Tuesday, 29 September 2020

Part 14 : In My Heart

The air was filled with the noise of constant chattering, laughter and delicious smells emerging from the kitchen of Mallik Mansion. Everyone was settled around the dining table digging in on the delicious lunch. Last night's reception party was a grand affair where all the known and well reputed people were invited to celebrate the wedding of Sujal Garewal's son. Anurag had invited the Garewals over for lunch as Rahul-Muskaan were leaving for honeymoon next morning. Riddhima had arrived early to help Prerna with the preparations which she was glad to receive as managing the breakfast along with lunch was getting difficult for her.
Muskaan rushed back in kitchen with the big crystal bowl containing the dessert followed by girls.

"Why did you have to make this Riddhima? Couldn't you make something else, something everyone would like? How will we now stop the volcano from erupting? All was good for a few day and now.." A scared Muskaan babbled.

"What happened Muski, is the dessert not good?" Riddhima asked softly.

"It's not about being good, of course it is, but you do not understand what I'm saying."

"Of course, how will she when you speak in riddles, what is the problem in this gajar ka halwa? Everyone loves it out here.."

"Except Armaan bhai." Muskaan cut Nikki in middle. All stared at Muskaan as if she had spoken something insane.

"What? Don't look at me like that. I know you're thinking I'm gone crazy but I'm not. He doesn't like it anymore. The last time it was made in our house was some years back and bhai had gone and thrown the whole bowl in bin and made it clear he never wants to see it again." Muskaan cleared the confusion and Riddhima felt bad for him as she understood the reason.

"Don't you think Armaan has been acting strangely ever since..." Anjali was cut in by Arjun and Riddhima was relieved because she didn't want discussions regarding Armaan's behavior, not now at least.

"Yaar meetha mile ga ya nahin? Tum log isey yahan chupa ke kyun rakh rahe ho, hum wahan intezar kar rahey hain, or yahan tum log akele khane ka plan bana rahey ho, not good. Let me tell Armaan, phir dekhte hain yeh kis ko milta hai, Ar.." Arjun opened his mouth to shout Armaan and Muskaan covered his mouth by her palm. She told him the problem and he stood there confused. He turned towards Riddhima who was playing with her necklace nervously looking down and he understood the connection.

"Common yaar, wo us ka mood kharab hoga, aj aisa kuch nahin hoga. I can assure you." Arjun said and picked the tray.

"Nahin. Please I'll get something else for dessert. I don't want a scene right now nor am I interested in getting a lecture from him. Besides Armaan gussa mein uncontrollable ho jata hai." Riddhima said stopping him.

"Look who's saying this? The one who can control Armaan's temper, I mean yeh halwa, now you all, come out before everyone comes in here." Arjun covered his mistake and went out blinking at Riddhima assuring.

Everyone savored the delicious warm sweet while waiting eagerly for Armaan to finish his task. Armaan sat down on the floor cushion after adjusting his laptop with the 49" plasma screen to play videos of the wedding functions.

"Naina beta, serve the sweet to Armaan." Pooja told Naina.

"No no Naina, keep sitting. I'll get it myself. Aray ap log nahi le rahey?" he asked.

"Sab le chukey hain, sirf tum bachey ho." Prerna said.

"Well then I'll have it in the bowl itself."

"Armaan tum bhi na." everyone laughed seeing him stuffing his mouth except Muskaan. She wasn't able to digest what she saw but just kept mum as Arjun held her back from questioning Armaan and not wanting to ruin the moment.

"Aray Rhea, you should have asked the servants to get the coffee, waisey hi subah se kaam mein lagi hui ho. Bas rakh do, Nikki zara serve karna beta." Nikki nodded at Prerna and took the tray.

"Rhea you didn't taste the sweet, did you?" Abhi asked. She shook her head in no.

"Great, ab taste kar bhi nahi sakti kyunki Armaan ne poora bowl le liya hai or woh kisi ke saath share nahin karta." Arjun spoke eyeing Armaan.

"Umm.. Bas.. Riddhima you can have this." Armaan spoke with his mouth full of the sweet delicacy.

"Oh God, ye din kaise aa gaya, ke Armaan Mallik apna halwa dene ko tayyar ho gaye? Armaan tu sach mein.." Arjun teased but Armaan cut him in the middle understanding his intentions.

"Main ye poora nahin de raha, just asking her to eat with me. Waisey bhi yeh itna nahin khaye gi because she doesn't like it."

"Ap ko kaise pata ke isey yeh nahin pasand?" Muskaan couldn't stop herself anymore from asking him.

"Wo.. Mujhe.. Haan..Prem ne bataya tha."

"Oh acha. Waisey bhai aj tak apne yeh halwa mere saath to share nahin kiya, phir is ke saath kyun?"

"Wo is liye kyunki she has made it, so she has the right to taste it as well."

"Ap ko kaise pata yeh is ne banaya hai?"

"Muski please I'm in no mood to play 20 questions with you, so please relax and watch the video. And you come here." Armaan pulled Riddhima besides him. The lights were switched off for full effects and Prem and Arjun sat covering the two lovebirds from everyone's gaze.

"How does it taste?" Riddhima asked hopefully as the haldi video began playing.

"Hmm, theek hi hai, bus cheeni kum hai."

"Really, per maine to sugar dekh ke dala tha or baki to kisi ko meetha kum nahin laga. Kahan Armaan, bilkul theek to hai sab." she whispered taking a spoon in her mouth.

"Acha dikao idhar." Armaan pulled her closer to him as she put forward the spoon. "Mmm.. Just perfect."Riddhima froze in her place while he licked his lips. Armaan had thrust his tongue into Riddhima's mouth as she opened it to say something. He moved back immediately after swirling his tongue once in her mouth. She glared at him and moved away embarrassed as Prem and Arjun had witnessed the scene and were now teasing Armaan silently.

Pooja wasn't really happy with the way Riddhima was treated by the Malliks. She always found Riddhima doing everything that Naina was supposed to. She agreed that Naina didn't know cooking at all but even in other matters, Prerna always preferred Riddhima over Naina. And Anurag considered Riddhima his daughter, addressing her as his Princess. Pooja wanted to see Naina in that place. She didn't like the shower of affection and praises on Riddhima by everyone after the lunch. Muskaan's relation with Riddhima was understood but she had noticed the soft look in Armaan's eyes whenever he gazed at Riddhima. Was there really something going on between them? Was Rakesh uncle right in suspecting them? What could she do? There was no sign of improvement in Naina and Armaan's relationship. Recently Naina had become so careless regarding all the matters involving Malliks that it was extremely difficult to understand where they were headed to. But Pooja knew one thing; she had to warn Riddhima to remain in her limits. Her mind was completely messed with these thoughts and seeing the two sitting so close together with Armaan feeding her drove her mad. She excused herself and left the hall.

"Armaan please send me a copy of all these snaps, I want to get few of them enlarged and put here." Anurag said as everyone leaned back in their seats after the videos were over.

"Dad, I've already sent you a mail with these pics, you can decide and tell me, I'll get it done." Anu nodded at Armaan.

"Hey listen everyone; I wanted to tell you all something." Riddhima said softly. Armaan stared at her thinking why she was so nervous and what did she want to share.

"I.. I have to no I mean am supposed to.. Okay.. Please don't get mad at me, all of you." she stammered and Armaan grew tensed.

"What is it Princess?" Sujal inquired.

"Papa I am going back to Australia on Saturday." she said in one go.

As expected all were absolutely against her decision, no matter how much ever she explained. She looked at Prem for help who raised his hands as a gesture of surrender.

"Sorry Ri, but this time I'm not favoring you because there's no valid reason which requires you to leave. So you're staying." he spoke in a stern tone.

"Don't you think me starting a company there is reason enough for me to go?" she asked incredulously.

"So we didn't ask you to. Why do you have to work so much when you have your own business here?" Rahul replied.

"That's where the problem is. I am treated as the head already when I'm just joining, plus you guys don't let me move or do anything. I've had enough experience with you all by now. I want to join our business but after learning and reaching that level where I know I am capable and deserving of it."

"You can work with me then." Armaan said as Riddhima finished. Everyone looked at him.

"I mean if that's the only reason she's leaving for, then she can join me." Armaan explained.

"He's absolutely right. You will work with us. No one will treat you differently, the only advantage you will have is we'll appoint you according to your qualification without an interview." Anurag agreed with Armaan. Riddhima was now confused. She looked at Armaan who held a pleading expression on his face.

"Thank you Dad. I'll surely think about it but I really need to go for now. There's lot to be taken care of over there." Anurag nodded lightly not really agreeing with her idea.

"Dad, Papa, please I need your support. If you both make such faces I won't be able to go peacefully. Do you want me to be sad when I leave? No na, so please smile." she spoke sitting between Sujal and Anurag. Armaan shook his head understanding it was a lost case and made his way out of the Mansion saying:

"Ma main office ja raha hoon, dair se lautoon ga. Please mera intezar mat karna ap log."

Pooja had heard the entire conversation regarding Riddhima's departure and was not really glad about the Armaan's offer. But in the end she was a bit relieved that Riddhima would be leaving anyhow. Now she only had to use this time and decide a date for Armaan and Naina's wedding and rest all would fall in place, she was sure.

Arjun had asked Riddhima to give them a tour of Sanjeevani Leeds and so they were standing outside the hospital waiting for Armaan to arrive. Though he wasn't interested or showed so at least, Arjun forced him to come anyhow. He knew Armaan was upset about Riddhima's decision to leave but he wanted them to be together as much as they can. Arjun knew that times ahead won't be very favorable as they might have face off with Rakesh and their families. Rahul Muskaan had left for their home to pack their luggage for the trip.

The gang settled in canteen after taking a round of the whole building. They were really impressed by Riddhima's work. Everyone indulged in the delicious chocolate pastries and coffee that she ordered on the demand of her friends to celebrate her success. But Riddhima was lost in her own world, oblivious of her surroundings. Her thoughts broke with the shrill sound of her mobile. She looked up to see everyone staring at her worried.

"Sorry just zoned out. I'll be back, have to receive a call."

After finishing the call Riddhima picked up bags from her car and went to the pediatric ward. Riddhima was engulfed in a bear hug by the kids as she stepped in. She kissed everyone and led them to the colorful rug, where she sat surrounded by kids. She gestured the attending nurse to bring in the bags and was more than glad to see the innocent smiles on their faces. Riddhima laughed away happily listening to their stories. She didn't realize how much time had passed in this. Prem's call cut through the happy moment and reminded her of the inner turmoil she was trying to run away from. She bid bye to the kids with tight hugs and kisses and a promise to return soon. What Riddhima had failed to notice was a pair of blue eyes who had been a witness to every movement of hers. As she made her way back to the canteen, an arm came around her waist and a palm clasped her mouth, pulling her towards the fire escape. She fidgeted, moving her legs to break away but relaxed as soon as she heard the voice:

"Easy, it's me."

She started hitting him as soon as he released his tight grip in her. He pulled her into his chest and looked deeply in her green eyes. Riddhima too lost herself in the depths of the blue orbs. "Armaaan." she whispered. Armaan could read the emotions in her eyes too well and knew the reason behind them.

"I'm so proud of you Basket." He kissed her forehead saying this. It seemed like Riddhima had been waiting for this moment. She crushed herself in his arms and sobbed hard. Armaan held her shaking body tight to him and ran his hand over her hair. Tears escaped his eyes and he did nothing to stop them. Both held each other and wept for the lost time and dreams they had promised to achieve together.

"I am so sorry to have put you through this torture. Believe me Basket; I have been through it too. Despite all the circumstances I have also yearned for your company, for your advice, your support, your approval and above all a look of appreciation from you all these years. But I know only I am responsible for all the mess, your tears, your pain and everything that went wrong around you. What do I do to erase all the pain, tears and bad memories? I want to keep you happy but I'm failing repeatedly. It's like all I manage to do is make you cry. I don't deserve to be with you. I don't.."

"Please don't." Riddhima said in a voice only audible to Armaan and moved her face to look at him.

"Don't say this. I know and understand everything. I don't hold you responsible for any of this so, you don't need to blame yourself. You never wanted this to happen. It's just that since the beginning of this project, I wanted you to be around me, be my strength, just like you promised. Nothing of that sort happened but I always imagined you saying this to me and now when you did I couldn't control myself. I didn't want to hurt you." Riddhima said sniffing and wiping Armaan's tears.

"I know there's nothing that can be done to undo our past and redo it the way we wished. But I promise Basket; from now on you'll find me with you always." He leaned his forehead on hers closing his eyes.

"Sorry for disturbing you, but everyone's coming this way so please come out." Prem knocked at the door and informed them.

"They wouldn't have known we were here, and firstly who told you we're here?" Armaan asked annoyed taking his hands off Riddhima's waist.

"They would know due to this and I know because this is Riddhima's favorite place here." Prem said showing him the end of Riddhima's duppatta that was stuck in the door. Armaan pulled Riddhima back as she climbed to go back.

"You don't have to control your emotions in front of me or hide anything, I want you to share everything you feel and think with me without any fear of hurting me, got it?" he continued as she nodded.

"I'll see you at night then. Bye." Armaan moved out kissing her cheeks followed by Riddhima. The gang went with Armaan and Prem took Riddhima home.

The night was a happy affair at the Garewals as Rahul, Muskaan, Prem and Riddhima tried to relive some moments from the past. But it was torture for Armaan as he kept pacing his room for a green signal from Riddhima to meet her.

"Sorry Armaan, we can't meet tonight. Muski is sleeping with me. I won't be able to reply constantly to your msgs too, otherwise she'll inquire. See you tomorrow. Good night."

His wait was over by her message but his agitation knew no bounds. He immediately called her.

"What is this Basket? You said we could meet tonight. I've been waiting like crazy to spend some time with you and now you say no at last moment. What is wrong with Rahul, how can he leave his bride of 2 days to sleep away from him? Are you even listening?" he spoke as soon as she picked the call. Riddhima giggled in response irritating him more.

"Hans lo, hans lo. Tumhe to maza aa raha hai mujh bichare ko tung kar ke. Sab ke saath to thi poora din phir ab kia zaroorat hai unhe tumhare saath rehne ki, meri to zara si bhi fikar nahin hai." he complained with a pout like a small kid being denied his share of candies.

"Main kya karoon Armaan? I didn't know of this before. Everyone retired to their rooms but Muski said she'll sleep with me. I can't say no to her now. She wants to spend some girl time like before with me." she tried to reason with him.

"Ye aik to tum logon ke 'girl time' ne jeena mushkil kar diya hai. Poora din gossip karti ho phir bhi dil nain bharta kya? Muskaan pagal hai kya, usey kaho apne pati ke paas jaye, is liye shaadi ki thi usne ke tumhare saath soye? Rehne do, main hi Rahul ko call kar ke setting karta hoon." he spoke non-stop.

"Kitna baat karte ho tum, how can you speak so much in a single breath?" she teased.

"Basket ki bachi, wait till I get my hands on you. Phir dikhaon ga ke main baat ke saath saath aur kiya kar sakta hoon."

"Common Armaan, gussa kyun ho rahey ho? We just met few hours back and we'll meet tomorrow as well that too early morning. Remember Bhai and Muski are leaving? She just wants to spend a night with me."

"Whatever, I don't like this at all. She has spent enough time with you, ab Rahul uski priority hona chahye. I really pity him, bechara kuch bol nahin sakta us ke saamne. But remember, main ye sab tolerate nahin karoon ga. Koi aye, jaye, rahey na rahey, tum kahin nahin jao gi. I will not let you go away from me even for a single night, do you understand?" Armaan asked in a stern tone.

"Yes I do Mr. Possessive Mallik. Kuch aur jo main ap ke liye kar sakti hoon? Koi aur rule from your book of rules?"

"Tum aise kyun bol rahi ho Riddhima jaise main tumhare saath zabardsti kar raha hoon? Kya tum mere saath nahin rehna chahti?"

"Armaan tum pagal ho gaye ho kya? Kaisi baatien kar rahe ho, maine aisa kab kaha ke main tumhare saath rehna nahin chahti."

"Per tumhari baaton se aisa laga. I really am possessive about you, and I'm not ashamed. I just can't share you with anyone. Dekhna Riddhima, once we're together you wouldn't be able to stay away from me for a minute."

"Oh really, woh kaise?" she asked playfully.

"You'll see yourself. Rakhta hoon, Good night."

"Listen, naraz hona mujhse? Please maaf kardo, I was just teasing you. I.."

"It's okay. Good night." Riddhima stared at her cell blankly; she hadn't planned on getting him angry. She was just playing around with him and he took it all to heart. Now she had to pacify him before he did something crazy, tomorrow first thing in the morning.

The next day turned out to be totally opposite of what Riddhima had wanted it to be. Prerna took her and Kashish to spend day with them after Rahul Muskaan left. She was hopeful she would get a chance to apologize to Armaan but no. How was that even possible with our gang present there? Everyone wanted her to help them with their pending tasks as they were also leaving for India after Riddhima. She couldn't say no to anyone for anything and amidst this she saw Armaan fuming. He was in a bad mood, very bad mood. He was ready to pounce on anyone who went near him. Everyone had observed it and so maintained distance. Riddhima tried to speak to him but he didn't let her and left for office. The entire day was spent shopping with the gang. They called Prem and Armaan to join for lunch which Armaan declined immediately.

"Armaan please gussa mat ho, I am not doing this on purpose. Aa jao na, is tarah thori dair time spend kar lein ge saath." Riddhima messaged him.

"Thank you Riddhima but I'm really busy. You enjoy yourself." he replied back.

At night Sujal took Riddhima, Kashish and Prem out for dinner to their all-time favorite restaurant. They returned home and decided to meet in Sujal's bedroom after changing. The family spent time like old days playing games over coffee till they were exhausted. Riddhima lay down with her head in her Mama's lap. She closed her eyes tightly and tears rolled down her cheeks out of frustration and helplessness that Armaan never tried to understand her position. Kashish and Sujal were worried looking at her crying. They comforted her and tried to persuade her to stay back saying someone from the company would go on her behalf and settle the matters but she denied. Riddhima found herself in a tough situation where she couldn't share anything with anyone and the one who was supposed to be with her wasn't making it easy for her. Armaan was ignoring her calls and messages constantly since evening and she couldn't understand what to do. She fell asleep in this confusion.

As Riddhima joined everyone for breakfast the argument started once again. Everyone wanted to accompany her to airport but she was adamant on not taking anyone along and her reason was goodbyes weren't easy for her. Finally when Prem couldn't take it anymore, he intervened and settled the matter.

After lots of tight hugs, kisses and teary good byes, Riddhima bid bye to all and drove off with Prem.

Armaan spent the entire time till lunch in his bedroom due to a severe headache. A cup of coffee and medicine sent by Prerna remained untouched on his side table as he lay on Riddhima's bed hugging her pillow tightly, trying to find some comfort in her smell that lingered on the duvet & sheets. He couldn't believe she had left and that too without a proper goodbye. He somewhat hoped that she would delay her return due to him but nothing like that happened, in fact she left in an upset mood. Prem entered the room and took him away for some work forcefully. They drove for about an hour before the car stopped in front a huge iron gate. Armaan stepped out of the car and looked around the locality as Prem drove away leaving him behind with the keys saying:

"See you at night."
Armaan stood admiring the photographs that adorned an entire wall of the living room in this beautiful white cottage. His eyes stopped at a particular picture of Riddhima in which she was kissing a pink rose bud. Armaan was enthralled by her beauty and innocence once again. She was standing bare feet in a white and black polka dots night dress, without a spot of make-up, early morning in the garden and yet managed to surpass all levels of beauty. He took out his cell to capture it for himself till he got hold of the original picture. A pair of hands wrapped tightly around his waist as a soft body hugged him from behind. The touch was enough to bring a gorgeous dimpled smile on Armaan's face. He kissed the right palm and rested the other on his heart in a tight grip. They stood there in complete silence for a few moments, absorbing the presence of the other, before Armaan turned around. His breath hitched seeing Riddhima decked up in a peach lehenga saree with bronze and pearl embellishments, hair done in soft curls falling down to her waist, little touch of make-up and a radiant smile. His heart fluttered as she blushed under his gaze.

"So Beautiful." Armaan whispered kissing her forehead. Riddhima entwined their hands and led him upstairs through a passage and stopped in front of a room. She gestured Armaan to open the tinted glass door. The room glowed as the golden candles flickered and soft music played in background. A table for two was set in one corner and a bed pilled with soft cushions was placed adjacent to the large window overlooking the garden.

"What's happening here?" Armaan asked Riddhima pulling her close by waist.

"A romantic lunch date." she answered wrapping her hands around his neck.

"May I know why?"

"I wanted to spend some time with my fianc."

"Oh really? Achanak itni meherbani kyun? Kal tak tau you didn't have a second spare for me."

"I didn't ignore you purposely. Everybody kept me busy and I couldn't say no them."

"Of course, how could you? Na tau sirf tum mujhe keh sakti ho. Har aik ka khayal hai sirf mera nahin hai." he said sulking.

"Sorry kaha na maine or dekho sirf tumhari wajah se ruk bhi gayi. And here you're still wasting time sulking." she said with a pout.

"Kya sach, tum nahin jaa rahin? Yaayy, I knew tum mujhe chor ke nahin jao gi." he lifted her off the floor and twirled around.

"Armaan, mera matlab hai main abhi nahin, raat ko jaon gi." his smile faltered.

"Jana zaroori hai Armaan, samjho na. Main jaon gi tabhi to tum Maa or Dad se baat kar sakte ho." she cupped his cheek.

"You don't have to leave for that. Main waisey hi sab ke janay k baad hamare parents se baat karne wala hoon."

"I know but I think Pooja aunty won't like my presence. Its better you deal with them and clear everything when I'm not around warna tumahri attention meri wajah se divert ho gi."

"Unho ne tum se kuch kaha? Idhar dekho." he said pushing her chin up to meet his eyes.

"Nahin but she really doesn't like me. I've seen her giving those disapproving looks to me whenever I'm around your family. So I don't want any unwanted tension, waisey hi unke uncle kuch kum hain kya?"

"Did Rakesh say something? Did he do something?"

"No. That's what the problem is, wo itne chup kyun baithey hain? What does he want? Armaan wo hamare peechey kyun hain, what did we do?" her grip tightened around him in fear.

"Nothing will go wrong now. No one can separate us ever. You don't have to be scared of anyone or anything or worry, I have all in control. Now let's eat and not spoil the beautiful setting, I'm starving since yesterday." Armaan pulled her towards the table.

"When did you arrange all this?" Armaan asked as he gobbled down a bite of his favorite cannoli.

"Last night. Prem got the house cleaned and stacked up with all that I needed. I just came and prepared the lunch." she spoke putting a morsel in her mouth.

"You could have told me, I would have got something from outside. You didn't have to work."

"Oh really Armaan? Tum meri koi baat sun rahey they jo main tumhein batati."

"I'm sorry but I couldn't help much. Everyone was getting to spend time with you except me, so what could I do? And although I don't want you to work but I'm glad you cooked because I prefer your handmade food over everything else." she shook her head seeing Armaan eat with full zest.

"What happened, why so sad?" Armaan wrapped his arms around her waist as she closed the refrigerator. They had finished lunch and Armaan helped her in putting the dishes back.

"The dessert is not done. You'll have to wait for a while."

"No problem. We'll sit till then. Come." Armaan settled on the bed pushing the cushions away. He hugged her tightly as she sat between his legs and kept his head on her shoulder.

"Basket I had to tell you something."


"I've told Prem and Abhi everything about us." she turned her face to look at him narrowing her eyes. "Please don't be angry. I had no option. I was dying in guilt since I found how wrong I was. Prem was the only one who knew about us and I needed his help to gain your forgiveness. He was mad at me, wasn't even listening and told me that you hadn't told him anything about what happened between us. I thought he had the right to know. Later he told me about all that happened with you. I was extremely worried and wanted to confirm myself that you were completely fine so I approached Abhi. But Abhi being Abhi wasn't opening his mouth saying he wanted to maintain his patient's privacy so I told Abhi about whatever had happened till then. I'm sorry I shouldn't have done this but I.."

"It's okay Armaan. I understand. It's just that I didn't want to share anything about us with anyone. Whatever it was good or bad, I wanted to keep it to myself. Now don't tell anyone else about it okay, not even our parents."

"Kya pagal ho? Unhe kaise nahin bataoon ga? Waisey hi I don't know what you told Dadi that she didn't question me?"

"Woh mera masla hai, tum kyun pareshan ho rahey ho. But ab kisi ko nahin batana matlab nahin, bas." Armaan kissed her cheek lovingly understanding she didn't want anyone to think wrong of him.

"Itna pyaar kyun karti ho mujhse? Main to badle mein sirf dard deta hoon." she leaned back into him closing her eyes.

"Pata hai hamare presentation waley din, I wanted to share my feelings with you. I knew even if you didn't reciprocate them, you wouldn't make fun of me or leave me. But destiny had other plans for us." Riddhima inhaled deeply, just the mention of that time unnerved her. Armaan understood her state and caressed her arms entwining their fingers tightly, giving her the assurance of his love.

"I wanted to call you after I returned to orphanage but your response to Prem's call disheartened me and I believed that you actually didn't want to keep any contact. I made Prem promise me to never bring up this topic nor tell our parents about it. After returning here, I couldn't keep up with my friends or any social gatherings, so I just shut myself from everyone. Muski had joined back then too. We had a few subjects together. During one of Prem's visit she met him and mentioned about how lonely she felt. That's how she shifted in with me. I always maintained a distance but she kept trying to come closer. As time passed I grew fond of her silly antics and full of life attitude and started opening up to her. I didn't let myself indulge in the past during the day but could never put a stop to my day beginning with your thoughts or my nights dreaming of you. I tried to run away from all the memories and emotions related to you as they rushed back during the winter break and even tried to finish the pain for ever but again destiny played its trick and Muski saved me at the last moment. After that incident I understood, no matter how much I tried to hate you for hurting me, breaking me, I couldn't forget you nor move on. I accepted my feelings for you and that you might not be in my destiny but you were here to stay 'In My Heart' forever." Armaan turned her around in his hold and hugged her tight, tears escaping both their eyes.

"Okay now let's check the dessert. It must be done. Enough of rona dhona, hmm." Riddhima parted after a while and wiped Armaan's tears.

Riddhima rolled in a trolley with dessert and drinks and found Armaan sitting with a pained expression. He smiled half-heartedly seeing her. He couldn't pull himself out of the torturous memories of their past they had lived apart from each other. He couldn't believe he had forced her to such an extent that she went on to finish her life.

"Tum kehte ho that you always hurt me. Ab main bhi yehi kahoon gi ke I always make you cry with my talks." she said sitting next to him.

"Aisa kuch nahi hai Riddhima."

"Acha to yeh kya hai?" she took a drop of tear on her finger tip. He wiped his face not knowing when tears started flowing from his eyes.

"Armaan, these might be drops of water for you but they are very precious to me. Each drop that falls down breaks my heart. You are my world Armaan, and I can't see it falling apart like this." Armaan kissed her temple holding her sideways.

"Now common don't waste my efforts like this. Quickly bring back my charming Armaan." he smiled a little at her.

"What's this?" he asked pointing to a small box wrapped in red gift paper.

"See yourself."

Armaan smiled as he saw a platinum ring glisten from a red heart case.

"May I?" he nodded putting forward his left hand.

"This ring is my promise to you that I will always be by your side no matter what and to mark you as mine." Riddhima slipped the ring in his finger and raised his hand to her lips.

"I love you Armaan." she said kissing his hand. Armaan's heart skipped beats hearing her say the 3 magical words.

"Meri aakhon mein dekh ke bolo Basket." he whispered lifting her chin.

"I love you Armaan." She lifted her eyes slowly to meet his intense gaze.

"Phir se kaho."

"I love you Armaan."

"Phir se."

"I love you, I love you, I love you so so much Armaan." She giggled joining their foreheads. Armaan leaned in to take her lips in a kiss but Riddhima turned her face away, so the kiss landed on her cheek. He tried to kiss her again but she pushed him away pointing towards the trolley.

Riddhima had baked Armaan's favorite chocolate cake and scribbled "For My Armaan" with chocolate sauce on it. They cut the cake together and fed each other.

"So now is everything done? I mean do you have any more surprises for me?" Armaan said as he pushed his plate away after two bites.

"No there isn't, but why aren't you eating? Didn't you like it?" she answered with a confused look.

"No I'll have it after I thank you." he said pushing the trolley away.

"There's no need to thank Armaan."

"But I want to Basket."

"What are you doing?" she asked seeing his eyes twinkle with mischief.

"Thanking you in my style." Armaan winked pulling her into his chest. He aligned his face with hers and leaned in. Riddhima's heartbeats quickened feeling his breath on her lips. He kept the kiss soft and sensual, lightly pecking not putting pressure, while his hands rubbed circles on her waist. Riddhima slowly moved her hands along his arms and shoulders before wrapping one around his neck and the other in his hair. She cupped his face and tugged his hair when he made no move to deepen the kiss. Armaan obliged and poured his love and desire for her in it. Riddhima reciprocated his emotions and mirrored his movements making them lose themselves in their love.

Armaan opened the door of the cottage to let Prem in who had come to pick them up as it was nearing the time of Riddhima's flight. Riddhima came down dressed in grey dress pant with white chiffon shirt holding her black Chanel purse.

"Hey Prem, when did you come?" she asked.

"Just now. All ready to go?"

"Hmm all done. How's all at home?" the word home broke Armaan's reverie.

"Home? Prem what did you say at home? Shit, where's my cell, I didn't even check it."

"Really Armaan? You're thinking about it now?"

"Haan, matlab nahin. Maine socha tha per poochna bhool gaya. Riddhima does everyone know your flight is now?"

"Nopes, I've reached Australia already according to them."

"What? How?"

"I told them that I've spoken to Rhea after she landed there. But tumhare liye problem hai kyunki everyone's searching for you. What will you say Armaan?" Prem shook his head seeing Armaan's reaction.

"Laugh as much as you want, sab tumhari wajah se hua hai, you pulled me out and didn't let me speak." he complained.

"Armaan, are you always this lost or is it only around Riddhima that this trait arises?" Prem teased.

"Stop it Prem." Riddhima said.

"Of course, I forgot tum to is ki side pe ho ab." Prem spoke.

"Aray yaar, don't you remember we had to go out for a site work? I told Anurag uncle that we're heading there and will return late night, okay." he told Armaan.

"Yeah, okay. But what will we tell him, we haven't visited it yet. What if he wants to see a report on it?"

"Armaan not everyone is as free as you. Only you had an off today, rest of us worked, meaning I've seen the site and made the report too. You can have it."

"Thanks man." Armaan said punching his arm.

The ride to the airport was uneventful. Armaan held Riddhima tightly as she leaned on his shoulder and entwined their fingers.

Prem handed Armaan an official permission letter allowing him to see Riddhima off till the last door and left bidding her bye with a hug and kiss. He rolled his eyes at Armaan, seeing his death grip around her hand.

"So when do I get to see you next?" Armaan asked as they strolled to the VIP waiting lounge.

"Depends on you." Armaan raised his eyebrow. "I'll return as soon as you talk to Papa about us. You'll not make me wait for long, right?" she asked hopefully. Armaan shook his head in a no, not being able to speak.

"You'll never be alone. I'm always with you. I reside here, In Your Heart. All you need to do is just feel me." Riddhima said placing her palm on his heart.

"Feeling is not enough. I need to touch you, hold you to make sure you're okay. How can I live peacefully when you're so far and I can't even see you?" he replied holding her palm.

"Just remember Armaan, I'll be fine as long as this keeps beating. You have to take care of this, for me, as it now belongs me." she said gazing in his eyes.

"I love you Basket." his eyes moistened seeing the intensity of Riddhima's love.

"I'm glad." she replied cheekily to distract him.

"Say you love me too." he spoke frowning.

"You know it already and besides haven't I said it enough times today for a week."

"No, it's not enough. I want to hear you say this every moment of my life. So say it." he spoke seriously.

"Say what?" she asked in mock confusion.

"I love you Riddhima." he said sternly.

"I love you Riddhima." she repeated after him irritating him further. He freed her arms as the announcement for her flight was made.

"I love you Armaan. I love you more than my life." she said pressing her lips into his and kissing him like her life depended on it.

"I love you too Basket. I love you more than you'll ever know." he kissed her forehead and gestured her to go. Riddhima halted at the last step and turned to look at him one final time. Her heart broke seeing Armaan turning away with a lost and dejected look. She ran down the steps and past the security guards shouting his name. Armaan turned around hastily in time to steady himself as she flung herself over him and sobbed hard. A group of young students who stood in the queue looked back and awed at the scene of two lovers in tight embrace.

"Shh.. Basket it's going to be okay. Don't cry..You know I won't let you go if cry like this.. Please don't cry.." Armaan showered her face with urgent kisses as the final passengers climbed up.

"I love you Armaan." she said in a teary voice.

"I love you too Meri Jaan. I love you too."

Prem pressed on to the brakes to stop in front of the Mallik Mansion. All his attempts to make conversation were futile as Armaan only responded in monosyllables. The entire 1 hour journey was spent in silence with Prem driving and Armaan leaning back in his seat and eyes tightly shut. Prem squeezed his shoulder gently to break his thoughts. Armaan looked around and realized he had reached home.

"I can't do anything to show how grateful I am for the innumerable favors you've done on me Prem." Armaan spoke.

"Well you can do one thing for me, just keep my sister happy and love her like this always." Prem replied smiling.

"I will, always. Prem wo maine jo.."

"Ho gaya hai Armaan, don't worry. Everything is done just like you said. Now stop worrying and go to sleep till she lands there. Okay. Bye." Prem rode off leaving Armaan at the entrance.

Armaan dialed Riddhima's number as he jumped on the bed to catch some sleep. He had drained himself of as much energy as he could so that he could sleep but nothing worked. He immersed himself in work the whole day, returned late but always ended up staying wide awake seeing videos and pictures of Riddhima. The Mansion had gone quite as the gang left for India three days back.

"Hey, how are you?" she asked brightly.

"I'm fine. How are you & what are you doing?"

"I'm fine too. I'm at the office Armaan, have a meeting scheduled in next 2hrs with the officials of the company I'm doing the new project, so going through the details. You tell me."

"Nothing. Just got in bed after a long day."

"Oh okay, sleep then. You must be exhausted."

"That I am but I can't sleep without you."

"Oh really, how did you sleep all these nights, hmm?" she teased.

"I didn't."

"What did you do then?"

"I just kept seeing your pictures." he replied in a small voice.

"Why didn't you tell me before." she sobered hearing him.

"You were occupied with office work so I didn't want to disturb you. But now I can't do this. Can I see you now, I promise I won't take much time."

"Hmm. Come on Skype."

"Armaaan. What is all this? Why are you doing this to yourself? You'll fall sick if you continue like this." she became worried as soon as she saw his face. His eyes were puffy with dark circles underneath and a few days old stubble making him look as if he was ill for days. He didn't reply but signaled her to continue her work. She studied the report glancing at him occasionally.

She gestured with her hands for him to close his eyes and sleep. He replied in the same manner that he wanted to see her. Riddhima fixed i-pad in lower portion of her large office desk such that only they could see each other and activated her Bluetooth before discussing a few terms with her PA. She smiled during the discussion as Armaan mumbled an "I love you" before drifting off to sleep. Her eyes moistened realizing that Armaan was sleeping in her room hugging her pillow. She felt bad for treating him like this. It had been 5 days since she returned and the new projects, impending meetings and business had taken all her attention, and she couldn't manage to talk to him. They remained in touch through messages and small talks but didn't have a proper conversation. Riddhima couldn't stop herself from caressing his face on screen and kissing him.

Armaan stood outside Pooja's house with his parents, both of them having stern expressions. He gulped hard to swallow the lump and his nervousness as well. He was here at Pooja's doorstep to inform about calling off the engagement. Armaan was very sure of his step but he wasn't sure of how he was going to crack it in front of her. He had already gone through a huge lecture on being irresponsible and immature by his parents when he told them, but they had agreed reluctantly with him.

Pooja had thought of their trip to be one to decide the dates of wedding ceremonies. But she was mad at Armaan when he told her that he had finished the engagement with Naina that too with her consent.

"Don't use her name here Armaan. I know you must have said something to her due to which she agreed with you. She was so happy with this setting. It was always you who wasn't happy. You always failed to provide her the support and love a fianc should."

"I'm sorry aunty. I know I've not been able to give Naina what she deserved. That is why I'm taking this decision. None of us would be happy. We won't.." Pooja cut him in the middle.

"It's because of that girl, isn't it? She is the reason behind all this. I should have believed on what Uncle told me."

"Which girl are you speaking about Pooja?" Prerna asked confused. Armaan clenched his fists not liking where the topic was headed to. He didn't want his parents to know about Riddhima from someone else that too like this.

"How can you be so blind to all that was happening in front of your eyes Prerna? Your son has been deceiving all of us and only because of that cunning girl." Armaan's head snapped up at her comment.

"Aunty I am your culprit, you can accuse and punish me. There's no one else to blame other than me so please." he spoke trying to hold on to his patience.

"Of course there is." all of them turned around on hearing a voice from the entrance.

"I am responsible for all this." Naina said coming in.

"Naina, what are you saying?" Armaan said glaring at her to shut up.

"Please Armaan, you don't need to do this. You've already done enough for me. Mom, I'm the reason why Armaan broke the engagement, so now say all that you want to me." Naina said turning to her mom.

"Naina, you don't have to do this. I know he has forced.."

"Forced. Mom he's done anything but force me. He never forced me for anything. He broke this engagement due to me. The girl you're blaming, you got to know about her due to your Uncle now. But I knew of her before the engagement. Armaan had told me everything about her because he didn't want to keep me in the dark. We had agreed to this relation just because you all wanted us to and we tried our best. Even after that girl came back in Armaan's life, he never looked at her just because of me. It was when I fell in love with someone that Armaan took this step that too for me." she cut Pooja mid-sentence and told the entire thing.

Pooja, Anurag and Prerna stood shocked on hearing this. The Malliks left after settling things with Pooja.

Anurag and Prerna felt bad for their son. Now they understood why he had gone in a shell and reserved him from all interactions. But they were hopeful that his life would be set right as his love was back. They just needed to make sure that the feelings were mutual so they could ask for girl's hand in marriage.

"Where do you think you're going Armaan Mallik?" Anurag held his arm as Armaan rushed to go upstairs.

"My room. You want something Dad?" he asked innocently. Anurag raised his eyebrow and tapped his foot in reply. "Uh.. Can we do this later?" He knew they wanted to know about the girl.

"Can I change and come? These clothes are really uncomfortable." Armaan said sheepishly pulling at his collar desperately trying to escape to receive Riddhima's call.

Prerna pulled Anurag with her to their room shaking her head at Armaan's lame excuses to attend the call in private. Armaan received the call rushing up stairs. Riddhima and Armaan talked about how her day went and the morning incident at Pooja's house.

"Armaan mujhe darr lag raha hai. Kahin Maa or Dad ne mana kar diya to hum kya karien ge?"

"Wo aisa kyun karien ge Basket?"

"Agar main un he pasand nahin ayi to?" Armaan burst out laughing while Riddhima pouted on the other side.

"Kya hai Armaan?"

"Basket tum itni bholi kyun ho? Do you even know what you're saying? Tumhe pata hai mujhe to yeh darr hai ke kahin Maa or Dad shaadi ke din tumhari side se participate na karien. Kyunki wo tumhe mujhse kahin zyada pyar karte hain." he spoke rolling and Riddhima rolled her eyes at him.

"Good night Jaan. I love you." Armaan said as he saw her eyes closing.


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