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.
"I haven't had a proper chance to say hello,"he said easily."i wanted to know how u are."
"Not bad"he gave her another smile and the skin around his eyes crinkled, then he shoved his hands into the jeans pockets and stood in front of her with his long legs comfortably apart, shoulders wide.So tall and big he made her shiver.
She managed to ask,"Are u still working in Mongolia?"
"actually no"there was a slight pause and the tiniest hint of an edgy chuckle."I was there long enough.Decided it's time for a change, so i am going to look around for somewhere new."
The news did not surprise riddhima but, after so many years, she'd finally got used to armaan's absense, When he was safely overseas she could almost forget about him.Almost.
Without quite meeting her gaze,armaan said"muskaan tells me you have bought a house."
Riddhima nodded."I bought the old Finnegan place at the end of Wicker Lane."She shot him a rueful smile."it's a renovator's delight."
"sounds like challenge"
"a huge one"
He lifted his gaze to meet hers and a glimmer of amusement lingered in his eyes."You were always one for a challenge."
Riddhima wasn't quite sure what armaan meant by this.He might have been referring to the way she'd worked hard at her studies during their long ago frienship at university.Or it could have been a direct reference to the fact that she had once been engaged to his chick-magnet old brother.
She tried to sound nonchalant. "I haven't managed many renovations on the house yet. But at least there's plenty of room for my surgery and a nice big yard for the dogs."
"how many dogs do u have now?"
She bllinked with surprise at his unexpected question."just the two still"
"seamus and harry"
A small silence ticked by and riddhima felt awkward.She knew that if she'd met any other old friend from her school days she woud have offered an invitation to come back to her place.They could have shared a simple meal--probably pasta and a salad--eating in the kitchen which she had at least partially renovated.
They could open a bottle of wine, catch up on old times,gossip about everything.
But her history with this man was too complicated.To start wit, she'd never been able to completely snuff out the torch she carried for him, but that wasn't her only worry.Eight years ago,she had made the terrible mistake of getting involved with his brother.
This was not the time,however on the eve of niki and abhi's wedding, to relash that sad episode.
From the darkness in the tree-lined creek behind the church a curlew's mournful crydrifted across the night and almost as if it was the signal,armaan took a step back."well,i guess i will see you tomorrow."
"I dare say you won't be able to avoid it."
Heavens, why had she said that? It sounded churlish.To make up for the blunder, riddhima said quickly before he could leave."I am so happy for niki.Abhi seems like a really nice guy."
"He's terrific,"armaan agreed."And i will have to hand it to niki.She succeeded in winning him when many others have failed."
"abhi obviously adores her."
"oh, yaeh, he is totally smitten."armaan looked suddenly uncomfortable and his shoulders lifted in an awkward shrug.
Riddhima suspected this conversation was getting sticky for both of them.
"its getting late"she said gently."you'd better go.your mother will have dinner waiting."
He chuckled "that sounds like something from the dim dark ages when we were at high school"
"sorry"she said, but he had already turned and was walking towards the truck.
He opened the squeaky door, then turned again and they both exchanged a brief wave before they climbed into their respective vehicles.
Riddhima heard the elderly truck's motor rise in a harsh rev, the fie down into a throaty lumbering growl.Armaan backed out of the parking spot and drove down the street and as she turned the key in her car's ignition, she watched the truck's twin red tail lights growing smaller.
She remembered the times she'd driven with armaan in that truck.Together they had gone hunting for specks of gold down in the creek.
They'd been great mates back then but those days when riddhima had first moved to willowbank with her dad after her parent's divorce felt like so very long ago now.
She had been sixteen and it was a horrible time, when she was angry with everyone.She'd been angry with her mother for falling in love with her boss, angry with her father for somehow allowing it to happen, and angry with both of them for letting their marriage disintegrate in a heartbeat.
Most of all riddhima had been abgry that she had to move from sydeny to willowbank.She'd hated leaving her old school and her friends.
But then she had met armaan along with muskaan, rahul and niki and she had soon been absorbed into a happy circle of friends who had proved that life in a country could be every bit as good as life in city.
OK, maybe her love for willowbank had a lot to do with her feeling for armaan, but at least she'd never let on how much she had adored him.Instead, she had waited patiently for him to realise that he loved her.When he took too long she'd taken matters into her own hands and it had all gone horribly wrong.
But it was so, so unhelpful to be thinking about that now.
Even so, riddhima was fighting tears as she reversed the car.And, as she drove out of town, she was bombared by bittersweet, lonely memories.
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