Saturday, 13 July 2019

last part : The Green Blue Hues

'Riddhima?'

Her name was coined as a question in the tone he spoke, and he staggered a little as he rubbed his eyes and found her standing there before him, real as life. Looking around, he found no one there except her, so he wasn't hallucinating that meant. Taking in her not-so-pleasant look, he breathed out again, knowing this wasn't going to be a nice round of conversation, for sure. His instinct sent out warning signals, he himself didn't know why. The realization of what he had accepted today made him not want to see her today, lest he blabbered something he shouldn't be saying. This was precisely why he had refused to take any of her innumerable calls since the past one hour, just knowing on a sudden instinct that something very terribly bad was going to happen in the next few hours.

Now, as she stood before him, still as a statue, he knew his feeling had been right. Putting his hands on his face and lightly rubbing it, he asked, 'What are you doing here?'



She replied, in what seemed to be a very controlled voice, 'I came here to talk...Muski told me you were here...with the boys!,' even through that simple statement, he knew what she was implying and he unconsciously smiled, then reprimanded himself the second later.

'Yeaah...errmm, you know...bachelor's party and all...I was just heading home, you want a ride back? We can talk on our way?,' Armaan started walking towards his car that was parked a few feet away and surprisingly, Riddhima followed quietly.

The few minutes of ride that they did have were not pleasant, for she was quiet and focused out of the window, not saying a word to him. His 'bad' feeling worsened, and he thought it better to stop and talk instead of going back home, where a possible chaos could be created. So, he parked the car in a deserted car park outside what seemed to be a posh restaurant, and looked at Riddhima. She didn't give him chance enough to say anything; she herself opened the door and got out of the car. Armaan followed suit, and soon he was standing before her. When she stayed quiet for a few seconds more, he decided to take the initiative.

'Ragz?'

Riddhima's head jolted upwards as he said her nick, what she hadn't heard in quite some days. She looked at him and her anger writhed inside her. Finally she started speaking.

"Armaan, did you tell Rhea and Ryan that we were getting married?,' she asked, in what was a very balanced out tone.

Armaan was taken off guard by her sentence, twice in one day that had happened, for whatever he had been expecting, this had not been on his mind at all. Unintentionally, he said, 'WHAT?', to which Riddhima replied, very patiently, 'I said, did you tell my brother and sister that we are getting married, without telling me?'

He looked at her for the first time, intently, at what was a very determined yet inexplicable look on her face. When he heard what she had repeated twice, and then at her face, he laughed out loud, partially his very slight intoxication was put to blame by him. Riddhima narrowed her eyes at his reaction, thinking it was a spoof, but soon realized that he WAS laughing. And quite loudly too. Holding his stomach, Armaan looked at Riddhima and laughed even more.

'And you wanted to...talk about...THAT??,' he howled between his laughter, holding onto his sides. Riddhima's face didn't twitch a bit with a smirk or even a hint of a smile, she was surprised at his insensitivity to not see it was something serious she wanted to talk about. 'Gosh Ragz...you scared the hell out of me! I thought someone died!'

Riddhima waited for him to quit it, and when he finally did, he giggled foolishly and said, 'Okay seriously! Sorry...but i really thought something bad happened....yeah, I did tell them...!,' he replied, suddenly in a much cheerful mood. Riddhima's eyebrows rose and she asked, looking straight into his eyes, 'You think it's funny right? You think it's SO funny that you can't stop laughing when I'm standing here to talk about something important...it is NOT FUNNY ARMAAN!,'

Her sudden outburst surprised him, so much so that it wiped the smile from his face and he frowned, as she went out, 'First you have the audacity to go talk to my siblings about a decision we BOTH took together, without even informing me...you didn't think of the consequences it would have on their minds and what I would feel...you just go and blabber....'

She was stopped by Armaan who rose her hand in the air, to stop her from talking as he frowned and repeated her words, in a dilemma. 'Wait a second....i had the AUDACITY to talk to them? Riddhima, this is Ryan and Rhea we are talking about, they are my...'

'MY siblings, Armaan..exactly!,' The venomous way she said it pierced his heart and he looked at her, amazement in his eyes.

'Your siblings, Riddhima? And they are nothing to me? You think I dont care about them or what they feel or what consequences it would have on them? I did, but someone had to tell them and I thought...,' he shot back at her, his voice rising slightly.

'It had to be me. The someone who told them about it was supposed to be ME Armaan, because I am their sister. And even if I didn't tell them, I should have at least been informed that you had told them...you didn't even have the decency to tell me?' She threw her answer back in his face, her eyes glistening with anger.

'Look Riddhima...you are taking it all wrong. Yes, I told them because I thought they deserved to know...and I agree I should have told you but I was so busy all day...'

'Doing what? Going to the mall and attending your own bachelor party? Armaan, this is not a joke...they are little KIDS...its not the same for them like it is for us!'

'And you think I don't know that? Riddhima, i think you are taking this way too far...how does it matter who told them? Whether it's me or you...what does it matter?' he asked, perplexed at her line of argument.

'It DOES matter!! It matters to me and it matters to them...I am their sister Armaan, something you can never be to them...exactly how your family can not be mine...mine can not be yours. It's that simple!' Riddhima replied, her voice trembling with anger.

Armaan looked at her in amazement, in surprise and wonder as she hurled these words at him. Was she really the person he knew? Because at the moment, she didn't seem to be someone he had known and taken care of all these years. His anger, that seemed to have been creeping slowly to a higher level, mixed with the splitting head-ache he know had, reached the top step and he finally shouted at her.

'Oh yeah? It's that simple, right Riddhima? Of course it is...It's always been my fault! I thought your family was mine, thought your troubles were mine...helped you out in everything and did possibly every single thing I could do for you...but that's what all friends do, right? So it doesn't give me any right to even TALK to any member of your family regarding a decision we BOTH are taking!! Oh but of course! If i'm not allowed to even say anything to them, then why should YOU do such a huge favor to my family as to marry me for their happiness? You shouldn't, because that would take you out of the league of being "just friends" to something else, and that you would never want it to be, right?' Armaan blurted everything out, and Riddhima looked at him, her eyebrows raised and a look in her eyes he had never seen before.

'Armaan what are you...?,' before she could complete her phrase, Armaan took hold of her shoulders and shook her so hard she literally felt dizzy.

'What the hell is wrong with you Riddhima? You...'

'WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU?,' She screamed at him, and somehow, that made him quiet. 'You were the one who was wrong, you made a mistake, and instead of accepting it, you are shouting at me? In fact, it wasn't one mistake...you have been making mistakes and leading me on too since the past one month...and I cant take it anymore Armaan...i CANT!!'

Armaan's mouth dropped at whatever she had said, he couldnt believe she was blaming HIM for everything. Hadn't she been an equal accomplice in everything that had happened till now? He was now so angry that nothing could stop him from saying anything now..

'Shut up, Riddhima! Don't you dare blame ME for anything! YOU were the one who convinced me to go ahead and do this, you sided with me in this, we were together in this....now don't go around making yourself believe you are the innocent one here...God knows, we both took this decision together, then why are you blaming me now? And what did you say, you can't do this anymore? What, it's so difficult already for you? You think it's easy for me?' Armaan's fury was uncontrollable now, and Riddhima succumbed in front of it for some time, but then her own anger burst forth.

'NO! I know it's not easy for you...and it never has been. You have always been there for me and done everything you could...that's what you said right now, right? But you make me feel like its all a favor...like you did this big huge favor on a bunch of orphans who had no place to go! So thank you Armaan, thank you for everything you have done for me and my family, i can never forget it! But I cant do what you want me to, because um not as great a person as you are, and I am sorry for that!,' her tone was so extremely sarcastic and venomous and her words so painful that Armaan, whose hands had still been lying on her shoulder, stepped away from her in wonder.

For a moment, both of them didn't speak, and then Armaan murmured in a dangerously low voice.

'I can't believe...I just don't....,' he looked up at her and finally formed some coherent words, 'I can't believe you just said that. I thought you knew me...you...It's unbelievable, that you would think this way about me...after all those years...and I thought...,'

His words were lost in his thoughts as his emotions went into a frenzy; so painfully hurt was he at Riddhima's words that he couldn't bring himself to say anything. Riddhima, on the other hand, had resorted herself to tears as she realized, the instant she said it, how painful her words must have been. She took a step towards him, and trying to control her tears, put a hand on his.

'I am sorry Armaan...I shouldn't have...I know, I didn't mean...,' her words were lost on him as he shrugged off her hand and looked down at her.

'You are right. You shouldn't do any of this. I will go and tell Mom everything...it's about time I rectified my mistake. I'm sorry for dragging you in to this mess,' He said in a monotone voice and was about to leave when she held his hand.

'Armaan, I'm really sorry...I didn't mean any of that...but just...I don't know Armaan...for the first time in my life, I feel so unsure of myself...about everything I'm doing....I am so sorry...,' her words dissolved into tears and she started sobbing, and try as he might, Armaan could not let go of her hand. He stood there, breathing heavily as his anger slowly subsided and then he looked at her crying so miserably. After a long pause, he replied, 'It's okay Riddhima...I know you didn't mean it. I just..I hope you understand. Let's go home.'

And with that, he lead her to the car and made her sit on the passenger seat, then walked over to the driver seat himself and sat inside the car. Within seconds, they were off to home

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


Like any other day of the rest of the week, the house was bustling with people and servants, tending to their own chores and interrupting in others. Even though the wedding was to take place the next day, there was so much work to be done, for there were two weddings taking place at the same time, and the house needed to be prepared. Armaan and Riddhima's wedding would take place in this house itself, and after that, Shubhankar's baraat would be taken to Keerti's place.

As they reached the drive-way, Riddhima turned to look at Armaan once again, who focused his eyes on the pavement in front of him. She opened her mouth to say something, but before she could, Armaan said, 'You should go in..I have somewhere else to go. See you later.'

Riddhima looked at him, confused. Hadn't he said, before the argument, that he was heading back home? Then where did he have to go right now? Curious though she was to know, she thought better not to interfere and without a single word, she turned and got off the car. Even before her door was fully closed, Armaan swerved the car backwards and was gone within the blink of an eye. Riddhima stood watching the car disappear, and her eyes smarted with tears as a lump formed in her throat. Slowly making her way inside the house, she realized that things couldn't possibly have gotten worse.


He didn't know for how many hours he roamed the roads of the city aimlessly, watching the lights go out and going through areas he had perhaps not even heard of before. It was an unsettling feeling, the anger that subsided inside him refused to go away. But more than that was the disappointment and hurt he had felt at her words; he realized today, she maybe had never felt he was a part of her family too. And even that didn't hurt as much as the way she had said it, like he had done a favor upon her. And all this had to happen today; today, when he had finally accepted what he had felt for her. After what were hours of meandering around, he finally came to a stop, parking his car in a place he couldn't specify, and after a lot of musing, he sat there to think properly.

She had said some painfully cruel things to him, he knew, but all of them had a tinge of truth in them. Reality bites, he realized, and he considered the option of going to his parents and telling them the truth. All of this had begun as a mere joke and now it had landed him into the biggest dilemma of his life. He knew now what he felt for her, but he couldn't express it because he was also aware of the fact taht no matter what, she was going to prioritize her family over him any day. And maybe she didn't love him, or reciprocate any feelings for him, for she would have spilled something in the argument. Had she felt anything, he pondered, she would have stopped herself from saying things, like he did.

As the streak of dawn started appearing on the sky, Armaan sat on the bonnet of his car and finally came to a conclusion. He knew what he had to do now, and he would do it.

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

On the other hand, as dawn approached, Rahul and Muskaan sat facing each other in a silence that was as thick and profound as a brick-wall, and both their eyes were fixed, not at each other, but at the person crouched on the corner of the bed, her knees cuddled upto her chin and her arms around them. Riddhima had not spoken a word since she had gotten back, and had been hiding in her cub-hole, that was Muskaan's room, since then. Try no matter what, Muskaan had failed in getting any words out of her and in ultimate agony, had called Rahul to sort things out. Somewhere, she knew, that even if they weren't very close now, he was still her cousin brother and so he might be able to get her to talk. More so, his presence had a soothing effect of her too, as she was freaking out by Riddhima's extreme silent behaviour.

Now, Muskaan looked at Riddhima, and tried again, for the umpteenth time.

'For God's sake Ridzie...speak up! What happened? This definitely has something to do with Armaan, right?,' the mention of his name triggered off a small reflex in Riddhima, who took out her face from the crook of her arms and looking at Muskaan, finally nodded.

Both Muskaan and Rahul breathed out, thinking this might be it. However, she went back to the same mode again, and exasperated now, Rahul took out his cell phone.

'Okay, that's it. I'm calling Armaan.' He stood up and walked out of the room, putting the cell-phone to his ear. At his retrieval, Muskaan clambered over the bed towards Riddhima, and hugging her sideways, tried again. This woman undoubtedly had one hell of a patience.

'Riddhima...look, i know this has something to with Armaan...and if you tell me, I might be able to help. Staying quiet will not. Better out than in, you used to say that right...then...?,' her words dissolved as Riddhima finally heaved a loud sigh and then burst into tears, taking Muskaan completely off guard. However, she didn't interrupt and let Riddhima cry, taking it as a first step to her breaking out.

After minutes of her sobbing, Muskaan tried to talk to her but Riddhima refused, and overcome by exhaustion, both didn't realize when Riddhima went off to sleep, laying in her head in Muskaan's lap, only to land into troublesome sleep. Muskaan lightly caressed her hair, waiting for Rahul to come back, who reappeared within minutes, looking perplexed.

'He's not picking up his phone...I called him more than 20 times,' he answered to Muskaan's questioning look, and she raised her eyebrows at him.

'Okay, so let me get this straight. He was at the party, not enjoying, not having fun..brooding. Riddhima asked me to call you to ask about their whereabouts, saying she had something extremely important to talk to with Armaan....she then disappears when I tell her the venue of the party...and you say at the same time, Armaan walked out of the the party. I'm guessing they both were together after that...and then...'

'Armaan dropped her home, and disappeared again. That means during the time they were together, something happened between them,' Rahul continued, and Muskaan looked at him, now definitely worried.

'Do you think Armaan said something to her?,' Muskaan asked, and Rahul nodded gravely.

'I think he did much more than just saying...Ridzi never cries, you know that...and not as bad as this, ever. I wonder what he said? And where the hell is he now? It's now...,' he checked his watch before continuing, '5 in the morning! Where could he be?'

'I don't know Rahul...I just dont like the sound of this. Something terrible has happened between them.' There was silence for a few seconds, and then a thought struck Muskaan. 'Do you think he told her...as in, maybe, he confessed his feelings to her?'

Despite himself, Rahul scoffed at this idea. 'Confessed? Dude, he needs to accept them himself first, and THEN confess. I don't think....' his assurance wore off as he actually considered the possibility of this happening. Could that be the reason Armaan had seemed so depressed last night? Maybe he had accepted those feelings he harbored for Riddhima, and HAD confessed...but why had Riddhima reacted this way? Had she not felt this way about Armaan, then, as they had thought, and had actually just taken him as her best friend.

As they both were unable to figure out the problem even after hours of discussing it, they finally decided to sleep on it, as tomorrow was definitely going to be a busy day.

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

'Where IS Armaan?,' Padma asked for the trillionth time, this time to no one in particular as she looked into his room to find it empty, once again. She turned exasperated, to find the corridor empty, which was unusual, for it was the wedding day and everyone was going crazy. She decided to finally take her son's disappearance seriously, since she hadnt seen him since morning, and was going crazy with worry. She first went to Divya to ask whether she had seen him, but Divya seemed to report that the last she had seen of him was yesterday's evening. She then ventured to Riddhima's room, where she was sitting aimlessly, looking through some magazine.

'Riddhima, beta, what are you doing here, sitting idly? Aren't you supposed to get ready?,' Padma asked, closing the door behind her to block the noise coming from downstairs. Riddhima looked up at her and smiled, with an effort that was visible enough.

'Auntie, the wedding isn't till tonight. I have loads of time to get ready...and as it happens, the bride is supposed to do nothing on her own wedding day.' Padma smiled along with her at her statement, and then sat down on the bed in front of her.

'Yes, all you have to do is look pretty, which you will...I am sure. Anyways, beta...I came to ask if you knew where Armaan is? I haven't seen him all morning.' Her question made Riddhima frown, for she herself knew nothing about Armaan's whereabouts since he had dropped her back home last night, and had been thinking he'd be back home by now, just busy. She was ashamed at herself, at her impulsiveness and the hurtful things she had said to him, and didn't know what to say to him. So she remained seated in her spot on the bed, and refused to make any move, lest she messes things even more. Today, she was taking things as she came, by the
second. Now, gathering herself together, even though her mind was in super crazy mode, she replied.

'Errrm...No Auntie, i haven't seen him since last night. Isn't...isn't he home yet?,' she asked, with an uncertainty reflected in her voice.

'No, that's why I came to ask you...never mind! He must be out for some work...he will be back.' Giving her a courteous smile, she lightly patted her hair and turned to go, but stopped at a second thought and turned again.

'Riddhima?'

'Jee Auntie?' Riddhima said, wondering why Hindi had suddenly popped out of her mouth. Padma looked down at her, and asked, 'Beta, is something bothering you?'

Riddhima's eyes opened wide a little, and she answered, a little in haste, 'Nahee nahee Auntie...I am perfectly fine. I think...I'm just a little tired. That's all!'

'Are you sure? You seem...upset.' Padma again questioned, making sure her daughter-in-law was not troubled.

'Yes Auntie...I am absolutely sure.' This time, Riddhima flashed her a wide smile, and held Padma's hand in hers, pressing it reassuringly. Padma smiled at her, and even though she wasn't convinced, she decided not to probe more and left the room, wondering where her son was.

As soon as Padma left, Riddhima picked up her cell phone and on an instinct, called Armaan. Instead of the bell even ringing, it went straight to the voice-mail. After a few hesitant seconds, she started speaking.

'Hi Armaan...It's me. Please pick up your phone...it's important. I need to talk to you.'

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

It was mid-afternoon when Armaan finally walked into the house, his eyes blood-shot due to the lack of sleep and the severe head-ache he was suffering from. Not to mention, he was in the most disheveled form one could imagine, and he personally thanked his stars to find the hall empty of any of his family members, who would, undoubtedly, question him endlessly about his whereabouts. Sneaking up to his room quietly, he shut the door behind him and sighed thankfully at not being caught. Making his way to the rest-room, he threw his jacket and a packet he had been holding on the bed, and went inside the washroom, where he looked at himself first time since last night. Undoubtedly, he seemed like someone who had gone through some emotional trauma, for his eyes, apart from the redness, reflected a sadness he had not expected to see there. What he had thought would be a day of celebration, at his wedding and also at the long-waited confession had turned into an absolute mess of confusion.


He ditched the idea of just washing his face and shedding off his clothes, stepped under the cold shower. As the ice-like droplets made their way down his body, he closed his eyes, breathing in and out evenly, trying to calm down his body's reaction towards the cold water. Getting accustomed to it in minutes, he pondered over the decision he had taken and even though he knew he didn't want this and he might even regret it later, it was the right thing to do. One thing he was sure about now was, that she didn't reciprocate the feelings he harbored for her, and therefore, going ahead with any form of craziness now was a terrible idea. One night had changed the equilibrium of their relationship, it was no longer stable. In fact, he wondered whether she even trusted him now, or ever had, by the things she had said, it seemed unlikely.

After taking a long shower, he stepped out of the washroom, and looked refreshed, he made his way to Riddhima's room. It was time to act now.

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

The sight in Riddhima's room was a chaotic one, for girls were rushing in and out, shouting advices at each other and adorning themselves with layers of make-up. The time for the wedding had come near, and they didn't want to be late, for there were two weddings to attend that day. In the centre of the room, in front of the mirror, sat Riddhima, wearing the choli of the lehnga she was to wear today, 'the wedding dress'. Even though her hair was pulled back from her face into an untidy ponytail and her face was devoid of any make-up, she looked extremely beautiful to all the girls who popped in and out of the room, complimenting her already. Muskaan and a few other girls were getting her ready, but no one noticed the anxiety in her eyes or the paleness of her skin, taking it to be fatigue from the whole week of activities. Riddhima, however, wondered what was to happen today. Unlike yesterday, when she had taken matters into her own hands, she was now helpless, and knew there was nothing she could do to make things better. Now, everything that happened was upto Armaan, and he would do it.

Knowing and dreading that something unexpected and definitely NOT good was going to happen today, she looked at herself in the mirror and sighed. Of course, everything that had happened till now was to lead up to something, right? It wasn't all for the sake of nothing, everything had a high point climax to reach, and her gut instinct told her that climax was to be reached today. All she had to do now was to wait and let it happen. In her own life story, she had become a mere puppet, whose strings were pulled by someone else.

A sudden outburst of giggles and howls of laughter from the doorway made Riddhima turn to see what the noise was about, and to her surprise, she saw Armaan standing at the door, trying to get through the group of girls who were bent on teasing him. His arrival there didn't surprise her much, but his appearance did. He looked distraught, pale...as if something was taken away from him and he was dreading the loss. She got up instantly, and walked over to the throng of girls, who, try as he might, would not let him in; making excuses like 'you cant see the bride before the wedding'. How typical, she thought.

As she reached the doorway, she cleared her throat and looking straight in his eye, said loudly, 'Let him in. I need to talk to him...alone.'

The noise in the room subsided suddenly, and everyone looked around uncertainly, waiting for someone to take the first step. Riddhima turned and looked at Muskaan, who nodded and was the first one to move out. 'Come on girls...let's go.' The room was vacant within minutes.

Armaan walked in finally, and Riddhima closed the door behind him. He examined the whole room and then looked at her closely. She looked funny, he thought, dressed in a choli and trousers under it, not yet wearing the lehnga, her hair pulled back and traces of only foundation on her face. She saw him eying her, and grinned despite herself.

'There's a reason the groom isn't allowed to see the bride before the wedding...he'd run away, otherwise.' Riddhima grinned at her own lame joke, and Armaan gave a small smile too. Knowing this was the moment, he stepped forward towards her.

'Armaan...'

'Riddhima...'

Both started speaking at the same time, and Riddhima let him continue.

'I want you to take this,' he said, handing over a packet towards her.

'What is this?' she asked him, the packet lying limply in her hands as she looked at him, who ignored doing the same to her.

When she didn't get a reply, she opened the packet and took out the contents. Looking at them disbelievingly, she looked up at him in shock, her mouth wide open.

'Tickets?' she finally murmured, after a few seconds of pause. He looked at her ultimately, and nodded assuringly.

'Plane tickets. For London. Tonight, 8 o'clock. Yours, Ryan's and Rhea's.' The way he said it was in a monotone she couldn't determine the expression of, for she still thought this was a joke.

'What is this Armaan? Why...these tickets..? Where's yours?,' she asked, all logic seemed to have seeped out of her mind for instead of inquiring about the tickets, she was asking him about his.

'I am not going Riddhima. You are. You are going back to London tonight...and I am not coming.' His statement finally seemed to have been understood by her, as she looked from him to the tickets, in surprise.

'This...this is a joke right? You are kidding me! You...you...,'

'I'm serious Riddhima. You are going back today.' He replied solemnly, and her mouth dropped.

'But...I cant go today. Today is the wedding. OUR wedding.' She said, stating it as a fact he wasn't aware of.

Instead of saying anything else, Armaan just replied, 'Be ready by 7. I will drop you off at the airport.'

And with that, he walked out of the room, leaving a bewildered and open-mouthed Riddhima behind her. It was now time, for step two.

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

It was difficult for to understand anything that had happened in the past few minutes, and her mind was in a frenzy so bad she couldn't distinguish one thought from the other. What the hell had happened?, she asked herself for the billionth time in the few seconds that had lapsed since he had left. Gaping at the tickets in her head, she slowly settled down on the bed and began sorting things out.

They had fought yesterday, true, and she had said some very mean and painful things to him. But she had apologized, and he had said it was alright. Then he had disappeared for a good quite some hours, and reappeared suddenly, holding the tickets. A painful lump formed in her throat as she pondered over the last bit. How could he do this? Taking decisions alone, she knew she had given up trying...but she had thought he would come up with a solution. In fact, she had thought that he would go through with the wedding and they'd sort out their differences later. Bizarre as this whole situation was, she couldn't understand the latest whim of his. Putting her hands on her face, she started thinking again.

Basically, he was throwing her out of his life. That's what the tickets meant, and that's what she wanted, right? That's what she had meant when she had said to him last night 'I CANT DO THIS ANYMORE'. That meant she wanted out, and he had given her a way out. Listened and paid heed to her wishes, like always. Then why did it hurt so much, why did she feel like all the air was being pumped out of her lungs. He was backing out. That must mean, that he was making her go away.

'I am not coming'. That's what he had said to her. So that meant he was to stay here, bear the brunt and humiliation from his family over the mistake they had both committed, while she would conveniently hop onto a plane with her precious little kid siblings and run off to London. That wasn't right, she thought, but that's what he had decided. It was so typical of him, taking everything upon himself to let her have her own way. But the prospect of him not being in his life....Riddhima suddenly gasped, as if she was actually short of air. What would she do without him? What would she...how will she survive?

He was her support stand, her last life-line. Undeniably, he wasn't just a friend, like she had said yesterday. He wasn't, they weren't...he knew that and she knew that, he had accepted it and she had done everything to deny it. And finally, today, he had succumbed to her stubbornness and given her what she wanted. Only, now, sitting there, half clad like a bride, holding the tickets in her hands, she realized that it wasn't. She didn't want this. She didn't want a life without him, a life alone, again. She wanted him in her life, in whatever form...NO! That's what she had wanted before...just his presence. Now, she wanted him, fully, NOT a best friend..but as a partner. Yes, she wanted him.

Finally, the pieces fitted in. Her dreams regarding him, her insecure feelings, her rushing into this wedding with uncanny excitement, Muskaan's arguments, his need to reassure her, his protective feelings towards her family....their fight last night, the tickets. It had all added up into making her realize what thousands of lectures by Muskaan and Rahul hadn't, what her own feelings hadn't. But now, she knew.

Throwing the tickets on the bed, she stood up, her impulse taking the better of her again, and she took up a shawl, wrapped it around herself, and walked out of the room.

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

While Riddhima was busy retrospecting, Armaan walked down the stairs, with a calm that he himself was surprised to have possessed at the moment. Perhaps, he had gone through the worst, and nothing could turn things into a worse phase now. In the hall, luckily for him, stood his parents and a few other members of the family, all dressed for the wedding. There was just an hour left for the wedding, and guests had slowly started arriving. Padma had been told that he had arrived, so she was no longer in the 'mom going crazy' mode, but was gracefully receiving the guests. He started walking towards her when she was stopped by Divya in the way.

'Oi, where did you disappear to? We were all looking for you,' she implored, looking him up and down. 'AND WHY ARE YOU NOT DRESSED TILL NOW??'

Armaan smiled at her over-reaction, and calmed her down, 'D, it's okay..it takes barely 5 minutes to wear a sherwani. I will get dressed in a minute...I just need to talk to Mom and Dad before the wedding.'

He started to walk off saying that, but Divya held her hand. 'Armaan, what's wrong?'

'Nothing D...it's just...I will let you know.'

He shrugged off her hand and reaching Padma, whispered into her ear. 'Mom, I need to talk to you and Dad.'

'Abhi, Armaan? Beta, I am really busy...can't this wait?,' Padma looked up from the gift she was holding, and saw his anxious look.

'No Mom...right now. It's important.'

Sensing the urgency in his voice, his disappearance the last night and Riddhima's reaction to her, Padma put two and two together and decided it really was serious. Nodding, she went up to her husband and took him inside a room, with his son. This matter was definitely serious.

By the time Armaan and his parents returned from the room, everyone of the family had gathered in the hall, and everyone was aware of the sudden change in the atmosphere. They had taken long enough in the room, and they were sure of the fact that something was wrong. Light whispers and unsure glances were shared amongst them, and after some good fifteen minutes, the door of the room opened.

Padma came out with a dejected and disappointed look on her face, while Armaan looked down, not raising his eyes to meet anyone's. Divya was by now, sure of the fact that he had spilled the beans to everyone, and seeing the angry look on her father's face, she knew she was right.

Suraj Mallik stood in front of his family, embarrassed as he was, and started speaking, 'Armaan ne humain abhi abhi batyaa hai ke...,' but was interrupted by Armaan.

'Dad...I think, I should be the one telling them.' He stepped forward, and lowering his face once again, started off, 'This wedding is called off.'

"WHAT?'..'HUH??'...were some expressions that rose from the crowd, who looked at him in shock and surprise. Was this some kind of a joke? They all started hurling questions at him and he rose his hands to stop them from talking.

'Riddhima and me were never...'

'ARMAAN!'

He was broken between his statement by a loud shout of his name that seemed to be coming from upstairs. Everyone turned to look who had screamed, and saw Riddhima, clad in a choli and trousers under it, a shawl wrapped around her that was falling down, her hair a complete mess, standing at the top step of the staircase, breathing heavily. Armaan's eyes literally popped out at her sudden appearance, more so at the way she had come, and knowing her since 4 years, he KNEW she was going to do something crazy. Sure enough, with a huge smile playing on her lips, Riddhima ran down the stairs while everyone stared at her. Ranging from Divya, who stood astounded, to Padma, who had an 'i dont believe this' look on her face, to Rhea and Ryan who snickered at her attire, everyone was waiting to see the drama unroll. Armaan closed his eyes for a second, knowing she was going to do something totally crazy. Of course, that attribute had stayed dormant for way too long till now, so it had to come out this way. He opened his eyes to see her jump off the last step and run towards him.

Within the next few seconds, she had leaped towards him and thrown her arms around him, making him stumble back a little due to the force of it. Before he could even balance himself, he was knocked again, this time, not by balance, but out of his senses as Riddhima tilted her head up and he felt her lips on his. A loud gasp went around the crowd, but he was oblivious to it as he tried to figure out what was happening. She was KISSING him? As his mind got accustomed to the idea, he instinctively wrapped his arms around her and gave in, kissing her back with a fervor of pent up emotions he had felt since last night. The steamier the kiss got, the more scandalized the people in the hall got, for this was DEFINITELY the craziest thing that had happened till yet.

While his grandparents looked at each other in shock and then closed their eyes and shook their heads with utmost disgust, Padma and Suraj stood gaping at each other, at what their kid was doing in 'bharri mehfil'. Divya put her hands on both Rhea and Ryan's eyes while the younger lot of cousins laughed and hooted loudly, enjoying the moment. In midst of this, Armaan finally let go of Riddhima, who bundled into his arms after the kiss, and looking straight into those blue eyes, she murmured, 'I love you Armaan.'

This statement seemed to bring Armaan, and the others back to the world, as he gasped, 'WHAT?' which was followed by another loud WHAT by his parents, who had just been told the whole story, from scratch, and could not understand this new development.

Armaan looked down into her green orbs, and frowned, 'What did you say?'

'I said, I love you, you moron. Don't you dare throw me out of your life again...don't even THINK about it!,' Riddhima glared at him as she said, her voice a notch too high and her eyes dancing with excitement.

'Ragz you...?,' he was still in a state of amazement, and she nodded back, rolling her eyes, 'YES Armaan..I love you. I love you and I have always loved you, I was just a little slow in realizing that...and you are VERY slow in saying what you should now,' she said, her foot tapping the ground now. It seemed, Riddhima was the only one totally oblivious and unknown to whatever was happening in her surroundings. Her only focus was on Armaan.

'Wha...? Oh yeah..!,' Armaan grinned at her foolishly, and then looking around, he bit his lip...'Errrm, Ragz...there are a lot of people..and..,'

'Say it, Armaan!,' her eyes flashed danger, and he gulped, looking from her to his furious grandparents and not so pleased parents.

'SAY IT!!,' came a voice from the youngsters crowd. A little apprehensive at first, Armaan looked around and then down at her. Seeing her crazy hair, her even more crazy outfit and the highly addictive wide smile on her face and the expectant look in her eyes, he murmured to himself, 'Ah! Screw it..,' referring to the reaction of the crowd.

Taking her back into his arms, Armaan kissed her with a passion he hadn't known he possessed, and Riddhima succumbed to it with a readiness she was surprised to find in herself. Knowing he was awakening the wrath in his elders but not caring a T, he broke apart, and murmured on her lips, 'I love you too.'

The rest, as they say, is history.

Oh, but let's not forget, they DID get married on the same date, in the same place...only, this time, it wasn't fake wedding. It was a real one, for both of them. In all meanings. And let's also not forget, both of them did not get to have a wedding night...because the whole night was wasted in explaining the truth and the not-truth...and everything, ranging from the friendship to fake marriage to realization to love confession and then to the real marriage, to the family. And after THAT, everything became history. :)

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

kiran

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