Part 19 (A) : With you, not Without you
"Bye.", he said almost inaudibly, as she stood in the front of the gate of her house. She stood on for a second to look at him, and tried to manage out an answer. It was weird after the previous night, that eerie silence, and all she could do was nod.
"Thanks.", he looked up, "Um...for leaving me home even though Sid was supposed to be picking me up."
He gave a slight, coy smile,"I didn't mind."
"So...I'll see you tomorrow?"
"No, just today- oh. Right. Tomorrow's monday. Hospital. See you, then."
"Bye.", she said sadly, and turned to go. As if she was expecting it, she heard the engine of the car spring to life and leaving. Sighing, she took out the key from her bag and turned the lock.
Gazing at her familiar house, she lazily walked towards her room, dropped her bag and slopped down on the bed. So,it was Sunday. Sid was busy, and she wasn't even expecting to see him sometime soon. Armaan...would definetely be with Muskaan today, pretty obvious. Nikki, Abhi, Anjie, Atul...all would be busy with their kids' entertainment today. What was she supposed to do? Frowning to herself, Riddhima finally decided to just laze around for the day. To spend some "herself" time. Anyways her home needed serious cleaning, because Sid literally lived on his chips and instant coffees, and had made the kitchen messy, she didn't plan on even looking at his room, because hers was in a mess itself, unlike Armaan's room..
The thought of the previous night made her cheeks tinge pink. She remembered how she woke up, disturbed by her hair which were all over her face, and light coming through the spaces. She felt very warm, very very uncomfortably warm, and then realised she had fallen asleep in Armaan's pullover. Frowning, she had got up, taken off that pullover, and looked around to see no Armaan there. Curiously enough, she had started walking towards the kitchen, from where some tingling noise reached her ears.
"Armaan?", she found nothing else to say, for he was looking extraordinarily cute in his black vest, ruffled hair and army half-quarters.
He had almost jumped,"Oh..um. Hey." It was almost like he was embarressed. She stood at the door, trying to say something, when the only thing she could manage out was, "Do you have a extra toothbrush?"
"Huh?", his reply had been accompnied with almost a shocked face, and then he had quickly composed himself, "Er...Yes. Right."
She followed him back to his room where he rumbled in his drawers, frowning in intervals. She figdeted with her nails meanwhile, trying to think what exactly she was supposed to think about the previous night. Or maybe she was overthinking. Maybe there was nothing to make meaning of. Armaan and she...she had just come to his house because her house was locked, Okay fine, because she wanted to come. So what if he'd slept beside her all night, holding her? So what that he'd said he lo-
"AHA!",his voice cut off her thoughts, and he got up, holding a packed Oral-B, and grinning from ear to ear.
"Thanks.",she smiled and took the brush. He smiled back, and both of them prepared to go the opposite ways, almost banging into one another. He stopped and gave her way. She tucked a lock behind her ear nervously and hurried on to the washroom.
He scratched his head and walked slowly to the kitchen, and soon the sound of the microwave beeping could be heard.
She found herself holding a cushion and smiling to herself. It was so weird, even though they weren't together, his mere thought made her heart flutter. Shaking her head,she got up to go get a shower. Somehow the cold water hitting her soothed her nerves, and she could think straight. Still, there was this teenage-like giddiness that wouldn't just go. In evidence, one could hear a very loud 'Pehla Nasha' coming from the washroom.
Muskaan looked at the watch, and then at the albums that were on her lap. Her college days. They were the best time of her life, everyone's lives. It was like a different life altogether. The first picture she saw was of her and Rahul, her head on his shoulder, and both of their eyes closed.She couldn't help smiling...that was taken from their last trip together with Riddhima included, and they had enjoyed a lot. She remembered the way his hand had held hers while they walked the way to the hotel, how right it felt, how rightly their hands fitted, like jigsaw puzzles. She remembered how he had dried her hair with her hair dryer, after a heavy session of water splashing. She remembered hugging him tight and staying in his embrace till the powercut was sorten, and how he'd whispered in her ears, 'I like you being afraid...I get the chance to hold you all the more..', making her blush.
She sighed and wiped the corner of her eyes. She wanted all of it to come back. She wished she could be a scientist and build a real time-machine, and get back all those days. Not only for her, but for her best friends Armaan and Riddhima too. She couldn't help thinking how big idiots they were. Atleast they have each other in front of them, and still they're staying apart. She felt so irritated that she couldn't do anything. Well,these two had always been idiots. Big ones. Even when they had to realise their love for each other.
* Flashback *
2nd August, 2002
"BASKET!" , she looked up from the baggage counter to see a widely grinning Armaan, his joy glittering in his blue eyes.
She stood still and watched him rush to her side and try to hug her.
"Armaan!", she hissed,"You're not supposed to enter the airport..I would've met you at the gate! You can get into trouble.."
He waved her words away, "Oh, whatever! Anyways I told the man at the gate that I left my wife behind, so I had to get in. Now don't be a spoilsport, gimme a hug!", he finished hurriedly and embraced her.
Riddhima gladly put her arms around him, feeling his muscles around her. He was warm as usual, and smelt of sweat and cologne, the typical Armaan smell that made her feel like she was home. She smiled when he let go of her, and said,
"Seriously,Ammu...Wife?", she raised an eyebrow, "And didn't the man ask you about luggage?"
Armaan rolled his eyes, "What does it matter! I got in, thats enough. Drop the matter. Lets go, we've lots to do today!"
"What do-", she was cut off when they reached the terminal gate, and he put on a serious expression, suddenly saying,
"See, how worried I was..you shouldn't go away like this no..Tch Tch..",then he turned to the man at the counter and pointed at her. The man nodded gravely, and then Armaan pulled her out of the airport.
As soon as they were out of sight, Riddhima burst out laughing. Armaan grinned at her, and took her bag, leading her to his waiting car. "Okay, Okay...you can stop laughing now.", he added sheepishly.
She got into the passenger seat and waited till Armaan joined her in the driver's seat. She turned slightly towards him and asked, "But I am still curious. Why did you say Wife! I mean Armaan...", she giggled, "You're too young to be married, and you could have said anything else..friend, or whatever.."
Armaan drove ahead, and without looking at her, rolled his eyes, "You girls na, seriously. Arrey baba,the 'wife' word is very..um, bang on, you know...important. If I would've said friend, that guy would know I was lying!", he looked at her, "Hey, don't tell the others at college, okay...My reputation.."
"Yes Yes Mr.Mallik, I know. By the way, what were you saying about loads to do today?"
He winked at her, "Oh, you'll know. First, we're going to college."
"What!" Armaan...I need to change, take a bath."
"I know.", he grinned.
"Shhh! I know what I'm doing. So put a finger on your lips.", she did, and Armaan laughed.
"Not literally Riddhima! I meant stop talking! Aww...you're so CUTE!", he pulled her cheeks. She rubbed her cheek and frowned.
When they reached the college, she met their friends there. They told her of the fest practice, and how everything was going smoothly. Then Armaan declared what he was going to do. "Ok Everyone...Nikki, Abhi, Anjie,Atul, Nishi,Rahul, Muski...today I'm not going to be a part of the fest practice, and neither will Bas-er, Riddhima be, since today, the whole day...she'll be with me!", he ended excitedly.
Riddhima elbowed him,"But we're the coordinaters!"
"Chill, Ridz.", said her cousin,"Anyways everything is almost ready, and we still have a week to go, right? The sponsers, participants, contests, hosts, special appearences and guests are all decided. Just that we gotta work on the food...but I guess that you guys can do tomorrow." Armaan gave her a 'See?' look.
"Arrey don't worry na Ridzi. We'll have loads of fun. You've come back after a long time, and Armaan's missed you real bad. Its cool.", Muski added. Riddhima looked at Nishi, who was engrossed in her phone, but turned back and gave a thumbs up with a smile.
She turned to her best friend,"Okay."
"The Beach.",she smiled at him.
This was the third destination of the day. First had been Riddhima's house, where he made her maggi while she took a bath. It had been a little soggy alright, but she had to admit that it was one of the finest of all his attempts to cook. Next had been 'Gamer's Longue' at the Pheonix mall. She hadn't failed to notice that all their juniors (read : kids) were staring at them, almost expecting a child behind them. She had been flushed red, pulled at Armaan's arm and said,"Um..Armaan, what the hell are we doing here?", to which Armaan had grinned and showed her the 'Pick a toy' and the gaming bikes, not to forget her favourite (fine, all time favourite) mini basketball court. It seemed that he was more excited than she was. There was this unknown feeling of satisfaction that was in her when he met his eyes. He was so happy. Infact, she didn't remember him SO happy when she was in Bombay. He'd sounded so unlike himself when he'd called her up..but seeing him like that, his dimples back on his cheeks, his favourite shirts back on, bunking college to spend the day with her...It was beautiful. Just what she was missing.
"Uh-huh.", he replied, closing his car with a beep, "And just the time of sunset."
It was sunset all right. A orangish-reddhish hue had taken over the sky, and it glittered softly and soothing in the sea. It was almost..Why almost, totally romantic. He gazed at her and saw her with closed eyes, a content smile spread over her face. He couldn't just stop admitting to himself that she was simply so beautiful. And he knew she loved the beach. She loved Saturdays and not Sundays, she loved pink,purple,magenta, she loved chinese and street food, she loved films and friends, and she loved spending time with him. Armaan shook his head at the random thoughts, and looked ahead, to see her near the water. Her capris folded to make halves, her sandals on her left hand, and her hair out of her ponytail, flying in the wind.
"I missed this.All of it.", she smiled at him.
"So did I.", he replied softly, and they both turned to look at the sea.
"You know Armaan...this place is one of the most beautiful places of my life...You remember our holidays?"
He chuckled, "The pink frocked Riddhima. How could I forget?"
"Oh please, as if you weren't always in green and blue.", she retorted back.
"Hey, I hate green now.", he defended himself, following her walk now.
"Yeah, I know.", she grinned.
"And you still love pink.Pinky!", he laughed by her side, now fastening his steps to come before her.
She stopped walking on the water and looked at him, "Can you just realise that we're talking random?"
He nodded, "Yeah. So? I don't care...Unless you're with me."
She didn't look at him and walked out of the water to reach the large rocks on which she loved to sit on. Putting her sandals back on, she couldn't stop thinking how everytime, he managed to say something that had so many layers of meanings to it. Everytime, maybe unintentionally, she always made her go back to the "feelings" point. It was frustrating, trying to avoid something, and then that very thing always reminding you that it'll never be gone.
"Basket?", she heard him come towards her,and sit beside her,"You okay?"
He was worried after she'd suddenly grown quiet. And her eyes had been downcast.
"Yeah.", she replied quietly.
"You lier.", he narrowed his eyes, "Tell me whats wrong.Anything bothering you?"
"Yes.",she looked at him meaningfully,"That you still didn't get me an ice-cream."
He knew that she was lying. But why wouldn't she tell him what was bothering her? He knew that she'd been lying even when she said that she was going to Shimla because she was missing her parents...he knew that she wasn't that kind of girl who would leave her responsibilites when the fest was only two weeks away. There was something that was constantly irking her, and she still didn't want to tell him? Anyways, all he wanted, was to make her happy. He would do just anything to make her happy.
He gave a cynical look, to which she laughed,"What?"
She shrugged, "Yup. And Chocolate,please.", she smiled.
He paused, and then nodded, "Fine." He got up and started walking out of the beach. He didn't want to press the matter.
She saw him walk away, and sighed. Falling in love with him wasn't the best thing that happened to her. It was unlike anything that people called 'beautiful' or 'magical'. She had perfect couples all around her...in the beach, yes, then there were her friends, her parents, Armaan's parents... She had always dreamt of a fairytale love story for herself. Not much, but just a person who would love her back. Weird how Armaan fitted all the other categories- he cared for her, he made her smile, he cried for her, fought for her, and was always there when she needed him. Riddhima shook her head. In the end, everything boiled down to him. 'Stop thinking about it, Ridz.Its not a big deal.'
"Your chocolate ice-cream, Mam.", she looked up to see Armaan holding a chocolate cornetto for her, and a butterscoch one for himself. She took it and smiled.
He didn't reply, he sat beside her, and started to tear the wrap of the ice-cream. "Hey, finish this up, fast. We're going for a movie..and then dinner. Although I guess, we can have the dinner with popcorn and chips. What do you think?"
"Yeah, I could do with popcorn and chips, and if we got the grilled sandwiches...Wait. What? You're taking ME to a movie?"
He gave her a 'obviously' kind of look," Yeah..What did you expect?"
She thought of Nishi, but didn't want to bother him, "No, nothing."
He gave a secretive smile, "Basket, Nishi's got her dates with me...but I had a deal with her that today is your day..Just you and me."
She gave a kind of suggesting smile to him,"So, are you trying to two-time your girlfriend with me?"
He caught the mood instantly, "I wasn't thinking about it initially, but now since you've suggested it, I think its quite a good idea. So, do you wanna be my date for tonight?"
She had a bite of her ice-cream, "Hmm..Actually, today I'm a bit busy with my boy-oops, best friend, but I think I can slot you for a date tomorrow night. Okay?"
"So..Is your best friend good looking, irrestible, hot, charming? 'Coz I heard he is.."
"Naah, he doesn't interest me that much, you do..", she said, winking and twirling her strand of hair with her fingers.
"Oh man!", he exclaimed, surprised, "You're so spoilt!"
"Look who's talking.", she finished the last bit of her cone, and stood up along with Armaan, who dusted his jeans.
"Okay, lets go.", he said and started walking.
"Armaan? Wait." he turned, "What?"
Without thinking, she leaned forward to wipe the cream that stuck to the side of his lips. He stood there frozen, for her touch sent electricity down his body, like suddenly his cardiac input rose.
She removed her hand, "There.", she smiled and now started walking towards the car. He still stood there baffled, unable to understand the sensation still running through him.
"Armaan?", she turned behind.
"Huh?", he answered, and then composed himself, "Yeah..Lets go."
"That was SO SO Good!", she exclaimed as they got out of the hall.
"I know man, did you see the songs? Especially the 'Tu hai asmaan mein' and the the 'Suno na'. And I loved Rahul Bose!"
"Oh please, Armaan...did you actually like the PJs? You know that there's a lot to 'Jhankar Beats' than just PJs and music."
"Oh hello! The film was about music!", he protested, "Anyways, do you want to go for dinner?"
She gave a pleading look,"No..I'm full. Those sandwiches were so yum, and I had 4 of them along with popcorn. No more!"
"Yeah, thought so. Actually-"
He was cut by,"Riddhima?", coming from behind.
They both turned, and her smile faded as soon as she saw the guy.
"Remember me?", he sais hopefully, and Armaan looked at her, confused.
"I don't know you.", her voice was icy cold, and her face like stone. Armaan was way surprised now. She'd never behaved that way ever before.
"Armaan lets go. I think I'm getting suffocated.", her voice was thick, and unlike her, but before Armaan could ask her what was wrong, she had grabbed his wrist and started pulling him out of the place.
The guy followed them,"Riddhima, please. I know you hate me...and you don't want to talk. Atleast hear me out."
Armaan at that point was the most confused person on earth. Somehow this thing was making him angry, he did not like unknown guys hovering around his best friend. And moreover,when the guy could see that his presence made Riddhima so unconfortable, why couldn't he just leave? It was pissing him off.
But Riddhima coninued to walk and pull him, so he called, "Dude, if she doesn't know you, she just doesn't! Leave otherwise it won't be good!", he said it casually but hoped that the guy got the depth of his words.
Riddhima paused. Her head was getting heavier, and she just wanted to finish all this. She turned to Armaan.
"Armaan, can you please wait for me near the car? I'll handle this...I just don't want any scenes here."
"Are you serious? I'm so NOT leaving you with a guy I don't know, and I don't trust. Basket...I'm not having a good feeling about this, and if he's stalking you I-"
She cut him off,"You trust me?"
He sighed,"Ofcourse I do. But not him."
"Armaan I'm well armed to handle myself. Just go, I'll be back in 5 minutes."
He still wasn't convinced,"But if you don't know him then...why?"
"I promise I'll tell you everything. For now, please wait for me near the car?", she pleaded. He nodded and started walking towards the parking lot. After about 4 steps, he turned back and mouthed a 'take care' to her. She nodded.
"Make it quick.",she said coldly, turning to the guy.
He paused, "I...I'm sorry."
"Fantabulous. I was just falling short of this in my life. Now bye, Rehaan. I DO NOT want to talk to you."
"Riddhima please...atleast listen to me." She looked away and gripped her clutch.
"After 8 months.", she gritted through her teeth.
"I..I know you hate me. I deserve to be hated for what I did. But I'm sorry, really...I don't know how to mend this, I..Im just so sorry.", he ended softly, his shoulders slouching in defeat.
"Sorry. Really now? What a fantastic word to say when you don't even mean it. I told you, that I don't want to talk. And I'm sticking to my word. Bye.", she started to stalk off, but he suddenly held her hand.
"You don't feel anything for me now? All that memories we have together..don't they mean anything to you?"
"Leave.My.Hand. Now.", he left it immediately, looking down.
She turned to him and crossed her arms, "They aren't memories, they are nightmares to me, that I've forgotten since the day I realised what a huge idiot I was to date you, to let you come so close to my life, to let you almost break my friendship with Arjun. Feelings? You talk about feelings?", she let out a sarcastic laugh, "Well, even though you don't deserve any answer to any of your questions, I will answer you. I Hate You. I actually feel sorry that I dated such a looser. Neither did I have any feelings then, nor now. So goodbye. Have a good life.", the mockery was transparent in her last tone.
"Is that your...boyfriend? Standing outside?", he asked from behind.
"What do you care?"
"Riddhima please, tell me. Atleast I'll know if anyone's taking my place."
"When you don't have a place in my life..you care to ask if anyone else does? Well yes. He does."
"Don't mind, Riddhima...but, I think he isn't right for you.."
It was too much for her to handle. Anger was rising up each and every moment she was seeing him stand there in front of her and even shamelessly commenting about her life, when he didn't even deserve to be looking at her anymore. She turned back and walked up to him, almost wanting to slap him tight across his face.
"You. Have no right to tell me whos right for me and whos not. Because I had once thought that a guy was right for me. But guess what? That freaking looser, HE BROKE UP WITH ME BECAUSE I DIDN'T SLEEP WITH HIM!"
Rehaan closed his eyes and took in her words, "I...Its not like you think, I just-"
"Wait.", she interrupted, holding her hand up," You wanted to know, right? What that guy you saw with me means to me? Do you know the difference? He cares for me, he actually makes me want to be with me...He's my best friend, my support system. He's been with me in those times when I actually need someone. He's made me feel special, and I know he means every word he says to me, right from the heart. And-"
"See, I told you. I knew that he wasn't your boyfriend or something.", he cut her off.
"-And I LOVE HIM!", she just had to make him stop talking, and lowered her voice, "And so...thats exactly why, you should understand, that you are out of my life, my memories, and can only be part of my nightmares. Good Bye."
She started walking towards the parking lot, not caring to look back.She wanted to hold her head, it pained so much. Damn. She got a quick bottle of water and drank some of it. Getting angry and frustrated wasn't one of the things she loved to do. Especially because it made her blood pressure rise increadibly, and her head would start throbbing like hell. Finally she reached the car, where Armaan stood waiting.
He crossed his arms on seeing her. "I..", she started
"Its okay if you don't want to tell me. Get in.", he pointed to the car.
"No.",she shook her head,"I..want to get it all out. Please."
"First lets go home.", she nodded.
He drove quietly to her house, and finally when they reached it, she fiddled with the keys at the door. He took them and opened in a swift motion. He gestured her to go in. She got in and switched on the lights, understanding that Nikki wasn't back. After they had settled in the sofa, Armaan cleared his throat.
"His name is Rehaan. The most popular guy of the class, assistant head boy. He was a flirt, yeah...but I never thought him to be a bad guy, as such. It was a shock when he asked me out. I didn't expect it, and I didn't quite want it. But yeah, I have to admit that whenever he was around me, he behaved very well. He was funny, and kinda cute. My friends said he'd always liked me, it was just me who couldn't see it. They even sent him a card from my side, which said that I liked him too! I couldn't help it, I had to act like his 'girlfriend'. You know..he actually looked like he liked me. He sent me flowers in my locker every day, of different colours, to say Good Morning. It was sweet, and maybe somewhere down the line, I started liking him. ", she paused.
"So..?", Armaan urged her.
"I was always very cautious not to be alone with him. You see, I never went on 'dates'. But then, one day, we were alone...one of our friends had his birthday and they had a game where a couple is locked for 10 minutes. He..he tried to kiss me. I pushed him away. It was just so uncomfortable for me when he came near. Then the next day, he'd spread around the whole school that I was desperate for him, and I wanted to sleep with him! It was ridiculous, how a guy could do this. I was angry, and I insulted him.Arjun and most others took my side. He was angry, and he misbehaved. He started telling me, that I wanted to sleep with him, and I was just acting good in front of all. I slapped him, and that was the end of it all. HE had the guts to tell me It was Over between us, as if I hadn't already ended it. Thats it.", her voice was shaky now, and her eyes moist.
There was a long pause, and finally Armaan said,"You lied to me when you said that you didn't have a boyfriend."
"I..Just didn't want to remember him,Armaan. He was not someone I would want to have as a part of my life again."
"I want to hit him.", he stated as I matter of fact, and she looked up.
"Can I get a hug, please?", Armaan smiled and got up to sit beside her. Putting his arms around her, he felt her take a deep breath and leave it, and whispered, "You should go to sleep. You're tired."
"Guess so.", she nodded as she left him.
She tossed and turned and finally sat up. It wasn't working. And she hadn't even apologised to Armaan for spoiling the day he'd so carefully planned for her. All she could think was, She loved him. She really did.
"Riddhima..", she murmured to herself,"Get a hold..."
She got up and went to get water. Nikki was fast asleep in her room. Only she was the one who couldn't sleep at 3am. A moment later, she heard the doorbell. Who could it be at this hour?
"Armaan?", she was surprised.
Beyond words, he hugged her. He was sobbing slightly," I broke up with her..", were the only words she could make out of the jumbled voice.
MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE!
For now, comment and like. PMs later.
P.S. Hope you all missed me. Love you too