"We are just waiting for the minister and his wife,"niki said."And for riddhima."
It was ages since armaan had seen riddhima,and he had never been happy about the way they had drifted apart,although it had seemed necessary at that time."Is riddhima coming to the wedding rehearsal?
"of course,"niki said."didn't you know?riddhima is a bridesmaid."
"i thought muskaan was the bridesmaid."
Muskaan laughed."you haven't being paying attention,armaan. Technically,i am the matron of honour because i am an old married woman.Riddhima's the bridesmaid,you are the best man and rahul is stepping in as a groomsman because abhi's cousin can't get away."
"I see. Of course."
It made sense.If armaan had given any proper thought to the make-up of the wedding party,he should have known that niki would ask riddhima to be a bridesmaid.She was a vital member of their old 'gang'.
And he was totally cool about seeing her again,even though their relationship had been complicated since his brother's death eight years ago.
He was surprised,that was all,by the unexpected catch in his breath at the thought of seeing her again.
Riddhima glanced in the rear-view mirror as herHer hair was limp and in dire need of a shampoo and she knew she looked decidedly scruffy.
She had cleaned up carefully after delivering the calf,but she couldn't be sure that her hair and clothes were completely free of mud or straw.Steering one-handed,she tried to finger-comb loose strands into some kind of tidiness.
She wasn't wearing any make-up and she was already in danger of arriving late for niki's wedding rehearsal,so she did not have time to duck home for damage control.Not that it really mattered;tomorrow was the big day,after all.Not today.
But armaan mallik would be at the rehearsal.
He was going to be the best man at this wedding.
And why, after all this time, should that matter? Her crush on armaan was an ancient history.Water under the bridge.He was simply an old friend she had almost lost touch with.
At least that was what she'd told herself for the past three months, ever since niki had announced her engagement and wedding plans.But as she reached the outskirts of the town, riddhima's body, to her annoyance,decided otherwise.
One glimpse of the little white church and the mallik family's elderly truck parked among the other vehicles and riddhima's chest squeezed painfully.She felt as if she was breathing through cotton wool and her hands slipped on the steering wheel.
Her heart thumped.
Good grief,this was crazy.She'd known for twelve weeks now that armaan would be a member of the wedding party.Why had she waited until the last moment to fall apart?
She parked the car, dragged in a deep breath and closed her eyes,gave herself a stern lecture.She could do this.She was going to walk inside that little church with an easy stride and a smile on her face.She couldn't do much about her external appearance, but at least no one need guess she was a mess inside.
She would rather die than let on that she was jealous of niki for marrying a heart-throb like abhi.And she wouldn't turn the slightest hint of green when she cuddled muskaan and rahul's babies.
More importantly, she would greet armaan serenely.
She might even drop a light kiss on his cheek.After all,if her plans to marry armaan's brother siddhant hadn't been cruelly shattered, she would have been his sister-in-law.
She was only a few minutes late so she took a moment to check that her blouse was neatly tucked into her khaki jeans.Her boots were abit dusty so she hastily wiped them with a tissue.
Then she dived through the church doorway, cheery smile plastered in place and apologies for her lateness.
THUD.Armaan was standing at the end of the aisle, in front of the chancel steps and chatting to abhi.
Surreptitiously, riddhima devoured familiar details--the nut brown sheen of his hair,the outdoor glow on his skin and the creases at the corners of his eyes and mouth, his long legs in faded blue jeans.
As if these weren't enough to raise her temperature, she saw baby mia, in a froth of pink, curled sleepily into the crook of armaan's arm.
The tiny girl and the big man together made an image that she'd guiltily pictured in her most secret dreams and the sight of them now sucked vital air from her lungs.
Somehow she managed to walk down the aisle.
"riddhima!"niki called."I was about to ring you."
"I am sorry i am late. I was held up with a tricky calving."
She was surprised she could speak normally when her attention was riveted by riddhima, not just by amazing he looked with that tiny pink bundle in his arms, but by the way his head swung abruptly at the sound of her voice and the way he went still and his eyes blazed suddenly.
Riddhima felt as if the entire world had stopped, except for the frantic beating of her heart.
Thank heavens no one else seemed to notice.
"Don't worry," niki was telling her calmly."we haven't been here long.I have just been going over the music with the organist."
Everything was so suddenly normal and relaxed that riddhima was sure she had misjudged armaan's reaction.He certainly looked mega-cool and calm now as he greeted her.His light touch on her shoulder as he bent to kiss her and the merest brush of his lips on her cheek scalded her, but armaan's grey eyes were perfectly calm.
He even looked mildly amused when he greeted her."Good to see you again, riddhima."
In a matter of moments the babies were handed over to the minister's wife and daughter, who cooed and fussed over them in the front pew, while the members of the wedding party were taken through their paces.
Armaan, as the best man, would partner muskaan.Riddhima would process with rahul.So that was a relief. At least she didn't have to link arms and walk down the aisle with armaan at the end of tomorrow's ceremony.
Riddhima had been a bridesmaid twice before so she knew the ropes, but the minister wanted to explain every step of the service, and the rehearsal seemed to drag on and on.
On the plus side, she had time to calm down. This wedding was going to be a crinch.
Anyway it was the height of self-indulgence to keep thimking about herself.Tomorrow was going to be niki's wedding.Riddhima, along with the entire population of willowbank, loved warm-heated,generous nikita mallik and the whole township would probably turn out to watch her marry the hunky man of her dreams.
Riddhima didn't want a single event or unhappy thought to mar this wedding's perfection.
By the time the rehearsal was over, it was already dark outside, with a fragile fingernail moon hanging above the post office clock.The group dispersed quickly.Muskaan and rahul wanted to hurry home to get their babies settled.niki and abhi had to dash away to a special dinner niki's parents were hosting.
And Riddhima wanted to hurry home to her 'boys', as she affectionately called her dogs.The dogs enjoyed each others company, but if she was away, they were always frantic to see her.
She was fishing in her pocket for car keys when she felt a tap on her elbow.She swung around to find herself trapped by Armaan Mallik's smile, like a startled animal caught in a car's headlights.
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Edited by harshikarocks - 31 December 2010 at 9:45am