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Wish Upon A Star - ArSh FF (P16, pg 58) (Page 55)

DulceAmor IF-Rockerz
DulceAmor
DulceAmor

Joined: 01 July 2007
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Posted: 12 April 2012 at 3:03pm | IP Logged

Chapter 15 cont.

Once breakfast was over they all made their way into the living room to begin the unwrapping of the presents. Naturally, this was Muskaan's favourite part of the day and she hurriedly ushered everyone into seats before snatching up a present and thrusting them into their hands.

            "This one is from Rahul and me!" she practically sang as she deposited a large box into Armaan's hands. It was wrapped in garishly bright green and red paper and the tag was in the shape of Santa's face, but it was all so totally his sister's style that despite his confused thoughts and apathy towards Christmas, he couldn't help but smile as he turned the present over in his hands.

            "Geesh, Muskaan, it's heavy!" he exclaimed. "What the hell is in here? A baby elephant?"

            "Open it and see!" she trilled, settling herself on the sofa beside Rahul, who looped an arm about her shoulders, a large smirk on his face.

            "Just so you know," he said, "I had no hand at all in picking it out. So, if you hate it, the blame lies squarely with Muski."

            That earned him a jab in the ribs and he pantomimed doubling over in agony.

            "Every year," he sighed in mock despair, drawing a smile from Shilpa who had perched herself on the other end of the second sofa, keeping a distance between her and Armaan. A part of her yearned to sit next to him, to curl up into his side the way she'd seen Muskaan do with Rahul last night, but the vibes he was giving off clearly told her that that wouldn't be a good idea.

            She knew she had to be patient, that there was no chance they could talk now, not in front of Rahul and Muskaan. But she also knew that she wouldn't feel at ease until she had a clearer idea of what was going on between them. As he unwrapped the present she tried to steal inconspicuous glances at him, searching his face for any sign of what he might be thinking, but his eyes were riveted to the parcel and his lashes had created a thick curtain, shielding them from her view. In the kitchen before she'd felt as if he were drawing in to her, but since they came through to the living room he hadn't looked in her direction. It left her stomach churning nervously and she had to clamp her hands together to stop herself from wringing them in agitation.

            "It's...an iPod dock?" Armaan said as he finally slid the wrapping paper off the present. His tone was a little unsure; Muskaan wasn't exactly renowned for her taste in gifts.

            "See, I told you you would love it!" she exclaimed, her eyes shining with triumph. "I know your last one...um, broke, so I thought this would be a good replacement for it."

            Broke; yeah. He didn't have the heart to tell her that his iPod had suffered a similar fate, so he beamed at her instead.

            "Thanks sis."

            "You're welcome."

            Next it was Shilpa's turn to get something thrust into her hands.

            "That's also from me and Rahul," Muskaan told her, giving her a wink that did nothing to settle the nerves in her stomach.

            It was a small, rectangular package, wrapped very neatly in the same bright red paper Armaan's had been enveloped in. Shilpa turned it over shyly in her hands, more than a little overwhelmed. She hadn't expected a gift from Muskaan and she was embarrassed to find tears pricking the backs of her eyes at the other woman's kindness. She hurriedly blinked them back and gingerly slid a finger under the paper.

            Peeling the wrapping back she found herself holding a little red and gold box, the kind jewellery usually comes in. The words Eastern Enchantments was written in beautiful gold script across the top of the box and the sight of it made her heart jump in a mixture of surprise and elation. She opened her mouth, beginning to glance up, but before she could get any words out, Armaan spoke.

            "Muskaan will be seriously pissed off if you tell her you can't accept her gift."

            She looked over at him, her face heating at how easily he'd read her thoughts. He was watching her, those blue eyes wide and open, the expression in them both reassuring and pointed, urging her to listen to him. Butterflies skipped through her stomach and she glanced confusedly down at the box again, one finger absently tracing the smooth, gold-plated lettering.

            "I-" she started to say.

            "Trust me, you don't want to see my sister sulk," he interrupted. "It's not pretty. She turns into an ogre when she's in a mood."

            "Oi!" Muskaan threw a cushion at him, which he caught deftly in both hands. "I am never in a mood!" She made an indignant, sniffing noise and folded her arms in front of her chest. "But yes," she added, turning her attention to Shilpa. "I don't want any excuses. The gift is for you, so keep it. Now, hurry up and open it! I want to know if you like it or not."

            Shilpa nodded, still feeling unsure but not wanting to upset her host. Gingerly, she lifted the top off the box and peered inside.

            The gasp wrenched itself from her lips before she could stop it. Her eyes widened, astonishment jolting through her, momentarily tuning out everything around her. She was vaguely aware of a laugh ' maybe Muskaan's ' but it sounded far away, like she was hearing it through a wall. Nothing could hold her attention; it was completely and utterly engrossed by the earrings nestled against the plush crimson velvet inside the box.

            They were in the shape of daisies, a chain of four of them, each leaf a deep, fiery ruby. They caught the reflection of the fairy lights, shooting out little sparks that were so dazzling they took her breath away. In the centre of every flower there was a small crystal. She couldn't tell if it was real or not, but she guessed it might be. The clear stones shimmered with the reflection of the rubies, making it seem as if there were flames buried deep within them. It was the most exquisite thing she had ever laid eyes on.

            "Muskaan, they're beautiful," she breathed, reaching out to touch one of the ruby petals.

            "I chose them myself," Muskaan announced proudly. "I knew the red would suit your complexion. Put them in!"

            Shilpa was almost afraid to touch them; they looked so delicate and her fingers were quivering and she didn't want to break them. She was so flustered she couldn't even get them out the box and she felt embarrassment washing hotly over her.

            "Let me help."

            At the sound of these words, spoken softly and quietly, so only she could hear them, her heart gave a wild flutter. Her head snapped up, a protestation rising to her lips, but Armaan was already there, beside her, reaching for the box. Struck dumb, she let him take it from her hands and carefully extract one of the earrings.

            When he glanced up, his eyes met hers and fresh butterflies went careening about her stomach, making her feel momentarily dizzy. The fairy lights cast a dim glow across his eyes, making the irises seem bluer than usual, more azure than sapphire. They were every bit as breathtaking as the earrings, but they were completely unreadable. She searched them hopefully, but he was guarded, not allowing even a faint flicker of his feelings to show.

            "Tuck your hair behind your ear," he told her softly. Maybe it was her imagination, but she thought his voice was a little hoarse.

            Praying he didn't notice the tremor in her fingers, she pulled her hair back, exposing her earlobe. She planned on watching him as he fixed her earring in place, but when he leaned towards her, her breath caught so tightly in her lungs that she had to look away. Perhaps it was better she kept her eyes averted, she mused; better not to let him see how greatly he affected her.

            His fingers just skimmed her earlobe as he slipped the post of the earring through the piercing, but it was enough to send a shiver through her entire body. He was so close, his breath lightly fanning the top of her ear, tickling the sensitive skin just below her temple. She remembered how it had felt the night he'd pressed his lips to her scar, how soft and warm they had been against her skin. Desire shot unexpectedly up from her centre, causing her heart to beat hard in her chest, and she curled her hands into fists, fighting back the urge to turn and wrap her arms about his neck.

            Armaan turned back to the box to retrieve the second earring, highly aware of the unsteadiness of his hand. He could feel Muskaan and Rahul's eyes on him, which only served to make him feel even more self-conscious than he already was. He tried to block them out, to focus all his attention on the earring, but it didn't help, and besides, there was no chance of being able to concentrate on the earring alone when he was in such close proximity to Shilpa. Every cell, every pore of his body was aware of her, of the way her breathing was fast and shallow, just like it had been last night before he kissed her, of her sweet, enticing scent, so reminiscent of heady summer nights, and of the heat radiating out of her body, and the answering warmth deep within him.

            It didn't help that he had to touch her. Even just the lightest press of his fingers on the thin skin of her earlobe was enough to bring back memories of last night, of her pulse throbbing below his fingers and the way her skin had heated at his touch. His heart started to pound and his throat had gone dry. All he could think about was the yearning deep within him, gnawing and persistent, begging to be sated. He knew all he had to do was turn a little to the left, tilt her chin up and bring his mouth down on hers. He wanted it with that same intensity he'd experienced in his room earlier, and for a moment he forgot everything else ' where was, who he was with, everything but how strongly he craved her kiss.

            "There." The word was little more than a soft exhalation. Shilpa lifted her eyes to his and for the hundredth time that morning their gazes locked. Some of what he was feeling must have shown on his face because her eyes widened, surprise illuminating them for a brief second, before they deepened with pleasure.

            His fingers absently stroked through her hair as they continued to stare at one another. He could feel himself being pulled toward her by that invisible magnetic force again and he didn't try to fight it. Whatever this was passing between them right now, it felt good; it felt right. He didn't attempt to decode it or worry about what it meant, he just let it take over him, knowing deep down inside that he wanted it to last.

            "Beautiful," he whispered, and he didn't know if he was talking about the earrings or Shilpa, or the feeling she'd inspired in him.

            "Let me see!" Muskaan's shout made them both start, breaking the spell they'd been under.

            She came rushing forward and Armaan hastily shifted back to the other end of the sofa, face hot, hands tremulous. He averted his gaze, unable to look at anyone, convinced that his expression would give him away, and he didn't want them to know how shaken up he was. His heart was pounding and though he concentrated on slowing it, it didn't seem to help.

            "Oh wow!" Muskaan was exclaiming. "They look even more stunning on you than I imagined they would."

            Shilpa blushed, adding to the already bright crimson shade of her cheeks. Her lips twisted into something she hoped resembled a smile, but it was hard to frame one when she was so conscious of the frantic beating of her pulse at her throat. Luckily for her, Muskaan was too pleased with herself and her choice of gift to recognise the root cause of her embarrassment.

            "I'm so glad I bought them now," she declared. "They are a perfect match for you, Shilpa."

            "Thank you," she managed to say.

            "No thanks!" Muskaan declared. "As far as I'm concerned you're one of the family now, and there's no room for thanks among relatives."

            Family; the word echoed about Shilpa's brain, bringing with it a tumult of contradictory emotions. Surprise was quickly followed by delight, gratitude swept over her at the same time as abashment, and then there was the faint trickle of fear ' fear of losing this thing she had only just found. Tears came welling up behind her eyes again and she had to turn her head away to dash one away before anyone noticed.

            All these years she'd been ostensibly part of a family, but she'd never felt welcomed there, never felt as if she belonged to those people she shared a blood-tie with. Now, here she was, being accepted into this family, no questions asked. It was too astounding to her, this sense of being wanted by other people, and she couldn't process it right away. All she could do was smile at Muskaan and wish there was some way she could express just how much her acceptance meant to her.

            "Okay, time for more presents!" Muskaan declared, turning and retrieving another parcel from under the tree. "This one is for Armaan. From Shilpa."

            His head snapped up just as Muskaan dropped a thin, squarish present into his hands. It was the neatest wrapped thing he had ever seen, the corners all folded precisely and struck down with one sliver of silver tape. The paper was mauve with little silver swirls on it; tasteful and chic. He turned it over, surprised to find his heart a little fluttery as he slid the wrapping paper off.

            He was left holding a vinyl record, but not just any vinyl record.

            "A signed edition of Blazin' Trails first album?" He looked up at Shilpa, eyes wide and full of delight. It made his whole face look younger, more open and also more adorable. He reminded her of a little boy who'd just received something he'd always longed for and she couldn't repress a shy smile.

            "Yeah," she answered him. "I remembered you telling me how much you loved them and how you went to see them in concert when you were at college. You said you knew someone who had a signed album but you could never find one and you really wished you would someday. So, I thought I'd try and find one for you."

            Armaan didn't know what to say. The fact that she even recalled something so trivial about him was astounding enough, but that she had actually gone to the trouble of locating this record for him was extraordinary. She must have done a lot of searching before she got her hands on it. He couldn't believe she had done it, especially not for him. It left him feeling humble and overwhelmed and when he met her eyes he hoped she could see how much her gift had touched him.

            "Thank-" he started to say, but she shook her head.

            "No thank yous among friends and family, right?" she said, her lips quirking up in a smile that seemed a touch nervous. A faint rosiness touched her cheeks, giving her whole complexion a beautiful, natural glow. She had never looked more radiant to him. His heart gave a small thud of awe.

            "Right."

            His lips curved into a smile and she blushed deeper, her eyelashes swooping down, concealing those deep emerald irises. And then Muskaan was up and distributing presents again and there was no time to gaze at Shilpa. Muskaan was like a whirlwind, rushing here, there and everywhere with more energy than a caffeinated kid. By the time all the presents had been unwrapped the other three were exhausted, but she bustled off to the kitchen to start preparing the Christmas dinner.

            She had only been gone five minutes when the phone rang. Rahul was reaching for it, but Muskaan came hurtling through the door as if she were competing in a one hundred metre race, and snatched the receiver up before her startled husband could so much as blink. Armaan rolled his eyes at Shilpa, whose lips pursed amusedly.

            "Hello, Muskaan Grewal speaking!" his sister shouted into the phone.

            "She isn't happy unless she's being loud," he whispered in Shilpa's ear.

            "Ma!"

            That one word wiped the grin clean off Armaan's face. Shilpa felt him stiffen beside her and then he sat up,  back ramrod straight, shoulders bunched tightly together. She glanced anxiously at his face. His eyes were cast down at the carpet, but they were narrowed and his eyebrows had drawn into a fierce line. He'd placed his hands on his knees, but she could see that he was gripping them, almost as if he were fighting the urge to hit something. His jaw was clenched and all the amusement that had filled his expression only seconds before had been replaced by a cold, unforgiving irritation.

            "Everything's fine here," Muskaan was saying at the top of her voice. She appeared oblivious to her brother's ill humour. "Yes, we've just opened all the presents. Ahh, that sounds like fun. Is Papa okay? Good. Rahul sends his love to you too."

            There was a slight pause and Muskaan's eyes flicked to Armaan. Concern flashed across her face and she curled her fingers more securely about the receiver.

            "Umm, yes, Ma, yes, Armaan is here," she said, practically mumbling now.

            She wasn't quiet enough, though. Armaan's head snapped up and Shilpa was astonished by the strong flash of anger that lit up his eyes.

            "What does she want?" he demanded. His voice was clipped and bitter, and so utterly unlike his usual tone that Shilpa wouldn't have believed he'd spoken if she hadn't seen his lips move.

            Muskaan held her hand over the mouthpiece and looked over at her brother. Apprehension filled her expression. It was the first time Shilpa had ever seen her look anything but confident and in control. Somehow it made her seem shorter, smaller, more fragile, and she realised that underneath that bubbly exterior was a woman every bit as scarred as her brother. She too had been abandoned by their father, had had to watch their mother struggle alone with a broken heart, and she too had to deal with the fact her father was now dying. It suddenly amazed Shilpa that Muskaan had any positivity at all. She didn't think she could have coped so well, had she been in her shoes.

            "Ma would like to speak to you Armaan," Muskaan admitted.

            "No." His entire face hardened. "I have nothing to say to her."

            "Armaan, it's Christmas," Muskaan said pleadingly. "Please make an exception this once. You only have to speak to her for a few minutes."

            "I said no."

            "She just wants to hear your voice. She misses you."

            "Yeah, well, she should have thought about that before she ran off to India to become a slave to that beast!"

            Anger and hurt both flickered violently in Armaan's eyes, though Shilpa could see he was trying to hide the latter. It was visible to her because she'd seen his expression that night when he opened up to her about his father's betrayal and she knew how deeply it had affected him. She also knew that the bitterness that was eating away at him right at that moment was unhealthy and would only get worse if he continued to run away from it. So, when he went to storm off, she caught his wrist as he passed her.

            He glanced down at her, confusion momentarily darkening his face. "Shilpa-"

            "Running away won't help, Armaan," she said softly, keeping her expression as neutral as possible. The last thing she wanted was to come across as too forceful because she knew that would just push him into leaving the room. "Believe me, it will just haunt you forever. I know it's hard, but...maybe you should speak to your mother. Just for a minute. Even just to say hello."

            He regarded her silently for two long minutes, during which time she could hear every tick of the clock and every anxious thump of her heart. His expression gave nothing away. Those blue eyes stared unblinkingly into hers, but the wall was back up, leaving no clue to what he might be thinking. She didn't know whether to expect him to yell at her or wrench his wrist free, but the longer he just stood there the tighter the knots in her stomach became.

            No one else said a word, not even Muskaan, though Shilpa could tell without looking that her and Rahul's eyes were fixed on them. Then, finally, Armaan's face lost some of it hardness and with a sigh, he said, "All right."

            She smiled encouragingly at him and for the briefest second the corners of his lips turned up a fraction. Muskaan held the phone out to him, her eyes bright with relief and delight. Armaan snatched the receiver out her hand, sending her a stern scowl. His stomach was all tense as he lifted the phone to his ear, but he refused to acknowledge that he was apprehensive about the next few minutes.

            "Hello," he said stiffly.

            There was a sharp intake of breath, almost like a sob, on the other end, and then his mother spoke. "Armaan, my son; it's so good to hear your voice. How are you?"

            "Fine," he answered, fingers clamping round the phone. Just hearing her voice again had brought back all those old feelings of bitterness and resentment. It burned in his blood, leaving an acidic taste in the back of his throat, like he'd swallowed venom.

            "Everything is all right? You are...feeling better after...everything that happened?"

            "I told you, I'm fine!" he snapped. He didn't intend to be so harsh, but her concern seemed so futile, so phony to him, that it provoked a fierce surge of contempt inside him. I can't do this, he thought; I can't talk to her. It was too painful and he would only end up saying something he would regret later.

            He started to hang up, when suddenly someone slipped their hand into his. Heart skipping a beat, he looked down to see Shilpa's slender fingers entwined with his own. She gave his hand a gentle squeeze, a gesture of support and reassurance that went straight to the centre of his soul. Glancing up at her face, his eyes locked with hers. They were a deep shade of green, as calm and soothing as a lake. The expression in them was one of understanding and encouragement, telling him not to lose courage now, that she was there for him, to give him strength if he needed it.

            His mother was speaking on the other end of the line, asking him something about work, but he barely heard her. He was too overcome by the sudden, strange pillar of warmth that was flooding through him. It was like no sensation he'd ever experienced before. It wasn't the heat of passion or the sultriness of lust; it was something else, something deeper, tenderer. He couldn't put a name to the feeling, but it left him awe-struck, and for a moment nothing else was real to him save that glow deep within him and the soft light in Shilpa's eyes.

            "Armaan?" The panicked note in his mother's voice brought him back to reality.

            "I'm still here," he answered, without breaking eye-contact with Shilpa. His voice still held a gruff edge, but it was not as cold and clipped as it had been earlier. And to his surprise, he found himself able to answer his mother's various questions calmly. The anger towards her still roiled about inside him, but it was more like wisps of smoke now than a full raging fire. Whenever he felt himself losing control he would just concentrate on the feel of Shilpa's hand in his and the encouragement in her eyes and it would centre him once more. He probably wouldn't have made it through the conversation without her.

            And then, his mother asked him something he had dreaded all along: "Armaan, your father is here; do you think you could find it within you to talk to him for a minute?"

            Shilpa saw the hardness descend over his face like a cloud, felt his hand tighten in hers and witnessed the flicker of fury light up his eyes. She guessed at once what his mother must have said and her heart twisted in dismay. She knew that it would be best for Armaan to speak to his father, but the image of his face when he mentioned him, of the depth of hurt in his expression, made her instinctively want to protect him, to snatch the phone out his hand and slam it down. It left her severely conflicted for a moment, long enough for Armaan to say, "I have nothing to say to him."

            For the second time he started to hang up, and in a flash Shilpa knew what she had to do. She tightened her grip on his hand. Confusion darkened his eyes as he met her gaze and behind it she could detect a shadow of pain. She was running the risk of making him resent her, she realised that, but it was a risk she had to take, for the sake of his long-term happiness.

            Making her eyes as wide and imploring as she could, she gently shook her head at him. His pupils dilated in shock and for one terrible moment something perilously close to betrayal flashed across his face. But then, a miracle happened; the deeply entrenched lines around his eyes and mouth smoothed out and she felt his hand loosen in hers, the stiffness flowing slowly out of his muscles. And then, to her lasting surprise and relief, he nodded at her.

            "Okay," he said, not really knowing which woman he was answering.

            His mother made a small, sobbing sound, and then there was silence for a heartbeat as she obviously passed the phone to his father. In that one second about a million contradictory emotions rushed through Armaan, threatening to suffocate him. He very nearly dropped the phone and bolted, but the appealing look in Shilpa's eyes kept him where he was. For whatever reason, he could see that this mattered to her, and because of that he was prepared to speak to his father. If it made her happy, then he could do it. He didn't understand why, he just knew it to be true.

            "Hello, Armaan?" The voice on the other end of the line was weak and gravely, not at all how he remembered his father sounding. It made nerves leap up in the pit of his stomach and he was astonished to find his voice a little shaky when he replied.

            "Father?"

            "Yes, son, it's me. It has been too long since I last heard your voice. Of course, the fault for that lies entirely with me."

            There was a rasping sound down the line as his father inhaled and Armaan's eyes unexpectedly started to sting.

            "I know you can never forgive me, so I will not ask for it," his father said after a minute. "God has punished me for my sins and I accept his judgement. I was a terrible father to you and your sister. I do not deserve to be called father. I realise all that now, when it is too late. I only ask that you remember that I did and do love you. You are my son and my biggest regret is never having known you."

            Armaan opened his mouth, to say what exactly, he wasn't sure ' to curse his father for leaving them, to shout at him for realising too late his mistake, or to beg him to forgive him too, for being so cold and distant ' all of these things ran through his mind, but before he could get a chance to say anything, his mother was back on the phone.

            "Thank you, Armaan," she said quietly, and he could hear the tears in her voice.

            There were tears of his own clouding his vision all of a sudden. He blinked them back ashamedly, just as Muskaan appeared at his side. She took the phone from him and he turned away, taking a long, steadying breath. His legs were actually wobbling and he felt extremely light-headed. The only thing keeping him upright was Shilpa's firm grip on his hand. He drew strength from it, just as she had intended, and when he was confident he'd fought back the tears, he glanced down at her again.

            Her lips turned up ever so slightly at the corners, into a smile that was so full of pride and relief that it took his breath away. She didn't say a word to him, but she didn't need to; he could see it written plainly on her face that she thought he'd been brave and had coped well. No one had ever looked at him quite that way before and it brought on a second rush of that strange warmth inside him. It flowed through his veins, making him feel as if he were glowing on the inside. It was so sudden, so intense, that it frightened him, and his heart jolted. I have to get some air, he thought frantically, tugging his hand free. He didn't tell his sister he was going, he just hurried out the room and to the front door, his pulse hammering as if he were running away from someone who was after his life.

            The frigid air whipped about him as he made his way through the city. He didn't know what exactly he was running from or where he was going, all he knew was that he needed to be alone.

            And alone he was. The normally bustling city was more like a ghost town. Very few cars passed him on the roads and fewer people. Everyone was inside, celebrating this special day with their loved ones. Every house he passed was all lit up with brightly coloured fairy lights and laughter spilled out through the windows, but it was all a distant blur to him, like a shifting kaleidoscope that was beyond his comprehension. The only things he was truly aware of were the frantic beating of his heart and the biting chill that nipped at his cheeks.

            On and on he walked, not noticing which corners he turned or which streets he passed through, until he reached the Hudson. With a start he realised he'd come all the way down to Brooklyn Bridge. Stopping at the railing overlooking the freezing water below, he finally allowed himself to draw breath. His lungs were tight and the icy air hurt them, but he didn't care. Anything was better than the fear that had stalked him all through the city.

            With a shuddering sigh, he leaned on the railing and closed his eyes. His heart was still pounding, and it wasn't because he had practically ran here. No, it was reaction to that indefinable feeling he'd had when he looked into Shilpa's eyes. What had it been? And where had it come from? It had been unlike anything he'd ever experienced ' stronger than any emotion he knew and more intrinsic, as if it had come from someplace inside his soul.

            But that was ridiculous, wasn't it? Not only did it sound clichd, but how could his soul have conjured up some emotion connected to Shilpa? She was a friend, nothing more, nothing less. If anyone was connected to his soul, it was Riddhima, not her.

            And yet, she had done something today that Riddhima had never been able to do: make him confront his past. Opening his eyes, he stared out across the river. A few snowflakes were falling into the murky water, sitting on the surface for a second before they were swallowed up. For some odd reason it made him think of his relationship with Riddhima, of how they had seemed so beautiful and perfect, as pure as those snowflakes, and how their love had dissipated because of something stronger and darker.

            He recalled the way Shilpa had held his hand, the calming, reassuring look in her eyes which had given him the courage to speak to his parents, and he wondered why he had given in to her and not Riddhima. Because Riddhima had tried something similar once, on that terrible day, the day his whole life fell apart...

            It had been a little after eight a.m. The radio was on in the background and he was shovelling a bit of toast into his mouth as he dashed about trying to get ready for work. He'd been running late, as usual. Whenever he'd had a date with Riddhima the night before he always slept in, too lost in dreams about her to wake up. Outside it was a glorious summer day, the sun big and bright in a cobalt blue, cloudless sky. Heat waves had already been shimmering on the rooftops, promising sweltering temperatures. Maybe Riddhima and I can go have lunch in the park, he'd thought, smiling at the thought of picking flowers for her and threading them into her hair.

            That was when the phone had rung. Even now he couldn't shake the thought that its ring had sounded harsher than usual, more like an alarm. He supposed it was just his mind skewering the facts, after all, the ring of a phone didn't change no matter what the news on the other end. But something about it had been ominous, even before he picked it up. He remembered scowling at it and snatching it up with more than a little impatience.

            His 'hello' had been brusque, designed to chase off the person on the other end.

            And then he'd heard her voice. "Armaan?"

            In all his life he had only ever seen his mother cry a couple of times. No matter how dire things got, she usually presented a stoic front to the world. She was a symbol of strength to him, or at least, she had been, when he was a child. So when he heard the broken, sobbing tone of her voice on the other end of the phone he instantly knew that something terrible had happened.

            "Ma, what's wrong?" he had asked her, a part of him not really wanting to hear her answer. To this day he could still feel the gnawing coldness that had spread to every part of his body as he heard her sharp intake of breath.

            And then she told him. "It's your father. He's been diagnosed with cancer."

            Up until then Armaan had never believed that words had the power to change your life. Whenever he heard people talk like that he'd scoffed at it, dismissed it as fanciful, the kind of thing that worked well in a film or a book but had no basis in reality. But now, looking back, he knew that those words were the ones that would alter the course of his life. It was that one announcement that had led him here to where he was today, that had taken everything that mattered from him. Ironic really, that the man that was the subject of those words had done something similar.

            When his mother told him the news he didn't respond right away. Too many emotions swept through him ' shock, horror, dismay, anger, a bitter sense of justice. Caught up in the midst of it all he couldn't form a coherent reply. Instead he stood there in silence while his mother sobbed out the details: pancreatic cancer, the doctors were treating it, but it was advanced, fifty percent chance of survival, going to move to India to nurse him. It was that last bit that finally broke through to him, unleashing a torrent of rage and hurt that had been brewing inside him since the day his father walked out on him.

            He could still recall every bitter word he uttered to his mother that day, but his mind skipped over them now. There was no use dwelling on it; he couldn't take them back after all this time and besides, he wasn't sure he wanted to. In his eyes she had betrayed him as much as his father had. To go back to a man who had never loved her, never valued her, to leave her children in the process...it was unforgiveable.

            By the time he had slammed the phone down all the happiness of his early mood had vanished. The anger that had erupted out of him had been far from spent and as he made his way to work it had lain inside him, simmering dangerously, ready to spill out of him again at the least provocation. He'd been a ticking time bomb and looking back now he wondered if perhaps what happened next had been inevitable.

            When he arrived at his work she was there, sitting on the floor outside his office, her knees crossed, back straight, just like when she was doing yoga. She had been holding something in her hands, something white and rectangular, which she kept turning round and round distractedly. She'd looked up as he approached and he'd seen the relief flicker briefly through her eyes, only for it to be quickly replaced by pity as she rose to her feet.

            In his mind he tried to gloss over the memory of how he'd felt when he saw her ' not glad or grateful, but irritated. He hadn't wanted to see anyone, not after that phone call. He'd stopped a little up the corridor, scowling, debating whether or not to make an excuse and pretend he had a meeting, but then she'd opened her arms and walked swiftly over to him and enfolded him in her embrace.

            To this day he wondered why he stayed stiff as a statue, why his arms remained stubbornly by his side instead of curling about her, holding on to her. Many times over the last six months he'd reflected that things might have turned out differently if he'd returned her hug, if he'd allowed her to comfort him. But the news was too fresh, too raw, and the emotions his father inspired within him were too volatile. The only thing he'd been capable of right then was resentment.

            "Armaan, I'm so sorry," she had whispered. "Muskaan called me, told me about your father. You must be devastated."

            "I'm fine."

            She'd flinched at his cold, hard tone and pulled back, her eyes searching his face, concern darkening her eyes.

            "Of course you're not fine," she'd said. "Your father is very sick. You must be worried about him."

            "I couldn't care less, actually," he told her, pushing his way out of her arms.

            He'd stormed into his office, throwing his bag down on the desk with such force that it went skidding across the surface and knocked a large stack of papers onto the floor. Cursing, he'd bent to retrieve them, and that's when he'd heard the clack of her heels behind him. She'd followed him into his cabin. Of course she had; stubbornness was one of her most defining qualities. It was one of the things that had initially drawn him towards her, but right then he had resented her for it, for not reading his mood and leaving him to sulk in solitude.

            "You don't mean that," she'd declared. "I know a lot happened between you and your father, and he hurt you a lot, but you must be feeling something-"

            "Yes, I am actually!" he'd announced, straightening and turning to look at her. He wondered if his face had held the same bitterness as his voice. "I'm glad. Yes, that's right: glad. He deserves to suffer. His karma finally caught up with him. About f***ing time I say!"

            Riddhima's eyes had narrowed, confusion and disgust passing through them in quick succession. It used to hurt him, to remember that expression on her face, to know it had been directed at him, but strangely, today, it didn't ignite so much as a faint throb of pain. If anything, he just felt hollow, worn out, like he'd relived this too many times for it to have any impact on him now. And in a way, that was true. But this was the first time he'd revisited them and not had any emotional reaction.

            "Look, you're in shock, I get it," she'd said, trying to sound calm, but unable to fully mask her annoyance. "I can't even begin to imagine what you must be going through right now. If my father-"

            "Is there a point to any of this?" he'd cut through her. "Because if there is I wish you'd hurry up and get to it. I've got work to be getting on with. I don't have all day to stand here and make idle chatter with you."

            That had brought her up short, for a moment at least. Her mouth had opened and then shut again, as if she'd changed her mind about what she was going to say to him. Or maybe he'd simply rendered her speechless. It was something he would never know the answer to. Her eyes had narrowed further, temper simmering within them, darkening them, turning them a greyish shade, like a thundery sky. He'd just glared back at her, too bruised to care if he'd pissed her off.

            She should have realised, he thought, even now; should have sensed that it was all too immediate and he needed time to digest the news. That was why he'd pushed her away, because he hadn't been ready to deal with his feelings regarding his father's illness, because he'd wanted to pretend it wasn't happening, because there was a part of him that was grieving even though he hated the man. Riddhima had been wrong to try and force him to confront it then. She should have waited a few days, let him process it all first. Maybe then he would have reacted differently. Maybe then they wouldn't have lost one another...

            But hadn't Shilpa forced him to confront it today? And he'd relented. He pictured the encouragement in her eyes, the way she'd held his hand, supporting him. Riddhima had tried to do the same thing, hadn't she? She'd just gone about it a different way...

            "Armaan, now is not the time to let whatever happened in the past cloud your judgement," she'd said to him. "Your father needs you. Your mother and Muskaan need you. You have to put the past behind you and be there for them, to support them and give them strength so you can get through this together, as a family."

            He'd snorted scornfully at that. "Maybe in your world there is such a thing as a perfect family," he'd told her. "But where I come from, family means nothing but betrayal and suffering. Why should I be there for a man who was never there for me? Who walked out on me when I needed him the most? Who never once called or wrote to ask how I was? He's been as good as dead to me all these years. Why should that change now?"

            "Because he's seriously ill, Armaan!" she'd cried, steeping toward him. "And no matter what he's done, no one deserves to go through something like that on their own."

            "How can you defend him?" he'd demanded, and even now he could feel the way his face had hardened with contempt. "You know what he did! I told you everything!"

            "I'm not defending him. I'm just trying to make you view this rationally." That was when she'd placed the white envelope into his hands. "You have to go and see him. I booked a seat for you on the same flight as your mother and Muskaan. It leaves tomorrow at 9 a.m. I'll help you pack tonight, if you want. I'd come with you, but you know there's a meeting at work and-"

            The sound of the envelope being ripped in two had stopped her midsentence. Many times Armaan had asked himself what had possessed him to tear the plane ticket to shreds like that. It had been rash and childish and naturally it had hurt her. She'd only been trying to help, just as Shilpa had today. And yet he'd thrown it back in her face. How could he have done that to her when he had loved her?

            Of course, he already knew the answer. At the time he'd seen her words as another betrayal of him by someone he cared about. Just like his mother running off to nurse his father, he'd seen Riddhima's insistence that he go visit his father as a failure on her part to understand him. He'd been furious with her, and hurt too, that she couldn't see it from his point of view. Perhaps if she hadn't given him the ticket he might have calmed down, might have been able to salvage things. But he didn't know.

            Standing there, at the Hudson, watching the frigid water rush past, he found himself wondering if perhaps Riddhima had never really understood his feelings towards his father. It wasn't her fault. She was the younger of two children, the only daughter, apple of her father's eye. Her parents were both happily married and had been childhood sweethearts. She didn't know anything other than a happy family life.

            He pictured her face after he'd torn the ticket in two ' her eyes wide with shock and horror, and accusation. They'd also been shimmery with unshed tears. Her lips had pressed tightly together, the lines of her face drawing sharply together as she'd lifted her chin and met his stony gaze defiantly. And when she'd spoken, her voice had only quavered once.

            "You're making a mistake, Armaan. You can't keep running away from things just because they are painful. Sooner or later you're going to have to face up to them. All I wanted was to support you, to be there for you, but you're not even willing to give me a chance. Why do you do this, Armaan? Why do you push away everyone who cares about you? You need to stop it. Otherwise you're going to end up alone."

            There had been times in the last six months when those words would come back to him, bringing an acute affliction that had all but crippled him. She'd been right, of course, he thought sadly. He had alienated all the people who loved him, had put walls up between them and him, and in the process he'd lost most of them. There was only one who had managed to find a chink in his armour, only one who seemed to be able to touch him in places he'd closed off for longer than he could remember: Shilpa.

            He watched a snowflake drift lazily down past his nose, falling soundlessly into the icy water below, and for one instant as the flake rested on the surface his mind focused on two images ' one was Shilpa's soothing expression as she held his hand this morning, and the other was Riddhima walking out of his office, and his life.



Edited by DulceAmor - 16 April 2012 at 2:32pm

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gunu786dreamygirl_95fatiya52110KaShAdmirerunnati_guptasasyakashmayurfanakshadSuvarna....roshni_ALoveArshrads73937fri42911spicyheart-shamima-m4manju-screwed.UP-blessed4-Antu-_-Aslan-Ahlaam5sammy4u-Nina-teenorchidflowers4uabcd12344..hinal..anumeha_rajat

flowers4u IF-Sizzlerz
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Posted: 12 April 2012 at 6:03pm | IP Logged
Amazing update loved it very well written ...must say u have a natural talent for writting therefore keep on doing it

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DulceAmor

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Posted: 12 April 2012 at 8:11pm | IP Logged
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sammy4u IF-Rockerz
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Posted: 13 April 2012 at 12:27am | IP Logged
amazing update dear
loved it a lot

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DulceAmor

Suvarna.... Goldie
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Posted: 13 April 2012 at 12:53am | IP Logged
Too good!!! So many emotions and scripted in such details. Fabulous work.

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kashmayurfan Senior Member
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Posts: 562

Posted: 13 April 2012 at 5:46am | IP Logged
UnReserved:) awesoome part! Everything was described perfectly! The moment ArSh shared while he cut his finger was cuute! I really liked the scene where they were opening the gifts! Muskaan was too sweet and kind of funny! The part where armaan had to talk to is parents was really emotional! Feel sad for him! The emotions were soo well described! Luved how shilpa helped him during the phone call! Thanxx for the long update :) do cont.soon

Edited by kashmayurfan - 13 April 2012 at 3:22pm

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DulceAmor

roshni_A Goldie
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Posted: 13 April 2012 at 5:53am | IP Logged
res...

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spicyheart IF-Dazzler
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Posted: 13 April 2012 at 7:38am | IP Logged
I loved the update...
it was amazing!!
everything was decribed beautifully!!
every emotion was well written
ur an wonderful writer
keep ut the good job
i hope armaan realises his feelings soon...
continue soon


Edited by spicyheart - 13 April 2012 at 8:20am

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