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Chapter 4: A Gradual Falling
Entering the hallway, she followed the soft sounds until she felt something brush against her hand. Rahul's hair! Dropping down, she grabbed the little figure. "Got you!" she squealed in triumph, hugging him close.
Only it wasn't the small figure of a child in her arms. She had just plastered herself against a hard, male back.
Hard, masculine and intoxicating.
The scent, his clean, woodsy scent was so familiar. She inhaled deeply, and then quickly shook her head at what she was doing, ordering herself to pull free of the spell that had fallen over her. The spell that was making her behave very, very stupidly.
She fell back, putting distance between her and this strange male.
But she knew, as she fell back on her behind and scrambled to get her
blindfold off. She knew it was him, her boss ...
Quickly pulling off the blindfold, her eyes widened as they took in the figure now standing in front of her. Her gaze moved from the expensive shoes, to the business clothes, up to face that had captivated her from the first moment she had seen it, to meet the eyes glaring down at her.
Maan Singh Khurana.
She quickly wrapped her dupatta around herself, her heart beating furiously in her chest. She slowly got up, just like one would do in front of a predator one was hoping wouldn't pounce. "Babaji, please save me," she murmured, waiting for the explosion she could see was impending.
"Geet Didi, why were you hugging daddy?" Rahul's voice piped out from behind Maan's imposing figure. Maan crossed his arms over his chest, and raised an eyebrow at her, waiting for a response.
"I wasn't hugging him!" Geet protested nervously. "I caught him," she told Rahul, defending her actions. "He's it now."
Maan moved back a step at that assertion, his arms falling to his sides. A look of confusion appeared on his face.
"Confusion is better than anger," Geet quietly assured herself. She took a deep breath, trying to calm her jumpy nerves.
"Daddy will play with us?" Rahul gasped happily, staring at his father. There was a hope in his eyes, but Geet could also see a hint of uncertainty, as if he couldn't quite believe in Geet's words. "But ... what will we use to cover his eyes?" he asked, turning to glance at Geet questioningly.
Geet held up her dupatta. "We can use this." The two turned to look at the still silent figure standing in front of them. As the silence continued, Geet hesitantly began to move forward, offering the dupatta to the silent man.
"Miss Handa!" Maan barked out, angered beyond belief. Geet jumped, pulling back at that loud burst of noise. He took a deep breath, visibly trying to calm himself, but it didn't work. Geet could see the sparks flying in his eyes. She stood there, the dupatta half raised, her eyes mesmerized by the show of emotion in those eyes.
'Here it comes,' she thought fatalistically, seeing him open his mouth. She hunched her shoulders slightly, preparing herself for the onslaught. She felt a warm body sidle up to her side and someone clutch at her hand. She glanced down to see the worried look in Rahul's eyes, as he gazed at his father. Geet squeezed Rahul's hand reassuringly before turning back to the angered man in front of her.
"Maan beta, you're home." His grandmother's voice was warm and happy, and the much needed distraction the pair needed to make their lucky escape. Maan turned to gaze at his grandmother, who had just come into the hallway. "We've missed you. Especially Rahul ... where did he go?"
While the angry man's attention was diverted, Geet ran, pulling Rahul behind her. Babaji was with her, and they made a clean escape. No masculine voice demanded their return. Running around the corner, the two rested against a wall for a moment, getting their breath back. Rahul's hand tugged at Geet's, calling for her attention. Geet gazed down at him and tried to give the young boy a reassuring smile.
"Daddy doesn't like to play, Geet didi," Rahul whispered confidingly.
"Now he tells me," she said, her eyes raised to the ceiling, as she began to laugh softly.
Geet ran, gazing around frantically. Her heart beat fiercely. Her breath was short. She forced herself to stop for a moment, placing a hand over her fiercely beating heart, trying to calm it down. It didn't work.
"You can't catch me!" Rahul's voice crowed, as he darted past her.
"Rahul Khurana! I am going to get you if it's the last thing I do. And watch out for that arm!" Geet shouted out after him, resuming the hunt once more. The two were playing a combination of hide and seek and tag; had been playing it for the past half hour. "I'm getting too old for this, Babaji," Geet muttered to herself, as she looked into another empty room. "Where are you?!" she shouted out, expecting no answer.
She heard the sound of a child's joyful laughter. She smiled helplessly, gladdened by that noise. It had been two weeks since Maan's return, and she'd spent that week trying to avoid her boss.
Despite that avoidance, in that time she had come to realize there was a distance between father and son that greatly disturbed her. She didn't understand it; she didn't understand why there were no impromptu shows of affections or roughhousing that was usually common in a father and son pair. He didn't carry Rahul around on his shoulders or really spend much time with him at all.
Whenever the great Maan Singh Khurana sat down at the dining table for breakfast and dinner with the family, he largely ignored Rahul and Rahul's nanny. She could see the love the man felt for his grandmother; it was in the respect he gave the older woman and the warmth of his voice. It was in the small smiles he allowed himself around his grandmother. But for Rahul ' for Rahul he had instructions given in a monotone most of the time. He had even more warmth for her than he did for the younger boy, but that wasn't really saying a lot. She might as well not exist for all the attention he didn't give her. She sighed softly, regretting the absence of something that she didn't even understand herself.
Even though he could be soft, none of that softness came his son's way. She knew the little boy loved his father. Rahul adored Maan and wanted to be just like him, to the point that he had begun to wear miniature versions of the vests his father wore to the office. But there was no paternal acknowledgement of Rahul's efforts. She shook her head. It really was troubling.
"Rahul Khurana, it's time to stop playing now! Stop running around like a chicken without its head. You'll bump into someone and get hurt!" Her only response was his laughter.
Running around a corner and muttering to herself, she failed to take notice of the body standing in her way. She slammed into a hard male figure, and, even before the arms had wrapped around her waist to prevent her from falling, she knew whose arms she was going to be in. It was that same hardness, same warmth, same scent that had intoxicated her last time. Her heart, already working double time, began to beat faster, forcing her to take quick breaths.
"Stop it," she whispered to herself, her gaze locked with his. Rahul had the same chocolate brown eyes, but the look in these chocolate brown eyes felt as if it was stripping her soul bare. She shivered slightly, her hands, which had landed on his broad shoulders, clenched tightly as she fought to quell the burst of emotions that had arisen due to his proximity.
"That is something I should be saying to you, Miss Handa," came the sardonic reply.
Geet wrinkled her brow in confusion. She could hear music in the air. A rhythm that resounded with the beat of her own heart.
"Your cellphone is ringing, Ms. Handa," her boss pointed out, brusquely standing her up. Geet merely blinked at him, while her ringtone blared out in the background.
"Miss Handa?" he said again, snapping his fingers in front of her face.
"Right," Geet murmured distractedly, pulling herself back from wherever her mind had slipped off to. Glancing at the phone, she silenced it and turned her attention back to him "I'm sorry, sir. I didn't know that you would be standing right here when I turned the corner." Her tone was a bit accusatory, and she frowned slightly, stepping back even further. "I didn't mea-'"
"It doesn't matter what you meant to do or not," he said, interrupting. "Don't let it happen again. I would suggest you make it a policy not to run around in the house like a headless chicken." Stating that, he turned around and walked down the hallway.
"But how else are we supposed to play tag?" she called out to his retreating figure.
He paused for a moment at that question. "You're not," he replied and then began to move once more.
"Wait. Was that a joke? A joke from that humorless man? No, it couldn't be," she muttered to herself, her gaze still trained on the retreating figure. "Wait! Sir! I wanted to ask you if '" He had turned the corner. "I wanted to ask you if we could go on a field trip," she muttered to herself. Hitting herself lightly on the head, she began to walk in the same direction he had taken. "Stop spacing out whenever he's around. I didn't know you could be so ditzy and clumsy," she scolded herself. "He hasn't noticed anything yet, but what if he did? How can you even think about something like that when '"
"Geet didi! I'm tired of hiding. Come and find me in my room!" Rahul's voice was cranky, and just the thing she needed to take her mind off of her growing attraction to this child's father.
"Rahul, please get off the desk," Geet gently admonished the little boy. They were at Khurana Constructions for their field trip, and Geet was suitably impressed. The company had its own building, with a lot of offices, a big staff, conference halls and a cafeteria. Pinky would have loved that convenience.
She sighed, feeling a bit lost looking around this huge place. It brought home the fact that she lived in an entirely different world from the man that owned that mansion and this business. She shook her head. When had there been any hope?
"We're in your father's office right now, and you have to behave like your daddy, right? Would your daddy sit on a desk?"
Rahul nodded. "I've seen him sit on desks," he confirmed brightly. "Doesn't he, Adi Uncle? He does it all the time."
"Well, I wouldn't say all the time," Adi said weakly, laughing nervously. "And he doesn't really sit," he continued trying to be helpful. "He kind of leans on the desk."
"Right, but he's the boss," Geet quickly responded. "Are you the boss?"
"I will be the boss," Rahul replied, his bottom lip sticking out in a pout, crossing his arms over his small chest. The little boy looked exactly like his father. With a black vest over his white, short-sleeved shirt and black dress pants. It was a new outfit that he'd recently asked for and was proudly wearing today, so that he could do his father proud.
"But, there can only be one boss, and that's your daddy. Right now you're a mere underling," Geet calmly reasoned.
"Like Adi Uncle?" he asked.
Geet winced and then nodded, smiling apologetically at Adi before turning back to the little boy.
"Right," Rahul said energetically, jumping down from the desk. Geet quickly moved forward to help him, worried about his arm. They'd just gotten the cast taken off yesterday, and she didn't want there to be another mishap. "Can we now see my daddy's office?" he asked, turning to look at Adi.
"Rahul," Geet reminded him.
"Please," Rahul added, and Geet smiled at him approvingly.
When Savitri Devi had suggested that the two go to Khurana Constructions instead of going to a museum, Geet had been hesitant, not wanting to be around Maan Singh Khurana more than she had to.
"I've been trying to ask Maan Sir if I can take Rahul on a field trip," Geet explained in frustration to Savitri Devi. "But he never seems to have time to listen to me. I think that it's very important that we start Rahul's cultural and social education at the same time as I teach him his letters and numbers. He should be going to museums and parks, where he can meet other children."
"Why don't you first take him to Maan beta's office?" Dadi Ma had asked smilingly. "Rahul would love that. He's always wanted to go, and this is the perfect time to introduce him to the Khurana business. Who knows? He might want to work there one day."
"Maan Sir's office?" Geet asked in a choked voice.
"Yes," Savitri Devi said with a nod.
"But, I haven't even asked Maan Sir if we can go on a field trip!" Geet protested, staring at the older woman. "I'm sure he wouldn't like a young child around when he's working," she'd added worriedly.
"I'll take care of it," Savitri Devi had promised calmly.
"But ' his office? Shouldn't I ask him first?" Geet had insisted, thinking about the last time she'd seen him. In her efforts to avoid the man, she'd hidden in a dusty storage room and heard him shouting at some hapless employee. She shuddered slightly, not wanting to be that employee sometime in the near future.
"Geet beta," Savitri Devi said, "I'll take care of it. You can take Rahul tomorrow." There was a finality in her tone that Geet could not contradict.
Seeing the fun that Rahul was having made her glad that she had listened to the matriarch of the Khurana family.
"A-are you sure that Dadi Ma has talked to M-Maan Sir?" Adi asked nervously, glancing at Geet with worry in her eyes. "It's just that I didn't receive any kind of instructions regarding this when Maan S-sir left for his meeting. If he comes back and finds you two here without his permission '" his voice trailed off, his face paling as he imagined how his boss would react.
"Adi Jeeja Ji," Geet interjected with a smile, "Dadi Ma said that she would take care of it, so she'll have taken care of it. There won't be a problem at all," she said confidently.
The trio walked into Maan Singh Khurana's office, and stared around the big room. Rahul ran up to the desk and traced the intricate work on the desk, before going around and sitting in his father's chair. Geet smiled when the boy began to whirl around in the swivel chair.
"I'll get you two some refreshments," Adi said, from the doorway. "Don't break anything," he cautioned, before turning to leave.
"Be careful," she cautioned Rahul, coming to stand by the chair. Rahul stopped the chair and stared at the items on the desk. His eyes moved over the computer monitor, the keyboard and the empty crystal vase before zeroing in on the pictures at the corner of the desk. His lip began to quiver. Turning the chair around, he stared at the back wall of the office, a frown appearing on his face.
"What's the matter?" Geet asked in concern, kneeling down beside the boy.
Rahul shook his head, refusing to look at Geet.
Geet gently touched his chin, and brought his face around toward her. "Tell me," she encouraged him.
"Daddy doesn't have a picture of me on his desk," he said finally. "Look," he ordered, pointing over his shoulder. "There's a picture of Dadi Ma," he said. "There's one of Annie Auntie and Arjun Uncle. And one of even Kamya Auntie and her family, and she is so annoying! But none of me," he finished in a hurt tone.
Geet was quite for a moment, staring at the spot where Rahul's photo should have been. She cleared her throat. "Do you know, I have pictures of my cousins on my walls at home," she began.
"See! You even love your cousins more than my daddy loves me," Rahul cried out, growing agitated.
Geet bit her lip, surprised at this reaction. Would a child who had grown up in a secure, happy and loving household react like this? There was something wrong going on here.
"You didn't let me finish," she rebuked him gently. "I have pictures of my cousins on my bedroom walls, but I don't have any pictures of my parents there. I keep their pictures in my purse," she finished. Picking up her purse, she pulled out her wallet and showed Rahul the picture of her parents. "You see, the ones that are nearest and dearest to our hearts, we like to keep them close by. What do you want to bet that your father has a picture of you in his wallet?"
A hopeful light had appeared in Rahul's eyes. "Really?"
Geet nodded with a big smile. The two gazed at each other for a moment. "Now, smile for me," she ordered. Rahul complied. The two jumped as they heard a loud crash outside.
"I'm s-so s-s-sorry s-sir," Adi cried out. Geet and Rahul raced to the door and peeked outside.
"What are you doing carting around juice and milk, Adi?" Maan roared. "And I told you to work on the Malhotra project. What are you doing taking a break right now?"
"T-t-these w-weren't f-for me, S-sir," Adi finally got out with difficulty. "You have g-guests," he said, motioning to the two silent spectators in the doorway. He stepped back, not wanting to intrude, when Maan turned around.
Maan stared at the woman and child he hadn't expected to see here. He paused for a moment, caught by the worried look in her eyes. His lips tightened, angry with himself for reacting to Geet's presence. The innocence in her eyes and the purity of her expressions affected him somehow. It was hard enough to be around her during the meals she shared with the family, but to see her here, in the office? Ever since he had hired her, she had been in his thoughts and that wasn't something he wanted to see happen. Not again. And because of that unnerving reaction, he was harsher than he should have been.
"What are you two doing here?" he demanded, staring at them balefully. "This isn't a playground," he told his son. "You shouldn't be here. Go home right now," he ordered.
Rahul's lower lip began to quiver once more, and Geet winced to see her hard work going down the drain. The little boy rushed past his father and down the hallway. Maan tightened his lips once more and made for his office, brushing past a silently bristling Geet.
"Adi Jeeja Ji, could you please take care of Rahul?" Geet asked courteously, before shutting the door behind her, closing her in with that man.
Sitting down behind his desk, he gazed at the woman that had come to stand in front of his desk.
"What is wrong with you?" she exploded, folding her arms over her chest. "How could you ... to such a little boy '" she took a deep breath. "Babaji, please give me strength."
"Go home, Miss Handa," Maan ordered, before forcing himself to turn his attention to the papers in front of him. It was disconcerting how hard that was. "I don't have time for your ramblings."
"That little boy loves you!" Geet burst out. "And you just broke his heart!" Geet said, pointing in the direction that Rahul had gone.
"Let's not overreact," Maan said dryly, sitting back in his chair. "I didn't have you pegged as being so overdramatic."
"Do you have any idea how much that little boy adores you? And you ... what is wrong with you?"
"Miss Handa," Maan said coldly, standing up to glare at the impudent woman, "You're overstepping your bounds."
"You hired me to take care of your son," she replied, glaring at the man. Raising her chin, she silently dared him to do something about it. "And I care both about his physical and emotional well-being." She began to pace in front of his desk, trying to gather her thoughts before letting loose with all of her worries.
"Miss Handa," he said with a sigh, not knowing why he was being so patient with this woman. If it had been any other employee, they would have been fired by now. He moved around the desk to go to her. Grasping her by the upper arm, reluctantly noticing how soft her skin was, he forced her to stop.
"You don't hug Rahul," Geet blurted out. Maan gazed at her mutely. "Forget about hugging," she continued, "but you don't even touch him. Where is the affection ' that relationship that a father and son should have?" she demanded, gazing into his eyes. Maan merely tightened his lips and raised an eyebrow at her.
"Don't raise your eyebrow at me," Geet said frustration, poking at him with the finger of her free hand. "He wants to be just like you," she continued. "He talks like you. He walks like you. He behaves and dresses like you. And do you have any idea how hard it is to have him say please and thank you when the man he idealizes doesn't?" she demanded from the silent man, pulling away to pace once more.
"That is your job," Maan got out through gritted teeth. His patience had quickly faded away at the continued presumption of this woman.
"He wanted to come here today, because he wants to work here one day. He wants to be a boss of Khurana Constructions, Just like his daddy," Geet said softly. "And then, when he came here, what does he see? Pictures from which he is specifically excluded?" Geet asked, pointing at the frames on the desk.
Maan stared at the photo frames, distracted for a moment before turning back to glare at the woman that continued to rant in front of him. The fiery anger and resentment began to grow inside of him. How dare this woman talk like this to him? She was a mere employee! What right did she have to say things that no one had dared to say? What right? What did she know? He clenched his hands, trying to rein in his anger. He knew that if he let loose with the anger that had been roiling inside of him for such a long time, it would be destructive. And he didn't want to hurt this woman. He just wanted her to shut up!
"Answer me," Geet demanded. "You love him, right? I'm sure you love him. Maybe you just don't know how to show it," she said, stopping in front of him. She gazed at him closely. "You must love him. He's your son."
"That's just it, Miss Handa," Maan said hoarsely, the words forcing themselves out past the knot that had grown in his throat.
"What's just it?" Geet snapped back, frowning at the man in front of her in confusion.
"Maybe I don't love him," he said ruthlessly, forcing himself to change tack.
Geet fell back at the shock from that revelation, disappointed beyond belief by his words. Why did she care so much? What did it matter? Why had she expected any more from him? He was a horrible, horrible man. She swallowed, trying to dislodge the lump that had grown in her throat.
"What kind of man are you?" she asked.
There was a long silence between the two. Tears appeared in Geet's eyes, as she tried to grapple with the cold reality of this man.
"How can you ... how can you not love your own flesh and blood?" She looked at him as if he was scum, as if he was something that had crawled out from under a rock.
"But you see, he's not," he replied, tired of the accusations her eyes were throwing at him. He was tired of the hurt he saw in her eyes. What right did she have to be hurt?
"Not what?" Geet asked helplessly, beginning to turn away. She was no longer interested in his words. What did she care about what he said next? Her poor Rahul. No wonder he was so insecure and unhappy. No wonder he was so desperate for his father's approval.
"Rahul isn't my flesh and blood," he ground out, angry at himself for this defense.
Geet whirled around to stare at him, shocked to the core by his words.
"He's the product of one of the many affairs my wife had before she left us, Miss Handa."
Hey everybody, just wanted to thank you all for taking the time to comment. I'd love to hear from all my readers on what they think of this chapter. For new readers, if you would like PMs, please buddy my PM username: darkice7_12PM. I do not send PMs from this username.
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