Saturday, 11 May 2019

Part 18: Unleashing What Remained Unsaid

He leaned back onto the head rest of his revolving study chair, stretching his neck backwards and in either direction, his eyes closed. Then getting back to the usual seating position he ran both hands through his hair in a slow thorough combing pondering over the information before lifting the pen again as he bent lower over his notepad, occasionally glancing at the laptop screen, making his notes. 

"22 years old...a childhood summarized happy...a performer in most things she got herself involved with...no broken homes but inheritance of an unlikely mixed heritage which wasn't something that made her proud (note:pointer one?)...sexually harassed at 14 by her team coach, an incident she got over without hassles (note: pointer two perhaps-forgotten yet worth a mention-?)...a boyfriend who knew her facts and loved her still...break up in senior high but no big drama, both still friends (note: pointer three fair -or seemingly so?)...sporadic dating through freshman and sophomore years of pre-law...another steady boyfriend at 20, a footballer she was attracted to, and grew to distance out with as she knew him more...no particular reason for the distancing claimed...a fun guy and an athlete of ample fame and charm...still officially together but a candid claim of lost interest on her part (note: pointer four men influence and impact wanes soon, good and bad?)...graduated and working at a store despite better professional offers in her field of study...started the job to take break from school and real work and earn tuition for law school...claims to have lost the motivation to pursue the
professional goal as completely as interest in her personal life over the year out of school...interview highlight when asked what she's up to currently: "passing the days..." (note: pointer five profession not culprit for weathering relations)...on drugs? no...ever was? tried pot and never liked it (note:sophomore high)...smoking/drinking- a regular weekend socializer in the past, lost interest now (note: reverse symptoms?)...interractions and clubbing- avoided in the recent months, admits last minute lack of confidence fits (note: essential character contradiction?)

SUM: Patron seeking pscycho analysis to rediscover herself/motivation/life as a whole...(note:No evident headstart, no current interests claimed, emphasis- none at all...)"

Lifting the pen off the sheet, he scratched his forehead in light slow strokes with the back of it over the wrinkle of his frown, reading what he had summarized from the records provided and suggestions made by junior interns. As an after thought he underlined the words 'lost interest' at every recurrence of them in the passage. It was the key issue, the consequence of everything listed in there and yet there was no glaring obvious which could have led to it. Something beyond that which had not been considered had to be accountable. It seemed apparent that he would need to call in to make arrangements for a secondary round.

Andrea Tessa Williams, San Francisco, CA. He spelt the name slowly as his mind continued to go over the details of the case when his eyes fell on the clock. 11PM, it took a coherent moment to pause his thoughts and register the hour. Consequently he experienced a physical fatigue at the realization and then yawned widely. He had lost track of the hours sitting at that desk, from 4PM until this moment. No one had bothered to call him, they knew better than to do that if his study door was shut.

Yawning again in response to a wishful thought of retiring for the night he stretched while he mentally continued processing the pointers in his notes without external interruptions. What at such a prime age had caused her to lose passion in life itself? The client was seeking help independently, he could conclude under no urging compulsions, which offered at least one plus- she was more than willing to recover from this state of withdrawal and had not built it as a convenient shield around herself, could that imply her own ignorance of what had led to her current condition? She had mentioned so much and yet nothing obvious, its seemed likely that she was unaware of the factors at play herself. From generality Armaan knew that personal fronts were far more responsible for such states of individuals than professional set backs. She had none of the latter anyways, at least as per current records.

A growl from his stomach at this point distracted further thought and he realized sleep wasn't the only missing necessity. The thought of food was welcoming and he concluded a break was well deserved; replacing his pen on top of the notes he grabbed the forgotten mug lying besides the laptop and saw the now cold remainder of what had been his afternoon tea post a delayed lunch. With a half smile he decided to empty that and replenish it afreash as well, wanting to wrap up this last case in the assignment before he slept. Climbing the stairway down to the ground floor his mind was unconsciously aware of not missing steps in the dark, while it was simultaeously persisiting with the possibilities of the case when, having thrust his hands into the pockets of his tracks, he felt a solid something.

The cell, he smiled to himself suddenly, all other thoughts dispelled at a reminder of her. It was going to take him a while to get used to this, the feeling of something in his life which made breaks from work worthwhile. The feeling of looking forward to something, at the end of long days other than empty nights, was ethereal. Every end which had been for him now seemed to herald a new beginning. Suddenly high, he ruffled his hair into a cheerful mess, then deftly tossing his cell between fingers he assessed that she would be nearing a lunch hour at work.

His smile widened as he decided to call. Dialing the number he grinned at the thought of how he was, in less than an exact day of the hour of confession, another person, living as if in constant longing from one call to the next, all major routine tasks already starting to conform themselves in accordance with her schedules. For had he not sat without budging his spot from work for the last 7 hours of her unavailability, post the delayed lunch which had coincided with their last conversation. He sighed happily.

How in the world had he managed the sudden focus he mused hearing the bell ring; it was her. She could distract him to no extent and then just the feeling after talking to her could drive him into untiring concentration. It was like being back to school, rolling the tongue inside his mouth he recalled the times he would sit restlessly staring at the same paper for hours before he decided he had to talk to her. Quite on the contrary, he could sit in a loud cafe and study like it was him in a vaccum, when they were at the same table each doing their own work in silence. It was the assurance of her presence, knowing that she was approachable whenever he needed her and everything in life seemed possible. He remembered in mature retrospection how even her unnamed love had made him believe at that unpredicatble age that they could be together despite all odds.

At the count of the fifth ring he inhaled deeply to keep off the restless urge to hear her voice. Now she was back in his life, every wish had become a truth, everything she had unknowingly given him faith for was becoming the life he would be living here on. Another couple of rings and he frowned wondering why there was no response, she could cut the call so he would know she is busy, but it was going unanswered it seemed. It did end just that way, he realized giving a disappointed sigh as the recorded operator directed him to her voice mail box. She didn't even have a personalized message? Flipping the phone shut he stood at the threshold of the kitchen and turned on the switch, the darkness was engulfed by a flooding light and he scrunched his eyes in reaction to the sudden brigtness.

He saw the usual food box lying there, packed by Muski he assumed for another one of his delayed meals. Staring at it for a long moment he sighed again in half mind now about how hungry he exactly was, the appetite suddenly lost. He was midway untwisting the lid of his dinner when he replaced it on the shelf fastening it again. He wasn't quite hungry he thought making up his mind, and lifting the mug he had brought along he drained the dregs from it washing it under fresh water and then he filled it just under three quaters with the same tap water. Covering the rest with milk and half a spoon of sugar he put it into the microwave disinterestedly.

Watching the glass tray revolve in the microwave with the cup atop it his hand found its way to the cell in his pocket. Where was she? "Call me when you think I'm missing you..." she had said, was she not missing him? Then he rolled his eyes at himself rubbing a thumb along his temple as if commanding his head to be reasonably insane. What kind of juvenile thought is that Armaan, it was just a thing to say...only so to say. She will call back when she gets the missed call, he told himself, but he couldnt stop fiddling with the cell unconsciously glancing at it every few seconds.

And the microwave buzzed and he opened it before it could complete all four of its announcing rings. Methodically he pulled out a tea bag from its packet and dipped it into the cup a few times more than the couple or three dips that were needed as he lifted the cup off the shelf moving towards the door again. Turning off the lights, with a last considering look at the food he walked out thinking he would come and eat later in the night if he was hungry, perhaps when she returned the call... if he was still awake?

Frowning he entered his room and placed the cup on its coaster settling into his position again. The case, he thought trying to focus as his mind seemed to have obstinately snapped out of its earlier long held flow and his eyes fell on the words underlined more than a once...lost interest. He leaned bcak into his chair looking up towards the ceiling. Lack of interest was such a seemingly harmless and potentially fatal stroke for a mind. What could have brought her to it, he looked back at his notes and found himself not quite reading it, but skipping words. The spell of concentration had been broken. With a restless sigh he got up from his seat and paced the floor speaking to himself,

"Lost interest. In everything, in her boyfriend, in her career goal, in socailizing, in drinking, in friends and family...family..." He paused thinking, "She didn't mention much there did she? Siblings...?" Standing over his desk he made a quick arrow and jotted down the point. Then he went back to pacing.

"She got over a teenage physical abuse...over a break up, her first serious one...what kind of a girl would not think of either of those if not both as significant? Then again she did think they needed mention, but...what makes her so casual? No motivation to study, work or love..." He paused this time, not just the path of his reasoning but also in his steps and pursing his lips tight he repeated the last words in his mind. Slowly he lowered himself to the rug on which he stood locking his hands across his knees as he rocked slowly, his eyes wandering without focus. The sound of those words was so familiar and he knew exactly why.

"Lack of interest..." he worded soundlessly and Ridhima's face flashed in his mind. He shut his eyes tightly unknowingly his hand went to the cell in his pocket. He had lived those long insipid years knowing only that he had lost her for good, and that life would never change for him again. What had it been like? For the first time he dared to think professionally about his past. Everything had been so aimless, unmotivating, even the knowledge of knowing how much it had meant for Muskaan, and how important it was for Lovely, the knowledge of having chosen what he thought was right had not helped him appreciate his life in the least. It had all been about....

"Passing the days..." he whispered, repeating the words which had been recorded in the interview with his client. He had never quite worded the phase this way, in fact he had for the most avoided to think of anything which was just himself and his life. He had, everytime his mind would try to revert to those thoughts, occupied himself with the most complicated of cases he could possible take upon himself, hoping desperately even though not admittedly so, that the external complications could serve as a distraction to everything in his own life. Somewhere Lovely had been a perfect deviation, she needed so much of his attention, it had allowed him to keep himself away from knowing himself in those years.

And then Ridhima had come back, it had been a shock, a mess, a relief, a happiness, a hope...and in the flow of all those emotions he had allowed himself to forget everything for just that distracting while in which he had lost Lovely. Death was the only reality which made every other single thing become insignificant, including life itself, no matter how many times you had to face it raw you were never prepared enough. And he had, he thought ruefuly now, been unfair to everything and everyone he possibly could be unfair to in reaction. Lovely, Ridhima, Ritu and Chirag, even Rahul, Muskaan and Daadu; he had let them assume he was shattered in grief and not question him for facts when he left for Shantiniketan.

The fact which made him oblivious to every other glaring truth had taken its time to settle in, mellowing with time into a remorse of having neglected his responsibility, in that he had shoved away the concern of all those who mattered so much. It had been the anguish he could not overcome, and a deeper realization of his persisting untamed feelings for Ridhima which re-surfaced despite it all and the shame he felt at himself. He thought of the chances he had been presented in his career to delve into the deepest of human emotions in their most conveniently over looked nuances. His understanding of the job was profound with an enviable ease, at the cost of how much he had been exposed to from the earliest of his years. But instead of confronting himself with everything the way he had become capable of, he had stepped deeper into the mire of external complications by escaping to India, so he would not have to deal with himself.

It had resulted in the worst months of his life. It had been hard enough to lead his own life like a stranger when he knew there was nothing he could do to change things in the years prior to the last, but in the months gone by most recently he had known a few calls could bridge so many gaps and to not have been able to make them was a living hell. He tried to distinguish right from wrong but the more he did, the greater was his conviction of how not everything could be categorized so distintly, there was a zone between the right and the wrong and somewhere in that zone he had resigned to losing himself like an unknown. And he had lived on, making himself so immune to the remorse and inactivity that there were no more emotions which he thought could bring him out of the shell which he was growing accustomed to, to the extent of being comfortable in it.

"A comfortably lost passion for life..." he muttered to himself, the words reminding him of the case.

His client obviously had not reached that stage yet, for she was willing to break out of the shell. He had apparently been very wrong in assuming that his own shell was impenetrable, perhaps nothing ever was perfectly impenetrable, was that not the truth he lived with professionally? Gappu had gotten through to him with such ease. Or maybe it had never been Gappu to begin with, he was just a means. It had been love, the only emotion Armaan had not held his guard high up against, since it was the only one he had not expected to return in his life. Armaan, unknwoingly now, griped the cell possessively in is fist still inside the pocket, and thought of how her love had defeated all his defences, and claimed its rightful place.

Impulsively he got off the rug and sat his chair again hastily, staring at the notes. Something in there had to make a difference to this girl. If none of this, then what else could? Why did it seem like there never had been anything she was truly passionate about to begin with. Perhaps, she had never given herself a chance to that kind of introspection? Quickly he pulled the laptop towards himself and opened a new window to compose an email to the clinic he had been hired by as an online serving psychiatrist. He wasn't deep into field work anymore, they would simply refer complicated cases to him with no regular pattern and more often then not he would get back to them with something concrete to build upon. That was his end to the job, from there on they would get their attending speicalists to take over with the clients themselves.

He had to arrange a call for this one, somehow, the case was such an intrigue and it now felt inevitably personal. He knew how unexpected the turns of life could be, he had lived through so many of them. But a part of what had returned into his life in the past one day made him believe how incredible experiencing a miracle was. His motivation to the profession was a changed focus, he no longer wanted to help people to escape his own void; it was now his wish to be able bring back the spirit of life to as many as he could reach out to. Because he was finally knew the extent of a difference he could make, it was the difference of leading a life, and living one. It was feeling the love for life, not in an illusion as he had in London, but for real...as real as it could get.

He typed away on the keyboard with an intense concentration, and it wasn't immediate for him to sense the vibration in his pocket. When he did realize he frowned before smiling wide as he fished into the pocket for the phone barely managing to keep it from falling out of his hands in the excited fumble.

"Finally!" He exclaimed, his smile was evident in his voice.

"Don't be unfair Ammy, that should be my reaction." It took him another moment to realize.

"Chirag?" he said uncertainly, even though there was no mistaking that voice.

"I swear Ammy, my insurance agent had been less disappointed when I called in to place a claim after Ritu hit the car."

"No Chirag its..." Armaan swore at himself mentally hearing Chirag chuckle on the other side of the line. "Alright, I accept the charges. But don't flatter yourself, its not about hearing your voice, I was expecting another..."

"Expecting another...?" Chirag was having a hard time sounding solemn at the obvious, and Armaan didn't have to see his face to sense his amusement as he smiled himself despite the joke on himself.

"You're loving this aren't you?"

"I am. The Armaan Malik flustered in love! Don't deny me that right Ammy." Armaan broke into a laugh grudgingly. "I can't." he replied in resignation, then added, "I was meaning to call you."

"Was that your best attempt at saving yourself some grace?"

"No. I mean it. I was just preparing myself..."

"To appear before the council? Prepare all you want, the verdict has been long decided upon and you will be pronounced guilty my friend," Chirag declared.

"What's my sentence your honour?" Armaan asked cheerfully, why had he not made this call himself he wondered? On an impulse he said seriously, "Chirag...I should have called you first."

"The dawn of realization!" Chirag sensed the genuine emotion there, but he maintained his stern pretense. "But if you think the confession idea will work with me as it did with Ridzi I should warn you its not happening."

"I know. Tell me how to make up Chirag." They both knew the jesting passed with this stance.

"You can't Ammy." Chirag said in a quiet voice, "You can't turn back in time to be my best man, you can't go back to celebrate for Gaurav and Minnie, most of all you can't turn back to be with Ridhima through her worst." Armaan remained quiet, knwoing he wasn't being accused, but Chirag had said it, this was a right Armaan couldn't take away from him. "Sometimes there is no scope for repentence." Chirag stated flatly.

"Wouldn't you give me a chance?"

"I'm the one making this call did you forget?" Armaan smiled grimly.

"I can't believe you're still there for me Chirag," he said.

"Yeh it amazes me to no end occassionally." Chirag whispered in a low voice and Armaan wished bitterly there was a way to go back in time; Chirag was right, a part of what he had lost would never return. "But then I look at the difference in life with that one call you made to Ridhima," Chirag paused ever so briefly, "I missed you Ammy." He concluded. There was a silent moment and they both knew each was fighting tears.

"Will I ever deserve you again Chirag?"

"Depends on how badly you want to."

"Tell me how."

"Come back to Chicago," Chirag said with finality.

Armaan considered the momentum of his words. Chirag was asking him to come back to the life he had deserted in the middle of no where. He was asking Armaan to come back and claim everything, his rights and his responsibilities. He was asking of Armaan to come back and take charge because he was done playing the substitute. And it made Armaan ponder about that which he would have to soon enough, it made him weigh all his options.

"Ammy?" Chirag said tentatively, had he asked for too much? But it was the only thing he wished for, to have his friend back.

"Hmmm."

Armaan mumbled still in thought. There were Rahul and Muski, they had long been capable without him now. There was a family business he was dealing with among other things, Rahul could take over anytime, and would have but for Armaan's return. But there was Daadu who had, despite the reason for his return, been rejuvinated by it no less. He had almost come to believe Armaan would now be there with them forever. Of all the people he loved with his life, the remaining were his second option. There was Chirag, who had put so much at stake thoughtlessly for the heck of a mere college time kinship, there was Ritu who had bid for him without having known him, there were Minnie, Shub Daada and Keerti Baudi who had been the only family from his mother's side to accept him, there was Gappu, his angel.

And there was Ridhima.

"You didn't think a second time before leaving us Ammy..." Chirag reminded him, and Armaan heard the fainting hope and rising hurt.

"I didn't give it a thought in the first place Chirag," Armaan said flatly and Chirag let out a silent sigh. "Thats why it was a wrong decision." Chirag raised an eye. Armaan took in a deep breath looking at the room he was sitting in, reluctantly he wondered if he had suddenly accepted it as a home? Why was he, for the first time, having to think about a chace to leave it.

"I need you Ammy. I'm tired." The words cleared a fog in Armaan's mind and he didn't know exactly how but there were no more traces of ambiguity.

"I can't wait to see you mate," he said the smile finding its way back to his face and he sensed the moment he said those words that there was nothing right or wrong about the decision he had to make, it was only about identifying his own desire, and with the liberation he felt he knew it was what he wanted. Chirag broke in to a smile of intial relief and eventual happiness, he whispered not trusting words to say all of what he felt, "Me neither."

**************************
"Hmmm..." he mumbled into the cell, half unaware that he was answering one.

"I'm sorry sweetheart did I wake you up?" Somewhere he had a faint recognition of the voice still half asleep.

"Hmmm..." he muttered again and she found making conversation hard. Half guilty about the hour she was calling him at, and half agitated that her voice did not wake him up she made her final attempt, "Gaurav?" she was almost pushing her luck to drive away his sleep, she had such a strong urge to talk to him.

"Hmmm..." She knew it was unjustified of her but she wanted to yank him out of his sleep so he would talk back, something...anything. "GAURAV!" she spoke louder than she should have but she didn't regret it as he finally spoke up next minute.

"Min...Minnie?" she heard how groggy his voice was and her frustration at him was washed away by fresh guilt. Unwillingly she said,

"I'm sorry honey. I shouldn't have called...I'll...I'll talk to you tomorrow. " She paused ever so slightly then added, "Love you..." and as she moved the cell away from her ear in disappointment to cut the call she heard his voice again,

"Minnie?" It was either the distance of the cell form her ear or her imagination but he had suddenly sounded more awake and conscious. Quickly and hopefully she raised it back to her ear.

"Minz? You still there?"

"Yeh," she answered smiling wide. It was exhilerating, the feeling of being granted a wish she made desperately. Gappu glanced at the watch finally. And frowned.

"Is everthing alright honey?" she felt like hugging him for the concern in his voice.

"Yeh..." she said again and Gappu frowned harder confused with the unexplained late night, in fact terribly late night call from her, and what was the emotion in her voice?

"Minz?" he didn't know what he wanted to ask, a broken sleep was doing him no wonders. Reflexively he rubbed his eyes trying to motivate the processing of his thoughts.

"I was just," she started, "Lee called a while ago." Lee...he was the vice captain of the varsity team and Gappu's mate from when he started middle school midway in Chicago. Lee who was in London for a similar camp. He waited for Minnie to explain, and stifled meanwhile an inevitable yawn. He had been in the dorm a whole week now, the camp was rigorous in more ways than he had expected. "He was asking how I'm doing." Gappu raised his eyes at her words, there had to be more to the call, than Lee asking about her well being. Somehow his exhaustion and interrupted sleep was taking him to no conclusion.

"And?" he said, not knowing what else to say.

"And then he was asking about hows it going for you, the camp and all." Gappu frowned.

"Minnie?" She heard his tired tone spoke hastily, "I'm sorry Gaur. I just...we started talking and then he was remniscing about you guys in middle school, then high school...graduation...prom night...soccer trials and team...changing room pranks...girls..."

"Minnie there were never any girls you know it," He interrupted her, frowning at her words and wondering if she was getting insecure about anything. What could Lee have said, that mindless jerk? There was nothing really which Minnie should know and did not. He was almost startled at hearing her laugh on the other side.

"Sweetheart...?" he said tentatively and she laughed more. He sighed restlessly, he was getting very worked up now.

"G...Gaur," she started between giggles, "No. I mean I know. Its not girls I was talking about silly." He ruffled his hair in partial relief and partial lack of understanding. She spoke on, "Its just...you. I was missing you." It took him a moment to register her solemn words and then he broke in to smile ruffling his hair further. "Lee just put down the phone like 5 minutes ago and I...really wanted to talk to you. I mean...I knew its late but I just wanted to hear you." Gappu grinned now uncontrollably, cupping his mouth to not make a sound as he fell on his back onto the bed. "Gaurav?" he heard her say uncertainly and shook his head to not break out laughing loud, she was so adorable but he couldn't let go this chance of hearing such an earnest early morning confession from her. I love her, he thought wanting to hug her, god she called me cause she couldn't wait until morning to hear me? He wondered if it was sane thought that he wanted to wake up the whole dorm and tell them he loved her?

"Are you mad at me honey? I'm sorry. I know it was such a thoughtless whim and you sound so tired and...I'm crazy."

"And I'm in love with you," he stated much to her surprise. "Did Lee tell you of the times we sat all night, him and me, deciding how I would confess my love to you?"

"You...me...no he didn't," she finally managed taken by his suddenly wide awake comeback, when she had been expecting him to get grumpy. Why had she expected that though, she wondered now, wasn't he always so unpredicatbly sensitive?

"Well you should call him another time and ask him about it then. It might actually compell you to come down to all the way to Calcutta to give me a hug!" She broke out laughing and he grinned turning over on his side to grab his wallet from the bedside table. Flapping it open to a picture of her he spoke without much thought to his words, "I wish you were with me."

"I would be, if it wasn't for my lifelong competitor, the love of your life..." she teased him. He grinned.

"Yeh that you will remain second to."

"God I hate you. It wouldn't kill you to just say otherwise for the heck of it. But of course, you couldn't lie for me could you now..." she said in a disgruntled voice and it made him grin more.

"There's a possibility I may actually be lying."

"Gaurav! I called you at this odd hour and you have no consideration." she exclaimed in protest

"Minz..." he replied smiling, "I'm answering the call at this hour, which is odd only for me by the way, and you have no understanding of the obvious?" She clicked her tongue in defiance.

"You aren't doing me a favor." she stated flatly while the back of her mind reminded her of how emphatically she had wanted to talk to him.

"But you are honey. Thanks for the call. I feel incredible." he said simply and she braced herself snuggly at the sound of his voice.

"What time do you have to leave?"

"Another 30 mins...45 if you don't mind me going without shower," he informed her smirking in mischief at himself.

"Eeewwww Gaur...30 is fine. I can't tolerate you more than that anyways."

"I credit you for 30 sweetheart. That's no small feat!" and they both broke out laughing, chatting on in to the early dawn.

***************************
Armaan flipped the omlette casually deft as his eyes concentrated instead on typing out the text to Ridhima. It had been a bare week and he felt like years had passed him by in a happy daze. Everyone around had witnessed the change in him- it was so entirely unmistakable, Muskaan had declared her brother was in love. Armaan at the mention of it had been startled, telling her off for it as sternly as he could but he sensed his reaction had not been convincing even though no one spoke of it to him thereafter.

He had paced his study at home several times initially, trying to determine how he would break the news to them as he would have to very soon, and had always ended up getting distracted by thoughts of her. He would come back to himself eventually, realizing that it was something he would have to resolve for himself, not even Ridhima could help him for it. While Muski and Daadu were predictable, his only reserve had been about Rahul, and his acceptance of this love. His bond with Rahul had been unshakable through the hardest of his years and he wanted no place for misunderstandings between the two of them.

Somewhere he was uncertain of how he would be recived for this, especially after Lovely, until after two days of being restless he had found himself with Rahul, left alone as they sat watching the soccer game into the late hours of the night. At an impulse Armaan had turned the TV to mute deciding Rahul had to know it before the other two, somehow he had believed in that moment that Rahul would not disapprove, but he had been skeptical about being inclined to believe so out of sheer convenience.

All his doubts however, had vanished as Rahul had pulled him into a heartfelt embrace at his hesitant confession about Ridhima, and had told him how dearly he had wished for something like this to happen in Armaan's life for he deserved no less. Rahul had added, in a teaser, that he had believed it the moment Muskaan had worded her suspicion on the breakfast table day before, and that he had only awiated with a restless impatience for Armaan to confirm facts and details himself.

He didn't have to wait for a chance to tell Daadu and Muski, Rahul did that for him and he had returned the next morning from his jog debating on his strategy to tell them about Ridhima, to a house filled with flowers, streamers and the aroma of a wonderful feast. They had all three of them knocked the air out of him in their happiness and his shock at the whole arrangement. And then Gappu had appeared not much later, on special permission much to his surprise, Rahul had admonished Armaan telling him to learn the ethics with which he was meant to deal with his future in-laws and Armaan had bowed down in mock reverence accepting Rahul to be his only master for the preaching.

He had felt like he was living a fantasy until later hours after Gappu left back for his dorm, and everyone retired for the night, as he went towards his study, Kaka had approached him. Something had lashed within him and he had closed the door behind him before the two could exchange any words. When Ridhima had called him an hour later she had been rather taken aback by his unexpected mood swing, that after she had been woken by Gappu and him at an early 5AM for her that morning so Daadu, upon his own insistence, could talk to her during their evening celebration.

She had called him with a full mind to give him a piece of her mind for having put her to a situation like that when she was half asleep and least prepared. But his distressed voice had made her forget all other concerns and when he had shared his reasons she had, despite her doubt about his reaction, told him to allow Kaka a chance- if not the chance of a father, atleast of being an elder in the family. He had changed the topic and she had given him the time he needed to think it over as they both went back to talk of the day and he showed her the pictures they had clicked.

After a while she claimed having taken a long lunch break and told him she had to return to work, much to his disappointment, no less than it was everytime they had to cut the call, but he had found himself at much more peace than he had been prior to the call. Silently thanking the miracle of her return in his life, he had decided to discuss it with Daadu, he would know best, he always did. And so he had surprised Daadu, when at 5am the next morning, his last since he was leaving for Shantiniketan that evening, instead of going for his usual jog he had showed up at Daadu's door.

Armaan had sat a long hour telling him all the details, first about Ridhima and him, the intricacies that no one in the house had bothered themselves with the day before, and then he had ended the tale by informing him about kaka's initiative. He had added, in a low voice without much approval from his own side what Ridhima had suggested. Daadu had smiled and informed him his choice was wise, and that the right girl had finally entered his life. Armaan had to ask him no more and Daadu had left him to his thoughts as he went to take a shower.

Despite the suggestive indication from both Ridhima and Daadu, Armaan had been unable to take any intiative with Kaka, he had however, just before leaving the house bent down to take his blessing, a ritual he had long avoided. In his own head he was convinced, it was only for Daadu and Ridhima, and that he could never come to terms with this man, but the look in Kaka's eyes had told him how much his gesture had meant. He had left the house heavy with emotions too many, and had called Ridhima, deep in a dilema of understanding his own feelings, knowing no one better and waking her up earlier than usual another morning.

The calm in her voice, especially her silent approval of his act had put his mind to ease, and he had, after a bare minutes of talking, told her himself, much to her surprise, that she should sleep and that he would call her later. He had driven the rest of the way without a spoken word smiling all through at thoughts of her, now a part of his life so completely. He had recalled with a contended heart how she had once told him to trust those who loved him with himself. And it had made him think of his conversation with Chirag earlier that week. His mind had, for the remainder of the drive been occupied with the various things that had to be sorted before he would leave for Chicago- yes he had made up his mind that he would, only the essentials remained to be taken care of before he could. He had considered it ideal to leave in a few weeks, during which he could wind up things and have enough time to work out the best for Daadu, while Gaurav would get done with his camp and they could leave together.

Armaan was brought out of his reverie now as his cell buzzed to announce a new text. Hastily he glanced at the omlette which was now placed on the plate lying beside the stove, and smiled incredibly at himself for having pulled it off perfectly despite his obvious inattention to it. Humming yet another of those unknown cheerful tunes he kept catching like a flu every other day from random sources, he lifted the plate smilng wide at it and moving out of the kitchen in a swift twirling dance move. Setting it on the table, he qucikly opened the text on his cell. He felt an instant deflation at reading a promotional scheme from Airtel, and cursed in an undertone making a face at it as he clicked delete. Replacing the cell on the table he loked at his omlette in disapproval at the negligible brown edges which were ever so slightly over done.

"Can't even make a decent omlette," he muttered at himself in self reproach, glancing at the cell again. Why wasn't she replying to his text? He picked it up again wondering if he should send her another one, then put it away. Stuffing the first bite of the into his mouth he decided with a reluctant thought that it was fairly delicious. Giving himself a half smile he continued working at it wondering about her until with a start he realized he was still humming that crazy tune. He broke out laughing, and the silverware clanked out of his hand by the plate. The echo of a laughter in a room which was empty except for himself, where not a word had been spoken in a while, the situation of it made him laugh more shaking his head trying to get normal again.

"What have you done to me Ridhima,"

He muttered smiling and cutting the next bite. Plenty had changed in over the week, including how preposterous his own head had become. From the night when she had not been able to call him, having forgotten her cell at home in a an early morning frantic delay to reach office, when Chirag had called instead, to this moment when she was delaying the reply to his text, for whatever reason, it was the same story. Any lapse from her end to get back to him was the cause of such extreme chagrin to him, and unreasonably so. His head would become a child's tantrum, everything wonderful around him would suddenly be pleasant no more, not until she did get back to him.

Yes there was no justification to his acts, he was just a man who had for the one and only time in his life realized that his dream had come true and he couldn't seem to get enough of it. He knew he never would, he would live a life with Ridhima, and it would still not be enough. He could blame it to the insecurities he had lived with, or to the boundless passion for her or both. It had always been her, the one to bring out the extremes in him, this was yet another side. He was so madly in love with her, he wanted to spend every breathing moment now knwoing she was going to be there for him, in love with him just as much.

His eyes fell on the wall calender and in a swift moment he got up to cross another day. Everything was going well, he had to pack up his office in Shantiniketan by the end of this week and then he would go back home, to spend time there and explain everything to Daadu. It would not be hard he knew, Daadu would understand and support him for his idea. Then it was a question of pending legalities before he could be off to Chicago. He chuckled thinking of her reaction, it was a surprise for her, Gappu, Rahul and Muskaan, Chirag and Ritu, and Minnie were in on the plan. He sighed in love standing over the table as he stuffed the last bite of the omlette into his mouth, grinning wider hearing the cell go off.

*I love you...is all that you can't say...years gone by and still...words don't come easily..."

"Has to be her now," he muttered through mouthful grabbing the glass of water with one hand to drain the bite and the other hand lifted the cell higher. He frowned gulping the water as his eyes focussed on the caller ID.

"Hello?" he started uncertainly, "WHAT?"

****************************
Gappu rushed out of the dorm room giving his wrist watch a guilty glance, adjusting his IPod as he jumped down the steps two at a time and skipping the last four, before breaking into a jog once he was out into the open. He inhaled deeply into the early morning air, not as early as it was meant to be he reminded himself increasing his pace. They had talked all of the 45 minutes which was the maximum he could have spared, and another 25 losing track of time, until Minnie had realized with a start, by when the damage was done. Now he was late, the coach was bound to be infuriated. Running faster than was needed for a warm up jog, Gappu thought of some plausible excuse which would save him today. He gulped nearing the sight of the field as he saw the team at work, well into the first round of warm up. The price one had to pay for being in love, he thought cursing himself mentally for not having kept a tab, pulling off the ear phones as he was almost there now.

"45 minutes," the coach stated without sparing him a lok and Gappu heard the impending in his tone. "You better have a valid reason Captain."

"I...I was...I." he said feeling every pair of eyes on him, not lifting up his own,

"Over ruled. 20 laps...in addition to he regular 40 before warm ups" Gaurav started to turn around miserably to begin with what was going to be a long morning when he was interrupted again. "I'm not done yet." Gaurav swallowed hard turning back his head lowered. "I want to see you stay on late for an extra 150 push ups." Gappu jerked up at this one, then lowered his head almost immediately not daring to show his reaction, that was a fatal idea with his coach. Why the hell did he have to sign up with the hardest nuts. Was this guy even human?

"What are you waiting for now?"

"I..." Gappu stopped himself from saying he was uncertain if he was expected to do anymore than that. Did he need anymore to kill him? "Nothing coach." he said instead.

"Well then don't stand around delaying anymore than you already have."

"As if I'd dare to," he muttered turning around to start his laps. "This is insane, he didn't just tell me to do all of that?" then shaking his head at himself he reached into his pockets for the headphones to plug them back in. "Breaking news captain," he spoke in hoarse self pity, "He did just that, buck up now before he considers punishing you for being slack."

He returned in just under an hour, far more spent on his energy than he could afford to be considering the remaining part of his extra task was yet to come, that after he would complete the regular 5 rounds of fitness excecises. Push ups...couldn't he have been assigned another 20 extra laps instead? He groaned at himself, the punishment wasn't an end. He still had to face the team once they were back in the dorm. This was going to very entertaining indeed, all at his expense.

After finishing off with his usual excercises he got up to take a deep breath, walking over to the sides and drained a quarter of the hip flask filled with cold water. Unwillingly he put it back, anymore water than that and the push ups would seriously kill him. Pulling out his IPod he adjusted the music to the hard metal tracks as he walked back to his spot, everyone else on the team was now at the nets, and he knew the coach would be somewhere in sight of him. Not like he was considering on ways to cheat out of the task, he knew there were never any alternates to whatever the coach would say. That was the rule, sports was like that, glamorous and addictive at its best, unendurably painful at its worst.

"This one's only for you sweetheart," he spoke with a last bout of resolve starting off with the push ups. While his lips kept track of the count, part of his mind went back to her. And he smiled through the despair of his condition. They had been talking regularly, everyday before crashing he would call her if he was too tired for anything else, then just to have her wish him good night, but today had been unexpected...she had this knack of making the simplest of memories magical. He thought again about her innocent accpetance of how she had not been willing to wait for his morning, and smiled deeper. Unknowingly his push ups were suddenly paced, in accord with the outrageous beats of the music he was hearing.

Hard rock, he grinned, thinking of how she had walked into his room once. He had been completing his last round of 30 push ups for that day, the music blasting to a deafening volume playing his favorite Cannibal Corpse track and he had screamed the lyrics along with it, half breathless from the intense workout. It was typical, and as usual he had not heard anything from outside over his own din, not even when she had, as she claimed to him later, hammered upon his door. Giving up she had pushed open the door, no one had told her ever before that it was forbidden to open his door at such times, and he had presented a sight which had amused her to no end.

She still occassionally teased him about her opinion on having a boyfriend with an enviably awsome build and an equally awful voice. Grinning at himself he realized he was singing the current track playing on his IPod and he stopped agreeing in all modesty that the deep voice with a hoarse edge to it was all well and impressive, but it wasn't made to sing as she had explained to him when during their musical together last fall his character had required a playback singer.

The track changed in his IPod bringing back his attention to the present. He glanced at the wrist watch and in a crude estimate he figured he must have completed his assigned set of 150 push ups. Getting up he stretched his limbs, sore at points from the excess of workout at the start of the day. But he was grumbling no more, for one what was done was forgotten, for another he was still thinking about her. Smiling in the same daze he lifted he collected his pair of dumbles to replace them in their spot on his way to the nets. Humming the current track on his IPod he walked smiling down at his feet, the exhaustion was a fading sensation as he remembered her words over the morning conversation.

Nearing the nets he puled out the headphones,

"GAURAV!" just in time to hear his name screamed. Looking up in reflex he saw the ball flying his direction with immense force. In a bare second or less he tried to duck the blow of it and in the process stumbled over his own feet, unbalanced by the sudden movement and fell to the ground the weight coming onto his left wrist which twisted just before the pair of dumbles let lose from the other hand fell over it.

The team and the coach saw him yell out in pain, in a the instant before they rushed in his direction.

"AAAHHHHHHHHHH," he yelled again startling them all even though they should have expected it, when the coach tried to hold his wrist for inspection. His face contorted in pain as he pulled it out of his grip. "Coach!" he gasped trying to sit up and focus on the wrist which fell at a limp angle.

"Its a fracture captain." the coach said in a grim voice and Gappu would have seen the concern on his face had he been in any condition to make observations, "We need to get you to the medics."

****************************
"I thought you would love me atleast for the heck of the fracture," Gappu said with a grin pointing to the plaster on his hand as Muskaan shot him a furious look through her tearful eyes.

"A double fracture and joint dislocation," Rahul corrected walking up to them pulling Gappu's luggage behind himself.

"You could have thought of lesser ways to get rid of me," Muskaan said trying to not choke looking away. Rahul and Gappu looked at each other. Then Gappu walked to her and held onto her shoulder with his uninjured hand, "Muski...That was my way to spend the last week of stay at home you know and you blame me of the contrary..." he started lightly,

"As if you were not one enough to leave, you take my brother along as well?" she said in an adament emotion and Gappu wiped away the tear which rolled down her cheek. He didn't know what to say. He had tried to talk Armaan out of taking the unexpected trip back home with him, but he knew it wasn't simply about him and so he had dropped the argument.

"Will you come back?" she asked softening to a whisper at last.

"If you promise to fight me better next time. I hate weak competition." They both grinned inevitably even through the moment of farewell. Suddenly she flung her arms around him in a tight hug.

"AAHHHH" she jerked away hearing him exclaim in pain, as she did he winked at her laughing and she glared back pushing him away.

"Get out of here before I break your other arm," she said through gritted teeth and Gappu was delighted to at having her fight back. Moving closer to her again he pinched her cheek and she tried to pull away in agitation, then surprising her he kissed her lightly on the cheek. "I'll miss you...Di..." she raised her eyes at him wordless and this time he hugged her himself the best he could with only one arm at his disposal and she hugged him back. Breaking apart he moved back to Rahul who looked him in the eye with a wishful smile.

"Hold the fort well while I'm gone will you?" Rahul chuckled lowering his eyes then looking back at Gappu he said, "I've forgotten fighting her alone. You better return to back me up." And he pulled Gappu into a brotherly hug.

"Are you going to hide behind that boot till you miss the flight," Rahul exclaimed after they broke from the hug, and Armaan shut it hard not looking at him. He had watched the whole interaction hidden from their view pretending to unload the stuff. Slowly he pulled his stroley behind himself, moving past Rahul and Gappu to Muskaan.

"Take care of everything at home," he started, she shook her head without looking at him.

"Take care of Daadu,"

"He's half your responsibility."

"Rahul will take care of my half. You can take care of him instead. Don't fight with him."

"That's not possible. He is the one who fights anyways."

They both broke out laughing and as he filled her into a his arms she broke down on his shoulder at last. "Hush..." he whispered patting her hair.

She did not ask him about his return, she had learned from before to not question him for that. This once however, she had the solace of bidding him a hopeful farewell- a hope for his quest of a future he had always deserved. Turning to Rahul, after she finally let him go, Armaan said nothing. Neither did Rahul as the two of them looked at each other a brief moment before the firm hug. "I'll take care." Rahul whispered his assurance before they broke away, knowing how much of this he needed. Armaan nodded at him in response then turned to Gappu who gave a small smile. And they walked into through the doors.

Fastening his own seat belt after having helped Gappu with his, he saw the boy staring out of the window.

"Excited to go back?" he asked casually.

"I had not expected the excitement to be as damp as it is." Gappu replied back. "I can't wait for the flight to land in Chicago, and I don't want it to take off from Calcutta in the first place." Armaan nodded, he knew the feeling all too well, having experienced it not just once.

"The fracture gave you a reason to thank me though did it not?" he said suddenly turning around with a glint of mischief.

"Don't make me spell it. It took me an age to convince Ridhima that you could travel back alone, she had been all set to ruin the surprise by coming down to Calcuta herself. She will kill me if she suspects so much as a thought from me about the positive side to your injury." Gappu laughed shaking his head and muttered, "Girls!" Armaan shot him a questioning look and he explained through his laughter, "Its Minnie. She was all frantic about the fracture so I told her in light humor that she should be happy as I would now be back home three weeks early."

"And?" Armaan asked chuckling at the likely consequences.

"And she cursed me and cut the call." They both broke out laughing, then as the passengers in the vicinity turned to look at them, they realized the pilot was making his pre take off address. Quietly each one smiled in his own anticipation of what lay ahead.

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

NJ

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