Thursday, 23 May 2019

Last Part : Unleashing What Remained Unsaid

"This...is..." Armaan started, stumped at the sight of it, held in the hand Atul extended towards him, his smile indicative.

"The ring..."

"Your ring..."

"Her ring..."

"WHAT?"

The exchange between Gappu and his mother over the rightful claim to the ring dominated the mainstream attention in the room, before being put to rest by Ridhima's incredulous exclamation. Armaan forgot to react past a mere shock. Atul seemed amused by something about the all at once commotion before him, the smile on his lips came easily, willing to accept humor even in chaos. Anjali and Gappu distracted from their debate, turned to Ridhima unanimously, Gappu quickly recalling his smug look, Anjali wore a real smile, which deepened thoughtfully as she gazed at Ridhima, her mind as if reflecting over memories of a happy past or contemplation of a pleasant future...



Armaan looked from Atul to Anjali and Gappu...and finally to Ridhima who stood by his side. It must have been innate, her knack to hold the center stage while remaining absorbed within self, as naturally oblivious of that attention she had drawn, as a protagonist would be, in a role oft played, to be serving as focus for an entire audience. She remained, hence, even now and following her eyes he was reminded of the ring case again.

The same ring case, which had traveled with him all the way to her house earlier that evening, which held the solitaire he was to propose to her with, which had been, he almost sighed, forgotten in the events that had ensued, much out of the range of any sane expectations. If he wasn't so completely done with empathizing with his own feeling of being cornored by unexpected turn of events in life, he would have possibly indulged in self sympathizing. An evening one-of-its-kind-to-have-been had turned into... well, one of a kind still. The mystery of the ring having made reappearence now, and how, made him almost smirk at this latest 'unpredictable', favorable for once, if he dared to think so. Mentally, he found, despite being absolutely preoccupied, his mind toying with the idea of hunting out the local daily at the first chance he could, and reading what his horoscope for the day had been.

She found herself staring at the black case, her mind went to that which was beyond, undoubtedly, held within it, the precious metal band studded with a precious stone. Her ring- that's what they said? That which she had awaited a number of nights she had lost count of, that, meant to adorn her finger which had remained bare longer than it ought to rightfully have. That which was apparently before her now, when she could have only least expected. Wasn't that how proposal rings were meant to pop up; the idea was too wry to humor her wits. Ridhima found the flow of her thoughts rapidly wriggle beyond her coordination. Her eyes remained upon the case, unknowingly, but her mind had drifted.She felt an eternity fill the moments, as an awareness of her surroundings became a nothingness, inside her head there was a big bang.

Yes she had expected the ring tonight, many hours ago, until so much else had happened and she had forgotten about it. Completely. She had forgotten how the impatient the seconds she had passed in the office had been, her concentration lost. She had forgotten how laborious the task of selecting the perfect outfit for her special evening had been, with every piece of accessory including the smile on her lips and the blush infusing her cheeks, befitting. She had forgotten the rush of adrenaline when at last the door bell had rung at its designated hour and she had forgotten the unbearable constrain in holding herself back when she had heard his baritone, distinct, among the simultaneous greetings of several familiar voices, without having to raise his volume any beyond its usual deep note.

Yes she had awaited the moment which was to be her cherished memory; and for it she had kept herself out of his sight, with a certain streak of intention to tease him. For her part, she had sneaked glances at him when he could not have noticed. The excitement had paralleled that of a girl trying to notice her first ever crush from a distance, observing him at the leisure this anonymity provided, as she searched him to show signs of anything that may indicate she was on his mind. And she had been rewarded accordingly as she saw him make polite conversations with all while his eyes betrayed, at least to her, the impatient misgivings of his heart, all on her expense. And she had glowed, priding herself for his love.

He noticed the play of expressions on her face now as they, after having undergone several changes, rested into a wistful look, the insinuation of a smile felt like a dream he suddenly wanted to realize. He could swear and he did in his head, at the unusual glow on her face. He wanted to believe it was at the sight of the ring. The ring to seal their bond with a name. The feeling was like slow rapture of ecstacy. Clueless as to how he managed to, he tore his gaze from her face, forcing himself to look away, lest he gave into that irrepressible urge to pull her to himself forgetting the room and its other people.

And just to occupy the surge of restless energy rising within, he turned to Atul, who still held the ring out to him. In silent self admonition, Armaan wondered how many seconds, if not minutes had passed by. And drawing his guts over the awkwardness of his realization, he looked up to Atul's eyes, which offered assurance. In a strange way, as if his mind and its apprehensions had been revealed and read, in a way similar to the silent conversation which followed between them, words claiming no place in a communication of mutual understanding. And at a final insistence, just as silent, from Atul, Armaan took the case into his hands with gentle caution, looked at it, easing into a smile at last before he looked back at Ridhima.

It passed her unnoticed apparently, the ring case exchanging hands, her mind, he mused, in an evident state of intense activity, had crossed the boundries of this room. Her eyes were rivetted to a random spot midair, which she wasn't looking at, at all. He inhaled deeply as if to gather himself and his eyes fell on Gappu. Who winked at him without losing the second of eye contact, then stuck his tongue into his cheek, thoroughly entertained. Armaan bit back on his grin, although there was no way to fight the shade he was certain his face was fast becoming. Lowering his head for a second of recooping, he faced back up with intention this time.

"Ridhima..."

"Huh?..."

She snapped out of her trance at his voice and then her eyes fell on the ring case, open this time. And as she stared at the ring, she knew it would always remain the most beautiful, exquisite piece she had laid her eyes upon, one she would never tire of possesing. It wasn't anything she had not seen before, a diamond would remain a diamond wherever, whenever. For the innumerous unknown fingers she had known the stone from at the sight of it, she believed, yes, this particular solitaire would be special as only one of its kind. For it was from him... for her... And she looked back up to him.

Her lips parted slightly for the words she did not speak, and in her eyes he found an expression of her feelings. It was the look he had only dreamed to see there, and rightfully claim for himself. No tears occasioned the elation neither the love reflecting from her deep set beautiful eyes. Armaan smiled. It was all he could have hoped for, and so much more, and it warmed his heart like wax under a flame. Slowly then, seeking her, he raised an eye.

Yes, she answered instantaneously, without speaking a word. Yes, of course.

He lowered the brow and solemned his look, but she saw the twinkle in his eyes, willing her to break her poise, display her heart. She looked at him, a blank look, wasn't he going to say it... say something... say anything at all? Incredulously, she felt the seconds slip away in silence, but he remained unrelenting, and she finally admitted the obvious, he was enjoying playing the moment.

Very well then, she thought... her look beneath the straight face she pulled was a message only for him, and much against his will she broke the eye game with her next words.

"You bought that ring for him?" Atul was taken aback at the question she shot at him before he chuckled, his amusement finally finding a reason in her launched accusation, while Armaan narrowed his eyes at her, as she intentionally avoided him.

"For you...you mean? Its a very girl thing as you can see," Gappu corrected her and she turned to look at him. "And no, much as you'd love to nag him over the contrary for the rest of his life, Armaan did buy the ring 'for you' himself. Even got me to steal one of your regulars for the right fit."

That was unexpected. For all four, each having their own reason, as the words made sense, while Gappu himself leaned against the wall behind him to watch the fun he had instigated. Ridhima looked the right hand parallel of her ring finger and wondered how she had not missed her age old turquoise the whole day. Atul scratched his forehead trying to not break out laughing, and when Ridhima looked back up at Armaan, in at least partial disbelief, her doubts were confirmed with Armaan trying to avert all pairs of eyes upon himself.

How did Ridhima manage all the attention without a desperate need to find cover he thought furiously, so much for trusting the kids. Minnie had suggested the idea and Gappu had backed it up with absolute enthusiasm, it had seemed only right then. Not like he was going to steal her ring forever, although, a small voice inside him reminded him, he had considered just that, the night before, as he had dozed off staring at it with thoughts of her, and woken up to find it clutched in his hand. He had hoped she wouldn't miss it, and it could be his little personal secret. It was just a silly ring, he told to himself, trying to be indignant now as he looked up but Ridhima's raised eyes did him no good.

"You got Gappu to steal Ridzie's ring?"

Just when he had been thanking his last benefit in no cross questioning, Anjali decided the case had not been put to rest, yet.

"I..." he started, wondering why the tables had turned upon him all at once. One more time, he cursed Gappu, "I didn't want to mess up the size."

He said in a little voice and was startled as the room resounded in a sudden laugh. And the shock only doubled itself twice over as he realized it was Anjali, giggling like a girl, within seconds she was holding her sides.

"Aaawww... That is so... cute!"

she managed to say, and Armaan wondered if it was a compliment, he looked at Gappu who signaled peace, laughing himself, making Armaan want to swear out loud. Then at Atul who shrugged at him grinning wider than ever. And when he turned to Ridhima she smiled with all her heart and raised her eyes demanding his defeat. He shook his head slightly at himself, unable to hide the smile and his eyes fell on the solitaire. He raised his eyes back to Ridhima who was still looking at him and they locked the look amidst the settling peals of laughter.

I love you, he worded inaudibly, and Ridhima forgot her tease at his declaration. With effort, she held his eye and there was a candid confirmation of the words. Yes, nothing about this moment was ever going to be lost from her.

"Ritu left the ring with me, " Atul spoke up at last, interrupting, and they both looked up at him, as did Anjali and Gappu.

"Ritu?" Ridhima would have expected Chirag to have the ring, if Armaan wasn't carrying it himself, but Ritu? And why had Ritu not given it to her if she had to, since Armaan had rushed out after Vivek... Something inside her twisted right then. At being jostled harshly back to face the facts. Vivek... Rahul... Muskaan... the miscarriage. Ridhima cringed.

"Yeh, she said Armaan left it with her," and Armaan remembered he had done that. The last he had held the ring was in doing the practice run with Ritu.

"And so Dr. Atul, you knew about the ring all these hours?" Anjali was back to her cynical 'mommy' tone, folding her arms across her chest, "Which leaves, lets see, just about me, who had no idea at all."

"No wonder he was playing Daddy 'cool' with Armaan," Gappu offered in an undertone, biting back his grin. God bless him, he had a hell of a family. While Atul cursed him mentally, Armaan decided he had definitely been spared the worst of Gappu's cheek so far. Ridhima had lost touch with the discussion a while back, but her fast change in reaction went unnoticed.

"Anj... sweetheart, " Atul moved towards her, and holding her from her shoulders made her sit down on the main study chair. She obeyed, but the demand of an answer was obvious from her expressions. Atul was serious all over again. "I was worried about Armaan. There was so much unexplained and... even though the ring assured me of his intentions..." Atul shrugged stuffing his hands into the evening denims he had still not changed out of. Anjali nodded, slowly, they had been together long enough, and she knew where he was coming from. Atul in his thinking spells was just with himself, till he reached conclusions, and he had not reached one before Armaan got back. Besides there was a cause big enough to not dampen moods over anything, she smiled in understanding and shook her head lightly.

"I don't care. Next time no one in my family, " she said looking up, "You included Dr. Malik," she added and he hastily stood up straighter than he had been at the unexpected singled out mention, "Hide nothing from me." she declared, finishing.

Armaan realized only a second later how she had consented her acceptance of their relationship. He looked at Anjali who raised her eyes at him and he nodded back mechanically, she smiled. And it dawned upon him that he really did adore her, specifically the control she commanded, and its possessive edge. God knew how much he had missed it, Armaan half sighed.

"Can we finally see the ring make its claim now?" she added and he positively smiled at this.

Turning to Ridhima he pulled the ring out of its case and placing it on a side absent mindedly, his eyes went to her, to find her lost again. Frowning this time. Unexplicably. The sight of her creased brow didn't appeal him at all, he wanted to ease it away and almost moved his hand to do it too, before checking his impulse. Instead, he said,

"Ridhima...?"

This time it did not shake her musing away. Armaan moved covering a couple of steps between them, his eyes fixed on her face, and lifted her left hand, making her look at himself, at last.

"Armaan..." she whispered, then paused staring at the variations of hazel in his eyes, "I love you."

Her tone was earnest and his heart should have gone out to her at that, except it didn't. It had not sounded like her expression of love, it was her need to let him know. And he knew it from instinct, it didn't feel right. He pushed away the feeling before it took him all over again, not in this moment. He squeezed her hand lightly, held in his own and smiled at her. Ridhima unconsciosly tightened her grip in his hand at the gesture, her gaze faltered from his only when she felt the cool platinum slide onto her finger. Reflexively she stared at it, it was a perfect fit, a picture perfect fit. And she looked back up at him.

There was the expanse of love, but a trouble brewed over it which Armaan could not ignore. She had been worked up about something, and he still had to know what, but he wished she could and would forget all of everything else for this second.

*RINGGGG*

The attention was snapped at the sound of the doorbell, loud and shrill, but more importantly, ill timed. An unannounced guest at this time was more than plain unusual. Atul nodded at them and moved out of the study to get the door. Anjali stood a moment longer, before walking to them and giving them a joint hug.

"God bless you both," she whispered and she had to say nothing more to let them know how much she meant it. And she made to move out before they answered. Unconsciously Armaa was still holding onto Ridhima's hand, and she had let him, just as unknowingly.

"I wonder who..."

Ridhima and Gappu started together and stopped, Armaan frowned in thought himself, only a second longer.

"ARMAAN!"

Gappu looked at him, who looked at Ridhima. And then Armaan felt her dig her nails deep into his hand, as she whispered the name both Gappu and he had recognized from the voice which had called out loud from the hall below.

********************************
"I identify the body Stan, but I have only seen it in pictures."

Stan nodded at Chirag. They both stood not speaking for several seconds, grim and occupied in their own thoughts.

"Is this going to be trouble for you?"

Chirag broke the silence first. Again, Stan, shaking his head, chose to not speak up right away, and another quiet spell seconds long ensued.

"I apologize," he said at last and Chirag frowned at the words. "He was in my custody, I should have assumed him to be greater trouble than I did with the case history you had defined. I just..."

He shook his head at himself, pulling a chair out for himself and flung himself upon it in more than disatisfaction. Carelessly he threw open a drawer and pulled himself a smoke. Chirag watched hi in silence, assumin he wasn't done talking yet, apart from the fact that he wanted to think some more instead of speaking himself.

"It should have been the first thing I did, search him for random pills. Its how the majority of them druggies end their miserable lives... overdose."

Chirag pulled himself a chair facing Stan. And nodded, partially in agreement, partially to himself. It was an intense overdose of pills. Apparently. And a random assortment of them too, which explained the rapid reaction leading to a collapse. And of course, the damage having gone too far out of control for the medics to be any good... how many of those had he seen? He sighed.

"Do you need me to file it as an official complaint?"

"Your friend maybe, since he would have the right premise to be doing that. It will be a closed case of course, unless anyone wishes to place an investigation on his death, I will account for it in a certain clause we cover under encounters."

"I doubt that... interest in re opening investigation I mean." Chirag paused to think, everything had happened too fast, the escape, the capture and the whole overdose of pills leading to fata collapse. And although his was, as Stan had declared a closed chapter, in more than just the official sense, Chirag wondered what the narration of the whole deal would be like.

"Can I get some water?" he said, his throat was acting up. A minute later, he cracked the seal of the bottle placed before him, and drained the entire thing down. Then he got up abruptly and said, "I shold get back to my friend Stan, he needs to know about things so I can get him here and file the papers as you need them to be." Stan got up himself, thoughtlessly he stuffed the half smoked cigrette into the ashtray lying on the desk, and nodded. When they looked at each other, solemn, Chirag added, "You were more help than you're taking credit for. I assure you." And he extended his hand to be taken up into a firm shake from Stan who nodded again.

"Right... Give me a call when you're friend is ready for the statement Doc."

"I will... Take care!" and buttoning up his coat to the neck he moved out of the door in a a few swift strides. The cold air hit his face, and he grit his teeth. Running a hand through his hair, he inhaled deeply. Then making up his mind he speed dialled her number.

"Ritu..." he started, something in his tone stopped her from shooting a volley of her own questions at him.

"He'd dead... Vivek..." She clutched the arms of the chair for a moment, then said, a moment later,

"Good riddance..."

And Chirag breathed, almost in relief. He admitted he had needed this. A reaction which wasn't hyped... only receptive, and he was grateful she had understood that so well. Getting inot his car he turned on the ignition and went on to inform her of the details.

******************************
Armaan leaned forward in his seat on the couch. Resting his chin upon his crossed hands. Chirag rubbed a hand over his face and through his hair. He had narrated the whole thing all over again, it was a very late hour, and the three of them were in Ridhima's room. Almost like old times... except they had come a long way from grad school. And this was a bloody long night. Tired, he slumped onto the rug leaning against the bed. Ridhima looked at him, then at Armaan, who's expression was inpenetrable.

"Ahem..." she cleared her throat at last, the silence was getting to her, it had never been her forte to begin with.

"You did the right thing." Armaan said, without a change in his position, but all three of them knew it was for Chirag. "You handled it much better than I did in fact..." he added, then sighed, "As always." And he finally looked up to meet Chirag's eye.

"That's... good... I guess..." Chirag said folding his legs and pulling his feet closer to his own chin upon his knees.

Ridhima stood her spot, and said nothing. There was a always a part of what they shared, which she wasn't party to. It was what in the Cambridge days she would crib about when Chirag would call it the 'boys talk'. And everytime, she would look up to Armaan with an unhappy face hoping he would defend and include her. On occasions he did, when he didn't she knew it was only the best to let it go. Today, ironically, a big part of her did not wish to be included... She crossed the fingers of her hands in a tight clasp and was reminded of the ring. It would be a while before she grew accustomed to that finger being bare no more, and yes, she realized, most of her, except that big part, still wished to be included, this time most importantly, to be by his side in all of this, and all of everything else for a lifetime now. She sighed quietly, happy and sad all at once, her emotions in deep conflict.

"So when do you want me to come along for the paper work?"

"Whenever... " Chirag replied without thinking, then corrected hastily, "Whenever within tomorrow."

"Hmmm..." Armaan replied, "What about..." he shut his eyes and pursed his lips, then opened them again and spoke looking Chirag firmly in the eye, "His body?"

"You can claim it if you want..."

"We wont..." Ridhima declared, interfering at a point she was technically not meant to. Both of them looked to her and she spoke on, in a low voice, patient but insistent. "We don't need anything more with any of this...please Armaan," she added the last words softly, in a near appeal looking at Armaan only. "Let's just finish up what's absolutely necessary and bury this past...forever."

It amazed Armaan for a second how she had just taken that decision, and somehow, her words subdued all thoughts of any other way there was to things. Yes, he did want to end this... here... forever. His restlessness was complicated... it wasn't excatly revenge he cared about, and yet... there was a need to settle scores... or something else... He would have been unable to make up his mind, about this, and all that was there to be dealt with in this issue, he would have wanted to involve himself with every detail and wrapped it up, and yet he knew he would have done it with a half mind, and less than a half heart. But he would have, he was so habituated to finishing off what he started. He was grateful, she decided for him, it had to be buried and forgotten, forever... except...

"I have to tell Rahul." he said gravely.

"Not tonight Ammy. They were... brothers..." Armaan frowned at Chirag's statement.

"Yeh... precisely why he ought to know."

"I... He's dealt with enough for one day Ammy. I don't know how much he will care, but he doesn't need this right away." Armaan was puzzled now, doubtlessly.

"What do you mean?"

"What... I..." Chirag turned to Ridhima and realized in that second. Armaan still didn't know about Muskaan. His eyes widened before he looked away lowering them to his feet, then ran a hand through his hair.

"What?" Armaan repeated, following Chirag's gaze as it fell on Ridhima and then to his own feet. He inhaled in absolute agitation now. "Alright you both. What do I not know?"

"Armaan..." Ridhima started, when he looked at her the words stuck in her throat.

"Chirag!" Armaan said turning to him, "Tell me... Now..."

"Its Muskaan," Ridhima said in a rush, and Armaan turned back to her, only a second later.

"Muskaan...?"

"She... she had a miscarriage..."

For a whole long moment Armaan was stumped, something inside him tried to say one of the other two would tell him no, it wasn't what he had just heard. But they did not. And so he knew. It was true... to the T. Ridhima made herself walk upto the couch and kneeled down before him, her head lowered for a second before she raised it to face him.

"How..." his voice was more a rasping whisper. Chirag looked from Armaan to Ridhima and back to Armaan.

"Extreme trauma in early pregnancy," he started for her, and then she completed, "After your call with her in the evening."

Armaan continued to look at Ridhima, and she struggled to read through his flat expressions. Swallowing without trying to show her helplessness she took his hand in her own, gripped it firmly and said, "She's...she got through the operation fine Armaan. All her stats... they were normal. She's likely to be sleeping from the meds for a while but..." she paused looking up into his eyes as he said nothing, "Everything will be alright. She will be alright...say something Armaan...please..."

He saw it all now. Her need to have assured him that she was with him, that she loved him, and now... assuring that everything would be alright. Her dilema of trying to tell him and unable to say it all to him. Her inevitable short lived secret... Muskaan... his baby sister. Armaan pulled out of her grip unknowingly and held his head in his hands. And shut his eyes tight. The call. He had slipped the name. Vivek's name. He saw also, now, how Ridhima had impulsively declared they wanted to have nothing to do with the whole thing, anymore than what they couldn't help. Abruptly he got up, almost knocking Ridhima then catching hold of her shoulders in time before she fell on her back. Quickly, he looked away from her eyes.

"Excuse me," he mumbled and walked towards the washroom attached to her room. Ridhima stared behind his back till he shut the door after himself. Chirag looked away from the door to Ridhima. And walked towards her, sitting down by her side. After several seconds of her still staring at the door, he pulled her left hand towards himself.

"Did you like it?" She turned to him and followed his eyes to her ring. And nodded. Then she said,

"Was that even a question?" he smirked and looked up at her.

"Still talking back. Good. I'm happy." It made Ridhima smile, and she hit his shoulder lightly.

"Aren't you going to congratulate me?" she asked him in a grim voice.

"I will, " he said, then looking her in the eye he said, carefully, "When you prove that you believe the ring is rightfully yours."

"What..." she started then stopped short. And nodded after a couple of seconds. On an impulse she threw her arms around him in a hug. Chirag smiled, then hugged her back.

"Let me go now... he's not in the best mood. I would hate to die because he thought I was hitting on his fiance." She pushed him away in mock indignation lifting herself off the ground. He got up himself and as she opened her mouth to retort they heard the door unlock.

Armaan walked out and saw the two pairs of eyes focused on him, intent and anxious. He almost rolled his eyes at them. Who the hell did they think he was? An unstable psycho who would cut his veins in the washroom? He sighed impatiently, but they were obviously waiting for him to say something in real words.

"What?" he snapped. There was enough to weigh him down without him having to handle them and assure them. Heck! What was wrong with them?

"Are you...alright?" Ridhima said, uncertainly.

"No. I'm a mad man right now so stay off...RIDHIMAAA!" he exclaimed exasperrated and she clenched her fists to not take steps backwards at his outburst. Chirag looked at Ridhima, then at Armaan, a frown deepening on his face. Armaan took in a deep breath running a hand through hair which were now damp and fell over his eyes.

"Ridhima," he started again, "You... There's been enough delay in me learning about this." He paused and she wondered whether or not she was fair to be hurt about him saying that. He had checked himself from accussing her but... "I should drive back home now...theres stuff I need to take care of. " Ridhima was completely taken aback by this intimidating, not intractive side of him. Chirag decided to offer him the ride back, a talk would do him good.

"Can I take your car for now?" Armaan spoke before either of them did. Ridhima nodded mindlessly, then shook her head, then spoke,

"I'll drive you back ho..."

"No." Armaan stated. "I'm going to go myself."

"Get him the keys Ridhima," Chirag said before Ridhima would protest further. She stood another second looking at Armaan, then walked out of the room.

"I know you're not mad at her Armaan. Don't make it look like that." Armaan opened his mouth, then shut it. And gave a single nod.

"I talked to Rahul... He called me when he couldn't reach either of you, and in our talks we both learned what each of us didn't know. The bits and pieces came and fell into place. And then the whole investigation thing." He paused, in case Armaan wanted to speak, but he didn't so he continued, "Don't act in haste Ammy. And maybe this once, you wont actually hurt any of those you shouldn't."

"I'm not hurting anyone Chirag. I'm worried about Muskaan." Chirag folded his arms across his chest and raised an eye at him. Armaan half sighed and added, "So is Ridhima..."

"Good. Now remember that."

"Chirag... I hate the idea of being dependent."

"Doesn't seem to be the case when you make Muskaan dependent. Don't talk like a hypocrite Ammy."

"I'm not. She needs me."

"She has Rahul."

"But..."

"But you're different? Better?"

"No..."

"Correct. And I agree. She still needs you."

"So..."

"And you need Ridhima." Armaan didn't answer. "Its not called 'dependence'. Its called a relationship. Any relationship."

"Armaan I..." She stopped mid sentence, walking back inside the room, at the look on his face, and Chirag's face. "Did you both... fight?"

She hadn't intended saying it, much less asking them for an answer. But it just came, it seemed like thhey had been talking, which seemed likely, but it also seemed like she had walked back in at a bad point.

"Boys talk Ridzie." She almost thought it would be alright to smack Chirag for giving her 'that' reason in response. Instead she turned to Armaan.

"I talked to Di. Take her car, jeej and she have same shift hours, they will drive together."

And she handed him the keys. Armaan looked at her as he took it, but she didn't look back. Chirag was right, Ridhima was right... but did that make him wrong? He knew he had to get out of here before he messed up anything with his messed up thoughts.

"Right... thanks." she looked up at the sound of his tone, it had more to it than his words had said. And when their eyes met, she brought herself to speak without thinking of what he could reply with this time.

"Take care Armaan... I'll call you...tomorrow..." she let the last part hang between them as if for his confirmation. He nodded and with a quick kiss on her forehead made to move out of the room. Chirag followed suit, walking past Ridhima giving her a half hug on the way out. She stared at the door they had walked out of. Anjali had started to ask her more, but Atul had interrupted and let her go. He must know things, Ridhima figured, of Armaan's past. And now, although it would have been usual for her to go down and see them off, her feet refused to move. And she stayed. As the moments passed away she felt an exhaustion take over, and slowly, she slid to the rug, resting against her bed.

And on an impulse she lifted her hand and looked at her ring. Curiously, she toyed with it, turning it in different angles under the glow of the orange room lights. It was a very pretty ring, she loved it. She lowered her hand. She loved HIM. It was a ring of his name, of their bond, of their relationship. She remembered what it was exactly that Chirag had said...

"When you prove that you believe the ring is rightfuly yours..." she whispered his words... thinking...

********************************
"Come on in," he said without looking up from the screen, which was how she saw him, bent over it, typing away furiously.

"Hi!"

"Ridhima...?" He looked right up at the sound of her voice, then looked at the wall clock past her. 6AM. And then back at her, raising an eye. "Did you sleep at all?" He asked her.

"Did you?"

She asked him, walking up to his desk and then stood by his side looking at the screen he had been working upon. Armaan looked at her uncertainly for her reaction. He would have rather taken his time to tell her and explain himself than have her catch him at it this way.

"You're flying back to India," she said, and it surprised him when it came as a statement, not a question.

"Ridhima I..."

"When?" He wondered if it was his wishful thinking or she was sounding only genuinely curious, neither accusing, nor offended, not even upset.

"I want to leave tonight, but tomorrow is the earliest direct flight to Calcutta. If I take connectors from tonight, they will total to more time in the aggregate." He gave her the information without thinking much. His mind was busy awaiting a reaction on her face. "I talked to Rahul and..."

"Did Muskaan wake up?" she turned to him and he saw only one emotion in her eyes. Concern. "I mean..." she said, "Did you manage to talk to her?" Was she even listening to him, he wondered. And if she was, could she be understanding what he was trying to make her? "Armaan...?" He shook his head reflexively.

"No, I mean, she did wake up, but she was sleeping again when I talked to Rahul," he paused but she didn't speak only looked at him waiting for him to complete, "He said she was fine."

"How is he taking it?" It was the exact question Armaan had asked Rahul, after he informed him about Muskaan's welfare. Hearing it from Ridhima now shifted something in his heart. Not that he had doubted her sincerity for a second, but he had not really gauged its extent.

"She braved better than him," Armaan replied, repeating Rahul's exact reply, "He said she had faced the news with incredible calm."

He noticed the wrinkle on her forehead ease and she momentarily shut her eyes, almost as if in relief, before turning around to the rest of the room. And when he saw her pull a chair for herself, he realized he hadn't asked her to sit. Not for the obligation of it, but he had been too busy to notice she was still standing. And he saw her draw the chair by his side and turn the laptop towards herself.

"What flights were you looking at?" she asked, then answered herself, "American Airlines... I know the Emirates started some new direct flights to Calcutta a couple of weeks ago, did you check that? I'm certain they were evening flights. Maybe there is one for today and...Armaan?"

She turned in question when he didn't say a word. He looked into her eyes, searching for some tell tale signs, but they were as absolutely placid and in control as her voice and the words she was speaking. Not even when she heard him say that Muskaan was doing fine, had she suggested that there may be no need for him to fly in such haste. No, on the contrary, she was helping him look up the flights. Obviously, it was her way to help him, but why was she not reacting at all, any way...

"How do you know about the Emirates?" He asked her buying himself more time to make sense of this.

"Cause of Gappu, " she replied with a casual shrug. "I was considering to fly down when he broke the wrist, remember?" She wasn't getting his point... and maybe he wasn't getting hers.

"Aren't you going to say anything about me suddenly flying back?" Ridhima considered him for a moment, then turned around in her seat to face him completely.

"You mean like react and get upset?"

"Yeh... I mean no... I mean... I don't know. But something...? You're talking like you already knew about this."

"No I didn't. But you should go. Muskaan needs you, and I guess it sounds like Rahul needs you even more this time."

"And you?"

"What kind of a question is that?"

"Don't you need me Ridhima? Aren't you going to try and stop me even once?" He spoke in exact words, expecting an exact answer.

"Why does it have to be optional? Should I not need you when Muskaan or Rahul do? Can it only be one of us at a time?" He flayed his hands in the air at her reply.

"Well I can be only one place at a time..." he started to explain his patience fast deserting him.

"And the place is Calcutta for now." she stated cutting him short.

"And so the point is?"

"You tell me the point Armaan. What do you want? I know you're going to go, I know you should go, its the only right thing, why do you expect me to sit and cry about it? And what does my needing you have anything to do with you being in Calcutta or Chicago?"

"Because if I'm in Calcutta, I'm not here. I'm not with you..."

"Are you going to leave me forever to not come back again?"

"Hell NO! I just mean... there's no plan here. I don't know what to expect when I reach and... I don't know what to commit and where and... Its just... complicated."

"Its not Armaan. Its not complicated at all." She pulled herself forward to the edge of her chair and pulled his hand towards herself. Then she placed her hand in it with the ring shining bright. "You already committed." she told him, by way of informing, "And so, this isn't like last time. I know things... I know everything. Its not about you and your family anymore. Its about us, our family. They are as much to me as they have always been to you. Is that so hard for you to believe?" Armaan shook his head in two thoughtful strokes and she felt him grip her hand tighter.

"Then we are in this together. I need you, and I know, you're with me, always. But its also the other way around." Armaan saw her lower her head looking at nothing in particular and she talked like she was telling herself.

"I don't care how much and when you need me, but I want to be there for you. I need to know I'm important, and that I can be the support for you that you are for me. Its not about you being responsible for me, its about us being responsible for each other and... "

She was startled to be pulled into a kiss, would have most certainly fallen off her chair but Armaan grabbed her firmly and she fell against his chest instead; he deepened the kiss. For a couple of seconds she barely recovered from the unexpected, and then she sensed the urgency of his emotion. It was his vent, the frustration he had to get rid off, the tension he had to release, and also, Ridhima realized, wrapping her arms around his neck, the assurance he was desperate for even though he'd never ask. And she kissed him back, her fingers unknosing massaging through his hair down to his neck.

"Come with me to Calcutta," he breathed onto her lips after some long moments of intimate passion eventuated from the several pent up emotions. Resting half against the desk behind her but more upon his chest, she opened her eyes as his words sunk in.

"Huh...?" He had good as rendered her speechless. She searched him for a meaning, if any, this had to be... just impulsive... right?

"You're right. This isn't about me and my life, or my family and my problems."

He paused, still looking into her eyes and pulled her gently to rest on his lap. Then he lifted her hand and kissed it over the ring. Ridhima chidded herself mentally to feel her heart move in its spot. This was serious talk, she forced herself to focus, despite how affected her sensibility suddenly was becoming, and she was almost thankful when he lowered his eyes away from her, until she felt him toy with her ring.

"Its about us, our family. And they need you now Ridhima," he said and looked back up into her eyes, "I need you..."

And her assumption that he would never ask her for it became a nothing. She stared at him and he kissed her lightly over her lips again, then whispered, in a declaration so solemn,

"I need the relationship we share sweetheart, I need you by my side... I can go on and handle all the affairs as I have been until now, but I need my fall back. I need to be told if I'm right or wrong, I'm tired of running everything in my life and having no one to share it with. I need you honey... come with me..." and he rest his forehead against hers, his hands gripping the nape of her neck on either side, pulling her to himself, "I need you..."

She believed she could live her entire life with this one time of confession, without having him repeat it ever again. He wasn't weak, he wasn't imploring... he was explaining to her, that she was the equal in his life as she wanted to be. And that only she could be it. And it felt like the best compliment she had ever received. She wrapped her arms around him in a tight embrace, bending her head over his, and her lips kissed his hair. And she felt the warmth of his breath down her neck over her bosom, and she stopped breathing for several seconds herself. He let his hands slide down to her waist and circled it tight, pulling her closer still and the breath she held onto escaped her like a sharp gasp. He tilted his head back at her and she saw the questions in his eyes.

Slowly she raised her hand and fingered his ruffled lock of hair back off his eyes, and nodded.

"I'll come with you... to Calcutta..."

"To home..." he corrected her and in a strange way, she felt it fall into place- a land she had never seen, a family she had never met, a house she had never known... all of it seemed right, and in a true sense, she felt like she would be going home.

*****************************
NJ

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