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Chapter 70: The Great Outdoors
"Home Sweet Home!" Preet shouted with glee as he opened the door to the Juneja cabin.
"Wow, you guys did a fantastic job of cleaning," Meher squealed with delight as she entered into the house.
"It's so beautiful here." Maya gasped at the way the place was decorated. It had a touch of outdoor woodsman charm without going overboard with deer heads and bear rugs. There was still a sense of elegance and luxury to the cabin. She wandered around the first floor inspecting the place wondering what she would fine. She smiled to see there was a prayer room near the backroom office that had a gorgeous window view of the forest. She waved through the window when she saw Kunal and Sang walking below on the back deck.
"Like it?" Harman asked as he entered the room.
"It's seriously is beautiful here...not just the cabin but the view...breathtaking," Maya replied.
"I agree...breathtaking," Harman answered but his eyes were directed towards the female figure in front of him instead of the window view. Maya was unaware as she continued to face the window staring out into the thick evergreen trees.
"Let's go outside on the deck where everyone is," Maya suggested as she turned around and started walking out of the room.
"I'd rather not," Harman replied as he grabbed her arm.
"Harman..." Maya shyly said. "Stop playing around...everyone is here...Preet could pop out any minute." He ignored his girlfriend's words and attempted to close the distance between them. He held her hands and put them around his neck and then placed his hands around her waist.
"Did someone say my name?" Preet asked as he walked into the room immediately causing Maya and Harman to break apart.
Maya glared at Harman while he sheepishly rubbed the back of his head. "I'm going to go outside on the deck."
"I'm going to go put my stuff in my room," Harman said.
Preet just smirked to himself and walked back into the living room. As he was coming in he saw Nihaal struggling to pull in a suitcase. "What does she have in here? Her entire wardrobe? This thing is heavy!" Nihaal paused when he saw Preet and grinned. "Thanks for inviting me. I've had it pretty rough at the office for the past couple weeks. A weekend getaway in the woods was just what I needed."
"I'm glad you came with us too. Though it seems like you're struggling there...Veera's suitcase?" Preet inquired.
"Yeah, what does she pack? Does she always do this?" Nihaal asked.
"Unfortunately yes...you should have seen how much Bauji demanded her to take out so he didn't have to pay for the suitcase overage weight when we went back to India. She's crazy about her clothes," Preet said.
"Yeah, I can see that," Nihaal sighed. Preet went to the doorway and helped him lug the suitcase into the house. "Can you help me put this in her room?"
"Sure thing," Preet said.
"Be careful with that!" Veera warned as she came back into the house from the deck.
"Be careful with your clothes? Have a little compassion for me and your brother here," Nihaal scolded. "We could break out backs trying to carry this monster of a thing upstairs." Veera remind quiet and kept her mouth close as she followed them upstairs to her room.
"Thanks," she said when they carefully moved it near the closet.
"Should we go get the other suitcases?" Nihaal suggested looking at Preet.
"Why are you acting like the bell hop of the hotel?" Preet inquired. "Go out on the deck and enjoy yourself like everyone else. Don't worry about it...they can take their own bags upstairs."
Nihaal nodded and asked, "Is there anything to drink?"
"Yeah, we stocked the fridge and pantry yesterday before coming up. There are sodas, Vitamin Water, ice tea, juice, and milk," Preet replied. "Come on let's go get something to drink. We'll leave Veera at peace with her clothes."
"Preet!" Veera shouted.
"Hurry let's go before she starts lecturing us on fashion dos and don'ts," he said and quickly walked out of the room with Nihaal closely following behind chuckling.
The rest of the day was spent settling into the cabin and getting to know the surrounding areas. Preet and Harman took the group to the lake and showed them where they would be hanging out tomorrow. They pointed out all the activities they could do such as canoeing, mountain biking, and hiking. There were picnic benches and places to setup barbecues along the lake shore. It really was an ideal place to spend a weekend and get away from the worries of city life. Eventually the day drew to a close and with everyone in high spirits for tomorrow's activities.
Meher quietly crept downstairs to the kitchen to get a glass of water to drink. She was surprised to see a lone figure standing outside on the deck staring up at the sky. The moonlight was so bright that it illuminated a soft glow on the deck. She tip-toed outside to see who was standing there and then smiled as she realized it was Preet. The shadows played upon his sharp features making him look even more handsome. Meher sighed to herself wondering what she did right to have him in her life. "I never thought you were a moon gazer," she teased as she came closer.
Preet turned and smiled pleased by her company. "I had trouble sleeping for some reason. Harman on the other hand was out like a light. His head hit the pillow and he was softly snoring. How is your room with Ash?"
"It's great. We were talking a lot...finally went to bed a couple of hours ago but I got thirsty and came down to get some water," Meher explained.
"You girls and your talks...I can only imagine what Veera and Maya are up to...probably discussing summer fashion," Preet joked.
Meher giggled, "I can believe that." She then pouted, "Nihaal Bhaiya is so lucky he has the master bedroom all to himself."
"Well, he is the eldest in the group so Harman and I decided that he should have the master suite," Preet replied.
Meher thoughtfully looked at him and noticed a slight sadness in his usually mirthful brown eyes. She tenderly touched his arm, "What's wrong Preet?"
He gave a soft grin. "I don't know why but I miss PB...he's been away for almost a month now. I know it sounds kind of stupid...it's isn't like he hasn't ever gone somewhere...been away from the family for a period of time...but I don't know I just miss him."
Meher could relate to his feelings of being away from a sibling you loved so dearly. She knew how close Preet was to Prem and knew how much he seemed to idolize his older brother. "It's not stupid Preet. It's only natural to miss someone that we love a lot when they go away. But he'll be back soon."
"Yeah, I know. But he'll be really busy...Bauji will have him working a lot more at the hotel...getting him ready to take over...and there is Bhabhi...I mean I love Bhabhi...she's fantastic...the perfect partner for him and all...but he'll have to spend time with her obviously..."
"Preet, your brother will always have time for you," Meher reassured. "You're his family...nothing's going to change that. I'm telling you the first thing he's going to do when he comes back is hangout with you."
"Thanks Meher," Preet said and put his arm around her shoulder. "But that is a lie and you know it. He's going to go straight to Ma and ask her to make him his favorite dishes."
Meher laughed at his remark and then leaned her head on his shoulder. "The moon is so bright tonight."
"Yeah, I know. PB loves gazing at the moon," Preet replied.
"So does Didi."
"Maybe that's why they fell in love?" Preet joked.
"Maybe..." Meher replied with a chuckle.
"You think PB is staring up at this same moon tonight?" Preet asked.
"I'm sure he is," Meher answered. She felt Preet tighten his hold around her shoulders as she wrapped her arms around his waist. They stood there for some time simply gazing at the bright moon in wonder at its beauty. There was a serene silence that surrounded them and a calm that filled their hearts. What made it even more special was the knowledge that they were standing with the one they loved the most in the world sharing this unexplainable experience. It was this magical feeling that made them realized why their elder siblings probably stood and gazed at the moon together.
Heer stood by the window gently looking up above at the full moon. The waters of the Grand Canal seemed to be glistening brightly. There were still a few lights on in the dusky hours of the early morning making the scene before her even more romantic. She took a deep breath and slowly exhaled. There was something to be said about Venice. Its history, art, ambiance, and waterways made it truly a lovers' paradise. She grinned as she felt the presence of her husband standing behind her. "Couldn't sleep?" he huskily asked. She titled her head shyly as he began to nuzzle her ear. "Come back to bed and I'll help you." Heer placed her hands on his as they circled her waist. She was only wearing his white t-shirt which covered her down to her mid thighs and a pair of pink panties while he was in his red boxers. Venice had sparked even more romantic moments between them than the usual if that was even possible. That didn't mean they all lead to the bedroom. It was the simple things such as a stroll through the streets and alleyways of the Italian city. There was just something charming about getting lost for a few hours stumbling upon empty squares and eateries where locals ate. The gondola rides along the canals whether during the days or nights were always romantic. They had even gone out to St. Mark's Square in the late evening when everything was closed so they could experience the majesty of the place alone and away from the crowds. Prem eventually stopped nibbling on his wife's ear and rested his head next to hers and breathed deeply. "It's amazing how the moon is still so bright."
"I know," Heer replied leaning her back against his chest.
"So are you enjoying yourself Mrs. Juneja?"
"Yes, this has been the best honeymoon ever," she gushed.
"Well, I certainly hope it's the only honeymoon you ever have," Prem replied.
"As long as you keep healthy and agree to live a long, long, long life with me," Heer giggled.
"I intend to," he chuckled.
"Venice is so beautiful...I really love this city," Heer said.
"So, is this shaping up to be your favorite? What about Switzerland?" Prem asked. "We were in Geneva and Berne. You really enjoyed that mountain view on that ridge in Berne."
"I'm not sure...every place has been special. We still haven't gone to Rome yet...I can't wait to see the Colosseum, the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, St. Peter's Square, the Roman Forum, Piazza Navona, and the Spanish Steps at the Piazza di Spagna...and there so many other places to go look at..." Heer replied.
"Good thing we have two weeks though I wonder if that will be enough," Prem mused.
"As long as you get your lazy butt out of bed on time," Heer teased.
"I'm the lazy butt? You're sister has to wake you up in the morning because you can't get up...shouldn't it be the other way around...she's the youngest," Prem inquired.
"It's Meher's job because I'm always doing things for her. I take on all the harder chores and give her the lighter ones. But once we get back home...you don't have to worry about anything...I'll be up early to help Ma around the house," Heer replied.
"Don't over work yourself. Ma gets up at 5am every morning...it's a habit she has...Kulraj Di doesn't get up until 6am...so get up at 6:30..."
"Why 6:30? They will be up before me that won't do..." Heer said.
"You still have school...you're going to be exhausted from work...and with all these other household responsibilities...no, I want you get that thirty minutes of extra sleep. Ma and Kulraj Di will understand. You're not a housewife...you have a career to take care of. That's why we hired Anjali to help Ma out with the cleaning. Bauji is thinking of hiring another housekeeper to help with the cleaning because our family is growing," Prem explained. "I don't want you to worry about anything, okay?"
"I think I should still talk to Ma and Kulraj Di about this," Heer replied.
"You can do that," Prem said. He then softly placed a kiss on the side of her head. "I don't want you worrying about these things on our honeymoon."
"But these are things we need to discuss...we are going to be going home soon," Heer replied.
"We still have two more weeks. I just want to enjoy my time with you right now," Prem said. "It's going to get crazy once we come home but right now it's just you and me."
"You and me," Heer repeated with a smile.
They stood there for some time gazing up at the moon and then watched as the night slowly faded away to give way to the day. The sun crested against the sky as it gently peaked behind the clouds and rose to its beautiful summit. "Should we go back to bed or go out?" Prem asked.
"Hmmm...back to bed...I'm tired," Heer replied as she turned around rested her head on his bare shoulder.
Prem smiled as he ran his fingers through her hair in a steady motion. Holding her in his arms like this was extremely soothing to him. He placed a kiss on the side of her forehead and then moved her back to their bed. Heer crawled in and got comfortable as Prem walked to the other side and slipped in beside her. He tucked the covers in around them and then laid on his back. Heer moved closer causing him to lift his arm so she could snuggle onto his chest. "Comfy?"
"Mmmm...very much," Heer replied as her fingers curved around and molded into the flesh of his waist.
Prem smiled and kissed her head causing her to lift her head and look at him. "Go to sleep." She inched her way upwards and placed her lips tenderly onto his. Their mouths adjusted accordingly as a slow and steady burn began to rise up between them. Heer cupped his cheek with her hand as he rubbed his hands down her back. "You don't seem very tired to me..." Prem smirked between kisses.
"I just felt like kissing my husband right now," Heer replied with a tiny grin. "Are you enjoying it?"
"You're doing a great job..."
They both gently moaned against each other's mouths indulging in the intimate feelings of what kisses could simply do. Eventually they broke apart with smiles on their faces. "Goodnight," Heer said.
"You expect me to sleep after that?" Prem asked with hopeful eyes.
"I'm tired," Heer replied and turned away to sleep on her side.
Prem sighed and moved up behind her into a spooning position. "Okay..." He expected her to say something but when he lifted his head to look at her he realized she was already fast asleep. He grinned and laid back down and closed his eyes.
Everyone had woken up early in the Juneja cabin to start the fun activities they had planned to do the night before. The boys rented some mountain bikes and went biking while the girls lazed around and sunbathed at the lake. The groups met up for lunch at the picnic tables and then went canoeing and swimming until the late afternoon. Eventually people started to secretly paired off and go into the woods. Ashlesha and Kunal were first to go missing causing everyone there to start thinking there was something definitely up with them. They had been sticking to each other since the moment they had arrived. Preet and Meher were next to go sneaking off and then Harman and Maya soon after seeing them wander away. In the end it left Veera, Nihaal, and Sang at the lake. The three of them all stared at each other feeling like they were the unwanted company.
"Well, figures," Sang replied.
"Wishing you had Yuri right about now don't you?" Veera teased.
"Actually I'm okay...trust me she wouldn't be enjoying this. She'd rather go out shopping at the mall." He then paused and gave her a questioning look, "Why aren't you at the mall?"
Veera's jaw tightened and she was about to say something huffy back when Nihaal suddenly interrupted. "Why don't we go hiking on one of the trails? Everyone else is gone...why should we be left behind?"
"Sure," Sang replied. "The bike ride this morning was great...so the hiking trails are probably just as beautiful."
Nihaal started walking away heading up the around the lake shore to enter one of the trails. Sang followed along and they started chatting about sports. Veera sighed and quickly jogged up to them so she wouldn't be left behind. Things were relatively peaceful between the three as they walked along the worn dirt path. Nihaal and Veera both looked at Sang when music started ringing out of his right pocket. He smiled and picked up his phone, "Hey, yeah out in the woods...we're hiking. Aren't you suppose to be in bed sleeping right now? No, that's not what I meant. Of course I appreciate you calling me. Time? Um, the signal isn't very good here...no, of course I want to talk to you. I didn't call last night because I thought you would be tired. No..." Sang covered the mouth piece and said, "Guys, I'm going to head back up to camp so I can get better signal. I'll see you guys later."
Nihaal and Veera both waved their goodbyes and then continued walking forward. "Poor Sang, that Yuri sure is a tough one to handle," Veera said breaking the silence. She furrowed her eyebrows noticing how Nihaal was trying not to smirk at her comment. "What?"
"Nothing..." he replied.
"That little smirk is not nothing..." Veera replied.
"I just found it amusing that you thought Sang had it rough...with a demanding girl like Yuri that's all," Nihaal answered.
"Why is it so amusing to you?" Veera continued to probe. "I have feelings too...I can feel sad for someone." She wasn't quite sure why she was so bothered by his comment. It was like he was making an underlining jab at her personality.
"I'm sure you do. You probably know lots of things about demanding girls," Nihaal said.
Veera looked at him with surprise. This was the first time their batter wasn't so playful. His words had a slight sting to them. "Are you saying I'm a demanding girl? Since when have I ever troubled you? I don't call you and complain about my day...you call me and I've never asked you to do that either. You did that on your own. I don't even know what to call our relationship."
"We have a relationship?" Nihaal inquired blinking at her confusedly.
Veera felt her cheeks grow warm and she looked away. "We'll...yeah must people have a relationship...you know...friends, acquaintances, brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers..."
"Husbands, wives, girlfriends, boyfriends...lovers..." he added.
"Um, yeah that too," Veera said and shifted her eyes away.
"Where are you going? We're suppose to stay on the trail. It gets dark really quickly up here."
"I need to use the ladies room okay?" Veera abruptly replied. "I'll meet you back at camp."
"I'll wait," Nihaal sighed.
"No, it's fine. I know these trails...I've been going here since childhood. I can make it on my own," Veera said.
Nihaal frowned as he watched her quickly disappeared into the woods. He rubbed the back of his head confused at her suddenly demeanor. Meanwhile, Veera was walking deeper into the woods feeling completely stupid. She didn't know what had gotten into her. She just felt like she needed to get away from him. It sort of hurt her to hear that Nihaal thought of her as one of those "demanding girls." She knew she didn't have the best temper and she could be childish at times but she wasn't that bad. She was completely confused at what was going on in her mind and why she cared so much about what Nihaal said or thought about her. A pleasant remarked by him would speed up her heart and make her feel extremely happy but a tease would cause her to think and reevaluate her faults and what he was really trying to say. What added to the insanity that was going on in her head was how her cousin Jyoti fitted in the whole equation. What was her relation to Nihaal? If Nihaal really liked her why didn't he talk about Jyoti in front o f her? If he wanted to get in good with the family it would only make sense to talk to her about it since she knew him longer than anyone else in the family. Nihaal could ask her for advice on the Juneja family but nope not a single word. But the question was did she really want to hear Nihaal gush over Jyoti and ask for advice.
Veera sighed and stopped walking to lean on a tree and rest a bit. "Seriously, I need to get a grip. Why do I care so much about this? I just turn 19 years old...he's like what 24? The same age as Prem Bhaiya...that is like a 5 year age difference. He'd be crazy to like someone like me. We have nothing in common. I'm mean to him too. And why do I even care if he likes me or not?" She looked up through the branches of the trees and realized that the sun was setting. She needed to get back to camp before it turned dark. Veera turned around to walk back towards the trail when she accidentally tripped over a tree root and went tumbling down the slope of the hill she was on. She landed a few feet below in the valley and was completely knocked unconscious.
Out on the pathway Nihaal was getting anxious that Veera hadn't walked back to the trail. He pondered if she had purposely ditched him and made her own way back to camp. He looked back and forth between the trail and the woods wondering what he should do. He glanced up at the sky and knew there would only be a few hours of daylight left. Nihaal turned to head back down to camp and walked only a few steps before he shook his head and walked back up to where he had seen Veera enter the forest.
Sang sat on the picnic bench almost half asleep as he listened to his girlfriend go on and on about what she was doing in Korea. Eventually much to his relief and her dry throat she said good bye to him. Just as he was hanging up the phone Ashlesha and Kunal came walking into camp. "Well, there you guys are," Sang greeted with a smirk on his face.
"Where is everybody?" Kunal asked.
"They went hiking like you two did so secretly," Sang replied.
Kuanl looked about him feeling a bit warm and started tugging at the collar of his shirt. Ashlesha nervously drank the water from her bottle. "Um, why are you here sitting all alone?" Kunal inquired trying to break the awkward mood.
"I was hiking with Nihaal and Veera but then Yuri called and decided to tell me what she has been doing in Korea."
"Nihaal and Veera?" Ashlesha repeated with great interest. "They weren't fighting were they?"
"Not when I was with them. Don't know about now. Veera probably strangled Nihaal by now. He's been pretty sharp with his tongue lately when it comes to Veera," Sang chuckled.
"Hey guys nice of you to join the group again!" Preet greeted looking at Kunal and Ashlesha with a wide grin.
Meher walked over to Ashlesha and nudged her with her elbow with a teasing smile. "What?" she replied with embarrassment.
"Why are you blushing Ash?" Preet poked.
"I'm not blushing? Who's blushing?" she heated replied.
"What exactly we're you two doing in the forest all alone?" Sang teased.
"Can't two people go and talk privately without people thinking something?" Kunal defensively said.
"Someone is a bit defensive..." Meher grinned.
Kunal made a face while Ashlesha refused to look at anyone as everyone started laughing at them. "Hey what's going on?" Harman asked as he and Maya walked up to the group holding hands.
"Apparently two people can sneak away and talk privately without other people getting worried about their whereabouts," Preet replied.
"Aaahh..." Harman said nodding his head. He then shook his head, "Nope two people can't do that."
"Not in this group at least," Maya laughed.
"Where are Nihaal Bhaiya and Veera? Shouldn't they be coming back? The sun has just set," Meher said.
"Yeah, they better get here fast...it gets really dark very quick up here," Harman said checking his watch. "I say we may have at least an hour or two of sunlight left?"
"They went hiking up that trail," Sang said pointing with his finger at the trail near the lake shore. "I was with them but I had to come back because I couldn't get really good signal on my cell when Yuri called me."
"Oh boy, Nihaal and Veera alone?" Preet chuckled.
"Nihaal Bhaiya is probably hanging from a tree somewhere," Meher giggled.
"Hey, let's go surprise them...shall we?" Preet suggested. Everyone nodded and eagerly walked to the trail.
Meanwhile, in the middle of the forest Nihaal was getting extremely worried as he shouted Veera's name wondering why she wasn't answering. He stopped near a clearing and decided he needed to go back the way he came. He prayed that she had made it back to camp. As he made his way back to the trail he heard some rustling noises behind some bushes and trees. He listened carefully and realized it was Preet and the rest of the group. He burst through the bushes nearly scaring everyone.
"What the hell man!" Sang gasped holding his chest.
"Oh My God...you nearly gave me a heart attack," Ashlesha squealed.
"That was not cool," Kunal replied.
"Wow, I never knew you could sneak up on people like that," Preet breathed heavily. "I need to use you in my prank missions."
"Bhaiya is something wrong?" Meher asked. She was the only one in the group who realized Nihaal's face was pale with worry.
"Veera's not with you guys?" he asked.
"No, we thought she was with you," Harman replied. "Where is she?"
"I don't know. We were standing here on the trail and she said she had to go to the ladies room. I told her I would wait right here until she came back. She told me she would meet me at camp and said she knew the woods here because she has come here since childhood..."
"You left here?!" Preet accused with panic. Harman held his brother back trying to calm him down. He was just as worried about his little sister but he knew jumping to conclusions and blaming Nihaal was not the way to handle the situation.
"No, of course not...I waited for her but when she didn't come back I went off the trail and started calling her name. But she wasn't answering and I couldn't find her," Nihaal finished explaining. "So she's not with you guys?"
"No, she isn't. We haven't seen her at all. Not even when were walking up this trail," Maya replied.
"Okay we need to form a search party. We need flashlights...we have to go back down to the car and get them," Harman instructed.
"Wait, some of us should wait here she could come back out," Maya said.
It was quickly decided that Preet, Harman, and Kunal would go back to the car and get the flashlights while the rest of them waited on the trail. Everyone was in anxious jitters waiting for them to come back or that Veera would appear any minute through the trees. "This is all my fault," Nihaal sighed.
"How is this your fault?" Ashlesha inquired. "You didn't know this was going to happen."
"She said so herself that she knew the woods," Maya replied. "You waited for her."
"Yeah, but maybe if I had gone with her at least..."
"Then you would be lost in the woods with her as well," Meher said. "And we wouldn't even know where to begin to look for you. At least we know she went through the woods in this direction."
Preet, Harman, and Kunal soon returned with the flashlights heaving heavily from all the running they did. They split up into pairs and entered the forest fanning out to cover as much ground as they could and began calling Veera's name. Everyone was tense with worry as the sky began to quickly darken around them.
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