Posted: 20 October 2005 at 5:15pm
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* * *
Angad Khanna sat at his desk, staring at an empty space on the wall. Since he had taken on Kripa's case, he had a very light workload and could spare many minutes to stare idly into space. He looked down at the papers sitting on his desk – Kripa's case file. He felt a twinge of guilt when he removed his name from the two lists he had cross referenced. He knew he was not breaking the law, but he also knew that he was walking a fine line.
Kripa was not someone to manipulate and take advantage of. Her feelings were very real and very important to Angad and he did not want to jeopardize anything when it came to Kripa.
He had returned his gaze to the wall when he heard a soft knock on his office door. He had been expecting Kripa all afternoon; it appeared that the time had finally arrived.
"Enter," he said, preparing himself for the encounter. He stood quickly as Kripa entered. "Ms. Sharma, please have a seat."
Kripa sat in the extra chair Angad had brought in earlier that day. "Hello, Mr. Khanna," she answered politely, noticing Angad resuming his seat after rising for her. She was not used to seeing him act like such a gentleman.
"Since we are going to be working together, I would like it if you called me Angad," he said, his eyes shining a little brighter than he otherwise would have liked. "Besides, we're old friends . . . from school, right?"
Kripa was taken aback by his words. Since when had she and Angad been friends, she thought to herself. Granted, she respected him a lot more now than she did when she was younger but to call him her friend was a stretch.
"All right, Angad," she said carefully. "Then, please, call me Kripa . . ."
"Well, Kripa," Angad said, emphasizing her name. He had not spoken her name out loud in a very long time and he rather liked how it sounded. "Here is the list of names I've come up with. Do any of them strike you as potential admirers?"
Kripa took the list he handed her and looked at it but did not read it. Her mind was thinking about how awkward her name sounded coming from his mouth. She had never heard Angad say her name before and although it was a foreign sound, she rather liked the special emphasis he had placed on her name when he said it. She shook her head and focused on the words in front of her.
"I don't recognize some of these names, do you have any photos of them?" she said, looking up at Angad's face.
He had been watching her read the list and was amused that she had blushed when he said her name. He knew he was treading in dangerous water, but the challenge was far too enticing for him to quit. He had a plan and Kripa's blush was a small encouragement, but encouragement nonetheless.
"Well I have the directory right here; we can take a look," He said, tapping his hand on the computer that sat in the corner of his desk. "Go ahead and say the first name on the list."
The two spent the next few minutes looking at the pictures of all the men on the list. None of them even remotely looked like they could be the stranger. Kripa was disappointed and was not afraid to express it.
"Gah! None of them, none. Not even close," she said in exasperation.
"Calm down, Kripa. Sometimes things aren't as easy as they seem," Angad said soothingly, hiding the pleasure her outburst gave him. He knew Kripa to be a very passionate woman and seeing all aspects of her personality brought great pleasure to him – even her temper.
"Well, what do you suggest?" Her vehemence had settled a bit.
"Well, there is a chance that he does not work at the ministry. Your office is not hard to locate, anyone off the street could have access to it," Angad replied. Kripa nodded in agreement. "Do you have the other letter?"
Kripa produced the letter and Angad glossed over it. He had, after all, written it. He placed it in her file along with the other letter.
"What does he look like, exactly? I'll need an accurate description of him if I am to compare him to anyone we might find." Angad looked at Kripa expectantly. He was very curious as to how much Kripa was willing to divulge about her mysterious stranger. He knew she was going to be vague on purpose, so he didn't want to appear too eager. He reached into his desk for parchment, giving Kripa enough time to think of an adequate description.
"Well, he was let's say . . . about six foot two . . . broad shoulders, trim and fit . . . He had blond hair that fell loosely about his face . . . and he had silver gray eyes," she answered, forcing her voice to sound detached when she really wanted to say that his features were strikingly handsome, from what she could see, and that his stunning eyes could pierce her soul.
"Is that all?"
"All right," Angad said after writing down the last part of the description. "About this Friday, I don't think it's wise for you to go alone."
"Why not?" Kripa said. She was hoping this wouldn't happen; she didn't want to ask Angad to come with her and she didn't want him to suggest that he would go either.
"It's not safe for a multitude of reasons. I won't insult your intelligence by explaining why it is not safe for you to go alone. Therefore, you should take somebody along with you."
"And who do you suggest?" she replied, apprehensive of his answer. She subconsciously gripped the arms of the chair tighter, bracing herself for his answer.
"Do you have a close friend? A roommate, perhaps, who could go?"
Anitha! Kripa released her grip from the chair, thinking of how foolish she was. "Yes, I suppose my roommate could come with me."
"All right then. I don't think I need to remind you to be careful."
Kripa smiled at his play on words. Her father used to say the same thing when she was younger; by saying 'I don't think I need to remind you to be careful' he did just that and still made himself sound like a responsible parent but also a cool parent who doesn't badger their child.
Angad looked at Kripa, slightly bewildered by her smile.
"Thank you, Angad, for your help," she said, rising from her chair and offering her hand.
Angad took her hand, losing his breath as he felt a bolt of energy surge through his body. He had not felt something like that since that night. He quickly recovered and let her hand fall from his.
"You're welcome, Kripa," he said softly as he watched her leave his office.
Outside of his office, Kripa leaned her back against the wall to catch her breath. She had not expected that a simple handshake would have such a powerful effect on her body. When her hand touched his, something coursed through her body, making her heart beat faster and her breath shallower.
She took the longest path back to her office as she could, walking slowly as thoughts of her meeting with Angad ran through her mind.
* * *
"Anitha, what about this one?" Kripa said, walking back into their living room wearing the third outfit of the night.
Anitha laughed at her friend. "You look great! The past two outfits looked just as good. . . You'd think you were meeting the man of your dreams tonight or something."
"Well, he certainly has been in them as of late," Kripa laughed in return. "No really, do I look okay?"
Anitha looked up and down at Kripa, twirling her finger in front of her indicating to Kripa that she should turn around. She was wearing a black strapless dress with a blue cardigan and black strapped heels that made her legs look longer than usual.
"You look fantastic! Now, on to more important things: how do I look?" she teased.
Kripa laughed at her friend and returned to her room so she could finish getting ready. It was Friday and she was going to meet the stranger at long last. She was incredibly nervous and could not focus her mind or energy on anything. Her thoughts kept dancing back to the night of the ball and all of the sensations of that night would cause her skin to tingle.
Twenty minutes later, the two girls found themselves walking down a heavily packed sidewalk towards the direction of the theatre. Angad had gone through great lengths to acquire a ticket for Anitha for the night's show, or so she thought.
Arriving at the theatre, Kripa laughed to herself, noticing the show of the evening was to be none other than Phantom of the Opera. She thought it was very appropriate and was amused at the stranger's sense of humor. She walked up to the all call box and retrieved the tickets noticing that they were to be seated right next to each other. She made a mental note to thank Angad; he had really come through for her.
They entered the theatre and were directed to Box #5 by the usher. Kripa laughed to herself once more at the Man in the Masks' humor.
"Is that him?" Anitha asked, pointing a young man wearing a green jacket and black cap.
"No no, too young," Kripa said, her eyes darting from man to man.
"Well, I'm going to make myself comfortable then. Let me know if you spot him," Anitha said, sitting down into her seat.
Kripa followed suit, peering into the crowd below her. Naturally, he would be joining her in the box, she reasoned. She glanced at the empty seat beside her. Thinking that it would soon be occupied made her incredibly apprehensive. She shifted around in her seat, looking behind her every few seconds.
"Calm down, girl. He'll get here when he gets here," Anitha said, trying to make her friend stop fidgeting so much.
Before long, the lights dimmed and the orchestra started playing and the seat beside Kripa remained unoccupied. Disappointed, Kripa slouched down in her chair and turned her eyes to the stage.
Behind her, a tall young man with brown hair watched her ease back into her chair from under the long curtains on the side of the doorway.
He had watched her enter the theatre from his position at the top of the stairs. He was awed by her simple beauty. He loved how she did not hide her natural beauty under layers of make up. The way her dress hugged the curves of her body reminded him of how it felt to have those curves so close to his body. He felt his body warm at the thought and tried to dowse his mind with different thoughts. He was already warm from hiding underneath a curtain, he did not want to over heat.
He wanted so much to fly down those stairs and take her in his arms. Since having a taste of her, his body hungered for more. He often thought of when he was able to hold her and kiss her and dreamt for the day when he could do it without the mask, without pretense.
Now, while Kripa was busy watching the play, Angad was busy watching Kripa. He smiled as she became absorbed in the play. When she sighed contentedly, his smile grew even bigger. When she gasped during the suspenseful moments, it took everything within him to keep himself from wrapping his arms around her. And when she cried for the Phantom during the final scenes, his heart constricted within his chest at the thought that perhaps Kripa would not choose him after all.
He thought long and hard about Kripa before this night. He wanted any relationship between them to be based on honesty. He knew he had botched that already and it was too late. He at least wanted Kripa to fall in love with him, not the Man in the Mask. He wanted at least for the feelings and emotions to be real.
He watched Kripa walk home that night with Anitha's arm around her shoulders. He wanted so badly for his arms to be around her. He knew it would take time and it would take a lot of work but he was convinced. He was in love with Kripa and he would not settle until she was in love with him.
It pained him to see Kripa so upset. He did not realize that his actions would have such a profound effect on her. A great sense of guilt rushed over him as he watched a tear stained Kripa walk further and further away from him.
He did not want Kripa to cry any more. He hated himself for doing this to her. He was so selfish for wanting to watch her and not do anything to indicate his presence or identity to her. He knew his chances of seeing Kripa were slim unless he planned them himself. Tonight was going to be for him.
He didn't realize that tonight was supposed to be for her.
* * *
Kripa walked away from the theatre with tears in her eyes. The play was heart wrenching in and of itself, and in conjunction with her disappointment, had caused the flood gates to open. Anitha wrapped her arm around her and tried to comfort her but it was to no avail.
Kripa could not hide the fact that her emotions were invested in the Man in the Mask. Despite her good logic, she could not deny that she had come to expect something from this man, whoever he was. She had expected him to be there. She thought that he would embrace her the way he did before and speak the same words he had written to her.
When they arrived at their apartment, Anitha ushered Kripa straight to her room and helped her change into her pajamas. Kripa continued crying, curling up into a ball on her bed. Anitha sat there and rubbed her back until her crying ceased.
Kripa whispered a faint "thank you" as Anitha turned out the light and closed the door behind her.
When Anitha left, Kripa let more tears seep into her pillow and allowed her thoughts to center on one subject – the Man in the Mask. She wanted to know why he didn't show up. She felt more rejected than she had ever felt before. She remembered being so vulnerable the night of the ball and allowing herself to be swept off her feet by a complete stranger. The stranger evoked such feelings within her that she had never felt before. And now, it seemed, he did not want to share those things anymore.
Kripa cried herself to sleep that night.
* * *
A note from the ME:
Short chapter, I know, but I just got to get through these chapters to get to the good stuff! I have a party to go to tomorrow, so I don't know if I'll be able to write. . . :-)
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