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Hi, everyone. Here's the next part and I'm saying this in advance—IT'S BORING. I'm serious. If you're into minor details/background then go ahead and take a shot but don't expect any romantic parts. Sorry, guys. It was needed for my own sake. And thanks a whole bucketful for the support and comments and feedback so far :D
The Art of Telling the Truth with Lies—Part 6
Groggily, Armaan forced his eyes open. Balancing on his elbows, he lay there waiting for his head to clear up. Pulling the comforter aside, he sighed as the cool air clasped his burning body. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the darkness then another to grasp the unfamiliar surroundings. He plopped back down on the pillow and grabbed his phone. It was little past two in the morning. Running his hands through his hair Armaan thought back to the decision he had taken just a few hours back. Unable to take another reminder of the grave future awaiting him, he got up from the bed and made his way to the shower.
The sheets were tangled around her feet and the room was thick as well as stuffy. Wiping the familiar moisture from her cheeks, Riddhima forced her jaw to unclench and allow air to pass to her lungs. Sweat trickled down her thin night shirt—ice cold against her feverish skin. Her heart thumped wildly while her head felt as if it would explode. Riddhima swallowed the darkness and thanked for the absence of light. Massaging her temples with her fingers, Riddhima tried to recall the memories playing on the edges of her consciousness; however, alike to every other attempt in the past it provided no further detail but drained every pint of energy from her body. The clock displayed three thirty in the morning. Riddhima crawled out of bed and set her glasses on the bridge of her nose. After a bit of fumbling, she found her slippers and slipped out into the kitchen.
Smothering a yawn, Riddhima leaned against the fridge as the cup filled with water. She took the glass and set it on the counter to look for her medicine. After swallowing the bitter pill she trudged to the living room and collapsed on the sofa. She felt as if someone had sucked the very life out of her and even breathing took an effort. Riddhima knew this was serious but she convinced herself that she was getting used to it. It was true that she was getting used to the migraines but not the emotional battle that came along with it. Tears stung behind her eyelids and she didn't even know why. Maybe it was better if it stayed that way. If these flickers left her in this state, Riddhima could only imagine what the revelation would cause. It was the same this time—Riddhima was watching the scene unfold even though she could see a much younger version of herself amid a man's arms. It came all at once—the screaming (hers), the pleading and threats (the man), and the blood…
After each memory, more or less the same, she would wake up with tears streaming down her face. She never held them back. It felt wrong to do so and crying helped…a lot. Nicki knew and had even talked her into seeing a psychiatrist with Abhi, Uncle, and Aunty backing her up. She had walked into the office and the bitter childhood, or more so the lack of it, had surfaced yet again. Throughout the session, she had struggled to put up with the doctor's soft yet inquisitive gaze which made her feel six years old again and even more so, vulnerable. When Nicki came to pick her up, she found Riddhima slumped in a bench outside the office. The rain poured around her and through her but Riddhima took no notice. Nicki walked up to her and tapped her lightly on her shoulder. The sight that greeted Nicki was enough to spark guilt and horror inside her. Furthermore, Nicki never pressured Riddhima again.
Pushing aside the limp strands of hair, Riddhima turned to her side. She put her hand up to block the bright light that came straight at her. She groaned as pain shot through her throbbing veins. When she opened her eyes again, there was only the dim yellow glow of the lamp. She relaxed and removed her hands. He was lounged on the couch with his arm resting on the back with his eyes boring into her. Conscious about her disheveled state, Riddhima sat up slowly. He looked at her another moment before turning away.
Armaan pressed the power button and the TV flickered back on. He saw her flinch at the brightness. It hurt her. He knew. Precisely for that reason, he had turned the TV off in the first place without a thought when he had heard her groan and put her hand up. Irritated at his own action, he convinced himself to concentrate on the TV screen. He focused on the movement of Grant Johnson instead as the living-giant moved swiftly with the football tucked in his arms. Knocking down another one of Bangles' precious linebackers without as much as a flex of his shoulders, Johnson pushed towards the sidelines moving too fast for a man his size. Armaan saw two guards trailing Johnson on either side. He smiled at the play that came next…why he himself was a master at it. The guards closed in on either side and Armaan gave credit to Johnson for moving the way he did. As one of the guards leaned towards him, Johnson moved closer to the other one who immediately jumped at the opportunity. Timing it perfectly, he dropped and slid right under their outstretched hands and beyond the yellow line with the football raised in his meaty hands as the crowd went wild.
Armaan's lips dropped into a smirk again. Johnson was good but he was better. This was his homework before the season began as the coach had specifically asked him to study the tapes. Armaan liked it. How better to improve than to learn from other's mistakes?
Well, he had been learning until she stumbled in. Armaan was surprised when she didn't even pick up on his presence; instead, she collapsed onto the couch and he heard the sniffs a minute later. Armaan couldn't believe he had even thought of comforting her. Glaring at her back, he had turned back to the tape but not without glancing at her every few seconds to make sure she was breathing. When she had turned around and groaned, he had immediately turned the TV off much to his disdain. He regretted it immediately. Armaan turned away from her and pretended not to notice. But he did. He noticed way too much in just those five seconds. He noticed her pale and sickly face. He noticed her bloodshot eyes. He noticed the trail of dried tears. He noticed her trying to glue the broken pieces of her composure back into a hollow whole.
After sitting up properly, Riddhima raised her eyes to meet Armaan's but found his attention diverted to the TV which was playing the recording of some football game with no audio. Uncomfortable with the awkward situation, Riddhima got up to make some breakfast since sleep was not an option. She paused before exiting the living room.
"Do you want breakfast?" Armaan heard her emotionless voice break his concentration for the second time. Clenching his teeth to refrain from snapping at her, he ran a lazy hand through his hair. Oh, what the heck, he thought to himself, food is food even if it is being served by the devil himself. Aloud he replied in the same tone, maybe even more coolly, "Lucky Charms." There was no audible response but Armaan heard her retreating footsteps echo on the ceramic floor. The videotape forgotten, Armaan wondered how she could stand this silence. Armaan himself had grown up in a huge family even in the States. Yes, it was a different matter that he might not reciprocate the same warm fuzzy feelings towards them—but family was family. Armaan was a bachelor and not to mention a billionaire which entitled him to a house (aka mansion) or two of his own. However, even those rock solid walls were nothing in front of his sister[monster]-in-laws who according to him lived life susegad—no tension khane ka, khali dene ka. It was beyond difficult to love them or even hate them.
Since they had heard the news about Riddhima being pregnant, they had irritated him with threatening phone calls and horrifying e-mails which Rahul was forced to deal with. Better him than me, Armaan thought to himself. He wondered how his family would react to this new twist in the story especially since Muskaan and Anjali [monster-in-laws] have basically been hounding him to get married. No matter how much they might oppose his decision they, he knew, would never shun him because they loved him too much. Instinctively, Armaan rolled his eyes at that reminder. If love could ever be suffocating, it would be in this case. However there was one person whose opinion Armaan actually cared for. According to Armaan, it wasn't the marriage that needed an approval, it would be Riddhima. Depending on her impression on this particular person, Riddhima could make it or break it. A part of Armaan really hoped she would break it but the other—rather the sentimental, unmanly, ego-lacking—part wanted Riddhima to be accepted warmly as a Malik.
Armaan was shaken from his reverie when a sweet aroma enveloped the room instantly lightening up the drowsy to-be morning. He heard the sizzle of something and his stomach responded with a cry of its own. She's cooking, Armaan concluded to himself a bit taken back. She didn't look like the cooking type especially the type to make someone's mouth water just from the smell. But then again looks can be quite deceptive as Armaan knew from personal experience. Riddhima resembled none of the girl, rather woman, he had glimpsed that unfortunate day. She had looked sooo…delectable but this Riddhima was washed-down and drained of even a single exciting thought. Armaan cringed inwardly at the thought of spending eight months with her.
Riddhima put the skillet in the kitchen sink and grabbed her plate in one hand along with an empty bowl. With the Lucky Charms box tucked under her arms, Riddhima headed towards the living room while her other hand carried a carton of whole milk and a spoon. She glanced at the clock as she went by—4:30. The living room's lights were on as well as the TV which now displayed the infamous Jersey Shore on MTV. Riddhima couldn't comprehend why the public wasted even a second on that ridiculous show which had created a self-absorbed universe of its own while successfully advertising the best ways to make a complete idiot out of your self—both through your actions and your looks. Shaking her head, Riddhima set the milk down on the table along with her own plate and the empty bowl in front of the couch previously occupied by Armaan. Where is he? Riddhima wondered. Right then, the door to the restroom opened to her right and there he was—all gorgeous and everything. Sigh. Without meeting his gaze, Riddhima picked up the remote from the couch and changed the channel.
"…The halogens do possess some special properties that distinguish them from other elements. Now the interesting part is that—"
Abashed, Riddhima stared at him when he snatched the remote out of her hand. "I'm not gonna stand here and let that b***h talk about my friends. I don't care who she is, she just called Snooki fat. If those bouncers hadn't stopped me I swear…"
Taking a deep sigh, Riddhima decided to ignore him. "Your cereal," she said as she sat the box down on the table. Then she retreated back to the bedroom. But before she could exit though, his gruff voice called out.
"Answer, Riddhima." His gaze was level with hers. Green and Blue. Armaan watched as she dropped her gaze and stared off into space for a minute before replying, almost dejected.
"Yes, I will marry you. But…,"
Armaan waited patiently as she moved closer. "But you have to promise, please, you have to promise you won't demand custody of the baby. Please." Her face was upturned to his and Armaan clearly saw the glaze of tears in her eyes. Her chin was quivering slightly and her struggle to hold back the tears seemed to be futile. A bit surprised, Armaan watched her precious composure stagger into pieces.
Riddhima covered her mouth with her hand while her throat hurt from holding back her sobs. She so badly wanted to cry but not with him there. Even the traitorous tears that escaped her eyes had left her humiliated. She hated begging that too from a man.
Armaan turned her face up with a finger under her chin. Pressing on her chin not softly, he said roughly, "First of all don't cry in front of me. Save those tears for someone who cares. As for your request, well, that depends on you. In this "marriage", there are going to be rules. These rules, my dear, are for you. If you f*** up even one more time, then I can't make any promises as to what the consequences will be. I hope you understand." Armaan let go of her face harshly.
Riddhima staggered back from the force momentarily surprised at the venom in his words. But she recovered soon enough. Who was she kidding? This was the trailer for the next eight months. She knew he was in control now and there wasn't much she could do about it. So, she remained motionless.
Armaan saw the play of emotions on her face before she settled on one—nothing. Like I care, Armaan scoffed inwardly. Naturally, Armaan was not a harsh man however, he did have a set of morals and beliefs that he stuck to. What Riddhima had done defied not only his beliefs; it also put a dent in his male ego. If this piece of news got leaked into public, he would become the laughingstock of the whole nation, or so he thought. In this sense, he was very old-fashioned.
(Alright im pulling stuff out of by butt right now, so bear with me guys. I've never been married, thank god :D) The marriage officiant's eyes swopped down on the couple as they entered the office. He was an old man with thinning hair and increasing creases. On the cluttered desk, the name read Mr. Walton. Old age had befuddled his brain but he could recognize a road -wreck when he saw one especially after twenty-five years in this business. Yes, marriage was essentially business these days. He could name only handful couples who were confident in the step they were taking and this couple was no different—well, at least the bride wasn't. She was patting her tightly secured fancy braid. The white dress she kept smoothing befits a business deal not a marriage. Her bright emerald eyes stood out on her pale face and all her features were set rigidly as if holding something together. Mr. Walton's eyes softened and he let out a heavy sigh. Then his gaze rested on the broad figure leading her.
Mr. Walton was surprised for a moment but recovered soon enough. Clearing his throat, he began in a raspy yet clear voice, "Aha another Malik. Good Morning. What can I do for you Mr. Malik?" Weirdly, Mr. Walton was the one who had handed the marriage license to Armaan's older brother—Atul Malik—and his manager cum best friend—Rahul Garewal—when he worked as a County Clerk.
Armaan took a seat in one of the two chairs then waited until Riddhima did the same. He shook his head as her knee bumped against the wooden desk causing her to hiss in pain. Turning his attention to the clerk, he began, "Good Morning, Mr. Walton. Well, I think it's quite obvious but I'll say it anyways. We need to get married."
With a careful smile, Mr. Walton asked, "Need to? Normally, it's want to. Right Miss…?"
Feeling his gaze, Riddhima relaxed the muscles of her face and forced a smile. "Riddhima Gupta. We want to get married."
Mr. Walton chuckled softly and Riddhima felt like a little girl caught lying. "Alright then, let's get to it. Can I have the license?" Armaan handed it over. Mr. Walton studied it for a minute and then shifted his gaze back to them. "You got this license today. Well, I'm sorry to say Mr. Malik but—" Armaan forwarded another sheet of paper which Mr. Walton accepted. He chuckled again.
"Aah. You seem to be in a hurry." Mr. Walton put the marriage license and the judicial waiver in a file.
With his elbow resting under his chin, Armaan answered casually, "Well, what can I say? I just can't wait to get my hands on her. Isn't that right, sweetheart?" Armaan threw a patronizing smile in Riddhima's direction which didn't go unnoticed by Mr. Walton.
Riddhima felt her cheeks burn. Refusing to look at him, she smiled nervously at the nice old man who would perform this vile deed in a few minutes. Riddhima was glad she had never dreamed of a fairytale wedding or a knight in shining armor because if she had…let's just say she would've been highly disappointed. However, she never thought it would be so…so bland either. Riddhima noted her nervousness had hit a new record when she misspelled her name on one of the papers. She couldn't believe how relaxed he [Armaan] was as they stood up to take their vows. Inconspicuously, Riddhima wiped her damp hands on her dress before dropping them in Armaan's.
For no reason, Armaan clasped her trembling hands causing her to look up at him. Immediately, he turned his head and out of the corner of his eye, he saw her do the same. The vows were simple with the customary promises to love, to comfort, to honor, in sickness or health, in sorrow or joy but they decided to omit "as long as you shall live" for the obvious reasons. There were no smiles, no tears of joy, no kisses although Armaan did place a formidable ring on her finger which reminded Riddhima she had forgotten to get him one. At that moment, he pulled out another wedding band which she quietly slipped onto his left hand ring finger. Amidst all this, Mr. Walton stood as the lone specter to these unusual yet usual events not voicing his concerns or questions.
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