strolling before my speeding car some 10 minutes ago tonight lost in thoughts only you can define. I daresay I recognized you immideately, and much as I had resoved  that evening a week ago about the chapter being closed and forgotten, the human insticnt kicked in. You looked lost yes, but it did not appear to be a delightful frenzy that struck you. And for no good reason except concern I ignored my better logic which warned me against confronting you a second time. I did go with the impulse, not for the best I can see now as my caution has been mistaken for sheer stealth. I apologize for having given you any reasons to misconstrue my intentions both that evening and this. I can't however help but feel offended by the conclusion your carved out of it all. Lets say its my lesson, and I've learnt it well."

He rest his argument at that, while Ridhima showed not the slightest alteration in her expression as it happened all too fast for her, and quite unlike the way she had expected it would turn out. In her mind his words echoed, and as the realization sunk in its complete meaning she lowered her eyes. There was nothing offensive in both his actions and thoughts, unless she was to consider his having admitted an attraction towards her as unacceptable. But she knew it held no logic to bear the grudge, this and that he was ignorant of the facts of her life. She had been in error, way too judgemental and all in an unthoughtful haste.

"I'm sorry, I just...have no excuse to offer for concluding so impulsively...I'm just...truly sorry..."

She mumbled then lifting her eyes uncertainly to look up at him she saw his brows which had been knit together in a frown ease out almost right away, his look softened as if he felt partially guilty himself to have been an edge too harsh he thought now. He gave her a nod of acknowledgment but as he opened his mouth to speak she turned around claiming the action alone as redemption enough and started to walk away, wishfully to avoid further conversation and consequent embarassment. It wasn't what he had in mind apparently.

"Rid...Ms.Gupta..."

She paused again, almost sighing out loud at not having made her escape successfully, then reluctantly she turned around to make herself face him again, her eyes fidgety resting upon his face only briefly while they darted in most other directions as she waited for him to continue. A flicker of disappointment crossed his face, as even the weight of her misunderstanding did not cause her correct him from addressing her ever so formally, true he was still a stranger, but the exchange had seemed intimate in its own unique way, and he would have prefered Ridhima so much more. He continued,

"May I offer you a ride home?" She looked at him and he saw the conflicting emotions reflected by her face. Despite her error in judgement she realized he was for a fact still a mere stranger and she owed him nothing after his acceptance of her apology; even so she wanted to turn down the offer in a reasonable way, but an appropriate excuse evaded her.

"I well..." she started and he shot her a hopeful look urging her to not refuse him. She waived off the idea hence to say a plain no thanks and walk the remaining couple of blocks back as she...it struck her and she spoke with a small smile, "I live just a couple of blocks away. Thanks for the offer but I'll manage well," as she saw him about to interrupt she added, "I'd much rather complete the evening walk I came out for."

As he remained silent for the next couple of seconds she allowed her smile to widen slightly in greeting good bye and turned around to finally walk away when she heard his voice interrupt her from the same a third time, the same way,

"Ridhima?" She turned around again and he spoke before she could although it was unlikely that she would.

"I hope I can call you that?" He said tentatively, the directness of his question left her no option but to consent. She nodded and he smiled in response. "Allow me to walk you back then, you can think in silence whatever it was that your mind was toying with, and I'll keep an eye out for the signals."

Another direct one. She cursed the way he steered the conversation to his benefit leaving not enough room to differ. She cursed also herself for being incapable of saying a blatant no, you don't owe him any courtesey she was reminded by the inner voice but she just wasn't comfortable fabricating yet another excuse, for one she couldn't think of any now, and secondly she was positive refusing would not be where the topic would be closed, somehow she trusted he would insist, if not this way then some other.

He had admitted he was attracted, he had admitted to making his move as well, somewhere deep inside she felt an admiration for his candid acceptances, and even though she believed it was not and would never be anything more than just that inkling of admiration, she wanted to ensure he knew it just as well. She wished she could state with half as much alacrity why she wanted to walk back alone, and why she and him could never be a thing as he may hope for this to turn out to be. Instead she nodded in resignation. It was just this once, and then she would never again see him. She did not have it in her to ward this off any convenient way? As he smiled at her widely now she saw his dimples as he turned around to park the car by the roadside meter and feed it with the jingling change. An image flashed through her mind and she was uncomfortably shocked by why his smile reminded her of Armaan. And that brought back the contents of Gappu's letter to her she realized in surprise how this incident ha wiped it away from her mind for the past almost 20 minutes. She swallowed hard, the walk instead of clearing her head had wrought her nerves into further strain, an unknown kind.

"Shall we?"

She came out of her chain of thoughts and following his gesture started walking leading the direction they walked and yet it seemed he had taken control, somewhere unknwoingly she felt a comfort in letting him do so. Tentatively she gave hima small smile.

"Thank you Vivek." He smiled back in pleasant surprise at how she addressed him, and then his smile kept widening.

*********************
"Gaurav its getting late will you hurry up?"

"Thats her beautiful, Muski...do you hear her? I told you she is incapable of leaving me alone in peace...er...hey Muski!"

He said with a glint of mischief in his grin as she walked up to stand by his side her hands on her hips in indignation at having heard what he said.

"Chatting again? Good lord can you bestow upon this worthless boy some task more fruitful than chatting endlessly with his girlfriend. I'm almost starting to pity her fate. Do you ever let her breathe without barging into her space?" Gappu made a face at her.

"Wow that coming from the queen of unwelcome entries herself, I'm graced nonetheless both by your presence and your concern Muski ji. But much to your disappointment, for this will take away your chance to rebuke further, I am talking not to Minnie but to Massi."

As he turned back to the screen to indicate the same, Muskaan saw a face not looking any older than herself as the smile on it was being captured by the webcam on the other side. She turned a slight red wondering what the girl must have made of her thoughtless banter at her nephew, as she lowered herself to the range of the webcam on their side.

"Hi Muskaan. I'm Ridhima." And then it seemed to Muskaan she must have presented an easy to read face for she continued, "And I can see Gappu has taken to inflicting upon you his insane humorless wit since I'm missing there to bear the brunt of it all."

Muskaan cocked her eyes as her lips curved into a slanting smile spontaneously.

"GAPPU?...That's what you call him?" She broke out laughing..."Gap...Gappu...OMG..." And she laughed more falling on her knees as she clutched her sides and Gappu glared first at her then into the webcam at Ridhima who shrugged at him giggling herself, she already knew what Gappu had implied by his bond with Muskaan.

"Alright call it quits now you both. If I'm being gentleman enough here to not lash back it doesn't..."

"Gentleman?" Muski squealed in delight breaking into a fresh round of giggles, "Gappu the gentleman" and she stood up posing formally mocking a look of class, "...and Gappu the Pappu who can't dance..."

and she did the funny egyptian dance jiggle from the song she was referring to, and Gappu knocked his head backwards rolling his eyes at her while Ridhima broke out laughing uncontrollably at the scene before her from the webcam on the other side. Shaking his head in disgust Gappu sat pouting his arms crossed against his chest, realizing it was best to to be grumpy in silence than be picked at anymore by the team of them which had formed in seconds like it always had been there. It was certainly the best thing to have done as at long last they could laugh no more and sat with wide smiles at him from either side, and then at each other as if they were in the same room not on the two opposite ends of the world. Then Muskaan spoke up cheerfully,

"Ridhima, its a pleasure to finally see you. Gaurav...I mean GAPPU here talks of you endlessly, and I had so been waiting for this moment of introduction. And don't worry about his wit and humor and all that, I have so far and will hence on ensure he in no way misses out on your counter retorts!"

"Its Ridzi Muskaan, and the pleasure in mutual believe me. I'm glad there will be someone around him even there to hold a leash onto him. I can't begin to imagine what it would be like to tame him all over again if he was let lose for a six week long period."

"Excuse me ladies, much as you are enjoying this 'mock poor Gaurav' session, I'd request you to resume from here when I'm not around to witness it all if you will please."

"Poor Gappu you mean...right Muskaan " Ridhima added quickly and then hi fived a gigglng Muskaan at the webcam.

"You ought to make that Muski as well, and I can't believe Dada refused to reveal it to me all through last week when I asked him for a home name, its usual to have one here in Bengal. Now I can see precisely why." she paused giving him a smug smile adn he made a face at her, she continued looking back at Ridhima "Its horrible enough when him and Rahul team up against me I still can manage that, but on rare occasions they get Dada in onto the gang as well and I need not explain to you any further where I stand against the three of them."

Gappu interrupted her at this jumping into the conversation actively at last as he found a catch.

"Yeh right you can tackle Rahul and me, you wish. But even so if you insist, just get massi to counter Armaan while you as per alleged claims handle us and lets see if you can get your way around then? What say beautiful?" he said turning back to face Ridhima into the cam. "Thats a fair deal wouldn't you agree? I'm certain you must have previous experience from having been friends with Armaan in grad school at how you need to win over him?"

Gappu finished with a challenging smile, patting himself mentally. For once Muskaan sided up with him, and he couldn't think of a better time she could have done that as she exclaimed in excitement,

"Oh yeh...Gaurav said Dada and you went to Cambridge together and are friends from then? Its such a coincidence how I never got to meeting his buddies from London, somhow the chance never presented itself, when once it did I could not..." her voice trailed off as she lowered her eyes momentarily but then loking up again with a smile she resumed, "You totally have to team up on this with me Ridzi, I can never ever stand up to Dada in all honesty, it just works well cause he usually never gets me into a situation where I have to do that anyways. But  we would make a wonderful pair now, me against these buffoons and then you get Dada to bow down in defeat."

In her rattling Muskaan did not notice the change in expression on Ridhima's face on the screen before her, and before she could have they heard a voice from behind.

"Who do you want me to bow down to Muski?" Then before either could reply he spoke on moving forward approaching them, "Actually, can we postpone witnessing my defeat until after dinner instead? You three refuse to let me work for tonight, and now you wont even..."

He stopped as his eyes fell on the screen. Unknowingly his steps did not stop with his words and he moved closer and into the range of the webcam on their end. Gappu cautiously moved out of the way. That moment as they both stared at the screen their eyes met as if they stood face to face, the distance between them and surroundings around them with the others in it, everything dissolved as the emotions of either were mirrored and reflected in the others eyes.

It was impact of seeing each other after a year;- her hair held in a pony seemed to have been cropped shorter and strands of them had come lose in a carelessly attractive way, he had tanned half a shade darker and his features had blend in with a rustic appeal she had never seen before in him, she was wearing rimless glasses, she had always had a number but had shunned them for as long as he had known, the chestnust brown of her eyes behind the lens seemed ever more pronounced, his open neck Indian kurta as opposd to his usual V neck tees defined a majestic aura about him...the rust gold color of it went so well for him she wondered how she had never known that before...

They both noticed it all and much more and yet that's not what occupied their thoughts in the moment they stared at each other, it was only an inevitable back of the mind observation of appearences of one you see after a while. What ran through their heads...and hearts then was a trumoil of several emotions, mostly self contradicting making it hard to decide what they could think, or say.

"I love you...is all that you can't say...years gone by and still..."

The eye lock which lasted barely moments and seemed forever was broken as the ringtone rung loud, Gappu cursed mentally at the interruption as he fished his cell out of his jeans pocket and mumbling and apology moved out of the room flipping it open. "Minnie," he whispered..."Sweetheart you couldn't time this any worse could you?"...

"Ahem ahem" Muski cleared her throat as she looked first at Ridhima then at Armaan, and then back. There was no way she could have read the look on her brother's face wrong, but she wondered if it was too presumtious of her to believe that she saw the same on the face covering the screen. As Armaan looked at her his gaze not the most steady it could be.

"Well?" She revealed the reason for seeking his attention and Ridhima, willing herself to flee the scene found herself watching it anyways, her efforts in vain. There was but one relaxing thought for atleast that second she was only a spectator. Or she thought so a little too soon as she saw Armaan raise his eyes at Muskaan in question.

"Well aren't you going to say hello? Or is it a Cambridge trend to greet in silence letting the other one guess whats on your mind?" His eyes fumbled looking away and then cautiously he raised his eyes to the screen again. "Hey...Ridhima..." he spoke sounding alien to himself, and he imagined as much to her, as he spoke the two words almost separate from each other, uncertain as if he had been if his tongue could still carry the weight of that name. And he looked in to her eyes searching for the reaction as he unconsciously swallowed.

"Hi Armaan..." She brought herself to say it hoping she sounded at least half as intentional about meaning it as she should when greeting 'an old friend'. "How are you?" She was surprised at herself as she added that without meaning to. Armaan kicked himself mentally seeing how much more at ease she seemed conversing with him, couldn't he do the same? She did have the few more moments advantage as he had had to initiate this but still?

"Ummm...fine...good. How about yourself?" He spoke as if trained to the phrase.

"Do they tax Cambridge alum to smile and talk to old buddies? Gosh you both sound like you only just met, actually more like you wished you hadn't. " Turning to Ridhima suddenly she took her by surprise, if any greater was possible, "And you Ridzi? Grave greetings and Dada are not a rare sight, even my charms haven't rubbed off him in so many years, but I thought you seemed so me moments ago? It must be him..." Turning back to Armaan she spoke without waiting for either of the other two to intervene in her analysing chatter, "Dada? What is so appealing about appearing so god foresaken grim?" Armaan opened his mouth to speak then shut it. Then with a fleeting glimpse at the screen again he spoke with an attempted smile, "Muski you're getting it wrong. Its just I...we..."..."Its just the surprise of the moment Muski" Ridhima completed for him and as much for herself. Muskaan raised her eyebrows at both of them in turn and rolling her tongue in thought she said, "Seemed more like shock to me." And Armaan for once wished he had a quieter sister who would not insist upon stating obvious facts. He cleared his throat thinking desperately of some reasonable way to wrap this talk but at that moment they heard Rahul yelling,

"AMMY...MUSKI..." and then Ridhima saw a new someone enter the room, his face was not visible from the distance but she heard him distinctly and thoought he sounded like someone else she knew.

"Are you sure its tonight we decided to go out for dinner and not next year. I'm famished you guys budge your lazy bones and make a move now. And where is Gaurav now?" Saying so he left the room again, to search for Gappu Ridhima thought, and she spoke hurriedly,

"Alright you both should get going I guess, I would hate to keep you from whatever plans you had. Muski it was awsome to chat with you, I hope we will again very soon, don't hesitate to call me if Gappu is being too much of a pain to handle. He's such a kid sometimes but I still miss him. Don't tell him that though."

"I think he is well aware of your feelings Ridhima, without you having to tell him." Armaan interrupted in a quiet voice. Ridhma looked at him and he added hastily, "He's a great boy and troubles us in no way." Muskaan nodded her vigourously with a wide smile, and Ridhima gave a small smile back.

"Thanks for having him over. He's forever talking of how much he adores being there with you all. And I really don't intend causing any more delay for you guys, have fun."

"Bye Ridzi!" Muskaan said just before the screen with her face closed down to display the mundane windows background. Armaan stared at it for a moment longer before Muskaan said, "Hurry up Dada, we should leave now before Rahul comes hollering back into the room." as she walked away, then turning around she added as a last moment thought, "You should invite her to India sometime Dada. I like her." And she left Armaan deep in thought himself.

***********************
"Ammy just take it to Park Street, we can decide where on it once we reach."

"There's nothing to think Rahul, let's go Someplace Else."

"Girls...go their way or your own they will never not disagree" Gappu muttered irritated shaking his head as he focused outside from the window.

"What? I heard you G.A.P.P.U. What did I disagree about?" Muskaan retorted and he shot her a nasty look as she spelt the name.

"Its Gaurav please. And you were the one insisting upon driving all the way to Park Street through the day. Now you suddenly want to go someplace else when we are half way to downtown?" Rahul broke out laughing and Armaan smiled despite himself as he continued to look at the road ahead, while Gappu was surprised by their reaction and when he looked back at Muskaan she shot him a sugar smile batting her eyelids at him and he narrowed his eyes puzzled.

"Someplace Else not as in a random someplace else...I'm talking of The Someplace Else, very much on the Park Street I was praising all day."

"Someplace Else? Thats the name? You're kidding right?" Gappu said not bothering to hide his disbelief at her statement.

"No I'm not. Its a club with rocking live music for a lovely night like tonight."

"And no food..." Rahul spoke before Gappu could. Turning towards him from the passenger seat in the front by Armaan's side he said, "It is a place indeed, with exactly that name, must have been a Muski like brain behind it but just incase you've forgotten sweetie we are out for dinner and they have no food. Let's eat at Ivory then we can go clubbing."

"I second that. At least for Ivory, I'm not certain I want to go clubbing tonight, I'll take the cab back and you all can stay on. Lets get food first," Armaan contributed with one of his rare comments.

"I'm not certain about clubbing either, " Gappu surprised everyone with that statement and realizing he did so he quickly added, "We can decide all that later. Armaan said it, food first."

Rahul looked at Muskaan who shrugged back just as puzzled and Armaan just looked at Gappu in his rearview. He had been so caught up with the sudden incident from less than half an hour ago that he had failed to notice how Gappu wasn't quite his usual self. But now he did, then frowning he looked ahead on the road pondering over the possibilities.

*******************
"What?" said Gappu as he looked up from his plate to find three pairs of eyes upon him.

"We came out cause you wished to celebrate Arsenal's win over archrivals. You seem to be mourning over the loss of ManU instead"

"Huh?...No of course not. I'm delighted for the Gunners Muski."

"Visibly so, " she retorted sarcastically, "What happened to the pig in you dude? You haven't even finished your first Naan yet in like the past 20 minutes?" Gappu looked back at his plate and realized Muski was right. He had been fiddling with a piece of paneer which no longer was a piece but a crumpled mess, and the food was pretty much just there.

"I...uh...its hot for me." He said the first thing that came to his mind.

"No it isn't, "Gappu was surprised as it wasn't Muski or Rahul but Armaan who said that. "It isn't hot Gaurav not half as much as the food we have at home. Unless you've been praising all of that in mere obligation for the past one week I don't see why this would be hot for you." Gappu decided it was good Armaan was a quiet fellow, he analyzed too much and way too accurately if he was to always speak his mind it wouldn't be a good idea at all.

"Yeh, I mean...I just got a green chilly in my last bite so..." Another random lie he thought hoping it would pass.

"Have the rosagoulla then here you go,"

Muski said shoving a bowl with two of the sweet white balls towards him. He nodded biting into one of them without further protest lest he was questioned more. Armaan glanced at his plate, he had not even tasted the vegetables yet, a chilly in his bite was not even possible. Looking back at Gappu he saw him qucikly finish off the second piece in his desert rather hastily. Perhaps it would be a good idea to head to Someplace Else after dinner. If it was just a missing home blue the music would do wonders, if not Armaan could come up with some excuse to drive back home with him while Rahul and Muskaan stayed on. That way he would have a chance to talk. Yes, that would work well he thought getting back to his food.

**********************
"The moon is a sight huh?" Gappu turned towards Armaan as they walked out of the club and from his tone he knew the moon was going to srve only an initiator to a much longer talk. He nodded waiting for the conversation to proceed.

"Mind if we walk for a bit? I know its kinda shady for a downtown street, but it will take us ages to find a cab willing to drive us home, given the hour and the distance, not to mention a completely opposite direction." Gappu nodded, then said,

"I thought you said you wanted to get back home soon so we can watch Fabregas live in conversation on ESPN." Armaan looked at him for a long moment, then said,

"I didn't expect you would buy that one from me. And I don't think you did. If Fabregas was going to be live on TV you never would have consented leave alone suggested yourself dinner out for tonight. But since you ask, live convesation it is going to be indeed."

Gappu looked at him then looked ahead of him. Perhaps the shock of seeing Ridhima had affected the man bad, he had never seen Armaan talk revealing his intention as blatantly, it was either reflective from his words, or not even that. When he looked back he realized Armaan was waiting for  reply. He nodded again lowering his gaze.

"Well? Are you going to explain yourself then?" Gappu shrugged sighing, then said in a low voice,

"I just..." he paused rubbing his forehead with his fingertips trying to ease out the frown and the thoughts causing it..."Its Minnie. We had an argument." He looked up at Armaan who remained silent but looked back at him in complete attention, "And I think I went too far. In fact I know I went too far." He hung his head staring at his shoes thrusting his hands into his pockets.

"Do you wish to talk more about it?" Armaan asked in a voice which offered neither sympathy nor reproach. It was a plain voice suggestive of nothing in order for Gappu to decide without a bias.

"I don't know." He stated flatly, he realy did not. Perhaps he did want to talk, but he wasn't sure how much that would help. He wished he was home, and there was no way he could say that to Armaan after all that he and his family had done for him. He wasn't homesick, he still loved them and trusted them as much, but he just felt it could all have been sorted by now if he was home.

"Are you missing home?" Gappu almost jumped out of his skin at the words. He stared at Armaan the shock written all over his face, can he read my mind, like literally he wondered skeptically. Armaan got his answer and looked ahead nodding his head slowly as Gappu frowned trying to analyze what he could be thinking. It was a big task however, to figure what went on in Armaan Malik's head he told himself in resignation, and then just walked on in silence waiting for things to be explained since there was not much he could do about it.

"Its a great feeling to miss home Gappu. I always wished I could miss mine, but it never quite happened."

Gappu was puzzled more than ever. Armaan was back to himself, talking in riddles which took forever to be figured out.

"But why not? I mean how could you not miss them, Muski and Daddu?" Armaan smiled sighing, then looking at Gappu he said

"I did. I missed them tons, never could not have. But I did not miss home."

This made more sense to Gappu and he gathered Armaan meant he did not miss his kaka and kaki, that did not surprise him. But he didn't say it out loud, much as he was convinced that his opinion about them was shared by the rest in the house he could not bring himself to cross the line. He was despite everything, an outsider to the Malik family for now and had no right to interfere in the family matters.

"I could have missed home in my early days, when Ma and Baba were still alive if I would have had to stay out of home then. But it wasn't until much later that I left for studies and  after them, it was just not home anymore. Daddu and Muski were people I loved more than life, my family, but not my home. That had been defined by them and my parents together for me, and with either missing it just wasn't the same. Infact I tried hard to get Daadu and Muski to come visit me during breaks instead of the other way around, but...oh well...I think it was Daddu's attempt at getting me attached to the place the same way as before but it didn't quite work that way, I only started dreading returning to the villa as it would take me back way too far into the past and then I decided I had to take a break. Cambridge it was then."

"And thats where you met her." Gappu said quietly and making Armaan look at him, it was then that he doubted for the first time in a week if there was a chance that Gappu may know the significance of the words he just spoke, the significance of her in his life then and ever after. Gappu looked up with an expectant smile,

"Massi I meant, thats where you both met right? She was so different from now those several years ago it seems the difference worth a lifetime sometimes."

Armaan felt a tug at his heart, her face from the evening on the screen flashed before his eyes, and he realized how she had grown gracefully beautiful in the years since Cambridge compared to the more juvenille appeal then, and yet it lacked the Ridhima factor, Gappu was right she had changed, possibly not for the best. What troubled him more than this change was the fact that he could not subdue his knowledge of the cause of that change. He had taken much longer last year when fate had brought them face to face in Chicago, to realize that she had not moved on after him. This time a webshot on his computer screen was all he needed to know how persisting that situation was, still the same. He had wished well for her through this year of separation, wishing nothing more than for her to be happy, but he had known how contradictory it was to his other selfish inner desire, moments in which he longed to have her in his life, which could only mean praying for her to not have moved on.

"Did you have a girlfriend in school?" the question from Gappu jerked him out of the past.

"Huh? No." Ridhima was not his girlfriend he thought because she was much more, she was the one he loved...

"Did you fall in love?" It was Armaan's turn to shoot him a shocked look.

"You did, I see." Gappu said confirming that his silence had spoken more than words could have. Before Armaan could think of an explanation to give Gappu continued, "Was it a mess to be in love?"

Armaan was almost relieved at not being asked who it was that he had been in love with. And then he thought about what he had been asked. Was it a mess to be in love? Yes. Had it been a mess then? That was the hard part. Being in love had given him the most beautiful phase of his life. He realized how he had never given it a thought this way, or he would have been compelled to give credit to that love, to Ridhima for keeping alive within him a will to desire. Yes it had been and was there persisting to stay on, the desire deep inside. Had being in love been a mess then? No. It was having to stay away from his love, having to pretend to not be in love that was a mess.

"Being in love was wonderful. I think I never got enough of the feeling it invokes, so much that I can't let go of being in love." He whispered it in a daze, almost without realizing and when did it seemed a moment too late. He glanced at Gappu who seemed deep in thought. Armaan crossed his fingers hoping he had missed the last bit of the conversation. It was a wish too big.

"So can you be in love forever?" 

Armaan saw Gappu was talking to him and yet absorbed in thoughts of his own, thoughts perhaps which were raising these questions more than, as Armaan had been starting to suspect, his intention to delve deeper into Armaan's past. He decided the conversation had been counter steered long enough and it was time to take it back on track. He stopped walking and as he had guessed Gapu walked on a several seconds until he realized the same. Turning around he faced Armaan who stood with his hands casually thrust in his pockets, his face devoid of expressions but the gaze unblinking. Gappu looked at him and then looked away then sighing he looked back again.

"We just started with a silly argument when she said I didn't take half her calls ever since I was here, and I said it was more from the contrasting times of the day than any other intention s to miss her calls. I don't know what happened to her Armaan she just...like suddenly got all mad at me, and then simultaneously emotional and almost insecure and then she said she was afraid of what would happen if I left her. " Gappu paused and Armaan walked towards him covering the gap of some few paces between them. But he stayed quiet and Gappu went on.

"I would have thought she was kidding or teasing me Armaan, but she was dead serious and I knew it. What I did not know, and still can't figure is why she thought so out of no where. I mean I have only just been here a week, and I have talked to her alot more than I have talked even back home and...I mean she said she thought I was just bored of her now since we have been together for almost a year. How the hell could she even humor this thought. And I asked her the same. I told her I did and always would love her."  he paused and Armaan saw a flicker like that of one wounded as he spoke on, "She asked me if that meant that I would be with her forever?" he whispered in a low voice, barely audible.

"Will you?" Armaan asked. He was certain he knew the answer but somehow Minnie's questions made him wonder of what it was that made her question Gappu so. Perhaps his answer would uncover something he did not yet know.

"Forever is a very big word Armaan." Gappu stated. And for a moment Armaan wasn't certain he heard it right. Then he frowned deep clenching his fist unconsciously. Perhaps Minnie wasn't quite wrong in having her reserves about him. How could he say what he just did, and had he said the same to Minnie? He spoke maintaining the calm in his voice somehow, telling himself to not judge before he heard it all.

"What do mean? I thought you just said you will love her forever?"

"Because there never can be anyone else. But forever is a very big word and I'm not God. How can I possibly state for fact what the future holds for us, I have seen it no more than she has. I can only promise what's in my hands and that is to love her always, more than that is neither mine to promise her nor mine to predict." Armaan did not notice his pause, as the depth of those words slowly dawned upon him.

"I said that to her and she cut the call, refusing to answer it for the 10 times I tried re calling her after that until Rahul came for me. I know I spoke too far, I did not have to state it this way, at least not when she was so obviously disturbed. Its just the truth which has been playing on my mind, the truth of how things don't always happen the way you want them to, the truth of how Massi and you have neither moved on nor gone back to what was and..."

He stopped abruptly and shut his eyes in realization of what he had done. Cursing himself mentally he opened his eyes and looked up to face him somehow. Armaan held his look and they both knew the game was up. Gappu swallowed kicking himself mentally for the unintentional slip. But Armaan showed no further reaction. Lowering his eyes slowly he turned around to look elsewhere as if in search of something and said in a flat unaffected voice,

"Let's get a cab now. I think I'm tired to walk anymore."

Gappu opened his mouth to speak, then closed it. Despite the finality in Armaan's words Gappu decided this wasn't the end of their live conversation. Now that Armaan knew, Gappu had to pose ignorance no more. He would get back to this after talking it out wityh Chirag, and then it would be a confrontation. For the moment he left him to think out what he wanted to, while he himself thought of what to say to Minnie when he called her back again after they got home, provided she answered his call this time. He followed Armaan as the latter hailed a cab to take them back home.

*********************

"Sorry,"
It's all that you can't say
Years gone by and still
Words don't come easily
Like "sorry" (like "sorry"..like "sorry"..)

But you can say, baby
Baby can I hold you tonight?
Baby, if I told you the right words
at the right time
You'll be mine

I love you
is all that you can't say
Years gone by and still
Words don't come easily
Like "I love you", I love you....

Armaan turned the volume to nill, he had replayed the song for the umpteenth time since he got back home, and much before that he had been subconsciously humming it ever since it played on Gappu's ringtone. in the evening. He got up and started pacing the floor of his room. It was strange how he should have been shocked by Gappu's accidental confession of knowing it all, but he wasn't. He knew somewhere he had always expected Chirag to have done this, even hoped for it if he admitted it in complete honesty. So it could not be strange that he wasn't mad at either of them. Or he had not given them enough thought since the moment they got into the cab. As the lyrics of the song replayed in his ears, his mind was busy replaying Gappu's words over and over. And his initial repulive reaction to them. 

Then Gappu had said it...about him and Ridhima. And Armaan saw his whole life in a new light. It was true what Gappu had said;- about not being God, about things not always going the way you wanted. It had held all through his life as nothing had gone his way. It wasn't even like he had never fought for what he wanted, including Ridhima he thought as he closed his eyes remembering the time he had received the call to come back home from Daadu, the call that changed his life in such a big way.

But what troubled him most was Gappu's other claim, about promising only what was in his hands, his never ending love for Minnie. That was what struck out for him, cause that was one thing which did not hold true in his life. Yes his love for Ridhima was everlasting, but he had never actually promised it to her, much worse, he had never even confessed its existence to her. That had been in his hands and something he evaded only out of convenience, or more like cowardice. He told himself all these years his confession would make things harder for her, and kept it inside. As if she did would not have known without him telling. What then had he been escaping by not wording it to her, why had he not considered what it could mean to her to know what he felt for her, from him. For the first time in his life Armaan admitted his silence had caused more pain than he had assumed he was ever going to avoid. He had never denied that she deserved the truth, and then he had never given it to her. Had not confessing changed anything for him? More importantly, had it changed anything for her? She was still in love with him...he paused in his steps.

"She still loves me, she always did." Slowly he lowered himself to the edge of his bed..."She loves me...Ridhima..." He whispered her name. Then he jumped off his bed and rushed to Gappu's room.

"GAURAV!" He almost yelled in the connecting corridor, consequently even before he reached the room Gappu's head popped out of his door frowning, Armaan stopped himself before he yelled anymore, and running to Gappu's door he shoved him inside shutting the door behind him.

"I need Ridhima's cell number, one on which I could reach her right away."

Gappu frowned more, not sure he could understand what it was the Armaan implied even though once again that evening he had expressed himself so explicitly. Armaan saw his look, but wasn't patient enough to explain himself right then, he did not even know what there was that he could explain.

"I want to talk to her, there's something she must know, no theres quite a few somethings she must know." Gappu wanted to know desperately now what exactly Armaan meant, instead he just lifted his cell back to his ear and said,

"Minnie I'll call you back in a minute. " Cuttin the call he spoke to Armaan who only just realized that Gapu had been on a cal, but he was too occupied to feel guilty for interrupting.

"Are you just going to memorize it? Where's the phone you will call from?" Armaan frowned a moment then walked past him to pick up the cordless lying on its set by the bed side.

"Go on," and he dialled the number as Gappu spelt the digits. Without another second he moved out of the room, as he heard the phone ringing. Gappu just stared at the door through which he had appeared and now disappeared, thinking of how significant the short dialogue in between those two could be, and in what respect. And then its rung again, his phone, interrupting his thoughts.

"I love u, is all that you can't say, years gone by and still..." ...

"Minz...Did you ver figure a way to understand what your uncle was thinking?" He quipped answering the call.

*********************
He crossed his fingers as he heard the sixth round of the phone ringing, was he being too impulsive? He shut his eyes to shove the doubts out of his head he wanted no place for them in his life anymore, please pick the call Ridhima...and as if in answer to his request he heard the click of a call being answered.

"Hello?"

He smiled at her voice, she sounded like she had been interrupted, with her mind not completely in the hello she spoke.

"Hi Ridhima," His smile deepened saying her name, suddenly he felt liberated, and as he heard the silence on the other end, he grinned. She had not missed recognizing his voice, and the impact was obvious in no response. He decided to let her have it easy.

"Armaan here." He paused as she continued to stay silent, but he wasn't put off. "I know you are there, and its alright if you are comfortable being silent. Its not you who has to talk anyways for once, its me. Can I just trust you to hear me all through?"

"Armaan...I...meeting...I mean, er...can I call you back in a bit?"

"I love you Ridhima," he paused certain she could hear his smile in his words as it widened to its maximum, "And yes you can call me later, please do, I'll wait for the call."

"Bye...Armaan." And he heard the call click to an end Slowly he lowered it from his ear and looked at it for a long moment. He had heard the effect of his confession in her last two words. Impulsively he kissed the phone softly, and his lips still lingering on it he whispered again,

"I love you!" Then smiling he shut his eyes imagining her face from the evening chat, and opening them he spoke in a contemplating whisper, "The desire to love...your desire, my love..."

********************

NJ

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