Prachi's eyes never left her husband as he
walked back to where she was sitting, Sally walking close by him. He gave a
small smile and cupped her cheek.
"Let's wind up this evening, Vicky", he
said softly and a shrewd Vicky immediately picked up the unspoken message.
Though surprised, Micky got up immediately and
kissed Prachi's cheek wishing her a good night. Prachi watched as Milind spoke
urgently to Vicky in hushed tones and started to walk towards the car along
with Micky. Even more surprised, Prachi looked at Sally whose eyes was staying
fixed on Milind. Just then Sally turned to look at her and Prachi almost gasped
at the anguish in her eyes. She held Prachi's gaze almost emptily and slowly
looked away. Prachi stared in confusion when Vicky put his arm around Sally's
shoulder and gave it a reassuring squeeze. Sally looked at him and gave a small
almost sad smile. Prachi's heart constricted. Something has happened, she was
sure of that. Sally hadn't spoken a word and Milind looked troubled. What did she tell him? She wondered
silently and followed them. When they reached Micky's car, Micky's face was a
mask of concern. Goodbyes were quick but Sally remained silent. Prachi stared
feeling strangely alienated when Milind bent down near the car window and spoke
to Sally in soft reassuring tones. Sally just nodded mutely. Milind squeezed
her hand before the car pulled away.
Milind turned to his wife, "Prachi, I have to
go to the office now with Vicky. Can I get someone to walk you home or do you
want to take the car?" he asked softly.
Prachi looked at Vicky to Milind in
confusion, "Why would you go to the office at this time, Milind? I am walking
back home and you are going to come with me. Can office not wait untill morning?",
"No, it can't", snapped Milind and
sighed seeing the hurt look in her eyes. He cupped her face, "Sweetheart, just
once can you do as you are told without asking too many questions?", he asked
Stung by his tone, Prachi's eyes
filled with tears so quickly and Milind let out a swear and stepped back.
Vicky touched his shoulder, "Calm down,
Milind. Let me check what is happening at the office. Why don't you walk back
with Prachi? I will meet you there shortly and then we can leave immediately"
he said and patted his shoulder. Waving goodnight to Prachi, he walked away,
already speaking on the phone.
"Let's go" Milind said curtly and
started walking towards their house and Prachi half ran to keep up with his
long strides and pulled at his arm.
"What did she tell you? What is going on,
Milind? Why are you not telling me anything?" she asked angrily, tugging at his
to get her concerned unnecessarily, Milind pulled her closer and increased his
pace. "Nothing to worry about, sweetheart. Sally was concerned about a few
things. It might be nothing but I need to go the office to make sure everything
is alright. It might take a while. So, don't wait up for me and go to sleep",
he said gently.
His patronising tone only fuelled her anger,
"You are leaving me alone in the house and going out so late in the night
because Sally is just concerned about something. I am not a fool, Milind. You
either tell me exactly what it is going on or you are not going anywhere?" she
bit out angrily and sat down on the garden bench.
Half amused and half irritated at
her adamancy, Milind kneeled down in front of her and held her hand. "My God, Prachi,
you know to push a man's patience to the limit, sweetheart. Alright, there
seems to be a security breach at the office. Sally thinks that someone has
broken into her cabin. I told Micky to make sure that her flat is safe and to stay
with her tonight. If her suspicions turned up correct, then it would be a very
long night for me. Are you satisfied now?" he asked.
Prachi's eyes widened in concern,
"A security breach? But how is that possible? Are you suspecting it to be an
inside job?" she asked worriedly.
Milind's face hardened, "I hope
not, Prachi. If it was, then we have a real problem. If the media gets wind of
it, it would be disastrous. Our security has always been very tight. Dad is
away and I have to deal with it now. I have already ordered a thorough check
and I have to be at the office." he said and got up.
Prachi held his arm, "Be careful, Milind. I am
scared now" her voice broke.
Milind kissed her forehead,
"That's why I didn't want to tell you anything just yet. I will be safe,
Prachi. No one is lurking in the dark to take me down. Don't get any dramatic
ideas in your head", he said half-teasingly. "Vicky will be here any minute,
darling. I have to go. I will be back as soon as I can", he said softly.
Prachi's eyes looked even more
worried and she clutched his arm tighter, "Oh god, I am going to be all alone
in the house", she said and looked around her suddenly.
Milind gave an exasperated sigh, "Sweetheart, our
house is very well guarded and there are servants too. You are not alone", he
Prachi clutched his shirt, "But Mom
and Dad are not here and you are going away too. I am really scared", she said
Milind took a deep breathe and
walked into the house with her, "Just get into bed and go to sleep, Prachi. I
will be back soon", he said and kissed her lips. Prachi clung to him almost
fiercely and he kissed her urgently and patting her cheek, he walked away.
Left near the huge staircase, Prachi looked
around her. The lights have already been turned down and the house was bathed
in soft dim light. On any other night, it would have looked romantically
seductive but tonight it only scared her more. If someone had indeed broken
into the office and if Milind suspects Sally's flat might have been violated
too, how can she be sure that she was safe in the house? She shuddered at the thought.
Oh, why should she have to be alone tonight of all nights? Even her dear friend
Brute was at the farmhouse, so far away from her. When one of their servants
wished her a good night, she gave a quick nod and rushed up to her room. Turning
on the music, she changed quickly and sat near the window, trying to read.
She gave up after a few attempts
and stood near the window, gazing into the garden. He makes Micky to stay with
Sally for her safety but leaves me alone in the huge house, she fumed silently.
Her troubled mind went back to the evening. Though Vicky kept her busy in
conversation, her eyes had wandered time and again to where Milind and Sally
were standing. They were out of earshot but she could see them clearly in the
garden light. She had tensed when Milind put his arm around Sally. She sighed
and closed her eyes. Even Vicky had done the same to Sally but that gesture
looked nothing more than friendly. But with Milind, it looked different…… familiar…….intimate.
That was it. It was the familiarity that had always bothered her whenever she
saw them together. Even a small smile or a simple touch had that unmistakable
familiarity which screamed of their past together. What else did they talk
about? And what made Sally so sad? She hadn't seen her this quiet before.
Agitated, she got up and turned the music off and paced restlessly. Why doesn't
this Sally disappear somewhere with Mark and leave her alone? She could see that
all her friends really cared for her but with Milind it again seemed one notch
more. He seemed too protective of her, too caring,
too………….oh!!.......Completely worked up now, she curled up on the bed, too
strung up to go to sleep.
Her eyes fell on the clock. It
had gone past midnight and the night was eerily quiet, dark and slightly misty.
She wondered what Milind would be doing and prayed it to be just a false alarm.
She knew that Milind won't rest until he had investigated thoroughly and felt
satisfied. It was indeed going to be a long night. Till now, she never realised
that such threats could exist in real life. Her father's small business never
had the need for any extended security. Even their Mumbai house didn't have any
secuirty alarms. The more richer, the more dangerous and stressful life gets,
she sighed. She pulled Milind's pillow close to her chest. Suddenly she missed
her favourite battered cushion that she had had since she was a little girl. It
was her comfort pillow and had been her faithful companion on many sleepless
nights and through nightmares. Slowly, thoughts of her past life filtered in.
Her little room,…her favourite books,…the smell of coffee drifting from her
mother's kitchen that woke her most mornings,… the sound of her papa's
favourite ghazals,… her mama's cooking,… Neev's constant chatter,…. her
favourite TV programmes………… Tears filled her eyes, her heart clenching fiercely
at the thought of the life she had left behind. Suddenly she felt lonely, the
whole house seemed too big and too quiet, the night cold and windy, the country
strange. A sob broke out of her. Her
parents' house was small but cosy and warm. Just the thought of finding her
parents next door had been enough to put her into dreamless, contented sleep
every night. How many times as a little girl, she had sneaked into her parents'
room and squeezed herself next to her papa…..drifted to sleep on the sofa with
her head on her mama's lap, hearing her parents' easy conversation……..Even the
noise on the street outside used to be comforting……Here even if she strained
her ears, she couldn't catch a whisper of sound. There were people around her
in the house but not her family. She was safe but lonely. Oh how she missed her
homeland………..her parents………home. Tears trickled down her face and she murmured
Sally closed her bedroom door
and fell onto her bed. Micky was in the lounge watching his favourite detective
show on TV. He had painstakingly checked every nook and corner of her flat and
obviously satisfied after finding nothing untowardly, sent her off to bed.
Always her most trusted and close friend, he hadn't questioned her silence in
the car or afterwards. He kept looking at her quizzically but she knew that he
would never ask untill she was ready to tell him. Her mind was in too much of a
turmoil, her body and soul in pain and nothing could soothe her tonight.
She closed her eyes as Milind's
words echoed inside her head over and over again. "You didn't, Sal" …..Three words that said it all. But that is what
she had wanted him to believe, didn't she? She remembered how painstakingly she
did everything to give him the message that he wasn't as important to her just
as she wasn't to him. Or rather she had thought that she wasn't important to
him. Had she been wrong? He hadn't questioned her one word when she told him
that she had decided to leave for the States with her mother. He just accepted
it. Wasn't he the one who had packed her bags? But he didn't leave her side
even for a minute that last night. They couldn't have enough of eachother. But
he never asked her to stay back…never declared undying love for her like she
had wanted him to. When he waved her off
at the airport, her heart had shattered to pieces but she had held her head
high. PRIDE……. And what had that cost her? She made her first contact with him
more than two weeks after she started her new school. Then in her email, she
had elaborately described how fantastic life was, how handsome and cool the
boys were, how she had already been asked out several times and how much she
was enjoying life. But reality was much much farther than that. It was only
after two weeks he replied. His email consisted of one line. "I am glad you are
having fun". That was all it said and she had been stunned into silence. Was
that it? Was that all he had to say after all that they had together? Was he
not angry…….jealous? When Micky told her that he went out with Merin, she was
furious. How dare he and how dare that cow? She was glad it was short lived but
angry, she didn't speak to Merin for months. But when she did, her dear friend
had forgiven her readily.
The girls changed and within
a year Milind had dated two others. She hadn't lagged behind as well and made
sure that Milind knew about every guy she went out with and how fantastic they
were. They never called eachother and they contacted only through emails and
texts. After a few years, she had really started to believe that she was off him and living life
to the fullest…….untill her mother died. She hadn't heard anything from him
even after the funeral but then he had called. Just hearing his voice after
years and from miles away, had undone her completely. He sounded just like she
thought he would and it affected her just as much as it had done all those
years ago. She realised then that she was living a lie and after that nothing
could keep her in the States. She had to get back home…….to him. When she met
him at the charity dinner after eight years, it was as if those eight years
never existed. She was hopelessly in love with him, always had been and
whatever happened, nothing would change that. But clearly, he had moved on and
she had stayed right where she had been even though she was the one who pushed
him away. Why didn't she get back to London a little earlier? A few months
would have made all the difference. And tonight how easily he had said… "You
didn't, Sal"…..just as she had wanted him to believe. She lay curled in a
ball as pain shot through her. She felt too empty to even cry.
Suddenly scared to be alone, she
got up and walked into the lounge and stood watching Micky who was slouched on
the couch with popcorn in his hand and eyes glued to the television. He looked
up at her and smiled. She sat next to him and rested her head on his shoulder.
Micky put his arm around her but remained silent.
Atlast, tears slowly tricked
down Sally's cheeks, "I pushed him away, Micky" she said softly.
Micky sighed, his eyes staring
unseeingly. Oh, he knew how she did! "Yes, you did, honey" he said gently.
"Now I want him back", she
Micky smoothed her hair, "No,
you can't, darling. You left it far too long, Sal….far too long", he said
He soothed her gently till her
hickups died down. Laying a sleeping Sally on the couch, he covered her with a
duvet and stretched out on the other sofa. Praying with all his heart that his
best friend finds peace within herself, he slowly fell asleep.
The alarm and the phone rang at
the same time and an irritated Inder quickly turned it off and picked up the
phone. He looked at his sleeping wife. She had attended a wedding reception
last night and was too tired when she went to bed. Unwilling to wake her up, he
walked out of the room.
"Hello", he said sleepy and was instantly on
full alert when he heard the soft "Papaaa".
"Prachi, Prachi beta, how are you, gudiya? I
am glad you thought about your papa atleast now. It must be past midnight
there. Why are you still awake?" he spoke quickly.
Brushing her tears, Prachi
smiled. Her papa sounded just the same. "I couldn't go to sleep, Papa. I miss
you and mama very much", she said, her voice breaking.
"We miss you too, my child. Yeh
ghar tumhare bina soona soona lagtha hai, gudiya. I just wanted to hear your
voice, know you are well. You should call atleast once in a couple of days,
Prachi. Your mama tells me off if I call you too often", he complained.
"I am sorry, Papa. I was very busy and just
didn't have time. But I always think of you and mama, you know. Tonight I was
missing home too much. That's why I called", she said softly.
After a few minutes of conversation, Inder
asked, "Where is Milind, Prachi?".
"Milind is at the office, Papa.
There is some sort of a security alert and he has gone there to find out more.
There is no one at home. Mom and Dad are away too. Vicky' s parents are not in their
home either. I was really scared to be all alone. That's why I couldn't sleep",
Inder frowned, "There is a
security alert and he left you all alone at home. How can he be so careless?
Does he not know how scared you will be? Oh, my poor child. No wonder you can't
sleep", he said angrily.
Feeling suddenly defensive after her father's
words, Prachi quickly interrupted, "Nahi papa, I am not completely alone and
the house is very safe. He won't leave me otherwise. It's just me. You know how
I don't like being on my own at night. I know hearing your voice will make me
feel better. That's why I called. I didn't wake you up, did I?" she asked.
Inder smiled, "No, you didn't,
Prachi. Even if you do, I won't complain. You don't know how much I was waiting
to speak to you. Bas ab jaldi yahaan aa jao, gudiya. I will feel better knowing
you are only a short drive away from here", he said.
"Even I miss India, Papa. But I
don't know when we are coming back.
Vicky will be there next week. Milind hasn't said anything and I didn't ask him
either. I will speak to him. I will have to get my papers sorted out at the
university as well", she said.
Inder frowned, "Prachi, are you sure
you don't want to continue your studies there?" he asked softly.
Prachi smiled, "I won't be able
to, Papa. You know how much Milind travels. It won't work", she said.
Inder snorted, "I know that, Prachi and he
will take you with him once in ten trips he makes. You will be all alone here
doing nothing", he said irrittedly.
Prachi's face fell. That's true.
He surely won't take me everytime he goes away. Then she brightened, "But
whenever I am alone, I will come home, Papa. That would be perfect to spend
time with you and mama", she said.
Inder laughed. When she put it
that way, it didn't sound that bad after all. "Yes, my child. You can come
whenever you want to. It is your home after all" he said and smiled seeing a
sleepy eyed Premlatha walk towards him. "Here, your mama is awake now. Speak to
her and I will make a nice hot cup of coffee for her. She loves it when I
pamper her", he laughed as Premlatha hit him.
Prachi giggled. Are her parents getting more romantic in her
absence? She thought naughtily. She spoke quickly, filling in on her mother
on a lot of things. "Mama, I was missing you all and was even crying" she said
soflty, suddenly guilty of her own thoughts.
Understanding, Premlatha smiled,
"At times I miss my parent's house very much too, Prachi. But it didn't mean
that I was going to run back leaving you and your Papa on your own. Don't feel
guilty, beta", she said softly.
Prachi sighed in relief, "I am
very happy here, Mama. You don't know how much Mom and Dad pampers me. I feel
so loved and so content", she said.
Premlatha smiled with tears in
her eyes. Isn't that what she wanted to
hear? "Just be happy like this, gudiya. I don't want anything else. Milind
is not home, is he? That's why you suddenly started missing us. When he is
around, he don't have time to even think about us", she teased.
Blushing at her mother's teasing,
Prachi whined, "Mama, aap bhi na" she protested and Premlatha laughed. Telling
her to not stay up too late and go to sleep, she hung up.
She smiled when Inder handed her a
cup of coffee.
"See, did I not tell you, Premlatha?
I know my child very well. She can't wait to come back here, to be near us. She
will soon grow tired of that glittery and fast life too. She never liked crowds
and won't feel comfortable in such elite circles. She was never cut out for
that life, Premlatha. It has started to show already", he said.
Premlatha stared at him
speechless. He sounded almost gloating triumphantly. What has happened to him? Does he want to see his daughter unhappy just
to prove that he had been right? Oh god! She prayed ernestly that he was
wrong and that her daughter would remain happy and content in the life she had
Speaking to her parents had done
the trick and Prachi fell into a dreamless sleep. She woke up later than usual
and realising that Milind hadn't come home all night, she became agitated. When
she walked down, the house was buzzing with activity as usual but even her
in-laws hadn't come home. She busied herself by cooking lunch and went back to
her bedroom getting more worried as hours ticked by. She was sitting on the
terrace when she jumped feeling his arms enclose her. She closed her eyes when
he buried his face in her neck. "Hey, sweetheart", he whispered and her face
broke into a brilliant smile. She turned to him and frowned in concern. He
clearly hadn't had a wink of sleep and looked tired.
She touched his face when he lay
sprawled on the sofa with his head on her lap. "What happened, Milind? Is
everything okay?" she asked nervously.
sighed, "No Prachi, Did you not watch the news today?" he asked. She shook her
head, even more worried now. "There was a break-in attempt in the other
building where Mom has her office. It was thwarted immediately but the danger
is real. Sally's cabin had been broken into. We found the guy, a new employee
who was looking to sell information for money. The threat was not for my new
projects but for Mom's", he said and sat up, raking his fingers through his
Prachi stared at him stunned.
She knew that Shweta was in the middle of clinching a multimillion business
deal but how did Sally get involved in that? She wondered.
"Mom is upset as expected. She
can't allow anything to go wrong at this stage. It was kept strictly under
wraps but any leaked information would pay handsomely. Sally was not even fully
involved in it. She was only working on
the periphery but atleast she didn't have any information on her. She is moving
in with her father for the time being till everything settles down. I am not
taking any risks", he said tiredly. He held her hand and looked at her, "I am
starving, Prachi. Then I will get a shower and back to work. It is going to be
another long night", he said.
Prachi immediately rang the
kitchen for coffee and food to be sent up. Leaning closer to him, she loosened
his tie. "Is everything solved now, Milind?" she asked.
"For the time being. Micky is increasing data
security and he is going to have a couple of busy days. The security at the
office is tightened to the maximum. Dad is furious that someone was allowed to
try to access confidential information. But for now, things have calmed down.
We just have to be more careful till the deal is signed and Mom makes an announcement.
And you Prachi, just be careful about who you speak to and what you say" he
Prachi looked taken aback. "What do you mean,
Milind? You think I will be targeted?" she asked.
He smiled and cupped her cheek,
"Nothing to worry, darling. I am just concerned that people might find it to
easy to try and gather information from you. Just be aware when someone tries
to get too friendly", he said.
Before she could ask him more,
the food arrived. He ate quickly and got up. She held his hand, "Shouldn't you
get a few hours of sleep, Milind?" she asked softly.
Smiling, he pulled her closer,
"I am feeling better already, Prachi and I have to make some phone calls to
India too" he said and hugged her closer.
Prachi closed her eyes, her
senses filling in his smell, his touch.
"Did you sleep well, Prachi? I
was worried but was too busy to call you" he said.
"No, I was scared and even
cried. Then I called my parents and then slept. I was waiting for you to come
home since a long time", she said, her voice muffled against his shirt.
Milind kissed her head, "I am
sorry, sweetheart. That's why I didn't want to tell you anything then. But you
are an adamant little thing, aren't you?" he admonished.
Prachi hugged him tighter,
"Stay with me for some time. I want to talk to you", she whispered.
"Join me in the shower then", he nuzzled her head.
Prachi hit him and tried to move away, "Don't
you think of anything else, besharam. What about getting back to work?", she
Laughing, Milind pulled her with him into the
bedroom. "Time saving techniques, darling. We can talk in the shower, you see",
Prachi stuck her tongue out at
him, "I am not going to fall for that, Milind Mishra. I know you too well by
now", she shot back.
Milind's eyes darkened and he slowly undid his
shirt buttons, "What a pity, darling! I thought there are lots left to know
still. Time for a few more lessons then" he drawled.
Prachi swallowed as he slowly
undressed. He moved closer to her and gave a wicked smile when she stepped
back. "Get your thoughts in order, sweetheart. You have exactly half-an-hour to
tell me whatever you want to" he said huskily and without warning swept her up
into his arms. Prachi screamed in shock and hit his shoulders with her small
fists and ignoring her protests, he walked into the bathroom.