Prithvi secured the Dane's leash easing out, "So are you ready for your walk, Giro?"
His question was greeted with a blank stare and an open mouth. Giro wasn't stellar when it came to expressing himself - a rather silent best friend who preferred resting on the hearth of the fireplace over experiencing an adventure in the Great Outdoors. Prithvi had never seen such a lackadaisical dog and at two he considered Giro to be in his prime.
Although lacking expression, it helped - being able to share his ultra-crummy day with someone, even the unresponsive Giro.
As they made their way out into the brisk autumn evening Prithvi was suddenly glad that he had donned a thin jacket and gloves rather than the sweater he had originally chosen for the short walk. The temperatures were about perfect for Giro he decided as they headed towards the local park in the short distance, the location being one of the selling points involving the purchase of the manor. And it was equally close to the hospital where he worked.
"How was your day, old boy?" he asked Giro as they continued along, the beautiful autumn scenery encompassing rich gold and orange hues going completely unnoticed by Prithvi.
He continued murmuring to the silent Giro, "I'm assuming that you and Googil enjoyed an uneventful day," the cool evening air colliding with his warm breath and as he spoke, a curl of smoke appearing.
"It might interest you that my day hasn't been so good, my friend. Nisha….well, it's over you see. Not that there was anything there to begin with - just a surface attraction. Of course, she placed the blame entirely on my shoulders. But Giro - you tell me, if you were in my shoes would you think it's fair for me to do all the dancing? I'm not one for shopping or-or operas as you know I prefer the Great Outdoors - hiking and camping. While Nisha expected me to accompany her on afternoon-long shopping sprees, not once would she agree to a camping trip. Sort of one-sided, don't you think?"
Prithvi glanced down at Giro whose face was set in stone as he glazed into the distance with that oh-so-familiar stare as their steps closed the distance between the manor and the park. It was as if he were silently saying, "Can we return home now? To the warm hearth? To my lackadaisical lifestyle which suits me best?"
Prithvi returned his dark eyes to the scene in front of him, again missing the brilliancy of autumn unfolding amid the oncoming dusk - the golden hour.
"Of course the relationship has been over for quite some time. But now that it is officially severed, I'm feeling a little rotten about it all. On the one hand, I'm acutely relieved that Nisha has moved forward. On the other….well, it's a bit like getting chosen last when participating in an event. Know what I mean, Giro?"
Of course he didn't but again, it helped to whine. Him, not the dog.
Amid his muddled thoughts Giro suddenly bolted forward - barking excitedly and running deeper into the park, the leash now free of Prithvi's weak hold.
His heart flew up into his throat as Giro galloped towards a small woman sitting on one of the park benches in the distance, the dog hopping onto the bench beside her, his excitement evident.
Prithvi rushed to close the distance, relieved to see the woman laughing and hugging Giro once he arrived at the bench.
"I-I'm sorry," he attempted, still trying to make sense of the situation.
Damini gazed up into the handsome face etched with concern and she immediately set him at ease.
"No need to apologize," she told him, still smiling as she petted the excited dog. "Giro and I are good friends."
Prithvi's face contorted and Damini lifted her brow, explaining, "You must be Googil's owner? He and Giro frequent the park quite often in the afternoon."
"Yes I am," he eased out, suddenly able to piece the puzzle together. Nodding towards the other end of the bench he asked, "May I?"
"Yes, please do," Damini encouraged with another smile, Prithvi deciding that she was quite beautiful. Blond hair for certain - but he couldn't be certain about the eyes as dusk was settling into the area, a thin mist curtaining his view.
"I'm Doctor Prithvi Saxena," he introduced, his gaze going from her to Giro. "I've never seen Giro evoke so much emotion. Obviously, he's taken with you."
"Ah, the feeling is mutual," she assured. "If you ever decide to sell him, please let me know. I'm Damini Gujral by the way."
"Chef Damini? Private Chef Damini?" Prithvi echoed curiously.
"Yes, that's me," she assured with another smile which was starting to be contagious as Prithvi suddenly found she had given him one of hers to wear.
She told him, "I had not realized I was so popular."
"Actually, one of my colleagues highly recommended you recently. I'm hoping to throw a holiday party for my family but unfortunately, at this stage I would think your calendar would be full."
"How many will be attending?" she asked, Giro relaxing and resting his head in her lap now as she continued to pet him.
"About twenty….give or take a few," he echoed, still trying to determine why his dog was so taken with the beautiful woman.
"Tomorrow on my calendar is sorta free but next Thursday is totally free," Damini eased out in thought. "Would next Thursday work for you? I'm planning on taking a camping trip tomorrow and of course - too short of a proper notice for your guests."
"Camping?" he practically squeaked. Surely he had heard incorrectly.
"Yes indeed," she assured with another beautiful smile. "Should be dazzling in the mountains with all the gorgeous colors of autumn. Perfect scenery for toasting marshmallows and enjoying a warm mug of cocoa."
"Now you're making me want to go camping," he told her, delivering a deep laugh in the process. "I just may intrude on you and your husband's planned adventure," he went on to tease, for surely someone as beautiful as Damini would be taken.
"I'm quite single," she assured, fanning her lashes against her cheeks, Prithvi suddenly wanting to know the color of those beautiful eyes. "And you're quite welcome to tag along - providing that you bring Giro. It can get cold in the mountains and I'm sure he would keep me warm," she laughed, Prithvi deciding that he loved her laugh.
What a vast change, being around a woman who wasn't always serious.
"This may sound bold, but I'm on the verge of accepting your invitation," he warned, not wanting to barge in unwarranted. She was probably just being friendly.
"Great. I'm leaving about nine in the a.m. Will that work for you?" she asked, bending down and planting a kiss on top of Giro's velvet-like head. Then, "We can discuss the party while we camp."
"You know, it's been a long while since I've enjoyed a toasted marshmallow - much less cocoa. So yes - I humbly and enthusiastically accept your invitation."
"Great, then it's settled," she eased out, actually feeling a bit excited about the camping trip. She had liked Prithvi on sight; there was something about him - something more than his good looks - at least what she could make out through the oncoming darkness. His voice held a rich deep tone and he was very polite without being overly-so. And Giro's presence was a perk as she was very attached to the dog.
Producing a business card from her small clutch she handed it to him and suggested, "Call me in the morning, say seven-ish and we'll meet? And just for the record, I do not extend invitations such as this so freely. But given that I'm well-acquainted with your butler - and that your Giro's master…it pays to be careful, particularly in this day and age."
"Yes - I certainly understand," he nodded, appreciating her openness.
Then she said to Giro, "I'm sorry fella but I need to get home before the light fails. But take heart because we'll be spending tomorrow together."
"Oh, so it's all about Giro," Prithvi teased, rising from the bench with her.
Damini giggled, again enjoying his teasing banter.
"That's right - it's all about Giro. You know….we've enjoyed quite a relationship during most early afternoons. Fortunately for me, Googil schedules Giro's walks directly following lunch which works well with my schedule on most days - big events aside."
"I can picture you and Giro having a grand old time while Googil enjoys the daily paper here - on the bench," Prithvi mused, Damini suddenly very quiet. And then they both exploded with a giggle - Damini's light and Prithvi's very deep.
"May I walk you home?" he asked, not wanting to part company with her just yet.
"I'd like that," she told him, Giro hopping off the bench and easily following suit as they travelled in the opposite direction of the manor.
"It's not a long walk - about ten minutes," she told Prithvi. "This is a safe area but the darkness tends to bring out mischief at times."
"Absolutely agree," he echoed as they walked along.
"Look over there, Prithvi - at the light hitting the oak in the distance," she eased out thoughtfully. "Such a golden time of year - such a beautiful time of year. It's as if the light is dancing among the leaves."
Prithvi followed her gaze, captivated by the scene before him. If Damini had not commented on the phenomenon, it would have gone totally unnoticed by him. How unfortunate if he had bypassed such beauty.
Their conversation flowed easily, Damini asking him about his family and Prithvi asking her about her family. And suddenly they had reached her small Victorian-style manor.
"I pass your manor almost every day on the way to the hospital," Prithvi eased out, appreciating the expert landscaping through the fading shadows of the evening. "Such beautiful gardens. If you could share the name of your gardener, I'd appreciate that."
"That would be me," she told him, smiling beneath the spill of light streaming from the porch lamp. "Cooking is my first passion - gardening my second."
"If you cook as well as you garden," he teased and she giggled again, almost feeling giddy around him.
"Ah, lucky for you that toasted marshmallows are my specialty."
He smiled at her and the world seemed to stand still.
"Would you like to come inside and enjoy a cup of cocoa?" she asked, not at all worried about being too-forward. At thirty-six she had become a very good judge of character and there weren't many individuals she desired to become more acquainted with in life. Prithvi was an exception - a rare exception.
"Absolutely - if you're up to it," he asked, wanting to make certain that she wasn't just being nice again.
The inside of the manor was as lovely and inviting as the outside he decided as his gaze took in the warm colors of the room. There was an elegant vase of fresh flowers on a tall table beside the sofa and he marveled that something so simple could make such a bold statement of one's personal tastes.
"If you'll start a fire, Giro and I will get the cocoa," she suggested.
They enjoyed the cocoa along with great conversation in front of the fireplace, both Prithvi and Damini unable to recall when they had experienced a more enjoyable evening.
And when he glanced at his timepiece he was shocked to see it was approaching the midnight hour.
"Good grief, Damini! I had no idea it was so late," he blurted out, rising and searching for Giro's leash. "We have overstayed our welcome."
"Nonsense," she assured. "I've enjoyed every minute." Then, "But might I suggest that I give you and Giro a ride home?"
"That makes good sense," Prithvi concurred. "And then you'll know where I live and perhaps we can meet at my place for the trip in the morning?"
"Sounds like a plan to me," Damini agreed.
Within ten minutes she had taken Prithvi and Giro home and returned, Prithvi unsure of his actions - then trusting his instincts he drew her to him, his lips meeting her own in a tantalizing kiss, Giro looked in total bliss.
Both of them knew this was the beginning of something very special….