Just so you know, I am not at all satisfied with this chapter. Don't get your hopes high!
So, as Avi wanted, here is the link of the VM made exclusively for this story:
My eyes open wide as I feel her soft lips touching my left cheek, one of her hands on my other cheek. For a moment, I feel time stop, my heart ready to break through my rib cage as she places a very soft kiss on my cheek. Out of the shock of the moment, I just keep staring ahead of me as she pulls away too soon. With her left hand still resting on my right cheek and her face not too far from me, her whispering voice reaches my ears. 'Thank you, Maan! For everything. I enjoyed it all too much to state. Thank you for this wonderful day!' The seconds tick by as I try to bring myself back and give her the answer she is waiting for. I school my features into a smile convincing enough for her to not know the effect her innocent kiss has on me and I turn my head to look into her eyes. My smile freezes in place when I realise that her face is still just as close and, on its own accord, my gaze slips down to her full lips as only for a millisecond, the thought of kissing her right now fills my mind. Looking back into her liquid eyes which are looking at me with sincerity, I blink my eyes rapidly to clear my head. I bring my hand close to her face and then hesitate, contemplating whether to touch her cheek or not before pulling my hand back. 'I am happy you enjoyed it.'
For a few beats, we both gaze into each other's eyes before she lowers hers and steps a little away. The magic is broken, I realise. How I wish to pull her back in my arms right now but I think she won't appreciate it. She smiles at me, wishing me a goodnight before turning towards the double doors of the hostel and walking away. My eyes follow her until she enters the doors, stops for a moment before turning to look at me. She waves a little at me and then disappears into the corridor. I stand there for a few seconds before my hand reaches to touch my left cheek, the feel of her soft lips still lingering there. I can't help the wide smile which spreads across my face with the thought of Geet having kissed me, even if it was on the cheek. I look at the building again with the smile still on my lips, ruffle my hair and then turn around, kicking a stone happily before getting into my car and driving back home, whistling all the way.
I shut the door to my room and stand still for a moment, unable to really believe I have taken the liberty to kiss Maan. Oh, it was a cheek kiss, alright! Nothing you need to worry about. The logical part of my brain tries to convince me. And, it was just a thank you kiss. That's the least you could do in return for how much Maan has done for you. My ringing phone pulls me out of my trance and I pull it out of my bag to see Chhoti calling. I chat with her as I move around the room, taking the jewellery off and getting my night suit ready. She wants to know how my day went and what I did. After listening to the whole story, she hands the phone over to Mamma and I talk to her for a while, discussing my return which is scheduled for the sixth day from now. She, too, asks about my day and I tell her about it, careful not to upset her because I know she wasn't very pleased with me having a date.
After changing into my night suit, I neatly put Anaya's things in a bag to return them to her tomorrow and sit on my bed, texting her that I'm back and that I will talk to her in the morning. Apparently, the second part of my text doesn't matter to her as my phone rings just a few moments after I send the message. Anaya wants to know all the details just like Raya wanted to and she doesn't pay any heed to my request of letting me sleep since I now feel tired. I sigh as I begin narrating to her the whole day's activities right until he dropped me back, minus the kiss I gave him. She keeps on exclaiming excitedly, stating how much fun we both seem to have had. I tell her I'm tired and want to sleep but she stops me just as I am about to hang up. 'Wait wait, Geet! You have to tell me the most important thing.' I ask her what it is. 'Did Maan kiss you?' I stammer as I think of an answer. 'Uh... No. He... uh... he didn't.' Her voice is filled with disappointment as she speaks. 'He didn't? Oh, he should have!' I reach for the glass of water and take a sip as I hear her. 'In fact, he is such a shy person that you should have kissed him yourself.' I choke on the water in embarrassment and cough repeatedly to clear my throat. Taking advantage of the distraction, I quickly tell her I'm sleepy and hang up the phone, laying down in bed.
Still smiling and whistling random tunes when I enter the house, I notice Mom sitting there alone and walk over to her, give her a quick hug before asking where Ranbir is. She states he has gone to pick Zara from her house and that the two must be reaching here shortly. As I settle down beside her, I can't keep the smile off my face which she notices and asks about my day. I happily tell her how much Geet and I enjoyed and all the activities we did, omitting how I posed as her boyfriend to get into the couples' only fest. I don't want to be ribbed endlessly by her, of course! She readily listens all of it, putting in her mild feedback when the front door opens and Ranbir and Zara walk in with smiling faces. On seeing me, Ranbir's face breaks into a wide grin and just as the two find themselves a seat on the other couch in the room, Ranbir asks the question I knew was coming my way. 'So how was your date, eh? Enjoyed it?' He winks suggestively and I signal him with my eyes of Zara's presence, trying to stop him from ruining my image at least in front of his wife.
As his grin turns impossibly wider, Zara speaks before he does. 'Oh don't worry, Maan! I know all about your adventures and your fascinations. I wouldn't mind if you discussed your much awaited date in front of me.' My eyes catch the thumbs up that Ranbir is showing me as I smile awkwardly at Zara and Mom laughs. How does one react when every person in their family is intent to pick up on their not-so-existent romantic life? Vaguely answering about having had a nice time today, I quickly excuse myself to the sanctity of my room, not really bothering about the laughter I hear them three break into as soon as I make my escape. Once inside my room, the teasing takes a backseat in my mind as Geet's kiss refills my head and makes me smile. Customarily going through the process of changing into my night suit and settling myself in bed, my head still lingers around thoughts of the day and an even better end to the day. So what if I couldn't kiss Geet like Ayush was pushing me to? She made the first move. My hand caresses my cheek. And that is a very good sign, did you know, Maan? If she took the liberty of dropping a kiss on my cheek like that, it means she considers me special, right? She wouldn't have done that if she didn't think so.
Laying on my back, I continue to be lost in my thoughts, the words she said after we somehow ended up in front of the cemetery ringing in my ears, wiping the smile off my face. 'We know the separation, the pain of having a loved one leave you forever... It's inevitable. Unavoidable. Yet we try to hold on to them... We make every single effort we can think of to have them with us... To keep them with us...' I had tried to make her feel lighter at the time that she uttered that but I can't help but think of these words again, knowing the truth behind them, yet there is a nagging feeling in me which I try to put a finger on. Going round and round in circles, my mind doesn't shut up and let me sleep until I realise what the feeling is. I haven't made enough efforts. I haven't done enough to keep Geet with me. What have I done, anyway? My inner voice mocks me. I haven't told her anything about how much I love her. I haven't told her how long I have been in love with her. I need her to know this. I need to make an effort. The anxiousness I feel makes me get out of the bed and pace around the room. I have to, I have to... I should have said it today. No, I should have said it a long time back. I sit back down on the bed. I have to tell it to her at the earliest. She needs to know. I am going to say it at the first opportunity I get. Enough of wasting time, Maan! Making up my mind, I fall into a troubled sleep after some time, dreaming of a wonderful time spent with a special person.
After tossing and turning in bed for a long time in unsuccessful attempts to sleep, I sit up and switch the bedside lamp on. Looking around the room, wondering what I should do at this time, I consider calling Raya but reject the idea, not wanting to be answerable to any questions she is sure to ask. I think of surfing the Internet for a while but it doesn't seem very appealing. My eyes fall on the study table in the other corner of the room and an idea comes to me, prompting me to get up from the bed and make my towards it. Sitting down on the chair, I open my diary to read the last entry in it and then think of what I'm going to write now. I pick up my pen and begin writing.
I know it has been so many days since I talked to you and I'm sorry for that. Life has just been busy with the things going around, first with Ranbir's wedding, then the exams and the stress and all. Did I tell you Ranbir's wedding went off wonderfully? I think the whole week that I stayed at Maan's place is something I will never forget. Raya was here with me as well and it was so much fun. On the wedding day, Maan gifted me a beautiful bracelet. I loved it at first sight but I didn't want to take it. It just didn't feel right. Do you know what Maan did to get me to accept that? He made that innocent face which he uses whenever he wants something done. And I... well... I couldn't refuse him after looking at those eyes. Ahem. Leave that aside. You know, I went to a date with Maan today. It was my first ever date with anyone. I was very nervous about it but Anaya, being the hyperactive person she is, made me forget about it with her craziness. She wanted me to try all the dresses in that huge pile on her bed. Isn't that crazy! But Anaya without craziness doesn't seem complete. I am going to miss these daily doses of her antics. I am going to miss Ayush's vibrant presence and I am going to miss Maan's supporting form. I am going to miss them all a lot and for the first time, I feel a hollowness in my stomach at the thought of going away. I know I have to go but hey, just like Anaya said to me this morning, we don't have to lose contact even if we have to part ways. I won't be able to get them out of my mind and my heart anyway because they have become so special. This reminds of a quotation.
"A part of you has grown in me.
So now you see it's you and me
Together forever, never apart.
Maybe in distance but never in heart!"
This is exactly what I feel for the wonderful people I have met here. They have all become a part of me - a part which is very dear to me. Okay, lets stop being emotional. I'll tell you about my day. If I have to describe Maan in a single word, I think I will call him a gentleman. He truly is one! Now when I remember his first impression on me - when I had thought he has haughtiness and all - I laugh at how wrong I had believed him to be. He is anything but arrogant. His soft, caring nature is something I cannot be impressed with enough. Throughout the whole day today, he so subtly took care of me and yet didn't hamper the fun I was having, or even look at me strangely for the way I was behaving like a child when we were back at the carnival. I know I was being out of character but Maan didn't let me feel awkward about it, and for once I didn't want to hold back what I was actually feeling.
Right from the first activity to the last, I don't know which I enjoyed the most. We roamed around the carnival doing so many things there. We even got a sketch made and I know I'm being selfish here but I really want to keep the sketch with me. But maybe I should ask Maan tomorrow if he wants it. And the Couples' Fete was so much fun! We danced and laughed and simply enjoyed. There was this one activity where the partners had to tell what they liked and disliked about the other, Maan actually confused me with his answer for a moment. He said he likes and dislikes the same thing. Confusing, right? What should I make of it? Oh, and that activity where the reward was to dance and the punishment was to sing, it was nice too. I was already unsure about it when the woman who I had to sit beside, commented that Maan and I are such a wonderful couple. I had just smiled at the time to not let the flutter in my stomach be visible on my face. I even sneaked a glance at Maan but quickly looked away when I found him looking at me. I don't think he noticed me looking his way.
Yes, Maan and I had to dance. I found it very endearing when he confirmed my answer to be correct even when it wasn't. He only told me about my answer being wrong when we were ready to dance. I asked him why he lied even as I felt flutter in my heart at the thought that he saved me from the punishment of singing by lying. And the dance... well... the lesser I say about it the better. To sum it up, the experience was something I haven't had before. It was out of the world! Okay, enough of that. You know, we went to tour the town after that. He even insisted I buy a teddy for Raya since she loves them. Oh yes! I almost blurted out my secret of writing poetry on him. Imagine how awkward it would have been if he had found out about it! I really need to keep a check on my tongue, especially when it concerns Maan. What after that? Well, he took me to a nice mexican restaurant after that where we had tasty food and talked for a bit. He also gave me a gift. It feels strange, Diary, to be taking so many gifts from him. Of course, his choice of gifts is very impressive and I like all those gifts that he has given to me, the bracelet, the locket, and now the snow globe. The globe has such a beautiful red rose inside it that I spent quite some time just marvelling it. And those lines written on the frame, I cannot tell you how much I agree with them. I am somehow relating these lines to Maan and I don't want to look deeper into it to know why.
"Life's most deep feelings are often expressed in silence and the one who can read volumes from your silence is your true companion."
On our way back, I closed my eyes for a while intending to open them and talk with Maan in a few minutes. Maan didn't call me for quite a while so I assume he thought I fell asleep and I thought of letting him think so, wanting to know what he would do. I heard him laugh a little at something which made me curious about what it was so I opened my eyes a little to see. His phone was alive so I guess it was something on his phone which made him laugh but whatever the reason, seeing his eyes crinkle like that, my lips pulled into a smile which I immediately controlled and went back to closing my eyes. Most of the ride passed in silence and just when I decided I should open my eyes, he switched on the stereo and played some songs. Hearing him hum along with the songs, sometimes singing as well, I had to control my smile. He sings well, I tell you. Maybe he is a bathroom singer or something because I have never heard about his singing from anyone. You know, with one of the songs, he said something in a lower voice. I felt it was a name and whose, I don't want to guess. I won't ask him because, I don't want to face what I know is most probably the truth.
Forget that. I didn't realise when we reached the city until the car stopped. When I heard Maan getting out of the car, I squinted through my lashes to see we were parked at the hostel but I still wanted to know how Maan would tell me so I closed my eyes again. I heard my side of the door open and nothing happened for a few seconds. I wondered what he was doing standing there immobile because I could feel his shadow behind my closed lids. I felt his shadow darken making me think he has leaned closer and then I felt a slight breeze on my bare shoulder. I thought the game was enough and just when I was about to open my eyes, I felt a feather light touch on my forehead, pulling a hair strand away and my stomach did a somersault. Suppressing that feeling, I laughed and disclosed that I was awake. It was fun watching his flustered face for once and it only made me laugh harder. Poor him! His face was worth watching when I mentioned I heard him singing.
And then I did something that surprised me too. I kissed him. On the cheek. It felt right to do so at the time but I am still feeling embarrassed over it. What must Maan be thinking of me? I have been telling myself it was just a way of thanking him for everything he has done for me but still it gives me jitters when I think of it. Should I apologise to him for taking the liberty? He sure did seem shocked by my impromptu act. Maybe I should just let it be. Most probably, he wouldn't have minded it, considering the way he acted when he thought I was in his dream. I know what I should do now. I should go right to bed because my legs are beginning to show the signs of the walking I did today. I will probably sleep in a bit tomorrow. Good night, Diary!
I wake up early the next morning, doing nothing except laying in the bed and watching the sky turn brighter from the window of my room. After quite a long time, my phone rings and I see Ayush's name flashing on the screen. Checking the bedside clock, I am surprised by how he is awake at this time because it is still very early for him. I don't hide my surprise as I answer the phone. 'Am I dreaming or what? His Majesty, Ayush the great is up so early?' He laughs. 'Yeah! I thought I'll see what is so interesting about getting up this early on a holiday that you and Anaya always pester me with your calls. But I tell you Maan, it's so boring that I feel like I might just fall head first on the floor with the drowsiness!' I hear him yawn loudly and I laugh. 'What made you want to check out the mysterious benefits of rising early? Did Anaya chew your head out?' I laugh at my own statement when I hear a throat clearing followed by Anaya's voice. 'I'm listening, Maan.' My laughter gets stuck in my throat as I realise it is a conference call and Anaya is on the line as well. I quickly try to make amends. 'Uhh... He deserves his head to be chewed out, right Anaya? In fact, you should give him an earful on a lot more things.' I bite my tongue at Anaya's 'shut up' as I hear Ayush's laughter.
Changing the track of the conversation, I ask the two what's the event that they have conference called me. It is not uncommon for us to make conference calls to each other, we have been doing that ever since we got ourselves cell phones but it has always been something related to planning of things whenever we made such calls. 'Well...' Ayush begins speaking. 'I was thinking what we are going to be doing for the day since Geet only has these few days here. We should do something together, unless of course, you and Geet have some plans to spend some quality time together.' His last words are meant to be teasing but I can't help thinking how appealing the option is. However appealing it may be, I know Geet will like to spend time with all her friends today so I answer Ayush lightly. 'Nope. No such plans. What do you think we should do? Do you have anything in mind, Anaya?' She speaks up then. 'Why don't we ask Geet what she wants to do?' I warily question her if Geet is on call too, and listening to our conversation silently, but she says they haven't called Geet yet. Anaya puts me and Ayush on hold after telling she's calling Geet into the conference.
The ringing of my phone forces me to open my eyes. I look at my watch and answer the phone. 'Hello?' I clear my throat after I hear my own croaky voice. 'Geet, you were sleeping? At this time? It's almost ten.' I take a deep breath. 'No Anaya, I wasn't sleeping. I was just lying in my bed.' I hear a snort. 'Don't worry, we won't say anything if you accept you were sleeping at this time.' My face contorts in confusion. 'Ayush? Uhh... Hi!' Not understanding how he is in call too, I stay silent when I hear Anaya speak up again. 'Aren't you going to ask why we called?' Before I can answer either way, she continues. 'Ayush and I were just discussing with Maan what we should do for the day. You don't have any plans, do you?' I assure her I have nothing planned. 'So tell me what you think we should do.' I think for a moment. 'What did Maan say?' I don't understand why Ayush laughs before speaking. 'Maan, why don't you make yourself detectable and speak up. She wants to know your valuable opinion before giving her own.'
I don't know what to make of Ayush's words until I hear Maan's voice greet me. Instead of answering him, I voice out my confusion. 'How are you three together at this time?' Ayush laughs again and Anaya tells him to shut up while Maan tells me it is a conference call and that they are all in their own houses at the moment. 'Oh.' I can't think of what else to say. Plus, as the sleep-induced haze slowly retracts itself from my mind, realisation seeps in and the thought of what Maan must have made of my kiss last night robs me of my speech. 'So where were we?' It's Anaya. 'Yeah, Geet you wanted to know what Maan said. Actually, he is as blank as the two of us so if you have anything in mind, we can go through with it and if not, we can think of something.' Maan and Ayush agree. 'Geet?' I hear Maan call out when I don't speak for a minute. 'Hmm?' I answer absent mindedly, still in my own thoughts. 'What do you want to do today? Do you want to go out around the city?' Finally shaking the stupor off, I concentrate on what Maan is saying. 'Can we just sit and chat in a single place? I really don't want to go out somewhere.' Ayush whines but Anaya and Maan don't pay any heed to him when they ask me the reason. I tell them I am tired from all the walking we did yesterday so I just want to sit and relax. After a bit of a discussion, it is decided that we will spend the day in Maan's house and we will gather around lunch time.
Mom is more than happy with my friends coming over. As I get dressed and wait for my friends, I decide I have to talk to Geet today. I have a great chance since she will be here in my house. When they come over, Mom and Zara sit with us for a while before they both head off to the kitchen to get some snacks for us. I offer all of them to come to my room but Anaya says we should go and sit in the backyard since the weather is nice. Sitting cross-legged on the grass in the backyard in a rough circle, we munch on the French fries which Mom and Zara have served us. The random conversations are led by Anaya with Ayush fully participating as he lay sideways on the grass with his head resting on his hand. Geet mostly listens and sometimes gives her input as well, and I mostly stay shut, my mind amuck as I think of what to say and how to say, most importantly, how to get Geet alone. I certainly don't want to confess in front of my friends. Amidst all the raging thoughts, I notice Geet not really looking at me and that confuses me. I wonder if she is deliberately avoiding meeting my eyes or if it's just a little too many coincidences happening.
Putting my phone back in my bag after replying to Chhoti's message, I begin to get up to follow Anaya into the house but jump when I feel a hand holding my wrist. Looking up, I realise it is Maan, staring at me with a questioning gaze. Not making it very obvious, I ease my hand out of his hold slowly, trying to control my racing heartbeat at the same time. I blink a couple of times to appear normal because I know he might ask why I am avoiding him. It isn't like I am really avoiding him but I just don't want him to know that whenever my eyes land on him, the image of my kiss last night fills my mind, making it unbelievably hard to cover up for the sudden blush spreading on my cheeks. 'What's wrong?' I look at him normally. 'Nothing. Why?' I ask it innocently and he shakes his head, dropping the topic, making me inwardly sigh in relief. 'Geet, I want to say something.' I wait for him to speak. 'I... Geet, I... -' I just keep looking at him as he stutters and looks down before looking back at me when Zara's voice interrupts him. 'Come on in. Dinner is served and everyone is waiting for you.' I get up and hear him sigh as he stands up too before we both make way to join the rest for an early dinner.
The next day, Ayush wants us to go around the city instead of sitting in just one place so we end up roaming around the city, walking to places and generally having a good time. We even watch a comedy movie at Anaya's insistence. I hadn't been successful yesterday in talking to Geet since she left soon after we finished dinner. I want to make the best of today and I am hoping to get at least one opportunity. We walk through one of the malls, ending up in the top most floor which has a gaming centre Ayush is interested in. Anaya mostly stays with Geet leaving no chance for me to talk to her. I consider grabbing Geet's arm and pulling her to a side but I don't act on it. By the evening, we find ourselves a table in the cafe where Geet used to work. She goes inside the back door after telling us she wants to meet the owner while the rest of us place an order of pastries and cold coffee. Just as she comes back, our order arrives and we eat as we talk about random things. If it wasn't for the music playing in the background mixed with the multiple conversations going around, my incessant foot-tapping - a result of my impatience - could be heard.
'When are you leaving?' Anaya asks me. 'A day after the graduation.' She nods thoughtfully and I notice from a corner of my eyes that Maan is paying full attention now. All through the day, he seemed to be preoccupied. I have seen him looking at me a number of times with an expression which clearly said he was going to say something but didn't. I wonder if his preoccupation has anything to do with what he wanted to say last night. 'So we have two more days before graduation and then one day after that.' I nod at her. 'What are you doing tomorrow?' I tell her I have to finish my packing and I have some errands to run. 'Can't you do that the day after?' I shake my head. 'I am going to be spending that day with G and Ryan so I have to get everything done tomorrow.' She nods before Ayush calls for her attention and they get absorbed in some discussion. I look at Maan and find him looking at me. 'Are you alright?' He looks startled as if I have pulled him out of his thoughts with my question. 'What? Uhh, yes. I'm fine.'
I nod and look at my plate, playing with the fork and deciding whether to ask him or not. Making up my mind, I look at Anaya and Ayush still busy among themselves before turning to Maan. 'Maan...' He looks at me and I hesitate for a moment. 'If I ask you for something, will it be fine?' He knits his eyebrows together. 'Of course. Just tell me about it.' I stay silent for a while and then speak. 'Umm... I was wondering if you could take me to the secret place tomorrow. I mean, I just wanted to go there once before leaving and...' He seems surprised by my request when I add, 'Only if it suits you.' I bite my lip as I feel I shouldn't have asked when he smiles. 'Sure! We can go tomorrow. Will you be free by late afternoon?' I nod and confirm it before turning to Anaya and Ayush, unable to keep myself from noticing the slight smile on Maan's lips.
The next morning, I pace around in my room, looking at my watch every few minutes and wondering why time is passing so slowly. After some time, I calm myself down and think for a moment. I know I am going to say it today but how? Making sure the door to my room is tightly shut, I walk to stand in front of the mirror and begin practising. Pasting a smile on my face, I use a happy voice. 'Geet, I love you.' My smile turns to a grimace. Maan, you aren't telling her a good news or something! Make it a little more natural! I take a deep breath and begin again, schooling my features in a serene expression. 'Geet, I really love you. I always have.' Shaking my head, I decide this isn't right too. A few more attempts make me feel like I'm going to make a fool of myself in front of her. Looking into the mirror one final time, I close my eyes and imagine Geet is in front of me as I begin again. 'Geet... I don't know what you will think about me after this but I do want you to know what I think about you, what I have been thinking about you for the past three years. I love you, Geet! I have loved you from the moment I saw you...' The sharp raps on the door breaks the moment making the image of Geet disappear from in front of me and I am left to stare at my own reflection in the mirror. I grin and give myself a thumbs up before going to answer the door.
I spend the morning taking out my clothes from the wooden closet and folding them before putting them in the bag. As I go around packing my things, I talk with Mamma over the phone, telling her what I am doing and assuring her that I will be collecting my ticket from the airline's office in an hour. Packing the accessories, I come across the bag of Anaya's clothes and things she had lent me for the date. Smacking my forehead at not having given it to her, I put it at a noticeable place so I can take it right now. A rolled up sheet of paper makes me pause for a while as I open it and gaze at the smiling faces sketched on it. Deciding to keep it in hand carry, I put it with my handbag and get along with the rest of the things. By noon, I figure I should quickly get something to eat and then swing by Anaya's place to drop the bag before collecting my ticket, since there is still some time before Maan comes.
At Anaya's place, she invites me in but I excuse myself on account of having something to do. Telling her I will see her on graduation now, I reach the airline's office and collect my ticket. On my way back, I call Baba and talk to him about having gotten the ticket. As I enter my room with a cheese sandwich in my hand which I had gotten for myself while leaving but haven't eaten a bite of, I realise I still have about an hour or so before Maan comes so I just relax, letting my mind wander as I eat. I smile and giggle recollecting random things. I remember my first night at the Khurana residence and how Maan thought I was his imagination. With this memory come a lot other memories, as if a barrage has opened. A dream buried in the recesses of my mind comes back to the forefront, pulling with it a memory of a kiss I had dropped on his cheek. I close my eyes as images of the shared dances flash, accompanied by images of the times he has gifted me something, the times that he has cared for me, the times he has made me laugh. I get so involved in recalling everything that my phone's beep startles me out of it, making me pause for a moment and take a deep breath before checking the message.
I make my way outside to meet Maan where he is waiting for me in his car. As I get in, I smile at him. 'I am sorry I'm troubling you to take me...' I don't even complete before he waves his hand dismissively to stop me. 'Rubbish! You're not troubling me at all. In fact, nothing concerning you can!' His words are said in a soft voice accompanied by a small smile, a combination which launches a jittery feeling in my stomach and a blush to rise up my cheeks. I avert my eyes even as I feel his gaze on my face before he turns to steer the car away from the hostel.
I watch Geet as she sits against the log on the familiar grassy terrain, her knees pulled up to her chest and her hands around them, her face content as her eyes take in the peaceful surrounding. This time, instead of using the log as a seat, Geet insisted we sit on the grass with our backs resting against the log and I was only too eager to comply. I have made sure not to keep as much space between us this time as there was the last time and Geet doesn't seem bothered by the proximity. After a few silent moments, I hear her marvelling voice. 'This place is just so beautiful!' I smile as she turns to look at me. 'How did you find this place?' I shrug. 'Dad found it by accident when he lost his way. Ever since then, it's been kind of a secret hideout for us.' She smiles with a nod and I can't help but feel how different this visit to this place is from the last time I was here with her. She is at peace this time and her face is reflecting it. I figure this is a good time to strike a conversation leading up to what I want to say. 'Geet, can I ask you a question?' She looks at me and raises her eyebrows, telling me to continue. 'How come you chose this city for college? I mean, you could've stayed back with your family and studied there, so I was just wondering how you agreed to spending three years, you know, away from them...'
She raises her face, her eyes moving around the sky and her mouth slightly open as if she is formulating her words. 'I understand why you must have thought of this. That for a girl who refuses to get married so she wouldn't need to leave her parents alone spent three years away from them when there wasn't really a need.' She pauses for a moment, shifting her position to being cross-legged, and looks at me. 'You do know I joined in the second year of college, right?' I twist my lips before muttering, 'How can I forget that day!' She laughs at my disgruntled tone, clearly having understood I am referring to falling down in front of her. 'I can't forget that either.' She chuckles again while I just smile. 'Anyway, during my first year of college back at home, a few students, who got good grades in the first two semesters, were chosen by the administration for placement in one of the more respected colleges that my college was affiliated with, at lower fees. Baba thought it was a good opportunity for me but Mamma didn't want me to go somewhere I won't have any acquaintances, so G stepped in then and made Mamma agree to send me here.' She smiles at me and I keep looking at her curiously which she notices after a moment and becomes self-conscious. 'What?'
'That still doesn't answer the real thing.' She frowns so I explains. 'I wanted to know how you agreed, what you thought of it.' She averts her eyes. 'Well... frankly, I hadn't thought much about this back then.' I raise an eyebrow in disbelief. 'I am not buying that. I cannot believe you of all the people did not think of the three-years-long separation from your family.' She looks down without a word, smiling slightly so I prod further. 'I'm right, aren't I?' As she looks back at me, the smile is still in place and her eyes are soft. 'Yes, you're right.' She doesn't say something for a few seconds. Just when I feel she doesn't want to share it with me, she speaks again. 'I didn't really want to come here. I didn't want to stay away from my family but I couldn't protest much in the face of Baba's wish.' I don't say anything as she continues. 'It isn't like he forced it on me. He left the final decision on me but I didn't want to turn him down and so here I am.' She holds her hands out and shrugs with a slight smile. 'Do you regret coming here?' Her answer is instant. 'Not at all! Coming to this place and finding such wonderful people is not something I regret, neither will I ever!'
I look at her shining hazels gazing into mine and my whole form stills. Her eyes keep me captured as my heartbeat picks up pace. Gently but determinedly, I raise my right hand towards her face, softly touching her cheek and pushing her hair back behind her ear. She doesn't cringe or draw back and that encourages me to keep my hand on her soft cheek, holding her gaze as I begin. 'Geet, I really want to say something. I have been wanting to say it to you for a while...' My voice turns to a whisper as a small part of my brain registers a call of a jay far in the distance. Looking into her eyes, all that I had rehearsed in the morning has fled from my mind. 'Geet I -' Her phone's shrill ring jolts us both and she immediately withdraws her face from my hand, as if having woken up from a daze. As I slowly pull my hand back, an emptiness stings it making me clench it into a fist and I take a deep breath to calm the frustration building within me. I hear her talk to G, something about them meeting tomorrow and I can do nothing but wait. As she ends the call, she notices the time in her phone and exclaims it is very late and we should leave. Having no choice left, I sigh and get up before leading her to the car, annoyed at having been so close to what I wanted but still didn't get.
I reach G's place after breakfast and Ryan comes running to me excitedly. I kneel down and hug him, giving the chocolate I have brought for him. 'Maasi, you are going to stay here whole day?' I nod to him, mimicking his tone as I answer. 'Yes, Ryan! I am going to stay with you for the whole day.' His eyes widen in wonder. 'Really? That means we can play hide-and-seek and tag and play station and paint and...' He begins checking the list off on his little fingers and I laugh along with G as I kiss him loudly on his cheek. That distracts him from listing any more games as he grimaces and wipes his cheek off. 'Eww! Maasi, don't do that! It's yucky!' I laugh again as Ryan jumps out of my arms and runs into a room while G leads me to the living room. We sit and chat for a while as she asks about what I have been up to since my exams finished. As she gets up to prepare lunch, I follow her into the kitchen, helping her with things while she tells me about her life, her conversations mostly surrounding Ryan and how he is settling with his new school.
After a while, I wonder aloud where Ryan is and just then, the sprout comes zooming into the kitchen. 'Maasi! Maasi! Look I made this drawing.' He waves a paper at me on which he points out who is who. 'This is me, this is Mommy, this is Daddy and this is you.' I smile at the childish drawing, telling him I love it. He holds my hand and starts pulling me out of the kitchen, saying I need to help him paint and then play with him. G encourages me to go with him, telling me she will do the rest herself. Ryan takes me down the hall to his room where he has crayons, paints and papers sprawled on the floor. We spend a little time painting a picture as I make sure he doesn't get himself dirty but in the end, we both have hands covered in colours, some of it on Ryan's cheeks as well. After wiping both ourselves clean, he insists we play tag in the garden and that is how the next hour passes until G calls us both for lunch.
Lunch is a very talkative affair with the mother and son talking one after another. My head turns from G to Ryan as I listen to them, trying to keep up with what both of them are saying. I play hide-and-seek with Ryan after lunch for a while and as he gets tired, G tells me it is time for his afternoon nap so I sit him down on the bed. He protests, saying he isn't sleepy so I ask him to tell me about his school and as he does that, he slowly falls asleep. Tucking him in, I quietly slip out of the room and find G in the kitchen. 'He is such an energetic child. How do you manage it all day long?' She looks up from the bowl she is mixing something in. 'Is he asleep?' I nod as I take a look at the kitchen counters. 'What's going on? The crockery, so many things, is there something special?' She smiles. 'You being here for a whole day is a special thing in itself. Even Ryan is hyperactive today due to that.' I smile as she continues. 'So I thought why not make a special dinner for a special person.' I shake my head. 'It wasn't necessary, G! You shouldn't have made so many efforts for one person.'
'Actually, we do have some guests coming over this evening as well so you don't even need to complain about me taking efforts for you, though it is perfectly plausible for me to make the dinner special for you. After all, how many times have you come over for a whole day in three years? Hardly five!' I roll my eyes, her attempt at making me feel guilty not working on me, but I choose to let it go. 'You could've at least told me you are expecting guests. I would've helped you.' She waves it off, telling me I need not bother since she has done most of it. I help her put the crockery on the table and then we both head off to rest for a while. I don't realise when I dose off. The feel of a gentle but firm hand softly placed against my cheek brings me back to semi-conscious state and I smile. Maan, my heart says and that is when I gain full awareness of what Maan is doing, making me snap my eyes open. Puzzled, I look around the dimly lit room and realise there isn't anyone around, not even Ryan. What was that? I touch my cheek where I had felt the hand, now sure that this feeling was a belated effect of the previous day, when a gentle hand had been placed against my cheek.
Rubbing my face to shake the strange feeling off, I decide to freshen up before going to find Ryan and G. As soon as he sees me awake, he pulls me to play the video game since his Mommy doesn't play well. We keep playing late into the evening when Ryan's father arrives, greets me cordially and then heads to change. Shortly after he comes, the doorbell rings again and I assume it must be the guests G is expecting so I quickly persuade Ryan to pack his game and place it in the room. I go with him, hearing some people entering the house and G greeting them. As I walk back to the living room, my steps halt at the door and I blink rapidly. G's guests turn to look at me with wide smiles. I look at G to see her grinning at me before she comes close and tells me these are her guests. Anaya comes over and hugs me and then leads me to the rest of them where Maan's mother lovingly caresses my head. I smile at everyone, Ranbir, Zara, Ayush, Anaya's mother and sisters, and lastly at Maan. 'So how did you like the surprise?' I turn to G and smile at her, thanking her for the surprise of calling everyone over for tonight.
As the time passes, all the inhabitants of the room sit and chat, laugh and tease, having a good time. When I sit beside Anaya and Maan discreetly takes a seat beside me, I get a little self-conscious but try not to show it. He doesn't need to know the strange hallucinatory touch I had felt while sleep. As Anaya tells me G was planning the surprise since three days and they all got confirmed invitations yesterday morning, I complain why she didn't tell me. Before she can answer, I turn to Maan accusingly. 'And you didn't tell me anything yesterday either even when we were together for so -' I break off, realising I haven't told Anaya about my outing with Maan and she is sure to question me. 'Ahem ahem. So...' Anaya stretches the word suggestively. 'I suppose I should've guessed what important errands you had to run!' I feel the need to clarify so I turn to face her even as my cheeks flush at her teasing tone. 'No, Anaya. I actually had to do some work.' She rolls her eyes and nods, clearly showing she isn't believing me. 'No really, I -' She cuts me off laughingly. 'Don't worry, Geet! I won't think badly of you if you want to spend time alone with Maan.' Saying that, she gets up and walks into the kitchen.
I look at Maan helplessly and find him smiling. I frown at him and he notices it. 'Never mind, Geet! You know she's like that.' His smile softens and voice lowers. 'Geet, I need to talk to you. Can you come to the garden with me?' My eyebrows scrunch but before I can ask him anything, G calls me to the kitchen and I tell him I will be back, heading off to check what G wants. She asks for help in setting the food on the dining table and I get busy in that, forgetting for a while that I've told Maan I would be back. Immediately after we set the table, G calls everyone to serve themselves. Ryan wants to eat from my hands so I sit with him as I feed him, glad that I could let G off the task for once. As I feed him, he keeps on talking random things which keep me engrossed, not caring about anyone around. Only when he turns his attention to the person on my right do I notice Maan sitting there. He smiles at Ryan, who in turn recalls seeing him earlier. 'I saw you at Maasi's friend's house!' He states so excitedly that I laugh. 'Ryan, he is the friend whose house we went to.' Maan laughs too and tries to talk to the kid, who is all eager to tell Maan about his new friend at school.
Soon after dinner, the guests decide to leave one by one. Maan and his family stays for a longer while and that is when I remember Maan wanting to talk to me. I see him going out of the door and follow him after a few minutes. As I walk closer to him, I see him sitting on the bench in G's garden. I sit beside him and apologise for having forgotten that he wanted to talk to me. He shrugs it off before turning to look at me, just gazing at my face with a strange softness. I ask him what he is looking at and he smiles. 'Do you know you are a wonderful person? Beautiful, in and out. A beauty everyone can't help but love.' I blush brightly with his words, not knowing what to say. He falls silent for a while, going back to just gazing at me, when we hear the door opening and little steps running towards us. 'Maasi, come with me!' I look at Ryan as he holds my hand, pulling me up. Just then, the door opens again and Maan's family walks out. We both stand up from the bench as the others join us. Aunty hugs me and asks me when we will meet again. 'Tomorrow, at graduation.' I smile as she nods, saying she had forgotten about it. Just as they all head to the car, Maan turns to me and flashes a brilliant smile. 'See you tomorrow!'