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Khanak closed her eyes fearing the worst. She did not know how long she stood there or who else was seeing her stand like an idiot on the roadside with her eyes shut. All she knew was that Shaantanu was somewhere near. Shaantanu, her mind repeated and she shuddered at the the unexpected warmth his name made her feel.
"Khanak!" Shaantanu's voice jerked her back to reality.
She immediately opened her eyes and found Shaantanu looking intently at her. She must have been looking awfully shaken because Shaantanu wore a frown on his forehead. When she didn't reply, Shaan gently held her shoulders and squeezed them to reassure her.
That seemed to work for Khanak released the breath of air she had inhaled a few seconds ago and blinked. However, Khanak was still fragile. She had just been faced with the threat of an assault and then had nearly seen the same man face death. Her heart had never experienced so much pain and anguish before. Her eyes immediately went to the road where she searched for the unknown man while fidgeting with her fingers.
Shaan noticed her anxiety and unwittingly took Khanak's hands in his own. Her hands were ice cold! Subconsciously, he started rubbing them to help compose Khanak.
"The car missed him by inches Khanak. He then scampered away down the road. Ullu-" Shaan barely restrained his language before the lady.
"Agar wo mar jata Shaantanu," Khanak whispered.
"Tou mar jata. Would have served him right. Ghatiya insaan!"
Khanak was still looking at the road and Shaan noticed it wasn't just her hands that were cold- she was shivering head to toe!
Shaan quickly took off his jacket and wrapped it around Khanak's shoulders. He then softly turned her towards him and asked "Tum theek ho?"
She nodded slightly and all Shaan wanted to do was to take her in his arms and comfort her. His heart ached to see her like this but in all the adrenaline rush, he didn't even register his own feelings but had the sense to realize it would be improper for him to do so.
He realized that all of a sudden there was a creeping distance between him and Khanak, a distance he didn't like especially now that they had become friends and had buried the hatchet. Even when they weren't on good terms, Shaan noted, he and Khanak were never distant per se. They were annoyed at each other, hated each other, taunted each other'but were never distant. Surprisingly, he realized, he had always felt some sort of a connection between the two. And after all that to see Khanak in this state was as astonishing for him as it was shocking for her.
Though Shaantanu had never admitted in so many words, Khanak Jadeja was someone he had quite early on realized he could never detest. If not for anything else, her sheer compassion and strong personality would always be something he would admire. Thus, to see her tongue-tied and shivering was beyond belief.
"Khanak everything is okay. Kuch nai huwa. You are fine and everything will be alright," Shaan held her shoulders.
She just looked at him, as if unsure of whether or not to believe him.
"It's just me and you here Khanak. No one has to know if you don't want them to know, okay?" he smiled.
She returned a weaker smile but at least it was progress, Shaan thought.
"Ab chalein wapis?" Shaan asked her softly, ready to stay back a few more minutes if she needed to recompose herself.
However, Khanak nodded and started walking back towards the place where the gol gappa stall had been. A minute later, Shaan spotted a tea stall which was just about to wrap up. Seeing Khanak's disheveled state, Shaan requested the chai wala to make two good cups of tea for the two of them and convinced Khanak it would be a good idea to have tea before returning. When Khanak told him about how worried the others were he called Raj and told him to get everyone gathered near the car and that he and Khanak will join them all there.
Khanak actually felt much better after having tea. She stopped shivering and the fear in her eyes was also reduced to the extent that it would not be visible to anyone who didn't suspect something had gone wrong. They both walked in silence to the car and got in.
"Di, ye jacket kahan se li?" asked an excited Harsh.
Khanak did not reply and was thinking of ways to dodge the question when Shaantanu came to her rescue for the second time that night, "Heroine hai tumhari Di. Sardi mein chali thi mujeh dhoondne aur wo bhi without a shawl or something. Zamana tou naiki ka hai nai but luckily inhein naik insaan mil gaya raaste mein."
"So ye jacket aap ki hai?" chimed in Manya.
"Yep!" exclaimed Shaantanu as he started the engine of the car and met Khanak's eyes in the rear view mirror. After what had happened, he never thought he would be greeted with her smiling eyes so soon. Yes, he felt the distance between them slowly recede as they started their journey back home.
Though the gang could still hang out outside a bit longer considering it was just nearing 11 pm, Shaantanu declared that everyone must be tired and that they had enough for a night. Raj, Manya and Harsh protested but Shaan was firm and in the end everyone seemed to feel a bit exhausted. Shaan gave a glance at Khanak through the rear view mirror and found her looking outside the window. She was deep in thought and Shaan realized he was right in pushing everyone to go home.
Once home, everyone took off to sleep in their rooms after wishing each other a good night. Khanak had just changed into her night suit and was about to turn off the lights and go to sleep when her she saw Shaan's jacket lying on the sofa.
She picked it up and his cologne kissed her nose. She closed her eyes and inhaled deeply. Her mind was immediately transported to the deserted street an hour ago when she had realized someone was following her. Out of nowhere Shaan had emerged and cast himself as a shield in front of her. He had then fought of the wretched man and had comforted Khanak. As the events flashed before her eyes, Khanak slowly felt the fear drain out of her body. She had spent so much time wondering what would have happened if Shaan had not reached there on time that she had forgotten the happiness of being alright.
"Everything is alright," Shaan had said. Yes, everything was alright. There was no need to be tense. God had saved her and had sent Shaantanu to do this work, so why was she forcing herself to think of the worst?
As the flashbacks continued passing across her calm mind, Khanak felt Shaan's reassuring squeeze on her shoulders. She faintly remembered him rubbing her hands to warm them. She smiled as she saw him wrap his jacket on her shoulders and instinctively held the jacket closer in her hands. She did not know why, but all of a sudden she felt a fuzzy feeling creep up her chest.
She felt secure and protected. She felt it was stupid of her to think about the incident over and over again with regret when there was really nothing to worry about. Shaantanu had been so right in telling her that she should not be afraid.
Khanak opened her eyes and contemplated if she should go to Shaantanu's room and return his jacket.
Would he still be up?
Should I check just in case?
But wouldn't it be bad manners to go to his room at this hour?
Before her mind could come up with a fourth question, Khanak strode out of her room and didn't stop before she reached Shaantanu's bedroom door. She gave a slight knock and entered when Shaan permitted.
No doubt he was surprised to see her. Surprised, but pleasantly so for if Khanak had come up to him it meant she was feeling better.
"Hey! Aao na andar," Shaan said when she kept standing near the door.
Khanak came forward and gave him his jacket, "Thank you Shaantanu." She smiled.
Taking the jacket from her, he returned her smile "My pleasure ma'am."
He raised his eyebrows.
"Wo'I just wanted to say thank you."
"You just said thank you Khanak," he pointed out loving her sudden discomfort.
"Wo'I mean, thank you for saving me and then handling me. I know mein bilkul zombie like ho gayi thi. But it's just that I've never experienced something like this before and I didn't even know yahan ke log kaise houn ge. I didn't know if I should run or if I should hit the guy or just talk him out of it'.you know'"
"Don't mention it Khanak. It's not that big a deal. The important part is that you're alright and you realize what a dum dum you've been."
"Kya? When did I say I was being stupid?"
"What? You don't realize how stupid it was of you to go strolling down the street alone at this hour?"
"I wasn't strolling, I was looking for you!" she shouted back, hurt.
"I know'.I'm sorry! But dekho thing is I appreciate your concern but it wasn't safe. And thank God I reached there in time. Even London can be unsafe at this hour aur tum Mumbai mein youn phir rahi thi."
"Tou aur kya karti mein? Kis ne aap ko kaha tha ke sab ko chor ke midnight walk pe chaley jaein?" she retorted, still a bit hurt by Shaan's insensitivity.
"Tou aur kya karta idiots ki tarhan tumhein aur Rajesh ko wo stupid sa gol gappa competition karte dekhta?"
Khanak didn't reply.
"Listen, tumhari ghalti nai hai," Shaan came forward. "You're so considerate about everyone ke I am not surprised really ke tum mujeh dhoondne ayi. And meri bhi ghalti hai ke my phone's battery was dead. Baqi logon ko bhi akal honi chahiye thi not to let you come alone'but all said and done Khanak, you should be more careful. Agar tumhein kuch ho jata tou?"
The weight of Shaan's words fell upon both ears as their eyes looked for their meaning in each other. It was Shaantanu who first took a step back and said "In fact mein kal Raj se baat karoun ga. Idiot ki akal kidher ghaas khaney gayi thi!"
"Nai Shaantanu!!" Khanak immediately took a step towards him in panic. "Aap ne kaha tha you won't tell anyone."
"Don't worry Khanak, mein kisi ko nai bataoun ga but at least uss duffer ko man-to-man batana tou banta hai ke what an idiot he is."
Looking at Khanak's tense face, he repeated himself "Darro mat Khanak. This stays between us, I promise."
His half-smile seemed to convince her and she relaxed a bit. "Thank you Shaantanu. Waise bhi Manya aur Harsh ne aap ki jacket notice ki tou thora awkward ho gaya."
It was Shaantanu's turn to be taken aback.
"Awkward matlab? I don't think anyone suspected anything."
"Haan wo tou aap ne cover kar liya tha but still, I should have been mindful about returning your jacket to you before reaching the car. Acha nai lagta."
"Kya acha nai lagta?"
"Yahi ke meine aap ki jacket pehni huwi hai'.pehle hi gharwale.."
Khanak didn't respond seeing Shaantanu's changing attitude.
"Kya Khanak? Tum please ghar waloun ke barey mein sochna chor do. Gharwaloun ko kuch kehna hoga wo kahein ge. Everything is not about how others see it. We're friends, and if not anything else, we're family friends. Tumhein sardi lagi meine jacket de di. It's not a big issue!"
Shaantanu spoke every word in a calm manner but the annoyance underlining his words was felt by Khanak. In that moment, she dared-for the first time- to think Shaantanu was talking about a connection between the two of them. She didn't mind this side of him, just as she hadn't taken offence to him calling her a 'heroine' in the car. For these little things marked a change in their relationship. A change she perhaps wanted to see, but could she bear risking her heart again?
Shaantanu noticed how Khanak went quiet and did not argue with him. She just kept on gazing in his eyes and after a while he felt his own gaze soften. Oddly, he felt as if he was talking to Khanak though words were not exchanged. It did not feel awkward or uncomfortable. Maybe Khanak was different? Maybe she wasn't like all the other girls? Maybe Rahul was right? Or maybe, he wasn't. Maybe all this range of new sentiments that Shaan had been feeling lately was because he had finally found a woman with substance. But just because he had grown to appreciate a woman didn't mean he loved her, Shaan told himself. Or did it?
Thank you so much for your comments guys! They really make my day and unfortunately I cannot reply to each one of you individually but I do wish to let you know how much your feedback means to me. I try to incorporate as much of it as I can and just hope I get more time to write frequently!
This update was a really tricky one...I hope I've done justice to it. You guys are the best jury, as always!
Glad to see the forum will be here as long as we try our best to keep it active. Have considered all your views too btw... :)
Joined: 01 February 2012
Joined: 25 May 2011
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