Saturday, 26 September 2020

Part 11 : In My Heart

The first yellow golden rays of the sun made their way through the gap between the blinds, illuminating the dark, silent room. I covered my face with the comforter sighing and closing my eyes.
I've been awake for a while now trying in vain to fall asleep again. I didn't know when exactly Armaan left but it must be few minutes back as his side was still warm. All the events from the evening played in my mind making me reconsider the decision I took last night of forgiving Armaan. I have been in a dilemma ever since my return from India regarding Armaan. His confession of hitting me, an apology to my parents and then no interference when Muskaan shifted to our hotel, confused me. However I didn't let myself think over it a lot and indulged in business. I had made up my mind of shifting from here before the Malliks arrived. It was what Armaan had asked me to do, stay away from his family and this was the only possible way. I had to face a lot of emotional drama at my home as they didn't approve of my idea but as always Prem had been my savior. I just don't think there's a way I can ever repay even a little of love and care that he has showered on me. Prem was against my idea too but just because he didn't want me to suffer here, he helped me out.
Once I reached Australia I was immersed in work from top to bottom throughout the day but the lonely nights haunted me with memories of my past. It was so hard to believe that this rude, arrogant guy was the same Armaan who had pleaded me to call him whenever I needed or wanted and never hide anything from him. Those pictures were responsible for bringing a change in him. What hurt me most was he chose to believe them without trying to find the truth.
Muskaan was super mad at me for leaving Leeds and I couldn't help much. I returned back here earlier than I planned because of a strong sinking feeling. My heart sunk seeing Armaan sitting with a forlorn expression in the garden. His arm was supported by a bandage around his neck and there was a deep blue bruise on his cheek. I just wanted to run and hold him tight but, that right was never MINE. I remembered how Muskaan had cried when we met and told how Armaan had been acting strangely for a while. She told me that Armaan would return home daily with a new wound or bruise and when inquired he said it was some martial arts training. I had stayed away from him lest he lashed out on me once again. Our encounter at the office had caught me off guard. Muski had pulled me for a day out and we had decided to tag Prem along but seeing Armaan here had surprised me. There had to be something of which I was unaware of, like how and when did Armaan and Prem start interacting with the other without a fight? Armaan's apology had shocked me to the core but I couldn't respond to it. I could see my silence had hurt Armaan but it wasn't my fault either. As the gang had come, I had noticed that Armaan had really changed, once again. It was so difficult to understand who the real Armaan was? I ignored him to the best of my ability but whenever we crossed each other, his eyes always held a pleading look. He was never the fun loving person I knew, instead was somebody who kept doing things mechanically. I was thankful that he never tried to talk to me again because I had no answer. How could I, when I knew nothing of what kept causing a change in him? After Naina's visit I had noticed a spark in his eyes after a long time, and thought maybe he was missing her but I was wrong again. This guy drives me crazy with his weird antics.
That night at his house I just lost my control when he asked me to say something and blocked my way again. What did he think; he owned me and could order me to act according to his wishes. I tried to keep myself together and not break in front of him. I didn't want him to know that he affected me so much but I couldn't hold on for long. The next morning I had acted on an impulse when I found myself in his arms. The following four days were a mess; I had to work for the wedding with my muddled thoughts. I couldn't decide whom to listen, my head or my heart?
On the night of sangeet, I had followed my heart and forgiven him as I wanted to end this inner emotional turmoil. Now I am not sure if my decision was right or not? Did I do wrong by not listening to my brain? Should I have punished him in the same way as he did? Why can't I hate him for all the pain he has given me?
Uff, it's so complicated. My heart and brain never seem to agree on one thing regarding Armaan. I took a hot soothing bath to calm my nerves to ponder over my decision and settled in the garden enjoying the fresh summer breeze while all were still sound asleep.
I've seen Armaan guilty and suffering for his deeds in these past days. How can I ignore him now when I couldn't do this three years back, at the time when he left me stranded. I hated him for his actions but still couldn't stop myself from falling for him. Armaan is hurting a lot both physically and emotionally. He reacted to the situations in the past just like he always did, without thinking. I cannot hurt him because it hurts me back, that too deeply. I know these feelings are one-sided and Armaan would never reciprocate them. Last night a fear crept in me that Armaan will leave me again, once he finds his love and I couldn't help but ask for his assurance. Armaan's eyes reflected the honesty behind his words. Armaan's presence did magic to my senses and I fell asleep with ease after ages. I can just cry over my fate as my first love would always remain incomplete. Anyways I haven't forgiven him to ask for anything in return. I only did what made my heart feel at ease, but this confusion still remains unchanged.
The whole gang was gathered at the entrance of the Mallik mansion's kitchen, standing in a line silently and gaping at the sight in front of them. They had come down for breakfast but were shocked at seeing an apron clad Armaan with a chef's hat working like a professional, minus the whole mess on the floor and counters. Prerna gasped on seeing the condition of her once sparkling kitchen. Armaan confidently told her that he wanted to prepare something for breakfast himself, so the servants would come after he finished his cooking. Anurag who had been listening to the conversation chuckled seeing Prerna hit her forehead and took her out motioning Armaan to clean up. Armaan turned for help towards the gang and they all shrugged their shoulders. He huffed and continued his work determined to complete the breakfast alone.
Business talks on the dining table compelled the youngsters to move to the living room. Armaan came down after changing his clothes and made his way to the living room after greeting Sujal & Kashish. He entered when Prem was telling that Riddhima won't be joining for breakfast because of some office work and just like that all his efforts and hopes went down the drain. He settled with his plate but kept playing with food, all his appetite had vanished as confusion and fear captured his mind. Armaan excused himself on pretense of some work and left the mansion. Muskaan was surprised to see the change in his mood, she had thanked God in the morning itself for returning her brother's smile but now something had gone wrong again.
Riddhima entered Mallik Mansion at about noon. She rolled her eyes at the scene thinking, these people will never change. Anjali was pissed with Atul for something and he was behind her. Rahul and Muskaan were on the chase as usual with Muski behind Rahul with a wooden spoon in her hand. And there was a group that was enjoying the show completely. Riddhima shook her head at them and intervened the fights.
"Why do you guys never stop the fights?" she asked Abhi, Nikki and Prem. "Who doesn't like being entertained, and that too for free?" Abhi replied munching on an apple. "What?" replied the other four. "Okay guys, please stop this. Don't you all have something better than this to do? How do you all fight all day long?" Riddhima asked raising her hand in a gesture to stop Muski from arguing with Abhi. "We don't fight. We were just discussing something. Haina Rahul?" Muski said to which Rahul nodded. "Yeah right." Riddhima made her way to the kitchen to find all the servants cleaning it. "Oh God, what happened here?" she exclaimed. "Armaan happened." Nikki replied from back. "Kya matlab?" Riddhima asked confused still looking at all the mess. "Bhai ne subah uth kar breakfast banaya or us process mein yeh sab hua hai." Muski stood next to her. "What? Armaan made breakfast." Riddhima couldn't believe it. "Shocked na? I was too. He was in a good mood after a long time today but then something happened and he left without even eating a bite. I don't understand what's wrong with him?" Muski said in a soft tone audible only to Riddhima. "Did anyone say something to him?" she asked. "Nahin, hum to apni baatien kar rahey they while having our breakfast." Muski replied and left. Riddhima stood there looking at the floor trying to understand the situation when a maid came forward with a plate filled with food. "Ma'am, should I discard this?" Riddhima took the plate from her hands without a word and went upstairs to her room in Mallik mansion.
"I'm sorry." Riddhima said softly staring at the plate in her hands which was filled with her favorite breakfast. Her eyes filled with tears as she read a honey scribbled "i'm sry" on the plate's corner. "I'm sorry Armaan. I didn't hurt you on purpose. I was in two minds to come here or not, I thought maybe you wouldn't like me to be around and I need to maintain a distance from you. I won't be able to continue our friendship like before as I've realized my feelings and know that you don't feel the same for me. Your behavior confuses me to no limits. Three years back I believed we shared mutual feelings but you proved me wrong. Now I won't let my hopes high with these make up strategies of yours."
Armaan sat on the leather couch with his legs spread on it staring at the picture on the wall. It was a large family portrait of Garewals from Rahul's engagement. Armaan had come to the office to escape the list of never ending questions his heart and mind threw at him but to no avail because one look at her face and all his senses deceived him. Armaan was really upset when Riddhima didn't turn up for breakfast. He had made her favorite breakfast in an attempt to make up to her but now he was confused that had she really forgiven him? Was she regretting her decision? Did she not want him to be around her? Did she not feel the same for him as he did for her? And many more questions to which he had no answers. His thoughts were broken by the shrill ring of his mobile. He didn't receive the call when he noticed it was from home as he wanted to stay alone for some time and just texted Muskaan saying he'll be back soon.
Armaan returned home in an agitated mood at evening. All the members of the house were gathered in the living room busy chit chatting. He went straight away to his room after the greetings with a heavy heart on not finding Riddhima again. Armaan went in for a shower cursing himself for the umpteenth time for ruining Riddhima's life. He made a decision that he'll not let her miss the fun in her brother's wedding due to him; he'll bring her here and leave himself if she doesn't want to stay in his presence.
Armaan stepped in his room to smell the strong aroma of French coffee. He looked at the black mug covered with froth and a chocolate smiley on top. His face immediately broke in to a smile recognizing the person behind the gesture. Armaan picked up the mug holding it tightly, his insides relaxed on feeling Riddhima's touch on the mug and its contents. He settled on the corner of his bed to relish the coffee not caring about being only in a towel.
But the moment of joy was short lived for Armaan as he saw Arjun's name flash on his mobile screen. Armaan's eyebrows scrunched up in confusion forming wrinkles on his forehead listening to the progress Arjun made in the case. "So this was all I could gather from his men here. Nobody knows his motive behind all this. I need to investigate further from his contacts abroad. Rakesh will be there for Muski's wedding and I have a gut feeling that he'll play his cards again. I'll be arriving shortly too and will handle him in my way but Armaan you need to take care of Riddhima. Remember that she has always been the prime victim even when you are his target. Armaan please don't interact with her publically; don't be mad at me for saying this. I understand your feelings but to avoid any future mishaps we need to be cautious, we don't want Riddhima to be hurt again, right?" Arjun completed his talks with only a few hmm and yeah from Armaan and telling him to see the mail he's sent him.
Armaan sat in deep thoughts pondering over the details and the reason why Riddhima was always used when she wasn't the target. His features hardened on realizing the connection. He hit his fists on the table in rage and knocked down the glass paper weight, pen holder from his office desk when a hand grabbed his arm.
"What the hell are you doing Armaan?" Prem said dragging him away from the mess. Armaan needed somebody to confide in and there was no one better than Prem. He explained to Prem all the new findings. "Rakesh always took advantage of my weakness. Now I will use his tactics against him. He needs to learn the fact that nobody plays with Armaan Mallik's LIFE and get away with it. I will not spare him for bringing my Riddhima in to his dirty game." Armaan spoke shaking with anger and hatred. "My Riddhima?" Prem questioned with a raised eyebrow. Armaan closed his eyes to calm himself before explaining to him the details of his encounters with Riddhima. He thanked Prem for his help. "I became an orphan at 6 when my parents passed away in a car accident. Sujal uncle took me in as I was his cousin's son and rose as his own. I was lost and alone till Riddhima came. She had become an integral part of my life very soon. Her eyes, her smile, her baby talks, her grip on my fingers, her raising her arms for me to pick her, everything about her fascinated me. I came out of my shell as I found all my lost relations in her and hence became over protected for her safety and happiness as I couldn't lose her at any cost. I am blessed that Barey Papa or Bari Maa never questions my decisions for her. But I curse myself for letting her go to India because that trip has caused me the loss of my Riddhima. She has shared all her daily life happenings to her top most secrets with me until YOU happened. She wanted me to meet you three years back and it was a huge surprise for me as she has never been interested in anyone but before that could happen, you ruined it all. I wanted to kill you for it but her promise always held me back and even today I'm not asking her anything due to it. I understand your situation and emotions, I've seen guilt and shame in your eyes and that you've been hurting yourself physically ever since you knew the truth. I don't appreciate these actions at all but seeing the longing for her in your eyes but still giving her the required space made me help you. Riddhima means the world to me and I swear if you hurt her this time, I'll forget all about my promise and kill you with my bare hands Armaan." Prem finished with a playful punch on Armaan's chest. "But I don't know whether she still feels something for me or not?" Armaan said running his hand through his hair. "That's for you to find buddy, but just remember my warning." Prem turned with a smirk and opened the door to find Prerna climbing the stairs.
"Do you both intend to break your fast today or not?" Prerna asked with her arms crossed on her chest in anger. "Fast, I'm not fasting Maa, just had my coffee. I'm coming down for dinner now, got caught with some business talks." Armaan said holding her hands. "You better make it fast Armaan, I'll get the table laid and no excuses will work." She said shrugging his hands in a not convinced manner. "Maa, what did you mean by both? Someone's fasting today?" Armaan tried his luck at calming down Prerna but her reply shocked him. "Riddhima hasn't eaten a bite since morning, jaaney kaunse chaand ka intezaar kar rahi hai. Tum bachon ne pagal kar dia hai humein. Now come down fast." he just nodded his head in reply.
"Sir but this order has been placed from Mallik Mansion only." the delivery boy tried his luck again in trying to persuade Atul about the food order, who was adamantly denying of it. "Ruk ja Atul, maine kiya hai order." everybody looked towards the stairs to see Armaan rushing down folding the sleeves of his black shirt. "Pehle bata dete tau itna time or energy waste nahin hoti na mere bhai." Atul grumbled and went back in. "Yeh sab kya hai Armaan? Yeh, ye tu kya kar raha hai?" Prerna asked seeing him place all the food on the table and sending back the home made food. "I wanted to eat pizza so I ordered it." Armaan said fixing the table. "Poora restaurant kyun order kar dia? Thore se kaam nahin chalta tumhara?" Abhi said dragging the seat for Nikki. "Mera to chal jata, per kya haina mere pait mein dard ho jata agar main akele khata, kyunki tum sab mere khane ko nazar laga te, is liye maine sab kliye order kar dia. Sahi kia na Modi?" Armaan replied in a sugar coated tone and caught a glimpse of Riddhima laughing silently. He picked up two boxes and gestured Prem to pass it on to Riddhima. He wanted to feed her himself but the presence of everyone made it impossible. The dinner went on with constant chattering from the gang. Riddhima mouthed a thank you to Armaan with a small smile and he blinked at her in response.
Everyone retired for the night early as it was haldi ceremony next day. All were staying at the Mallik mansion for the night. It was decided that the boys would supervise the arrangements and then leave for Garewal mansion as it was only a ladies function. Armaan was the happiest of all as he was getting to spend time alone with Riddhima and maybe tell her the truth too.
Armaan and Riddhima sat on a swing in their adjoining terrace, gazing at the starry night in complete silence, an awkward one as they both couldn't begin a conversation. "Remember we used to sit in the garden at Shanti Nagar at nights for hours chatting with a cup of hot chocolate?" Armaan spoke hesitatingly as he mentioned Shanti Nagar. Riddhima just nodded. "Things have changed since then, haven't they? Pehle hamari baatien khatam nahin hoti thin or aj hamein baat karna mushkil ho raha hai." Riddhima kept staring ahead not knowing how to respond and Armaan understood her dilemma. "How is everyone?" "Fine, everyone misses you a lot." she answered in a soft voice. "I miss them too. I've been away but I miss each one of them on all occasions and their birthdays. I miss everything we did. I miss those days and I miss MY Basket the most." Riddhima's breath got stuck on hearing this name after years. She looked at him on feeling his gaze fixed on her and their eyes locked. She broke the eye contact when she couldn't take his piercing gaze, as if he was trying to see right through her and said: "You shouldn't have left them like this. They were a part of your life from long back and they meant a lot to you just like you did to them. Abandoning them for a stranger wasn't a wise thing to do." Armaan tightened his fist on the swing rod burning in agony of being unable to tell her that the stranger had come to mean the world to him. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have done this but I was helpless. I couldn't go there because everything would have reminded me of the stranger I met, befriended, formed a special relation with and then left deserted there. "Armaan spoke taking her hand on the swing in his. "I'm sorry, please forgive me." he pleaded once again. "You've hurt those kids a lot. You knew they had very few people around them and you were the only one they looked up to in joy and grief." Riddhima said suppressing a sob. "Will they forgive me if I go and ask for forgiveness now?" He asked. "They are still waiting for you to come back, you just have to go and embrace them and they won't question you about anything." she said with conviction. They continued the talks about the kids; Riddhima updated him on the progress each one had made and all that he had missed from their lives. Armaan was so proud of Riddhima for keeping in touch with everyone back home despite her condition and ashamed of himself for running away from his responsibilities towards the kids.
Armaan told Riddhima the truth behind the whole story. "What intrigued me was the fact that somebody knew of your arrival even before any of us. Later my secretary told me about your call at our office, which was done when you got to know of the accident but I had already left for hospital after receiving the anonymous call. I confirmed the time of accident with Muski and my doubts rose. I contacted Arjun and he helped me out. My doubts were right, somebody had been following you not only now but from long back but we were so immersed in ourselves to notice anything. You know the file that you sent me with the driver, he exchanged it with my rivals for money and that's how I lost the project. Somebody had followed you to the hotel, recorded your conversation with Prem and sent me an edited version of it. I being the biggest dumb ass fell for it and ruined everything; you, me, and all that was between us." Armaan whispered the last part and stopped to look at her, as she kept sitting without a response. "Somebody handed me a parcel containing pictures that were sent to you outside the hospital with a note. Everything you said and all that you left incomplete that day made sense to me after seeing them. Later I also was shocked about somebody else knowing what happened between us but I couldn't do anything." Riddhima said playing with her fingers in her lap. Armaan turned her to himself and held her shoulders "Rakesh- Naina's uncle is behind all this, I still do not know of his real intentions but I won't let him harm us or our families in anyway any more. He'll be coming for the wedding and I can't even tell Maa or Dad. We have to wait till the wedding gets over, till then we have to be careful. Please Riddhima don't go out alone or without telling me or Prem because we think his men are still following our moves. I'm getting security arranged for both our houses and you for the wedding. Riddhima, you are getting what I'm saying na?" he cupped her face "I've lived a life of hell without you. I won't let anything to come between us now and forever. I'll do anything to protect you, I can't risk losing you again." he hugged her tight thinking to himself, trying to calm his erratic heart beats that were thumping with fear of losing her again.
Armaan pulled Riddhima in her room and settled on the plush rug with a tub of double chocolate chip ice crme. "You didn't open the fridge right?" He asked seeing the surprised look on her face when she saw the fridge loaded with her favorite chocolates and ice crmes. She shook her head taking a bite as Armaan fed both of them. "Well it's kept for a purpose and now that you know of it, I want all this to be finished asap." "Don't worry, it'll be finished by tomorrow night, I'll just let the girls know about it." "No you won't! This is kept only for you and you are supposed to finish it." Armaan said frowning. "Yeah so that I become fat and you get to make fun of me, right?" she said with a pout. "I don't mind it, in fact I want you to gain weight. Have you looked at yourself properly, you don't look like the girl I knew at all. And don't worry with all the drama that you have to handle 24/7 from next week, there'll be hardly any gain." "Hey don't ever say anything about my best friend forever." Riddhima said poking a finger in his arm. "Hmm.. I've lost all my rights and place to Muskaan, isn't it?" Armaan asked hoping she would clear her feelings for him but Riddhima kept mum and took the spoon from him, now feeding them both. Armaan stared at her beautiful face sitting on a chair next to her, holding her hand while she tried to sleep. He left the room dropping a kiss on both her cheeks.
The next morning Riddhima stepped in her room after a long soothing shower. She stood in front of the dressing table drying her wet hair with a towel, when a red rose besides a mug on her bed side table caught her attention. Riddhima picked the rose inhaling its beautiful fragrance and felt the soft velvety touch of petals against her cheek. A beautiful smile adorned her face as she read the note beneath the mug: Good Morning Sunshine!
Armaan's heart missed several beats on seeing the breath taking sight in front of him. Riddhima stepped out of the washroom clad in dark pink top and white long skirt. She was unaware of his intense gaze as he silently looked at her through the hidden door. Armaan had woken up early and gone through his daily routine. Armaan entered Riddhima's room with a tray when she didn't open after his constant knocks. The noise of water indicated that she was in shower. Armaan took out the rose from his back pocket and kept it besides the mug along with the note and left. He knew if he stayed, things could go out of control and he was glad about his decision now after seeing Riddhima. She looked so gorgeous that it would have been difficult to keep his hands to himself and she would have taken everything in the wrong sense. But he wanted to see her reaction and so hid behind the door.
Riddhima was again fighting her inner turmoil. Her Heart said that Armaan had feelings for her and brain taunted that yes feelings, just like it was years back, a pretense. Riddhima was caught between the two and couldn't decide whom to believe. She wanted to believe the heart that gave her a sense of joy but she couldn't ignore the brain too. Riddhima decided to give all a break and go with the flow.
"Naina why are you crying? Don't you trust me?" Armaan asked a crying Naina in his arms. Naina nodded her head. "Then stop crying. Look here." he said cupping her face, "I've told you before as well, that relation or no relation between us, I'll always be by your side, you are my responsibility. I'll make all fine for us. You just have to be a bit patient and bolder to face everything, hmm." "I'm sorry Armaan, meri wajah se tumhein itni problem uthani parti hai." Naina sobbed. "Haan yeh to hai. I too sometimes feel pity at myself because I have to tolerate you life long. Ouch." Naina smacked his arm and hugged him again while Armaan laughed. Both of them parted on hearing the sound of glass breaking outside his room. Armaan went out and found Riddhima picking up the broken show piece. "How did this happen?" Armaan asked kneeling besides her to pick up the pieces. "I'm sorry, I didn't do it intentionally. I was just passing.." "It's okay, you don't need to say sorry." he said. "I know this was your favorite, I'll try getting the same for you." Riddhima said not looking up. "Leave it; I'll call the maid to clean up." Naina said but before she could go Riddhima stood up "No Naina, you stay I'll leave. I'll send the maid." and rushed down. She ran into Muskaan's room after instructing the maid, knowing she was out in the garden. Riddhima locked herself in the washroom and shut her eyes tight letting the tears fall freely. She had witnessed the scene between Armaan and Naina, when she went to thank Armaan for the morning. "So much for going with the flow. I should have listened to my brain before itself, but no, i wanted to believe in presumptions, now why am I not happy? Armaan is just being nice to me like he is with all his friends and I being the biggest fool mistook it for something else, again!He loves Naina, he's doing everything for her. They regret breaking the engagement." Riddhima spoke to herself settled on the bath tub's corner. "Rhea kya tu andar hai?" Muskaan asked banging the door loudly. "Haan, aa rahi hoon Muski, tu chal." Riddhima replied splashing water on her face continuously.
"Did you fall asleep in the washroom? Normally people don't take an hour you see." Muski joked but Riddhima's response worried everyone. "Sorry, I didn't realize I took this long." Prem glared at Armaan at which he shrugged his shoulders.
The talks at the dining table when all had assembled for brunch didn't help much. Riddhima quickly gobbled down the food and left for her home to get her dress for the function. Armaan couldn't eat much seeing Riddhima's state. He expected her to be happy after last night and this morning but couldn't understand what made her so upset suddenly? She didn't have to say anything, he knew she had been crying, but what for? He saw her stiffen at the mention of his marriage and avoid eye contact with him. Armaan wanted to follow her but couldn't due to Rakesh's presence.
The girls gathered in the hall which was decorated in yellow and gold. A white stage was placed at the corner with yellow and white flower decorations all around. They all were dressed in long flowing dresses in different shades of orange and hair tied up. Muski came out wearing a yellow sleeveless knee length dress. All the elderly ladies gathered around to apply haldi. The function went on smoothly but ended up in a mess created by the girls. As everyone left and only the house members were left, girls smeared haldi on each other crazily. The boys had returned home to a yellow stained floor with haldi and oil spread all over it. They rolled their eyes at understanding what might have caused it. Armaan called the servants to clean the place. Girls had gone in for showers to rub off the haldi.
"Wow you look gorgeous Rhea. Lag raha hai jaise tum dulhan ho." Sameer hugged her as she came down dressed in a white and pink backless gown. Armaan fisted his hands that were itching to kill this man who touched and complimented his Riddhima. He didn't like him at all. He was glued with Riddhima, following her everywhere and giving her looks that Armaan didn't approve of. His heart melted seeing the innocence of his love that was unaware of the looks she got from men and despite his flirting, she remained so unaffected. She was an angel, his, only his. Armaan was a little tensed as she wouldn't stay near him or talk to him, accepted that he also wasn't publically communicating with her but she wasn't sparing him a glance and this didn't sit quite well with him.
A hand clasped Riddhima's mouth and dragged her in the store beneath the stairs as she picked her cell phone from the table nearby. "Stop, it's me." Somebody spoke in her ear when Riddhima struggled to get free of the hold. She couldn't see anything due to the dark but could recognize this voice even in unconsciousness. "What are you doing, what if somebody catches us here." "Of course they would if you shout like this." Armaan replied. "Sorry. But what are we doing here?" Riddhima replied softly still moving behind him with their hands entwined. Armaan stopped near the window that opened into the kitchen, the blinds were shut but enough light passed through it for them to see each other. "What happened?" he asked in a whisper looking into her eyes. "What happened?" Riddhima repeated utterly confused looking back. "Why are you upset?" Armaan asked with a soft expression. "I'm not upset, why would you say that?" she replied averting her eyes. "Really, why did u cry then?" "What are you saying Armaan, I don't understand anything." she said stepping back as Armaan raised his hand to touch her. "Look in to my eyes Riddhima." he was hurt when she stepped away but didn't show. Riddhima didn't look at him, instead turned to go out when Armaan pulled her back. Her back hit the window and Armaan caged her between his arms, blocking her way. He pulled her down on the floor as somebody opened the blinds on hearing the sound. "Look at me!" he whisper yelled. She moved her face away once again from his touch. "You're not looking at me because you also know that you can't lie to me."
"I'm not upset, not crying and not lying at all." she said looking at him.
"What were you doing outside my room in morning?"
"I came to say thanks for the flower & coffee."
"Then why didn't you?" Armaan wanted to clear her misunderstanding. He knew she had seen Naina in his arms and was hurt.
"You were busy with your fianc and I didn't want to interrupt your moment." Armaan smiled to himself thinking "so she's affected if I'm with Naina. This confirms she feels something for me too."
"Didn't I tell you that we called off our engagement?"
"It's still very much on till your family knows about it and by what I know of them, they will never agree to your decision. Armaan please don't touch me." she said raising her hand.
"They will agree, they have to, and even if they don't, I'm not getting married to her at all." he said with finality in his voice.
"Okay if you say so, now let me go." she said pulling her hand from his grip.
"No, I won't."
"What do you want Armaan, I have to go, everyone's waiting for me."
"You and me?" Riddhima looked at him confusedly.
"Reply to your questions. First, I want you. Second, what about me who's waiting for you too?" She just looked at him with wide eyes, shocked.
"I had said yes to Naina for Maa. She wanted this. I had isolated myself from the world and even my family after that tragic night. I gave in when Maa kept this proposal in front of me because I realized I was running away from my responsibility of keeping my family happy. I asked Naina about her view and she had the same reason as me to agree to this proposal. I clearly told her that I loved somebody else but now we weren't together. I didn't want to begin a new relationship on basis of a lie and give false hopes to Naina. It's been almost 3 years to this but we've never crossed the boundary of friendship. She fell in love recently and confessed it to me before telling to that guy because she didn't want to ruin our friendship, just like me. I really am happy for her because I couldn't ever give her any love with somebody else in my heart and mind. So we broke up. I promised her to make all alright for us but keep this a secret till Muski's wedding as I don't want them to suffer because of us. Today she was crying as she was scared of Rakesh's reaction if he gets to know about our break up, i was just consoling her. She's like a family to me Riddhima. Pooja aunty has always loved me like her own son and it's my responsibility to protect them." Armaan finished saying intensely looking at her.
"Why are you telling all this to me?" Riddhima asked.
"Don't you know the answer?" he questioned back. She shook her head.
"I'm telling you because you need to know. I'm really sorry Riddhima for all the tears and pain that I gave you in spite of the infinite love my heart held for you. I love you Riddhima! I really really do. I always did and I always will." Armaan said with tear filled eyes. Riddhima was dazed. She couldn't believe her ears. Her heart was running a marathon and she couldn't think straight. So she remained frozen without a response until Armaan's fingers touched her face.
"I've never shared anything more than a friendly hug with Naina. That day what you saw in kitchen, it wasn't me. I've never touched any girl before and after you." Riddhima closed her eyes to absorb this moment, his touch till it lasted, because she knew it was nothing but a dream. Armaan smiled and caressed her cheeks lovingly. "I don't expect you to accept me back in your life after what I did to you. But I can never go near anyone else, not after what we shared that night." he said joining their foreheads.
Armaan pulled Riddhima hastily and hid behind the empty refrigerator carton as he heard footsteps outside the store.
"Muskaan tu yeh kya kar rahi?" Rahul said as Muskaan dragged him in and locked the door behind her.
"Chup. Bilkul chup. Dikh nahi raha tujhe main kya kar rahi hoon." she retorted angrily.
"Kya or kyun kar rahi hai tu meri maa?" Muskaan smacked him on his head.
"Sorry galti se bol diya. Acha bata yahan kyun layi hai?" he said softly.
"Tu unromantic hai yeh pata tha per itna bewakoof hai yeh nahin janti thi."
"Kya matlab?" Rahul asked.
"Matlab yeh jo kaam tujhe karna chahye wo main kar rahi hoon. Tujhe mera haath pakar kar aise kahin akele mein le jana chahye takay hum saath mein kuch meethe pal guzar sakien. Lekin nahin." she said irritated.
"Hum bahar bhi to yeh pal guzar rahey they na Muski, phir yahan andhere mein anay ki kya zaroorat thi."
"Hey Baba ji, ap ko mujh jaisi seedhi saadhi larki kliye ye terha mera larka hi mila tha?" Muskaan said looking at the ceiling with her hands folded. Rahul laughed at her and they kept bickering.
Riddhima shook with silent laughter hearing the Tom and Jerry bicker with each other, unaware of these two. Armaan and Riddhima stood flush against each other to hide from their view and Riddhima realized this when Rahul spoke: "Kya karun, tumhe pareshan kar ke mujhe maza ata hai. Jab tum gusse se laal hoti ho to aur bhi khoobsurat dikhti ho." Riddhima remembered Armaan's same words said to her on terrace of Shanti Nagar. She lifted her eyes slowly to see him staring at her fondly and they both were lost in each other. Armaan lowered his face to align it with her lips and leaned in; she kept her hands on his chest and pushed him hard when he closed his eyes lost in the moment. He staggered a few steps back and she made a dash to the door.
Riddhima rushed up to her room as she sneaked out of the store and locked herself in. She wanted to be alone for some time to calm her overwhelming emotions and absorb the happenings. She couldn't believe that Armaan loved her, her heart was right in recognizing his true feelings even when he was silent. Riddhima's happiness knew no bounds on realizing her first love was now complete, what was only left was for her to confess as well. Her friends had planned of ruining her happy bubble and so now after an hour, she was being dragged to the backyard by Anjie. Riddhima was surprised seeing a white tent standing erect in the center. "Wow, when did you guys put this up?" she asked. "When you were hiding from everyone." Abhi answered with a smirk.
"I wasn't hiding, just wanted to relax for a while."
"Oh acha, toh tum store mein relax karne gayi thin." Abhi teased her as he had seen Armaan drag her there.
Armaan shot Abhi a deadly glare, Riddhima gasped softly and the best reaction came from Muskaan and Rahul, who spit the tea and choked. Armaan saw Riddhima suppress her smile by biting her lip and he looked away immediately before his mind went on a wild drive.
Sameer settled besides Riddhima and indulged in talks with her. Armaan couldn't tolerate it, he whispered to Muskaan who was sitting beside him. "Why is he still here?"
"He'll leave in a while, why is there any problem?" she asked confused.
"All your friends were invited for the wedding and reception only, why is he here earlier than required."
"He's a close friend of mine."
"So why is he getting too close to Riddhima? Have you seen the way he looks at her?"
"Yeah I know he likes her that's why."
"What? Does Riddhima know about it?" Armaan's temper was escalating in spite of his efforts to control it seeing the guy flirt with his Riddhima.
"No she doesn't. But Sameer plans to ask her out after the wedding. Poor thing has been trying to do that since ages without success. Now was a good chance so I just talked to him to go ahead." Muski told him the entire thing unaware of the storm building in her brother.
"Does Riddhima like him too?" he asked dreading.
"No she doesn't." Armaan let out the breath he'd been holding.
"You should have asked her first before doing this."
"Why should I ask her when I know the answer? She'll simply refuse. But I can't let her do this anymore. She deserves happiness and not suffering. Riddhima needs somebody in her life who'll show her how special she is and Sameer is that person." Muskaan's soft tone changed to anger remembering the torture her bff had gone through.
"I'm sorry Riddhima, meri wajah se tumhein itna dard sehna para, per ab or nahin. Ab se in aankhon mein wohi chamak or wohi shararat hogi jis ne mera dil churaya tha. Aj raat main har dard or doori ko khatam kar doon ga. I know you want this too; you haven't said anything but I can see the longing in your eyes. Just a little wait and you'll be in my arms." Armaan thought to himself.
The youngsters sat in the tent enjoying the night chatting and savoring ice crmes and munching on French fries. Riddhima was getting self-conscious because Armaan's eyes were following her every movement; everyone was busy in themselves whereas his eyes wouldn't leave her. She tried to act normal but her heart was beating crazily thinking of what was to come. Riddhima left from there making an excuse of being tired because she knew Armaan would corner her as soon as everyone retired to their rooms and so locked her room. She switched off the lights to avoid him and cuddled with her bunny in the bed without changing the evening gown. Today her heart & mind were at peace after years as her wish had come true. She had wished of a beautiful future with Armaan, it wasn't fulfilled completely but this time she knew no one could ruin it as she had seen a strange determination in Armaan's eyes. Riddhima was nervous about her reply when he asked and fell asleep sometime during her thought process.
Armaan carried a sleeping Riddhima through the back door over to his car n securely buckled her in at midnight. He drove for about an hour before they reached the desired destination. Armaan scooted out of his seat towards Riddhima and opened her door. He caressed her cheeks softly, putting the strands of hair behind her ear. He smiled fondly when Riddhima moved closer to him in his arms adjusting her head in his neck. Armaan walks them up to a spot and slowly lays her down plopping on his elbow next to her. He stares at her longingly, caressing each of her features with eyes full of love. The serenity of the place was absolutely opposite to the condition of his heart that was sinking with every beat as he remembered his accusations n harsh words, his rude n cold behavior towards Riddhima, until he found the truth. He was dying in self-loathing since that day. His eyes fill with tears thinking about the past that had turned bitter due to his mistake, no his sin of not trusting her. There was no way he would ever forgive himself for it. He thought he was the one suffering from betrayal, he hated her every possible second for breaking his heart, and when they met again he made it a point to make her life miserable. The truth was far away from this. His trust had never been broken, he had never been betrayed by his love, she was innocent and yet been punished. She had gone through hurt, heartbreak, accusations and yet forgiven him easily, just because she loved him. He knew he was not worthy of her or her love. But he was grateful to God for giving him a chance and he was sure he would spend the remaining years of his life making it up to her. A soft hand wiped his cheeks breaking his trance.
Riddhima had woken up feeling drops of water falling on her cheeks and going down the side of her neck. She opened her eyes to see tears streaming down Armaan's face; she wiped his tears and shook her head in a no. Armaan bent on her and took her in his embrace crying, mumbling I'm sorry repeatedly. Riddhima wrapped her arms around him n caressed his back letting him cry. He needed to let it all go. She knew Armaan was shattered on knowing the truth; he had spent the 3 years in hating her for a reason which never existed. He had apologized sincerely but it was difficult for her to just forgive him. He had been hard on himself since then but gave her the required space. All the hustle bustle of the wedding was making it harder for him. He had to act normal around everyone to avoid suspicion but only she knew he was dying in guilt inside. She couldn't see him like this, he had done a mistake n was repenting, what else did she need? She knew they couldn't stay apart and so forgave him. Armaan had stood strong that night giving her all the comfort n assurance of his love and presence when she had broken down in his arms. Now it was her turn to support him. Riddhima rubbed his back and ran her fingers through his silky jet black hair, trying to sooth him. She felt him relax after a while and move a bit away to look down in her eyes. Riddhima smiled at him and he returned her one of his dimpled smile taking Riddhima's breath away. Armaan kissed her forehead affectionately and stayed like that for a moment. He mumbled a thank you. Riddhima suddenly realized that she had locked her door so how did he get inside. Armaan told her that he'll show her how he came in but once they returned. Riddhima stared at him n then tried to look to the other side wen Armaan quickly covered her eyes with his hand.
"What is this Armaan?" she asked surprised. "Sshh..Surprise for u." "I don't like surprises Armaan." She said with a fear that Armaan recognized immediately. His heart ached hearing her soft voice laced with doubt and panic. He kissed her cheek twice n whispered in her ear "I won't ever leave u again Riddhima, just give me a chance to make up."
Armaan covered her eyes with a black silk bandana and made her stand up, once she nodded in approval. They walked a little holding hand. Riddhima huffed and twisted her nose faking anger when Armaan didn't respond to any of her questions.
Armaan came behind and wrapped his arms around my stomach. "Do you hear something Riddhima?" He asked inhaling the scent of my hair. "Yeah, sound of water falling. Open my eyes Armaan." I said placing my hands on top of his. "I will Riddhima, but you have to promise you won't tell anyone about this place." he spoke closing on my neck. I could not think straight let alone speak a word with Armaan's warm breath fanning my neck. I nodded meekly. I could not tell precisely when the blindfold fell from my eyes because I stood there, eyes shut and enjoying the pleasure of Armaan's feather kisses on my neck. "Aren't you going to look?" Armaan whispered. I wanted to say no immediately because I only was concerned and contended on having him back with me. But I had to look at it for him; I sighed and slowly opened my eyes.
I stood frozen at the incredible, stunning sight before me. We were standing at a foot hill surrounded by a thick lush green forest. The place was filled with the melodious sound of a water fall. The full moon was shining brightly and reflecting of the water that was gathered at the foothill. The most astonishing thing was the twinkling stars. We were standing so low and away from the town but still we didn't need any light source to see each other.
I felt Armaan's hand brush against mine when he came to my side. "It's magical." i whispered. "How did you find this?" I asked him. "I had come across this accidently. I got lost in the woods and found this in between finding the way out. Since then i come here to spend some time in peace." Armaan told me. I just stood there staring at the beautiful scene; i knew i didn't have to say anything. Armaan could read my expressions.
We stood there silently gazing at the sky. We weren't speaking but I felt connected to Armaan, as if he could just read my mind. My trance broke wen Armaan started speaking still looking at the water.      "Your beauty, innocence and laughter had captivated me the first time i saw you speaking to someone on your cell. I didn't get it then but as time passed I found myself attracted to you. It wasn't only physically but emotionally as well. I had started looking forward to spending time with you. All i ever wanted those days was to have you in front in of my eyes always, i would think of you during the days and dream of you during nights. I had tried to keep my distance from you but failed miserably because you had made your way to my heart and sealed it with your name. It was when I had left for Malaysia that I realized my love for you. I was so restless there; all I wanted was to return back to you, your sad voice kept ringing in my ears, asking me to come back. Your accident had scared me so much; I understood that I couldn't live without you. Your pain and tears had become my weakness; I could do anything to keep them away from you. Yet I was the one to break you beyond repair." Saying this he closed his eyes tightly, letting the tears fall freely. I turned him around to face me and spoke wiping his tears "Its ok Armaan, you never did anything intentionally." "Don't, don't do this Riddhima, you forgiving me so easily is adding to my guilt. I didn't give u a chance to prove yourself and here you are accepting everything I tell you without any grudge." He held my hands and pulled me closer, joining our foreheads. We remained in that position for some time before Armaan moved back and went on his knee with his head bowed down. "Wh..what are you do..doing Armaan?" I stuttered. "Something I ought to have done 3 years back but couldn't due to my lack of trust in my love." He raised his head and I could see tears swimming in his eyes. "This was your surprise. I had wanted to do this on the eve of our presentations but instead I ruined everything. Today i want to amend my mistake, will you let me?" He asked me softly, I could see his eyes pleading, I nod at him. 

"I know this is not the most romantic way of proposing your love and that too when I'm in my three-quarters and a tee." I chuckled at his sentence. He smiled back at me and continued speaking.
"But whatever I said earlier was heartfelt and true. I really really love you Riddhima. Main tumse kitni mohabbat karta hoon yeh to main bhi nahin jaanta per itna jaanta hoon ke tumhari aik muskurahat ke liye main kuch bhi kar sakta hoon. Jaanta hoon maine tumhe sabse ziyada dard dia hai per main waada karta hoon, saari zindagi tumhare nakhre uthaon ga, tumhara gussa sahoon ga, jo chaho gi wo karun ga bus mujhe khud se door mat karna, main nahin jee sakta tumhare bina, meri jaan ho tum. Riddhima, will you please marry me and make me the happiest man alive on earth?"

I stood there speech less, it was like I had lost my voice hearing Armaan say all this. I couldn't believe this was all happening in real, I had waited so long for this day and now I couldn't react. I tried to speak but nothing came out of my mouth. I could see Armaan was getting restless so I just nod my head to end his wait. Armaan beamed and brought out a red rose box from his back. He gestured me open it. I smiled widely at him seeing a delicate platinum ring with a ruby instilled in a beautifully carved rose. Armaan took the ring and slipped it in my finger, kissing on top of it. He stood up and came near me. "Will you do me a favor?" He asked me wiping the tear that rolled down my cheek. I blinked at him to say yes. "Meri Basket kahin kho gayi hai, usey lauta do mujhe, I don't know this Riddhima, I want my Basket back. Can u do this for me?" I nod at him. "I will have to start a tissue factory soon, before we go bankrupt." I looked at Armaan with a frown. "I mean tum itna roti ho, we'll spend the entire amount we earn on buying tissues to wipe your tears and end up on streets." I hit on his arm and he chuckled.
He held my hand and led me back to the place we were sitting before. Now I looked around to find a fluffy blanket, a big cushion and a picnic basket beside it. "What are you planning to do here?" I asked him raising an eyebrow. "Nothing, it's just a small romantic getaway." Armaan replied casually while doing something on his cell. He placed the cell on the basket and turned to me "Can I have the pleasure of dancing with my lady love?" I felt my heart flutter on hearing him call me his lady love; i bit my lip and slowly placed my hand in his. Armaan held me by my waist and we moved in sync with the song "Truly Madly Deeply"

I'll be your dream, I'll be your wish, I'll be your fantasy.
I'll be your hope; I'll be your love, be everything that you need.
I love you more with every breath, truly madly deeply do
I will be strong, I will be faithful, cause I'm counting on a new beginning.
A reason for living.  A deeper meaning.

I want to stand with you on a mountain.
I want to bathe with you in the sea.
I want to lay like this forever.
Until the sky falls down on me

And when the stars are shining brightly in the velvet sky
I'll make a wish send it to heaven then make you want to cry
The tears of joy for all the pleasure and the certainty.
That we're surrounded by the comfort and protection of the highest power, in lonely hours, the tears devour you

I want to stand with you on a mountain
I want to bathe with you in the sea.
I want to lay like this forever
Until the sky falls down on me

Oh can you see it baby?
You don't have to close your eyes, cause it's standing right before you.
All that you need will surely come

I'll be your dream, I'll be your wish, I'll be your fantasy.
I'll be your hope, I'll be your love, be everything that you need.
I'll love you more with every breath, truly madly deeply do

I want to stand with you on a mountain
I want to bathe with you in the sea.
I want to lay like this forever.
Until the sky falls down on me

I want to stand with you on a mountain
I want to bathe with you in the sea.
I want to live like this forever.
Until the sky falls down on me.

We were lost in each other even after the song ended. Armaan held me close to himself, making patterns on my waist with his thumb. Armaan groaned as his fingers came in contact with my bare skin and a shiver ran down my spine as his palm touched my back. He pulled my lip from between my teeth and spoke tracing it with his thumb "I love you Basket Armaan Mallik!" I gasped as my heart missed several beats hearing Armaan. I could feel goose bumps all over my body. Amidst the tears that flew from my eyes, i could feel a smile making its way across my lips. Armaan raised an eyebrow at me and I knew he was waiting for me to say those 3 words but I wouldn't say them to him so soon. After all he made me yearn for 3 years; I can at least take a few days to tease him. "Thank you." I said as innocently as I could but I had to bite my lip to stop the giggle erupting from my throat on seeing Armaan's reaction. He is so so adorable with that pout. Poor thing really thought i hadn't understood what he wanted from me. Armaan looked at my lips & then up to me, I leaned a bit into him & he dipped his head pecking my lips softly. A moan of pure pleasure escaped my mouth. He continued giving small light kisses but I wanted more. I moved my hand from his waist and entangled in his hair pulling them. Armaan mumbled Basket and took my lips in a sensuous kiss. All our love & longing for each other came out in this kiss. I took huge intakes of oxygen after breaking the kiss as Armaan moved down to kiss my throat and neck wrapping me securely in his arms understanding i couldn't support myself up. I placed my head on his chest and hugged him tightly. He lifted me from the ground and settled on the blanket. We both laid down facing each other and our hands entwined. I closed my eyes when Armaan moved my hair to the front and stroked my back, his foot caressing my legs up till the knee. I looked at Armaan arching my back as he pinch my waist. I regretted looking in his eyes which were showing only raw desire. I gulped hard and tried to move away only to make my heaving bosoms rub against his chest. Armaan clenched his jaw while closing his eyes and turning away from me. I could see he was trying to calm himself because of me. I moved my body flush against his, my front pressed to his back, my fingers drawing every detail of his handsome face. Armaan groaned throatily when I ran my hand under his shirt, feeling his gorgeous six packs. He turned around pulling me on top of him in haste. Armaan took me in a fierce kiss running his hands all over my body. I kissed him back similarly. He suddenly flipped me on my front and trailed kisses on my back. Everything ceased to exist for me, I could only feel the pleasure and heat running in every pore of my body with Armaan's kisses. I never knew when Armaan unzipped my dress until I felt his lips moving urgently on my back n hips joint. I turned pulling him on top of me and kissed him. The night had passed in our intense make out and now I lay with my head on his chest hearing his heartbeat, watching the first rays of sun make their way to the earth. The night had come an end but it would always remain alive in my memories to cherish forever.

nimra

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