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Chapter 24: About Last Night
When he walked into kitchen that morning, it was to find her by the cupboard, reaching up for something. From his angle, he could see the mark on her waist right away and the whole conversation with her sister earlier than morning ran through his head. Rather than making him cautious, it made him feel… bolder.
She walked to the stove to place a pot on top.
"What is it? I am going to do the cooking myself today. So, I don't need your help." She said curtly without looking back at him.
He raised an eyebrow and it only made him all the more set on what he was thinking on doing.
He walked up behind her and encircled her by placing his hands on either side of her on the counter.
"I don't have time to play games, Raizada. And I will throw up if you tell me that me being in the kitchen is inviting you to maul me." She told him without looking back at him.
Clearly the woman had spent quite a bit of her night pondering the issue of whether she was startled or… the alternative, which was unthinkable for her of course.
He waited a beat until he felt the tension start to climb up her body before he touched the mark on her waist.
Her muscles quivered beneath his fingers and her eyes closed suddenly as she tried to contain her reaction.
"I couldn't have startled you. Given how many times I have already touched you, you must have been prepared for the possibility that I would repeat the same now."
Her eyes flashed open and he felt the anger in her, much to his satisfaction.
"I shouldn't have bit you." He said quickly.
He could almost feel her pause, her anger now turning to confusion at his words.
He took advantage of the moment and moved his fingers lower until they were inside the edge of her shawl, just above where her skirt started, right over her hips. "I should have bit you here instead. Then you wouldn't run the risk of showing it off to everyone."
She tilted her head up to him and he kept his fingers lingering on her hips as he held her gaze.
It was there in her eyes now… it was not desire… not yet… that would be too soon… it was responsiveness…. He moved his fingers slowly over where he had said he should have bit her and he saw her eyes flicker once, quickly.
It made him feel like a f**king king.
"Do you do this to all women you meet, Raizada?" she asked a moment later, grabbing onto his hand and pulling it away from her hip.
"Not all, just the feisty ones who need to be seduced carefully." He liked it when he got her ire up. Forget the fact that he had never thought that sex was worth the trouble of seducing anyone before.
It turns out that there was a cad hidden in him after all. And he could drum up no remorse for it either.
He did want to seduce her. He doubted that he could. But it didn't deter him from trying.
"Do you jump into a pond with all of them and do all manner of wicked things to them under water? Is that your regular modus operandi?"
She was still holding onto his hand so that it wouldn't find its way back to her waist.
"Well, typically I do that in – what did you call it? – ah, yes, the chlorinated mess that I am used to swimming in. But seeing as how you guys don't have any of those messes here, I've had to improvise."
"I see…" she said with a nod.
"And when I am successful, they start sneaking into my bedroom under the pretense of ghost stories." He added.
He should have left well enough alone, but he hadn't been able to resist.
Just as his mind clicked into what ammunition he had given her, she had already gotten there.
"You had a nightmare." She said flatly.
"You know what? I change my mind. Seducing you has lost its charm." He said, pulling back from her.
"As far as deflections go, that is a rather poor one, Raizada."
"Then read between the lines and leave well enough alone, Kashi."
"Should I expect a repeat performance tonight? Because I would like to be prepared when you scream loud enough to raise ghosts."
He clenched his jaw tight and balled his hands into fists so that he wouldn't hit something.
"You are a bitch, do you know that Kashi? A real bitch!"
"As long as we are clear on that." She answered with no expression before walking into the pantry.
She walked into the pantry and waited until she heard him stalk out of the kitchen before she exhaled deeply.
Her heart was hammering in her chest and her conscience was prickling her for picking on the man's most vulnerable spot that she had found yet. But, for a moment when he had touched her and she had felt as he had said she would feel, she had panicked. She wasn't afraid of her body. She wasn't afraid of anything it felt. But she wanted to understand what it is that she was feeling instead of being carried away in the moment just because he dictated the terms and used her like a puppet to dance to his tune in the only way he likely knew how. In the only way that all men likely knew how.
She lost the urge to cook and stood in the pantry wondering why she needed to even bother today. Her father had left early in the morning along with her sister. Her sister had put him on the bus to a village an hour away where one of his oldest friend's wife had taken ill. He would be gone all day and thus needed no meals. She would just be cooking for herself and the unwanted guest. If Nalan came today, at least she would have a reason. As it is, one of the local Pulluvar homesteads was having a 'sarpam tullal' and she was planning to go with her sister in the evening. She could use a whole day fast – it would clear her mind from whatever had muddled it over the last 36 or so hours.
She walked out of the kitchen and wandered the hallways of the house aimlessly for a while before finding herself at the prayer room. She opened the side windows to let the breeze in and returned to the front to light incense sticks. There was a statue of the Ardhanareesvara in the center, her favorite, which were flanked by those of Vishnu, Lakshmi, Saraswathi, Ganapathi, and a few others. Beneath them, there were small photographs of her mother, her brother, her great-aunt, her sister's fiance, and at last, a girl who was not family at all. The girl's picture had been in that same place for fifteen years. Fifteen long years she had looked at that picture and had prayed for her soul along with all those in her family who had passed on.
She barely remembered meeting the girl. But she remembered the girl's brother. He had been a boy several years older than she was at the time. She remembered him only because of how shocked she had been at the violent tantrum that he had thrown in the hospital that day when she had been to see the girl with her family. She and her sister and her father had looked on from inside the hospital room as two hospital orderlies were restraining the boy as he yelled and screamed at the top of his lungs.
She hadn't known Hindi then and that's all he had spoken, so she hadn't understood anything he had yelled out.
But she remembered feeling sick inside as she watched him and as his uncle and aunt had told her father that he was having a difficult time dealing with the news. That the girl was the only family that he had left and that he did not want any part of her donated to anyone, much less her eyes. But it had been the girl's wish before she died. The girl had died of leukemia and the only part of her that could be donated had been her cornea. Unni, her own brother, had been on the waitlist for a cornea transplant for ages at the time and it had been a godsend when they had heard that a donor had been found for him.
They had stayed in the hospital only briefly, just to meet with her uncle and aunt who had given them this picture of her. Kashi was glad that she did not remember the girl's face in the hospital. The face in this picture was perfect. The girl had the most welcoming smile that she had ever seen on anyone and she had always wondered whenever she looked at this picture why it was that God always called back the good ones early.
She had been haunted by that boy's screams for a long time even as she had been glad that her brother had recovered his vision from a successful transplant. They still returned sometimes when she least expected it.
Like last night.
When he had screamed from upstairs, she had woken up in a cold sweat convinced that it was the boy screaming.
It wasn't the boy of course, but a man. A man who was bent on strategically smoking out her weak spots.
He was a bit different from what she regularly dealt with, but ultimately, she could handle him too.
She wouldn't take her strength for granted. It was a blessing.
And so she prayed for it to not desert her when she needed it most.
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