Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Part 20 : Unleashing What Remained Unsaid

She paused, her anticipation taking over the exhilaration, holding back her hand in the second it reached for the bolt on the main door; her heart was way out of its regular beat and she could feel in that instant her hand shake from the throbbing pulse. Slithering down the stairs moments ago, she had allowed herself only scanty breathing as she rushed in a hushed way placing the lightest of steps to avoid the creaking of wood beneath the central carpeting- Gappu was home even if no one else was and it surprised her that she was still capable of caution when it seemed that thinking was lost upon her current state of mind . More than the caution however, it was just a series of flustered reactions- how could she be expected to take it all in an ordinary stride? Nothing about anything was ordinary in this day of her life.

Less than 24 hours ago she had been pinning to hear his voice. And now all of that and everything before it seemed a distant past. Even more than the moment in which her eyes had sought his in disbelief, more than the time he had spent in her house or that which she had at his family's place, more than ever before, from all the past weeks and days especialy the past few hours, she felt the conscious impact now; her heart had become a novice gymnast, twisting and turning, skipping and flipping, trying hard to get the moves right.

Cause here he was this moment, at her doorstep, them and a solitude, only a solid opaque thickness of wood in between which would be no more in a matter of seconds, and she wondered why she was delaying a moment long awaited...then swallowed down the multitude of sensations which fluttered at the thought of it. In the pit of silence, her own breath still unconsciously held onto, she heard the slightest of shuffling just beyond the barrier, and let out the breath in a gush, with an excited whimper almost escaping her before she checked it cupping her mouth.

RIDHIMA, she admonished herself mentally, her lips in defiance to her hesitance curled into an inevitable smile as she finaly touched the cold metal of the bolt and a slight shiver ran through her arm. She rolled her eyes at herself in a nervous lack of control, then in a final attempt reminding herself that she was a 26 year old woman, she opened the door in a quick swift moment, and continued holding onto the knob, her only support to steady the weakness in her limbs at the sight of him in the dim silvery blue-black of the night. The greeting she had been unknowingly rehearsing in her mind remained at the tip of her tongue.

His face looked like a shadow, nonetheless the features of it were a distinct outline only, perhaps, cause she knew each one of them precisely well. A smile played tentatively on his lips and she was certain she could see exactly where his characteristic dimples were; the brows raised, almost in amusement, were a contrast to the solemn intensity in the eyes they anchored upon. She felt heat rise to her cheeks and an ironical chill ran over the rest of her exposed skin. From the cold outside since she had not bothered with grabbing her robe, her distant logic concluded, watching a whiff of warm breath escape his lips like an exhaled puff of smoke and she saw him rubbing his hands as he took a step forward. Reflexively she stepped back, giving him space to walk inside, which he did, and she turned to the door her back to him, fumbling to bolt it with extra intended concentration which continued evading her with a determination.

"Is it stuck?"

She didn't know what caused her to gasp, his whisper brushing past her hair, or his arm brushing against her own as he extended his hand to the bolt. It clicked with an ease and he turned his face to her with a questioning frown. And it was then, in the warmth of the house, that he focused on her face up close and the look on it was all the explaination he needed. Consequently he broke into a smile lowering his head momentarily; he would never know which one and how many such moments made his heart soar to unscaled heights. Turning back to her sideways tilted face, he gently raised his hand and tucked the falling flick of hair behind her ear.

"Armaan," she withdrew slightly snapping out of her daze at his cold touch whispering his name inaudibly but could not take her eyes off him. And he smiled wider turning to face her completely; the glint in his eyes was a shine in the dark which puzzled her only for a second, before he cupped her lower jaw, his hands resting around the nape of her neck; and felt her shiver visibly which made him grin in mischief.

"Yes sweetheart, me, you believe it now?" he whispered in a cheeky tone and she took only seconds before chuckling herself inevitably, as she wriggled to get free of his frigid touch it remained steadfast, unmovable. She narowed her eyes at him and whispered complaining,

"You're freezing Armaan..."

"Cause you took ages to let me in,"

he retorted cutting her off, then with a swift jerk he pulled her closer and she looked up to him several inches taller as she stood bare feet, her eyes wide with raw emotions. Possessively he pressed his lips to her forehead for several seconds till she relaxed under his touch, which was starting to share the warmth of her skin. "There ain't no escaping honey," he mumbled into her hair, "Didn't they teach you not to let night prowlers into the house when the elders are not home?"

She pulled back slightly to look up again at his jesting, the tone was solemn but in the streaks of light from the creaks in the blinds covering the windows she saw his eyes alive in humor. Making a face she tried again to pull away, in vain, and as he shook his head in stubborn defiance clicking his tongue, she rolled her eyes grudgingly, but could not keep the smile away. Averting his gaze hence, to not let him see it, she felt his hold around her neck soften and he rubbed his thumb in a light massage. A rush of love swelled inside her and she circled his waist with her arms giving up the resistence in an impulse, resting her head against his chest and snuggling into an embrace; surprisingly, yet not quite, she observed now as she had not before that she fit into the spot like it was hers, had been always, and her smile widened as she burried her face into him not letting him see her blush and smile and be such a girl. In another time she would have to look back and wonder what had gotten into her, this was a transformation she could not believe herself capable of.

Armaan smiled holding her close and messing her hair as he caressed her back, and as she turned her face into his chest it was like she willed him to take control, of her, of them, of their life. He felt an affectionate protection towards her, adoring her display of submission and vulnerability, and sighed in content pressing a kiss on top of her head.

"I missed you Armaan," she whispered against his heart and his fingers dug deeper into her hair as he held her closer still, kissing them again.

"Me too..." he mumbled, then after a long pause whispered, "Ridhima..."


"I'm hungry." She quickly pulled out of the hug to look at him her eyebrows cocked in surprise, then amusement.


It wasn't a question and she giggled as he shrugged sheepishly running a hand through his hair. She loved the way the unruly lock fell back over his eyes anyways. Impulsively she rose to her toes gave him a  quick peck on his cheek and turned around to walk towards the kitchen before she could see his reaction, or he could see hers. Mentally she smacked her head, debating whether she deserved it for her sudden gesture or for the giddy reaction to it. Whichever of the two, she could not wipe the smile off her face, for that she smacked her head mentally again. Falling in love was a serious business, she knew it more than any other truth, but being love struck was ethreal, she wondered if being flimsy in reaction was really her fault.

Armaan stared as she walked away for a moment, then smiled at himself in delight, pushing back the persistent flick to give himself something to do, feeling light headed. "Ridhima..." he exclaimed more to himself, then made a move to follow her towards the light that flickered on, flooding orange into the previous darkness.

"Alright tell me what?" she quipped hearing him enter without turning around.

"Something good," he replied happily. She turned to him now and mouthed an 'oh' in mock understanding. Then flashing a sugar smile she said,

"Thats...very explicit honey." He gave her a sunny grin back and she spoke on in a sweeter tone still, "Now do you have a name for this 'something good' ?"

"Yeh...Something Good!" He said pushing himself atop the counter looking around the kitchen exploring it to not meet her eye.


"That's very good sweetheart, unfortunately not edible." She glared at him, then gave up on trying to catch his eye. Instead she turned to the refrigerator. Seconds later he stared at the apple she thrust into his hand then back at her with a frown.


"That is also unavailable on the menu." she declared folding her arms across her chest.

"But...this?" She raised an eye in question, and he jumped off the counter, placing the apple on it and held her shoulders rubbing them gently as he explained in an endearing tone, "Sweetheart I really am hungry."

"That's fine. We have a dozen more of them." she said with an unrelenting smile. His face dropped at her words, then he sighed looking back at the apple. Ridhima chuckled, and wiped off her smile as he tunred to look at her again, making a face.

"I went through all the trouble to see you at his hour, and you can't offer me a decent meal?"

"That's what you came here for?" She quipped in challenge, trying hard not to laugh. He threw his arms in the air in exasperration, looked at her for another moment as she stood unperturbed, then walked back to his apple. She gave his retreating back a cute smile, then said,

"Alright. Last time. Tell me what?" He turned back and she laughed at the instantaneous change of his expression to a cheerful smile.

"Something..." he started and she warned him with narrowed eyes, "Cooked?" he completed biting into the apple climbing back onto the counter. She stuck her tongue into her cheek, then shaking her head lightly at him she stated,

"Fish and chips?" He looked up at her, his mouth open for the next bite he was going to take and she smiled turning around to grab a fry pan.

"You remember..." he whispered in his typical deep solemn baritone which made her heart flutter like before. He knew it shouldn't surprise him that she did, but her spontaneity in remembering it at such a precise moment did catch him unaware, pleasantly so. She grabbed the bottle of oil neither answering, nor turning to look at him.

"Ridhima..." She wondered yet again how he made her name sound so different and special. Taking a sharp breath she turned around masking her smile with a straight look back at him and replied.

"Only today. Just for records I'm not going to spend my life cooking at such odd hours for you..."

She stopped midway breaking her gaze at the implication of her own words. It was the strangest thing when stating the obvious could bring about such sheer self consiousness. He raised an eye, then tried not to smile, his eyes not leaving the rapidly changing expressions and colors of her face, grinning only after she turned her back to him and walked to the refrigerator to take out the frozen fish. Watching her still, as she put it into the microwave for defrosting, then tugged onto the sack of potatoes and a peeler, he saw her push her hair off her face with the back of her hand. With a spontaneous thought he got off the counter once more, not jumping this time and placing the half eaten apple on it, walked up behind her.

He felt her shudder slightly as he combed his fingers through her hair unannounced, taking time in gathering them all, as silky-soft strands kept coming lose, until he held them all into the best of a pony he could manage, then extended his free hand to pull the ruffle off her wrist. She felt his fingers brush her neck as he tied them up high, but her nerves eased out as he placed his hands on her shoulders leaning forward to glance over them and she brought herself to turn her face partially to look at him.

"How about a lifetime of eating at odd hours? I'll volunteer to cook." She giggled at the thought, instantly at ease, the proximity becoming exceedingly comfortable so she leaned back into him; then looking into his eyes she shook her head. He frowned puzzled.

"I think its safer to take turns. That way we can get real food at least half the times?"

He broke out laughing at being reminded of his poor culinary skills. An omelette was pretty much all he had ever managed and mastered. Giving her a quick peck on her cheek as unexpectedly as she had he grinned in agreement.

"Done!" He stated, then resting his chin on her shoulder he circled her waist from behind and added, "Starting with your turn tonight of course. How long before I get the real food?"

She smiled rolling her eyes, then turned around in his arms, barely managing in the process to hold back an unexpected silent gasp as her night wear tank top rose slightly baring her midriff which brushed against his arm. He moved back without resistance, seemingly a second before she actually pushed him away lightly, having sensed the touch and her subdued reaction himself, but before he could think of what to say she handed him the peeler, wearing, to his surprise, an indignant expression.

"As soon as you can get the potatoes sorted. Turns are not applicable yet, and until they are, you're my assitant. Peel these and tell me, I'm going to take care of the fish."

And she walked past him in an authority, he grinned at her then at the peeler and the potatoes, then frowned in understanding. Assistant...right...making a face he got to the assigned task. The turns will apply soon, he thought in determination, sooner than you think you know sweetheart.

Atul walked over to the couch in the doctor's lounge with two cups of coffee filled from the freshly brewed jar. As he sat down beside her, Anjali opened her eyes and smiled at him taking her cup.


She nodded resting her head on his shoulder and he stroked her hair for several seconds before she looked up at finding him unusually silent in response. He was looking straight ahead, and from the years they had lived together she knew he was in the rarest of grave moods.  Lifting her head, she realized that also passed him unnoticed, and she frowned. As an after thought she blew over her steaming cup, then placing it aside for cooling down she linked her arm with his and gave him a light kiss on his cheek. It brought his attention back to her, from whatever his previous thoughts had been.

"What's up?" she asked in the earnest, and he gave a solemn smile. Shaking his head lightly he slumped his back into the couch, and disengaging his arm from hers he slid it over her shoulders pulling her back to rest her head as before. Fingering through her hair he took his time considering, and Anjali, looking at him intently from the side of her eye chose to remain silent.

"I was thinking," he started and she listened intently. The worries and issues were usually hers to spell and his to hear out, when the exceptions occurred she knew better than to interrupt. "About Armaan." She frowned at the most unexpected direction of his concern, to the extent that she blurted before she could stop herself.

"Armaan?" He looked at her and her confusion was evident.

"And Ridhima." He finished.

"AND RIDHIMA?" she repeated, in complete lack of understanding now. He nodded then pulling his arm back as he turned in his seat half way to face her completely and held her hands in his lowering his eyes to nothing in particular, toying with her fingers.

"Anj I think he's the guy Ridzi mentioned to you." She stared at him for several seconds before pulling her hands away and he looked up to see her wide eyed in shock. He looked back at her in intent not speaking himself. Finally she spoke up, in a whisper, almost to herself even as she was addressing it to him.

"You think so?"

"I am inclined to believe it more than I'm not."


"You were too busy concentrating on your son Anj. If you had given the barest of thought to them you would not be in half as much disbelief."

"Atul he...Armaan...he is...he was married I mean." Atul sighed at the obvious he had expected from her, soon enough if not as soon.

"Yes he was. And Ridzi told you she has loved her guy for years now. And we know they went to grad school together. And..." he paused before making his final point, "There has been a change in her from somewhere around that time which you and me have overlooked since, as a part of her growing up." 

Anjali stared at him for range of new revelations he tossed at her to deal with while she was still working on the first one. Atul raised his hand to her cheek, caressing it with his thumb gently he said in a low voice not averting her gaze, "I know darling. It seems more complicated than it could at face value. But I barely slept, thinking about all of this, and I have found more reasons to believe my analysis than not to."

"Ridzi couldn't have been so thoughtless Atul." she stated, lacking conviction.

"But she could have fallen in love..." he offered.

"Why him?"

"Why NOT him Anj?" She frowned at him as if she expected him to uderstand the obvious without having her spell it. He did understand, she did not. "Tell me what about him would you not approve for her Anjali, if he had not been previously married?"

"That's a significant 'if' Atul," Anjali said, after a moment of surprise at being addressed by her full name, but it did not make her forget her argument.

"There is a strong possibility that the 'if' did not exist when she fell in love with him."

"Which means either he did not love her back, or he chose to not see her feelings at all, or the worst, he ditched her for another woman. And any of those situations are reason enough for me to disapprove of him."

Atul gave a grim smirk at her reasoning. Not like he should have expected any lesser defence from her, she held Ridhima much too dear to be convinced so easily. He had taken ample time to think out stuff himself before weighing it in favor at all, she would take her time too.

"They are all reasons enough for Ridzi to disapprove of him as much darling. But assuming that is not the case, since if she does disapprove of him then we have nothing to discuss but I doubt that is true, and if she doesn't disapprove of him, instead considers him enough to mention as much of him as she did to you, clearly the reason for his first marriage is none of those three you mentioned, at least not technically as you state them."

Anjali felt her shoulder slump at the latter of his reasoning, it made sense and she wanted to hate him for voicing a logic she didn't wan to see. But the point was, he wasn't exactly a man who talked without sense or concern, and he loved Ridhima like his own child, just like she did; he was bound to have given all of this enough thought. And most of all, how could she ignore the fact that he had been the one to make the whole observation when she had been, as he had pointed out, occupied with Gappu. She sighed, her eyes lowered and Atul moved closer to her pulling her in a half hug, his arm over her shoulders.

"Anj, Ridzi is a grown up mature. You have to treat her like one and respect her judgement. If she loves him, she must know best why." It was then that it struck Anjali.

"What if it isn't him that she loves at all? What if you're in error Atul?"

"That's not impossible," he replied giving her a faint smile, "Yet I doubt it sincerely. The thing is Anj, its not my analysis that had me thinking so much, I stumbled upon it before he left the house, its the  consideration of whether I would be happier to be proved right or wrong." He said in a quiet voice, Anjali looked at him incredulously.

"How can you say that Atul. He...Armaan...he is...not..."

"A bad guy at all. Admit it Anj, you liked him enough yourself. Forget this conversation, and skip the bias, is his past in all enough for you to pin against him when you think of the person he is?" He paused as Anjali frowned deeper at his words, "Gappu was staying with his family for the past three weeks and we know how happy he was. You could claim that was his way to make an impression if you had not met him in person tonight. You and I are not gullible kids Anj, did he appear a pretense to you in any remote way?" She did not look up into his eyes, instead Atul saw her bite her lower lip in deep thought. Considering no opposition as his cue to go on he said, "The wordless ease between Ridzi and him was unmistakable Anj, I can't remember the last time she was like tonight. I could conveniently credit Gappu alone, but for that I would have to be blind and..."


Atul was cut off by the pager going off. Reluctantly he let go of his hold around her and checked the text. He had been summoned for reference to one of his patients. Getting up from the couch, his coffee barely touched and cold now, he towered over her as she still seemed engrossed in her thoughts, he bent over and kissed her temple.

"Think about it honey, we'll talk it out after the shift."

And he walked away, giving her a last glance from the door, when she looked up to meet his eye and gave a faint smile in return for his reassuring one. Sighing heavily as he disappeared she slumped back into the couch her mind filled with clashing thoughts. Whatever Atul said, and whatever she thought, two facts were undisputed: Armaan Malik was a widower, and Armaan Malik had been a warm guy. Unfortunately, the two of those together complicated her thoughts more still.


She hushed turning around to him in warning, barely audible as the stair under his foot behind her creaked. He worded a soundless sorry through a mouthfull of fish he had not waited to bite into, then replaced the half remaining part of the piece on the plate in his hand sheepishly and concentrated on placing light steps without dropping anything out of the full plate. Over a minute later they stood on the floor above and she tip toed straight ahead before turning to the left of the two idetical facing doors, he followed suit and found himself adjusting his eyes to the bright light once more as she shut the door behind him.

He stood his spot, his eyes taking in every detail, major and trivial, of the room around him. Her room. She placed the jar of juice on the coffee table by the couch, then took the tray from him which he let go off absent mindedly, placing that beside the jar, she stood up straight by his side, observing him as he observed her room, in anticipation. She frowned as he narrowed his eyes and he spoke just as she opened her mouth to ask him why.

"You designed me a very similar room didn't you?"

He half questioned, half stated the fact. It was her turn to be caught unaware, as she realized seconds later, his reference to plan she had presented before them in her office.

"You noticed the design..." she whispered tentatively, uncertain of how she was meant to feel.

She realized that his indifferent reaction then had only been a pretense, he was bound to have been keenly observant of the plan details and her explaination of them to conclude upon the similarity now, more a year later. But it also brought back an image of his past, of Lovely, of his marriage. She avoided his eye yet another time in under an hour, only this time she wasn't conscious, but awkward. His past did not stand between them, she knew it never would, but it was a past nonetheless, a real one, and she didn't know how to break the silence into a comfortable conversation once more. She realized also, in that instant, how unconsciously perhaps, neither of them really brought up the topic in their talks. She had grown so accustomed to it that she was beginning to forget it like a past that had never existed, but could they lead a whole life evading that confrontration once, face to face?

"So the only huge difference is swaping black with blue, preserving the gray." he noted in a low voice, cutting through her thoughts after having caught her lost in reaction to his words, as he walked towards the wall of pictures. "I kept it with me, the chart of the master bedroom you designed," he admitted offhandly in response to her earlier statement, looking at the collage of memories. Her lips remained parted at the lack of words; she was indeed surprised even if his mention made it sound obvious.

There were too many things he observed almost at once. Her childhood was cheerful, as he had known it to be from her endless tales. Gappu and she had been pranksters from before they could have understood the word, Atul and Anjali completed their small, happy world; she attended an all girl's boarding upto high college, he recalled now, her having mentioned it sometime in Cambridge, as he saw pictures of her with groups of girls in the same consistent uniform varying through the years in faces alone; and it seemed that was where the frame ceased to depict her life. There was no sign of Cambridge, she had gone there for undergrad as well he knew, before continuing for grad school. A likely conclusion was her need to keep him selectively out of the collection, or anything that could remind her of him which would include pretty much anything implying Cambridge. But there was the shiny number 16 in the very centre of it which he did not miss, over it was a skillfully calligraphed 'Happy Birthday'.

"That was from Gappu on my 16th Birthday," she spoke wording the conclusion and he realized only then that she was standing by his side.

"I had wondered, everytime I looked at the chart thinking of you, what I could ever do with a whole wall you had assigned for pictures in my room. There wasn't much from my childhood, perhaps a handful with Muski and Daadu, and another handful from the annual events at Shantiniketan."

"You were never exactly fond of the camera," she reminded him, "It took a great deal of pestering and pleading from Chirag and me to get you into a frame."

Armaan smirked at the way she stated another one of his bitter facts. He was camera shy. Pictures meant memories, and it was rare for him to find any he wanted to preserve, barring the years at Cambridge, which until his confession to her less than a month ago, would have haunted him to misery if he woke up to wall of them in his room every morning. There was nothing to happily preserve from his former matrimonial alliance, and the circumstances had ensured there was nothing from Muskaan's wedding either. Both had been quiet affairs, signing of documents in the court followed by the quietest solemn meal his home had seen in ages. He had not lead a life which offered enough chances to even scarcely fill a wall that size. Abruptly he turned away from it.


He exclaimed in pain, silencing his volume as Ridhima clutched his arm, startled by his close yell subdued in time and in realization of him gripping his head which must have, she realized, collided with the corner of the mantle like protrusion next to the frame, much lower than the usual ceiling level position for her accessibility, and also much smaller. It was her tiny little temple shelf; she wasn't quite religious in terms of essential rituals but she believed in god, this was the corner she bowed down to quickly, each morning before leaving her room, a habit she had picked too early in her years for her to remember the source.

"Hell!...You alright?"

Without waiting for his answer she pushed him hastily onto the bed few feet away so he wasn't towering over her anymore; instead she bent over him, ruffling his hair at the spot he had held onto a second ago, rubbing it in gentle massage and examining the sore area with her fingers.

"Did you hit it bad?"

She asked frowning as she messed his hair still feeling for a likely bump. Armaan meanwhile closed his eyes as he inhaled a floral whisp of fresh laundary from her short sleeved tee brushing into his face mixed with the fragerance of her skin as she leaned into him oblivious to the impact of the proximity on him. As her fingers worked through his hair, the pain was well forgotten and he opened his eyes lifting them to her face feeling the hair falling over them sway under her gentle warm breath and the rhythmic heaving of her chest close to his face. He stared unable to move away as she fussed with his head, engulfed in the essence of her so completely that he missed her spoken words.

Ridhima, after several seconds of getting no response to her repeated prompt looked at him with a concerned frown, which eased away almost right away at the look on his face. His eyes were unblinking and intense, and she had to make a sudden greater effort to continue breathing, realizing all at once, how close they were, and the effect of it might as well have been a reflection in each others face. She could have pulled back but it did not occur to her then, and a bang of hair losened from the hair he had knotted for her fell long down close to face. He lifted his hand to tuck it back and resting his hand in a gentle grip around her neck he felt her paced pulse.

"Armaan..." she spelled out the name but it was less than a whisper as she felt his fingers caress her neck and lower her face without breaking the look. She did not resist, at the feel of his hold, and at the passion in eyes she could sense a heat rising to her face, and she knew as she let him bring her closer that he would kiss her unless she objected. Her eyes did not blink but his face blurred as her mind came alive with the fantasies of this moment she had never ceased imagining- in Cambridge they had been wishful thoughts, after he left they were moments she yearned for him, and after he confessed they were dreamy speculations of the first kiss they would share. She did not pull back at all, cause deep inside she wanted to be kissed, and badly, by one man alone, the one who was before her eyes now, to remain forever.

When she was close enough he brushed his lips over hers in a soft kiss, then as she did not pull back he glanced at her face. Her eyes were closed and he sensed her expectance in the light tremble of her lips barely away from his own, and he stared at her for another second to never forget the sight of her in this moment. And then he kissed her soft lips firmly, pulling her face closer as her arms locked around his neck and his own free hand grabbed her by the waist gently lowering her to his lap without breaking the liplock, which became intense, then passionate, then heated, as both of let go of the pent up emotions they had held back over the years in obligations or hestations, it had been a long wait and the bliss of this moment unlocked the craving souls they had caged within for an eternity.

"Ridhima," he murmured over her lips breaking out of the kiss when he sensed her getting short of breath, but not pulling apart, "I love you..." She opened her eyes at his words, and he saw them brim with suspended tears she held onto.

"You won't ever leave me and walk away?"

She knew he wouldn't, ever again, but the overwhelming happiness in the pass twelve hours still somewhere felt like a dream she was living, and the thoughts of his past from minutes ago had been like a harsh piercing truth she couldn't just brush off even in these best moments of her life; she needed him hence, to tell her he loved her and was there forever, over and over, till nothing could unnerve her to give a thought to life otherwise. She shuddered at the idea and tightened her fingers in his hair. Armaan sensed her insecurity, raised his mouth to kiss her head.

"No honey I won't," he said simply.

"For nothing?"

"Not even if you threw me out of the house this instant," he grinned at her frown rubbing a thumb over its crease gave her a peck on her nose which surprised her into a faint smile, "I will sit at the doorstep, till no one other than you yourself decide to let me back in," she grinned now at his dramatized assurance, "Dead or alive," she frowned again at his last words but as she opened her lips to tell him off he kissed her full on the mouth quick and cheeky before she could react, then brushing a kiss just below he lower lip he whispered, "But 0 farhenheit is a freaking retard temperature, if you did throw me out I really will die, so let me stay."

She broke out laughing, throwing her head back and he thought of the perfect timing. At the start of a new phase in their bond, she was laughing again, just like the very first time. Smiling wide he stared at her in love till she stopped getting her breath back, then bent over to give him a quick peck on his cheek.

"I'll keep that in mind, but even if I think you deserve to be thrown out, I won't let you die on a hungry stomach after all that ill timed cooking I did for you. Or are you hungry no more?"

He raised his eyes at her bright with mischief and she blushed at the outrageous teen line she had tossed at him mindlessly. She really had to practice control on her words, and soon.

"Much as I'd want for you to be flattered my dearest, I'm afraid I still maintain the apetite of a starved monster. And like you said, I'd be damned if I let that wonderful cooking go waste."

She smiled at him and got off his lap walking towards the table. He got up a second later to follow her but his step froze in the air at the sight of what he was going to step on. Putting it back with the other he bent down to pick it up and the smile on his face touched the corners of his eyes at the picture held between his fingers. Besides the bed stool, a foot away, a whole album lay open carelessly on the ground. He walked to it and bent to pick it up, then walked towards the coffee table, falling on the couch flat on his back with a thud like a heavy grain sack, his legs dangling over one of its ends.

"Armaan!...Gosh! You scared the hell out of me." 

He smiled at her in a funny daze holding one hand over his shirt onto where the heart is meant to be. She cocked a brow at him her hands resting on her hips and he placed the album he was holding in the other hand lowered besides the couch out of sight onto the table still looking at her.

"That's...from Cambridge." she said looking away with a cute smile as she poured him a glass of juice.

"Yeh, I figured." Moving suddenly he sat up and patting the empty seat beside him he continued, "Come here Ridhima. Tell me about the photographs like you used to. I haven't seen them once in six years."

She looked at him for a long moment and he held her eyes with a warm smile willing her to agree, she did, walking around the table to come sit beside him. Without precision she opened the album to a random page in the middle. It was the way she always did look at old albums, especially in moments of nostalgia. She liked to just stumble across a forgotten old memory and think about it in leaisure, of the time it was clicked and the situation that had been. It was the same way she talked about photographs too, the way Armaan was referring to. Revisiting unexpected past moments made her smile more often than not. Like him however, she had not opened this particular album in 6 years...until tonight. As her eyes fell on the page she had opened, she looked up at him, and they both grinned.

"Chirag!" They exclaimed in unison and then broke out laughing. " was the maddest thing he did...coming to you...YOU...for advice to propose that girl." Ridhima managed in broken bits through her laughter. Armaan was having a hard time controlling his own at the memory of that evening.

"Yeh right were no better help...what was her name that blond chick?" Ridhima stopped laughing at his last words and narrowed her eyes at Armaan, he broke into fresh peels of laughter. "Alright!" he said at last as she waited for him to see the nasty look she wore for him, "Alright peace! I'm kidding. The blonde beauty...sounds fair now?" Ridhima rolled her eyes and Armaan pulled her into a half hug sliding his arm over her shoulders kissing her lightly. "I don't even remember her name, thats how much of a damn I ever gave to anyone except you sweetheart. Stop being jealous."

"Whitney Payne," Ridhima stated giving him a wry smile.

"Oh yeh...." he broke out laughing again at some thought and she waited for him to explain, "Rememeber Dan? This other guy on our floor?" she nodded, "He told Chirag to change his last name to 'Torture'...Payne and Torture he said would sound a novel couple!" Ridhima broke out laughing again, as did Armaan.

"Yeh well, not like he was going to get the girl with the hopeless advice you gave him. What was it that you said? 'You're asking me like I'm a veteran at this Chirag, what do you want me to tell you about proposals?', " she mimicked his solemn baritone and chuckled at his smug expression.

"I was being honest," he defended himself.

"Well it wasn't helping him at all."

"I didn't think very well of him dating a Brit blonde anyways."

"Oh hah now! There comes the real reason. Inferiority that he would fish a catch leaving you lonely with your books?"

"That's not true, I had you..." he protested. She raised an eye to his proclaimation, but in contrast to his light tone, they were sincerely solemn. She snuggled closer into his half hug looking back at the album and he smiled at her acceptance. Into her hair he spoke again glancing at the picture she was looking at, "By the way, Lady Matchmaker, forget the novice me. It wasn't like you did wonders with your propose on a bended knee with a rose and a ring plan."

He stated looking at the picture of Chirag as he had practiced her idea with her enacting Whitney. It had been a crazy evening, only one of many; the three of them were a riot, even though Armaan himself was a much lesser qualified devil, together the three of them had shared some of the best moments.

"Obviously I didn't, he followed only half my advice. Who told him to take a plastic promise ring for a proposal?"

"He wasn't Prince of Wales to buy every new girl every other month a solitaire."

"This wasn't any other girl. He was serious about Whitney for about a year."

"Thats longer than hes been with Ritu isn't it," Armaan quipped suddenly in thought. Ridhima glared at him as he grinned, then pursed his lips tight looking back at the album.

"So the solitaire it was then, the missing link in his proposal you say?"

"No. It was the whole idea which was crap." Armaan looked at her impressed, she was accepting her mistake as candidly as that? "I was a silly girl, with sillier ideas." She added, without looking at him, but Armaan sensed the edge of change in her tone. He looked at her for a long moment until she was forced to look up at him with a small smile.

"I got you something." He stated and her eyes widened as she turned in his arm to face him completely. He grinned, "We're both still agreeing as a solitaire not being the crux right?" Ridhima frowned at his question, he was confusing her now.

"Armaaaan..." she said impatiently and bent to give her a quick peck on her nose. Then digging into the pocket of his jeans he brought out a packet. She moved her hand to take it but he pulled her out of her reach shaking his head vigorously.

", not so quick." She made a face at him looking at the packet then back at him. "It really is no solitaire." He stated and she rolled her eyes in exasperration.

"I don't care." she said, "Give it now or I'm not going to take it I swear."

"Oh no honey, you have to. Only you can." he said in a solemn voice, lowering the packet he opened it to reveal a pair of red and white bangles she knew had something to do with the Indian weddings. She looked up at him and asked uncertainly, "Isn't this what the Indian brides wear?"

"Wow I'm impressed you know about that custom. But no, this isn't exactly that. Its a Bengali specific tradition. Its called the Shaka Pola."

"The tradition?"

"No, this family heirloom." Pulling her hand forward, he slid the first of the two bangles over her palm onto her wrist. "These bangles, they are called the Shaka Pola, and they can be different kinds I guess. I'm uncertain. Daadu gave me these to me when I got married, he said they were Thama's , then were passed onto Ma because she was the elder daughter-in-law, and the tradition had to be continued. He said his mother got them made specific to order with a family design carved on them and some auspicious stone studded. Its a family thing like I said, and he gave them to me for Lovely then!" He faced up towards Ridhima and she looked back expressionless. He lifted the second one of the pair to slide down her wrist and spoke on looking her in the eye, "I married her Ridhima, cause it was the demand of those circumstances. I gave her my name, and tried to do all I could to take care of her in all honesty." he lowered his head and whispered, "Which wasn't the best or enough I guess."

Ridhima held his hand in her own, the one with which he had made her wear the bangles, uncertain of what she was feeling herself, but she knew what he had just meant. He looked up at her and raising his other hand to her face caressed it lightly.

"I couldn't give her these." He stated simply, and despite all the humanity in her for Lovely and her genuine concern for the medical issues she had lived with, she felt a sudden weight life off her heart at his words. "I could act for her and for the world that she was my wife, but I could not live that act for myself. It was always you I saw in that spot, the one I wanted to spend my life with, share a home and a family with, the one I wanted to grow old with, And in my heart I couldn't give that spot to anyone else."

Ridhima was certain she would cry any moment now but she did not break her look with him.

"The Shaka Pola remained stacked away in London luggage with other things all these years, but now they have to go where they belong. Its a sign of a true wedlock, and its a family heirloom, and now its yours." Because she knew she could take it no more she threw her arms around him and hugged him tight. He hugged her back as she burried her head into his neck and he felt it moisten slightly from her tears. "Hush honey!"

He stroked her hair until moments later she pulled out of the embarce wiping her eyes and looked at him then at the bangles adorning her wrist. She ran the forefinger of he rother hand over the surface of them observing the pattern keenly, but her mind was coming to terms with what he had just told her. She had heard the hardest facts of his life from him a while ago, and had accepted him with all of them. But this one simple thing, about her being the only one in his life whom he gave the Shaka Pola, released her from the grip of his past for good. He had told her it was only her she loved, he had explained how his wedding in the real sense had never been one, but the fact that he had saved his family heirloom through all those years for her or no one else gave her the deepest sense of inner happiness. She felt special about herself, and proud of having him in her life. As she looked up, she saw the anticipation through her tearful eyes and didn't know how to tell him what she was feeling. She opened her mouth to speak then closed it and smiled simply. Sighing deeply she whispered with closed eyes,

"I don't know what to say." Then opened her eyes at the touch of his lips upon hers, soft and gentle, and as he pressed her forhead against hers his eyes lowered as he toyed with the bangles she whispered hoarsely, "I love you Armaan." and pressed her lips to his herself in quiet solemn kiss.

"So you don't need the solitaire then?" he teased her lightly.

"I do," she retorted though her voice was still constricted, but she smiled genuinely at him, "When you ask Di and Jeej for our wedding." And he felt like his heart might stop functioning from the sheer happiness of the moment.

"So how did you know Chachu was actually there in her room?" Minnie asked, then groaned as her words fell yet again on deaf ears. "GAURAV!" she almost yelled to get his attention as he sat glued unblinking to the 56" screen at Buffalo Wild Wings.

"Hang on sweetheart," he said in an urgency without actually looking at her as continued to frown at the ongoing match. One reason she hated to come to this particular joint, he always forgot she was actually there sitting with him, good as forgot that is. She glared at him, and he remained blissfully oblivious to her anger the wrath of which he would have to face soone enough. "God damn it!" he swore in an undertone and she stabbed her fork into a whole in frustration.

"I can't believe they drew this one too. What the hell?" he muttered agitated and frowning turning to face towards her at last as the screen zoned into a game over long commercial before the post match analysis would begin. And the expression on her face was a warning alarm. Mentally he swore again.


"You still remember my name? That is very impressive honey!" she said sarcasm dripping from her voice. He gulped, then at a quick after thought raised his plastered arm high to the table and made a subtle expression of being in pain as he raised it precariously.

"Don't even try with me." He looked at her narrowed unrelenting eyes and knew she meant it.

"Minz you..."

"I could have kicked that arm of yours like a soccer ball at the nets session and it would have passed you unnoticed while the game was still on." She stated her anger rising with every dialogue. Gappu gave her a watery smile, when she remained blank in her expression he sighed lowering his head.

"I'm sorry Minz..." he said in a low voice and she kicked herself mentally for actually wanting to forgive him, YET AGAIN, and let it pass. "You know how it is...Arsenal games and me. I don't mean it this way. Besides they drew against Fulham now and that was the last straw cause they already..."

"I DONT CARE!" she exclaimed with finality. Then taking a deep breath she said in a lower voice, although no one except the one it was targetted at, had noticed her raised volume beyond the din of the crowd. "Gaur...Why the hell do we come out on game days when its the Gunners playing, you need no one except that god dam screen anyways." Gappu felt a genuine regret at this. She was right. He had no business bringing her along when he was going to ignore her like she was transparent while the game went on. And this wasn't the first time. He sighed.

"The game is the perfect pretext to get out of the house, Mum wasn't going to ask me what and why as long as Massi would drop and pick me up." Pausing he looked at her same look, "I really wanted to see you." She looked away at this. He wasn't lying and she knew it. But that did not change the fact that he ignored her during every game invariably. "I also wanted to tell you about Armaan and massi." He added, hopeful at the softening of her expression. If she forgave him now, he would make sure she had a wonderful evening ahead of this, making up for being his usual jerk self.

"Which you still haven't told me," she informed him in resignation, as usual her anger was losing its strength to his earnest apology.

"I'll tell you now, from the start, without interruption." He promised gaining hope. Damn him, she swore, then looked at his expectant expression and picked up her wallet, shades and keys from the table.

"If that is what you really intend we leave this place, NOW." she said with finality.

"But the bill..."

"I paid." Gappu looked at her, then at the screen, then back at her. He would have to watch the repeat of post game analysis later that night, he thought with a sigh. There was no way he could behave any worse with her than he already had. He got up from his own seat, lifting his plastered arm with caution and spoke up.

"Ice cream?"

"No. I want food first. REAL FOOD?" He grinned at her implication, despite her anger, she hated this place for every possible reason, mostly under her bias agaisnt the TV screens. Nodding at her he walked up by her side and offfered her his plastered arm, arched inevitably at a correct escorting angle. She looked at it, then his look of mischief, and couldn't help the smile breaking onto her lips as she held onto it lightly and carefully.

"You know you're a jerk right?"

"Yeh." he replied with a smile, then looking at her rest her shades upon her hair lose strands of which blew into her eyes as they walked out into the cold Chicago wind, he whispered, "Did I say you look pretty?"

"To the Gunner's coach maybe, definitely not to me Captain."

"Alright, better late than never. The prettiest girl among all others around us, and the Captain is madly in love with her!" She rolled her eyes giggling at his usual dramatic antics and he smiled at her.

"And where will the pretty girl get her lunch finally?"

"You can pick."

"Fabulous! Let's walk on for a bit I have an idea." Gappu looked at her for a moment before smiling to himself as he nodded his agreemnt.

"Now update me with the news."

"Oh yeh that. Gosh your uncle Minz...I still can't believe he came all the way at 4AM to see Massi, after the whole long tiring day and its incredible endless excitements."

"Correction honey, he came all across the continents to do just that, why should you be surprised by a few tens of miles he didn't bother about?"

"Because this is Armaan Malik we are talking about, the paradigm of sanity and logic."

"Well apparently then, you need new titles for him now. The sanity and logic have been replaced by love." Gappu grinned at her conclusion. "Anyways I already heard that part of the story with all your special effects added Gaur, tell me how you realized he was there. Gosh! I can't imagine the expression on his face, and her face when you walked in on them." and she chuckled in glee. Gappu gave her a cute smile at her excitement, he had to agree with her, it had been quite a scene.

"Yeh I did wish I had a chance to tape it on a web cam. Youtube would offer to pay me for the rights of a video like that! To answer your question I would have to lack all of my basic five senses and have absolutely no trace of the common sixth sense if I was to not figure out his presence. She opened the door when I knocked, all flustered, and when I asked why I thought I heard Armaan's voice, Missy 'too smart for her own shoes' tells me she was talking to him on the speaker mode." Minnie giggled at the excuse. "And then much to her chagrin I believe I heard a sneeze which she hoped I would believe was also from the cell, since there was no way she could have taken the blame of it on herself when I was staring at her in suspicion all that while."


"Then I decided the game was fun to play, and the further she took it, the more embarassed she would have to be at the end."

"Gaurav that is mean and sadistic." Minnie exclaimed unable to hide her own smile at the thought of the same.

"Why did that not sound like a disapproval from you Minz?" Gappu quipped teasing her and she rolled her eyes at him. "Anyways so I was like fine I am the most empty headed brainless fellow born on Pluto which isn't even a planet no more, but if he is sneezing on the cell, I'm sure he is still there, I want to talk to him."

"Ouch!" Minnie exclaimed.

"So Missy 'master fibber' says she ended the call by mistake. I grabbed her cell from her and out of her reach, its times like those when I love the many inches I am over her, no matter what she can't reach me."

"So you checked the call logs?" Minnie offered. Gappu shook his head.

"Nah that's too mundane an idea. I clicked the speed dial for Armaan's cell."

"Oh my gosh! Gaurav, that was the meanest of all ideas." Gappu gave her a slight bow of accepting the credit and she asked through her giggling, "Then?"

"Then...I love you..." he started to sing startling her this time as she looked around at the passers-by giving them strange looks and frowned at him but he remained unaffected, bending on his knees sang on further, "I love all that you can't say...years gone by and still...words don't come easily..." She jerked him up with his normal arm visibly embarassed now and he pulled her into a half hug keeping his plastered arm outside completing his verse as he twirled her swiftly with his normal hand, "I love...I love you...I love youuuuu!"

"Gaurav have you lost it?" She muttered pulling herself straight giving him a positive glare but the grin on his face was infectitious. She looked away to not smile herself.

"Its the ringtone sweetheart, the ringtone on his cell phone...which was my cell phone before he stole it from me and dropped it during a practice into a puddle which gave it a cracked LCD and a damaged battery beyond repair."

"How the hell is still working?"

"That was what he told everyone as a pretext to my mysteriously missing cell phone."

"Good lord he didn't!"

"I swear on the next game Gunner's will play."

"Wow! the ringtone sounded inside Ridhima Di's room?"

"Her walk in closet to be precise. The one she did not let me enter and check out, on the pretext of her scattered 'girl stuff' as she informed me with an act perfect blushing look. Of course, Armaan had to be an exception to that no entry barrier put up for males." Minnie broke out laughing, less at the dry wit and more at an idea of what the scene must have been like.

"Gosh..." she managed breathlessly, "Damn! I wish I was there to see this..." and she hollered laughing again, passing it on to Gappu who laughed with her.

"What did you say then?"

"Nothing! I demanded Armaan would ask permission from Mum and Dad to marry her the next time he comes over to our place so I can get the whole floor to myself."


"Yes...she threw cushions at me despite my injury and drove me out of the room. But I yelled from the corridor and warned Armaan to take me seriously or I'd have posters about his special late night visit all over the house. And she threw a last cushion at me before I shut the door of my room upon her." Minnie was in hysterics by the time he finished narrating and enacting in bits, the whole incident.

"I can't believe you behaved like that with Chachu," she declared at last. He gave a her mock sugar smile.

"Yeh right! It took the know-it-all Dr. Psychology some 6 years to come to terms with his feelings. If we went by his pace, the two of them may well need an elixir to live forever or the grant of a second life if they actually intend to tie the knot. Ever heard of a catalyst? That's what. They need an everlasting overdose of that substance."

"Oh well tomorrow then I guess."

"Oh yeh. It will be an interesting evening. Somehow I think Mum and Dad know more than they are showing. Mum has actually planned a whole dinner night to inviting all of you and Ritu and Chirag for tomorrow's meal, at a sudden impulse. And she is not the sudden impulse league. There has to be more to it. Besides, Dad's been asking me all kind of random questions about my stay in India, nothing about my camp, all about the Maliks!" He paused as Minnie tugged lightly on to his arm to pull him to a stop. He looked at her in question and she smiled looking around them. Following her gaze he realized they were at Navy Pier.

"How did I not see this coming?" he muttered with a smile at himself.

"Cause you were too busy narrating the tales of of your glory with complete enactments honey." Minnie replied grinning. He looked at her, radiating with happiness and something in his heart flipped. Moving towards her he pulled her into a half hug.

"Love you Minz!" she heard him say; beyond all the drama and grand acts he was capable of, the simple confession as every other time made her insides soar in happiness. Snuggling closer to him at the new gush of the freezing wind she said in a soft whisper, "Love you too," then added a moment later, "Now buy me some lunch before we go for the ride."

"Which of the two solitaires did you finally decide upon then?"

"I demand to inspect it before her."

Armaan looked on his either side as first Chirag, then Gappu flanked him on his left and right with wide smiles, muttering imaptient comments in low voices for his convenience only, and tried to not react maintaining his own smile.

"I chose the first one Chirag, and you can come with me to the car outside Gaurav, to inspect if it is a real diamond. I also have the receipt incase you want to ascertain I didn't just lift it off a shelf at the mall." Armaan muttered back to them in the same hushed manner through his teeth.

"Hi Ritu!" He exclaimed before either of them could reply, moving forward towards her to pull her into a hug as she walked from the direction of what he knew well enough was the kitchen. Ritu hugged him back with a warm excited smile and they pulled out the hug he said in an earnest voice, "I need your help." She grinned at him like a gleefull bobcat and replied,

"I know you want to see Ridhima but she told me absolutely to not let you walk into the kitchen cause she is a mess right now." Armaan smiled half to himself at the thought of her in the kitchen, the way she had been a couple of nights ago, despite the well of nervousness inside him. "Actually that's not what I need help with." Ritu raised an eye at the unexpected from him. "I need tips on how to talk to Di and Jeej for Ridhima and me. Chirag is hopeless, and so is Gappu, its hard to decide who is much for friends." Ritu grinned at him again. Then linking her arm through his she steered him further into the living room of the house. Indicating for him to take a seat, she stood before him like a shy nervous fidgety person.

"Now I am Armaan, and you are Jeej and Di."

"Jeej or Di?"

" doesn't matter. They won't give you different answers." Armaan nodded in thought, then looked back at her as she cleared her throat.

"I heard Ritu is training Armaan to put forth his proposal?" Minnie grinned at Keerti's question.

"Yeh mum she is. Specially on how to win the favor from Anjali auntie. She suspects Uncle would not be too much trouble."

"Hmmm. That I can believe. Mothers have a possessive streak for their kids." Minnie looked up at her mum at this declaration. At an afterthought she asked, carefully framing her question.

"So did Dad have a hard time with Nani?"

"Not really. Mumma was a softie. And your Dad was a well prepared prospective groom."

"Well prepared how?"

"Like prepared to answer and reassure Mumma in every way about his intentions and love for me."

"What kind of questions Mum?"

"The usual..."

"No I mean...lets say it was you in Nani's place. What questions would you have asked Dad?" Keerti considered thoughtfully.

"I guess my main concern would be about the boy's character, and his parenting. If I felt assured about those two, then other stability factors somehow always fall in place. I wouldn't be finicky about them." Minnie nodded in response thinking about gappu and herself. Sometime in the years to come, he would be in the position her Dad had been years ago, and Chachu was today. And her Mom would be where Nani had been or Anjali auntie was. Still in thought Minnie's gaze fell on Ridhima as she walked out of the kitchen with Chirag, both of them laughing, but the shine on Ridhima's face was new. She looked happier than ever, and then Minnie observed, her eyes wander around in search for a few moments until they rested and she smiled. Even before following her gaze Minnie knew who she would see- it was Chachu. Sometime in the years to come, she mused, she too would be where Ridhima was today, and her Mom had been years ago. Turning around with a smile, she realized her Mom had been summoned by her Dad and they were both in conversation with Atul Uncle. Tonight she knew, they were all somewhere aware that the question was about Ridhima Di and Armaan Chachu; sometime in the years to come, her parents would be in a similar conversation in the same house with Atul Uncle himself; only the question would involve Gaurav and her. She smiled at the thought and stared for a long moment at nothing.

'I love all that you can't say...'

"Hello?" Armaan grabbed the cell turning on the answer tab without looking at the caller ID, at the unexpected ringing of the cell.

"Dada!" Armaan beamed at the sound of her chirpy voice and getting up from the couch in the middle of a demo Ritu was giving him he walked off forgetting everything else.

"Muski!...Goodness! I can't tell you how happy I am to hear you this second."

"And the sky is green. If you were that eager to hear my voice how come you haven't found the time to talk to me in detail in the last couple of days?" she complained and Armaan smiled.

"Muski...I'm going to talk to Ridhima's family tonight." He told her in answer to her question.

"Great heavens! You are?...Like seriously? Does Ridzi know?"

"Yes, seriously indeed, and she knows. Gaurav threatened me into it." He said grinning.

"You don't sound intimidated at all Dada, spare me the excuse. You were hardly going to be patient about any of this, with or without his threat. That's a void excuse. But the point is...OH MY GOD!...tonight it will be! I'm so happy for you Dada. Kaali Maa be with you." Armaan smiled. That was Muskaan, a strange combination of contradictions. On one hand she was the born rebel to all traditions, on the other she was a firm believer of God. He shook his head in brotherly affection.

"I wish you were here Muski, I miss you." Muskaan felt a sudden urge to laugh and cry all at once. Instead she managed to speak.

"Me too Dada. I miss you tons. You better call me back later with the best news I'll hear in years."


Armaan turned around startled at the sound of the sudden doorbell. Within seconds he saw Ridhima hurry towards the main door, and it was the first time he realized that he saw her that evening- Wearing a rust colored churidaar suit with brown-golden work on all borders she looked pretty as ever. He had seen her in Indian wear a few times years ago at Cambridge and had always marvelled the grace with which she carried the traditional clothes despite the rare number of times she wore them. Tonight was no exception, and to his greatest delight, he saw the Shakha Pola on her wrist, as she caught his eyes on her way she almost paused to smile at his happy smile then noticed he was on phone. He noticed her questioning look as well and blew her a kiss in a tease instead of telling her who it was before he turned his back to her at Muskaan's prompt upon not hearing him reply. Grinning he figured he could tease Ridhima a bit more through the evening before telling her it had been Muskaan's call.

"Muski, I need to go for now, but I'll call you later in the night."

"Tell Ridhima I want to talk to her as well."

"Yeh I'll do that and..."

"VIVEK!" Armaan froze at the sound of her voice, and the spell of that name.

"Dada? And what?"...Muskaan's words never registered in his mind as he turned around a half circle to face the door.

"Vivek..." He spoke in disbelief into his phone.

"Vi...Viv...Vivek?" The sound of Muskaan's stammer brought him out of his daze, and the sight before him raged a war of emotions inside him. There he stood at the doorstep. Vivek Grewal. And their eyes met.



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