Okay, I lied...I thought it would take me one more day to get some feedback from my brother, but he gave me a call today and said he liked the chapter. Plus, I've read through it several times, and I think it's as good as it's gonna get.
Warning: It is REALLY long, as will probably be the rest of them. It was about 15 pages on MS Word. I hope that won't deter any of you from reading. This one is basically an introduction chapter, so there's really no plot yet. Please give me honest feedback. I really want to know what you think of each of the seven main characters. A long, detailed response is appreciated, but I understand that some of you might not have time.
Chapter 1: Chance Encounters
"Care to enlighten me as to what's going on in that head of yours?" Vincent Garcia (Mario Lopez) asked, as he steered his Mustang convertible onto the exit ramp for Chicago's O'hare International Airport. It was just after dawn and the sun was casting a dim glow over everything in sight.
In the passenger seat, his best friend Rehaan Akhtar (Shahid Kapoor) snapped out of his reverie and turned to peer perplexedly at him. "What was that again?" he asked in his usual soft voice, brushing his dark hair out of his eyes.
"You've been rather subdued and contemplative during this car ride. I mean, even more than usual. Certainly something must be troubling you. And I don't think it would be too presumptuous for me to guess that her name starts with a Z."
A grimace distorted Rehaan's features, and he turned away in exasperation. "Vincent, please. Can we not have that discussion again?"
"I never knew you to be so obstinate before." Vincent asserted. "Come on, Rehaan. Just answer her phone calls. She's seeking an opportunity to apologize for whatever transpired last month, and I believe you owe her that much."
"I cannot believe that she's involving you in this," replied Rehaan, incredulously. "Look man, you don't know what happened between us, and I don't want to be the one to tell you. But you need to understand that Zeenat and I are over. Nothing she says to me can change that."
Vincent sighed. "All right then. I won't try to persuade you, but I want to remind you of some wisdom that you imparted on me a few years ago. 'Forgiveness is the only means by which you can make peace with the past.'"
Rehaan remained silent as Vincent parked the car in front of the American Airlines terminal and the two of them stepped out onto the pavement. After taking his duffel bag from the back seat, Rehaan turned towards his best friend with a meaningful expression.
"I'm sorry for being distracted today," he began, "I have a lot on my mind. But I want you to know that I'm really glad I came to visit you. I've enjoyed this past week more than the rest of the summer combined, and I really appreciate you showing me around Chicago."
"Anything for you," Vincent replied, playfully punching Rehaan's shoulder. "I'd like to present you with one more piece of advice if you don't mind. I understand the fact that you're a self-proclaimed introvert, but remember not to allow yourself to become too isolated over the next four years. The university experience is incomplete if you forego the pleasure of making friends and spending time with them."
"I'll keep that in mind," Rehaan conceded. "And...since we're presenting advice, I've got some for you as well. It's about time you stop trying to expand your spoken vocabulary. You're starting to sound like a living textbook."
Vincent chuckled heartily. "I'm attempting...err...trying to impress the intelligent women at Northwestern. But alas...no avail so far."
"I wish you the utmost success in that commendable endeavor," Rehaan replied with a grin, causing his friend to once again erupt into laughter.
"Have a great flight," Vincent said, embracing Rehaan, "and I hope Penn is all that you expect from it and then some."
"Thanks man. I'll see you in Miami over winter break."
Rehaan walked towards the airline building. Glancing back one last time to see Vincent driving off, he entered through the revolving door and proceeded towards the security checkpoint.
Fifteen minutes later, he was standing in front of his departure gate with nearly an hour to go until boarding would commence. He took a seat in the half-empty waiting area, and disappeared behind his newly purchased copy of The Great Gatsby.
Rehaan was starting his third chapter when he became vaguely aware that the waiting area had become packed. Disinterested in his surroundings, he continued reading until moments later a female voice speaking in Hindi caught his attention.
"Haan mummy, main Chicago pahunch gayi. Ab doosri flight ka intezaar kar rahi hoon."
Glancing up from his book, Rehaan saw a small young woman (Amrita Rao) seated in front of him with a cell phone to her ear. She could not have been more than five feet tall and had a very delicate body frame. Dressed professionally with her waist-length straight black hair neatly secured in a clip, she exuded an air of composure.
Unaware of Rehaan's eyes on her, she continued her conversation. "Nahin, main is weekend unse nahin mil paaoongi. I already have a schedule. Unpack karna hai, books khareedni hain, bahut kaam hain. Aur aap jaanti hain na, jab tak main apna kamra organize na kar loon, mujhe neend nahin aayegi."
As she paused to listen to to her mother's reply, Rehaan decided it was discourteous of him to be evesdropping on someone's conversation. He grabbed his water bottle from his bag and retrieved his book from his lap, intending to take a drink and then return to his reading.
The girl sighed with displeasure. "Theek hai mummy. Main aaj shaam thodi der ke liye unke ghar ho aati hoon. Lekin agar uncle ne mujhe bachpan ki tarah phir 'Sammy pehlwaan' keh ke bulaaya to main usi waqt wahaan se bhaag jaaongi."
Rehaan choked on the sip of water he had just taken as he struggled not to laugh. He couldn't imagine anyone less suitable to receive the nickname of pehlwaan than the petite girl in front of him. As his coughing died down, he stole a glance at her. She was gazing at him curiously with a frown. Great, he thought to himself, now she knows I was listening.
He raised his book again and began reading, this time able to almost block out the girl's voice. A few minutes later, he realized that the phone conversation had ended. Curiosity got the better of him, and he took another peek at her. He was surprised to find her grinning back at him and noted that she had a very pretty face, with dark almond eyes that sparkled when she smiled.
"You understood all that, didn't you?" she asked, amusement evident in her voice.
Rehaan nodded hesitantly as he lowered the book. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have been listening."
"No worries," she replied with a sweet, tinkling laugh. "I wasn't really making an effort to keep the conversation private. I'm Samira, by the way. Samira Rehman." She held out her hand.
"Rehaan Akhtar." As he leaned forward to shake her hand, his eyes fell to a planner in her lap, with a very familiar logo on it. "Wait a minute. Are you a University of Pennylvania student?" he asked.
"Starting my first year in a three days."
"Really? So am I. But how did you get a planner already?"
"My brother's a second year student," Samira explained. "I made him buy it for me, so I could start some early scheduling for this upcoming year."
Rehaan smiled. "I'm sensing an ambitious student aiming to be at the top of the class."
Samira shook her head. "It really has nothing to do with competition. I just like being organized and meticulous about everything. It's something I inherited from my dad, who happens to be a neurosurgeon."
"That's certainly a fitting career for a meticulous person."
"No doubt about that," she agreed. "So are you from Chicago?"
"No, I'm actually from Miami, Florida," he told her. "I've just been here for the past week visiting a friend. How about yourself?"
"Born and raised in Northern California. Do you realize we're both giving up year-round warm climates for freezing winters?"
"You don't say? I really should have thought this through before accepting the position," Rehaan joked, and Samira's melodic laughter permeated the air for a second time.
Abruptly, an amplified voice rang out from the nearby podium. "We will now begin boarding for American Airlines Flight 424 with service to Philadelphia. I'd like to call upon our first-class passengers to board at this time."
Samira rose from her seat and took hold of the handle of her rolling carry-on bag. "That would be me. I pleaded with my parents not to waste money, but mummy wants me to fly comfortably. Even for a two hour flight." She sighed in feigned annoyance. "I'll see you when we land in Philly."
She headed towards the line of first-class passengers, leaving Rehaan behind to marvel at how connected he already felt with someone who had been a stranger only minutes ago. For a quiet person like himself, it was a wonder that he felt comfortable enough to talk to, let alone joke with, an unfamiliar person. But there was something unique about Samira. From her very first words to him, she was so genuine, so pleasant, that he couldn't help but feel at ease. During the few minutes that he spoke with Samira, he forgot completely about Zeenat. That was the kind of friend he needed; one who would help him stop delving into a depressing past. Hoping he'd have common classes with her, Rehaan leaned back into his seat and waited for the general boarding announcement.
Meanwhile, Samira had settled into her spacious seat, an old Bollywood song playing from the iPod headphones in her ears. She hardly paid attention to the lyrics though, because her mind was still on her short chat with Rehaan. Samira had never met anyone so hard to read before, yet she still found him extremely likeable. She had noticed him for the very first time when he tried to suppress his laughter upon listening to her conversation. Her first impression was that he was one of those loud, juvenile guys who find humor in everything, and she thought it might be amusing to put him on the spot. But the moment he opened his mouth, she was taken aback by how softspoken he was. Consequently, she began to think that he was an antisocial, withdrawn person. However, as the conversation ensued, he had surprised her once again by his charm and subtle humor. There was something unique about Rehaan. He was definitely a classmate whom she wanted to get to know better.
As she abstractedly flipped through the pages of her planner, a note she had written to herself earlier that week caught her eye - "Call Bhaiya during layover." Uff Samira, how could you forget, she scolded herself as she yanked her phone out of her purse. She dialed the speed dial code for her brother's mobile and waited for him to pick up. After six rings, she was redirected to voicemail. Cancelling the call, she tried again, her heart pounding in her chest. She had reminded him of the date and time of her arrival at least ten times during the preceding week. Then why wasn't he answering his phone?
"Hi Samira," she heard a voice on the other line, but instead of her brother's deep tone, it was another different yet familiar voice with a slight desi accent.
"Adi?" she questioned in confusion. Aditya Basu (Mohit Sehgal, Samrat) was her brother's roommate and close friend. "Why are you answering Bhaiya's phone? What happened? Is he okay?"
"Whoa, calm down there, Munchkin," he replied. "Zaid's still asleep."
"It's only 8:30 in the morning. Don't you know your brother at all? Anyway, he told me that if you called, I should tell you that he will be waking up at 10, leaving home by 10:30 and promptly standing in baggage claim at 11 to receive you."
"What is he thinking?" Samira wondered aloud. "What if there's traffic on the way?"
"Don't shoot the messenger," Aditya replied. "I'm only conveying his words. But don't worry, even if he's late, you'll have plenty of time...uh...what exactly is so urgent before classes have even started?"
Samira sighed deeply. "Nothing I guess. It's just...I was out of the country when he came to visit California this summer, so I haven't seen him since March. I really miss him."
Aditya felt a pang of envy towards his roommate. Zaid had a near perfect family, with two younger sisters who loved and admired him. Aditya had met the entire family when he visited California during spring break. They had their share of arguments and disagreements, but ultimately Aditya knew that they meant the world to each other. It pained him that he would never have the same kind of relationship with anyone.
Shaking himself out of his self-pity, he decided to alleviate Samira's concerns. "You know, he misses you too. He's been telling me all sorts of stories about you over the past few days."
"Really?" Samira asked with a faint smile. "Like what."
"You know, same old," he replied with a devious grin. "How your OCD behavior would always drive him up a wall."
"Must you call me that?"
"Of course. You realize that you'll be the shortest student at Penn, right?"
Samira rolled her eyes. "Whatever. The plane's taking off in a few minutes. I better go."
"See ya later, Munchkin!"
"Bye Adi," she replied with a laugh. She had to hand it Aditya; he was the most entertaining person she knew.
Aditya smiled to himself as he ended the call. He loved teasing Samira because her eccentricities made it easy, yet she was lighthearted enough never to get offended. He turned around to set the phone back on the night stand and found Zaid (Ranbir Kapoor) sitting up in his bed rubbing his eyes sleepily.
"Good. Ab tujhe jagaana nahin padega," Aditya said as he placed the phone down. "But why make me answer your phone if you're awake?"
Zaid glared at him. "It wasn't the ringer that woke me up. It was a certain person speaking at the top of his voice. Baahar jaa kar baat nahin kar sakte the?"
"Bhalaayi ka to zamaana hi nahi raha," Aditya commented, shaking his head. "I should have just let your phone keep ringing. It would really make my day to watch Samira yell at you at the airport for scaring the hell out of her."
"Okay, fine. I am forever grateful to you for rescuing me from an untimely death. Now can I go back to sleep? Mujhe apni neend pyaari hai."
"Neend pyaari hai ya sapne? Ya phir sapnon mein aane waali?" Aditya smiled slyly.
Instantly, Zaid's cheeks flushed a deep crimson.
Aditya chuckled at this sight. "Chill, man. I was only kidding. Lekin lagta hai teer nishaane par lag hi gaya."
"Shut up Adi. Ab tu jaayega yahaan se?"
"Listen, Zaid," Aditya continued, taking a seat on the edge of the bed. "Now that we've already established that you're in love, why don't you just--"
"Wait," Zaid interrupted, "when exactly did we establish that?"
"Let me give you a recap of this week's events. Three days ago while you were assembling your new desk, I found you staring blankly into space and humming 'Pehla Nasha, Pehla Khumaar.' When I asked you who your 'naya pyaar' was, you turned red and wouldn't say a word for the next hour. Aur phir kal ki hi baat le lo. You dressed up extra nicely just to go to the bookstore, so I asked if you were going to meet your girlfriend. You once again turned red and left the apartment as quickly as possible. And look at you blushing now. Ab chhupaane se kya faida? Bata bhi de, who is the elusive woman who has stolen Zaid Rehman's heart?"
Zaid shook his head. "Not a chance. I'm not gonna make it even easier for you to mess with me."
"Theek hai, kuch bhi mat bata. One of these days, I'll catch you in her presence, and the expression on your face will give it all away. Tu mujhse nahin chhupa paayega."
"Whatever," Zaid replied indifferently, stretching his arms. "Great, I'm not even sleepy anymore."
"Good, then get up. Let's shoot some hoops at the park before we head over to the airport."
Zaid pulled the covers off of himself. "Fine, but I need breakfast first."
"Oh that reminds me..." Aditya began. Without finishing his sentence, he turned to head out. "I'll be back in a bit."
"Ab tu kahaan ja raha hai?"
"The convenience store. We're out of mik. You get dressed, and I'll go buy some." With that, Aditya was out the door.
As he stepped out of the apartment building into the warm August sunshine and began walking down the street, Aditya finally reflected on the sense of jealousy he had felt earlier while speaking with Samira. It was times like this when he realized that despite his efforts to assume a playful and carefree exterior for others, he could not hide from himself that the wound of his loss had not yet healed.
Aditya had a complex past. His parents had fallen in love during their early years of college in India and married young, but they were never quite pleased about giving up the opportunity to attain higher education. Over a decade after their marriage, they both decided to pursue their dreams and apply to business school. They secured positions at a Texas MBA program and relocated to the United States along with a ten-year-old Aditya. After completing their two year degree, they had started a joint business venture, but it took them another two years to pay off all their student loans and become financially stable.
That's when tragedy stuck. It was four years ago that Aditya's parents had left him behind in their hometown of Houston as they flew to Atlanta for a week long conference. He spoke to them both on the phone on their last night in Atlanta, a conversation in which they expressed their excitement about returning home. Unfortunately, they never made it back to Houston. An hour before it was supposed to land, their plane experienced malfunctions and plummeted into a field, killing all passengers and pilots aboard.
At the tender age of fifteen, Aditya suddenly found himself alone and nearly penniless. His cousin Vishal, a new college student at the time, became his legal guardian and graciously gave him a place to live while completing high school. Working part time to avoid infringing upon Vishal's hospitality more than was necessary, Aditya somehow made it though the next three years. When he finally started his higher studies at the University of Pennsylvania, he was pleased to no longer be obligated to rely on anyone else. He wanted to take full advantage of this educational opportunity to become successful and independent. Now in his second year, Aditya knew he was on the right path to live up to his parent's dreams for him.
Aditya pushed his somber thoughts away as he entered the convenience store. A bizarre scene met his eyes the moment he walked in. The customer at the front of the line and the middle-aged store owner were glaring at each other menacingly, with a six-pack of beer on the cashier counter separating them. The customer appeared to be in his early twenties, broad-shouldered and muscular. He was dressed roguishly in torn jeans and an oil-stained brown leather jacket with unkempt dirty blonde hair.
"Why are you making this so difficult?" he demanded irritably. "I told you, I forgot my wallet at home, but I have the cash. Can't you just let me off the hook?"
"Sorry sir," the owner responded, trying to contain his anger. "As I said, I ain't selling you alcohol without seeing your identification."
The customer rolled his eyes in annoyance. "Come on man. I'm late for a football party at a friend's house. I told everyone I'd bring the beer."
"Please leave the store, sir, or I'll be forced to call the police."
The customer slammed his hand furiously on the counter then turned quickly to leave. He was so distracted by his anger that he ran smack into the young woman (Sanaya Irani, Gunjan) waiting in line behind him, causing her to drop everything in her hands and almost lose her balance. Without so much as an apology, the man stormed out of the store, nearly running into Aditya who was still standing at the entrance.
As the girl he had run into kneeled down to pick up her purse and groceries, Aditya walked over to help her. When he bent down beside her, she glanced at him from behind her round glasses and gave him a timid smile.
"Are you okay?" he asked her, handing her a container of salt.
She nodded, but appeared shaken. "Thank you," she said faintly as they both rose, and she turned to place her items on the counter.
"That there was Todd Mitchell," the store owner informed them in his kind Southern accent. "He's underage, but that don't stop him from trying to fool us. He tried the same thing a few months ago, and another customer told me all about him. He got into Penn last year on a football scholarship, but he's already on probation for failing his classes. Rumor's got it that he's in a gang. Ya'll better steer clear of him if you wanna avoid trouble."
Aditya grinned. "Will do, Mr. Peterson. Thanks for the tip." He returned his gaze to the girl at his side. "I'm sure being pummeled to the ground is something we'd all like to avoid. Am I right, Miss Neelam Mehta?"
Neelam's mouth fell open as she wondered how he knew her name. A moment later, she realized that she was still wearing her identification badge from the research building where she worked. Smiling, she nodded as a response to his question.
"I'm Aditya, by the way." Once Neelam had acknowledged his introduction with another smile and nod, he continued. "Not a big fan of conversation I can see. Well, I guess I'll see you around." With a grin and a wink, he turned and left to find the dairy aisle.
Neelam felt her face go warm and hoped the redness wouldn't be conspicuous. Straightening her glasses, she stepped up to the counter to finally pay for her groceries.
Making her way home, Neelam wondered why the weirdest things always happened to her. The last thing she wanted was to attract any sort of attention to herself in public, yet almost every time she stepped out the door, she found herself in the spotlight for one reason or another. Once, a mentally unstable woman sitting next to her on a bus had spent ten minutes shrieking obsenities at her for no reason whatsoever causing everyone to stare in her direction. In another instance, the bottom of her long skirt had become caught in a moving escalator, and she had to be rescued by a passerby who helped her tear the hem away. Somehow, she just seemed to attract messy situations.
She had to admit that she was partially to blame for today's debacle. The very moment when that Todd Mitchell guy began to get irritated, she should have taken it as a cue to back away from the potential source of trouble. Yet she stayed in place, as if asking to be slammed into. Not smart at all. And why the hell was she behaving so strangely towards the guy who helped her retrieve her groceries? It doesn't matter that you're shy, Neelam, she reprimanded herself. It doesn't give you an excuse to be impolite. But in the back of her mind, she knew that her loss for words in the presence of Aditya had more to do with the attraction she immediately felt towards him. His face, his smile, his voice -- it had all made her a little lightheaded for a minute. So he's a good-looking guy, she rebuked herself once again; that still doesn't justify your behavior.
When she arrived home, Neelam immediately went to the kitchen to unload the groceries and finish making the spectacular breakfast she had promised her family. She measured some salt into a pot that was sitting on the stove, stirred well, and sampled the contents.
"Aa gayi, beta?" Neelam heard her mother's voice behind her.
"Haan mom," she replied as her mother joined her at the stove. "Sorry, thodi der ho gayi. My mentor emailed me last night saying he needed the protocol manual today, so I had to go drop it off in the lab." She took another taste from the pot. "Ab yeh bilkul tayyaar hai. Paraathe banaana shuru karoon?"
"Tum jaa ke apne dad aur Deepali ko bula laao. Tab tak main banaana shuru karti hoon."
Neelam frowned like a miffed little girl. "Nahin mom. Aaj sirf main naashta banaaoongi."
Her mother smiled and pinched her cheeks dotingly. "Theek hai. I'll just set the table. Ab jaao na."
Neelam bounded up the stairs two at a time, eager to have her family at the table. Cooking was her specialty, the activity she enjoyed the most and the one domain where she had never fallen short of fabulous; well, not since she was twelve years old anyway. If it weren't for her mother's insistence that she develop her talents and interests in multiple fields instead of becoming too preoccupied with one, she would be preparing nearly every meal for the family. Her father certainly would not object; he was a connoisseur for fine dining and Neelam's biggest fan.
It was his office that she approached first as she reached the top of the stairwell. He was, as she had expected, glued to his computer screen, making final changes to his syllabus for the Physics class he would be teaching during the upcoming semester. Without a sound, Neelam sneaked up behind him and covered his eyes with her hands.
After a slight jerk of surpise, he used his fingers to feel the back of her hands, probing for clues. "Hmm...no wedding ring. Nandini to nahin hai. Ab bacheen Deepali aur Neelam." He found the watch on her wrist. "Deepali aur ghadi? Usko time ki parva na kabhi huwi hai aur na kabhi hogi. Yeh zaroor Neelam ke haath hain."
"Bilkul sahi!" Neelam removed her hands and moved to his side, grinning. "Ab aap thodi der ke liye kaam se break le lijiye. Breakfast is ready."
"I wouldn't miss it for the world," he replied, cheerfully. "Main bas abhi do minute mein aata hoon."
"Theek hai. Jab tak main dekhti hoon Deepali kya kar rahi hai."
"Uske to sirf do kaam hote hain. Ya to kisi nayi painting mein rang bhar rahi hogi, ya phir dance practice mein magan hogi."
Laughing at her father's accurate assessment, Neelam left the room and walked down the hall to her twin sister Deepali's room. Seconds after she knocked, the door was flung open, and Deepali (Rati Pandey, Nupur) beamed at her, clad in a floral yellow sundress.
"Just the person I was waiting for," she said, taking Neelam's wrist and pulling her inside.
Despite having entered her sister's room countless times before, it still took Neelam a moment to recover from shock of having a myriad of vivid colors suddenly emerge before her eyes. The bedspread had large polka dots in multiple shades of pink, blue and green, a cozy electric purple roundabout chair stood in one corner and large shaggy teal rug lay in the center of the floor. All the furniture was arranged along the walls, to give Deepali a sizeable dance floor in between, and almost every inch of wall was covered with her exquisite artwork. If there were one word to describe the theme of Deepali's room, it would have to be 'vibrant.'
Neelam smiled to herself as she mentally compared the room with her own. Her room had a theme too, but a much less colorful one. In fact, it was virtually devoid of color. Neelam's favorite colors were black and white, a fact that her current outfit of black slacks and a white top appeared to substantiate. Every piece of furniture in her room was white, her comforter set had black and white stripes, and she had even had pictures of her friends and family developed in greyscale for the walls.
Decoration preference was not the only attribute in which the twins diverged so markedly. Besides having shared a womb for nine months, Neelam and Deepali had almost nothing in common. Neelam was slightly taller with straight shoulder-length hair and a slim figure while Deepali had longer wavy hair and a more curvy shape. While Neelam was quiet and family-oriented, Deepali was vivacious and sociable. Yet, despite their differences, they had always been best of friends and appreciated each other's individuality.
"What do you think?" Deepali asked, as she pulled her sister in front of her canvas and easel.
Neelam gaped at the unfinished painting, spellbound. It was almost like looking at a reflection in a mirror. Deepali had taken a photo of Neelam and reproduced her face on the canvas in such flawless detail, it could almost pass for a photograph. "This is absolutely brilliant," Neelam finally responded.
Deepali's face lit up in a wide smile. "You really like it? I was going to give it to you when I finish."
"I love it from the bottom of my heart," Neelam answered, squeezing her sister's hand.
"And I can't wait to see the final product."
"Will you put it up in your room?" Deepali, asked hesitantly. "I know it doesn't fit with your theme, but maybe you can make an exception."
"Of course I will. But make sure you choose black or white for my clothes."
Deepali laughed. "Well, obviously Neelam. I have to make it authentic, don't I?"
"Deeps, you don't even know how talented you are. I have no idea how you do it."
"Just like I have no idea how you make the best aloo ke paraathe in world," Deepali praised, "which by the way, you promised you'd make this morning."
"Exactly what I came to tell you," Neelam informed her. "Everything's ready."
"Then what are we still doing here? I'll race you downstairs." Before finishing her sentence, Deepali had dashed out of the room.
"Hey! No fair," called out Neelam, following suit.
The raced downstairs and across the living room with Deepali leading. Entering the kitchen, they found their parents seated at the dining table. As Deepali joined them, Neelam readily went to the stove to begin preparing the parathas.
"Dad, I haven't seen you in a suit for months," commented Deepali. "Do you have a meeting today?" Unlike Neelam who was completely fluent in both languages, Deepali was more comforable speaking in English, though she understood Hindi fairly well. Having spent more time out of the house with friends rather than conversing with her parents when she was younger, she had never developed the same command over Hindi that Neelam had.
Her mother gave her a knowing look. "Tumko pata nahin, Deepali? His favorite student will be making an appearance at our home any moment now."
"Ah, now it all makes sense. Anyway, that's exciting. I've always wanted to meet Hina Noorani, the teacher's pet."
"Deepali," her father warned in a stern voice. "Tum uske saamne koyi aisi waisi baat mat keh dena. She's not a teacher's pet; she's just a very bright student."
"Oh come on, Dad," Deepali replied, "she brought you a cake and a Macy's gift card at the end of last semester. It's pretty clear that she really wanted that A+."
"She didn't need to use persuasion to get an A+. And the gifts were only because I had written her a recommendation for a summer internship."
"Surely the traditional thank you card would have sufficed," his wife remarked. Apparently, she was of the same opinion as her daughter.
"Tum dono bhi hamesha shuru ho jaati ho," he responded. "Hina just appreciates the time I put into her recommendation. There's nothing more to it."
Neelam turned away from the stove to give her input. "Dad's right, Deepali. We haven't started college yet, so we don't know how these things work. One of my coworkers at the lab is applying to grad school right now, and he's buying boxes of chocolate for all the professors who are writing recommendations for him. He says that professors are very busy people, and we should all recognize the value of their time."
"I guess," Deepali frowned. "I still have a feeling this Hina girl might be one of those suck-ups who--" The chime of the doorbell interrupted her.
"Speak of the devil," her mother laughed.
"I'll get it," Deepali said eagerly. She walked to the living room and threw open the front door, only to be immediately taken aback by the sight in front of her. Standing on the doorstep was a young woman with flawless features and a figure that even models would die for. She was at least 5'9" with perfectly flat abs and long, slender legs. Her dark hair fell in loose curls halfway down her back, and high cheekbones gave her face a magestic quality. To top it off, she was dressed in a form-fitting knee length black skirt, a sky blue button-down top and black heels, all of which contributed to her stunning appearance.
"Hi, I'm Hina Noorani," she said with a bright dimpled smile. "Is Professor Anand Mehta at home?"
Deepali gestured for her to come in. "Right this way."
As Hina (Deepika Padukone) walked in and closed the door behind her, Deepali's father joined them in the living room. Flashing her dimples once again, Hina greeted him. "Good morning Professor Mehta. It's so nice to see you again."
"Likewise," he replied, shaking her hand. "This is my daughter, Deepali. She'll be joining you at Penn this year." After the girls had greeted one another, he continued. "How was your summer vacation, Hina?"
"Wonderful. The internship at Genentech proved to be even more valuable than I could ever imagine. And after it was over, I spent two weeks in New York with my family. But I have to say, I can't wait to start classes again. I'm definitely happiest in an academic setting."
What a nerd, thought Deepali to herself. However, despite finding Hina's love for academics to be excessive, she couldn't help but think that her prior assessment had been inaccurate. Hina certainly seemed genuine enough, completely unlike the eager-to-please syncophant Deepali was expecting to find. In fact, Deepali was now hoping that they would eventually become friends.
"That's excellent," Professor Mehta responded delightedly . "Well, I'm sorry that you will be missing the first day of classes, but I'm sure the pharmaceuticual conference will be a good experience for you. I have the syllabus ready in my office, but I'd like you to meet the rest of my family first."
Hina followed Professor Mehta and Deepali into the dining room where she was introduced to Mrs. Mehta and Neelam. She talked to them for a few minutes, immediately winning their affection as she had won Deepali's, but politely declined their offer to join them at the breakfast table. Professor Mehta gave her the syllabus she had come for, and she left soonafter.
Strolling along the tree-lined walkways of the University of Pennsylvania campus, Hina headed towards her dorm buildling. She smiled to herself as she reflected on how well the visit had gone. Getting future recommendations from Professor Mehta would be a breeze.
At the sound of her cell phone ringtone, Hina pulled the phone out of her purse and glanced at the caller ID before answering it.
"What's up, Bhai?" she said to her brother.
Yusuf Noorani's (Rajeev Khandelwal) always lively voice responded, "Hey Hina. Am I catching you at the right time? I was afraid you might be at the gym."
"Not yet, but I'm planning on heading there soon," she replied. "How are things with you?"
"You know the medical student routine. Classes, working at the pediatrics clinic, preparing for USMLE Step 1. Tum apni sunao?"
"Well, I arrived in Philly three days ago, and Papa has already called four times to check up on me. You'd think now that I've been away for a year he'd realize that I know how to take care of myself."
"Come on Hina, don't be so hard on him" Yusuf urged her. "He's just concerned about your welfare."
"But Bhai, I don't have time to give him my itinerary at every moment of the day. If I'm going to be the top executive at a pharmaceutical company one day, I need to focus on school and my internships."
"You know, sometimes your ambitiousness scares me a little."
Hina snickered. "A Harvard medical student is calling me overly ambitious?"
"But there's a difference. I just want to be the best I can be, not better than everyone else. Aur waise bhi, mere liye meri family se badh kar koyi cheez nahin hai."
"Okay, enough with the sentimentality please."
"Hina, I'm serious. Just don't forget to rethink your priorities once in a while."
"Fine. I'll do that," she gave in. "I'm at my dorm building now and my phone doesn't work in the elevator. I'll talk to you later this week."
"All right. Take care and have a great second year!"
Once she reached her dorm room, Hina quickly changed into sweats, tied her hair into a ponytail, grabbed a water bottle, and headed out once again to go to the gym. Whether it was a quick jog around the block or spending several hours in an aerobics class, she made it a point to get some exercise every day. Making a good impression everywhere she went was important to Hina, and staying fit was one of many things that helped her achieve this.
She was halfway to the gym when she noticed a familiar young man leaving one of the apartment buildings on the street she was walking down. As he turned to face her, she recognized him as a classmate from her previous semester's Engineering intro class. He seemed somewhat stunned by her emergence and stopped dead in his tracks.
"Hi," Hina gave him a smile. "I think we had a class together. You're Zaid, right?"
Zaid felt his heart swell with elation at the fact that she knew his name. "Um...yeah. And, you're Hina."
"I am," she replied, grinning. "I believe we're both second year engineering students."
"Yes. I'm in Mechanical."
"Nice. Both of my parents are Mechanical Engineers as were my grandfathers, but I decided to break the tradition and try Bioengineering."
"I hear that's the ideal field these days."
"That's the hope," she answered. "Anyway, I'm heading to the gym right now. I'll see you around campus. Or maybe in the engineering lounge."
Her dazzling smile caused his heart to skip a beat. Composing himself, he replied, "Sounds good. See you later."
The moment she was out of sight, Zaid breathed a sigh of relief. Thank God Aditya had sprained his ankle playing basketball and wasn't accompanying him to the airport. If Aditya had been with him, he would have figured out the secret of Zaid's mystery woman in two seconds flat.
Zaid sat in his car and headed towards Philadelphia International Airport. For the duration of the drive, he couldn't help but relive his conversation with Hina over and over again in his mind. Her every word and facial expression was etched in his memory. He never knew it was possible for a woman to be so strikingly beautiful, so flawlessly perfect, so...angelic.
While Zaid was finding a parking spot at the airport, Rehaan had stepped out of the airplane and was making his way down the connecting ramp. Walking into the terminal, he found Samira waiting nearby. She beamed at him as he appoached her.
"Hey!" He returned the smile. "Are you waiting for me?"
Samira nodded. "I didn't want to walk alone, and I thought you might feel the same way."
"I can't say that you're wrong." He glanced expressively into her eyes. "Thanks a lot."
As they walked toward the baggage claim area, Rehaan and Samira exchanged phone numbers and discussed plans to explore Philadelphia together in the near future.
"There's my brother," Samira said suddenly as she caught sight of Zaid purchasing a frappacino at a small Starbuck's stand.
Rehaan turned to look where she was pointing. "You mean that really tall guy?" he asked in disbelief. Samira raised an eyebrow at him, and he bit his lip. "Sorry, I didn't mean..."
Samira giggled. "It's okay. It's not the first time I've gotten that. And yes, that potential NBA player is indeed my brother. I guess genetics can be unpredictable."
"I'll say. Oh, there's my roommate over there." He motioned towards an East Asian bespectacled guy in a different corner of the waiting area who waved back.
Samira and Rehaan stopped walking. "Good luck with the first week of school," Rehaan said to her. "I hope you'll like it here." He felt a strange sinking feeling in his stomach as if he didn't want to be separated from Samira so soon.
"You too," Samira replied with a hint of sadness in her voice. After a moment of silence, she smiled and changed her tone. "I'm sure we'll be seeing a lot of each other over the next four years."
"I look forward to it. Take care Samira."
As they turned to go their separate ways, an unanticipated sensation convinced them both that their encounter would prove to be more significant than it had initially seemed.
1. Which characters do you most identify with?
2. Do you like long chapters or should I make them shorter? Keep in mind that my updates will not be very frequent either way (one chapter per two weeks MAX).
Edited by SuhanaSafar - 16 May 2009 at 1:16pm